Browsing Category New Albums

Pacific Range

It’s hard to know what type of tone to strike these days — whether a bath of anger is what’s called for or the cleansing spirit of solace is in order. Maybe the answer is that there are days for both. I’d like to think that the angst of 2020 was far, far from the minds that made High Up On The Mountain, when it was written and recorded. The debut LP from West Coast Cosmic comrades Pacific Range captures a certain strain of calm that’s been sorely missing from my life of late. The album is awash in the salt-scrubbed tones of California and ingrained with the unblemished invigoration of mountain air. While it might not be a West Coast concept, the band captures the aural equivalent of that perfect pitch of blue that comes through in Spring sky — the kind that chases away the clouds of winter, hung with the first tinge of warmth and the the promise of a break from the crushing despair of winter months. The current wave of Cosmic Americana that’s rolled through has oddly favored the East Coast (aside from Howlin’ Rain I suppose) and the bands inclusion in the sunshine sway of the sound feels like it fills a particular gap.

While many of the others are heavily dependent on the Crazy Horse and Little Feat axis, Pacific Range seem to be falling into a more Allman descendent strain, and in many occasions the works of Dicky solo. Sure, they pick up quite a few of the tangential vibes as well — the lesser knowns that found their way in the wake of the Dead, The Allmans and post-Caravanserai Santana. There’s shades of Help Yourself, Mountain Bus, and Turnquist Remedy all threaded through the album. The band trickles down the same tributaries that cut through the canyons and make them their own. There’s a boogie that drives High Up, but there’s something more at play here.

While there’s the familiar deep-seated sway that offers itself up to extended jams in the live setting, there is a tenderness that’s not as present in some of their contemporaries. “Boulevard Indigo,” has a mournful country-folk strain that hangs on the air like dew. “Guiding the Mast” sounds like its was sliced off of either of the last couple of Mapache albums, and its not surprising that the band’s Clay Finch does indeed show up as a guest player among the tracks offered up here. Pacific Range complicate the cosmic winds with their own dusting of bittersweet heartache. There’s plenty here that gives in to the groove but just as much that lets it linger down to a halt, letting the soft breeze suffice as just the right amount of movement. This one seems to have been lost in terms of deserving fanfare, especially out East, but its a necessary pickup in times needing a respite for sure.





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Sunwatchers

Sunwatchers continue their devastating streak of the past few years with an album that becomes the balm and the irritant. Oh Yeah? (a delightful pun on their Cool Brave mascot there) is a reflection of turbulent times and the scream into the ether in which to deal with them all at once. While blunt lyricism has its place, there’s also just as overt a necessity for an album that captures the dozens of daily, weekly, and monthly moments of frustration and repels them with a sonic squall that’s caustic and complete. If our current moment has taught us anything it’s that we’re so often at a loss for words these days that the emotional behemoth of 2020 could only benefit from the rhythmic riot and tectonic fury of Sunwatchers. We can only feel truly alive after the baptism of McHugh’s sunstroke riffs and Tobias’ fevered runs. We can begin to live a little lost in the insistent throb of bass and drums flung far into the trance of abandon.

The band leaves melted tire tracks on the crossroads of psych and jazz — never entirely letting themselves choose a single path. The interplay between the members is symbiotic and psychic. They barrel through the barriers like Pharaoh sitting in with Earthless and then push it through the heart of the sun. Much like the block party burndown happening across the Atlantic in Mythic Sunship, Sunwatchers are smelting liquid chaos and tilting the kettle over the agencies that seek to stifle us all in this age of horrors. Riffs lock in and settle into a layer of hypnotism before they’re torn apart from the DNA on down. The band is, as ever, a socio-political powerhouse with a sense of humor, just the kind of talismans we need in an age when we’d be content to yell into the void, if the void hadn’t come home to stay. This one will shake up your year, so grab a helmet and head on in.



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Peel Dream Magazine

The narcotic pulse of Peel Dream Magazine envelops all on their second album for indie pop powerhouse Slumberland. The album drips further into the shoegaze showcase than most of the label’s fare but the band lets its roots creep out much further than the overarching banner of the genre might otherwise imply. With a heavy dose of Stereolab, Spectrum, and Seefeel built into their DNA, the group mixes propulsion with haze for a sound that’s beset with vertigo, but pulled from the whirlpool with a knotted rope of rhythm. Songs lock into circular structures that become dizzying as they unfurl, but ultimately delightful in their barrage of muted colors and dancing lights. Like carnival rides narcotized beyond recognition, the band’s sound is permanently protracted through a fisheye lens of ‘90s nostalgia. Its draped in oversaturated tones and the faint smell of dry ice creeping in from the corners of the mind, but all of the pieces lock together with a satisfyingly soft snap.

They took the rhythmic rites from Krautrock, as passed down through generations of bands bleaching out the original brittleness. They pad the sound further with pillowy, woolen riffs that run the guitars and organ through a dozen mazes of wires before they blanket the listener like a weighted quilt that eases the tension of daily — a pair of arms always ready to receive woes, qualms, and tears alike. The album is comfort food for a certain strain of listener that’s been traversing the haze their whole lives in search of permanent limbo — locking away pain, anxiety, and creeping dread in a womb of rippling mauve haze. The band’s debut had a lot of the same pieces working for it, but it left me wanting more. They’ve found the missing pieces on this one, though and its clear that from here on out they’re looking to steady the balance of comfortable cool and memorable hooks.




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Lewsberg

Dutch quartet Lewsberg will draw constant VU comparisons. Its inevitable, and largely, I don’t think the band is shirking the comparison. While they embrace the sparse, dry confidence of the band in their early days over the course of In This House, its unfair to hang this and this alone on them. They’re picking at quite a few other scars of the ‘60s and ‘70s as well and making it all simmer down to a rather tasty roux of rock that’s unfettered and yet instantly engaging. In the same way that the early aughts fought the rising tide of complexity in rock by embracing the lower rungs of fidelity and bringing the studio home, the band strips away any excess that may have built up in the past decade or so. They chip away production and chisel hooks down to their most primal qualities. They don’t forgo beauty or charm to do it, and that’s where the Velvets come in. The setup is simple, but in something like the swaying jangle of “At Lunch” there’s the same kernel of pop that made “Candy Says” a staple of mixtapes for generation after generation.

Elsewhere, the band falls into the same sonic baskets The Feelies, who were translating these impulses long before them, but still found a way to make the crisp collars of jangle pop feel necessary. The hum of the band’s gears is audible in the mix, but it only endears them further to the listener. The band wields the elastic snap of guitars and the brittle delivery of matter of fact hooks in the same manner that Parquet Courts have made their bedrock, but they soften the edges to make it seem almost effortless. Within the confines of In This House, despite it dredging up all these comparisons, there’s the feeling that the band just organically landed here. They’re unencumbered because they don’t feel the need to dress up the melodies with distraction. They’re straightforward with their songwriting because clutter makes them cringe and less is indeed more. There’s a reason that sounds like this have their own gravitational pull. We’re attracted to the sounds that don’t need us, the records that couldn’t seem to care if you listen or leave and that’s exactly what’s here. Its a record that exists of its own volition. If you engage, all the better, but Lewsberg are going to saw at the raw nerves valley that exists between punk, pop, and poetry all the same.



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The Cowboys

While its a weird time to have any music on the dock that’s not just an uneasy drone whirring down to the bone each day, there’s still plenty to love sluicing out of the slicer this week. Bloomington’s Cowboys have been on a personal streak over the last couple of years, kicking out a number of low-key tapes and transitioning to a run of LPs for Feel It / HoZac / Drunken Sailor recently. Their latest scatters some of their more rambunctious garage tendencies and introduces a more brittle brand of post-punk that’s in line with the rising stress levels in a world gone wrong. This pops up on the first single “The Beige Collection” and in turn on “Wise Guy Algorithm.” As the album eases in though, the band can’t help but let their usual shaggy charms seep into the sound once more. They were never built to be the bearers of bad news anyhow.

There’s sobering tones on the spiraling, lonesome, “A Killing,” but even this has a humanness to it that’s well in line with The Cowboys cache. After a short reprieve they find themselves swimming in the same swell later on with “Sweet Mother Earth” — a candlelit, wine-stained ode to diminished resources. They might have gone a bit far into the bottle on the following “Ninety Normal Men” which borders on home grown musical territory, but then again who’s to say they aren’t fucking with us as usual. The band excels at letting the corners of their smile soak into the songs. They’re not looking for a joke in everything, but they’re not above it. Yet when its called for the band brings a real twist of soul to garage, finding common footing with the likes of Black Lips and Royal Headache (though never reaching the alchemical brilliance of the latter). ]

The LP feels like the band in transition. It’s not quite reaching the slapdash superb moments of last year’s The Bottom of a Rotten Flower, but there are more than a few great impulses here. The hearts are peeking out of the sleeves just a tad bit more and they make it work. Interspersed with a couple of welcomed sunshine strums, some hip-shake and shimmy and sonic simmer that never boils over, the band continues to be ones to watch and probably wont’ shake that status anytime soon.


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Cable Ties

On their sophomore album, and first for US label Merge, Aussies Cable Ties retain the fire in their bellies, but stoke it with a few helpings of melodic pop and a quiet contemplation that may have been missing in the past. Throughout their early singles the band was a sonic jackhammer, tearing through injustice, sexism and classism while spitting in the face of a world that long since turned its back on the youth of today. Their first album refined the point on their knives, and did pretty good job of sharpening the rest of their blades as well. With a wider canvas they spared no one who’d earned their ire, and it quickly became evident that anyone on the receiving end of Jenny McKechnie’s gale force vocal torrents were lucky to get out with only a racing heartbeat and a clutch of psychic scratches. On Far Enough, the band barrels into maturity with the same bile in their throats, but also a good deal of calm contemplation as well. They balance their poles of their personality, and now when McKechnie lays into the full force of her anger, its a payoff that hits the listener with the whiplash force that makes the pummel all that much more powerful.

She picks up the lash from so many punk predecessors, and while there’s definitely a cocktail of Tucker, Hanna, and Styrene as the easy to top notes of the bunch, she and the Ties have taken the full force of progressive punk into their tank and turned out a record that’s much more than the fumes of its fuel. They chum the waters with the brooding calm of “Lani.’ They swallow the constant lump in their throats on the dizzying “Pillow,” — driven by bubbles of bass and vocals that cool to a croon. They’ve even captured the complexity of where we lie in wait at the start of 2020 with “Hope” — a song that brims with doubt and desire. Its a societal push-pull with uncertainty, age, generational distance, and the ideals of activism in the face of mounting evidence that no amount of rivets will stem the tide when the dam bursts.

Woven between these careful shadings lie the paint-peeler anthems that nail the fuckers to the wall, and when we hear the crack of bone on concrete its a satisfying snap indeed. On “Self Made Man,” Sandcastles” and in the titanic swells of “Anger’s Not Enough” the band shows that their fire’s never faded. Where the other songs stoke the coals and let the glow warm the listener, here they prove that those coals can build to a blaze bound to burn. What’s best about Far Enough is that it needs time to settle into the system. Their early singles and debut were instantly gripping, but like the best works this one takes a few runs through before it all locks into place. The builds and crouches become clear, the abrasive progressiveness of “Anger’s Not Enough” snaps into their place on an album that’s not a wild swing at its aggressor, but a patient plan of attack that topples its targets in good time.



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Cold Meat

There’s a time for cool waters and calm heads and there’s a time for the righteous infection of fire-forged punk. Somehow its been time for both in these past couple of weeks, but right about now the latter is feeling pretty apt. Perth scorchers Cold Meat have graduated from their early short-form firestarters to a full length that showcases their pounding, primal, elastic scratch. Built on a foundation of tire-thick rubber riffs, the band kneads and pounds the basics of punk through an emotional and musical ringer. The riffs are meaty and land with enough force to bruise heavily. The bass ricochets around the speaker space with a sinewy menace. While squarely in the mold of punk purveyors like Magazine, X-Ray Spex, or The Adverts, they borrow the alternating current corruption of post-punk terrors — finding common ground with the hot bile invective of The Au Pairs and the writhing discomfort of Pylon.

None of the garments of the past quite fit them, though, and that’s to their credit. They chafe at categorization, but Cold Meat mostly look to take a hammer to the societal mirror and do it with a wicked smile on their face in the process. Doesn’t hurt tat they’ve got the twenty megaton howl of Ashley Ramsey in their corner as well. While the music beneath her squirms in pain, Ramsey rounds up every last inch of sneered and seared animus and hurls it at the listener. I’m a sucker for a voice that packs a versatile volley of grievance, pain, disappointment, and derision and she nails the nuance every time. While I can’t say I levy Andy unsettled scores with ZZ Top and their fanbase as the band seems to, elsewhere Cold Meat seem to bring good reason and welcome harbor to their various picked bones. Its a record of its time — bred on the scraps of the past but fueled with the earned anger of a younger generation left in the cold to fend for itself.



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Mapache

The sophomore LP from West Coast duo Mapache doesn’t knock the wheel too far from the road they set down in 2017. While the temper (and tempo) doesn’t rise from the comfort of that first LP, the colors do deepen. From Liberty Street is rife with shades of earthen ochre and dust-kicked sandalwood. There are more than a few pale blues that stretch far and wide as the skies that tie Los Angeles to the Baja. There are deep set oranges and amber golds that bake in the sun and seep into the copper rimmed strings of their guitars. Moving against any and all prevailing winds at the moment, the record is full of an endless summer bliss — capturing the kind of lost weekend aimlessness that feels either blissfully ignorant of its own innate good fortune or imbued with the charm to talk its way into those good graces with gambler’s finesse.

The pair swaps seamlessly between Spanish and English as if border hopping between small towns in an era less locked with tension. With the kind of stubbled yet square jawed vocal harmonies that made Fleet Foxes a household name, the band reaches back to a Canyon croon that’s embroidered over every inch of this record. There’s a bygone feeling beat into the bones of this album — patched and faded like a thrift store Nudie suit jacket missing its presentational partner but pulling the outfit together all the same. There are tales of hammock swung afternoons that feel flush with melodies traded back and forth like pot-luck parcels. Half-hewn notes of Gene Clark, The Fist National Band, David Crosby, and a much less Anglophile Heron seem to flutter through the speakers in patchwork perfection. While the band haven’t really shaken the roots that took hole from their beginning, the combination of calm winds across a few different eras all seem to blow this one in the right direction. Seems like if you’re looking for a bit of relief right about now, this is a damn sure bet.



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Wax Machine

Brighton’s Wax Machine pick up the yoke on a specific strain of psychedelia that seems to have gone into hibernation over the last couple of decades. With their sun-dappled, earthen approach they lock into the kind of Aquarian psych that’s doused in a permanent humidity — cut through with a quotient of languid jazz, a touch of limber lounge, and a heavy dose of lysergic headspace. The band leans into a microcosm of flute-psych that’s sprung up and, in my own personal opinion needs to dominate the next few years. As much as I appreciate a resurgence of liquid fire sax barreling into psychedelia, the flute feels like the right path to soothe the souls of the stricken in recent times. The band’s nearest tangential acquaintances come from Canada, and this pairs well with the last album and EP from the inimitable Badge Époque Ensemble.

Like their Toronto compatriots, the band finds solace in the experimental seance workshops of The United States of America and their brethren, San Francisco’s poet-pharmacists The Serpent Power. While a lot of publications have grasped at the tendrils of Broadcast in relation to this record, there’s only a bit of Keenan’s inimitable pallor in the vocals but, of course, their exists the same sort of dedication to the cosmic spirit. However, this whole record smacks of an older breed of psychedelic vision. It’s built on the seeds that Broadcast grew their vision quest from in the first place. The songs have a vibration to them that’s natural and beholden to a time of utopian ideals. It’s not a naive record, but it’s hopeful in its absorption of the most verdant valleys of the bygone days of the love, peace, and poetry.

There are flecks of Fifty Foot Hose, Harumi, Silver Apples (minus the triumphant march of technology), and Ultimate Spinach under their skin, and the band funnels their fluid psychedelics into a new dawning of Earthsong solstice rituals. While the band finds a few hooks among the ethers, they’re more about feel than anything else. The record feels fluid, fermented, and fragrant. It’s an ecosystem of psych that launches spores out into the atmosphere and infects everything around it with a feeling of warmth, whimsy, and contentment. This is an vortex of vibe, and you should lock in and sink deep.



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Dungen – Live

The live album occupies a lot of facets in a band’s catalog. If it rears its head, it can act as a placeholder, a preview of a new dawn and shift in direction, the requisite a cash grab or fundraiser, or a beacon of a band’s true place beyond the studio. For Dungen, in 2020, it seems to act as a beacon, but not of the band transforming their catalog by padding out or pushing the boundaries of their normal material, rather as a mercurial showcase for their musicianship beyond their established works. If Haxän proved anything, it’s that a band known for psychedelic prowess and studio savvy was also interested in expanding the horizons of genre by injecting an experimental spirit into their catalog that put aside notions of commercial draw . While this is not quite the seismic shift that led to a soundtrack for an obscure Russian silent film, it is imbued with the same experimental impulses. On Live they transform their acument into an album of whirlwind motion, psychic interplay, and virtuoso solos.

The record showcases the band over two nights in November 2015, at Stora Teatern in Gothenburg and Victoriateatern in Malmö. In addition to the consistently searing guitar work of Reine Fiske and the flute of Gustav Ejstes, the set features their Allas Sak collaborator Jonas Kullhammar laying down some fire on the sax. With a turbulent sea of rhythm behind them these three set loose a psychedelic dervish that’s spun sound into a dizzying conjunction of psychedelia, jazz, and acid rock. The band is at their peak on these recordings, not bound by notions of what Dungen has been defined by in the past, but building something that stands as a singular document of instrumental fortitude. It’s Dungen, in as much as the players are all there, but aside from lingering recurrent melodies from their past, this is a powerful document of players pushing themselves to redefine psychedelia in the live setting. This album, paired with the recent live album by Mythic Sunship from their Roskilde appearances sets a new bar for where the live record can reach. If there was a time that Dungen sparked a fire in your soul, then let this rekindle it yet again. The band’s never lost a step, but this some of the soundest evidence how exactly they’ve kept psych vital.



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