Browsing Category New Albums

Fuzz

A new edition of Fuzz is upon us and it’s not long after the album begins before we’re swept under the atomic crush of the band’s monolithic riffs. This time around they make a natural choice in employing Steve Albini to man the boards and his crisp, unfettered approach only hooks a deeper bite into the listener. The band continues to flourish in the power trio posture — letting the space between them seethe and sweat with a fevered pulse. The interplay between guitar and bass is symbiotic, growl met with growl soaked in the electric sweat of elder gods crumbling into ozone and creosote. Ty’s drums spring and tangle, locking into a swing that’s brief before the next power surge suplex from the strings kicks in. Lurking in the background, Albini’s there to capture it all to fresh tape, a fly on the wall watching a band heat the seams of the room to molten magnitudes.

The songs themselves are, for the most part, lean and hungry. They occasionally indulge in extending their fission fry into the six and seven minute marks, but they don’t tend to jam, and under no circumstances do Fuzz noodle. Blue Cheer carved the altar and Fuzz let the blood drip down upon it. The energy in the room is soaked into the tape and beamed through the speakers with a heat that could bake a tan into the listener. It’s hard not to feel the band being excited about what they’re creating, even if its not breaking the mold. They’re more than open about this being an album enthralled with guitar rock and not seeking to move the needle forward, though. They revel in the tumult of noise and the body high bruise of a triple-stack storm of good ol’ face melters. On pretty much all levels I couldn’t agree more. There are times when I need a band to work up an alchemical shift on the old guard, but there are also days, and might I say after this one, even years, when a sonic reducer to the skull is plenty welcomed. Fuzz shake us all to the bones and I’m not the least bit mad about it.


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Jennifer Castle

There’s something quite freeing about the latest release from Jennifer Castle. The Canadian songwriter has always had a charming quality of disarmament, but on Monarch Season she’s created a folk masterpiece that slowly peels back the layers of the listener with each song. By the time the last song fades away into the colors of the clouds, the listener can feel the grass growing between their veins. Its such a natural, unfettered vision of folk in 2020 that the record almost feels as if we’re listening across some extra-dimensional echo from the past or a ripple from a future in which the gardens of the Earth are more tended by the caretakers than they are now.

Castle’s rooted this album in the enduring wonder of nature, which against all odds persists in some of the most amazing ways despite what we throw into the mix. It’s an unlikely beacon of hope in a year of uncertainty — an album centered around the migration of butterflies, yet stretching its winds wide to blow through social upheaval, personal tragedy, and stability brought low by the smallest consistencies. With just an unfurnished piano or strum, Castle can captivate. The songs lap at the listener like night waves, entranced by the silver stroke of the moon. Her voice stretches in the headphones — comforting as cashmere and often feeling twice as delicate — but also so enveloping that it seems no force could ever shake it. If a single tear of quiet release had a soundtrack to its fall, this may well be it.

Castle’s never come this close to hearth songs. These feel at times like homecomings, a soft whistle in to the family to gather from all corners, and the inclusion of a book of sheet music with the LP speaks her feeling of weaving this LP into the fabric of sing-a-long comfort that comes from closeness. Its a bygone pastime to gather loved ones and sooth through song, but Castle makes a good case here.

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The Cowboys

Bloomington’s best kept secret has always deserved wider acclaim, With each new release The Cowboys continue to cement their status as a garage-soul force for good in the world. The band’s last few records have refined their sound, giving a glint of pop preen to their sometimes rough garage swagger. Room of Clons, released earlier this year, pushed them perhaps a bit further towards darkness, but they’re wandering back into the light with the newly minted Lovers In Mable EP. The songs here are out from under the umbrella obfuscation and reveling in the sun that shone on their 2019 LP The Bottom of a Rotten Flower. Like that charmer, this short-form dose of swoon and swelter is doused in the big-hearted soul of frontman Keith Harman and its hard not to be taken in by his warmth.

While The Cowboys might nip from power pop well that fed Emitt Rhodes or Van Duren and mix in a crunch of the less psychedelic arm of Nuggets-era poppers a la The Mickey Finn. the band’s croon contenders find them transported back to a kind of transfixed ‘70s pop star moment. There’s a feeling of Harman occupying a state of mind that’s between Todd’s Runt years, or mocking up his best unbuttoned Bowie by way of Kevin Ayers pose There’s a shabby grandness that’s packed with allure. His tie’s undone, the ash on the cigarette is long forgotten. The lights cook deep into his features and the slight wobble of a disco ball gives things a ballroom appeal. When The Cowboys are at their best the speakers seem to sigh. They’re picking up a torch from the past to light a new path for all garage-soul sweaters. The EP is out today, so feel free to nab it up quick.

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Smarts

A jittery shot in the arm reaches the masses today with the proper debut from Smarts. The band brings together some ace Aussie talent, with members of Living Eyes, Ausmuteants, Parsnip and School Damage in tow. Smarts captures the kind of fork in the light socket jolt that spread through the Midwest around the tail of the ‘70s, injecting punk with a stable of bands who were heavier on damaged scope than effortless cool. They knit together Devo’s caustic worldview with the jagged edges of underground currents like The Pink Section, Pere Ubu, MX-80, Dow Jones and the Industrials, and Geza X. Though they’d drop down nicely next to current squirm-punk purveyors like Uranium Club. While planty of punks, especially in their vicinity are looking to the smashed glass school of riff wrangle, Smarts wield their fury with a sense of fun.

The band has an admirable ability to not take themselves too seriously, while still drawing quite a bit of blood musically. The pace is breathless and its pretty easy to see how multiple players behind Living Eyes and Ausmuteants are in the mix here. The latter’s sense of chaotic drive comes to mind more than once over the course of the album’s scant playing time, though they don’t drop too heavily in the shadow of their former bands. The blasts of sax from Stella Rennex lace the record with Downtown ‘70s vibes. The chewed foil guitars butt heads with ozone-crusted synths and Billy Gadner’s nasal delivery gives this one a perfectly fried-nerve approach. The best of the ‘70s twitchers weren’t in it because picking up a guitar made you cool, they were tearing apart the rock idol with each ragged riff. Who Needs Smarts, Anyway is born out of that bloodline and it jolts just as hard.


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Tetuzi Akiyama

Guitarist Tetuzi Akiyama serves up a patient, contemplative album on his entry into the catalog of L.A.’s Besom Presse. While I’d normally associate Akiyama with raw sounds and the tattered remnants of boogie scattered around the sound field, here he’s jettisoned both the tube-fried effects and electric instrumentation altogether. The record, pieced together over a decade, lets the air still around the listener. Each note is purposeful and hangs – sanguine or sour — in the air for a moment before disputing into vaporous space. Its odd to hear an artist so based in the rhythmic thrum letting the whims of the wind push a song. There’s a real feeling that these compositions were tuned out of the ether, caught in mind and captured to tape so that they might not escape further contemplation.

There’s no ramble, no rollick. Like Loren Connors the songs paint a stark image, but one that digs its nails deep into the soul. Akiyama’s catalog runs deep, and it’s a dense run to get through, but here he proves that there’s still plenty of intrigue to be hand in following the tangents he winds down. Repeated listens pose this as an album of still water resolve, an anchor point in the chaos that surrounds us. The songs here are not pushy, not showy, but they let the mind wander in all directions. The wind in the trees, water on the wind, Akiyama in the headphones. This is the way of the fall.



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The Green Child

Closing the gap in their long-distance music project and crystalizing the scope of their radiant, baroque strain of synth-pop, Raven Mahon (Grass Widow) and Mikey Young (Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Total Control) return as The Green Child. The sophomore LP has smoothed many of the discordant edges off of their recordings, without losing any of their brand of warbled weirdness. Propulsive, but staggering slightly, the songs on Shimmering Basset aren’t beholden to many of the ‘80s touchstones that normally bubble up when synth-pop is at play. The pair’s wide array of past endeavors and likely deep shelf record collections may be at the heart of the schism here, and we’re all the better for it. While Total Control is a decidedly more caustic branch of synthesizer storm, a good deal of the band’s tendency towards squirm-addled sounds makes its way into the formula on The Green Child’s sophomore outing. Likewise, while Raven’s vocals add a perfectly icy air that’s throwing the fantasy dreampop of Strawberry Switchblade into a stainless steel vortex with Siouxsie’s offshoot The Creatures, and perhaps a whiff of Altered Images.

Though they’re less straightforward than those influences might lead one to believe, the same spirit of taking pop and letting it warp nicely in the sun appears to be at work. They let their baked Flexi vibes infect the album completely, with a slight psychedelic sheen forming. It can feel as if their songs are born from beaming 8mm videos of the band playing through a wall of prisms, letting the melodies through in blurred brilliance, haloed by rainbow ripples dancing into view. The blending of jangle n’ strum with the pound of electronic pop is tightened on the new album, letting their obsessions bleed into one another as symbiotic forces rather than song to song impulses. The record is darker, with its nails dug deeper into the railing than ever before, this album opens itself wider with each relisten. It’s by no means an immediate catch — the “grower”-type of album in true form. Yet, once the band’s under your skin its hard to extract their grip from your heart nor their silvered hooks from your head.



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Mary Lattimore

Each new album that arrives from harpist Mary Lattimore is a more gorgeous exploration of sound than the last. Lattimore’s work has the quality of soundtracks to forgotten films buried in the earth — wordless, imaginary flickers of celluloid that may or may not have existed but break our hearts all the same. With a low hum of synth, teardrops of guitar, and her shimmering harp work the songs on Silver Ladders hold the listener captive within the snowglobe sanctuary of its runtime. There’s a feeling of water all around the album, a glinting off of waves that recedes to the blue line where the water drops off and pulls deep. The songs swing from delicate to ominous over the course of the LP. As we progress the water’s gone from pleasure to peril — inviting us in with its azure hues and innocent glint of sunlight, but revealing a hungry pull towards dangerous depths.

To construct the works on Silver Ladders, Mary reached out on a whim to Slowdive’s Neil Halstead. He agreed to produce and over nine days at his airfield studio they worked through her songs to build an album that’s enveloping but also a bit more spare than some of her past works. Halstead adds guitar to several tracks, and his aqueous lines only add to the sense of submersion into the harrowing depths of Lattimore’s compositions. This is especially true on standouts “Don’t Look,” and “Sometimes He’s In My Dreams,” both of which feel like they’re turning points from serene to sinister. Lattimore has remained one of the most consummate and sought after collaborators of late, often elevating an album with her intuitive playing, but here, on her own works she proves that when she’s at the helm the harp becomes more than shading, it’s an entrancing force.




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Gunn-Truscinski Duo

A decade into their partnership Gunn-Truscinski Duo continues to strip rock’s impulses back to its most basic elements. Despite Gunn’s rise to Matador namesake in more digestible waters, the pair have kept the Duo as an outlet of experimental edge — with Gunn’s guitar work weaving fragility and fury into instrumental bliss and Truscinski proving he’s an infinitely flexible foil. Much like contemporary Steven R. Smith, the pair are able to form compositions that radiate calm, dredge anxiety, and hound the listener with sonic horror, though they’re keeping close to the calm on Soundkeeper. As the record opens, they pad their way into the room with patience, not working to stun or shun the listener with a tumult unitl the moment is right. On through “Valley Spiral,” the record is coiled and cautious — picking through its motifs in slow spirals.

Once the band kicks into “Pyramid Merchandise,” though the tone changes. With a low-slung Gunn riff and an audible “whoo” sent up from the room, the duo begins to buck against the tide. Clangorous blues are wrestled and Gunn’s grit-teethed riffs grow fangs. John kicks the pace to match and the album lights a blaze against the forming darkness. From there the pair pushes through dirt-caked blues, crumbling under the Rust Belt’s weight before emerging once again with the languid, shimmering tones of calm waters once again. The title track pulls some tension once agan, urging them through 16+ minutes of wrangle and wain before skidding into the psychedelic blur in homage to Eddie Hazel that closes out the record, a smoldering elegy to the guitarist that rides away on the ashes of what they burnt down over the last hour. Its an excellent springboard into Three-Lobed’s new 20-year anniversary and a reminder of what’s made the label, and this band’s involvement in it over the years, so vital.




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North Americans

Aiding an expanded focus at Third Man on another side of guitar based records, North Americans’ Patrick McDermott follows up 2018’s Going Steady with his most transcendental work yet. The previous album was rooted in American Primitive, with a bubble of outre synth and experimental touches rising just below the surface. He drew in Julliana Barwick, Dylan Baldi (Cloud Nothings), and pedal steel player and fellow Driftless alum Hayden Pedigo into his orbit and the resulting record had an immediate feel like a woolen blanket for the soul. For Roped In he’s extending the comfort and calm, spending the majority of the record elevating the serene with pedal steel player Barry Walker, though this time friends Mary Lattimore and William Tyler add harp and guitar respectively. Largely, this is a landscape built and maintained by the gentle lap of Walker and McDermott and the world they envision is radiant, rippling in all directions with the slow pick of strings and painterly melt of slide passages.

That Tyler appears on the album is fitting as Roped In evokes many of the same communal cares as his own aching entry from 2019, Goes West. Every song feels like it might have beamed from the players to tape fully in tact as dawn rose over the hills. The playing is nothing if not verdant — alive with a natural fragility and reverence for the meditative state. Every opportunity the record hits the speakers time and trouble seem to melt away. McDermott roots the album in the same American Primitive that brought him to focus in the past couple of years, but its now mixed with a New Age thrum that’s slowing the fingerpicked pace, buoyed by Walker’s weeping slides that land somewhere between harmonious drone and mournful sigh. I mean that in the most complimentary way possible, too. This is the kind of new age that Laraaji is born from, the true believer strain that smooths the edges of angst. While Walker has his own gem of a record on the way later in the year, here he and Patrick have pushed North Americans towards a bliss that cannot be ignored. Quite simply there may not be more beautiful records than this in 2020.



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Garcia Peoples

Four albums on Garcia Peoples still sound like they’re tapping into the main nerve driving guitar rock in an era of subdivision and split-hair genres. While Nightcap at Wit’s End lands more refined and textural than their first couple of LPs, it retains the essential spirit that imbued their catalog with life in the first place. With Pat Gubler firmly entrenched in the band and not just a touring player, the Garcias bound off the experience of creating the massive “One Step Behind” to embark on an album that’s more than a gift to the jam — an all encompassing journey between the edges of the platter. Acoustic touches find greater import, letting the band slip past the phalanx of three-pronged guitar whirl laid down by Arakaki/Malach/Spaldo. Flutes bring the mists, organs swell with sinister purpose. The album is decidedly darker and more complex than their shaggy choogle of yore, seeing the band embrace an earnest vision of prog as it might find footing in 2020. Though they’d likely skirt the term, there’s some bones of the Düül and a touch of the Crimson finding its way into the complexity here. As the album wears on, though, some surprising new names enter the fray as well — bearing claw marks of Agitation Free, Roy Harper, and even solo David Crosby.

The first half of the LP sets out to absorb a wider array of cosmic rays, flung wide through their and hurtling out beyond mere stage-born grooves. From the full bore guitar growl that opens “Gliding Through” to the folk touches that seep through the sifter on “Painting A Vision That Carries,” this is Garcia Peoples at their most adventurous. The latter track sees the band marry a touch of Fairport / Trees fingerpick and freakout to their already stuffed basket of influences and it feels good to let in a little softness. Yet if the first side embraces a spin through various progressive heartthrobs of the ‘70s, the second half clinches it.

Flip the record and we find them constructing a suite of songs that lets vision win out over the instinct to set a song to riff. Here they swab the strains of several of the aforementioned ‘70s forbears to create a huge, mercurial set that bleeds one song into the next. The last album took us all on an epic ride, but here they’re building something even more solid. If “One Step Beyond” embraces their drive, then “Our Life Could Be Your Van” has to be something of a core mantra. Which begs the point — I truly regret that our current circumstances mean that its going to be a while before I get to witness these songs taking flight on the stage, but for now this is a hell of a lot to pick through and parse at home.




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