Browsing Category New Albums

Jefre Cantu-Ledesma

On his last album for Mexican Summer, veteran noise sculptor Cantu-Ledesma took a step towards accessibility. The album was still steeped in decaying waves of noise but it squinted into the sun every so often with a kind of shimmering beauty that let in a crossover of fans of shoegaze or more straightforward brands of electronic music. He doubles (maybe even triples) down on the concept for the follow-up and with On The Echoing Green he creates his most overtly pop album yet. The step towards pop is properly enabled by Green being his most collaborative work in a long time.

Chief among those collaborators is the siren call of Argentinian singer Sobrenada, whose voice fades in and out of the compositions on On The Echoing Green, blinking between the beautiful shards of Cantu-Ledesma’s sonic ruins. The album bleeds into the shoegaze world wholeheartedly this time, no half-measures. The slow, contemplative builds of the songs use noise as a trowel to shape their wall of sound, rather than seeping some shimmer in through the cracks of a house of noise, as was the case with A Year With 13 Moons. The result is a gorgeous, fragile, and tender record that occasionally lets itself be lacerated by Cantu-Ledesma’s past.

While there are some contenders, this might be the headphone record of the year. Cantu-Ledesma’s horizons of quaking bliss wash over the listener like a cocoon of lost emotions. He’s always been a master of soundcraft, but here he proves that he can let a little sun shine in without letting his carefully curated world crumble.

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House and Land

It’s been such a noisy year, in so many ways, that its nice to sink into the sparse trappings of Sally Anne Morgan and Sarah Louise Henson’s traditional Appalachian folk. Not that they allow such folk to become a place of complacent quietude, rather they’re able to wield solemnity and austerity as fiercely as many would a cracked amplifier through fuzztone. However, their resolve and mastery of traditional instrumentation (fiddle, shruti box, banjo, 12-string guitar and bouzouki) shrouds the record in a layer of acoustic shiver that centers the listener as it unfolds in its own naked strength.

The pair met while Henson was opening for The Black Twig Pickers, of whom Morgan is a member. The two women dig deep into the roots of not only American folk traditions, but the natural drone that permeates many historical musical styles. Both songwriters come from a tradition of not only folk but experimental music and the incorporation of microtonality and drone into the canon seems fitting to their background. While its more subtle here than, say, in a neo-classical composition, the drone and harmonics add a darkness and complexity that separates this from lightweight folk on many levels.

More so, they also use the traditional songwriting as a platform to subtly update the songs’ intent for a new age; either adopting the original male voice and making it their own or changing the song’s lyrics to offer a female vantage. This can only resonate deeper in a year marked by so many presumptuous lawmakers speaking for masses whose voices they’re barely hearing. Traditional folk is a road that’s been visited time and again, but there’s still ways to make it, if not fresh, then resonant. House and Land are certainly making the form ring true.



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The Peacers

It’s always comforting to have Mike Donovan back in my life. Since snaking Sic Alps through the seas of fuzz in the early aughts he’s been a steadfast companion with or without the Alps name in tow. Moving to a solo record a few years back and forming Peacers in 2015, which began as a duo with a garage icon of some renown, he’s always been able to find the ragged pieces of the human soul and put them in an order that would make Skip Spence proud. That reputation takes no tarnish here, it’s a pure ramble through the flickering flame at the heart of truly underrated songwriter.

Now with the exit of Ty Segall, one could see the sophomore outing as a bit of bait and switch. Though that kind of view would discount Donovan and place a hair too much of a crown on the heavy head of Segall. Sure, Introducing The Crimsmen is a decidedly quieter record than the last, and that may have something to do with the parting, but its always been Donovan’s show. That makes this record heir apparent, so to speak, to the Sic Alps line, and it feels very much like that’s the idea. Introducing… is a slightly dressed up version of Sic Alps, still shaggy but maybe throwing a shirt and tie on the production while filling out the sound via the addition of Shayde Sartin, Mike Shoun and Bo Moore.

The new players give Donovan’s songs a heft that Alps didn’t always have to swing around. His jagged-psych is given legs via some country touches and the grit gets heavier with the tumble of drums and a second guitar to fill out the din. The acoustic bent on a few tracks, added to that aforementioned shimmer of country, chafes against his gnarled guitar squalls at times. When it all meshes together into a rusted wire framework, though, it works for the most part as the listener steps back to take it all in. That lighter sound hearkens back to that solo album (still one of the highlights in his catalog) but personally I miss a bit of the heaviness of the first record, and it would have been nice to see him go all in on that direction with the full band. Still, there are some true gems in the folds here.




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Philippe Hallais

Usually sporting the name Low Jack, Hallais steps out under his own name for a new release on veteran experimental electronic imprint Modern Love. The album is an ambitious gamble at a concept album that winds thick clouds of shoegaze leaning electronics around a narrative that mirrors the rise and fall of a 30 for 30 style sports story. It arcs through triumph and betrayal, decline and salvation before settling into the kind of melancholy even keel the stores often land on. For all its ambitions, the album plays well as an arc, whether you glean the sports story or not.

Hallais sweeps the listener up in tentative hues of swelling anticipation, but tellingly its a track called “Everything (Good)” that might be the best dual image of American success. The track is driving, but distorted – a feeling of blissful invulnerability fractured into broken mirror static. It’s the kind of song that embodies the overload that’s perceived as all being well, with a rotted core ready to break. That point seems like the beginning of the decline, and he maps out the seediness morphing into neediness following that point driving through the excellent “Fantasy (4U)” which brings to mind subtler works from Darkside.

As he winds down into the fall and rebuild, the album finds a calmer veneer shot through with the kind of thick tones that Jefre Cantu-Ledesma and Yves Tumor have found their niche in of late. If this is the direction that Hallais is headed in, then I’m on board 100%, but if its a one-off, then its still a great example of distorted emotions bent through the electronic veil. You’d do well to find a quiet place to let this one sink in.






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Träd, Gräs Och Stenar

Last year wrought a long needed box set from Swedish godfathers of improv-rock Träd, Gräs Och Stenar. As luck would have it, this year follows that document up with a new album forged by original members and some newer touring members and it brings the band’s sound tumbling into the 21st Century. The album’s impetus was the passing of original members, Torbjörn Abelli and Thomas Mera Gartz, both of whom passed away very close to one another. The remaining members met for sessions that exorcised grief, celebrated life and found passage through to another level of psychedelic experimentation.

The set isn’t nearly as frayed as their earlier works, rather it sounds like it could be splitting hairs between the dark tension of some of the Constellation catalog, the midnight guitar improvisations of Loren Connors and the toasted tones of High Rise. The resulting album is raw, barren, drone-blues at its finest. Haunted and flayed bare of any pretense, this is a sonic sky burial. The band have already earned their place in the pantheon of psychedelic heroes, but they just drive that stake further into the ground with this collection. If there’s a moment in your life that needs to be exorcised and burned to the bone, then Tack For Kaffet (So Long) has a solution somewhere in its tracklist.

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Grace Sings Sludge

Grace Cooper gathers storm clouds again for another midnight collection of her terminally haunted songwriting. Cooper’s work with San Francisco’s off-kilter folk group The Sandwitches laid the groundwork for her solo excursions under the Sludge moniker, and she’s been steadily conjuring up the woeful weeping of the lacerated heart ever since. The songs on Life With Dick, exist in a diorama of overgrown mansions, damp mossy undergrowth and barren basements that bounce her sadness right back at her from all directions. Cooper’s production is sparse and purposefully stripped back to let the sound flicker like the only candle in a room drawn off from strangers. Its somewhat heartening when she’s not alone and plucking, but no less full of the ghosts of the past.

On those tracks she ropes in the washtub thump of drums and a weary swing that feels like she’s stepped up to the mic at last call, growling and boiling her way through a set no one can take their eyes off of. Atmosphere is everything on Life With Dick, the air alternating between oddly parched and overly humid, as if the sputtering machinations of a malfunctioning air conditioner control the mood at any moment. Mind you, though, that Cooper is in full control of every smokey note here. The record is no happenstance of resources, she’s created this dark, Lynchian world and we’re set into it only to realize that her lounge has no doors. We’re locked in with Cooper’s sadness and it’s as captivating as it is contagious.




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Beach Fossils

You know, its been a while since I reviewed a Beach Fossils release and for good reason, its been nearly four years since their last. They’ve steadily built on the sound that hooked me on their debut, but with Somersault they finally shake off the trappings that come with being a Captured Tracks jangle band and grow exponentially. Leaving Captured Tracks for their own Bayonet Records may have something to do with the freedom of sound, but its not without noting that this sounds like the biggest and likely most expensive Beach Fossils record. Not that money makes a good record, but they’ve certainly used it wisely to flesh out the lush orchestrations and mature sound of Somersault.

Age likely plays into songwriter Dustin Payseur’s transition to a cleaner, crisper and more enveloping sound. The songwriter edged into his 30’s while this release was under way and, in NYC years, that brings about more of the quarterlife musings than a true-life 25. He’s touching on the transitions of friendships that happen at this mile-marker, the disillusionment with the city as it begins to ebb further from the artist’s environment and an even deeper disillusionment with one’s country as it begins to drift into political tastes that sour the tongue and wear on the soul.

At it’s core though Somersault is a record about who you surround yourself with, friends and family — surrogate families of the kind that spring up in the city. Paired with the band’s equally introspective songwriting and reliance on orchestration on this album this makes for their best recording to date. The band is slipping the veneer of their old ’80s heroes and transitioning into a new set; trading in The Wake for late period Felt. Though, to be fair they really seem to just using those influences as a jumping off point these days. This is the world as it twists about Beach Fossils in blurred tones of comfort and depression. It’s the sound of a band coming into their own, the scrappy Brooklyn kids replaced with artists looking to make a record that will outlive them all. They may well have done just that.




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School Damage

Having started strong with the single “Tall Poppies,” Melbourne/Geelong foursome School Damage come even stronger with their first full length for Chapter Music. The album plays well into a type of post-punk that prized catchy swings over a full sound, often feeling ramshackle but giddy in the process. School Damage captures that giddiness bubbling in the pit of the stomach and fashions it into a kind of worming social anxiety come to life through woozy keys and sprinting drums. They find the sweet spot between The Vaselines, Kleenex and, as evidenced by their homage, Aussie footnote The Particles. They capture the austerity, sincerity and don’t give a fuck attitude of those groups and translate it into bubbling pop that’s ’80s in root but frothing with a lyrical sensibility that could only belong to present day. Somehow they make it all coalesce into sweaty charms in a mistmatched print.

There’s a delirious, but fun, edge to their eponymous LP and at its most dizzying it has the effect of riding the tilt-o-whirl on a stomach full of cotton candy. The songs are primarily helmed by Chook Race’s Carolyn Hawkins and as much as she adds to her other home in Chook, she’s clearly found her niche in School Damage. Other vocal duties are headed up by Austmuteants’ Jake Robertson, and I tend to have a hard time divorcing his voice from that group. Though, if Ausmuteants aren’t a heavy fixture in your life then the pair act as nice halves to the quiet cool/geek-rock freakout coin, alternating their turns as the wheel amiably.

Plenty since punk crumbled into even more primitive forms have found success in spare squirming, from Beat Happening and C.O.C.O. to the nervy lo-fi of Bitch Prefect, but there’s something that gives School Damage their own space in the sound. They’re perfectly pinning jangle-pop’s heartfelt bubblegum swing to the anxious bulge of early synth-punk, finding a freedom to explode in both directions at once in any given song. They even find time to slow things down from their Adderall rush to strum out a couple of Vaselines poet-souled ballads. Its a history lesson encapsulated and as a jittery post-punk primer, you couldn’t ask for much more.





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Cable Ties

This one has been on the high expectations list for some time. Ever since Melbourne trio Cable Ties’ first single rolled my way, I’ve been eager for an album and now it arrives via Aussie Indie Poison City. Anchored by both sides of the debut single, and augmented with a full batch of equally acerbic cuts, the record makes good on the promises that Jenny McKechnie and crew dropped in the run up. Built around a taught brand of post-punk that’s seething with tension in a way that brings to mind fellow Aussie luminaries Eddie Current Suppression Ring, the band pushes punk past its compact aspirations and into a grinding, chugging assault that ropes a bit of Krautrock to the sound.

The absolute focus, though, remains McKechnie’s voice, which warbles somewhere between Poly Styrene’s sonic assault and Corrine Tucker’s barbed wail. As they build and snap songs into a writhing pile of tension, the anticipation lies not in waiting for the hook, but for the moment that McKechnie lets the floodgates loose. Her songs tend to put their topics in the crosshairs. She’s not one to pine, swoon or ponder — far from it. Creepy dudes, music snobs and money-grubbing shills all get their due and one has to feel a bit sorry for them. Being on the receiving end of McKechnie’s atomic blast would strip the paint off of a resilient subject, let alone such simpering fools.

At a mere eight tracks, the album feels like its just hitting the tip of what the band have ready for the world. Paul Maybury’s production posits it as brittle and bracing, a bare canvas that befits the songs and their makers. It’s the kind of debut that hits like a gut punch hurricane, scattering any other fledgling contenders to the winds and leaving listeners in awe of what just transpired. They’re still young though, they’ve got the angst and a conduit to blow. I’m looking forward to where they take it, but enjoying the ride for now.






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The Total Bettys

San Francisco’s Total Betty’s are a country-tinged rock band masquerading in the skin of a garage-pop combo. Though they’ve picked up ranks at the always lovely Lauren Records, they’re skewing more grown up than many of their roster-mates and even their own name checked influences (Bully or Charly Bliss). In actuality the band lands closer to the catalog of Rilo Kiley, finding solace in Jenny Lewis’ wink laden pop docket, before she truly embraced her wandering country soul. The Total Bettys dig into the faded comfort and driving heart of Rilo’s indie past. More so, singer Maggie Grabmeier has a knack for hooking her thumbs into self-deprecation delivered with a touch of honey that can’t help but dredge up comparisons to Lewis.

Repeated listens open this up, not into the jangled garage nugget that it’s perhaps intended to be, but as a bittersweet summer road trip companion that pines for loves imagined and lost. Grabmeier acts as wing-woman and shoulder to lean on, delivering lyrics with a wry humor that’s handily packed into hooks that aren’t outsized, but rather sneakily subtle and seeping into your consciousness through the slight crackle of production that comes on like AM static. As a debut this feels like its just a peek at what Grabmeier and the band have at their disposal. With a larger scale production they could completely shake that garage tag (not that there’s anything wrong with it) and reach for lush hills that give her songwriting a bit more gravitas and still keep feet moving. Certainly a band to keep an eye on as the years click by, but this is lovely on its own merits.




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