Browsing Category New Albums

A. Savage

Here’s the thing, as a band Parquet Courts lost me a while back. I championed Light Up Gold because it captured a certain moment in the slide of Brooklyn from youthful intrusion to full on infestation of wealth. It was a feeling in time mimeographed and cut to groove, but as the band continued they became more wrapped up in their own lineage and legacy than seemed necessary. The deadpan dynamics and new wave plundering fell too antiseptic on my shores. That’s not to discount Andrew Savage as a songwriter, he’s proven he’s got an angle that sells and a poet’s heart that lends itself well to the Jonathan Richman patter that he’s able to slip into seamlessly.

So it winds up that he’s gone back home to his roots in Texas and a brand of lonesome country pining for his latest, and here he finds his second wind. The album boasts no shortage of talent, swapping out his usual backing band for a bevy of friends and compatriots from Woods, Ultimate Painting, PC Worship, EZTV, and Psychic TV. The assembled masses take his drip dry delivery on a tour of the Southwest, grasping hands with slide guitar and an amiable amble without ever affecting any hackneyed country croon. Instead he staples his best Calvin Johnson talking blues to the tumbleweeds of alt-country and, at times, a starker strain that boils the noise out of his boots and lets an acerbic twinge show through the relaxed demeanor of Thawing Dawn.

This is actually where the album shines brightest, when the noise overwhelms the swagger (see: “What Do I Do”). The moment that the veneer is broken and the brain starts to boil compliments the easy going country ambivalence. There are some choice ballads here that showcase Savage’s handle on being the lonesome foal among a herd that might not love him back, but when he lets fly a brand of noise-country I’m fully invested in what he’s selling. There are those that will brand this a solo outing unmoored from his Parquet work, adrift and looking for purchase, but for me that’s where Savage excels. By balancing ennui painted in sunset hues and itching uncertainty, he’s found an explanation of what drifting into your thirties in the city feels like.




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Headroom

New Haven psych institution Mountain Movers are driven by the restrained fury of guitarist Kryssi Battalene, but whatever impossible dynamics she’s laid down in the past for her mainstay, she’s doubled down on for her own solo work as Headroom. The band’s debut, Head In The Clouds opens with “How To Grow Evil Flowers, a track which certifiably burns down the farm and walks away with a serial killer stare. The guitars are charred, carcinogenic, and aching for more at each and every turn – but what really cements Headroom is that slash n’ burn psych isn’t what defines them.

As the record sidles into the second track there are overt notes of shoegaze that crop up. Battalene’s voice is lost inside a squall, but it’s calm and crouching, a stark contrast to the opener’s napalm glow of guitar fire. The remainder of the album balances these two forces, struggling to see which one wins out. There’s always a notion that Battalene will catch fire like a human torch of bottled emotion and burn the whole track down but the tension that drives that question is the heart and backbone of the entire endeavor. She’s a master of dialed in dynamics, surfing the wave of feedback like a seasoned vet. Where others might easily go in for excess and opulence in the realm of psychedelic fury, Battalne is as nuanced as they come.

This year also saw a record from Mountain Movers, and I must say that it was a captivating release, one that caught my ear and revealed how much the homegrown New Haven band had to offer. She’s saved the best work for her self, though, waiting out her tenure to begin bleeding a feedback whirlwind all over two sides of flat black plastic. This is the eye and the storm, the flame and the fuel. The record winds up both the calm you need and the spark to set it all ablaze, and for that Battalene has bested a good swath of her peers who’d falter in the same challenge.




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Wireheads

Its starting to get frustrating shouting into the dark about Wireheads. Dom Trimoboli and his deck shuffled band of musicians have been consistently finding the spark to light up the parched outback punk that threads is way through their releases and it feels like someone should be taking notice. They pick up the thread of sandpapered alternative that waxed experimental in the ’90s, feeling every bit like they’re holed up at Fort Apache rather than a hidden island in Anacortes, Wa. But, to follow their muse, the band again returns to the American Northwest for aid from discordant divining rod Calvin Johnson, a match that seemed serendipitous two albums ago and now feels like perfect symbiosis.

With Johnson at the boards, this record expands on the magnification of hooks that took place on Big Issues, producing some of the band’s downright catchiest songs to date. Their sound began to coalesce on Arrive Alive, letting Trimboli become comfortable in surroundings that weren’t as barbed as their debut, but here he sounds more confident in his prowess than ever. There’s no shortage of dissonance, but it’s coating some real pop nuggets here. Rolling their strums and squalls in the shattered glass trappings of The Fall and the jittery explosiveness of The Pixies, Wireheads are making the kind of weird, wandering, addictive records that used to flesh out the world of college radio long before CMJ took a tumble.

I hate to try to squeeze a little life out of the expression “they don’t make ’em like this anymore” but it might just be the best way to sum up Lightning Ears. Wireheads are a band making records for themselves, clearly not giving two shits what stylistic notions are de rigueur, home or abroad, they simply channel the shaggy beauty that rumbles underneath the itchy skin of of Aussie indie, poking at the comfortability of slacker pop in the process.




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David West with Teardrops

Ah goddamnit, just when the term supergroup lost its last shred of meaning, David West had to go and assemble The Teardrops, a backing band that would fit the term if they really needed a set in stone label. Thing is, they don’t. The record plays like a collaboration of friends sketching out the best Aussie pop that’s been hurtled down the belt this year. Featuring Bob Jones of Eaters, Louis Hooper of Rat Columns, Mikey Young of Total Control/Eddy Current Suppression Ring and Raven Mahon of Grass Widow, the friends in particular flesh out a well-oiled pop machine that churns hooks and makes it all just look effortless. It would be impressive on its own if West hadn’t also cobbled together the charming new Rat Columns record earlier in the year, making this his second spotless classic of 2017.

Cherry On Willow is rife with cream-thick basslines that squirm underneath a frothing batch of new wave pop cut high with enough sparkling pleasures to fill out any dream playlist. Taken together, though, the album zigs though the many tessellations that made new wave and post-punk such indefinable genres. He’s dubbing out to blissed atmospheres one minute and cutting us down with knife-edge guitars in the next. West is a master pop chameleon, but his most enduring quality might be his ability to stitch stylistic gaps without making an album sound woefully disjointed.

Cherry On Willow sounds like an arc, a journey mapped out by someone writing a soundtrack rather than an album. He’s put together the highs and lows with precision. West nails down the euphoria and giddy sheen on the title track, then dives into melancholy on “Time To Forget” and the haunting “Swan’s Beat.” There’s plenty to love on his third solo album proper, and for those that are already in David’s corner this album comes as no real surprise, but a pleasure nonetheless.




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Lee Noble

Like Grouper, Lee Noble resides in a world of shadows and fog, whispered secrets and floating harmonics that are enveloped by the surrounding environs. His latest tape is a continuation of his synth exorcisms, dragging the spirit world for lost transmissions that ferret out the weight of the world on the soul. His pieces aren’t set up for movement, slow and steady, they build as environmental cues – with a focus on imperfections in texture, hues of grey that pock mark floors and walls and a steady rise in atmospheric humidity. It’s as if all of a sudden you’re in Noble’s world and the decay has become a home you can’t leave, or simply lose the resolve to escape.

The beginning of the album works its way through a hazy pre-dawn light, peppered with the kind of low hums that bring to mind mechanical idling. But Noble stacks on emotional swells and, as the album progresses, vocals give the album a heartbreaking quality of faded yearning that feels tied to the degraded universe of Leyland Kirby. The Hell of You Come in erects a farmhouse, empty and full of lonesome ghosts pulling at your every emotion, before letting the whole thing sink into the Earth with a final spectral wail. There are a lot of ways to run ambient and Noble has carved out his own indefinable niche in the sound – one that’s ineffably sad, but packs a hold that won’t soon let go.




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Scattered Purgatory

For a band from Taiwan, Scattered Purgatory owe an awful huge debt to Germany. Their latest, Sua-Hiam-Zun, is forged from the same clouded waters that sprang Popul Vuh, Ash Ra Temple and Cluster. The album works with atmosphere as its medium, building tension through a massive cavern of sound that feels as if its sprung up slowly on all sides. The listener is trapped in glacial ice and moved with an inching dread towards fates unknown. The duo seems to merely take the German Progressives as a jump off, however, working their systems into festering, humming dystopian dreamscapes that remain anxious despite limited moving parts.

Synths growl like the bellows of huge furnaces, hot and dry with the arid stink of smelted metal. Those remain the bedrock of Sua-Hiam-Zun, but are often shrouded in a layer of fog that seems unbreakable, as if it stretches clear to the highest reaches of the album’s choked atmosphere. The real movement is contained to clattering and clanging percussive notes that seem to act as the inhabitants of Scattered Purgatory’s universe. Needless to say, that universe has no apparent love for itself – a negative space that’s full of life trapped under glass.

Scattered Purgatory takes aim at both doom and drone on this album and wind up finding the best of both. The widescreen drones, of course, do nothing to relax the mind as the band continues to punch the anxiety centers of our brains at each leaden moment, but the cinematic grandeur also comes with a feeling of strange imprisonment that’s harder and harder to resist as the album progresses. We see the end coming and are almost powerless to stop it, dragged down by dread and fear and perhaps hopelessness, but in its absolute domination of the horizon, the end seems almost breathtaking to behold through Scattered Purgatory’s eyes.




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Mapache

L.A. duo Mapache are probably a bit late on their particular sound a couple of times over, but that’s kind of the charm of it. The band is evoking the vibes that ran through the country-tinged revival that pushed bands Beachwood Sparks and The Tyde into the modern lexicon – their own sound itself just a reflection of The Flying Burritos, solo Gram, Gene Clark and The Byrds before them. The connection to those ’90s psych stalwarts is no chance happening, though. The band’s Clay Finch is a cousin to Beachwood’s Chris Gunst, who has championed the youngbloods along with The Tyde’s Brent Rademaker. Both have stepped up to push the young duo to their place among L.A.’s live set.

With that kind of endorsement and lineage you’re either coasting on the fumes of nepotism or you had better be able to back it up. The eponymous debut from the duo boasts more of the latter thankfully. It breaks with the widescreen, panoramic production of their mentors, instead opting for spare arrangements that focus on the pairs’ voices, often all tangled up in one another. Their simple country-folk songs evoke evening light and the feel of sunburn tightening on the skin. Often boasting simple setups that put slide and strum in sway with an amber-hued croon, their songs aren’t overwrought, but it’s easy to see how they could sink a crown into the bliss of permanent summer.

There’s an eternal quality to the songs, a feeling that they’ve just been around bouncing from bar band to bar band in the neighborhoods of L.A. for the last 50-odd years and Mapache has just now put these public domain yarns to wax. That’s certainly what they’re stretching for and more often than not, they hit that vibe effortlessly on the head. Some bands try damn hard to feel like they just showed up and strummed out a weary, road-dusted classic. Seems like Mapache have found a way to breezily harness eleven of them, each one sinking into the horizon with a deeper orange, kicking up the crickets as they fade away.




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Joseph Childress

There are a lot of singer-songwriters you’ll encounter in life. Picking up a guitar and baring one’s soul isn’t such a unique experience among songwriters, but once the layers are peeled, it’s the soul that makes the difference. There’s a line between mere player and troubadour. For Childress, that line gets crossed on by the time we hit the second song on his debut proper. “Footsteps” is an emotional thunderball, building slowly in the distance, but arriving with an alchemical heft that’s proof that Childress has ability far beyond his years. It also proves to be no outlier on an album drawn from a well of stark beauty.

His eponymous LP is distinctly rural, capturing his move to ranching in Wyoming in all its isolating depths. There’s dust on the strings when Childress opens on the timely “My Land,” an ode to hard grit love and living in a time of constant consolidation by the powers that seek to keep a thumb down on the last bit of dirt that holds any worth in this world. He evokes the wild rivers in the ramble of guitar that accompanies “Whispering Tide” – creating a song that’s reflecting the clear blue stretch of sky right back out of the water’s ripples. “10,000 Horses” is grey-hued and smoldering like fog on the creek, beer worked and worn like the lone seat at the bar filled in the afternoon.

He’s not merely crafting a country album here. This is an otherworldly Americana born of modern means, yet crafted looking for timelessness. Childress has harnessed the quiet closeness of recording in solitude, confessional and quavering, a quality that often comes from albums made in sequester. He’s taken that solitary confinement and channeled a deep woven sadness that only comes to light when the tape captures a complete lack of self-preservation. There’s a parallel to be made with the States-based work of Sufjan Stevens, though Childress handles it with far less preciousness than Stevens prefers. The two men are both looking to record desperation, but Childress is capturing the stark permanence of gas station lunches and Marlboro Reds on the cracked Formica.

Actually, in an unfortunately prescient coincidence the album also brings to mind Tom Petty’s WildFlowers in that album’s quieter moments. Like that treatise on divorce and self-examination, Childress takes time to run his hand over each wrinkle in the mirror and turn the inner sadness into a bittersweet reflection on what makes us all unable to fully smile even in the most joyous times. Childress seems to know that even when the candles on the cake are burning for you, its all just a future ache of absence that will forever tug with a tidal pull on our emotions. For his complete commitment to that feeling though, I’m grateful that Childress has sent this quiet nod across the bar.




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Alvarius B.

You seat strapped and ready? Because a dark-laced triptych straight from the teat’s a coming down the pike from the mercurial Alvarius B. The wily Alvarius is, of course, the working mask of Alan Bishop, he of Sun City Girls and the founder of Sublime Frequencies – the label that opened up the world to more collected psychedelic ephemera than most can conceivably claim to have encountered in several lifetimes. Those familiar with SCG know that the trio was no stranger to voluminous releases but yon Bishop may have outdone himself here, that’s fer sure.

Considering his body of work, the most striking aspect of this set is how in line with traditional rock it hangs. For a man who’s spent his years picking though dead stock tape troves and CD-R piles in dusty markets, routinely breaking down our dearly held notions of folk, and generally scorching the sonic landscape with his own lacerating brand – this is a slight slide out of the catacombs and into the sun. Not that he’s never cut a swath across this path before, but he’s not done it so consistently and wholeheartedly since 2011’s Baroque Primitiva, and even that feels hiss-scuffed by comparison. If anything this feels like he’s tapping into his deep bench in The Invisible Hands and proving that he can tramp on your notions of underground rock and do it a damn site better than the self-important rabble he clearly sees riding high on that particular horse.

This really should be three reviews, but since the CD edition swaddles up all three of these individual LPs to a handy bound bundle and I’ve only got the sweat for one, you’re gonna need to settle for brevity. Rest easy though, With a Beaker on the Burner and an Otter in the Oven, moves through the paced phases of Bishop’s moons with a voracious appetite for style. There’s the familiar sandlewood burn of Shamanic blues filtering through much of the first tome, moss sunk and wooden, yet rooted in a ramble that burns with the wicked heart of a Southern coven. But as we ease into Vol. 2 there are moments of white hot light, moments when you think ol’ Bishop’s gone softy on you and found peace. He never lets it lay for long though. As we inch into the final chapter, the nicotine shakes return to the fold, quivering through the crumbling form of man like a colloquial cancer.

That makes this sound like a darker set that it really is. There are truly catchy moments that caught me off guard, and taken on its own Vol.2: A Mark Twain August, is a wellspring of folk-addled pop that feels like a new beginning. I found myself going back time and again for another swig at what Bishop’s been brewing. But even when he’s pulling on his Sunday shoes, there’s a strange sadness that’s tugging at the soul of Bishop, rearing its head prominently in the other two volumes. Though each could be taken on their own, I’d advise against it. The three records feed into and off of one another. The happiness can’t survive without the sadness and neither can manifest without the madness that pock marks Vol. 3 with cigarette burns. There’s no loophole to the soul and over the course of thirty five songs Bishop proves he’s willing to put in the work to take a crack at figuring out the rubric.




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Acid Baby Jesus

Greek’s best current export returns fresh faced and going for a more laconic vibe than they’ve embraced previously. ABJ has traditionally gone for the garage gusto and held on tight, but now they’re folding in plenty of ’70s folk/psych touches to the mix and pulling it off with a pretty solid hold on their history. They can still drive a hook, though, and while the overall vibe of the album has backed away from the intensity of their youth, they still wind up a garage hook now and again on Lilac Days.

The album blows by quickly. It doesn’t mire itself in an obsession with working psych over the barrel of length to draw out the kernel of raw vibe at the center of the beast. They get in and out without overstaying their welcome, and the brevity wears well. What’s striking, though, is when they play things slow – work the ambience more than the stomp n’ twang – they wind up in a place that’s positioning them as heirs apparent to a soft psych mantle that’s in sore need of pickup. “Birth” and “Love Has Left My House Today” in particular find the band lapping at the shores of a calm iridescence that could use more prominence in today’s psych scene. There are plenty that want to proselytize at the altar of groove, but sometimes we all need to simmer and let the damp chill seep into the bones. Acid Baby Jesus ride the vibe well and it would behoove them to follow this muse where it leads.




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