Browsing Category New Albums

Total Control

While a good majority of the Aussie indie releases tend to get glossed over here in The States, Total Control seems to have struck a chord. Their releases on luminary labels Sub Pop and Iron Lung probably go a long way in that regard, but that’s not to discount their unique slant on post-punk impulses in any way. Following on their laser-focused 2014 album, Typical System, for Iron Lung, they hop to the short format with a 12″ EP that’s clean, yet eclectic in its influences, but also one of the most cohesive shots across the bow they’ve put together yet.

The record is bookended by pt. 1 and 2 of the title track, a chaotic rip of nervous energy and pointed punk anthem respectively. The rest of the EP has shuttled aside some of their noisier nuances to amp up their off-kilter pop senses instead, littering the tracks with duct-taped beats and sprightly strums that might have found their way to the cutting floor previously. It’s hard not to hear a slight extension of Terry’s excellent LP from this year peeking through – with members Al Montfort and Zephyr Pavey acting as guiding lights in both bands. Still, Laughing at the System is as essential as any other piece of the Total Control puzzle and by no means a frivolous aside. While they’ve begun shading in the bite with a bit of levity, they’re still offering up a few of their most acerbic flayers. Total Control contains some of the top players from the Aussie underground and this release proves how potent they can be even when time is a factor.

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Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys

Though I’ve always balked at the name, Aussies Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys have consistently thrown down a good dose of sore-throated rock n’ roll. They pull from the wave that saw alt-rock rippers rise, riding into major label stardom and branching into either infamy or obscurity at the whims of a nation of radio listeners. For their part, the band leans harder towards infamy on Rot, dredging up more than a few leathered licks from the traditions of The Replacements, Hüsker Dü and Volcano Suns. The Boys know a good riff when they find one, but they’re ready to dive past hooks and into a muddier tangle of rock than most of their peers. And while they may share Joe Sukit with labelmates Royal Headache, they’ve buried his trademarked howl under a tar thick swipe of grunge.

The album’s scraped and scarred, rolled in beer and not a small amount of mischief for a night out. Though that makes them sound like teenagers on a bender, it’s more along the lines of college lads bored and wandering town, looking for the matchlight of fun that winds up the fodder for eternal stories. They succeed in capturing the kind of loose boredom that inhabits youth, the restless heart and shaggy demeanor that’s not quite come of age, but tryin.’ Rot is decidedly classic in its approach, swerving some of the current slacker trends and jangled impressions flittering through the Aussie underground. For their part they’ve gone in looking to create something that sounds like it already belongs to a gilded age of passed down classics and succeeded quite handily.




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First Base

For all the heavy records that roll through here, I am and will always be a sucker for a good ole fashioned power pop record. There’s something about hitting that sweet spot between bubblegum’s sundown and the heartflutter of punk before its more serious sneers took down its most fun peers. That’s the valley Toronto’s First Base occupy. The band’s second record shimmy shines their sound to a high gloss polish that’s as evident in its love for the Yellow Pills highlights of yesteryear as it is for modern contempos like Barreracudas, Gentleman Jesse, Mother’s Children or Wyatt Blair. There are shades of ennui in some of these gems, but they’re all quickly blown away by a core of chewy, hi-gloss, platform stompin’, skinny tie totin’ power pop.

It’s tempting for modern makers to tumble into the pitfalls of pop-punk, toughening the classic formula just a touch too much, tipping the fulcrum from wide-eyed earnestness and into cheeky childishness. On Not That Bad the Canadians steer wide of coming off pubescent and recapture the hip-swung brashness and heartfelt delivery of everyone who fell under the sway of Cheap Trick and Tommy Roe in equal measure. The album is a familiar splash of cool water on a hot day, refreshing as hell in a year that’s not exactly brimming with positive vibes and good time reasons to just dance it out. Maybe that’s why this one feels perfect just now. Sometimes I want something to salt the wounds so I don’t forget the pain, but just as often its nice to just scrub it all away and take a helium hit to the skull that’s frivolous fun for five or ten minutes (or you know maybe 30).





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Lars Finberg

Remember how a certain T. Segall has been dropping some coarse post-punk nuggets, with a heaping helping of Mikal Cronin squalling on the sax? Seems like perhaps those choice moments might have found some incubation in Segall’s collaboration and production of Lars Finberg’s new LP. The first solo outing from Finberg comes late into a career as a noise-pop and garage go-to – holding down time in The Intelligence, A-Frames, Wounded Lion and Thee Oh Sees. However, he seems perfectly at home with his name above the marquee and hunkered down with his cadre of collaborators. The LP isn’t wholly absent from the space that The Intelligence has occupied, but Moon Over Bakersfield certainly hits its own marks, spreading roots into alien punk and acerbic post-punk with equal zeal.

Finberg feels like he’s sinking into a comfortable relationship with discomfort here, doing his best to unseat pop’s stranglehold on indie as often as possible. The record revels in acid-washed sax, dissociated vocal effects and claustrophobic atmospheres, but it also locks down a serious addiction to groove. Finberg rides the bass like a guiding light, peddling rhythm grunged by a heaping helping of distortion as a daily fix. He’s peeling back the skin on his past and letting the sulfur burn away at the tissues of 2017 in a way that’s as addicting as it is unsettling. If you’ve only met Finberg tangentially prior, it’s time to hit him head on.




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Jon Porras

Been a while since Jon Porras has been in all our lives, but fear not, he’s making up the lost time with a new solo outing for Geographic North. Over the years, whether solo or with Barn Owl, Porras has found a way to shape atmosphere into hardened glass and to sublimate tones straight to a gaseous torrent of sound that swirls like a storm with teeth. This album, a treatise on algorithmic vs improvised music sees him steadily eroding the staunch mechanics of preset rhythms into a fine powder set loose on the the winds.

He opens the album with a breath of positivity, burbling with synths and a minimal crispness. By the time the next two tracks hit there’s no sign of any sunny demeanor, only the kind of long-faced dread that’s fed by drought and drunk on death. He lifts the veil somewhat as he progresses (especially on “22/7”) but that nagging seed of dread is present and peeling the paint on your resolve through the end of the album. Porras remains, as ever, the master of stark seances that seem to breathe life into mechanical objects. It’s clear that he’s working within the realm of electronic music here but as the tracks breathe and howl, it’s easy to forget the circuits and let the drones weave with your sinews.




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Alexander

It’s been a fertile year for New Haven, CT. Between releases from Mountain Movers, Headroom, and now David Shapiro’s Alexander, they’re pushing a few of their best and brightest out into the larger world. Alexander differs from the other two in sheer volume alone. Despite having a role in Headroom, Shapiro trades in none of their Earth crumbling riffs or walls of chaos. Instead, Alexander embraces the Takoma catalog for its homespun take on fingerpicked blues. Though, while Shapiro’s clearly a student of the Fahey, Basho, Kotke school, he’s leaning away from any of the jovial, rambling sunshine that might pervade the fingerpicked set. Instead, there’s a somber meditation to his debut LP that gives it weight even where his fingers dance.

He’s scraping away at the new school pickers that have sprung up before him, honing in on the drones and darkness inherit in Ben Chasny, Daniel Bachman, Richard Bishop and James Blackshaw’s contemporary takes on the spirit of strings. The eponymous LP winds slowly through grey-skied hills, still giving a shade of country side blues, but the countryside is more Scottish hills hued in silver than any sunny American delta. There’s a crispness to the record that begs the listener to pull a coat tight around their shoulders and tuck down into a bottle. Admittedly, that darkness is inviting. As proper debuts go (though he’s got plenty of small formats floating around before this), it’s a fair shot and a welcome voice from a verdant New England scene.




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Joel Gion

For a guy most famous for his tambourine work, Joel Gion’s got quite a range on his eponymous LP for Beyond Beyond is Beyond. The artist, best known for his work as auxiliary percussionist/ hype man for the great psychedelic circus that is The Brian Jonestown Massacre has explored his own psych leanings before, most notably on 2014’s Apple Bonkers, but here he lifts off into his own lush vision of lounge psychedelics. Drenched in flute, wafting with synth atmospheres and practically breathing a smoke of its own, the album is oscillating between the spires of Spiritualized, The Telescopes and the more languid arm of Tropicalia (think Tom Ze’s ’68-’70 work or London exile-era Caetano Veloso).

That combination of candlelit confessionals and pillowy effects makes for a unique vision of modern psych that’s a touch lighter, not afraid to wander into territory that could be construed as indulgently soft. There are certainly lite jazz elements here, but Gion’s ability to drop back into a lush, cinematic swirl of salsa makes the album feel every bit like it could serve as the backdrop to a casino scene in any given Connory-led Bond film. Gion’s albums don’t come out at a rushed pace, and while his name still garners more recognition with Jonestown than it ever will on its own, this is a choice nugget for collectors of a decidedly luxurious psych format, one that leaves behind any notions of Beatles vs. Stones and makes its home in the clouds far above such touchstones.



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King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard

So here we are, year winding down and the band is still just short on their promise of five albums between the bookends of 2017, but number four is here and I’ll give it to them, it’s impressive nonetheless. Still got more than a month to go, so who knows? They swerve the impossible tangle of release schedules with a free release of Polygondwanaland digitally and stir up some noise by giving the album to fans to release if they choose, even going so far as to package up the production files on their site. So keep an eye out for about seven new labels to try this one as their cornerstone kickoff or choose one of the at least 6-10 others I’ve already seen floating about. Still, how does the actual album stack up against their gamut of songs from the past 300-odd days gone by?

The record orbits closest to Murder of the Universe, packing a psych-crush that’s doom-soaked and wandering into at least one spoken word breakdown, but it’s far less frantic than that album. It doesn’t go for full reinvention or concept as we’ve seen from Flying Microtonal‘s scale restrictions or Brunswick East’s jazz digressions. But what the album becomes is a solid entry to the band’s full-on prog canon, following most in the footsteps of high water mark Nonagon Infinity and picking up lessons from the various rungs on their catalog ladder along the way.

It’s full of atmosphere, feeling like one of the most uncluttered versions of themselves since they stripped it all back to acoustics back in 2015. However, Polygondwanaland is definitely no exercise in niceties, it has plenty of bite under a rippling shell of glycerine psych. Squelch fights for space with buzzing synth lines and the band’s now almost expected arpeggiated guitar lines, with vocalist Stu McKenzine floating overhead like a prog prophet of medieval doom. Flutes and acoustic strums pull the choke of darkness off just long enough to let the closer tear everything down to the puddle of blood that KG so often elicit. This is a solid entry to their catalog and, I suppose we should all feel a little pride. After all, apparently it belongs to all of us, eh?




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Bitchin’ Bajas

You know a lot of bands, labels and outlets have embraced the cassette as a viable format again, and while I love the economy and accessibility it provides to smaller artists, as a release from a larger indie it sometimes seems indulgent. Not so much for Bitchin’ Bajas, though. I see the release of a double cassette version of Bajas Fresh as tantamount to who they are – the front edge explorers of the new new age and warriors of a freer jazz. They’re not only looking to springboard off of the dusty thrift store tapes found cluttering up your aunt’s forgotten rec room during her meditation phase in 1988, they’re turning that rec room into an aesthetic, that need to center yourself into a right, and crafting a synth religion all their own

They’re fresh off a few collabs, most notably with labelmate Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, so this is the first time in three swings around the sun that we’ve gotten a chance to hear them undiluted, unencumbered and chasing the same flawless bliss that they’ve so often driven towards. That bliss is here, channeling the glowing chyron euphoria of public access library tapes melted into a puddle of incense wrapping and happy little trees with an unsettling rot inside. Be wary, because that rec room vibe they’re inhabiting is packed to the drop ceiling with the discarded interests of more than one relative. It seems that someone may have scotch-taped those old relaxation cassettes and dubbed on a free jazz primer in their spare time.

The group has sought to put forth seamless listening experiences before, creating drops out of time that pull the listener down a half-step to a floating world parallel to our own, but here they achieve that goal far greater than in any incarnation they’ve yet attempted. They stitch synths to flutes and droning horns in a way that feels like they’ve always just fed off one another in a life cycle we can’t see. Cascading down from their first two tracks, they incorporate a Sun Ra cover as if it were canon to them, letting the master’s drones thrum alongside their own in perfectly scratchy bliss. And that’s the core of Bajas Fresh, it’s opening the chakras and then pushing them too far – glowing serenity corded by time and dust until its something new, something more alive than before. This is why you don’t jump the gun on declaring what’s best for any given year. Who knows when a masterstroke is lying in wait at the end of November?




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The Living Eyes

One of the most consistent exports from the Aussie underground comes via Anti-Fade Records’ agit-punks The Living Eyes. On their third LP for the imprint they continue to sneer ‘n shred their way through a dozen compact punk nuggets that feel like they’re handed down from the conglomerate schools of The Saints, Richard Hell, Pere Ubu and Toy Love. While keeping things distinctly Aussie (and sharing a searing similarity to labelmates Ausmuteants) they’re kindred spirits to the kind of itchy, agitated, raw-nerve of punk that festered in the American Mid-West some 40-odd years prior.

The difference is that while they seem to carry the outsider jitters in their very DNA, they’ve also found a way to inject an incredible amount of catchiness into the core of their songs, much like South-Hemi heroes Eddy Current Suppression Ring before them. That band’s Mikey Young pops up in the supply chain here on mixing and mastering duties, so you know things are kept brittle and pushing well into the red. The band has always been a fave around here but I have to admit they’ve outdone themselves on this one. They’ve never sounded more vital, electric or combustible as they do on Modern Living.

At the risk of beating the drum too hard in their praise, this is one of the rawest, most delightfully jagged pieces of punk to roll down the belt this year. Its been a good year for unrest and a bad year for everything else, but this one jolts like a car battery to the tongue. It’s chomping tinfoil like breath mints and dusting any contenders that are hoping to paddle through their wake. I know we’re all looking for a salve these days, and it’s nice to sink back into a malted hazed of indie stupor sometimes, but Modern Living is a good reminder to stay agitated and jolt a few others on your way out of the room.




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