Browsing Category New Albums

Axis: Sova

On round three from Brett Sova’s Axis: Sova, the band is as whistle clean as they’ve ever been – all shined and shaved and in their Sunday best bolo ties for a dive bar date that’s greased with a half-gallon of snake oil charm. Like Purling Hiss before them, they embrace a classic rock deck shuffle and dip their freak card cadavers in swagger with a renewed gusto. The band has crawled steadily out of the Cretaceous with each new installment, blossoming from Brett and a cracked Casio spitting popcorn under his fuzztone freakouts to a two-piece batter-dipped in half-stack blowback, like an acid bath for the ol’ grey matter. This time, though, they’ve bumped to a trio, with Tim Kaiser returning and Jeremy Freise of Cave filling out the full band backup and its definitely given the band a renewed license to play havoc with the style guide.

There’s less focus on the fuzz n’ freak this time around, instead digging into a kind of new wave lacquered psych boogie that’s hard to place a finger on. On tracks like “Crystal Predictor” Sova’s balancing radio ready hooks with the sleaze-squeezed warble that fought its way through DEVO and The Units. Quick-cut to “Stale Green” and they’re cranking fog machines with the Deep Purple road crew. By the closer, Brett’s crooning to the girl in the front row and looking to transcend his bad boy image with a tender touch of ennui and a dash of road wear. It’s a nice look on them and an interesting juxtaposition of genres that fits well together. The AV antics of New Wave’s tin hat art freaks share a lot in common with the psych burnouts carving pot leaves into the back row of the class and this might just be the definitive dissertation on the hypothesis. The fuzzbomb jitters of Shampoo You ferret out a meet-cute of ostracized longhairs from all sides of the spectrum.

I’ll always stand on the side of dirtbag psych, and the album ticks a lot of boxes around here, though I’d wager that the band could push this aesthetic even further. Maybe they do in the live setting. It’s got room to get greasier, twitchier and more over the top. When invoking the spirit of spandex hip flex and/or jumpsuit mind flay its best to forget all sense of decorum. Be that as it may, Shampoo You has a lot to offer and its great to see a band not rutting into the sound they found a few years back. The record feels like a step forward, as if to say “this is not my final form,” but the mutation’s interesting all the same.



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State Champion

State Champion have been carving their initials in the bar wood for a few records now and this time around the gouge is getting hard to ignore. I’ll admit I’m guilty of not giving the Louisville band enough credit, credence, or most importantly enough time on the speakers. There are a lot of bands battling for the haggard and hangdog void left behind by The Mats, Uncle Tupelo and Camper Van Beethoven, but few are actually able to capture the effortless ease of any of those record shelf regulars. Ryan Davis belts like the best bar band basement chuggers inhabiting your average college town’s VFW circuit, but elevates himself out of the depression dens with his indefatigable wit and an ear for raw melancholy that’s enviable.

The magic of State Champion is they’re wading through an alt-country ramble that’s been picked clean before but making it work like few of their peers. Davis is without a doubt a big part of that. Much like fellow perennial underdogs James Jackson Toth, Ned Collette or Joseph Childress, he’s one of this generation’s great songwriters, sketching out a vision of the American Midwest that’s self-aware, unpretentious and biting. Full of crumpled last cigarette vignettes and bar rag blues, Send Flowers is without a doubt the best vision of their quarter-draft night aesthetic. While the band’s last couple of records wore down the threads on their flannel resolve, this one breaks through the disguise to reveal State Champion as more than just top-billed Louisville royalty.

Its not simply a vehicle for Davis though. While the touchstones of alt-country and bar rock aren’t revolutionary, the band backing him up are nailing the sound with a subtle grace. There are soft touch slide guitar runs that practically weep, fiddle that dances slowly in the corners, and an uncluttered strum that knows just when to step out of the way. There’s something beautiful in a record that lets the listener crumple in its wake. Send Flowers is that friend that will buy a few rounds when that relationship that stretched past the point of breaking finally does you in. It lifts you up with a few great stories and leaves you to think in the cold, numb embrace of the parking lot’s void staring up at the stars – afterward you’re better, even if you’re not better off.



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New Rose

Its been a solid year for country hued indie. From Aussie exports to homegrown US acts, there’s been plenty of mournful slides and a ton of twang among the best of 2018. You can now add to that clutch of releases the latest LP from New Rose. The Brooklyn band embraced country’s cradle on their previous album, Morning Haze, and they’ve settled nicely into the valley of the bittersweet bend for Crying Eyes. Recorded between Nashville and two visions of New York – the city and various upstate locales – the album is an autumnal comedown that’s seasonally adept with its heartache hues and mournful sighs. Where their last album found them in a state of transition, they’re now on a clear path to the depths of the human condition as rendered in the sunset’s golden glow.

On the new album the band taps into a ’70s vision of California as their core of inspiration, more-so than any Texan tropes or Nashville niche. While they pick up a bit of the latter from their studio time in country’s capitol city, essentially they’re drawing their grey skies from the Western whiles of the West Coast class this time around. There’s a languid approach to their drawl, unhurried, unfussed, but not unaffected. There’s a sense of loss and a resigned sigh to the band’s approach. The world has ground them down but not out and they’re here to give solace to others in the same sling of damnation.

While it might be hard to give the Laurel Canyon cred to a bunch of East Coasters who skewed closer to Gun Club than Gram Parson just a few short years ago, it has to be said that the band has put in the work. With their second foray into the cradle of croon they’ve smoothed out the kinks and found a buttery soul that’s hard to ignore. The record comes across more than just ten gallon dress up and nickle bourbon charms. They’ve spent some time wallowing in the sorrows of their ’60s country-psych predecessors and, even if its just osmosis working its magic, New Rose seem to have found sweet relief on Crying Eyes.



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Jon Spencer

It seems almost crazy, but this is Jon Spencer’s first solo LP. The man’s been holding down the scuzziest deep end of garage rock for so long its easy to take it for granted that he’ll be there, slinging freaky fuzz riffs for the ages no matter who’s backing him up, though. From Blues Explosion to Pussy Galore to Boss Hog, Jon’s there with the right sleaze for all your needs time and time again and I’ll be damned if he’s not there again. First time I saw the Blues Explosion it was a dropped jaw experience. The band was tight, the riffs were filthy and the whole room was filled with a freaky ectoplasm that spread from listener to listener like an infection of groove. That groove is still on hand and it shows no signs of ebbing even with Spencer all by his lonesome.

To be fair there is no real genre that holds Jon Spencer in check. He’s a funk Dennison and a rock Svengali greased by the gods to make your ass shake and your soul drop three floors below into the sub-basement of hell to roast while the narcotic groove rattles around your insides. He’s a wizard, a shaman, a prophet, a mage conscripted to the highest church of burnt ozone brain fry. There’s no cage that can hold his chemical burn barrage and that’s just the way it should be. Spencer Sings the Hits! proves this over and over, with each blast of taut tension that unfolds over these thirty-three minutes of divine damnation. There’s no better freak conductor than Jon Spencer and don’t you forget it.

True, solo Spencer is pretty close to what the Blues Explosion would be doing on the average Wednesday night in 2018, which is to say shimmy-shakin’ through the soul-glo delirium tremens and hoppin’ the bus to the graveyard shift at the fuzz factory. You know what, though, I’m not looking for huge departures from Spencer. I know what I came for and he’s delivering on the demand. Its a perfect dose of melted medulla machinations and in a year when everything is too much to handle, a little bit of freak shimmy is just what the new world ordered.



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The Ocean Party

Its hard not to view the latest melancholic masterstroke from Melbourne’s The Ocean Party in the tragic view of the recent loss of one of their members. Just over a week out from the album’s release the band lost member Zac Denton (also of Ciggie Witch, Pregnancy) to the sudden onset of a brain cyst. At six members deep, the band is stuffed with songwriters, but like the rest, Zac’s voice added to the band’s surprisingly complex resolve and gorgeous glimmer of hope in an overwhelming world. The Oddfellows’ Hall, was recorded in the titular building, a community meeting center in New South Wales, and the out of studio locale adds its own bit of character to an album that’s also a bit unconventional. The record merges styles seamlessly, slipping from country-flecked indie to pulsing new wave offspring while offering a bit of a buoy and ballast to listeners in need.

There aren’t any hard divisions between the genre hops and that in itself gives the album a welcome cohesiveness. When the drum patterns rise up, there are still a few melancholy slides that find their way into the mix and even the downbeat strummers still have an undeniable pop center. To their credit, despite Ocean Party’s deep bench of songwriters, the tone retains an even whiff of bittersweet bliss. While each member adds their own color – sometimes adopting the laconic lounge licks of Kurt Vile, sometimes picking at an updated vision of the bedroom dancing that inspired The Postal Service, and most often finding themselves tangled in a jangle n’ twang that’s all their own – they all seem to keep a collective spirit in-tact.

Its humble and human, warm and weary. There’s an everyman appeal to the album that’s endearing. It’s a fitting swansong for Denton, albeit one that comes far too soon. As the album examines the personal anxieties, quiet triumphs, and daily stumbles that each member endured and exemplified, it’s a little piece of the artists to hold onto – a balm for the listener and players alike.



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Meg Baird & Mary Lattimore

That Mary Lattimore and Meg Baird haven’t constantly crossed paths as collaborators is a bit of a conundrum. Both artists spent time in Philly’s verdant folk wave and both have found themselves circling a good cross section of the same musicians over the years. They’re both constant collaborators in general. Lattimore finds herself skewing to the experimental subset, appearing with Jeff Zeigler, Chris Forsyth, and Elysse Thebner. Baird on the other hand has leaned psychedelic, taking up posts in Espers and Heron Oblivion outside of her collaboration with her sister Laura. Now the fates have intervened and Baird’s effusive folk is married to the sympathetic strings of Lattimore’s harp. With voices billowing around the headspace in an otherworldly flow, Ghost Forests, it seems, is an apt title. The album rises out of the mists with an intangible softness – streaked by sunlight, tangled in the wind.

The pair weave subtext and nuance throughout the album, eschewing overt declarations for hazy perfection on a great many of the songs. While there are themes of nature and nations, art and anxiety even the most straightforward songs like “Painter of Tygers” or “Fair Annie” are still subsumed by a disorienting haze that renders every moment of the album beautifully serene. Its Lattimore’s harp that pulls the listener out of the maze each time, though. As with any of her own works or previous collaborations, Lattimore’s talent for adding a bittersweet sparkle to any track remains true. She’s a master of restraint, plucking and prodding songs along with a gilded touch that’s never busy, but always brilliant.

The record builds towards strength, with the first few tracks loping along quietly, doused in a morning serenity. By the time the pair lead the listeners to the closer, “Fair Annie,” the sun has almost burnt away the billow, leaving an ache of longing in its place. The duo’s first outing for Third Lobed immediately leaves the listener wanting more and hoping that this isn’t the last time the women grace each other’s presence.



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Doug Paisley

With his fourth album for No Quarter, Doug Paisley has released a quietly devastating look into getting by. Starter Home, as the title might suggest, revolves around humble family life – burrowing into the weariness, happiness, worry and wonder that’s stretched across the American landscape. From the rain-streaked Sunday strums of the title track opener to the last lilting ripple of “Shadows,” Paisley proves that he’s got a deft hand for crafting winsome country that sketches out small town life in painstaking detail. His characters can’t move beyond the meager means they intended to be temporary fixes, can’t move beyond the jobs that were supposed to drag them out of their paycheck to paycheck lives. They’ve got friends, though, and family and they recognize the small miracles that pull us each through every day with enough of a smile to forget the weight, letting a few beers stoke the will to get to tomorrow.

Paisley’s vignettes aren’t cast in gilded frames. He’s a master of restraint, giving songs just enough to make them gorgeous but not showy, like high contrast black and white photos of ’50s modular homes with worn furniture and a cigarette in each hand. There’s a sense that this album is rooted in the same kind of sorrow and sighs that might have driven Townes or Fred Neil, but also a sense that Paisley is taking his rough roads better than the brand of artists who let the world cut them too deep. Starter Home is, without a doubt, an aching record with despair hovering right around the corner. The charm is that Paisley never lets it catch him or his characters.

The firelight flicker underneath the bittersweet blues keeps each song floating on a comforting warmth. The album’s centerpiece “Drinking With A Friend” kind of sums up the album’s underlying aesthetic. Paisley’s there to buffer your bad days and buy a round. Its the aural equivalent of that ache that hangs at the center of your chest – the pang throbs until it sometimes overwhelms, but it also reminds you that you’re alive, and that in itself is ok. Within the brief nine songs of Starter Home Paisley is able to unbutton then salt the wound and sew it back up for the next day’s lacerations. Its a humble album, that nonetheless leaves a pretty sizable mark.



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Rays

On their previous album Oakland’s Rays merged wiry post-punk with the current wave of Aussie indie that’s been riffling through Flying Nun singles and Go-Betweens B-sides as inspiration. There were bright spots of jangle that jutted through the din last time around, but on You Can Get There From Here the band has embraced their more melodic impulses upfront, giving the album an accessibility they’d sometimes rebuffed in the past. Like fellow West Coasters Massage, they’re clearly dog paddling through the best Aussie upstarts – cherry picking bits of Boomgates, Blank Realm and Terry – while leaning on a double-dose of detergent-core from The Clean and Cleaners From Venus.

The slight scrub-up feels good on them, though they’re not wiping away their grit completely. The record leaves plenty of un-sanded edges that give their sound the same kind of unfussed and genuine weight that their South Hemi counterparts have been cultivating in kitchens and practice spaces over the last few years. So many of those bands have embraced a laconic style that gives the impression each humble hummer has sprung fully formed from idle strums and stream of consciousness divining of the universe’s whims. Likewise, Rays, too, have perfected the art of sounding effortless. There are moments on You Can Get There From Here, that were no doubt fussed over in the writing room, but feel like they dropped out of the sky shaggy, shaky and catchy enough to crush your resistance on first listen.

While the particular strain of pop that burrows out of OZ on a regular basis, peddling curdled sunshine and tarnished hooks is still appealing to a niche base with a hunger for a less pristine pop present, its good to see more US bands adopting the model. Rays are proving to be ones to keep a constant eye on and with You Can Get There From Here, they’ve jumped up in the ranks on the list of 2018’s jangle pop essentials.



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BB and the Blips, Tommy and the Commies, Rata Negra, Timmy’s Organism

Its been a packed fall, that follows on a pretty packed 2018 in general when it comes to the volume of releases that have found their way to listeners over the last ten months. With that in mind I’m going to try to increase the visibility on some worthy releases with occasional combo crunched reviews that still allow some depth yet let me move through the inbox faster than my busy schedule normally allows.

Tommy and the Commies – Here Come
First up, Ontario’s Tommie & The Commies crack open a breakneck punk record that’s pulling (almost too close for comfort at some points) right from the playbooks of The Undertones and The Buzzcocks. At only 16 minutes long, the album doesn’t leave a lot of time to catch one’s breath, but this kind of classic punk wasn’t meant for sitting still. It was meant for tossing beer bottles and stray spittle at the torn silhouettes on stage while mashing yer face into the mass of humanity that is the pit. The songs are appropriately nervy, snotty and breathless – never even stopping for a Ramones-worthy 1-2-3-4 to leap into the fray. Lead lugger Tommy Commy’s perfected his Feargal Sharkey impression to the point that its almost torture not to hear the band tear into a cover of “Jump Boys” every time a new track revs up. This one ain’t beating down any new paths, but for those punks who have been missing the glory days, this’ll do to get the pogo pounce out of your system.


BB and the Blips – Shame Job
Swinging the spotlight from Canada to Australia, but keeping the focus on new bands with a classic slant, we arrive at the proper punk burner from BB and the Blips. The band, made up of ex-pats from Housewives, Good Throb and Semi, is nailing down the kind of middle-finger teardowns that made X-Ray Spex and Penatration formative touchstones. The Blips are tackling a ten-track dissection of shame, but they’re hardly stopping long enough to linger on the stomach-sick effects of the emotion. The album blisters by in a growl of guitars and a delirium of helium and heat vocals. As with the Commies, this one feels reverent to another day and age, but they’re pulling it off with conviction and style, so who cares that this brand of gnash-toothed punk has been bought and sold before. Shame Job doesn’t waste a moment and never lets go.


Rata Negra – Justicia Cosmica
Another international jump swings the lens to Madrid, where Rata Negra have been bashing out acerbic post-punk since 2014. Following on the band’s absolute crusher Oido Absoluto the Spanish band continues to mop the floor with most contenders on Justicia Cosmica. The new record seems to lack a bit of the bottom-end grit that marked their previous effort, but it finds them just as frantic and furious as they’ve ever been. Adding some occasional keys to the mix pushes the dial forward on the time circuits here, landing them just a touch into the early ‘80s from where they last left off. Still not taking an ounce of shit, though, the band feels ready to fight via fists or phrases until their dying days. The bass is knotty, the vocals sound as if they could sear the flesh from your skull (at least until the rather wistful “Nada va a Permanecer Dorado” hits) and the guitars are filthy with fuzz. Madrid’s been something of a hotbed for punk and post-punk these days and Rata Negra are leading the charge among the city’s best.

Timmy’s Organism – Survival of the Fiendish
Detroit’s favorite degenerate emissaries are back with a new album and the same oil slick mutant punk in their pockets. Timmy’s Organism has long been a favorite around here and their latest ticks all the same boxes that endeared them to me in the first place. Survival of the Fiendish is sopping up the gutter grease that festers below us while we sleep. Timmy Vulgar is the embodiment of the reasons that parents have been confiscating punk tapes from the dawn of the genre. The album is full of ill will, evil intentions and the kind of oozing riffs that should reduce your speakers to a pile of festering goo. Though, the boys do let themselves evolve. Is that a piano I hear on “Green Grass?” Is that acoustic guitar wafting through “South Shore Train?” Maybe the mutants have softened in their old age. Well, maybe not. There’s still plenty of bile to be had, but the record does show some growth among the Organism’s impulses. After a move through the label ranks – Sacred Bones, In The Red, Third Man – the band graces the spools of Burger and it all seems to make sense. Thanks Baphomet for Timmy’s Organism. They’re perennial solid senders of the evil ooze.



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Wingtip Sloat

Wingtip Sloat have never been an easy notion to pin down. Active in the early ‘90s, The Viginia / DC band cropped up on small labels with handmade singles that immediately fell out of print. They found their way to the arms of experimental haven VHF and began a string of idiosyncratic excess with the label that spanned “7s, a couple of albums, and a comp that dredged up more than thirty tracks of pre-label singles and compilation tracks almost lost to the ether. In 1998 they issued their skewed and scrunched pop classic If Only For The Hatchery to relatively warm reviews then all but disappeared. So, it’s a bit of a shock to see the band back with ten new tracks and a deep-pocket dive of archival material that fills in a good amount of the gaps.

Not entirely sure what the band’s been up to in the interim, but Purge and Swell proves that they haven’t lost their crooked smile and pop acumen. The songs are still fishooked by jangles and slashed through with angles – catchy and immediate with overtones of Guided by Voices, Tall Dwarfs, The Clean and The Bats. Compared to a good deal of their scattered back catalog this is as refined as the Sloat has ever sounded and its downright charming. There’s sunny slouch to the new material, sluffing off their more acerbic hackles and, in deference to their previous MO, the record is remarkably cohesive in tone. The band has always had a melodic current jolting under the post-punk bite, but Purge and Swell seems to be digging for earworms like never before.

For the invested Sloat-er the album comes with a treasure trove of songs from the rehearsal rooms and cutting room floors of their past. Like that whopper of a singles comp from the early aughts, this is a lot to digest, but it gives plenty of insight to the band’s influences and process for the curious. There are plenty of short burst poppers, erratic outbursts, and covers that span from Brian Eno to Belle & Sebastian. If this is your first taste of Wingtip Sloat, the new disc is an easy entry, though it doesn’t necessarily prepare you for the depths they’ve dug in he past. Still, as a standalone Sloat, its up with the best. Plenty of great bands get lost in the cracks of culture and there’s no time like now to reinvestigate the ample, winking charms of Wingtip Sloat for a while.



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