Browsing Category New Albums

Julie’s Haircut

Italian psych collective Julie’s Haircut have been operating under that name since the late ‘90s, but their sound is still evolving, rooted in the boundless cosmic expanse of psychedelia and the darkened recesses of the polyrhythmic groove. The band has collaborated with Sonic Boom and backed up Damo Suzuki, so they were bringing a fairly heavy resume to the table already when they jumped onto UK psych enclave Rocket Recordings’ roster last year. Their second LP for the label pushes their sound further into the recesses of rhythm-wracked psychedelic divination. In The Silence Electric pulsates with a seething intensity boiling beneath the skin. The band just barely contains the tension on tracks like “Emerald Kiss” or “Sorcerer“. When they do let the pulse lie, the album only feels like its pulled into the eerie call before a storm. “Lord Help Me Find The Way” emulsifies their groove into the kind of nebulous humid float that wraps the best Spiritualized tracks.

There’s something elemental about the record. It has a heartbeat hum, that the listener is either chasing down or being pursued by at any moment. Their vocals waft in on vapors that permeate ever inch of the brain, weaving between layers of gray matter while the rhythms work the body. There’s an air of incantation, a ceremonial throb to the record, especially on tracks like “Sorcerer” which embodies their mystic turbulence and spiritual calm. They lace the record with sax, but not in stabbing, bent harmonic hues (at least not until an explosion of violence in “Pharoah’s Dream”), rather it enters as another layer of creeping ambience slicing through the swirling sage. For a veteran band with almost 25 years under their belt, they’ve never sounded more bracing, or more alive. This is a crowning achievement in their catalog.



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Gong Gong Gong

Beijing duo Gong Gong Gong root their songs in a minimalist blues that incorporates traditional Chinese structures, but come out feeling like desolate, havok-wreaked tunes for the coming collapse. There’s tension at every corner of Phantom Rhythm and the pair aim it at the listener in waves of dustbowl devastation. With only two players (guitar and bass) it seems like they couldn’t keep the propulsion kicking with the kind of intensity they court for a whole album, but with the guitars scratching away a galloped gait and the bass fuzzing at the seams, the songs are breathless and biting. They leave room for nuance, though. While they always seem to wind up at a stomping gallop by the time the tracks close, along the way they prove themselves limber players who can snake through any musical opening.

On the slightly pedal-paced “Moonshadows” there’s still an urgency, but the band also finds themselves slinking through the shadows, quiet on their feet but keeping their hearts thudding hard in their chest as they weave through the wilds of rhythm. The fuzz if forever hungry in the heart of Phantom Rhythm and bassist Joshua Frank often lets his instrument act as the radical element in their dynamic, vaulting off of guitarist Tom Ng’s steady strut a low-end howl through the caverns of the mind. Though they’re packed into a Bo Diddly swagger sack on the surface, the record updates the folk-blues model for a thornier, more furious world. This is sweat-lodge high-vision choogle, a groove that slices between past and future. The future ate the past and only the dry scrape of Gong Gong Gong hangs ominously in the distance.



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Robert Sotelo

Robert Sotelo’s third LP, and his first for skewed pop stable Upset The Rhythm, is both sublimely serene and incessantly itchy. His pop comes on like the warm confines of a sweater that reveals itself to irritate the skin. There’s a squirm to songs like “Mister,” or the title track “Infinite Sprawling” but it doesn’t seem to bother Sotelo. He’s lost in the confines of his mind, locked away from the tether of earthly irritation. The pontifications of Sotelo’s pop are, in fact, comforting. He’s lost like you are. He’s nagged and dogged by the same singularities that give you pause, but he’s confident in his croon and it makes it seem right. But what’s that clanking? It’s off behind the buttery guitars and jangled hooks and it seems to be getting closer. More often than not there’s a buzz, the odd xylophone rhythm, the croak of frogs that sets a track off the path and dipping into the bog on that’s built up around the preserve.

He can cloak a track in amber country hues (“Run”) but it’s still tripping over its own feet and it feels good to know that we’re not alone in our own self-conscious tumble through the cosmos. Rob’s pop falls under the same full-moon sway that past primers like Moon Martin were bound embrace. He’s the outsider, but truthfully, he is all of us. He is dipped in pop, but he’s not comfortable with how deep he’s swum in its waters. His head is spinning with doubt, protracted and distracted. Inside his songs we’re narcotized and enjoying the party, but internally we can’t figure out why that stomach pain is so present, where it came from and what it means. Sotelo’s a master of moods and on Infinite Sprawling he’s captured a corner of the lounge that doesn’t get swept that often. Its’s nice picking through the detritus with him for a while.



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The Taxidermists

The sophomore LP from Massachusetts duo The Taxidermists takes a different tack than I’d expect from Feeding Tube, but then again, the label is built on not fostering expectations. The Taxidermists trade in a noisy nook of indie that’s got a shelf full of Sonic Youth, Pavement, No Age, and Eric’s Trip – though from a contemporary standpoint they’re landing right in the kinked-tin travels of someone like Omni. The aural twists come quick and, while not frantic, they are certainly anxious. On the contrast the lyrics seem almost nonchalant. They remain unfussed by the din that grows behind them. The band threads noise through their sound, but they’re in search of as many hooks as the next pair. The dynamic gives the record a nature of being at odds with itself. The vocals give way to a need to be liked, while the guitars yell “fuck you for thinking this will be that easy.”

Thorniness aside, the record wraps itself in a sort of classic New England clatter – the kind that would have once been traced back to fountains of shaggy shake a la Fort Apache, where the curdle in their licks would be well appreciated. It’s a pop record for folks who don’t like pop records. They are punks with a heart that heeds noise, noise nerds with a secret diary full of indie pop lyrics. If anything, the true criticism of the record is that it winds up a bit short. They burn bright and tangle hard, but then the record just hits a wall and they skitter off leaving the listener wanting more. Suppose that’s a good thing, but the hurt is real all the same.






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Thigh Master

Aussies Thigh Master tackle their sophomore LP, jumping to US garage enclave Goner for a wider release this time around. Pushing the palette far beyond their debut, the band digs into the jangled jewels in the catalogs of The Bats and The Clean for inspiration, without making it sound like they’re too stuck on the past. Shot through with the requisite amount of shaggy confidence, affable hangdog humor and self-deprecation that makes up a good portion of their homeland contempos, Now For Example tumbles and squelches its way into your heart. The songs ramble, loose and lean, like a good conversation rather than a pitched and prim vision of pop.

The band picks apart the barbs that stuck from the early Flying Nun days, letting their guitars snag and tangle through hooks that just barely hold together, but always manage to hit their mark, nonetheless. They’ve got charms, as the inclination to name yer band after a Suzanne Sommers TV-marketed weight loss squeezer might imply, and those charms go far to endear Now For Example in a field crowded with Aussies hitting similar marks. The band’s harmonies warble, but sound sincere, with an urgency that turns to smiles every time. It’s a damn fine record that should do the Brisbane set proud. Gonna want to get this one on the table and get the windows thrown wide. The neighbors need to hear this.



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Moon Duo

The last time that Moon Duo graced a long player, they’d split their impulses up into dark and light – a duality that served them well, giving a showcase to their heavy psych hammer, but also their growing openness to more serene sources. They continue to tap the latter as they ease into the shimmer of Stars Are The Light, an album that finds the band diving into their love of dub’s endless embrace, disco’s euphoric lift, and the more open expanses of psychedelia where the genre invites listeners to loose oneself in sound and let the rhythms infect every pore. This time the tendrils of guitar wind around ever limb and digit. The sound permeates into the bodies systems, swimming in the blood and bile until it’s one with the listener.

The band has always had a pull towards the tendencies of their German Progressive forbears, finding a spot in the cave beside the Düüls (I or II), Guru Guru and Popul Vuh as they bounce sound off the stalactites of your consciousness. This time they go further from the mouth of that cave, letting the sounds disorient and the synths in particular sparkle like secret geodes lighting the way towards serenity. They too have pulled from the slow burn of Spacemen three, but here they seem to follow Sonic Boom on his travels through Spectrum and into the realms of E.A.R. They wind the more experimental production elements in an ache that’s rooted in their search for euphoria.

The shift is startling if listening to just one or two examples shuffled into their past output. Something like the title track, separated from the statement of Stars, when compared to the relative heavy groove back catalog crushers like “Slow Down Low” or “The Death Set” feels like being transported to a whole other planet of sound. Yet the glimmers have always been there – the gauzy strum of “In A Cloud,” the poppy sway of “Circles” – they all feed into what’s working through the veins of Stars Are the Light. Ripley and Sanae have found the balance, sawn off the fuzz yolk that held them fast to the legacy of Wooden Shjips and set themselves adrift into the cosmos here. The record is practically built for headphones as sounds bounce around in 3-dimensional drift, always anchored by the heartbeat skitter of rhythm that pulls the listener out of their shell and into the greater unknown.



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Kelley Stoltz

Just a quick jump after his last offering from Banana & Louie, SF one-man supergroup Kelley Stoltz returns with the even more enticing My Regime. The record is one of Stoltz’ most packed platters in a long time, absolutely awash in bittersweet New Wave touches and moments of pop perfection. He’s long since jettisoned the garage gears from his persona, but there were still some inklings on last years’ Natural Causes and 2015’s In Triangle Time. This one falls closer in spirit to the prismed perspective of 2017’s quiet gem Que Aura, his last for Castle Face. Crammed with strums, multi-part harmonies, and an ingrained melancholy that imprints these songs on the high registers of the listeners’ soul, this is exactly where Stoltz excels.

He’s been found cropping up behind the boards more often these days, with his name swirling about the inserts for Spiral Stairs, RAYS, The Love-Birds, and The Staches, but unless he’s in front of the mic, I always feel like he’s a bit underused. There’s been shades of his work as a sideman for Echo & The Bunnyman on the last album, but as his tenure ended with the band it seems he’s processed even more of the imprint the band had on his formative songwriting years. There’s a warmer aura about Stoltz than Ian McCulloch would often employ, but the insistent, and emotionally complex pop hallmarks line up quite nicely here – think more along the lines of Crocodiles rather than Porcupine. Speaking of ‘80s impressions, and (sadly) timely reminders, there’s also a pretty heavy Cars shadow on this one and, if anyone can make it work, Stoltz is up to the task. There’s a dense catalog of works when approaching Kelley’s work, but after a few spins through My Regime, I’d say this is as good a place to start as any. Among his very best, to be sure.



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Fabulous Diamonds

Aussie duo Fabulous Diamonds had an impeccable string of albums from 2008-2012 and then promptly disappeared off the map for the next seven years. This year they return on UK indie ALTER with a new LP and a bigger vision of their dub-glossed damage. Back when they were slinging discs on Siltbreeze and Nervous Jerk, the band was itching at the same wound that like-minded howlers Blues Control and Peaking Lights found themselves infected with. There was a faded, pre-dawn quality to the music, tumbling down a wormhole of disorientation and delirium and then bounced through the spring reverb within an inch of its life. They’re still not wholly dislodged from that mindset, but Plain Songs feels like someone bottled their sound and terraformed it into a seething organism — bigger, smarter, and more alive than ever.

There’s still the evil slink of tape hiss, but it doesn’t feel like a vehicle of necessity this time. There’s no Tascam noose pulled tight on their sound, rather singer Nisa Venerosa feels like she’s piping her humid vocals through six feet of imported wet topsoil, recording them with an expensive array of contact mics and condensers threaded throughout the room for total coverage. The underbelly of their sound is still haunted by noise, but, again it’s come to some of the logical conclusions of what they were setting up prior. There’s a dingy, collapsed-society, ‘end-stage capitalism devouring the tail’ kind of feeling on this one.

The corrosion here is more of a viral creep than a means to an end. They’ve embodied the spirit of a lounge act poisoned by years of exposure to heavy metals and carcinogens — giving their disease flight through sound, spreading it through the narrow alleyways of an unrepentant reality. They are the cure and the carrier. They’ve finally gone through the lens and into a Lynchian sound that’s as full as they deserve to be and it’s so good to have this pair back, finding the bile that flows through the night wanderers’s souls and giving it a home on two-inch tape.



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Velveteen Rabbit

As the genre has been consumed and reconstituted over the years, it’s hard to find a take on glam-streaked power pop that doesn’t feel a bit worn through, a pale imitation of the original. However, when a band is able to rise through the veil and embody the spirit of swagger in just the right way it becomes a bit transcendental. Velveteen Rabbit are just such a band. Comprised of ex-members of The Jeanies, the band nails the fey n’ fragile, heartbroken yet hipswung vision of pop that Milk n’ Cookies, Hubble Bubble, Brett Smiley, Advertising, The Shivvers, The Records, and The Quick were all able to make into a beloved underground beacon for piners and frustrated teens throughout generations. The thing is, those songs weren’t just about pent up hormones. I mean, they were, but there was so much more seeping into the ether around the genre. If that were the only engine driving the wheels here, they’d have fallen off years ago. There’s a special spark that flickers into motion when the line between pop and punk is perfectly sliced.

Velveteen Rabbit are constantly walking that line like a tightrope and it’s impressive how many perfect nuggets they’ve packed into their debut for HoZac. They hit the ecstatic highs of the aforementioned collector’s bin burners then throw in some early shades of The Time, bringing Dez Dickerson’s “After Hi-School” to mind and infecting their sound with a silver-slung funk at times. But the band knows how to bring it down too, and that gives this record a fuller dimension. “Guitar” strokes at the wounded Chris Bell territory that gave power pop it’s heart, solitary and solemn, but just as aching as any of the rest. Similarly, “Better Than Ever” sidesteps power pop just a bit to sprinkle in some swooning R&B and white boy soul, but it pulls the strings tight between the Minneapolis slink and the Midwest jangle n’ crunch.

There’s always going to be the cloud of derivation hanging over something like this, and yeah it points to a dozen dots on the map and snags those vibes with a gleeful grab, but the way the band hangs it all together makes the their eponymous LP a true gem. For all the references they conjure, they never sound outright like they’re biting a song. They slip into the satin soul of the ’78-’82 sound and make it their own. Overabundance of riches in 2019 makes me worry this one’s gonna slip through the cracks, but I say sleep on this and you’ll be losing out.



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The Babe Rainbow

There’s something about Aussie band The Babe Rainbow that exudes a particular ease. From their countenance on down the band look and sound like they’ve never really had a bad day, or at least a day that they couldn’t turn around with a little surfing and barbecue. Those vibes permeate every inch of Today the band’s third, and most solid album. In the past they’ve embodied much of the same spirit, but the results have been hit or miss. They’ve wandered over the psych-pop map looking to pick at ‘60s sparkle, forest folk and lounge but the mixture was always just a touch wobbly. They came pretty close on last year’s Supermoon, an album that captured their wave of gauzy love but also took a few detours into spacey instrumentals that could meander the course of the record off track. The Babes hit on the head trip they were looking to spark but we sometimes got lost in the clouds along the way.

This time they tighten up the seams, still locked into the pocket of faded folk and grooved lounge psych, but playing up the pop half of their dynamic and fleshing it out with a West Coast downtempo spirit that belies their Aussie roots. The album seems like it might have taken a page out of the music direction for recent sleeper series Lodge 49 capturing it’s “melancholy on the bright side” ideals of aimless surf culture that the show distilled into something a bit more meaningful. Today embodies some of the same feelings — unscarred skies that stretch for miles, wonder and weirdness — given life through a constant roil of ‘60s strums and thickly plumed flutes. The band has been working to nail their niche and it seems that with this one they’ve finally begun to harden their grip on the board and ride right into the heart of the curl. The summer might be winding down for those of us up here, but this one still has a bit of solar bake to lay on the listener.






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