Browsing Category New Albums

YAK

The backstory behind Pursuit of Momentary Happiness is almost unbelievably excessive – with tales of the band’s Oli Burslem tracking back and forth across the globe in an attempt to make the album he heard in his head – working to acquire extra band members, couching in studios, and eventually leaving himself without a permanent home in the process. Thankfully for Burslem the resulting album’s breadth speaks well to the hassles he endured. Along the way Burslem connected with Jason Pierce of Spiritualized, who contributes to some tracks and lent his home studio to the cause. The involvement of Pierce dovetails nicely with the idea of making something almost too big to fail. The artist, whose own epic was notoriously hard to tour, given the necessity of orchestras and choirs, seems like the perfect foil to push another into embracing their inner grandiosity.

To that merit, Pursuit can’t be accused of sounding economical or sparse by any means. It is, in fact, the kind of big rock epic usually reserved for bands who’ve paid half a decade’s worth of dues. The album starts out on fire, albeit a fire that sounds like it was borrowed for a job interview at their eventual landing pad, Third Man Records. Opener “Bellyache” is full of the ratcheted staccato that marks much of Jack White’s delivery, feeling like it’s got someone else’s hands on the tiller. Thankfully, though, this affectation dissipates as quickly as it arrives with Burslem aiming for the kind of orchestral space occupied by his mentor Pierce welded to the dirty psych blues that slips through the veins of Night Beats and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The band wades through some Bowie-isms (most notably on “Words Fail Me”) further cementing their pursuit of an album that’s next to impossible to fit into the room, however once they find their balance between weightless and reckless, the grand plans find their payoff.

Reaching for the ineffable is commendable, but POMH often works best when its reaching not for the stars, but rolling in the dirt. When the band cranks the coils on their diesel-bred guitar scorch, they light up. The heat off of Blinded By The Lies is enough to melt skin. “Fried’ and “White Male Carnivore” are similarly breathless, boiled, and bent. The band feels most comfortable when they’re cobbling together a beast built of feedback and bile. When properly positioned the uptempo fare makes the ozone-scraping opulence of the other tracks feel like a balm. YAK are strapped to a scrap metal spaceship gazing back at the arc of the horizon. After the intense tumult of breaking through the atmosphere they give the listener a little time to breathe, an the scope of Pursuit begins to come into shape. The white-knuckle parts leave the deepest scars, but its nice to feel that breeze on the wounds in the end.



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Tullycraft

Seven albums in and well removed from the heyday of indie-pop that that they just barely caught in their own early years, Tullycraft are back with one of their best. The band was always just a tad late, but wiser and wryer than their classmates, having worn their “out-of-fashion” status proudly on their sleeves. The band made their mark with slogan-worthy ditties like “Pop Songs Your New Boyfriend is Too Stupid To Know About” and sentiments that rang, “Fuck Me, I’m Twee,” which they are. They definitely are. They’ve long been giving the young’uns a few role models to emulate, though, and as they litter zines and band badges across the bar for the taking, they’ve inspired more than a few of those introverts to pick up a powder blue strat and nerd out their own catalog.

Tullycraft are, in fact, textbook twee, but there’s a sense that they’ve been writing that book all along. They’re indie-pop historians and flameholders for the big, bright pastel worlds that are woven out of jangles, boy-girl harmonies, and overly dense lyrics. The hooks here decry parties soundtracked by radio staples, detail relationships built on what you like and not what you’re like, then map out the downfall of shared living spaces with proper doses of humor and ennui. Sean Tollefson and Jenny Mears keep things sweet, sometimes even saccharine, but if you’re looking for indie-pop that lets you escape without a little frosting and felt on your hands, you’d be wise to look elsewhere.

Tollefson spits out literate lyricism with the kind of tongue-twister plot cramming that made John Darnielle sit down and write some actual books to get it all in, but he manages to make each aural acrobatic as infectious as can be. The Railway Prince Hotel distills what’s best about the band and bottles it up for a new generation that could use a little optimism in a natty cardigan. In a lot of ways Tullycraft seems like the gateway drug to a long rabbit hole spent mining old BMX Bandits video clips and Tallulah Gosh b-sides that inevitably ends up with a strange late-night fascination with The Bus Stop label output that your friends write off as a phase. However, on grey days, overwhelming months, and sleepless nights its nice to know that Tullycraft are out there weaving agita into squirreled hooks and private moments of exuberance that wind up secret handshakes for the next generation.



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Tiny Ruins

While Hollie Fullbrook hasn’t made as much of a dent stateside, at home in New Zealand and neighboring Australia she’s becoming more of a known name, and with good reason. With her third album, she aims to make the same impact worldwide finding homes at Ba Da Bing and Marathon as well as Milk! (Courtney Barnett, Loose Tooth.) Olympic Girls might just do the trick too. Fullbrook has often skirted the boundaries between folk and pop, but here she’s draped in the tresses of deeply wounded and introspective folk – the kind that bore fruit in the ‘70s as lost presses just now getting snatched up for reissue. Echoing the bloodlet beauty of songs by Linda Perhacs, Elyse, Karen Dalton or Judee Sill, Fullbrook has a penchant for finding the saddest corners of the soul and lighting them up in dazzlingly brief beauty that lingers on the mind long after the light has left the room.

The album fills its coffers with more than just strums and swoons, though. With the help of bandmate Tom Healy, Fullbrook’s songs swell the banks of each song with the knotted-smoke embellishments of Laurel Canyon’s heyday and the rain-soaked humanity of Brigitte Fontaine’s Est… Folle. Fullbrook’s voice has a habit of rack-focusing the instruments to the background, something that works well on the cavernous sparseness of “School of Design,” but Healy gives her moments of competition wrapping her voice elsewhere in the bleary gaze of synth, echo and strings that feel torn from the reels of Jean Claude Vannier’s personal stash.

In her short career, Fullbrook has made a point of leaving listeners with pinprick impressions on their soul, but Olympic Girls digs the scars deeper. The record breathes only in vapors becoming an organism of anguish and memory. It’s a testament to loneliness and living in that loneliness like a comfortable skin. With this, Tiny Ruins enter into the greater vernacular, and hopefully, into a greater number of speakers as well.




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Michael Chapman

For those already combing through the tributaries of seminal UK folk – running into the likes of Jansch, Harper and John Martyn – Michael Chapman is already dug in as a hero. For those less inclined to dig the history of British strings, perhaps he needs yet another introduction. Like Harper he’s more a product of mythical inspiration than a staple of the stereo shelf, but as he eases into his status as an elder statesman of the form, he should be carving out that space in your stacks more than ever. For every kid that learned about Roy Harper from the back cover of a Led Zep album, there’s an ever more introverted version of that kid tracking Chapman through connections to Mick Ronson or Thurston Moore. As of late the connection has spun out to seasoned and now indie anointed slinger Steve Gunn. Gunn produced Chapman’s last album 50 and likewise pulled in a slew of his own collaborators to give the songwriter a fitting accompaniment – everyone from Nathan Bowles to James Elkington and Jimmy SeiTang. Chapman’s longtime friend, Bridget St. John lent her voice to the record as well, knitting the folk family ever tighter.

That album was a rebirth for Chapman, a resetting of the map that had long gone askew. Chapman had by no means been quiet in the interim, but it gave a new notoriety to an artist that should have been ranking heavy on the radar of those who have been haunted by Gunn, Scott Hirsch, Wooden Wand, or Elkington’s solo works. For True North, Gunn returns to guide the gears, but leaves behind the ringers, though the accomplished slide work of BJ Cole finds its way in to the mix and St. John returns to add her signature touch. The album stands as an even stronger testament to Chapman’s enduring light. Largely just the songwriter and his guitar, the album is hung heavy with the wisdom of age – cut deep with the scars of decades, cascading like rings through wood and lacquered thick with the bar rag whiff of backrooms, green rooms, and broken mirror bathrooms that dot the stages of what passes as fitting for a folk career now and forever.

Chapman has a pathos, a humor, and a heft that doesn’t come cheap. There’s only one way to get the grey-eyed gut punch of truth into one’s music, and its not by avoiding the hard moments. Chapman is a conduit for pain and perseverance, standing on the edge of what society increasingly sees as mortality’s precipice, but while some of that baggage has hung about the artists shoulders there’s hardly a sense that he finds it a burden. True North is an album about not easing gently into anything, let along the night. Chapman, at just shy of 80 is still a beacon – grizzled, sure, but gleaming nonetheless. Whether this is your first step into Chapman’s view or pushing double digits, the record cuts deep, but sticks around to clean the wounds.



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Business of Dreams

I was surprised and delighted to see Corey Cunningham back at the controls of Business of Dreams so quickly. His eponymous LP from 2017 showed a deep love for the smeared and smudged end of the Creation catalog and more than a blushing brush with indie pop conduits Sarah, Postcard and Subway Organization. Folding back into his onetime home at Slumberland, where he previously worked in Terry Malts, the songwriter is riffling through the same single stacks as last time with a touch more polish and a slight step out into the sun. Where his previous album seemed custom made for long nights alone, the curl of fog around lamplight, and the drawn bedroom curtains, there’s a bittersweet edge to Ripe For Anarchy.

Blurred against the blare of the sun, the album’s still gum-stuck to the skitter of drum machines and hung on melancholia, but it’s also a perfect companion for enjoying the day and shirking off the lingering pang of depression that gnaws at the belly. Cunningham dips into the jar of jangles more often here, and even slips the beat altogether to croon against the soft pad of synths entangled in nylon strings with a heartsick heavenliness. While Business of Dreams might not be fully beach ready, RFA is out of the darkness and living for the little moments.

There’s something inherently perfect about synthpop for dealing with love and loss, and for every band that nails the nuance, ten more miss the mark horribly. On his sophomore outing, Cunningham proves to be not only an adept crafter of hooks, but an artist gifted with the ability to tap into just the right mix and measure of self-loathing, celebration, joy and frustration to make the genre work. He coats it all in an earworm bliss that’s hard to shake, making this an essential listen for the start of 2019, and likely a habitual home to return to as the year progresses.



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Masaki Batoh

On his first solo album since 2012’s largely experimental Brain Pulse, Japanese legend Masaki Batoh returns to the roots of psych-folk that wrought Ghost all those years ago. Winding through the same serene mists that haunted Lama Rabi Rabi and the band’s eponymous debut, Nowhere is a picture of Batoh leaning into his strengths while embracing both Japanese and, for the first time, English lyrics. While this is his first solo record proper in a while, its hardly the first we’ve heard from Batoh’s camp in the last couple of years. Following three albums working the psychedelic edge with his outfit The Silence, Nowhere is also a return to the meditative pacing reverent calm for the songwriter, relying on circular fingerpicks and the humid creep of echo to replace anything as outwardly explosive as he’s been fond of recently.

Having been drawn to the work of Masaki Batoh through Ghost and later working back through Sweet and Honey and Cosmic Invention, this mode feels like a welcome homecoming for me. The songwriter’s long arched over into the mystic touches, feeling every bit as otherworldly as the Tolkien-referencing plucks of Bo Hansson or the ritualistic runs of Ash Ra Temple. On Nowhere, Batoh dips back into those modes, while also proving that he’s picked up new habits along the way. He picks at American blues on “Devil Got Me,” and skews towards a a tougher, almost ‘90s blooze approach on “Sundown,” but he manages to keep the album from feeling like a hodgepode. Its more like a journal of psychedelic damnation – a sketchbook of psych-folk-blues embattlement as divined by someone at his own crossroads. Maybe Batoh’s isn’t as famous as Robert Johnson, but it still feels elemental.



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William Tyler

For Goes West William Tyler presents the clearest vision for his Cosmic Country yet. He’s taken a stab in the past and begun to build the mythology, but it’s here that he’s found a way to capture just how the sun dips low on the horizon. Though they appear on the album, Tyler himself doesn’t pick up the electric guitar, focusing solely on the fluid ramble of the acoustic strings to evoke the endless expanse of the American West. He does so with the touch of a craftsman. Within the wilds of fingerpicked guitar there are many guises – the virtuoso, the devout (ragas), the folk hero, the convert – but Tyler approaches picking with a storyteller’s grace. Without so much as a cough the album lays out emotional tales that seem universal – heart swells and salt flats rung through with the pluck of warm strings.

Though he’s clearly quite adept, Tyler steers clear of the virtuoso palette. He’s not working to stun listeners into submission, but rather to lull them into bliss. The album is a warm companion, a sense memory, a feeling of loss just off the tip of the tongue. There are moments that shudder to life like someone just stepped on your grave, but left a flower in passing. There’s something about the record that seems to slow time entirely, rolling by with the white line hypnotism of a desert highway, letting the scenery unfold in a panorama that’s too big to hold onto from a seat not big enough to stretch your legs. In that way its both too big to fathom and so intimately close that Tyler’s strings wrap around you and hold you safe like a seatbelt.

The pace of modern life is regrettably rushed, if it’s not necessarily always frantic, it’s at least overwhelming in its grab for our attentions. Goes West is a magnetic pull away from that feeling. Even when the record is on in the background it slows the listener down and adds a few more colors to the day. With this Tyler has made a statement about slow living, staring just a touch longer, and letting the ache of life burrow in a little deeper.



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Writhing Squares

The second slab from Philly’s Writhing Squares brings no disappointment, slump or stumble. The band is as restless and as ragged as ever on the new LP. Built from the embers of space rock and punk while chasing the same fevered hallucinations that haunted the ‘70s German Progressive set, Out Of The Ether imagines a less meditative method than the rhythmic wranglers that came before them. Storming through the halls of Hawkwind’s leather n’ lather vibes with whiffs of Amon Düül II piped in one speaker and The Contortions piped in the other, Writhing Squares aren’t here to get Kosmiche. Far from it in fact – they’re here to demand the cosmos pay up in sweat equity and they’re willing to rough up some rhythms to get their psychedelic due.

That the two halves of Writhing Squares come from a couple of Raven’s favored noiseniks is no surprise – the common ground between early Purling Hiss and Taiwan Housing Project is abundantly clear and goes a long way to explain the impulses at work on Out of the Ether. There’s an overt sinister quality to the record, rotted and raw. Writhing Squares conjure the sounds of nightclub sweat at the end of humanity’s rope. Post-societal collapse there’s no hedonistic joy, only the night terror taps of the band’s inhuman drums, the barbed wire gnash of vocal invective and the rusted saw of a salvaged sax beat into the shape of a call to arms. Provenzano and Nickles thread their wounds with bailing twine through the first half of the record, then smash the fourth wall to ecstasy with the side-long crusher “A Whole New Jupiter.”

While 2019 makes its play as a year that could use a record or two to salve our collective wounds, Writhing Squares make a damn fine argument to cut a few fresh ones first. There’s still work to be done. Stay agitated. Philly’s finest have your back.



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Tim Presley’s White Fence

The most striking thing about the new White Fence is that its now come packaged as Tim Presley’s White Fence. Its an odd move for a band that’s essentially one guy. While the multi-bandmember marketing move of branding a band with a “presents” banner brings to mind infighting and egos, a la Eric Burdon and The Animals or Rod Torfulson’s Armada, here it seems to strike a connective tissue between Tim’s recent solo records, numerous collabs and his old standby White Fence. Tim’s on again, off again relationship with the name is, to say the least, confusing. Where does the Fence end and Presley begin? Is White Fence an affectation, or is it just a familiar branded beanie that allows him to bloom outside of the singer-songwriter context?

The answers are not necessarily forthcoming here, but a bigger picture does take shape. The beginning of the record dips into the piano-man ballads that Tim’s been slinging on the side. Then he douses it with a bit of the warble-wonk weirdness that he’s found with Drinks (his collab with Cate Le Bon). Before long though, its back to the ’60s strummers of yore. “Lorelei” wrestles with Presley’s inner Kevin Ayers, but its “Neighborhood Light” that’s the standout here. It’s the most proper answer to what White Fence really is – loose, jaunty, swingers that pick at the bones of John Cale, Arthur Brown, Ayers, Skip Spence and yeah the ol’ specter of Syd. More than just emulating though, Tim’s finding the webbing between the outsiders, and that makes White Fence an enduring prospect. Most of the names on that list, bar Cale, would burn out well before any sense of longevity would set in. Tim gives reason to believe that there was far more gas in any of their tanks that we, as a listening public, got to explore.

I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk is a further tumble down Tim’s costume box, breathing in the essence of the guitar freak grasping to translate fractals into fingerpicks without dropping down the acid-casualty escape hatch. Perhaps the best example here is “Until You Walk,” a crumpled tin tango that’s breezy and beatific – if the breeze was pulling downwind from a massive gas leak. Its hard not to find something refreshing in Tim’s insistence on not only coloring outside of the singer-songwriter lines, but adding several layers of touch-up to the coloring book in fanciful curlicue while he’s at it. Everything in White Fence’s world is applied n colors that can’t be ignored and refuse to blend in, and Larry’s is one of the most fully realized examples of that ethos yet.



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Mozes and the Firstborn

The idea behind Dadcore – embracing rock as a medium in an era when its seen as a stubborn, antiquated, passé artform – is amusing, though I’m not sure that rock has been completely erased from the vital lexicon just yet. There are still plenty of scraped-knee punks, jangle-jilted Aussie youths, and depression channeling post-punks to keep the blood strong these days, though what’s on display here is a more specific strata of the rock canon. The touchpoints that drive the Dutch band’s latest album are decidedly “classic” in nature, pulling from a trove of nostalgia-ready ‘90s and ‘00s indie that, according to the band, should appeal to your pops, granted that, “you” in this case, are around 9-14. Along with veteran indie producer Chris Coady at the helm, the band conceives a self-styled mixtape love note that acts as a Teflon coating against the critique that Dadcore is just a reworking of past tropes. That’s exactly what they’re aiming to do. Thank you quite nicely for noticing.

Granted, since I likely fall in the core demographic for the album, I cannot be unblemished or unbiased. I’m wholly unopposed to the raised specters of Teenage Fanclub, Dino Jr., Fountains of Wayne and Camper Van Beethoven that find their way splattered all over this record. The band weaves the nerd warble of power pop through the narrative like a talisman, and aside from the ghosts of psych-folk, few genres raise a flag around here like power pop. Mozes and the Firstborn are bouncing buoyant choruses off the ionosphere and pulling in transmissions from the core of the college radio era, when CMJ had a stake in the game (RIP) and the alternative banner waved wild and free. There’s a bit of a disrupted flow with the crutch of that mixtape format (each track is separated by a short burst of dialog or interlude that staples it ceremonially to the next) but for the most part their vision is clear. Coady and the boys have created a referentially yet scruffily catchy record that’s truly comfortable in the guise they’ve chosen. MATF are having fun, and that in itself is infectious.



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