Browsing Category New Albums

Mod Con

After being charmed and invigorated last week by Mod Con’s “Kidney Auction Blues” its nice to put the song in context alongside the rest of their debut long player for Poison City. Mod Con actually boasts the same lineup of players that grace songwriter Erica Dunn’s previous work as Palm Springs, but they leave their previous shell’s dusty Americana far behind in the rearview. Scratching at a discontented form of post-punk, Dunn and her compatriots use their platform on Modern Convenience to pick at the scars of consumerism, complacency and disillusionment. In the tangles of twine-bound guitar that pump this record along, the band spends their energy wrestling twang into muscular, yet rubbery explosions of tension. Almost every song is hanging on the edge and waiting to tip.

Then there’s Dunn’s voice. Unlike the sonic shock precision of some of her post-punk contemporaries, she seems to be reaching her wit’s end at some point in most every track. She breaks and strains against the mounting pressures she sings about like a hammer on glass. It feels like one more push might just break her, but the heroic act of throttling out one more bone crunching number is worth her pain. The band is taught and at times even tender (“Bad Time At The Hilton”), but whatever the tempo the Dunn’s urgency remains the catalyst that drives Mod Con far past lesser contenders. It’s a crackling debut that puts them forward as key players in not only the Aussie scene, but post-punk at large.




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Charnel Ground

This one almost doesn’t need a review based on the lineup alone. A meeting of the minds of Chris Brokaw (Come, Codeine), James McNew (Yo La Tengo, Dump) and Kid Millions (Oneida, Man Forever) exploring the boundaries of experimental instrumental shred just seems like a good idea. Hell, if those were names drawn out of a hat and the musicians were tossed in a room even without intent and direction, you know they’d come up with something good. As such, they did enter Charnel Ground with a purpose and to that end they’ve succeeded. Their eponymous LP snares some real moments of powder keg psych, but the record is far from a one-note slash and burn. As much as they go for raw shred, they also wrangle nuance into the equation. Their ability to balance the impulses speaks to the players’ collective pedigrees.

“The High Price” tears a few new holes in the ozone, battling Brokaw’s scorched riffs, tainted and tortured by feedback, with Millions’ rambunctious punishment of drum heads. It’s a premium petrol burn lit on sacred ground and building to a nimbus sized plume of ash, but the band is quick to suck the oxygen out of that rager. They stop for what seems like a nice Tex-Mex lunch on “Plaa De Tica” before flexing Brokaw and McNew’s strengths of restraint and riff sculpture on “Skeleton Coast” and the title track closer, which stretches out for 16+ minutes of slow build and subtle detail. If you’ve been missing out on the instrumental guitar boom of the aughts, where emotions were exorcised among the strings and post-rock flipped through the stacks of psych, jazz and drone, then Charnel Ground will rush in like a breath of sweet air.


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MIEN

MIEN is, for lack of a better word, a supergroup. Though perhaps it’s just four consecutive side projects, who can tell? The term is pompus at best and often overshadows the music of any who dare don the mantle. For what it’s worth, MIEN compiles the talents of members of The Black Angels, The Horrors, The Earlies and Elephant Stone. To most its going to be those first two that draw water and grab attention but, I for one, am excited to hear The Earlies mentioned in earnest in 2018. The band’s John-Mark Lapham would bond with Elephant Stone’s Rishi Dhir over a love of sitar in pop music, as would Dhir and The Black Angels’ Alex Maas. So, it winds up that the sitar is the glue that holds together MIEN’s eponymous debut.

Dhir also played the instrument with The Brian Jonestown Massacre for several years, so he’s done his time in the psychedelic trenches. His drones here swirl around the band’s embrace of a hypnotic pop that recalls the dark grind of The Black Angels as shot through the junkyard Krautrock of Clinic or current contemporaries like Snapped Ankles. They work off of chugging rhythms one minute and then lay back completely into the abyss with reverberating thrum the next – meting out blissful altered states of droned consciousness. The album isn’t flashy, despite boasting such talent and a flagpole raised on ‘60s sitar. MIEN takes a little while to wrap around the listener, boasting the kind of exhaust fume ambience that’s permeated much of The Angels’ work.

It’s easy to draw comparisons with Maas at the vocal helm, but the band distinguishes itself from most of the members’ other tributaries, swapping in mantra for hooks and embracing a repetition dropout that winds up engrossing in its own way. The moody atmospheres are no surprise to those who are working their psych band bingo on this project, but the band’s not one to miss out on levity, pushing for “Tomorrow Never Knows” cartoon squiggle territory on back half bubble “Odessey” to lighten the mood. If this album winds up a one-off, then it remains a curio worth investigating and if this is the seeds of something more permanent, I’ll mark this as some good roots to grow.



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Altin Gün

Amsterdam collective Altin Gün wrap the past in a blur of funk bounce and psychedelic touches that pull from ’70s luminaries Baris Manço, Selda Bağcan and Erkin Koray. The album rockets through time, culling inspiration from Turkish folk songs passed down generations and welding their aesthetics to blistering saz riffs, woozy organs, fuzz-crusted bass and fluid guitars that push the album into a league on par with those ’70s inspirations they applaud. More than just a concept, though, the record boasts an infectious rhythm that drives the album past mere psychedelic freeform or nostalgia trip and marks it as a celebratory well of dance and euphoria.

Though the collective all contain some Turkish heritage, they also rope in their individual backgrounds, including ’60s Indonesian and Dutch psych scenes that were each vibrant in their own ways. Adding an additional pedigree, the album was mixed by vaunted Dutch psych star Jacco Garder, long himself a melting pot of influences from the wide spectrum of psychedelia. Together the group and Gardner have crafted an album that sparkles with life, fuzz, bodily rhythm and kaleidoscopic colors. Even for for fans not familiar with the lineage of Turkish psych, this works on several levels as a potent headtrip rife for volume and repeated plays.




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Amen Dunes

So, it is that Freedom follows Love, maybe that’s always the way it must be. Damon McMahon’s fifth album proper lands him a far cry from the scuffed surfaces of noise folk that wrought Dia, but while his exterior may be softened and refined, it’s the turmoil underneath that’s churning now. Freedom is at its core an exorcism of masculinity. Rightly so, perhaps there’s no better time to measure the weight placed on the idea of what is and isn’t acceptable from society’s view of males and the often-disastrous ways those expectations play out in callousing and setting our youth adrift. It’s also about taking down the statues of heroism that wind up hollow inside. Through his series of characters scratching at the hero myth, McMahon pulls the veil off the swaggering alpha and casts a clownish shadow clipping at his heels.

Still, while the lyrical undercurrent is heavier than most of Amen Dunes’ catalog, the surrounding songwriting is more buoyant than ever. Enlisting a deep pop bench of collaborators for this including Delicate Steve and Chris Coady, McMahon and crew give the album a palpable atmosphere that ranges from the cold humidity of songs like “Saturdarah” and “Blue Rose” to a baked-in warmth on “Miki Dora” and “Believe.” The record practically exhales steam at some points, creeping the cold up the listeners’ spines in sense-memory tingles. When he wants to shake the frost though, the twilight beach burners let the skin crackle with a burn that’s just past palatable and a tiredness that pulls the diaphragm from winded through to depression.

The album works its way over plenty of ground, from childhood to the final lock on childhood’s door – losing a parent. McMahon enlists his mumblecore vibrato to great effect here, giving his songs and characters a fragile edge that’s never surefooted and always looking to the horizon for answers. Still, none of this would work if it weren’t for a solid base of songwriting under the coated atmosphere and lyrical sandpapering of the cult of the boorish hero. To that end McMahon has succeeded handily, letting this one soak in deeper with each listen like a balm on a wound we’d all been letting fester.


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Buck Curran

Guitarist Buck Curran, has woven his way deep into the folk and psych-folk worlds over the past decade. He’s best known for his work with Arborea, but just as instrumental is his organizing of the compilation Leaves of Life which included Devendra Banhart, Marissa Nadler and Alela Diane, and two Robbie Basho tributes that have helped to shed light on the vital artist in the past few years. He’s also given new life to live Basho recordings via his imprint Obsolete Recordings this year. In 2016 he broke out from Arborea to play solo works, though they leaned harder on the psych than the folk element. On his second solo outing he fully embraces his acoustic persona, drawing from a well of Takoma ‘60s and ‘70s inspirations, especially on the first side that plays out the full extent of the Afternoon Ragas referenced in the album’s title.

He blends the wandering psych troubadour influences and mournful guitar divinations with some electric rumble as the record ekes into the second side, and though Curran still pulls stark sadness from the strings he marries his fingerpicked heartache to a spectral blues form on “Taurus.” The clouds part on the wistful “Dirt Floor,” in no small part due to the lilting vocals from Adele Papparlardo. She injects bit of sun to the album’s largely overcast emotions, though it’s easy to see how someone invested in Basho’s legacy would run a thread of somber sincerity through their own works. A lovely collection for those interested in the aforementioned Takoma period or latter-day pickers like Chasney, Bishop or Rose. Curran’s crafted a record that easily slots itself on the shelf next to any of those three.




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Bonny Doon

Sure there’s something “hazy and pastoral” about the songs that appear on Bonny Doon’s new LP, Longwave. There’s a soft focus around the edges and an undercurrent of bliss, but there’s something I’d have to call aimlessly suburban about the album. Despite writing a good deal of the record in the quaint sounding town of Mystic Lake, MI, I, as a born and raised Michigan lad have to note that this berg is smack dab in the middle of the state. That leaves it surrounded on all sides by the tedious sprawl of Michigan highways. Now, if you’ve never experienced them I envy you, they’re an almost unrelenting expanse of featureless roadway that boasts no change in elevation to break up the monotony. It’s with these concrete threads in mind that I find the core of Longwave’s charm. There’s something soothing in its laconic presentation of a pop that touches on cosmic Americana, but packages it in the ’90s hangover of Alternative that once scraped the radio waves late at night on my Midwestern car stereo.

On long stretches of these roads I’d often console myself with music and with the right kind of bittersweet sway, those dull drags through big box America blur into a heavy sigh. Bonny Doon have captured the swirl of cracked plastic signs lined in squat strips, eking out an existence swaddled in dulled teals and muddy yellow. They’ve found the soundtrack to the American ground loop of small town existence. There’s a great sense of pop that’s thriving under the hood of Longwave, but its ‘from-the-hip’ nature and sauntered tempos lend well to a kind of nostalgia that dredges up a sense memory for smoke stained bowling alleys, Bob’s Big Boys and that smell of rain right before it breaks. Sure the landscape is dotted with cell towers now, but as Detroiters themselves, Bonny Doon must know that some places hold onto the past as modern ruins – industrial dioramas to the American Dream gone south, haunted with the ghosts of fried egg routines and holding fast to traditions no one agreed on. There are plenty of ennui miners these days, but somehow the smoke rings that dissipate around Bonny Doon’s alt-pop, shaded thick with twang and a half awake, half dreaming sigh, evoke an era lost more than most. This one’s a long-latcher, finding its way to your heart and squeezing softly.




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Yuzo Iwata

It’s 2018 and Siltbreeze is still knocking out jams, somehow that’s a comforting sentiment in these trying times. Philadelphia’s Yuzo Iwata has done time in Japanese outsider conduit Maher Shalal Hash Baz, and while this is a far cry from that nest of bees, the association does bump up his pedigree somewhat. The record is loose and low slung, riding a groove that’s shaggy at best and stalwart in its insistence on tying on no style too tightly. As the label so kindly points out, Daylight Moon finds itself akin to PSF sides and flips through the Japanese psych blues bible creasing pages in the Michio Kurihara and Tetuzi Akiyama sections liberally. Iwata can stretch a groove into the void, but he’s not just ambling aimlessly through guitar knots, his compositions carve out craggy valleys of deep set woe and he sets himself up alongside the forerunners of Japanese psych as a new vessel of spectral feedback foam looking to burrow into your ennui centers.

Early on the record seems like it might slip into some sunny territory, “Gigolo” is downright sprightly in its swing, but Iwata quickly sheds the jangle ‘n chug for a more meditative dropout that lacerates the eardrums with a sea of squelch and fire-bellied rumble. He shows his range though, and the sprightly take fits with his rifle through psych-out burndowns, Bardo Pond-esque chuggers and plaintive touch torch blues tracks that look for purchase in soft-feel psychedelia fuzzed slightly at the edges. Iwata’s done well to grab listeners’ attention here and with Daylight Moon he sets up a nice bar for himself to scramble over as he looks to the future. It’s not perfect, but it’s flawed beautifully.




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Wet Tuna

Doesn’t take much more than the lineup here to peak my interest in Wet Tuna. The duo is comprised of longtime psych flayers Matt “M.V.” Valentine and Pat Gubler, better known to the double spool grind as P.G. Six. The pair have been living the Wet Tuna lifestyle live for a while now and posting some tantalizing sets up on their Bandcamp, but now they’ve wrestled the expansive experience down to a debut full length and it sees them flesh out the sound with a full band feeling, adding keys and percussion to the pair’s guitar divinations. Taken on their own (or even with his other duo in Valentine’s case) these are two mighty pillars of post echo-location soup to deal with, both riding high on damp and dank guitar licks that burrow psychedelic smolder from the ground. Together, though, they’re definitely working on an alechimical level to mind-meld their way to new levels of endorphin-chompin’ brain float.

The band isn’t messin’ around out of the gate, filling the first side of this platter with the twenty-minute scorcher “New York Street,” making a case for high-mountain firelight blues chug as a state perfect being. The album grabs hold of the ghost, lights the fuse and never brings the listener down below the horizon line. Even when the guitars cool the strings to the touch, as on the shorter bits here, there’s still a buoyant calm that keeps Livin’ The Die sublimated and gaseous, beaming in on a transistor beacon from deepest space while leaving behind an aroma that’s straight from the soil. That’s the beauty that Valentine and Gubler have wrought, the woven riffs are mossy and humid, their vocals float in a memory haze of stuffed-cotton caverns, and when the coils glow an incandescent amber, the album takes flight with a solid-state shot of sulfur and smoke that lingers on the tongue. It’s a high point in both artist’s catalog, which for two such prolific beings, speaks high of Wet Tuna’s legacy.



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Chaines

Blending orchestral scrapes with back alley ambience and an alternate dimension lounge approach that slaloms through dirge infested seascapes, The King is, needless to say, a singular record. The work of Cee Haines alongside regular contributors Oliver Coates and Mary Stark, the record also makes use of the London Contemporary Orchestra to flesh out Haines’ stark vision to new heights. The record jellyfishes its way through genres, floating in an incandescent hue with menace and creeping calm. Haines pins anxious strings to the quiet creep of jazz winds then litters the path with scraps of noise that blow with ominous portent. The record is haunted and cinematic, though the kind of film that could accompany Haines’ vision feels like it might occupy the chasm between David Lynch and Jodorowsky – a rotting corpse rendered beautiful in shades of cyan slow motion.

As The King rolls on the elements of electronic influence become more pronounced, not merely content to play a background part in the proceedings. The beats creak out of the shadows and thump like frightened hearts underneath the mechanical clank and scrape of Chaines’ strange heat. Then out of the humid wreckage of the first six tracks a human shape rears its head – bound by static at first (“Mary”) and then soaring in embryonic ebullience, ambiguous and pained as the album comes to a close (“Eraserhead”). The evolution towards this torch song ending feels organic but jumping from the first to last track seems like a world has been traversed and a world that you’re quite sure you might not be able to find your way home from.



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