Browsing Category New Albums

Zachary Hay

Zachary Hay’s the latest to join up with the excellent Scissor Tail stable and his debut is a case study in American Primitive full of vulnerability, patience, and careful contemplation. Where some fingerpickers dash through runs and flash a virtuoso’s brand, Hay’s a more restrained player. His songs pick out a path through the forest that’s purposeful and meditative. He doesn’t ripple n’ run so much as saunter, eyes on the grey skies and a hint of rain already in the air. With the muted hiss of tape spooling in the background, Hay’s eponymous long player gives the feeling of having been recorded in the field, the soft wisp of wind bringing smells of autumn decay flooding to the senses. His dissonance gives a sense of unease, a quality of feeling lost that rings anxious through the records, perhaps feeding into that need to slow down and weigh the options lest doom befall the listener. There is joy too, but, again, Hay keeps the emotions close to his chest with each new offering as the needle winds its way around the plate.

There are plenty of touchstones that Hay hits upon with this record, his first fully under his name after years spent playing as Bronze Age and The Dove Azima. Hay maps out the same doomed terrain as Steven R. Smith (albeit more with a more barebones approach). There are touches of Tashi Dorji, Bill Orcutt, and Scott Tuma filtering through the stringwork. Hangovers from the Tacoma class, of course, but Hay seems to reflect them off of the more modern players’ continuations of its legacy. Hay finds footing in Roy Montgomery’s sense of wonder in the face of foreboding odds. Over the top of all of these touches there’s more than a slight shadow of Loren Connors’ tectonic pacing. More than any other, this seems to be Hay’s rudder, building atmospheres of ash and letting them slowly wind away on the wind. While this is certainly not Hay’s debut, it’s a great new chapter in his work and one that fits well among the vaunted stringwork at Scissor Tail.



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Lake Mary & Ranch Family Band

A hushed and tempered new record arrives from Chaz Prymek’s Lake Mary, this time adding in the “Ranch Family Band” to the fold. The record is sun-dappled and full of spring air — a verdant addition to his growing catalog of releases. Rooted in a rambling fingerpick that recalls contemporaries William Tyler and Nathan Salsburg, Sun Dogs‘ prowess lies in deploying buttered slides throughout the entire record that yearn for a perennial peace. The record seamlessly folds in psych-touches on the album’s title track, finding the common crannies between fingerpicked folk and Kosmiche float. The standout track engulfs Prymek’s strings in an early morning fog that bends the light in every direction before burning off into crisp golds and greens that flood the rest of the record. The songs are heavy with the scent of earth, humid in the way that mornings hold onto the last night’s rainfall before stretching into the perfect yawn of midday.

Pinned on the languorous and lingering title track and closer, “Blue Spruce,” which opts for more entrancing and classic vision of fingerpicked fodder, the album is almost gone too soon. It certainly leaves the listener wanting more, hoping to hang forever in between the vibrating air of Lake Mary’s strings. The album is a gorgeous, late 2019 addition, so don’t go tallying up the best of the year just yet. The album is easy to return to time and again as a respite, a rejuvenation, a true gem peeking out from the folk pile at the end of the decade. I’d definitely recommend letting this one sink in and grow roots.




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Omni

As so often happens, the cultivation of culture at smaller labels befits the bigger kids on the playground too. When time knocks a band up the rungs and into the arms of broader reach, there’s always worry that expectations will change their sound. Omni may have shifted the logo on their jackets from Trouble in Mind to Sub Pop, but that relationship status change hasn’t affected their output too much. Sure there’s a bit more flash on their third album but its still rooted in the search for the perfect amalgam of the bookend of punk. The band has quiet often been heard chasing the dragon of ’77, rather than ‘81 — not post-punk as most always hang on them— but rather somewhere in that sliver of time when Television and Richard Hell were figuring out how to slice the stigma of soul away from rock n’ roll and let the blood drip into their strings. Those prickly heat guitar lines remain and give the feeling that Omni’s still onto something, but they’ve never been as caustic as Verlaine or Hell at their core. So while they might fashion themselves as Little Johnny Jewels in the rough, there’s a good deal of Wire’s humanism that sneaks in as well and that influence begins to creep ever forward on Networker — pop edges peek, experiments in sound seep, and the album is littered with jazz scraps and dub tags without homes.

There are synth strains that filter through the vents on “Skeleton Key” and “Present Tense,” and dare I say strums under those sunburned strings on “Genuine Person.” On “Moat” they sound less like their favored punk encampments and more like the ‘90s thrashers that found those ’77 tapes through friends and zines, giving their Sonic Youth nods where appropriate. Hell, on the album’s title track they’re downright smooth, a cool slap of water on the flash fry irritant that creeps under the skin of their sound. It works though, most notably because they’re following that rabbit hole of mid-period Wire and their willingness to adapt, experiment, and absorb new sounds while making them their own. Omni feel like they’re following similar threads, making this journey their own even if they have a guiding light to show them where the paths lead. The band’s sound still feels immediate, urgent in a way that won’t let the listener shove it to the background. Three albums on and the Atlanta trio are still worth the price of admission, elevated, but untarnished by a newfound fame.




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Xylouris White

Jim White and George Xylouris have made a potent pair in the past, churning traditional Greek songwriting into something more mercurial for the past five or so years. In that time, they’ve put together three albums of dizzying sun salutations that seem rooted in the hills, wound tight with roots and rocks. Each song dug from the fresh cut earth like a bulb waiting to burst is treated with care by the veteran musicians. It’s clear that these two have been forging their respective talents for years in the fires of improvisation and their fourth album cements their bond as fluid players completely in tune with one another. White’s drums tumble and shudder, sending an unusual amount of emotion quivering between sticks and skins. Likewise, Xylouris seems to divine something elemental in his songs. His playing brings to mind the trance of exhumations of Native American folk song and the meditative float of ragas, but contained in something that is wholly and intrinsically linked to his Greek homeland.

After completing their trilogy – Goats, Black Peak, Mother – the duo focuses their gaze this time on the myth of Sisyphus and his duty to drag that boulder up the hill for all eternity. It seems a parable of rut, the idea that one is condemned to forever complete the same task thanklessly over the course of life. It’s the ultimate parallel to the cubical bound cruisers. Xylouris didn’t see it that way, though, instead preferring to think of Sisyphus as completing the same task but finding different tessellations to complete it. He may have the same start and the same end but that’s not to say the points between have to remain static. They saw a bit of themselves in Sisyphus, which makes sense for musicians. While not condemned, they are set to play the same songs live night after night.

No one said they have to be the same versions, though. Each new approach warrants a new take on something familiar. Each new set births a new journey and that in itself is beautiful. While that setup would lead me to expect the record might work on a series of motifs, its not that rigid. The pair fleshes out another record that takes the listener on a journey, bringing life to the rock and elevating Sisyphus from warning to artist. Odds are if you were on board with the last three, this is going to hit the spot. If this is your first dip into Xylouris White, it’s a good place to start as well.




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Hôpital De La Conception feat. Junk Nurse

A head-scratcher of a platter from a triumvirate of labels (Feeding Tube/Cardinal Fuzz/Opaque Dynamo) births the mysterious debut and sole artifact from France’s Hôpital De La Conception. The record is swift to note that it features Junk Nurse, but he seems to be the only avatar piloting this thing through the blooze swamp foot stomp anyhow. The record is ripped and ragged – zeroed in on an Earth’s core riff that drills down to the very kernel of psychic consciousness. There’s a dogged locomotive rhythm to the record, constantly chuggin’ through the smoke curls and feedback flutter. That hypnotic heave anchors “The Electric Rockin’ Chair” to the concrete so that it doesn’t get flayed clean by the storm swirling about it. The Junk Nurse doesn’t relent, plowing this one through a “Sister Ray” / Don Van Vliet vortex caked with noise and cursed to rumble for all days.

The album’s just the one song – flip it and it starts chuggin’ all over again like a lost soul condemned to scream sonic fury for all time. If this is Dante’s soundtrack to scuzz, then when the fury kicks up, the Nurse has you hitting your head on every wrung of the inferno before laying limp on the floor and begging for no more volume. The Hôpital and Junk Nurse hear your plea and turn the thumb down. The riff will rage and you will be inflamed with the body buzz of chooglin’ fury once more. Into the abyss, let it lock down and linger. That’s what I say. Now as for all the mystery, shadows and riddles about who’s behind this opus of guitar offal. I don’t know about you, but the possibility that the only other record to come out on France’s Opaque Dynamo is from GR (aka Gunslingers’ Gregory Raimo) makes this one a very good bet. Who knows who the Nurse serves but if its outta that camp, I’d put my money on it being a necessary pickup.




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Saariselka

The debut collaboration between Marielle V Jakobsons and Chuck Johnson wafts in on waves of country ambiance. Over layers of nebulous, enveloping tones Chuck Johnson’s slide guitar pulses through like a beacon. His auburn tones navigate the environments that Jakobsons creates with a steadfast resolve, giving us some hope of not becoming lost in the shadows and shade that his partner seems to conjure out of thin air. Jakobsons has long been creating landscapes that seem built from vapor and vision – operating under her own name and prior to that as Date Palms. Those records are all monuments to ambient light on their own, but with Johnson she seems to have created something majestic by even her standards.

There’s been a tendency of late, when creating works that skew towards the ambient, post-classical, and instrumentally exploratory, to inject a sense of anxiety and dread into the record. I suppose it’s a reflection of the time the records are being made in. It’s hard not to feel the erosion of truth next to the erosion of land itself in in the tenor of the notes in many contemporary works, but there’s another feeling in Saariselka’s The Ground Our Sky — equilibrium. The record is at peace, not complacent, but enlightened. As the listener navigates the bucolic, yet bewildering landscapes of their record there’s a sense of ease that sweeps over the record. When Johnson’s amber light shines a path towards Jakobson’s vocals (seldom as they appear) she seems to float above swaddled in light and love, wiping away all the tension that laps at our everyday experiences. This is Cosmic Americana stripped to its core, set float and let everything beneath your feet crumble away for another time.



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J.R. Bohannon

Emerging from the synth heavy confines of Ancient Ocean, a name he’s worked under for the better part of the last decade, J.R. Bohannon emerges from the blistered chrysalis of ambient noise for a record that’s imbued with a crystal-clear brand of fingerpicked folk. Dusk sees the artist opening into a verdant sound that pulls together threads from the Takoma school, bluegrass’ earthiness and cadence and some more experimental touches that throw him into the mix with Evan Caminiti and Scott Tuma. Bohannan has a way with space, making these solo pieces ring with a free-formed sunshine that feels like the walls of the studio don’t exist. If it weren’t for the complete quiet these could almost conceivably be captured in the field, smells of lightly rotted barn wood and day lilies on the air.

For the most part Bohannon makes the journey on Dusk alone, but he pulls in acclaimed drummer Greg Fox for the final, twisting number, “The Sorcerer’s Hand.” Here, Bohannon strays from some of the blissful themes of the album, diving from the melted sunlight streaks of the album’s title track into a world of secrets and paranoia. The track acts as a chapter unto itself at the end of the record, feeling like the sweeping, gorgeous tones of the previous six tracks were a pre-amble of another life before the darkened doom and hidden desires that threaten to shatter the peace as we leave the record. Altogether and outstanding debut from Bohannon and a new voice in instrumental guitar.




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Charles Rumback & Ryley Walker

Following up on their 2016 collaboration for Dead Oceans, Chicago drummer Charles Rumback and Ryley Walker head over to Thrill Jockey for a second set of skitter and strum. Again, tacking away from Ryley’s singer-songwriter impulses and into instrument folk that pushes beyond the boundaries that the genre might entail, the pair prove perfect foils for one another. Walker has ensconced himself in two forms over the last few years and his collaborations with Bill MacKay, Running, Rumback and most recently Steve Gunn have proven the artist’s prowess in mapping the more experimental mores of the improv terrain. Here, the set starts out warm and sunny, beset by fingerpicked runs and jazz sweeps through the kit. Opener “Half Joking” yawns with an early morning saunter, a song fit for the porch before the day takes shape.

As their work wears on the duo introduce a darker tone, replacing the burble of strings with more sawed and sore drones on “Idiot Parade” and letting the cloud cover choke out their earlier ease. The following, “And You, These Sang,” brings and air of consternation, a pang of hurt that’s moth eaten in places by fuzz and smeared with the handprints of white-knuckle tension trying not to seep its way to the surface. They toggle back and forth between air and void before tumbling completely into the latter on “If You’re Around and Down” a meditative respite that rolls with Rumback’s slow-motion heat-lightning patterns before the stormbreak relief of “Worn and Held” washes over the listener in liquid bliss. In some ways Walker’s dedication to the Chicago post-rock set that underpinned his last record rears its head here, feeling like the ghosts of Tortoise have inhabited the American Primitive. Walker’s been having a hell of a year live and Little Common Twist seeks to translate that energy into the studio setting as well.



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Matt Valentine

It’s been a bang-up year for Matt Valentine, with his searing second album from Wet Tuna landing last month and now the arrival of his 8-years baking solo LP, Preserves headed down the dock from Beyond Beyond is Beyond. The latest takes every incarnation that Valentine has inhabited over his years and throws ‘em in the blender, but don’t go thinking this is a hodge-podge, unfocused affair. MV grinds those sounds down smooth and viscous – melding psychedelic folk, with electronic swamp gas and lighting it on fire with the frantic freak foam of brain-bending guitar. This is Matt as his most potent, burning from the core and set to singe. The album blends midnight séance shivers with alien radio ripples, sounding like the FM waves have been hijacked and are picking up some sorely needed psychotropic solace from across the cosmos. Songs blend into one another without seams. It’s all one big batch of Preserves, steeped and sweetened for your pre-dawn consumption, gelled together into 40-odd minutes of melt.

The record calls up every acquaintance Valentine’s brushed against over the better part of the decade with longtime compatriots like Erika Elder, Pat Gubler, Willie Lane, J. Mascis, and Samar Lubelski making their way into the psychic seep of this one. The guests siphon and out Valentine’s sonic stew, giving the record a communal careen, but at the core is simply MV communing with the quasars one more time for good measure. It’s quite possible this might be the perfect companion piece to this years’ Water Weird — a moonburned coda on that album’s smoke-soaked blues. The two fit together into an extended fever dream hunkered down in sauna surroundings, sweating out the evil ether for all the transcendental sinners out there. Don’t just take my word though, the whole album’s streaming below and you’re welcome to get a taste of it yourself.


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SUSS

There’s a sense of cosmic wonder built into the sinews of Suss’ latest LP, High Line. The veteran NYC band blends a mix of ambient textures with a high plains country crawl that slices Bruce Langhorne with Barn Owl for a trip down an otherworldly rabbit hole. The album has a hermetic magic to it, lonesome, melancholy, but all consuming and engrossing in a way that seems to transcend more than just just feelings. Like a great work in sound design, Suss’ album seems to be narrating a journey, a wander through mystic corridors that’s beyond this plane. The songs ache with the hollowed marrow of driftwood — a life leeched by the sea and left to burn up in the sun – yet the discarded pieces of pulp have tales to tell, a world left behind in their sunbleached bends. High Line is an album marked by erosion and exfoliation, something that seeks to sink deeper into the strata beyond the dip of the horizon.

The band slinks from mirage to mirage, never explaining but always beckoning with a silent wave of the hand for the listener to follow deeper. It’s as if some truth might be uncovered over the next ridge, but there’s always a next ridge. Somehow when the glare recoils we’re left only with ourselves alone in a parking lot wondering if it was all shimmer and shine, or if those epiphanies were tangible and touchable. It doesn’t matter in the end. We’re changed and the sun sets a few degrees to the North from here on out. New maps are forged while the rest of the world sleeps. The album is the band at their peak, feeling out the lay lines of a new and dire era. For those who can see the cartography, this one’s gonna be a stunner. The rest will just hear the wind rustling and wander lost.




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