Browsing Category New Albums

The Advisory Circle

At its heart, the new Advisory Circle record is Jon Brooks doing what he does best, creating synth worlds that explode into vivid view over the course of an album. He’s long been using the moniker to explore hypnogogic wonderlands and Library music in equal measure but his latest leans much heavier on the latter this time, leaving the psychedelic touches that marked From Out Here behind. Jumping off from the works explored by his recent team up with Jim Jupp as Belbury Circle he’s jettisoning the Omni via Radiophonic works of his previous LP and the pastoral filmstrip aesthetic of early classics like As The Crow Flies and embracing the synth led excess of the ‘Me Decade’ in full swing.

Where Belbury Circle found its way to the darker side of synth, plumbing the depths of horror soundtracks and Goblin inspired italo-freak classics, Ways of Seeing embraces the late ‘70s and ‘80s television serial and the self-serious caper film via library tracks stuffed with tension, gloss and the kind of plastic wrapped synth lines that immediately date some of the most indelible film memories of an ‘80s childhood. There’s no moment in movies like Real Genius or Kung Fury that is not hinged on the faux futurism of digital joy that bubbles beneath the action. Likewise shows like Miami Vice found their edge in this same sonic cocoon, subtly giving viewers the feeling that recycled themes held a more modern meaning with a few extra silky synths plodding the plot along.

That seems to be the core theme of Ways of Seeing, perception changed through aural accompaniment, and its reflected in the spot-on packaging (as usual) of Julian House which mirrors ‘80s film and camera magazines and brochures of the era. Brooks has proven time and again that he’s a scholar of the music that moves behind what we watch and while his references here are no doubt well beyond my soundtrack prowess his zeal has produced an album that transports the listener to an immediate time and place, snapping the senses awake as easily as a smell tied to childhood. Even if you didn’t notice it consciously, these were the sounds that permeated a decade or more of programming. Their sounds are already in your DNA, Brooks just brings it bubbling to the surface like a long hidden scar.



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Good Morning

Aussie duo Good Morning graduates from the EP to the LP but shows no signs of ditching the band’s ramshackle, disjointed style with a larger overarching container. Good on ‘em too, because their “life stuffed in a knapsack” aesthetic is largely the engine driving their charms. The band is of and beholden to the new wave of Aussie indie that embraces substance over sheen, often recorded in fits and starts in kitchens and basements around the country. It is music by and for friends that just happens to trickle out when the right label gets an ear on it. So, it is that Stefan Blair and Liam Parsons birthed this album alone, with the hum of tape as constant companion and the image of a lone bare bulb swinging above a Tascam as mascot to its creation. The record is sparse, as are their previous EPs, but without so much as a coat of paint the record is primed for its revelry in anxiety’s ouroboros, melancholy’s sway and sighed choruses that don’t rely on hooks so much as commiseration.

Despite a decidedly laid-back veneer the record doesn’t leave itself open to easy entry points. Guitars find themselves whittled down to second-tier status on Prize // Reward, replaced by a rec room piano that sounds like it might have two generations worth of drink rings to buff out. The pair swoons and shuffles through their songs with a brilliant disheveled approach, the very aural image of Nilsson’s robe-clad cover of Schmilsson – blank-eyed, bleary and perhaps privately destroyed by tiny catastrophes like running out of milk. They encapsulate a detached cool that’s almost a private joke between the songwriters, scoff if you must but they’re not out to win you over.

They hint at aspirations of elevating the record from its dehumidifier din – flutes peck at opener “Plant Matta” and a gang of vocal interlopers can be heard before they’re melted by the easy bake warble that takes the track to its resting place. There’s a running thread of sax that finds its way through the record, provided by Blair’s dad, though his debauched skronk colors the songs with a lounge-light hangover that’s not pulling the curtains any time soon. Now, despite the milieu that all of this isolation brings to mind, the record is actually a stunner of slack, feeling unfussed with the preening rabble outside of their creative bubble. Good Morning has slyly slipped out the best dip into the pill cabinet dressed up like a ‘70s private press depression session you’re likely to hear this year.



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Lithics

When it comes to post-punk these days, I’m a fan of the brittle, parched-throat approach that’s stuffed with bulbous bass and crimped wire guitars. Stow your smokey-eyed goth crooners, I want those guitars to lacerate and the atmosphere choked to hospital waiting room levels of forced air. Portland’s Lithics serve up just the thing, a satisfying album that’s scoring and snapping hooks off like drywall – rough-edged and choking the listener on their dust. The band is bred on a cocktail of The Contortions, Galaxo-Babies and Au Pairs – hiding rusted hooks in their surgical slice with ill intent. The approach is just enough to let the listener wander close before the sucker punch of Aubrey Hornor’s ball peen hammer vocals knocks them sideways.

Perhaps only labelmates Taiwan Housing Project or British dance diviners Shopping are working in quite such frantic strokes these days. But Lithics, unlike their contemporaries in label parentage or their UK counterparts don’t let on the sly wink that there’s fun to be had. Not that you can’t move to Lithics – you can and should, but they inspire a top-button tamped down, full-body jerk that feels manic and draws looks of concern from other occupants of the mashed mass audience. There’s beauty in their dissonance and order to their entropy but there’s menace in their strings and you best not take them too lightly.

If all this sounds like it’s not fun, then perhaps things are too kush on your side of the couch. Anxious energy throttles the sinews and Lithics know just how to draw it out. They’ve created a perfect conduit for shaking the itch that threatens to catch in the lungs. Lithics know you either face the panic head-on or let it consume you. Your choice I suppose.


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Wooden Shjips

With certain types of recreational drug use, or even meditation for that matter, there’s a point when the subject becomes detached from their current surroundings – a shift in time, an outside looking in feeling of calm introspection that lets slip the boundaries of pressing matters. In this stasis, somewhere between numbness and bliss, exists V the latest record from Wooden Shjips. The band seems to toss around that this is their “summer record” and to be sure there’s plenty here that compliments the staunch humid nights of mid-August swelter – Ripley Johnson’s guitars dripping through layers of wet reverb like condensation down a can, tempos slowed to a molten crawl, and bass that can’t be contained by rolled tight windows. More than merely a seasonal accoutrement, though, this record is a balm, a respite, a state of mind – or in the spirit of summer – a vacation from the current mudslide of daily life that threatens to consume us all.

With V the band has softened the focus on its trademark sounds – the fat, motorik rhythm section that slaps like waves against the breakwater, the sunlight suffused guitars that sparkle and ripple in equal measures and Johnson’s vocals that billow and diffuse in a cloud of vapor overhead. The enveloping warmth of this particular iteration of the band has added a few new moving parts as well. Are those strums peeking out of the haze on “Already Gone?” Were there always this many slinking keys in the Shjips’ universe? The vacation vibes bring on a prog haze that holds over from the lighter half of Moon Duo’s last experiment in duality and it feels like a missing puzzle piece found under the couch, perfectly cut to relieve the anxiety that was created in its absence.

Along with Cooper Crain (Cave, Bitchin’ Bajas) the band has created a perfect headphone record, adding further to the escape hatch mentality of the album. The aforementioned elements dance across the headspace in sketchbook animation while the bass acts as a barrier to the worries, realities, information overload and creeping dread that’s become a constant weight in 2018. For forty-two blissful, nebulous minutes Wooden Shjips let the listener breathe before the waters rise again. Best to gulp in a few last breaths, drop into the airtight bunker b ‘n b of sound and enjoy because those waters show no signs of slowing any time soon.





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The Love-Birds

In the wake of their Empty Cellar debut single, a sparkling tangle of jangles and clear-sky hooks, San Francisco’s Love-Birds wound up on the radar of a new generation thirsting for guitar’s pop prominence. They funnel the energy of that short-form stunner into an LP that proves they have a deft hold on jangle’s cross-generational evolution – tapping into The Byrds, 12-string history while echoing alt and indie pop hallmarks from R.E.M. to The Flaming Groovies and Teenage Fanclub. They even drag the rudder through the South Hemisphere, picking up nods to The Go-Betweens and The Chills then cold-press all this history down to a record that feels instantly familiar while still coming out fresh as a bay breeze in spring.

While they’re definitely pulling down a full set of sleeves, practically polka-dotted with hearts beating for the past, they swerve the stamp of college-town cover band looking to stun with their ability to belt out “End of the World As We Know It” sans crib-sheet. Instead they’ve bound up the control board glow of late night nineties college radio and, with the aid of San Francisco strummer and legend in his own right Glenn Donaldson, offered up a record that’s intangibly catchy, bittersweet and buoyant. The album captures that feeling when the airwaves were just right and the lo-watt station two towns over came in crystal clear at 12am, letting a few late-night discoveries blossom into lifelong obsessions.

On In The Lover’s Corner, the band feels comfortable picking at songs of love unrequited and scratching the itch of nostalgia that a good many likely have for an era with more to offer than the packaged in amber playlists built on hits rather than heart. The Love-Birds are helping helping further the left side of the dial even as the dial disappears from view.



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Unlikely Friends

Tacoma’s Unlikely Friends rope together members of BOAT and Math and Physics Club for a dose of power pop and shaggy indie that holds a candle for the ‘90s recipe: quirk times hooks equals solid gold. BOAT existed on the periphery of indie pop blogs for some time in the early aughts and this stands as a natural progression of their scruffy four-track pop aesthetic. Taking cues from latter day Apples in Stereo, mid-period New Pornographers and pretty much any point in Fountains of Wayne’s catalog while sprinkling in a dash of early Shins pacing on the slower cuts, the band’s sophomore tape inflates their humble pop pretense to towering proportions. It’s easy to lump the band into the box of slacker rock, hell the band even does it themselves at times, but there’s more drive here than that epithet would let on. There’s Pavement in their veins and a click track backing beat but when Unlikely Friends hit that hook sweet spot their pop feels like its bound for a bigger budget.

Leaning into the plurality of downer themes floated on buoyant hooks, the band never suffers from pushing their power pop formula into saccharine territory. Far from it, they wax poetic on stagnation, homesickness, love (naturally) and well, baseball, quite a bit of baseball actually. The album is a bold shot across the bow of 2018 and an antidote to an overabundance of garage-flecked power pop, giving the genre back its bittersweet core. This is likely to get lost between the cracks of 2018, it came out in January and I find it just now floating to the surface. That’s no reason to miss out though, there’s plenty to chew on here and like BOAT before them, there are too many gleaming moments hidden under the rough exterior to ignore.

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Parquet Courts

I’ll be honest for as vital and nervy as I found Parquet Courts’ Light Up Gold I strayed over the last few EPs and albums. Human Performance and Sunbathing Animal left me slightly cold and I’d just snoozed over the collaboration with Daniele Luppi. Where Light Up Gold poured out of the speakers rough and ragged, some of the short format offerings felt cut with kid scissors and looking to papercut on purpose. Though the band’s NYC pulse still held strong, they needed another spark on their tinderbox tendencies towards blunt Modern Lovers rubdowns and city life injustices.

Seems like Danger Mouse was just the thing the band needed to right the tiller and his production on Wide Awake gives the band a much-needed car battery to the nipple, shocking their apathy to ire transition into form and grinding their post-punk impulses into just the drug they need to incite the action espoused by their lyrics. Wide Awake is far and away the band’s peak, crackling with an energy that befits the early 30’s epiphany that you’re not the person you want to be and you’re losing time to transition.

In the process of finding their footing they’ve honed their core impulses, this is still a band weaned on VU, The Feelies and the aforementioned Jonathan Richman (so much Richman) but now they’re absorbing eclecticism with the appetite of David Byrne and invoking the erratic execution of early pop Eno. They drop junkyard funk into the mix, they pull tempo turnoffs in mid-song and when they slow things down this time, they pine and preen while captivating rather than blending towards the wildflowers on the wallpaper. For all the clutched pearls that followed the DM production announcement he’s done the boys a solid and kept their trademark angles intact while splashing a good ton of color on the final design.


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Mary Lattimore

The harp has always had a precocious edge in contemporary music. But while the instrument is often used as a baroque folk accoutrement or as an ornamental touch on an otherwise fairly staid pop song, Lattimore uses the instrument to transport the listener to quiet pastoral hideaways perched on the edge of grand panoramic views. The harpist uses her chosen muse to combine classical sweep, subtle processing and field recordings to create crystalline worlds trapped in amber and nestled inside of rural hollows.

In some ways Hundreds of Days enters like a gorgeous minimal house perched on old farmland. The stark angles seem almost too crisp to touch, and though the bas relief cut against rolling hills and sparkling waters seem just slightly out of place with each other, its intended as an idyllic getaway. The problem being that the yoke of modernity is forced onto nature, dragging along the rigidity of city life with it. Hundreds of Days does in fact begin as a calm respite, a meditative retreat, but begins to skew just slightly off over time. As the album progresses that discord of the modern and the natural becomes more apparent, resulting in the warbles and darkening skies of “Baltic Birch.”

That song acts as a kind of break in the façade, the first drop into the water that sends ripples across the glass surface. Following the rationalization that there’s no forcing the two worlds together in harmony, the final track, unadorned and somber sweeps through like a sigh. Finally leaving behind the glass castle, this is where Lattimore communes with nature, faces mortality and finds peace. The record is nothing short of masterful and warrants a place on the list of modern composition high watermarks.



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The Ivytree

Back in the spring of 2006, when this blog was just finding its footing as a flyover mp3 site on Blogger, the blossoming psych-folk boom was a large inspiration. In particular the works that huddled together under the Jewelled Antler Collective felt like they needed amplification. A homespun collection of works that eked out in small press formatis (CD-Rs and the problematic yet enticing 3” CD) in the years prior to the site’s creation, the label was a hub of folk scuffed by field recordings and softened by tape hiss. At the center of that hub was Glenn Donaldson, who’d recorded as The Blithe Sons, Thuja, Giant Skyflower Band, Birdtree, Ivytree and, at the time was gaining ground with Skygreen Leopards. Donaldon’s, plaintive falsetto and filmstrip grained folk embraced the home/field recorded aesthetics that summed up much of the best psych-folk of that particular era and he helped dozens of likeminded artists find a home.

Seems that composer and label head Sean McCann would agree with the impact Donaldson had around the time and he reached out to publish a compilation of some of Ivytree’s best moments. What he wound up with instead, as Glenn dug through his archives, was a collection of unreleased Ivytree songs that present a whole new slew of material that’s just as captivating as the existing works (which are largely relegated to an EP, album and one side of a split 12” with Chris Smith). Ivytree has always stood as the coinflip to The Birdtree – both visions of Glenn’s solo folk captured in harmony with nature and seeping through the speakers as fragile and warm as a sunbeam and alternately cool and humid as deep forest moss.

The songs here pick up the tradition of earlier works, conjuring bittersweet moments of solitude, echoing around headphones and speakers like cave walls and tree canopies. That these sat in storage seems an injustice that’s just now being righted. After all these years, the Ivytree songs still have he same ability to transport the listener to open fields with soft breezes and I’m grateful to Recital for bringing this out to the world. If you’re unfamiliar with the original works do yourself a favor, start here and then tumble down through Ivytree and Birdtree’s early records for some of folk’s most unheralded gems.




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Bonnacons of Doom

The ephemeral Bonnacons of Doom have built their reputation in the live setting – making ritual, costume and anonymity part of their show. While they might not be the first psych band to don robes and masks, they’re certainly coupling the pageantry with potency for a psychedelic storm that’s heavy and haunted. This time around the lineup consists of members of Forest Swords, Mugstar and Youthmovies – all of whom decamped to Hookworm’s Suburban Home studios for a crusher mostly composed in one take. On tape the band’s aesthetics have little bearing on the experience, unless you as a listener are prone to fixing a mental image of the band in place for the duration of a record. Stripped from the visual trappings their music still holds firm though, retaining a sense of rite and ritual, blending drone, an appropriate amount of doom and religious vibrations into an album that’s fraught with visceral punch.

The label is not so off base to compare the band to Amon Duul II, they’ve got the same impulse to draw out improvs into ecstatic lengths, but there’s definitely a level of growling fury that might not have found its way into Duul’s work. Singer Kate (off with the surnames here) heightens the stakes on the agony vs ecstasy dynamic that burrows deep into Bonnacons work, pushing her vocals into non-syllabic acrobatics that singe as hard as the solos. BoD utilize the build and release model like any good Doom acolytes, and the payoffs are well worth it here but don’t just come for the clearcut burn. The band prove that their meditative thrum and cataclysmic comedowns in the aftermath of guitar destruction can be just as entrancing. The band’s debut arrives fully formed, leaving behind any claims of gimmickry on stage. What’s left of your eardrums you can mop up on the way out.

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