Browsing Category New Albums

The Lemons

Stumbled across this while writing up labelmates ABC Gum and this is too fun not to dig into deeper. I’d heard a few things over the course of the last five years or so from The Lemons and lumped them in with the usual output from The Memories / Gnar Tapes fam, which is certainly apt. This is something a bit different though. The band’s usual foray into recording is light, childish (in a good way), but also very rough. They don’t strip away the first two qualities, but that roughness fades on At Home. The band gathered up their cadre of friends and recorded a house show of songs with, for and about friends and the vibes simmering off of this are perfect for melting the wintertime doldrum blues that start to settle into the bones and poison the soul in January.

Oddly, for being a live tape, this is as crisp, clear, and warm as The Lemons have ever sounded. Songs seem rehearsed, though the set still has an immediacy that glows off of it in radiant waves. Dogs bark, glasses clink, but the music swims to the front of the speakers like a beacon of hope. In six-part harmony the band works through inside jokes that don’t leave the listener feeling like a stranger and litter them among songs about The Ramones, Johnathan Richman, and childhood TV fixtures. The Richman shoutout feels particularly prescient and this whole set is very in line with his later works that attempted an all-inclusive feel. Split that sensibility with a few Aughts janglers like The Beets, Magic Kids, and, yeah, The Memories as well, and you’re getting the picture. Every song feels like the band would gladly welcome you in and give out a round of hugs, share a beer, and pass out a tambourine if you feel like it. Seems hokey? Maybe, but also in tense times, a little innocent cheer never hurt anyone.




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Rosey Dust

While its unlikely that Kevin Klausen is a name rolling off your tongue, the sense of familiarity on Rosey Dust’s debut is palpable. You don’t know Rosey Dust, but you know Rosey Dust’s record collection. There’s a sewn-in feeling that’s threaded with the spirit of American indie rock, pounding out wistful strummers, power pop solos, and guitar-grained angst and ennui that would serve as a syllabus intro to the late 80s and early 90s. Recorded with veteran producer Tim Green behind the boards, the record laps at Dinosaur Jr.’s string-strangled bite and the Replacements’ hangdog charm. The album doesn’t shy away from the disillusion that permeated the times either, mulling the meaning in empty aches and lingering feelings of loneliness. Klausen keeps his influences on his sleeve, but he colors in the lines well.

The single that slipped out in April “Keep For Life” takes its place alongside a complete collection of left-of-the-dial dalliances that seem set on bringing the guitar back to the fore as a personal crusade. Klausen’s always waiting to hit those solos, but like Mascis he makes ‘em count. They feel like anchors rather than albatrosses around his weathered indie odes. The set slips away into the late night linger of low-end radio static with a Chris Bell-ish sigh into acoustic territory. Tape is out on Gulcher records. It’s a tight, 8-song sojourn through what is and what never was. Definitely one to keep an eye on.






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ABC Gum

A power pop powerhouse emerges from Bloomington in the form of the debut from ABC Gum. Call it a supergroup if you must – the band contains members of Bloomington garage royalty from The Cowboys, The Dancing Cigarettes, Purple 7, and Sir Deja Doog – but the connections would crumble if they didn’t bring it all together with an effortless snap that’s catchy as hell and shaded in with a perfectly classic tint. At its heart, the record captures the best of classic power pop with a stripped down sound shaking soul and sweat out of its bones. While ABC Gum are tougher than The Quick or Milk n’ Cookies, they’re digging into the alluring naïveté of that rabble in the lyrical department. The band aims for the heartbroken swagger of Teenage Head, Speedies, or Hubble Bubble and hits it pretty hard on the head with just a touch more of blue-eyed soul seeping through the speakers as well. Maybe it’s the help from The Cowboys contingent, as the record does seem to have some of their same innate ability to feel like its dropped out of the sky and straight into the crate of classic platters that never leave the table when the house is buzzing. You’d be forgiven for double or triple checking the date stamp, that’s for sure.

The band laces the record with a perfect dose of tape hiss tailspin and then litters each song with a thick dose of riff riot propping up their candy floss tales. The stone truth is this will likely wind up just as much of a lost gem as the bands that they emulate, but maybe its all for the best anyway. The greatest power pop records seem like a secret, having long been a diggers dream for lonely souls looking for friends and lovers among the grooves. Should this become a sonic love letter that’s found at the bottom of the dollar bin bottle, then the finder is lucky indeed.


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Joseph Allred

The last outing from Joseph Allred, 2019’s O Meadowlark solidified Allred’s reputation as a consummate picker, one whose style moved with an effortless grace from slippery Fahey runs through the more buttoned up blisters of Kotke and the spiritual slants of Basho. Like the latter player in that triumvirate, Allred takes a swipe at vocal blues on his latest, Traveler. While the majority of the record still showcases his chameleonic stringwork, on the album opener and title track, he lends his voice to an emotionally fraught tale that proves out of the gate that he’s not just a master of the strings. Over the next few songs Allred works his way through brambles and rabbles of notes that, while certainly virtuosic, also serve to salve and calm. It’s a pastoral, primal record that’s knotted with tangled roots and torn soil. Allred wears the mantle of natural conduit well, lending Traveler a soiled grace that’s hard to shake.

When his blues pop through once more, they don’t break the spell, instead giving the earthen rambles an anchor of humanity that tills the topsoil of the instrumental odes. “The Crown” feels sung by moonlight – a barn song that rings through the rafters with a pang of sadness. Allred swaps between banjo and guitar with such admirable ease that the change in instruments doesn’t jar in the least, letting the two timbres weave together into a tapestry of sound, looping lustrous thread through the earth tones of his sonic fabric. He caps off the vocal offerings with “O Columbia” a song that snags a few loose Fahey ends (specifically “In Christ There Is No East or West,”) and ties them to a sighing track that slips beneath the horizon as the record lopes into the last lap. The record finally fads away with a touching tribute to Glen Jones that tips a hat to one of Allred’s more modern influences. This may very well be his finest, and hopefully opens the door for more vocal offerings from the songwriter.



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Itchy Bugger

Still some releases flying in under the radar of 2019 and this ramshackle roller from Itchy Bugger is hitting the crumpled pop spot pretty hard. The band is the solo excursion of Josh from Diät, Idiota Civilizzato, the Love Triangle, etc. Though, those other bands serve little in the way of reference points for what’s to come on Itchy Bugger’s sophomore LP. Far from the post-punk dreariness of Diät or the hardcore concerns of much of the others, this is a pop record at heart, but dressed in the chewed and glued aesthetics of Stray Trolleys, The Deep Freeze Mice, and Television Personalities, among other disassembled visions of perpendicular pop. There’s a homespun, kitchen-recorded quality to the songs that’s intimate despite its sometimes-hardscrabble humor keeping the listener at arm’s length.

I’d missed out on the debut, that one flew way under the radar, but that’s an even better reason not to let the second instalment from the band slip by. Itchy Bugger can sometimes feel like an indulgence in cheeky charms, but then he wipes away the winks and shaves down the smarm for some real touching and disarmed entries to the squirm-pop canon. Atop a teetering beat he gets solemn in “Have You Seen John?” and wistful on “An Adorable Graveyard” eschewing the album’s irreverent shrugs and giving the record a deeper dig than expected. This one’s also likely to disappear without a trace as well. No matter what radars he’s flying under Itchy Bugger doesn’t seem to be in the business of large runs. Leave the lotion behind, let your guard down and get into the Itch on this one.




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Richard Youngs and Raül Refree

Soft Abuse’s slide out of 2019 leaves the world with some great offerings and this tender, hypnotic collaboration from Richard Youngs and Raül Refree is a gorgeously undersung gem from the latter half of the year. The record is built around just four-pieces, but they stretch the bounds of the singer-songwriter format, each clocking in well past the eight-minute mark. With brushes of Shearwater, Talk Talk, and recently reissued Jansch gem Avocet in its veins, the record is wounded, broken, but not beyond repair. The songs swirl around repeated phrases and figures until the pieces become mantras and meditations on loss and the lacerations of the past.

Youngs’ guitars are as languorous as ever, feeling lived in yet lucid. Refree adds a twist of heartbreak to the mix, his orchestrations drape All Hands Around the Moment in grey streaks of rain that tumble down the panes of its pain and seep into each and every groove of the record. Youngs is at his height of humility here, and the listener can feel the weight on his heart begin to pull them under as the record locks into the whirlpool of melancholy. Mercifully the album pulls out of its peril in the second half. There’s hope and relief in the verdant rebirth of “Another Language.” The song is a parting of the clouds and a calming of the hairshirt sighs of the opening two numbers. The record winds up hopeful, though still tempered by hurt with another quivering number to close out the collection. Youngs’ catalog is a dense garden to enter, but if you’re looking for a rather essential inroads, this right here isn’t a bad place to start, nor a bad place to linger.




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The Gonks

A sly little lo-fi gem that’s snuck out in the latter half of 2019, The Gonks rip the ropes from your favorite post-punk homebaked bands and put them to good use. Throwing the checkerboad charms of Beat Happening, The Vaselines, Cub, Kleenex, and Dolly Mixure into the rock polisher for a few go-rounds, the resulting record gums up the works but still manages to knock some spit-shined weirdness out of the business end. Produced and recorded by Sonny Smith of Sunsets fame, the record has his mark of off-kilter, claptrap humor all over it. Yet, the band’s not just tugging at Sonny’s apron strings.

The Gonks capture the same feeling of ‘anyone can be a rockstar’ fun that gave punk its propulsion. With a few winks and a flash of teeth the band pound out zero-frills freakers that are packed with hooks and destined to shake the shingles. There’s a sweetness, even to songs about hitmen, lonely roads, nuns and death. The Gonks play it all straight from the hip, and though there’s that wink n’ smile at the heart of their work, the band aren’t fooling around. They’re not goofin’ the hooks, so don’t dance half-hearted. They had quite a few good teachers, but these kids are all right indeed.



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Eddy Current Suppression Ring

Couldn’t have been more surprised to see this one pop up on the radar for 2019. After a lengthy hiatus that saw rise to tributaries like Total Control, the aughts’ most potent punks are back and bashing with a new long player this year. The record would probably daunt lesser souls – a pristine reputation left dangling for a decade is dusted off and the band feel like they’ve made the logical next step in their sound. Still walking the line between the bar fight bruisers of pub rock that crept out of the gutter in the ‘70s to become punk’s nascent form, the band also finds a way to skip over the meat of those very same punk years and add in the wiry wreckage of post-punk fallout to the mix. They’re the alpha and the omega hurtling through the speakers in riot-wracked glory.

Ten-odd years behind the mixing desk and twisting the knobs on a synth set hasn’t dulled Mikey Young’s guitar attack one bit. He’s still bashing out angles that others would overlook – slinging hooks like a tried and true record collector who’s absorbed an era’s worth of wreckage by osmosis. Then there’s the gloved-menace himself, Brendan Huntly, who brings the nasal hammer once again, a punk-poet who doesn’t go for the pretense. He’s Richard Hell if Hell spent less time artfully arranging holes on his shirt and just got straight to the jitters. They update the invective for a new round of political punishment by the worldwide punters of 2019 but through the faces change the burn remains the same. This is a band that pretty much touched off what’s been ripping through the Aussie underground in the interim since they left and its good to see them kick the kids off the throne and casually tip the crown on their heads. A late slip into the 2019 fold, but this one should be on your year’s best for sure.




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Grace Cummings

The debut LP from Australian songwriter Grace Cummings snuck out last month and maybe it’s the end of year crush of content, but this one should be kicking up more dust. Cummings’ voice is raw, rankled, and electric – packed full with notes of stripped pine, floral gin, defiance and defeat. It’s no surprise that she’s come to the attention of her label with a cover of Bob Dylan. Her voice falls into that same ineffable, indefinable valley as his own, the kind of voice that divides a room but brings a community together in the right corners of culture. Now, if she were just to possess a voice on par with past idols like Dylan, Buckley, and Van Ronk, that would be notable but not necessarily transformative. Good thing then that she’s also a songwriter of the highest order and that makes Refuge Cove one of the year’s secret gems.

For a debut this hits incredibly hard, a record wrought with rifts as Cummings’ world seemingly dissolves around her in strands of celluloid. Feelings don’t slide in subtly on the record, rather they tear recklessly at Grace’s soul and in turn she exhumes the ghost of grief and glory and sets it to tape. There have been great records that gutted lately, but it’s been a while since one has set the humors on fire like this has. Grace’s songs can be felt traveling through the nerves, alchemically transmuting sorrow and sin to exhaustion in an incredible act of catharsis. The only sad capper on this is that the label (Flightless) only pressed this in an edition of 500 and they’re seemingly gone in a snap. Hopefully this one will return to the fold, though digitally it still delivers. Still some of the year’s best coming out, so don’t let the lists fool ya.




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Donovan Quinn

Like a star on the horizon, Soft Abuse comes creeping in with some essential late 2019 releases, including the fourth solo album from Donovan Quinn. The California songwriter has been a longtime fixture on RSTB, having anchored Skygreen Leopards, New Bums, and Verdure in the past. His albums are few and far between, bucking a trend of so many lately to work feverishly to amass a catalog that could cripple shelves and wallets alike. Quinn’s measured pace always pays off with songs that constantly recontextualize the past into something undeniably new — like beams of a barn brought to new life in new construction. The ghosts of those beams remain ever present and they seep out slowly into the room to mix with the mites and stir up the senses.

The songs on Absolom are even more haunted than most of Quinn’s works, having evolved from an idea to build songs around the lore of other artists. Ultimately that idea was set aside, but there’s still a feeling of these songs having been lived in, lyrically or otherwise by the ethers and embers of the past. On the long, winding highlight “Satanic Summer Nights” Quinn conjures Nikki Sudden with an ear towards ambitious boundaries. Its Sudden rewriting the The Pretty Things’ Parachute for a new age. Elsewhere Quinn’s tales are rife with loss, haunted not only by his heroes but by feelings just out of reach. He saunters through the rooms, touching each stick of furniture and mourning the dust as much as the lack of inhabitants that let it settle.

On Absalom Quinn’s assembled a rotating cast of performers from his circle but their contributions are just paints in his set. There’s rarely been a record that has more of Quinn’s mark on it. His voice is embedded in the grain of the guitars, the worn spots on the piano keys, the magnetic fields on the tape. Whether or not these tales are his, he’s embodied them with his whole and its an undeniable record, one that stands high in an enviable catalog. Its late in the year, which makes me think that a lot of ears have shut themselves tight, but I hope this one reverberates across the cold air and into the hearts that need it.



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