Browsing Category New Albums

Blades of Joy

San Francisco’s Melter’s doesn’t embrace the kind of breakneck scheduling that some of their indie contemporaries keep. They’ve rounded up a tight roster of musicians who embody the spirit of their city and keep its pulse clicking, but the trickle of releases is capped at one or two a year. The austerity breeds quality, though, and from Tony Molina to Marbled Eye to Swiftumz, the ranks are filled with the match strike moments from some of the city’s best. The debut from Blades of Joy picks up this tradition amiably, with their eponymous album bleeding noise-pop from its pores, dredging up washes of Felt, and sense memory flashbacks of Galaxie 500 and Chapterhouse if they were further smudged by the sun.

The band swaddles their sound in a soft foam of feedback that won’t break, a fuzz that hesitates just near the edge of oblivion but never quite lets go of its last finger hold on composure. The anticipation of emotional spillover keeps the listener perched and percolating, giving the album a lush and luxuriant tension. They succeed in dipping the kind of jangle-pop that would find itself right at home on Slumberland into the shoegaze deep end of Creation and 4AD.

While they’re working with tried and true brushes, Blades of Joy reinvigorate the bliss that comes from melting their indipop in the sun. The album’s short but sure seven tracks evoke a lost, endless summer. Its the kind that exists without the heavy yoke of responsibility, lived without consequence in a blur of heat and haze and nights that stretch on forever. There’s a feeling that the record exists as either a fleeting moment never to be captured again as the band evaporates as quickly as they coalesced, or it winds up like so many Melters releases as the beacon to guide the faithful to Blades’ doorstep. Either way, burn or build, its a shining debut.



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One Eleven Heavy

As I’ve certainly mentioned previously, One Eleven Heavy comes stacked with a considerable cache of talent – roping in members of Wooden Wand, Endless Boogie, Royal Trux, Desmadrados Soldados De Ventura, and Ryley Walker’s touring band. While the players personal geographies run the span on the Hubeadian Map, drawing in both Coasts and dipping into the UK with Nick Mitchell Maiato, the band shares a unmistakable thread of Cosmic Americana between them. That particular strain of jam-seeded classic rock seems to have sprung up from the ground again in thick ripples over the last few years, reaching full maturity in this year of our lord 2018 and One Eleven Heavy arrive baptized in its blood and spreading the gospel well.

Like the crews of their cosmic brethren (Howlin’ Rain, Garcia Peoples, Wet Tuna), they’re hitting full stride with heady jams that hearken back to the years occupying the comedown close of the Summer of Love, with the ideals of the psychedelic era already starting to fade in the rearview and the amphetamine sweat of ’72 just starting to coalesce. The band strips back the stigma of extended time stamps while they work their way through a set that feeds on Levon’s legacy and elevates Little Feat from the sidelines of drive time radio. They channel the Burritos in their unjustly ignored post-Parsons years, while scraping just a touch of Gene Clark’s breakdown brilliance from No Other.

The record tangles the subtle twang of those raised on a diet of jukebox country crooners with the salt scrub of Western air, laying songs back into a pocket that exists somewhere between chooglin’ and juggin’ depending on how deep you want to dive into your own psychedelic pockets. For a debut, the record feels remarkably lived in. Fresh out of the shrink it already assumes frays and stains that belie its vintage, as if it can’t help but come from the plant with ring wear and a hint of basement musk. The band taps the telepathy of players that have shared stages far longer than their brief tenure – a testament to the individuals assembled – and one can only assume that each of the album’s songs is given a new life on the stage. On record, though, it shines bright as Orange Sunshine, an instant classic that should hook the heads who walked the lot and open up a new era for those who only soaked in the sun through Dick’s picks and regret.

While the record’s up on Bandcamp as of last Friday, and you damn well should have bought it already, its highly likely the rest of you are hitting the three spin cap, leaving you ostensibly out of luck until the record hits Spotify this upcoming weekend. However, for the next week, before the record hits streaming proper, you can get the full view from Soundcloud below. Don’t say we never did anything for ya.




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Warm Drag

In The Red trades in half a ton of garage that’s streaked by exhaust and choking on fuzz, but with Warm Drag they’re adding some dirt caked dance to the stable. Paul Quattrone and Vashti Windish roll the vamped and Cramped sleaze of garage’s past into a writhing record of mud-splattered garage-electronic. Samplers in tow, Quattrone is backing Windish’s snaking vocals with a hypnotic approach that coaxes some evil desert psych out of the wires. He’s talking up the Bomb Squad as a touchstone, and while there’s some of that unit’s high-octane collage work in the DNA, this is something grittier. Windish makes the most of the spaces between Quattrone’s apocalyptic-Western drags. She peeks from behind crumbling corridors of echo n’ hiss to coax the listener toward each song’s punji pit of ill will.

When the formula works, it’s a potent pill to swallow – dark and dirgey, the kind of tracks music supervisors looking to add a bit of edge drool over. The highs here hit the solar plexus with a delightful ‘thump,’ and the slinking sensuality of the record is hard to deny. Though, sometimes the sauntered pacing can weigh the record down. Its great to saunter, but when they do it too often the dust they’ve been kicking starts to stick. While the record could use a few more of those high huffers to balance out the creeping dread, it’s a nice shift from the guitar grind of ITR and a good mood setter for the dark corners of Autumn ahead.

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The Chills

Second winds for bands can always come with a flinch. Will the band capture any of the magic that drew us to them the first time around? Will time twist your favorite songwriter out of view? Age has a funny way of changing the equation, just ask Smiths fans. So, with that idea in mind, when legendary Kiwi-pop forefathers The Chills returned with Silver Bullets after a 19-year hiatus, it was a rush to hear Martin Phillips still walking the lines between heaven and hope. The band was still braiding their jangles into biting hooks, still making lit-pop for the hopeless devotees of earnest intent. They proved that post-punks could grow up without wearing their past like a costume.

Not looking to lose more time, The Chills are back with another addition to their second coming and it’s continuing the quality streak they picked up a couple years back. Stuffed with new wave nods – neon cooled keys, a jumble of jangles and galloping rhythms – the record is a fine companion to Submarine Bells’ massive pop footprint. While age hasn’t pushed the pop scope of The Chills too far off of their original pedestal, there’s a lyrical lash at work here that might not have always been present in the past. Phillips looks back, not in anger, but with a skepticism, ennui and strained sadness. Snow Bound is coming to terms with the hope that a young band held and how short the world fell from those expectations.

The band has often existed as a South-Hemi counterpart to R.E.M. and Echo, albeit with a much more condensed catalog. Along with countrymen The Bats and Aussies the Go-Betweens, they guarded a pop vision that remained timeless while nailing the best hallmarks of the decade in which they surfaced. After decades of leading young bands to the right roads, The Chills are still building new avenues of their own. With Snow Bound, its clear that their legacy is on solid ground.



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The Holydrug Couple

Chilean psych-pop duo The Holydrug Couple have always taken a blissful approach to the idea of psychedelia. Their sound doesn’t embrace the attack of fuzz or anger of feedback so much as it seeks to strand listeners in a euphoric cocoon of dazzling light and sound. They’ve done so to great effect on their last couple of albums on a shoestring budget, turning bedroom sessions into gooey, sun-dappled psych-pop that begs the listener to get lost in its embrace. Now they’ve doubled down on the studio setup, looking to produce something of a ‘classic’ record with all the spoils of their Guitar Center sweep-up.

While they’re taking a nod at Beach Boys and Beatles in their reported intentions, in reality this is landing among the heather occupied by The Soft Bulletin and Heaven or Las Vegas. Everything on Hyper Super Mega shimmers, everything glows and turns to gauze rather than becoming concrete. There’s a pop center that might run on an engine of ‘60s and ‘70s giddiness, but once its processed through the band’s arsenal of augmentation its all dry ice and purple glows, like gaseous extraterrestrials trying to tune in Todd Rundgren on the console of a second-hand saucer.

It seems that 2018 is a year for bands to bring forth the best version of themselves and in that regard, Holydrug Couple can clearly be added to that list. Hyper Super Mega achieves the vision that they set out to bring to life when the Couple was formed, a vibrational orchestra rendered in absolute clarity. In a year that’s been tumultuous and feels awfully grounded this is a nice lift into the clouds of distraction and a salve for daily burns.



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The Goon Sax

When The Goon Sax wrote their first album they were still walking the halls of high school, and that album captured the restless stakes of youth in all their impatient, unpolished glory. The record both fit with and jostled against the strain of underground indie that’s pocked the Aussie scene. It was confessional and off the cuff like many of their contemporaries, but without the day job drag and disillusioned squirm of adulthood in their bellies, it betrayed the typically shaggy Aussie brand with a bit of hopefulness and a brash know-it-all-ism that can only be captured at the height of adolescence. As the band approaches their sophomore LP two years down the road – graduated, but not ground down – they’ve had to make the choice between letting responsibilities sway their sound or keeping on with their thread of wide-eyed, emotionally bare exoticisms of pop.

Thankfully they’ve chosen to keep the faith and while they work their loose-knit pop into a bit of a polish aesthetically, they’ve managed to keep the lyrical core raw and trembling and the songwriting tipping towards twee. They’re still caught up in a jumble of jangles, but the band have moved from tripping over them like shoelaces to fencing them in with a renewed purpose. Their new production sees strings swell and horns color in the lines, but its still as human and humble an album as their first. They don’t miss an opportunity to throw in a bedroom recording between the brilliance as well, just to change the shading, but the uneven landscape works as the listener backs away to take in the album in total.

The band has grown a confidence in songwriting and execution and they tie the record together into something that far surpasses their promising debut. Where they once brought sketchbook souls to life, now they’re painting with warm colors and a steadier hand. There’s a sense that the band could tenure track this sound over the next few years into something mature and rich, but for now the immediacy of youth is doing just fine.



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ORB

If the dearth of the mighty King Gizzard of late has left you with a hankering for Aussie scuzz and heavy fuzz then ORB’s got you covered in Gizz’s gap year. The Aussies are still pining for the days when Sabbath, Leaf Hound and Blue Cheer were chugging ozone to fuel half-stacks of growlin’ fury, but this time they’re letting some lighter obsessions filter to the front as well. The band’s appreciation of nascent Pink Floyd (before the crack swallowed Syd whole) is prominently on display here along with nods to fellow travelers of the ether Kevin Ayers and Gong.

Occasionally the album reminds me of the great lost psych of Zior in balancing heaviness, heat and meandering space, but there’s also a thread of the Black and White years of BÖC in the mix. While in lesser hands (and even on earlier ORB albums) the sound could devolve into slavish devotion to the force of fuzz but the band have instead created their most nuanced and cohesive album in embracing a wider field of view. The record slashes and breathes, coaxes and cools before summoning all the occult fever on full view in the ‘70s.

No matter how much they lighten the load, though, we’re still all here for at least a few crushing riffs. Thankfully those are still plentiful on The Space Between. From cosmic blues to dirty proto punk, ORB have an arsenal of smoke-choked guitar grit on lock. The hook with ORB is that they’re pulling together the threads of heavy psych into one place, crafting records that have as much reverence for the innovators as they do for latter day refiners of amplifier sickness. The band has never sounded as surefooted as they do right here. This is ORB at their best and its great to see them reach this level.



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Woolen Men

Portland’s constantly underrated Woolen Men are back with their fifth album and it’s the best incarnation of their ‘80s and ‘90s excavations yet. Built on a bedrock of knotty guitars and bone-dry vocals, the band finds a new arrow in its arsenal with the addition of sprightly, motorik-leaning rhythms. The combo gives the band’s sound a good shove in the direction of the sun and further towards indie pop than they’ve ever strayed. To be honest, indie pop wouldn’t have ever been a term I thought would apply to the veteran Northwesterners, but here we are. The band’s had a documented dedication to following their muse and rebuffing the trends towards the grunge legacy of their surroundings, but they’ve often strayed towards the dingier side of the past when trailing that muse.

They’ve powered through a period of angular post-punk, bouts of college rock that kicked at the doors of Pavement and Husker Du alike, but now they’re finding their groove stapling early Go-Betweens basslines to R.E.M. fallout and Feelies vibes. Its as upbeat an album as they’ve ever issued, and in a year when anger rules the racks that’s somewhat of a refreshing offer. The sound on Post (a winking nod of a title if there ever was one) is as crisp as they’ve ever sounded, on par with their previous high-water mark Temporary Monument. Though while the two albums may share a love of clarity, Post is the calm water coolout to Temp’s agitator itch.

Style and genre don’t seem to hold a place of permanence in their mindset, but a mark of quality always haunts any Woolen Men record. Post is no different, the band proves that they can jangle just as well as they can wrap their guitars around the rubbery wrath of The Fall. Woolen Men have now been knocking around Portland long enough to see waves of bands filter through fast fad life cycles, and while they themselves band may still be holding down day jobs, their dedication to doing what brings them joy has given them a longevity that contemporaries would likely envy. This may be the band’s finest hour, I’d advise paying close attention.



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Sauna Youth

Sauna Youth have a handle on the brittle bite of punk that’s long served their country’s history. Their previous LP balanced a crucial clutch of frantic, diesel-paced guitar explosions with caustic hooks. There’s also a thread of art punk that often finds spoken word elements propping up in their work, pushing them out of the standard DIY tenure track. On their third LP they maintain their trajectory, melting away some of the hooks through sheer velocity, but never once letting up on their dedication to the raised hackle wild swing of punk’s fiercest proponents. While there’s not a single as potent as “Transistors” here, the whole package rubs the soul just as raw as anything they’ve brought forth in their catalog.

The album opens with the sucker-punch pounce of “Percentages” and it’s a good indication of the kind of bile and bent aluminum aesthetics the band is pushing to the front on Deaths. The bile in question finds them venting frustration out of multiple channels – the economic impact of sustainable arts and gig economies, political realities that outlive our dumbest estimation, and the daily distractions that threaten to kill our creative core. While the band channels all this into an intense half hour of cranium crunch, the venting of frustrations comes off cathartic more than angry. It’s destructive in the way demolition should be, but they’re smiling while they swing the hammer.

The band still leaves room for a spoken word piece here, which I appreciate, though it does derail the momentum of the album. The choice to forgo streamlined listening for their own indulgences and strange sources of joy seems to be the core of what makes Sauna Youth click. Like a pill that gets stuck in the throat, they’re still hitting the body to full effect, even if the ride’s sometimes uncomfortable. Deaths slots in nicely alongside the rest of this year’s stellar Upset The Rhythm roster, another disjointed slap to the face that’s sorely needed.



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The Molochs

Quintessentially Californian – breezy, but flecked with garage gristle, soft baked twang, and a touch of sunshine strum – The Molochs burst out with their debut, America’s Velvet Glory, last year. It was a record that picked at the bones of a dozen personal favorites, but it seemed like the template for something better. That it was, and the band issues Flowers in the Spring as the smoother sipping, buttered-soul culmination of that they were going for on that debut. The record embraces the pop proper in garage pop, turning their latent VU impulses towards lusher waters. While wrapping up their ‘60s jangles in a touch of country sparkle they’re finding the dividing line between Nikki Sudden, ‘70s Flying Burrito Bros and the sorely missed strains of the Strange Boys.

Lucas Fitzsimons attempts a swipe at swagger that tries hard to cover up the vulnerabilities in his voice, but that bluff is all part of the charm. He’s full of bluster one minute, but journaling about it later with a wash of heat in his cheeks for his transgressions. Some of the best moments on Flowers are couched in the tender resolve – “And She’s Sleeping Now,” “A Little Glimpse of Death,” “Too Lost in Love” – here the band doesn’t worry about rock clichés and spends some time working on the minor details that make pop shine.

Skirting wide on the idea of a sophomore slump, The Molochs are, it would seem, just getting started here. This record has found its footing and ditched the confines of American Garage that dogged their debut. In indulging their pop sweet tooth the band has made a lasting impression and in turn bumped themselves out of the rut of the standard garage band.



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