Browsing Category New Albums

Spiral Joy Bad

Spun off from the din of Pelt, Spiral Joy Band has served over a decade as a parallel universe in which Mikel Dimmick, Patrick Best, and Troy Schafer can experiment further with the drones and zones that capture their attention. Originally envisioned as an acoustic counterpart, the band’s embraced the electric impulse over time and with their latest for MIE, they continue to open a portal to a haunted hollow beneath the earth’s crust. As with Pelt proper, SJB have a patient creep to them – embracing drones that float like fog a la Heldon or Ashra, while scraping some high plains guitar moan from the stones in the manner of Barn Owl and Charalambides.

On Summoning the similarities with the latter are cemented even further, with vocalist Dani Schafer’s incantations thrumming on the same cosmic wavelength that’s long driven Christina Carter. On centerpiece, “Starlings in Deerwood,” her vocals crack the cosmos and give the band’s guitar clash a run for its money in terms of holding the listener rapt. Then the band shakes the world tree with a clattering, mossy menagerie of drone, dirge, rattle and hum on the 20 min closer “Down the Lane the Park is Still and the Water Chill.” Fans of any of the aforementioned touchstones or Pelt for that matter have plenty to unpack on this limited press platter, perfect for the hibernation months ahead.



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Night Beats

For his latest LP as Night Beats, Danny Lee Blackwell has a crises of character and we’re all invited along for the ride. Jettisoning the semblance of a “band,” the record is just Blackwell with a litany of studio hit men and Dan Auerbach behind the boards, working the Night Beats’ previously gritty garage into a swaggering, glossy blues-soul belter in the mold of the Keys themselves. Seems that Dan Auerbach is rolodexing his way through the wealth of indie talent these days – working with garage-soul powerhouse Shannon Shaw and making over Sonny Smith into a proper gentleman. The production match-ups have been met with a mixed-bag of outcomes. In Shaw, Auerbach saw a performer who was often left masked by genre – a natural torch singer who needed a proper stage to shine from. With Smith, however, he stripped away much of the songwriter’s downtrodden charm, giving his record the feel of an expensive imitation that wrinkles in the wash while the rest of his catalog comes out crisp and clean every time.

Now as to what he’s done with Night Beats – its a split decision to be honest. I like quite a few of the tracks that Auerbach and Blackwell have done together. When the songs are full of sound and darkness and swinging for the rafters they shake out the psych-soul swirls of Blackwell’s past into the kind of stadium rock that works with a packed crowd and an over-zealous light show. On the other side of the same coin, though, when the band brings down the lights and goes for tender vulnerability the look chafes like a cheap costume. On “Too Young To Pray,” “Am I Just Wasting My Time,” and “I Wonder” the record feels like its courting well outside of its intended audience, hamming it up for the Brillo Cream boomers that like the way that boy looks in a tie. And doesn’t he just sing lovely? Its Tom Jones with a sneer and a wide-brimmed fedora.

The gamble, unfortunately, tends to deflate even the best moments and leaves the record feeling like it can’t make up its mind to go all in on a big budget rock record or leave the Beats’ name behind and deliver a Blackwell soul-glo half-hour special. Fans of Night Beats likely came for the dark n’ downers, and were the whole album to strut in the manner of “One Thing,” “Eyes on Me” and “Let Me Guess,” this might stand among some of Night Beats’ best. There’s nothing to be lost from treading new ground, or even lightening the mood with a softer respite between the sweat-soakers, but on Myth of a Man Blackwell and Auerbach have pulled the rug out from under the band’s sound in the name of wilting ballads that don’t inspire love, lust or, sadly, repeat listens.



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Mope City

While its tempting to battle the deluge of current events with dips into sunny distraction and plastic pop, there’s something comforting about slipping into a narcotic pool of blissful disconnect. For a good swath of the ‘80s and ‘90s there was a production pinpoint to turn to when just such a sound was needed. As much as Steve Albini built his empire of sound on the unflinching light of austerity, his counterpart Mark Kramer built his own brand basking in the warm glow depression pop. Sydney’s own downer step-children Mope City are echoing the highlights of Kramer’s production canon – from the woolly jangles and slightly askew harmonies of Galaxie 500 to the grey-skied vocal wallow of ‘90s Low. Its only appropriate, then, that the band should dial up the legend himself to put a mix and master on their sophomore LP.

The band’s songs echo their moniker like a mission statement. There are cracks of light in that peek in through the blinds, but for the most part the band is lacquering the inside of the bell jar with the windows closed and the fumes bring on enough of a buzz to dull the pain awhile. It’s clear that of their aforementioned alt touchstones, the group has spent the most time with the catalog of Boston’s finest slowcore trio. Mope City’s got Galaxie’s disaffection and echo-chamber anesthetics pinned to the floor, though the band lacks the luster of Wareham’s liquid mercury guitar solos and their absence is definitely felt. The duo’s pulling off depression pop and a slowcore revival admirably well, if not necessarily moving the dial forward all that much from its 1990 heyday.

News From Home succeeds the most when it breaks just a touch out of its own head. The key change breather and ebullient strings on “Excuses Start To Thaw” floats the song to the top of their heap along with the slouched swagger of “Medicine Drawer”. Its clear that the band is onto something, and separating themselves quite nicely from the pervasive trends that abound in their home country’s indie union. The best mope-pop worked well when we listeners could believe there was some kernel of hope inside. When Mope City rest on their heels and let the dirge overtake the day then it muddies the songs a bit too much, but when they nail the balance of hope and despair, the record becomes much more than an homage to an era separated by time and 9500 miles of tide.



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Lorelle Meets The Obsolete

Mexican shoegazers Lorelle Meets The Obsolete have been something of a fixture on RSTB for some time, so it was great news when I got wind the band had knocked down much of their past writing habits, built an album largely around synths and started up their own imprint to release it. De Facto‘s a biting bit of tongue in cheek, given that this is anything but a stock Lorelle album. While it shares the band’s love of obfuscation and crackling walls of sound, the album is at once more experimental and more pop than they’ve ever let on before. The band broke away from the pervasiveness of a screaming guitar build and buried vocals on 2016’s Balance, but that still bore a pretty heavy footprint of where they’d been. De Facto cracks open the door slowly, with “Ana” creeping in on almost nothing at all, just a skeletal pulse and Lorena Quintanilla’s silken vocals. The track is a bit of a red herring, as the band immediately jettisons the restraint by the next track, pinning their dreampop to a pulsing beat and a sweaty pop pound before winding their way through stylistic nooks over the next seven tracks.

While they’ve long included their native tongue in their works, De Facto is also notable for being their first album to feature no trace of English and it feels like the band embracing themselves like never before. This is the unfiltered Obsolete, not afraid to walk away from the corner they’ve been painted into by years of expectation. There’s often been a squirm of discomfort in their songs, even when easing into the ether, but here it feels like they’re finally letting the tension melt and with it letting the listener melt along with them. The album pools in gossamer puddles that swell to flooded fields once the band flips the switch to deluge. Their unparalleled ease only makes the fuzzed payoffs more satisfying once they finally loosen the hatches here. With each listen, De Facto opens itself to more shimmering moments shoegaze/dreampop perfection. Both genres have long been maligned by a generation of half-assed accolytes, but Lorelle Meets the Obsolete prove that there’s still juice in the tank when its done without reservations.

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Autogramm

I’ve long been a sucker for power pop – especially the valley carved out between the tail of ’77 punk and the rising tide of New Wave that created a weirder, woolier variety than was fit to endure the end of the decade. Before pop punk co-opted the template jittery weirdos like Moon Martin could share stages with Tubeway Army, Nick Lowe and DEVO and it all seemed like they were picking up pots from the same pop kitchen. Autogramm have come to life to tap into that world wholesale (perhaps to a bit of a fault). The band, which is comprised of members of The Spitfires, Blood Meridian, Lightning Dust, Hard Drugs, Destroyer, Black Halos, and Black Mountain leaves behind the confines of their indie and psych roots to go method on the skinny tie set’s sandbox.

There are some genuinely great out-of-time moments on the record, that if they were snatched up from the dollar bin dust would easily find their way sandwiched between The Cars, Advertising, and Hubble Bubble on the early morning rock block. The trio has studied their source material and brought to life a familiar beast freshly sprung from plastic and casually rolling the sleeves of its sportcoat for a night out. The record might be just a tad too on the nose for its own good, though, feeling more like dress-up than a power pop progression. There are still bands updating the formula and making it sound fresh (see: Barreracudas, Flasher, Michael Rault) but that doesn’t seem to be what Autogramm have set out to accomplish. Still, few contemporary power poppers are really locking into that nerd-squirm that Autogramm seem to have made their bedrock. That aspect gives this record reason for more than a first listen. The long arm of The Cars reaches out over a legacy of music, but it rarely rears its head as often as it does here. Its tempting to lay back into its embrace.


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Bingo Trappers

A wonderfully slapdash enigma of a record, the 11th catalog entry for Amsterdam’s Bingo Trappers comes to the world via more record labels than you can properly sort – Almost Halloween Time, Morc Tapes, Unread Records and, finally, Grapefruit here in the US. The band has been plugging at their shambolic brand of ’60s-bent folk pop since the ‘90s and, while they might carry the hallmarks of buried Elephant 6 castoffs, they’re true guitar pop purists who’ve managed to make time drifted classics that are humble, hummable and charming time and again. Past entries to their catalog have floated to the surface on Shrimper, Animal World and Muze, but this is only the third time they’re getting a proper wax treatment, having been stranded in the CD-r ditches of the early aughts and stuck handing off cassettes at shows before nostalgia made them cool again.

On Elizabethan they’re plowing through their usual clutch of influences and adding in a couple of new nuances for the hell of it. They swipe at the homey humor of Muswell Hillbillies, sneak in a little ? and the Mysterians’ organ wobble, pick endlessly at the early works of The Byrds and sift through John Cale’s passed over choruses. However, since the Trappers are doing it all on a shoestring sensibility, the outcome lands closest to the likes of Deep Freeze Mice or The Stray Trolleys peppered with just a touch more sun-buttered slide. That country touch gives the record a heavier gravity than some of their past platters, spools, or decaying plastic curios. The blurry sunshine that dapples their approach makes this feel like private press gold snagged from the dollar bins wanting jaws or Kinks demos that have been chewing on “God’s Children”-vibes like an infinite earworm. Quite recommended that you check it out.


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Khana Bierbood

For their latest, Guru Guru Brain reaches outside of their bubble in the belly of Japanese psych to pick up newcomers from Thailand, Khana Bierbood. Their debut album, produced by Kikagaku Moyo’s Go Kurosawa, takes its cues from the faded aesthetics of scavenged record finds from the ‘60s and ‘70s. The band mixes lite splashes of psychedelia with traditional Thai nods and packs them up with a healthy dose of surf – spreading barrel roll twang all over this record in liberal helpings. They’re able to wield the beach vibes at speeds of simmer and sweat. On “Starshine” the twang just delicately licks at the feet of the song, giving a bit of motion to soft ocean breezes and the baked in comfort of the sun. As the needle clicks to the next track, though, they’re bending the strings for maximum surf mania, feeling like the song dives into the heart of the curl and leaves the listener to soak in the adrenaline of human vs. nature.

Like the rest of the Guru Guru roster, the band’s amping up Western psych pastiche, adding a new layer of interest via an injection of traditional rhythms and textures from their own past. Though, the band (and producer) seem to embrace the past wholesale here, giving not only the cover a touch of the ‘60s aesthetic, but running the whole thing through a layer of adhesive and dirt to give put that faraway sound on top of the band’s psych. Occasionally the grist filter can distract from the band’s crispy surf splatter. The effect could maybe be used on an intro and outro base to give the platter the same time-shifted sense. Still, Khana Bierbood prove to be consummate purveyors of fuzz-toasted twang regardless of how crisp it lands. The record is a worthy addition to GGB’s spotless roster.



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J. McFarlane’s Reality Guest

Without a doubt one of the great nests of underground Aussie gems seems to be emanating from Melbourne’s Hobbies Galore. The label, responsible for offerings from Blank Realm, The Green Child, The Stroppies, and Mikey Young, has a crack of 2019 debut from ex-Twerps member Julia McFarlane in her Reality Guest guise. The record is an extension of McFarlane’s work as Hot Topic (a positive naming move in my opinion), and she’s even got former Topic members Ric Milovanovic and Violetta DelConte Race along for a couple of track co-writes with some flute help from friend Ela Stiles. While The Twerps were borne out of humble strums and awkward pauses, they evolved into a properly breezy indie-pop outfit in due time. On TA DA, however, McFarlane seems to be sealing up the easy entry with a flair for bone-dry janglecore and post-punk that eats up crumbs trailed by Kleenex, Mo-Dettes, Oh-Ok and Confetti.

Despite its simple setup and economical hooks, the record isn’t batting for twee charms. There’s a darker tone to this than has previously seeped into even Hot Topic’s fuzzier confines. Like her ex-bandmate Frawley, the record chews on the raw ends of the dissolution of relationships and alliances. The album is full of contradicting impulses and melodies fighting one another for space. Julia’s vocals descend from a place of dreaming to take on the pang of forlorn while the musical accompaniment twists at the UHF reception with a dulled pocket knife. The record isn’t what might be expected of her as a closed chapter on The Twerps, but it’s a haunting and personal delight even when it’s at its most dour. As with most of those ‘70s and ‘80s touchstones previously mentioned, there’s more than a few kernels of pop underneath the whittled to the bone nature of TA DA and if you come with a head ready for humble hurt, then the record will not disappoint.




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Wyatt Blair

Wyatt Blair sneaks out his second low-key release of 2018 with the decidedly sunny blast of power pop, Inspirational Strawberries. The album shrugs off pretty much all of the 80’s vibes that permeated his last couple of releases, making a pretty spectacular about face on the melancholy New Wave of March’s Smoke & Mirrors. The album reinvests in a more classic brand of power pop, chucking the neon out the window in favor of mod-pressed visions of jangle-pop that range from the ‘70s strut of Raspberries to the psychedelic swirl of The 3 O’Clock. While it doesn’t have the kitsch factor and AquaNet smirk that drove his high watermark Point of No Return, for power pop fans there’s plenty to hold onto here.

The hooks are about a mile wide and trussed up in the sunniest hues of the bubblegum brigade. There’s a definite feeling that Blair has been soaking his solace in the works of The Archies, Rick Springfield (circa Mission: Magic) and The Lemon Pipers with total sincerity. The ‘60s flame burns brightest on “(Stuck In A) Daydream” and “It’s Yesterday,” but there’s a general veneer of catchall Saturday Morning strummer inclusiveness adhered to the record, recalling whole hosts of Don Kirshner productions from the era. Blair’s always had a knack for pop, and he tends to serve the cult of listeners who don’t mind retreading a little old ground in search of those perfect pop swoons. So, while this might not be for every indie-pop tart out there, its manna to the sunshine searchers just looking for one more go ‘round through the best moments of 60s sparkle.

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Trimdon Grange Explosion

Forming in the wake of The Eighteenth Day of May, Trimdon Grange Explosion is an extension of the previous band’s psychedelic folk while also embracing heavier modal impulses that had only begun to pop up in within the members’ previous form. The band drags their hands through the waters pooled by Pentangle, Fairport Convention and John Martyn and pulls off the likeness well, but they’re not simply and exercise in revivalist nostalgia. Like contemporaries Espers or White Magic, the band also embraces the less Anglo influences that have cropped up since dark folk was the vogue in ‘’69. Within traditional structures on ballads like “The Bonnie Banks of Fordie,” the band embraces the sawing yawp of John Cale’s string sounds and the slight wobble that underpins The Incredible String Band.

There’s another shade that pops up on Trimdon’s debut, though, and it’s a woven strand of indie that’s not just a hangover from the Espers/White Magic connection, but hews closer to perhaps Vetiver in its approach. On “Christian’s Silver Hell” and “Heading For a Fall” the band keeps the fuzz, clangor, and atmosphere, but when Alison Cotton is away from the mic and Ben Philips picks up vocal duties the band adopts a bit of a lighter tone. They work the duality well, with Cotton letting the heavy mantle of murder balladeer billow her sails and steel her gaze and Philips providing the sobering shelter from her storm.

There’s something inviting about the darker strains of folk, subverting the form from storytime revelry to strombringing omens, but too much gloom drags the swimmer under the tide for good. Trimdon create a vital symbiosis between blood and bone – the paralysis of mourning and the steadfast necessity of travelling on at all costs. There’s a stately grace to their eponymous album that picks up the yoke from their former band without being beholden to it. Rooted in the ash and dirt, the band are steadily seeding the clouds to bring on a deluge of hurt and relief to eventually wipe it all clean.




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