Browsing Category New Albums

Itasca

Following on her 2016 album for Paradise of Bachelors Kayla Cohen resumes her guise as Itasca for a hushed tape of intricate, fingerpicked folk for micro label Dove Cove. The tape is presented in collaboration with poet and visual artist Gunnar Tchida, who provides the album’s titles and accompanying artwork as inspiration. Cohen’s folk has a twilight quality to it, rambling through deft string work that recalls Daniel Bachman and Alexander among a few others from the current Fahey school of blues ramblers. Skewing from her contemporaries though, she injects a fragile peacefulness into her pieces that sends the knotted tumbles scattering in the wind, consumed by the hiss of tape, the howl of the wind and the ozone fry of an amplifier. On tracks like “Snow Melt,” she’s working closer to the shadow of Ben Chasney to channel the restrained smolder of angry fuzz that’s burning up the strings like a fuse. Elsewhere she dampens the ramble to a hush and works in weaves of straightforward folk with a verdant lope of guitar that pushes the meditative qualities to the fore.

If this is just a stopgap, then it’s a rather well landing one, divining meditative tangles from the ideas laid out in Tchida’s titles. It’s a departure from her more glossy work for PoB, but one that makes up for fidelity with intimacy. The work of Itasca communes with nature so well it’s almost a shame that this is released in the damp of winter’s chill. It begs to be walked around outside. While I’d imagine this is less of a burden in her current surroundings in California, those of us stuck back near her native Hudson Valley feel the cabin fever only grow tighter while this plays on the speakers. Still, the melt is soon to come and by then the wood and sinew grooves of Morning Flower will have wrapped the brain tightly with their knotted embrace.




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Dungen & Woods

In addition to curating a psychedelic sojourn in Texas each year, Mexican Summer’s Marfa Myths festival produces a collaborative piece that serves as universal souvenir, even for those not able to make it down to the sunbaked namesake in any given year. In the past this has offered up collab slabs from Conan Mockasin/Dev Hines and Ariel Pink/Weyes Blood respectively, both fair pieces in their own right. On the eve of the upcoming festival the label releases the fruits of last year’s team up and this one hits me harder than either of the previous two, combining the talents of Woods (Jeremy Earl and Jarvis Taveniere) and Dungen (Gustav Ejstes and Reine Fisk), two longtime favorites here.

On paper that seems like it has to work, and for the most part this is an overtly successful blending of the two bands’ styles. It could be said that Woods have been moving towards more complex arrangements with each release, and to that end the addition of Dungen’s lush songwriting style both fits and isn’t too far a jump. When the two bands really dig into each other’s styles, though, the record soars. The opener serves essentially as an instrumental Dungen track, occupying the same space that the band has built out in their catalog over the years for the kind of soaring flute and kush psychedelics that beg the listener to lean back into their fawning embrace. Likewise, the second track “Turn Around” feels like a Woods song with a bit more padding – a good Woods song mind you, but not one that feels like it might be out of place on their last couple of albums. Only the lingering flute lends a wink of Gustav Ejstes’s fingerprints on the song.

But as they eke into the second instrumental of the set, the aptly titled “Marfa Sunset,” the two bands begin to smelt their strengths into a bubbling psychedelia that’s twisting with Woods’ effects bent past and Dungen’s smooth ‘70s glow. Once they begin to melt Jeremy Earl’s falsetto into a cloud of echo and the two singers go for harmonies, then the record blossoms into the potential offered up by the premise. The culmination of the album becomes an oasis from the Texan heat, glittering with a dew-soaked psychedelia that’s nourishing to the soul. The high point “Jag Ville Va Kvar” offers doubled returns on any listener’s investment, elevating this far beyond party favor and into favored canon for both artists. The past installments have been worth a pop in, but this collaboration gives good argument to the festival as incubator for one-off dream teams.




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No Babies

I’m tellin’ you it’s a banner year for post-punk and Oakland’s No Babies add another piece to the chewed glass puzzle of 2018 with their sophomore LP, Someone To Watch Over Me. The record, as with their debut, is built closer to punk’s beating heart, with frantic tempos propelling the accusatory throttle of Jasmine Watson’s vocals. The band pushes past the imaginary lines scratched in punk’s sand though, with a healthy lungful of sax skronk and some sandpaper conditioning to the guitar work of Ricky Martyr. Tracks jerk to a stop, crumple into metallic tumbles and knock all manner of jagged chunks out of the expected punk boilerplate. They remind me in a very good way of bygone Mexican punks XYX – a hole in my heart that I’m happy to fill.

The lyrics tend towards the progressive, as might befit the band’s barbed assault, working thorough screeds on consumer society, binary identity politics and police brutality. As such, in the tilt-o-whirl blur of 2018, the record has a vitality that’s palpable, delivered via sweaty as hell noise bursts bent on crumbling the roadblock consciousness of those that seek to pin them down. They’re channeling youthful exuberance into fuel for life, processing cathartic pogo politics into petrol for change. Someone To Watch Over Me, like classic works from Ni Hao or Afrirampo before it, is built on barely controlled chaos, bottled and funneled through a pinpoint at precise pressure. What sounds like an uncontrollable maelstrom from the eye of the storm is in reality a Rube Goldberg of sonic destruction when rolled back into focus. No Babies are architects of their own engine of change and working damn hard to crush the common consensus via twenty-five minutes of acid-stripped punk pummel.



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Tim & The Boys

At its heart Growing is full of post-punk bile – terse, propulsive and coiled with venom dripping out of every pore. The debut LP from the Sydney three-piece churns stark, caustic notions of alienation, overconsumption of culture, and the dissolution of the status quo. Though, despite biting deep into a helping of barbed wire influences, they manage to make it sound pretty inviting. That’s not to say that this is a plush, hook-laden record – far from it – but the band knows how to turn their crumbled culture ethos into a dizzyingly hypnotic ripper that’s sipping from the same pot as fellow Aussies Ausmuteants, Snake & Friends, Hierophants or US contemporaries Mind Spiders.

The hotplate stynth work and housing-block vocals of the band’s Tim Colier anchor their sound in the kind of raised-hackle, defensive post-punk aesthetics that drove Chrome and Pere Ubu. They’re picking at the bones of old sounds, but curating the kill in a way that makes Growing exhale with some vitality. The band managers to make desperation feel fun – dancing it out to the crumble of culture, lit by the flames of cities run amok. There’s been no lack of dystopian punk of late, but then again it’s beginning to feel like we’re in need of a soundtrack to match the daily feelings of dread and disorientation.

This winds up a worthwhile debut sent clanging out into the ether. For those looking for escape, this might not be the best medicine, but if you’re looking for a reflection of the queasy, nihilistic dance/march we’re embarking on towards the spires of smoke in the distance, then this might be just the ticket. Tim & The Boys won’t cushion the blow, but they’ll at least make the ride entertaining.




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Beautify Junkyards

Lisbon’s Beautify Junkyards weave together a dream world of subtle Tropicalia (think Gal Costa submerged in water) and psychedelic folk. Rhythms shift like sands under their feet, while the band stitches languid plucks of guitar to glycerin synths and the humid swirl of birdsong. The effect of The Invisible World of Beautify Junkyards is that of being sucked into an elaborate picture book grown thick with glowing fauna in hues of deep orange, magenta and verdant green. It’s a haunting sub-tropical vision of psychedelia that’s both childlike and laden with a lifetime of ennui. The band is able to build and tend to this sonic garden, bursting with colors, but it seems that the caretakers are burdened with a sadness that keeps the glow alive.

The band adds a new dimension to their stable with the addition of new member Helena Espvall of psychedelic folk purveyors Espers. Her cello and voice flesh out the band’s vision with myriad pinpricks of hazy light – echoing on her deep catalog of psychedelia tinged with no lack of heavy sighs. It could be me, but the inclusion of an instrumental named “Golden Apples of The Sun” seems like a slight nod to the beloved Arthur Mag compilation of psych-folk revivalists in which her own Espers was included. Here, though, she’s not the only focus, sharing the vocal spotlight with Ria Vian, who also shines in shades of silken sadness and working through the orchestrated vision of the band’s João Branco Kyron.

As a whole, this is an elevated version of what the band had begun on their debut and expanded on for their Ghost Box single a while back. It’s easy to see how they fit into the label’s menagerie of storybook wonder and hypnogogic shimmer. The record unfolds with new layers of rippling beauty with each listen, marking it amongs the gentler fare of the vaunted label’s roster. It’s an album, worth sinking into and just letting the tide take ya. Forget the life raft and just float in my opinion.


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Flying Hair

Just when you thought that the depths of sludge-metal/trash punk in L.A. had all been plumbed, along comes Flying Hair with their sophomore slab of ooze. The band counts founding Zig Zags member Bobby Martin among the ranks and he’s carved out a true totem of reverberating slime along with the rest of this quartet from the bottom-feeder acid mines of Los Angeles’ pre-dawn C.H.U.D. army. The band is hitting on some similar notes to Timmy’s Organism, Fuzz and Jay Reatard, but slicing though those touchstones with a note of dread and doom that feels like they’ve been spending too much time huffing the glue off of dumpstered copies of Afflicted Man and Blue Cheer.

There’s a speed freak, wide-eyed quality to the record that feels like the whole thing is flying on three days, no sleep and by turns Night Fight stares through listeners with a red-eyed menace. I’ve got a soft spot for the kind of prog-punk that feels like it prays at the b-movie altar, dredging up sonic monsters straight of the Troma Films library. This thing is predatorial, haggard, and ready to blow. It’s so thick with smoke it’s almost easy to miss the licks, but that’s half the fun. Too band the wax was pressed in a teasingly small quantity, but no matter what medium you’re using to spread the bile from this feeder, its bound to gum up the works in the best way.



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Native Cats

The new long player from Native Cats is proof that good things are worth a wait. The bones of the album were recorded well over a year ago – the slinking bass of Julian Teakle and the spare, cracker-snap guest drumming of Sarah Hennies – but the heart of the album lay dormant while songwriter Chloe Escott reordered her life. The singer found herself in a crisis of identity, transitioned, reconfirmed herself, christened a new name and re-approached the album with a renewed confidence and an eye towards gender politics. The subject’s the spark at the heart of John Sharp Toro, but the fire it sets ablaze is Escott’s sharp songwriting, built on the bones of post-punk’s heroes – echoing The Fall, Beat Happening and Au Pairs – but digesting them into something wholly her own.

The genre has often been a fertile ground for progressive ideals, and Escott uses her platform to speak to others struggling with the idea of self and the cultural norms that rise up internally and externally to hinder it. Lyrically Escott returns to themes of “process” time and again, and it’s clear that hers was not a journey taken lightly. To give her journey shape she and Teakle have fashioned a musical organism that’s lean and sinewy but deadly and effective. The aural snake of the music winds its way around Chloe as she sings. It’s almost impossible to divorce Escott’s lyrical sharpness and willingness to peel back the layers and layers of scar tissue from the music’s bone-dry, sonic scalpel approach. If ever there were an example of musical symbiosis at work, it is evident here.

Despite its deeply rooted reliance on bass, the music on John Sharp Toro doesn’t feel conducive to dancing – or rather it’s not an album that dances for others. Instead it feels like an album built for dancing alone, finding the rhythm that moves you and makes you comfortable, letting it slink from the corners of the bedroom to the tips of the fingers. There is darkness in this record, sure, but there is life as well, and ultimately that life wins out, spreading like a sly smile with each repeated listen.


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Cindy Lee

While the majority of members from celebrated Canadian indie darlings Women went on to the similarly hued and well-reviewed Preoccupations (or Viet Cong if you’re nasty) frontman Patrick Flegel has taken his own tack with Cindy Lee. Though the band shares a name with Flegel’s drag persona, the project doesn’t lean towards the grandiloquent notions or dance inducing vibes that the pairing might suggest. Instead Cindy Lee’s Act of Tenderness is a crumbling, thrumming, incandescent and, at times, transcendent vision of pop. The songs are buried under a layer of noise that, while not impenetrable, certainly acts as a gatekeeper to Flegel’s fragile delivery and self-reflection.

Natural comparisons fall on similarly veiled artists like Grouper, Motion Sickness of Time Travel or Sleep – Over, and as with those groups, when the gauze is ripped and their pop does slip through it can feel particularly satisfying after dodging the haze for a clear view. This moment comes at about the halfway mark for Cindy Lee, with “Operation” throwing the veneer of noise to the ground like a discarded shawl for one clear moment in the sun. Though, it’s not to be a lasting moment, almost as if Flegel’s character catches the audience looking and draws the curtains as we ease into the disjointed twang of “Quit Doing Me Wrong”.

There are a few other peeks into clarity, particularly the enchanting lilt of “Wandering and Solitude,” but what Cindy Lee manages to accomplish is a push and pull of letting the audience near and thrusting them back again. Flegel’s album is beautiful in its embrace of ugliness. He’s found a way to examine those moments when we all want the world to see our best selves and those when we’re paralyzed by seeing only the worst. At times the record feels like a trip colliding through funhouse mirrors – disorienting in its clattertrap saunter. By the end of the album’s journey, Cindy Lee does not fully emerge from the dark, but there’s a sense that some peace was made along the way. Growth is sometimes as satisfying as grandeur.




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Dean McPhee

UK guitarist Dean McPhee culls three tracks from a previous Folklore Editions tape and adds in an additional two new cuts for an album of haunting, atmospheric doom-folk that drips with forlorn sadness. Built around a bedrock of quavering drones, the record erects caverns of sound that are flecked with the stone-skip ripples of McPhee’s sparse finger work. The effect brings to mind Loren Connors or Evan Caminiti, though there’s something of a traditional feel to McPhee’s compositions as well, as if old English folk songs were being remembered through a veil of pain and distance.

Though the two sets of songs work well together, there is some marked difference between the sessions. “Danse Macabre” brings in some heartstrung slide, giving McPhee’s work a high plains twilight appeal. This works to the album’s advantage, standing in contrast to the more stoic opening pieces and retaining some of that spectral sigh while giving the track some more room to move. Though it doesn’t have that mellifluous slide, the closing title track also trades in ambiance for some more movement, stretching out over 14+ minutes of foggy, moody tangles of guitar underpinned by the soft pump of a kick pedal that works as the track’s beating heart. All in all, a superb outing from McPhee that stitches together new and old into an album that leaves its fingerprints on the listener before it groans to a close.



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The Skull Defekts

I feel like The Skull Defekts have been a part of RSTB from the beginning. Their early albums floated in and out of the Blogspot years around here and provided a much-needed ragged respite when coverage threatened to get too comfortable. They’ve long been a chasm to shout into and along with, so fuck it, I’m gonna miss ‘em. Once they recruited Lungfish legend Daniel Higgs, it seemed like they were set for permanence among the halls of wrought iron rock – jagged, solid, and corroded beyond the pale of the typical “experimental rock band.” For so many bands who consider themselves under that hood there’s a certain tendency towards pretension, or worse, boredom. The Skull Defekts are a lot of things, but they’re never boring. For that matter they aren’t experimental so much as they’re mercurial. They are the sound of rock’s ideals falling apart, but on their final album, even as they push the elements together into one of their most recognizable shapes, it’s the band itself that splinters under the final blow.

For the last straw LP the band pares down. Higgs and percussionist/electronics bender Jean-Louis Huhta are gone but in their place the band recruits Mariam Wallentin (Wildbirds & Peacedrums). She brings a new energy to the band, a vocal shade that renders their iron hammer approach a little less brutal and a touch less brittle. Whether it’s the lineup change or not, the entire vibe of this eponymous monster feels less armored, less combative. There are moments when the walls crumble for sure, but there are many more that the band seems to be standing in the rubble wondering what’s next. For brutality to meet ennui there has to be a certain amount of defeat, but to channel that defeat into some of the most solid pieces in their long-running discography is worth applauding.

The band’s pinnacle will almost certainly be traced to 2009’s Peer Amid. It’s their crystallizing moment, but they’ve found solace in evolution and, here, a solid sendoff that tempers their rage into something new. If you’ve ever been a fan of the band then it’s a requisite listen and if not, then dive in here and work your way back.




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