Browsing Category New Albums

The Great Divides

Aussie export The Great Divides let loose a sweet and unfussed vision of jangle pop on their new cassette for Spoilsport. Like fellow Aussies The Goon Sax, who share a few aesthetic impulses with the band, The Great Divides are barely out of high school as their first album is released. Recorded by Dusty from fellow RSTB fave Dag, there’s a humble hummability to the record. Short and sweet, but packed songs that extol heartbreak and the kind of uncertainty that could only hope to accompany someone just entering adult life in these complex times, this ticks a lot of the right boxes around here. The band namechecks The Sea Urchins and The Clean, so if nothing else, the kids are all right after all.

There’s practically no flash to what The Great Divides are doing. There are hooks, but they amble rather than agitate. The sounds is spare, like the listener has dropped in on the band in their kitchen or bedroom, but don’t let that make it sound lo-fi. The record is intimate and confessional, a half-smile shared between friends that they’re just now letting us all in on. It’s a great jump start for the band. Can’t wait to see where they head from here.




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Traffik Island

Even when the first couple of tracks from Sweat Kollecta’s Peanut Butter Traffik Jam came filtering out, it seemed like a fever dream timeshift, not to mention a headscratcher for fans of the band’s past output. Zak Olsen’s (ORB, Hierophants, The Frowning Clouds) solo psych dugout always took a different tack than his collaborative endeavors, which ranged from Sabbath fuzz to post-punk. Under the Traffik Island signature he’d largely stuck to the psych-pop formula – laconic strums, wisps of folk, and tape-hiss veneers gave most of his works the feeling of a lost private press reel stuffed in storage and found by rabid collectors on a lucky afternoon. From his split with Sleepyhead through last year’s Flightless debut proper, Nature Strip, the formula seemed set… or at least locked within the same cloud of strange smoke. So, when the follow-up arrived and shucked the whole framework, I was intrigued to say the least.

Zak keeps the psych, and maybe a bit of the pop, but puts the folk away for the moment. At least in any conventional sense he has. The record adopts an electronic haze and a crate digger’s ear for dusty grooves, propulsive beats, and lush atmospheres. Much in the mode of something out of the Peanut Butter Wolf, DJ Shadow, or Egon bag, the record repurposes the ideals of Library recordings from the ‘60s and ‘70s and knocks funk, Krautrock, and lounge into a candy-colored vision that swirls with light and sound. While the format might feel like a throwback in more than one way – to both the ‘70s inspirations and the late ‘90s methods of hot-gluing them together – the record is a complete journey that works so well that it, again seems like a private press found in a dorm room dig, just update the time frame about 30 years or so. The best part is that the record works together like a soundtrack to an unseen film – I’d imagine somewhere there’s an animator that needs to get on this. Bright colors only need apply.



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Six Organs of Admittance

There’s always a need to celebrate when a new Six Organs gem tumbles down the belt, and his latest Companion Rises sees Ben back in fine form. Shedding the constrictions of his Hexadic system, which marked his last couple of releases, the album is locked back into the smoggy-eyed smolder that marks some of 6-orgs’ best works, though this time around he’s subbing a crinkled dose of technology in place of splicing tape and overdubbing percussive takes though the night. While there’s always the possibility of hampering the formula and making it feel like a digital copy of a copy that’s somehow both too crisp and yet still off-center, the addition of programing sits seamlessly into Chasny’s style. The programmed percussion still lollops with the same skitter those old hand drums did and that’s part of what makes it click.

Atop the patter of virtual sticks, Chasny lets the guitars do what they do best in the context of Six Organs – they tangle into ornate nests of notes, they singe themselves with a delicate fury, they rest the ornaments of production in a hammock of six-string security. What’s more he makes synthesizers singe in the same manner, pushing their production to the most organic edges of the mechanical spectrum. They ring and burble like replicant technologies, hardly aware they aren’t grown from the ground. When Chasny fuses the future with the past his bio-organic burn feels like an evolution of sound – nylon strings bending around in circular paths that lead forever down in repeated loops of copper wire and crushed circuits. The spark of guitar fury is still there like a wick bound to set the songs aflame and the blaze is beautiful – full of warmth, subtle flickers of orange and yellow, and an ashen ending that feels transformative.



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Vacant Gardens

The debut LP from Vacant Gardens plays on a lot of favorites around here, combining the blissful descent of shoegaze with the drawn curtain comfort of bedroom synth pop for a record that’s immediate and personal but still evocative enough to splash your inner emotions across the stereo spectrum in an effusive pink haze. Doesn’t hurt that the band is built from a couple of past familiars as well, with the duo consisting of Glenn Donaldson (Skygreen Leopards, Art Museums, Reds, Pinks and Purples) and Jem Fanvu (Tune-Yards, Cavity Fang), operating a bit outside their typical pop enclaves. With touches of Pale Saints, Curve, and early Creation-era Ride and Slow Dive in the mix, the pair carves at the frothing bouquet of Dreampop with a deft hand that lets on their dedication aesthetics come to the forefront. Many have tried to capture the same aesthetics but they usually come up as a cheap facsimile, Vacan Gardens don’t ever even catch whiff of such knockoff tendencies. They are ripped out of time, and beautifully so. The entire album glows with a backlit brilliance, radiant and ambient at the same time.

The sounds come seeping out from the speakers with curls of fog that obscure hooks in the maw of feedback fanged guitars. Jem’s vocals carry a heartbroken twinge that twist the knife between the lungs and lets the blood flow from the listener. The pain is pleasure, though, in this case. Every song is bittersweet manna from a disinterested heaven, that comes billowing out at the listener, bringing the pang but letting the listener float away on a cloud of narcotic churn to balm the burn. I fear this might slip between the cracks of public consciousness in the goldfish memory of 2020, so don’t let this pass by without absorbing the delightful ache that Vacant Gardens bring to the most overcast evenings, dragging you down with them in blissful delight.




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Joe Ghatt

This one’s been lingering on the fringes of haze for a while now, surfacing as a limited cassette on Third Eye Stimuli back in the first half of 2019 and now resurfacing from Six Tonnes de Chair on LP. Ghatt’s a vibe channeler in the modern tradition, soaking his sound in the sepia tones and dust scratch aesthetics of the ‘60s, but keeping a modern touch of breezy songwriting in tow. As such Banana Sludge employs fuzz guitars with wild abandon and seats them into velour lounge settings full of hazed memories. He’s adept a letting his hooks grow around the brain and there’s often the feeling of sinking into the rug around you as the sounds grow muffled, the incessant creep of shag carpeting pairing with mushroom tea to pleasing and perplexing effect. That’s what makes Ghatt’s vision of nostalgia-vision work. Its not a clear representation of the past, more often it’s the feelings coming back in blurry shapes and hung on repeated phrases.

Midway swinger “Mammon” might exhibit this the best with an instrumental incessantness that’s flanked by voices calling from beyond the periphery. By the time the song is over it’s hard to remember where it started, and by then Ghatt’s back into the hammock and strumming a white linen lounger that drips with brass and a humid dose of echo. Over the run of Banana Sludge, Ghatt transmits through the temporal plane – his voice breathing down the grating of a ribbon in the room, but the backing band emanating from the ether, following his every move from beyond time. Sure, it’s all facsimile, but, hey they give awards to the designers that can copy period pieces with gleeful frequency every year. Why not applaud the effort? Ghatt’s found the threads that hang tightest and pulled them around us all on this one.



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Karkhana

The arms of Karkhana spread wide and embrace rivulets of noise, experimental eddies, psychedelic jazz, and raga rotations. The band pulls in players from Beirut, Cairo, and Istanbul alongside Montreal’s Sam Shalabai (Land of Kush, Mosasses, Shalabi Effect) for a sound that’s decidedly progressive while adhering to a traditional core of Middle Eastern tones that mesmerize and massage the soul. The overlap with fellow Unrock outfit The Dwarfs of East Agouza is apparent both in the band’s membership and approach. Like The Dwarfs, Karkhana tumbles down darkened alleys of rhythm and sound – polyrhythmic textures and lightning sharp strums dart from all directions. Underneath the group threads sine wave warbles that give off the impression that the songs are being broadcast through dodgy UHF streams, picking up interference from unknown or unwanted sources seeking to dampen their bootleg bounty of musical shred.

Bitter Balls is only the band’s second true album, but they’ve shared sides with Sir Richard Bisiop & David Oliphant and cut a few EPs and live documents that hardly make this indicative of a mere second outing. The band feel well oiled and locked at an instinct level with each other’s improvisations. The noise rolls seamlessly into groove out of nowhere, then dissolves into gnarled wire workings once again, leaving the listener never able to rest their reflexes. Who wants that kind of listen anyway, not when Salabai, Louca, and their cohorts can reform the rarefied air into something sour and sensuous all at once. It’s a prickly record, but one that should interest quite a few who find solace at this site.



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Matthew J. Rolin

Finally hitting a week where I can catch up on all the great LPs in the pile, many of which come from the esteemed Feeding Tube. This one’s for the fingerpick freaks out there, and while it hits the heartstrings of those weaned on Fahey and, more importantly, Kottke, it appears that Rolin has a more modern thorn in his side. The artist comes from Cleveland garage and psych outfits (most notably Nowhere) that ramble far less than they hop through the haze. After a shift to Chicago Rolin ditched the echoplex dreams for acoustic inflection, leaning heavier on the new class kickers like Ryley Walker, Daniel Bachman, William Tyler, and Richard Bishop more than the Tompkins Square set for his inspiration. No matter what the inroads, though, the impact remains the same. Like American Primitive dominoes the influences trickles through in his playing and he enters into the new class alongside Itasca, Kendra Amelie, and Joseph Allred as carriers of the torch.

Influences aside, the album is a refreshingly vernal take on the form. Tracks tumble and sparkle with life. His runs are rapid, but cut through with a slide-blues dissonance that sides with passion over precision. There’s a forlorn quality to songs like “Siren” and the appropriately titled “Neverendingness,” but Rolin works his way through mourning, meditation, and celebration all in good time as the record unfolds. There’s been a staggeringly great run of new fingerpicked music over the last decade and this is a lovely addition to the roster. Just check out that Ryley curated Tompkins Sq LP for a taste (Rolin’s included) to really get acquainted. This one’s getting scarce (my fault for not giving it some love sooner) but where you find it, you should certainly pick it up.



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Arbor Labor Union

As Arbor Labor Union returns home to their Georgian roots, and home to Arrowhawk, the label where they began, they find another type of roots suit them as well. The band’s brief sojourn with Sub Pop might have escaped your grasp, if you weren’t paying attention over the last couple of years, but I’m sure it had an impact on them. The band scrubbed themselves clean and cut back their hairiness for I Hear You, but as accomplished as it was, it also lost a bit of the fun that imbued the band with their sense of joy. That fun and froth returns to New Petal Instants and the band wind up with, by all accounts, their best yet. Dipping into their instincts to jam a track into the choogle-slicked waters of the current indie-psych pocket of rock that includes Garcia Peoples, One Eleven Heavy, and Howlin’ Rain, the band finds a home in ramble n’ rollick that can’t sit still.

ALU always knew hot to land a riff, but here they don’t stick it with the precision of a champion athlete, but rather let it slide like a kid pushing the boundaries on a backyard ramp. They “pick a boogie” and let it loop, sliding and skidding on the way down to the ground with a bit of reckless flair. That sense of not playing it safe makes the album feel like its bigger than the Cosmic Americana crush its attempting to squeeze. It’s a band recapturing their spirit and coming off better for it. The group synthesizes the spirit of Southern Rock and adds to it the complexities and discipline of post-punk. While the two don’t seem to find the mesh in the marketplace, there’s every indication that ALU could crush a cover of The Soft Boys’ “Wey Way Hep Uh Hole” and make it seem like it swung with a smoked-tanned soul all along. Take away the sneer but keep the self-effacing swagger in place and that’s where New Petal Instants lands.



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Elkhorn

This one’s been eking out piecemeal over the last couple of months, but to be honest, its hard to take The Storm Sessions as pieces. Since, essentially, the entirety of the record was put together as longform improvisations, the spontaneity and flow of the songs should hit the listener with the same fluid intensity in which they were conceived. The Storm Sessions is a journey one shouldn’t disembark lightly. Joined by longtime friend and collaborator Turner Williams (Ramble Tamble, Guardian Alien) in the sequestered aftermath of foul weather, the two sides play out with an appropriate ache of isolation that such circumstances might imply. At the heart of “Electric One” and “Electric Two” lies the interplay between Jesse Sheppard and Drew Gardner on acoustic and electric guitars, their strings as usual, locked into a sonic dive through the dark heart of desperation. Sheppard’s tangle of notes sings in hypnotic, soothing motion before Gardner lets into the improvs with an incandescent electric burn, lending a burnt plastic parlance to portions of the set.

Weaving his way through is Williams who adds shading to the cold confines of the storm with electric bouzouki and shahi baaja. This past autumn I saw Williams lay into the latter on stage with Jesse and it’s a sight to behold. Prowess aside though, Williams is a master collaborator adept at letting his playing lay a bedrock for these improvisations. On the A-side, his playing buzzes around Drew and Jesse in calligraphic embellishment. On the flip, he lays down a thrum that acts as an anchor pulling the two back from the cliff’s edge. Strung together, the three craft an album that’s as engrossing as their double set from last year, records that already stand out at the top of their catalog. With this, they’ve proven that even without planning to, they have the ability to outpace many of their peers with a sheer force of will. We’re barely a month into the year, but this already feels like a defining moment for 2020 musically.


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Dire Wolves

Last year’s Grow Towards The Light was an absolute highlight of the year, pushing the boundaries of Dire Wolves’ sound to further heights of lysergic ecstasy. The band made a bit of a companion piece last year, but it wound up as a merch table totem that was hard to get into the hands of the many, especially from a multi-coast band that didn’t have a sizeable tour. Unless you were at a handful of great shows last year, I Just Wasn’t Made For These Set Times remained out of reach. Enter Centripetal Force, though, who’ve not only revived it, but laid it down to vinyl as well. The record ably amplifies the vibes that were strewn throughout GTTL, expounding upon the grey-hued mists that spring forth from their sound – a mysterious mélange of vocal incantations that seem to meld with the wind, violins that saw at the air with desperate, wild panic, and guitars that singe with subtlety.

Over the four tracks here the band stretch their strengths, packing in as much propulsive chaos as quiet moments of haunted introspection. The latter is particularly apparent on the side two opener “Circle of Friths,” a funereal specter that’s laced with sorrow. While Georgia Carbone might not put forth her woes in discernible language, the pain permeates the soul just as hard through her vocal exhumations. What’s most impressive is that this wasn’t even designed as an album proper, but a bonus for those who were taken by the live experience. Thankfully, Centripetal saw the release for what it was, a vital chink in the bands chain of releases that elevates the ache they put forth last year.



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