Browsing Category New Albums

Wimps

On their third album, Seattle’s Wimps knock the production into gear and embrace the best moments of squirm pop that slid from the tail of punk into the birth of New Wave. They trade in a brand of sax squall that hits like a belt sander to their chunky hooks. They rope in heat exhausted synth lines to the kind of twitchy punk that would make Devo and Magazine proud. There’s no small love for power pop in the band’s sound either, they wrap their heads around pop and punk (without necessarily combining the two) and work it out like Ric Ocasek was twiddling knobs in the nineties when this one was made. While dipping their toes into Slacker pop from a lyrical standpoint, the band never lose a moment to sweat on the tempos. They’re couch surfing and grousing about procrastination but damn well motivated when it comes to moving a crowd.

The band has a penchant for elevating the mundane – pontificating about their love of cheese pizzas, dragging ass around the house and penning odes to Monday like Garfield hopped up amphetamines waiting for his intro by Perter Ivers before they lay waste to the set of New Wave Theater. They’re tapping into tried and true feelings but making the banal brilliant, flooding the phones with a sparkling barrage of hooks twisted with enough tin foil freakout to make it more than nineties pogo retread digging into the stack of discount bin weirdness from the previous decade. This seems like it could easily slip between the cracks of 2018, but don’t sleep on Wimps. This one cuts with glee and makes any day just a bit more bearable with its lash of levity.




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The Lavender Flu

Considering Chris Gunn’s past in The Hunches and The Hospitals, the most glaring quality that permeates Lavender Flu’s sophomore release is a renewed sense of calm. While there are pop outbursts aplenty and redline levels that would make his history proud, the record also drags up moments that recall Galaxie 500’s quiet woolen itch and The Cakekitchen’s hazy jangle. Overall the record is locked together with quite a bit more glue than Heavy Air. It seems that the time spent touring his previous record and working out these new cuts with a full band in tow had an effect on Gunn. He translates the cohesion into a slightly less sprawling take on this particular niche between grunge, garage, psych-folk and the tentpoles that propped up an indie generation in their wake.

The band relocated to a Pacific Northwest cliffside for the recordings and the cool air may have tempered the band’s direction into the reluctant sighs that waft off of Mow The Glass. Gunn still has an urge to swing the style spinner to find his muse – crunching guitars through the grunge-flecked “Dream Cleaner,” dousing the burn with country slides on “Like A Summer Thursday,” and “Distant Beings,” then twisting his experimental nerves on “A Raga Called Erik.” He even dredges himself back into the arms of noise-pop with the graveled blast that accompanies “Floor Lord”. Within the span of Mow’s relatively brief half-hour(ish) span he covers a lot of ground. It reads like a mess on paper but sounds like a dream through the speakers.

The album never feels disjointed and that’s to Gunn’s credit more than anything. It comes off as capturing a college rock heart that beat somewhere between ’87 and ’93 – heartbroken and healed, besieged by angst and calmed by numb resolve. It’s unsettled at its core, scratching at the walls that would try to contain it. For all its ambitions it truly succeeds on Gunn’s ability to throw himself into a song harder than most would ever even try.



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77:78

When it came to psych-pop, the early aughts slipped a few good ones on up the ladder to bigger stages. I’ve always had a soft spot for The Bees, sadly named A Band of Bees if you were listening this side of the Atlantic, and the band’s ‘60s radio dial spin approach let them dip into several styles without ever sounding like a novelty. They created albums that listened like mixtapes, winding through sunshine pop, Ventures-styled instrumentals, Everly Brothers soul, and touches of reggae, funk and psych with a precision that was admirable. Its been a while since their last album rolled down the belt in 2010, but now the band’s Aaron Fletcher and Tim Parkin have taken back up together to continue the eclectic digging through sounds as 77:78.

The record embraces the mixtape aesthetic that drove The Bees, though this time there’s less of a separation of influences and more of an amalgamation of their indulgences into a psych-pop brew that’s decidedly more influenced by DJ aesthetics while also winding up more languid than The Bees at its core. Jellies is a pure summer melt, with songs that sluice together like episodes of Love Boat music directed by Joe Meek. There are some mid points that get a bit too limp in the heat (“Pour It Out” and “Copper Nail” come to mind) but overall the album works as a great genre crush. The vibes are too cracked and plastered to be Yacht Rock but this is definitely psych-pop with an easy listening ambition. They wind up something like Castaway Houseboat Rock – an Island born mixtape of pop singles flown in by charter plane every other week.

While this is certainly not The Bees, 77:78 sate a bit of the thirst for a hi-fi pop project that’s searching for aesthetic niches and digging through their own crates to mix up genre into some sort of aural alchemy. The gold that the duo finds is rippled like a sunset on the water. Its hot out there and as such, 77:78 have you covered for vibes that beat back the UV crush.



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Smokescreens

Drawing breath from their love of Kiwi pop, Smokescreens’ second album bumps up the stakes and sharpens focus to match the exuberance and quirks inherit in albums from The Clean, 3Ds or The Great Unwashed. In tune with the wave of artists who made up the inaugural class of Flying Nun, Smokescreens have built their sound on a bedrock of jangles made to ring off the clouds, a relaxed lyrical style not overly fussed with cleanliness, and a close-quarters recording approach that makes the band sound like they’re playing from the comfort of your couch. Owing to members Corey Cunningham and Chris Rosi spending their off time in a few other bands (Terry Malts and Plateaus respectively), there’s more than a little punk and power pop that finds its way into the mix as well. Though much like the current crop of Aussie and NZ scrappers that have popped up in the wake of the Nun of late, the addition of a broader bent takes the record from pale imitation to interesting interpretation more often than not.

All this homage is nothing without the songs though, is it? Thankfully Smokescreens have a good handle on pop hooks and they stuff Used To Yesterday well full of them. From the bittersweet pine of the title track to the chewy nougat bounce on “Waiting For Summer” the record doesn’t spend much of its time weighing the listener down. Buoyancy abounds and its hard not to feel a slight sense of carefree bliss during the thirty minutes it takes for this one to wind its way through the speakers. In the best sense of South Hemi janglers and their UK counterparts, even when the record’s a bit somber its still pretty damn fun. They take cues from blissful mopers The Wake or McCarthy in this regard, turning their heartbreak into earworms for all to enjoy. Vaulting a head and a half above the songs on their debut, this is Smokescreens coming into their own even while they’re living out that life in thrift store shoes borrowed from friends of another era. They might not be wholly working in fresh kicks, but it looks and sounds good on them so we might as well all just enjoy the breezy results.



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Ben Chatwin

The battle between electronic and organic has always been central to the Ben Chatwin’s compositions. While the emotional heft in his works is left to strings and brass that conjure the modern miracles brought to life by the likes of Max Richter or the late Johann Johannsson, Chatwin lets his electrics chew on the results in a way that brings to mind Ian William Craig, or Craig’s muse William Basinski. Over the course of his solo albums Chatwin is steadily evolving this approach to leaning on wind vs. wires. On 2015’s The Sleeper Awakes his infection of electronics was pervasive drawing on shoegaze in its obsession with peaks and swells. For 2016’s Heat & Entropy, Chatwin cleared out the noise floor a bit and put the focus cleanly on strings. Though, his vision of strings was still laden with soot, putting him in league with the dust bowl crumble of Evan Caminiti as often as he did those heavy hitting neo-classical types I mentioned.

On Fossils, Chatwin is using his proclivity for noise in the most effective means yet. The pieces have electronics woven throughout them, tumbling on pulse gripping beats sandblasted with static and teeming with swelling synths that aspire to the size of his orchestral ensembles. He’s roping in dub’s cavernous clatter to forests of cellos that block out hopes with a cloud of desperation and anguish. Each side of his approach is pulling its weight hard enough to make this feel like two equally adept genre studies melted together. Its either the best neo-classical album heard this year or the best e. Where his previous effort worked its way through Thrill Jockey’s post-rock to broaden the scope of classical, here Chatwin twisting his vision of modern composition through the prism of prime period Kranky output – positing the film scores that would’ve existed had Keith Fullerton Whitman and Stars of the Lid found their pockets stuffed with enough cash to outfit a full string section with their odes to sonic float and aural decay.

The record is harrowing to say the least, barely letting any room for relief flood the speakers. He grips the listener with writing that’s packed full of mournful resolve that often gives way to crushing walls of noise that feel about read to render the listener dust by the time he lets off the pedal. Not for the faint of heart, but certainly for those looking to run the emotional dial ragged for forty minutes.




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The Essex Green

It’s hard not to get nostalgic for music that formed key moments in one’s life. To that respect a resurgence of late period E6’ers The Essex Green is both an amazing experience and slightly bittersweet. The music is as vital and as draped in gooey pop as ever. The band’s first record since their 2006 Merge LP The Cannibal Sea more than lives up to the wanting expectations left in the vacancy of that album’s uncertain finality. More than 10 years on they’re still capturing the wistfulness, ache, and slightly psychedelic bump into paisley pop that made them heirs apparent to the Elephant kingdom and perfect contenders for Merge’s burgeoning stable of indie pop purveyors.

While enough time has passed that the band’s brand of earnest pop might not be the most “in fashion” sound, they make a strong play for the enduring quality of clean cuts and open hearts. The record doesn’t sound so much like a throwback as it does a classic example of how indie pop can capture the moment with a song that’s bursting with catchy qualities, yet rocking back and forth on classic hooks. The band has always strayed straight, never lacing their pop with snark or scoff and with their latest they’re still as earnest as ever. The record is a loping, gorgeous example of how to stay true to a sound without worrying about the whims of the listening pool. The record can, at times, feels a bit buttoned down, especially when their early records on Kindercore are taken into account, but all in all this is a full stop return for The Essex Green. Hardly Electric is larger than the margins and coloring with every crayon in the box.




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Proud Parents

Featuring members of fellow Madison pop heroes The Hussy and Fire Heads, Proud Parents pick up similar cues from those bands’ respective power pop bounce and garage gusto. Following on their Rare Plant cassette from last year, the band’s debut for Dirtnap is a non-stop blur of sunny strums, clap-a-along choruses and joyous hooks that fizz with life. The band boasts three songwriters – Claire Nelson-Lifson, Tyler Fassnacht and Heather Sawyer – and part of the album’s charm is listening to the three bounce their songs off one another. No matter who’s at the helm, they all sound like they’re having a blast with the remaining two jumping in to support with backup harmonies brimming with enough joy to turn any bad day around.

With production from Bobby Hussy (also of The Hussy and Fire Heads) the album takes on a bigger life than their previous cassettes, achieving a level of gloss and crunch that Hussy and Sawyer captured on their 2013 standout Pagan Hiss. While a crowded creative field seems like it could wind up with bruised egos, the album doesn’t sound like three songwriters pushing and pulling at each other or, worse, trying to outdo one another. Instead the eponymous album winds up a collaborative talent show with no losers, only winners. Proud Parents bring the positive vibes that are sorely needed this year. While 2018 is draped in its own drama, sometimes its nice to just turn it all of for 30 minutes and enjoy the sun. Take a breath, maybe press repeat. No regrets.


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Bodega

BK art punks Bodega’s debut for What’s Your Rupture comes skirting in with tongue firmly planted in cheek and a winking smile that would read as smug if they weren’t also hammering that snark into catchy chunks of culture-soaked catharsis. Ok to be fair it still kinda reads as smug, but the band also lands lyrics like that friend who is brutally honest but also calls out the shit everyone else just lets slide. They lay it out in the opener “How Did This Happen?” a wave of the hand that sweeps aside the romanticism of music or musician as high minded or sacred by the 50-odd years of posturing prior to the song’s creation. The band’s assertion that “this machine it killed the dream of the ‘60s / this machine you know it’s just a guitar” takes the right amount of wind out of every self-important slinger with too much faith in their own cache.

Bodega are bashing out comment box banter with the soul of Tom Tom Club. The band is pushing an agenda of gyrate n’ jerk while their jokes run roughshod over their Brooklyn brethren, because as much as they disdain the older generation they aren’t sparing their own either. Nor should they. They steamroll Instagram vanity under the premise of self-documentation, toxic masculinity, endless cultural one-upsmanship and life under the gig economy. The band walks a pretty fine wire, they’re shooting for ESG boogie and Television tension with the sinking smirk reserved for writing a Live Journal screed the summer after freshman Sociology.

While there’s a sense that in six months the album will hit its expiration date and crumble a bit at the edges, the elasticity of its grooves will save it from the pool filter. In the same way that the ‘80s new wave and post-punk holds up with the sparkling bounce at their core, so too will Endless Scroll serve as a jerk-jointed BK dance inciter with its foot permanently rested in 2018. I’m already looking forward to putting it on my nostalgia playlist. Somehow I feel like the band would find it appropriate.



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Bitchin’ Bajas / DSR Lines – The Encyclopedia of Civilizations Vol 2: Atlantis

Abstrakce Records continues their series of tonal explorations of ancient civilizations. Following the first installment from April of last year which saw Jonas Reinhardt and Jürgen Müller (aka Norm Chambers in full ‘80s synth mode) attempt their take on the cradle of Egypt, the series moves from myths to legends with DSR Lines and Bitchin’ Bajas exploring the lost civilization of Atlantis. As might be expected watery synths rule the day here, at least as pertains to DSR’s side of the split. Working through improvisations on Buchula 200 and Serge Systems synths, Belgian artist David Edren nails the shimmering quality of underwater sounds. This could work handily as a high-minded backdrop to an oceanographic exploration doc, though its just as easy to imagine “Panorama” or “Lineage” as the environmental ambiance of an advanced and submerged people. With “Deluge” Edren scratches through the serenity to add a feeling of rising anxiety – cracks in the glass, tectonic swells or the encroaching poisons of the surface perhaps. Whatever the worry, Edren makes it feel real and immediate, like a civilization running out on their years of solitude and preparing to fight for their way of life.

Cooper Crain and crew take a slightly different tack on the Bitchin’ Bajas side. Rather than capturing the feeling of life from the Atlantean side theirs drops instantly into a burbling scientific haze, capturing the whirring instruments of exploration searching for the legends that pockmarked their illustrated children’s compendiums. There’s a sense of swelling depth – present here through increasingly felt throbs of bass that undercut the sparkling wonder of synths capturing dazzling dials and flashing lights that wouldn’t be out of place in a ‘70s sci-fi epic. The Bajas nail a Kosmiche sense of wonder that’s just as liquid and dazzling as their counterparts on the flip.

Together the two sides make up a gloriously deep and inviting environment that nails its goal of evoking otherworldly enclaves under the ocean. Doing the listener one better, Abstrakce goes for high marks with packaging, adding letterpressed sleeves and a thick booklet exploring the myths of Atlantis for reference. All in all a gorgeous piece that’s proving exactly why the large format is worth the price of admission – physical and tactile to its core.




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Mourn

With the pall of their label skirmishes firmly behind them, Spanish punks Mourn push their sound bigger and harder for their third album, Sopresa Familia. The band processes punk and post-punk, grunge and gloom into a record that fully embraces guitar rock in an age when being a young guitar band has lost its gloss. They scratch through the tracks on the LP with an intensity and vigor that’s matched only by the breadth of their touchstones, flinging the dark rumble of The Sound and The Church through the grit and gravel of Husker Du. They pull their vision of pop across the same scarred stones that produced the flayed bare honesty of PJ Harvey. Like many of the best bands of their generation, they’ve taken the advantage of having deep wells of music available at their whims and used it to build a sound that doesn’t draw divisions, instead they collage eras with ease.

The band can curl up into some tender moments over the course of Sopresa Familia, but they wind up at their best when the hurricane crunch of guitar is at a full tilt and looking to level. They’ve built a record on the edge, and given their past frustrations with the music industry, its not hard to see how this could wind up a record fueled by angst and restlessness. From the firecracker snap of “Barcelona City Tour” – which reminds me in a very good way of Afrirampo – to the slow simmer ‘n blow of “Strange Ones,” this is a record that’s not content to keep a poker face. The album bubbles over with fury, joy, frustration and relief. Its no time to keep a lid on the pot, Mourn remind us that catharsis is not just an indulgence, it’s a right.




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