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Aaron David Ross is a hard man to pin down. Ross first popped into a lot of people’s attention as one half of Gatekeeper, the electronic psych duo that released bits on Hippos In Tanks and Fright. Ross nabbed a bit of my attention with his, still intriguing, solo debut Solitary Pursuits that dove into the hypnogogic deep end with the best of them. He’s mutated his sound several times since then, working through an acid Jazz/electronic tryst and creating an immersive electronic ecosystem via SD card on his last release for PAN. He returns to the pioneering label’s ranks for an album that focuses on the human voice as his subject. Ross straddles the pop and academic electronic worlds and its clear that this is a moment where he chooses to bridge the divide with a bit of a smile on his lips.

The backbone of the album is pure pop, feeling like it has every bit of potential to break through as a modern radio backdrop, and this speaks openly to his work as a composer for fashion and advertising. He’s completely enmeshed in the sounds of the present day distraction prone world of aural accompaniment, but being classically trained, here those sounds serve as the pixels of something much larger in scope. He takes the pop impulses and chops them into thrumming, truncated, ADD snippets of sound. It winds up feeling like a modern-day update of Prefuse 73’s Vocal Studies and Uprock Narratives if it was created after a half-remembered night spent at any topline EDM festival, 3 strip clubs and a gyro cart, based out of your skull and trying to match game those memories into an order that makes a small bit of sense.

The effect pulls pop apart into a sound that’s catchy but fractured, serving as a perfect method of digesting the detritus of the autotuned dystopia that often permeates the FM band like a slick coating of grease. Ross channels chaos into a blurring whirl though over-stimulation, leaving an album of crackling energy and the faint whiff of dry ice in the air as it clicks to a close.



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Dungen

The scope of Häxan is as ambitious as it is intriguing. The members of Dungen were asked to soundtrack the 1926 film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed by artist Lotte Reiniger. The film is the oldest, in tact animated feature film in existence and Dungen’s score sees the band branch out of their ’70s widescreen psych on several admirable levels. They immerse the all instrumental album in lush soundtrack swells embracing strings like never before. They roll out many of the psychsploitation tropes evident in the Finder Keepers ranks, leaning especially clost to the scores of Jean-Bernard Raiteux and Jean Rollin. The rest of the score patterns itself after ’60’s and ’70s Library Music motifs that prove the band has more than done the homework to meet the challenge of this project. Of course they can’t resist just a bit of their own signature stamp, and the score’s culmination in the thundering “Andarnas Krig” has many of the hallmarks that would befit a regular album release for the band, though it’s inclusion blends quite well with their psychedelic Papier Mâché world.

The score provides a sweeping counterpoint to Reiniger’s animation, built around her rich color palette and painstakingly blocked animations. The album is presented non-sequentially with regard to the film’s narrative, but they’ve drawn their inspiration and tone from her story, while fitting their pieces into an arc of their own. They imbue the whole album with a rich nuance, but as the title might suggest (Häxan means “Witch”) the scenes of The Witch give them the most to work with and they find in the character the kind of explosive, crackling energy that fuels their most psychedelic urges. Though, if it were just some limp interludes in between amp fry, Häxan would fail out of the gate. It never feels like they’re waiting for the next explosion, dripping the rest of the pieces in as much shading and texture as those dealing with their favored subject, just with the intensity rolled back.

Dungen have long been a band working with a level of skill that’s set them apart from your standard psych shredders, but with the academic approach and immersive scope of Häxan they knock themselves into a more serious tier of composition. They truly give Reiniger’s work a new life and create a standalone statement that’s worthy of collectors who trade in psych cinema’s aural ephemera. Check out a clips of Reiniger’s film Act 1, Act 2, Act 3, Act 4, Act 5 to see how the score adds to her style.


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Milan W.

Milan Warmoeskerken’s – Intact swims through the almost ambient, but strangely propulsive waters that were populated by tectonic travelers like Boards of Canada, Autechre and a fairly full swath of the Ghost Box family. The record has the faded, filmstrip quality that, like Boards of Canada in particular, evokes a strong sense memory that brings the pencil shavings smell of the classroom rocketing back to mind. Its not the sweat and stagnation of clock watching school hours that flood back though, but rather the kind of daydream quality of staring at science films in the cloistered darkness, the kind that carried their own Sven Liabek and Vangelis homespun soundtracks with them.

The record jumps off from this kernel of nostalgia as a starting point and ropes in a gauze of dub, comedown shudders, skittering post-rave and icy atmospheres. The entirety of the record feels damp, like its being played inside a cold and humid underground club lined with clear walls that radiate obscured light. Its the whale song soundtrack to an ice hotel bar. A moss-strewn lie down, slowly ramping up to a hypnotic and hazy exotica dancefloor jaunt that’s rendered in slow motion. There are several artists that have tried a hand at the kinds of moods that Milan W. is pushing here, but its easy to get lost in abstraction, pretense or gimmick. Intact eschews all of these to capture the aesthetics that vault him into league with those luminaries he seeks to emulate.



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Lower Plenty

The fourth album from Lower Plenty sees the band still locked into a grab bag of styles tied together with the nervy swagger of Al Montfort’s songwriting. Lacking a bit of the bite and snap of Montfort’s release with Terry earlier in the year or the emotional punch and pop sheen of Dick Diver, his work with Lower Plenty still finds a way to burrow under the skin. Sister Sister‘s mixtape appeal is probably its greatest strength rather than a knock on its lack of cohesiveness. Shifting on and off between vocal duties, Montfort and Sarah Heyward both have a penchant for leaning back into a song, delivering their takes from an apparent reclining position and captured to a fortuitously rolling tape. Perhaps the band’s notion as kind of a respite between other projects, recording takes in a kitchen studio when they chance to meet up, gives light to some of its true appeal. The songs don’t sound like a vacation from anything in particular, but freeing themselves from projects with more expectations allows ideas and styles to flow freely from breezy jangle to avant squawks of strings and horns.

As such the album winds through calm eddies and tense moments. The easy jangle of “Bondi’s Dead” and “So It Goes” crumble under the tinfoil toothache of “Ravesh,” one of the record’s definite highlights. Elsewhere they embrace their home recording ethos completely with some hum flecked moments that feel so close mic-ed that they practically sing from your ear canal on “Cursed By Numbers”. The atmosphere of the surrounding house is felt on most tracks though, as if the band might halt and discuss takes at any moment, and it gives the record an intimate electricity that’s more purposely confessional than (the now dreaded) lo-fi. Lower Plenty isn’t as polished as many other Montfort projects, but in lifting the veil of the studio and inviting the listener in, it still hits hard enough to leave a mark on the skin when it claps to a close.

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Daniel Bachman

Bachman’s been a fixture among the acoustic fingerpicked set that courts both experimental interest and highbrow acclaim. Littering labels like Tompkins Square, Feeding Tube, Bathetic and Three Lobed, the young guitarist rose to acclaim pretty quickly, settling him in as an NPR pick and slotting him alongside names like Jack Rose and Richard Bishop in conversations on American Folk prosperity. All that baggage comes along nicely in tow with his latest, eponymous album, but Bachman lets none of it define him or his music. He’s not a wunderkind, Terry Gross talking point or cassette fetishist secret, Bachman’s got the soul of American folk and Southern slide blues stamped under his skin. Like Rose, he plays with a touch that’s both intense and surprisingly nuanced, and that touch is front and center on the songs that occupy this self-titled LP.

Though Rose may only be a more modern comparison, Bachman has certainly spent his time in the halls of the Fahey school and picked up his penchant for pacing and his bone dry ambience, which lends a definite heft to the album. Elsewhere he’s picked up certain amounts of Robbie Basho’s flourish and Peter Walker’s delicacy. Though unlike either of those, Bachman never strays into straight raga. He’s certainly digested plenty of it, but what sets Bachman apart is that he nips complimentary bits from drone, folk, blues and raga and lets them all hang together into a heatwave baked concoction of low plains blues that finds itself reveling in solitude. He taps into the desolate desperation of Appalachia and the edgy intensity of Southern folk-blues and he crafts an album that fully supports his wave of early plaudits. On Daniel Bachman, he’s established himself as a master of his instrument and as a name that’s welcome to sit solidly alongside those touchstones that likely gave him inspiration.



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Outer Space

Its been since 2014 that John Elliot and Drew Veres last released a record under the Outer Space name and its quite nice to have them back. The last year is proving to be a good one for the former members of Emeralds and perhaps in its own way the band is releasing a Voltron-like assemblege of works that form a vortex of calm, radiant vibes. Perhaps that’s too hopeful, but Gemini Suite is Elliot and Veres in top form, embracing more of the ambient waves of their output and letting the Kosmiche impulses temper a bit. It sits nicely alongside his former bandmates’ output, Steve Hauschildt’s synth tangle Strands and Mark McGuire’s Cool Cloudscapes of The Four Directions vol. I .

The record is one long piece, split onto two sides, building slow and steady as an Eno arc and just as languid. The suite embraces the nature sounds stock footage of the ’70s meditation boom and pins the lap of waves and chirp of birds to some choice synth tones that never jostle, jolt or jiggle the listener. The best ambient albums attempt to remove the listener from their own environment and build a new one. Gemini Suite builds a world and then soundtracks it with a bit of retro-futurist bubble, feeling like the sanitized but tranquil worlds built by Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry, calm and full of wonder. Its an album that soothes whatever pain, hurt or fear may be lurking, temporarily at least, but then again who couldn’t use a thirty minute vacation from the last year or so. It may not be close to a cure, but its a salve and that’s a place to start.


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Whores.

I was sorely missing out on Whores. until a friend tipped me to their last EP, Clean., which was an acerbic, taut blast of metal that tore through the AmRep soundbook, picking up cues cinched down to the block cut design of the sleeves. The band has an obvious affinity for Jesus Lizard, Melvins and Helmet style riffs with little room for flourish and an intent to pummel the listener within an inch of their life. They continue the legacy laid out on their EPs with, Gold, their debut LP proper. The record was, in fact, produced by Ryan Boesch who has helmed releases for both Helmet and The Melvins, so they’re not missing a beat on the completeness of their heart-on-sleeve influences. But the band is more than just a welcome trip back to ’90s glory days of heat-fused amp rippers and sensible black check flannel. They’re pulling from a wave that knew how to fold the non-metalhead into a show and let them loose. Back when grunge and metal bedded down in the same venues, there was room for both Nirvana and Metallica fans in the Corrosion of Conformity pits. Gold feels like a page out of this egalitarian mosh meeting.

Just like the aforementioned touchstones (Helmet, Jesus Liz, etc), the band’s strength lies in the ability to craft light and heat into catchy bits that knock you flat on your ass, then won’t let your brain shank the riffs for the next 24 hours. There’s something about the grunge grind of catchy but crunchy metal that’s got a timeless feel to it, like it always just existed to run an engine of thrash on a tall boy of King Cobra, primed, pumped and dumped into a Kelly green Camaro on an endless stretch of highway. Gold pulls not a single punch and there’s no note wasted in its tight set of ten songs. They’re economical but efficient, that’s for certain. The band kicks hard to the sternum with each new song, and thankfully, along with their crisp delivery, they eschew many of metal’s trappings of angst, excess or self-importance. Anger they’ve got, intensity, you bet, and they dole it out with the skill of a welder fusing iron beams to support a massive weight. Gold delivers on the promise the band’s been making with live shows and short form releases for the past few years and if you’ve been missing out on the heavier side of things until now or need a reason to scream it out this week, this might be a perfect point to dive back in.


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Cory Hanson

Wand showed a portion of their soft underbelly on their last LP, 1000 Days. They still employed the growl of explosive guitar but sketched out more texture, filling the sound space with plenty of new shades and shadows. Swooning strings and buzzing keys smashed into walls of echo. They flirted with psych-folk but still sat pretty solidly in the fuzz-psych camp they’d been born out of. Its clear, though, that the band’s Cory Hanson had a big part in that textural shift, and that he had more in him. Taking a solo departure from his bandmates, Hanson strips the sound all the way back and sets the incense aglow for a wander into psych-folk proper, though a strain that leans in on the orchestral cues he’d seem to favor previously. Those strings are brought to life by Heather Lockie, who has previously played with Spiritualized, Eels, Sparkelhorse and Love. Her arrangements take what could be just a folk diversion and push it into a lovely bit of bittersweet pop.

The tone on The Unborn Capitalist In Limbo is wistful at its lightest and downright mournful for the majority of the record. Hanson draws from a wealth of folk artists that found their muse in the rain splashed territory between heartbreak and utter depression. There are touches of Roy Harper, Bill Fay, Nick Drake, Donovan (at his most wistful) and even Al Stewart in the batch of songs that Hanson has put together and he’s working towards the kind of gutwrench with a shiny wrapper that those artists excelled at putting together. Whether this side of Hanson remains dominant, ekes its way further into Wand or stands as a single album impulse remains to be seen. But in embracing the sweep of sadness, he’s left a document of heartfelt ennui that shakes off saccharine for a lasting impression of sighed resolve that helps to lessen the lump in your throat.



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Wolf People

There are several schools of psych revial that run concurrent to each other in any given year, but Wolf People’s strain of Anglo-centric psychedelia marries the whimsical swords & sorcery, PhD caliber concept variety with a penchant for the heavier nugs of British proto-metal that began to spring up in its wake. They don’t really go in for the flights of fantasy lyrically, barring perahps “Night Witch”, but on Ruins they are embracing the itch for high concept. The album takes on the idea of an Earth in which the scourge of humanity is in its waning hours, being overtaken by nature as the heirs to the planet. They pin that concept to their brand of folk-rock, burnt to a cinder with the spark of psychedelia drawn in a direct line from the true heads of yore. There’s always been a deviant spore of The Moody Blues in the band’s sound (maybe its the flute, maybe its the timbre of Jack Sharp’s voice) but they embrace it fully on Ruins, conjuring up the spectre of prog loud and large.

That’s not to say that this is entirely picked from your dad’s stash of college LPs, Wolf People have an admitted love for both hip-hop and post-punk and while there aren’t overt inclusions of either in their pure forms (thank goodness), those influences seep through in their own way. Drummer Tom Watt swings the rhythms on Ruins, creating not hip-hop, but the kind of beats that well-tuned crate diggers tore from in the genre’s infancy. It was often the more adventurous strains of prog and rock that made for some of the most pummeling breaks and Watt seems to strive to find that charm in reverse. The guitars are thick as smoke over a ravaged 16th century village, but Sharp and Hollick weave them with a modern update blending the fuzz metal blast with the iron angles of a later ’70s vision.

It really isn’t an easy feat to bring this sound into a modern light, but Wolf People succeed in landing a foot in nostalgia proper and one in the archival spirit of an age that can cross reference the myriad histories of bands and movements in an afternoon spent internet digging. They form the best prog band that never set foot in the ’70s but holds its spirit alight for those that missed that the first go’round.




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Padang Food Tigers

The summer sun has come and gone, the autumn hours are shortening, but there’s still time for one more slip into the sunlight with Padang Food Tigers’ Bumblin’ Creed. For this release the duo of Stephen Lewis and Spencer Grady are aided by Norwegian harmonium player Sigbjørn Apeland. The pair’s sound hearkens back to a time when the Jewelled Antler reigned supreme (at least in some circles) and there was a wealth of folk that captured the pastoral hum of a quiet afternoon spent alone in the woods with instruments picking. Padang Food Tigers, like many of the Antler collective, most predominantly The Blithe Sons, and with a direct line to formative bands like Heron before them, mix the tranquil meditative qualities of drone folk with an immersive ear for field recording.

The sounds of the forest are high in the mix on Bumblin’ Creed, but not in a way that seems distracting or gimmicky. Instead the album feels recorded in the elements, responding to the burble of waters and the wind in trees, playing off of nature as if it were just one other member in an ensemble of improvisers gathered for an afternoon spent vibing off the creaking hum of Apeland’s harmonium. The pair bend and pluck at their guitars with a subtle nuance and never let pristine be a word that enters their headspace. The hum of the tape, the rustle of the trees, the chill in the air can almost be felt right through the microphones. It’s an album that brings back a flood of feelings for the early aughts. There were plenty of albums that let in the perfect equilibrium that psych folk had to offer and this is the kind of crowning jewel that ruled the scene. I’ve been personally pining for a bit of this to come eking back and the Tigers and Apeland have captured the magic that made ’03-’04 a time of hushed beauty. Truth is no time can hold a recording like this, its as timeless as it its boundless, and for that reason worth a run through your headphones ASAP.

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