Browsing Category New Albums

Pregnancy

A shift from the usual ragged indie of the Aussie underground, Pregnancy is wrapped in a clipped urgency perpetuated by shards of post-punk guitar, broken-leg disco snare and the muted blare of distant horns. The band’s members pull roots in Ciggie Witch, Totally Mild and The Ocean Party, but they leave the more laconic territory of those names behind. Urgency lives up to its name for the most part, pounding breathless through a ten-piece of post-punk’s darkened corners. Though, they get some extra points for not just biting off the tension via rubber-band bass aesthetics.

What gives the album the upgrade is a focus on atmospheres – pinprick guitar lines are shot forward in bas relief when the background is full of synth fog and streaked with neon tones that splashed across in a gossamer glow. They avoid the early aughts’ tendency to take post-punk’s angles and throw them into twisted metal spotlights. Their approach is much more soft-focus, learning a lesson or two from shoegaze, but never going full-stop with the fog machine. Pregnancy’s less is more approach to a genre that’s sometimes wrought with drama makes them welcomed newcomers to an overcrowded scene.




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Kelley Stoltz

Stoltz’ jump to Castle Face last year brought on a glut of creativity, with one of his most eccentric releases, In Triangle Time, and an extra helping of short form goodies for the hardcore heads. Que Arua shakes the erratic rabbit holes that made Triangle Time fun, but not necessarily consistent. Stoltz buttons down into a synth-pop/new wave enclave that’s shining frothy ’70s licks in a mirrored ball gloss and losing itself in a plume of fog machine echo. The record takes a deep dive into the aesthetic, finding him further from garage than he’s ever been before, but sounding confident in his stylistic tack all the same.

The songs are smudged in the main stage melancholy that churned the ’70s glam Argonauts into ’80s mixtape hereos – digesting post-Roxy comedowns into the kind of tear-streaked earworms that lead Echo, The Psychedelic Furs or The Chameleons to darkened bedrooms across the decade. Whether or not this has to do with Stoltz taking up sideman duties in a reformed Echo and The Bunnymen remains to be seen, but he’s proving to outpace any mere revivalists as far as capturing the spirit of a time and place. Each new listen on this record proves that the studio is truly Stoltz’ home and he remains an exemplary pupil of how his favorite records achieved infamy. This makes Que Aura a case study that won’t let itself out of your head for weeks.




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Guantanamo Baywatch

Guantanamo Baywatch charmed with with their 2015 album, Darling… It’s Too Late, and they continue on a similar stint with their latest. The new album is still pairing a ’50’s/’60’s rock ‘n roll hop scotch approach with surf interludes learned right out of The Astronauts / Challengers playbook. Desert Center tends to dial back the John Waters Twister party taste that was slicked all over their last, though. Instead they’ve toughened up their twang a bit, and rightly so, Suicide Squeeze is dropping allusions to Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet. The Canadians best known for for their association with The Kids In The Hall share the same – surf rock as channeled by Morricone – feeling that winds up inhabiting much of DC’s riffs, or at least the majority of its instrumental passages.

The vocal numbers kick the dust off slightly, going for more of a lonely hearts prom set in a wayback desert diner feeling. The band’s nothing if not lodged in the pomade dreams of a more innocent time, but they manage to carry it well without sounding too much like a college cast of Grease looking to keep the gang together with a new endeavor. They channel some universal pain and heartbreak into their choked-up ballads like, “Blame Myself” and “Neglect.” The rest winds up skittering through sidewinder spy riffs and spaghetti western rip tides. It’s another fun romp, even if much of the water’s already been tread.

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The Cowboy

A short, but sweet rip out of Minneapolis’ bastion of punk permanence, Fashionable Idiots, this debut from The Cowboy doesn’t waste anytime getting right to the whipped core of things. The Cleveland band contains members of Pleasure Leftists and Homostupids, and while it has very few crossover tendencies of the former, there’s a certain brutal similarity to the latter. Though, The Cowboy (not to be confused with The Cowboys damnit) is not simply a retread of the terrain of Steve Peffer’s experimental past. Rather, The Cowboy is no frills punk with a hardcore heart. The band bashes shit out, wipes the sweat and gets on their way without so much as a “thanks.”

The sheer economy of this album makes it impressive. They do more in under a minute-forty than most bands do with whole albums. The Cowboy’s wrapped taut like ink black snake coils around the riffs in this sucker and pounding drums like they owe the band money. This is the kind of album that starts bands. The stuff that kickstarts the inherent need to work out frustrations through sonic assault in the nascent brain. Hell, it kickstarts the feeling in an aging brain. The members come from bands that found their own cult of purists and acolytes, but here they prove that crushed bone and anger sweat can be alchemized into brutal brilliance.



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The Murlocs

It would seem that the cult of King Gizz is reaching the boiling point these days. Still wondering how they’re gonna make that five album deadline at this point but, hell, why not throw in a side project or two while you’re at it? The band’s Ambrose Kenny-Smith will likely never fully extract himself and The Murlocs from under the yoke of his banner band, but they’re doing their best to carve out a little space of their own. Old Locamotive expands on the garage-blooze spiral that’s swirled out of The Murlocs speakers since before 2014’s Loopholes. This time it’s just a touch cleaner and snug down into a pocket of groove that feels nicely worn, like cracked leather.

The record is skewing towards the mellow, still packed with a swamp-thick punch of guitar, but not blowing as hot and frantic as the Jason Galea artwork on the cover would suggest. Kenny-Smith has always been a sucker for the blues half of that garage equation, and he plays it up like a harp man keeping his brand fresh. More often than not he can work the organ and harmonica strewn tracks into a decent romp, but there are the occasional drags. The highlights hit pretty hard, though, and when he tears into a track like “Snake In The Grass” its hard not to crack a smile. All told, this is the most consistent The Murlocs have sounded yet, and whether its studio bleed over from King Gizz or a wellspring of the band’s cohesiveness, he’s molded this into a decent volley from Flightless’ second string.




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Golden Retriever

Portland’s Golden Retriever continue down their rabbit hole of avant garde explorations, again positioning effected bass clarinet against a sea of synths. This time, however, aided with a grant from Portland’s Regional Arts & Culture Council, the band expanded their reach to a full ensemble. The addition of strings, pipe organ, and an expanded winds section gives Rotations a fuller sound than the band has previously explored. Though, the additional heft of instrumentation doesn’t sway the band from their core sound which acts as a focal point throughout. There’s a familiar solemnity to the record that feels at once doused in the emotional spectrum that Golden Retriever often wade.

Emotions seem to be a focal point of the record in fact. The central theme that peeked out of the band’s sessions was the cyclical nature of hardship and endurance. It’s a constant pull between overwhelming escalation and tearful relief. The duo have a knack for the former, that’s for sure. When they want to express the crush of confusion, frustration and strife, the pieces can come on with an intense pressure that’s exacerbated by headphones. The synths buzz like nagging hornets at the mind until, when it comes, relief is welcomed and blessedly tranquil. It’s a record that’s skillfully executed but probably cautiously approached if you find yourself in the pocket of frustration itself. For those looking to scrape the pain away with noise and nourish with ambient calm, this is a worthwhile journey. If you’re only looking to soothe, perhaps look to the last two tracks, which are a decidedly gorgeous comedown.




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Wet Hair

If it feels like a stretch since Wet Hair turned up here, or anywhere in fact, that’s because the band hasn’t released a record since 2012’s Spill Into Atmosphere. At the time they’d shucked a great deal of their noise cloud and begun polishing their lo-fi pop into something a bit more grand. Before they’d shared groove space with Merchandise, they were everywhere in the small cadre of noise-rock safe harbors – from Shawn Reed’s own Night People to Not Not Fun, De Stijl, and Bathetic. Now they land their post-breakup LP on Wharf Cat and pull back the curtain on what could have been if the band hadn’t faded into the horizon.

The Floating World is definitely the band’s most accessible take to date, besting even their previous two nudges towards a sparkling Krautrock-laden pop. Still couched in a cloud of haze, though not so thick that the edges become indiscernible, the record is glowing with the same electricity that’s always pushed Wet Hair. The percussion tumbles like violent waters below bright, beckoning synths but while that Krautrock tag is certainly still applicable, this is a pop record first and foremost. The best contemporary comparison would be the later work of Cloudland Canyon, who found themselves traversing similar territory and pulling it off with a deft hand. Ultimately the record is a great nugget of noise-pop that’s shelved on the ‘coulda-been, shoulda-been’ pile of bands that get overlooked too often amid changing tastes. Still, there’s no reason not to dip into this gem for a spin or six.




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Pearl Earl

Denton is awash in garage upstarts of the denim-donned variety. Testosterone prone outfits that aim to tear a hole in the American dream with a curlicue of amp cable and a four-pack of chords in fuzztone from. Pearl Earl aim to kick a ragged rip in that paradigm, trailing sequins and snake venom behind them as they lay their own barrage of garage, punk and glitter-stomped prog down upon the city of their making. Their debut LP arrives with concrete ton of confidence and a pretty clear cut idea of who they want to be.

Clearly caught in the crackle of ’70s airwaves, the band is mashing their memories with a deft hand and a feminine snarl. With a slightly less buoyant approach, Pearl Earl are finding their way along the same inflamed tributary that carries kindred spirits Savoy Motel. They embody the ten-foot tall ideals of glam, as evidenced in the gloss that shines on the album’s surface, and they pin it well to their flip of the radio dial. At heart the band’s eponymous LP is as punk as any of their myriad homegrown stagemates, but where others go to the well for the simple quench of sweat, Pearl Earl go for the rainbow ripple off the water in the sun. Having fun with the form, they explode punk into shards of psychedelic debris, each looking to streak the sky with its own glittered flare.

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The Focus Group

Julian House again picks up his mantle as The Focus Group, spreading Radiophonic frequencies out into the ionosphere with precision, ingenuity and a glint of madness in his eye. The crux of The Focus Group has always acted like a high pressure drill, tunneling through human consciousness and presenting the core sample of childhood fears and delights alongside the useless ephemera and practical static that gum up the works in the average human brain. There’s bits of pop magic stuck in the mix here, but its littered with the lint of noise and jumbled into an organization that would befit a Burroughs cut-up.

Still, despite the chaos, he manages to evoke the low wattage flicker of a bare bulb projecting animation through cellophane on the walls while you sleep. Stop-Motion Happening moves like dreams, drenched in half-remembered facts and saturated with colors almost too rich for human consumption. This is the magic and the terror that House evokes. He’s a mad scientist of memory, plowing past the surface scratches that the likes of The Books, Boards of Canada and his own collaborative muses, Broadcast, have made their bread and butter. His approach, fittingly, is more on the level of visual art than that of musician. The album feels like it might easily soundtrack a gallery and have a dozen or so accompanying pieces that fit all these sparking wires together.

That dreamlike quality also puts him in league with film Auteurs like Michel Gondry, another artist trying desperately to capture the moment between sleep and awake. House’s work evokes the disorientation of signals that get trapped inside our many heads. He’s filtering and processing the data but it’s hard to figure out what’s noise and what’s important. That conundrum, in fact, seems to be the root of modern anxiety. House has put his finger squarely on the flashpoint of modern madness – what goes, what stays, where to look next, who to believe in all this? He’s not offering a rubic, but he’s at least showing us that someone else is having as much trouble quashing the noise as we are.




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Psychic Temple

Chris Schlarb doesn’t work in half measures. Despite bubbling under the surface, rolling out releases on Asthmatic Kitty and Joyful Noise, he’s pulled down some banner contributors on his last couple of records, including Mike Watt and Terry Reid. While last year saw him go full ambient to reinterpret Brian Eno’s Music For Airports, he’s cut the rudder back into the laconic psych-pop that permeated his previous full length, Psychic Temple III. With Reid in tow on PT IV, along with a stuffed studio of contributors, Schlarb constructs an album full of California comedown psych for unseasonably cool nights.

Schlarb has spent a lifetime picking through styles and lurking in studios and the attention to detail shows through the seams of PT IV, but only after pulling at the threads a bit. On first listen the album has an effortlessly casual quality that’s easy to sink into. After peeling through the layers the breeziness subsides to reveal a meticulously crafted album helmed by a songwriter with a producer’s heart. Stitched together with a run of interludes that make the album flow with ’70s grandiosity, Schlarb has found a way to tap into the bereaved soul at the core of adulthood’s mantle with a heavy sigh and a silken delivery.

This is far from an album of hits or singles, it’s an album that can hardly be parsed at all and that stands as its greatest achievement. Schlarb rifles the pockets of jazz, psych, country and blues to fit the pieces into a bittersweet sigh that’s stretched into forty minutes of sanctuary from the greater world. It’s’ hard to deny the draw of respite and harder still to resist returning for another dose.




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