Browsing Category New Albums

Axis: Sova

Everything about Brett Sova’s second album for Drag City imprint God? is more confident. He’s raised himself out of the murk of tape hiss and brought forth an album that, much like fellow Drag City stabler Purling Hiss, embraces guitar as a saving grace for the psychic stomp of 2016. Unlike the Hiss, though, Axis: Sova isn’t chasing the demons of grunge, but rather the boogie blues and psychedelic sweat of a ’70s vision that holds up Guru Guru and Hawkwind as the reigning class. Hell, you’ve got to have stones to open up your sophomore album with an almost nine-minute acid fuzz assault on the senses that seems like it should be the kind of song that collapses an album to the floor. Instead Sova chooses to blast the listener with a defining statement of Axis’ aesthetic. Its the kind of opening salvo that says, “this is what you’re in for so either strap in or get out of the way.”

The rest of the album doesn’t hold back any fury either. Following that scorcher of an opening shot, the rest of Motor Earth cranks its way through exhaust fume choked psych swagger and low and gritty fuzz rumblers leveled at ya with the kind of steady gaze that proves that Sova can back up the chatter with more than a few dirty riffs. Sova brings along fellow guitarist Tim Kaiser for the ride and the two staple their riffs to a chassis of stomp n’ clatter beats that, though workmanlike, fill in the space between the two amplifier clouds amiably. Its clear that the folks over at DC could see through the swamp of his debut to this cleaner burning version of Axis’ power. Though, in the same capacity as Mike Polizze’s Purling Hiss transformation, it would be interesting to see the band evolve into a three-piece with a proper pound rounding out the storm. Still, the record holds its own with just the two players making one hell of a ruckus. Trailing out their love for the ghosts of ’70s space rock and gravel pelted grinders alike, they prop themselves up as a two-man Leaf Hound on an Afflicted Man budget, and to tell you the truth, its workin’.

Listen to the album in full below!





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Danny & the Darleans

So without every recording another note, Daniel Kroha is already in the pantheon of rock heroes for his membership in The Gories. The long running Detroit scrappers have gold status in pretty much any garage lover’s book. But Kroha’s never leaned on that membership as a way to coast, he’s cut ragged acoustic blues under his own name, teaming up with Third Man for an album, explored glam pop with the Demolition Doll Rods and gotten scuzzy in his own right time and again with the Darleans. The last Darleans album came down the pike in 2013 and Bug Out follows pretty much in its shoes. Its ruffled and ragged party rock that’s dirty, sweaty and flecked with the right kind of smirk to keep people moving and having a good damn time. Add in Kroha’s natural soul that funnels the ethos of The Troggs, early Shadows of Knight, Motown’s rockers and that other garage demon with a smile, Mr. King Khan, and its shaping up to be a damn fine party in here.

Kroha stacks the Darleans with talent that can’t help but swing, drummer Richie Wohlfeil was in The Detroit Cobras, probably one of the finest garage bands to ever hit the stage. Bassist Colleen Burke cut her teeth in We Ragazzi, and though they may have had a more serious bent, they gave her the chops to wail on Bug Out. There’s little room to really make garage rock new, or to break the mold. What’s left these days is the way to perfect the form you’re fighting in and in that regard, Danny & the Darleans are knocking out most who step to them. They’re tight as hell, and to prove it this sucker was recorded pretty much live to tape, giving very little mystery as to what these songs might sound like up on the stage, you’re living it every time the needle hits the wax. Its a hard trick to pull, but when it goes right, this is what it sounds like.

When it comes down to it, The Darleans know that a great garage band can tackle covers as handily as they can simmer an original, and both should mix seamlessly, giving the listener little pause when a cover hits the speakers. If they make ’em their own, then who cares who wrote it, its theirs now. The Darleans pack heat into songs by The Night Crawlers, bluesman Jim Jackson and Eddie Holland while making them seem as much a part of their DNA as any of their own cuts. The album shapes up to as solid a garage album as you can hope for. It never flags, never begs forgiveness and never seems to care – and that’s what any garage band should aspire to. Kroha’s a human jukebox, serving up singles that cook the whole record through. Bug Out is the kind of record that lights up any room it hits.




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Purling Hiss

On the last couple of Purling Hiss records, they cleaned up their sound, dusted off the fuzz of any lo-fi shackles and made for the studio. In the process they may have walked a bit far from the grit that kicked the band into the world all those many years ago. Weirdon brought some jangle and kept true to its namesake of injecting an oddness into their world. Water On Mars was a studio pop juggernaut sanded of its rough edges. Now they seek to walk it all back a bit, finding a thread of grunge in their matured sound and striking a nice balance between the slicked back rock of Water On Mars and the amplifier overload of their early works.

There’s been a lot of fluffed up think pieces that float the notion that guitar rock has no place in 2016, that the guitar solo is dead, that this sound has come and gone and its not moving forward; but that talk seems to miss the point of great guitar rock, perhaps especially in 2016. Its about burning clean the weight of the world and letting the feedback singe away the top layer of bullshit on any given moment. Mike Polizze has always known the power of fried and fraught rock, the kind of scorching, fuzz soaked platters that can test the limits of a stereo system from the first four chords and lay waste to weaker contenders with ease. He’s still got that spirit in his heart and High Bias brings the growl back to Purling Hiss to help digest an American sense of unrest that’s permeated daily life.

Polizze’s finally found his balance, its probably his most outright catchy record, but it never comes off as pop in the truest sense, its rock, towering and infernal, lighting that fire and feeding on the oxygen of unrest. Its not a protest record, but its not a lighthearted affair. It culminates in the highwater mark “Everybody In The USA,” a song that seems to sum up the rest of the record and let it all crumble beneath a seismic crunch of guitars and ragged fury. If the band needed to wipe away the rest of their catalog and leave only this behind as a statement of purpose, then it would still leave a pretty outstanding legacy for them. Its the kind of record that feels like like Polizze finished it, sat back and just said to himself, “yeah, that’s the sound… that’s what I’ve been looking for all these years.”



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Xylouris White

Prior to the release of Black Peak I had caught the duo of Jim White and George Xylouris a couple of times and each time they had the same effect of sucking the air out of the room; stone silent crowds pretty much in awe of the power and presentation of their works. The difference the second time was that the duo were playing pieces of Peak and in place of the mostly instrumental set, Xylouris let loose with his torrent of vocals, matching the intensity of his lute work, a feat that’s easier said than done. Though the secret, or not so secret weapon in the band still remains Jim White’s tumbling, craggy and entrancing percussive work. In the face of Xylouris’ booming voice and snaking strings, for the drums to steal away some of the awe, seems like a feat in its own right.

This album sees the band stepping further into their comfort as players together, having had a longstanding relationship that hearkens back to collaborations during White’s time in Dirty Three and even longer than that as friends. Dirty Three never seemed penned in by boundaries of style, and aside from those who might balk at the World Music inclinations that arise from the Greek language vocals, neither does Xylouris White. Those vocals do present a new focal point for the album but even stripped of the droning, swooping phrasing, the songs themselves seem more akin to Robbie Basho or Bert Jansch if they had spent time exploring their free jazz sides with someone like Chris Corsano or Paal Nilsson-Love on the sticks. Black Peak feels like it touches the intense lamplight intensity of Middle Eastern psych or raga, especially on the burning “Hey, Musicians.”

White’s been known to collaborate his whole career, spending time with PJ Harvey, Nina Nastasia, Cat Power, Smog and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. The Bonnie Prince even finds his way into the mix here as well, returning the favor with lonesome harmonies on the dark-skied “Erotokritos.” Though he’s often been a seamless piece of his collaborators’ albums, here White has found himself as out front and free as in his days with Dirty Three, pushing and pulling at Xylouris’ aesthetic like a motor that’s primed and humming. The pair bring out the best in each other and its clear that while they’re having a good time making the album, they’re also pushing to find a plateau that neither have reached previously, which considering the resumes of the players involved, is a tall, tall order. Ultimately, they do seem to have found their peak this time around.





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Sea Urchin

Berlin-based Sea Urchin give a new spin on dub, immersing themselves in an envelope of echo and throb and affixing it to the breathy vocals of Leila Hassan. The album has a dissociative quality to it, floating and drifting on in a puddle of salt water, performing sensory deprivation experiments that bring to mind something out of Altered States. The music feels disorienting, and if the listener closes their eyes, its hard to trust the imagery that floats into view as concrete – distorted figures, memories from 8-bit landscapes and past lives never touched all float into view. The music isn’t particularly hi-fi, but lo-fi seems like a slap in the face. The bass is muted but full, rattling the skull. Hassan’s vocals float in such a crisp headspace that they seem like omniscient instructions, rendered in language that’s on the tip of the tongue, and forever unobtainable.

The rhythms are rudimentary, built from rhythm boxes that seem out of date but still alive with a magic that’s sparking in their husks. The whole of Yaqaza is like a strange week in the Ayahuasca circle, facing down the ghosts of the forest and emerging changed. Perhaps its not truly as immersive as all this sounds but, as a true headphone record, the album does seem to pull one out of mind with little effort. The band’s attributed its creation to that of a dreamlike state and, in turn, it does seem to find itself evoking imagery that could only be associated with dreams, hallucinations or mental meltdown. The band succeed in finding a way to lock in the psychoactive aural adventure and run wild with it. Where dub has always had it way in the countercultral community, here the band elevates dub beyond its roots and into a new plateau of experimentation.

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Goat

Goat’s third album sees the band step away from some of the chaotic fury that’s marked their past two releases, embracing the acoustic, softer side of their psychedelic obsessions. Where 2012’s World Music came out of nowhere, grinding influences from African funk and Krautrock to Brazilian and Swedish psychedelia, their follow-up, Communion seemed like a lateral move. It was a higher profile burn down the same corridors, still impressively raucous and slightly unhinged, but not a big leap in sound from their debut. In the face of this, the band have chosen to focus more on their acoustic side amping up their reliance on Middle Eastern psych, the Bo Hansson class of homegrown musicians in their native Sweden and, as usual, African Highlife, but toning down the volume and pummel.

The band’s actually taken some criticism for their heavy borrowing from others’ traditions to craft a tapestry of their own, which is fair. There are absolutely some great originals that the band borrows from that should be lifted up, not replaced with Goat’s amalgam, but hopefully their digestion of influences causes more digging on the part of others as a result of their elevated status. If Goat act as the doorway to kids stocking their collections with Sublime Frequencies and Awesome Tapes From Africa reissues, then that’s a start for me. As for the record itself, Requiem smolders more than they have in the past, holding back some of their rhythmic outbursts in favor of strums augmented by a slow twisting kaleidoscope of smoke that finds them entering a more nighttime shamanic feeling, than “folk” per se. The best moments still have a touch of that rhythm kick, but get lost in the churning haze, like “Goatband” or the wind chime twinkle of “Psychedelic Lover”

These feel like wandering songs, shared songs that purport an oral tradition. They pull in the tribal elements that Goat has made their bread and butter, but they have a more transient quality to them. Its as if they’ve shifted their eyes from the stage to the roadside, playing with the people, rather than to the people. The record’s tone becomes hushed as it draws to a close on the spare, “Ubuntu,” easily the quietest and calming Goat track to date. This is finally a different side of Goat and one that, as usual, reveals more of what’s on the band’s record shelves than anything. The volume may be lower, but the echo still remains.


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Kandodo / McBain

As previously mentioned here, three members of The Heads have teamed up with John McBain, original member of Monster Magnet, who has also done some time in Queens of The Stone Age, The Desert Sessions and The Wellwater Conspiracy. Needless to say, the resulting sessions air on the heavy, druggy and especially droned out. The album, Lost Chants – Last Chance creeps out of the gate with high plains dread, finding solace in older Kandodo work, but also the atmospheres of Barn Owl, the sonic growl of Hills or the chest rattling work of Earth. The band doesn’t shy away from length, letting the dust cloud they will to life traverse every inch of these five tracks, inching their way up to the fifteen minute mark in some places.

The combination of players creates a kind of psychedelic vortex that sucks listeners in, making the album feel expansive, looming, and brimming with a storm that threatens to tear down the walls before the needle clicks to a close. To compound things further, the album is setup to play at both 33 and 45, allowing the aforementioned heaviness stretch to longer and slower grinding depths, with the CD/Dig versions including the 33 rpm slowed down cuts for those without a speed selector in their life. At either speed the Kandodo/McBain collision is a formidable foe, fraught with doom and dread which feels perfect for the onset of the end of 2016. Keep this one close at hand, there’s no telling when the apocalypse needs a good soundtrack, thick with oil smoke and charging hard at the edge of the stormfront. This one’s vibing hard towards what might be called global collapse rock. Feelin’ it.



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EZTV

EZTV’s debut was one of those slow burn stunners that crept in quiet and once it took hold, it was hard to shake. The band’s versed in their power pop history, choosing to err towards the softer and subtler end of the genre’s spectrum. They have plenty of pop in their veins but they know that the right kind of jangle sweeps a track along like a cool breeze, rustling the soul with an effortless shudder. They’ve nailed down their grasp on this brand of pop, moving from their Shake Some Action leanings into full on Chris Bell solo territory here. They’ve elevated themselves beyond just the jangled masses and weekend imitators to find that niche that’s running pure and clean. All power pop is, in a sense, looking for that ripple of purity and earnestness, mixed with just the right amount of bittersweet blush, but few are able to touch the nerve without coming off maudlin and cheap. That’s where EZTV succeed where others crumble.

Personally the band’s lyrical battle – longing for space, while struggling to stay in the city – hits home pretty hard, and I’m well versed in the push/pull on a person’s priorities that can evolve into. I lost the battle and bolted for trees but its good to know that EZTV are out there fighting the good fight against rent, cultural erosion and the strip-malling of NYC. Their home turf afforded a few drop-ins from compatriots in Real Estate and Quilt, plus labelmates Nic Hessler and Chris Cohen and even indie queen/tour partner Jenny Lewis herself on the tracks of High In Place. In telling form, though, no song ever sounds like a platform for their guests, EZTV just add the others’ brush strokes into their canvas of honeyed harmonies, sunset strums and weary words. The album feels like a classic before its even hit the runnout, which is a feat these days. Album-oriented rock may be on the decline but there are still a few who know how to knock a collection together. My advice is to settle in for the long haul and let EZTV act as a salve for the day, week, or month that’s got you down.

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Ultimate Painting

Three albums in Ultimate Painting have proved that they are not a band who burnt their wick in the short term. Refining their melted horizon vibes over the last two albums, they come fully into their own on Dusk. James Hoare has always been a secret weapon in Veronica Falls’ roster, with a beyond-his-years aesthetic that’s given pathos to his own songs and seen him pair up recently with luminaries like Pete Astor (The Loft, Weather Prophets). Now, along with Jack Cooper, he’s creating a bummer vibe that’s picking up pieces of The La’s, Dios (tell me that “Song For Brian Jones” doesn’t have a bit of “You Got Me All Wrong” in its bones and I’ll call you a liar), The Free Design and Heatmiser. Where they earned their VU fan club card on the first album and traded it in for a Teenage Fanclub badge on the second, they’ve come fully into their own on the third, synthesizing their love of pop both contemporary and on the dour side of the ’60s cannon this time ’round.

They’ve found a bittersweet comfort in pop’s arms, never showy, never overplaying their hand. There are scads of indie bands that will fill you full of bright strum, jangled choruses and twee notions but what’s great about Ultimate Painting’s realization of character is that they know they’re not a bolt of sunshine and they couldn’t care less about your reaction to their vibe. James and Jack have created a constant comedown, a space of perfect sighed bliss and reticence. I’ve been waiting for the band to find this balance, this refinement, and on Dusk they become the band they’ve always threatened to be. They’ve longed to be your resigned exhale into the cold air, the musical equivalent of frosted breath on a November morning, curling ever into the ether. They’ve left in the imperfection of tape hiss, giving the album a feeling of confessional beauty, frayed, but at the same time obviously pored over with a meticulous comb and ordered by two songwriters who have spent years finding their voice. This is the best that Ultimate Painting have presented and its one of the most autumnal records to slide out this year, fully formed and hugging the listener like a friendly shoulder.

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Suzuki Junzo

What’s been lacking from my 2016 is in fact a healthy dose of Japanese psych. And maybe that’s my fault, take your eye off the ball and it’ll slip right through your fingers. So to help heal the wounds Wisconsin’s Utech records comes to save the day with a vinyl issue of an overlooked tape cut last year by Japanese psych-blues savant Suzuki Junzo. The album stretches out from Junzo’s more typical space-boogie bag and hits hard into the outre realms with plenty of noise and clatter and guitar meltdown. Its Junzo transported to another plane of existence and madly tying to translate what he sees into a form of communication that can be digested by us terrestrials. Junzo’s not alone in this journey either, this time he’s taken along fellow psychic traveler and legend in his own right Kuro Takahashi of LSD March, Fushitsusha and High Rise.

The pair bashes in with little regard for self-preservation on the opener, which bears the winner for psychedelic song title of the year, “Crossing the Valley of the Cosmic Death Demons,” then tumbles further off the plane for a battle royale of strings and percussion against an unseen enemy on “Les Visiteurs Du Soir.” The new issue of If I Die Before I Wake adds in some slashing new material that wasn’t on the original tape, in the form of a bonus new track and a second with a double shot of live material. The record’s not for the faint of heart or sensitive of ear, but its just what the year needed, placing it up in the ranks of noise with the great overlooked RSD gem AcidGuruPond from earlier this year.



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