Browsing Category New Albums

Natural Child

There’s plenty of mining the classic rock quary’s these days. Everyone with enough bandwidth and time can adopt an expertise in most bands’ catalogs in a matter of days, but it takes a true love of form to really shine. For the past several years Natural Child have found their personal nexus in a mix of country strung rock and ’70s smooth players. Think the crossroads of The Dead, The Allman’s and JJ Cale and you’re getting into the right territory, pop some Byrds in their Graham Parsons phase into the mix, but subtract a touch of twang and you’re getting there. They explode out of that box though with their own additions of psych melt and some real groove-ridin’ swagger that feels wholly their own. They’ve come far with Okey Dokey, and despite what might be one of their worst cover images to date (this is in light of the fact that they have an album that’s simply an ass by the way) this stands as their most mature and serious feeling album to date.

The band always mixed the smooth delivery with a bit of winky humor, calling to mind late ’90s stalwarts The Tyde (who are back this year, hey Tyde) but now they seem to stow a few of the winks for a dichotomy that blends their tequila sunrise sounds with lyrics that feel paranoid, anxious and well, okay still a little flecked with levity to be honest, but that levity seems to be masking their unease. Its as if they’ve written music to act as the salve to their own jitters – a salve built on the soothing sounds of lightly marbled guitar and a shuffle of drum n’ groove. They do stray from their smoothe palette from time to time. On the title track and “It’s A Shame My Store Isn’t Open” the psychedelics seem to get the better of them and that “ease on down the road feeling” goes a bit sour, with the paranoia winning out handily. For the most part though, Natural Child will help you get through with a cracked smile and a drink in hand. They know that life’s blues are bearable, but not always wearable.

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Miss Destiny

Garage-punk and the leather-throated revial seem to have come and gone in the favor of the musical press junkies lately. Guitars being yesterdays toys, there’s marginal interest for sweat-wrung rock that evokes, while not necessarily photocopying, the mile-high heroes of a ’70s heyday. However, booming out of Melbourne, Miss Destiny have built up a reputation for tough-knuckled proto-punk that finds them lodged in a time when metal got thicker skin and faster tempos. They’re rocking like they couldn’t give a damn about tomorrow and finding a welcomed place on the shelf next to female-fronted pummelers from Heavy Cream and Vexx. The band, lead by ex-Circle Pit member Harriett Hudson, hold up Kiss and Danzig as their touchstones but their sound ends up falling right in the middle of that axis; harder hitting than the former and less self-serious than the latter.

They sound like they’re having fun with rock’s swagger. They evoke the kind of performances that might require learning how to lasso twirl a microphone and catch it fast before the next verse. They seep vibes of leather and whiskey, finding good company in Motörhead, Budgie and Girlschool as well. They even pull from a bit younger well of punk followers and forefathers. I’d swear there’s a touch of Bad Religion popping up on “Lucky Ones.” But enough name dropping, the band hold their own with amps on fire and strings ringing in your ears. Its easy to write off a band playing up the “rock band” aesthetics in maximalist fashion, but to be able to pull off such well-worn territory and make it not only feel like a lost totem of the past but fresh and vital in 2016 is a feat in its own right. The band make you want to buy a guitar and light the world on fire.



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Forma

On Forma’s third album they’ve expanded their scope to embrace a looser approach through improvisation, though they don’t dive into the idea lightly. Physicalist is constructed in two halves, the first follows their setup of vintage synths and Terry Riley/Faust vibes with occasional flecks of Cluster strewn about the synthscape. The second, plunges the band into a broader vision populated with flute, acoustic instrumentation (a first for the band) and elements of free jazz. Since the LP version is setup as a double LP, essentially they act as companion records with each focusing on a different scope, tied together by the idea of repetition and improvisation with an emotional arc fusing the halves through what feels like a cycle of self-discovery.

The first side is bound by their usual setup, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t taken a few steps forward. Barring the more techno oriented Cool Haptics EP, the band worked in groove oriented Kosmiche on both their eponymous LP and its follow-up Off/On and both of those releases feel much more tightly wound than anything on this side of Physicalist. From the cover art by influential psych designer Robert Beatty, to the double LP sprawl, everything here seems oriented to be more expansive, more attuned to the informative qualities of electronic float. The band works through tension and turbulence on this first portion, slowly unhinging its hold on reality.

The second side takes the notion of the infinite and lets it free. There’s a distinct progression along the first half towards looser and looser ends and they continue the unraveling on the second half to great effect, each track seems less and less tied to the idea of rhythm. They work this system right up until the title track, which bursts out of the second half in a vibrant and celebratory blast. Its still built into their well of synth, but adds a layer of pop that the band hasn’t really embraced. Its as if the tension and serenity of the preceding tracks melt into the background for the band to break free into a hedonist dance, leaving the academia of the album behind. Then, as a sobering up of sorts, the final improvisation rises like the sun over the tresses of the bridge line along the river, a knowing sign that tomorrow’s here and that a sobering reality awaits. Though, for the moment, that track hits like the halting bliss of a night well lived, the calm before the comedown. Its a great step forward for the band and one that knocks them out of any danger of being accused of stasis. They’ve built an well-oiled arc that uses the album format in a way that fewer and fewer seem to relish these days.




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Grumbling Fur

On their fourth album the duo of Alexander Tucker and Daniel O’Sullivan reach for their most accessible works yet, though true to their style, they do it by utilizing abstract means and experimental textures that come together catchy on the whole. Blending circular rhythms, bowed strings, eastern instruments, and dense atmospheres, they take an ostensibly drone driven palette and work together songs that seem simple but unfold into loose and winding synth pop gems that could easily double as Eastern psych-pop if you strip away the vocals. Those vocal are an integral part of their aesthetic though. Both Tucker and O’Sullivan deliver in somber tones that convey a sadness that oftentimes mask the songs’ more uplifting lyrics.

The duo rope in some good company to bring the assist on Furfour, This Heat’s Charles Bullen and Isobel Sollenberger from Bardo Pond both join the band on a few tracks, adding their shading to the mix, which shares much in common with Arthur Russell or Depeche Mode gone far more experimental in their instrumental efforts. The textures, layers and rainy day demeanor seem perfect for those who’ve sought to hide away behind heavy curtains and in darkened corners of the house. For every lighthearted moment like “Acid Ali Khan,” there’s two more that up the tension. Most notably this peaks on album standout “Suneaters,” a pounding track with ominous vibes that closes out the album on an air of dread. They find similar moments of menace on “Silent Plans/Black Egg” and weave spoken word bits that lean to the sci-fi and spiritual, adding a bent of countercultural occult to the album. Furfour elevates itself above mere synthpop and into an album of balanced light and dark, heavy and frothy, catchy and abstract. Its the band doing what they do best, polishing it to a high gloss sheen that’s bittersweet and comforting in its embrace.




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Lorelle Meets The Obsolete

Long due for greater acclaim, it seems that Mexican duo Lorelle Meets The Obsolete are finally finding a few more heads to dive into their shadow pop universe. On Balance they achieve just that, a more even keel between their love of heavy atmospherics mixed with gauzy blasts of noise and the dream pop core that finds singer Lorena Quintanilla soaring above the din with a clarity she’s rarely found on previous albums. Where in the past they’ve taken the My Bloody Valentine approach to noise first and transparency second, now the duo have pursued a way to let the listener into their world, and find a bit more to chew on lyrically than they had previously. The effect doesn’t loosen their hold on noise-pop as a weapon of bracing tension. They still know how to blow the hair back off the skull when needed, but now its nice to trace the finer details of some of their songs and listen to Quintanilla shine in her role as an essential draw to the band’s sound.

The record brings on a handful of technical assistance that’s no slouch these days, Cooper Crain (Cave, Bitchin’ Bajas) mixed the record and his drone driven touch isn’t lost on the outcome. Everybody’s go-to mastering engineer, Mikey Young, put his touch on the finer points and I’ve never let Mikey steer me wrong, though any reader of RSTB should be far more than familiar with my love of LMTO by now. The album’s real strong point comes in embracing the musicianship and craft under the bombast of amp scorched shoegaze, Krautrock locked rhythm burn or psychedelic melt. They rope in newer elements; post-punk keys, delicate atmospheres, hell even strums seem to poke their way through the haze on “Waves Over Shadows”. The band still doesn’t embrace what I’d call a hook, and I mean that in a very complimentary way. Its not their place to work an earworm into your head, its their place to infect your very being and radiate from the inside out like a third-degree sunburn. They’ve softened the focus for those who can’t fully delve into the dosed and diced side of the spectrum, but they’re secretly softening those listeners up for full on soul-melt down the line. It’s truly the band finding a balance and showing that they’ve got more to offer than just sonic assault.




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Pye Corner Audio

Lately the syth soundtrack has become a pretty commonplace boilerplate for an album; with the creeping influence of John Carter and Vangelis reaching their icy fingers out to the masses. While S U R V I V E might be getting the lion’s share of attention lately, there are plenty of others who’ve been winding their way down the darkened alleyways that Carter and co. built by hand (see: Umberto, Steve Moore, Ensemble Economique). Martin Jenkins has been in the game longer than quite a few and Stasis acts as a sequel of sorts to 2012’s LP Sleep Games, which was also well steeped in Italian horror movie tropes and the creeping dread of their American counterparts.

The album builds, as any score might, from ambient nods to a driving center. Jenkins wastes little time jumping into the abyss of stressful strains, ramping up the fight or flight instincts by the time he hits third track, ‘Autonomization.” Its not entirely panic packed, but even when Jenkins takes it easy on the arpeggios he’s creating an atmosphere that’s less easy rollin’ than eye-of-the-hurricane calm before the second wave hits. I tend to find his hazier entries more intriguing than some of the pounding pulse runners and it would be interesting to see him flesh these moments out to a full album in their own right, though he did explore a bit of delicate territory on his split with Dalhous, Run For The Shadows. In a game that’s becoming increasingly crowded and almost bewilderingly so (how many Italo-horror fans are out there buying vintage synths), Pye Corner Audio still stands as a name others have to watch for cues on how to run the imaginary soundtrack right. There’s often little fumble on any Ghost Box associated project and Stasis is no exception. Jenkins nails the dark ambience, pinpoint tension and vintage feel that makes this genre still worth delving into.



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Allah-Las

Allah-Las enter a new phase that’s leaving a bit of the bright jangled swagger behind in favor of a more reticent and melancholy mood. Calico Review sees the band temper their sun-soaked views, a hallmark of their catalog, and dive down a shadier path of ’60s-indebted trappings. They’ve always had just a twinge of sadness under their skin, but its usually balanced by a bouncier beat, a tangle of jangles and a sunny chorus. On their third album the band tends to embrace those sighs that were always eking out of their previous albums. Maybe you truly know that that clouds have gathered when a track called “High & Dry” is followed immediately by another called “Mausoleum.”

Despite its grey-skied mentality the record comes off as one of the band’s most enjoyable. The more introspective tone has been augmented with a wider musical palette, stepping away from the simple guitar combo to rope in mellotron, violin and harpsichord; reaching for that ’60s bittersweetness that befitted The Pretty Things on their slide into depression via rock opera on S.F. Sorrow or later period Zombies. Truthfully, the band had to take a turn, three albums of sun and strum can only feel like you’ve trucked into a rut. So its good to see them bumming in the sun and finding a use for rainy beach days. The year could use a good bit of sad swagger and I’m glad that The Allah-Lahs are here to provide. The album also comes with a move to Mexican Summer, expanding the label’s catalog of stalwart indie names.

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Ryley Walker

Emerging from the accolades of a beloved album is no easy feat. Walker’s previous album Primrose Green nailed the stylistic marks of the wave that crested out of the ’60’s folk boom and into the jazz inflections and more experimental lengths that would fleck landmarks like Astral Weeks, Goodbye and Hello or Roy Harper’s Flat, Baroque and Berserk. So where do you go from there? Walker follows his Tim Buckley muse down the line and reaches for the more sprawling and ambling shores of Blue Afternoon. He pines for the expansive reach of Gene Clark’s No Other. One would think maybe he was pushing for Harper’s Stormcock too, with talks of the suited record he originally envisioned. In that regard, he pushes the track lengths here past the scope of typical pop.

Occasionally this works and Walker winds up untethered and spinning into a kind of poetic grace. Other times he’s letting himself stretch a bit longer than the song calls for, allowing some live instincts to drape onto the studio for a track that feels like the session was likely fun that day, with precision players feeling their way to a resolution, but at the expense of the listener’s attention (see: “Sullen Mind”). But when he’s on, he’s on and that’s more often than not. Walker allows his indulgences, as did plenty of those tumbling out of the ’60s and into a more progressive ’70s, but his troubadour’s soul saves him from an experimenter’s curiosity.

It’s taken me a little while to let this one settle because its been too damn hot to even let it into my consciousness. Golden Sings That Have Been Sung is an autumnal record for sure. Its the kind of record that’s comfortable with its collar braced against the wind. Some records are, quite frankly, whiskey records and this is one of them. Its not an all night bender, mind you, its the kind of record that finds the sweet harmony between the joy of day drinking in good company and that warm ball of contended sadness that forms about four or five drinks in. Maybe that’s why it meanders a bit, in that state everything seems like a better story and there’s a tendency to become a bit maudlin; to ponder mistakes and religion and fate. The record stretches out and wraps its arms around the listener like a bar buddy it’s never known sober and one whom it hopes will listen to its woes a little while and nod sympathetically. There’s a charm to that kind of person and in turn that kind of record. Walker’s an accomplished musician and Golden Sings showcases his ambition, even when it gets the better of him.




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Ausmuteants

Ausmuteants third record of mind-flayed punk finds the band just as bracing as they’ve always been, tearing through blistered tempos, mutant squalls and the same blend of new wave weirdness and tenacious bite that’s borne them into RSTB’s hearts time and again. There are plenty who seek to pick up the yoke that was once held high by a nascent DEVO and chewed like glass in the mouths of Chrome, The Screamers or Magazine, but Ausmuteants have rightfully nailed the squirming eye of sci-fi infected punk. Practically every inch of Ausmuteants sounds like its inhabiting the world of Otto Maddox from Repo Man, Crabs from Dead End Drive-in or Rebeca Buck in Tank Girl. They’ve got the pent-up fury and the punch to the throat that gets things started, but what Ausmuteants have really going for them is that syth strain of sci-fi flash that feels like they’d have understood the weirdness and rolled with it.

The band smoothed a bit for Order of Operation but they seem to have gotten their blood boiling again on Band of the Future. The angles are sharper, the synths squirm at the touch and vocalist Jake Robertson is lyrically eviscerating any subject he chooses to lay into. Sure there are some that might scoff at the title Band of the Future, given that the ’70s influences that drive them are so open and apparent. But here’s the thing, when bands like Devo or The Screamers or Chrome brought their apocalyptic punk to the masses, there was genuine worry for a nuclear winter. There was a very real threat of wasteland politics on the rise. I’m not so certain the music of the future isn’t still rooted in this kind of fanged blast of charged punk, ready to bolster unhinged courage in the face of societal breakdown. Seems like there’s an air of apocalypse gathering in the public consciousness once again. If we’re getting closer to that Thunderdome each year, there’s not much else I want blasting from the speakers of my own scrapyard conveyance than a bit of Ausmuteants.



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Mozes and the Firstborn

Tightening up their focus from their eponymous debut, Dutch band Mozes and the Firstborn mine a wealth of alternative rock and ’90s/’00s power pop on Great Pile of Nothing. Produced by the band’s drummer, Raven Aartsen, they’ve nailed the hi-fi hum and grunge flecks that dominated the airwaves, teen movies and mall speakers in the ’90s, but they’ve taken the lyrics on a more introspective bent this time around. In that respect they take a nice chunk from the Fountains of Wayne/Matthew Sweet camp. Its a sweet and frothy album on surface inspection but its crawling with anxiety, depression and self-doubt under the skin. The band knows that a song depicting the housebound lifestyle of an obsessive-compulsive goes down sweeter with a chunky guitar riff, that a tale of cringing self-sabotage needs a hundred foot hook and that there’s nothing wrong with embracing the bittersweet.

The production and songwriting are certainly more consistent on Great Pile of Nothing, its more about building an album through subtleties, which means there seem to be a few less obvious standout earworms this time around aside from the kicker of a title track. But while they often fall into a flatter tone, they buoy the album back with the winsome emotion and enough pop shading to make this one the kind of comedown album that’s welcome on the right kind of rainy day. Great Pile of Nothing winds up less of a world shaker than a friend to lean on, its introspective nature shifts it more towards a comforting blanket adorned in brightly colored patterns. But that’s no slight, there’s a market for comfort. Everyone needs a bit of sympathy these days.




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