Browsing Category New Albums

Swimming In Bengal

Sacramento psych outfit Swimming in Bengal conjure up some heavy Sun City Girls vibes, while delving into the heart of Eastern psych on their latest album for Lugubrious Audio / Baggage Claim. The record wraps carpets of drone around improvisations built for sax, flute, harmonium, gourd guitar, and scattered shards of percussive debris. Its easy to play at creating psych that wanders into the exotic, try on a few fancy hats and pretend that non-Western music carries the only chords that “speak to you,” but SIB seem to have spent a bit more time laying into the meat that supports carrying the mantle here.

Multi-instrumentalist Tony Passarell worked with Danish-Congolese saxophonist and composer John Tchicai, and has gone on to build a unit of players that admirably blend the drive of European free-jazz, South Asian traditional tones, drone and good ole flame roasted psych. Garden of Idle Hands builds as an album, first and foremost, each track a cracked cobble stone in its craggy and crusted structure. The band has a way of imparting a worn feeling of age, timeless and turbulent to their work and as such there are few moments in the record that feel like the were laid to tape in 2016. They dart through worn street tapes picked up at adhoc Indian markets, ’60s jazz flare ups and subsequent ’70s jazz infatuations with stronger connections to non-American sounds. While it may sound on paper that the band is reaching to too many corners simultaneously, in the headphones is sounds like they may have struck just the right balance.


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J. William Parker

Japan’s Guruguru Brain have steadily built themselves up as a well of great new psychedelia from the Pacific Rim. Their latest pickup is Hanoi’s J. William Parker, a man with no reputation and little press to his name. They found him from a fully formed demo that’s been forged pretty much unchanged into Shadowmen. What he lacks in fanfare though, Parker makes up for in home-recorded psych-folk spirit. The record is flecked with the hallmarks of loner folk’s high halls, shades of Jansch, Drake, Spence, Ted Lucas and Masaki Batoh; but he moves further into the dark halls of shut-in territory on his spectral instrumentals that bounce around like faded memories throughout the album.

When he eases back the cardboard boom mic reverberations though he gets some crisp sounds, that if not necessarily on par with his ’70s influences as far as clarity, have a great deal of the same mournful romanticism that’s endeared the loner soul to audiences for years. When he truly goes for the psych-out, Parker finds himself on comfortable footing, as on “The Stranger,” a highlight that pushes his frantic energy well past the limits of his modest setup. On Shadowmen Parker may just be getting started and the studio may find him some welcome comfort and new experimental fortitude as he progresses. Or, this may be one of those one-off gems that endures because it acts as encapsulation of a time and place, rescued from the bins like white label pressings plucked from obscurity in the past couple of years. Either way, its an oddly comforting find that lends its credence to the kind of ears that run the game over at Guruguru Brain for sure.


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Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement

Dominick Fernow (Prurient/Vatican Shadow) lives in a world that’s ostensibly clouded by darkness and thatched with shades of bleak hopelessness. In his most coiled character, Rainforest Spiritual Enslavelment, he’s also perhaps at his minimalist best. Under this moniker he works completely instrumental, opening Green Graves with a set piece of jungle rain that creeps into the animalistic slink of the album’s mindset. Further into the shadowed underbrush, Fernow keeps things calm and collected on the surface, but winds its springs tight with a sense of unease bubbling just under the veneer of each of the album’s lengthy tracks. A sense of dampness pervades the album, with rain filtering throughout several of the tracks and its easy to see that the Rainforest banner isn’t purely coincidental or ornamental.

This seems to be Fernow at his most cinematic, the jungle themes bringing to mind taught Vietnam war films and the knife edge tensions of Predator. He’s crafted a fight or flight world that, while it never escalates the fight, keeps it within expectations at all time. It would almost be too easy to just let this pot boil over and explode into the kind of chaos that’s certainly lurking in Fernow’s darkness, but he shows his masterful restraint by snaking the listener through danger and threatening to let blood at any moment. Fans of Fernow’s other work will certainly be pleased but there’s plenty to love here for fans of some more recent horror soundtracks. Its less flashy, but by no means less effective.



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Expo Seventy

There’s never really a bad time to have a new Expo ’70 album on deck (two actually as of this posting) but somehow Fall/Winter seem to lend themselves entirely to the thunderous creep of Justin Wright’s doom psych. America Here & Now Sessions captures the band as a rare four piece, adding an additional drummer whose presence amps up the churning sea of rhythm that ushers along both of these sidelong epics. Wright has long had a habit of improvising heady studio jams and these pieces, recorded as a part of a cross-country traveling dialogue about America through the arts, find the band lashing out into the howling void with the best of their releases. In turn they wind up summing up the ominous vibes of current Americana in fine fashion.

The first movement rolls over the land like a tornado on treads, spreading a seed of fear that’s mirrored in the stark and spectral second movement’s more Kosmiche approach. Where the first is chaos shot through a keyhole and smashing everything under its eighty tons of terror, the second movement is desolation, and stunned shock ramping up to a meltdown moment that’s packed with 50 megatons of amp toned torque. Every Expo release seems to find a new storm within Wright’s soul and America Here & Now is as ferocious and bracing as his best work. Essence has gone above and beyond in the packaging dept as well, aside from the normal color spectrum, there’s a super deluxe edition that comes in a woven silkscreened bag with prints feeling like super ‘luxe has been taken to a new level.




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The Staches

Building up a presence in their hometown of Geneva, Switzerland while also picking up quite a bit of steam on jaunts through the EU and US, The Staches have followed on a steady run of singles with a twitchy new album. Recorded in San Francisco by madman auteur Kelley Stoltz, the LP belts together a chugging, writhing brand of post-punk that puts them in nice company with recent releases from Hierophants, Mind Spiders or Ausmuteants. The band excels when they lean on the synths, taking their garage hybrid more towards the sci-fi synth-punk of the late ’70s and early ’80s and elevating them out of any connections to mere fuzz punks. I’ve long had a lean towards the queasy wash of unease played out through this strain of punk and The Staches are finding themselves thrown clean into the churning, slashing, crumpled heart of an anxious fury they battle with to the very end.

The record ropes in standout single “Total Commitment,” a song that jumped out of the crowd earlier in the year on Six Tonnes De Chair Records, and it remains a highlight on the full length as well. Along with “I Don’t Bother” and “Plastic,” the track anchors the second half of the record in a psych drenched echo that, unlike many of their peers, eschews Oh Sees territory to find its own sweaty groove. Placid Faces tumbled out to little fanfare, and late in the year, which is always a tough climb. It is proving to be a tightly wound gem though, and well worth the time on the turntable.

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E

The year’s not over yet, and there are still plenty of captivating releases slipping in around the edges well worth your time. E is the trio of Thalia Zedek (Come, Uzi, Live Skull), Jason Sanford (Neptune), and Gavin McCarthy (Karate), creating a cacophonous blast of dark shadowed sound that leans into industrial and post-rock for equal measures of inspiration. The band’s debut is littered with craggy outcroppings of guitar, punctured with the lock n’ pummel drumming and an driven by an overt sense of rhythm on their eponymous record. Zedek has long been a force for experimentation within her career and she brings the same willingness to obscure genre boundaries as the basis of E’s backbone.

Though, as expressed by the band themselves, this isn’t just Zedek’s project. McCarthy provides just as much vocal heft as she does here, taking on a frantic tone giving some explosive performances of his own. There isn’t a track that doesn’t speak to the band’s collaborative appraoach, feeding off of one another over the course of E‘s two sides. Still, its hard to ignore Zedek’s guitar work, equal parts crunched aluminum and fluid mercury, mechanical but never without a beating heart. Post-rock may be a dirty term these days to some, but there’s plenty of life to be found outside of the swaying choruses, verses and strums. E is proving that a cerebral approach still knows how to crush.




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The Pattern Forms

Tapping into the combined efforts of veteran Ghost Box artist Jon Brooks (The Advisory Circle) alongside Ed MacFarlane and Ed Gibson (both of Friendly Fires), The Pattern Forms is probably the most straightforward pop release that’s graced the halls of the label. Gibson and MacFarlane bring their background in synth-pop along for the ride and it certainly shuttles to the foreground in tracks like “Black Rain” and “Don’t Let Me Dream”, but the more interesting aspects of the project arise when Brooks takes a harder tack on the wheel musically, peppering in some of his abstract touches. The two parties apparently bonded over library releases from the ’70s and ’80s and when they begin to wander into the ’80s, in particular, they find a ground that emulates some of the dreamier film soundtracks of the time.

There’s a clear ripple of melancholy that runs through the whole album that emulates ’80s stalwarts like Tears for Fears or The Comsat Angels (see “I’m Falling”) but once the record tumbles into the more expansive second side, things begin to take a turn from merely leaning on synth-pop to molding it into something more ambitious. “Man and Machine” has the same bounce and pulse as much of the first half of the record, but the sound palette gives it a deeper mood and a stab at that odd otherness that perhaps the collaborators were looking for in their approach. Similarly the rest of the second side hits harder, “Fluchtwege” adds in some guitar and synths burbling with a sadness that recalls Air at their most melodramatic. It’s the kind of track that encapsulates sadness in a way that soft focus indie films revel in. In short, Peel Away the Iv feels like a great seed that will hopefully spring to further germination. The collaboration is certainly working, but they’re stronger when they find each other in their obsessions, rather than letting the needle sway too far toward a pop comfort zone.



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Ashtray Navigations

The last Ash Nav album, A Shimmering Replica, dove into the kind of shimmering waves and whirlpool psychedelia that fills out their latest, but never to these depths. To Make A Fool Ask, And You Are The First stands at the edge of the wormhole and contemplates the inevitable plunge. Phil Todd, here with his oftentime collaborator Mel O’Dubhshlaine, boils Kosmiche in a manner that suggests he’s got a direct line to the cosmic source, foaming and frothing his way through synth nodes hard pressed to contain the oddly pulsing gamma waves that radiate from within. The two tip the scales into churning absolution well before they make it to a twenty minute closer that evaporates everything it touches into the cold ether of night.

Its been a banner year for some deep space synth tinkering, but even heavies like Hauschildt are having a hard time keeping up with the sonic salve that Phil Todd lays down in excess over two thick sides of aural quiver. That side-long closer on side two is no small feat, by the way, “Spray Two” starts out on the same sonic flood plane that the rest of the album visits, before sprinkling in doses of piano improvisation to the mix, taking the cold isolation of space to a more contemplative place and melding jazz to cosmic synth skillfully. The album is certainly a highlight for Ashtray Navigations, and in a catalog that’s admirably ambitious, it stands to push Todd’s vision further than ever before.




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Dreamtime

After some great reissues of Dreamtime’s early records on Cardinal Fuzz / Captcha. The former label teams up with the ever growing catalog at Skylantern for the band’s latest release. The Brisbane psych purveyors dig deeper than ever into the abyss for their latest LP, pushing their murky, scorched-sky sound into a much wider arena. The band have had an itch for expansiveness before, but with this record they tend to stretch for epic in every direction. The sheer size of Strange Pleasures makes it a bit daunting, to be honest. The band have the chops, as one would hope, but to sit down and digest the album is a feat of strength. The average track is around six to seven minutes, often pushing past eight and upwards of eleven.

That’s not to say that the band uses their time frivolously, or that the length ever becomes a slog. Its indulgent, but they’re indulging for many of the right reasons. They weave in loads of heatsick guitar, traversing the aird terrain that haunts psych stalwarts like Barn Owl or Eternal Tapestry. They veer into some of the psych-wah fringe that filled out earlier visions of Sun Araw as well, though they aim for a bigger sound than any of those (which in Barn Owl’s case is saying something). They tackle many of the longer tracks on Strange Pleasures as if each might be the album closer, building to a storm of heat and rumble and hedonistic fury. They stray into the abstract on the distinctly liquid “Gamma Globulin” before ending things with a hip-slung amp blast that tumbles the tower to the ground. Its the band reaching for their most ambitious stabs, and way more often than not, landing them handily.




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Typhonian Highlife

Despite being a cornerstone of experimental synth and psychedelia, Spencer Clark is often overshadowed by his other half in seminal noise duo The Skaters. While James Ferraro’s rapid output often puts him the constant view of many hypnogogic collectors, Clark has quietly carved out a niche for himself that blends immersive synth, cult theories and several exotic locals, culminating in one of his best albums yet. Under the name Typhonian Highlife he’s built out three albums, with The World of Shells acting as a kind of completion and culmination of exploration that brought him to Sicilian Caves, Hanging Rock in Australia, H.R. Geiger’s castle and a massive aquatic environment to find inspiration.

The band name itself derives from The Typhonian Order, a late nineteenth / early twentieth century group obsessed with The Occult that included Aleister Crowley as a leader in its final phases. Clark marries this fascination with yet another pulled from stories of the Chitauri, an alien reptile race that controls humanity from the shadows (the kind that inspired lizard people, Illuminati types of conspiracy theories). But Clark doesn’t just dive into the tin foil hat theories of sub-Reddit’s backwaters; he jumps off of the stories of Credo Mutwa, Crowley and oddly the ’90s TV show Alien Nation to create his own pulsating world centered around demonic faces from his own dreams that he’s given the name Chitahoori.

Now all that backstory is all well and good, but how does it translate to sound? Quite incredibly, actually. With all the cult imagery in place, Clark then winds his way through a synthetic world that feels damp, cold and glowing of its own volition. While he may be focusing on the auras of demonic masks in its construction, on the receiving end it comes across as a soundtrack to the kinds of natural oddities that populate The Mariana Trench. The World of Shells is full of shadows darkened by deep set drone, fluttering syths set a alight by perfectly curated sampling and Clark’s own sense of wonder that’s transmitted in each and every note. Utilizing an E-Max II, a vintage ’90s sampling keyboard, he stacks sound on sound until there’s no room for the listener to escape. He scampers through his vast wasteland of damp damage until it culminates in the fifteen plus minute epic, “Oracle Of Egret” which bursts from the cold darkness into an arid environment, ostensibly cowering at the foot of massive gold alien idols that are given life through the echoing vocals of Nour Mobarak. Clark may not always inhabit the same casual conversations as Ferraro, but this album is a strong argument to correct that injustice.





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