Browsing Category New Albums

Kevin Morby

It wasn’t a huge surprise when Kevin Morby made the move to Dead Oceans. He was due for a wider stage. His last album, Still Life was a leap forward from his debut both in musical depth and lyrical intensity and he doubles down on those qualities for Singing Saw. The album explores an even darker vein from Still Life, delving through explorations of life’s brief tenure. The biggest change, musically, comes from a new reliance on piano as a centerpiece. Before, Morby’s ballads were charged by his guitar and lonesome troubadour delivery, but the influence of Sam Cohen’s production brings the instrument into the forefront while also filling out Morby’s world with a gorgeous array of strings and brass, keys and percussion.

The album has a gravitas that places it on a shelf above Morby’s past work, solo or with The Babies. Its restless and strangely world weary for a person so young, but maybe that’s just an old soul peeking out through Morby’s songs. It feels like a soundtrack to a movie with little dialog and long pensive shots that carry menace in their bones; eyes in the rearview, deserted gas stations and looming mountains that never seem to get closer. The lyrical arcs evolve like the light coming over that stretched horizon. “Cut Me Down” is calm and even, but lyrically it seems like such a foreboding entry point, steeped in sadness and resolution, all qualities that continues on through “I Have Been To The Mountain” and “Singing Saw,” right up until “Drunk On A Star” sighs and lets some of the edge falter. By the closing strains of “Water,” somehow the dawn’s crept in and everything feels like it will be all right, even if deep down those feelings of bleak doubt remain. A gorgeous statement by Morby and a true 2016 highlight.



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Pony Time

Pony Time are creating a pretty danceable racket with just bass and drums, knocking the garage-pop formula askew and finding their solace in a quick wit that’s underscored by chunky as hell hooks. The Seattle duo has kicked out four releases since 2011 and they’re only now finding a true stride with Rumours 2: The Rumours Are True. The band called out Wounded Lion, which caught my eye and its a damn fine point of reference for the their half cocked smile and thick low-end celebrating fare. There’s a toasted ember element in the grumble and rumble of Rumours that comes off as duct tape biker glam, feeling like a band reaching for the bright lights with what they have on hand. I’ve always loved a non-trad lineup and though the bass n’ drums combo has been around plenty (DFA 1979, COCO, Lightning Bolt) that fat bass sound combined with Luke Beetham’s yelp lets Pony Time keep the tradition alive without immediately pegging them into a hole dug by others traveling down similar aesthetic paths. The band brings the party and not a whiff of self-seriousness and that’s the charm of Rumours 2 they’re just hanging out like the Spuds McKenzie of garage you were always looking for.




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Woods

Phew, are Woods already on their ninth album? Did I read that right? Its a little hard to believe, but back when this site began a few downloaded tracks and a CD from the old Fusetron Sound distro opened up the world of Woods to me and it hardly seemed like those sketches of guitar would wind up as the contender that the band is today. On City Sun Eater Eater In The River of Light the band take their second trip to a studio that’s not a portion of their house and in turn their sound expands in both scope and execution. They’ve shaved down the ecstatic freakout portion of their attack, perhaps relegating it to the stage versions of these songs, but they’ve embraced a whole cadre of elements not seen creeping up before.

There are shades of African funk and jazz, but not to worry they don’t take any sanctimonious mid-aughts or Graceland approaches to it, the sounds just fold in adding ominous layers to the band’s psychedelic folk. There are also stabs of horns that whisper of cantina nights, hazy and menacing and filling out their sound nicely. That menace is an element that seems to color this record differently than any of Woods’ albums past. There are still plenty of moments that yoke in the sun, but there are an equal if not greater number that let in the dark, feeling a chilly pessimism resonate in Jeremy Earl’s lyrics and adding a gravitas and grounding that feels like an omen of these strange times. As these elements coalesce, what surfaces is Woods’ heaviest and most resonant album yet. Its an album that digests anxiety, uncertainty and acceptance in ways we’ll all need to learn to get through tomorrow.




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Marc Kate

The crux of Marc Kate’s Despairer is, not so surprisingly, despair. His self-proclaimed “Ambient Materialism” structures fill the air around the listener but never blend into the woodwork, never seep into the pavement. They suck the air out of the room and replace it with their sullen moods – derived from the negativeness that Kate finds in his surrounding SF home, drawing on the materialism, greed and hollow nature of the tech industry. The tones are shimmering, but possibly only from the stream of tears that they evoke. Much in the same vein as Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Tim Hecker or Lawrence English (who jumps in on mastering duties here), the weight of Kate’s creations is shouldered on sustained tones and crackled ozone drones that hit the listener squarely in solar plexus, and for Kate even more so, in the lump in the back of one’s throat. Strapping into his world is to be thrown headlong into the chasm of sadness and face it down like a physical torment.

All of this possibly sounds like an unenviable listen, but not so. Filling the room with manifests of regret, remorse and lament acts like a soul scrub. After the glittering crush of Kate’s tones washes over, exiting the other side feels like a new day. The pressure and ache are lifted and everything seems just a touch rosier when the air’s let back in the room. It’s hardly felt this good to feel so bad.




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CFM

Its a little hard to divorce Charles Mootheart’s work from that of his longtime collaborator and often bandmate Ty Segall. There are a lot of the same influences, styles and obsessions at work in both men’s work and such close collaboration naturally brings up a few comparisons. CFM’s sound seems to be springing from a well of garage, psych and thick billows of 70’s glam stomped classic rock fodder. So yeah, check boxes all around as far as crossover appeal, but if the guitar strap fits, fuck it. The sound’s thick cut and meaty and it’s sometimes hard to believe that this was laid down on 1/4 inch tape, it feels like a much bigger studio record and it’s impressive what Mootheart’s done left to his own devices.

Though he’s been a member of Epsilons, Fuzz, The Moonhearts and Ty’s band for some years, there hasn’t really been a front and center avenue for Mootheart’s work until this solo LP. He’s definitely playing in the same leagues as Chad Ubovich, Kyle Thomas and the rest of the crew of pop miscreants that orbit the L.A. hub of creation that’s now making up the bulk of weirdo garage-psych these days. Its not a broken mold that’s at play here but Mootheart knows what to do with the form he’s working in and the record’s got some pretty shiny moments amongst its crust of amplifier fuzz.




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Bleached

By now you should need very little reason to queue up to listen to Bleached, but Welcome the Worms is certainly another strong argument in their favor. Doubling down on the pop aspects of Ride The Heart, the band teamed up with producer/engineer Joe Chiccarelli to take their sound from big to huge. The songs on WtW are stung with post-relationship crumble, the beautiful chaos of youth and a welcome kind of self-assured bravado that knows that sometimes everything can be solved with the ozone crunch of guitars and a hook that snags hard and twists deep. In a way there’s a part of me that laments the state of modern radio here, because its a damn shame that “Sour Candy” will never get to be the kind of ubiquitous pop hit it deserves to be. Its one of the strongest moments on an album full of strong moments and has that feeling of endless summer in its veins mixed with a pang of ennui for every night that passes.

The tone of WtW is shifted to a heavier place, not only emotionally but musically. There was still an element that could be construed as girl group or surf in Ride The Heart, but here they’ve embraced the heart of punk-pop and deepened their roots in a 70’s and 80’s radio ready sheen that explodes these songs across the panorama of your speakers. A love letter to their city of Los Angeles, the album is crammed with photo booth vignettes that wiz by in a blur but leave their mark on you much longer than the needle runs the groove. They’ve wiped clear any doubts that Bleached aren’t sitting at the adult table, even if they’re still telling a few YA tales.



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Like Rats

So normally my tastes in metal run more to those that have a bit of love for the complex; space rock flecks, doom breakdowns or proggish undertones, but there’s something to be said for sure for an all out brutal assault on the senses. Like Rats pulls from hardcore and black metal in equal cupfuls and while the vocals gargle gravel with the angriest of tormented souls, the aural barrage underneath is a taut and unrelenting in its attack. Its absolutely impossible not to feel beaten and bruised after one listen through II and from that beating springs catharsis. I’m a sucker for an album with cover art that perfectly encapsulates the feelings of the album it drapes and, here, the creeping mountain fog of II is an all too ominous nod to the overwhelming doom and despair that underpins tracks like “Gates” and “Grief Incarnate.” That sense of dread hits right at home here and elevates this album from the amassed pack of black metal growlers. By the closing strains of II there’s a physical toll on the body and mind and if that isn’t the sign of a great album, I can’t think of what is.




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Gnod

Gnod have been increasingly harder to pin down over the years, wandering from rhythmic psych to desolate dub excursions and landing on the minimal electronic scrawl of last year’s Infinity Machines. So where does that leave them next? The clearest through line in all their work is an ever encroaching darkness and on Mirror that darkness is front and center. Packing in a lot more instrumentation than Infinity Machines this album finds solace in the strung wire post-punk drawn in black and grey shades that made Swans and PiL and Throbbing Gristle household names (depending on your household I guess). The album deals with mental illness and the increasing impact the presence of social media has in fostering schisms in personality and ego. Its a claustrophobic, anxious barrage that creeps as close as it can to the cliff without plummeting.

The album packs its oil caked pummel into just three tracks but each of those three build to an increasingly desperate plateau. By the closing track’s 18+ minute mind scratch, its hard not to spend the rest of the day wrestling with anxiety, feeling the walls close in and praying for rain. This is certainly about the bleakest set I’ve heard from Gnod, but there’s something comforting in its clangorous gnash. It feels like fighting, like pushing against the walls that have been imposed by unseen hands and in that regard Gnod have created a bit of a hopeful album as well.




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Black Mountain

The thing I love about Black Mountain is that they go all in. They aren’t doing prog by half measures, name checking King Crimson or Can because it ticks some boxes off of their diverse influences card. No they’re full on Tarkus-ing. They’re pulling Pink Floyd synths out of their teenage memories and updating the notion of grandiose for a new age. They’re finding the Lost Chord, breaking through Wakeman’s Fragile territory and going for it like they couldn’t give a shit if you notice their Tull shirts showing. If punk was the buck reaction to prog, then what’s more punk than going full prog in 2016? Thing is this isn’t just a rehash. Its not a nostalgia album proper. Black Mountain have all these influences searing through their veins and they come pouring out through every inch of IV but the take feels fresh. They make prog mammoth again, crushing and awe-inducing in a way that should make you feel a fool for ever passing up all those Hammond-laden brothers in arms in the first place.

Its hard to believe that its been well over a decade since they dropped their eponymous debut, and even harder to realize its been six years since they had a proper full length. But just hearing the McBean / Webber combo back on the speakers makes me realize how long its really been and how big a hole there’s been in rock since they left. The album boasts production from Randall Dunn (Sunn o)), Wolves In The Throne Room) and has the balls to open with a eight plus minute epic that’s only the first taste of how towering this album gets. Six years is a long time but build up expectations, but IV smashes through them with ease.




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Mind Spiders

Mark Ryan’s made plenty a name for himself with his work in Marked Man but as the years wear on he’s building an equal reputation for Mind Spiders. Running on an engine of sneering and searing new wave, propulsive with an evil glint in its eyes, Mind Spiders sit well in company with the twitchy latter day hijinks of Hierophants and Andy Human. Its nice to see the garage boys grabbing keys and chewing tinfoil until the riffs bleed and in the case of Mind Spiders they tend to bleed a disturbing blue-green that hints at something plenty sinister below the surface. The sci-fi vibes run rampant and that’s the way some of the best new wave and post-punk should work, I love a band that gets nerdy for nerdy’s sake while keeping it catchy. There are only eight tracks here but the band leaves you breathless by the time the last track clicks to a close. Its been a good run indeed up to where they stand today but Prosthesis is the strongest set yet from the Spiders.




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