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POW!

SF’s POW! pick up the yolk from a generation of sci-fi scanners and jitter-blasted synth punks crawling out of the debris of ’79. The band’s been bubbling under the surface like a boil for years now, but this is the most crystalized and cracked version of their Vaseline-vibed visions yet, conjuring up some real Howard Devoto/ Magazine heat this time around. There’s an uneasiness to Sift, the band’s fourth record for Castle Face, and the band uses that to their advantage, pushing listeners away from any notion of bliss with their infected slink. Aside from the veneer of menace though, the band gives some substance to their doom with sketches of cybernetic chaos and a future ravaged by reliance on mechanical artifice.

Sure, they’re not the first band to slide under the vinyl veil and deify the vile image of dystopian drama via mangled metal riffs and well-oiled synths, but for fans of the aforementioned Magazine, Simply Saucer, Tubeway Army, The Units, or Chrome the band is providing a wormhole from their weirdness to the present day. Byron Blum’s blast furnace of guitar and pitch-perfect vocal warble has this feeling like more than just mere homage. The band’s vomiting oil slick bile and wires all over the turntable like they’ve lived in the muck for years. In the past there was a scrappier sense of, low-fi fizz, but by whittling it away the band has finally arrived at the perfect balance of crisp angles, crushed glass and rampant nihilism that this genre requires to thrive.



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Nots

Memphis’ Nots slim from a quartet to a three piece for their third album, appropriately titled, 3 – the magic number this time around. Without the extra, added synth snarls of Alexandra Eastburn, the band digs into the gaunt, wiry workings of post-punk with a leaner attitude. The record is fraut and fighting for air in a field that’s already bloodied and battered. The guitars cut into the wrists with an abrasive ache, the drums hammer at the backs of the eyelids like ball peen bullets and singer/synther Natalie Hoffmann uses the single keys setup to disorient the listener with a laser load of wobbly sonics. Where once they’d build in pillowy pads behind their clipped catastrophics, now they’re pulling away any comfort that the listener might lean into to catch balance. The record is Nots at their most feral, vicious, and vital.

The band was always ripped to the razors, but this time there’s a particularly jagged edge to their sound, bolstered by the compact lineup and perhaps reflecting the collective raised hackles of a country on constant edge. Synth-punk can often jut in two different directions – towards the jocular, with a wink and a sneer or taking a darker drift towards panic-struck fever fuel, twitching through the hours with the kind of crumpled soul that’s never quite at rest. With 3 the band takes a decided turn towards the latter, gnawing their set to the marrow, sucking the air from their wounds, and locking themselves tight in a bunker of bone-dry riffs, and strychnine synths. The departure of their former bandmate may have left them reassessing their direction, but by pulling back the curtain on complexity they’ve managed to make their most affecting record yet. This is Nots without pity and I’m all in.



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Big Supermarket

If you’ve had an eye on Australia over the last year, then it would be difficult to ignore the lot of talent that’s been bubbling out of Hobbies Galore’s corner of the country. The label’s given us excellent records from Possible Humans, Alex McFarlane, Blank Realm, The Green Child, The Stroppies, and Blank Statements and they slipped this little gem out from Big Supermaket last year. The issue in the States has always been that Hobbies G’s works are hard to come by, so its always good news when someone like Tough Love gives a wider bullhorn to their bands (they’ve also issued Blank Statements and Stroppies records). Big Supermarket shares a great deal of aesthetics with their labelmates – employing the jangle vs. jitter of keys that The Stroppies prefer and the low-key charisma employed by MacFarlane on his own solo works.

The band’s an offshoot of Aussie stalwarts The Stevens, with songwriter Travis Macdonald taking the lead here. mumbling his way through the obfuscation and clawing at the haze of pop through a plastic bag. Worth noting that The Stevens also features MacFarlane (who runs Hobbies) so it’s all in the family here. There’s a more muffled charm to Big Supermarket than MacDonald’s previous haunts though, turning down the scrappy jangle for a more introverted wade into the lonely waters of downer pop. Compared to their compatriots they’re exploring a murkier muck at times, hiding their soapbox behind a soap-scummed shower curtain of bluster and noise. Big Supermarket’s drums lope and stumble, the keys lurch and the guitars scrape the dead skin secrets out of the back of the mind. There’s a discomfort that puts the band more in league with Total Control’s nihilistic scrape or Native Cats’ anxious anthems. If you missed this the first time around, then Tough Love’s giving you a second chance to creep into the bath, crank the transistor static and submerge for a listen to 1800.




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Dominique Guiot – L’Univers De La Mer

The crew over at WRWTFWW have always been true to their masthead, exploring any facet of the musical landscape that catches their fancy. Earlier this year they set sights on French prog and cosmic synth artist Dominique Guiot’s 1978 album L’Univers De La Mer. The album, inspired by undersea exploration, skews a bit from the wide-eyed wonder of Jaques Cousteau scores, adding a sense of danger to the mellotron’s quaver and a medieval bent to some of the more pastoral passages. The record employs minimoog, clavinet, guitar, and organ alongside the seaside call of the mellotron, and while the damp inspiration remains in tact, the styles change as Guiot sees fit – winding through space-odyssey jazz and dense prog to tracks.

Guiot’s vision comes close to that of Sven Liabek, whose undersea scores were a vanguard of the ‘70s. Again though,, as with Cousteau’s scores, Liabek was a bit less heavy on the throttle than Guiot. The sci-fi keys kick in giving the album a kinship with Eloy or Embryo at their heaviest. Its a beautifully engrossing gem of an album that’s worthy of rediscovery, given the limited nature of its original issue. Just as good for meditative bliss as it is for head-trip excursions to the inner most reaches of the soul. Highly recommend dimming the lights and letting this one float over the eyelids.



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Wayne Rogers

Outside of his work with Major Stars, Crystalized Movements and Magic Hour, Wayne Rogers has had a prolific run of records under his own name. These range from acoustic comedowns to toasted cone blues, psych burnouts, and downer rock wallows that feel particularly Northeastern in their approach to the Alt-rock ripple (think Fort Apache and Feeding Tube vibes). While the Stars will always overshadow these, to discount the Rogers’ solo records is to make a major misstep. The Air Below falls squarely into that East Coast downer detour I mentioned previously and comes swinging close to early inklings that Rogers laid down on Ego River and Seven Arms of the Sun, which were both later bound up in the easier to cop CD release Absent Sounds. There’s the same sundried scorch to the guitars with just a touch of wandering shuffle that melts into a jangled haze. The noise is still working its way around, but as a tool, rather than the focus here.

This is Roger’s first solo work since 2008’s Infinite For Now and while it, like most Twisted Village releases, appears out of thin air without its share of the deserved PR fanfare, the record is a great addition to his longstanding stable. His experimental releases are always foaming in the right ways, but these vocal strummers seem to scratch a particular itch. The blast of air from “Bad Idea” is among his best – high octane guitar burn coupled with Rogers’ amiably nasal croon make it feel like the perfect mix of ‘90s record labels reaching further into the underground than was advisable. It echoes the kind of noise-flecked burners that found their way to the airwaves despite themselves and we all wound up better for their hubris. Not so long ago Twisted Village folded without an expectant return date, but with this release, both Rogers and the label come bounding back, reminding us all why they were so vital in the first place.



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Patience

When an artist so deftly nails a genre, its sometimes beguiling that they’d ever leave it behind in their wake. Veronica Falls was one of the most instantly brilliant jangle-pop bands of the last decade. They merged wistful, tip-of-the-tongue influences into a seamless pop vision that was quietly catchy, incredibly intimate, and bittersweet to the point that songs could make your heart ache for days. As the band faded away to their separate pop corners leaving behind an enviable, albeit brief catalog in their stead, neither half has pursued quite the same niche they once found so comfortable. As her bandmate James Hoare has wandered more autumnal with his works, Roxanne Clifford has found space on the dancefloor of sorts. After several singles under the name, her debut as Patience applies the same artisan’s ear and bittersweet heart to synthpop that she once saved for the jangle.

There are still a few flecks of guitar that grace Dizzy Spells (“White of an Eye”) but they’re garnishes at best. Clifford instead focuses on a stripped-down analog sound that’s delightfully minimal, though never unpolished. She’s channeling the early years of dance-pop, the kind that found itself creeping out of the corners of disco, but also found itself in thrall of German electronic pioneers and bedroom pop singers alike. She crafts the kind of detached, yet hypnotic hits that made Grace Jones and New Order kindred spirits with slinky underground acts like Monopol and Autumn. The opener “The Girls Are Chewing Gum” could easily find itself bound up with the kind of sharp, kinked club hits that wind up on Minimal Wave compilations.

The bulk of the record swings a different direction, though. The songs, for the most part, aren’t built for dancing in public, but rather caressing a wounded soul and broken heart away from prying eyes. The sort of intimacy that permeated her work with the Falls is still readily apparent here, and Clifford is able to apply a dreamy veneer to the skeletal beats and gauzy auras she’s constructed. The shift is admirable for its desire to steer quite wide of her comfort zone, but more so because she pulls it off jus as naturally as she has any other vision of her songwriting prowess. Whether this remains a temporary direction or a new standard for Clifford, she’s proving that no matter what genre she’s exploring, she brings a deft pop palette and that perfect pang of heartache that makes the songs stick.



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Altın Gün

Since the phrase Netherlands based Turkish rock band doesn’t tumble out of your mouth every day, it perks up the ears when one hears it. Following their formidable debut, On Altın Gün bumps up the label chain to ATO for a follow up that’s expanding on their excavation of the Anatolian rock canon. They continue to take inspirational swipes at the venerated catalogs of Erkin Koray and Selda, but the band begins to shift from their ‘60s rooted sounds while bridging the psychedelia with a disco shuffle and cocaine strut of the late ‘70s / early ‘80s bent to create a whole other era that hangs between the years. The bulk of the songs (save for “Şoför Bey”) are interpretations of older folk songs and Turkish traditionals – a practice that was common among the psychedelicists of the ‘70s in the area. This leaves the band room to mold the classic melodies into their vision. The melding of eras brings to mind the outdoor market tapes of bands from the Anatolian scene as well as African bands who’ve long interpreted their region’s traditional songs with modern arrangements.

When the band amps up the fuzz they’re still at their best. Occasionally the genre melting pot gets a little too full with their ‘80s visions, as on closer “Süpürgesi Yoncadan,” which strips away more of the psychedelia and goes for a straighter disco element, though this is perhaps the only instance where the tonal shift overhelms. Impressively, the band makes pretty much all the eras fit together like a tapestry woven through the changes without much friction. In most cases the shift from drums to electronics barely registers until the dance is upon you. The blare of the keys overwhelming the guitars is all just more of the band’s ecstatic approach. If you’re a fan of Turkish psych, this should already be in your basket, but if you’re simply a fan of blistering guitars, polyrhythmic beat, and slinking bass that can’t help but incite the itch of dance, then this is equally your best bet.



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Kanaan

On their debut, Norwegian trio Kanaan embrace a lineage of prog, psych, and metal that melts together into a powerful album that’s able to broadside the listener while remaining nimble on its feet. The band’s equally comfortable picking through the twists and turns of The Eleventh House as they are with bottom-heavy burners like Sabbath and The Flower Travellin’ Band. They use the album’s length to work their way towards the leaden boots of the latter over time, steadily shedding layers of intricacy in exchange for fuzz and fury. “A. Hausenbecken” finds the band bending their metal into sculptural shapes – still rusted and barbed, but beautifully striking from a distance. As Windborne wears on the beauty is somewhat subsumed by force and forged into a blunt instrument, though even that blunt instrument is decorated with a splash of painted and etched symbols that can’t help but haunt.

Like much of the El Paraiso Catalog, the band isn’t content to sit still stylistically. They echo Causa Sui’s absorption of prog’s high-minded, over-arching themes, Mythic Sunship’s blend of jazz and psych into a primal force, and even Futuropaco’s attention to rhythm. The latter they dip into on the motorik middle ground of “Harmonia,” which, as the title might suggest, plays into the Kosmiche touches of the referenced German lightspeed travelers. The track serves as a sweat respite in the middle of the album, a moment when the knots of the first two tracks are untied and a bracing point before the album’s second side tears into a growl of heaviness. Yet another worthwhile pickup from this Norwegian stable of cosmic shamans and prog denizens.



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Isasa

Quietly tumbling under the leaves of 2019 is the third album from Madrid’s Conrado Isasa – a fingerpicked gem that’s indebted to the Takoma school, but leaning forward towards a more experimental future. The guitarist’s phrases tumble delicately from his fingers, recalling his fascination with Fahey, but also the more open-ended spectrum of Richard Bishop. There’s often an inherent sadness in Isasa’s works, heartbroken but not beaten. On the slow and stately “Conversaciones en un Supermercado” the artist captures the empty ennui of wandering through necessary consumerism, forced to connect with humanity through the clarification of produce. On “Cuesta Ramon” he balances Eastern trills against a harmonium drone, taking his playing from American valleys to the hum and bustle of Indian cities, again conveying a sort of lostness within a sea of humanity. He even gives his influence Fahey a nod with a title dedicated to him, echoing the legendary guitarists balance of movement and touch through his feel of the strings.

There is joy also, though. He rambles like Rose on “Arquitecto Tinista,” cracking open the windows to let the sunlight shine down and the cool spring breezes blow damp and delightful. He wanders around the city square with no particular place to be on “Pocitos, Montevideo,” a shy, yet sweet track that’s an exercise in restraint. Throughout the album’s many moods the thread of isolation and connection seems to chew at the listener. Often fingerpicked albums convey moments of ebullience and anxiety but Isasa excels in finding the feelings between the extremes. He’s sketched an aural ode to unsure interludes, crossed glances, mild reliefs, and heartbreaks so small they’re only noticed after being added together at the end of a day. His touch on the strings echoes in the mind long after the needle’s left the record, haunting the listener like a task left unfinished, a sentiment unresolved.



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King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard

After a year of constantly reviewing King Gizz and crew it was nice to have a breather last year, probably as much for the band as for the public. That lets the band land back on the turntable without a hint of fatigue on their fourteenth album. Ever shifting in the stylistic sands, the band seeks to embrace various corners of downhome choogle and plasticine boogie with this run ‘round the turntable. The runup to this record gives good argument for digesting an album in its entirety, though. Thrown at the listener piecemeal, the disparate parts of Fishing For Fishies felt out of joint with each other, but once sequenced into a slide from countrified funk to future stomp the ties tighten and the band’s vision begins to make a bit more sense.

They kick the disc open with a kitschy callback to the vibes of “Vegemite” and both the breezy quirk and visual in-joke video feel like the days when the band had zero expectations heaped upon them, creating talking sandwiches covered in their national litmus condiment with a wicked smirk. Then album begins its slide into a history of funk n’ roll over the next eight songs, stopping off at ‘70s backporch grit, Stevie Wonder wiggle, and seven-foot-tall whoopin’ garage party platters. Ambrose sneaks in a hip-shaker that sounds like a Murlocs outtake, but fits the vibe nicely, giving the open-door hotbox hoedown another tweak.

They cool for just a moment, letting the sweat steam off their backs before taking the plunge once more. As they hockey stop into “This Thing” the band begins their slide towards the doxed, cold futurisms, though not without still a knowing wink in their eyes. King Gizz are kings of psych paranoia, but they’re forever having fun with it. The track snags a few trilling orchestral touches, but at heart it’s a stadium-sized rocker tipping towards excess and ecstasy. Then they strip the skeleton of funk down to back alley ambience with a touch of creeping menace before they lay open the portal to “Cyboogie.” The lock-stopped ‘80s psych-funk phenom has got boogie in its veins but murder in its eyes. It’s a pulsating finish to the band’s Frankenstein of retro-futurism and should probably slay the crowds in the live setting.

The album’s sleeve (and to that point the title) seems like a misstep to me, but those are purely aesthetic questions and shouldn’t tinge your enjoyment of the album. It’s just that the band’s visual direction, led by Jason Galea has been so consistently vivid that this seems like a first draft on the way to something more solid. No harm, though. It’s what’s inside that counts and this is one of the more fun releases in the band’s vast and ever-growing catalog.


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