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Khana Bierbood

For their latest, Guru Guru Brain reaches outside of their bubble in the belly of Japanese psych to pick up newcomers from Thailand, Khana Bierbood. Their debut album, produced by Kikagaku Moyo’s Go Kurosawa, takes its cues from the faded aesthetics of scavenged record finds from the ‘60s and ‘70s. The band mixes lite splashes of psychedelia with traditional Thai nods and packs them up with a healthy dose of surf – spreading barrel roll twang all over this record in liberal helpings. They’re able to wield the beach vibes at speeds of simmer and sweat. On “Starshine” the twang just delicately licks at the feet of the song, giving a bit of motion to soft ocean breezes and the baked in comfort of the sun. As the needle clicks to the next track, though, they’re bending the strings for maximum surf mania, feeling like the song dives into the heart of the curl and leaves the listener to soak in the adrenaline of human vs. nature.

Like the rest of the Guru Guru roster, the band’s amping up Western psych pastiche, adding a new layer of interest via an injection of traditional rhythms and textures from their own past. Though, the band (and producer) seem to embrace the past wholesale here, giving not only the cover a touch of the ‘60s aesthetic, but running the whole thing through a layer of adhesive and dirt to give put that faraway sound on top of the band’s psych. Occasionally the grist filter can distract from the band’s crispy surf splatter. The effect could maybe be used on an intro and outro base to give the platter the same time-shifted sense. Still, Khana Bierbood prove to be consummate purveyors of fuzz-toasted twang regardless of how crisp it lands. The record is a worthy addition to GGB’s spotless roster.



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J. McFarlane’s Reality Guest

Without a doubt one of the great nests of underground Aussie gems seems to be emanating from Melbourne’s Hobbies Galore. The label, responsible for offerings from Blank Realm, The Green Child, The Stroppies, and Mikey Young, has a crack of 2019 debut from ex-Twerps member Julia McFarlane in her Reality Guest guise. The record is an extension of McFarlane’s work as Hot Topic (a positive naming move in my opinion), and she’s even got former Topic members Ric Milovanovic and Violetta DelConte Race along for a couple of track co-writes with some flute help from friend Ela Stiles. While The Twerps were borne out of humble strums and awkward pauses, they evolved into a properly breezy indie-pop outfit in due time. On TA DA, however, McFarlane seems to be sealing up the easy entry with a flair for bone-dry janglecore and post-punk that eats up crumbs trailed by Kleenex, Mo-Dettes, Oh-Ok and Confetti.

Despite its simple setup and economical hooks, the record isn’t batting for twee charms. There’s a darker tone to this than has previously seeped into even Hot Topic’s fuzzier confines. Like her ex-bandmate Frawley, the record chews on the raw ends of the dissolution of relationships and alliances. The album is full of contradicting impulses and melodies fighting one another for space. Julia’s vocals descend from a place of dreaming to take on the pang of forlorn while the musical accompaniment twists at the UHF reception with a dulled pocket knife. The record isn’t what might be expected of her as a closed chapter on The Twerps, but it’s a haunting and personal delight even when it’s at its most dour. As with most of those ‘70s and ‘80s touchstones previously mentioned, there’s more than a few kernels of pop underneath the whittled to the bone nature of TA DA and if you come with a head ready for humble hurt, then the record will not disappoint.




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Wyatt Blair

Wyatt Blair sneaks out his second low-key release of 2018 with the decidedly sunny blast of power pop, Inspirational Strawberries. The album shrugs off pretty much all of the 80’s vibes that permeated his last couple of releases, making a pretty spectacular about face on the melancholy New Wave of March’s Smoke & Mirrors. The album reinvests in a more classic brand of power pop, chucking the neon out the window in favor of mod-pressed visions of jangle-pop that range from the ‘70s strut of Raspberries to the psychedelic swirl of The 3 O’Clock. While it doesn’t have the kitsch factor and AquaNet smirk that drove his high watermark Point of No Return, for power pop fans there’s plenty to hold onto here.

The hooks are about a mile wide and trussed up in the sunniest hues of the bubblegum brigade. There’s a definite feeling that Blair has been soaking his solace in the works of The Archies, Rick Springfield (circa Mission: Magic) and The Lemon Pipers with total sincerity. The ‘60s flame burns brightest on “(Stuck In A) Daydream” and “It’s Yesterday,” but there’s a general veneer of catchall Saturday Morning strummer inclusiveness adhered to the record, recalling whole hosts of Don Kirshner productions from the era. Blair’s always had a knack for pop, and he tends to serve the cult of listeners who don’t mind retreading a little old ground in search of those perfect pop swoons. So, while this might not be for every indie-pop tart out there, its manna to the sunshine searchers just looking for one more go ‘round through the best moments of 60s sparkle.

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Trimdon Grange Explosion

Forming in the wake of The Eighteenth Day of May, Trimdon Grange Explosion is an extension of the previous band’s psychedelic folk while also embracing heavier modal impulses that had only begun to pop up in within the members’ previous form. The band drags their hands through the waters pooled by Pentangle, Fairport Convention and John Martyn and pulls off the likeness well, but they’re not simply and exercise in revivalist nostalgia. Like contemporaries Espers or White Magic, the band also embraces the less Anglo influences that have cropped up since dark folk was the vogue in ‘’69. Within traditional structures on ballads like “The Bonnie Banks of Fordie,” the band embraces the sawing yawp of John Cale’s string sounds and the slight wobble that underpins The Incredible String Band.

There’s another shade that pops up on Trimdon’s debut, though, and it’s a woven strand of indie that’s not just a hangover from the Espers/White Magic connection, but hews closer to perhaps Vetiver in its approach. On “Christian’s Silver Hell” and “Heading For a Fall” the band keeps the fuzz, clangor, and atmosphere, but when Alison Cotton is away from the mic and Ben Philips picks up vocal duties the band adopts a bit of a lighter tone. They work the duality well, with Cotton letting the heavy mantle of murder balladeer billow her sails and steel her gaze and Philips providing the sobering shelter from her storm.

There’s something inviting about the darker strains of folk, subverting the form from storytime revelry to strombringing omens, but too much gloom drags the swimmer under the tide for good. Trimdon create a vital symbiosis between blood and bone – the paralysis of mourning and the steadfast necessity of travelling on at all costs. There’s a stately grace to their eponymous album that picks up the yoke from their former band without being beholden to it. Rooted in the ash and dirt, the band are steadily seeding the clouds to bring on a deluge of hurt and relief to eventually wipe it all clean.




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Oh Sees – “Clearly Invisible”

Its quite possible that Oh Sees never rest, never sit still, and never let the feedback die down. Off of a tour and LP from last year (and with the inevitable new one coming sometime in the next year) the band lays down a single-track one-sided EP bonus for the fans. Seems that Dwyer and the band are as ardent Simply Saucer fans as I am and they’ve worked up a live in the studio cut of a Saucer jam from the fringes. “Clearly Invisible” existed purely as a live cut within Simply Saucer’s world and hearing John and crew tackle it with the intent to further dive into the sonic supernova is exciting. The track’s all tension, a nearly 15+ minute build of menace with crisp-fried guitar noodles topping it like a holiday casserole. The track touches the Hawkwind totem and seeps out into the furthest expanses of cosmic brain fry. While its probably best as a fan piece for completists and psych warriors, rather than an entry into Oh Sees chamber of psychedelic wonders, that’s not to diminish the impact of this limited gem. Wrapped up in the stunning photography of Martin Oggerli, this one begs the question of whether your Oh Sees shelf can squeeze one more.



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Adam Hattaway and the Haunters

New Zealand’s Melted Ice Cream collective binds up a loose collection of jangle-prone, indie scrapers and post-punk purveyors with just the right mix of off-kilter sensibilities to keep the mind spinning. The label adds the solo debut from Christchurch’s Adam Hattaway (of Wurld Series) to the stable and it’s a delirious mishmash of crimped-tinfoil punk, fuzzgut indie and wistful power pop that laminates the Memphis school into a hot glued gauze. Hattaway might not be pulling down Big Star soul, but he’s getting runner up vibes a la The Hot Dogs on “Turn Around” and “Too Tired” and making it sound sweet. The dial twisting approach poaches well from his country’s past just as often though, finding a wobbly kinship with Chris Knox in various forms (his scattershot solo shamblin’ and Toy Love come to mind) not to mention indie lancers The 3Ds or Able Tasmans. Hell, maybe even a touch of Tall Dwarfs creeps in around he crimped edges.

There’s a sense that Hattaway coulda played it all straight – he’s got the hook chops to whip it ‘til smooth – but the record works because he refuses to do any such thing. Tape hiss creeps in to remind the listener that decorum isn’t at stake here. Whenever things threaten to get too close to the kernel of pop, Hattaway stomps down on the squelch to twist the feedback knife a little closer to chaos. As much as Australia has a knack for loose-knit indie wranglin’, their Eastern counterparts seem to push just a touch further towards the fringe, which is what makes them such a wellspring of great pop. Add Hattaway to that legacy. This collection is rough under the chin, but that’s what made some of the best Flying Nun platters so desirable in hindsight. All Dat Love is proving to be a late entry favorite around here, and I’m keeping an ear to where Hattaway’s headed in the future.



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The Other Years

2018 has been a pretty good year for folk of all varieties, but most especially the kind of lonesome, wooded, solace-laden folk that speaks to shirking the trappings of modernity to let the forest become your next of kin. Alongside great records from Nathan Salsburg, Sarah Louise, and Daniel Bachman you can add the quiet magic of the eponymous debut from The Other Years. The duo has been playing together for almost a decade, but this collection marks their first album proper, though you’d never catch a whiff of debut over these forty minutes. Anna Krippenstapel and Heather Summers (Freakwater, Joan Shelley) feel like they’ve been a well-kept tradition from the moment the record starts. Its raw and somehow refined because of its rawness. The pair can’t help but evoke Appalachian sisters or cousins playing for family, not posterity, as the sun goes down and the hearth burns bright. There’s something evergreen that aches in the bones of The Other Years – a vision of what could have been, rather than what has become of us.

While there’s, naturally, a blush of NPR think piece woven into a record this rooted in homespun wistfulness and coal country familial forms, The Other Years doesn’t feel like a curio or Cohen Brothers set piece. Rather, the sparse backporch renditions seem to flow from the women’s respective traditions in earnest, aching solemnity. Their songs keep up the oral tradition because the technological one seems too prickly to last. From the moment that Krippenstapel’s banjo starts to pick, there’s a sense that simplicity isn’t a four-letter word, and that maybe letting the grass consume the concrete isn’t such a bad idea. It’s a gorgeous reminder to notice the small moments and breathe the sweet air while it lasts.



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Gong Gong Gong – “Siren b/w Something’s Happening”

Beijing’s Gong Gong Gong tap into the tradition of bomb-bare psych blues. There’s not a drum in sight but the band is pounding that pulse as hard as Lightnin’ and John Lee. The pair herald the swell of a storm on lead single “Siren,” culminating in a feedback squall that’s not unhinged, but at the very least, unsettling. On the flip they let the floodwaters rip from the getgo, boiling their strings in a bath of fuzz and foam that’s thick as molten honey. Still the rhythm pulses and there’s a sense that Gong Gong Gong are either running from something sinister or running with it, bringing a deluge of doom to all who crowd their path.


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Superette – Tiger

In the wake of Flying Nun second-gen powerhouse Jean-Paul Sartre Experience’s dissolution around ‘93/’94 the band’s Dave Mulcahy and Greta Anderson picked up hometown pal Ben Howe to round out their new trio, Superette. The album, long overlooked stateside, is powered by moody hooks and a thick layer of grunge fuzz. Produced by Nick Roughan, who also worked on JPSE’s The Size of Food, the record finds itself locked into the sparser end of the ‘90s spectrum, shooting for Albini and Kramer vibes, though skewing a tad more traditional than either producer kicked out at the crack of the grunge era. Like the last wave of JPSE’s output the record embraces less of the idiosyncratic Kiwi-rock and more of their American and UK counterparts, but they hold out some bright spots that keep them from falling into obscurity.

Mulcahy and Anderson were in hunkered down in New York at the time their previous outfit called it quits and they no doubt absorbed all that NY’93 had to offer. There are shades of Sonic Youth and Pixies weaving through Tiger, and while they don’t necessarily make as big a footprint as either of those, naturally, they smash through with “Touch Me” and the clanging “I Got It Clean.” Flying Nun has gone the full measure on this one as well, including the band’s debut EP Rosepig alongside recordings from a planned and scrapped second album. I’d wager than most ‘90s nostalgists on this side of the world are unfamiliar with the trio’s melodic crunch, but with this definitive edition, its worth getting acquainted.



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Scott Hirsch

A couple of years back Scott Hirsch moved out of the studio pool, producing Hiss Golden Messenger records and holding down time in The Court and Spark to release a solo record. The record touched on plenty of the same ground he’d explored with those outfits – mellow, smoke and sunset country-folk that was nuanced and peppered with seasoned vets in the studio. On his follow-up, Hirsch has refined that sound, but added a low-slung groove to his tanned leather soul. Among those other plaudits, Hirsch was instrumental in mobilizing the one-off brilliance that was Golden Gunn and he brings the same reverence for the catalog of JJ Cale’s cocaine country to the fore here.

Lost Time Behind The Moon weaves between the roadhouse wrangle of Cale’s legacy and something of a transcendental peace, picking up the scattered pieces of Fred Neil alongside the respective ’72 vibes of Little Feat and Tim Buckley. Hirsch outstrips his previous effort time and again as each new song on his sophomore stint cues up – each one full of deeper humility, more vibrant hues, and rougher cut features. In a way the album sidles alongside the wave of Cosmic American that’s blossomed in 2018, though its nowhere near the heady sweat of most of the core chooglers operating in that sphere. While “No No” could easily slip in to bridge the divide between One Eleven Heavy and Howlin’ Rain, the scope of Hirsch’s album aims for more than just a nostalgic niche. Lost Time bristles and broods and in the end is a salve and solace to lost souls.

There’s something ephemeral that ties 1972 and 2018 – a tangle of turmoil, terror, desperation and delusion. The corruption wormhole of Watergate shot through to whatever ham-sliced timeline we’re currently operating in is palpable and by turns the same battered blue-collar brilliance on the stereo seems to hit home. Hirsch’s vision of country elegance and barbiturate boogie hangs heavy on he diaphragm, groovin’ and singin’ in the same breath. It’s both a damn shame and a blessing that this is coming out in December. The release schedule rush means a lot of people are going to gloss right over this, head stuck in the wet sand of year-end wraps ups. On the other hand, that makes this a brilliant gem for those still paying attention to the right channels. This one’s feels like it’s already got future collectors itchin’ to find a first press. If there’s one last record you add to the stack before the year tumbles down, this should be it.



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