Browsing Category Reviews

Prana Crafter

Its already been a big year for Prana Crafter, with a stunning tape for Beyond Beyond is Beyond released around the first bend of 2018. Bhodi Cheetah’s Choice was draped in the hallmarks of great psych folk (think Relatively Clean Rivers recorded by Six Organs of Admittance), while pulling from the aesthetic traditions of masters like Amon Duul II and Trad Gras och Stenar. That release already made it into the top albums of the year when I ran down the first half tally, but its gonna have a hard time holding on as the Prana Crafter essential of ’18 with William Sol delivering a short-order follow up that cements his status as the new psych-folk class’ frontrunner. Enter The Stream hits just as hard as the tape that precedes it, digging deeper into the mossy wonderland of humid strums and heat warbled effects that drew me to Prana Crafter’s psychedelic vision. The LP seamlessly snakes between vocal and instrumental folk with an ear towards the grander scale, building a world over its forty-minute run.

The album, like some of the best of its genre(s) isn’t wholly interested in seeding your brain with standalone hooks. Instead the whole thing climbs in under the skin and takes root. There’s a darkness permeating Enter The Stream – quiet, lonesome, aching but never wholly consumed by the creeping dread. Its an album at one with the dark, thriving like mind-altering fungus on the dank corners the world forgot and reaching up towards the peeking light that filters down through the tree cover with a tentative curiosity. Sol knows his way around atmosphere and he wields it with the skill and scale of a cinematographer on the album.

He builds dread on tracks like “Mycorhizzal Brainstorm” then twists the knife on the ensuing “The Spell.” He balls up tension in the pit of the stomach on “Pillow Moss Absorption” then melts it all away with the orange-streaked closer “At The Dawn.” The album can’t be easily parsed, which I always find an endearing quality. Its not meant for part and parcel consumption, but rather it needs to be absorbed in full, preferably in low light with the weight of the day long behind the listener. If Sol was just teasing us with a release as high quality as Bhodi, then with Enter The Stream he proves that his legacy as a psychedelic force is well under way. This one’s an essential pickup for 2018 and only gets richer with each trip ‘round the table.




Support the artist. Buy it HERE.

0 Comments

Garcia Peoples

As I’ve mentioned previously 2018 seems to be coming into its own with an embrace of the oft scorned jam band. What was once the butt of jokes among the more pretentious contingent of music cognoscenti has been given a legitimate platform. It helps that the genre has been rescued from some of the bro-y trappings that typically kept it down. While the new class still embraces the jam proper, they lean into the free boundaries aspect of the original rumblings of The Dead, rather than, say, the Guitar Center chest puffing and puca shell shambles of bands like Moe or Government Mule. In fact, it’s the embrace of the magic years of The Grateful Dead that seem most prescient, especially in a band named Garcia Peoples.

The New Jersey unit, naturally at home in the live setting, brings their sense of immediacy and experimentation into the studio. The record flickers like a living flame – warm and inviting, but able to scorch if given the chance. They’ve nailed the liquid runs of guitar that defined the Dead’s unifying embrace, while also bringing to mind the second-tier stunners like Mountain Bus, Mighty Baby or Fat. On Cosmic Cash’s centerpiece suite, though, they barrel out of the gate with guitars set to Trux and burn down the barn with little regard for the bystanders. Of course, it all smooths out to a buttery soul by the time they get to the end, with just a bit of a lyrical turn towards cringeworthy on “Cashing Out,” but if anyone was looking to elevate the legacy of Jam to something other than college freshman phase territory, its these guys.

The record is sun-streaked with positivity, and that feeling is utterly infectious. You’d be hard pressed to find a band working in the genre that would be called dour, but Garcia Peoples feel like they’re happiest spreading love via rippling riff. Their debut stands central to the new wave of American Jam and given time they’ll likely go down as a pivotal spark in new attitudes towards Cosmic Americana. For now, though, this is just the perfect companion to ride out the tail of Summer. Drop the needle, fill your drink and let the cooldown shake of Garcia Peoples free your soul.



Support the artist. Buy it HERE

0 Comments

Matchess

With Sacracorpa Whitney Johnson brings to a close her trilogy exploring perspectives on perception. The final album nudges her sound out into the open, augmenting her windswept noisescapes with a twinge of pop via skittering beats and mournful synths. The album, even more than her previous two, envelops the listener, blotting out the periphery with a blinding dazzle of light obscuring the eyes until through the squint only hazed shapes and dizzying sparkles remain. The album winds up kindred spirits with fellow static surfers Grouper and Circuit des Yeux, shrouded in mystery and pulled through the darkness by longing, but Johnson’s brought her own take to the gauze-bound brand of dreampop that’s been tied to her peers. The record has a quiet hope rather than a sandblasted desperation. Her songs glow like a beacon in the whiteout whirling all around, gasping in the depleted oxygen, but fighting for something beautiful in the crushing din.

While the trilogy’s albums function together as a larger take, Sarcracorpa can easily be divorced into a standalone that stands atop her discography. The strangled throes of pop on display here are Johnson’s best and they constantly wage an environmental battle to break out of their respirator cage and shimmer free in an unpolluted air. Trouble in Mind has been on a bit of a popular tear lately, but with Matchess they’re proving that complexity isn’t lost in on a label that’s constantly looking to the fringes of pop rather than dragging the net down the middle of the road. The album is a hushed gem working hard to shake the curse of outsider status. As the heatwave summer bears down on the world with little empathy, you’d do well to embrace the sweat with Matchess’ beautiful plea for serenity.




Support the artist. Buy it HERE.

0 Comments

Daniel Bachman

For his latest album Daniel Bachman has embraced space – space between notes with runs that amble rather than ramble, outdoor space via field recordings and headspace through some of his most challenging and experimental sides yet. His last album embraced an Appalachian folksiness, pock-marked by some clangorous diversions that kept it from becoming an exercise in gazing through the wrinkles of the past. While Bachman’s always been reverent of the past, he’s never been tied down by it. As he lays into The Morning Star, though, he’s torn tradition apart and glued it back together in his own vision.

For an album created by one of the great technical talents of our age, there’s a surprising shift from flashy fingerwork here to a much larger emphasis on environment and tone. Through a series of longform drones, flickering and sinister vocal samples and meditative plucks, Bachman drives the album with an air of contemplation. The Morning Star absorbs and ingests the chaos of modern matters and slows them down, picks them over with the eye of a patient woodcarver and sends out the artist’s interpretation – his rough edges and jagged hand adding a craggy character in purposeful acts of degradation.

The album is not eclipsed in total darkness, the nervously hopeful “Song for the Setting Sun III” gives a slight break in Bachman’s cloudbank compositions, but overall, it’s one of Bachman’s darkest works to date. It’s also probably one of his most accomplished. From Fahey to Richard Bishop, there are those who have infused fingerpicked folk with an experimentation that’s palpable and potent. In fact, this might just be Bachman’s America, its just that his own America has slipped its axis quite a bit from where Fahey found it. If you’re looking for lush technicality that’s born to sooth, sway towards the excellent album from Nathan Salsburg, also out this month. If you’re ready to pull the strings until they break the skin and burn the bone, Bachman’s your man.




Support the artist. Buy it HERE.

0 Comments

Kelley Stoltz

San Francisco’s secret weapon is slipping out his tenth (!!) album on low key label Banana and Louie. Feels like Stoltz has been a part of this site for the better part if its duration and whether he’s behind the boards (The Love-Birds, Rays, Sandwitches) or working as a studio rat (Thee Oh Sees, Sonny & The Sunsets, The Fresh & Onlys) he’s a welcome name in the credits of any release. More important yet, his own mounting discography is packed full of jangled-nerve post-punk and paisley pools of pop that mark him as not only a conduit for others’ excellent visions, but as a purveyor of his own unique strain of pop psychosis. Natural Causes comes fresh off of last year’s Que Aura. a highlight in the songwriter’s late period catalog. While the short, but sweet, nine-cut album doesn’t quite dig in its heels as hard as last year, there are some moments of pure Stoltz on display here.

The record is valiantly attempting to balance Kelley’s love for light-touch jangles and sunshine shimmy with his weakness for a darker side of the ‘80s. “Decisions Decisions” packs up some of his most shimmering strums, while eschewing the darker threads of post-punk that work their way through his pieces. Similarly, he’s huffing a dose of verdant vapors throughout the handclap-infected shaker, “Are You An Optimist.” The album caps off with one of his most fun tunes in a while, the light-hearted jangler, “Rolling Tambourine” – a barrelhouse romp through 60s’ pop impulses. That’s not to say he’s shed the post-punk pound just yet. There’s a post-disco shiver that runs through “Static Electricity” and he adopts a spaced ominousness for the particularly on the nose “How Psychedelic Of You.” When Stoltz wants to bring on the preening intensity, he’s got you more than covered.

For an artist who has released albums everywhere from Sub Pop to Third Man to Castle Face, this seems to come with desperately little fanfare, which is a damn shame. While he’s got albums that outstrip it in scope and style, there’s a lot to love on Natural Causes and Stoltz never leaves listeners without a few hooks stuck in their heads. There’s some great polish on the album and its clear that Stoltz keeps enough of his studio tricks for his own albums. Don’t let this one slip away in the flood of 2018 albums. Kelley Stoltz remains a modern songwriting workhorse and this small collection does little to tarnish his reputation.



Support the artist. Buy it HERE.

0 Comments

Tony Molina

I continue to be floored by how much punch Tony Molina can pack into about fifteen full minutes of material. His albums are exercises in self-restraint, picking out heartbreaking hooks and using them once or twice before the man walks away leaving audiences wanting much, much more. His songs never sound half-finished though – despite their length – they simply breeze into all of our lives, soften our hearts and flutter on back home to Tony’s power pop soul. Call them indie pop jingles or compact-size singles, but Molina remains a master craftsman of the sort of digestible pop that can be absorbed in full over the course of a state mandated fifteen-minute retail break.

As has been well noted, here and elsewhere, the second album, like the EP that preceded it has softened the crunch from Molina’s Ocasek-era Weezer / early Fanclub leanings. He’s dug out the twelve-string here and has clearly been listening to the most tender-hearted moments of the Byrds catalog. He’s sopping up the tears shed by teens finding solace in Elliott Smith’s oeuvre and he’s still not done with the likes of Norman Blake and the boys in Fanclub’s van. He’s just moved on to their own softer side. On Kill The Lights Molina combines all these influences into a power pop pit stop that’s bittersweet, but blissful, and absolutely one of the most touching albums of the year.

More than a punk in folk’s clothing, Molina has grafted the economical length of punk’s attention span to lush arrangements that are anything but frugal when it comes to production. These are mini-epics of pop squeezed into snow globes and they dazzle with their ornate details. Every time this album comes to an end I find myself turning it back on all over again. The songs on Kill The Lights are stunners one and all and I’m pretty sure this could just be set on a loop and keep a room at attention for well past an hour. Tony might dole out his gifts in small packages, but he’s an argument in favor of quality over quantity to say the least.



Support the artist. Buy it HERE.

0 Comments

Massage

The debut LP from L.A.’s Massage ingests forty years of jangled history and reconfigures the pieces into hazy, radiant indie pop that touches the shores of England ’86 as often as Australia ’18. In fact, much like the current crop of upstart Aussies the band’s loose agenda found them gathering to create songs they love mostly to impress one another, rather than prop up the material for mass consumption. Without any initial pressures driving the songwriting, there’s a breezy joy that seems to inhabit the record, splashed with West Coast sun and sparkling with sea foam in is veins. The album’s humble roots should by no means discount the appeal of their debut, though. Despite playing on their personal pop indulgences Oh Boy is stuffed with hooks and coated in a lacquer of honeyed fuzz. The record reads like a case study in pop, stitched by studied hands and pressed crisp as linen.

The band finds songwriters Alex Naidus (The Pains of Being Pure At Heart) and Andrew Romano trading hooks, with a mix by Jason Quever (Papercuts) bringing the record to pastel fruition. While there might be room for comparisons with Naidus’ former band, there’s a shaggier quality to Massage that’s less labored over, but no less addictive. The band tumbles through the record, perched on the edge of bittersweet, but they shove the nostalgic sighs away with the collective smile that’s constantly breaking its way through the songwriting on Oh Boy. They scoop up nods to The Go-Betweens, Sarah Records and Flying Nun. They pour over Feelies’ riffs like they were scripture. It’s clear that the band were having fun with the idea of sketching out songs and their joy is damn infectious. They chew on every inch of Oh Boy with the zeal of artists who are sustained by the sparkle of their songs. Is it indulgent, sure? But we all stand to gain from their jangle-pop sweet tooth.

Speaking of Aussies, the record looks to be making its way to vinyl only via a small Aussie imprint, Tear Jerk out of Melbourne. Though don’t let the long distance dampen your smile, seems the US copies will ship direct from the band so you can still grab the wax and save on shipping.



Support the artist. Buy it HERE.

0 Comments

Nathan Salsburg

First things first, that Salsburg’s day gig is managing the Alan Lomax Archives already puts him heads above other guitarists in terms of credibility. That’s not a collection that hands over the reigns lightly, and given the historical breadth inherent in the collection, its bound to be expected that the man has leveraged it to lend a little context to his own folk. Above and beyond his administrative credentials though, Salsburg is a sought after sideman who has found himself on records from Wooden Wand and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy to Joan Shelley and The Weather Station. Its with good reason that songwriters seek out his deft hand. Salsburg has a velvet touch on the strings – tender and teeming with emotion. Unlike some finigerpicked impresarios he doesn’t attack the guitar with his prowess. He coaxes sounds from his guitar as if it were a timid bird waiting to sing. That bird is good spirits on Third.

The album is relaxed, but only because Salsburg makes skill seem to flow through his fingers so easily. The record ripples like a stream in the sun, melting images into one another with the touch of a trained painter or seasoned cinematographer. Though his palette is auditory its hard not to let the mind slip through blissful moments and warm hues in ones mind while Salsburg controls the atmosphere. The brilliance that Salsburg pulls off is in making the album absorb into the moment and then take it over. Its built on the soft lap of notes, but Third never fades to become background, rather it becomes the soundtrack to the day and in turn immediately improves that day’s outlook and softens the impact of what anxieties eat at the mind.

At a time when we could all use some sort of levity from day after day of nail-bitten intensity, Third is a gorgeous, intimate, and masterful respite. The album pulls the listener into its arms and cradles it for thirty-five minutes of joy and that’s no small feat. Salsburg’s resume reads like a audible brag, but with this album he’s putting a highwater mark front and center in his current workload. Flashier albums will try to steal attention in 2018, but few will be felt as hard as this one.




Support the artist. Buy it HERE.

0 Comments

Harlan T. Bobo

With A History of Violence songwriter Harlan T. Bobo steps out of the forgotten shadows and broken alleyways and into the sinister gel lights of a lounge peopled by addicts and guarded by a coded knock you’re definitely not privy to. The album elevates Bobo’s songwriting (though it wasn’t exactly slouching) to some of his finest and most pointed performances yet. He’s embracing several decades of Nick Cave, stretching from The Birthday Party scratch to the towering demon work of Cave’s latter-day output. He pours through the soul of Lou Reed’s most weathered screeds, picking at the bones Lou’s most hangdog heaviness. Bobo crawls from the cigarette-hung punk mangle of “Spiders,” – a decidedly driven and ferocious cut that’s reaching for its place among the Verlaine-veined fallout of ’78 – to his spot next to the pedestal of the haunted troubadour class. He’s still lighting sonic candles to raise the ghost of the dearly departed Leonard Cohen, and in some cases the voodoo appears to be taking hold.

Harlan wields a whiskey boiled croon better than most, slinking his way through tales of women, ghosts and grizzled souls with the lived-in spirit of a man possibly possessed and most certainly haunted. He writes characters that crawl the stage in search of solace, though they always seem to die a dime short of redemption. When the tempos boil over his songs live without care or conscience, but the consequences always come back to haunt his gallows work on the slower numbers. He’s long been scratching out ring worn gutwrenchers hung heavy with the musk of roadside motel stretches, but with A History of Violence he’s brought this vision to life like never before. The album is visceral and engrossing, a sinister triumph that’s sopped up the gutter and hung it in a crooked frame.




Support the artist. Buy it HERE.

0 Comments

Primo!

Never a dull moment rolling out of the Australian scene these days and Primo are testament to that. The trio (recently expanded to a quartet with Amy Hill of Dick Diver) pins down a portion of post-punk that relies on sparse aesthetics, driving bass lines and a dash or two of jangle to get their message through. Their debut, Amici, focuses on rat race drudgery, as referenced cheekily in the band’s business attire on the cover. They posit another world for themselves where accounts receivable is the only option and office blocks spring up like prison walls. But the group knows that every suburb’s got an underground leaning back against that dreaded slide into routine. They churn their unrest into knuckle-cracking percussive snaps, guitar lines itchy as wool on a summer’s day and harmonies that band them together against the ebbing edge of boredom and rote living.

Even with its lyrical lashing of the system and perpetual pining for a life less taupe, the album comes off with a softer impact than many of their post-punk peers. They’re pushing back against the ballast of suburban expectations but the album lands with a collective sigh rather than a defiant scream. Where others are reaching for the acerbic trappings of Young Marble Giants, Bush Tetras or The Slits, Primo take a page out of twee and affix pillowy three-part harmonies to their twitching instrumentals. The approach lures listeners in before setting things straight with their screeds on societal weight.

At a scant twenty-two minutes the record is just a shot over EP territory, but the band makes good time out of their brief spin around the table. They aren’t tearing the system down outright, but they’re here for the rest of us work-a-day nobodies looking to break out of data entry and see who’s coming with us. In a year that’s been pock-marked by post-punk it’s a nice take on the genre that’s helped in no small turn by some excellent hooks and a good dollop of cheeky charm.



Support the artist. Buy it HERE.

0 Comments