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Bananagun

Like Goat before them, Bananagun are fusing the past to create a hybrid sound for the future. Inspired by the beats that drove him as an instrumental producer, Nick van Bakel makes the next logical step in reproducing the sounds he was always searching for. The True Story of Bananagun takes the portal back to the ‘60s but lets Cumbia and Trorpicalia bleed into Highlife and psychedelic funk. Polyrhythms flare while the guitars tie knots around fuzz-freaked passages. Vibrant colors are the only palette the band seems to trade in — augmenting tracks with horns alongside the saccharine harmonies of ’60s beat groups and buried garage throwaways. Van Bakel has assembled a mutable squad of players that chop and chew their influences into a stew that’s as catchy as it is colorful.

Playing on the tip-of-the-tongue familiarity, the songs feel like they may have filtered through your life at one time or another – Fela’s bounce, Os Mutantes’ skittered humor, Sergio Mendes’ breeziness, The Funkees heaviness, and the kaleidoscopic appeal of The Deviants and Ultimate Spinach all seem to raise their heads. Time and YouTube have removed much of the compartmentalization of the past, melting together eras and influences into stained glass curios with heroes sharing the picture with unknowns. Seems like Bananagun have a bookshelf full of these mix n’ match tchotchkes and they’re bringing the stories to life through the speakers. This one has an outdoor air to it, and even with a separated summer, this feels like the the best accompaniment to verdant scenery seen from the car window with this one turned up a bit too loud.




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Rhyton

2020 is full of surprises I didn’t see coming and right along with the tumult comes a pleasant surprise in the form of a new album from Rhyton. Ugly qualifiers like supergroup get thrown around from time to time and it could certainly be applicable here from their collective experience alone, but Rhyton are more than some sort of side-hustle flex. Members have made their money on albums from D. Charles Speer, Coach Fingers, No-Neck Blues Band, Matta Llama, Messages, Black Dirt Oak, and in the backing band for legends like Michael Chapman and Steve Gunn. Yet together they’ve long been their own hub of experimental prowess that pushes the ‘guitar band’ beyond the expectations of the genre. Rhyton throws thier hands into a lot of genre pots —Psych (naturally), bouts with the Middle East and Greek music, plenty of jazz tangents, and the rustic nature of American roots music all make their way into the mix here, and the band never lets the seams show on their sonic quilt.

Jimmy SeiTang and Rob Smith are a rhythm force of unparalleled quality. They move the foundation of Rython from slippery to solid in a matter of minutes, acting as the symbiotic organism that holds the band together. Atop their tangled turmoil Dave Shuford employs guitar lines that scald, simmer, and mutate into non-Western directions with a gnarled ease. Shuford snags some Algerian folk instrumentation this time around, via some Mandole, and it pushes the feel away from the jam aesthetics and into the deserts of Soundways and alleyways of Sublime Frequencies. The trio plays with mystery, as they have in the past, letting their instrumentals tinge with sweat and tension, but there’s a nice sense of space at play on Krater’s Call as well, exemplified by the reclined aesthetics of the title track. It’s been a good few years since the trio has graced the speakers, and this one came without warning, but digging in is absolutely been a worthwhile venture. The album continues to unfold with mystique and mesmerizing depth on each listen. New fan or old, this is recommended as a 2020 gem.




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Sunn Trio

The final piece in a trio of releases from Phoenix’ Sunn Trio completes the band’s focus on the the influence of Sun City Girls as it has played into their lives. This third entry to the Mount Meru Anthology (as they’re calling it) is as heavy and dizzying as anything in the band’s catalog. Lead by the stringwork of Joel Robinson, who bends Guitar, Oud, and Bonang through the eye of the psychedelic needle that stitches together Middle Eastern folk, the record is a blistering force. Rhythmic, shredded, and sweating from every pore, Electric Esoterica adopts the pacing and tunings of the the desert blues but funnels them through an amp-fried filter. Robinson’s guitar comes from all directions like a storm. Tearing at the skin and senses with the ferocity of sand pressed to glass, the pieces here don’t leave a lot of room for casual relaxation.

Aside from the influence of the brothers Bishop and their companion Gaucher, the band lists an anger over American Imperialism and deceit surrounding its Middle East war crimes. The band funnels the frustration over tepid policy and willfully immoral maneuvers within the region into a sonic blast that’s as frantic as it is cathartic. As with the subject of their trilogy and many contemporaries on Unrock, they turn the traditional into something potent, physically experienced in a way that leaves the listener exhausted but invigorated. The interplay between the musicians is kinetic — bass and drums locked into a volley of of rhythm back and forth and Robinson letting the blood drip over his strings again and again. If Sunn Trio had eluded your grasp up to now, this is a fine place to start and work backwards through their vibrant catalog.




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Damaged Bug – Bug On Yonkers

Every now and then we as a collective listening public need a nudge to work our way back towards the distorted genius of Michael Yonkers. It’s come in waves over the last couple of decades, perhaps making up for the string of unfortunate events that led to his once promising start falling apart. Though a sad story, its worth noting for the record. As a Minneapolis youth Yonkers started Michael & The Mumbles to play dances around his hometown and, as the ‘60s sometimes offered up, wound up netting himself a deal for Sire . This would be ’round about the time that similarly skewed sounds were being proffered up by The Mothers of Invention, The Godz, or West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. Still, a pretty great windfall for a guy steadily working a wall of noise into his sound and modding out instruments in ways that wouldn’t catch on for some time. However, the luck ended there. Somehow the deal with Sire went sour and to make matters worse Yonkers broke his back working in a warehouse a few years later leading to a lifetime of pain and limited use.

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Jan Dukes de Grey – Sorcerers

Often overshadowed by its follow-up Mice and Rats in the Loft, which would see Derek Noy expand his compositions into long, winding epics that pushed the norm at the time, there’s plenty to love in hindsight about Jan Dukes de Grey’s debut. The group was formed as an offshoot of Buster Summers Express, which Noy had been a member of before he began working on his own compositions, splitting to work on his own band in 1968. When approached by guitarist/flautist Michael Bairstow about joining the Express, Noy instead convinced him to form the new outfit with him and the group began crafting Noy’s expansive library of songs into an album, eventually signing with Decca.

Cue the usual tales of underperforming sales and poor distribution. While the band did well on the road, opening for Pink Floyd and The Who, the record was met with tepid reactions, which isn’t entirely fair. While its pretty standard hippie folk for the time, there are some notable inclusions that push them, if not to the top of the pile, past quite a few of the more revered stragglers. There’s a bit of an early Tyrannosaurus Rex warble in these tracks (apparent in the title track for sure) and Biarstow’s flute adds some lightness to the record. They’d change labels following the release of Sorcerers, putting out their seminal Mice and Rats in the Loft on Transatlatntic in 1971. The band then shifted lineups until the name wore away, replaced by the simple Noy’s Band.

Noy’s Band wouldn’t find much footing and eventually that too was disbanded. Not would go on to play in a proto-punk outfit, Rip Snorter before trying once again with Jan Dukes de Grey in 1975 with his wife, Fiona Deller and a rotating cast of mucians. Through connections with Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, the band obtained a production deal with Britania Row studios and put together their third and final album, Strange Terrain, which, through costing a small fortune to record was never released at the time. It was finally issued by Cherrytree in 2010, which brought a bit more light to the band among folk-heads at the time. Good to see the band’s early works getting the reissue treatment, though.




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Leah Senior

Capturing the sun-faded ease of the ‘70s has become a bit of a genre unto itself of late. From Drugdealer and Weyes Blood, to Foxygen and The Lemon Twigs, there are plenty who seek to hitch their hammock in the light of post-Laurel Canyon vibes of reclusive solitude and worn-leather comfort. For her third record on Flightless, Leah Senior lets slip out another entry to that canon, and one that’s quite a welcome addition. She’s been no stranger to folk that leans towards the macrame decade as she’s been simmering low-key among the less ferocious names on the Aussie imprint’s roster. She’s played the troubadour aptly. Yet, with The Passing Scene, she’s found a new niche between confessional poetics and a lusher sound that pulls her off of the solo stool and into a studio sound that conjures thick wood panels, tapestry draped lamps, and a soft curlicue of smoke rising from behind the glass. There’s a verdant wooded aura to the record that taps into not only the Valley’s lineage but the valley itself.

Lyrically the album hits on some of the same imagery that would have marked her ‘70s influences, from the lovelorn dreaming of Baez and Mitchell, to the sunset sighs of Sweet Baby James and the slightly religious psychedelia of Judee Sill. In fact, the latter feels like she has a large thumbprint in Senior’s songwriting, merging an often reclusive personal nature with a clear talent for orchestrations that makes her songs soar much further than the studio walls. Like Sill, no matter how well-crafted the trappings around her, Senior’s voice remains the magnetic draw, and she uses it well to form an album that’s drawing her out as an artist to keep tabs on. Between this and the excellent album from Grace Cummings, it seems that loudness and Lizards aren’t all that Flightless has going for it.



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Tarotplane

A split last year with Prana Crafter brought Baltimore’s Tarotplane further into the light, at least around here, but PJ Doresey’s been issuing deep-tissue cosmic platters for a couple of years on labels like Aguirre and Lullabies for Insomniacs. He debuts on hometown outpost VG+ with an LP split into two side-long excursions into the outer reaches of crystalline headspace. The Feedback Sutras was conceived mid-winter freeze and the isolation and cold feed into the windswept desolation that scars the album’s surface. There’s something both macrocosmic and microcosmic at work here. Dorsey’s voluminous riffs and synth burble tug at the tundra like an ice core drill down through a glacier. The album leeches out the gasses and grit of eons packed in cold compress, refracting light off the crystal structure to create an earthbound cosmos in compact.

The first side is tenuous and trembling, with a slight tinge of danger lurking beneath the surface. While the coldness is at its core, something in Dorsey’s delivery sidles his work up next to the underwater explorations of Sven Liabek or the watery prog of Dominique Guiot. Like those soundtracks to the deep, there’s something of a descent into the abyss to Tarotplane’s latest. There’s a weightlessness, but also a force pulling the suspended listener further into the depths of shadow and light that flicker through the liquid lines of his playing. The second side sets aside some of the wonder to let the feelings of danger grip tighter. Its hard to fight the pull downward to the frigid waters that grow ever darker, even as the lights of the first track dance in glances back to the surface above. Last year’s split positioned Dorsey to take a hight place on the list of cosmic players filling up the ranks, and with The Feedback Sutras he leaps ever higher. Isolation just got a new soundtrack. Not a minute too late, either.



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Modern Nature

Right on the heels of their excellent LP from last year, Jack Cooper’s Modern Nature issues a mini-LP that further expands on his grey-streaked pastoral direction. A master of nocturnes, Cooper’s built Modern Nature into a hybrid of psychedelic folk that creeps along the underbrush with a soft footing and jazz impulses that slink through the streets at night breathing tendrils of smoke and steam into the flickering lamplight above. From the coiled confines of “Flourish,” rife with cool discomfort, to the pulsing skitter and deep sighs of “Harvest,” the album pushes Modern Nature’s world beyond the walls that were cobbled on How To Live. While mostly built on the same lineuep, “Harvest” features Kayla Cohen on vocals, and she’s a welcome addition to the focused, twilight shimmer of Modern Nature’s sound.

That sound in particular is what attracts the listener to Annual. What’s most apparent is that this suite of songs all share the same wounded heart. How To Live explored the basis of the sounds that crop up here — the slow amble of piano lines, guitar sway, Jeff Tobias’ foggy sax smears, and the inky slink of brushed drums — but Annual ties the temperament of its songs together in such a way that they feel like a vignette that needs to be cracked over repeated listens. The mini-LP plays out like a single night spent getting one’s head straight after a loss or life upset. The suite is reserved and pensive, never quite letting us get close enough to see how bad the wounds are, or at least doing a good job of covering up the blood that seeps out in emotional ripples, but the hurt can be felt in every note. It’s an excellent companion to the LP and further argument for Modern Nature’s wounded folk strain to continue evolving under a close eye.



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Galore

Been really enjoying this scrappy, scruffy dose of post-punk from San Francisco’s Galore lately. The band’s hitting on the same intersection of influences as Aussie upstarts Primo!, Terry, and School Damage but they add a dose of sweetness that’s sometimes sanded away from those outfits, perhaps bringing them most in line with the windswept charm of Parsnip. The band employs an austerity that cuts through the fat of pop and hits straight onto the bone. Jangled and jostled, nervy, but emotionally raw, the band’s eponymous LP also draws a crooked line between Look Blue Go Purple, The Pastels, and Talulah Gosh. The songs are catchy without cloying, crafting hooks that knock around the brain but won’t latch completely due to the rough edges. Each go round with the album lets them stick in a different nook of consciousness and if feels just right.

They sweep from strums and the lilt of jangles that populate much of the album to the sonic shrapnel of “Cucaracha,” and the bent tin twist of “Lydia,” executing the switch without so much as a skid on the pavement. They make the juxtaposition feel natural like the flow of an 80’s college station. The songs crunch confessionally, detailing days spent lolling in the bed, creature comforts, dashed hopes, and sneaking suspicions. The bubble-wrap snap of drums skitters in the background and the bass feels like its just getting its land legs back on more than a few songs. The whole record comes together in a lovely slump on the bed — conflicted, content, confused, and catchy. It’s holding up a long tradition of jangle n’ bop that doesn’t quite fit into the boxes that folks want to try to stuff ‘em into and Galore comes out shining all the brighter for their refusal to take shape.


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Tengger

The new album from pan-asian duo (or trio if you count their child accompanist / dance enthusiast) is a glittering example of Terra Firma synth explorations. While many of their contemporaries explore the cosmos, looking to dip their synth strains in an otherworldly light, Tengger are doused in earthbound explorations of natural beauty given sonic flight. The band has long embarked on pilgrimages to inspire their work and it’s clear that the high, green-draped peaks of mountain trails and the verdant expanses of highborn waterfalls and streams give life to their new age psychedelic soak in ways that seem more dazzling than the outer realms could ever hope to achieve.

On the fittingly named Nomad, the couple move more towards an embrace of rhythm than on past Tengger records. The stratospheric float remains in place, but underneath there is a burbling, wondrous sense of movement that picks from the German Progressive template and adds a hypnotic flow to the album. With the DNA of Neu and Klaus Schulze in their veins, the band push the motorik impulses into a new generation, eschewing the modern tendency to mash these influences into a fine paste. They embrace the dichotomy of ambience and propulsion with a clear vision that ripples nicely in all directions. The album finds them balanced, clean and focused on a terrestrial peace that’s enviable, yet attainable, at least for the 37 minutes that they radiate from the speakers.



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