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Booji Boys

Usually it’s time to lull into that nook of time between end of year lists and the first creaks of January releases, but looks like 2017 still had some fight left in her with the release of Booji Boys’ latest LP on Christmas Day. The second record from the Halifax band sees them careening down a similar speed curve as their past work – somewhat out of control, mussed, fussed and finding solace in those cracks that appear in their veneer. The band might take some naming influence from Devo, but sonically they’re ripped from a crud-fi, 8-track version of pop-punk that straddles garage like a well-worn saddle. They bang these tunes out like a mid-90s band cramming as many tracks as possible onto both sides of seven inch for gas money and it sounds great to hear them go for it.

Maybe that’s what’s most endearing about the band, they’re not busting the bar or breaking any molds but they have a tenacity about them that’s stuffed full of pure nostalgia for skate-punk youth. They feel like old friends who just never grew up. Though, by the end of Weekend Rockers even they prove that’s not entirely true. They stretch out on a seven-minute rocker that’s full of twists and turns beyond the 1 1/2 minute hook hump that they’re often hugging. They claim some influence from prog-punk kingpins Fucked Up, though they fall a bit short of the fellow Canadians’ scope. Still, Weekend Rockers winds up a solid slapshot to the skull and as good an album as any to get the blood flowing in these cold, doldrum days.




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Purling Hiss

The end of the year always brings the oddest gems – releases that slipped out late, misguided xmas singles and EPs that didn’t fit into the regular rotation of the year. It’s the latter that nips at the heels of 2017 from Purling Hiss. Where the band’s last album showcased a heavy dedication to the toughened strains of fuzz-chunked indie rock and psych, they let loose on this short format offering from Drag City.

The EP ties together some instrumental noise-psych snippets alongside some of their most accessible pop nuggets and even a lean into jangle-pop that seems surprising given their catalog. In whole the release is a bit indulgent, but that’s also exactly how it seems to be presented. It’s an end of the year grab bag / hodge-podge that wouldn’t fit with the band’s aesthetic. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few gems in here – “My Dreams” speaks highly to the band’s pop ability and to their potential to clean up. Though, what it really sounds like is the seeds of a new band. Sometimes there’s value in recognizing a great song that just needs to be released under a new heading. Nevertheless, Breeze is a nice little clutch of fun for 2017’s wind-down.




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Plankton Wat

Sometimes there’s so much noise floating around the gutter of reviews that a gem from a favorite just quietly slips past the locks. Dewey Mahood has always made the most of his solo endeavor as Plankton Wat, and though it never quite achieves the prominence that his work in Eternal Tapestry has, his lonesome universe is definitely a psych-folk monster on the sly. His latest is a tape for the consistently thick catalog of Skylantern Records. Creeping out of the forest with a dank moss hangover, Mahood is quick to dive into the scorched and smoldering territory of deep vein psych.

For Hidden Path he eschews the vocal route entirely, delving deep into dirge territory and fleshing it out his most touching and at turns, incendiary works. Mahood’s gone far into the burrow of psychedelia for an album that’s caustic and tender, bittersweet and effervescent. There are moments of true joy built into Hidden Path, making this Plankton Wat at its pinnacle. The project has often had a mark of a solo indulgence built in as an write off, but with this, Mahood proves that Plankton Wat is quite the serious endeavor, and one to be reckoned with.






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F/i – “Space Mantra”

I’m always game to expand my catalog of records that fall under the Space Rock tag and this reissue from Wisconsin’s F/i is a long undersung piece of the genre’s puzzle. The band started with a focus on noise, jumping off from Throbbing Gristle’s innovations and beginning to move towards guitars by the time they recorded a celebrated split with their brother band Boy Dirt Car in 1986. They’d full cement the sound as they embarked on their 1988 album Space Mantra, which would serve as their breakout, and become heralded as a lost classic in psych and noise for years.

Now the record is getting a proper issue on Sorcerer records, cut to the same specs as the RRRecords original. The record is swathed in noise, chugging industrial storms that swirl around, nodding heavily to their earlier work. They take those storms and pin them under the sway of groove and that’s where the record gets interesting – finding a nice mesh of Hawkwind, Neu, Popul Vuh and the aforementioned Gristle. They wind up in similar territory to fellow travelers Loop and its easy to see a long, lingering influence in bands like Moon Duo and Föllakzoid. The band continued on through the early ’00s with several augmentations to their lineup, but this album still remains a high water mark for both the group and the genre.




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Total Control

While a good majority of the Aussie indie releases tend to get glossed over here in The States, Total Control seems to have struck a chord. Their releases on luminary labels Sub Pop and Iron Lung probably go a long way in that regard, but that’s not to discount their unique slant on post-punk impulses in any way. Following on their laser-focused 2014 album, Typical System, for Iron Lung, they hop to the short format with a 12″ EP that’s clean, yet eclectic in its influences, but also one of the most cohesive shots across the bow they’ve put together yet.

The record is bookended by pt. 1 and 2 of the title track, a chaotic rip of nervous energy and pointed punk anthem respectively. The rest of the EP has shuttled aside some of their noisier nuances to amp up their off-kilter pop senses instead, littering the tracks with duct-taped beats and sprightly strums that might have found their way to the cutting floor previously. It’s hard not to hear a slight extension of Terry’s excellent LP from this year peeking through – with members Al Montfort and Zephyr Pavey acting as guiding lights in both bands. Still, Laughing at the System is as essential as any other piece of the Total Control puzzle and by no means a frivolous aside. While they’ve begun shading in the bite with a bit of levity, they’re still offering up a few of their most acerbic flayers. Total Control contains some of the top players from the Aussie underground and this release proves how potent they can be even when time is a factor.

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Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys

Though I’ve always balked at the name, Aussies Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys have consistently thrown down a good dose of sore-throated rock n’ roll. They pull from the wave that saw alt-rock rippers rise, riding into major label stardom and branching into either infamy or obscurity at the whims of a nation of radio listeners. For their part, the band leans harder towards infamy on Rot, dredging up more than a few leathered licks from the traditions of The Replacements, Hüsker Dü and Volcano Suns. The Boys know a good riff when they find one, but they’re ready to dive past hooks and into a muddier tangle of rock than most of their peers. And while they may share Joe Sukit with labelmates Royal Headache, they’ve buried his trademarked howl under a tar thick swipe of grunge.

The album’s scraped and scarred, rolled in beer and not a small amount of mischief for a night out. Though that makes them sound like teenagers on a bender, it’s more along the lines of college lads bored and wandering town, looking for the matchlight of fun that winds up the fodder for eternal stories. They succeed in capturing the kind of loose boredom that inhabits youth, the restless heart and shaggy demeanor that’s not quite come of age, but tryin.’ Rot is decidedly classic in its approach, swerving some of the current slacker trends and jangled impressions flittering through the Aussie underground. For their part they’ve gone in looking to create something that sounds like it already belongs to a gilded age of passed down classics and succeeded quite handily.




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First Base

For all the heavy records that roll through here, I am and will always be a sucker for a good ole fashioned power pop record. There’s something about hitting that sweet spot between bubblegum’s sundown and the heartflutter of punk before its more serious sneers took down its most fun peers. That’s the valley Toronto’s First Base occupy. The band’s second record shimmy shines their sound to a high gloss polish that’s as evident in its love for the Yellow Pills highlights of yesteryear as it is for modern contempos like Barreracudas, Gentleman Jesse, Mother’s Children or Wyatt Blair. There are shades of ennui in some of these gems, but they’re all quickly blown away by a core of chewy, hi-gloss, platform stompin’, skinny tie totin’ power pop.

It’s tempting for modern makers to tumble into the pitfalls of pop-punk, toughening the classic formula just a touch too much, tipping the fulcrum from wide-eyed earnestness and into cheeky childishness. On Not That Bad the Canadians steer wide of coming off pubescent and recapture the hip-swung brashness and heartfelt delivery of everyone who fell under the sway of Cheap Trick and Tommy Roe in equal measure. The album is a familiar splash of cool water on a hot day, refreshing as hell in a year that’s not exactly brimming with positive vibes and good time reasons to just dance it out. Maybe that’s why this one feels perfect just now. Sometimes I want something to salt the wounds so I don’t forget the pain, but just as often its nice to just scrub it all away and take a helium hit to the skull that’s frivolous fun for five or ten minutes (or you know maybe 30).





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Lars Finberg

Remember how a certain T. Segall has been dropping some coarse post-punk nuggets, with a heaping helping of Mikal Cronin squalling on the sax? Seems like perhaps those choice moments might have found some incubation in Segall’s collaboration and production of Lars Finberg’s new LP. The first solo outing from Finberg comes late into a career as a noise-pop and garage go-to – holding down time in The Intelligence, A-Frames, Wounded Lion and Thee Oh Sees. However, he seems perfectly at home with his name above the marquee and hunkered down with his cadre of collaborators. The LP isn’t wholly absent from the space that The Intelligence has occupied, but Moon Over Bakersfield certainly hits its own marks, spreading roots into alien punk and acerbic post-punk with equal zeal.

Finberg feels like he’s sinking into a comfortable relationship with discomfort here, doing his best to unseat pop’s stranglehold on indie as often as possible. The record revels in acid-washed sax, dissociated vocal effects and claustrophobic atmospheres, but it also locks down a serious addiction to groove. Finberg rides the bass like a guiding light, peddling rhythm grunged by a heaping helping of distortion as a daily fix. He’s peeling back the skin on his past and letting the sulfur burn away at the tissues of 2017 in a way that’s as addicting as it is unsettling. If you’ve only met Finberg tangentially prior, it’s time to hit him head on.




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Jon Porras

Been a while since Jon Porras has been in all our lives, but fear not, he’s making up the lost time with a new solo outing for Geographic North. Over the years, whether solo or with Barn Owl, Porras has found a way to shape atmosphere into hardened glass and to sublimate tones straight to a gaseous torrent of sound that swirls like a storm with teeth. This album, a treatise on algorithmic vs improvised music sees him steadily eroding the staunch mechanics of preset rhythms into a fine powder set loose on the the winds.

He opens the album with a breath of positivity, burbling with synths and a minimal crispness. By the time the next two tracks hit there’s no sign of any sunny demeanor, only the kind of long-faced dread that’s fed by drought and drunk on death. He lifts the veil somewhat as he progresses (especially on “22/7”) but that nagging seed of dread is present and peeling the paint on your resolve through the end of the album. Porras remains, as ever, the master of stark seances that seem to breathe life into mechanical objects. It’s clear that he’s working within the realm of electronic music here but as the tracks breathe and howl, it’s easy to forget the circuits and let the drones weave with your sinews.




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Alexander

It’s been a fertile year for New Haven, CT. Between releases from Mountain Movers, Headroom, and now David Shapiro’s Alexander, they’re pushing a few of their best and brightest out into the larger world. Alexander differs from the other two in sheer volume alone. Despite having a role in Headroom, Shapiro trades in none of their Earth crumbling riffs or walls of chaos. Instead, Alexander embraces the Takoma catalog for its homespun take on fingerpicked blues. Though, while Shapiro’s clearly a student of the Fahey, Basho, Kotke school, he’s leaning away from any of the jovial, rambling sunshine that might pervade the fingerpicked set. Instead, there’s a somber meditation to his debut LP that gives it weight even where his fingers dance.

He’s scraping away at the new school pickers that have sprung up before him, honing in on the drones and darkness inherit in Ben Chasny, Daniel Bachman, Richard Bishop and James Blackshaw’s contemporary takes on the spirit of strings. The eponymous LP winds slowly through grey-skied hills, still giving a shade of country side blues, but the countryside is more Scottish hills hued in silver than any sunny American delta. There’s a crispness to the record that begs the listener to pull a coat tight around their shoulders and tuck down into a bottle. Admittedly, that darkness is inviting. As proper debuts go (though he’s got plenty of small formats floating around before this), it’s a fair shot and a welcome voice from a verdant New England scene.




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