Browsing Category Reviews

Samara Lubelski

Samara Lubelski inhabits a world of subtle psychedelia. Her songs don’t hit you over the head with guitar pyrotechnics, effects or gimmick. Where other vocalists would belt, Lubelski prefers the intimacy of a whisper. Her songs hum along on a slipped frequency, and like a secret stretched between the notes her soft touch pushes the listener out of sync with time and space for just a while before it snaps back with an elastic ‘thwap’ as the album clicks to a close. She stitches the rhythmic burble of Krautrock to a knotted pop and sends it twisting through the mind with an effervescent fizz. Her hushed composure, paired with the delicate machinations of Flickers At The Station give the feeling of being shrunk and zipping through a molecular backdrop in perfect precision to Lubelski’s click-stop kaleidoscopic pop beat.

Though Lubelski has a folk and experimental background, her solo work increasingly picks up cues from Stereolab, melding the band’s progressive rubric to the airy folk-pop delivery of The Free Design or Wendy & Bonnie. Chalk this up to Lubelski’s continued collaboration with German pop tinkerers Metabolisumus, who serve as backing band for the recordings here. With their aid she helps to push her songwriting through the cigarette burn flicker of the film strip pop she’s been working towards, winding up in a feeling caught between sleeping and dream, nodding out while the 60’s science lesson filters in through the classroom speakers above. Flickers winds up yet another solid notch in Lubelski’s catalog- warm, nostalgic, and expertly built.



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Howlin Rain

Howlin Rain has always made their bed with the prospect of bending staples of ‘70s rock radio to the whims of something wilder – a dial that’s more psychedelic and free. While they dash through territories left vacant by Steppenwolf, Crazy Horse, Humble Pie, and The Band, in a post-radio world where influences seep in through deep dives and algorithmic suggestion they’re picking at bits of the fringe like Fat, Mighty Baby or Josephus as well. They dress shades of unrestrained early ‘70s Dead in heavier boots, whiskeying up their acid runs with the grit of Southern Rock. Ahead of quite a few other contenders this year, Howlin’ Rain is leading the edge of Cosmic Americana – pure and easy as a Sunday bar-b-que on the surface, but with a glint of madness in their eyes. The band is equal parts block party and bike club bonfire and that’s what makes The Alligator Bride burn so bright.

Perhaps spurred on by another fire eater project from Miller in the form of Feral Ohms, the core of Howlin’ Rain hasn’t felt this ragged in years. The past two albums in particular sanded the rough edges that marked early Rain, focusing on the tender blues beneath the tumult, but with The Alligator Bride we see Miller and co. back to the business of distilling lightning into choogle. The record is propelled by the bass in a way that rock hasn’t tapped into since Grand Funk and The James Gang shuttered their stores. Buoyed by the groove, the record snakes through southern charms and country’s arms to find purchase on the banks of the Mississippi. It’s mud covered with a howling heart.

If Howlin Rain was conceived as the comedown, slow-simmer backing to Comets On Fire’s coin, then they’re working their way back towards the fire with this album. That melodic heart is kicking strong as ever and there’s rhythm in their blues – swingin’ in the ways that lead the Stones down to Alabama to find their own country soul. It’s what Howlin Rain does with that soul that takes their aesthetic from throwback to evolution though. There’s no shelter to give them because they’ve burnt down the barn and are eying the house. With The Alligator Bride the band have let the danger back into their sound and that flash of the knife is just what’s needed to draw blood.



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Michael Rault

Landing on Daptone’s rock imprint, Wick, begs more than a few comparisons to power pop’s favorite sons, Big Star. For his sake, let’s hope finding love in the arms of soul proprietors ends better for Rault than it did for the long-term prospects of his predecessors. However, in the short term its working out just fine. Produced by Wayne Gordon, chief engineer at Daptone, the album is lush and luxuriant – curling its toes into carpets of strings, pillowing in pink clouds of reverb and generally hunkering down into a Vaseline-lensed soft-focus that’s far removed from the pop of 2018.

If the record is displaced in time, that seems largely by design, though. Rault is pulling decidedly from the “pop” half of his genre’s namesake, favoring the radio-friendly forms of Badfinger, The Raspberries, Emitt Rhodes and Chris Bell’s solo work. Rault has slipped on the ‘70s like a butterfly collar and it looks good on him. Of course, he’s spent time in the decade before, fiddling with T. Rex boogie and glam crunch on his previous album for Burger. However, while that territory has been raided plentifully over the last few years with an easy entry through garage rock’s back door, the AOR sincerity of the time period is harder to emulate without sounding cheesy, a feat that Rault pulls off with seeming ease. He’s cherry picking through solo McCartney, Harrison and the aforementioned Apple acolytes while skirting the pitfalls of Frampton and Speedwagon for an album that’s all pleasure, no guilt.

Lyrically the album is preoccupied with sleeping and dreaming, subject matter that lends itself well to Rault’s sparkling pop diorama. Songs like “Sitting Still” and “Dream Song” (naturally) feel like they’re pumped in on ripples of dry ice and pastel light. The listening field is tipped back and staring at clouds pass by while Rault’s pop vision is projected above. At a scant 35 minutes, the dream is over almost too soon. Best to leave them wanting more I suppose and It’s A New Day Tonight certainly begs for a sequel and soon. Rault’s found his niche in this corner of the ‘70s. I’d say he should get comfortable their but he seems right at home.



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Taj Mahal Travellers – August 1974

It’s been a hell of year for out of print Japanese psych classics. With Black Editions firing on all cylinders there’s plenty to love from the depths of the PSF empire but Aguirre’s creeping in with a classic of their own. The Belgian imprint has rounded up the cosmic float of Taj Mahal Travellers’ definitive album, August 1974, in all its double-wide glory. The band, known for their eclectic live performances and outdoor improvisations, took to the studios at Columbia Japan for four pieces stretched over four sides, each a deeper dive into electronic quaver, echoplexed violin, growled drones, and charring feedback. The record stands at the apex of Japanese improv and its tendrils wrap deep into the following decades’ younger players as one of the main influences of the new psychedelic front. Though it’s clear that the band had a heavy link to their German Progressive counterparts around the same time, effectively taking up the far east version of Kosmiche on this record, they give the proceedings a distinctly Japanese bent, taking what they’d acquired from a few EU tours and bending it to their will in the studio setting.

Aside from this record the only other official document from the band while active was July 15, 1972 a live recording from Sohgetsu Hall in Tokyo that got the official treatment as their debut. Following August 1974 the band would break ties, with most of the younger members dropping away from the scene and violinist Takehisa Kosugi continuing his journeys through experimental circles, even winding up with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company as musical director for a while. The spectral howl of the band’s heavy hitter rears its head as an influence in psychedelic circles to this day, so its great to have this back in an official capacity on the table. Highly recommended for fans from Ash Ra to Acid Mother’s and everything in between.




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Ryley Walker

The curse of making an album that’s hailed as great is that it haunts your career, rearing its head wherever you go, always an accolade and an albatross at the same time. In the wake of Primrose Green Ryley Walker was lofted up as the heir to knotted folk’s throne, though it always seemed that he had no interest in resting there for any length of time. That album’s follow-up, Golden Sings That Have Been Sung, was a looser bar-rock exploration that was summarily panned for not sounding enough like its predecessor, for not settling onto the throne. It was an unfair assessment met with some frustration by the artist, and rightfully so. With Deafman Glance Walker firmly asserts that genre is an exercise and not a defining characteristic of an artist. He shirks once and for all the shadow of Primrose and leaves us with his darkest, most complex and delicately shaded album yet.

There’s hardly a trace of folk proper on Deafman, though it perhaps shows up most prominently in Telluride Speed with its woven plucks and autumnal flute. As with the majority of Walker’s works on the album, though, the simple bliss is shot through with bent jazz markers and frustrated electric runs. As the album progresses, Walker pushes a notion of texture over melody and the album begins to color in like an abstract painting with dark, furious patches in one corner and gorgeous, light swipes on the opposite edge. Don’t let that imply that the record has an improvisational nature, far from it. Like the best abstracts the seemingly jarred elements are planned and structured to look haphazard, but without the forethought the juxtapositions would never land.

Walker recorded the album in Chicago and has referenced the city’s sounds as an influence, one that can indeed be felt in the margins of Deafman Glance – the soul of a poet squeezed through the equations of Tortoise or Gastr del Sol. Lyrically, Walker’s still sitting in the corner of the bar, though this time there’s more whiskey and solitude than good laughs and cheap beer. The album is certainly ruminating in its heart, absorbed in itself for better or worse. With Deafman Glance, however, Walker has knocked out an album that’s as visceral and tactile as his early works are ephemeral and airy. This is a true step forward, and while there are certainly no hooks that are going to keep nudging you back, the innate desire to stare at Walker’s void and discern the depths is rather addictive.




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Goat – “Let It Burn”

Music from Goat, recorded and intended for use in a film about burning a giant straw goat? Seems like a perfect excuse to feature the Swedish psych collective to me. “Let It Burn” was recorded for use in the film Killing Gävle, a documentary about the custodians of a straw goat placed in the town square of the titular town of Gävle at Christmastime. The goat is in constant peril of being burned by mischievous pagans which, sure, makes perfect sense. Don’t erect a giant symbol of the old world gods without expecting true believers to get all effigy on it. The track in question is pure Goat, roiling on polyrhythmic drums flanked by flutes and doused in both fuzz and folk guitars. Essentially, if you’ve found joy in Goat’s catalog up to this point then a somewhat meta song about pagans going full Burning Man on a giant wicker likeness of the band’s namesake seems right in order.

The b-side here is a mellow comedown, buzzing with drones and buttered with sax, it’s a different side of the psych warriors that shows them reveling in cosmic jazz without the hectic sweat of their usual rhythmic pummel. The song is a portion of a freeform studio jam, so it almost seems given there’s bound to be a “Friday Pt. 2” at some point down the pike. Unfortunately, the physicals were scant on this one, so either battle the Discogs goblins for a copy or be happy with the digital drop on this. Either way, it’s a prime slice of one of Sweden’s most excellent exports.



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The Advisory Circle

At its heart, the new Advisory Circle record is Jon Brooks doing what he does best, creating synth worlds that explode into vivid view over the course of an album. He’s long been using the moniker to explore hypnogogic wonderlands and Library music in equal measure but his latest leans much heavier on the latter this time, leaving the psychedelic touches that marked From Out Here behind. Jumping off from the works explored by his recent team up with Jim Jupp as Belbury Circle he’s jettisoning the Omni via Radiophonic works of his previous LP and the pastoral filmstrip aesthetic of early classics like As The Crow Flies and embracing the synth led excess of the ‘Me Decade’ in full swing.

Where Belbury Circle found its way to the darker side of synth, plumbing the depths of horror soundtracks and Goblin inspired italo-freak classics, Ways of Seeing embraces the late ‘70s and ‘80s television serial and the self-serious caper film via library tracks stuffed with tension, gloss and the kind of plastic wrapped synth lines that immediately date some of the most indelible film memories of an ‘80s childhood. There’s no moment in movies like Real Genius or Kung Fury that is not hinged on the faux futurism of digital joy that bubbles beneath the action. Likewise shows like Miami Vice found their edge in this same sonic cocoon, subtly giving viewers the feeling that recycled themes held a more modern meaning with a few extra silky synths plodding the plot along.

That seems to be the core theme of Ways of Seeing, perception changed through aural accompaniment, and its reflected in the spot-on packaging (as usual) of Julian House which mirrors ‘80s film and camera magazines and brochures of the era. Brooks has proven time and again that he’s a scholar of the music that moves behind what we watch and while his references here are no doubt well beyond my soundtrack prowess his zeal has produced an album that transports the listener to an immediate time and place, snapping the senses awake as easily as a smell tied to childhood. Even if you didn’t notice it consciously, these were the sounds that permeated a decade or more of programming. Their sounds are already in your DNA, Brooks just brings it bubbling to the surface like a long hidden scar.



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Good Morning

Aussie duo Good Morning graduates from the EP to the LP but shows no signs of ditching the band’s ramshackle, disjointed style with a larger overarching container. Good on ‘em too, because their “life stuffed in a knapsack” aesthetic is largely the engine driving their charms. The band is of and beholden to the new wave of Aussie indie that embraces substance over sheen, often recorded in fits and starts in kitchens and basements around the country. It is music by and for friends that just happens to trickle out when the right label gets an ear on it. So, it is that Stefan Blair and Liam Parsons birthed this album alone, with the hum of tape as constant companion and the image of a lone bare bulb swinging above a Tascam as mascot to its creation. The record is sparse, as are their previous EPs, but without so much as a coat of paint the record is primed for its revelry in anxiety’s ouroboros, melancholy’s sway and sighed choruses that don’t rely on hooks so much as commiseration.

Despite a decidedly laid-back veneer the record doesn’t leave itself open to easy entry points. Guitars find themselves whittled down to second-tier status on Prize // Reward, replaced by a rec room piano that sounds like it might have two generations worth of drink rings to buff out. The pair swoons and shuffles through their songs with a brilliant disheveled approach, the very aural image of Nilsson’s robe-clad cover of Schmilsson – blank-eyed, bleary and perhaps privately destroyed by tiny catastrophes like running out of milk. They encapsulate a detached cool that’s almost a private joke between the songwriters, scoff if you must but they’re not out to win you over.

They hint at aspirations of elevating the record from its dehumidifier din – flutes peck at opener “Plant Matta” and a gang of vocal interlopers can be heard before they’re melted by the easy bake warble that takes the track to its resting place. There’s a running thread of sax that finds its way through the record, provided by Blair’s dad, though his debauched skronk colors the songs with a lounge-light hangover that’s not pulling the curtains any time soon. Now, despite the milieu that all of this isolation brings to mind, the record is actually a stunner of slack, feeling unfussed with the preening rabble outside of their creative bubble. Good Morning has slyly slipped out the best dip into the pill cabinet dressed up like a ‘70s private press depression session you’re likely to hear this year.



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Lithics

When it comes to post-punk these days, I’m a fan of the brittle, parched-throat approach that’s stuffed with bulbous bass and crimped wire guitars. Stow your smokey-eyed goth crooners, I want those guitars to lacerate and the atmosphere choked to hospital waiting room levels of forced air. Portland’s Lithics serve up just the thing, a satisfying album that’s scoring and snapping hooks off like drywall – rough-edged and choking the listener on their dust. The band is bred on a cocktail of The Contortions, Galaxo-Babies and Au Pairs – hiding rusted hooks in their surgical slice with ill intent. The approach is just enough to let the listener wander close before the sucker punch of Aubrey Hornor’s ball peen hammer vocals knocks them sideways.

Perhaps only labelmates Taiwan Housing Project or British dance diviners Shopping are working in quite such frantic strokes these days. But Lithics, unlike their contemporaries in label parentage or their UK counterparts don’t let on the sly wink that there’s fun to be had. Not that you can’t move to Lithics – you can and should, but they inspire a top-button tamped down, full-body jerk that feels manic and draws looks of concern from other occupants of the mashed mass audience. There’s beauty in their dissonance and order to their entropy but there’s menace in their strings and you best not take them too lightly.

If all this sounds like it’s not fun, then perhaps things are too kush on your side of the couch. Anxious energy throttles the sinews and Lithics know just how to draw it out. They’ve created a perfect conduit for shaking the itch that threatens to catch in the lungs. Lithics know you either face the panic head-on or let it consume you. Your choice I suppose.


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Velveteen Rabbit – “Mind Numbing Entertainment”

Rising out of the ashes of longstanding NYC power pop band The Jeanies comes a new band of glam-popped punchers holding onto a lot of what made their former band sizzle. Velveteen Rabbit are, however, doing it with quite a bit more refinement than The Jeanies ever mustered. Glam pop revivalists often get a bad rap for mining a movement that many see as a passing fad – the soon sullied toy found in the cereal box of punk, power pop and proto-metal at the end of the ‘70s. However, when done right there are fewer genres that can crack a smile so wide. Sure, the affectations are preposterous, the fashion was downright criminal and there was bubblegum stuck all in the hair of everyone involved, but as far as frivolous genre experiments go I’ll take it any day.

Velveteen Rabbit dip their paws into the great crossover between glam’s fuzz-tumbled crunch and the fey end of power pop. The bands that were able to hit this stride found a bit of a golden hour sound that rocks like the punks but shies away from the pit to pine over girls at the bar. Think The Quick, Brett Smiley, Milk n’ Cookies or Phil Seymour and you’re on the right track here. The double shot of flippant fun leaves ya wanting more, which always marks a good single. This is prime ‘70s jukebox fodder following in the footsteps of plenty before them but absolutely a good time with each spin it takes around the platter.



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