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Dire Wolves

The ‘cosmic sound’ might just be coming to a head with the release of Dire Wolves’ latest LP. Grow Towards The Light. Aligning themselves again with Beyond Beyond is Beyond, the record represents a bit of a lineup shift for the band. This marks their first without noted psych-folk stalwart Lau Nau on main vocals, but her shoes have been ably filled by regular member Georgia Carbone, who shifts this record towards the celestial – singing the album in her own invented language of bewitching moans and soaring incantations. Thrumming behind her, the band do their own part to elevate Grow Towards The Light to infinite proportions. As ever, bandleader and vibrational North Star Jefferey Alexander winds his guitars around limber and languorous nodes, stretching the passages beyond mere psychedelia and into a freeform headspace that sutures together folk, jazz, and prog on top of a lysergic backbone.

Further adding to the glorious din, Arjun Mendiratta’s (Village of Spaces) violin bobs and weaves between Carbone’s vocals, playing off them in acrobatic tangles throughout the album. Taralie Peterson (Spires In The The Sunset Rise) brings stabs of sax, charring passages into an amber ombré that melts the margins of the band’s vortex. The record is a tempest of sound – rhythms and grooves develop but just as often the players are fighting for space in the storm – wrestling with time and tempo and leaning hard into the whirlwind fray. At times the record is harrowing and haunting, biting into the brain with more than one set of teeth, but its not all flash and a friction.

The band lounges in verdant vibes as well, letting the oasis of “Water Bearing One” cool the wounds of the previous songs like a calming gel. “Discordant Angels,” while less outwardly comforting, lets up the gale force to saw a psych-folk spiritual out of the ruins. The song’s mournful shores provide a welcome shelter, but it winds up devastating in its own right – hanging heavier on the heart than the surrounding slashers. Standout, “Spacetime Rider” brings a dose of space rock, leaning into one of their most inviting grooves before the band winds up the whirlwind once more. Dire Wolves have an intimidatingly vast catalog, but if you’re a newcomer looking for a place to start, you’d do well to begin with Grow Towards The Light. It’s a not only one of the band’s strongest sets, it’s a top turner for 2019 as well.


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75 Dollar Bill

On their previous album, Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock 75 Dollar Bill scratched out a new high water mark, taking their austere setup (guitar and wooden crate) to new heights via repetition dropout zones of buzzing bliss. It’s four tracks packed more experimental rhythm riot than pretty much any other LP that year. It seemed a hard bar to hurdle, but the band’s not only bested that slab, they’ve soared far over its ambitions to create one of 2019’s most vital shakers. At double the length, and spanning four sides, the LP isn’t holding anything back. Rick Brown and Che Chen lead their troupe further down the wormhole of rhytmic wrangle than ever before with tracks stretching in excess of sixteen minutes, beset by locklimbed tangles of strings, stomps, skronk, and saw. It’s hypnotic in its execution and brilliant in its scope.

As with the previous album, whittling this just down to Brown and Chen is only half the equation. I Was Real owes just as much to its gathered ensemble as its predecessor, with a cadre of collaborators adding sax, viola, synth, contrabass, and additional guitars to the mix. The players summon a primeval boogie that resonates deep from the earth’s core and smelt it into audible heat. The band has made it adamant that they don’t consider this blues, but it’s a close cousin. When not doused in drones, the record is bursting with boogie – a kind of shaggy, euphoric, sweat sequined strain of boogie that’s more akin to the brokedown soulshake of someone like the name-checked Tetuzi Akiyama (see: track #3).

Like Akiyama’s Don’t Forget To Boogie the band deconstructs the heartbeat hum of ionic vibrations broadcasting from every environ and contorts them into shards of guitar that slice at the listener with a satisfying scratch. The band hammers on phrases, digging through Middle Eastern fuzztone and African Tuareg desert blues with equal hunger. The record is a sun ritual for a new age, dancing out the technological marvels of our time and crushing them into clatter matter, shaking their shambles along to the insistent beat and loosing all tethers in the process. As the title asserts, this is real – a tactile, turbulent, throttle that shakes up the last reluctant bones in one’s system and frees the listener from a life of stagnation. Get this on the turntable as soon as humanly possible.



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Bench Press

On their sophomore album, Melbourne’s Bench Press have tightened their sound and hammered out a focused approach that whittles away any excess. Built on a bedrock of muscular postpunk, the band brings an unusually milkfed force to the typically wiry genre. The guitars still bend and contort, attempting to squirm away in distress, but the frame they’re fashioned to is fortified by knotted bass grooves, a thick pummel of drums, and the gruff growls of singular singer Jack Stavrakis. The record works hard to avoid the typecast tropes that have bogged down so many in their field, giving the crushed glass crowd a hardcore makeover.

It’s really Stavrakis’ oversized personality that pushes Bench Press out of the common channels that modern day post punks have allowed themselves to be filed. His voice swings wild, almost always at a gale force gusto, deconstructing doubt, self-care, self-improvement, and hypocrisy. From the name on down, the band seems like it should be a bro’s dream of dirgey hooks, and testosterone stained 20 rep jams, but the band’s self-aware, turning their bombastic frustration into a manifesto for change, not status quo.

When the band’s edges are sharpened and their hooks are harnessed right, it’s a powerful record that charges breathlessly at any target. Occasionally it stumbles, with the flipside cooldown “Take It Slow” going at it a bit literally, and bogging down the energy. For the most part, though, this is another win for Poison City, an angular, damaged punk rumble that’s bashing at all the right recipients.



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Causa Sui – Summer Sessions (Vols I,II,III)

It’s fair to say that Causa Sui is the corner stone of Danish label El Paraiso. While the label has offered up choice slabs from faves like Mythic Sunship, Landing, Monarch, and Futuropaco in the last few years, the impetus for the label grew out of a set of records that founders Jonas Munk and Jakob Skøtt put together with their band in 2008. The group had already released two records, including the now reissued (and deservedly so) Free Ride when they decided to embark on a series of releases that explored their various Venn diagrams of psychedelic interest. Heavily featuring saxophonist Rasmus Rasmussen, the set veers through desert psych — dredging up visions of Kyuss and Josh Homme’s Desert Sessions — to a free jazz bite and Kosmiche float. The originals would see light on Germany’s Elektrohasch Schallplatten, and the money from those records would help found El Paraiso as we know it today.

What’s striking, listening back after nearly a decade, is that the set of three records sounds as timeless as anything in the band’s catalog or on the label’s roster. While the sidelong crusher “Visions of Summer” trades in some liquid stringwork, a la Ripley Johnson, it more directly nods to Future Days’ crossbreed of Krautrock and Dead-indebted exploratory jams. Each of the LPs winds between face-melter psychedelia and more nuanced visions of Ash Ra Temple’s tangle, 70’s Miles mind expansion, and Blue Cheer’s bottom-end fuzz rumble. Live favorite “Rip Tide” tears at the psyche with molten guitars and Rasmussen’s relentless sax. The third LP is more languid, melting into pools of shimmer, but it’s still occasionally beset by the band’s flash paper burn of guitar.

There’s a very good chance that these sessions escaped your view when they were first offered up, so now’s probably a good time to go for the deep dive and let the band’s exploratory vision wash over you. They even have a nifty box that ties up all three in a great Skøtt-designed sleeve, looking neat and prim like all El Paraiso offerings. It’s recommended going deep on this set and finding some forgotten gems.



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43 Odes

Eiderdown revives the spirit of the long languished Jewelled Antler, if only for a moment with a new cassette from 43 Odes. Comprised of Glenn Donaldson (Skygreen Leopards, Ivytree) and Steven R. Smith (Ulaan Passerine, Hala Strana) the band brings the pair back together for the first time since they ground out noise rituals in Thuja. While 43 Odes is certainly landing softer blows than Thuja, there’s a communal spirit. Steeped in the moss n’ fog feelings that led the compass point of Jewelled Antler, the record builds an atmosphere of trepidatious wonder. From the outset the pair summons the ceremonial atmosphere – dub-struck drums patter in the background, Donaldson’s bass slithers with controlled menace, and sawed strings chase smoke rings into a trance.

There’s a clear-cut vision of sound here, no dabbling or cross-pollinating pet genres. This is psychedelic infinite, dripping with sweat and blood, rolled in linen and soil. The two players have spent years building their catalogs and the practice is palpable. The songs on their eponymous tape don’t sound so much studied, though, as uncovered, unearthed on sonic digs through the remains of crumbled cultures. There’s beauty in the stately, breath-baited “Majha” or the soft glow of “Veema” and “Myr Vehrt.” There’s celebration and relief in the cool climes of “Braspt” and there’s danger in between the bars of “Gryvk.” The whole album laps at the listener with a freeform flow – folk that’s free from song, left to explore the incontrovertible truths that lie between the drops in an unending cycle of storm and solace.



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Plastic Crimewave Syndicate

Its been a little while since a Plastic Crimewave project barreled down the halls of Raven, but Krakow and co. were always instrumental in the development of the site. Back when Steve was rolling with Plastic Crimewave Sound, the band contributed to the site’s first compilation. Now the Sound has crumbled and the Syndicate has risen, but the same thread of acid-scratched psychedelia remains. Massacre of the Celestials opens with a yowl of guitar and a veneer of fuzz caked on so thick its hard to wade through the wreckage. Those guitars find their way through though, streaking sickness all over the inflammatory opener “Bound to Seek.’ From there the band dives into the murk, digging their sound deep into a puddle of sludge-psych that’s heavy, leaden and loud as hell.

There’s power in that porridge of sound still and the Plastic Crimewave that barrels out of it crests and demolishes all that stands in its path. Add in a squirm of sax, some spaced-phasing that knocks the mind into astral projection, and the record chomps down some Hawkwind vitamins with the best of ‘em. What I’ve always loved about Krakow’s brand of psychedelic soup is that he’s never even thought twice about pushing it too far. Effects? Double down until you can barely see the light from the haze. Guitar scorch? Make it hurt. Make it third degree. The songs tie together under a banner of excess, but in general its like wading through a surrealist stew that’s sticky, mossy, murky, and humid enough to bring on a fevered froth. Whether you’ve been following the choose-your-own psychedelic adventure with Krakow from the beginning, lapsed and returned, or just toeing in now Massacre is as good as any a place to start. Jump in an swim in the deep end of delirium with them and don’t just try not to think as the temporal shift hits its stride.



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Taiwan Housing Project

From its very first beat, the latest LP from Philly’s Taiwan Housing Project is brutal in its sonic assault. Shredding the crumpled remains of No Wave and noise and kicking them wildly around the room, Sub-Language Trust is every bit the equal of the band’s ferocious debut from 2017. Front and center, and impossible to ignore are the air-raid riot vocals from Kilynn Lunsford. She bends phrases until they break, growls from the very sinews of her form, and generally becomes the human embodiment of catharsis. Shit, that’s just track one. She, along with ex-Harry Pussy string-wringer Mark Feehan also manage to sledgehammer their acerbic noise into some rather memorable hooks over the course of the next thirty minutes. Mind you, Taiwan Housing Project don’t mold and press their hooks in forms that gently nod the head and leave you with a vacant smile. No, THP’s brand of hooks siphon the screws from your home, knock down the walls and leave a smoking wreckage of barbed noise-pop smoldering in your lap.

All the better, though, as the band purports on “Buy Buy Buy,” the beige existence you so secretly covet needs a good kick in the clavicle. So, the band extols a new brand of mall pop, one that might incite a little loose looting, one that might turn the screws on the saps in the second floor salon until they exfoliate more than the first or second layer of deadened nerves. The band uses any edge at their disposal to draw blood — bent scraps of guitar meant to lacerate and leave ‘em wanting a second slice, sax-scratch that boils the veneer off your precious ear drums, and a wild tangle of percussion that inspires all manner of disjointed dance. It’s a damn good year for music in 2019, but not a damn soul so far has managed wield the maniacal force that Taiwan Housing Project channels straight to the dopamine depths of your broken mind. The record is an absolute killer and an easy contender for one of 2019’s best slabs to hit the turntable.



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House and Land

Sarah Louise, fresh from the opalescent vision of her solo LP earlier in the year, is back in league with her folk foil Sally Anne Morgan for a new album under the House and Land banner. As with their last album, the duo makes a sizeable impression with a palette of sparse folk on Across The Field. They exhume traditional folk songs from another time, but much like fellow traveler Jake Xerxes Fussell, their delivery doesn’t feel antiquated. There’s a timelessness inherit in their work, blending their more experimental sensibilities with the weathered and worn material to soothe the heartache of the modern music listener. They’re running Elizabeth Cotton through a Loren Connors filter – finding the starkest kernel of folk and blues and baking it in the sun.

The album leans directly into sorrow, choosing songs that are steeped in a sadness that resonates across eras. Morgan’s fiddle is strident, holding court without showing a shred of lost love, but the pair’s voices can’t help but hang with a delicate dourness. The weight of years pulls heavy on these songs and House and Land etch them straight into the skin, turning the soul to scrimshaw and laying out the burden of decades in intricate detail. The songs on Across The Field seep into every pore on first listen, but they don’t suffocate. They may be achingly sad, but they never seem to wallow. Instead, as the album comes to a close the listener is purged, washed clean of longing and lowness – each rinsed away in the stream of strings and song that the pair have poured out through the album. Their sophomore release proves the pair are brilliant interpreters of song, and you’d do well to get acquainted with them.



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David Nance Group – “Meanwhile / Credit Line”

Last year the David Nance Group brought the Omaha native’s sound to a wider audience with their LP Peaced and Slightly Pulverized on Trouble in Mind. While he’d long been bashing out cover versions of Lou Reed, The Beatles, and Doug Sahm, with the crystallization of the ‘Group’ he’d channel his disparate influences into a fried pickle porridge of a record that sweats boogie blues a la Crazy Horse interpreted by a pack of holed up Pere Ubu fanatics. Come 2019 and Nance is back and broadcasting his disjointed choogle on a bigger bullhorn, with a two-track twister out this month on Third Man. “Meanwhile” and “Credit Line” feel right at home as spillover sides from last year’s long player, both finely toasted, ragged, raw and looking to taste the barroom floor. It’s recommended that you pick this one up and give the windows a rumble this week. This won’t be the last we hear of the DNG, but it’s a good quencher ‘til the next LP gets handed down from above.

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VA – Self Discovery For Social Survival

When word of this comp first came down, I mentioned that this was an ambitious undertaking, to say the least. That’s a bit of an understatement. In an age of shrinking profits its rare for a major to take on something this lofty, let alone a (rather largish) indie. Mexican Summer paired with Pilgrim Surf + Supply to send three groups of professional surfers, film crews, and a band to score each of the sessions as they were shot. The idea was for the bands to pick up the vibes of the day and translate them into accompaniment that completely absorbed the mood of the film. As far as an overarching goal, the soundtrack succeeds on all fronts, but better than that, it holds up on its own merits even if the listener isn’t also immersed in the film.

The first portion of the film sees US and Australian surfers travel to Mexico and with them in tow are the Allah-las. This trip is marked by amber-hued sun streaks. Everything seems a bit faded and worn-in. The Allah-las capture the ease of the session, laying back into a lounged vision of surf that’s classic and propulsive. They’re the kind of songs that could waft into the background and instantly ease a mood. There’s a feeling of communal living, irregular schedules, and a quiet cool that rumples itself into the notes. The scenes in the film are aided even further with the addition of titling and animation by Robert Beatty and Bailey Elder, who give this section a ’69-’72 timestamp that soaks into the seams along with the music.

From there the film transitions to The Maldives, with the majority of the segment taking place aboard a houseboat. The tones turn from sepia to crystal blue and with it the mood is given a lift out of the melt of Mexico. Peaking Lights add a dub shimmer to the section, half party, half hallucination. There’s an opulence to this portion, but not to the point of indulgence. It feels like a vacation – fleeting in truth, but forever in the moment. Peaking lights have moved away from their xeroxed dub roots and here they’re headed for more Arthur Russell territory. They give this portion its sense of detachment from reality, helping to freeze each pane into a picture of unattainable bliss.

While on the topic of otherworldly, the last section of the film takes the viewer to Iceland, a venue I’d never thought of as surf destination. Here Conan Mockasin and Andrew Vanwyngarden (MGMT) accompany a group that traverses the grey-streaked, mountain-strewn landscape. All the warmth of the previous sections is stripped away and, accordingly, Mockasin and Vanwyngarden give their songs an icy edge – lonesome, melancholic, half-remembered. Here the vistas almost outpace the surfing for attention, with scenes among the northern lights soundtracked by the pair’s psylocibin disco and light-touch folk feeling like a dream that couldn’t possibly have happened. There’s none of Mockasin’s usual twisted bravado. Instead the music is almost fragile – haunted and hollow at times. This trip and its tunes feel like a journey inward, not the communal experience of the other groups.

The three main bands aren’t the only ones to hold sway over the soundtrack and film, though. Dungen give an especially inspired take for the title sequence that’s born out of their wistful psychedelia. It laps just slightly at the roots of surf, while essentially embracing its own genre. Transitions between sections are given an ambient fizz by Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, who evokes a submerged sound under lush animations, which are again provided by Elder and Beatty. Sadly, missing from the soundtrack is the offbeat wisdom and roadworn poeticism of Jonas Mekas, whose narration ties the film together with a non-sequitur sageness. It’s likely that you might not encounter the film, though I’d recommend it for surf aficionados or unfamiliar friends alike.

Even without its visual partner, the soundtrack exhales ease, hope, sadness, solace. As a counterpoint to the film its pretty perfect, but it’s a great mood lifter on its own merits. As I mentioned, they don’t make projects like this anymore, might as well enjoy when someone goes all in for you. It’s somewhat telling that the label has reissued the score to Andrew Kidman’s Litmus, Self Discovery for Social Survival acts as a spiritual successor to that film and its unique accompaniment. Often hailed as the best surf film of its generation, the label has seemingly done the same for the the 21st Century. In this, they’ve created their own Litmus.


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