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Belbury Poly

On his last album, New Ways Out, Jim Jupp took Belbury in a less fantastical direction. ‘80s vapors crept into the cabin and the album began to imagine cinematic reaches and glossy magazine cover shoots. There was a surreal undercurrent (it is Belbury, how could there not be), but for the most part it was an album that embraced something more upbeat. It was modern life looking to imitate nostalgia and doing the feeling well. But those who’ve traveled through the Polyverse in the past know that Jupp’s world isn’t just synthscapes looking to give a backdrop to adverts that are looking for the rosy glow of the ‘70s in the rearview. Enter the next chapter, The Gone Away. The record returns to some sort of imagined captive kingdom that’s lodged somewhere between fever dream and coma nightmare.

The synths lay out a queasy backdrop of bewildered travelers grappling with being dropped into danger and unpredictable surroundings. While so many rely on a barrage of effects to initiate the psychedelic storm, Belbury has always succeeded in simply creating an unfiltered sound that simply feels like the floor being pulled from underneath you, like the sight of an extra moon on the horizon, or like encountering fauna in colors that defy human comprehension. While so many countless contemporaries armed with synths keep trying (and largely failing) to recreate the exploratory fear of ‘70s horror cinema, Jupp’s gone ahead and begun world building in sound, and the results are beguiling, disorienting, admittedly terrifying in their own way. The Gone Away is pocked with wonder, sadness, fear, and confusion, but as only Jupp can conjure the pieces fit together into a half remembered narrative that’s crawling through the subconscious and leaving iridescent footprints in is wake.

Naturally, as a Ghost Box release, this also benefits from the incredible art direction and design of Julian House, who remains as incredible as ever. Somehow Ghost Box seems to elude the larger review outlets, and that’s always been a shame, each release remains and essential piece of a puzzle that’s been doled out over decades. Perhaps one day the puzzle box will open. Until then. I’m going to keep listening.



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Landing / Headroom – Split 12″

Man, thank all your gods for independent record stores, especially right now. Connecticut’s finest, Redscroll is giving the nod to two of the state’s best psych exports and giving them space on two sides of a split 12”. I’ve long been fans of both Landing and Headroom — kindred spirits in psychedelic float and noise welding. On their half, Landing, who were last seen making some cosmic ripples for El Paraiso Records, let their side stretch out, opening immediately into a 12+ minute monolith that’s built on atmospheric synth and rivulets of guitar that play well to their strengths, laying out a subtle stretch of Kosmiche quiver before they light the match and let things fry for “Seen”. On the flip, I’m always game for an outing from Kryssi Battalene’s Headroom. One of psych’s premiere players no matter what band she’s in, but when at the helm of her own psychedelic force, she’s the most potent.

Headroom’s side shows the band flexing their many sides — restrained mysticism, riffs rife with hot coal cauterization, and Battalene’s voice floating in the same ethereal float as Adrienne Snow entry just a few minutes before her. They build slowly though “Bend” before laying sonic waste to the listener with “Loose Garden,” tying things back into a euphoric bow with the closer, “House of Flowers.” The latter takes on a bit of a dreampop pacing, feeling like the culmination of a Galaxie 500 show gone very right. Both bands are CT at its finest and its great to see this pairing all around. LTD copies, so you know what to do.




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Peter Kerlin

I’ve not been shy about my love of Sunwatchers around here, but the band itself is so full of accomplished players that their coming together is only like trying to watch the brightest suns converge before blazing out in a blast of energy. So its only natural that when the members stray solo, that’s worth noting. Bassist Peter Kerlin has cropped up here a few times already this year, not only with Sunwatchers on two releases but also with Brigid Dawson and Bent Arcana. His playing always lends a supple vision to a release and his solo tape Glaring Omission puts him squarely in front. The pieces here show Kerlin working through mastering the eight string bass while overcoming the loss of a friend and the latter component hangs over the pieces in a tumult of emotions and timbres. The cassette’s instrumental passages aren’t quite as turbulent as his work with either Arcana or the Watchers but there’s a subtle internal struggle threaded through the quiet tension of the works here.

Casting in a lovely mix of players including his fellow Solar Motel member Ryan Jewell and Brent Cordero (Psychic Ills, Mike Wexler), the album hardly seems like a tangent from Kerlin’s usual output. The album touches on jazz, kosmiche, and a somber strain of post-rock that’s sublimated into a gaseous haze threaded through a maze of rhythm that sees Jewell and Kerlin shouldering the pulse of the project. Loss, confusion, reclamation and resolve all play out of the six tracks here and Kerlin once again asserts himself as one of the best in the business, whether he’s at the helm or enmeshed in the ensemble.





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Matt Sowell

So many great records seem to have been born out of the folk nexus of 1,000 Incarnations of The Rose, the festival that brought together a wealth of classic fingerpicked talent like Peter Lang, Max Ochs, and Peter Walker with the more recent luminaries Glenn Jones, Marisa Anderson, Daniel Bachman, and Nathan Bowles. Yet what was great about the festival was that so many of the names flew much further below the horizon, letting the talent of those who’d not yet staked a reputation sit alongside revered legends. This is largely a testament to the booking of Elkhorn’s Jesse Sheppard, who’s years among players lead him to pack the three days with so many interesting players. Among the lesser known marquees lay Matt Sowell, who’d released a few low-key titles, but caught the ear of Feeding Tube during his set. A devoted union carpenter in addition to a stellar musician, the title Organize Or Die hits harder in these times of tension.

Among the weathered country blues, there’s a dissension that’s palpable through Sowell’s work. Alongside his nods to Fahey, and in turn Cotton, Patton, James and Johnson, there’s notes of Jack Rose’s intensity and Harry Tausig’s patience. There’s also a political fire that singes through the strings and stamps itself defiantly in titles like “Requiem For Democracy” and the title track. Like so many guitarists before him Sowell’s earthen medium is also a conduit for frustration, lament, and the weariness that’s laid on the American worker. It’s not all strife, though, there’s a joy that often simmers through the sadness of slide blues. The nights feel dark on Sowell’s record, but the days seem to come with an appreciation for the clear sky and the cool breeze. When a record like Organize Or Die comes your way, its a time to feel grateful for the collective spirit of folk players celebrating over three days in Maryland, and for chance meetings that lead to something that hits this hard.




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Musica Transonic – S/T

If you’re not paying attention to the output of Black Editions by now, then there’s no saving you. Getting the P.S.F. catalog back on the racks and doing so with a keen eye to detail might be the closest thing to doing divine work in the godforsaken clutches of 2020. The label has a few on the slate this summer, but for now I’m giving the necessary nod to Musica Transonic and its ineffable impact. The record brings together an unshakable trio of Japanese talent that included Nanjo Asahito (High Rise), Makoto Kawabata (Acid Mothers Temple) and Tatsuya Yoshida (Ruins). I remember grabbing a CD of this quite a few years ago and the record hits like an overload to the senses, pulsing with riffs that are burnt to the very core, and a constant barrage of rhythm that shakes the very marrow from the bones. At proper volume this one should finally liquify the last of those brains that Marty McFly hollowly threatened melt so long ago. If this was in the walkman there’d have been no walking away and no going back.

While structure and riff isn’t quite what the record is about, it makes up in pure sonic assault what it lacks in memorable, head nodding fodder. Like free jazz lit on fire and shot through the atomic combine, this record is meant to be felt physically and with the reissue Black Editons have unearthed an extra dose of bonus material to fry your insides as well. The record was the next evolution after Nanjo burnt a hole in the underground consciousness with High Rise, pushing the listener to the limits and feeling like there’s more going on here than one can possibly focus on. It boasts a pre-AMT Makoto Kawabata stepping up to shred the soul with Yoshida bashing out a beat that’s more involuntary bodily harm than groove. This is peak P.S.F. and it’s packaged up all nice with some foil embossing brining the dazzling colors of the cover to life. Don’t warn your neighbors, just let Musica Transonic introduce you to them when you get it in the mail.




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Sally Anne Morgan

Anyone who has followed The Black Twig Pickers or House and Land over the past couple of years might be familiar with the prowess of Sally Anne Morgan, but on her solo LP for Thrill Jockey, she’s truly letting her own voice shine through in a record rooted in the traditions of Appalachian and English Folk. With her fiddle, banjo, and guitar at the ready, Morgan is a band in her own right, compiling in the studio the kind of loose, pub-slung singalongs that wouldn’t feel out of place on a rainy day in the English countryside nor on a porch in the wooded confines of deep set East Coast mountains. She’s a traditionalist, but not constrained by tradition. The songs could well enter the traditional canon, but they take flight in ways that are more progressive than they first let on. There’s a carful tenderness to her songs too — peeking through in verdant strains on wistful compositions like “Garden Song,” which tracks its melody like water seeping into soil and blooms unfolding into an late spring sunlight.

As Sally noted in her Hidden Gems piece for the site, she has a particular fascination with UK folk rock, stemming from the Fairport tradition that caught her ear in her 20s, and that comes through nicely with the help of Nathan Bowles (Black Twig Pickers, Pelt, Pigeons) who adds percussion to several tracks here, elevating them from loose sketches to something more stridently propulsive. Whether with a full band or by herself, though Morgan fills the room with a sound that’s almost impossible to ignore. Fiddle lines weave bittersweet curls through the air, banjos pluck out a ramble that’s as insistent as the nearest creek, and above the instruments Sally’s vocals peek around the bends with a heartbreaking delivery that’s somewhere between hope and lament, both are perfect for these days. This record is a companion piece to a hard year — a comfort, a companion, a consolation in the night.



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Sweeping Promises

Been sitting with the debut from Boston’s Sweeping Promises for a few weeks now and the record only endears itself harder with each listen. The band’s set the record up to neatly echo a lost generation of punk, post-punk, and New Wave, threading a rhythmic urgency, fluorescent keys, and the velvet right hook of Lira Mondal’s vocals through the speakers. The band recorded the whole LP live to a single mic in the room, which seems like it would flatten things to a lo-fi lump. Yet, while this is by no means a polished album, they use the austerity to their advantage, letting memories of no-frills punk like Kleenex, The Germs, or The Slits act as a blueprint here. Hunger For a Way Out in turn feels like the sonic equivalent of a xeroxed show flyer — instantly inviting, vibrant, and urgent, but not overwrought in any way. They drop into the ranks of newer DIY punks who’ve found space to play within the classic sounds, making it clear that they’re picking up the baton and running forward rather than retreading. Fans of Lithics, Shopping, or Primo, will find a lot to love here.

As I mentioned in my write-up of the band’s single “Falling Forward,” one of the things that really makes the record work are the vocals from Mondal. Despite the rudimentary recording setup, the band’s able to let her voice flex over the top of the elastic energy bubbling below her. Its a shaded delivery, not going into the obvious yelp or affecting the flat delivery that post-punk so often produces. She can attack when needed, letting that high crack fit the fury, but there’s a good amount of Debbie Harry in the DNA here, if only Blondie had gotten wirier rather than more polished in their tenure. Not a lot of debuts drop out this fully formed, and while there’s clearly room to see if the band can apply polish and retain the percolating pulse that Hunger possesses, there’s also a little hope that they retain this ragged glory forever.





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The Red Lights – S/T

It’s always nice to get a little more context on rock’s mythical figures. For some, The Gun Club looms large as a totem of punk that refused to fit the format and hew towards any set of agreed upon standards. Their 1980 debut is often seen as the match strike for Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s career, but the unearthing of these demos from The Red Lights give just a touch of context and background to his songwriting. Pierce was West Coast based at the time and writing for Slash Magazine — enamored with reggae and helming a Blondie fan club. With reggae’s looseness and power pop’s pulse he began writing songs and opening some gigs at The Whisky. The Arena, and The Rock Corporation. The five songs here are a far cry from the sweaty, possessed visions of The Gun Club, but Pierce’s persona still comes rippling through.

With an earnest approach that lets all the light of power pop into the picture and occasionally at white reggae bounce that would make even The Police blush, he sketches out the start of a career that would get much deeper and darker quite soon. The voice is undoubtedly the focus. It’s raw, but its Pierce finding his bearings and getting ready to rip a punk hole into blues for us all to enjoy. Lovely to have this archival EP out into the world. Probably one for the collector’s but any punk upstart would do well to see how a career gets going. Split pressing here between In The Red and Spacecase.



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J. Zunz

I’ve long had a soft spot for the warm blast of shoegaze pulsing off of Lorelle Meets the Obsolete. The Mexican band has been warping pop through the fuzz-fitted filter for the past few years and have only solidified their place in the evolving canon of the genre. Though this album is connected by membership, this is quite a different animal from the confines of The Obsolete. Out on her own for a second solo LP the band’s Lorena Quintanilla has pushed aside the gauzy caverns of her usual sound for something darker and full of danger. On Hibiscus she lets her voice free of its playground of effects and loose from the haze. Underneath her vocals, however, the record is seething with anxious synths and repetitive elements that are doused in a chemical burn. The LP bears a stark minimalism that speaks directly to her renewed interest in John Cage’s ethos of stripping sound to its basics.

Like her previous works, there’s still psychedelia here, but it’s a more internal expression, working psychological angles rather than explicit auditory gymnastics. There’s a feeling on the record of constantly waking up in unfamiliar surroundings, surroundings that feel like they’re tipped with poison intent. Quintanilla’s voice comes racing from all angles, panicked at times, soothing at others, but always like a whisper in the back of your head trying to make sense of the quasi-industrial prison you’ve found yourself trapped within. That the album is an extension of personal and political strife for Quintanilla, makes sense the more it rotates around the speakers (though this is a headphone record, if there ever was one). The ghosts in her songs aren’t able to be defeated hand to hand, but rather neuron to neuron, trapped in the inner confines of the mind and looking for a hatch. The record is bracing, vulnerable, disorienting, and daring. Not for the timid, but worth diving into again and again.





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Trummors

Over the course of their last few albums, Trummors, the duo of David Lerner and Anne Cunningham have carved out their personal cavern in the space of Cosmic Americana, well before the current wave began to crest. The pair ditched the East Coast for New Mexico, trading packed streets for pure air, vista views, and a closer handle on the alt-country confines they were beginning to inhabit. With their previous album Headlands they’d pretty much cemented the sound that crops up here, but there’s something alchemical about Dropout City that marks it among their best endeavors to date. The band struck out from the desert back to the sweltering streets of L.A. for the sessions that would birth Drop Out City and it was as far from their secluded surroundings as possible, embracing an air of collaboration that called in contemporaries to help shape the easy air that radiates around the album.

Once in the studio friends showed up and sat in, with the album blossoming into the kind of communal, comfortable ‘70s canyon classics that were spun out of late night sessions wrought from a high concentration of talent with tape to spare. Colby Buddelmeyer (The Tyde), Derek W. James (Mazzy Star, Lia Ices), Brent Rademaker (GospelbeacH, Beachwood Sparks), Clay Finch (Mapache), Dan Horne (Grateful Shred, Cass McCombs) and Eric D. Johnson (Fruit Bats) all lend a hand somewhere on Drop Out City and it quickly becomes clear that this is a record that’s special because of not only the talent of Lerner and Cunningham as songwriters, but also due to the inclusive environment they carry with them that brings so many into their fold with such open ideas.

The record captures a classic country sound — flirting with the heavy-hearted, but formative voices that lent credence to the ‘70s crossover out of psychedelic troupes. There’s a shade of Emmylou here, and by turns Graham. The honesty that surges between David and Anne is born out of that school of tradition meets turmoil and even though they seem at ease, it’s as deeply felt as anything the fabled pair might have made. Even more so, there’s the feeling that Trummors are leeching their love of the country corners to their peers, the way Parsons couldn’t help but make but instill a passion for twang among his brother Byrds. As David has already shared here, bands like Cowboy, circling the Allmans stable are heavy on their mind and that Byrds connection gets deeper with a cover of “Tulsa County.” The Byrds lifted their version from songwriter Pamela Polland, who released solo works in the early ‘70s following her work with The Gentle Soul. This song is almost a talisman of the album, a reclaimed nugget of weary country given back its voice after years of sitting among a more celebrated band’s back catalog. Drop Out City is just such a record — reverent, relevant, and full of a bittersweet bite that makes moments easier to endure with each note that wafts from the speakers. This one should shuttle to the top of your 2020 necessities.




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