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Kemialliset Ystävät

Finnish collective Kemialliset Ystävät has beaten the path through the weedy wilds of the psych-folk revival that sprung up in the early aughts and passed through to far more experimental trails than most of those who joined them on that journey. The collective, always and forever a rotating lineup centered around the direction of Jan Anderzén, is now cultivating a uniquely kaleidoscopic brand of experimental electronic pop that bubbles with color and chaos – albeit contained chaos, like a dayglo hurricane captured in a soda bottle. The record is nothing if not delightful, mostly because it seems to still see the world through eyes glazed with a wonder that’s long since been closed off in other outlets and facets of life.

This is children’s music if it weren’t processed into shiny bits of positivity and machine-fed through advertising algorithms. There are no didactic lessons here, just a willingness to free the spirit. This is just a shimmering sonic encapsulation of the quick-cut attention span, color-saturated visions of how children can’t help but see the world. There’s awe and fear and beauty and light all bumping each other in line one minute, then rising slow and steady like globules in a lava lamp the next. This effect might have something to do with Anderzén’s process of building aural skeletons and sending them out to his collaborators to dress and color in as they choose, allowing for some planned results and some very surprising ones.

The songs on Slippi Empii swirl through the headphones with sounds chirping like frogs, buzzing like sonic gnats and burbling like a CGI brook in the confines of the listener’s headspace. It’s both very real and somehow hyperreal, an uncanny valley of sound that feels as if it might come alive into rubbery reality at any moment. Anderzén’s band of aural tinkerers have cracked open the cosmic bridge between our world and the animated wonderland across the pale – think Rodger Rabbit (or Cool World if you must) – only the prevailing artists are Robert Beatty and Jamie Zuverza. Siipi Empii is the band at their best, bursting with life, pulsating with color and crackling with a positivity that’s elusive in most catalogs these days.



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Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Over the last three albums UMO’s Ruban Nielsen has evolved as an alchemist of psychedelic blue-eyed soul, Stevie Wonder disco epics for the earbud mafia and cracked indie pop that fizzes fast but spreads smooth. It would be hard to top his previous album, 2015’s neon-hued groove garden Multi-Love, and to be fair Sex & Food doesn’t really. Its more of a lateral shift in the same environment, pulling from similar roots with often equally compelling results. This time around Nielsen injects a bit of psychedelic fire into the proceedings, as on first single “American Guilt,” a song built on speaker cone-crunching volume and guitar riffs that feel like they might shake the shutters off of the house. He hot-glues the guitars to infectiously rickety beats that sound like they might have been penned down under MacGuyver-like pressure using what bolts and bits were on hand.

The single is a scorcher and it finds a kindred spirit in the transistor-psych howler “Major League Chemicals,” however, If the whole record were operating on that level things might get exhausting. To his credit most moments are nowhere near as raucous as these peaks, opting often for Nielsen’s R&B butter-edged soul, soothing and smoothing things into bedroom eyes territory. Only he’s ruminating on the various consumptions that drive our lives and how they’ll hurt or heal us in equal measures. These calm eddies are where the album shines, grabbing hold tightest when the songwriter reaches just past the ripple-rainbows of shimmer in his production for a spark of soul. He latches on perfectly with “Not In Love We’re Just High,” another single cut that finds him grasping for the notes and making the audience feel the pull.

The album is a chemically induced k-hole that pulls listeners into Nielsen’s headspace, whirling pop splashes of glow paint all over the deep embrace of a couch and dimmed lights. There’s a certain satisfaction in an artist’s rendering of life as a stoned dive into your phone with the stereo on too loud. Anxieties and pleasures come quick and many, but ultimately the effects wear off and we’re left to deal with the dishes. Its good to know that UMO’s got you covered when you want to stay in and succumb to the cycle of slack, obsession and insecurity though. I’m on board for that ride.



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Gemini Sisters

Bound by the inspiration of daughters born on the same day in the house of Gemini, John Kolodij (High Aura’d) and Matt Christensen (Zelienople, Mind Over Mirrors) team up for an exploration of the intertwined ethos of the twin Zodiacs. Gemini Sisters finds both musicians diving down a sound cavern that’s cool and damp. Moss notes curl at the edges of their compositions. There’s a distinct chill in the air and a whistle at the cave opening where these songs tread. Christensen’s vocals are sparse, but effective when they rise up from the craggy noise floor, pushing down the layers of tape hiss and the rumble of amplifiers lit up with a Sulphurous growl. There’s something spiritual here, not religion but rite instead, a collection of moonsongs meant to align one’s soul in some manner that’s beyond us – like crop circles or runes without a key to guide their true meaning.

The burnt-core musings and psychic projections here make this an almost unconsciously perfect companion piece to Wet Tuna’s long player from earlier in the month, and perhaps a more humid sibling to Prana Crafter’s excellent tape for Beyond Beyond is Beyond. All three are widening the fold of drone-throttled psychedelia via a shower of vibrations that seek to shift the body from its moorings. While Prana Crafter is taking up the folk segment of this aural bombardment and the boys in Tuna are wranglin’ the choogle down to psychedelic grooves, Gemini Sisters seem to find themselves tethered to the frozen space blues blazed by Loren Connors before them. They’re splitting the middle of the trifecta of albums, while simultaneously connecting the dots. I’d highly recommend chaining these three releases up for your listening pleasure.

Associations aside, though, this collaboration is a highlight for both artists involved and no mere diversion or side project to be shuttled to the side of the tape-only bin of small runs. Repeated listens only proves the eponymous cassette to be a high order dealer of hazy harmonies and twilight float. Consider yourself warned.




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Mod Con

After being charmed and invigorated last week by Mod Con’s “Kidney Auction Blues” its nice to put the song in context alongside the rest of their debut long player for Poison City. Mod Con actually boasts the same lineup of players that grace songwriter Erica Dunn’s previous work as Palm Springs, but they leave their previous shell’s dusty Americana far behind in the rearview. Scratching at a discontented form of post-punk, Dunn and her compatriots use their platform on Modern Convenience to pick at the scars of consumerism, complacency and disillusionment. In the tangles of twine-bound guitar that pump this record along, the band spends their energy wrestling twang into muscular, yet rubbery explosions of tension. Almost every song is hanging on the edge and waiting to tip.

Then there’s Dunn’s voice. Unlike the sonic shock precision of some of her post-punk contemporaries, she seems to be reaching her wit’s end at some point in most every track. She breaks and strains against the mounting pressures she sings about like a hammer on glass. It feels like one more push might just break her, but the heroic act of throttling out one more bone crunching number is worth her pain. The band is taught and at times even tender (“Bad Time At The Hilton”), but whatever the tempo the Dunn’s urgency remains the catalyst that drives Mod Con far past lesser contenders. It’s a crackling debut that puts them forward as key players in not only the Aussie scene, but post-punk at large.




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Charnel Ground

This one almost doesn’t need a review based on the lineup alone. A meeting of the minds of Chris Brokaw (Come, Codeine), James McNew (Yo La Tengo, Dump) and Kid Millions (Oneida, Man Forever) exploring the boundaries of experimental instrumental shred just seems like a good idea. Hell, if those were names drawn out of a hat and the musicians were tossed in a room even without intent and direction, you know they’d come up with something good. As such, they did enter Charnel Ground with a purpose and to that end they’ve succeeded. Their eponymous LP snares some real moments of powder keg psych, but the record is far from a one-note slash and burn. As much as they go for raw shred, they also wrangle nuance into the equation. Their ability to balance the impulses speaks to the players’ collective pedigrees.

“The High Price” tears a few new holes in the ozone, battling Brokaw’s scorched riffs, tainted and tortured by feedback, with Millions’ rambunctious punishment of drum heads. It’s a premium petrol burn lit on sacred ground and building to a nimbus sized plume of ash, but the band is quick to suck the oxygen out of that rager. They stop for what seems like a nice Tex-Mex lunch on “Plaa De Tica” before flexing Brokaw and McNew’s strengths of restraint and riff sculpture on “Skeleton Coast” and the title track closer, which stretches out for 16+ minutes of slow build and subtle detail. If you’ve been missing out on the instrumental guitar boom of the aughts, where emotions were exorcised among the strings and post-rock flipped through the stacks of psych, jazz and drone, then Charnel Ground will rush in like a breath of sweet air.


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Tim Blake – Crystal Machine

Those of you reminiscent for a bit of laser Floyd might want to thank stynth wizard Tim Blake. Following a tenure in Gong and just preceding one in Hawkwind, the artist ventured out to dip into solo synth float and struck up a collaboration with French lighting designer Patrice Warrener, adding lasers and lighting effects to his live show as psychedelic spectacle. The two dubbed their working symbiosis Crystal Machine, and the name doubles as the title for Blake’s first solo album, now remastered and expanded with live bonus cuts by Esoteric Recordings.

There’s definitely a burble of the old German Progressives foaming underneath Blake’s work, but you’d unearth more clues looking to his time with Gong. On albums like You or Angel’s Egg Blake created a heady heatwave of synth that’s never stuck on its own ingenuity. He continues that tradition here, riding psych opuses for optimum enjoyment rather than mere Rick Wakeman levels of tech wizardry. The album winds up a bit uneven given that portions of it are live, but considering that was how this particular portion of Blake’s career was inspired, it makes sense that he’d capture himself in the element with Warrener’s light show fueling his direction. He’d follow this up with a proper studio album, New Jerusalem, before heading on to his run in Hawkwind. It’s an artifact of its time, but well worth checking out for fans of Tangerine Dream and their ilk.




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MIEN

MIEN is, for lack of a better word, a supergroup. Though perhaps it’s just four consecutive side projects, who can tell? The term is pompus at best and often overshadows the music of any who dare don the mantle. For what it’s worth, MIEN compiles the talents of members of The Black Angels, The Horrors, The Earlies and Elephant Stone. To most its going to be those first two that draw water and grab attention but, I for one, am excited to hear The Earlies mentioned in earnest in 2018. The band’s John-Mark Lapham would bond with Elephant Stone’s Rishi Dhir over a love of sitar in pop music, as would Dhir and The Black Angels’ Alex Maas. So, it winds up that the sitar is the glue that holds together MIEN’s eponymous debut.

Dhir also played the instrument with The Brian Jonestown Massacre for several years, so he’s done his time in the psychedelic trenches. His drones here swirl around the band’s embrace of a hypnotic pop that recalls the dark grind of The Black Angels as shot through the junkyard Krautrock of Clinic or current contemporaries like Snapped Ankles. They work off of chugging rhythms one minute and then lay back completely into the abyss with reverberating thrum the next – meting out blissful altered states of droned consciousness. The album isn’t flashy, despite boasting such talent and a flagpole raised on ‘60s sitar. MIEN takes a little while to wrap around the listener, boasting the kind of exhaust fume ambience that’s permeated much of The Angels’ work.

It’s easy to draw comparisons with Maas at the vocal helm, but the band distinguishes itself from most of the members’ other tributaries, swapping in mantra for hooks and embracing a repetition dropout that winds up engrossing in its own way. The moody atmospheres are no surprise to those who are working their psych band bingo on this project, but the band’s not one to miss out on levity, pushing for “Tomorrow Never Knows” cartoon squiggle territory on back half bubble “Odessey” to lighten the mood. If this album winds up a one-off, then it remains a curio worth investigating and if this is the seeds of something more permanent, I’ll mark this as some good roots to grow.



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Altin Gün

Amsterdam collective Altin Gün wrap the past in a blur of funk bounce and psychedelic touches that pull from ’70s luminaries Baris Manço, Selda Bağcan and Erkin Koray. The album rockets through time, culling inspiration from Turkish folk songs passed down generations and welding their aesthetics to blistering saz riffs, woozy organs, fuzz-crusted bass and fluid guitars that push the album into a league on par with those ’70s inspirations they applaud. More than just a concept, though, the record boasts an infectious rhythm that drives the album past mere psychedelic freeform or nostalgia trip and marks it as a celebratory well of dance and euphoria.

Though the collective all contain some Turkish heritage, they also rope in their individual backgrounds, including ’60s Indonesian and Dutch psych scenes that were each vibrant in their own ways. Adding an additional pedigree, the album was mixed by vaunted Dutch psych star Jacco Garder, long himself a melting pot of influences from the wide spectrum of psychedelia. Together the group and Gardner have crafted an album that sparkles with life, fuzz, bodily rhythm and kaleidoscopic colors. Even for for fans not familiar with the lineage of Turkish psych, this works on several levels as a potent headtrip rife for volume and repeated plays.




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The Night Crawlers – The Biophonic Boombox Recordings

Entrance into The Nightcrawlers’ world is foreboding at best and the currency at the gate is time. Considering the Philadelphia collective recorded over thirty-five cassettes of home recorded material between 1980 and 1991, the true barrier to figuring out their Kosmiche wonderland is finding the time and patience to sift through their extensive improvisational float. Thankfully, Anthology have cut out a lot of the work for you, boiling down their boombox experiments to a hefty collection that weighs in at over two hours, but tackles some of their best psychedelic fodder.

The band released a handful of LPs along the same arc but would become consumed by their studio improvisations that they recorded down to simple boombox room recordings. This gives the works here a rough quality, pocked with hiss and dotted with coughs and clicks, but it doesn’t detract from the band’s commitment to the German Progressive lineage. They churned out some high quality special float that spurned their contemporaries’ dive down dance paths, opting instead for the hypnotic comfort of Tangerine Dream, Goblin and Klauz Schulze LPs as their talismans. As such they also bridge the gap between those early German synth weavers and more contemporary resurgence that have arisen through Emeralds, Oneotrix Point Never and The Belbury Circle. A definite recommendation for the heads out there and the Kosmiche surfers looking to expand their library.




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Amen Dunes

So, it is that Freedom follows Love, maybe that’s always the way it must be. Damon McMahon’s fifth album proper lands him a far cry from the scuffed surfaces of noise folk that wrought Dia, but while his exterior may be softened and refined, it’s the turmoil underneath that’s churning now. Freedom is at its core an exorcism of masculinity. Rightly so, perhaps there’s no better time to measure the weight placed on the idea of what is and isn’t acceptable from society’s view of males and the often-disastrous ways those expectations play out in callousing and setting our youth adrift. It’s also about taking down the statues of heroism that wind up hollow inside. Through his series of characters scratching at the hero myth, McMahon pulls the veil off the swaggering alpha and casts a clownish shadow clipping at his heels.

Still, while the lyrical undercurrent is heavier than most of Amen Dunes’ catalog, the surrounding songwriting is more buoyant than ever. Enlisting a deep pop bench of collaborators for this including Delicate Steve and Chris Coady, McMahon and crew give the album a palpable atmosphere that ranges from the cold humidity of songs like “Saturdarah” and “Blue Rose” to a baked-in warmth on “Miki Dora” and “Believe.” The record practically exhales steam at some points, creeping the cold up the listeners’ spines in sense-memory tingles. When he wants to shake the frost though, the twilight beach burners let the skin crackle with a burn that’s just past palatable and a tiredness that pulls the diaphragm from winded through to depression.

The album works its way over plenty of ground, from childhood to the final lock on childhood’s door – losing a parent. McMahon enlists his mumblecore vibrato to great effect here, giving his songs and characters a fragile edge that’s never surefooted and always looking to the horizon for answers. Still, none of this would work if it weren’t for a solid base of songwriting under the coated atmosphere and lyrical sandpapering of the cult of the boorish hero. To that end McMahon has succeeded handily, letting this one soak in deeper with each listen like a balm on a wound we’d all been letting fester.


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