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Joel Gion

For a guy most famous for his tambourine work, Joel Gion’s got quite a range on his eponymous LP for Beyond Beyond is Beyond. The artist, best known for his work as auxiliary percussionist/ hype man for the great psychedelic circus that is The Brian Jonestown Massacre has explored his own psych leanings before, most notably on 2014’s Apple Bonkers, but here he lifts off into his own lush vision of lounge psychedelics. Drenched in flute, wafting with synth atmospheres and practically breathing a smoke of its own, the album is oscillating between the spires of Spiritualized, The Telescopes and the more languid arm of Tropicalia (think Tom Ze’s ’68-’70 work or London exile-era Caetano Veloso).

That combination of candlelit confessionals and pillowy effects makes for a unique vision of modern psych that’s a touch lighter, not afraid to wander into territory that could be construed as indulgently soft. There are certainly lite jazz elements here, but Gion’s ability to drop back into a lush, cinematic swirl of salsa makes the album feel every bit like it could serve as the backdrop to a casino scene in any given Connory-led Bond film. Gion’s albums don’t come out at a rushed pace, and while his name still garners more recognition with Jonestown than it ever will on its own, this is a choice nugget for collectors of a decidedly luxurious psych format, one that leaves behind any notions of Beatles vs. Stones and makes its home in the clouds far above such touchstones.



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King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard

So here we are, year winding down and the band is still just short on their promise of five albums between the bookends of 2017, but number four is here and I’ll give it to them, it’s impressive nonetheless. Still got more than a month to go, so who knows? They swerve the impossible tangle of release schedules with a free release of Polygondwanaland digitally and stir up some noise by giving the album to fans to release if they choose, even going so far as to package up the production files on their site. So keep an eye out for about seven new labels to try this one as their cornerstone kickoff or choose one of the at least 6-10 others I’ve already seen floating about. Still, how does the actual album stack up against their gamut of songs from the past 300-odd days gone by?

The record orbits closest to Murder of the Universe, packing a psych-crush that’s doom-soaked and wandering into at least one spoken word breakdown, but it’s far less frantic than that album. It doesn’t go for full reinvention or concept as we’ve seen from Flying Microtonal‘s scale restrictions or Brunswick East’s jazz digressions. But what the album becomes is a solid entry to the band’s full-on prog canon, following most in the footsteps of high water mark Nonagon Infinity and picking up lessons from the various rungs on their catalog ladder along the way.

It’s full of atmosphere, feeling like one of the most uncluttered versions of themselves since they stripped it all back to acoustics back in 2015. However, Polygondwanaland is definitely no exercise in niceties, it has plenty of bite under a rippling shell of glycerine psych. Squelch fights for space with buzzing synth lines and the band’s now almost expected arpeggiated guitar lines, with vocalist Stu McKenzine floating overhead like a prog prophet of medieval doom. Flutes and acoustic strums pull the choke of darkness off just long enough to let the closer tear everything down to the puddle of blood that KG so often elicit. This is a solid entry to their catalog and, I suppose we should all feel a little pride. After all, apparently it belongs to all of us, eh?




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Bitchin’ Bajas

You know a lot of bands, labels and outlets have embraced the cassette as a viable format again, and while I love the economy and accessibility it provides to smaller artists, as a release from a larger indie it sometimes seems indulgent. Not so much for Bitchin’ Bajas, though. I see the release of a double cassette version of Bajas Fresh as tantamount to who they are – the front edge explorers of the new new age and warriors of a freer jazz. They’re not only looking to springboard off of the dusty thrift store tapes found cluttering up your aunt’s forgotten rec room during her meditation phase in 1988, they’re turning that rec room into an aesthetic, that need to center yourself into a right, and crafting a synth religion all their own

They’re fresh off a few collabs, most notably with labelmate Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, so this is the first time in three swings around the sun that we’ve gotten a chance to hear them undiluted, unencumbered and chasing the same flawless bliss that they’ve so often driven towards. That bliss is here, channeling the glowing chyron euphoria of public access library tapes melted into a puddle of incense wrapping and happy little trees with an unsettling rot inside. Be wary, because that rec room vibe they’re inhabiting is packed to the drop ceiling with the discarded interests of more than one relative. It seems that someone may have scotch-taped those old relaxation cassettes and dubbed on a free jazz primer in their spare time.

The group has sought to put forth seamless listening experiences before, creating drops out of time that pull the listener down a half-step to a floating world parallel to our own, but here they achieve that goal far greater than in any incarnation they’ve yet attempted. They stitch synths to flutes and droning horns in a way that feels like they’ve always just fed off one another in a life cycle we can’t see. Cascading down from their first two tracks, they incorporate a Sun Ra cover as if it were canon to them, letting the master’s drones thrum alongside their own in perfectly scratchy bliss. And that’s the core of Bajas Fresh, it’s opening the chakras and then pushing them too far – glowing serenity corded by time and dust until its something new, something more alive than before. This is why you don’t jump the gun on declaring what’s best for any given year. Who knows when a masterstroke is lying in wait at the end of November?




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The Living Eyes

One of the most consistent exports from the Aussie underground comes via Anti-Fade Records’ agit-punks The Living Eyes. On their third LP for the imprint they continue to sneer ‘n shred their way through a dozen compact punk nuggets that feel like they’re handed down from the conglomerate schools of The Saints, Richard Hell, Pere Ubu and Toy Love. While keeping things distinctly Aussie (and sharing a searing similarity to labelmates Ausmuteants) they’re kindred spirits to the kind of itchy, agitated, raw-nerve of punk that festered in the American Mid-West some 40-odd years prior.

The difference is that while they seem to carry the outsider jitters in their very DNA, they’ve also found a way to inject an incredible amount of catchiness into the core of their songs, much like South-Hemi heroes Eddy Current Suppression Ring before them. That band’s Mikey Young pops up in the supply chain here on mixing and mastering duties, so you know things are kept brittle and pushing well into the red. The band has always been a fave around here but I have to admit they’ve outdone themselves on this one. They’ve never sounded more vital, electric or combustible as they do on Modern Living.

At the risk of beating the drum too hard in their praise, this is one of the rawest, most delightfully jagged pieces of punk to roll down the belt this year. Its been a good year for unrest and a bad year for everything else, but this one jolts like a car battery to the tongue. It’s chomping tinfoil like breath mints and dusting any contenders that are hoping to paddle through their wake. I know we’re all looking for a salve these days, and it’s nice to sink back into a malted hazed of indie stupor sometimes, but Modern Living is a good reminder to stay agitated and jolt a few others on your way out of the room.




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Odd Hope

It’s hard to capture the feeling of an era lost. There are plenty of jangle-pop imitators and even a new crop of Kiwis that are attempting to resurrect what Flying Nun once found so effortless. In California, however, there remains a solitary lifeline to the sound in the form of Tim Tinderholt’s Odd Hope. Following on a solid single for Fruits & Flowers, Tinderholt has come ratcheting back with a perfect distillation of all those lost gems from the underside of the equator. Though, its not without noting that he’s also mining a great deal from The Jacobites and The Pastels as well. He’s found purchase not only in their sunny, jangled ebullience but also in the quieter, introverted weirdness that made so many of these ’80s and ’90s oddities such coveted releases.

Produced by Fruits & Flowers co-founder Glenn Donaldson, (Skygreen Leopards, The Birdtree) the record retains an unmistakable touch of his own homespun and hissed-flecked folk pop, but at the heart is Tim’s distinct gravitational pull. Tinderholt’s songwriting is given a treatment that flickers like an emergency candle in a power outage, an inviting harbor in the face of unblinking darkness. The album is both a beacon and a comfort. When he’s reflecting the brilliant sun’s glow there’s no other light that can hope to outshine his positivity, but when the vibes turn, as they often do, to smirking, unsure, melancholy and jittery, Tinderholt is the friend who understands just how overwhelming the outside world is.

So maybe just huddle down into these ten tracks like a blanket in a storm that may or may not pass. Tinderholt’s eponymous debut is the kind of record that’s destined to be missed by the oblivious as anathema to modern trends and revisited years later as a cherished totem to those who were paying attention. With so many of those types of records now getting the reissue treatment, it would seem only intuitive to nip into this while it’s fresh and fidgeting. Odd Hope is a truly endearing open wound that sucks the listener in with its weird and blissful ache.




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Causa Sui

El Paraiso Records is already on a tear this year with the epic, crushing release from Mythic Sunship, a slinking Kosmiche LP from Astral TV and now they cement it with an incendiary new record from flagship band Causa Sui. Splitting time between a tsunami of thick, frothy stoner rock vibes and a more space-rock approach that lifts them up out of the Sabbath ‘n Sleep ghetto of doom chasers, this record solidifies the Danish band’s worthiness on the stage of heavy psych flayers. It pushes their profile past the circuit of European psych bands to render them players on the world stage.

Though touted as a ‘mini LP,’ the record is anchored by two huge jams clocking in at 9+ minutes and they know how to use that length to their advantage. Hell, there’s really only one track here that dips below 7-min. Centerpiece “El Fuego” is a hammer-stung bit of metal-tipped prog that seethes with the appropriate amount of fire espoused by its title. “Seven Hills” follows shortly after with an almost cleaner burn, just plowing every living thing in its path with a spritz of lava and pumice before cooling off into a shimmering black glass sheen. The band has always proven their prowess in the live setting (see their recent Live in Copenhagen set for proof) but they’re proving that the studio is every bit their muse with this record. If the band had a foothold in the hearts of psych collectors before, they’ve just latched on permanently with a batch of tunes that never relent.



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Euphoria – Euphoria

Seems only serendipitous that this reissue is appearing alongside the recent effort from OCS, as Euphoria also explore a psych-tinged brand of bittersweet pop, drenched in a creamy lushness, warm as sunshine on the shoulders. Though that’s a key difference between them and their present day followers, they tend to embrace more of the sunshine pop that put them in leagues with The Mamas and Papas, The Free Design or even Sapphire Thinkers. Like those groups, the band embraced male/female harmonies and a beautifully swooning version of pop that, unfortunately for them, fell out of favor just about the time that their eponymous debut surfaced on Heritage Records.

The band evolved out of the Greenwich Village folk boom, merging the circuit riding duo Roger and Wendy with the slightly sturdier songwriting of Tom Pacheco. As the band emerged from their recording sessions with a finished product, the winds shifted and the record label pulled the bulk of its promotion. As is too typical the record languished, the group splintered, and the record remains a much bigger gem in hindsight than it was ever acknowledged as at the time. The members went on to a few other projects (Bermuda Triangle and Pacheco & Alexander) after the dissolution of the band, but this remains the members’ most lasting work. Anyone with a love for Sunshine-psych or ’60s chamber pop will do well to get into this one, it’s more than just a curio of the era, not a chart-topper, but a record that explores a vibrant strain of folk that’s dripping with sighed melancholy.




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OCS

As Castle Face rightly points out in any mention of this album, it seems that in all the amplifier fallout that John Dwyer has amassed in the past decade, people forget that the seed of Thee Oh Sees was a much more acoustic vision. I remember seeing “the guy from Coachwhips” at a show many years back in NY club Rothko (RIP) and trying to get people to hush the constant whinging about when Ted Leo was coming on. Dwyer was still banging the project into shape, but his presence was as indelible then as it is now. Revisiting the hushed ambiance, but with a hefty bit of vision and refinement under his belt, this version of OCS is again acting as a respite from John’s more flammable works.

This time the ramshackle folk is replaced by a loving ode to ’60s chamber folk records. Strings yawn underneath the hushed bedtime pop of Dwyer and longtime Oh Sees companion Brigid Dawson and the compositions skew heavily to the lush, yet mournful. The love of this era of psych has peeked into the band’s catalog but never taken center square until now. There are shades of Subway, Nick Garrie, The End, Susan Christie, and Sunforest flickering into view as we ease into this new incarnation of the band. As the record progresses impressions of The Free Design and The United States of America surface as well, but it’s clear that the synthesis of influence on this can’t be pointed at any one band. It’s a true divination of the murkier side of the ’60s. This is the sound of someone getting frustrated with searching out a certain sound from the crates and just doing it better themselves.

Dawson acts as the perfect melancholy specter on the album, with her veiled delivery sitting Shiva for the hearts of a hundred crackled ’45s. The bench on this record gets even deeper though, with Mikal Cronin chipping in a full horn workup on some tracks and those note-perfect strings, courtesy of Heather Lockie’ (Spiritualized, Sparkelhorse, Cory Hanson) making all the difference here – pushing the listener into a deep, lush vista of sound. There’s even a few breakdowns from original member Patrick Mullins, driving this into Soft Machine territory. The record’s probably not a pickup for the casual Oh Sees fan, maybe not even the devout, if JD’s scuzz is what you crave. But for those of us who are always looking for more candlelit visions of bittersweet warble, this is a nice gift. If you were charmed by Cory Hanson’s excursion into similar territory then you’ll feel right at home here. Honestly, even if you do usually come for the fuzz, maybe just sink back into this one and cool off.



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Spinning Coin

For all their plaudits abroad Glasgow’s Spinning Coin aren’t wrestling for review space Stateside. The crux of that probably has to do with my theory of America’s threshold for UK bands at any given time. I suppose the press feels we’ve already filled the tank on 2017, but that’s no reason to let this one languish. The album comes via a powerful pair of post-punk signifiers – released on The Pastels’ Geographic Music imprint and produced by Orange Juice’s Edwyn Collins. For what it’s worth, this sounds altogether like an album cherry-picked by The Pastels. It shares their penchant for jangled charms and an alternating emphasis on barbed hooks and lush surroundings.

That alternation is the key to Permo‘s strengths and, at times its unevenness. The band shares a pair of songwriters who each have a strength they choose to flex on any given track. Sean Armstrong tends to take his songs to those lush vistas, fully reclining in the bleary-eyed nostalgia of Sarah Records and the softer side of Creation. His counterpart, Jack Mellin tends to bring the ragged edge to Spinning Coin’s work, often making tracks that are fun but barely standing on their feet (which is not necessarily a bad thing in my opinion). The whiplash between gives the record plenty of variety, but can make it feel like two different bands. I’d think moving forward, they’d be wise to find a smoother way to bounce off of one another, but that kind of symbiosis takes time.

What comes about is a record that’s got a real grip on the past and more than half a handle on how to recontextualize the nostalgia. They hit the nail hard sometimes, namely the ragged glory of “Magdalene” or the frothing elation of “Raining on Hope Street”, but its clear there’s more in the coffers to come. This hits me in a lot of my personal obsessions, and I’m definitely going to keep an eye on where Spinning Coin winds up. For now, some playlists just got stocked up around here.


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Day of Phoenix – Wide Open N-Way

Despite calling a heavy host of West Coast Cali-psych their pocket of influence, the Danes behind Day of Phoenix manage to adapt the sound to a less sunny climate with a good dose of melancholy. The band admittedly emulates Clear Light, Love and The Doors, so there’s certainly a focus on the darker side of that sound to begin with, but they manage to focus in on the starkest ends of the “Summer of Love” to create their own sighed signature. There’s an excellently subdued quality to the record, full of great riffs, but fuller still of a dark, clouded atmosphere that’s putting out a closed off and sullen vibe – an antidote to all the peace and love coming out of their American counterparts.

Day of Phoenix wound up opening for Colosseum when they were playing Denmark and impressed the band’s bassist Tony Reeves, who wound up producing this as well as a follow-up album. That seemed to cap productivity for the band though, save for a preceding single of covers with a different lineup. This album alone marks them as one of the strongest of their particular time and place, though. The band’s original member Cy Nicklin would leave before this album and transition to the more well known Culpeper’s Orchard, though the rest of the band seemed to dissipate after the slow reaction to their sophomore LP. Vinilisssimo does the original pressing good, reproducing the album’s harem shot that’s bringing to mind some Town and Country vibes.




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