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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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rootless

Jeremy Hurewitz’ rootless has been kicking around for a few years, but with his latest for Flower Room, he’s created an album that explores deeper dimensions. The guitarist has popped up on notable labels like Cabin Floor Esoterica, Aural Canyon, and Null Zone, but as the first Flower Room release outside of Matt Lajoie and Ash Brooks’ universe of Northeastern sounds, he’s capturing a meditative aura that’s impossible to deny. Hurewitz connected with multi-instrumentalist Luís Pérez Ixoneztli for his latest. Luís is the overseer of a collection of priceless, one-of-a-kind, indigenous instruments from Mesoamerica (many of them pre-Colombian), and they add a deepened mystery and spiritual aura to the works of rootless. Beside Jeremy’s gorgeous stringwork, Pérez Ixoneztli lets ancient pipes swirl into the mix, floating on a misted haze that’s eloquent in its pre-dawn glory. Per Flower Room’s description these range from “ocarinas and small whistles to dried cocoon shells strung together and used as shakers. The collection includes clay flutes that are possibly over a thousand years old.”

The winds take this record far beyond the standard fingerpicked fare. The deeper the album dives, the more it begins to resemble ritual and rite. The title track especially strays far from the meditative guitar path, pushing into the arms of Pérez Ixoneztli’s spectral mix of instruments and Hurewitz’ intimidating ambient growl. The stitches begin to unravel in a wonderful way, letting the knotted riffs give way to drone and dust and hazed memories that seems to flit in and out of consciousness on the final track. In many ways rootless has always lent a more experimental edge to the fingerpicked canon, but here, Jeremy finds his peak with the aid of Luís, creating a paring that I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing extend beyond this record, though this is more than enough to dig into for the time being.

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Bobby Lee

Been greatly enjoying the sun-in sounds of this album from Bobby Lee. The Sheffield guitarist grapples his strings around a hook of of worn-denim instrumental psych country that’s pulling from JJ Cale, Golden Gunn, and the Natch sessions of Michael Chapman, with smoke tendrils of Bruce Langhorne threading through the mix. With Guy Whittaker (Sharron Kraus, Jim Ghedi, Big Eyes) on drums and percussion and Mark Armstrong on bass, Lee balances the band against the primitive snap of a drum machine that keeps time like white lines on the highway. The record is lent a grizzled cinematic feel that dredges up cheap motel rooms and dusty roads that are hardly traveled in the deep afternoon heat. There’s danger, there’s pain, there’s lament, but that’s reductive, there’s moments of peace here as well.

“Palomino” is a lonesome, picked number that dances around its own comfortability with the tenderness of a rider missing his or her horse.”Listings” is a three-way standoff between the night, Lee, and the amps. Bobby moves from the traditional — melding spirituals with Springsteen and letting Warren Zevon boil down into a sweatbox slink out of the record. Shakedown in Slabtown is slightly molten, shifting easily from swagger-stung confidence to trepidation and reserve. He ties it together well, though. Lee’s making his mark here, spinning classics into his own essence while crafting an album of personal mediations that spurn the impulse to sit still.



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Pop Filter

It’s hard to think about The Ocean Party now without the specter of loss hanging over the band. The band’s Zac Denton was taken too soon and it seems that the band needed a break from their former name, leaving The Ocean Party behind along with Zac’s memory. Thus is born Pop Filter, a new nameplate, but with the same bittersweet heart beating underneath. Banksia is packed with rippling jangles, rhythmic twang, and a wealth of self-effacing lyrics that embrace a wistfulness that can only happen in your twenties. The band layers in a good dose of keys in combination with the shift to becoming Pop Filter and the slight twist of New Wave fits in nicely with their Aussie amble. The brightness is a welcome surprise, framing in a crop of tracks that pick at their scars with the kind of tenderness that forms a tightness in the chest.

“Open House” is a sparse, heartbroken track that anchors the midsection of the album. The scars don’t get much rawer than this. The feeling of betrayal, bewilderment, and disappointment is palpable and relatable. The band can often write songs that pull at doubt with a touch of underlying depression, but make it feel comforting. They swerve out of the ache before it becomes unbearable, but the feelings of melancholy never shake from the album completely, even when the melodies shine like blurred sunshine in summer. There’s happiness, but a feeling of guilt that hangs overhead, that nagging feeling that the brighter moments are undeserved. If The Ocean Party must be put to pasture, then Pop Filter is hardly a compromise for those who found solace in their works.



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Color Green

This loose-knit EP hits just right for the country-psych leanings I’ve been feeling these past few years. Admittedly the hold’s only getting stronger this year. Maybe there’s a comfort effect in the genre somewhere, but the melancholy melt has taken root this summer for sure. There’s been a solid pocket for works that fall just this side of psych-folk, and just that side of cosmic country pulling out of the tailspin of the ‘10s and Color Green fit the form well. The EP is the work of Noah Kohll and Corey Madden who have an admitted debt to the drift of the Dead that’s been wafting through the rafters of late, but they also give this a wash through New Riders waters with some stops off at the kind of private press gold that birthed Relatively Clean Rivers. The twang sits high in the band’s repertoire, but the vocals are whispered on the wind and buried in a second-hand bootleg ripple of tape hiss that gives this a timeless feel, rather than the usual lo-fi associations dredged up with the noise floor of Teac turbulence.

Faded sun is in the band’s veins, dipping just below the mountains while the band peruses a wrinkled junk shop copy of the Whole Earth Catalog. It’s just languid enough to eschew proper jam territory, but sprawled out so much that you know they’re itching to take it that direction on stage. The release is out via small Toronto imprint Maximum Exposure who’ve brought out some great small releases from RSTB faves Young Guv and James Matthew VII in the past few years. The site mentions this being an early release, so no word on whether that means a digital drop before a physical but no matter what format this one lands on your speakers, it’s worth it. There’s a perfect end of summer feeling to the songs — amiable, easy, and drifting on a wind that’s got change on its mind. Keep the band in your watchlist for good things to come. If the early James Matthew tracks give an indication where these EPs can lead, you’re gonna want to see what the band does when they get some proper sine on ‘em.




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Ellis/Munk Ensemble

The folks at El Paraiso rarely miss, and this week another great LP rolls out of the gate. This time label co-head Jonas Munk (Causa Sui) heads Stateside for a collaboration with Brian Ellis (Astra, Silver Sunshine). The duo met up in Brian’s environ of San Diego along with a rotating cast of SD musicians from local psych and jazz circles. Members of Astra, Psicomagia, Monarch, Radio Moscow and Sacri Monti all chip into the sessions and the result is prime ‘70s psychedelic jazz with a touch of cosmic chaos from within German borders. Munk’s leads waver from supple and intricate to beset with a bombast of fuzz that burns down any slink he may have left behind. Ellis pushes the keys towards the prog axis, giving the record that grandiose sense of ‘70s self-aggrandizement that let ELP make gatefold albums about mythological creatures in extended suites. The pair singe the ends of that vibe, letting this filter through electric Miles territory (if only the backing band, eschewing any otherworldly horn transcendence).

Their songs ride a tempest of drums and percolating heat through wormholes that radiate in double vision. The El Paraiso set, and Causa Sui themselves, tend toward the outer edges of psychedelic fusion, but this one’s pacing recent works from Mythic Sunship in terms of letting improvisation take hold and push them through uncharted cosmic territory. Personally, when I was first lapping up jazz in younger years the crossover into psychedelic excess came as a flood of new possibilities and this record brings the feelings swimming back. The sense that the edge is visible but never obtainable ripples through this record. It’s hard to pin down and that’s exactly the point. Drop into this and wander around a while.



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BALL

The bounty of 2020 is only getting fuller by the day. While the rest of the world slides into chaos, the music of the moment is as potent as ever. To that whit, the sophomore LP from Ball is just the pelvic thrust of power that August has been waiting for. The Swedish group has long been posing as lascivious fuzz freaks pulled straight from the primordial ooze and this album does little to dissuade the audience from that impression. Built on the power trio tumult of the ‘70s, not to mention the sex, drugs, and damnation ethos, the band is a leather codpiece come to life. Like You Are…I Once Was…Like I Am – You Will Never Be finds the band lusting after a Satanic priestess that leads them down corridors of corroded bass rumble, through hovels heated with brimstone guitar and into fields filled with a war drum pound that’s as funk-bridled as it is refreshingly frenetic.

While on a larger world stage Ball is not anywhere near approaching the accolades they deserve, there seem to be plenty of bands looking to light a spark this bright. Fuzz in particular is sniffing up this same ‘70s power pummel and, while they’re packing a force to be reckoned with, Ball often edges them, pairing a looseness with a certain chaos that feels like they might just break apart at the seams at any moment. Hard rock has unfortunately been taking itself too seriously of late and the hormonal wink at the heart of Ball, paired with a proficiency that careens without collapsing is a formula that I hope to see more of in the future. Lock it up in an album cover that’s straight out of the Heavy Metal film scraps and this is hard to resist. Its a bit sparser in the states, but worth nabbing when you find it.




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Randy Holden – Population II

Riding Easy went all in on the reissue of this solo LP from Randy Holden — a heavy hitter to be sure, though more beholden to the riff than the hook. With no less than five versions of the LP, they seek to assert its classic status. In this light, Holden is held up as being from Blue Cheer, and to be sure he was in Blue Cheer for about an album, playing on their ’69 LP New! Improved! Blue Cheer, in the expanded lineup that attempted to improve upon the perfection of the band’s Vincebus Eruptum from the previous year. While this BC album is well produced, it fails to capitalize on the lighting strike that tore through VE, melding garage to a sludge that would become metal in years to come. Though I might more accurately give Holden the edge for helming guitar duties in The Other Half rather than Blue Cheer, if pressed on his legacy. In that outfit he cut blues with a rusty hacksaw, aiming for psychedelia, but coming up just short of a full trip. Population II splits the difference between his previous endeavors, thickening the stew with the classic sludge of Blue Cheer, but adding in a good dose of the ragged soul of The Other Half.

What’s been said here is that Holden hit on Doom before Doom existed, and sure there’s a certain sense of foreboding dread in some of the passages here, but in the same year Sabbath would scare the shit out of anyone holding this up as Doom’s genesis. That’s not to say that Population II doesn’t have a heavy whollop… it does. Holden claims this was never officially released, but Hobbit, who also released Saphire Thinkers alongside a few other collector’s fodder like Rockin’ Foo and Plain Jane around the same two year span seems to have obtained a tape to press. The label reeks of tax shelter ethics, so its certainly possible that they scooped this one up without too much official insight. The record’s been bootlegged endlessly in the interim but Riding Easy give it the royal treatment, returning Holden’s debut to a platform that might warrant his live legacy. The metal merchants and the sludge huffers gonna love this if they don’t already have it, so dig in.




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Vintage Crop

No secret around here that I have a penchant for Aussie punk, and some of the best singles banging out these days come not from Melbourne or Brisbane, but from Geelong via Vintage Crop. The band’s bit hard on the live socket swagger of Wire, The Fall, and other such ‘70s spitters with jagged leads and caustic choruses. The record swings from pit-sweat thrummers to the kind of writhing, coiled killers that have made the band such an endearing presence the last couple of years. Serve To Serve Again was recorded with Mikey Young and there’s certainly a reverence for Young’s own ECSR legacy in the mix. With Young at the boards VC are accentuating the spring-loaded attack and brittle ends that have let punk and post-punk copulate in the current Aussie environment to create a sickened and swinging brand of propulsive punk that won’t be pinned to the floor.

Bass lines bulge at the seams, barely fitting into their niche, guitars scorch, slash, dart, and dodge the microphones and atop the glorious din Jack Cherry lays into the louche life with a sneer that can be felt through the wobble of the speakers. Unfurled late-stage capitalism, wage slave doldrums, and the festering tension of a generation left in the lurch all leak into the lyrics. The band wraps Jack’s invective around their supple songwriting, mulling the bile before letting it loose into the water supply. Vintage Crop have been hammering out squirm-inducing sonics for the past few years, but with Serve To Serve Again I do believe they’re peaking.




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