Browsing Category Reviews

Buck Curran

Guitarist Buck Curran, has woven his way deep into the folk and psych-folk worlds over the past decade. He’s best known for his work with Arborea, but just as instrumental is his organizing of the compilation Leaves of Life which included Devendra Banhart, Marissa Nadler and Alela Diane, and two Robbie Basho tributes that have helped to shed light on the vital artist in the past few years. He’s also given new life to live Basho recordings via his imprint Obsolete Recordings this year. In 2016 he broke out from Arborea to play solo works, though they leaned harder on the psych than the folk element. On his second solo outing he fully embraces his acoustic persona, drawing from a well of Takoma ‘60s and ‘70s inspirations, especially on the first side that plays out the full extent of the Afternoon Ragas referenced in the album’s title.

He blends the wandering psych troubadour influences and mournful guitar divinations with some electric rumble as the record ekes into the second side, and though Curran still pulls stark sadness from the strings he marries his fingerpicked heartache to a spectral blues form on “Taurus.” The clouds part on the wistful “Dirt Floor,” in no small part due to the lilting vocals from Adele Papparlardo. She injects bit of sun to the album’s largely overcast emotions, though it’s easy to see how someone invested in Basho’s legacy would run a thread of somber sincerity through their own works. A lovely collection for those interested in the aforementioned Takoma period or latter-day pickers like Chasney, Bishop or Rose. Curran’s crafted a record that easily slots itself on the shelf next to any of those three.




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Bonny Doon

Sure there’s something “hazy and pastoral” about the songs that appear on Bonny Doon’s new LP, Longwave. There’s a soft focus around the edges and an undercurrent of bliss, but there’s something I’d have to call aimlessly suburban about the album. Despite writing a good deal of the record in the quaint sounding town of Mystic Lake, MI, I, as a born and raised Michigan lad have to note that this berg is smack dab in the middle of the state. That leaves it surrounded on all sides by the tedious sprawl of Michigan highways. Now, if you’ve never experienced them I envy you, they’re an almost unrelenting expanse of featureless roadway that boasts no change in elevation to break up the monotony. It’s with these concrete threads in mind that I find the core of Longwave’s charm. There’s something soothing in its laconic presentation of a pop that touches on cosmic Americana, but packages it in the ’90s hangover of Alternative that once scraped the radio waves late at night on my Midwestern car stereo.

On long stretches of these roads I’d often console myself with music and with the right kind of bittersweet sway, those dull drags through big box America blur into a heavy sigh. Bonny Doon have captured the swirl of cracked plastic signs lined in squat strips, eking out an existence swaddled in dulled teals and muddy yellow. They’ve found the soundtrack to the American ground loop of small town existence. There’s a great sense of pop that’s thriving under the hood of Longwave, but its ‘from-the-hip’ nature and sauntered tempos lend well to a kind of nostalgia that dredges up a sense memory for smoke stained bowling alleys, Bob’s Big Boys and that smell of rain right before it breaks. Sure the landscape is dotted with cell towers now, but as Detroiters themselves, Bonny Doon must know that some places hold onto the past as modern ruins – industrial dioramas to the American Dream gone south, haunted with the ghosts of fried egg routines and holding fast to traditions no one agreed on. There are plenty of ennui miners these days, but somehow the smoke rings that dissipate around Bonny Doon’s alt-pop, shaded thick with twang and a half awake, half dreaming sigh, evoke an era lost more than most. This one’s a long-latcher, finding its way to your heart and squeezing softly.




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Yuzo Iwata

It’s 2018 and Siltbreeze is still knocking out jams, somehow that’s a comforting sentiment in these trying times. Philadelphia’s Yuzo Iwata has done time in Japanese outsider conduit Maher Shalal Hash Baz, and while this is a far cry from that nest of bees, the association does bump up his pedigree somewhat. The record is loose and low slung, riding a groove that’s shaggy at best and stalwart in its insistence on tying on no style too tightly. As the label so kindly points out, Daylight Moon finds itself akin to PSF sides and flips through the Japanese psych blues bible creasing pages in the Michio Kurihara and Tetuzi Akiyama sections liberally. Iwata can stretch a groove into the void, but he’s not just ambling aimlessly through guitar knots, his compositions carve out craggy valleys of deep set woe and he sets himself up alongside the forerunners of Japanese psych as a new vessel of spectral feedback foam looking to burrow into your ennui centers.

Early on the record seems like it might slip into some sunny territory, “Gigolo” is downright sprightly in its swing, but Iwata quickly sheds the jangle ‘n chug for a more meditative dropout that lacerates the eardrums with a sea of squelch and fire-bellied rumble. He shows his range though, and the sprightly take fits with his rifle through psych-out burndowns, Bardo Pond-esque chuggers and plaintive touch torch blues tracks that look for purchase in soft-feel psychedelia fuzzed slightly at the edges. Iwata’s done well to grab listeners’ attention here and with Daylight Moon he sets up a nice bar for himself to scramble over as he looks to the future. It’s not perfect, but it’s flawed beautifully.




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Pointed Sticks – Perfect Youth

The world is steadily knocking the dust from some of power pop’s most coveted gems and a new reissue of Pointed Sticks’ essential debut is a welcome addition to 2018. The last time that Sudden Death (who took over the reigns from original label Quintessence Records) issued this was back in 2005, but it’s no less necessary more than a decade later. Among the best power pop albums with the worst covers, the album is best known for the title cut, a bubblegum jolt of punk that’s brimming with ecstatic snap and an earworm chorus. Though the single is no an outlier in this collection thanks in no small part to the work of newbie producer at the time, Bob Rock. The industry go-to, who’d go on to hammer out hits with Aerosmith, Metallica and Mötley Crüe found his start with this as the first album under his belt, likely as a result of his work on EPs the previous year for fellow Quintessence artists Subhumans and Young Canadians.

The album is a bright and brimming collection of power pop pushed through a tangle of jangle-pop that reveals an overt love for Elvis Costello while pushing the tempos and temperament into what would become the signifiers of pop punk many years later. Following the homegrown success of this album the band became notable for being signed to Stiff Records, though the label itself was falling apart financially at the time and wouldn’t officially release any recordings by them in its tenure. There are several comps that pick these up though. Recently, as is the case with bands that burn out too quick, they’ve found success in reunited form and recorded a couple of new albums, however, without a doubt this remains the pinnacle of their career. Those with an ear to power pop’s transition from the ’70s into the ’80s would do well to dig this up, and along with Teenage Head, they remains some of the best exporters of Canadian punk from the time period. Ignore that god awful cover and press on to the chewy pop offerings between the grooves.


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Wet Tuna

Doesn’t take much more than the lineup here to peak my interest in Wet Tuna. The duo is comprised of longtime psych flayers Matt “M.V.” Valentine and Pat Gubler, better known to the double spool grind as P.G. Six. The pair have been living the Wet Tuna lifestyle live for a while now and posting some tantalizing sets up on their Bandcamp, but now they’ve wrestled the expansive experience down to a debut full length and it sees them flesh out the sound with a full band feeling, adding keys and percussion to the pair’s guitar divinations. Taken on their own (or even with his other duo in Valentine’s case) these are two mighty pillars of post echo-location soup to deal with, both riding high on damp and dank guitar licks that burrow psychedelic smolder from the ground. Together, though, they’re definitely working on an alechimical level to mind-meld their way to new levels of endorphin-chompin’ brain float.

The band isn’t messin’ around out of the gate, filling the first side of this platter with the twenty-minute scorcher “New York Street,” making a case for high-mountain firelight blues chug as a state perfect being. The album grabs hold of the ghost, lights the fuse and never brings the listener down below the horizon line. Even when the guitars cool the strings to the touch, as on the shorter bits here, there’s still a buoyant calm that keeps Livin’ The Die sublimated and gaseous, beaming in on a transistor beacon from deepest space while leaving behind an aroma that’s straight from the soil. That’s the beauty that Valentine and Gubler have wrought, the woven riffs are mossy and humid, their vocals float in a memory haze of stuffed-cotton caverns, and when the coils glow an incandescent amber, the album takes flight with a solid-state shot of sulfur and smoke that lingers on the tongue. It’s a high point in both artist’s catalog, which for two such prolific beings, speaks high of Wet Tuna’s legacy.



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Chaines

Blending orchestral scrapes with back alley ambience and an alternate dimension lounge approach that slaloms through dirge infested seascapes, The King is, needless to say, a singular record. The work of Cee Haines alongside regular contributors Oliver Coates and Mary Stark, the record also makes use of the London Contemporary Orchestra to flesh out Haines’ stark vision to new heights. The record jellyfishes its way through genres, floating in an incandescent hue with menace and creeping calm. Haines pins anxious strings to the quiet creep of jazz winds then litters the path with scraps of noise that blow with ominous portent. The record is haunted and cinematic, though the kind of film that could accompany Haines’ vision feels like it might occupy the chasm between David Lynch and Jodorowsky – a rotting corpse rendered beautiful in shades of cyan slow motion.

As The King rolls on the elements of electronic influence become more pronounced, not merely content to play a background part in the proceedings. The beats creak out of the shadows and thump like frightened hearts underneath the mechanical clank and scrape of Chaines’ strange heat. Then out of the humid wreckage of the first six tracks a human shape rears its head – bound by static at first (“Mary”) and then soaring in embryonic ebullience, ambiguous and pained as the album comes to a close (“Eraserhead”). The evolution towards this torch song ending feels organic but jumping from the first to last track seems like a world has been traversed and a world that you’re quite sure you might not be able to find your way home from.



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Itasca

Following on her 2016 album for Paradise of Bachelors Kayla Cohen resumes her guise as Itasca for a hushed tape of intricate, fingerpicked folk for micro label Dove Cove. The tape is presented in collaboration with poet and visual artist Gunnar Tchida, who provides the album’s titles and accompanying artwork as inspiration. Cohen’s folk has a twilight quality to it, rambling through deft string work that recalls Daniel Bachman and Alexander among a few others from the current Fahey school of blues ramblers. Skewing from her contemporaries though, she injects a fragile peacefulness into her pieces that sends the knotted tumbles scattering in the wind, consumed by the hiss of tape, the howl of the wind and the ozone fry of an amplifier. On tracks like “Snow Melt,” she’s working closer to the shadow of Ben Chasney to channel the restrained smolder of angry fuzz that’s burning up the strings like a fuse. Elsewhere she dampens the ramble to a hush and works in weaves of straightforward folk with a verdant lope of guitar that pushes the meditative qualities to the fore.

If this is just a stopgap, then it’s a rather well landing one, divining meditative tangles from the ideas laid out in Tchida’s titles. It’s a departure from her more glossy work for PoB, but one that makes up for fidelity with intimacy. The work of Itasca communes with nature so well it’s almost a shame that this is released in the damp of winter’s chill. It begs to be walked around outside. While I’d imagine this is less of a burden in her current surroundings in California, those of us stuck back near her native Hudson Valley feel the cabin fever only grow tighter while this plays on the speakers. Still, the melt is soon to come and by then the wood and sinew grooves of Morning Flower will have wrapped the brain tightly with their knotted embrace.




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Dungen & Woods

In addition to curating a psychedelic sojourn in Texas each year, Mexican Summer’s Marfa Myths festival produces a collaborative piece that serves as universal souvenir, even for those not able to make it down to the sunbaked namesake in any given year. In the past this has offered up collab slabs from Conan Mockasin/Dev Hines and Ariel Pink/Weyes Blood respectively, both fair pieces in their own right. On the eve of the upcoming festival the label releases the fruits of last year’s team up and this one hits me harder than either of the previous two, combining the talents of Woods (Jeremy Earl and Jarvis Taveniere) and Dungen (Gustav Ejstes and Reine Fisk), two longtime favorites here.

On paper that seems like it has to work, and for the most part this is an overtly successful blending of the two bands’ styles. It could be said that Woods have been moving towards more complex arrangements with each release, and to that end the addition of Dungen’s lush songwriting style both fits and isn’t too far a jump. When the two bands really dig into each other’s styles, though, the record soars. The opener serves essentially as an instrumental Dungen track, occupying the same space that the band has built out in their catalog over the years for the kind of soaring flute and kush psychedelics that beg the listener to lean back into their fawning embrace. Likewise, the second track “Turn Around” feels like a Woods song with a bit more padding – a good Woods song mind you, but not one that feels like it might be out of place on their last couple of albums. Only the lingering flute lends a wink of Gustav Ejstes’s fingerprints on the song.

But as they eke into the second instrumental of the set, the aptly titled “Marfa Sunset,” the two bands begin to smelt their strengths into a bubbling psychedelia that’s twisting with Woods’ effects bent past and Dungen’s smooth ‘70s glow. Once they begin to melt Jeremy Earl’s falsetto into a cloud of echo and the two singers go for harmonies, then the record blossoms into the potential offered up by the premise. The culmination of the album becomes an oasis from the Texan heat, glittering with a dew-soaked psychedelia that’s nourishing to the soul. The high point “Jag Ville Va Kvar” offers doubled returns on any listener’s investment, elevating this far beyond party favor and into favored canon for both artists. The past installments have been worth a pop in, but this collaboration gives good argument to the festival as incubator for one-off dream teams.




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Simply Saucer – Cyborgs Revisited

Haven’t heard too much about In The Red doing the universe a solid by cobbling together a “definitive” version of Simply Saucer’s sole collection Cyborg’s Revisited, but if you’re any kind of fan of future punk with a sci-fi soul, then this one should be on your list. The Hamilton, Ontario band recorded the bulk of the set at the studio of Bob and Daniel Lanois as demos, but given the absolutely stone-faced reaction they received to them, those demos remain the core of their output. Those tracks are represented here, as they have been on the Mole and Get Back editions of the record, but ITR bumps up the package from past LP editions by including a set of live recordings made at the time that give the studio sets some context to the band’s live presence.

The gears of Cyborgs Revisited are wound with a space rock float that hooks in Hawkwind and Floyd allusions, playing to the heads urging to break free from the beige constraints of the Canadian status quo. Trust me, I’ve been to Hamilton, ON – that city needed / still needs moonwalkers like Simply Saucer to throttle it from slumber. Breaking tone with much of the psychedelic fray is “Bullet Proof Nothing,” a VU-indebted pop gem that more modern listeners might recognize as covered by Ty Segall as the flip to his Goner Recs single “Caesar” way back in 2010. It’s as close as the band would ever come to a pop hit, and a damn fine gem in any band’s catalog.

The early editions were scarce, and rather unheralded unless you were a crack collector at the time, so for many this presents a new opportunity to snag this on vinyl without the premium of a Discogs dig. The label is touting this as a “definitive” version and for the format that holds water. Though it does leave off 1978 recorded versions of “She’s A Dog” and “I Can Change My Mind” that were recorded after the band recruited 15-year old drummer Tony Cutaia. The live version of the latter does appear in the bonus material, though. Still, a solid set that rounds up a lot of material to vinyl for the first time. The CD edition on Sonic Unyon might give it a run for the money in total coverage, if you’re into that kind of thing, but for turntable fanatics, this is your best shot yet. Can’t recommend Simply Saucer enough, if this is an oversight on your shelf, rectify it now.




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No Babies

I’m tellin’ you it’s a banner year for post-punk and Oakland’s No Babies add another piece to the chewed glass puzzle of 2018 with their sophomore LP, Someone To Watch Over Me. The record, as with their debut, is built closer to punk’s beating heart, with frantic tempos propelling the accusatory throttle of Jasmine Watson’s vocals. The band pushes past the imaginary lines scratched in punk’s sand though, with a healthy lungful of sax skronk and some sandpaper conditioning to the guitar work of Ricky Martyr. Tracks jerk to a stop, crumple into metallic tumbles and knock all manner of jagged chunks out of the expected punk boilerplate. They remind me in a very good way of bygone Mexican punks XYX – a hole in my heart that I’m happy to fill.

The lyrics tend towards the progressive, as might befit the band’s barbed assault, working thorough screeds on consumer society, binary identity politics and police brutality. As such, in the tilt-o-whirl blur of 2018, the record has a vitality that’s palpable, delivered via sweaty as hell noise bursts bent on crumbling the roadblock consciousness of those that seek to pin them down. They’re channeling youthful exuberance into fuel for life, processing cathartic pogo politics into petrol for change. Someone To Watch Over Me, like classic works from Ni Hao or Afrirampo before it, is built on barely controlled chaos, bottled and funneled through a pinpoint at precise pressure. What sounds like an uncontrollable maelstrom from the eye of the storm is in reality a Rube Goldberg of sonic destruction when rolled back into focus. No Babies are architects of their own engine of change and working damn hard to crush the common consensus via twenty-five minutes of acid-stripped punk pummel.



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