Browsing Category Reviews

The Ocean Party

Its hard not to view the latest melancholic masterstroke from Melbourne’s The Ocean Party in the tragic view of the recent loss of one of their members. Just over a week out from the album’s release the band lost member Zac Denton (also of Ciggie Witch, Pregnancy) to the sudden onset of a brain cyst. At six members deep, the band is stuffed with songwriters, but like the rest, Zac’s voice added to the band’s surprisingly complex resolve and gorgeous glimmer of hope in an overwhelming world. The Oddfellows’ Hall, was recorded in the titular building, a community meeting center in New South Wales, and the out of studio locale adds its own bit of character to an album that’s also a bit unconventional. The record merges styles seamlessly, slipping from country-flecked indie to pulsing new wave offspring while offering a bit of a buoy and ballast to listeners in need.

There aren’t any hard divisions between the genre hops and that in itself gives the album a welcome cohesiveness. When the drum patterns rise up, there are still a few melancholy slides that find their way into the mix and even the downbeat strummers still have an undeniable pop center. To their credit, despite Ocean Party’s deep bench of songwriters, the tone retains an even whiff of bittersweet bliss. While each member adds their own color – sometimes adopting the laconic lounge licks of Kurt Vile, sometimes picking at an updated vision of the bedroom dancing that inspired The Postal Service, and most often finding themselves tangled in a jangle n’ twang that’s all their own – they all seem to keep a collective spirit in-tact.

Its humble and human, warm and weary. There’s an everyman appeal to the album that’s endearing. It’s a fitting swansong for Denton, albeit one that comes far too soon. As the album examines the personal anxieties, quiet triumphs, and daily stumbles that each member endured and exemplified, it’s a little piece of the artists to hold onto – a balm for the listener and players alike.



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Meg Baird & Mary Lattimore

That Mary Lattimore and Meg Baird haven’t constantly crossed paths as collaborators is a bit of a conundrum. Both artists spent time in Philly’s verdant folk wave and both have found themselves circling a good cross section of the same musicians over the years. They’re both constant collaborators in general. Lattimore finds herself skewing to the experimental subset, appearing with Jeff Zeigler, Chris Forsyth, and Elysse Thebner. Baird on the other hand has leaned psychedelic, taking up posts in Espers and Heron Oblivion outside of her collaboration with her sister Laura. Now the fates have intervened and Baird’s effusive folk is married to the sympathetic strings of Lattimore’s harp. With voices billowing around the headspace in an otherworldly flow, Ghost Forests, it seems, is an apt title. The album rises out of the mists with an intangible softness – streaked by sunlight, tangled in the wind.

The pair weave subtext and nuance throughout the album, eschewing overt declarations for hazy perfection on a great many of the songs. While there are themes of nature and nations, art and anxiety even the most straightforward songs like “Painter of Tygers” or “Fair Annie” are still subsumed by a disorienting haze that renders every moment of the album beautifully serene. Its Lattimore’s harp that pulls the listener out of the maze each time, though. As with any of her own works or previous collaborations, Lattimore’s talent for adding a bittersweet sparkle to any track remains true. She’s a master of restraint, plucking and prodding songs along with a gilded touch that’s never busy, but always brilliant.

The record builds towards strength, with the first few tracks loping along quietly, doused in a morning serenity. By the time the pair lead the listeners to the closer, “Fair Annie,” the sun has almost burnt away the billow, leaving an ache of longing in its place. The duo’s first outing for Third Lobed immediately leaves the listener wanting more and hoping that this isn’t the last time the women grace each other’s presence.



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Doug Paisley

With his fourth album for No Quarter, Doug Paisley has released a quietly devastating look into getting by. Starter Home, as the title might suggest, revolves around humble family life – burrowing into the weariness, happiness, worry and wonder that’s stretched across the American landscape. From the rain-streaked Sunday strums of the title track opener to the last lilting ripple of “Shadows,” Paisley proves that he’s got a deft hand for crafting winsome country that sketches out small town life in painstaking detail. His characters can’t move beyond the meager means they intended to be temporary fixes, can’t move beyond the jobs that were supposed to drag them out of their paycheck to paycheck lives. They’ve got friends, though, and family and they recognize the small miracles that pull us each through every day with enough of a smile to forget the weight, letting a few beers stoke the will to get to tomorrow.

Paisley’s vignettes aren’t cast in gilded frames. He’s a master of restraint, giving songs just enough to make them gorgeous but not showy, like high contrast black and white photos of ’50s modular homes with worn furniture and a cigarette in each hand. There’s a sense that this album is rooted in the same kind of sorrow and sighs that might have driven Townes or Fred Neil, but also a sense that Paisley is taking his rough roads better than the brand of artists who let the world cut them too deep. Starter Home is, without a doubt, an aching record with despair hovering right around the corner. The charm is that Paisley never lets it catch him or his characters.

The firelight flicker underneath the bittersweet blues keeps each song floating on a comforting warmth. The album’s centerpiece “Drinking With A Friend” kind of sums up the album’s underlying aesthetic. Paisley’s there to buffer your bad days and buy a round. Its the aural equivalent of that ache that hangs at the center of your chest – the pang throbs until it sometimes overwhelms, but it also reminds you that you’re alive, and that in itself is ok. Within the brief nine songs of Starter Home Paisley is able to unbutton then salt the wound and sew it back up for the next day’s lacerations. Its a humble album, that nonetheless leaves a pretty sizable mark.



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Unusual Sounds

I’m a sucker for a couple of things, compendiums of overlooked music and collections of sleeve art throughout the years. Both come to a delightful crest in Dave Hollander’s book for Anthology Editions, Unusual Sounds. In the book the Texan record collector and filmmaker dips into his vast collection of Library music (one of the largest documented such collections around) to shed some light on what he sees as essential cuts and collections. While its an informative k-hole and a visual delight that’s wrapped up in a book jacket by Robert Beatty, one would assume that a book like this either leads to YouTube overload and keyboard cramps or that it might benefit from some sort of companion album, or ideally three or four.

Seems that Anthology agrees and they’ve rounded up twenty tracks from releases highlighted in the book. The collection spans all the best Library hallmarks, from the gameshow funk of Keith Mansfield to the creamy soul of John Cameron, it’s as much a feast for the ears as the book is for the eyes and mind. The haunted psychedelia twofer from Brainticket founder Joel Vandroogenbroeck is a particularly nice touch as is the creeping synth work of Nagara drummer Klaus Weiss. Library music has always been a genre that requires a studious collector and, in that regard, it’s nice to have Hollander take some of the encyclopedic work off of our plates. For those looking to get into some excellent examples of the film archives, funk collectors and soul savants this is a prime collection of genre gems that aren’t likely on over-dug compilations previously existing. Highly recommended!

The double set is, naturally, also wrapped in a Beatty-designed sleeve that gives it a touch of classic age.



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Rays

On their previous album Oakland’s Rays merged wiry post-punk with the current wave of Aussie indie that’s been riffling through Flying Nun singles and Go-Betweens B-sides as inspiration. There were bright spots of jangle that jutted through the din last time around, but on You Can Get There From Here the band has embraced their more melodic impulses upfront, giving the album an accessibility they’d sometimes rebuffed in the past. Like fellow West Coasters Massage, they’re clearly dog paddling through the best Aussie upstarts – cherry picking bits of Boomgates, Blank Realm and Terry – while leaning on a double-dose of detergent-core from The Clean and Cleaners From Venus.

The slight scrub-up feels good on them, though they’re not wiping away their grit completely. The record leaves plenty of un-sanded edges that give their sound the same kind of unfussed and genuine weight that their South Hemi counterparts have been cultivating in kitchens and practice spaces over the last few years. So many of those bands have embraced a laconic style that gives the impression each humble hummer has sprung fully formed from idle strums and stream of consciousness divining of the universe’s whims. Likewise, Rays, too, have perfected the art of sounding effortless. There are moments on You Can Get There From Here, that were no doubt fussed over in the writing room, but feel like they dropped out of the sky shaggy, shaky and catchy enough to crush your resistance on first listen.

While the particular strain of pop that burrows out of OZ on a regular basis, peddling curdled sunshine and tarnished hooks is still appealing to a niche base with a hunger for a less pristine pop present, its good to see more US bands adopting the model. Rays are proving to be ones to keep a constant eye on and with You Can Get There From Here, they’ve jumped up in the ranks on the list of 2018’s jangle pop essentials.



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BB and the Blips, Tommy and the Commies, Rata Negra, Timmy’s Organism

Its been a packed fall, that follows on a pretty packed 2018 in general when it comes to the volume of releases that have found their way to listeners over the last ten months. With that in mind I’m going to try to increase the visibility on some worthy releases with occasional combo crunched reviews that still allow some depth yet let me move through the inbox faster than my busy schedule normally allows.

Tommy and the Commies – Here Come
First up, Ontario’s Tommie & The Commies crack open a breakneck punk record that’s pulling (almost too close for comfort at some points) right from the playbooks of The Undertones and The Buzzcocks. At only 16 minutes long, the album doesn’t leave a lot of time to catch one’s breath, but this kind of classic punk wasn’t meant for sitting still. It was meant for tossing beer bottles and stray spittle at the torn silhouettes on stage while mashing yer face into the mass of humanity that is the pit. The songs are appropriately nervy, snotty and breathless – never even stopping for a Ramones-worthy 1-2-3-4 to leap into the fray. Lead lugger Tommy Commy’s perfected his Feargal Sharkey impression to the point that its almost torture not to hear the band tear into a cover of “Jump Boys” every time a new track revs up. This one ain’t beating down any new paths, but for those punks who have been missing the glory days, this’ll do to get the pogo pounce out of your system.


BB and the Blips – Shame Job
Swinging the spotlight from Canada to Australia, but keeping the focus on new bands with a classic slant, we arrive at the proper punk burner from BB and the Blips. The band, made up of ex-pats from Housewives, Good Throb and Semi, is nailing down the kind of middle-finger teardowns that made X-Ray Spex and Penatration formative touchstones. The Blips are tackling a ten-track dissection of shame, but they’re hardly stopping long enough to linger on the stomach-sick effects of the emotion. The album blisters by in a growl of guitars and a delirium of helium and heat vocals. As with the Commies, this one feels reverent to another day and age, but they’re pulling it off with conviction and style, so who cares that this brand of gnash-toothed punk has been bought and sold before. Shame Job doesn’t waste a moment and never lets go.


Rata Negra – Justicia Cosmica
Another international jump swings the lens to Madrid, where Rata Negra have been bashing out acerbic post-punk since 2014. Following on the band’s absolute crusher Oido Absoluto the Spanish band continues to mop the floor with most contenders on Justicia Cosmica. The new record seems to lack a bit of the bottom-end grit that marked their previous effort, but it finds them just as frantic and furious as they’ve ever been. Adding some occasional keys to the mix pushes the dial forward on the time circuits here, landing them just a touch into the early ‘80s from where they last left off. Still not taking an ounce of shit, though, the band feels ready to fight via fists or phrases until their dying days. The bass is knotty, the vocals sound as if they could sear the flesh from your skull (at least until the rather wistful “Nada va a Permanecer Dorado” hits) and the guitars are filthy with fuzz. Madrid’s been something of a hotbed for punk and post-punk these days and Rata Negra are leading the charge among the city’s best.

Timmy’s Organism – Survival of the Fiendish
Detroit’s favorite degenerate emissaries are back with a new album and the same oil slick mutant punk in their pockets. Timmy’s Organism has long been a favorite around here and their latest ticks all the same boxes that endeared them to me in the first place. Survival of the Fiendish is sopping up the gutter grease that festers below us while we sleep. Timmy Vulgar is the embodiment of the reasons that parents have been confiscating punk tapes from the dawn of the genre. The album is full of ill will, evil intentions and the kind of oozing riffs that should reduce your speakers to a pile of festering goo. Though, the boys do let themselves evolve. Is that a piano I hear on “Green Grass?” Is that acoustic guitar wafting through “South Shore Train?” Maybe the mutants have softened in their old age. Well, maybe not. There’s still plenty of bile to be had, but the record does show some growth among the Organism’s impulses. After a move through the label ranks – Sacred Bones, In The Red, Third Man – the band graces the spools of Burger and it all seems to make sense. Thanks Baphomet for Timmy’s Organism. They’re perennial solid senders of the evil ooze.



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Wingtip Sloat

Wingtip Sloat have never been an easy notion to pin down. Active in the early ‘90s, The Viginia / DC band cropped up on small labels with handmade singles that immediately fell out of print. They found their way to the arms of experimental haven VHF and began a string of idiosyncratic excess with the label that spanned “7s, a couple of albums, and a comp that dredged up more than thirty tracks of pre-label singles and compilation tracks almost lost to the ether. In 1998 they issued their skewed and scrunched pop classic If Only For The Hatchery to relatively warm reviews then all but disappeared. So, it’s a bit of a shock to see the band back with ten new tracks and a deep-pocket dive of archival material that fills in a good amount of the gaps.

Not entirely sure what the band’s been up to in the interim, but Purge and Swell proves that they haven’t lost their crooked smile and pop acumen. The songs are still fishooked by jangles and slashed through with angles – catchy and immediate with overtones of Guided by Voices, Tall Dwarfs, The Clean and The Bats. Compared to a good deal of their scattered back catalog this is as refined as the Sloat has ever sounded and its downright charming. There’s sunny slouch to the new material, sluffing off their more acerbic hackles and, in deference to their previous MO, the record is remarkably cohesive in tone. The band has always had a melodic current jolting under the post-punk bite, but Purge and Swell seems to be digging for earworms like never before.

For the invested Sloat-er the album comes with a treasure trove of songs from the rehearsal rooms and cutting room floors of their past. Like that whopper of a singles comp from the early aughts, this is a lot to digest, but it gives plenty of insight to the band’s influences and process for the curious. There are plenty of short burst poppers, erratic outbursts, and covers that span from Brian Eno to Belle & Sebastian. If this is your first taste of Wingtip Sloat, the new disc is an easy entry, though it doesn’t necessarily prepare you for the depths they’ve dug in he past. Still, as a standalone Sloat, its up with the best. Plenty of great bands get lost in the cracks of culture and there’s no time like now to reinvestigate the ample, winking charms of Wingtip Sloat for a while.



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Paint

L.A.’s Allah-Las trade in their fair amount of ‘60s shaded nostalgia, and while they’re usually brimming with a decent dose of homegrown appeal, the solo stint from ‘Las guitarist and songwriter Pedrum Siadatian makes his mainstay sound positively modern by comparison. The faded photo trappings are most certainly by design. Siadatian is reaching for the hidden bins that house the hometapers, the 4-track quiet geniuses and the unstable imps of the acid-blotted paisley past. Helmed at the production desk by the similarly inclined pastiche painter Frank Maston, he crafts an album that seeps up from the humble hovels of R. Stevie Moore and F.J. McMahon sounding like its never seen so much as the door to a proper studio. That’s not a complaint mind you, the pair are aiming for a record that could easily slip between the cracked covers of the private press gold rush and blend in seamlessly and they’re pulling it off swimmingly. Siadatian’s clearly done his research and delights in creating something of a crumpled homage.

Paint catches the same prism-bent dusty sunshine that revs up the cardboard kaleidoscopes of Kevin Ayers, Danny Graham and Billy Nicholls. Siadatian makes it seem effortless, but I get a sense that he and Maston have gone to lengths to meticulously craft an air of economical wonder to match these low-key touchstones. Maston doesn’t push the project too hard, or imprint himself as heavily as one might imagine given his own passions for the past. Instead of coifing this record in lush brushstrokes of the Library psych he’s so fond of, he’s let the backroom hiss and bedroom sleepiness linger. Just because the mics are bedroom bound doesn’t mean this thing is totally sparse, though. The songs are still adorned with brain tangling backwards guitars, satin organs and flute swells, but the sounds are stuffed into the spectrum like they were tracked in tandem, stuffed into a third-floor apartment.

Paint has the feeling of a one-off curio, which are oftentimes the best records. It remains unclear if this is to become a new avenue for Siadatian in the long run, or just a way to shake out some private press psych impulses. Either way he’s ticking a lot of boxes on the RSTB favorites list and the album elevates itself to be more than just style over substance. It’s a well-conceived diorama of psych that creeps under the skin time and again.



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Rat Columns – “Sometimes We’re Friends”

Those promised Slumberland SLR30 singles are beginning to land and that’s good news for fans of David West’s output. West’s Rat Columns issued a criminally underrated album on Upset The Rhythm last year, and to top it he also put out an equally excellent album of his own on Tough Love a few months later. This short form release for Slumberland picks up where both of those left off. Just as bleary-eyed and blissful as the previous Rat Columns tracks, the single starts off with the hazy strummer “Sometimes We’re Friends.” Caught in the crossfire between jangle-pops bright bounce and shoegaze’s gauzy confusion, the track is an extended descent into headphone glory.

The flip showcases the more pristine aspects of West’s songwriting. “Astral Lover” is a bittersweet bit of pop perfection that hangs its heartbroken hook on a sea of strings and two-part harmonies that place this alongside many of the best moments of Candle Power. They wind the single up with the rainy-day sleeper, “Waiting To Die,” a track that’s not nearly as goth as that title might lead one to believe. Instead the track lopes along on a shuffle of drums and some softly tangled strums, with West pining for the end in a surprisingly upbeat fashion. I’d recommend picking this up alongside the rest of the 30 yr set, since there are limited colors at hand an the promise of a Black Tambourine exclusive tied to the set.



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Fapardokly – Fapardokly

California songwriter Merrell Fankkhauser touched down in severally ‘60s groups, beginning with the surf-bent Impacts before forming the psych group Merrell & The Exiles in 1964. The Exiles would eventually shuck that name to become Fapardokly. The thorny name was the result of combining letters from each of the members’ names, something that probably seemed a better idea at the time. The band held down a residency at the Pismo Beach venue The Cove while laying down songs over a number of years at Glenn Records’ founder Glen F MacArthur’s nearby studio. One of the tracks the band recorded, “Tomorrow’s Girl,” found its way onto Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, which helped turn their hodgepodge of studio tracks into an album for the hometown label.

Since it was recorded over several years, the style on the record evolves alongside the trends that transpired between ’64 and ’67. There are straightforward janglers, baroque ruminations and psych standouts peppered all over their eponymous LP. The record has found its way out before, but rarely in an authorized version. Sundazed worked out a CD a few years back, but this marks the return to vinyl and even boasts some archival photos and liner notes from Fankhauser himself. Its also returns the album’s original cover art, which had been degraded to lesser versions among bootleg issues of the record.

Though it would comprise his most essential recordings, Fapardokly didn’t mark the end for Fankhauser. He’d go on to have some nominal psych success with H.M.S. Bounty, a band that shared much common ground with later period Fapardokly. He’d wander towards a fractured blues in the ‘70s with MU, which saw him reconnect with Beefheart band member Jeff Cotton. Notably, Cotton was also briefly in Merrell & the Exiles, but wouldn’t become a member of Fapardokly proper. Nice to see this little gem back in print. Its probably not the most essential piece of the puzzle from the ‘60s but Fankhauser’s talent deserves a bit of a showcase. Well worth the time for Nuggets aficionados.



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