Browsing Category Reviews

TK Echo – S/T

More solid pop out of DC this week with the release of the eponymous single from TK Echo. The band scoops up a healthy dose of local talent, with mems of Q and Not U, Protect-U and Supersystem in the mix. Held down by propulsive rhythms and sparkling pop strains, the EP’s three tracks speak well to getting in on the ground floor for the band. Loping in easy with “Fade My Mind,” and then kicking it up with the heat-pounder “Era,” the band’s songs are skewered from all sides with the grind of guitars and the ice-cool neon nag of synths. The single wraps up with the curlicue fuzz heat of “You You’re your Watermark” – a dig in on identity and privacy. Yet another worthwhile venture from the vaunted halls of Dischord.



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Tim Presley’s White Fence

The most striking thing about the new White Fence is that its now come packaged as Tim Presley’s White Fence. Its an odd move for a band that’s essentially one guy. While the multi-bandmember marketing move of branding a band with a “presents” banner brings to mind infighting and egos, a la Eric Burdon and The Animals or Rod Torfulson’s Armada, here it seems to strike a connective tissue between Tim’s recent solo records, numerous collabs and his old standby White Fence. Tim’s on again, off again relationship with the name is, to say the least, confusing. Where does the Fence end and Presley begin? Is White Fence an affectation, or is it just a familiar branded beanie that allows him to bloom outside of the singer-songwriter context?

The answers are not necessarily forthcoming here, but a bigger picture does take shape. The beginning of the record dips into the piano-man ballads that Tim’s been slinging on the side. Then he douses it with a bit of the warble-wonk weirdness that he’s found with Drinks (his collab with Cate Le Bon). Before long though, its back to the ’60s strummers of yore. “Lorelei” wrestles with Presley’s inner Kevin Ayers, but its “Neighborhood Light” that’s the standout here. It’s the most proper answer to what White Fence really is – loose, jaunty, swingers that pick at the bones of John Cale, Arthur Brown, Ayers, Skip Spence and yeah the ol’ specter of Syd. More than just emulating though, Tim’s finding the webbing between the outsiders, and that makes White Fence an enduring prospect. Most of the names on that list, bar Cale, would burn out well before any sense of longevity would set in. Tim gives reason to believe that there was far more gas in any of their tanks that we, as a listening public, got to explore.

I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk is a further tumble down Tim’s costume box, breathing in the essence of the guitar freak grasping to translate fractals into fingerpicks without dropping down the acid-casualty escape hatch. Perhaps the best example here is “Until You Walk,” a crumpled tin tango that’s breezy and beatific – if the breeze was pulling downwind from a massive gas leak. Its hard not to find something refreshing in Tim’s insistence on not only coloring outside of the singer-songwriter lines, but adding several layers of touch-up to the coloring book in fanciful curlicue while he’s at it. Everything in White Fence’s world is applied n colors that can’t be ignored and refuse to blend in, and Larry’s is one of the most fully realized examples of that ethos yet.



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Mozes and the Firstborn

The idea behind Dadcore – embracing rock as a medium in an era when its seen as a stubborn, antiquated, passé artform – is amusing, though I’m not sure that rock has been completely erased from the vital lexicon just yet. There are still plenty of scraped-knee punks, jangle-jilted Aussie youths, and depression channeling post-punks to keep the blood strong these days, though what’s on display here is a more specific strata of the rock canon. The touchpoints that drive the Dutch band’s latest album are decidedly “classic” in nature, pulling from a trove of nostalgia-ready ‘90s and ‘00s indie that, according to the band, should appeal to your pops, granted that, “you” in this case, are around 9-14. Along with veteran indie producer Chris Coady at the helm, the band conceives a self-styled mixtape love note that acts as a Teflon coating against the critique that Dadcore is just a reworking of past tropes. That’s exactly what they’re aiming to do. Thank you quite nicely for noticing.

Granted, since I likely fall in the core demographic for the album, I cannot be unblemished or unbiased. I’m wholly unopposed to the raised specters of Teenage Fanclub, Dino Jr., Fountains of Wayne and Camper Van Beethoven that find their way splattered all over this record. The band weaves the nerd warble of power pop through the narrative like a talisman, and aside from the ghosts of psych-folk, few genres raise a flag around here like power pop. Mozes and the Firstborn are bouncing buoyant choruses off the ionosphere and pulling in transmissions from the core of the college radio era, when CMJ had a stake in the game (RIP) and the alternative banner waved wild and free. There’s a bit of a disrupted flow with the crutch of that mixtape format (each track is separated by a short burst of dialog or interlude that staples it ceremonially to the next) but for the most part their vision is clear. Coady and the boys have created a referentially yet scruffily catchy record that’s truly comfortable in the guise they’ve chosen. MATF are having fun, and that in itself is infectious.



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Spiral Joy Bad

Spun off from the din of Pelt, Spiral Joy Band has served over a decade as a parallel universe in which Mikel Dimmick, Patrick Best, and Troy Schafer can experiment further with the drones and zones that capture their attention. Originally envisioned as an acoustic counterpart, the band’s embraced the electric impulse over time and with their latest for MIE, they continue to open a portal to a haunted hollow beneath the earth’s crust. As with Pelt proper, SJB have a patient creep to them – embracing drones that float like fog a la Heldon or Ashra, while scraping some high plains guitar moan from the stones in the manner of Barn Owl and Charalambides.

On Summoning the similarities with the latter are cemented even further, with vocalist Dani Schafer’s incantations thrumming on the same cosmic wavelength that’s long driven Christina Carter. On centerpiece, “Starlings in Deerwood,” her vocals crack the cosmos and give the band’s guitar clash a run for its money in terms of holding the listener rapt. Then the band shakes the world tree with a clattering, mossy menagerie of drone, dirge, rattle and hum on the 20 min closer “Down the Lane the Park is Still and the Water Chill.” Fans of any of the aforementioned touchstones or Pelt for that matter have plenty to unpack on this limited press platter, perfect for the hibernation months ahead.



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The Dandelion – “Every Other Day”

Sydney psych-pop acolytes The Dandelion pick up plenty of cues from Broadcast and Sterolab, but there’s also a glam element that comes away sounding like Vashti Bunyan working through a repertoire of T. Rex covers. The band came bubbling to the surface on the roster of last year’s GizzFest (King Gizz’ own hometown hoedown picking out the best of Aussie psych) and they’re prepping for an upcoming LP soon. The band’s interim, three track offering on French label Six Tonnes De Chair ably displays the Krautrock ripples of repetition, the good ol’ fashioned garage rock getdown and the flowers-in-their-hair throwback qualities that makes the band so endearing.

The title track is the most indebted to the ghost of Trish Keenan, though the band are definitely working on a less technical and more from-the-hip angle than Broadcast. Organs bubble through the headphones in cellophane-wrapped lysergic colors while Natalie de Silver’s voice whispers from some forgotten plane of existence. “Lucifer and the Knife” brings that Bolan boogie to the forefront, shimmying along the edges of astral projection. They actually hit on a lot of the same vibes that Meg Remy and U.S. Girls were simmering in during their Gems period. Then the band closes out the record with the instrumental killer “Malkaus,” shaking down enough crystal-funk spine shivers to keep the listener baking in bliss all the way home.

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Night Beats

For his latest LP as Night Beats, Danny Lee Blackwell has a crises of character and we’re all invited along for the ride. Jettisoning the semblance of a “band,” the record is just Blackwell with a litany of studio hit men and Dan Auerbach behind the boards, working the Night Beats’ previously gritty garage into a swaggering, glossy blues-soul belter in the mold of the Keys themselves. Seems that Dan Auerbach is rolodexing his way through the wealth of indie talent these days – working with garage-soul powerhouse Shannon Shaw and making over Sonny Smith into a proper gentleman. The production match-ups have been met with a mixed-bag of outcomes. In Shaw, Auerbach saw a performer who was often left masked by genre – a natural torch singer who needed a proper stage to shine from. With Smith, however, he stripped away much of the songwriter’s downtrodden charm, giving his record the feel of an expensive imitation that wrinkles in the wash while the rest of his catalog comes out crisp and clean every time.

Now as to what he’s done with Night Beats – its a split decision to be honest. I like quite a few of the tracks that Auerbach and Blackwell have done together. When the songs are full of sound and darkness and swinging for the rafters they shake out the psych-soul swirls of Blackwell’s past into the kind of stadium rock that works with a packed crowd and an over-zealous light show. On the other side of the same coin, though, when the band brings down the lights and goes for tender vulnerability the look chafes like a cheap costume. On “Too Young To Pray,” “Am I Just Wasting My Time,” and “I Wonder” the record feels like its courting well outside of its intended audience, hamming it up for the Brillo Cream boomers that like the way that boy looks in a tie. And doesn’t he just sing lovely? Its Tom Jones with a sneer and a wide-brimmed fedora.

The gamble, unfortunately, tends to deflate even the best moments and leaves the record feeling like it can’t make up its mind to go all in on a big budget rock record or leave the Beats’ name behind and deliver a Blackwell soul-glo half-hour special. Fans of Night Beats likely came for the dark n’ downers, and were the whole album to strut in the manner of “One Thing,” “Eyes on Me” and “Let Me Guess,” this might stand among some of Night Beats’ best. There’s nothing to be lost from treading new ground, or even lightening the mood with a softer respite between the sweat-soakers, but on Myth of a Man Blackwell and Auerbach have pulled the rug out from under the band’s sound in the name of wilting ballads that don’t inspire love, lust or, sadly, repeat listens.



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The Telescopes – Early Studio Recordings

While The Telescopes would go on to refine shoegaze into beautifully fuzzy bliss in their later year, the band found their footing far from the restraint that would mark their eponymous Creation classic. From the outset the band found themselves down in the noise trenches chewing the furious punk swagger of the Stooges into feedback folds on par with Jesus and Mary Chain, Spacemen 3 and Loop. With such a large and still evolving catalog to tend to, though, those early EPs tend to get overshadowed and lost from the conversation of psych-punk classics. Bang! Records aims to correct that mistake, however, with the issue of Early Studio Recordings which rounds up the band’s pre-Taste EPs on to one thick platter for the feedback freaks.

The collection rounds up completely remastered versions of tracks from their debut single, Kick The Wall, 7th# Disaster EP, The Perfect Needle EP, and To Kill A Slow Girl Walking EP. Rounding up years spent between Cheree and What Goes On, the early recordings weren’t afforded as much cash infusion clarity as their later works and its nice to hear them scrubbed up and sweating like new. The lingering effects of The Telescopes can be felt foaming through the veins of plenty of newcomers looking to claim the psych crown, so best to take the time to rifle through the unabridged history of noise rock. JAMC and MBV will always get the most space on the page anytime some poor schmuck’s rhapsodizing about the volume infected guitar albums that’ll rattle the fillings right out of your head, but for my money The Telescopes should be seated right near the head of the table. Recommended that you pick this up and find out why.



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Mope City

While its tempting to battle the deluge of current events with dips into sunny distraction and plastic pop, there’s something comforting about slipping into a narcotic pool of blissful disconnect. For a good swath of the ‘80s and ‘90s there was a production pinpoint to turn to when just such a sound was needed. As much as Steve Albini built his empire of sound on the unflinching light of austerity, his counterpart Mark Kramer built his own brand basking in the warm glow depression pop. Sydney’s own downer step-children Mope City are echoing the highlights of Kramer’s production canon – from the woolly jangles and slightly askew harmonies of Galaxie 500 to the grey-skied vocal wallow of ‘90s Low. Its only appropriate, then, that the band should dial up the legend himself to put a mix and master on their sophomore LP.

The band’s songs echo their moniker like a mission statement. There are cracks of light in that peek in through the blinds, but for the most part the band is lacquering the inside of the bell jar with the windows closed and the fumes bring on enough of a buzz to dull the pain awhile. It’s clear that of their aforementioned alt touchstones, the group has spent the most time with the catalog of Boston’s finest slowcore trio. Mope City’s got Galaxie’s disaffection and echo-chamber anesthetics pinned to the floor, though the band lacks the luster of Wareham’s liquid mercury guitar solos and their absence is definitely felt. The duo’s pulling off depression pop and a slowcore revival admirably well, if not necessarily moving the dial forward all that much from its 1990 heyday.

News From Home succeeds the most when it breaks just a touch out of its own head. The key change breather and ebullient strings on “Excuses Start To Thaw” floats the song to the top of their heap along with the slouched swagger of “Medicine Drawer”. Its clear that the band is onto something, and separating themselves quite nicely from the pervasive trends that abound in their home country’s indie union. The best mope-pop worked well when we listeners could believe there was some kernel of hope inside. When Mope City rest on their heels and let the dirge overtake the day then it muddies the songs a bit too much, but when they nail the balance of hope and despair, the record becomes much more than an homage to an era separated by time and 9500 miles of tide.



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Lorelle Meets The Obsolete

Mexican shoegazers Lorelle Meets The Obsolete have been something of a fixture on RSTB for some time, so it was great news when I got wind the band had knocked down much of their past writing habits, built an album largely around synths and started up their own imprint to release it. De Facto‘s a biting bit of tongue in cheek, given that this is anything but a stock Lorelle album. While it shares the band’s love of obfuscation and crackling walls of sound, the album is at once more experimental and more pop than they’ve ever let on before. The band broke away from the pervasiveness of a screaming guitar build and buried vocals on 2016’s Balance, but that still bore a pretty heavy footprint of where they’d been. De Facto cracks open the door slowly, with “Ana” creeping in on almost nothing at all, just a skeletal pulse and Lorena Quintanilla’s silken vocals. The track is a bit of a red herring, as the band immediately jettisons the restraint by the next track, pinning their dreampop to a pulsing beat and a sweaty pop pound before winding their way through stylistic nooks over the next seven tracks.

While they’ve long included their native tongue in their works, De Facto is also notable for being their first album to feature no trace of English and it feels like the band embracing themselves like never before. This is the unfiltered Obsolete, not afraid to walk away from the corner they’ve been painted into by years of expectation. There’s often been a squirm of discomfort in their songs, even when easing into the ether, but here it feels like they’re finally letting the tension melt and with it letting the listener melt along with them. The album pools in gossamer puddles that swell to flooded fields once the band flips the switch to deluge. Their unparalleled ease only makes the fuzzed payoffs more satisfying once they finally loosen the hatches here. With each listen, De Facto opens itself to more shimmering moments shoegaze/dreampop perfection. Both genres have long been maligned by a generation of half-assed accolytes, but Lorelle Meets the Obsolete prove that there’s still juice in the tank when its done without reservations.

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Autogramm

I’ve long been a sucker for power pop – especially the valley carved out between the tail of ’77 punk and the rising tide of New Wave that created a weirder, woolier variety than was fit to endure the end of the decade. Before pop punk co-opted the template jittery weirdos like Moon Martin could share stages with Tubeway Army, Nick Lowe and DEVO and it all seemed like they were picking up pots from the same pop kitchen. Autogramm have come to life to tap into that world wholesale (perhaps to a bit of a fault). The band, which is comprised of members of The Spitfires, Blood Meridian, Lightning Dust, Hard Drugs, Destroyer, Black Halos, and Black Mountain leaves behind the confines of their indie and psych roots to go method on the skinny tie set’s sandbox.

There are some genuinely great out-of-time moments on the record, that if they were snatched up from the dollar bin dust would easily find their way sandwiched between The Cars, Advertising, and Hubble Bubble on the early morning rock block. The trio has studied their source material and brought to life a familiar beast freshly sprung from plastic and casually rolling the sleeves of its sportcoat for a night out. The record might be just a tad too on the nose for its own good, though, feeling more like dress-up than a power pop progression. There are still bands updating the formula and making it sound fresh (see: Barreracudas, Flasher, Michael Rault) but that doesn’t seem to be what Autogramm have set out to accomplish. Still, few contemporary power poppers are really locking into that nerd-squirm that Autogramm seem to have made their bedrock. That aspect gives this record reason for more than a first listen. The long arm of The Cars reaches out over a legacy of music, but it rarely rears its head as often as it does here. Its tempting to lay back into its embrace.


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