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Gonzo

Geelong sweat merchants Gonzo offer up a sophomore LP, for Aussie garden of delights Anti-fade and its a twitchy whollop of an album that hits all the sweet spots like a sack of oranges to the face. The record jumps straight back into the battery-acid bash that surged through the synapses of their debut, only more refined and running a newer razor down the face with twisted blasts of guitar. Like US contempo’s in Uranium Club and Lithics or UK chord chewers Sauna Youth, they have a penchant for mixing mangled metal licks with a socially sour attitude that walks through the streets swinging the mic from the neck, begging to be beat, berated, or bested. The record is more than no-frills. It might actually accrue negative frills and owe a debt of audio drapings to the listener by the time the last bars click to a close.

Gonzo doesn’t seem fussed about it in the least, though. The band is comfortable at home scraping the sores for inspiration and they channel every inch of their chafed n’ chapped aesthetic into Do It Better. I for one have welcomed the caustic crush of the new wave of nihilistic rock action figures and Gonzo are a collector’s bunch (grab the four pack to trade with friends). The band spends the bulk of DIB‘s run licking the 9V for just a twinge of feeling. The record fizzes and flails just the right ways. It spends a good five minutes slamming its head into the cinder block basement to get enough blood to slide down the strings. Gonzo will chew wire for you. Gonzo will drive you to the airport, Gonzo will sit your kids and sell them back at market value. Gonzo will notarize your post-it notes. They’re living the mundane and spitting it back into grey lumps so you don’t have to. Its about time you locked in and appreciated it.




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Laughing Eye

The members of Hills are busy on the side these days, while her bandmates are prying open the Kosmiche window in Centrum, Hanna Östergren is treading equally cosmic territory with her new outing Laughing Eye. As the drummer for both Hills and the recently reformed Träd Gräs och Stenar, the project naturally lends itself to a rhythmic bent, but Östergren proves deft at creating atmospherics as well as a polyrhythmic pound. Travelling down similar territory to Sagor & Swing she weaves organ, strings, and percussion into a trance that recalls folk raga with a chilly Noric bent. The eponymous record pulses with a cold beacon of light but its hard to see if the pulse is coming from the mountaintop of from a low hanging satellite. Östergren’s music is equally at home in the meditative state as it is grappling for the outer edges of the ionosphere.

The first side is built with shorter pieces that all dip into transcendental territory, but it’s on the album’s nearly 17-minute closer where Östergren really shines. The track builds from warbling hums, adds in mournful flutes crying solitary tears to the cosmos. The track reverberates with an uneasy energy, giving off both a calm and a menace all at once. It’s the soundtrack to a resigned fate, paralysis on the precipice of the jaws of death. The whole album shows promise, but its this ending that makes me hope she’s got more of this coming down the line.

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Garcia Peoples

It seems like just a few months ago that Jersey’s young gun guitar greats Garcia Peoples graced us with their debut, Cosmic Cash. That record, born out of the cutout bin clamor for a resurgence of ‘70s denim draped sounds, was the soundtrack to summer haze in 2018. The band made a strong case for a return to the karmic well, divining the spaces between The Dead, Hot Tuna, Mountain Bus, Mighty Baby, and FAT. Yet, despite the band’s Arakaki brothers barely even scratching this temporal plane of existence when the tape trades swapped to file transfers, the band evokes quite convincingly a headier era, when the way to peace lie in between the woven lines of interlocked guitars soaking up the sun.

They, along with a few other keepers of the Cosmic Cloth who’ve stepped out of the smoke in the last couple of years, have been warding off the sour taste left behind by frat bros soaked in spilled vape liquid and sweat who can’t stop telling you how much better Widespread is in the pocket. Instead they foster an environment of bucolic guitar nirvana that’s a bit sunnier and a touch smarter, zeroing in on the positivity and playfulness one would expect from a band with such a pointed moniker. The new album straddles finely the line of grass between the edge of the city and the beginning of the country. Natural Facts is a still full of the cool breezes that blow as you tumble down that Black Mountainside (see: “Weathered Mountains”) but they’ve added a touch of toughness into the formula this time around. The city seeps up through the cracks in the soles of their shoes, giving the guitars a bigger bite that also soaks the record in a greater sense of relief when the band loses themselves in the roiling waves of dual guitar euphoria that can only be amplified when they’re fleshed out on stage.

Speaking of the stage, the band has already built themselves quite a live reputation, which often makes a hard transition to the record. For any band whose live sets read > like > an > expression > of > equation rather than a bulleted list, compartmentalizing the flow to two sides of wax can prove a challenge. The band escapes for the most part unscathed, eschewing the suite method they’d employed on their last album and giving the tracks on Natural Facts a cap around the five-minute mark. They manage to engross still within these truncated lengths, while making the album flow with the ease of a band used to sewing their songs into an aural tapestry. Short order, if you were on board the train last album, then you won’t be disappointed here. If you’re just now buying the ticket, then Natural Facts will drop you at the edge of the psychedelic veil just as gently.



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Modern Nature

Following the unfortunate fallout from Ultimate Painting’s implosion, the band’s Jack Cooper heads inward, which is saying something. His previous outfit had a particular proclivity for introverted indie-pop that felt like it carved a distinct connection with each and every listener. While he’s shying away from the pop aspect of his writing, that core connection and folk formulation remains on Nature. The EP, built on the cavern coolness of purred vocals and bubbling cosmic grooves, gives his work a psychedelic tweak, but its the work of someone spiraling down the depths of the unconscious coil rather than exploring the etchings in the dayglo painted stars above. He’s assembled a crack team to pull off his new vision as well, pulling in members of Woods, Herbcraft, Sunwatchers, and Beak on these four engrossing tracks.

While the propulsion of the title track begs Neu-nerds to come out of the woodwork, the track is self-professed in its allusions to the more experimental bend of ’69 Fairport Convention (in particular “A Sailor’s Life”) and the trend of bucolic English psych-folk toward the creep of drone’s embrace becomes a touchstone for the album. The opening and closing tracks are different visions of the same oasis, with “Supernature” taking the listener much further into the catacombs of consciousness. Elsewhere Cooper explores the sun-licked peace of acoustic thrum on “Flats,” and throws in a cover of the perennially inspiring “Blackwaterside” folk-tale, skipping just Ren Faire aesthetics that lesser artist can cave to and finding the meditative beauty that Jansch and Denny brought to the traditional piece.

Cooper seems to admit that this EP came out of something beyond him, and whether it becomes the beginning of something longer term or just a watershed to tide him through the transition remains to be seen. I’m hoping that he continues down this road, though. The experimental folk badge looks good on him and should the band begin rotating in talent like those assembled so far, it could be a great new chapter in Cooper’s pop cannon.

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Gun – Gun

Real Gone have put Gun’s eponymous debut LP back on vinyl for the first time in three decades and its good to have it home on wax. The record’s been subjected to CD reissues several times and remains a solid slice of the UK hard rock canon. The band is most notable for being started by Adrian and Paul Gurvitz, a pair of brothers who’d wind their way through plenty of heavy hitters – going on work with Ginger Baker and Buddy Miles in later years, while also popping up in UK nuggets Rupert’s People and The Knack (“Time Waits for No One,” rockers, not “My Sharona”). For a short time Gun also counted YES’ John Anderson among the ranks, which might go some length to explain how the record also served as Roger Dean’s entry to cover art. The band’s sound embraced a towering post-psych, pre-prog aesthetic that drew in symphonics, dripping blues solos and a power-pounded rhythm section that keeps the energy pushed to the cliff.

The band released a follow-up, Gunsight, in 1969, but the album failed to capture audiences as they did with the often-covered single “Race With the Devil.” The band were branded as counterculturists by their label, CBS, but often found themselves at odds with that pitch, even working in a slightly anti-acid song on Gunsight. When the second album sunk, it pushed them away from the Gun name. The brothers formed Three Man Army, which would eventually become Ginger Baker’s Three Man Army after a few albums. This debut Gun album still stands as the pinnacle of their works, though. Tough, almost theatrically over the top in places, and willing to experiment with horn arrangements that weren’t necessarily the norm at the time. The label’s packed it up in a dedicated reproduction of the cover art and some limited red vinyl. There have been boots out there over the years, but this one’s sounding better than any unauthorized issue ever could. Its a grand reminder of when rock had no need to edit itself or even thing about reigning it in.



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The Murlocs

While the Gizz might be gearing up for another rinse around the tub in April, you don’t have to wait that long for some harp-heckled weirdness outta OZ. Top flight Gizzard offshoot The Murlocs are back with their fourth LP and a more toughened and toned sound than they’ve displayed to date. Led by the sinewy swagger of Ambrose Kenny-Smith and the nimble bass of Cook Craig, they’ve always represented a more soul-drenched side of the equation, turning down the psychedelic splatter that hangs over their ludicrously monikered day job and doing the dirty work of making bodies move to the blues. That soul-glo is even more present on Manic Candid Episode as the band grinds out white-boy hip shakers that stick to the floor with sweat and tears. They’d always been able to hit that manic high, though, what’s interesting here is how tender Kenny-Smith lets himself get and how vulnerability really lends itself a new dimensions to the band’s equation.

The standout single “Comfort Zone” takes a lone-spotlight piano approach to ‘70s songwriting, jumping off from an Elton show-closer and giving it a twist through the band’s own rose gold filter. They continue the buttered slide through more tender territory on “Catch 22” and “Samsara Maya,” but much as they might want to temper, the twinkle in Amrose’s eye can’t help but lead them back to the fire eventually. Those harmonica hijinks return for “What If?,” “Withstand” and the title track to, admittedly, great effect. Its good to see them take the temperature down a few degrees, but its hard to argue that when they aim to singe, they leave an impression. This is the most varied and versed the band has sounded in a long time, feeling like this is the moment when they go from being a sidetrack diversion to headliners in their own right.



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Paisiel

Released in short supply as a cassette on Portuguese label Lovers & Lollypops last year, Rocket Recordings is giving new life to the eponymous album by Paisiel, the duo of João Pais Filipe and Julius Gabriel. The album’s three tracks are dark sojourns through psychedelic jazz – wrestling with rhythms and running sax down the skin with the menace of a freshly sharpened knife. The pair coax one another constantly throughout the LP, challenging the other to make a step too far, to pierce the psychedelic barrier and scar the psyche beyond repair. On opener “Satellite” the drums pound in the brain with an anxious insistence – skittering in an endless tumult before the foreboding gnash of gongs makes it clear that something transcendental and otherworldly is afoot.

The space rock shivers continue to torment the onset of “Limousine in the Desert,” bandying echo and dust about in a sandstorm of sound that’s only hushed by a return to the polyrhythmic clatter of drums and the lonesome moan of the sax once again. Moans turn to squeals, squeals to squals as the band pounds out ritualistic furor that catches in the throat. The album is drenched in panic sweat, feeling every bit the soundtrack to imminent danger from all directions – the sky, the earth, the mind. There’s a feeling of ayahuasca and adrenaline in the veins and a teeth-clenched sudden realization that maybe there’s no danger at all. By that time the band rolls into the shortest and surest track in their album’s cycle. The panic calms, the dust clears and the earth crystalizes beneath the feet once again. They let the listener go with a grey trickle of rain that nourishes and numbs the psychic wounds inflicted over the past thirty minutes, but the scars remain.




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The World

Gonna keep things centered in Oakland today with the new mini-LP from The World. The band hit hard with their debut, First World Record in 2017 and this more compact version of their sound doesn’t sway too wildly from the formula that brought them my way initially. Seven tracks dot the EP, ranging from the elastic dance contortions of “White Raddish” and “You’re Going Down” to the slow-down simmer of “Punctuate” and the buzzsaw beat of “Last Rhodesian.” As in the past the band is at its best when they let the sax slice through the crushed tin timbres, shredding the reserve of icy cool that they build up in the more mellow moments.

Despite it being an icy chiller about finding common ground, the band’s probably not loving the cultural timing of a song titled “Jackson 5” on the EP, but they work it into a bubbling lock groove that works all the same, despite the headline connotations that spring to mind. They round the EP out with a bit of bleary dub on “Kill Your Landlord” and the sample slapped strangeness of “Slow Rho,” which seems like a fun experiment but doesn’t do much other than tie the EP together at the stiches. Still, a couple of killer tracks in the mix here and likely they hit hard from the stage. As I mentioned with Preening, there’s definitely something at work in the bowels of Oakland and their new wave of post-punk is much appreciated around here.



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Preening

Plenty of acerbic vibes wafting out of Oakland these days. Alongside equally ravaged post-punk releases from The World, Andy Human & The Reptoids, Rays, and No Babies, comes the debut from Preening. Just as sax slashed (if not more so) than their contemporaries in The World, Preening is chewing up post-punk and spitting it back on the dancefloor for the crowd to slip in. Their vision, while angular and infectious, is also confrontational in a way that many of their peers don’t come close to. While there’s a woolen irritation that gets under the skin with a band like Lithics, Preening are a whole other hairshirt to contend with. Think The Contortions backing Beefheart and we’re getting closer to the kernel that wrought ‘em. This is a record that’s built to batter and be battered by.

Gang Laughter pitches and fidgets in its seat, wads riffs into balls of wire and then, unprovoked, lobs them at the listener in the form of sax squalls and sandpapered epithets from vocalist Max Nordile. If a record could be described as sounding like a lack of sleep, then this is it. The record spins on its impulses – swinging wildly without planning but connecting with the razored wit of someone used to operating out of control and keenly in their element with hackles raised. Like most bursts of manic energy, the record doesn’t stick around long. No songs here bust the 2:30 barrier. Preening slash in, slide out and leave onlookers befuddled, bemused and bandaged, but changed all the same. My suggestion is to succumb to Gang Laughter. Let it wash over and poke at your liver for a heckled half-hour, there’s something freeing in letting go of the societal thread for a while.



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Caetano Veloso – S/T (Tropicália)

Not that the folks at Third Man don’t have wide ranging taste, but its not the enclave I expected to birth the first official version of Caetano Veloso’s eponymous solo debut. The man, responsible for the name of, and in large part the direction of, the Tropicália movement, moved from former child prodigy to art impulses with this 1968 album. Along with Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Tom Ze and Os Mutantes, Veloso was integral to the shift away from indigenous folk music and towards a larger psychedelic consciousness within Musica Popular Brasileira. Though Costa and Veloso recorded a duet album, Domingo, together in ’67, it wasn’t until the release of a pair of self-titled albums by Veloso and Gilberto Gil the following year that the movement would begin to take shape musically. The reaction wasn’t necessarily always to the welcome reception of fans, who objected to the shift away from folk. Moreso, given his and other Tropicalists’ critique of their military-led government, it was even less popular with the powers that be.

The album was aimed at becoming a cultural hinge-point, inspired by the open pop format of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s. The record embraces traditional bossa rhythms, spoken word passages, heavy electrics, and a newfound interest in effects. The resultant album, though attempting to veil its political leanings in cheeky implications, drew ire as it grew in popularity. For as much ground as it broke in shifting traditions, it broke twice as much in emboldening and codifying youth culture against their own broken systems and American institutionalism. Eventually this would result in the exile of Veloso and his compatriot Gil.

The two performed on TV in 1968 and the ensuing uproar sent both artists overseas to London until 1972 when they were finally allowed return. There Veloso would work write and record the somber and superb follow-ups (also self-titled, but typically referred to by their first tracks “Irene” and “A Little More Blue”). As he returned Veloso would become the center of Brazilian pop for more than twenty years. This is, essentially where it began, and in many ways still some of his best. The record has been reissued several times over the years, but this is the first sanctioned US-pressed copy. As with any version, it is utterly essential.


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