Browsing Category Reviews

The Pooh Sticks – Pooh Sticks 7″ Box Set

Even though I’ve run down my favorite reissues of the year that doesn’t mean there aren’t still some worthy contenders finding their way back out into the world. Sometimes the UK releases don’t get their due in the US and this 5×7” collection from The Pooh Sticks definitely falls into that category. Though its pricey, for the indie pop aligned this is a pretty nice pickup. The Pooh Sticks served as a sort of bubblegum vision of jangle-pop, and while their works were tightly wound, catchy as hell, and hard to ignore, the band probably wasn’t given their due in the pantheon poppers that cropped up around them. The whole affair was largely shepherded by their manager Steve Gregory who wrote the songs and mocked up their covers that featured Archies-styled cartoon visions of the band behind anonymous pseudonyms. Largely out of fashion at the time, this kind of setup seems at odds with the DIY aesthetics of jangle-pop and the carefully crafted images of Creation pop bands at the time. However, the whole thing ends as a nice mirror / sendup of the genre without coming off totally camp.

The songs stand up, even if they do take some liberties with lyrics, titles, and concept. The box set reissues a set of one-sided singles that were originally issued in 1988 on Fierce Recordings. The originals had etched b-sides, but here they’re each given a new flip that contains a previously unavailable song. The only exception is “Hard On Love,” which was on a super-hard to get flexi. While the set might be a bit of a shell-out for the uninitiated, the songs are worth checking into if you’re a power pop, jangle-pop, or indie-pop head. Pure sugar bliss in small format fineness. Its hard to snag in the US, but discogs should have you covered.




Support the artist. Buy it HERE.

0 Comments

Lux – New Day EP

A ferocious EP from Barcelona’s Lux hits like a giddy hammer to the head. Over these four tracks the band barely takes a breath, forging a formidable punk gauntlet that tears at the listener from all sides. Spain’s been having a pretty admirable punk resurgence and this fits right in alongside Moan or Rata Negra. The EP rumbles into view with the suburban assault of “Action,” the band’s riot underpinned by the sonic slap of vocals that never let the listener off of the hook. The whole thing’s over in six minutes but not an ounce of sweat is spared over the four tracks. It’s cold out there, so maybe this is the best way to melt the ice and march on through the rest of these sun-forsaken months. Lux know just what you’re looking for and bring int 4x harder and faster than the rest. Recommended on repeat.

Support the artist. Buy it HERE.

0 Comments

Richard Youngs and Raül Refree

Soft Abuse’s slide out of 2019 leaves the world with some great offerings and this tender, hypnotic collaboration from Richard Youngs and Raül Refree is a gorgeously undersung gem from the latter half of the year. The record is built around just four-pieces, but they stretch the bounds of the singer-songwriter format, each clocking in well past the eight-minute mark. With brushes of Shearwater, Talk Talk, and recently reissued Jansch gem Avocet in its veins, the record is wounded, broken, but not beyond repair. The songs swirl around repeated phrases and figures until the pieces become mantras and meditations on loss and the lacerations of the past.

Youngs’ guitars are as languorous as ever, feeling lived in yet lucid. Refree adds a twist of heartbreak to the mix, his orchestrations drape All Hands Around the Moment in grey streaks of rain that tumble down the panes of its pain and seep into each and every groove of the record. Youngs is at his height of humility here, and the listener can feel the weight on his heart begin to pull them under as the record locks into the whirlpool of melancholy. Mercifully the album pulls out of its peril in the second half. There’s hope and relief in the verdant rebirth of “Another Language.” The song is a parting of the clouds and a calming of the hairshirt sighs of the opening two numbers. The record winds up hopeful, though still tempered by hurt with another quivering number to close out the collection. Youngs’ catalog is a dense garden to enter, but if you’re looking for a rather essential inroads, this right here isn’t a bad place to start, nor a bad place to linger.




Support the artist. Buy it HERE.

0 Comments

The Gonks

A sly little lo-fi gem that’s snuck out in the latter half of 2019, The Gonks rip the ropes from your favorite post-punk homebaked bands and put them to good use. Throwing the checkerboad charms of Beat Happening, The Vaselines, Cub, Kleenex, and Dolly Mixure into the rock polisher for a few go-rounds, the resulting record gums up the works but still manages to knock some spit-shined weirdness out of the business end. Produced and recorded by Sonny Smith of Sunsets fame, the record has his mark of off-kilter, claptrap humor all over it. Yet, the band’s not just tugging at Sonny’s apron strings.

The Gonks capture the same feeling of ‘anyone can be a rockstar’ fun that gave punk its propulsion. With a few winks and a flash of teeth the band pound out zero-frills freakers that are packed with hooks and destined to shake the shingles. There’s a sweetness, even to songs about hitmen, lonely roads, nuns and death. The Gonks play it all straight from the hip, and though there’s that wink n’ smile at the heart of their work, the band aren’t fooling around. They’re not goofin’ the hooks, so don’t dance half-hearted. They had quite a few good teachers, but these kids are all right indeed.



Support the artist. Buy it HERE.

0 Comments

Eddy Current Suppression Ring

Couldn’t have been more surprised to see this one pop up on the radar for 2019. After a lengthy hiatus that saw rise to tributaries like Total Control, the aughts’ most potent punks are back and bashing with a new long player this year. The record would probably daunt lesser souls – a pristine reputation left dangling for a decade is dusted off and the band feel like they’ve made the logical next step in their sound. Still walking the line between the bar fight bruisers of pub rock that crept out of the gutter in the ‘70s to become punk’s nascent form, the band also finds a way to skip over the meat of those very same punk years and add in the wiry wreckage of post-punk fallout to the mix. They’re the alpha and the omega hurtling through the speakers in riot-wracked glory.

Ten-odd years behind the mixing desk and twisting the knobs on a synth set hasn’t dulled Mikey Young’s guitar attack one bit. He’s still bashing out angles that others would overlook – slinging hooks like a tried and true record collector who’s absorbed an era’s worth of wreckage by osmosis. Then there’s the gloved-menace himself, Brendan Huntly, who brings the nasal hammer once again, a punk-poet who doesn’t go for the pretense. He’s Richard Hell if Hell spent less time artfully arranging holes on his shirt and just got straight to the jitters. They update the invective for a new round of political punishment by the worldwide punters of 2019 but through the faces change the burn remains the same. This is a band that pretty much touched off what’s been ripping through the Aussie underground in the interim since they left and its good to see them kick the kids off the throne and casually tip the crown on their heads. A late slip into the 2019 fold, but this one should be on your year’s best for sure.




Support the artist. Buy it HERE.

0 Comments

Willie Lane – A Pine Tree Shilling’s Worth

Starting in 2009 guitarist Willie Lane issued a run of albums on his own Cord-Art label, ranging from fingerpicked folk to ragged blues. The albums, Known Quantity, Guitar Army of One and A Pine Tree Shilling’s Worth all seeped out quietly and went out of print quickly. Thankfully Feeding Tube have sought to correct the scarcity of the originals with a run of reissues over the last couple years and they’re now drawing that to a close with a new version of Pine Tree, which might be the best of the bunch. The LP is far more electric than the other two in the trilogy, leaning in heavily to the ragged blues and experimental feel of the series. The record isn’t tied to genre or feeling, but explores a shifting sense of sound that’s as rooted in the Takoma take on folk as it is in the dirt-caked Philly scene that would surface years later. Lane acts as a bridge between eras and does so without any whiff of overthinking. The pieces on A Pine Tree Shilling’s Worth flow with a loose ramble that weaves between the roots of the now snow-soaked Pioneer Valley.

Lane has been an integral part of the latest wave of psych-folk froth, not to mention the one before it, having collaborated with Elkhorn, Matt Valentine, Meg Baird, Samara Lubelski, Specrte Folk, and Espers over the years. Having this trilogy of releases back in print is a vital link between where Lane has been and where he’s headed. There’s word that another LP is on the way, so perhaps this last reissue will be preamble to the next node of his songwriting. Personally, I’m quite interested in what’s next, though 2019 itself is packed with Lane hallmarks. Besides this reissue, you can hear him on Elkhorn’s Sun Cycle/Elk Jam and Valentine’s Preserves album. If you’re just starting in on his works, I’d recommend beginning with this one and then diving backwards.



Support the artist. Buy it HERE.

0 Comments

Grace Cummings

The debut LP from Australian songwriter Grace Cummings snuck out last month and maybe it’s the end of year crush of content, but this one should be kicking up more dust. Cummings’ voice is raw, rankled, and electric – packed full with notes of stripped pine, floral gin, defiance and defeat. It’s no surprise that she’s come to the attention of her label with a cover of Bob Dylan. Her voice falls into that same ineffable, indefinable valley as his own, the kind of voice that divides a room but brings a community together in the right corners of culture. Now, if she were just to possess a voice on par with past idols like Dylan, Buckley, and Van Ronk, that would be notable but not necessarily transformative. Good thing then that she’s also a songwriter of the highest order and that makes Refuge Cove one of the year’s secret gems.

For a debut this hits incredibly hard, a record wrought with rifts as Cummings’ world seemingly dissolves around her in strands of celluloid. Feelings don’t slide in subtly on the record, rather they tear recklessly at Grace’s soul and in turn she exhumes the ghost of grief and glory and sets it to tape. There have been great records that gutted lately, but it’s been a while since one has set the humors on fire like this has. Grace’s songs can be felt traveling through the nerves, alchemically transmuting sorrow and sin to exhaustion in an incredible act of catharsis. The only sad capper on this is that the label (Flightless) only pressed this in an edition of 500 and they’re seemingly gone in a snap. Hopefully this one will return to the fold, though digitally it still delivers. Still some of the year’s best coming out, so don’t let the lists fool ya.




Support the artist. Buy it HERE.

0 Comments

Donovan Quinn

Like a star on the horizon, Soft Abuse comes creeping in with some essential late 2019 releases, including the fourth solo album from Donovan Quinn. The California songwriter has been a longtime fixture on RSTB, having anchored Skygreen Leopards, New Bums, and Verdure in the past. His albums are few and far between, bucking a trend of so many lately to work feverishly to amass a catalog that could cripple shelves and wallets alike. Quinn’s measured pace always pays off with songs that constantly recontextualize the past into something undeniably new — like beams of a barn brought to new life in new construction. The ghosts of those beams remain ever present and they seep out slowly into the room to mix with the mites and stir up the senses.

The songs on Absolom are even more haunted than most of Quinn’s works, having evolved from an idea to build songs around the lore of other artists. Ultimately that idea was set aside, but there’s still a feeling of these songs having been lived in, lyrically or otherwise by the ethers and embers of the past. On the long, winding highlight “Satanic Summer Nights” Quinn conjures Nikki Sudden with an ear towards ambitious boundaries. Its Sudden rewriting the The Pretty Things’ Parachute for a new age. Elsewhere Quinn’s tales are rife with loss, haunted not only by his heroes but by feelings just out of reach. He saunters through the rooms, touching each stick of furniture and mourning the dust as much as the lack of inhabitants that let it settle.

On Absalom Quinn’s assembled a rotating cast of performers from his circle but their contributions are just paints in his set. There’s rarely been a record that has more of Quinn’s mark on it. His voice is embedded in the grain of the guitars, the worn spots on the piano keys, the magnetic fields on the tape. Whether or not these tales are his, he’s embodied them with his whole and its an undeniable record, one that stands high in an enviable catalog. Its late in the year, which makes me think that a lot of ears have shut themselves tight, but I hope this one reverberates across the cold air and into the hearts that need it.



Support the artist. Buy it HERE.

0 Comments

Enhet för Fri Musik

Even with the global connective tissue tightening daily in realms of music, its still hard to ferret out some of the best bits from across the globe. Times like these I’m glad that outposts like Grapefruit are looking out for me. In 2017 the LP, Det Finns Ett Hjärta Som För Dig was issued on Omlott, a label run by members of Enhet för Fri Musik and let quietly out into the arms of collectors of psychedelic folk and freeform ephemera. The band’s issued a few others in 2015, but this record shines as a jewel in their catalog. The record seeks to dig into the pastoral folk of their forebears, capturing the winds in their strings like Pärson Sound, Trad Gras Och Stenar, and International Harvester before them. The record is psychedelic in an organic way, not relying on effects or pastiche, but rather rooting itself in the experimental impulses of noise and free folk, spoken word, and concrete ideals. Its not reaching for acceptance, but digging for art in the frostbitten grounds of their homeland — a bracing, barren, yet homespun record.

The band and the accompanying labels run by their members, Förlag För Fri Musik and Omlott, remind me of their Finnish counterparts in Fonal records, a tight-knit collective that pulls light out of frayed and fractured ends of the musical spectrum. The record captures the spirit of a few of their alumni as well, with the intimacy of Islaja coming through alongside the inventive experimentalism of Kemialliset Ystävät and Paavoharju. The band includes members of higher profile Swedes in the mix (Neutral, Makthaverskan, Arv & Miljö, and Blod) but they don’t bleed over too much with these tributaries, giving the record something of a sacred harbor. While there are certainly elements of Neutral’s starkness, the band seems to create its own world nestled among the whispers of the fields. Grapefruit are certainly right that this was a gem that was lost on many on its release and as such the new issue is a welcome addition to a wider Western audience this year. As I sit locked in ice for the last couple of days, the discomfiting warmth of this record has been appreciated. Its like an itchy sweater, just enough comfort to stave off the cold, just enough irritation to keep you from becoming complacent on the couch.



Support the artist. Buy it HERE.

0 Comments

Hurt Valley

The debut from Brian Collins arrives faded by the sun, a worn-in world of late afternoon shuffle that’s just a bit hazy from the full-bore UV-bake of 3pm rays. The album feels West Coast in a very real and tangible way. There’s no rush, no urgent angle to the songs. From needle in to needle out the record breezes through the air just below the threshold of sweat. The guitars twang just right — a touch of bend on the strings, a whisper of slide. The record feels like it was made for the moment and just happened to get caught up on the tape like a private press session from from the late ‘70s – a touch out of time and even more so once its locked in the time-capsule for a few more decades. When it emerges, though, the air is still rarefied and warm. The streaks from the blinds have imprinted themselves on each note and the private becomes parcel to the masses once more. Out of time becomes timeless and we’re all the better for it.

Like so many before him, Collins trades in melancholy and he wields it well. Between the soft rambles and mournful slides, Hurt Valley lives up to its name, weaving tales of humility, loss, and regret. The album closes with Collins’ musing on building worlds out of lies and holding tight to their boundaries. It’s a beautiful send off for the album, itself an ode to those same “immaterial worlds.” Late year releases have a way of getting lost, but Hurt Valley seems like it might search out that status even if we weren’t careening into December. My advice is to hold onto this one and not let it slip away into the sun. Squint hard and you’ll find the thread. Pull it and you’ll be led into the Valley for a good bask in the sun.




Support the artist. Buy it HERE.

0 Comments