Browsing Category Reviews

Ty Segall & White Fence

Insane schedules and myriad commitments can’t keep Ty and Tim from gravitating back together it seems. While Hair wasn’t received as a major event on its release, it remains a frozen moment of fuzz-whacked garage-psych that’s a highlight in both artists’ catalogs. Segall was but an upstart wading his way through seven-inch stacks to nestle albums one after another until the accolades couldn’t help but catch up to his frantic pace. Tim was fresh from his years in Darker My Love and building a wobbly psych-pop prominence of his own. The album lit a match on the powder keg of creativity that was buried knee deep in Syd Barret B-sides, deleted Pretty Things cuts and the kind of Nuggets-worthy references that stretched from July to Grapefruit and from Kaleidoscope to, well, Kaleidoscope (UK).

Seven years on from their first matchup the pair are worlds removed from the scrappy sonics that defined them both in that moment. Still, with the best of a decade behind us, its good to see that the pair have no intentions of digging in another pile of toys to build their collaborative sound. Joy bears many of the best hallmarks of Hair with an improved fidelity and the steady hands of two artists who know exactly what they love and how to pull it off. The album is stuffed with psych pop that still chews at the same wobbly wrappers littered behind by Barret (Presley’s influence one can only assume) but they also charge head on to some fuzzier fodder that’s got Ty’s footprints firmly embedded in its DNA.

Joy’s only stumble can be its apparent need to stuff itself to the seams. While its stretchier length doesn’t give it the same edge of your seat whiplash that accompanied Hair, the duo takes advantage of the space to shake out all their ideas. T&T fleck their creation with echoplex blowback and spine compressing feedback. They dip into post-Mothers chewed psych-soul mantras, wonky intermediary tracks that would make the Small Faces proud, and folk pop that sees them reaching for shades of Gary Usher and Curt Boettcher. Though, unlike that songwriting pair, they’re clearly not striving for perfection. There are some great cuts on Joy and a whole lot more that sound like two crate diggers riffing on one another. Its fun, because you can feel them having fun but it also feels a bit like they’re missing the opportunity to stuff it full of hits.





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Danny Graham – S/T

Since it seems there’s still no light at the bottom of the well of overlooked and lost releases out there, it’s heartening to come across a release like Dany Graham’s eponymous 1980 LP. Despite the time stamp showing the dawn of the ’80s, the record is rooted firmly in wobbly ‘70s songwriter territory, sharing a bent sense of pop with the R. Stevie Moore / Bobb Trimble / Carl Simmons set, but in spirit it perhaps sidles up most closely with Deep Freeze Mice. Like the Mice the album has a ‘60s hangover that’s squeezed through a scrappy private press filter. The record was such a non-starter that when contacted years later by issuing label Xerox searching for information on Graham, many of the session players didn’t even know the album had seen light originally.

There are moments of pure pop brilliance on the album, albeit refracted through rough production patches, an apparent lack of editing and a nice warm lap of hiss. Graham nails softball soul (“Early Morning Heatwave”), mad-eyed folk-pop (“We’ll Make A Deal (In Amsterdam), “Love Start”) and soft rock (“Feeling You Beside Me”). As an actual album, its admittedly a bit uneven, but as a collection it wraps up all of the brain fragments Graham let slip through the tape in fine form. There’s definitely a certain type of collector that’s going to revel in this and even more cultivators of lost psychedelic ephemera who are going to find the missing piece in their mixtape of melted pop they’ve been searching for. Kudos to Xerox for digging up this treasure and with word they’re also shining up Graham’s sole other release for a new issue, it seems there’s more to love on the way.




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Wimps

On their third album, Seattle’s Wimps knock the production into gear and embrace the best moments of squirm pop that slid from the tail of punk into the birth of New Wave. They trade in a brand of sax squall that hits like a belt sander to their chunky hooks. They rope in heat exhausted synth lines to the kind of twitchy punk that would make Devo and Magazine proud. There’s no small love for power pop in the band’s sound either, they wrap their heads around pop and punk (without necessarily combining the two) and work it out like Ric Ocasek was twiddling knobs in the nineties when this one was made. While dipping their toes into Slacker pop from a lyrical standpoint, the band never lose a moment to sweat on the tempos. They’re couch surfing and grousing about procrastination but damn well motivated when it comes to moving a crowd.

The band has a penchant for elevating the mundane – pontificating about their love of cheese pizzas, dragging ass around the house and penning odes to Monday like Garfield hopped up amphetamines waiting for his intro by Perter Ivers before they lay waste to the set of New Wave Theater. They’re tapping into tried and true feelings but making the banal brilliant, flooding the phones with a sparkling barrage of hooks twisted with enough tin foil freakout to make it more than nineties pogo retread digging into the stack of discount bin weirdness from the previous decade. This seems like it could easily slip between the cracks of 2018, but don’t sleep on Wimps. This one cuts with glee and makes any day just a bit more bearable with its lash of levity.




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The Lavender Flu

Considering Chris Gunn’s past in The Hunches and The Hospitals, the most glaring quality that permeates Lavender Flu’s sophomore release is a renewed sense of calm. While there are pop outbursts aplenty and redline levels that would make his history proud, the record also drags up moments that recall Galaxie 500’s quiet woolen itch and The Cakekitchen’s hazy jangle. Overall the record is locked together with quite a bit more glue than Heavy Air. It seems that the time spent touring his previous record and working out these new cuts with a full band in tow had an effect on Gunn. He translates the cohesion into a slightly less sprawling take on this particular niche between grunge, garage, psych-folk and the tentpoles that propped up an indie generation in their wake.

The band relocated to a Pacific Northwest cliffside for the recordings and the cool air may have tempered the band’s direction into the reluctant sighs that waft off of Mow The Glass. Gunn still has an urge to swing the style spinner to find his muse – crunching guitars through the grunge-flecked “Dream Cleaner,” dousing the burn with country slides on “Like A Summer Thursday,” and “Distant Beings,” then twisting his experimental nerves on “A Raga Called Erik.” He even dredges himself back into the arms of noise-pop with the graveled blast that accompanies “Floor Lord”. Within the span of Mow’s relatively brief half-hour(ish) span he covers a lot of ground. It reads like a mess on paper but sounds like a dream through the speakers.

The album never feels disjointed and that’s to Gunn’s credit more than anything. It comes off as capturing a college rock heart that beat somewhere between ’87 and ’93 – heartbroken and healed, besieged by angst and calmed by numb resolve. It’s unsettled at its core, scratching at the walls that would try to contain it. For all its ambitions it truly succeeds on Gunn’s ability to throw himself into a song harder than most would ever even try.



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77:78

When it came to psych-pop, the early aughts slipped a few good ones on up the ladder to bigger stages. I’ve always had a soft spot for The Bees, sadly named A Band of Bees if you were listening this side of the Atlantic, and the band’s ‘60s radio dial spin approach let them dip into several styles without ever sounding like a novelty. They created albums that listened like mixtapes, winding through sunshine pop, Ventures-styled instrumentals, Everly Brothers soul, and touches of reggae, funk and psych with a precision that was admirable. Its been a while since their last album rolled down the belt in 2010, but now the band’s Aaron Fletcher and Tim Parkin have taken back up together to continue the eclectic digging through sounds as 77:78.

The record embraces the mixtape aesthetic that drove The Bees, though this time there’s less of a separation of influences and more of an amalgamation of their indulgences into a psych-pop brew that’s decidedly more influenced by DJ aesthetics while also winding up more languid than The Bees at its core. Jellies is a pure summer melt, with songs that sluice together like episodes of Love Boat music directed by Joe Meek. There are some mid points that get a bit too limp in the heat (“Pour It Out” and “Copper Nail” come to mind) but overall the album works as a great genre crush. The vibes are too cracked and plastered to be Yacht Rock but this is definitely psych-pop with an easy listening ambition. They wind up something like Castaway Houseboat Rock – an Island born mixtape of pop singles flown in by charter plane every other week.

While this is certainly not The Bees, 77:78 sate a bit of the thirst for a hi-fi pop project that’s searching for aesthetic niches and digging through their own crates to mix up genre into some sort of aural alchemy. The gold that the duo finds is rippled like a sunset on the water. Its hot out there and as such, 77:78 have you covered for vibes that beat back the UV crush.



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Smokescreens

Drawing breath from their love of Kiwi pop, Smokescreens’ second album bumps up the stakes and sharpens focus to match the exuberance and quirks inherit in albums from The Clean, 3Ds or The Great Unwashed. In tune with the wave of artists who made up the inaugural class of Flying Nun, Smokescreens have built their sound on a bedrock of jangles made to ring off the clouds, a relaxed lyrical style not overly fussed with cleanliness, and a close-quarters recording approach that makes the band sound like they’re playing from the comfort of your couch. Owing to members Corey Cunningham and Chris Rosi spending their off time in a few other bands (Terry Malts and Plateaus respectively), there’s more than a little punk and power pop that finds its way into the mix as well. Though much like the current crop of Aussie and NZ scrappers that have popped up in the wake of the Nun of late, the addition of a broader bent takes the record from pale imitation to interesting interpretation more often than not.

All this homage is nothing without the songs though, is it? Thankfully Smokescreens have a good handle on pop hooks and they stuff Used To Yesterday well full of them. From the bittersweet pine of the title track to the chewy nougat bounce on “Waiting For Summer” the record doesn’t spend much of its time weighing the listener down. Buoyancy abounds and its hard not to feel a slight sense of carefree bliss during the thirty minutes it takes for this one to wind its way through the speakers. In the best sense of South Hemi janglers and their UK counterparts, even when the record’s a bit somber its still pretty damn fun. They take cues from blissful mopers The Wake or McCarthy in this regard, turning their heartbreak into earworms for all to enjoy. Vaulting a head and a half above the songs on their debut, this is Smokescreens coming into their own even while they’re living out that life in thrift store shoes borrowed from friends of another era. They might not be wholly working in fresh kicks, but it looks and sounds good on them so we might as well all just enjoy the breezy results.



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Ben Chatwin

The battle between electronic and organic has always been central to the Ben Chatwin’s compositions. While the emotional heft in his works is left to strings and brass that conjure the modern miracles brought to life by the likes of Max Richter or the late Johann Johannsson, Chatwin lets his electrics chew on the results in a way that brings to mind Ian William Craig, or Craig’s muse William Basinski. Over the course of his solo albums Chatwin is steadily evolving this approach to leaning on wind vs. wires. On 2015’s The Sleeper Awakes his infection of electronics was pervasive drawing on shoegaze in its obsession with peaks and swells. For 2016’s Heat & Entropy, Chatwin cleared out the noise floor a bit and put the focus cleanly on strings. Though, his vision of strings was still laden with soot, putting him in league with the dust bowl crumble of Evan Caminiti as often as he did those heavy hitting neo-classical types I mentioned.

On Fossils, Chatwin is using his proclivity for noise in the most effective means yet. The pieces have electronics woven throughout them, tumbling on pulse gripping beats sandblasted with static and teeming with swelling synths that aspire to the size of his orchestral ensembles. He’s roping in dub’s cavernous clatter to forests of cellos that block out hopes with a cloud of desperation and anguish. Each side of his approach is pulling its weight hard enough to make this feel like two equally adept genre studies melted together. Its either the best neo-classical album heard this year or the best e. Where his previous effort worked its way through Thrill Jockey’s post-rock to broaden the scope of classical, here Chatwin twisting his vision of modern composition through the prism of prime period Kranky output – positing the film scores that would’ve existed had Keith Fullerton Whitman and Stars of the Lid found their pockets stuffed with enough cash to outfit a full string section with their odes to sonic float and aural decay.

The record is harrowing to say the least, barely letting any room for relief flood the speakers. He grips the listener with writing that’s packed full of mournful resolve that often gives way to crushing walls of noise that feel about read to render the listener dust by the time he lets off the pedal. Not for the faint of heart, but certainly for those looking to run the emotional dial ragged for forty minutes.




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The Essex Green

It’s hard not to get nostalgic for music that formed key moments in one’s life. To that respect a resurgence of late period E6’ers The Essex Green is both an amazing experience and slightly bittersweet. The music is as vital and as draped in gooey pop as ever. The band’s first record since their 2006 Merge LP The Cannibal Sea more than lives up to the wanting expectations left in the vacancy of that album’s uncertain finality. More than 10 years on they’re still capturing the wistfulness, ache, and slightly psychedelic bump into paisley pop that made them heirs apparent to the Elephant kingdom and perfect contenders for Merge’s burgeoning stable of indie pop purveyors.

While enough time has passed that the band’s brand of earnest pop might not be the most “in fashion” sound, they make a strong play for the enduring quality of clean cuts and open hearts. The record doesn’t sound so much like a throwback as it does a classic example of how indie pop can capture the moment with a song that’s bursting with catchy qualities, yet rocking back and forth on classic hooks. The band has always strayed straight, never lacing their pop with snark or scoff and with their latest they’re still as earnest as ever. The record is a loping, gorgeous example of how to stay true to a sound without worrying about the whims of the listening pool. The record can, at times, feels a bit buttoned down, especially when their early records on Kindercore are taken into account, but all in all this is a full stop return for The Essex Green. Hardly Electric is larger than the margins and coloring with every crayon in the box.




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Brean / Raskovich / Kema – The Pawnshop

This year is rife with soundtrack reissues and Library discoveries, but there’s still plenty of room for a nugget like The Pawnshop. The name was chosen as an alias by a group of names among names if you’re a fan of Italian Library funk and psych. The band, comprised of Giuliano Sorgini (Raskovich), Alessandro Alessandroni (Braen) and Giulia De Mutiis (Kema), laid these tracks down to fill out two 7″s in sessions during 1970 and ’71. The tracks were recorded in the den of some of the most biting Library cuts from the era, Sound Work Shop, which fed into the RAI television system.

What’s made the sides so valuable is that not only were the scant original 7″s small in quantity, but over the years the very moniker of The Pawnshop was erased from the kept discographies of those artists involved. Sorgini and Alessandroni would collaborate further as the pair Raskovich and Braen, knocking out the bizarre Inchiesta Giudiziaria for Octopus Records, the outre Drammatico for Panda and the menacing Quarta Pagina (Poliziesco) for International HiFi. Still, the Pawnshop recordings remained something of a lost ark to many and to sweeten the pot, Four Flies has dug up and dusted off the masters and added a previously unheard track, “Please, Don’t Say No!” to the release. As far as top tier prog, psych sides go, these are about as good as it gets. Included with instrumental sides and presented on color variant sleeves. If you’re just diving into Library Music, this is a good place to start.


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Proud Parents

Featuring members of fellow Madison pop heroes The Hussy and Fire Heads, Proud Parents pick up similar cues from those bands’ respective power pop bounce and garage gusto. Following on their Rare Plant cassette from last year, the band’s debut for Dirtnap is a non-stop blur of sunny strums, clap-a-along choruses and joyous hooks that fizz with life. The band boasts three songwriters – Claire Nelson-Lifson, Tyler Fassnacht and Heather Sawyer – and part of the album’s charm is listening to the three bounce their songs off one another. No matter who’s at the helm, they all sound like they’re having a blast with the remaining two jumping in to support with backup harmonies brimming with enough joy to turn any bad day around.

With production from Bobby Hussy (also of The Hussy and Fire Heads) the album takes on a bigger life than their previous cassettes, achieving a level of gloss and crunch that Hussy and Sawyer captured on their 2013 standout Pagan Hiss. While a crowded creative field seems like it could wind up with bruised egos, the album doesn’t sound like three songwriters pushing and pulling at each other or, worse, trying to outdo one another. Instead the eponymous album winds up a collaborative talent show with no losers, only winners. Proud Parents bring the positive vibes that are sorely needed this year. While 2018 is draped in its own drama, sometimes its nice to just turn it all of for 30 minutes and enjoy the sun. Take a breath, maybe press repeat. No regrets.


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