Browsing Category Reviews

Rose City Band

I premiered the first cut off of this killer a while back, but the week has finally come for the whole platter to land in our collective laps. The record, a slight sideline from Ripley Johnson’s duties at the helm of more than a few psych stalwarts, takes the mellow mantras of Moon Duo, strips away the motorik keys and beds down in a lush dusting of Cosmic Americana. Its that lushness that sets this record apart from the new crop of cosmic country crawlers these days. There’s a creamy brush of twang and a slow motion choogle ripplin’ through the ramble, but over the top Ripley’s keeping his croons echoing around a humid hothouse and it lays the album way way back into the pocket of blissed sunset sounds. Likewise the guitars more often that not achieve a particularly wet swelter that’s sweats from the strings, quenching dry country rollick.

It’s a bit of a detour from the Little Feat / Dead dichotomy that’s cropped up of late, but don’t you fret, Rose City Band are as locked into the endless euphoria of the eternal jam as any of their contempos. Once the record rolls ‘round to the mind melt of “Fear Song,” you know you’re home. The album’s at its most serene when it locks into a melted swoon, with the kind of liquid lysergic guitar that’s always been Rip’s specialty bouncing off the country strut in perfect balance. There’s a genuine feeling that this record has been lost in the stacks just waiting to be found by the right set of ears, a nod to the harder to pick up country-psych melters like Relatively Clean Rivers, Jim Sullivan, KAK, or Curt Newbury. Where Rose City swerves expectations, though, is by boiling those belters down with an ear towards heavier progression, recalling the latter half of Can’s “Spray” if those guys came up in Laurel Canyon.

Its an almost overwhelming year for music, with necessary releases popping up faster than any sane listener can grab them, but this is highly recommended for pickup. The record’s a psychedelic crossroads that’s not being traversed as much these days, and as usual Johnson’s created a record that’s absorbing as its own little world. Once this hits the turntable you’re set to repeat endlessly until the leaves give out and the skies are parched once again of that pristine pearl blue. Rose City Band is the calm center of your summer.




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Black Mountain

Black Mountain’s latest record thickens up its mustache and heads to puberty for an ode to newly minted freedom in the form of a driver’s license and a set of keys (rabbit’s foot not included). The album is named after the ’85 Dodge Destroyer that songwriter Stephen McBean’s been fixing up in the wake of his late life adoption of driving following a lifetime spent away from the wheel. It’s a paean to the open road, to the sort of symbiosis between man and machine that apparently forms when the engine’s revved and the paint is lacquered on the right shade of performance orange. Coupled with a lineup change that folds in new and returning members and an adoption of the crux between prog’s dirt weed swan song and the rise of metal’s caveman party pound, the album gives Black Mountain a good shake around the foundations.

Now I’m probably not the one to go pining for automobile anthems. Despite living among the scenic views of NY’s weekend escape route of choice, I still see cars as somewhat of a necessary evil. This is heresy as someone born in the shadow of Ford’s stomping grounds as well, but I’d just as soon hop a subway if it were always a choice. I drive a Civic, and it the motor rumbles the way that McBean’s pining for, I’d damn well get it checked. But I certainly understand the notion of needing cars to escape, to get freedom. Small town roots always leave the scar of tire tracks on your back as the only way to get some air of your own. Even if the smell of exhaust doesn’t boil your blood, there’s a sense of anticipation in getting a moment to oneself without anything but gas money holding you back.

Lyrical theme aside, the band is nailing the new direction that coincides with the troubled teen trappings they’ve employed here. There’s dirt under their nails from scratching Deep Purple into the back row of desks. There’s just the right amount of tatter on the cuffs of their denim jacket and this thing hasn’t washed its hair for a good four days. As much as the album evokes the love of the car, its also a love letter to the car as listening experience, which is actually something I can get behind. They’ve stuffed Destroyer full of the kind of anthems that rattle the windows while hotboxed teens park in the back lot. They find the sweet spot between volume and spaced synths that pair well with lying on the hood staring at the stars and wishing away the last year of high school so that you can finally be free of this damn town. They’ve created an album that sums up the center line metronome that taps along to the tempo. As much as the album is about that rumble beneath the pedal, its about giving a finger to authority, and that’s something we can all get behind.




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Skyminds

Skyminds slipped a small eponymous tape run (100 copies) out on Auasca earlier this year and its sorely deserving of more attention. The set, from members of Channelers, Ashan, and Selaroda, is ladled with the same syrupy serenity that their other outfits offer, slotting definitively into the mind melt zones one would expect. However, they also expand amiably on the synth duo dynamic with forays into desert dub, radiant high plains guitar shimmer, and meditative acoustic strum. Henning and Conrad melt their psychedelic float into a record that ripples like mountains out the window, calming as a sine wave but also rather breathtaking as the full horizon unfolds.

With a drone underpinning most tracks, the pair place delicate stacks of flutes, strings, plucks and even the occasional beat into the mix but they always return to the ether to unwind with pillowy synths as the bedrock of their sound. The album’s first half mix n’ picks some of their strengths, but the band stretches out completely as they ease into the latter tracks, “Morning Way” and “Illuminated and Warming.” The sounds become a bucolic haze washing over the listener. Each listen on the album picks out new combinations of sound that give the album shading and shape. Recommended picking this one up before the run sells through as its a nice little gem.

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Dommengang

On their third album Dommengang still navigate the causeway between psychedelic blues and the frayed edges of harder rock, but this time they’ve added a looseness to their sound that breaks the lash that held them to a more regimented past. While they used to bump into the bluster of metal, this time around they’re cooling their sound into something more cosmic, and it feels like the piece of the puzzle they’d long been missing. Tim Green, again at the boards, gives the album a spaciousness that floats on the air like steam n’ sweat in the crisp morning air. The album is perched in permanent golden hour hues, with the songs coming on like a third beer swagger that melts the weight of week away.

That cosmic crash doesn’t crest too early. The band opens with “Sunny Day Flooding,” which ties the knot between last year’s Love Jail and the new album’s woollier ways. Then they ease into the tangerine drip of guitars on the back end of “Earth Blues.” Just towards the last solo you can feel the band loosen. It’s a respite before they kick the crunch back on but there’s a collective sigh between the notes. Sig Wilson’s playing on this one is his best yet, burning ether and ozone, getting lost in the smoke curls for more than a moment. The last album evoked the West, and the band’s move towards L.A., but this one embraces the desert as well as the lusher confines of the coast. There’s a touch of Big Sur in the gnarled drags on “Kudzu.” It’s a relief that tumbles down in a gush of guitar, quenching the soul of the parched sounds of their past.

This, along with the Crazy Horse burn that permeates and pounds through the heart of “Jerusalem Cricket,” gives the band a wild-eyed, crooked grin gravitas that they embody with ease. As Dommengang crunch into the loose gravel groove of the latter half of No Keys they position themselves to embrace the crux between David Nance, Chris Forsyth, and Endless Boogie. It’s a welcomed shift and one I hope they continue to mine for more material. That said, even with No Keys acting as an album in transition, the moments that burn bright tend to light up the horizon with a most inviting glow.



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RVG – “Alexandra”

Skidding into a US tour, Aussies RVG are back with a new single that finds them comfortable in their velvet cushion of sound that wavers between Echo and the Bunnymen, The Church, and Love and Rockets. “Alexandra” retains the band’s emphasis on sweeping drama, mirroring Echo’s knack for riveting swells and invoking anguish as a genre unto itself. Amputated from a larger narrative of an album the song’s more of a primer for those who might have missed out on their excellent, and still underrated debut. If this one catches your ear, its recommended you go back to the crushed eyeliner and rain of that eponymous gem.

The b-side sees the band take on mid-period John Cale, giving a dose of urgency to his ’85 deep cut from Artificial Intelligence. Vager’s vocals do well for the song, perhaps taking a bit of license with the original’s more buttoned-down approach, but she’s does plenty to make it her own. The band pumps the song full of the same sense of urgency that they employ in their own works. With all due respect to Cale, its actually a great argument for covering your heroes, as they give the song quite a bit more gravity than the original ever had. Nab this double cut, definitely see the band if they swing through your area.




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Les Rallizes Denudes + BE – ‘There’s No Heaven Like Hell’

Among the ranks of Japanese psych, one of the top takers for mythical status is Les Rallizes Denudes. Pinning down just what they were and how the noise unit operated is tricky. The band issued no official albums, though they played live for decades starting in ’67 at Kyoto University and centering on the works of enigmatic frontman Takashi Mizutani. Drawing inspiration from The Velvet Underground they took up originally as an accompaniment to theater performances, but quickly outgrew that status due to the volume and ferocity of their works overshadowing the performers. Like VU they aren’t a band that operated in one given box, and depending on the era and configuration they’d range from strummed and serene to amplifier fried chaos. The band’s status grew mostly outside of their country with stories of their intangible performances, members gone rogue (original bassist Moriaki Wakabayashi was involved in a Red Army plane hijacking in 1970) and their subsequent self-exile until the ‘90s.

The band’s catalog is mostly live performances that tumbled out of a rogue’s gallery of labels over the years, each in odd quantities that made them enviable to come across in the ‘90s and ‘00s. The pinnacle of their output might arguably be ’77 Live, but other great pockets in their catalog exist to be pored over as well. One such inclusion is a collaboration with experimental collective Be (also known as Yellow) who were headed by keyboardist/guitarist Taisuke Morishita. The original 2xCD issue included more material, but this LP on Alternative Fox centers on the two versions of the title track recorded at the band’s house in Fussa, outside of Tokyo. The first version is a pulsating drone of guitar and synth, zoned out and dropped via VHF to furthest reaches of psychic caverns of the mind.

The second version breaks the seal on bucolic peace for some heavier froth and fizz from the outset, sweeping across the speakers in extraterrestrial pulses. While the first version remains rooted in guitar and keys, droning into the ether, the second brings in the full band. Mizutani and the band lock in the rhythm, tearing at the fabric of reality in the way only LRD could. Though there are no official versions of the band, this setup was one worthy of documentation and its nice to see this pop up on vinyl. Its not always easy to get a hand on an LP of Denudes’ work so I’d say when you see it, it’s best to cop one.



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Djinn

Formed by members of Hills and Goat, and adopting the latter’s proclivity for obscuring identities, Djinn inhabits a style that’s no less psychedelic than its member’s usual haunts, but winds up more experimental than either. Djinn’s debut embraces the free jazz pyrotechnics of Albert Ayler and Don Cherry while also finding solace in the more meditative and serene end of the freeform universe – echoing the haunted ashram of Alice Coltrane and the metaphysical forces of Sun Ra. The band is named after mythical beings – not quite angels, not quite devils – but rather forces of mystery that confuse the senses and play upon the mystical nature of reality. This gives the spirits a bit more agency than their one-dimensional counterparts with qualities that can work towards evil or good. Its as apt a moniker as any for a band that’s cloaked in mystery and seeking to work through noise and nature alike.

The pair weaves through this blend of abrasion and bliss without finding the poles at odds with one another. They achieve a groove that approaches infectious on “My Bankaccount,” then burn down the buoyancy with the following five minutes of improv float and free-associated mumbling of “Rertrand Bussels.” If anything, that track name might be indicative of the only real downside here, the cheeky nature of the titles is sometimes distracting from the disquieting din. Then again, taking oneself too seriously has just the same off-putting effect, so why not slap “Djinn and Djuice” on the title of a song built on sax skronk, a menacing piano totter, and skittering percussion? The record works well in the abstract styles the band seeks to emulate, and while not necessarily coming close to the masters themselves, it serves as more than just mere distraction from the players’ full-time tenures. I’m hoping this isn’t just a passion piece one-off, because it feels like there’s more to grow on here. For now, fans of the freer end of the psychedelic spectra have something to dig into all the same.



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Olden Yolk

On their sophomore album Olden Yolk solidify their folk-pop sound, edging in a touch more of the soft-focus psychedelia that graced their first while embracing the rhythmic pulse pounding under their gauzy glow. The band shares a great deal in common with Shane Butler’s former haunt in Quilt, but they’re drawing deeper into the damp depths of ‘60s psych than Quilt’s sunny veneer ever let on. With this new album they’re picking up similarities to Sunforest, Euhoria, and Sapphire Thinkers giving their sound a lushness that’s even more present than the last outing. Like bygone autumnal strummers Ultimate Painting, they’re burrowing into melancholy with a wholeheartedness that reverberates throughout Living Theater. This doesn’t land them in the bell jar, but perhaps perches them just adjacent, making charcoal sketches of said jar to send to pen pals who sigh like they sigh.

In fact, autumnal is the wrong word, if anything Olden Yolk are vernal and all the better for the May release of their latest record. They oscillate between streaks of rain and scattered beams of sun in mercurial moments between the album’s ten tracks. The best songs here (and its hard to choose) embrace both halves of their split souls. “Grand Palais” is a particular stunner, edging into the light on tip-toes but heading into its skid spinning ‘round and ‘round until the air becomes dizzy. “Cotton and Cane” is the band at their most pop, pinning poetry on loss to a careening crackle and a perfect vocal dance between the leads.

The songs take on their heaviest cloak when Caity Shaffer steps up to the microphone, though. Soft flutes and a gentle nudge of bass huddle behind her while she croons contemplatively on “Distant Episode,” the song palpably drizzling with tenderness. She’s equally heartbreaking on “Castor and Pollux,” a haunting tale of indecision and loss. The air of duality remains a glorious constant on Living Theater the singers’ intertwined voices and the bittersweet vibes following the tides between joy and sadness like the soft quiver of a diaphragm before weeping. The debut was an excellent introduction, but with album number two, Olden Yolk plead to be on your list of 2019 essentials.



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Clinic

Has it really been seven years since Clinic was last seen creeping around the turntable? It appears so. After the band’s last outing, which saw them collaborating with Oneohtrix’ Daniel Lopatin, they return to a more familiar form, riding the raw snap of their familiar spooked psych-blues once more. The title of Wheeltappers and Shunters is likely lost on most US audiences, as it references a mid-70s British Variety series that hasn’t aged particularly well. The jocular program represents a time that, while often reminisced as the golden age of culture, actually rounds out to a cringing normalization of racial stereotype caught on tape and misogyny run rampant. The show is essentially the UK version of Hee-Haw (minus the country music) as far as I can tell, and as much as that’s likely a fond familial memory for some here, it’s as much a cultural black mark for everyone else.

The band works the album into a kind of inverse Village Green Preservation Society, holding up the sunny charms of the past to the magnifying lens of 2019 and looking for the dirt in the cracks. As much as both the UK and US have found sweeping waves of nostalgic nationalism in the wake of MAGA/Brexit culture, this is a necessary knock to the heads of the rally crowds looking to hearken back to some sort of perceived greatest generations. They pin their body politic to some progressive visions of the Clinic sound as well – stretching out to the ethereal embers on “Flying Fish,” and mining menacing prog on the fizzing closer “New Equations (at the Copacabana)”. The band’s bubbling through lava and lye on “Ferryboat of the Mind,” while they return to the classic pendulum swing swagger of their old days on “Congratulations.”

The record is indeed a dark depiction of nostalgia – panicked, preserved, and packaged for a future generation to find and ponder. They don’t look back on the transgressions of their predecessors lightly, just as our own heirs should not. While (somewhat ironically) fans nostalgic for classic Clinic will find something to love here, the band’s fusing much of the drive from their more experimental later years with the propulsive pop that locked ‘em on your college dial. It’s a new chapter in the history of the psych swamp and a rather welcomed return.



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Kukangendai

Kyoto trio Kukangendai push minimalist guitar jams to their logical conclusion – crafting terse, clipped songs that are rooted in repetition and cut clean of any excess. The band works like a biological organism, laying down a heartbeat of guitar that hammers steady, removing almost any flash from the instrument’s aspirations. Guitar and bass work like left and right ventricles, on songs like “Mure” pumping a hypnotic hum that’s almost meditative in its consistency. They lace in the occasional sighs of a non-metronomic chord or a vocal moan through the nervous network, tracing stimuli ever so gently across the consciousness of Kukangendai’s beat, but for the most part this album is an exercise in control.

That leaves the drums to wind up the free will warrior in the equation. The drumming rolls and twists within the framework, still lock-stopping along with the rest of the band but also tasting the energy in the room with something less mechanical than the other players. While this likely sounds like a tightly regimented panic attack, the results are as engrossing as any of the flashiest forays into guitar histrionics. The trio’s pushing the needle through the soft tissue of math rock, jazz and post-rock to create something grand in its appreciation of austerity. Looking to realign the senses? This is the baseline yer looking for to calibrate to the eternal thrum.




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