Browsing Category Reviews

Cool Ghouls

Three albums deep, Cool Ghouls are hitting their stride nicely. They’ve always had a good handle on the germ of West Coast rock that’s practically embedded in the pavement of their native San Francisco, now they’re just working to perfect it. With Kelley Stoltz on board, they’re coming pretty close, that’s for sure. The veteran engineer and producer (Thee Oh Sees, The Mantles, Sonny & The Sunset) helps the band find that eternal sunset, tightening the tracks on Animal Races into the kind of album that breezes by effortlessly and feels like its always just been a part of the West Coast jangle-pop lexicon. Where their previous album, A Swirling Fire Burning Through The Rye found them playing up the Beatles/Kinks harmonies, now they’re leaning full-bore into their Dead/Byrds/Quicksilver Messenger Service motions and feeling like they’re nailing the amount of carefree composure and sunlit harmonies necessary to pick up that yoke some forty years on.

What really makes it feel right, is that they’re not pedaling sunshine and cheer. The Byrds knew how to make a 12-string sing and lift your heart, but they also knew that a bittersweet soul makes a catchy chorus stick with listeners long after that earworm fades. Animal Races has that lilting sadness running through its waters, evident in the forlorn sighs and yearning pedal steel of “When You Were Gone” and “(If I Can’t Be) The Man” or the world weary lyrics of “Days.” If you want to be the kind of person to nitpick, no there’s nothing revolutionary happening on Animal Races. The sound has been around and, as I mentioned, Cool Ghouls are merely perfecting their take on it, and honing a crisp version of their heroes’ headway. But no one says that the walls all need to crumble for a record to be great. Animal Races succeeds because it sets a tone and blooms as an album of skilled tradesmen finding sweetness in sadness.



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Marielle V Jakobsons

Any fan of Date Palms limited output will already be aware of their ability to ride the ether and tap into the cosmic core. On her own, DP member Marielle V Jakobsons has taken that reach further into the dusted gases and unseen quasars than ever before. Star Core is built on a construction of bass, flute, violin and synth, but together the instruments, along with Marielle’s first time incorporation of her own voice to the mix, create a haunting world of hushed atmospherics and vibrational hum. The record makes no allusions of being in a hurry, Jakobsons allows her tracks to evolve and unfold with precision. She builds terrariums of sound that sprout and die before your very ears, or rather as she may have intended, solar systems that flare and fold within the confines of her aural experience.

Certainly there’s a NOVA-indebted quality to the album, feeling very much like Neil Degrasse-Tyson might have just found what he’s looking for to explain the oddities and complexities of the unknown. But even without all the celestial allegory, the album is simply a meditative headspace to get lost in. Sometimes we all need a respite from the world around, or at least a link to a more beautiful one. In that respect Jakobsons has created an escape from your mundane world and built you a glowing orb of sound to poke around in for the better part of an hour. It grows, it dies and somewhere in between, your mind opens just enough to let in psychic debris of that universal thrum, or clear it out, whichever you’re looking for.



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Opposite Sex

New Zealand’s Opposite Sex took a massive step forward for their latest album by taking a step back. Their eponymous 2011 album pulled in a swath of influences that included NZ-style jangle and some more precious sways of indie pop. On Hamlet they lose any sense of preciousness. The album is dark and biting, exhibiting a love for The Cramps’ frantic vein of post punk and the squall laden approach of The Flesh Eaters and The Fall. They also heartily embrace John Cale’s cacophonous violin screech in a way that fellow South Hemi RSTB faves Wireheads have been fond of in their tenure. Then, to further strip back, they whittled it down to an tight eight tracks, leaving no room for anything that could come close to filler. The album is at its best when Lucy Hunter’s vocals plead, prod and scream at the listener with the best intentions of post-punk’s history swelling behind her. She opens her delivery up with a vulnerability, as on the crushing finale, “Long Dead Night,” but even when Hunter is in repose, the music is fluttering and scraping, showing that under the surface all is never as well as it might appear.

Similarly, mid-point, “Complicity,” begins as a calm respite, but builds to a crescendo of noise-veined accusation and twisted pain. And pain seems to be the prevailing notion that floats through the album, pain and an alienation from those around them. The album’s home in the States is Dull Tools, but there’s more to be said for their home on New Zealand’s burgeoning Melted Ice Cream Collective, a showcase of post-punk talent based mostly in the town of Christchurch (though OS are from Dunedin) and its become a welcomed pocket of angular angst amid a sea of jangle. Opposite Sex stand to continue the collective’s vision and Hamlet might be one of the most cutting records they’ve delivered from that stable yet.




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Thee Oh Sees

At this point in his career, Jon Dwyer has little to answer for or care about with regards to meeting anyone’s expectations other than his own. Still he goes for it hard each time, and with fairly few missteps Thee Oh Sees continue to be the dominant strain in garage-psych that all others seem to draw from. Though, in perhaps a student has become the master moment, Thee Oh Sees have augmented their setup to include a second drummer, equaling the psych-o-naut pummel of their one time stablemates King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. For A Weird Exits everything is bigger and run through with concurrent strains of mutant punk and placid psych that have always been bubbling under the surface of Dwyer’s warped vision. In a way, it seems that this might have been what he was striving for all along. Its not as consistently terse and frantic, but there’s still plenty of vein bulging, panic sweat moments. Its the moments that melt into the radiator, humid and hazy that give the album a new perspective.

Two instrumental breaks give the album texture, the first with a a motorik, squalling quality that’s beset with feedbacking fizz and synth splatter, the second with a lonesome mellowness that tempers the album’s fire. They move the records pace along, ushering in sonic reducers and building to the album’s epic finale double dose of “Crawl Out From the Fall Out” and “The Axis,” the latter of which may be garage-psych’s answer to “Tuesday’s Gone,” There’s a dark aura of psychedelic heaviness on this album, even in the album titles and though I’m sure it has more to do with the Monster Manual in its origins, there’s a part of me that wants “Gelatinous Cube” to stem from a night spent high watching Wayne’s World and riffing on Brian Doyle Murray’s explanation of Zoltar.

Pop refs aside though, this is a watershed moment for Thee Oh Sees. Get this long in the tooth and its bound to feel like you might just be filling in the template, but the band continues to expand on their garage hijinks to include well paced and shaded albums that aren’t just sticking singles together with filler and glue. A Weird Exits is more of a statement than the band have made yet, though its clear that Mutilator Defeated At Last was on the trajectory that’s delivered A Weird Exits. Its a double album worthy of the sleeve space, burning and fuming, smoldering and crumbling to ash. Though Thee Oh Sees section on my record shelf is heavy to bursting, somehow Dwyer and crew always make it worthwhile to wedge one more volume in for good measure.




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Pentagram – First Daze Here

If ever there was a woulda-been, shoulda-been in metal’s history, its Pentagram. The band formed and reformed time an again from 1971 and 1985, when their first official album was released. The intervening years are what brought them to prominence, finding footing in D.C. and hacking out a sound that would grow thicker and more indebted to Black Sabbath over time. First Daze Here, however, is focused on that early period before they’d finally coalesce. Recorded on the cheap in several studios across D.C., the collection had been formed and remastered by Relapse in the early aughts and is now making its way to vinyl. The sounds here are more indebted to an evolution out of garage, finding their way through The Groundhogs and into Blue Cheer’s fuzzy embrace on the path to total Sabbath immersion. There’s a second collection that gets further into the garagey beginnings but its not as hard hitting or as revelatory as First Daze Here. Much as its interesting to hear an early Pentagram cover Syndicate of Sound’s “Little Games” its much more indicative where they’d find their start to hear “When The Screams Come” or “Review Your Choices”.

The doom metal they’d ultimately use as a calling card began to crawl out of these songs. Eventually, amid so many lineup shifts its a bit hard to keep track, the band evolved and became the force that emerged on Relentless. Their debut still stands as a classic talisman to metal heads with ears that were wider ranging in the ’80s than what graced the radio dial. Pentagram laid the groundwork for a new wave of doom metal to poke its head through the sand as the ’80s would wear into the ’90s and eventually birth the type of fare that Southern Lord built their house upon. There are even some clearer versions here of the band’s classics. I’d wager that the version of “20 Buck Spin” on First Daze Here carries more weight than the Relentless version, and definitely speaks to the influences at play in the song better than the shoddy production work on their more well known recording. Its been around the block at this point, but for those with History of Metal 101 on the syllabus in perpetuity, this is a vital vinyl snag to be sure.



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Hockey Dad

Windang duo Hockey Dad push off the janglier, shaggier notions of the current wave of Aussie pop for something a bit more driving and explosive. Knocking down the doors from the opening chords with their first single “Can’t Have Them, Boronia gets off on good footing; the sun in its hair and no responsibilities holding it back. The record has the impetuousness of youth stamped all over it. The pair have been friends since Kindergarten and that kind of easy chemistry shakes out of the speakers, bringing the listener into Hockey Dad’s world of late night beers, early morning surfing and endless pining crushes like just one more member of the crew. Its hard not to get caught up in the record’s wistful exuberance, crashing highs and that sweet twinge of ennui that shouldn’t befit a pair so young. They’re already learning how to look back with a sigh on last night’s party like it might have been the best they’ll know.

But that’s youth in an nutshell, eh? That lack of perspective feels like everything has bigger import than it does; the nights are more intense and longing squeezes the chest with more force. Hockey Dad convey those qualities with a hand more skilled than most their age will ever be able to, and commit it to tape with a widescreen smash. That the record leans just as heavily on the sound of 90’s alt-punk as it does on a more complex hangover of 80’s harmonies with eyes towards the arena stages vs the clubs gives the record a grandness that digs them out of any indie pigeonholes. The band balances their small town roots and huge ambitions and they spin it into a record that feels bigger than the sum of two kids who started merely banging out tunes in their parents garage. By the closing crash of “Grange” it feels like the best summer of your past fifteen years just passed before your eyes in dizzying montage with a perfect soundtrack pushing it along.


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Eric Copeland

Ah man Black Dice gone bubblegum, what more could you ask for on a hot summer day in the confounding year of 2016? Copeland’s had his share of high waving experimental solo excursions and a tenure in Black Dice that gives him free ice cream for life with his noise pioneer club membership card, but he’s throwing all that built up goodwill at the fan and going with his gut on Black Bubblegum. The record still pulls in a fair amount of chaos, but it finds its footing in pop, showing Copeland’s soft spot for the digestible bits of his chosen profession. There’s a dub glaze thrown on top, an ever present influence in Copeland’s solo works, but this time he’s pairing it with glam grind, calliope pop contortions and disco-melted harmonies. A very large part of me can’t help but love that Copeland’s made an album with a self-admitted influence of Neil Diamond. There needs to be more Neil influenced noise pop records rolling off the presses these days, chucking sequined shirts through a wood chipper and running it through a fuzz pedal. That’s the American Dream made manifest at this point of the game.

Copeland’s vision of bubblegum pop is a hard shift from the norm to say the least. He’s jettisoned catchy choruses for the most part in favor of mantras repeated like pop hammerings through the bulk of his songs. He’s got the bright colors and loud snap, but they all seem to be running together, smeared by a good dose of paint thinner while lining up the images in a kaleidoscopic view finder. Its just the blast of weird hot stench that we all need rolling out of this summer though and perhaps a more poignant take on life as it exists between the lines of logic in twenty one six.




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Tomutonttu

Those with a hook into the early aughts psych-folk explosion (or freak folk if you’re nasty) will recognize the name Jan Anderzén, he being at the epicenter of Finnish noise folk and the main propulsion keeping Kemialliset Ystävät aloft all these years. Anderzén has also been one to wander from that main project along several tributaries, including Avarus, The Puke Eaters (with Chris Corsano), Tuusanuuskat and noise super(ish) group Way of The Cross. His new solo excursion as Tomutonttu finds him locked into solo groove territory; jagged and stumbling, writhing and chugging through clatter-syth lines that feel broken and nervy. The music here was commissioned by a festival based out of Anderzén’s hometown of Tampere and the results have an elemental dance to them, but divorced from the concept by eons and a barrier of cultural dissonance. The album has a feeling of alienness about it, but not so much that its not of this world, just that it feels like the dance of a culture that’s future leaning, tribal and not locked into a concept of pop.

Anderzén’s writing isn’t as chaotic as his work with Kemialliset Ystävät, there’s a direction here and each track feels like its not quite as apt to fall apart at the seams. The works are blinking in sequence and finding their way along in neon plots through a murk that’s palpable and as the record wears on it seems that the focus comes clearer into view. By the close of Tarat there’s a clear propulsion of synth work that wouldn’t feel out of place on Tri Angle or Holodeck. The synth looks good on Anderzén and I hope that this commission isn’t just a lark. There’s more territory to be mined here for sure.

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Tamam Shud

As part of Anthology Recordings Surf Archives series, the label has reissued the first album / soundtrack from Tamam Shud. The band evolved from a previous incarnation as The Sunsets, who had also worked with director Paul Witzig on a few of his prior surf films. For Evolution, the band’s debut as Tamam Shud, they began a very new and different approach to soundtracking the film. Usually the films of the day would feature a combination of narration and music, but for Evolution the band had the film screened in the studio while they wrote the soundtrack live to film, creating free-form jams that matched the pace and pulse of the surf runs. In response, Witzig jettisoned any idea of narrating the film, letting the band’s music stand as the only comment needed to accompany his shots.

This combination of surf and art worked out to the advantage of both the filmmaker and the band. It catapulted Tamam Shud to a decent amount of recognition in Australia, beyond just the surf and hippy crowds, while bringing acclaim on the film as well. The band would go on to record a follow-up, also well-regarded in progressive circles, that featured newcomer Tim Gaze a young Aussie guitarist who’d become subsequently known for his work with fellow collector’s psych legends Kahvas Jute. The band would only last the two albums though, disbanding shortly after their second album. Anthology’s series focused on surf culture has brought to light some real psych essentials, reaching far beyond just the twang of Dick Dale and the American vision of what defines surf. They’re shining a nice light on a pocket of culture that influenced ’60s forms as much as skate would in the near future. If you haven’t delved in yet, Tamam Shud is a nice place to dip your toes in the water.


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Ignatz

Bram Devens slides back home on Kraak for his fourth full length at the label while partnering up with the always venerable Feeding Tube for the US release. He’s come a long way over the years. Gone are the crusted electronics that marked his early works. Gone too are the tin can Americana blues of his 2013 work Can I Go Home Now?. There’s a bump in Devens’ fidelity, but that simply means that its a smoother ride, its by no means a crisp studio setting on The Drain, but then it wouldn’t really be Ignatz if it wasn’t wrapped some manner of midnight hiss. With the clarity comes a directness from Bevens that’s been lacking in his previous works. He’s always felt a bit confessional, but The Drain is a new depth for his songwriting. His guitar work comes through with the weight and gravitas of troubled folk bluesmen. There’s an unmistakable sadness to the record, haunted and hushed; given forth in his mumbled but pained delivery and the tangled fingerpicks that adorn the album.

Devens is indeed circling the drain, or so it would seem from the sounds of The Drain. Its almost impossible to really get into this album in the light of day. Its barely even a twilight record. Its a 1:30 AM, lawn chair in the backyard, single porchlight sporting a halo of fog type of record. If ever there was a record to soundtrack the reassessment of your life choices, this is that record. Its the most bare and honest record of the man’s career and though it sounds like terrible pain went into its creation, its output is beautiful and spare. Its the kind of record from an artist that you can say, “forget the rest of the catalog, for now just start here and sink in.”




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