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Jackie McDowell

Jackie McDowell’s been around a stretch, either under her own name or as Inez Lightfoot, but her latest is a psychedelic sweat lodge that pores deep into psych folk territory and refreshes my interest like it was the first time. There’s something in the timbre of McKenzie’s voice that reminds me of Kilynn Lunsford from Little Claw, especially on “Thirteen Mothers Rose,” but rather than clashing with the amp frizzle fry she’s swathed in the echoed psychedelics of harmonium, dulcimer and banjo. The album definitely has a late night cracking into morning vibe, rich with incantations and skittering percussion that’s shuffled spatially around the album’s field of focus. McKenzie leads the spell sessions with a dark rapture and its pretty hard to divert attention from her mournful and haunting howl; but just as amiably, the tidepool of psychedelic folk puddling beneath her captures the imagination, bringing the heydays of Badgerlore, Charlambides, Tower Recordings and Fursaxa flooding back.

I believe I’ve said it already this year, but its good to get back to a solid run of psych folk, as the well seems to be getting, not dry, but certainly low as of late. McKenzie is a welcome reminder that there are still those souls haunting the forests, channeling the the moss flecked flats of the American wilderness and fog odes that roll in among the trees. This is one of those albums that feels like it flickers only by candle or firelight and it makes me anxious for the sun to set so that the proper respects can be paid as the first track clicks to start.


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Able Tasmans – A Cuppa Tea and a Lie Down

In contrast to some of their louder peers on Flying Nun, Able Tasmans boast a more acoustic jangle-pop focused sound that’s fleshed out nicely with keys. That doesn’t leave them by any means delicate, as opener “What Was That Thing” will attest. The band is more just as likely to indulge in a gorgeous strum as they are to incorporate wild and cathartic yelps and they push and pull between ecstatic and contemplative over the course of the album. They jumped onto the Flying Nun roster with The Tired Sun EP, which is included in Cap Tracks’ expanded reissue, followed up by the “Buffaloes” single, whose A-side is also incorporated into the expanded package here. This stands as their magnum opus, a gem of a sprawling album that pushes all over the map of Dunedin jangle at the time (though they were in fact from Whangarei), pulling in catchy charms, spastic angst, and even more experimental bits of spoken word collage. It stands as a true highlight in the Flying Nun catalog.

The band would follow it three years later with the more compact Hey Spinner! and push on into the nineties before disbanding. The later works don’t have the same impact as this debut, which pulled the Dunedin sound out of its guitar rut and into something of an update with their focus on keys as an integral part of their sound. A nice package from Captured Tracks’ diligent efforts to reissue key parts of the Nun catalog for sure and the extras make a nice bonus to the original album, giving it a bit of context as to where the band were leading up to its creation.



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Kane Ikin

Kane Ikin’s Modern Pressure fits in nicely with the darker tones of Type’s roster. He’s got a touch of the soundtrack menace that Pye Corner Audio is channeling and plenty of the suffocating darkness of labelmate Vatican Shadow. Built on a minimal base of beats, synths and field recordings, the simple setup is actually less self imposed than socially imposed, due to the everyday pressures that Ikin refers to in the album’s title. Having to sell off pieces of gear to pay rent, the artist stripped back to the basics and the record is a bit better off for it. Not that I envy the artist his belt tightening, but it has wrought an excellent album with a taut and nervy sound, feeling like the walls might cave in at any moment. Though its hard to sit back and relax to Modern Pressure that’s not to say that these track aren’t infinitely enjoyable, as long as you like thrillers vs comedies.

There’s anxiety as the bedrock here, but more than that, many of the tracks have a creeping dread that’s sewn into the seams of Kane Ikin’s sound. The bass shudders through you solar plexus, the synths pool in glowing dread in the background and the beats click by slow and steady, as if waiting to strike. Its the kind of album that Type has become known for; calculated, precise and devastating all at once.




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Loose Tooth

Melbourne’s Loose Tooth pack a lot of power into a shaggy but shiny first EP. The songs on Saturn Returns pass the mic back and forth between male and female vox, with both sides of the coin finding easy footing in their Aussie pop charms. The band peppers the tracks with a good glut of guitar jangle and the occasional fret workout or caffeinated crunch, but the key is locking it all down with the driving force of Luc Dawson’s bass. They pull from a good amount of 80’s janglers who came before them on both sides of the ocean, taking bits of American, Brit and Aussie indie stalwarts alike (Some Sea Urchins here, some Heavenly and Beat Happening there, dashes of Able Tasmans) but they’ve mashed them into a mixed bag of pop snacks and shaken the whole thing nicely, finding little bits of each rearing their heads within one track.

The band’s recording setup was locked down by what’s becoming one of my favorite two punch package of Paul Maybury behind the boards and Mikey Young on mastering. They’ve both reared up as a litmus of quality Aussie youth and Loose Tooth is another nod in the right direction from both. Its a fun first foray from the band and one I hope leads to more for sure.




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Quiet Down – Last Match

A less overtly pop approach than Diehard, the previous band of songwriter Ezra Selove, Quiet Down lives in contrast to their name. The songs on their second EP are draped in a swell of noise that fumes up in the opening moments of the title track opener and battles back and forth with the clean lined sensibilities that beat at the heart of these three tracks. “Last Match” pushes and pulls between the rising tension that threatens to overtake it and Selove’s palpable feeling of wanting to tamp it back down, until the break that loosens the emotional dam somewhere around the five minute mark; unleashing a feeling of finally losing control and feeling pretty good about it. The standout though is “Sterling,” a taut ‘n tumble rocker that balances dreamy vocals with a blistered thread of American indie that traces lines from Mac McCaughan’s edgier crunch to the tensions of Bubble and Scrape era Sebadoh. They close the single with “Mr. Boddy’s Body,” which amps up the rhythmic shake and turns the gaze and thunder up in equal measures. The single pays its debt to American guitar rock; its not wholly beholden to the past, but aware of which parts worked.




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Library of Babel

From the esteemed, if often overlooked Blue Tapes label, Library of Babel have released a collection of pieces for guitar, cello and double bass that eschews the more overtly dissonant elements that sometimes get pinned to the label’s catalog. The release isn’t by any means easily digestible, far from it, but it is structured and that makes it unique among some of its peers. Shane Parish leads the Asheville unit through an album that bumps against neo-classical, jazz and fingerpicked folk alike, drop-zoning into a kind of pastoral thrum that flickers like dusty film over the course of their eponymous album. The record takes on an anthropological quality, as if these are forgotten folk songs from a people who value the clash of strings to pristine pluck and crisp melody, letting the din reflect their own turmoil.

Parish’s guitar rattles and hisses, clatters like loose bones against strings, then winds itself back into a melodic whirlpool of notes while the cello and bass beneath him hum their own tempests, mostly melancholy though oftentimes breaking into death rattles of their own. There’s cinematic vein in Library of Babel and its narrative seems to rise from parched fields, patchy forests and mud flats flecked with dead fish and too little rain. There’s something that evokes the foothills of the American South in Parish’s work, but in a very modern sense, the fates of the rusted hulls of communities forgotten, plastered in stark black and white photos full of hard looks. Whether this is intentional or not remains to be seen, but its a hardscrabble feeling of want that comes seeping from the speakers over these thirty minutes. This is a standout release on a label that already has some gems from Katie Gately, Mats Gustafsson and Tashi Dorji in their stable.


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The Flesh Eaters – Forever Came Today

The Flesh Eaters were the brainchild of Chris Desjardins, often known as much for his fanzine Slash as he is for his musical contributions. Though the zine gave him the cred and the connections to the L.A. punk scene, what he did with those tools speaks for itself. After the cracked skin flay of the band’s ’81 album, A Minute To Pray A Second To Die, he whittled down his lineup of heavy hitters and perfected the burn on the album’s follow-up, Forever Came Today. Its often a toss between which album is considered the band’s masterstroke, but they’re really two halves of the same fevered vision. Desjardins’ acetone handshake vocals are in full effect, blistering and sliding between dark fury and full on psychotic howl. The guitars are slightly less barbed than they are on AMTPASTD, but hit with a focused attack, rather than just rip at the mind. Personally it seems like this record only refines the brew that was cooking up to this point and tightens up the wild rabbit punch attack of the band’s potent punk pummel.

This album came right dab in the middle of a solid run of Flesh Eaters records that would end with 1983’s A Hard Road To Follow before Desjardins would take a tangent into the more acoustic oriented Divine Horsemen and their run of early albums for SST. He’d then get the band back together in the ’90s with a new crew and some swings in genre that circled the punk drain but never quite measured up to these early exploits. After nabbing a copy of Superior Viaduct’s reissue of the previous platter, I’m excited for this one to follow. The label’s remastered the album and the sound does the record justice, showcasing this ragged classic in a new light for a new generation who most likely missed out on its bite the first time around.

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Imaginary Softwoods

Emeralds’ John Elliott has a few aliases of note (Outer Space, Mist, Lilypad) but its been a while since he took up the mantle as Imaginary Softwoods, having left the project fairly dormant since his 2011 album, The Path Of Spectrolite. Now he’s gotten together a collection of tracks recorded in the past few years that span a few different tributary directions from the Softwoods canon, and while he dabbles in synth, Kosmiche, tape collage, spoken word and drone it all seems to meld together into a pretty cohesive and tranquil listen, despite not having been planned as an album proper. No matter the form he takes, Elliott keeps a thread of calm, out of body experience as the touchstone for all these tracks, floating in suspended animation throughout. That thread keeps Annual Flowers In Color from feeling too much like an afterthought.

Its nice to see a few more sides to the Imaginary Softwoods model here, though Elliott is still at his best with the hypnotic Kosmiche that brought this project to fruition. Centerpieces “Aura Show” and “Another First/Sea Machine” bubble with a gloriously serene glow, pushing their 10+ minute timings into the ether without ever feeling weighed down. This is a nice collection and reminder of why Elliott and Emeralds were such a key piece of synth revival of the past decade. Hopefully this collection isn’t the last of Imaginary Softwoods, but a door to new works with a tighter focus.





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Dan Melchior

Melchior is hard man to pin down, he’s moved from garage to noise and back again so often its hard to know what the newest release holds in store. Plays ‘The Greys’ falls pretty squarly into the noise camp and despite the kind of worn notion of “I don’t play the blues, I play the greys,” its a nice deconstruction of the blues and boogie forms in the same vein as Tetuzi Akiyama’s Don’t Forget To Boogie, albeit without the malfunctioning amp aspect. Instead, Melchior takes the repetitive notion of boogie and lets it fall into the blender blades of fuzz, feedback and blatant jump cut juxtaposition. His guitar ties tracks together but it fades in and out of view like a a radio station pushing past the broadcast limits.

And at its heart this record seems to be about pushing past limits, past pain, past life and past pop. Melchior himself has had a bad run of it in the last few years, personally and the some of that understandable frustration and sadness seems to be coming through in these bleak exorcisms. Melchior knows how to wield his noise and here he’s found a good balance between the drop out zone of boogie and the moments when the surrounding hum takes us over.



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Kevin Morby

It wasn’t a huge surprise when Kevin Morby made the move to Dead Oceans. He was due for a wider stage. His last album, Still Life was a leap forward from his debut both in musical depth and lyrical intensity and he doubles down on those qualities for Singing Saw. The album explores an even darker vein from Still Life, delving through explorations of life’s brief tenure. The biggest change, musically, comes from a new reliance on piano as a centerpiece. Before, Morby’s ballads were charged by his guitar and lonesome troubadour delivery, but the influence of Sam Cohen’s production brings the instrument into the forefront while also filling out Morby’s world with a gorgeous array of strings and brass, keys and percussion.

The album has a gravitas that places it on a shelf above Morby’s past work, solo or with The Babies. Its restless and strangely world weary for a person so young, but maybe that’s just an old soul peeking out through Morby’s songs. It feels like a soundtrack to a movie with little dialog and long pensive shots that carry menace in their bones; eyes in the rearview, deserted gas stations and looming mountains that never seem to get closer. The lyrical arcs evolve like the light coming over that stretched horizon. “Cut Me Down” is calm and even, but lyrically it seems like such a foreboding entry point, steeped in sadness and resolution, all qualities that continues on through “I Have Been To The Mountain” and “Singing Saw,” right up until “Drunk On A Star” sighs and lets some of the edge falter. By the closing strains of “Water,” somehow the dawn’s crept in and everything feels like it will be all right, even if deep down those feelings of bleak doubt remain. A gorgeous statement by Morby and a true 2016 highlight.



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