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Uther Pendragon – San Francisco Earthquake

No matter how many years separate the 60’s from the present, it seems that the mines run deep for finding more fallout from the explosion of bands that permeated the time. Its getting rarer though to find one that’s had virtually no exposure or reissues to date, but Guerssen has unearthed a band from the outer rim of the San Francisco sound. Existing under the names Blue Fever, Timne, Hodological Mandala, Mandala, Kodiac, Justus, Pendragon and then finally Uther Pendragon, the band lived as a family for years; making music from ’66 until ’78 and growing with the sweeping change of sounds from that time. Guerssen’s reissue follows the band from their teen years, just discovering teen centers and fuzz pedals, to a more sweeping and much heavier territory; you know, the kind of band that could prop up a name like Uther Pendragon. This one seems to be a pure discovery of the internet age, the band wasn’t out that much in the the pages of SF rock lore and the label found them floating around in fan posts. They’re not totally without status, they opened once for Country Joe and the Fish, recorded at Pacific Sounds before building their own studio and had some ties to management that overlapped a few other outer rim psych acts, but in general they were off most radars, probably because they had no released material. Some of the songs are rough, kids finding their way, but for the most part they make good examples of the West Coast psych and proto metal sounds, feeling their way through the era on the fringes of cool.

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Mammatus

Long an RSTB favorite, Mammatus returns with an album that showcases their ability to swerve from tranquil space-outs to crushing guitar heft in the course of a song. Though in this case, those songs have plenty of space to work with, with all of Sparkling Waters edging past the fifteen minute mark per track, the band aren’t exactly churning out pop ditties. But what they are doing is stretching towards the horizon line with gentle cosmic thrust on the opener. Yawning like the seascape that adorns the cover, it opens into a mix of syths, flute and the far off rumble of percussion that whips into a tempest by the time the track closes. As the track builds they bend the formless eddies into craggy bits of Krautrock fed metal squall still underpinned with windswept keys but now churning like waterspout off the Bermuda coast. The take another turn through Kosmiche and crunch on Part 2 before they turn up the heat. The second LP brings more bite than the first, re-centering the band’s roots in heaviness and giving the guitar gluttons something to chew on, but they never give in to riff fully, bending and shaping both sides into movement based epics with an appreciation for Prog’s footprint. The album is an ambitious step forward for the band but it never turns into a sprawling excuse to just jam over four sides of wax, rather it winds up just the kind of album that gatefolds were made to hold, a space opera that glows and growls through four sides with a pure sense of ebb and flow.

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Woolen Men

Portland’s Woolen Men have already stung 2015 with a great LP released on Woodsist, but it seems they had more to give. Self-released as a cassette, Options gathers up six more cuts that lean on the band’s love of smashing 90’s grunge into propulsive post-punk. The tape is brief but from the outset the collection hits hard with the band finding a way to roll their sound in some gravel via opener, “Curtain,” then wiping down the speakers for a run through taut guitar territory. They cool for a bit on “Scarlet” before closing out the EP with a trio of muscular indie romps. The band is at home in the live setting, running through the Northwest’s DIY show scene in a regular rotation but with releases like this and the previous Temporary Monument they’re proving that their recorded output is just as enticing as the live experience.

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Cornered Yet Climbing feat. Kelly Jayne Jones

Whew, now comes that time of year when its time to scrabble through the missed connections on the review list and this one comes out pretty high near the top. A re-invigoration of Pascal Nichols and David McLean’s Cornered Yet Climbing collaboration, this time with the help of Nichols’ partner in Part Wild Horses Man on Both Sides. The output here is a broken daydream of free jazz, wandering from mournful howl to full bite in the space of mere minutes. Adding to the flashing fangs of McLean’s sax are Jones’ ephemeral field recordings and flute, which weave through the clattering sonic tapestry set down by her two collaborators expertly. Her flute especially treads between ceremonial tribalism and folk serenity without ever making either style feel worn. The expanded trio finds its footing easily and though the length of these pieces is pretty heavy, bordering on intensely lengthy, the whole record plays as such an engrossing backdrop that its hard not to get sucked into the players’ world rather than see it as a necessarily surmountable listen. The record is expertly anchored by Nichols’ craggy, fluid drumming and his skill at finding the inroads in these pieces to drive pace and add texture is fairly unmatched this year. This is one to beat in the noise/free category and along with that Heroin in Tahiti release, this is a good year for the edges.

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Sad Horse

Ah Mississippi, the avid archaeologists of our time, though they’re usually knee deep in gospel cassettes, African guitar debris or Dead Moon discographies, sometimes they’re also knocking a flashlight on the overlooked records of this current time as well. Swinging their gaze on their hometown’s own Sad Horse, they cobble together a collection of tracks from the band’s first couple of tapes and CD-rs for tiny labels like Eggy, Supermegacorporation and Water Wing. The retrospective bounces through a ton of material, but the relative length of a Sad Horse tune, combined with their intensity, makes it fly by pretty quick. The duo are no frills. As in none whatsoever. The songs are banged out in dry recorded spats that feel thick with the dust of warehouse floors and screamed from the Id. Complexity this ain’t and that’s a damn good thing, sometimes you need to bang the shit out of a kit, strangle the strings and lose control. The band have been a Portland secret for way to long and its a welcomed relief that Mississippi have chronicled their output.

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Odd Hope

Bay Area musician Tim Tinderholt serves up a debut single for Fruits & Flowers, currently one of our favorite destinations for band’s you should be checking into. The a-side is a chilled piece of folk, all grey skies and winter reserve. Then the flip takes a step out into the sunshine. The label’s assessment that this could have popped up on Creation is well deserved (though Sarah Records is an equal contender). Banging around through Razorcuts b-sides or Sneetches EPs, it seems likely that you might run aground on a copy of Odd Hope’s “I’ll Follow You Soon”. This is definitely a gem in an already stellar catalog for the SF label.

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Invisible Astro Healing Rhythm Quartet

First things first, that’s a hell of a handle. You go and name yourselves something that indebted to the ethos of space jazz and you better damn well cut close to the veins Bitches Brew or have a standing ticket on the Arkestra’s spaceship. For the most part, IAHRQ seem to be chasing that same chrysalis down a rabbit hole of groove and syrupy psych-funk that informs the stretched minds of those 70’s experimenters. Mind you they’re following in some deep footsteps and while maybe not widening the ruts too much from where their forbears may tread, they know how to play to their strengths and take listeners on the journey. They inject a certain amount of African funk to the mix as well, though they dull the edge away from some of the more jagged sounds of the Sahara with a bubble of lysergic energy that just taps at the glass of that continent’s influence but never opens the cage wide. 2 dips out of a heavy groove on the opener, “Praise One,” to lay back into some mellow, almost strummy vibes on “Praise Two” They hit on Blacksploitation funk and soundtrack skronk before laying way back into the ether groove to close it out. This is patently not what I’d expect out of Trouble In Mind, but that’s becoming a good thing about the garage homestead. They’ve begun to follow their passions and though its no longer a cohesive sound coming from their ranks, they seem to know that the best labels take you where you need to go and you just have to trust that they’ve got ears big enough to find it all.

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Pega Monstro

Pretty hard not to love this one, it’s a simple setup, just guitars and drums, two sisters throwing energy back and forth in a chaotic mix of distortion, sticks and sweat. The Portuguese duo play straight from the gnarled heart of punk and though there’s a real shine of pop trying to peek its head out from the clouds of dust and debris, the fury in Alfarroba reigns supreme. There’s a kind of running through the streets in summer, unfettered smash of the pit, fists in the air energy to Pega Monstro and that feeling becomes palpable over the course of this record. You want to have fun because they’re having fun, and records that spread smiles like colds in a kindergarten are few and far between, so I say grab one when you hear it. The band revolves around their own DIY scene in Lisbon, borne out of the sisters’ own Cafetra Records, from which they borrow some help in the form of friend and producer Leonardo Bindilatti of Cafetra’s Putas Bebadas. Though London’s Upset The Rhythm heralds the release here, long since purveyors of good taste. All in all, I can think of very few reasons this one shouldn’t be hitting your turntable as soon as possible.

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Mystic Braves

Mystic Braves return with another album and though they’re branching out into trappings of their aesthetic (sitars and mellotron, oh my) they’re still very much in tune with their inner 60’s nerds and make no allusions otherwise. Days of Yesteryear as a title doesn’t pussyfoot, that’s pretty much exactly what they’re going for and succeed at channeling a heady mash of Byrds, 13th Floor Elevators and ? and the Mysterians that feels like looking at a well stocked record shelf through a kaleidoscope. What the band lacks in fresh perspective, they make up for in fun, fuzz solos and exuberant hooks. There are plenty these days who see fit to keep the Joshua Light Show in work and this one will fit nicely on the shelf next to the Allah-las, Shivas and Paperhead records in your collection.

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Pleasers

Matthew Melton hops the rail from SF to Austin and in the process hooks up with locals Ben Tipton and Julian Young for a meatier take on his usual formula, born of garage grease and the most powerful of pop. Definitely beat into a shape more fitting of his legacy in Bare Wires than the dreamier cuts of Warm Soda, Pleasers are still and unmistakable product of Melton’s leather tough swoon. The A-side is, as I’ve mentioned, cut from a very similar cloth to Bare Wires and that’s never a bad thing. They were taken from us too soon. The flip is edging a bit closer to Soda territory but there’s still a bit more bite and snag in the guitar than would befit that band. Best not to think too deeply on it, that’s never the point here. Melton speaks in tongues of rock n’ roll and that’s what’s on deck here. Naturally, I’m hoping that this will branch out into a larger lifespan and a possible full length, but lets not look a gift single in the mouth.

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