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Mugstar

Long running Liverpool psych unit Mugstar has never been accused of pulling punches when it comes to epic space/Krautrock excursions, but on their latest they push the boundaries of their craft further than ever. Pushing outward in terms of length (the album pushes past the 1 1/4 hour mark) and in terms of elements that the band incorporate into their sound, the album is both their heaviest and one that draws in some of the most delicate elements. The ideas for Magnetic Seasons came about from the band’s open-ended sessions at Whitewood Studios, allowing time for improvisation and experimentation to color the compositions until they found their groove. The resulting album is propulsive and crushing, but flecked with nimble fingerwork and touches like mournful melodica, recalling a heavy Krautrock version of Clinic at times and ambling further into the spaced mindset of Acid Mother’s temple in others. Though, as the band has noted the presence of Fender Rhodes plays a huge part as a central sound and inspiration on the record, often acting as a starting point for their improvisations. That element gives them a touch of Bitches’ Brew if the brew were thick as glue and shot through with clouds of exhaust.

That this album follows a solid collaboration with Can’s Damo Suzuki both gives them the status of legendary approval and a personal bar that’s a tall order to overcome, but the band manage to clear it easily and slot this in among their most essential releases. Finding its way out on Mogwai’s own Rock Action records, there are more than a few fine folks in their corner and its easy to see why. By the time this thing grinds to a halt, the listener is elevated, torn and battered. A damn fine piece of work.




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Ulrika Spacek

This London band scoops in enough buzzing Krautrock groove to qualify for their fully licensed psych credentials, but they don’t lean on it as their only weapon. Alternating between bouts of sandpaper hooks and chiming, punctuated guitar, the band knows how to wield atmosphere and pop sheen as easily as the barbs. Packed into the album’s ten tracks are washes and swells that on longer tracks stretch their arms out into winding fuzz breakdowns. These sometimes seem at odds with the shorter, crisp collared pop-psych that makes up the album’s other face. The band sounds as if they’re honing down how to put the influences at hand in just the right order, but they’re at their best when they shy away from some of the more subdued moments that recall Deerhunter’s finer brushes and instead steer headlong into spacier territory fraught with fuzz. Finer details aside though, there are plenty more hits than misses for them on The Album Paranoia and I’d say that a debut this strong merits keeping more than one eye on them for the future.




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Sheer Mag – III

Over the course of three EPs Sheer Mag have built a solid reputation, largely on their ability to squeeze 70’s arena rock and sweaty 60’s soul into the same busted bucket while heaping on the politics in a way that makes them go down easy, despite their songs’ dark centers. The recordings have a tinny quality, but that’s a part of the charm. Christina Halladay sounds like she’s being broadcast over an AM wavelength right into your best memories. There’s a bit of Shannon & The Clams, a bit of Ariel Pink and they split the seams between Royal Headache and Thin Lizzy nicely. But underneath the aesthetics beats a passionate howl and lyrics that deal with the grim realities of working class women in Ciudad Juarez, the machinations of hate and the implications of emotional manipulation. There’s a lot at play here, but at their heart the songs have enough catchy bits to make that combination work swimmingly. Sure lo-fi has had its day and its probably time to crawl back to clarity but the core of Sheer Mag is stacked like Tootsie-pop perfection in its sweetness and jawcracking fun and if you listen close enough, you just might learn something.





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SØS Gunver Ryberg

SØS Gunver Ryberg’s latest EP for Contort is an extension of her sound design centering on layered field recordings and persistent rhythms as a means to create tranformative musical experience. The release is made up of three tracks and an alternate cut that strips away some of the layers and goes for the brain stem immediately with the punch and throb of repeated rhythms. Ryberg’s work skirts the borders between dance, composition and noise and in many places its more of a barrage to be endured than to be moved by or to, but she finds a certain grace in brutality and in a lot of ways the record is the sum of its parts rather than just the kick of its end product.

The origins of some of her brutal bricks might seem surprising. The field recordings for AFTRYK were made in Svalbard, an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, where she recorded the sound of the mountains groaning and crumbling beneath the stress of active coal mining. While serene mountain vantages aren’t the first image that comes to my mind, the violence of the mining tearing apart a serene environment can be felt for sure in the subtext of Ryberg’s work. There’s certainly a feeling of digital violence eroding the soul of the source material here. Pair it all with the spot on collage work of Anthony Gerace and this is a pretty complete package.



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Alan Price – Savaloy Dip

Alan Price is probably best known Stateside for being the keyboardist for The Animals, but like many members of that vaunted band, he had a long career outside of its bounds as well. Following on from a well received film soundtrack for the Malcolm McDowell comedy O Lucky Man! he prepared a follow-up solo album, Savaloy Dip. The album was built on a similar frame of R&B as the soundtrack and runs in the same vein as contemporaries Van Morrison, Randy Newman and later era Kinks with a quaint eye on small town everymen. Now the album may not be, as Omnivore proclaims, a masterpiece, but its a well rounded pop album and the fate that befell it was seemingly unfair.

Warner Bros. deemed the album unfit for release, and though it was scheduled and even produced in some quantities, it was axed last minute. Price would salvage a track from the album, “Between Today And Yesterday,” to appear on his album of the same name; an album that ostensibly replaced Savaloy Dip. The record built up a bit of a reputation in collector’s circles for having leaked (in the 70’s fashion) when Ampex’s 8-Track plant pressed and shipped a few copies of it to stores, only to recall them as quickly as possible. But some of those copies did make it out to the public and thus its legend grew. The record has a lot of bright spots and for fans of the white boy Soul ‘n B and salt of the earth singer-songwriter moves from the 70’s this one has a lot to offer, so thankfully this is back in print in its entirety for, if not really a demanding public, at least a deserving one.




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Milk Teeth

Though they’ve been making a dent overseas in their native UK, I’ve heard paltry little about Bristol’s Milk Teeth here. For all the Dilly Dally fans losing their shit last year and the roll of 90’s nostalgia that’s swept through in the past couple of years, it would seem this release is tailor made for these times. The record is, as mentioned, rooted deep in its love of the Pixies/Nirvana/Quicksand axis of 90’s heavies, though there are certainly a few moments when they get near the velvet crush of Veruca Salt as well. The record’s got an explosive hold on punk and grunge and they wield hooks like bats in a street brawl, swinging wild for the fences and socking you hard in the chest with each beat.

Now admittedly my punk past comes more from the pop half than the hardcore half (hey we weren’t all that angry) so in the push pull girl/guy vocal dynamic I’m much more partial to Becky Blomfield’s Cobain/Kim Deal delivery than her counterpart Joshua Bannister’s sandpaper growl but put together the pair head up this record with a ferocity and range that feels like a snapshot of hazy high school nights and 90’s Sunday slumps. There are plenty of kids picking up their flannel and Converse combo second hand these days but not all of them are wearing it so well as Milk Teeth do.





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Heron Oblivion

The cumulative members of Heron Oblivion have spent their fair share of time among Raven’s pages and praises. Meg Baird’s solo work and tenure with Espers tracked a fair amount of the early ’00s around here and I feel like it should go without saying that Comets On Fire and Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound are made for Raven. So bringing the members of both teams on board for a full album not only seems like a trip down nostalgia alley (maybe you have a memory lane, our psych journey is a bit seedier) but also a bit of a welcomed return to the brain-fried fields of psych-folk. The genre’s been somewhat drained of its stature of late, since that booming revival that hit in ’04-’05, but that’s not to say that the dark tinges of Pentagle, Fresh Maggots and Susan Christie don’t still make for good cannon fodder.

Now its a bit of a feint to suggest that this is as wispy as many of the connotations of the word folk or even psych-folk at its truest might drum up, the strummy plucks of Espers this ain’t, and though Baird is riding the forefront with her songwriting and taking cues from her folk past, the band lays in its own upbringing to loose the storm over a few epics that sate the hunger left for Comets On Fire’s, well, fire to be honest. Tracks like “Rama” and “Your Hollows” might start out with a raincloud drizzle of dark folk inclinations but they wind up with a tsunami’s worth of fury by the time the tracks close. And that balance is what the band’s eponymous LP is all about. The band rides the dynamics from calm to storm and keeps the listener holding on for safety. The end result is a completely heady record that feels at home with any of its member’s legacies. So far 2016 is shaping up to be a good year for psychedelic travelers and this one is definitely leading the pack.



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The Goon Sax

Chapter Music pull in the youth vote with a trio of younguns from Brisbane’s The Goon Sax. The band’s ages average around 17-18 and though they seem to have absorbed en masse the jangle-pop paradigm, they still know how to keep things juvenile, in the best ways, of course. The songs on Up To Anything capture the raw nerve and jittery emotions of teenage life like a quickly snapped cell phone photo that’s candid and revelatory at the same time. The kinds of pictures that find one person staring at another longingly and a second person persistently distracted by the distance or dissonance. They pin the modern onto the universal, passing tales of anxiety, shame, annoyance and home haircuts off with a style that’s eyeing the past but nevertheless a fairly easily digestible pop for the new class. Given that they’re capturing the emotions of the day through the perpetually doomed lens of teenage life, they know how to parlay to moping when the need arises, but the jangles keep those sentiments from grinding the listener down. This one’s got legs for sure and each new spin cracks a new grin or two from their humble but honest take. Chalk up another win for Chapter music and the South Hemi pop sound.





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Flowers

There are plenty who have embraced 80’s jangle as if it were the dominant paradigm of popular rock, with a zest that’s bordered on mission statement in some corners of Brooklyn and London. Flying Nun is held high. C86 is a bible. But to do it well, it can’t all just sound like a retread of greatest hits, and London’s Flowers have found that sweet spot between sounding like they could have lived alongside their influences and pushing the sounds of those legends a bit further. The band’s certainly versed, setup with the prerequisite totems of their 80’s education, but they’ve taken swooning pop, light ‘n sweet jangles and the fuzz-bitten layers of guitar and stacked them into the shape of a future classic.

I wrote about a Flowers lathe way back in 2012 and its hard to believe this could be the same band. They hit all the right marks to make a record that feels like its been sitting, just waiting to be found all along. Everybody’s Dying To Meet You sounds like its soundtracked a thousand heartaches before it ever reached my ears and now its here to wrap a comforting arm around the speakers and nod comfortingly. There’s an art to making a timeless record, and after finding myself playing this almost unconsciously day after day, it really feels like its got the hallmarks. Something about Rachel Kennedy’s vocals just hit home like a pang of nostalgia cramped into the pit of the stomach that aches sweetly, like having a crush on the past. They put the extra scoop of authenticity on the record by enlisting Brian O’Shaughnessey (The Clientele, Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine) on production duties. He’s pushed the band into the mold they seemed destined to inhabit all these years. This one is topping out my list of 2016 obsessions.





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Anna Homler and Steve Moshier – Breadwoman & Other Tales

Strange origins and stranger sounds come from the grooves of Breadwoman. Homler was a student of performance art and while on a trip through California the artist conceived of the character of Breadwoman, concocting a language of chants that seem so close to real tongues its hard not to believe Homler’s tales of divining an ancient language and acting as a vessel for the spirit of Breadwoman, a woman so old she’s turned to bread. Homler recorded her chants to handheld cassette and eventually found a musical patner in Steve Moshier, a fellow experimental traveler and member of avant-garde chamber ensemble Cartesian Reunion Memorial Orchestra.

Moshier took the transcriptions of Homler’s chants and composed a musical landscape for them that fit their loose cosmic nature. The results of these two halves of Breadwoman & Other Tales is a light source beamed in from space, sounding unearthed from an ancient civilization that’s left these recordings as a track record of their time here. For her part, Homler succeeds wildly in making Breadwoman feel like a real spirit, and with the help of Moshier’s analog inventiveness, her story crawls into the realm of psychedelic classics that have to be experience to be believed.



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