Browsing Category Reviews

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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Visitors – Poet’s End

Visitors were an Edinburgh post-punk band that caught the favor of John Peel, who featured them on his radio show a few times and even financed their second single, “Empty Rooms.” Sadly, the notoriously dodgy sound quality of that single did little to further their cause among fickle fans. They’d use another Peel Session to fill out a third, but by then their prospects were growing grim. The band’s penchant for stretched lengths, moody shades and subtle electronics seems like it should have caught favor with fans of PiL, Wire and Joy Division but the band remained strikingly independent and without the love and push of a proper record company they were ill fated, even with opening gigs for The Cure. Telephone Explosion has rounded up their three singles, of which “Electric Heat” stands out as the true gem here, though the tracks from the flip of that single and “Compatibility” all fill this set out nicely.

“Empty Rooms” is rightfully derided for its sound quality, though the songs in the single are still pretty solid and would have benefited in the live setting. The rest of the set is fleshed out with four unreleased tracks and among these “Our Glass” proves to have been a shameful loss to the folds of time, it’s stronger than some of the released material for certain. The Peel connection will certainly perk ears but as far as lost post-punk gems go this one has its merit on the whole. Would have been killer if the master tapes could have been redone and spot cleaned for a strong sound across the whole, but there’s gold in here all the same.




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Goat

Goat returns with another single, following up on last Fall’s “It’s Time For Fun” 7″. The new lead track doesn’t burn so hot as their past albums, but like that previous small format taster, its a cool water psych simmer that still ropes in Goat’s global tribalism and then pairs it with some excellent guitar ripples and an autumnal flute. The flip also takes things down a calmer road, diffusing the scorch of psychedelic bombast in favor of groove as a weapon of choice. Seems like all this is leading somewhere and perhaps there’s a new album on the rise, an album that speaks more to the communal harmony of Goat’s world influences than to the fevered pound of their war drums. Can’t think of another year in which that might be the best move, we could all use a little unity as of late.




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Pony Time

Pony Time are creating a pretty danceable racket with just bass and drums, knocking the garage-pop formula askew and finding their solace in a quick wit that’s underscored by chunky as hell hooks. The Seattle duo has kicked out four releases since 2011 and they’re only now finding a true stride with Rumours 2: The Rumours Are True. The band called out Wounded Lion, which caught my eye and its a damn fine point of reference for the their half cocked smile and thick low-end celebrating fare. There’s a toasted ember element in the grumble and rumble of Rumours that comes off as duct tape biker glam, feeling like a band reaching for the bright lights with what they have on hand. I’ve always loved a non-trad lineup and though the bass n’ drums combo has been around plenty (DFA 1979, COCO, Lightning Bolt) that fat bass sound combined with Luke Beetham’s yelp lets Pony Time keep the tradition alive without immediately pegging them into a hole dug by others traveling down similar aesthetic paths. The band brings the party and not a whiff of self-seriousness and that’s the charm of Rumours 2 they’re just hanging out like the Spuds McKenzie of garage you were always looking for.




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Woods

Phew, are Woods already on their ninth album? Did I read that right? Its a little hard to believe, but back when this site began a few downloaded tracks and a CD from the old Fusetron Sound distro opened up the world of Woods to me and it hardly seemed like those sketches of guitar would wind up as the contender that the band is today. On City Sun Eater Eater In The River of Light the band take their second trip to a studio that’s not a portion of their house and in turn their sound expands in both scope and execution. They’ve shaved down the ecstatic freakout portion of their attack, perhaps relegating it to the stage versions of these songs, but they’ve embraced a whole cadre of elements not seen creeping up before.

There are shades of African funk and jazz, but not to worry they don’t take any sanctimonious mid-aughts or Graceland approaches to it, the sounds just fold in adding ominous layers to the band’s psychedelic folk. There are also stabs of horns that whisper of cantina nights, hazy and menacing and filling out their sound nicely. That menace is an element that seems to color this record differently than any of Woods’ albums past. There are still plenty of moments that yoke in the sun, but there are an equal if not greater number that let in the dark, feeling a chilly pessimism resonate in Jeremy Earl’s lyrics and adding a gravitas and grounding that feels like an omen of these strange times. As these elements coalesce, what surfaces is Woods’ heaviest and most resonant album yet. Its an album that digests anxiety, uncertainty and acceptance in ways we’ll all need to learn to get through tomorrow.




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