Sheer Agony

Montreal’s Sheer Agony wrap their power pop swagger in the geek pop charms of forefathers the DBs and The Soft Boys, jamming as many jitters as hooks into their shaggy pop tracks. Masterpiece might be a boastful title but there’s a definite overflow of charm inherit in this baker’s dozen of pixelated pop. Standout single “I Have a Dream” treads the same angular neon puddles that Brooklyn’s undersung heros Punks on Mars waded through. and the band knows how to play up hearstring crush to a glowing swell when need be. They’ve certainly bought the texts and taken the tests, and for what its worth their marks are good. But that crinkled weird streak that twists through the dreamboat strums will always leave them pining and preening for the horn rim set more than the kids at the cool table and maybe that’s just the way they like it. From the circular spin of “I Used To Be Darker” to the inky currents riding the tails of “Fizzical Lime,” balanced by the clipped psych-pop endings of “Literary Arts,” they have a firm hand on the pop parlance and wind their way through a good bit of territory while still keeping that power pop badge front and center. A nice outing for the fledgling Couple Skate and a bit of a snoozed on gem from the past year all together.

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Quilt

Three records in, Quilt are still busing down the country highways and finding ways to capture the sunset in musical interludes. Plaza is glazed in their constant laid back approach, feeling as if all tension just kind of melts at the touch of the needle to the groove. There’s a bit more clarity perhaps on this record, a sheen that’s not so much crystalline as it is honey-dipped and light from behind like an amber suncatcher. Fittingly written in transit; Baltimore, Jersey, Upstate New York, the album has the feeling of skyline stretching to the dipped horizon, with the blurred hum of images floating past out the car windows. There’s a breezy billowiness to pretty much everything that Quilt touches, something like summer sea air faintly blowing off of the set of songs that tinges the album with that hangover of wanderlust that follows vacations. The group’s voices meld as if they were candle warmed and melted, never straining to find their fit together and though there’s certainly a debt to be paid to the 60’s folk rock forbears, they’ve picked up the mantle and found their footing among the strongest of that canon. Jarvis Taveniere again rears his head in the production chair and he’s quickly proving to be the secret ingredient to effortless sounds in 2016. I can’t tell if its a damn shame that the endless summer of Plaza arrives in the chilly confines of February, on one hand it feels ill suited but on the other, it feels like just what’s needed to tide us all over until greener times.

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Gate

Michael Morley takes the easily digestible disco frivolities of Saturday Night Fever and delves a few levels darker into the heart of the beast that lives in the characters off the floor. Permeated with the skeletal thrust of the film’s score, his album of the same name starts out with click-snap drumbeats and horn stabs that seem fitted for the the lighted floor and glint of gold chains under mirrored balls. But quickly on in opener “Asset” Morley lets the furious rush of substances take over the lens. The veins pulse as foreign bodies enter the bloodstream, leaving those beats and horns to get rack panned to the background and to just the distorted crush of noise and dance enter the brain en masse. The blur sets hold and the belly of Saturday Night Fever ends up more fever dream than breezy night out. There’s a sweaty anxiety that balances perfectly above those catchy dance touches, fighting and letting go in equal measures. By the end its hard to remember what happened, to place those snatches of melody stuck in your brain outside of the pounding char of the thick blows of steel wool guitar. Morley is no stranger to noise in its purer forms, having spent a number of years in The Dead C, but this is more subversive. Its a record that finds the chaos behind dance and gives life to it, gives it a tangible shape and a name. That voice that whispers in your ear to dance until the fight either goes out of you or comes to you, that’s the raw heart of Saturday Night Fever. But just as nights come to a close so does Morely draw the album to a comedown pitch that slows the heartbeat and lets some clarity fill the ears. Its hard to find a better cleanse than Gate offers here.

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Bleached – “Keep On Keepin’ On

I’ve always had a soft spot for Bleached. Their run of singles leading up to Ride Your Heart were doused in a 90’s charm that was hard to shake and the album came through only to strengthen the good will they’d built up. This new taste of upcoming album Welcome The Worms is definitely a darker turn. The sound is thicker, less surf and bounce and more driving rock. The lyrics seated in decisively sour, if not toxic relationship. The band accompanies the guitar crunch and lyrical lash with a video that’s anxious and permeated with a stalker’s eye. Its good to have the trio back and seemingly sounding bigger than they have before.


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Woods “Sun City Creeps”

With each successive record, Woods find themselves closer to the threshold of crystalline. “Sun City Creeps” despite the flagrant reference to legends Sun City Girls, doesn’t scotch tape together street market psych and noise as that trio might have, but it does tap into their worldly sense of rhythm and adds a slinking brass element to Woods’ sound that elevates them even above the sunshine sways of their previous LP. The song finds the band chugging through guitar wahs and dark corner choruses before treading into a couple of psych breakdowns, that were this Woods circa 2009-10, would have unfolded into a minute plus of fuzz and tape distortion. Here though, they’ve caught hold of those impulses, perhaps leaving the jamming for the stage. Instead they’ve found themselves perfecting a bit of psychedelic lounge that’s stepping into deeper puddles than ever before, maturing Woods into a new age.

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The track appears on Woods’ upcoming album City Sun Eater In The River Of Light out April 8th. Support the Artist. Pre-Order Here.

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The Lavender Flu

Chris Gunn shared time in two undeniably great, though never celebrated enough bands, The Hunches and Hospitals. His new endeavor, Lavender Flu isn’t as noisy as the latter or as shambledown cathartic as the former, but he and the band are jumping in both feet first with widescope ambitions on Heavy Air. The double LP debut swims through psychedelic bogs that are shaggy and caked with fallout fuzz in places and burst out with bold pop statements in the next instant. Stitched together with a ragged twine of thought, the album could prove exhausting to the uninitiated, but those who’ve found room for Gunn’s brand of veiled pop bombast will find Easter Eggs aplenty throughout this release. Out of the clamor and clash rise some beautiful moments of folk pop like “Those That Bend” or “My Time,” both cuts that wouldn’t seem out of place cozying up to some Elephant 6 disciples. Hell, the whole record would fit in with the Collective’s vibe of sun-streaked psych mixed with “Green Typewriters” style experimentation and for the cadre of listeners out there looking for that heady stew, look no further, Lavender Flu’s world is a dense rabbit hole worth exploring and re-exploring. Plenty of psychic fallout to tide you ’til Springtime.

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Support the artist. Buy it: HERE on MEDS Records.

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Tina & The Total Babes – She’s So Tuff

Sometimes you have to kick your own ass for missing out on something in its original time. 2001 who knows where my head was at, but it wasn’t picking up a copy of Tina & The Total babes’ undersung record on Sympathy for the Record Industry, but thankfully digital love allows us some time for our transgressions. Tina Lucchesi pulls down heavy points for her involvement in two legends, The Trashwomen and The Bobbyteens, and following the demise of the latter, she hooked up with power pop producer Travis Ramin to create The Total Babes. Her other records never really had the kind of recorded clarity on display here and it was always the raw charm of both bands that pulled them through, but its nice to hear Lucchesi’s voice in the context of pure turn of 80’s power pop perfection.

The album has all the snottiness and hip-check dance pit fun of anything involving Tina, and I came to fine it as this new wave of power pop appreciation came to rear its head a few years back. For the record anyone from the current roster of power pop altar worshippers should pay some respects to The Total Babes (who themselves are channeling quite a bit of Nikki and the Corvettes.) If, by chance this one is not in your collection, then by all means please course correct. However, it remains that the vinyl is sadly out of print and far too pricey on the secondary market, so perhaps if we all ask nicely Sympathy will put this one back on the shelf for the good of mankind everywhere.

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EZTV

Said it before and I’ll say it again, January always acts as a cleanup of what was so sorely forgotten in the crush of year-end nonsense and in that mindset its with sorrow that I’m just now getting a chance to delver further into this EZTV album. With nods down the line of 70’s radio rock that spans from Todd Rundgren to the softer shadows of Cheap Trick, the band more often channels those playing in the wake of those pop princes. They mold the earnestness of Shoes with the instant likability of Chris Wilson-era Flamin’ Groovies to instantly arrive formed as successors to their brand of crystalline pop. The band went into the studio with 30 tracks and shaped and shaved them with the help of Woods’ Jarvis Taveniere and while each and every song doesn’t jump out of the speakers and into your nagging subconscious, collectively the album feels fully realized and perfectly nuanced. Each and every listen brings a new favorite to the fore and its plain to see that the band is more interested in making a lasting impression than fleeting infatuation. Calling Out isn’t fancy, it isn’t pushing the paradigm of pop forward. It is however an excellent study in keeping things simple and knowing exactly who you are and where you come from. It’s a love letter to classic American pop albums and one that hits all the right points to put you in its sway.

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Lame Drivers

Another scoop up from the detritus of last year. New York’s Lame Drivers are cracking into the power pop canon with the fortitude of seasoned vets, boiling down Phil Seymour riffs, Paul Collins’ workingman charm and the incessant fizz of The Shoes. Though, to say that the band is tumbling completely down the Yellow Pills path would be a bit remiss. They fracture the seeds of power pop through the eras that followed, finding their way through fuzz-caked 90’s stacks and some complex psych-pop touches that seem primed for Elephant 6 sycophants. The album finds its balance while keeping that kernel of fun squarely at the center of attention. Chosen Era barrels out of the garage, cylinders primed and with those 70’s touchstones hanging from the mirror, but they cool down to some nice shaggy 90’s-isms by the mid section, just to shake out the limbs, and before long they’re back on track to set your pulse racing. With a mixed team laying this one down (primarily Matt Tong of Bloc Party fame and Travis Harrison along with some self recording in the mix) it works out to be rather cohesive in its final run. There were some pretty heavy power pop contenders in 2015 and while this may not touch Barreracuda’s plastic snap n’ crackle, its a worthy contender for time on your speakers.

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Donato Dozzy

Sometimes context is everything. In most contexts the mouth harp is a bygone piece of a quainter time, an ancient ritual or simply a toy that hasn’t passed a thought since childhood. Dozzy too picked up the inspiration from a childhood fascination with the instrument and revisited it as an extension of his own lean towards trance an an electronic outcropping. Here he finds the ties of ancient, ritual trance with those of newer artists seeking to open the same sonic chasm through hardwired drones and pulses. The mouth-harp is a more visceral experience, though simple in construction, it tends to throb through the player and add a layer of physicality to achieving trance through repetitious drone. Dozzy records the instrument in locales both indoors and out and drops the thrum into hallways of echo, expanses of calm and beds of analogous hum. As with his previous album Sintetizzatrice which used only voice laid into a context of dub experimentation, here he plays a bit of dub wizard to the instrument, letting the repetition of reverberation lull the listener into a cozy state of meditation. By the time the needle skids to a close its almost easy to forget that the bulk of the weight her is on the tines of the tiny instrument and not on much heavier means of drone deployment, and perhaps that trick is DD’s best. The old is new again and primed for open minds.

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