Jozef Van Wissem

For a lutenist, Van Wissem has made a pretty sizeable dent into experimental and indie circles. Maybe its because he pals around with Jim Jarmusch and Zola Jesus. The former he’s collaborated with plenty in the past, even winning a Cannes film award for his work on the score to Only Lovers Left Alive. The latter appears here, fleshing out his sparse compositions with her own spectral haunt. But maybe its because Van Wissem’s work holds a lonesome power that draws collaborators like these in. His past works have painted with solemn, yet slightly intricate strokes, classical in feeling but not stuffy. He’s felt like the art history buff trying to open up his classmates to the wonders of 15th century without getting overly condescending about it.

On When Shall This Bright Day Begin he definitely clips a few notes from his work with Jarmusch. The pair’s collaborative albums draw in a lot of noise elements and drink from a well of experimentation. For this outing thoug, Van Wissem keeps the noise at bay but dips into some borrowed cinematic scope; Zola Jesus opening the album with a disembodied, ambient float over his plucks, vocal samples crackling against sepia toned stringwork and his own vocal arrangements pounding like mantras. Its when he lets the lute sing alone though that the album’s at its strongest. The recording is unencumbered, each note smacking into that pang of regret in your stomach like a steadied blow. Though to be fair, the second collaboration here with Zola Jesus is as hair raising as anything either have done, finding both parties reaching towards their inner goth hearts to make a track that’s infinitely absorbing. This album sounds like Van Wissem has finally found his stride and is so comfortable with his instrument that he makes his pangs our pangs and its easy to thank him for it.





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Beach Skulls – “Santa Fe”

Ok so appending the Beach qualifier to your band name is officially past its prime, to the point that its just getting silly and for lack of a better word, distracting. There have to be some good band names out there, right? That aside, I’m not one to toss a track just because the band name grates me like no other. UK trio Beach Skulls have definitely been mainlining a heavy dose of Velvets here, but a bit of this track’s charm is that it feels like the band could give two fucks if you think they sound derivative. In fact this track seems so completely relaxed its hard to believe their singer could have been completely upright when he turned in this performance. “Santa Fe” is a prime slice of smoke ringed garage pop that feels like the last song that should play before you shuffle off home, harboring the kind of buzz that will stick with you the whole train ride home and sack you out peacefully once you reach it.


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Sun City Girls – Torch of the Mystics

There’s hardly a better argument to the sterling reputation of Sun City Girls than 1990’s Torch of the Mystics. They were rarely as coherent, crisp, or as cutting as they were right here, divining the spirit of a transistor radio bouncing signals off the ionosphere and picking up lost transmissions that seem to come from other worlds entirely, then hammering them into some odd pop fashion. The Bishops are in full form here, guitar and bass clashing and gnashing as ever they would and the late, great Charlie Gocher crashes through like a man possessed. At this point the band has become something of a totemic touchstone for psychedelic intensity, unhinged world music as shot through the prism of psych-folk and neo-African garage, but this album is the physical proof of why so many bands will tell you that Sun City was an eye opener for them. This is the record that gave Richard Bishop his knighthood. Its the record that’s pulling all the punches, because they’re laser focused and not on the verge of flying into oblivion at every corner here. Here they’re finding that spark that fed the beast and letting it fan to flame.

The original cut was always known for its tinny sound and this was rectified a bit on the ’93 CD version but here its back on vinyl and feeling as full as it ever could. For the heads in hte audience, this is an essential piece of the puzzle. And its good to have a reason to point a few people in its direction.

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Seth Bogart – “Hollywood Squares”

Seth Bogart’s dropped the Hunx and embraced his true name, though no one ever accused Bogart of ever pretending to be anyone other than himself. The album’s a barrage of pop-laced over consumption, art piece poses and general outsized weirdness in dayglow colors that seems like an extension of what Hunx’ tenure stood for and what Bogart’s visual art has evolved into. Its a bit like Pee Wee’s Playhouse (the collective consciousness of the whole house) wrote an album about the underbelly of sex and obsession. But there’s a part of me that knows that for all the big, weird fun, I’ve always loved Hunx for his campy take on the power pop formula and that’s exactly what the opener on his eponymous LP embraces. “Hollywood Squares” is like a bigger, shinier version of what Hunx had been pushing for on Gay Singles, its scrubbed up in sound but still riding that dreamy-eyed heat wave to your heart. The rest of the album’s the artpiece, but this is the mindrocker right here and mostly, I just want to turn it up and let it buzz.

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Pete Astor

The concept of this record is kind of an inter-generational mindblow. Pete Astor’s already lived a dozen lives and for his work in The Loft alone, I’ll remain forever grateful; seriously, “Up The Hill and Down The Slope” should be on every 80’s playlist. Also a member of fellow Creation stablers The Weather Prophets, the man’s got credentials to spare, so on name alone you should be hooked. Somehow though, he’s connected with one of our generation’s own jangle-pop savants, James Hoare (Veronica Falls, Ultimate Painting) and together they’ve mashed their minds to create an album that sounds reverently ripped out of time. The songs on Spilt Milk are cut from the cloth of the best of the class of ’86, but given modern twist of the knife.

For the most part the two are just keeping everything reclined and refined until the very last notes skip to the runout. By the time you get around to standout “Perfect Life” you’re absolutely hooked on this album, its the kind of song that feels like its always just been. Those songs that feel like they’re bound to end up in a Wes Anderson movie at some point. Hoare and Astor make perfect foils, and this album doesn’t feel like a hero worship so much as two janglers just recognizing the badges on their jackets across a crowded room and finding common ground once the tape starts rolling. Its just a slow breaking smile the whole way through.




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The Savage Young Taterbug – “The Paperstud”

If you’ve spent any time poking through the spools of the Night People roster (and you should, you really should) then its more than likely you’re already familiar with Charles Free’s Savage Young Taterbug. The label has released several tapes of his cracked folk implosions and now there’s finally a release coming to a turntable near you. “The Paperstud” creeps in like a lullaby, soft and sweet with Free’s vocals warbling over the top of music box melodies like a faded message recorded to private press and beat up by the mail en route to a relative overseas. Despite that rather dusty description, this is actually one of the more untarnished bits of the Taterbug universe and it proves that he’s always had a bit of a pop charmer floating under his tattered offerings. This one arrives as part of the Shadow of Marlboro Man picture disc, as usual, on Night People and wrapped up in some Sean Reed art goodness.

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Rangda

Three albums in and Rangda is still a dream trio of players, so wholly versed in their instruments that it seems hard to believe that they coalesce so rightfully. For fans of Sir Richard Bishop, his fingers are all over this one, quite literally, and a lot of the melodies on The Heretic’s Bargain play like Bishop solo tracks on steroids. The fluidity and frantic pace of strings is there, but electrified and given chase by Chasney’s guitar and Corsano’s expert beat. Songs are built on the rapid heart-skip of fingerpicks, but as proven on “The Sin Eaters” and the epic closer “Mondays Are Free At The Hermetic Museum” the group is built for the psychedelic breakdown, devolving those sprightly melodies into a blur of sticks and picks and squalls of feedback that threaten to consume time itself. There’s always been a quality to Bishop’s melodies that I think would lend itself to soundtrack work, as if he’s always composing scenes in his head, with the the guitar quickening footsteps down a hallway or poking its head around the corner trepedatiously. Here he invokes that same cinematic quality, only to add a more urgent sense of catastrophe in the corrosive breakdowns. The characters here might quicken their steps, but its likely in a chase away from unseen demons that win out in the end. Rangda is and has always been a behemoth and on their latest they prove that they’ll keep banging ’til they bring it all down around them.

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Death By Unga Bunga

DBUB have been cracking at the skull of the European garage scene since 2010, but its just now that they’re crawling into the US consciousness and its damn good timing, because Pineapple Pizza is their crispest set yet. The EU never went in for that whole lo-fi buzz bin. They’ve kept garage above board and crystal clear for years and this album reminds me in the best ways of the pure fun of the 2002 garage revival that put everyone back into the pit as a herald of rock’s return. The record has a pop heart that beats loud and clear, with hooks the size of Subarus locking down its nucleus and a relentless bounce of cheerfulness that makes this album border on pop punk in the fun department. Its at least a close cousin of the genre at heart, even if the band sees themselves as more of a garage band.

Don’t know who’s choosing the singles on this one, but despite the initial punch of “Tell Me Why” the best bits here are being overlooked. “Best Friends” casts its hooks in early on and “Make Up Your Mind” is a nodder as well and “Strangers From the Sky” is as big as they come. Catchy though it is, “Young Girls,” which did make the singles cut, makes me cringe in that way that Bad Sports’ “Teenage Girls” did a few years back. Its hard to sing along to a song that’s predatory at heart. No matter how “celebratory” you think your anthem of youth is, its creeping us all out. But that trip aside, this one’s a keeper and one of the most fun records to come onto the speakers in a long long time.

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Hockey Dad – “Can’t Have Them”

Hands down one of the most fun bands I saw at CMJ last year was Aussie duo Hockey Dad. The band have been clangin’ around their own Aussie scene, but with a album poised on Kanine shortly, they’re likely to make much more of a dent on US listeners in the months to come. Prior to the album, the single “Cant’ Have Them” seems to sum up their chilled brand janglin punk and the super saturated video to match is vibing pretty hard here. Honestly this is an album that I have high hopes on for the year and I’d say to keep all ears pointed at the Wollongong duo for some earworms that’ll nag you for the next six months.

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Expo 70

Justin Wright’s Expo 70 never disappoints around here, and his latest slab of sonic dread is no different. Laced with drones, heavy and leaden as cinder block bunkers, and shot through with a cosmic strain of psychedelia that unwinds as much as unravels the soul; Kinetic Tones is another massive album for the band. Forty minutes, four tracks and all dense sonic tumbles through the Kosmiche eye. The album creeps in slow and steady, with a desolate dronescape that dredges up all those Earth comparisons, then things expand into heady territory, shifting to sweeping alien psych that feels as removed from the concept of pop music as possible. There’s always a sense of foreboding present on Expo 70’s releases and it rears its head here as well. For its reliance on limited melodic motion, drone knows how to play the long game, and here the tonal shifts slowly grip the listener like low level panic until it feels like it might overwhelm.

The record is dedicated to an endangered species of Indonesian bird of prey, the Flores Hawk-eagle, and its almost easy to see how the life of such an animal might influence the pieces here. The feelings embedded in Wright’s drones are atmospheric, towering above us in a detached freedom, but the sense of loss, loneliness and uncertainty of survival run deep. The closer “Ascension From Dusk” has the kind of masterful mix of sour stomach dread and reluctant acceptance that made the best John Carpenter soundtracks stick long after the credits rolled. This one’s another keeper in Expo 70’s long (40+) discography.

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