WOW

Still sopping up some of those releases that fell between the cracks of 2019 and this gem from Italy’s Maple Death hits nicely on a winter Friday. The record doesn’t rush, rooted in the kind of slinky, candle-lit club vibe that’s somewhere between art-house cinema and tragic jazz chanteuse-ism. There’s something of a lost soundtrack vibe as connective tissue on the tracks that span Come La Notte, a narrative that feels riddled with foul luck and lost love. The band creeps into each track with a careful cool, never breaking stride, never working at more than a sultry saunter. Even when the tempo tips towards acceleration as on “Morire Per Amore,” or “Occhi Di Serpente” the band still rides the rhythms with a detached air, calm as killers letting smoke curl around their heads as they aim the wheel, weapon, or gaze at their desired target.

The band is the very definition of buttoned down, aloof, each song is an icy experience that keeps the listener at arms length while also wrapping them in their own imaginary tale. There’s an overhang of Italian cinema at the heart of the record — punk but buy way of Morricone, Alessandroni, or Stelvio Cipriani. Recommended for the mental traveller or soul searcher looking for escapism with a side of quiet cool.



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Vacant Gardens – “Shorebirds”

Brand new music today from Glenn Donaldson (Skygreen Leopards, Art Museums, Reds, Pinks and Purples) and Jem Fanvu (Tune-Yards, Cavity Fang) under the banner of Vacant Gardens. Built on a cresting wave of static and gauzy fuzz, the song plunges Fanvu’s vocals in a soft-pink fog of sound that wafts in through ever opening. Shorebirds is a gorgeous, effusive song hovering on the edges of sleep and dream. The pair paint touches of Pale Saints and Curve alongside the usual shoegaze sightings of Slowdive. They embrace the lostness of sound, letting themselves slowly slide into dust over the course of the track. The record arrives in Spring 2020 on Tall Texan.

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Zann – Strange Ways / Inside Jungle

I may have mentioned its been a pretty great year for reissues. Not only have some essentials found their way back to fold, but some of the off-grid oddities have gotten a second life via diggers with far better noses than I. Case in point, Isle of Jura, an Adelaide Australia label has been digging into the experimental, disco, dub, and electronic bins for releases I didn’t even know I needed. They’ve brought new life to a private press odditiy from German band Zann. The band grew out of live experiments as a 7-piece, under the direction of ex-Konec member Udo Winkler. Winkler was looking to push further from the boundaries of post-punk and with Zann he’d done just that. The record embraces many of the same ideals as post-punk proper – a highly attuned sense of rhythm, dub textures, and instrumentation that might not fit within the rock ideals. It ditches for the most part, however, traditional song structure and floats into bouts of airy woodwinds and the LED blink of synth lights on many tracks. Zann in many ways bridges the divide between the worlds of Krautrok, Prog, and post-punk, finding itself at home in none of them, but tangential to all.

The record was laid down in a home studio with Winkler’s pal Hjalmer Karthaus and due to having not legitimate commercial concerns with the album, the pair saw no reason to pen themselves in stylistically. Though the initial live experiments that would touch off Zann began as far back as 1982, recording didn’t progress until 1988 and completion would find the band far out of fashion with the sounds of 1990 when it was finally finished. They’d pressed it themselves and sold it direct to fans interested in oddities at record fairs, but now thanks to Isle of Jura this record is back in the arms of a wider audience again. The record meanders, as might befit the kind of sessions that don’t seek approval or editing, but when the pair hit on Kosmiche Nirvana, it’s a beautiful thing.



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James Matthew VII

There’s been a wealth of psychedelic country flooding the speakers of late, and I for one couldn’t be happier. Adding to this year’s patch of low-valley shimmer is Canadian songwriter James Matthew (De Long) VII. A longtime studio vet and songwriter, he’d originally found his way to the front of the fray with fellow punk tuned pop magnate Ben Cook in No Warning before the pair went on to softer shores with Marvelous Darlings. From there he found himself subsumed into the session life contributing to Tina Turner and Bone Thugs n’ Harmony records all while still popping up on Canada’s finest (Young Guv, Yacht Club, Matthew ‘Doc’ Dunn LPs). All sounds like the perfect setup for an alt-country comedown, eh? Well, maybe. After branding himself Blind Matty he shifted to the slide-swapped shimmer of country for Burger Records, eventually dropping the moniker in favor of a tag closer to the name on his government issue.

His debut LP for Canadian powerhouse of psychedelic ephemera Idée Fixe Records sees him crystallize his vision for twang-tinted ramble. The record pulls at classic psych-country touches handed down from Flying Burritos, Country Funk and Mighty Baby while tumbling headlong into the cloud of smoke that surrounds latter day saints like Beachwood Sparks. De Long makes good on his twenty-odd years behind the strings for others, pulling in guest spots here from an enviable gathering of talent – Augie Meyers (Sir Douglas Quintet, Bob Dylan), Daddy Long Legs, Bill Cutler (Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir), John Catfish (Psychic Ills, Nude Party), Sean Dean (The Sadies), and Matthew ‘Doc’ Dunn (U.S. Girls, MV&EE). The stacked bench pays off with songs that feel lived-in and natural, heartbreaking and melancholy. The record pulls off the heat-shimmer psychedelia bouncing off the blacktop while still feeling like a leathered country classic that could easily stand another twenty years and sound timeless. This is yet another release swooping in at the tail end of 2019, so don’t let the rush to quantify the last eleven months overshadow one of the years’ best.



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Eric Osbourne – “Long Way From Home”

A sweet and soft spot from Fort Worth’s Eric Osburne prefaces his album out in January of next year. “Long Way From Home” is an airy folk wander that stops to linger a moment on the small details. Bolstered by a crack backing band that includes plaintive strings and features Angel Olsen on backing vocals, the song is sweet and could almost come off twee if Osbourne’s voice wasn’t lacqured in so much unspoken hurt. The track is packed with enough ennui to pin the listener to the floor – swooning and staring at the ceiling fain, letting the repetition of the blades blur the edges of the melancholy moorings that knocked the feet out from under you in the first place. I’m eager to hear where the rest of this goes, but for now, “Long Way From Home” seems perfect to keep on repeat until sleep takes away the sting of sadness.




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Dhidalah

Back in 2017 Tokyo power trio Dhidalah signed up with GuruGuru Brain and cut a crusher of an EP. Two sides, one song per side and each one a heavy amalgam of space rock and psych with some German Progressive overtones. It was a perfect little pocket universe that dangled the promise of more to come. The band and label seemed a perfect fit and it lit the fuse of expectation. Two years later, seemingly out of thin air the band touches down their debut LP with a whiff of ozone and engine oil. The record, like that EP is packed with lengthy cuts, fleshing this out to four heatseekers, besting the EP’s pervious two side-long kickers. The feelings remain the same from those early days with the air around the record is dense and acrid, swirling with noxious gases like something out of a mockup from ‘70s sci-fi pulp covers. The band eases into the scene with the cosmic creep of “Neuer Typ” before kicking the afterburners into high through the scorch-skidded “Adamski.”

They toggle back and forth between the creosote char of amplifier fry and the Zen of sensory deprivation hallucinations. While the heady excursions into the ether bring solace, their sunburn blasts are lethal and might just take the edge for the band’s more welcome face forward. Sons of Hawkwind that they are, though, there’s no constant crush. The band explodes into atomic particles and bounces signals between them in cooling winds before amazing strength once again. They’ve cracked the code on earthquake DNA and brought seismic rumble to each new terra firma they touch down upon. This kind of release snagging a late-November slot is exactly why the rush to year-end judgment should be avoided. You never know when an album’s going to shake the moorings this hard, and when it does, reverence is owed.




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Dragnet – “Man About Town”

Another hard-hitting punk nug from Australia, this time pulling together forces from several RSTB faves. Dragnet’s debut cassette dips into the boiled and buckled pool of fried-nerve punks rounding out time in Jarrow, Vintage Crop, The Floaties & House Deposit. Vintage Crop’s Jack Cherry lends his nasal pipes to the mix, throwing the songs in his bent tin turbine until they come out almost as freaked-out and fraught as the last couple of drops from the Crop themselves. “Man About Town” blows out the door with a sweaty signature before dropping down into a wrecked and unspooling midsection. The band plays at skirting the rails perfectly, always seeming like they’ll just tumble if they stop, so they go faster with a wildly confident gleam in their eyes that says they’re more than serious about skidding through the stops and letting luck keep ‘em from getting crushed by oncoming traffic. The tape’s gonna be a hard one to come by (50 copies) so swipe them quick or pick up that digital if you’re overseas. Anything coming out of the collective camp of these folks is damn well worth putting down the dollars.




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Channelers

It’s probably a bit obvious to state that cruising through the junkship, scroll-addled future of 2019 comes with a few stressors. Its hard to block out the noise and settle, even when ladled full-stop into the arms of nature it’s hard to let the brainwaves cool and enjoy the sounds and soft green light. The latest release from Channelers, aka Sean Conrad, takes a gentle swipe at easing that tension, or at least placing the listener in a sealed containment unit of perpetual bliss. Conrad lifts the burble of streams, the chirp of birds, the calm, yet vibrant rhythms of nature for his own use and drops them into his own imagined landscapes of synth float and dulcimer yawn. It’s not new territory to create utopian space via the musical landscape, but Conrad is deftly weaving his field recordings with just the right amount of meditative melt.

The Depth of Rest plays on the listener’s core of calmness, evoking what Conrad claims is a form of magical realism – virtual reality splayed on the backs of the eyelids and reaching into the upper echelons of the human condition. The record isn’t wallpaper or noise cancellation, it’s a full reset of the psyche. Between the imagined woodland respites and streamside oases listeners begin to feel the weight lift off of their minds and the everyday grip of sociopolitical body horror release for as long as they exist inside Channelers’ realm. It always ends, as I suppose it must, but while the red light of playback glows, its nice to be alone in this cocoon of calm.




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Arbor Labor Union – “Flowerhead”

Arbor Labor Union are making a strong showing on the Cosmic Americana spectrum with their latest for Arrowhark. The band issued a low-key LP for Sub Pop a couple of years back, but even if that one’s knocking around your shelf, don’t try to lock ‘em down just yet. Where I Hear You was doused in the tough-skinned garb of alternative fallout, but the band is now embracing a looser sound that’s got a great deal of sand in its shoes and Autumn sunshine in its veins. “Flowerhead’ sees the band in full flights of choogle, hitting on some common notes with Garcia Peoples and One Eleven Heavy, but still finding room to squeeze out their own niche in the resurgence of the shaggy shores of jam. The song’s got a vibrant energy that threatens to spill the 1080p bounds of the collage-crammed video for the standout track. The record’s on the way February 7th from Arrowhawk.



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Sir Richard Bishop & Ed Yazijian

There are always currents quietly bubbling under the collective consciousness – tributaries of sound that go largely unnoticed by a buying public, but for those who are tapped to the right frequencies they are as vital as any. One such current happens to be Unrock’s collaborative 12”s with the brothers Bishop. Dubbed the Saraswati Series, the collection is one that should not be overlooked, despite its low media profile. The ex-Sun City Girls have been working with a plethora of talented musicians, splitting sides and collaborating to create new worlds of acoustic and experimental stringwork. Alan has appeared under his Dwarfs of East Agouza banner, hooking up with Maurice Louca (Karkhana)  & Sam Shalabi (Land of Kush, Karkhana). Richard, meanwhile has collaborated with W. David Oliphant (Maybe Mental) and the series has split sides with Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt and Karkhana with Nadah El Shazly. No entry has been less than a whirlwind of stings and sound that dazzles with a technical prowess that’s only supplanted by entrancing melodies and thrumming harmonics.

All of this preamble brings us to the latest entry in the series which sees Richard connecting with Cul De Sac’s Ed Yazijian for collaborative pieces laced with guitar, lapsteel, tenor guitar, piano and traditional Indian instrumentation. The three untitled pieces buzz and ramble, scrape through the ceiling of nighttime temperament and bed down in a glow of ethereal beauty. The two play off of one another as a seamless soul, insistent in their approach to touching the nocturne node and setting off a thick fog of permanent midnight doused in cold humidity. The air around this record seems so still that it might shatter like thin frost on tree branches (cold despite its Indian bent). The record revels in intricate arcana that seems forever out of reach. The whole series is beguiling, but this remains the pinnacle of Saraswati so far. Fans of SRB know what to do. Get into this as soon as possible and let it wash over you regularly.



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