The Stroppies – “Burning Bright”

This is another Aussie export that’s just not getting the love it should over here. The STroppies hooked up with UK label Tough Love last year for their debut, Whoosh and it was a subtle suite of jangle-pop buttered with a bit of synth that kept pace with the best releases of the year. The band’s hitting back this year with a mini-LP of sorts that’s only eight tracks, but still packs that same soft slap that made the album a necessary pickup. “Burning Bright’ turns down the heat of their jangle and replaces it with a rambling guitar line and some rolling ripples of piano for a song that helps relieve the ache inside. The song’s about a couple trying to find common ground and realizing that they’re just not going to align, but the split seems to happen amicably. Though there isn’t a clash of sparks, the melancholy sighs still sting a bit. Look Alive is out June 5th.



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Peel Dream Magazine

The narcotic pulse of Peel Dream Magazine envelops all on their second album for indie pop powerhouse Slumberland. The album drips further into the shoegaze showcase than most of the label’s fare but the band lets its roots creep out much further than the overarching banner of the genre might otherwise imply. With a heavy dose of Stereolab, Spectrum, and Seefeel built into their DNA, the group mixes propulsion with haze for a sound that’s beset with vertigo, but pulled from the whirlpool with a knotted rope of rhythm. Songs lock into circular structures that become dizzying as they unfurl, but ultimately delightful in their barrage of muted colors and dancing lights. Like carnival rides narcotized beyond recognition, the band’s sound is permanently protracted through a fisheye lens of ‘90s nostalgia. Its draped in oversaturated tones and the faint smell of dry ice creeping in from the corners of the mind, but all of the pieces lock together with a satisfyingly soft snap.

They took the rhythmic rites from Krautrock, as passed down through generations of bands bleaching out the original brittleness. They pad the sound further with pillowy, woolen riffs that run the guitars and organ through a dozen mazes of wires before they blanket the listener like a weighted quilt that eases the tension of daily — a pair of arms always ready to receive woes, qualms, and tears alike. The album is comfort food for a certain strain of listener that’s been traversing the haze their whole lives in search of permanent limbo — locking away pain, anxiety, and creeping dread in a womb of rippling mauve haze. The band’s debut had a lot of the same pieces working for it, but it left me wanting more. They’ve found the missing pieces on this one, though and its clear that from here on out they’re looking to steady the balance of comfortable cool and memorable hooks.




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Lewsberg

Dutch quartet Lewsberg will draw constant VU comparisons. Its inevitable, and largely, I don’t think the band is shirking the comparison. While they embrace the sparse, dry confidence of the band in their early days over the course of In This House, its unfair to hang this and this alone on them. They’re picking at quite a few other scars of the ‘60s and ‘70s as well and making it all simmer down to a rather tasty roux of rock that’s unfettered and yet instantly engaging. In the same way that the early aughts fought the rising tide of complexity in rock by embracing the lower rungs of fidelity and bringing the studio home, the band strips away any excess that may have built up in the past decade or so. They chip away production and chisel hooks down to their most primal qualities. They don’t forgo beauty or charm to do it, and that’s where the Velvets come in. The setup is simple, but in something like the swaying jangle of “At Lunch” there’s the same kernel of pop that made “Candy Says” a staple of mixtapes for generation after generation.

Elsewhere, the band falls into the same sonic baskets The Feelies, who were translating these impulses long before them, but still found a way to make the crisp collars of jangle pop feel necessary. The hum of the band’s gears is audible in the mix, but it only endears them further to the listener. The band wields the elastic snap of guitars and the brittle delivery of matter of fact hooks in the same manner that Parquet Courts have made their bedrock, but they soften the edges to make it seem almost effortless. Within the confines of In This House, despite it dredging up all these comparisons, there’s the feeling that the band just organically landed here. They’re unencumbered because they don’t feel the need to dress up the melodies with distraction. They’re straightforward with their songwriting because clutter makes them cringe and less is indeed more. There’s a reason that sounds like this have their own gravitational pull. We’re attracted to the sounds that don’t need us, the records that couldn’t seem to care if you listen or leave and that’s exactly what’s here. Its a record that exists of its own volition. If you engage, all the better, but Lewsberg are going to saw at the raw nerves valley that exists between punk, pop, and poetry all the same.



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Sachet – “Arncliffe Babylon”

Mid-last year Aussies Sachet released the standalone single “Nets,” which would not seem to be an actor piece and the title track of their upcoming album for Tenth Court. This week the quartet have a new low simmer jangler and its pushing Nets up the anticipated pile for sure. “Arncliffe Babylon” has an undeniable ‘90s quality to it, or rather, it has several that all pile together for a song that’s hitting several tips of the tongue at once. There’s the low-slung baseline that rips its riff straight out of slacker-punk pages – loping and bobbing with a bubbled indifference. The guitars are over toasted like an afternoon snack forgotten in the toaster over and just caught before the flames take hold. Then there’s the vocals of Lani Crooks, who’s delivery is wedged somewhere between the alt-rock quiet cool of Kay Hanley and Anna Waronker. There’s been plenty of ‘90s revivalism, but somehow the soft-punch and loosely braided melodies of Sachet feel like the right impulses are making their way back around. The album is out shortly on Tenth Court.


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The Cowboys

While its a weird time to have any music on the dock that’s not just an uneasy drone whirring down to the bone each day, there’s still plenty to love sluicing out of the slicer this week. Bloomington’s Cowboys have been on a personal streak over the last couple of years, kicking out a number of low-key tapes and transitioning to a run of LPs for Feel It / HoZac / Drunken Sailor recently. Their latest scatters some of their more rambunctious garage tendencies and introduces a more brittle brand of post-punk that’s in line with the rising stress levels in a world gone wrong. This pops up on the first single “The Beige Collection” and in turn on “Wise Guy Algorithm.” As the album eases in though, the band can’t help but let their usual shaggy charms seep into the sound once more. They were never built to be the bearers of bad news anyhow.

There’s sobering tones on the spiraling, lonesome, “A Killing,” but even this has a humanness to it that’s well in line with The Cowboys cache. After a short reprieve they find themselves swimming in the same swell later on with “Sweet Mother Earth” — a candlelit, wine-stained ode to diminished resources. They might have gone a bit far into the bottle on the following “Ninety Normal Men” which borders on home grown musical territory, but then again who’s to say they aren’t fucking with us as usual. The band excels at letting the corners of their smile soak into the songs. They’re not looking for a joke in everything, but they’re not above it. Yet when its called for the band brings a real twist of soul to garage, finding common footing with the likes of Black Lips and Royal Headache (though never reaching the alchemical brilliance of the latter). ]

The LP feels like the band in transition. It’s not quite reaching the slapdash superb moments of last year’s The Bottom of a Rotten Flower, but there are more than a few great impulses here. The hearts are peeking out of the sleeves just a tad bit more and they make it work. Interspersed with a couple of welcomed sunshine strums, some hip-shake and shimmy and sonic simmer that never boils over, the band continues to be ones to watch and probably wont’ shake that status anytime soon.


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Melenas – “No Puedo Pensar”

The new album from Spanish quartet Melenas finds the band exploring a few new sides, and while they’re rooted in the indie-punk scratch of many of their country’s brothers and sisters, hunkering down in Pamplona gives them a bit of a different bite from their compatriots in Barcelona. The band brings in a gauzy, shoegazey quality to “No Puedo Pensar.” Translating to “I Can’t Think,” the song centers around preoccupation to the point of constant distraction. The twinkling haze helps set the song aloft on a foam of pastel noise that lets the melodies hide and seek within the track, buffeting the feeling of being lost. This one is slowly worming its way into constant rotation over here. The new LP is out May 8th (dig)/June 5th (Physical) from Trouble in Mind.



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Flat Worms – “The Aughts”

This upcoming Flat Worms LP continues to be one of the year’s gnarliest scorchers and that’s only further proven with the release of “The Aughts.” With Steve Albini at the controls the band laid down a single-take topper that’s raw and ravaged and fueled by the crumble of a ruling class long gone. The song is built to break — rumbling tension that blows through the restraints in sickened guitar tones and ball peen drum damage. The band issues a very bare bones video, but it works well with the song’s lean and lithe vision of what rock might be in the rubbled remains of 2020. The band’s full length is coming April 10th on Drag City imprint God? Records. Definitely one to put on the list of necessary pickups.



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Arbouretum

While Arbouretum has undoubtedly been on the RSTB radar over the years, I have to admit that attention to them has wavered here and there. The band knocked down a couple of heavy catalog necessities with 2007’s Rites of Uncovering and 2009’s Song of the Pearl. The former bears the scars of songwriter Dave Heumann’s time with the brothers Oldham, and dips into the well of road-worn Americana with the best of ‘em. The latter grips a bit harder and finds its way towards the spirt of Crazy Horse. That’s not to say that the rest of the catalog isn’t worth your time (it certainly is) but these were the times I remember them grabbing me. They return with seat another instance of excellence on this year’s Let It All In, an album that arrives perhaps almost serendipitously in a wave of Cosmic Americana that the band’s Heumann has long been riding.

That others’ are just now catching up to his cracked leather vision of road-beaten folk rock proves that it wasn’t that the band was out of step, they were just waiting for the world to come back around to their senses again. With a double drummer setup, seasoned session players like Hans Chew popping in for some keys, and some of the most adventurous arrangements in their discography, this is the band bringing to a head a lot of the qualities that have made Arbouretum such stalwart travelers. The touching, spiritual melancholy remains in Heumann’s vocals. The slight singe of jam in the arrangements pushes through to breaking, which it finally does within the sprawling grandeur of the title track. In a solid catalog it stands out as a peak, garnering attention that was long overdue. If, perhaps like myself, Arbouretum has existed on the periphery of your ‘to play’ pile, let this one push it to the top. This is a welcome highlight among 2020’s Americana interests.



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PRIMO! – “Machine”

Another gem out of the Aussie cabal of excellent musicians today. In anticipation of their upcoming second album, PRIMO releases the driving jangler “Machine” — a sandpapered, yet loosely slung bit of post-punk if there ever was one. The band’s seemingly perfected their sound on this one, and it stands as one of the band’s most engaging songs yet. The standout single crackles with life — anchored by the brittle drum snap, worn-in guitars and those four-part harmonies that make it all gel just right. The band pairs the song with a motor-heavy video that has a ‘70s charm. There are plenty of Aussie exports that tend to get overlooked here and PRIMO’s last album got glossed over here, hoping that audiences abroad don’t make the same mistake twice.

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Cable Ties

On their sophomore album, and first for US label Merge, Aussies Cable Ties retain the fire in their bellies, but stoke it with a few helpings of melodic pop and a quiet contemplation that may have been missing in the past. Throughout their early singles the band was a sonic jackhammer, tearing through injustice, sexism and classism while spitting in the face of a world that long since turned its back on the youth of today. Their first album refined the point on their knives, and did pretty good job of sharpening the rest of their blades as well. With a wider canvas they spared no one who’d earned their ire, and it quickly became evident that anyone on the receiving end of Jenny McKechnie’s gale force vocal torrents were lucky to get out with only a racing heartbeat and a clutch of psychic scratches. On Far Enough, the band barrels into maturity with the same bile in their throats, but also a good deal of calm contemplation as well. They balance their poles of their personality, and now when McKechnie lays into the full force of her anger, its a payoff that hits the listener with the whiplash force that makes the pummel all that much more powerful.

She picks up the lash from so many punk predecessors, and while there’s definitely a cocktail of Tucker, Hanna, and Styrene as the easy to top notes of the bunch, she and the Ties have taken the full force of progressive punk into their tank and turned out a record that’s much more than the fumes of its fuel. They chum the waters with the brooding calm of “Lani.’ They swallow the constant lump in their throats on the dizzying “Pillow,” — driven by bubbles of bass and vocals that cool to a croon. They’ve even captured the complexity of where we lie in wait at the start of 2020 with “Hope” — a song that brims with doubt and desire. Its a societal push-pull with uncertainty, age, generational distance, and the ideals of activism in the face of mounting evidence that no amount of rivets will stem the tide when the dam bursts.

Woven between these careful shadings lie the paint-peeler anthems that nail the fuckers to the wall, and when we hear the crack of bone on concrete its a satisfying snap indeed. On “Self Made Man,” Sandcastles” and in the titanic swells of “Anger’s Not Enough” the band shows that their fire’s never faded. Where the other songs stoke the coals and let the glow warm the listener, here they prove that those coals can build to a blaze bound to burn. What’s best about Far Enough is that it needs time to settle into the system. Their early singles and debut were instantly gripping, but like the best works this one takes a few runs through before it all locks into place. The builds and crouches become clear, the abrasive progressiveness of “Anger’s Not Enough” snaps into their place on an album that’s not a wild swing at its aggressor, but a patient plan of attack that topples its targets in good time.



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