Jantar

I’ve had Jantar on my radar for a while but never gotten a chance to give one of their releases a proper review. The latest takes a bit of a shift away from some of their dreamy, cinematic psych landscapes and tumbles headlong into Canterbury-gilded psych-folk. Naturally, I was drawn right in. With visions of Gong and Soft Machine floating through their heads, the band nail down just the right balance of instrumental aptitude vs. whimsy, a tricky proposition that can often get muddled trying to translate that particular parcel of the past to the current psych landscape. Frankly, aside from De Lorians, most have missed the mark pretty heavily in their attempt. Like that outfit, Jantar find themselves lost in the angular tangle of lavender-scented prog and revealing in rusted greenhouse glow of moss-bloomed riffs.

They soar into view on the eleven-minute burble of “immram,” setting their ambitions high for the sonic contortions they set out to conquer on Sempronia. Baroque keys make way for the oaken brambles of guitar, with the band’s vocals percolating atop the delightful aural foam with an unabashed academic indulgence seems to lock onto their affinity for the more buttoned up prog set quite perfectly. As they settle into the prog rabbit den even further, they find themselves exploring the bent refractions of “The Appian Way,” another longform stunner that dispenses with the knotted riffs and lets groove slide past their collections of woodwinds for an ornate funhouse wander. The album slots into the ever-evolving Drowned Lands / Feeding Tube roster quite nicely, giving shape to the burgeoning label’s commitment to extensions of the Black Dirt legacy. Jantar previously crossed paths and releases with Black Dirt Oak (the studio’s in-house supergroup) and its great to see them popping up as extended family on the label’s third release. While the band has deep roots and an excellent catalog, this is definitely one of their most rewarding releases yet. Fans of any of the aforementioned psych tributaries would do well to snap this one up quick.

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Steady Sun – “Truth Is A Needle / To Lash Around”

While the soul half of the label will always garner the attention, Daptone’s rock Imprint, Wick, has long set itself up as a discerning voice for the less obvious choices. Their latest single comes from New York’s Steady Sun, a psych trio that jettisons heaviness and bombast for an aqueous brand of glimmering psychedelia. A-side “Truth is a Needle’ floats in a rotoscope haze, allowing the listener to get dizzy on the motion and the fumes from a fresh coat of brightly lacquered paint, layered in curled patterns. Dipped in a bit of soul-glo and threaded through the warm kaleidoscope for good measure, its only matched by the flip that leans heavier into the rhythm, letting the watery psych take a touch of fuzzed creosote into the mix. Excited to see where they spread from here. Wick has a habit of laying out standalone singles, but if this is the beginning of an ambitious LP for the label, I’m gonna keep an ear cocked.

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Quality Used Cars

The past decade has been fertile for the Aussie underground, with a new wave of guitar bands soaking up their not to distant indie past and melding it with wafts of US and UK jangle-pop. Francis Tait has spent some time bouncing between live lineups of quite a few Aussie ramblers over the past few years (The Vacant Smiles, Miller Jukes) but now he’s heading up his own crew as Quality Used Cars. The band immediately separates from a good swath of Tait’s peers, fusing the scuffed OZ indie to a rain-soaked American country twang. While Francis’ vocals don’t necessary fade into the horizon — bringing to mind the wordy wryness of Scott and Charlene’s Wedding and Courtney Barnett — the songs themselves are adorned with plenty of studio comforts that cradle his warbled croon. Pillowy guitars, soft-hearted synths, and amber-hued background vocals all lay out a melancholy wonderland within the confines of the twelve inches of Good Days / Bad Days.

Over these past few years I think I’ve become so used to the paired-down Aussie sound that entering the fertile ground of Good Days / Bad Days is like a cool drink of water after not realizing how parched you’ve become. Tait’s past has seen him wander through more than a few stylistic eddies and while the country shadow looms large, there’s some folk and even a lilt of ‘50s vocal pop at play here. Like the confessional curiosity from Martin Frawley a few years back, this is one of those records that just sits in the brain and ruminates — a Sunday morning companion, an end of the night tab closer. It’s a strong debut that isn’t shy about embracing its own love, and consumption of music as a means of finding one’s way in life. Maybe what’s most striking is that Tait seems like one more obsessive listener reasoning his woes through the dusted needle. We can sense one of our own.

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Feeling Figures – “Person of Tomorrow”

Got a new cut today from Montreal’s Feeling Figures. The band comes on huge and hovering for this short format killer debut. “Person of Tomorrow” gnaws its teeth on a thick froth of guitars, pushing the line between sinewy ‘90s indie and an underlying plume of shoegaze haze. While the band bites into some of the bent worldview of Eric’s Trip and Chavez, they also wind their way through lesser scratched surfaces, evoking Aussie indies Fur and Suprette at times. With a riff made to rattle windows and honeyed vocals that play on the Deal sisters’ ability to surf above the fray, trading in sweetness with a smirk, this is a pretty strong statement out of the box. The band’s first single is out April 2nd from Celluloid Lunch.

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Bill MacKay & Nathan Bowles – “I See God”

The new collab LP from Bill MacKay and Nathan Bowles already hit out string with the instrumental romp “Joy Ride,” but that’s only one shade of their new album. While the last cut loped along on the players pushing each other down a sunny hillside, the new tune, “I See God” explores their more somber side. The song is equally pulling from bluegrass and gospel to form a county square dance closer that’s quiet and contemplative. The song, originally by husband and wife duo E.C. and Orna Ball is given a more choral feel with the two male voices replacing the original give and take between the couple. Though they match E.C.’s sprightly fingerpicking, fleshing the song out a bit with a bit of organ orchestration. Its a tender old time slice of the past that’s given a new life sighing out of the strings of Bowles and MacKay. 2021 has no lack of guitar greats on the way, but this one should be pretty high on the list. Keys is out April 9th from Drag City.

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Styrofoam Winos

The debut from Nashville’s Styrofoam Winos has been longtime coming, with the band forming in 2016 sharing local stages along the way with Josephine Foster, Bill Direen, and Simon Joyner among others. While the band roots in a classic core of indie that threads through the Matador/Homestead axis from the ‘90s and on out through Kiwi clutches that bump against The Chills and The Bats. Yet the band never lets their love of the past overwhelm, boiling it all down into a pop-flecked simple syrup that informs their sound with just the right dose of nostalgia. With a strong core of players, the members toss songwriting and vocal duties back and forth, working from heartsick croon to resigned sighs with toes into a hint of wobble-pop. The overview of their eponymous LP is as varied as the splashed assemblage on the cover.

When the band lets their tender underbelly show, the tempos tame and the sweater weather seams show through behind their usually sunny veneer. Especially with Lou Turner at the helm, the songs pick up just a touch of their native Nashville twang and an unshakeable cool that’s been scarce since those early Courtney Barnett cuts. The obvious allusion seems to be to Yo La Tengo, which feels on the nose, but I’m damned if I can shake the comparison fully. The trio share the Matador greats’ aesthetic makeup and general triumvirate of songwriting strength. Odds are if you’ve been an YLT fan, this will certainly hit a few familiar notes. Another stunner in the Sophomore Lounge roster. The label has proven nothing if not the barometer of indie that’s been simmering under the surface and this one should have a few higher tier labels looking to fill out their roster.

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Astute Palate

This one’s definitely not getting the attention it deserves within the riff ravaged scrawling of the psychedelic press. The band started almost on a whim, beginning as a weekend one-off show between friends, then winding up one of ’21’s more savagely burnt offerings. Richie Charles, owner of Richie Records (which is releasing this slab) invited David Nance out to play a solo show in Philly, knowing that he couldn’t get the whole band out and make it work. What transpired instead was Nance traveling to Philly and hooking up with Charles, Emily Robb, and Dan Provenzano to form a new band for the show at Ortlieb’s with some new Nance material in tow. The show opened into a weekend recording session at Robb’s studio and Astute Palate’s storm rendered debut is what’s been left to all of us from the whirlwind of that weekend.

While Nance had just finished the more shaved down Staunch Honey and was getting ready to release it to the world around this time, Palate’s LP actually stands as more of a sibling to his previous record, 2018’s Peaced and Slightly Pulverized . The recordings are raw, with no sense of rifling through myriad takes to find the right polish. The knuckle-dented riffs roil the listener from the first time they hit the tape and there’s a sense that the studio and the listeners are peering into a private synthesis between players that was hidden away before they debuted on stage. A lot of the credit goes to Robb, who was recording seamlessly in the background. Her studio acumen and subtlety give Astute Palate’s record the scratched yet searing feeling that instantly places it among some of Nance’s most vital records. The relative releasee vacuum that this one has had may have stemmed from the fact that the digital slipped out during the chaos of December, but the LP itself arrives this month and if you’re a Richie Recs or Nance Fan, this one should be on your shelf soon.

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Silver Synthetic – “In The Beginning”

Loved the debut EP from New Orleans chooglers Silver Synthetic last year and with “In The Beginning,” the band announces their first LP for Third Man coming on April 9th. The song follows the debut’s sunbaked country saunter — a warm gulf stream gust of Cosmic Americana that’s steeped in twang with just a hint of West Coast vibe and running through it. While its not easy to shake the salt air out of the song, at its core there’s a heatstruck, back porch ease to “In The Beginning” that feels soaked in humid Southern summer nights with nothing on the docket the next day. Despite its title, the cut’s a bit of an end of party tune, winding down with the last couple of stalwarts still taking in that star-borne vista and feeling set for the moment. The band’s eponymous debut sets them up nicely to slot in among the current cosmic revival, clipping a couple of stunners from the EP and setting them up with a whole bunch of new favorites as well. Recommend you keep an eye on this one.

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Donald Miller

While he’s been shredding the fabric of the universe for years in Borbetomagus, among other like-minded noise/free jazz outlets, Donald Miller joins VDSQ’s latest crop of acoustic guitar offerings to show another side of his stringwork. Diverging greatly from the rest of the roster though, Miller’s work doesn’t follow a set school, but instead plunges the fingerpicked blues through turbulent tributaries away from structure and predictability. In flurries of notes that come like snow squalls his pieces surround the listener with a barrage of picked strings, sawed and stretched passages that whip like wind funneled through a canyon, and punctured stops that work a visceral grit into the self-winking album titled Transgression!!!.

While certainly abstract to its core, the record seems to take at least emotional inspiration from a variety of sources, with most (though not all) songs finding themselves dedicated to notable players from Charlie Patton and Jack Rose, with one nodded to Manson Family alum Squeaky Frome. Its interesting to hear Miller wrestle with beauty and calm. There are moments when the record finds a meditational even keel, but the natural forces within both Miller and his 12-string muse submit to the construction from destruction impulse that cycles through the cosmos every time. VDSQ has unleashed a trio of excellent guitar impulses this month and Miller’s latest is a force that needs to be experienced.



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Jeffrey Silverstein – “River Running By”

One of the joys of last year was the ambient country-flecked album, You Become The Mountain from Jeffrey Silverstein and he’s returned just a few months later with an EP that continues to carve out a calm respite from the world. Atop a loping click of drums, Silverstein lays out a measured piece, sanded with his purred vocal and dipped in the sunset glow of Barry Walker’s pedal steel. Walker’s slides are matched by Silverstein’s patient amble on the strings as the song wears away the rough patches of the soul. The song was inspired by the concept of “blue mind” — the meditative state of consciousness brought on by proximity to water. Silverstein sought to replicate the serenity that engulfs the mind in this state with the song’s sanguine lilt. Like Silverstein’s previous album, “River Running By” injects a cosmic sense of ambient float to country and folk, a song silently slipping into the upper atmosphere with each passing moment. The EP, Torii Gates is out April 16th, again at Silverstein’s previous home Arrowhawk Records.

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