Ariel Pink

It’s been kinda a while since an Ariel Pink album graced RSTB, and it’s definitely been a bit since one found its way onto my shelf. Following the cemented syrup-psych-in-boat-shoes classic that was Before Today Pink never quite hit the bar I was hoping for. Mature Themes was to many a defiant slap in the face to those who thought he’d go full-scale pop. For every “Only In My Dreams” he penned a “Schnitzel Boogie,” and hey, the man’s never promised anything other than personal indulgence, so why would we expect any less? It was, for all intents and purposes, an Ariel Pink album through and through, but the promise that it left hanging still stung.

2014’s Pom Pom didn’t deliver the stone cold shiver-shod studio deep dive either. Rather it explored more lo-fi freakouts with a Beefheart crust and left plenty of elbow room to wander stylistically. So here we arrive at Dedicated To Bobby Jameson, a cheeky reference to this very quandary of promises supposedly left unfulfilled. For those unfamiliar, Jameson himself was poised for accessible fame in the ’60s but found it always just out of reach – getting mixed in a twist of bad management, questionable decisions and drugs. So, in case there was ever a line of thinking that Pink wasn’t self-aware, quash that notion right here and now.

With that in mind, one would expect this to be Pink’s own further ‘fuck you’ to anyone looking for transcendence. Not so, it would seem. There’s still a trademark style dial-shift to the album that’s pure Pink, but in every aspect this comes off as an record planned and planed to its core to be a pop artifact. The psychedelic swaddling feels like it only accentuates the smoother moments. There are very few instances when he seems to need an external editor to whittle the album to its core (see again: Pom Pom). Instead this winds up being one of Pink’s most enigmatic albums yet. The pop is as chewy as ever – exemplified by the trio of “Feels Like Heaven,” “Another Weekend,” and the title track. The concept ties it down and the Robert Beatty artwork can’t be beat. This might be as close to closure as I could ever hope for. It might also be the album he’s always hinted was lurking in the heart of the beast. Or maybe that’s still yet to come. Either way, this is a definite step in the right direction.




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Omni’s Frankie Broyles on China Crisis – Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms – Some People Think It’s Fun To Entertain

After splitting from Deerhunter, Frankie Broyles has taken a tumble through post-punk’s most angular avenues with his band Omni. The band’s debut for Trouble in Mind was a loving run at Television, The Voidoids and Wire, a sound which they only crystallize on their follow-up this year. For the latest Hidden Gems, Boyles takes a run at an album he feels has been left out of the public conversation, the synth-pop debut from Brits China Crisis. If the album’s cover is any indication, they’ve at least lifted a bit of aesthetic vision from the band but Frankie explains how the music has seeped into his own life below.

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Flesh World

Seems to be a week for goth stomp around here and Flesh World know how to streak the drawn curtain dynamics with enough jangle and dreampop to give Into The Shroud is own space at the table. Their sophomore album only cements their foray into the sound, proving that Jess Scott’s melange of influences can all sit perfectly alongside one another in a nostalgia daydream. They dip into the jangle-pop that informed here former band, Brilliant Colors, but don’t hang on the genre as a defining trait. Instead, with a new rhythm section in tow, the band takes swooning romanticism and muddies it with hollow-eyed synths and a breathless pound that sweeps away the streaks of sun that try to find their way into the mix.

Though, that’s not to say that Into The Shroud isn’t without its hooks. The title track alone steps out of the haze for a fawning chorus that would almost crack a grin if it weren’t white-knuckling its way through a post-punk deluge. The spring-tight aesthetics pair well with Scott’s exploration of the Bay Area’s gender politics, literary history and musical history each flung into a whirlwind rotoscope and sketched out in shades of black and white.

With their pairing it becomes clear that Scott Moore has proven to be the muse Scott always needed, thickening her sound with a wave of perfectly smeared synth and exploring the darker reaches of her songwriting. With their Dark Entries debut, the band steps up to take a swing at the upper reaches of the ’80s cult pop pantheon and they come out feeling like they’ve connected nicely.



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Zola Jesus

If, at this point, you’re on the fence about the greatness of the new Zola Jesus record, then you’ve clearly not heard any or all of Okovi. Nika Rosa Danilova’s codifying moment comes in the form of 40-minutes of pleasure and pain that wrench the very soul from the listener. She then douses said soul in a harrowing darkness that explores loss and mortality, while showering it in the light of one of this decade’s most powerful and uplifting voices.

The record shows a marked return to Danilova’s darker instincts, she blends her exploration of personal tragedies with a shift from Taiga’s pop aspirations and back towards the body flattening atmospheres of the Stridulum EP. However, she incorporates lessons gleaned along the way, injecting the darkness with a stadium sized feeling that’s full of a hope that peeks from the walls of despair. She’s also taken the soaring orchestral swells of her re-interpretive album Versions and applied them liberally to an album proper, giving Okovi a grandness that’s angelic in its exploration of life’s consistent lean towards heartbreak and loss.

Again, I’m by no means going to be the first to tell you this is a monumental achievement by an artist who has spent a career consistently crafting high water marks. If the top 40 was too blind to see what they had in her turn towards accessibility, then they’ll likely miss out here as well, but they’d be remiss. Taiga was accessible in its move towards the light, but Okovi is universally touching in its dive into the dark. We’re all besieged by the despair of familial loss, the hairpin turns of life at any chaotic moment, the overwhelming face of the cosmic inevitable. However, Danilova has distilled those feelings into a glowing beacon of an album that we should all be able to relate to, and deep down, that we all need.




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Ecstatic Union – “Illuminator”

L.A. psych rockers Ecstatic Union slipped a solid release out on Lollipop recently and their single “Illuminator” encapsulates the feel good summer vibes that soak the entire record. Huge pop hooks are doused in the kind of glowing ’60s pop that permeated the Elephant Six catalog, taken even bigger by graduates like Beulah and The Sunshine Fix. The video has fun with a rapscallion beach rat character that brings a smile to any viewer. The rest of the record is worth a run as well. Get down with some sunshine vibes before they’re all gone.



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Mixtape: Only After Dark

Now I know that glam is well worn territory. You could spend a day just running down lists of essentials – each telling you that Marc Bolan’s glittery tears started it all and shuffling well worn cuts with a forgotten gem or two in the mix. I’m not going to even begin to claim to sweep up all the glam essentials, though there are certainly a few of the ten foot high stompers on here. This, is more about sweeping the listener up in a specific ’70s night: getting dumped, rallying with friends and losing yourself in the big, stupid beat until daybreak. Book-ended by a couple of power pop gems that act as sunset and sunrise, this is just a feelgood vision of hard drinking stupidity that slaps a smile on your face. Check out the tracklist and mix after the jump.

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Beaches

Aussie psych unit Beaches has built a carefully paced career, releasing just three albums since 2007. Doesn’t sound like much of a feat, but in an album a year environment (or five a year like some of their countrymen), the editing process doesn’t always come so naturally these days. Second of Spring plays to their strengths – atmosphere and hypnotic chug lead the way. They drop a dose of shoegaze, Krautrock, and psych in the blender then whip to a froth. The resulting double album is a hazy mountain of sound that proves to push the band to new heights.

Perhaps most refreshing is that, for a band that’s somewhat rooted in pop, this isn’t just an overstuffed collection of tracks that found their way floating to the top of the pile. They construct an arc of tonality that pushes past hooks and into using the album as environment, a larger canvass to work out their sonic swirl. They swerve through eddies of echo, with vocals so lost in the surrounding swamp they barely register. The next minute they kick up the rhythms to a motorik grind that practically pushes the angles into neon relief. Then they smack down the obfuscation altogether for a crush of pop, that’s certainly not pristine, but shining of its own accord.

The duality of shrouded vs. palpable, gauzy vs. catchy is what drives the album into psych-pop’s pantheon, marking this as the band’s best. Its no slight listen and that makes it worth going back to for repeated examinations of the elaborate folds the band pulls off here. Beaches have spent time honing their craft and it shows on Second Of Spring. If you’re looking for a breezy run, maybe hit up another Beach themed outfit, this one’s gonna make you take the climb to find the perfect wave.




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Wayfaring Strangers: Acid Nightmares

Numero never really duffs an opportunity and so it comes to pass that the archival label’s dive into the thicker, fuzzier and less comforting half of acid rock scores some solid one-offs from the gilded age of Hippiedom. Scooping up bands that seem to have gotten into more than a few bad batches and spent the evening flipping between Growers of Mushroom and Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come until inspiration struck. Run the whole thing through a tetanus shot level of fuzz and grime and you’ve pretty much got me on the line.

The most impressive aspect has to be that with a mounting glut of psych comps out there this could easily rehash a host of fun freakers with extra mileage in their “nugget” credentials. Instead, as comes expected from Numero’s obsessive-compulsive tape bin dumpster diving and ability to stick to themes, they nail the bummer psych vibe and stuff the package with a smattering of new names. Not missing a beat, the collection is wrapped in a black light poster of a cover that’s ripping on the bummer psych vibes in glowing technicolor. There are no sunshine hits here, but for those looking to run the dial on exhaust fume downer psychedelics – welcome home.



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ORB – “A Man In The Sand”

ORB are returning to the fold again, picking up their Sabbath-drenched saddlebags from the the stables of Flightless and Castleface. Though the album proper is drenched in a thick fuzz, shining up some old favorites into truly towering fare, they seem to be leading with an approach that highlights their willingness to bend from the expected lean on doom fuzz. The first track is rightly compared to their labelmates King Gizzard, and while it’s worthwhile knotty psych, it hews too close to their contemporaries’ sound. This one riles up the powerfuzz Syd Barett approach, which actually comes off like an S.F. Sorrow-era Pretty Things b-side. It sits alongside the album’s bong rattlers as a nice bit of respite and gives them some range. For those hoping that ORB still had some power in their pedals, fear not (more on that later). For now, find some joy in Alex McLaren’s kaleidoscopic cut-n-paste video which does the track well.



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Greg Fox

So the backstory on this one has to do with Fox rigging up software (via Sunhouse) that reacts to to his drumming, breathing the life from his motion into virtual instrumentation. Frankly, we’re pretty much all out of our depth on the physics here, but the emotional response is much further reaching and harder felt. The Gradual Progression nods to the free flowing works of Don Cherry and Pharoah Sanders while tugging at the the slightly more reigned moments of Sun Ra, but Fox doesn’t merely paint by erratic numbers in the shades of his heroes – he updates the free jazz workbook with a few moves that are distinctly his own.

Where “Catching an L” hums with the same sax energy that would be roundly reminiscent of another age of dissocitative jazz, Fox’s beats crunch with a sound that plays to his post-rock connections, bludgeoning with precision and bite. And that song actually stands as an outlier of defined pound among an album riddled with drumstick bullet holes and cascades of rhythmic ripple that fling themselves far afield of anything that feels moored to solid ground in the stream of consciousness. Fox’s pieces aren’t just complicated drum primers for NYU undergrads looking to notch their way into a teacher’s field of vision. Fox wields rhythm and his associated action painted tones with a scientists aim and an artist’s heart.

The album is dazzlingly complex, but never suffers from feeling weighted down in technology. Far from it, the album’s synth tones breath with wonder worthy of OMNI documentaries, the percussion – even when electronically generated – tumbles in ecstatic bursts that feel alive with human emotion, struggling to contain the joy and pain that Fox channels to his chosen surface. In The Gradual Procession, Fox has created a modern mountain of emotional work that transcends the touchy tags of free jazz and experimental electronic to become simply essential listening.




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