Ulaan Passerine

I’ve had a longstanding run on the works of Steven R. Smith (Hala Strana, Ulaan Khol, Ulaan Markhor) and he’s never one to disappoint. The veteran guitarist specializes in carving emotion out of frothy noise walls with the vibrations of strings. His works are barren, harrowing, and sometimes laid down at the feet of desperation, but he’s never without slivers of light penetrating the mix. The latest as Ulaan Passerine, a somewhat more pastoral vision of his Ulaan line of projects, picks up the grey-hued yoke and absorbs dread and drought into two sidelong tracks of parched, gnawed-through doom-folk.

The title track flirts with the pluck of guitar before sawing deep into the growling bow work that permeates its majority. The song is almost entirely shrouded from light, dusk-deep in a subtle, yearning need that bleeds sand from the bones. It’s not anchored to pain so much as it’s scarred by it. The ruts of hurt show deep on its face, but in the end the piece raises its chin to the cold and stumbles on elegantly, beautifully with the burden on its back and not a tear stain on its cheek.

The second side is pulled out of the soil some, a blissful hope tasting the first drops of rain in years. Smith knows how to build suspense, tension, darkness, and light into his works and he proves that in his hands the low roll of grey clouds can be a beautiful scene. Both sides capture an artist at the pinnacle of his game, cornering a a niche between folk and neo-classical that’s never going to enrapture the masses, but will light the way for the right kind of lost souls.




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King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

Well, look at that, just in under the wire if you’re counting. Two digital albums with physical release dates in 2018 are on the docks but all in all the tally’s come in with the Gizz ringing in the new year five albums richer. Their latest is more of a mop up of sorts than an album with any prevailing theme, at least along the level that the band often maintains. It’s proof that they don’t have any true stumbles in their batch, but there’s definitely a sort of clearinghouse feeling to this one, like they might have had some bits that were kicking around waiting for a home. That’s actually self-admitted, with the band’s Stu McKenzie claiming that the album was more “song-oriented” than “album oriented,” which hasn’t really been the case for the prog-psych think tank since 2014’s Oddments.

Like that album, Gumboot Soup feels loose and without restriction. The songs are free to swerve through the band’s own psych swamp, touching on jazz-flecks and fuzz-cakes in equal measure. Sketches of Brunswick East aside, this is actually some of the lightest fare the band have approached this year, which is always kind of fun in my book. I’ve long been a fan of the band’s waterlogged take on psychedelia – swampy, cold, and clammy but without a match light in sight. They’ve spent several albums looking for the spark that would burn down this world and its nice to feel them lean back into their squirming weirdness for a spell.

Gumboot sees the band get slinky, with Ambrose’s flute snaking as a through line for some true gems here. Song-wise there are some great downbeat moments here. They kick things the opposite direction as well, though, with “The Great Chain of Being” acting as one of the band’s most outright metal offerings, feeling like they might have something much heavier in the books at some future point. Tell you what, if the winds bid a Sleep/King Gizzard collaboration I’m all for it, and this might be the foothold to that reality. Similarly “All Is Known” is straight out of the Nonagon playbook, pulling off their usual tricks amiably. The record, for all its inconsistencies, houses no lack of essentials for the collector and curator of King Gizz’ house of psychedelic oddities. If you’re already in the clubhouse then this should feel like eleven new pieces of a puzzle that’s constantly unfolding in real time. Can’t wait to see what this year holds. Though maybe they should sleep.



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Magic Bullets – Young Man’s Fancy

Young Man’s Fancy, a deposed album from lost summer janglers Magic Bullets, is only from about a decade ago but the influence stretches back to the heart of new wave and jangle-pop. It feels like a collection wrenched out of time, heir apparent to records from Echo to Orange Juice to The Chesterfields and, naturally, The Smiths. The band is nothing if not studied in it’s appropriation of their predecessors’ complete trappings. The members would dilute their devotion to this level of absolute homage with stints in Terry Malts, Real Estate, The Mantles, Girls, Dominant Legs and Wild Nothing, but here, lodged between their two albums, they are rabid in their affection and affectation of the ’80s own heartbeats.

While the stylistic devotion is definitely something that dogged the band, they wore their love on their sleeve, wholeheartedly starry eyed but striving. The songs crib largely from material that would end up on their sophomore release, but in earlier forms here, it’s’ still pristine but somehow also unpolished in it’s delivery. The band would splinter years later with members going on to larger acclaim, but this is a picture of their youth incarnate. Corey Cunningham’s (Terry Malts, Business of Dreams) Parked in Hell has a tape version of the collection available now for those that have missed out. Close your eyes and any of these could slot right into a mix of your own favorite gems from the ’80s underground, and as a whole, its pretty solid as scrappers looking to capture a time they missed.






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Booji Boys

Usually it’s time to lull into that nook of time between end of year lists and the first creaks of January releases, but looks like 2017 still had some fight left in her with the release of Booji Boys’ latest LP on Christmas Day. The second record from the Halifax band sees them careening down a similar speed curve as their past work – somewhat out of control, mussed, fussed and finding solace in those cracks that appear in their veneer. The band might take some naming influence from Devo, but sonically they’re ripped from a crud-fi, 8-track version of pop-punk that straddles garage like a well-worn saddle. They bang these tunes out like a mid-90s band cramming as many tracks as possible onto both sides of seven inch for gas money and it sounds great to hear them go for it.

Maybe that’s what’s most endearing about the band, they’re not busting the bar or breaking any molds but they have a tenacity about them that’s stuffed full of pure nostalgia for skate-punk youth. They feel like old friends who just never grew up. Though, by the end of Weekend Rockers even they prove that’s not entirely true. They stretch out on a seven-minute rocker that’s full of twists and turns beyond the 1 1/2 minute hook hump that they’re often hugging. They claim some influence from prog-punk kingpins Fucked Up, though they fall a bit short of the fellow Canadians’ scope. Still, Weekend Rockers winds up a solid slapshot to the skull and as good an album as any to get the blood flowing in these cold, doldrum days.




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The Green Child – “Traveler”

As the year winds down its time to get excited about 2018 recs already, and topping the list is this collab from faves Mikey Young (Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Total Control, Lace Curtain) and Raven Mahon (Grass Widow, Bridge Collapse). The record eschews the comfort zones of both, going for a synth-driven sound that’s dark, terse and sinewy. The pairing feels like a good fit, with the two having built the record over the last couple of years since meeting at an Oakland show in 2014. The band’s name was inspired by Herbert Read’s 1935 utopian, communist, sci-fi novel called The Green Child and the novel plays a part in some of the album’s lyrics as well.

The record features fellow traveler Al Montfort (Terry, Total Control) and finds a home on RSTB fave Upset The Rhythm January 12th. Highly Recomended!




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Purling Hiss

The end of the year always brings the oddest gems – releases that slipped out late, misguided xmas singles and EPs that didn’t fit into the regular rotation of the year. It’s the latter that nips at the heels of 2017 from Purling Hiss. Where the band’s last album showcased a heavy dedication to the toughened strains of fuzz-chunked indie rock and psych, they let loose on this short format offering from Drag City.

The EP ties together some instrumental noise-psych snippets alongside some of their most accessible pop nuggets and even a lean into jangle-pop that seems surprising given their catalog. In whole the release is a bit indulgent, but that’s also exactly how it seems to be presented. It’s an end of the year grab bag / hodge-podge that wouldn’t fit with the band’s aesthetic. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few gems in here – “My Dreams” speaks highly to the band’s pop ability and to their potential to clean up. Though, what it really sounds like is the seeds of a new band. Sometimes there’s value in recognizing a great song that just needs to be released under a new heading. Nevertheless, Breeze is a nice little clutch of fun for 2017’s wind-down.




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Plankton Wat

Sometimes there’s so much noise floating around the gutter of reviews that a gem from a favorite just quietly slips past the locks. Dewey Mahood has always made the most of his solo endeavor as Plankton Wat, and though it never quite achieves the prominence that his work in Eternal Tapestry has, his lonesome universe is definitely a psych-folk monster on the sly. His latest is a tape for the consistently thick catalog of Skylantern Records. Creeping out of the forest with a dank moss hangover, Mahood is quick to dive into the scorched and smoldering territory of deep vein psych.

For Hidden Path he eschews the vocal route entirely, delving deep into dirge territory and fleshing it out his most touching and at turns, incendiary works. Mahood’s gone far into the burrow of psychedelia for an album that’s caustic and tender, bittersweet and effervescent. There are moments of true joy built into Hidden Path, making this Plankton Wat at its pinnacle. The project has often had a mark of a solo indulgence built in as an write off, but with this, Mahood proves that Plankton Wat is quite the serious endeavor, and one to be reckoned with.






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Hans Chew

Hans Chew has popped up here from time to time, first with fellow traveler D. Charles Speer and then his name kept surfacing on albums from artists I’d held in high esteem – Jack Rose, Steve Gunn, Endless Boogie. Then he tucked into heading up his own crew. He’s been picking out his own brand of Americana over ever since, one that seems rougher, realer and a bit more country than the indie players who break out the acoustic and try to twang up their songs for a diversion from the norm. With the rhythm section from Rhyton behind him and compatriot Dave Cavallo adding a good dose of clearcut psych guitar, the album is leathered and worn with the kind of creases that current “outlaw” country isn’t coming close to.

Chew’s country is more of a feeling than an approach though. The heart of the record lies in a rock ‘n roll shallow grave, bleeding out for all the sinners after a bar brawl gone wrong. He’s got all the trappings of the local last call bar band, but with the kind of ingrained talent that would make you leave a beer hanging in stunned silence while the band tears into ’70s deep cuts from Let It Bleed, Greetings From L.A., and Zuma. There’s a certain grace to Open Sea, worn in like faded denim, comfortable and comforting all at once. It’s a reminder that sometimes a solid footing, even in territory that’s worn to threads, can feel just right.

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Gary War – “Windows and Walls”

Some of the early tape and 7″ slingers that populated RSTB have found themselves slowing in the recent years, so it’s always a bit of a relief that a favorite project still has wheels. Gary War popped up on Sacred Bones, Captured Tracks, Spectrum Spools and Upset The Rhythm at one time or another and now he calls another luminary label home with a new LP coming up on Feeding Tube. The new track shakes off the crust of some of his past psychedelic trappings and breathes a bit of color into the cheeks of his psych-pop palette. “Windows and Walls” is a sunny strummer with just the right amount of faded Kodachrome oiling at the edges. Feeling like after an unhurried hiatus, he’s got something good in store for sure.


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F/i – “Space Mantra”

I’m always game to expand my catalog of records that fall under the Space Rock tag and this reissue from Wisconsin’s F/i is a long undersung piece of the genre’s puzzle. The band started with a focus on noise, jumping off from Throbbing Gristle’s innovations and beginning to move towards guitars by the time they recorded a celebrated split with their brother band Boy Dirt Car in 1986. They’d full cement the sound as they embarked on their 1988 album Space Mantra, which would serve as their breakout, and become heralded as a lost classic in psych and noise for years.

Now the record is getting a proper issue on Sorcerer records, cut to the same specs as the RRRecords original. The record is swathed in noise, chugging industrial storms that swirl around, nodding heavily to their earlier work. They take those storms and pin them under the sway of groove and that’s where the record gets interesting – finding a nice mesh of Hawkwind, Neu, Popul Vuh and the aforementioned Gristle. They wind up in similar territory to fellow travelers Loop and its easy to see a long, lingering influence in bands like Moon Duo and Föllakzoid. The band continued on through the early ’00s with several augmentations to their lineup, but this album still remains a high water mark for both the group and the genre.




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