Anna St. Louis – “Understand”

Well there seems to be a unanimous love for this today, but hell, “Understand” is a hard song to ignore. St. Louis’ debut tape for Mare / Woodsist was homespun, sounding like a backporch 8-track session that traded in the intimate and spare. Going in with that cassette in mind, the polish on this first peek at her new album, If Only There Was a River, is considerable. The production from Kyle Thomas (King Tuff) and Kevin Morby has wrangled her beautiful songcraft into the kind of lush country that often fell by the wayside commercially but accrued critical fans and massive cult followings. The label has name checked Townes here, and that’s not far off, but this one’s got more of a Guy Clark vibe (think “She Ain’t Going Nowhere”) mixed with the pristine pop of Nico’s less bracing days.

St. Louis’ vocals ring rich and true, imbuing the song with the kind of classic charm that endears vocalists like Françoise Hardy, Bridget St. John or the aforementioned Nico to a certain swath of filmmakers. The accompanying video is a slow crawl through gorgeous terrain and works as a nice backdrop to the stunner that Anna lays on us all with this song. Gotta hope the rest of the album lives up to this, but with that crew attached and her songwriting skills, it might be safe to rest easy in that department. The LP is out in October, again on Mare / Woodist.



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School Damage – “Meeting Halfway”

School Damage swing in with their second single off of the upcoming A to X and it solidifies this as one of the top tier releases to get excited for this summer. The track’s a Jake-led ripper charging in high on a swell of keys and backup coos. It’s proof positive that the band has wrapped up post-punk and jangle into the perfect pop package for hot weather hi-jinks. Sweetening the pot is an excellent stop-motion video that’s an aesthetic match for the song’s off-kilter pounce. Much respect to the band’s Carolyn Hawkins for the time-intensive process it must have taken to get this together. If this record isn’t on your list of pre-Fall necessities then rectify that immediately. The LP’s out at the end of August on Chapter Music.

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Forma

Brooklyn’s Forma follow their cosmic comedown album Physicalist from 2016 with the propulsive, glistening sounds of Semblance. On the last go ‘round the band split their impulses between sides. The opening half of the album embracing the skitter and propulsion of Krautrock given electronic tendrils. The back half, on the other hand, took a suite of songs down a much more Kosmiche road, spreading its attention between synth float, drone and free jazz. This time they’re not keeping the halves of their personality at arm’s length and in turn they create a layered retrofuturist pop album that’s just as likely to dazzle in plastic and glass refractions as it is to siphon the anxiety out of the room via meditative haze.

Its an extension of Physicalist to be honest, but the coherence here makes the last album seem like sketches for the more elaborate arc of Semblance. They weave the weapons of their psychedelic journey in a more articulate fashion this time. Ebbing and flowing in chapters, the album moves from synth scratched with sax through mechanical Zen, into a palpable play on technological anxiety and settles into lucid dreams that are almost too real. By the time the listener is entering “New City,” its hard to know if we can trust our own eyes or ears. The moment is refreshing, but also feels like one might be able to reach out and touch the elastic and static crinkle of VR film holding in this surreal serenity.

Somewhere there’s a film missing a solid score in this, and its definite highlight in the band’s catalog. There’s no lack of synth slingers who are aiming for the raised bar on Kosmiche clatter, but with Semblance Forma have come into their own. Even if you’ve tired of the dystopian drift and cosmic checkboxes that so many in this genre hit regularly, Forma have given these touchstones a new life and a reason to float out into the ether once more.





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Dumb

Vancouver’s Dumb pull out their deep stack of ‘70s art-punk LPs and mash the best bits together for an album that’s brief but barbed. They plow through the heartpound pop of Wire and the wrinkled hooks of Magazine. They chew the same glass that feeds The Fall, Pere Ubu and early Alternative TV. As many are likely quick to point out, for a band called Dumb, they’re hardly lobbing lager-soaked odes draped in pop punk here. While its hardly easy listening, its plenty catchy and like fellow 2018 angular aficionados Lithics and School Damage the band knows just which pieces of the past still draw blood in the present. They capture the spirit of ’79 ably, though they often aim to emulate more often than elevate. There are moments when they do push the needled forward, smashing an ‘80s Midwest brashness into the vocals of “Party Whip” and giving pause when the sound of chimes ripples through the racket or giving the art crowd some sunshine shake with handclaps on “Ripesnakes.”

On Seeing Green they fuel the need to contort the soul, to break it, bend it, and smash it down on the crooked angles of their guitar lines. There’s unrest inherent in their lyrics, but also the kind of wry smile that would have made their influences proud. It’s a solid record, well versed and subtly catchy. The band trade less in earworms and more in a kind of can’t get that sound taste out of your mouth type of addictiveness. They’re young, and this is all the more impressive for their age and general tenure as a band. They’re aided in their vision by the lacerating production from Jordan Koop, which gives the LP an immediacy that paces their frantic stop-start whiplash. There’s a feeling as the album runs its course that this might only be the beginning, a wild knife slice that’ll settle into some methodical strikes as time wears on for the band. Whether or not they springboard off of the sound they’ve curated on Seeing Green, they’ve left a decent mark with this one.



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Terry – “Bureau”

Have I been able to contain my excitement over the new Terry LP? Not quite. The band’s on a streak, with two great LPs under their belts already. The third LP shows no signs of flagging as they continue to mine a strain of post-punk peppered with twang and salt n’ honey harmonies that are soothing yet unpolished. The band let loose one of the album’s most ecstatic singles, “The Whip,” a few weeks back and now they follow it up with the cooler-headed “Bureau,” a stunner in its own right. Terry’s strength lies in an ability to push past any of the well-worn ruts of post-punk. They’re embracing the ethos of bands who were set free to run dub and punk and pop together into a caustic clash, but they’re not tied down to the set of stencils that so many modern makers seem to use.

They pair the new song with a grit n’ glare video that’s transportation heavy – grabbing the ‘70s aesthetics and pushing them through a DIY filter. Its all good fun and serves to further the excitement for the Upset The Rhythm release of I’m Terry at the end of the month. If you’re in the UK, they’re even trotting the show out live (lucky bastards) so hit that up to see how these songs shake out in the room.



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Moody Beaches – “Modes”

Moody Beaches debut, Weird Friends is a terse, nailbitten romp through ’90s stomp that’s built on muscular riffs and urgent vocals. The band knocks through a hit list of influences that scoop up Breeders (round about the Pod days), Green River and L7 vibes. The wax finally hit the shelves last week and in turn they release a third track off of the album paired with an occult-themed video that bottles up menace in the track. Definitely recommended if you’re knocking through essential Aussie releases this year.



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Futuropaco

Somewhere in the future the spark of a great instrumental hip-hop record has been lit with the release of Futuropaco’s eponymous debut for the Danish label El Paraiso. The record, driven by Golden Void’s Justin Pinkerton, is doused in the drama of Italian Library Psych and Goblin soundtracks. It’s peppered through with the over-the-top, yet engrossing psychedelia that drove Jean Rollin’s best work and it could very easily have been disguised as a long-lost film score pushed out through Finders Keepers. It’s clear that Pinkerton has done his fair share of rifling through that particular catalog and has taken copious notes. Hell, they’re probably scribbled in the margins of a copy of David Hollander’s recently released Library retrospective, Unusual Sounds.

Worth noting, though, is Pinkerton’s background as a drummer as this adds a real streak of German Progressive punch to the record. While he’s steeped in the creepy atmospherics of the ‘70s Italians and twisted effects of French exploitation territory it’s that propulsive rhythm that keeps this record locked down and pushing harder than anything its emulating. The true classics of that era were tied to a hard edge that attracted beat fanatics, and Pinkerton’s vision of the sound skews this direction. His collector’s ear moves this well beyond just homage, though – with an alchemical attention on how to arrange psychedelic eras, Pinkerton, like his contemporaries Maston and Jon Brooks, has found a way to move the needle forward on Library psych. While, sadly, there’s no film digging into this particular well of instrumental goodness, it’s tempting to let the mind wander through Criterion-worthy scenarios drenched in technicolor and backed by Futuropaco’s psychedelic excess.



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Adorable – Against Perfection

Every once in a while, a true classic slips back out into the world without anyone kicking up to much of a fuss. Just as I was about to work in a Necessary Repress feature on the great – but often dismissed by American audiences – debut by Adorable, I doubled checked and it was due out this month from Music On Vinyl. The Dutch label has a habit of rescuing albums from both the fringe and from the zeitgeist. They’ve been especially handy at working through the period of ‘90s and ‘00s records that began to elude major runs on vinyl, and thus, like Against Perfection have run up huge tabs on Discogs and eBay.

The band had a famously fraught relationship with both its label and the music press. They garnered early praise for the single “Sunshine Smile,” though, which won them hearts at NME and an entry to Alan McGee who’d sign them to Creation. While the songs on Against Perfection were incredible – clear heirs to both the noise of a shoegaze hangover from the years previous and to the swooning pop of Echo & The Bunnymen, the band’s timing always seemed to be off. That connection to shoegaze meant they were on the tail end of trends in a country often too enamored of what’s next. Since 1993 was the year Britpop broke, it seems that Adorable were pedaling murk in a land looking for pristine pop. Abroad, the record was released in the US through SBK, who was having some tense relations with Creation at the time. Their souring on Creation acts and didn’t help to push Adorable on American audiences and the record would languish low on the charts in a crowded field of grunge in 1993.

Further adding to their troubles was the fraught relationship with UK music press, who apparently found them too cocky. It seems that anyone working in shoegaze should put up walls and be withdrawn – wan geniuses in tattered sweaters. Guess the press saved all their patience for loudmouth swagger for the rising tide of Britpop, lord knows there was enough cockiness there to fill quotas. When Sony took over Creation the band felt pressured by their shortcomings to quickly produce a follow up. The resulting Fake was nowhere near the proper successor to Against Perfection and as feared, the band was dropped a mere three years after signing with Creation. So, it’s good to have the debut back on the turntable, especially without the typical $100+ pricetag. If, like me, you came to this one late due to US press covering about one British band a month, then now’s the perfect moment to make up for lost time. Kinda feel like it might be another 25 years before they press this one again.



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Sundays & Cybele – “Unbalanced”

The good news from GuruGuru Brain continues to rain down in psychedelic sheets. Yesterday flagship band Kikagaku Moyo announced a new LP, but let it not overshadow news that labelmates Sundays & Cybele also have a new album on the way. The band’s fourth record, On The Grass is preceded by the echoplexed burndown of “Unbalanced.” Not to be outmatched by their fellow Japanese psych rumblers the track boasts plenty of guitar shred set to torch the town and walk away in slow motion menace. While the band boasts a heavier reliance on progressive tendencies this time around, “Unbalanced” is pure ‘70s freakout pulling from the ghosts of 13th Floor Elevators and Flower Travellin’ Band.



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Maher Shalal Hash Baz – “Switch Back”

Not long ago I was comparing Yuzo Iwata’s spare and bracing record to the works of Maher Shalal Hash Baz and at the same time wondering what’d become of that group, quiet for so long. Well as fate would have it Tori is back with MSHB and splitting time with the equally missed Little Wings on a new 12”. Got a first listen here of “Switch Back” from the upcoming EP and it’s as haunting a piece of folk as he’s put together in the past. The track tumbles over itself, strips bare any sentimentality and plays folk for the parched husks of crops picked apart by crows. Then he twists the psych staff and rolls it backwards skipping through time and space. The split is out August 21st on Moone Records and the fist 100 copies come with a hand-drawn postcard from Little Wings’ Kyle Field.



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