Flat Worms

L.A. trio Flat Worms start things off right and proper on their first LP with the exhaust-choked grind of “Motorbike”. The standout single gets the record revved for what’s to come, which is full throttle, sandpaper-shorn guitar pop that’s rooted in a bruised and bloodied brand of ’90s alt rumble. Taken as a whole, which is honestly the best way to ingest this puppy, the record is breathless and beating down the highway, sparking adrenaline like so much petrol in the tank. The band knows how to cram a hook into the gnarled arms of middle-American angst and they know how to translate those hooks into songs that leave a mark.

That’s kinda the crux of the record, the band sweats out a mix of influences that all knew how to balance vein-ripped intensity with earworm dynamics. There’s bits of The Wipers’ bombastic shred, Hüsker Dü’s frayed reinterpretation of hardcore’s pounce and Mission of Burma’s grit-toothed whiplash. But, despite being built out of familiar forms, the record still stands tall on its own fuzz-addled foundation. The band tips the hat while proving they belong in the room with their heroes. I know that 2017 is a stuffed year, and we’re all working to pack in the praise on what stands out, but I find it hard to believe that this one is getting passed over. Or maybe I don’t, ha, the zeitgeist wave is cresting in all sorts of oblivious directions. Sometimes the good ones just get lost in the din. Either way, don’t miss this one.




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John Maus

Maus has always been something other – an enigma bundled in unassuming strands of Oxford cloth, baiting your expectations and then blowing past them with an acerbic beauty. In the past he’s issued albums that cut to the bone, gnawing on the gleaming remains of your toughest sinews. His synthpop was spare and his shows even more-so – a man with a CD player publicly crumbling at the seams for the audience’s benefit. His songs were intense, but not altogether without a shining shard of pop lodged in their throats, a scratch that was never quite satisfied but always present. Now he’s crossed out of the catacombs of solitary, tortured synth and brought on a band, but his vision remains consistent as a bleak acid bath of sound.

He’s working his way out of a hiatus of sorts, Maus is back and while at heart he’s his same old self, he’s racheted up the production surrounding his dystopian stranglehold. As his recent gig at Basilica Soundscape proved, his addition of a full band has stoked the fire present in his songs full force. Where once he was an aching nerve, raw and scraping at the subconscious, now he’s taking the minimal wave vision of sinister synth to a new level. Screen Memories is Maus blown up into massive retro-futurist heights – throbbing with distended basslines, surreal synths and Maus’ own voice echoing around the sphere, equal parts dream-struck (“Decide Decide,” “Sensitive Recollections”) and perturbed (“The Combine,” “Pets”). Something tells me there’s a larger patchwork at play in the fact that the universe has delivered a new Blade Runner and John Maus record in the same slice of time, but we’re all probably best to stay out of whatever wormhole opened its maw to deliver tandem poles of glistening futurist melancholy anyhow.

The album arrives just as the idea of sinking back into an oil slick of anxious, seething irritation seems like the only option. If there were an artist for our times, it’s Maus. The album is twitching, roiling, and constantly assaulting the senses. It’s as much a reflection of daily life in a world where the news cycle one-ups itself with horrors for clicks and pain for pay as anything might claim to be. Maus’ brand of disembodied pop is a kind of salve, but only so much so in that you know that he’s feeling the slow, anxious burn run up the back of his spine as well. He’s a compatriot in anguish who can sometimes remind you that there are slight slivers of beauty in that polluted sky, but more often than not he punctuates the pain with a reminder that on top of your petty list of worries, your pets are going to die before you. Maus gets it. We’re all screwed, lets dance out some pain.




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Claude Lombard – Chante

Early in her career, Belgian singer Claude Lombard came to the attention of many Europeans with her song “Quand tu reviendras” (“When You Come Back”), which was entered into the Eurovision contest in 1968. Americans, no doubt having no real recollection of the Eurovision contest, or the ’68 year in particular’s allegations of vote rigging, would have absolutely no touchstone for Lombard. However, the following year after her seventh place entry in the contest, she recorded this undersung gem of psychedelic chamber folk. The record, sung entirely in French, leans well into the burgeoning styles of psych-folk that were cropping up in the US and UK at the time, but swings with an proto-motorik pop appeal on several tracks. As has been noted, the resulting record swirls with the same kind of fragile hallucinogenic qualities that would surface in works by Stereolab, Broadcast and more recently, Jane Weaver.

The record is a pristine lounge classic, conjuring up images of Dutch modern furniture and molded plastic vases. The record is haunting in its almost perfect vision of edge-less pop swaddled in Lombard’s radiant delivery. Following the record Lombard would not achieve pop prominence, though she would record a few other albums and continue to sing with several French television programs including the French version of Fraggle Rock. Spain’s Sommor records has put her masterpiece back into print and a generation now reared on Stereolab and Broadcast should probably take notice. The record hasn’t lost a step since its inception and may actually have become more relevant in the interim, proving once again there’s still no bottom in the barrel of invaluable reissues if you look hard enough.




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Crepes

The visual reference on Crepes debut LP is pretty straight forward, these guys err on the side of The Beatles in any debate over ’60s rock heroes, and they indulge in the lushest sides of the band’s emotional wake. Channel Four is rooted in the pop tradition, swirling through eddies of icy cool and exhaling steam rings laced with hooks all over a hot n’ bothered 2017. They’ve wedged themselves into a lounged detachment that pushes their sheened and shined pop into a territory that’s a notch above similarly minded smooth indie-poppers, finding purchase in honing the perfect sound that haunts their memories.

Led by the cream-swirled vocals and songwriting of Tim Karmouche (The Murlocs, Dreamin’ Wild), the record is lodged into an early ’70s hangover that re-purposes the pop traditions of the prior decade into a loftier arc, writing works for albums that were meant to be exhibited wholesale rather than split piecemeal into radio rotation. They have updated it, naturally, with a sensibility that employs modern takes, but it’s really the spirit that moves Channel Four. Lovelorn and windswept, the album breezes through the speakers with a draped melancholy that’s admirable in its commitment to tonality.

Sure, breezy pop is rife on both sides of the globe these days, there’s always going to be bands vying to knock Real Estate off of their pedestal of accessible indie wallpaper rock dominance. That’s what makes this one such a joy. It’s equally as accessible to your most clueless friends, catchy and unassuming in it’s digestion of the past. However, few of the other contenders glow with the kind of lost classic quality that crowns Channel Four. This feels like the heir apparent to the reissue kings of current vogue. Dig in now before it’s rediscovered 20 years down.




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Circuit Des Yeux

Stepping away from some of the noisier elements of her past, the latest Circuit Des Yeux album embraces Haley Fohr’s inherit power while letting in a lushness that’s perhaps evaded her in the past. Fohr enlisted labelmate Cooper Crain (Cave, Bitchin’ Bajas) to help bring to life the disorienting world of her most affecting record to date. Starkly reminiscent of her recent diversion as Jackie Lynn, a country-tinged persona that leaned more Arthur Russell than Gram Parsons, here she takes the same barren delivery as a starting point, her voice unencumbered by effects and hanging at the center of the record like a glowing jewel. In contrast to her work as Lynn, though, she pads out the accompanying landscape with lush psychedelics, frothing electronics and disorienting shreds of folk.

While the lyrics hint at a narrative of being seen and unseen – hiding in plain sight and promising no more than existence to outside forces, the album’s instrumentation is made to be heard and felt and lived in. Fohr has been more caustic in her approach in the past, still riding a crest of strings with somber resolve, but for Indigo she’s widened the scope to a full geodesic cavern of sound, enveloping the listener in tones that touch Kosmiche and psych-folk like never before. Highlights, “Black Fly” and “Paper Bag” dip the listener by the heel into the kind of sound womb that begs for headphones.

Fohr’s voice has always been a phenomenal asset, but with the release of Reaching for Indigo she’s finally found the perfect ecosystem to support her supernatural range. This is far and away her most potent and piecing record, while remaining her most accessible as well.




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A. Savage

Here’s the thing, as a band Parquet Courts lost me a while back. I championed Light Up Gold because it captured a certain moment in the slide of Brooklyn from youthful intrusion to full on infestation of wealth. It was a feeling in time mimeographed and cut to groove, but as the band continued they became more wrapped up in their own lineage and legacy than seemed necessary. The deadpan dynamics and new wave plundering fell too antiseptic on my shores. That’s not to discount Andrew Savage as a songwriter, he’s proven he’s got an angle that sells and a poet’s heart that lends itself well to the Jonathan Richman patter that he’s able to slip into seamlessly.

So it winds up that he’s gone back home to his roots in Texas and a brand of lonesome country pining for his latest, and here he finds his second wind. The album boasts no shortage of talent, swapping out his usual backing band for a bevy of friends and compatriots from Woods, Ultimate Painting, PC Worship, EZTV, and Psychic TV. The assembled masses take his drip dry delivery on a tour of the Southwest, grasping hands with slide guitar and an amiable amble without ever affecting any hackneyed country croon. Instead he staples his best Calvin Johnson talking blues to the tumbleweeds of alt-country and, at times, a starker strain that boils the noise out of his boots and lets an acerbic twinge show through the relaxed demeanor of Thawing Dawn.

This is actually where the album shines brightest, when the noise overwhelms the swagger (see: “What Do I Do”). The moment that the veneer is broken and the brain starts to boil compliments the easy going country ambivalence. There are some choice ballads here that showcase Savage’s handle on being the lonesome foal among a herd that might not love him back, but when he lets fly a brand of noise-country I’m fully invested in what he’s selling. There are those that will brand this a solo outing unmoored from his Parquet work, adrift and looking for purchase, but for me that’s where Savage excels. By balancing ennui painted in sunset hues and itching uncertainty, he’s found an explanation of what drifting into your thirties in the city feels like.




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Headroom

New Haven psych institution Mountain Movers are driven by the restrained fury of guitarist Kryssi Battalene, but whatever impossible dynamics she’s laid down in the past for her mainstay, she’s doubled down on for her own solo work as Headroom. The band’s debut, Head In The Clouds opens with “How To Grow Evil Flowers, a track which certifiably burns down the farm and walks away with a serial killer stare. The guitars are charred, carcinogenic, and aching for more at each and every turn – but what really cements Headroom is that slash n’ burn psych isn’t what defines them.

As the record sidles into the second track there are overt notes of shoegaze that crop up. Battalene’s voice is lost inside a squall, but it’s calm and crouching, a stark contrast to the opener’s napalm glow of guitar fire. The remainder of the album balances these two forces, struggling to see which one wins out. There’s always a notion that Battalene will catch fire like a human torch of bottled emotion and burn the whole track down but the tension that drives that question is the heart and backbone of the entire endeavor. She’s a master of dialed in dynamics, surfing the wave of feedback like a seasoned vet. Where others might easily go in for excess and opulence in the realm of psychedelic fury, Battalne is as nuanced as they come.

This year also saw a record from Mountain Movers, and I must say that it was a captivating release, one that caught my ear and revealed how much the homegrown New Haven band had to offer. She’s saved the best work for her self, though, waiting out her tenure to begin bleeding a feedback whirlwind all over two sides of flat black plastic. This is the eye and the storm, the flame and the fuel. The record winds up both the calm you need and the spark to set it all ablaze, and for that Battalene has bested a good swath of her peers who’d falter in the same challenge.




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Parsnip – “Health”

There’s been a bit of a decline in girl-group punk swagger since the heydays of lo-fi faded into the background, but Parsnip brings the sound rushing back in full color for their debut single on Anti-Fade. The track is swooning with ’60s vocal harmonies but rooted in the Paisley-punk of bands like The Pandoras, doubling down on twangin’ guitars and squirming organ. The song is caffeinated cool, careening around hooks with a sugar buzz that’s pretty damn hard to ignore. Why would you possibly want to, though? This is a top-down stoplight dance party from start to finish and I’m keeping it on repeat.




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VA – Even A Tree Can Shed Tears

Light in the Attic, like Numero, has never gone in for half measures. When a release is compiled, they’re throrough, swaddling it in impeccable design and restoring lost music to its rightful place on your speakers. So, with this in mind it was an exciting announcement that the label would be starting a new Japanese archival series looking at different scenes and subgenres throughout the region. Their first take puts the focus on the ’60s and the folk movement that grew out of student protests, “authentic folk” leanings and the beginnings of psychedelic folk. Much of this came under the banner of “New Music” which tied together the Eastern and Western regional strains.

The collection is stitched with a wonderful slide in and out of the more authentic, stripped-down artists, many of whom find a plaintive beauty in their compositions. The songs are clearly leaning away from what would have been traditional Japanese folk, but also working in the same way that their British and American counterparts had contrasted the more pop sounding beat groups. While there’s certainly an argument to be made for more Japanese traditional influence to rear its head, this collection stands as an interesting argument for the West’s pervasiveness on young people at the time.

Light in the Attic has shone a light over many voices that seem left out of the current conversation in Japanese music. It’s easy to connect the dots between Takashi Nishioka’s subtle boil of fuzz and later works by Masaki Batoh. For me, personally, so much of my contact with Japanese music is rooted in the noisier ends of psych, the discordant ends of rock and, when scrubbed up, the more beat-leaning ’60s groups like Jacks or Apryl Fool. It’s great to have a collection that brings the underground beauty of these artists to the foreground. Can’t wait to see what LIA digs into in this series next, but for now, this one’s a keeper.

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Odd Hope – “Reasons I Will Not Say”

Been a while since I’ve heard from Odd Hope, the solo project from Tim Tinderholt, but he’s back in fine jangled form on new track “Reasons I Will Not Say”. Still chasing the fading tail of the Sarah Records ghost, Tinderholt again creates a song that’s gently bumping the nostalgia centers of the brain. Full of wistful sighs and softly crying keys, it’s more fleshed out than the first single that he put out a few years back on Fruits & Flowers, a sign that the upcoming LP is shaping up to be a real jangle-pop contender. Produced by Skygreen Leopards’ Glenn Donaldson, the LP, also on the small SF imprint, is the label’s first full-length proper. If the rest of Tinderholt’s songs shape up as beautifully spare as this, then we’d all better keep an eye out for what’s sure to be a hushed classic in the making.




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