Tomorrow’s Tulips

Hate to say it, because it’s a bit of a lazy critical lob at this point, but the Tulips have sure been boiling down their late-period Velvet Underground to a bouillabaisse while recording their latest cassette. The band has always tipped the scales towards low-strung strummers with narcotic vocals, but Harnessed To Flesh strips away any previous guitar flash for an album that’s more appropriately harnessed to the carpet and shaking off the spins through two sides of spooled haze. There’s an even keel of hungover hum that drives the record with Alex Knost croaking through each song with the indifferent sigh of an art rock solo stint written off by the label as a break-even place holder. That he pulls it off with an air of ineffable grace is to his credit in committing fully to the rough-night sound.

The band are now four albums deep, and while they’ve mutated a bit since that first LP hit back in 2011, for the most part the band has hung close to the lo-fi linger, the post-grunge saunter and the nth wave no-frills strum of garage-pop swagger. They’re not busting their molds here, but there are some moments that beg more than one go-round on the headphones. “Overnight Obsession” is full of morning fog and aimless bliss. “Certain Frantic Quality” – despite having no frantic qualities whatsoever – hangs on a leathered shimmy that’s hard to ignore. Sadly, they tend to get a bit lost in the number ends of their songwriting spectrum more often than not, but when the band hits the right mix of sunglass slumped aloof burnin’ grist its hard not to perk up an ear. At four albums in I’m not betting they’re going to self-edit too much, but good times are notable here for those building out some shaggy playlists of late.






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Parsnip – “Feeling Small” b/w “Winter”

I was definitely a fan of Parsnip’s last 7” and they popped up with a sunny jangler on Anti-Fade’s last label showcase comp that spent some time on the speakers around here. Their latest short format ripper adds another couple of fun tracks to their blossoming catalog. The a-side is pleasantly prim – full of barroom piano and Small Faces-level revelry for gang vocals and peanut gallery chatter. The flip adds a nice edge, with a punk-picked guitar and heavier hitting chorus. “Winter” might well be one of the best things they’ve done yet – hung with organ swells and confident harmonies. Parsnip have been a ‘blink-and-you-miss-it’ addition to the Aussie indie scene, but with each new piece of the puzzle they get harder to cast aside. Here’s hoping that there’s an album in the works sometime in 2019, but for now I’m going to go back to putting “Winter” on repeat.






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Mt. Mountain

The good folks at Cardinal Fuzz and Little Cloud are sneaking a few more releases in here at the end of the year before 2018 collapses to a close. In the spirit of good things coming to those who wait, Perth’s Mt. Mountain offer up another drone-psych crusher with their third LP, Golden Rise. While their debut LP, Cosmos Terros was solid, the band truly came into their own on last year’s Dust, a record that paired their sparse menace with some impressive track lengths to great effect. While they don’t embrace the sidelong crusher as readily this time around, they bring the same sense of lysergic lilt and barren isolation, amping up the desert psych desperation and diving once more into the tectonic build of patient sonic destruction.

The patience is, perhaps, what sets Mt Mountain apart. They’re equipped with the tools to level a levee or two with gargantuan guitar fury, but they wisely let their unease simmer here instead. Many can light the wick and let the fuzz do all the work, but Mt. Mountain are working well with the texture of anticipation. On the previous effort that patience took place over the course of the titanic title track, but here the band are content to let the interplay between the ten tracks ebb, flow, and ease the listener into a meditative smolder.

On tracks, “Acceleration” and “Open Door” the band glows with an internal heat, steaming from every pore like a distance runner knelt down in the snow. They never let the heat hatch, though, keeping it coddled close to the heart and perennially pulsing. While the record never truly blossoms into the kind of maelstrom that listeners might be expecting, Golden Rise is far from boring. In fact, as that title might suggest, the record mirrors the slow euphoric slip into amber daylight that comes after a long night awake. Like fellow psych travelers Wooden Shjips have this year, they embrace the chaotic antidote and let the mellower side rule the day. I, for one, could use a good melt now and again.



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Simon Finn – Pass The Distance

Superior Viaduct has already been handling a ton of great reissues and overlooked essentials, but with the addition of Antarctica Starts here they’re expanding their labyrinth of sublabels to rope in a bit more fun. ASH specifically mines the ‘60s and ‘70s, though they’re not restricting themselves to any particular genre within that time period, which leaves this endeavor pretty open ended. While it seems like opening up the Viaduct brand to older releases could have been easily accomplished without a new logo and name, I’m all in on the SV folks getting into the vast pool of labels scraping from the ‘60s and ‘70s. As it turns out they’ve chosen a crown jewel of psych-folk for one of their inaugural releases, so we’re off to a good start here.

Alongside the wooded weirdness of Fresh Maggots, Relatively Clean Rivers, Pearls Before Swine and The Incredible String Band, Simon Finn’s 1970 LP Pass The Distance stands as a necessary vision of stream of consciousness, cracked-mirror folk. Finn’s sole album was recorded with producer Vic Keary at his Chalk Farm Studios. Keary had helped Finn record an earlier single, “Butterfly” that was met with solemn indifference from UK labels at the time, but the pair sketched out time for a fuller session to follow, hoping for more success with a fuller vision in tow. Finn had just met guitarist David Toop and percussionist Paul Burwell at a local restaurant a few weeks prior and invited them into the sessions. The serendipitous meeting would help to add to the record’s mystique, with Toop’s sleepy guitar curlicues giving Pass The Distance almost as much shape as Finn’s own lyrical loops.

The record was originally issued on Keary’s own Mushroom Records imprint rather than finding a home among the major contenders of the time, but the label suffered quite a few legal setbacks right around the time of release and Pass The Distance was withdrawn almost as soon as it was issued. Finn then faded from music, teaching karate in Canada and focusing on farming with his wife. The ASH edition is not, however, the first reissue of this gem. David Tibet of Current 93 contacted Finn personally to inform him of the record’s cult status among collectors of ephemeral folk and issued it on CD in 2004, even prompting Finn out of retirement for some shows at the time. Little Big Chief followed in 2014 with a short run LP, but this presents the best chance of getting your hands on a vinyl copy these days. Fans of the aforementioned folk outsiders, or keystone touchpoints of the movement like Skip Spence and Syd Barrett would do well to look into Finn’s fevered folk. Its not the most high marquee name in the genre, but it’s a worthwhile listen to be certain.




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J. McFarlane’s Reality Guest – “Your Torturer”

Twerps have great solo projects coming out in droves these days. In additions to the EP from Alex MacFarlane earlier in the year and the upcoming LP from Martin Frawley, the band’s Julia McFarlane (formerly known solo as Hot Topic) has a new full length on the way under the name J. McFarlane’s Reality Guest. The first single from the upcoming TA DA is couched in jangles and floated by flute. “Your Torturer” isn’t a straightforward strummer though. The flute and guitar lines spar with one another, with the latter pecking out a choppy, yet catchy saunter. By contrast McFarlane and the flute lilt their way dreamily through the song, oblivious to the sprightly strums below. Both McFarlane and Frawley are straying from the sound that made them occasional household names and its great to see them picking apart pop to find some new ground. The record lands on Hobbies Galore in January.



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DMBQ

For their 13th record, Japan’s heavy hitters, DMBQ have headed back to basics – capturing their own particular maelstrom with an array of vintage equipment and analog aesthetics. They’re harnessing the squall, tapping into the eye of psychedelic fury and heading straight to the heart of creeping dread. The record bursts open with the fire-wielding stomp of “Blue Bird,” a song that belies its natural zen title, instead rumbling across the barren outback on tank treads, guzzling the last gasoline available in a wasteland war zone out of hedonistic spite. As the record wears further on, they don’t overwhelm with a constant barrage of amplifier scorch, though they don’t skimp on it either.

There’s a general burnt apocalypse feel to the Keeenly and as the record unfolds the band evokes more than just the warbringer battlements. They unleash dust storm devastation – torrents of guitar sweeping headlong through the headphones in a disorienting haze. They soak the listener to the bone with monsoon drones, and heat-warped textures. When vocals find their way through the chaos, they scratch at the listener with a wild-eyed fury. DMBQ are well over a decade deep into their career of noise excavation and they show no signs of dulling their edge. Keeenly may not be as frantic as they’ve ever been, but it jackhammers as hard as anything in their catalog.

The band even finds a bit of clarity by the time it collapses to a close. The record builds worlds only to destroy them, but by the time “The Cave and The Light” rises over the horizon, the band is ready to rest. The final track sparkles like the remains of a a great cosmic storm, a fitting peace to end an album of malevolent destruction. A definite hole has been felt with the absence of DMBQ in the last decade, and the band wastes no time reasserting their place back atop the mountain of Japanese psych masters.


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Jacco Gardner

Over the last five years or so, Jacco Gardner has created a world dedicated to spreading the seeds of swirling psychedelia. His debut for Trouble in Mind leaped out of almost nowhere, preceded by a few singles that hinted at what was to come, though nothing could prepare for how dense and complete the vision of his debut album would be. With his follow-up and jump to Polyvinyl, he’d only deepen the hues and expand his Papier-mâché psychedelic wonderland. Both albums were anchored by Gardner’s grey-streaked vocals that carried with them a sense of melancholic weight, so its most surprising that his third LP takes the bold leap to strip them away entirely.

Inspired by a couple of key pieces of equipment, a Dynachord Echochord mini – a cheap echo unit – and an MS20 mini synthesizer, the album began to take shape in the wake of the release of Hypnophobia. Both of the pieces have a distinct quality and a dreamy voice, but more importantly they can both be overdriven to create a distortion that adds a lot of the prominent character to Somnium. Rooted in the burbling Kosmiche psychedelia of Cluster and Tangerine Dream and the often whimsical works of Bo Hansson, the record picks up a cue or two from the kind of episodic, story-heavy progressives of the ‘70s. At its heart, Gardner seems to be cutting this album from the same cloth that Alain Goraguer wrought La Planète Sauvage. While Somnium doesn’t play as an outright concept record, its definitely building its own sci-fi landscape that leaves the story up to the listener. Its an endlessly absorbing soundtrack that twists itself in slow knots for the listeners’ amusement.

Much like the recent work of Frank Maston, the album also owes a debt to the ‘70s library collections that dotted the television and film landscape, though Gardner is creating a far more cohesive statement here. He trips quite a few of the same triggers as Matson, but dives a bit further down the luminescent rabbit hole. The record is whimsical, without becoming too precious, poking at the telltale hallmarks of ‘60s psychedelia, without becoming a cartoon litany of blacklight mushroom posters in the process. While the album might lop off a good chunk of fans who’d come in the past for the psych-pop but would ruffle at the lack of vocals, it should also open up Gardner to the avid army of synth worshipers out there. As much as any lost Waxworks or Death Waltz soundtrack, Somnium is a heady trip carved out of dedication to the authenticity of synth as a terraforming tool to create psychedelic landscapes. In that regard, its well worth going back time an again to find new corners of Somnium to inhabit.

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Rattle

Nottingham duo Rattle throw out the pop formulas in favor of a percussive ping pong between members. The pair, Katharine Brown and Theresa Wrigley, weave a tapestry of hypnotic dance and percussive patter, both picking up the sticks to spar rhythmically with each other with only occasional forays into vocal volley. Sequence drops the listener into a trance, playing off of subtle shifts in ever evolving patterns, with each of the four songs on the record stretching towards the ten-minute mark. The songs have the effect of stripping away the surroundings of the listener, like a sonic suspension in sensory isolation, or in this case suspension in the rarefied air of rhythmic thrum. The record is best listened to in dim surroundings or with eyes closed altogether. Let the rhythms play over the mind, pushing accompanying brainwave patterns to the beat that the two women pluck out of thin air. In that environment Sequence begins to toggle the tumblers of the mind into new positions.

When vocals do arise in the mix, they’re often wordless – cooing, humming and moaning entwined with the insistent, ecstatic beats. They finally break into discernible phrasing on “Signal” but even then, the pair are all about repetition, turning their words into mantras that eventually push meanings to the background in favor higher states of consciousness. While the record is propulsive and even at times frantic, the overall effect is absolutely soothing. There’s a sense of natural evolution to each song, each player anticipating the other completely, and that ingrained trust is passed through the speakers to the listener. Brown and Wrigley are spirit guides, sonic Sherpas, clatter-packed chiropractors come to align your vibrations to their natural thump.

It’s a shift from the usual dose of post-punk and that drops from the bucket at Upset The Rhythm, but the DIY spirit is just as punk as anything else on the roster. Brown and Wrigley are working the crease between jazz, post-punk and drone and it works as a feast for the ears. Highly recommended as a background beat to get your own weird Birdman-esque mania working for you, or just to drop out in the negative zone for forty-odd minutes of float. Either way Sequence is a damn delight.


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Grave Flowers Bongo Band – “Birds”

Hoover III member Gabe Flores strips back the psych to a warm sunny burble on his own Grave Flowers Bongo Band. The L.A. band whips up a psych-folk froth that brings to mind Fresh Maggots a young Bolan’s T. Rex before he found moniker brevity and cocaine. There’s definitely a beard of stars at work here, and true to their promise, bongos. On “Birds” the band adopts the “faded demo from the hip” approach that’s worked well for their contemporaries in Paint this year. On the track, the band feels far from the pounded pavement of their L.A. locale. Perhaps they’ve pushed out to the Canyon and beyond for an off-kilter psych soup that’s built from the static transmissions of Gary Higgins, Sam Gopal, Trees, and John Peel favorites Tractor. Like the best psych-folk this one’s wobbled off its axis and sticks around to delight all the way through. The LP lands in full on Friday via the good folks at Permanent.



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Axis: Sova

On round three from Brett Sova’s Axis: Sova, the band is as whistle clean as they’ve ever been – all shined and shaved and in their Sunday best bolo ties for a dive bar date that’s greased with a half-gallon of snake oil charm. Like Purling Hiss before them, they embrace a classic rock deck shuffle and dip their freak card cadavers in swagger with a renewed gusto. The band has crawled steadily out of the Cretaceous with each new installment, blossoming from Brett and a cracked Casio spitting popcorn under his fuzztone freakouts to a two-piece batter-dipped in half-stack blowback, like an acid bath for the ol’ grey matter. This time, though, they’ve bumped to a trio, with Tim Kaiser returning and Jeremy Freise of Cave filling out the full band backup and its definitely given the band a renewed license to play havoc with the style guide.

There’s less focus on the fuzz n’ freak this time around, instead digging into a kind of new wave lacquered psych boogie that’s hard to place a finger on. On tracks like “Crystal Predictor” Sova’s balancing radio ready hooks with the sleaze-squeezed warble that fought its way through DEVO and The Units. Quick-cut to “Stale Green” and they’re cranking fog machines with the Deep Purple road crew. By the closer, Brett’s crooning to the girl in the front row and looking to transcend his bad boy image with a tender touch of ennui and a dash of road wear. It’s a nice look on them and an interesting juxtaposition of genres that fits well together. The AV antics of New Wave’s tin hat art freaks share a lot in common with the psych burnouts carving pot leaves into the back row of the class and this might just be the definitive dissertation on the hypothesis. The fuzzbomb jitters of Shampoo You ferret out a meet-cute of ostracized longhairs from all sides of the spectrum.

I’ll always stand on the side of dirtbag psych, and the album ticks a lot of boxes around here, though I’d wager that the band could push this aesthetic even further. Maybe they do in the live setting. It’s got room to get greasier, twitchier and more over the top. When invoking the spirit of spandex hip flex and/or jumpsuit mind flay its best to forget all sense of decorum. Be that as it may, Shampoo You has a lot to offer and its great to see a band not rutting into the sound they found a few years back. The record feels like a step forward, as if to say “this is not my final form,” but the mutation’s interesting all the same.



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