Century Palm

Canadian upstarts Century Palm have risen from the ranks of several long ranging RSTB faves (Ketamines, Dirty Beaches, Tough Age) to form a formidable force in the realm of nervy punk. The band mines some gems of the bygone era of New Wave dominance. There are definite touches of Gary Numan, The Fall and The Cure and they pin them to bits of Neu-laden Krautrock for a shimmering, writhing record that cherry picks the past with expert glee. The band are at their best when they let the nerviness seep in to knee level, jerking start-stop vocals like Devo acolytes or breaking down into their best Mark E. Smith caustic accusations. They pad those outburst with buzzing syths and the aforementioned hunger for German rhythm that juxtaposes time periods nicely, elevating their record nerd status at least a level or two.

Lyrics reach out in pleading, sweating layers of despair; grappling with life’s hypocrisies and injustices. The negativity envelops completely on some songs, like the frantic centerpiece “Sick Of It” or the bristling “Trapped Here.” True, there have been stabs at both of the domineering forces that permeate Meet You but Century Palm mixes a buzzing prog hangover with burgeoning punk so well it sounds like a record chucked out of time and found on the private press pile. They feel somehow fresh in their hunger for the past. Everyone’s favorite Aussie sheen man Mikey Young gives the record a once over in the mastering dept and that’s never a bad thing. These guys have paid far too many dues, but with Meet You it feels like something’s clicking all around. An absolutely engrossing listen that just keeps giving with repeated trips to the turntable.


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Moon Duo – “Lost In Light”

Just off the release of the first volume of their Occult Architecture series, Moon Duo announces pt. 2, leading off with a lighter side of their sound. As promised, the second volume strips back the night terrors and dives into the lush, ethereal arm of their recordings, winding up pillowing down into dreampop territory where the first went for nervy Krautrock. The song is a total bliss-out and given the video treatment again by Micah Buzan, who picks up with similar themes from the “Cold Fear” clip and coats Moon Duo’s world in a dizzying array of animation. The first volume was a total killer, so it goes without saying that I’ve got volume 2 high on the anticipation index for the year. Sounding great from the gate.

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Màquina Total

Barcelona has begun creeping up in its own right as a center for new talent lately. While I’ve dug in on the garage side mostly, there are certainly endless eddies of pop that run through the town, making noise that’s worthy of radar space. Barcelona-bred musician Virgili Jubero has been working under the Màquina Total name since 2011, but it wasn’t until he came into contact with local label Domestica Records that he wandered into my view. Working in a vein of synth pop that flirts with coldwave and winks at darkwave, Jubero has a feel for synths that are buried just under the horizon line of pop. That’s not to say that there isn’t something captivating or even catchy about the work on Estàtua, but he’s found a way into emotional ’80s soundtrack territory that consumes smudged eyeliner and rain like it was vital sustenance.

This album, which arrives as Màquina Total’s debut long player proper, collects some older tracks and new recordings to bring forth the freshest version of the band to date. The label is not entirely off base when name checking Human League or Spandau Ballet, but shave off a layer of sheen, spin the low end wide open and let the whole thing underscore a lost John Hughes cut of teenage longing and you’re starting to get close to the nerve here. I think perhaps it’s Jubero’s reserve that stands out the most on the album. Where he could easily have spent time fleshing out these tracks into stacked slices of synthpop that wander into the waters of a poor man’s offering of long gone ’80s hits, instead he lets the ghosts of the FM dial haunt his tracks like a taste on the tongue that’s hard to place. What’s left is breath on the air and a warm buzz that hits between the eardrums and the hairs on the back of your neck.




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Sundays & Cybele

Tokyo’s Sundays & Cybele (named for the ’62 French film) have been steadily building a reputation as psych powerhouses over their last two albums. They unlatch their third and maybe fourth eyes on Chaos & Systems, building to a peak that sees them seated high on the psychedelic mountain alongside fellow travelers Kikagaku Moyo. The album burns with the feral cry of guitar, howling and pleading with the listener to feed on the aural offerings, but they know that it can’t be all heat and no sizzle. Where tracks like “Butterfly’s Dream” tap the lava core and run it through the amps, they’re dipping through cool eddies of soft psych just one track later. Their true prowess comes in building to those chaotic breakdowns and balancing them with work that’s delicate to the point of trembling.

That balance seems to be where they divine the title, an encapsulation of push and pull on a cosmic level. The most striking thing is that the band crafts pristine monuments to psychedelia without the crusted hammer of fuzz devastation. The album revels in creation and destruction in kind, but the destruction is just as beautiful as the build. They curl in the warmth of the evening light, warm and serene and safe. Then, when the storms do blow in they’re not ragged and windy, but rather full of extravagant lightning that tears at the sky with as much beauty as those sunset hues. The last twelve months have been a banner for psychedelia, but the momentum hasn’t waned at all. We need a little chaos these days, in the face of the breakdown of tried and true systems. Sunday’s & Cybele have just the tonic to soothe.



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Six Organs Of Admittance – “Adoration Song”

Seems a week can’t go by that I’m not singing some praises on the new Six Organs LP, but seeing how it’s one of Ben’s best, that doesn’t feel excessive. For “Adoration Song,” one of the stripped back and subtle cuts on the album, Chasny has paired a clip by Elisa Ambrogio full of dark corners, beautiful vistas and psychedelic static. Her visuals add a touch of lovely trippiness to the song’s smoldering delivery. If, for some god forsaken reason you’ve neglected to pick up a copy of this one, rectify that choice now. It’s definitely creeping up my list of 2017’s best.



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Applehead

Andy Votel’s latest under the Applehead banner, after a five year vacation, is just as deliriously jumbled as he’s ever been. The man with a thousand monikers to flip through seems to compartmentalize his obsessions in association with each one. Applehead seems to be a kind of addled mash of late night nods; flipping through library funk, ambient noise, and synth like an Ambien-induced 3 AM run on the cable box. His Finders Keepers catalog certainly plays a part here, snipping in foreign pop samples and spoken word drops from the far corners of the tape crate.

The record delights in a fractured mental state that’s blurring the lines between reality and fiction, crafting aural hallucinations that flicker through the horror-creep soul of Applehead’s world. Votel is a man of deep influences and deft skill, slicing them into creeping shadows and psychedelic vignettes. The end product drops down like This Heat and Throbbing Gristle blended smooth with his own enduring love for 60’s French and Italian horror tropes. While digging up some essential soundtracks, it seems that Votel may have caught a bug for it himself, this would work nicely as the underpinning to a horror-psych revival should anyone go in for some newfound schlock psycosis. A damn fun one, from one of the masters in his field.


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Rat Columns

Rat Columns come out strong and swooning on their third album with a charming jangler that’s evoking all my ’80s crushes; from Field Mice to Razorcuts and The Sea Urchins. And with that one setting the tone, quickly followed by the equally hazy hummer “She Loves The Rain,” it feels like one could just buckle in for the kind of true to form homage to C86 that often graces the Captured Tracks or Slumberland back catalogs. However, those who know David West, know that he’s made a career of eclecticism and where he’s been finding his footing on the last few albums and EPs, here the band begins to nail down a record collector’s guide to what made the ’80s tick.

They trade jangles for a quickened pulse of post-punk augmented with soaring strings on “Blinded By The Shadow,” giving the album a subtle about face rolling into the its middle. They knock into Saint Etienne territory on the closer and head into sparse soundtrack work on the album’s title track. West has a true penchant for finding the guiding lines between genres and styles. Where others could easily get too ambitious with melding influences that don’t always click, he massages his songs into a persona that walks well in detached cool and romantic thrall. Perhaps the only part that gets away from him a bit is indulging the length of the aforementioned closer, “Dream Tonight.” The dance jolt is a nice note to end on but as a piece of the pie it could stand a bit of slimming. That aside, Candle Power feels like a real highpoint for West, and a perfect obsession for those of us who still need a dose of Thatcher-era pulse in our lives.

Check out the RSTB premiere of “She Loves The Rain” Below:



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Children of Alice

Working together as a post-Broadcast transition, Children of Alice is comprised of the band’s James Cargill and longtime keyboardist Roj Stevens alongside Julian House (The Focus Group, Ghost Box Records). The album acts essentially as an extension of the work that was done on the final Broadcast album proper, Investigate Witch Cults of The Radio Age, an album on which they also found inspiration through collaboration with House. Following the tragic passing of Broadcast’s Trish Keenan, both Stevens and Cargill joined House on The Focus Group’s 2013 album, Elektrik Carousel. Clearly the three found solace in each others’ explorations of a Radiophonic universe populated by wonder, ingenuity and a quivering sense of menace.

The band itself is named for the late Keenan’s love of Jonathan Miller’s adaptation of Alice In Wonderland and it does maintain that sensibility of dropping into a world that seems to operate on different principles from our own and yet sparkle with strange delights. The record buzzes with a clockwork hum, feeling every bit a diorama of childhood wonder on opener “The Harbinger of Spring.” As the record progresses it slips down it’s slope of pent up menace, disorienting and stripping away some of the innocence that the opener unfolds. The deeper into the world of Children of Alice you go, the more it seems like you might just wind up lost there. It’s a headphone record of the highest order and closing your eyes allows a flickering 8mm world to burn behind the eyelids. The three have pretty deep catalogs but it’s clear that in each other they’ve found something essential, unusual and riveting.

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Dag

Dag’s debut album captures a time and a place in one’s life, the kind of extended adolescence that verges on adulthood. These days that period seems to stretch well into one’s thirties. Though several of the LP’s themes are universal – isolation, loneliness, aimlessness – they take on a more significant feeling with songwriter Dusty Anastassiou’s setting his odes on the outskirts of town, far from the bustle and bright lights and further from the reach of scenes. Finding oneself aimless and alone in small town life kicks up it’s own kind of dust and offers it’s own distinct brand of hopelessness. But Anastassiou doesn’t only focus on physical isolation here, he’s picking through the human slide towards mounting digital isolation; alone in life, alone online, truly alone. The themes are pervasive on Benefits of Solitude and while that may seem like downer territory, Anastassiou treats his subjects with an air of reverence and a lack of self-pity.

Aiding to his lyrical journey is a particularly stringent brand of Aussie jangle that stands out from some of his peers’ more affable forms. While the album shares much of the self-reflection and idiosyncratic analysis of labelmates Scott and Charlene’s Wedding, it steers shy of their wit and jovial air. The underlying music wobbles between the lounge lit confessions that should attract Mac Demarco fans like flys and a sour catharsis that brings to mind RSTB favorites Wireheads. The band, in fact, includes Matt Ford who runs Wireheads’ Aussie home of Tenth Court, so it’s certainly possible that he’s picked up a bit of their curdled delivery and passed it along. Having led with single “Staying Up At Night,” gave the impression this might be a lighthearted affair, but that song winds up an outlier in deeper waters. In a strange way, though, the claustrophobic din that the band creates, winds up much more fulfilling; a hefty meal rather than just a thoughtless snack.




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The Stray Trolleys – Barricades and Angels

If you’ve paid any attention to the outpouring of albums tied up in Captured Tracks’ admirable reissue campaign for Cleaners From Venus, perhaps it comes as no surprise that there’s even more in the well of Martin Newell. The Cleaners’ driving force has a deeper music history than the band’s massive catalog, having spent years in Gypp and a brief period of time mounting up as The Stray Trolleys. The latter is documented here, with their sole album getting a bit of spit and polish and a nice new reissue on the label. The album came out of Newell’s previous ties and obligations (band, relationship, house) sort of dissolving and there’s a shaggy sense of ‘screw it’ in the tracks, though coated in a winking pop charm. Recorded by friend and engineer Dave Hoser to a 4-track named “The Octopus Mobile,” the tracks don’t sound at all like castaways or toss offs, rather they embrace a fuller sound and roguish sheen.

Certainly employing a higher clarity than his work with The Cleaners, Newell captures a sound that was under the thrall of ’60s jangles but headed towards their immersion into a new brand of ’80s pop. There’s always been a draw to the rawness of The Cleaners’ work, but this has a charm that lays it in a space between the quirks of Deep Freeze Mice and the horizon that begat Elvis Costello or Nick Lowe. Even for those intimidated by the dense catalog that Cleaners From Venus sport would do well to start with this one on it’s own or even as a nice introduction to Newell’s universe. Cap Tracks have had the tendency to go all in on reissue campaigns, which is admirable to be sure. This one ends up as a welcome gift from their tenacity.




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