Omni – “Equestrian”

Atlanta’s Omni are back and refining the post-punk jitters from last year’s excellent debut offering. First single, “Equestrian” picks up with more Verlaine-veined guitar lines nestled atop a skittering drum beat. They lean into progress with some syth strains to back the track up, pouring on a glaze of synth-punk that doesn’t dominate, but pays reverence to their brand of ’70s gods as the track progresses. They don’t mess with the formula too much though, making this a nice extension of their knotted punk lacerations from Deluxe. Omni was a nice addition to last year, a collector’s curio that hooked in kindred spirits by the cart load. Lookin’ very likely that they’re about to do the same this turn around.




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Here Lies Man

The marquee hook on Here Lies Man is “Black Sabbath playing Afrobeat,” which sounds good in a pull quote, but is a fairly reductive take on what Here Lies Man are actually accomplishing. The band, which contains members of Afro-cuban luminaries Antibalas, lays down a base of African rhythms that pulse heavy as anything on the Nigeria Special comps. Its clear that they know how to hook into the funk laden rhythms that tumble under the plethora of ’70s cuts from the continent. They proceed to meld that percussive heartbeat to a syrup n’ smoke cocktail of fuzzed out guitars and transistor radio vocals beamed in from the AFVN across an expanse of time itself.

The fuzz recalls other African heavies like Amanaz or Witch (’75), with a particular slide into West Coat blues rumble a la Blue Cheer on more than one occasion. The overall vibe actually sways towards heavy ecstasy, rather than, say, the doom clouds of Sabbath’s occult vortex. The band winds up reaching some of the same vistas that Goat inhabits on a regular basis, but without the dollop of folk on top. Still, the band has an aesthetic and sticks to it, even if it gets a little samey over time, resulting in a whollop of psych that tends to move the feet more than most in the genre.






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X.Y.R.

Instrumental synth has enjoyed somewhat of a heyday of late and its usually fallen into an even split of Italo-horror and prog-dipped players. Though, to be fair, the genre’s been shot through with no small amount of new age hippie float as well. That’s where the aesthetics of X.Y.R. diverge a bit from the pack. While Vladimir Karpov certainly has some tether the the darkness that drives the Italians, and an appreciation for the anesthetic float of the New Agers, he doesn’t go full bore in either direction. Rather he taps into the creeping womb of unease that floats in an altered state of consciousness, calm on the surface but reflecting a deep sadness and even menace in the waters below.

Labryinth, the artist’s LP debut, floats in a drugged haze. The songs feel like they’re trying to push through to a clearer picture, but are constantly dragged back by the limitations of the mind, fumbling through a fog of chemicals and confusion. On one hand, it feels easy to succumb to the languid pull of enveloping darkness. On the other, “why hell is it so dark all of a sudden?” screams the last shred of rational brain. “Is this euphoria or death creeping in with narcotic fingers?” The resulting album is hard to quit. It fizzes at the edges of vision, a salve and singe all in one. Karpov is a budding talent to be sure, and if this is the door to his dimension, then its going to be a an interesting ride.




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Shannon Shaw on Langley Schools Music Project

I’m thrilled to have garage icon Shannon Shaw as the latest contributor to the Hidden Gems series today. Shannon should be familiar to most through her work with Shannon and the Clams, and as the secret soul weapon in Hunx (formerly with his Punx). She’s a bastion of badass, a dynamic visual artist, and as even a cursory listen to The Clams would attest a superb appreciator of ’60s sounds. The series, as always, takes a look at albums lost in the cracks, underappreciated and looking for some love. This week, Shaw points some light on Hans Fenger’s collection of children’s choral explorations of ’60s pop. The album has found its own cult over the years, including among many of the artists covered. Shannon lets us in on how this gem came into her life and how it’s impacted her own music.

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Wet Lips

More greatness out of Australia’s feminist punk underground, fast becoming the vital vein in a scene rife with the kind of buoyant energy that makes us Yanks feel like slackers incarnate. The debut from Wet Lips, out on the band’s own perfectly named Hysterical Records, is as fierce an LP as you’re liable to encounter this year. In the same vein as bassist Jenny McKechnie’s Cable Ties, the band takes the boys club to task, flaying the Y chromosome contenders with their own double standards and bullshit regard. It’s not so much a rallying cry as it its a statement of purpose, a manifesto made flesh in electric current, laying the hot wire down in your own puddle of nervous flop-sweat and set to fry.

The band pins their detractors to the wall, nailing them all as “just another faker in a Bad Seeds t-shirt.” Lord knows there’s no way their targets don’t deserve a dressing down and then some, but Wet Lips aren’t just here to throw insults without a foil chomped punk pedigree to back it up. The trio pack their debut full of hardened, nail-bitten barrel-rolls that lock in and bare down to the bitter end.

Grace Kindellan’s vocals crack with just the right amount of seismic fervor, dredging up a lineage that brings to mind the impeccably named C86’ers We Have A Fuzzbox And We’re Gonna Use It, doubled down with the entirety of Olympia’s feminist punk oeuvre. Sadly, Americans will balk because Wet Lips aren’t rolling through Iowa, and somehow we gotta see it to believe it. But be forewarned, hesitate and you’ll miss this seething slab of youth, a vital strain of punk that can’t be beaten, bowed or bent. If you’re reading this, it’s already to late, Wet Lips have cornered the market on raised hackles and grit-perfect riffs. No way you’re gonna get crush harder than this.




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New Rose

Brooklyn’s New Rose sprang out of a history flirting with country-bent punk to embrace County (without the alt) proper on their LP for Broken Circles. Morning Haze paints portraits of bittersweet nuance that take quite a few lessons from the Gram Parsons / Guy Clark school. Aided in no small part by the veteran steel work of JayDee Maness (The Byrds, International Submarine Band, Eric Clapton) Daniel Wagner’s songs are steeped in the same heart-sunk delivery that drove “Brass Buttons” and “Streets of Baltimore”. It’s hangdog country that belies their city roots, the kind that screams “get these bright lights out of my eyes,” and feels much more comfortable in the back corner of the bar, channeling the beer-soak off of the bar rags.

To add another asset in the corner, the band hooked up with Rusty Santos to produce, and despite his indie rock heart, Santos slips on a pair of boots comfortably for the record. Fleshing out the sound with the aforementioned steel guitar secret weapon, among other hallmarks of twang, Morning Haze emulates its ’70s predecessors with a keen eye for detail. Wagner knows the marks he’s trying to hit, but more than just looking to divine the the aesthetics, he hits the tone and that makes all the difference. Flinging that heart on his sleeve, finding the sigh that heaves heavy at the heart of the best country, Wagner and New Rose are a nailing the fragile line between heartbreak and healing.


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The Myrrors

What Tuscon’s Myrrors started on their last album, Entranced Earth, they seek to extend and embolden on Hasta La Victoria. The album dives deeper into the abyss of desert-rubbed drone, bone dry and aching for life. That thirst only serves to bring on hallucinations of flute, panicked visions of heat-stroked saxophone and the spectral wail of bouzouki, harmonium and viola. The album is the desert horizon incarnate, flickering in heatwaves of brown and lit up with the insistent throb of an orange sun that refuses to dip.

The band plays the album like a series of rites, odes to the forgotten gods of an Earth long since scorched by the ignorance of the many and occupied by the breath of the few. This feels like the national anthem of perseverance in the face of overwhelming defeat, a victory in name only. Victory, because not being gone is not being forgotten, at least not yet. For their part the band has embraced the austerity of want, having almost entirely abandoned electric playing on the album. They approach the apocalypse ready – an Earth in death throes, rebounding and healing, but for the moment unforgiving.

They say that this generation has lost its spirituality, but maybe that’s only in the traditional sense. Maybe where old temples crumble new ones spring out of the dirt and out of the mind. In a land without water, carry your sanctuary with you, a fane scraped out of bone and sinew. If that’s so, then The Myrrors are truly the sages of a new choir and the minstrels of a coming age of dust. They’re ready, and maybe when you are too, Hasta La Victoria will open its arms and let you in.




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Snapped Ankles – “Jonny Guitar Calling Gosta Berlin”

First time I heard this one, I had to double check the credits, make sure this wasn’t an old Tubeway Army or Ultravoxx track lost in the sands of the internet. London’s Snapped Ankles pull hard from the school of post-punk machinations that Gary Numan and John Foxx started, almost to an uncanny degree. But hell, if you’re not going to blaze a trail, at least walk it with confidence, right? That, the band does with a cocked robotic smile. The accompanying clip is a barrage of melted images that pair well with the motorik clockwork of the track, overloading every minute with a caffeinated buzz that throbs in the veins and punches the medula oblongata a few times on the way out of the body. This is a nice throwback to the emotionless arch of synth punk’s architect eyebrow.

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James Elkington

There are certainly more than a few schools of fingerpicked guitar, but in the West, predominantly there’s the Fahey/Basho axis and there’s the English lope of the Jansch/Drake/Jones school. Elkington takes the latter for a turn and rolls his English folk like a stream peppered with stones and winding through eddies of life. The songwriter has found himself a bit of a jackknife of the studio, a sideman’s sideman who’s fleshed out albums from Jeff Tweedy, Wooden Wand, Richard Thompson, Steve Gunn and Tortoise to name a few. He’s a kind of built in textural embellishment that seals a song with a strange magic.

As such, his own solo debut employs more than a bit of that magic, weaving it deep into the fabric of Wintres Woma. Like Drake (uh Nick that is) before him, he knows the value of melancholy as a driving force. Though, unlike his forebear, he also knows how to pump the breaks and enjoy a streak of sunshine on the meadow when it hits him. To that point, this album is going to feel like a constant companion come autumn. Few songs here aren’t built for the brisk inhalation of decaying fauna underpinned with the rustle of breeze acting like natural percussion.

Elkington is an almost preternatural songwriter, plucking songs from the air like they’d always existed. Winteres Woma is the kind of folk record that’s whispered about in collector’s circles and traded on fuzzy tape, uploaded to YouTube clips and hidden in second hand shops to be picked up on payday. At least that seems its fate in another life, were it to be released in the late ’70s and suffering the kind of tax scam release schedule that befell so many before him. While he might not have the fluffed up backstory of a lost classic, he has captured the same feeling here and now. Thankfully this doesn’t have to be dug out of Discogs at a premium or waited out on re-release. Elkington has crafted a time-shifted folk record that’s pristine and present. You’d be a fool to let fate get its hands on this one.




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Bill Orcutt

Traditionally Orcutt has sunk his teeth into acoustic guitar, expressing pain and the purgatory of the soul through the tangled strings of a trusty Kay filled with ghosts. It seems time, though, that he gives his caustic reverberations life through electricity and on his eponymous LP, he does just that. The album approaches and rejects accessibility, throwing interpretations of Ornette Coleman into the same bucket as traditional chum like “When You Wish Upon A Star,” “Over The Rainbow,” and “Ol Man River.” The latter tropes are rendered fairly unrecognizable through Orcutt’s lens, however, and it’s freeing to have him set a few classics on fire with the soul of Loren Connors.

Some of these songs have appeared in one form or another on Orcutt’s acoustic albums, but each is given a new life and new teeth for this record. The tumble of notes that spring from Orcutt’s explosive tangles are only tempered by the ringing spaces that he leaves hanging on the air. Anger and confusion lead to calm exhaustion, like a child all cried out and forgetting what the fight was about. The dissonance, and resonance of this album pushes through the platitudes of the source material to find a new resolve that strips pretty much any care from your body like a full salt scrub performed with power sanders.

It’s tempting to blanch at the chaos and din that Orcutt makes, but the trick is letting go. It’s a Magic Eye of an album, once your consciousness is relaxed and not fighting to find a thread, only then does it untether your lizard brain from the shackles of reasoning and resistance to let the picture form. Then the true magic happens and this chaos lifts to the heavens. Meditation through barrage, perhaps there’s a new movement brewing.




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