Gunn-Truscinski Duo

Back before Steve Gunn was commanding Matador wheatpaste, he and John Truscinski had been laying down cinder-psych issues for Three Lobed with no particular agenda except finding the a common buzz and following it through the veil. They’re back in form here, with Steve shying away from his accessible canon of late and going in for scorched threads of nylon string rip and Truscinski anchoring him back down to the cruel, dusted Earth. Couldn’t be happier that the duo is divining the truth yet again, though I’d also be amenable to news of a new Golden Gunn album as well. Guess I shouldn’t go asking for favors. Still, mark you calendars for this nugget.




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Zola Jesus on Magdalith – S/T

There have been a lot of artists that have popped up repeatedly on RSTB over the many years, but few with the consistency of Zola Jesus. Nika Danilova’s first appearance was in 2008 on a year end list of 7″s, marking her “Souer Sewer” cut as one to watch in the coming years. Seems like she’s not only been one to watch, but one to anticipate with great hopes as each release nears. Her work has set a high bar not only for those enamored with the dark strains of industrial and goth but for any electronic or pop record in a given year. Her latest, Okovi is one of her most personal albums and a stunning reminder of her power as a vocalist – confronting tragedy with a strident battalion of sound. For her entry to Hidden Gems, Danilova has picked a record far from the beaten track, the 1973 eponymous work of French Gregorian singer Magdalith, whose works echo Zola Jesus’ own balance of desolation and heart-stopping vocals.

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The Surfing Magazines

The Surfing Magazines knot their slackened indie impulses through a slow-simmer debut filled with rope-burn riffs and a midnight vocal slink. The London foursome drags the line directly from the VU and Jonathan Richmond schools of aloofness, swaggering through songs with an innate eloquence that hasn’t really been felt since guitar rock’s mid-aughts bubble. They embody the essence of detached cool, strumming with a purposeful, but decidedly laconic touch that flicks out frayed runs with a sigh that seems at odds with the lacerations they leave. If this were another era, one could only imagine a cigarette dangling unperturbed from the mouths of players in forgotten accessory.

However, while they find roots in an American past, there’s something indelibly British about the album – a stateliness that hangs in the air as the notes decay behind the fold. And thankfully there’s very little actual surf influence here, aside from the loungey instrumental “A Fran Escaped,” it’s kept to just a flourish and a name. Instead, the band projects an image of art-dallianced mod rockers whose jazz friends have come to rock a horn session, beefing up their stripped bare rumblers with equal doses of swing and skronk. Somehow they make it sound refreshing and, while there’s definitely a note of pretension here, like VU they get away with it since their charms outweigh their indulgences

The bones of the band crib decisively from the Wave Pictures half of the members’ background, with no real shreds of Slow Club’s lush indie-pop in sight. Though, what they’ve done with the same basic structure far outstrips Tattersall and Rozycki’s previous catalog. It’s hard to hammer at the essence of The Surfing Magazine’s sound without acknowledging that it carries deep debts to tried and true tropes, but what makes their version stand out is that they pull it off effortlessly and with such a cocked smile that the listener just has to appreciate their confidence and nod with appreciation.




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Woolen Men

Portland stalwarts Woolen Men snuck out a low key release last week and it’s further proof that they’re cementing their status as heirs to the crooked crown of spindly post-punks. The band trawls through the catalogs of Kiwi scrappers like The Clean and Chris Knox then staple their approach the the steel wool scrape of The Fall, the no frills delivery of The Modern Lovers and the ensconced pop pilfering of The Feelies. And while that might make them sound more like archivists than innovators, the band’s appeal is more in how they fit the pieces together rather than any Where’s Waldo spot-the-influence challenge.

Woolen Men have shown up strong ever since their scruffy self-titler back in 2013. They came gunning for listeners with a whiff of familiarity that acts as bait to their acerbic world, then hook ’em in with rusted barb of guitar that bites deep. What’s surprising is that this release, while actually an odds n’ sods collection of tour tape cuts, splits and even a flexi, works as well as anything they’ve put out in their regular rotation. Even their chosen covers weave seamlessly, proving that the band both emulate their heroes well and have absorbed those sounds into the very DNA of their own work. That this doesn’t feel like an unplanned release cobbled together speaks highly to the creators. If even the extras are this strong, I can’t wait to see how the next proper LP shapes up.




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The Schizophonics – “The Train”

San Diego’s Schizophonics tap the primordial soup that fuels the rawest riff on rock n’ roll – the kind that left crowds slack-jawed and jonesin’ after performances by The MC5 and their siblings in sweat, The Stooges. The Schizophonics pump that strain of heat through every inch of “The Train,” coursing 1.21 gigawatts of disjointed guitar fury through any speaker that thinks it has a shot to handle the noise. They’re picking up the mantle once held high by frayed freaks like The Sonics. They’re donning the cape and bending down to the same twisted Tiki God that bestowed King Kahn with the very tempest of Soul that infected James Brown and Little Richard before him. With no small amount of blood letting, they’ve caught the manic itch of rock’s own riotous ripple and they’re spreading it far and wide here. Their LP is out now on the famed Sympathy for the Record Industry, so dig in for a full helping.



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Silverhead – Silverhead

It’s actually a bit perplexing that it has taken this long for Silverhead’s debut to attract a proper reissue. The band, often tied into glam’s evolution (they were fans of platforms, makeup and over the top costuming) actually land musically much closer to a breed of hard rock before that classic crunch found its way into the glam canon. They hew close to late Who, Beggars-era Stones and of course a touch of Bolan/Bowie, but then again who at the time wasn’t finding themselves transfixed to those two?

Their 1972 debut is packed with rockers that, while not necessarily fixated on hooks that would cement their status, definitely paved the way for bands that came in their wake. Though, without exception, “Ace Supreme” stands as a glam jam that never got its due. The song is filled with the larger-than-life persona of of the genre and it burns well past the 100 degree mark and rising. The band would, sadly, only release this album and a single follow-up before disbanding in 1974. Members would go on to fill out the ranks as session and touring members of Blondie and Robert Plant’s respective circuses and singer Michael Des Barres would actually garner more notoriety for a small recurring part on MacGuyver than he would as leader of the band.

Good to have this one back on vinyl after all the years, though. It’s a vital link in the glam chain and is worthy of a seat at the table for a discussion on the evolution of hard rock through the ’70s. The new edition comes courtesy of Vinilisssimo reproducing the long lost classic in its original form for the first time since ’73.


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Together PANGEA

Back before they got it Together, Pangea were a band that balanced their garage impulse with a steadfast understanding of just which sparks of indie and grunge made for explosive rock. Living Dummy was a powder keg of sore-throated rockers and acoustic breakdowns that only became more emboldened as they worked towards their breakthrough. Pangea had a pop sensibility that rang through the grit, and they exploded that on their Lauren Records single and a planned Burger EP that would eventually work as the blueprints for Badillac.

So, as they come out of the shadow of Badillac‘s release it’s interesting as to how a “never the same album twice” aesthetic works in a world of major label subsidiaries. They’ve moved along the EMI foodchain from Harvest to Nettwerk. I’m still trying to figure out if that’s a move up or down in the eyes of the number crunchers. Though, I can say that those trying to sell T-Pang’s jittery punk to press as something that “became a plot point in a bonkers episode of NCIS” might be barking up the wrong tree. There’s no such thing as bad sync these days and the very notion of “selling out” checked its head a long time ago, but last I took a look the median age of viewership on that show was 60, with an extraordinary willingness to believe a woman in her forties is still sporting Hot Topic goth pigtails. There’s still a lot to love here, but I’d worried that a band I have affection for had been needled by those who’d sell them as “edgy” to Nanas running Nielson boxes.

Now let’s dispense with my personal feelings on the upper echelon of labels these days. Bulls and Roosters does inherently update Together Pangea’s sound in ways that pushes them forward. Though I admit I miss a good run of lozenge-ready vocal cracks from William Keegan, the album matures their acoustic vs. ecstatic palette into something that absorbs pop impulses with an eager readiness and even incorporates some sunset slide work into the mix. They aren’t the young punks that began fraying the wires almost a decade ago, but neither are we, the listener.

This set acts as some of their strongest songwriting and tracks like “The Cold” and “Stare At The Sun” buzz with a sheen that befits their years working the stage, while using the studio as a lab. Even if the note makers are ostensibly waiting off mic on this one, T-Pang retain their essence while making this a record that’s easy to digest. Sure, part of me wants them to just melt some paint of the walls, but in holding back, the band has proven they can’t be pigeon-holed either.




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The Fresh & Onlys

Time sneaks up on you in funny ways. It seems like the age in which Fresh & Only constantly had another single, EP or album kicking around the corner was just a moment ago, and then the calendar reminds you it’s been three years since their last release. Now the interim has been stocked with sidepiece sendups from both of the core members, but there’s something to the spark in the room when Tim Cohen and Wymond Miles get together. They bounce ebullience through experience to recapture the immediacy of their early work, then balance it with the sophistication and nuance of their last two records.

Following Long Slow Dance’s heightened pop realty – a dose of literate rock shot through with dashes of new wave sheen, pulsating under the PAR cans in true rock glory – they doused themselves in a shroud of atmosphere for House of Spirits. The cloud shaded in the crevices of their often craggy creations and it tended to sand smooth some of the splinters that stuck hardest with the listener. For the most part, they drop the curtain of gauze for Wolf Lie Down, creating an album that’s neither pop perfection nor ephemeral puzzle. Instead it’s the band working their rawest nerves with a grace that embraces their years behind the microphones and in front of constant expectations.

They hang the album on their strongest single in a very long time, the blistering “Impossible Man,” a song that’s as close to the nerve of indie rock’s promise as you’re likely to get. It’s a huge hook, bigger than they’ve mounted since the Long Slow Dance era, but tracked with the grit of their early one-off singles. Part of me wishes that they’d gone all in on this aesthetic for an album. While I love the philandering aesthete visions that round out the rest of the album – the ghost town growl of “Becomings,” the Sunday slink of “Walking Blues,” and the hallelujah haze of “Qualm of Innocence” – it’s the fire I’m craving. Between the title track and “Impossible Man” there exists a promise of bombast waiting to happen, an explosion muted by good intentions, but muted nonetheless. I want them to loosen the spines of their literate tendencies and just embrace the power line hooks that lie in wait inside them. If it takes another three years, I’ll be here. I’m a patient soul.




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Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band

The Solar Motel Band’s been creeping ’round infinity for sometime, but Forsyth and his clutch of cosmic travelers push to the edges on Dreaming In The Non-Dream – a thinly-veiled balm for troubled times. The record stretches out like endless lands populated by Crazy Horse courtesans weaving bajas from the thread left behind in the wake of parades pitched for Robert Wyatt, Television and The dirt-country versions of The Stones. A lesser soul might say The Eagles had a hand in the formula, but maybe knock that notion out of your mouth. This is a higher plain of existence than mere AM Gold can contain.

Forsyth burns ozone, biting his guitars into the bone and then turning up the heat until they smolder to a fine ash. He’s pushing for ecstasy often here, and coming damn close to some sort of musical version of it – dazed and zoned to an infinite chord that’s just out of reach. The record is largely instrumental, but when Forsyth’s dusted croon peeks through the ragged curtains of guitar, his weathered delivery frames the chugging, cinder-swept runs with ragged perfection.

The main events here are the twin-armed attacks of opener “History & Science Fiction” and the title track. Both stretch out into widescreen vistas of six string rumble doused in a chemical clear cut. However, not a note is wasted on Dreaming In The Non-Dream, the coda-cap of “Two-Minutes Love” cools like a Thorazine splashdown from the heightened senses pricked to life over the first three tracks and “Have We Mistaken The Bottle For The Whiskey Inside?” shows crinkled troubadours how to wail again. Without question, Forsyth has always been a force in American guitar, but here he’s letting the ire under his skin seep out into a tangible form that lets this album perch atop his catalog.




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Flesh World’s Jess Scott on Section 25 – Love & Hate

Jess Scott’s membership in the under-sung, shambolic trio Brilliant Colors would cement her status around here alone, but she’s doubled down on great bands, heading up the equally great Flesh World. Their second LP is on the way from Dark Entries and it’s an intoxicating mix of brittle, anxious post-punk and dreampop that will undoubtedly convert a few more fans to their cult of sound. As usual with Hidden Gems, I’ve asked Jess to elaborate on an album that she finds underrepresented or overlooked in the halls of musical accolades. She’s dug deeper into the Factory files than most cursory listeners with a dive into Section 25’s 1988 album Love & Hate.

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