Badge Époque Ensemble – “Undressed In Solitude”

Centering around the works of Maximillian “Twig” Turnbull (formerly Slim Twig), Alia O’Brien (Blood Ceremony) and a host of live players who’ve been backing U.S. Girls on the road over the past year, Canadian collective Badge Époque Ensemble creates a heady mix of jazz, psych, tropicalia and prog. The last U.S. Girl album was noted for its expansive sound and blistering live show, much of which is owed to the players here. Along with Twig, the band stretches out hitting the sweet spot of ‘70s soul-jazz under the sway of pharmaceuticals. On lead single “Undressed In Solitude” the band adds the vocals of James Baley to give the affair a midnight aura. The track stretches past the eleven-minute mark and fully embraces the boundless visions of Isaac Hayes’ unrestrained late ’60 / early ‘70s run. You just know this one is going to kill on stage. The record is out June 7th on Telephone Explosion.




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Patience

When an artist so deftly nails a genre, its sometimes beguiling that they’d ever leave it behind in their wake. Veronica Falls was one of the most instantly brilliant jangle-pop bands of the last decade. They merged wistful, tip-of-the-tongue influences into a seamless pop vision that was quietly catchy, incredibly intimate, and bittersweet to the point that songs could make your heart ache for days. As the band faded away to their separate pop corners leaving behind an enviable, albeit brief catalog in their stead, neither half has pursued quite the same niche they once found so comfortable. As her bandmate James Hoare has wandered more autumnal with his works, Roxanne Clifford has found space on the dancefloor of sorts. After several singles under the name, her debut as Patience applies the same artisan’s ear and bittersweet heart to synthpop that she once saved for the jangle.

There are still a few flecks of guitar that grace Dizzy Spells (“White of an Eye”) but they’re garnishes at best. Clifford instead focuses on a stripped-down analog sound that’s delightfully minimal, though never unpolished. She’s channeling the early years of dance-pop, the kind that found itself creeping out of the corners of disco, but also found itself in thrall of German electronic pioneers and bedroom pop singers alike. She crafts the kind of detached, yet hypnotic hits that made Grace Jones and New Order kindred spirits with slinky underground acts like Monopol and Autumn. The opener “The Girls Are Chewing Gum” could easily find itself bound up with the kind of sharp, kinked club hits that wind up on Minimal Wave compilations.

The bulk of the record swings a different direction, though. The songs, for the most part, aren’t built for dancing in public, but rather caressing a wounded soul and broken heart away from prying eyes. The sort of intimacy that permeated her work with the Falls is still readily apparent here, and Clifford is able to apply a dreamy veneer to the skeletal beats and gauzy auras she’s constructed. The shift is admirable for its desire to steer quite wide of her comfort zone, but more so because she pulls it off jus as naturally as she has any other vision of her songwriting prowess. Whether this remains a temporary direction or a new standard for Clifford, she’s proving that no matter what genre she’s exploring, she brings a deft pop palette and that perfect pang of heartache that makes the songs stick.



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Altın Gün

Since the phrase Netherlands based Turkish rock band doesn’t tumble out of your mouth every day, it perks up the ears when one hears it. Following their formidable debut, On Altın Gün bumps up the label chain to ATO for a follow up that’s expanding on their excavation of the Anatolian rock canon. They continue to take inspirational swipes at the venerated catalogs of Erkin Koray and Selda, but the band begins to shift from their ‘60s rooted sounds while bridging the psychedelia with a disco shuffle and cocaine strut of the late ‘70s / early ‘80s bent to create a whole other era that hangs between the years. The bulk of the songs (save for “Şoför Bey”) are interpretations of older folk songs and Turkish traditionals – a practice that was common among the psychedelicists of the ‘70s in the area. This leaves the band room to mold the classic melodies into their vision. The melding of eras brings to mind the outdoor market tapes of bands from the Anatolian scene as well as African bands who’ve long interpreted their region’s traditional songs with modern arrangements.

When the band amps up the fuzz they’re still at their best. Occasionally the genre melting pot gets a little too full with their ‘80s visions, as on closer “Süpürgesi Yoncadan,” which strips away more of the psychedelia and goes for a straighter disco element, though this is perhaps the only instance where the tonal shift overhelms. Impressively, the band makes pretty much all the eras fit together like a tapestry woven through the changes without much friction. In most cases the shift from drums to electronics barely registers until the dance is upon you. The blare of the keys overwhelming the guitars is all just more of the band’s ecstatic approach. If you’re a fan of Turkish psych, this should already be in your basket, but if you’re simply a fan of blistering guitars, polyrhythmic beat, and slinking bass that can’t help but incite the itch of dance, then this is equally your best bet.



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Kanaan

On their debut, Norwegian trio Kanaan embrace a lineage of prog, psych, and metal that melts together into a powerful album that’s able to broadside the listener while remaining nimble on its feet. The band’s equally comfortable picking through the twists and turns of The Eleventh House as they are with bottom-heavy burners like Sabbath and The Flower Travellin’ Band. They use the album’s length to work their way towards the leaden boots of the latter over time, steadily shedding layers of intricacy in exchange for fuzz and fury. “A. Hausenbecken” finds the band bending their metal into sculptural shapes – still rusted and barbed, but beautifully striking from a distance. As Windborne wears on the beauty is somewhat subsumed by force and forged into a blunt instrument, though even that blunt instrument is decorated with a splash of painted and etched symbols that can’t help but haunt.

Like much of the El Paraiso Catalog, the band isn’t content to sit still stylistically. They echo Causa Sui’s absorption of prog’s high-minded, over-arching themes, Mythic Sunship’s blend of jazz and psych into a primal force, and even Futuropaco’s attention to rhythm. The latter they dip into on the motorik middle ground of “Harmonia,” which, as the title might suggest, plays into the Kosmiche touches of the referenced German lightspeed travelers. The track serves as a sweat respite in the middle of the album, a moment when the knots of the first two tracks are untied and a bracing point before the album’s second side tears into a growl of heaviness. Yet another worthwhile pickup from this Norwegian stable of cosmic shamans and prog denizens.



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Wolfmanhattan Project – “Silver Sun”

Plenty to love in a band that comes packed with Bob Bert (Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore), Mick Collins (Gories, Dirtbombs) and Kid Congo Powers (Gun Club, The Cramps, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds) and the band makes good on more than their past reputations with the single “Silver Sun.” Sounding like one of my favorite Mick Collins records, Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-Blooey!, his Dirtbombs ode to bubblegum, the song’s not bogged down in the grit and garage blast that could easily come from any of the players involved here. It sparkles and swings. Its a sunshine strummer with a popcorn beat built for dancing. This one’s been building for quite a while, but seems to have dropped out of space with a release tomorrow. If the melted syrup choruses and laconic harmonies on this track aren’t enough to sell ya then I give up.



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Isasa

Quietly tumbling under the leaves of 2019 is the third album from Madrid’s Conrado Isasa – a fingerpicked gem that’s indebted to the Takoma school, but leaning forward towards a more experimental future. The guitarist’s phrases tumble delicately from his fingers, recalling his fascination with Fahey, but also the more open-ended spectrum of Richard Bishop. There’s often an inherent sadness in Isasa’s works, heartbroken but not beaten. On the slow and stately “Conversaciones en un Supermercado” the artist captures the empty ennui of wandering through necessary consumerism, forced to connect with humanity through the clarification of produce. On “Cuesta Ramon” he balances Eastern trills against a harmonium drone, taking his playing from American valleys to the hum and bustle of Indian cities, again conveying a sort of lostness within a sea of humanity. He even gives his influence Fahey a nod with a title dedicated to him, echoing the legendary guitarists balance of movement and touch through his feel of the strings.

There is joy also, though. He rambles like Rose on “Arquitecto Tinista,” cracking open the windows to let the sunlight shine down and the cool spring breezes blow damp and delightful. He wanders around the city square with no particular place to be on “Pocitos, Montevideo,” a shy, yet sweet track that’s an exercise in restraint. Throughout the album’s many moods the thread of isolation and connection seems to chew at the listener. Often fingerpicked albums convey moments of ebullience and anxiety but Isasa excels in finding the feelings between the extremes. He’s sketched an aural ode to unsure interludes, crossed glances, mild reliefs, and heartbreaks so small they’re only noticed after being added together at the end of a day. His touch on the strings echoes in the mind long after the needle’s left the record, haunting the listener like a task left unfinished, a sentiment unresolved.



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Sacred Paws – “How Far”

On their sophomore LP, UK duo Sacred Paws continues their thread of simple, yet sunny indie pop. “How Far” practically skips into the room on its acoustic strums, twirling in the sunlight like a kid let out of school early. The song’s so loose and airy it barely has bones but the pair keep it together with the charms of vets who’ve been honing their pop pedigree longer than their years would let on. The song approaches the edges of afrobeat before pulling back towards the indie-pop garden and the skittering lilt that guitarist Rachel Aggs adds to the song’s burbling beat is all the better for it. Definitely looking forward to this album as it rolls out from the band May 31st.




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Allah Lahs – “Raspberry Jam”

I’ve previously mentioned the ambitious and excellently zen project from Mexican Summer, Self Discovery for Social Survival, which pairs bands like Dungen, Conan Mockasin, Peaking Lights, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma and Allah Las with pro surfers in three different, distinct environments around the globe. The bands traveled with the surfers to experience the trip and feel the energy alongside them and then wrote their accompaniment to the live footage. Some of the most compelling and sun-soaked cuts on the comp come courtesy of Allah Las and now the label’s let one of their fruit-themed tracks out into the air. Check out “Raspberry Jam” below and you can catch the film and full soundtrack in June.

The premiere of the film will be at the Palace Theatre in Los Angeles on June 15 with a live score by Allah Las, Connan Mockasin and Andrew VanWyngarden of MGMT

Ticket HERE.

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King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard

After a year of constantly reviewing King Gizz and crew it was nice to have a breather last year, probably as much for the band as for the public. That lets the band land back on the turntable without a hint of fatigue on their fourteenth album. Ever shifting in the stylistic sands, the band seeks to embrace various corners of downhome choogle and plasticine boogie with this run ‘round the turntable. The runup to this record gives good argument for digesting an album in its entirety, though. Thrown at the listener piecemeal, the disparate parts of Fishing For Fishies felt out of joint with each other, but once sequenced into a slide from countrified funk to future stomp the ties tighten and the band’s vision begins to make a bit more sense.

They kick the disc open with a kitschy callback to the vibes of “Vegemite” and both the breezy quirk and visual in-joke video feel like the days when the band had zero expectations heaped upon them, creating talking sandwiches covered in their national litmus condiment with a wicked smirk. Then album begins its slide into a history of funk n’ roll over the next eight songs, stopping off at ‘70s backporch grit, Stevie Wonder wiggle, and seven-foot-tall whoopin’ garage party platters. Ambrose sneaks in a hip-shaker that sounds like a Murlocs outtake, but fits the vibe nicely, giving the open-door hotbox hoedown another tweak.

They cool for just a moment, letting the sweat steam off their backs before taking the plunge once more. As they hockey stop into “This Thing” the band begins their slide towards the doxed, cold futurisms, though not without still a knowing wink in their eyes. King Gizz are kings of psych paranoia, but they’re forever having fun with it. The track snags a few trilling orchestral touches, but at heart it’s a stadium-sized rocker tipping towards excess and ecstasy. Then they strip the skeleton of funk down to back alley ambience with a touch of creeping menace before they lay open the portal to “Cyboogie.” The lock-stopped ‘80s psych-funk phenom has got boogie in its veins but murder in its eyes. It’s a pulsating finish to the band’s Frankenstein of retro-futurism and should probably slay the crowds in the live setting.

The album’s sleeve (and to that point the title) seems like a misstep to me, but those are purely aesthetic questions and shouldn’t tinge your enjoyment of the album. It’s just that the band’s visual direction, led by Jason Galea has been so consistently vivid that this seems like a first draft on the way to something more solid. No harm, though. It’s what’s inside that counts and this is one of the more fun releases in the band’s vast and ever-growing catalog.


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Kevin Morby on Paul Westerberg – Stereo

As I’ve previously mentioned this week Kevin Morby’s latest is a double-wide opus to spiritual connection and a step away from his usual guitar grounded albums. It’s a big and bold move that’s vaulting Morby even further into the indie rock pantheon’s ranks of ambitious songwriters. That’s not to disparage his back catalog in the least, though. The artist’s rise over the last few albums has been a constant source of joy over here and its great to have Kevin contribute a pick to Hidden Gems. For his pick Morby dips back into his reserve of youthful influences for a Paul Westerberg solo jaunt. Check out how this Midwestern classic came into his life and ultimately what role it played in shaping his own works.

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