James Elkington on Robin Williamson – Myrrh

You might not immediately recognize James Elkington’s name but chances are you’ve heard his playing on songs by Jeff Tweedy, Wooden Wand, Richard Thompson, Steve Gunn, Michael Chapman, Joan Shelley, Nathan Salsburg or Tortoise. He’s a kind of sidmean’s sideman, a songwriter’s secret weapon who adds texture and depth to any song he graces. He’s steeped in the traditions of Basho, Fahey and Ayers with a touch that rivals his compatriot Steve Gunn in accessibility and nuance. As usual Hidden Gems explores the albums that inspire reverence in artists, the ones that they feel haven’t received due diligence. Elkington goes deep on a solo outing from the Incredible String Band’s Robin Williamson, and makes a case for a psych-folk classic lost to time.

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Astral TV – “Sun Flares”

More great work out of the El Paraiso camp. This time the vibes skid less into the psych valley than into the Kosmiche ripple with a solo outing via Causa Sui synth and electronics-wiz Rasmus Rasmussen. The track is a prime example of ’70s German progressive synth float flecked with cosmic ambitions and rippling waves of lycergic bliss. Kosmiche has come storming back as a tag of notoriety in the last few years, but its also become a lazy signifier for letting synths drone on too long. Rasmussen can hardly be accused of aimless synth noodles. The track builds to a tower of crystalline beauty and glows like a beacon of new age glory. Many have tried and failed, but Astral TV nails the vibes that brought Germanic synth lords shuttling into view in the first place.




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House and Land

It’s been such a noisy year, in so many ways, that its nice to sink into the sparse trappings of Sally Anne Morgan and Sarah Louise Henson’s traditional Appalachian folk. Not that they allow such folk to become a place of complacent quietude, rather they’re able to wield solemnity and austerity as fiercely as many would a cracked amplifier through fuzztone. However, their resolve and mastery of traditional instrumentation (fiddle, shruti box, banjo, 12-string guitar and bouzouki) shrouds the record in a layer of acoustic shiver that centers the listener as it unfolds in its own naked strength.

The pair met while Henson was opening for The Black Twig Pickers, of whom Morgan is a member. The two women dig deep into the roots of not only American folk traditions, but the natural drone that permeates many historical musical styles. Both songwriters come from a tradition of not only folk but experimental music and the incorporation of microtonality and drone into the canon seems fitting to their background. While its more subtle here than, say, in a neo-classical composition, the drone and harmonics add a darkness and complexity that separates this from lightweight folk on many levels.

More so, they also use the traditional songwriting as a platform to subtly update the songs’ intent for a new age; either adopting the original male voice and making it their own or changing the song’s lyrics to offer a female vantage. This can only resonate deeper in a year marked by so many presumptuous lawmakers speaking for masses whose voices they’re barely hearing. Traditional folk is a road that’s been visited time and again, but there’s still ways to make it, if not fresh, then resonant. House and Land are certainly making the form ring true.



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The Peacers

It’s always comforting to have Mike Donovan back in my life. Since snaking Sic Alps through the seas of fuzz in the early aughts he’s been a steadfast companion with or without the Alps name in tow. Moving to a solo record a few years back and forming Peacers in 2015, which began as a duo with a garage icon of some renown, he’s always been able to find the ragged pieces of the human soul and put them in an order that would make Skip Spence proud. That reputation takes no tarnish here, it’s a pure ramble through the flickering flame at the heart of truly underrated songwriter.

Now with the exit of Ty Segall, one could see the sophomore outing as a bit of bait and switch. Though that kind of view would discount Donovan and place a hair too much of a crown on the heavy head of Segall. Sure, Introducing The Crimsmen is a decidedly quieter record than the last, and that may have something to do with the parting, but its always been Donovan’s show. That makes this record heir apparent, so to speak, to the Sic Alps line, and it feels very much like that’s the idea. Introducing… is a slightly dressed up version of Sic Alps, still shaggy but maybe throwing a shirt and tie on the production while filling out the sound via the addition of Shayde Sartin, Mike Shoun and Bo Moore.

The new players give Donovan’s songs a heft that Alps didn’t always have to swing around. His jagged-psych is given legs via some country touches and the grit gets heavier with the tumble of drums and a second guitar to fill out the din. The acoustic bent on a few tracks, added to that aforementioned shimmer of country, chafes against his gnarled guitar squalls at times. When it all meshes together into a rusted wire framework, though, it works for the most part as the listener steps back to take it all in. That lighter sound hearkens back to that solo album (still one of the highlights in his catalog) but personally I miss a bit of the heaviness of the first record, and it would have been nice to see him go all in on that direction with the full band. Still, there are some true gems in the folds here.




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Philippe Hallais

Usually sporting the name Low Jack, Hallais steps out under his own name for a new release on veteran experimental electronic imprint Modern Love. The album is an ambitious gamble at a concept album that winds thick clouds of shoegaze leaning electronics around a narrative that mirrors the rise and fall of a 30 for 30 style sports story. It arcs through triumph and betrayal, decline and salvation before settling into the kind of melancholy even keel the stores often land on. For all its ambitions, the album plays well as an arc, whether you glean the sports story or not.

Hallais sweeps the listener up in tentative hues of swelling anticipation, but tellingly its a track called “Everything (Good)” that might be the best dual image of American success. The track is driving, but distorted – a feeling of blissful invulnerability fractured into broken mirror static. It’s the kind of song that embodies the overload that’s perceived as all being well, with a rotted core ready to break. That point seems like the beginning of the decline, and he maps out the seediness morphing into neediness following that point driving through the excellent “Fantasy (4U)” which brings to mind subtler works from Darkside.

As he winds down into the fall and rebuild, the album finds a calmer veneer shot through with the kind of thick tones that Jefre Cantu-Ledesma and Yves Tumor have found their niche in of late. If this is the direction that Hallais is headed in, then I’m on board 100%, but if its a one-off, then its still a great example of distorted emotions bent through the electronic veil. You’d do well to find a quiet place to let this one sink in.






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RSTB Best of 2017 (so far)

Is it already six months into 2017? Could that be possible? Though it seems there are a hundred other things to distract these days from musical output, it’s been a banner year in terms of albums meeting high expectations and some new surprises sneaking their way into rotation. Somehow, despite plenty of talent bubbling through other genres, it’s just felt right to embrace the blistering squall of psych, noise and punk these past few months. So, as usual, here are the albums that have spent most time on the turntable here. Presented in alphabetical order, its a pretty good roundup with six more months left on the clock.

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Oh Sees – “The Static God”

Thee Oh Sees loom large once again and the air grows acrid with the stink of sonic deluge on this one. They’re just called Oh Sees now, you say? Sure, why not? No matter what name you hoist on the masthead, if J. Dwyer is steering the ship you can count on a good dose of psych-smacked garage. “The Static God” is paced to palpitation and bursting at the stitches with outbursts of noise that seem to take a swipe through Eastern tuning. Maybe they’ve been hanging too long with the Gizzard crew. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Three things you seem to be able to count on in a given year – Gizz, Ty and Oh Sees will come roaring in and light up the husk dry timber of your soul as they channel the very vien of psychedelic furor. As much as I enjoyed the departure on Weird Exits/ Odd Entrance last year, its good to be back behind the jet engine blast of Oh Sees guitar once again.




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Träd, Gräs Och Stenar

Last year wrought a long needed box set from Swedish godfathers of improv-rock Träd, Gräs Och Stenar. As luck would have it, this year follows that document up with a new album forged by original members and some newer touring members and it brings the band’s sound tumbling into the 21st Century. The album’s impetus was the passing of original members, Torbjörn Abelli and Thomas Mera Gartz, both of whom passed away very close to one another. The remaining members met for sessions that exorcised grief, celebrated life and found passage through to another level of psychedelic experimentation.

The set isn’t nearly as frayed as their earlier works, rather it sounds like it could be splitting hairs between the dark tension of some of the Constellation catalog, the midnight guitar improvisations of Loren Connors and the toasted tones of High Rise. The resulting album is raw, barren, drone-blues at its finest. Haunted and flayed bare of any pretense, this is a sonic sky burial. The band have already earned their place in the pantheon of psychedelic heroes, but they just drive that stake further into the ground with this collection. If there’s a moment in your life that needs to be exorcised and burned to the bone, then Tack For Kaffet (So Long) has a solution somewhere in its tracklist.

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The Surfing Magazines – “Lines and Shadows”

Consisting of two thirds of The Wave Pictures and one half of Slow Club, London combo, The Surfing Magazines come locked in with a touch of DIY pedigree. They don’t rest on reputation alone though, brandishing an effortless cool that seeps through the wires, laying the track into territory that’s squeezed out of the Velvets school of punk and into a bone dry twang that belies their British roots. They slide the track home with a slow building of sax that boils over as the track reaches peak, shattering into a thousand pieces of skronk and squelch that burn down any composure built up over the previous few minutes. A barbed first single that hopefully lets on to an equally interesting album.




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Wet Lips – “Here If You Need”

The glut of albums has taken time away from some great tracks of late, so why not play catch-up? In addition to anchoring RSTB faves Cable Ties, Jenny McKechnie takes up ranks in Melbourne’s Wet Lips. The band’s sound is just as tough as her other gig, though she takes less of a front-woman role here so the vocal quotient docks in a touch less powerful than Cable Ties. Not as beholden to post-punk impulses, Wet Lips hew closer to a more traditional punk palette growling through grit-teeth injustice and riding tension like a straight-edge razor on the fire-bellied “Here If You Need.” The song encapsulates, as the band mentions, “being a woman in a social situation. the obligations you feel to be polite, respectful, small, restrained, not be seen to be greedy or attention seeking.”

The album has just moved back a bit to a June 30th release and it’s coming out on the band’s own imprint Hysterical Records, which offers up their debut alongside fellow Aussies Shrimpwitch as their inaugural releases.


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