Rangda

Three albums in and Rangda is still a dream trio of players, so wholly versed in their instruments that it seems hard to believe that they coalesce so rightfully. For fans of Sir Richard Bishop, his fingers are all over this one, quite literally, and a lot of the melodies on The Heretic’s Bargain play like Bishop solo tracks on steroids. The fluidity and frantic pace of strings is there, but electrified and given chase by Chasney’s guitar and Corsano’s expert beat. Songs are built on the rapid heart-skip of fingerpicks, but as proven on “The Sin Eaters” and the epic closer “Mondays Are Free At The Hermetic Museum” the group is built for the psychedelic breakdown, devolving those sprightly melodies into a blur of sticks and picks and squalls of feedback that threaten to consume time itself. There’s always been a quality to Bishop’s melodies that I think would lend itself to soundtrack work, as if he’s always composing scenes in his head, with the the guitar quickening footsteps down a hallway or poking its head around the corner trepedatiously. Here he invokes that same cinematic quality, only to add a more urgent sense of catastrophe in the corrosive breakdowns. The characters here might quicken their steps, but its likely in a chase away from unseen demons that win out in the end. Rangda is and has always been a behemoth and on their latest they prove that they’ll keep banging ’til they bring it all down around them.

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Death By Unga Bunga

DBUB have been cracking at the skull of the European garage scene since 2010, but its just now that they’re crawling into the US consciousness and its damn good timing, because Pineapple Pizza is their crispest set yet. The EU never went in for that whole lo-fi buzz bin. They’ve kept garage above board and crystal clear for years and this album reminds me in the best ways of the pure fun of the 2002 garage revival that put everyone back into the pit as a herald of rock’s return. The record has a pop heart that beats loud and clear, with hooks the size of Subarus locking down its nucleus and a relentless bounce of cheerfulness that makes this album border on pop punk in the fun department. Its at least a close cousin of the genre at heart, even if the band sees themselves as more of a garage band.

Don’t know who’s choosing the singles on this one, but despite the initial punch of “Tell Me Why” the best bits here are being overlooked. “Best Friends” casts its hooks in early on and “Make Up Your Mind” is a nodder as well and “Strangers From the Sky” is as big as they come. Catchy though it is, “Young Girls,” which did make the singles cut, makes me cringe in that way that Bad Sports’ “Teenage Girls” did a few years back. Its hard to sing along to a song that’s predatory at heart. No matter how “celebratory” you think your anthem of youth is, its creeping us all out. But that trip aside, this one’s a keeper and one of the most fun records to come onto the speakers in a long long time.

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Hockey Dad – “Can’t Have Them”

Hands down one of the most fun bands I saw at CMJ last year was Aussie duo Hockey Dad. The band have been clangin’ around their own Aussie scene, but with a album poised on Kanine shortly, they’re likely to make much more of a dent on US listeners in the months to come. Prior to the album, the single “Cant’ Have Them” seems to sum up their chilled brand janglin punk and the super saturated video to match is vibing pretty hard here. Honestly this is an album that I have high hopes on for the year and I’d say to keep all ears pointed at the Wollongong duo for some earworms that’ll nag you for the next six months.

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Expo 70

Justin Wright’s Expo 70 never disappoints around here, and his latest slab of sonic dread is no different. Laced with drones, heavy and leaden as cinder block bunkers, and shot through with a cosmic strain of psychedelia that unwinds as much as unravels the soul; Kinetic Tones is another massive album for the band. Forty minutes, four tracks and all dense sonic tumbles through the Kosmiche eye. The album creeps in slow and steady, with a desolate dronescape that dredges up all those Earth comparisons, then things expand into heady territory, shifting to sweeping alien psych that feels as removed from the concept of pop music as possible. There’s always a sense of foreboding present on Expo 70’s releases and it rears its head here as well. For its reliance on limited melodic motion, drone knows how to play the long game, and here the tonal shifts slowly grip the listener like low level panic until it feels like it might overwhelm.

The record is dedicated to an endangered species of Indonesian bird of prey, the Flores Hawk-eagle, and its almost easy to see how the life of such an animal might influence the pieces here. The feelings embedded in Wright’s drones are atmospheric, towering above us in a detached freedom, but the sense of loss, loneliness and uncertainty of survival run deep. The closer “Ascension From Dusk” has the kind of masterful mix of sour stomach dread and reluctant acceptance that made the best John Carpenter soundtracks stick long after the credits rolled. This one’s another keeper in Expo 70’s long (40+) discography.

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Pere Ubu – Elitism For the People

Who would’ve thought one of New Wave’s flashpoints lie in Cleveland, that the heartland held the spark that fanned a blaze? Pere Ubu rose out of the crumbling hull of Rocket From The Tombs, creating over the course of ’75-76 a couple of singles that would catch the ears of Mercury Records, who in turn created the Blank imprint just to get Ubu out to the world. Seems like a dream now, a major label fighting to get fractured art-punk to the masses despite knowing that little commercial success might come of it. The band existed in the same glowing headspace that allowed Devo, Ultravox and Public Image Ltd into the homes of impressionable youths with a glinting, metallic taste of commercialism gnawing at their tongues and the unrelenting itch to buck rock’s bloat nagging like a shirt tag. The band’s debut, included here, was, probably much to Mercury’s dismay, not a pounding commercial success and its probably apparent from the very first piercing tones why. Though it stands as a monument to punk’s lasting impact and acerbic stance to this day.

Mercury did not see it that way and the band were dropped following the record, leading them to Chrysalis, a home of much of the prog rock excess that it would seem they were in direct reaction to, though they’d swing to a much more welcoming roster in the years to come (Ultravox, Spandau Ballet, Stiff Little Fingers). There the band took no notice to Mercury’s obvious reaction to their difficult debut and created a record even more unwelcoming in its wake. Dub Housing is often touted as the band’s high water mark and Tom Herman heralds a new generation of bands folding noise into their guitar work here. In turn, David Thomas continues his mission to push the limits of how a frontman can be perceived, peppering the album with his chaotic yelp and driving it towards the edge of its own cliff. The record, again, was not a household staple. As with Mercury, Chrysalis dropped them after just one record.

Fire’s first box of Pere Ubu’s journey contains these two pieces of the puzzle along with The Hearpen singles, those early bits of kindling that brought the fire to life, and a set recorded at Pere Ubu’s peak in 1977 at Max’s Kansas City. The band lives on after this, but not in as deranged circumstances. Though its been said that “there are no inessential Pere Ubu releases” and even the latter catalog has a twisted fire that the label has now documented in a second set. If ever there was a “show your work” example of why Pere Ubu need to be in your life and probably were in the lives of someone you’re listening to, Elitism For The People is the set to put the theory to the test.

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Feels

Feels hits all the right notes to rope in the cult of 90’s slacker cool, dredging up some Breeders pangs, mixed with a kneel at the altar of early Nirvana sweet n’ scuzzy songwriting for good measure. The L.A. foursome have more than their fair share of barbed hooks hidden in this nest of fuzz pop tangles, but the kicker is production courtesy of who else but Ty Segall, never resting as usual, and pushing their poison soda punch to the max. Laena Geronimo’s sweet and sour coo draws the listener in and then draws blood, soaring just above the tumult below with confidence that’s palpable. Each time I return to this album it makes me pissed that they’re pulling off the formula so well. Its a record that knows it wants to walk in another era’s Doc Martin treads but doesn’t give a shit if you notice. I say that if you make a record that seems like the past was worse off without it, rather than just a scrawled notebook love letter then you’re doing something right. There’s definitely a piece of me that feels like I might have been better off hard charging this out of some bedroom speakers in ’94, but who’s to say now. I’m certainly better off with it on the speakers in 2016.

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Smiles – EP

San Francisco’s Melters label has an impeccable ear for pop with all the gooey charm, power chord explosions and healthy-sized crushes on our favorite childhood bands. Turning out records from Tony Molina, Ovens, and Swiftumz, they now present the debut 7″ from Smiles; a band that snuggles up equally to Teenage Fanclub and early Primal Scream (before they got better pills). Like labelmate Molina, they’ve got a knack for brevity, though they don’t leave you hanging on wanting just one more verse of pop crushed perfection as he would. But they do smear the speakers with moody maneuvers and chunky riffs and then bring things down in perfect precision with a strummer that chokes up the dreamers on its way out the door. Its a pretty good showing for a first release and one that does what a good first EP should, leaves me wanting way more from this band.




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Timmy’s Organism – “Heartless Heathen”

If you haven’t had the pleasure, there really is nothing better than Timmy Vulgar on stage in his crazed hobo, psychedelic warlord element. This video might be the best approximation of the experience I’ve seen next to feeling the paint thinner vibes head on from the stage. Gotta love that Jack White’s honoring a hometown hero with the release of this record on Third Man’s new imprint. The people need more crazy in their life and, hell, Timmy can shred with the best of them so more power to the folks that find their way down the rabbit hole this way. If you haven’t picked up a copy of the long player yet, then now’s the time.

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Slick!

The force of glam runs strong through Slick! and that’s probably because Nick Slick has spent his tenure in quite a few acolytes of the glittered stomp, trading time in Glitz, Apache and backing The Runaways’ Cherrie Currie for a time. In the wake of Glitz’ demise he’s back with a new outlet for 70’s riffs taller than a triple stack and pulling a spot on sweat tribute to his forebears. Yeah yeah yeah, I know, what the world needs is another glam punk band like it needs another pothole, but I say, hell if you can bleed leather and rock the alter of Alice Cooper and The Sweet with equal aplomb then more power to you. The album’s a full tilt, dance inducing slice of sex obsessed rock ‘ roll and its easy to see how this is a close sibling of Glitz’ Its Glitz. Though in a way it also reminds me of Cozy’s Button by Button an album that knew that bubblegum lies at the heart of glam. The frothy organ lines that thread their way through a few tracks find the band tripping on that excellent tipping point when rock took itself less seriously again and glam found its childish heart and sense of swagger. For an album only available as 500 run cassette, this has a huge sound and its the kind of album that luck should stick permanently in the deck of your ’87 Escort. Blowin’ lights with Slick! on the speakers seems a natural fit.





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RSTB Most Overlooked

So, here it is. Raven has turned 10, which means that I’ve been doing this for a friggin’ decade at this point and I have to say, it hasn’t been a bad ride. With the site’s turn into the double digits it seemed time for a new coat of paint, which you may notice in the form of our new design and move to the proper .com address.

I spent quite a bit of time pouring over the site’s past in the last few months leading up to this relaunch and while I will work to get some larger features going this year, I’m not going to make lists a regular part of the site, outside of the mid-year and year-end wrap ups. I’ve never been a fan of running down rut-worn lists of records based on a loosely tied theme. But…nostalgia begged a bit and I came across several posts on records I thought just never got a fair shake. Its not a list of my best of the last ten years, those you can probably put together yourself from year end lists, rather these are some great records that just never seemed to garner enough yelling about them.

However, rest assured that despite a new look, the ethos of RSTB will remain largely the same. I’ll still focus on reviews that don’t get too gabby, some videos and now a short bit on tracks that are exciting from releases to come. There will still be a focus on the physical formats and prods to buy them, because paying artists for music you can hold in your hands will always be a good idea. So, without further adieu… the list.

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