Posts Tagged ‘Alternative’

Wurld Series – “Nap Gate”

A new vid today announces the arrival of New Zealand scuffers Wurld Series’ second LP, What’s Growing. “Nap Gate” fizzes out of the gates with amp strangling riffs, placing one foot in the Pavement camp and another closer to home, echoing kiwi alt classics like 3Ds, Tall Dwarfs, or Straitjacket Fits. Balancing cool-headed vocals with some paint-peeler guitars, this one makes a case for excitement for the Christchurch band’s latest offering. The record was produced in part by Brian Feary (Salad Boys, Dance Asthmatics), who runs Melted Ice Cream Collective out of NZ. The record arrives March 19th on Meritorio Records (Europe & USA), Osborne Again (Australia) and Melted Ice Cream (New Zealand & Rest of the World).

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Hobby – “The Humblest”

Growing out of the remains of Deaf Parade, Parisian band Hobby comes into their own on a debut solo EP that’s chomping on a couple of great sounds. With a jangled backbone and a taste for fuzz pop, the band rips into “The Humblest” like an overlooked cut from the DGC demo bin. The song trips over itself with a tangle of guitars but settles into a slow-simmer Pavement patter that explodes with a rather ravenous chorus that melts the paint at the top edges of the room. While the band definitely owes a few debts to the class of ’94 on this one, they do it with a love that comes through earnestly. The song’s just the tip of things on their upcoming 7” from Hidden Bay / RDS REC. Out on Dec 11th.





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Strum & Thrum: The American Jangle Underground 1983-1987

As a fan of jangle pop and exploratory compilations in general this deep dive into the less celebrated janglers from the American ‘80s underground is decidedly up my alley. The comp starts off a new series, Excavations, that explores some of the American impulses behind the sounds that built the basis foundation for the Captured Tracks roster. The label and Mike Sniper cite Pebbles, Soul Jazz, and Numero comps as an inspiration, and given that Mike’s history includes the compact, but excellent catalog of Radio Heartbeat, I’ve got a feeling he might someday expand this series to pick up where that short-lived, but still appreciated Numero spotlight on power pop might have gone. Though I’m just as happy to have them both run concurrent findings if the soul coffers run dry. That hope aside, this first compilation is packed with some great overlooked material that falls under the college rock tag that eventually gave way to Alternative with a bit more bravado over time.

A whole host of the bands on the tracklist here fit the bill for something like a Nuggets spotlight, though perhaps there’s a bit higher ratio skewed towards albums that pan out past the singles that Cap Tracks has pulled out to spotlight. Nicer price points too — a lot of the originals can be picked up in that magical and rapidly shrinking Discogs niche that’ll run you $8-15 for a gem. When I first found comps like Yellow Pills and Nuggets they acted as Rosetta stones for a world of niche sounds that expanded way past the stale radio fodder I found lumbering around the Midwest, and this comp has the potential to open up a whole new era to the kind of listeners like myself who were always looking for more. The comp threads its interest through vaunted labels (Homestead, Enigma) and more fringe players alike, but the sounds all tie together an ‘80s that, like Sarah and Postcard abroad, were acting in direct opposition to the more jocular zeitgeist that rose up all around them.

Packaged with a huge book of background on the artists, archival pictures and liner notes that dig into what makes each track such a worthy addition, the set is certainly worthy of the Excavations aspirations that they’re going for. If you’ve got a soft spot for the less punk strains that swam through the ‘80s underbelly then it’s hard not to be charmed by the round up here.



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Magik Markers

In the gap between Magik Markers Surrender to the Fantasy and 2020 it’s fair to say that the world has shifted, yet the band picks up their distillation of noise-pop and make it seem just as biting and relevant as ever. The group has long had a proclivity for balancing the brutal with the beautiful, wielding grunge-slung hooks alongside skin-flaying noise and tender moments that poke at the new skin underneath the wounds. The formula hasn’t changed but it feels like in their absence Magik Markers only became better conduits for their brand of barnacled pop shakedown. They ooze into the record, slow and primordial with eyes on the skies and heads in the mist as Elisa inhabits the spectral form for “Surf’s Up.” By the time they’re three songs in the sonic briars of “That Dream (Shitty Beach) are tearing at the listener with a thousand tiny cuts.

Both Elisa and Pete took the break from Markers to release solo works that embraced more tender territory and the tidal tone on “Born Dead” is an argument in favor of Ambrogio’s devastating way with a song. Even outside of the context of the album, the song’s layered synths and cavernous vocals relay a darkness and mournfulness that most songwriters never touch. While it would seem tempting to languish, the band jumps right back into the fray, draining the pool and skating in the sun with spot-on aughts noise pop that pulls me right back to an era when Eat Skull, Tyvek, and Times New Viking blistered the speakers for a summer or two.

As with any impulse in the Markers’ quiver, it doesn’t last as they weave further darkness over the last half of the album —plunging the listener right back into the depths that they plumbed in “Born Dead” and “Surfs Up” with closer “Quarry (If You Dive)” and the winding, tortured “CDROM.” The tonal shifts never feel wedged though — surging through bouts of depression and regret balanced with the requisite anger and joy necessary to deal with the overwhelming feelings. While bright spots appear, the album is more contemplative and haunted by the past than any of their previous albums. The lure of dark waters is difficult to resist and like the Markers maybe we’re all not dealing well, but we fight through nonetheless. 2020 is likely a year that we need Magik Markers more than ever. Its good to have ‘em back.




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Daniel Romano

There have been few busier songwriters in 2020 than Daniel Romano. The artist was bound for tour when pandemic grounded him, and as chance had it that meant holing up with the touring band for the time being. They certainly made the most of it with a run of nine albums, mostly released to Bandcamp over the past few months. While the offerings explore many of Romano’s strengths — some curio covers, and genre-dense jaunts — his planned LP for You’ve Changed showcases a seasoned pop master hitting stride and feeling completely comfortable in the gilded pop pedigree that recalls extravagant recording budgets and studio habitations that stretch the limit of necessity. It hearkens to a time of major label spending that would make a young band blush these days. Surprising then, that the band nails this one with the implementation of a few rules that keep it completely crisp and keep them from forwarding mail for months to a studio address. Each song was recorded in order of its appearance on the record and by rule none got more than three takes.

Much of the success of How Ill Thy World Is Ordered then, comes down to the aforementioned backing band, a group of players dubbed The Outfit. The group have been shaping Romano’s stage show up through a near euphoric live record released earlier in the year that serves as a primer for those who haven’t been keeping tabs on Daniel for the last few years. While Okay Wow tallies up the past, the future blossoms in How Ill Thy World Is Ordered. Romano has long had a way with tying the ends of pop, country, and ‘70s rock into a tight package, but this record amplifies each of those impulses, pushing him into grandiosity without wallowing in opulence. Like the shifts towards bigger vistas that inhabited recent records by Kevin Morby and Kyle Thomas, the record doesn’t hold back from letting horns, huge hooks, and stadium-sized backup sections drape over every track here, a feat that makes that three-take limit only more incredible.

There’s a feeling of career shift in the belly of How Ill… and records like My Morning Jacket’s It Still Moves or Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever come to mind, stretching Romano’s reach and never looking back. The horns in “Green Eye Shade” and “Never Yet In Love” rise their songs to the rafters. The guitars crash down like he’s got something to prove in each note. Ardent fans will be more than pleased and newcomers with a soft spot for large-scale pop should find plenty to hold onto here.



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ZEEL

This compilation LP culls together an album and bonus single from Boston’s Zeel and the feeling is both familiar and refreshing. The sounds here could easily have sat somewhere between the output of SST and Homestead in the ‘80s, mixing the hard-scrabble rock of Hüsker Dü with the gnarled weirdness of Dinosaur Jr. The band’s more interested in grit that the shiny promise of a hook and I have to respect that. Guitars are rush through stomp box fuzz and through the speakers in graveled saunter. The vocals fight with the amplifier fuzz for dominance, giving equal footing to riff and ramble.

The record makes a great case for a return to the ripped denim and unwashed tee shirt smell of pre-grunge. Every song here is working hard to hit that sweet spot when punk met head on with the wanting touch of the jangled sweat that was brewing in the backroom of college radio stations and stuck between the pages of zines with more passion that direction. They embrace that moment before the tide turned and the Singles soundtrack came and threw the goodwill into the fan, spreading it far and wide through suburban America. Sure, there’s a case to be made that the sounds have been mined, but there’s more probably more to carve out of the rock. This one sits nicely next to Milk Music and early Gun Outfit on your shelf of new rumblers.





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Hypnolovewheel – “Parallel Universe”

Growing up through the ‘90s it seemed that those of us in more remote areas had to scrap a bit harder to find music outside of limited shelf space in the few stores that existed in the area and the FM dial. I’m still coming upon pockets of bands that seem like they should have had prominence that were just completely lost on the wider net of listeners. Long Island band Hypnolovewheel definitely falls in this category. The band suffers from the ‘90s phenomenon of “horrible cover art overshadows the music inside.”. There was plenty of this trend at the time, but maybe see their collection of covers for yourself. It’s too bad, though, because the band embraced a wide swath of sounds prevalent at the time and made them all work.

From their alt-jangled beginnings on Turn! Turn! Burn! that recall The Embarrassment, to the smudged shoegaze blare of Angel Food and their final stop at power pop swagger on Altered States, the band had an enviable aural trajectory but never seemed to grip too long. Even with a bit of push through ‘90s Marvel (Hypnolovewheel would feature in at least one Spiderman comic at the time) and with opening slots for plenty of large-scale NY headliners, they seemed pretty contained to the East Coast. There wasn’t a huge push behind them. Their first two albums appeared on Fabian Aural Products and they moved to Alias for the rest of their output, but would dissolve after Altered States in ’93. The band’s Dave Ramirez would play with King Missle for a bit while they were still active and following their demise he’d work with James McNew in Dump.

Aptly this collection from Cara Records really ties together their catalog, with selections across their spectrum of sound plus some exclusive demo cuts that haven’t appeared elsewhere. Its a good primer and tends to wrap up some of the band’s most interesting singles and cuts, but their whole catalog is worth perusing at length as they do have plenty of deep cuts that don’t appear here. This is a nice spotlight on a band that seemed to get lost in the cracks like so many swallowed by the ‘90s.



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Weak Signal

I’ve been enjoying the arc traced by Weak Signal over the last couple of years, scraping out of the skeletal bones of their 2018 debut through a very solid split with Endless Boogie earlier in the year. Keeping us all on our toes, they lobbed a surprise album out last Friday and it thickens up the gravy they’ve been stewing over the past couple of years. Bianca amplifies the guitar growl that’s been festering beneath the floorboards of their sound but doesn’t discard the sinewy, sly bass work that’s marked their work as well. What they’ve mastered on their second album is a sense of heaviness with an appreciation for pop. There’s a wasteland scuzz that buzzes behind Weak Signal, sickened and malcontent, but the band doesn’t growl on top of the turbulence. They preen and linger, they find the quiet cool and bring it bubbling to the surface before skimming off a few indelible pop hooks.

While still sounding like a band that’s completely contemporary, Weak Signal funnel a certain brand of familiarity into their work. Bianca sounds like it could have existed in the verdant valley between SST and Touch and Go as ’89 wafted into ’90, or at least like it’s found solace in those catalogs during its conception. The album chews on the gristle of post-punk and post-hardcore, but it’s beyond them both, merely using the genres as fuel for a more noxious and yet intoxicating mix that gets into the blood with ill intentions. As with their past records, Weak Signal seem to only exist at night. The pre-dawn hours fuel their impulses. Streaks of sunlight could only dim the glow of their tube-lit saturnine souls. As the dawn decorates the horizon, Bianca dissipates into the ether with a static crackle of feedback and a reverberating hum. The band’s been aching for a breakout and with Bianca that moment seems like it may finally be here.



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Silver Scrolls – “Walk Two (I – Nature’s Promise)”

Offering up a new cut today from the debut album from Silver Scrolls. The band is the latest work from David Brylawski (Polvo, Black Taj) and Brian Quast (Polvo) and centers around a meditation on walks, and their connection to free association and waking dreams inspired by The Christopher Bollas Reader. Gnarled and inherently rhythmic, the songs beat like an internal metronome, but spiral off into vibrating tangents of sound, both tense and amniotic. While some songs lean on the idea of walking as an escape from inner turmoil, some let that turmoil spill out into the streets and back in again. Honestly, its a rather prescient concept for a record in a time when movement is coupled with anxiety and allowable space has become a constant force in so many lives.

For this particular track, Brylawski explains, “The overall conceit is a person who goes for a city walk then anxiety comes in and (he) decides that a nature walk is what is called for – Nature’s Promise, a ‘Doom Blues’.  However, he realizes anxiety has entered this walk as well – nature does not guarantee tranquility, so (he) must seek something else.   This part of the album, the nature walk, was influenced by an actual walk my family took in Montana a year ago.  There was a sign saying ‘last bear sighting 5 days ago’ and someone had crossed that out and wrote ‘three days ago’.  My family started on the walk but as the path became more narrow and the forest became dense – my wife and I at the same time became worried about our kids and literally running into a bear so we turned tail and got the heck out of the trail.” The album lands July 10th on Three Lobed.



 

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Woolen Men – “Alley Cat”

Always good to hear a new one from those cats in Woolen Men and the start of a singles’ club coinciding with a revenue share day on Bandcamp seems like a damn good reason to get over and pick this one up. “Alley Cat” is a straightforward chugger with a lightly toasted twang that ought to get your head noddin’ and the grooves stuck squarely in your head. Northwest indie goodness filling up the speakers on a Friday afternoon. Can’t ask for too much more than that these days. Nab this one and keep an eye out for the rest of the series.





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