Posts Tagged ‘Drag City’

Major Stars – “Out In The Light”

Oh man, the fount of Wayne Rogers is overflowing this year. After a finely formed solo LP on Twisted Village earlier in the year, Rogers is back with Major Stars for their tenth full length. The first sounds seeping out of Roots of Confusion Seeds of Joy are as potent as ever. Towering riffs, a rumble of fuzz, and an elegiac croon from new vocalist Noell Dorsey (Avoidance, Ricochet) give the new material some serious heft. “Out in the Light” embodies as much of the classic burn of the Stars as one could hope for with a newfound melodicism from Dorsey that elevates her from the usual haze the band employs. Check the cover art from RSTB fave Robert Beatty as well, giving the record a complete package. LP lands August 16th.



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Mike Donovan

Mike Donovan’s post-Sic Alps trajectory has swerved through as many mangled twists as the Alps themselves. At heart, he’s a man that can’t be pinned, placarded, and cataloged like so many, instead preferring to douse his pop, psych, and noise with a deluge of bleach and sulphuric acid. Following the crunch n’ crumble attack of Sic Alps he fluffed his pop chops on his first solo LP, opting for a folk shuffle that bordered on simple sincerity. Likewise the first stretch as Peacers landed as a garage gem shot through with a reverence for the Velvets and Syd Barrett resting in the palm of each hand. The further he gets from inception, though, the more murky the visions become. Peacers’ second act was tied in knots and dosed to the collar in plastic foam and feedback flecks. His last solo LP was a view of the sky from the drain, a shut-in shimmy that left the fray of its housecoat in plain view.

So that brings us to Exubrian Quonset just a year later, sounding more like Sic Alps than Donovan has in a long time. The fuzz is at the forefront, and there’s that hot-footed sway that always gave the band their charms. Yet, going into a Donovan penned record, I’m always looking for that transcendent pop moment and that seems to be absent this time around. He’s usually got a damnable earworm packed in there somewhere, one that comes bursting from the buzz to knock the wind out of the listener. He’s pushing towards the light with the fluorescent flicker of “B.O.C. Rate Applied,” and its probably the most pop moment on the album, but even with a late night glow, it’s a different side of his pop canon. I’ll always be holding out for another WOT (the whole thing is nothing but these brilliant moments), another “L Mansion,” another “God Bless Her I Miss Her,” another “She’s On Top,” and that’s on me. Donovan seems to be swimming in the fray much more often these days, embracing his hackles more than his come-hithers.

I’m not gonna fault him. The fray has always been a portion of the equation, part and parcel with listening to any band he’s helming, but it was finding the surprise inside that always made me smile. For the fuzz farmers and wobble poppers, there’s still a lot of material to chew on here. It’s not circling the storm drain as hard as the last time around, but it does still seem to be looking up at the stars from the curb. Something in the record feels like Donovan is closing a chapter, like he’s tying up loose ends. This is, in fact, his leaving San Francisco record, so perhaps there’s just a weight on the record’s shoulders that’s too heavy for the buoyant bounce of his pop past.



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Wand

Wand’s alchemical change from fuzz punks into purveyors of mercurial indie prog is complete as they slide into their fifth album, Laughing Matter. Opening with the icy, Radiohead-esque pulse of “Scarecrow,” they seem to tip their hand, giving listeners a feeling of what to expect. However, they prove harder to pin down as the album progresses. The record hooks its claws into shades of shoegaze one minute, turning the fog-machine blur to a tumultuous ten, with Corey Hanson’s vocals climbing out of the mix in high, lonesome wails. The next, they’re picking out a loping folk intro, creaking the porch slabs in the background and thrumming on soft, purple twilight glows. They continue to weave through style swaps over the album’s hefty tracklist – sinewy here, angular there, riding a rollercoaster of thick muscular riffs buried in redline fuzz with ease on more than one occasion. Yet, where that might sound like a band struggling with identity, Laughing Matter proves that the band’s only just found their way between the cracks of genre to embrace a more ambitious persona.

Hearkening back to late ‘90s / early aughts budget bumps on alternative types, the record allows itself to embrace a bigness and grandiosity that’s been whittled down a bit in the wake indie’s genre drilldown tendencies. Sure, there are still a few who cast a wide net without totally sliding into the banal end of the pop pool (say: Tame Impala, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Temples), but Laughing Matter is the band’s swipe at something that might fit in with outsized psych at the centennial click-over that reverberated through records by Serena Maneesh, Secret Machines, Soundtrack of Our Lives, The Earlies, and yes, Radiohead.

It’s a record that makes space for silence and coiled anticipation. While it could have perhaps been whittled some, there’s a certain respect in becoming the biggest version of yourself possible. Fans of any of the touchstones mentioned should find something to savor on Wand’s new direction, and holdover Wand fans won’t find themselves disappointed. This feels like a natural progression from where they were on Plum. Last year’s stop-gap Perfume felt like, just that, a distraction rather than a move forward. This is that big leap the band promised, as long as you’ve got a good hour ten to strap in, the band’s ready to unleash their magnum opus.



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Ty Segall & Freedom Band

The live album is a strange beast to master. As the dichotomy goes, they’re either proof that a band is a whole other animal in the room or they’re a runoff of company funds filling pockets of air between studio slabs. You’re either ponying up Live/Dead, Live at Budokon, or Last Waltz territory or hogging a heap of our precious time. The exception, perhaps being archival sets like Castle Face’s Live in SF series, but that’s more along the lines of a parting gift to those who were there and a tease to those who weren’t. Those are tantamount to official bootlegs and that’s a whole other discussion. Approaching a true live album takes a certain amount of bold confidence that the alchemy created in the room can crawl out of the speakers without necessitating the packed bodies, the magnetism of performers, and the glare of the lights. The notification that a beloved artist approaches the live album puts a lump in the throat, eh?

Then again, we’re not all casually calling up Steve Albini to run the tapes. We’re not all Ty Segall – long a live draw no matter what configuration has been hammering behind him. We don’t all have the Freedom Band at our beck and call, as heavy a crew as he’s had to tangle his tracks into fuzz-crusted chaos than ever before. Deforming Lobes is no schedule filler, it’s a testament to road-worn rock and the transformative power a room full of hungry hounds yowlin’ for Ty to turn his ecstatic catalog into a sonic assault. Its one of the rare instances that a live album warrants second and third listens.

What’s best said about the impact of the album is probably what he left out, rather than what he left in. For a man with a mile-long discography that hits a halt at his recently released nineteen-tracker, Freedom’s Goblin, the trackist is lean, scraping only eight tracks, with one of them a cover of the Groundhogs’ “Cherry Red.” With the opportunity to get indulgent, the band opts to cut their set down to a molten core, snagging tracks from only a handful of studio satchels and focusing in heavy on Emotional Mugger and Twins with each grabbing two tracks to represent. What they leave in they offer up as a volume-soaked proof of purchase, eight racks of unrepentant damage that leave a scorch mark on the turntable. I’ve seen Ty everywhere from a basement to packed 700-seater and this album hits like a shockwave to the sternum. It makes a good case for keeping the format around.



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Wand – “Thin Air”

A second slip behind the curtain of Wand’s upcoming opus Laughing Matter lands today. “Thin Air” is a bit burlier than first single, “Scarecrow,” but it too is toeing into the skeletal indie prog left scattered by Radiohead, Mogwai and Godspeed around the turn of the millennium. Starting with the last album the band turned a corner from their garage moorings to push towards more ambitious rock pursuits with an eye towards stadium-sized epochs. However, the band is working decidedly in terms of alchemy rather than retread, picking sense memories from each of those sources and working them into something sinewy and barbed all at once. The track trickles in, only to roll into a ball of feedback by the second half – drawing the needle of their sound through shoegaze shimmers and psych bluster. Both of these pieces point to a bigger, leaner, and headier album from the band than before. I’m eager to see how these lock together and whether they can make the new album’s double length work in their favor or pose a challenge.





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Mike Donovan – “Cold Shine”

Coming close on the heels of the last Sic Alps album, Mike Donovan is back this year with his second solo record for Drag City. His last album under his given name was a particular favorite for me, sanding down the noisy edges of Donovan’s work and embracing the somber folk that resides at his core. “Cold Shine” is certainly pulling for the same well, turning perhaps even a bit starker than his last affair. The accompanying video depicts the fallout from filmmaker Betty Nguyen’s lost home during the recent Thomas Fire disaster this winter. The video is a somber accompaniment to the track and actually fits it quite well tonally. Despite the crushing depression that’s coming hand and hand with both the song and video, this is still some of Donovan’s finest and a lovely song for staring into the abyss.

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Wand – “Scarecrow”

Wand continue their reinvention from fuzz-chomping psych freaks to art rock acolytes with the announcement of their latest Drag City LP. In the austere, Between Two Ferns lookin’ video for the song, the band channels the brittle, air-conditioned unease of Mogwai, Muse, and, more specifically, Radiohead. They pushed towards reflections of ’90s guitar heroes on their previous album and they appear to be making their transition into the early aughts this time around. They’ve stripped away the ’90s grunge signifiers, trading their old STP CDS in for an angular agenda that tills Wire, Magazine and The Comsat Angels into stadium-sized sizzle. It’ll be interesting to see how the massive looking new LP works out as they’ve already got their sights set on a bigger profile with this offering. Laughing Matter is out April 19th.

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Masaki Batoh on Pearls Before Swine – Balaklava

As I mentioned in the review a few days ago, the work of Masaki Batoh has a pretty strong foothold in the roots of RSTB. Ghost in particular is a personal favorite, but the guitarists’ work has touched on higher burning psychedelic forms with The Silence and Cosmic Invention, twisted through experimental norms in his solo work and resonated deeply in his works with collaborator Helena Espvall of Espers. The latest solo outing, though, has felt like a coming home to the psychedelic folk and blues that first gripped me. As such its great to have Batoh contribute to the ongoing Hidden Gems series and tackle a release that he feels might not always get the proper due it deserves. Check below as Masaki discusses finding Pearls Before Swine’s underground classic Balaklava and the impact its had on his own writing.

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Masaki Batoh

On his first solo album since 2012’s largely experimental Brain Pulse, Japanese legend Masaki Batoh returns to the roots of psych-folk that wrought Ghost all those years ago. Winding through the same serene mists that haunted Lama Rabi Rabi and the band’s eponymous debut, Nowhere is a picture of Batoh leaning into his strengths while embracing both Japanese and, for the first time, English lyrics. While this is his first solo record proper in a while, its hardly the first we’ve heard from Batoh’s camp in the last couple of years. Following three albums working the psychedelic edge with his outfit The Silence, Nowhere is also a return to the meditative pacing reverent calm for the songwriter, relying on circular fingerpicks and the humid creep of echo to replace anything as outwardly explosive as he’s been fond of recently.

Having been drawn to the work of Masaki Batoh through Ghost and later working back through Sweet and Honey and Cosmic Invention, this mode feels like a welcome homecoming for me. The songwriter’s long arched over into the mystic touches, feeling every bit as otherworldly as the Tolkien-referencing plucks of Bo Hansson or the ritualistic runs of Ash Ra Temple. On Nowhere, Batoh dips back into those modes, while also proving that he’s picked up new habits along the way. He picks at American blues on “Devil Got Me,” and skews towards a a tougher, almost ‘90s blooze approach on “Sundown,” but he manages to keep the album from feeling like a hodgepode. Its more like a journal of psychedelic damnation – a sketchbook of psych-folk-blues embattlement as divined by someone at his own crossroads. Maybe Batoh’s isn’t as famous as Robert Johnson, but it still feels elemental.



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Ty Segall & Freedom Band- Live Album

Anyone who’s been in the audience for Ty and co. know that its well worth the price of admission and the live entry to Castle Face’s series proved just that. Now the road-worn Freedom Band is getting a live document as well, recorded over the course of their latest tour for Freedom’s Goblin. The record was laid to tape by Steve Albini himself, which knocks this up from the usual soundboard dumpout fare. Producing a good live record is a hard target, and for every Live at Budokon there’s a throwaway cash grab on the burner for a mid-’70s major. This, however, does not appear to be a stop-gap, but a true dedication to the live record as perfect curio. The album takes a good swipe at some of Ty’s core catalog (though not necessarily the most obvious choices) and sprinkles in one of my personal favorite covers for an amp wrestle as well. At only eight tracks, though, this is a tight turnout for a band that just offered up a nineteen track studio burner. Check out the band’s take on Twins-era standout “Love Fuzz” and get prepped for the rest to hit on March 29th.


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