Posts Tagged ‘Drag City’

Masaki Batoh

With his return to the fold of psychedelic folk (with a turnoff into blues last year) Ghost’s Masaki Batoh has reestablished himself as a master of the craft. Not that I’d ever had any doubts about Masaki’s prowess, but its nice to hear him embracing the delicate vibrations that result in melancholy bouts of rarefied air once again. While his work with The Silence has seen him reconnect with legendary psych drummer Okano Futoshi (Acid Mothers Temple, Cosmic Invention) he shifts to yet another high profile name for this record, letting Hiroyuki Usui (Ghost, Fushitsusha) create a lilting, skittering backdrop to his verdant vignettes. Often Usui holds back, framing Batoh’s work in shifting winds of sound, but there are moments when the percussionist acts as a perfect foil for the songwriter, as on “Speculum” in which the two artists play off of one another with graceful elegance.

Largely Batoh has shirked the lonesomeness of Nowhere, at least in the studio, inviting other members of Ghost and The Silence into the sessions. Though, musically, this record still leans into the solitary winds that he explored on his last LP. Likewise there’s an embrace of fluidity in language, with not only English seeping into his repertoire, but Spanish and Latin this time as well. Batoh doesn’t cobble his influences haphazardly, though, and the language shifts and instrumentation (which ropes in flute, piano, lap steel, saxophone, contra bass) gives the album a tapestry quality that’s meditative, if not also rustic. With the exception of a dip into heavier pscyh on the closer, Smile Jesus Loves You feels like the hermetic album he’s been longing to make, even if there are friends nestled in his cave this time. The mountain winds, and sunrise hues are rampant, and ultimately quite welcome. If Nowhere whet your appetite for more haunted folk from the master, then this will help quench the ache.



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Sir Richard Bishop

On his latest album Sir Richard Bishop moves forward and backward simultaneously. The record slips away from the yoke of organic string sounds that have grounded Bishop throughout his career – roping in electronic pathways, less organic textures, and a trend towards the avant over the ethereal. It’s as forward moving and adventurous as anything you’d expect from an artist rooted in the winking world textures and chaotic burn of Sun City Girls. Yet it’s also an ambitious experiment from an artist comfortable enough in his own skin that he’s able to balance virtuosity with curiosity. The record gazes backward in its patchwork approach by becoming a sort of sister album to his excellent aughts installment Polytheistic Fragments. Like that album the tone shifts from track to track, along with the instrumentation, but the overall feeling is one of becoming a soundtrack to some unseen film. The songs are vignettes that drip with sadness, sanguine solitude, and anxious intrigue. The themes have long threaded themselves through Bishop’s work, but he ties the knots particularly well between the pieces here while keeping up his approach of utilizing different instrumentation for each track.

The latter angle doesn’t become a gimmick but rather a conduit to bring out new shadows and shades in the unseen history of Oneiric Formulary. Where before he’d simply switch the tone and tumble of his fingered phrasing, now he lets the caustic gnaw of electronics creep into the mix. His labelmate and contemporary Ben Chasny has done something similar on his latest for DC as well, but Chasny makes synths feel like they were always in the DNA of his songs. Bishop makes it clear that they’ve come to corrupt. This becomes particularly clear on “Graveyard Wanderers”, a scraping, hulking beast of a track that’s without any of Bishop’s typical fluidity, instead hounding the midsection of the album with an overbearing dread. Not to be outdone, he follows the itch of electronics with a bagpipe dirge that churns the dread in yet another way before letting the languid stringwork and zonked electric slides return. Any follower of Bishop through the years knows that abrasive is in his oeuvre and he lets it linger here alongside some of his most accomplished runs and lyrical picking. This far on, Bishop is still looking to stir the pot and succeeding nicely.



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Flat Worms

There’s something fitting about Flat Worms naming their sophomore album after the last safe space in the world from a human contact perspective, while also naming it after one that’s in dire danger from humanity at large. Antarctica is a brittle, brutal, and quite honestly fair assessment of the predicaments we all find ourselves facing in 2020. Even before the proverbial rug was pulled from the amassed nations of the world, the band found themselves in a pessimistic crouch, uncompromising and unrepentant. Who else to bring these brutalities to fruition, then, but the patron saint of disposition himself, Steve Albini. The veteran producer gives little in the way of softness to the band and, in turn, they give little back. The record is fashioned in the mold of ‘90s rock that seeks to bring on a full body itch like an unwashed wool sweater. Though that doesn’t mean its not without comfort.

There are certainly hooks dug into their disdain, but they wear their frustrations on the surface first and foremost. The fire is warm here, but the smell of lighter fluid makes it unpleasant all the same. The L.A. band has been steadily building their sound over the past few EPs and singles — working up a ferocity that breaks loose on Antarctica. Their debut was lean and lanky, but this one’s put on muscle. The bass thunders but keeps its hips limber. They lay down a bedrock of metal bitten rhythm that traces the tail of the Northwest down a rabbit hole lined with Wipers singles, Mudhoney deep cuts, and Green River nihilism. The leads scream from the strain of feedback and bile. There’s been a revival of ‘90s impulses lately, it was bound to happen, but few of the revivalists have dug into what made the crux of grunge vital like this trio has. With this album Flat Worms find that same match strike that melds the hip-thrust hunger of metal with the careening trajectory of punk. Nostalgia be damned, this one feels like its got a talon in ya, and the twisting is both brutal and glorious all at once.



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Six Organs of Admittance

There’s always a need to celebrate when a new Six Organs gem tumbles down the belt, and his latest Companion Rises sees Ben back in fine form. Shedding the constrictions of his Hexadic system, which marked his last couple of releases, the album is locked back into the smoggy-eyed smolder that marks some of 6-orgs’ best works, though this time around he’s subbing a crinkled dose of technology in place of splicing tape and overdubbing percussive takes though the night. While there’s always the possibility of hampering the formula and making it feel like a digital copy of a copy that’s somehow both too crisp and yet still off-center, the addition of programing sits seamlessly into Chasny’s style. The programmed percussion still lollops with the same skitter those old hand drums did and that’s part of what makes it click.

Atop the patter of virtual sticks, Chasny lets the guitars do what they do best in the context of Six Organs – they tangle into ornate nests of notes, they singe themselves with a delicate fury, they rest the ornaments of production in a hammock of six-string security. What’s more he makes synthesizers singe in the same manner, pushing their production to the most organic edges of the mechanical spectrum. They ring and burble like replicant technologies, hardly aware they aren’t grown from the ground. When Chasny fuses the future with the past his bio-organic burn feels like an evolution of sound – nylon strings bending around in circular paths that lead forever down in repeated loops of copper wire and crushed circuits. The spark of guitar fury is still there like a wick bound to set the songs aflame and the blaze is beautiful – full of warmth, subtle flickers of orange and yellow, and an ashen ending that feels transformative.



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Sir Richard Bishop – “The Coming of the Rats”

Another dark rivulet of folk pools out of the upcoming Sir Richard Bishop LP this week. “The Coming of the Rats” is decidedly tempered when it comes to string velocity, compared to the tangle on previous peek “Celerity,” but the measured pace doesn’t dull the impact. Creeping with the kind of menace that would befit that title, the song shows off contact burn electric leads dueling with the quiet lope of acoustic for a cut that’s etched with soul collapse and bile. The song reeks of an internal struggle against better instincts, succumbing to a darkness that threatens to consume. The album is on its way April 17th, and this only makes the wait harder.



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Flat Worms – “Market Forces”

Perennial favorite Flat Worms made the jump last year from small indies (Castle Face/Famous Class) to Ty Segall’s GOD? Imprint over at Drag City. Their sound has only widened in the process, shedding the threadbare punk of their early works for a burled and thick thump that comes to a head on “Market Forces.” The album was produced by Segall and Steve Albini and as such carries the studio heft of those two particular poles, soldering the austere ache of Albini’s works with the punk pummel and fuzz cloud rumble the band had been fostering in their come-up alongside. The song shares some of the same appeal that latter day Purling Hiss, pushing aside spindly hooks in favor of a punishing wave of guitar cresting the horizon with each new track. The band smears their Dino Jr. throb with the West Coast fuzz coatings of Meatbodies and the Midwest rumble of Axis: Sova. The album arrives April 10th.



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Masaki Batoh – “In The Hour of Serpent”

Nice surprise today to have a new track from Masaki Batoh. With a solo release just last year, I’d not have expected more from the ex-Ghost frontman, but he’s sprung out of the fertile ground that brought forth Nowhere for a less solitary follow-up. Where that record was huddled around Batoh’s isolated reflections, Smile Jesus Loves YOU is more about reaching out in collaboration. Featuring members of Ghost (including percussionist Hiroyuki Usui) and The Silence, the record aims for communal transcendence and seems to be nailing it quite completely. Opener, “In The Hour of Serpent” is a lilting cut, buoyed by sweet flute curls and bittersweet plucks. The new LP is out May 8th fro Drag City. Dig deep on that cut below. If the rest of the record is half as good as this, its gonna be another stunner.



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Sir Richard Bishop – “Celerity”

With so many great fingerpicked albums over the last couple of years its hard to believe that it’s been almost five years since there was a Sir Richard Bishop LP. Well, a proper LP that is. SRB doesn’t sit still for long and there have been countless collaborative LPs, split releases and mover over the interim, but its been since 2015’s Tangier Sessions that a true, dedicated solo venture has come down the path. Though to be fair, this one reaches back even further in his DC catalog for an anchor point, feeling very akin to his ’07 untouchable classic Polytheistic Fragments. Like that record he’s back to using a different instrument to approach each track. Though it seems like this one’s going to go deeper than that record ever did, dabbling in some digital splashes and music concrete. Check out the first cut “Celerity” from Oneiric Formulary out 4/17.

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Six Organs of Admittance – “Haunted and Known”

Breaking away from his run of Hexadic records, Ben Chasny returns to the fold as Six Organs of Admittance, knocking loose the ash from the air with his psych-folk slink. There’s no incendiary burn on “Haunted and Known,” just the slow stalk of Chasny’s guitar and an undercurrent of creeping unease. The track is consumed by fuzzed orchestration as it works on, pulling the listener under the oceanic pulse of Chasnys writing. The song, along with the previously released “Two Forms Moving” separate themselves from Chasny’s recent efforts, eschewing the hard-to-penetrate complexity of Hexadic and the clear-cut singe of “Burning the Threshold.” There’s a calmer veneer, even when the menace envelops the edges. This is a languid look at Six Organs and it feels like a balm on a bad year. The record is out 2/21 on Drag City.




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Xylouris White

Jim White and George Xylouris have made a potent pair in the past, churning traditional Greek songwriting into something more mercurial for the past five or so years. In that time, they’ve put together three albums of dizzying sun salutations that seem rooted in the hills, wound tight with roots and rocks. Each song dug from the fresh cut earth like a bulb waiting to burst is treated with care by the veteran musicians. It’s clear that these two have been forging their respective talents for years in the fires of improvisation and their fourth album cements their bond as fluid players completely in tune with one another. White’s drums tumble and shudder, sending an unusual amount of emotion quivering between sticks and skins. Likewise, Xylouris seems to divine something elemental in his songs. His playing brings to mind the trance of exhumations of Native American folk song and the meditative float of ragas, but contained in something that is wholly and intrinsically linked to his Greek homeland.

After completing their trilogy – Goats, Black Peak, Mother – the duo focuses their gaze this time on the myth of Sisyphus and his duty to drag that boulder up the hill for all eternity. It seems a parable of rut, the idea that one is condemned to forever complete the same task thanklessly over the course of life. It’s the ultimate parallel to the cubical bound cruisers. Xylouris didn’t see it that way, though, instead preferring to think of Sisyphus as completing the same task but finding different tessellations to complete it. He may have the same start and the same end but that’s not to say the points between have to remain static. They saw a bit of themselves in Sisyphus, which makes sense for musicians. While not condemned, they are set to play the same songs live night after night.

No one said they have to be the same versions, though. Each new approach warrants a new take on something familiar. Each new set births a new journey and that in itself is beautiful. While that setup would lead me to expect the record might work on a series of motifs, its not that rigid. The pair fleshes out another record that takes the listener on a journey, bringing life to the rock and elevating Sisyphus from warning to artist. Odds are if you were on board with the last three, this is going to hit the spot. If this is your first dip into Xylouris White, it’s a good place to start as well.




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