Posts Tagged ‘Fire Records’

Vapour Theories – “Breaking Down (The Portals of Hell)”

The end of the year got dense, to say the least and I definiely missed out on this when it was announced, but it still hits like a corroded kick to the carotid. Vapour Theories, the Bardo Pond side project of John and Michael Gibbons, have risen once more with a new album out in February on Fire Records. The album was chopped out of hours of improvisational recordings that traverse a familarly scorched and shrouded landscape that both VT and The Pond have traversed in the past. The record digs deep into undulating fuzz and ambience that won’t let itself be shoved into the background. The brothers even tackle an Eno classic in the form of “The Big Ship,” but on “Breaking Down (The Portals of Hell)” the band enlists a groundswell of growl that would befit such a title. The song vibrates with a barren ache that can be felt to the last dying moments. The record is out February 26th from Fire Records and it feels like a necessary part of the Bardo extended fam.



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The Chills – Soft Bomb

Now if ever there was a shining star in The Chills’ catalog, their sophomore LP Submarine Bells is just that. The record was the band’s major label debut and it’s one of those records I honestly wish I would have found earlier in my life, having come to it quite a few years after its 1990 release. The band’s early edges were softened and their songwriting was hammered into pop perfection. While it achieved the kind of critical praise that will forever let this one swim to the surface if R.E.M. fans and Kiwipop lovers dig deeper into the bench of major label offerings from this time period, its follow-up remains slightly more elusive. I’m sad to say that as much of a fan as I am of the early singles that populate Kaleidoscope World, on into Brave Words, and Submarine Bells it took these much needed reissues of later Chills works by Fire to really let Soft Bomb spend some time on the speakers.

By 1992 The Chills as they’d existed were really gone. The rest of the band left but Martin Philipps remained as did the support of the label he’d signed to. So, in the fashion of songwriters who are hitting outside of the league they’re assigned, he embarked on an ambitious album that stands alongside quite a few other sprawling gems of the era. While albums like Game Theory’s Lolita and Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade come to mind, this finds some similarities closer to home with the clever wordplay of Able Tasmans’ A Cuppa Tea And A Lie Down. Though perhaps more than any of those, Philipps sought quite actively to make this album into something greater than he’d reached for, employing Van Dyke Parks and ex dB’s Peter Holsapple to help him shape this album into a cycle of songs that fold in and out of one another with a velvet pop touch. Sometimes, though effort leaves its mark quite noticeably, also distancing it from those others.

That soft touch in Philipps’ songs may have ultimately been the album’s undoing, given that it arrived in 1992, a year known more for its embrace of abrasive indie riding the grunge wave than any tender-hearted lost souls. So would end a chapter for The Chills with Phillips writing one of his most ambitious albums, even if it occasionally got away from him a bit. There are plenty of pop moments, and its clear that while Parks only actively contributes to one track here, his inclusive approach to songwriting is felt as a guiding light. That can give Soft Bomb a bit of sea sickness switching moods from one track to the next, especially with the focused sweep of Submarine Bells still fresh in mind. Yet there are also so many true gems interspersed throughout the album that the ends justify his ambitions and in hindsight this is still prime Chills — melding the serious with the sublime. It’s nice to have both of these albums back on the shelves and hopefully now that time and distance have let the dust settle on the angst of 1992, a greater appreciation of Soft Bomb can blossom.



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Romy Vager on Psychedelic Furs – Forever Now

Still plenty of essentials on the way in this strange timeline we’re on and RVG’s sophomore LP is pretty high on that list. The band’s debut was an emotionally fraught, tumultuous record that stood high with ‘80s classics from Echo and the Bunnymen, The Go-Betweens, or Siousxie Sioux. The band has only refined and expanded on that sound with their follow-up, out soon on Fire Records and Feral aims to be one of the best of the year. Naturally, that put the band’s songwriter and driving force Romy Vager high atop the list of inquiries for a Hidden Gems, and she digs further into that ‘80s influence with a spotlight on Psychedelic Furs’ mid-period gem Forever Now. While its predecessor may have gotten all the acclaim for the John Hughes tie-in, this one begs further exploration and Vager explains how it came into her life and the impact its had on her own writing.

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RVG – “I Used To Love You”

Couldn’t be more excited for this one. Aussies RVG released an instant classic LP in 2017 – a record that was draped in emotional weight almost to the point of breaking, but so steadfastly resilient that it seemed like a life preserver flung into a sea of sadness. As is fitting, others responded to the sweeping grandiosity and laid bare honesty of Romy Vager and her band and they shot from the small scale to larger avenues. With a new LP on the way from Fire Records, produced by Victor Van Vught (PJ Harvey, Nick Cave) the band follows up one of their most crushing singles, “Alexandra,” (also on the album) with a taste of what’s to come.

While it’s hard to top the heart wrenching “can’t go home again” anguish of “Alexandra,” RVG still come to stun with the quiet composure of “I Used To Love You.” The song doesn’t crack into the emotional dam break that some of their past singles have, instead opting to operate as if holding back tears, not giving the subject of the song the satisfaction of seeing them suffer. There’s the feeling that after the dying notes of the song at least a few tears are shed for self-preservation, but the rest is a brave face cushioned in the resolve to move on to better things. The new LP is out April 24th.



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Black Lips

Like many I suppose my relationship with Black Lips has been fraught. The band’s always hand a sneer that’s both admirable (their ability to not give a damn about the winds of trend) and irritating (knocking out songs that feel like they coulda baked a minute longer). There’s an irreverence to their humor that skirts juvenile jabs, but it’s a good-natured poke to the ribs. Even when trying to put on a scrappy, dangerous garage guise, the Lips don’t really wish you ill. They’ll pick you up after shoving you to the ground. Aesthetically, their last record seemed to sap the last ounce of steam out of the sandpaper-piped garage that they’d been hounding for the past decade, so good news descends as the band has been born anew beyond the veil of country-rock. The gamble works and the twang sits well in their wheelhouse.

They add a roadhouse grit to the genre, melding their snide asides with the forlorn tales of hard luck, hard living, and hard liquor. It’s not a baptism in the genre but they’re definitely having as much of a dalliance as The Stones ever had. The Lips have always had a hardscrabble heart, now they’re just letting it bleed a bit more Tennessee Whiskey. Some of the renewed sheen might have something to do with Laurel Canyon vet Nic Jodoin at the board. With the exception of their Mark Ronson steered 2011 breakout, the band has often let the layers of sound fall by the wayside, preferring impact over subtlety, but Sing In A World That’s Falling Apart doesn’t just twang the guitar, it adopts the studio slick of their influences as well.

Lonesome harmonica pulls at the heartstrings, even when the song’s about a rogue GI Joe. Pedal steel soaks up the beer from the bar, sax squawks bump the jukebox, and Cole Alexander’s never sounded so buttoned up (but ready to rumple should the opportunity arise). While its nice to keep scratching the same itch, eventually that leads to lesions, so its nice to see the Lips swivel and shine. Country-rock’s a tried and true midlife dabble for a band, but nailing it takes more than a whim as they prove here.



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Groundhogs – Blues Obituary

I’m all in for getting the Groundhogs’ catalog back on the shelf and it seems that Fire are rushing to the rescue these days. The UK label digs into the band’s ‘69 release, Blues Obituary. The album provides an essential bridge between the hogs’ early blues covers and the, wilder, freer works of their later albums. Scratching The Surface is populated by standards and classics. Its proof the band can play and deserves to be lifted up among the upper echelons of British Blues. With Blues Obituary, however, The Groundhogs propose that they’re something else – provocateurs, alchemists – rather than journeymen. The songs are still rooted in the groove of blues, but TS McPhee and the boys bury the old notions, as the title might attest, and dive further into freakout and burnt psychedelia than they’d ever dared before.

Though they’d certainly push further in the future. The album precedes their doubled down classics Thank Christ For The Bomb and Split, which could use the reissue treatment as well. If the stars align and Fire’s got it in them, hopefully they’ll see new light as well. Apparently, the shift from the blues was spurred on by good ol’ John Peel, which just makes Blues Obituary that much sweeter in retrospect. Any rec from John is a shove in the right direction. This is McPhee just finding his freakish muse, and, while there are definitely more essential albums both in their catalog and from the same year, this is a perfect fit for heads into Canned Heat, Yardbirds and John Mayall. The label does the release proud with a die cut sleeve and limited color, making this likely the definitive issue of the LP.



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The Chills

Second winds for bands can always come with a flinch. Will the band capture any of the magic that drew us to them the first time around? Will time twist your favorite songwriter out of view? Age has a funny way of changing the equation, just ask Smiths fans. So, with that idea in mind, when legendary Kiwi-pop forefathers The Chills returned with Silver Bullets after a 19-year hiatus, it was a rush to hear Martin Phillips still walking the lines between heaven and hope. The band was still braiding their jangles into biting hooks, still making lit-pop for the hopeless devotees of earnest intent. They proved that post-punks could grow up without wearing their past like a costume.

Not looking to lose more time, The Chills are back with another addition to their second coming and it’s continuing the quality streak they picked up a couple years back. Stuffed with new wave nods – neon cooled keys, a jumble of jangles and galloping rhythms – the record is a fine companion to Submarine Bells’ massive pop footprint. While age hasn’t pushed the pop scope of The Chills too far off of their original pedestal, there’s a lyrical lash at work here that might not have always been present in the past. Phillips looks back, not in anger, but with a skepticism, ennui and strained sadness. Snow Bound is coming to terms with the hope that a young band held and how short the world fell from those expectations.

The band has often existed as a South-Hemi counterpart to R.E.M. and Echo, albeit with a much more condensed catalog. Along with countrymen The Bats and Aussies the Go-Betweens, they guarded a pop vision that remained timeless while nailing the best hallmarks of the decade in which they surfaced. After decades of leading young bands to the right roads, The Chills are still building new avenues of their own. With Snow Bound, its clear that their legacy is on solid ground.



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Jane Weaver

Jane Weaver found herself folded into the cosmic plane on previous album Silver Globe. Channeling a refined mash of Stereolab, Jodorowsky, Can and Broadcast, the album pushed Weaver further into a slick-skinned spaciness that’s the very image of ultra-modern trappings. She continues the journey through Krautrock/Kosmiche/Lounge/Experimental headspace to refine the sound into something of a chic psychedelic alternate universe where Wegner’s the standard bearer of public style and the hi-fi has won out handily over the television as the centerpiece of the American homestead.

Though, that’s not to make Weaver sound like she’s merely soundtracking the snooty coffee bar that pushed its way into the neighborhood, there’s plenty of humanity bubbling underneath that well coifed exterior. The beats tap along to a motorik heart, but over the top Weaver is swooning with a natural demeanor that puts her ultra-modern framework on a sweeping vista of verdant forest views. The balance between futurist and naturalist feels at the crux of Modern Kosmology. Weaver is the tear rolling down artificially intelligent cheeks, blushing at the feelings welled up by the modern art in your foyer.

Modern Kosmology is an album that’s comfortable with its niche, well-researched and soldering the markers of genre together into a clockwork hum of perfect unity. This is new age psych for those who have already transcended the physical form and are finally finding their muse. It’s a ripple that reminds one not to trust the eyes too much, instead it communicates on a wavelength that’s pulsing with a strange humanity, earthen and antiseptic all at once. If an album were to have tasting notes then Modern Kosmology seems wrought with the ghosts of moss, leather, Formica and Ozone. Dip in accordingly.




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Bardo Pond

It’s almost hard to believe that Bardo Pond are approaching 30 years as a band, but at the same time, it’s hard to imagine the psychedelic landscape without them. I personally got hooked into the Pond, as I imagine quite a few folks did with Dilate, coming slightly late to the party but grateful to find them as hosts. They’ve spent the intervening years carving out their own place between the creased consciousness of space rock, dreampop, psych and noise. They come to their latest, Under The Pines, after an epic collaboration with Acid Mothers Temple and Guru Guru last year. The album cuts back on the sheer heft and volume that the preceding project fostered, placing vocalist Isobel Sollenberger floating high above a pounding cascade of feedback and atmospheric billow. This cloaks Under The Pines ably in the band’s dreampop guise.

They wear the style well, but as could be expected of a band that’s spent three decades chasing the tail of the psychedelic snake, they aren’t exactly hewing to a one note sound here. Even when the tracks are similarly built on caged squall, they’re constantly adding nuance to the sonic struggle between the overwhelming wall of noise and Sollenberger’s gorgeous purr. Sollenberger also adds a mystic touch of flute to the proceedings, giving the record a mournful air and another fleck of beauty battling the churning froth. Then, as if to prove their mettle tenfold, they ease out into a dustbowl of psych country for the album standout “Moment To Moment.” It’s this kind of song that stamps them as masterful elder statesmen in a crowded field of newcomers jockeying for time on the psychedelic speakers. In a career full of high caliber records, they’ve never sounded so at ease with their prowess than right now.




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Rats On Rafts / De Kift

The best collaborations bring something new out of each participant in the experiment and in the case of Dutch Punks Rats on Rafts, they may have found their soulmates in experimental collective De Kift. Both bands have attacked the nugget of punk from different directions in the past. Rats have often gnawed at the central fury of the form, while injecting a strain of hypnotic tension to their songs. De Kift, on the other hand, have taken the spirit and recklessness of punk and run it through the gaze of post-punk, the kind that had a soft spot for dub and destruction. They share a lot in common with The Ex (who they’ve collaborated with) and Public Image Ltd. So, in bringing together the spark and the abandon, the two groups’ eponymous collaborative debut sets fire to the whole notion of punk and the walls that are constantly built up around it.

The record takes both bands’ catalogs and re-imagines them with the full ensemble, giving Rats’ taught burners a new life as brass-flecked battering rams that float in a strange foam of dub echoes. De Kift turn Rats’ tortured screams into battle cries. Though, that’s not to say that Rats On Rafts don’t have the same altering effect on De Kift’s dense catalog, pulling them further towards the punk center that they’ve previously danced around and dressed up with ornaments. The best of the set finds new ground entirely, as with dark centerpiece of “Dit Schip” that dives straight into “Powder Monkey”. The former smolders and laments with a funereal country-tinged countenance before exploding into the bite of “Powder Monkey’s” blind stabs into the darkness. Its a feint and fight move that sucks the listener in and then knocks ’em totally off balance.

Often collaborations can find songs going to excesses that feel like they may have had heat in the studio, but are lost to those who weren’t present in the moment, but here both bands are pushing each other and its readily apparent on the final recordings. Even for those who haven’t waded into Dutch punk’s waters, the songs have an instant vitality that’s infectious. No need to sing along, just throw yourself into the street and watch the parade tear itself apart, that’s the central feeling of the record. Its a birthday party with exploding cake and grandma getting somber about mortality, right before she drinks you under the table. Its a record that’s odd on paper and fire on the speakers. That’s just my kind of duality there.



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