Posts Tagged ‘Indie Rock’

Weak Signal

Those already familiar with the works of Mike Bones have probably already perked their ears at his mention. His solo albums for aughts enclave The Social Registry brought a gnarled sense of indie grandeur, while his album with Soldiers of Fortune (Mexican Summer) produced a supergroup that should have gone down in history, bringing members of Endless Boogie and Oneida together with Matt Sweeney (a wise move if you ask me). Its hard to keep a good slinger down and as proof Mike’s quietly slipping out a 2019 gem that deserves a few louder shouts. Weak Signal is his most compact vision yet, and appropriately the music is a skin-flayed, no pussyfootin’ vision of indie tumble that’s got teeth in the flesh and smoke in the air. Bones picks at the same carrion carnage in which his contemporaries Sweeney and Chris Forsyth often find themselves embroiled. There’s a sense of timeless tension — every bit the early ‘90s major label gamble and early aughts classicists in one. The trio can wire-strip the soul (“Tell Me How You Like It”) and still seed the clouds for a bare fist melancholy melt (“Lyin”).

The touchstones on Bones’ syllabus feel more than familiar but he’s spinning it anew, lighting a new fire into the indie rock pyre that’s been smoldering to the coals on the back of 2019. Along with a propulsive thunder from rhythm section Sasha Vine and Tran Huynh, and a bevy of complimentary harmonies as well, Weak Signal is proving to be a record that’s hard to shake and harder to evict from the turntable. The album eeked out last year from NYC tape label Reality Delay, but finds a welcomed new life on LP from Jacuzzi Boys’ label Mag Mag this year. It’s highly recommended that you put this ring-spun sizzler on the table and let it drip over your soul a few times. Let it burrow under the skin and itch with delicious discomfort.



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Kevin Morby

Within the songwriter/downtrodden troubadour ranks Kevin Morby has become a constant confidant. His literate drawl draws out this generation’s atrocities like venom from a bite. His guitars are slung loose and limber, right up until they light a fire under your feet. He’s always had something of a spiritual bent, not religious mind you, but there are some songwriters whose poetry reaches the pulpit without seeking to save. Seems he’s just now embracing it as well and thus, Oh My God is born. The album is a shift for the songwriter, pushing his guitar to the side in favor of a wiped whiteboard relatively free of jangle and strum (though a few solos still crinkle the kindling here and there). In place of his usual tangle there’s a folkloric spread, thrown wide to the panorama of sound – horns hum, flutes tan the timbres, pianos pound from barroom to bedroom and choirs seem to fill the fields rather than the pews of his songs.

There album is conceptually spiritual, seeing the title’s phrase as not a vanity taken lightly, but a hosiah of faith – a mantra that brings us closer in times of calamity. Morby spends the majority of Oh My God helping his flock find the dock in a flood that threatens to consume us all. If ever there was a year for a plea to the powers that be, whether cosmic or of the cloth, it might be 2019. Morby connects to the idea of faith and keeps it a thread in the album’s twisting narrative. His faith isn’t necessarily in the god that pops up in picture books and Sunday service, but a faith in people, faith in art and beauty, faith in the ground beneath his feet, even when he’s 30,000 feet above it.

Woven within his spiritual tableau is a thread of dreams, a waking life conversation with himself that feels hallucinatory. Within Oh My God there’s a Lynchian grandiosity, an idea that what’s been perceived as real may just be reflections and that modern ghost, fables, and prophecies might just be the ones out to get us all along. It’s a big, bold move from Morby and one he pulls off with grace and gravitas. For a weighty double LP, there’s no strain to work your way through his opus, even as the themes turn dark. As he touches on gun violence, the erosion of environmental security, the absurdity of life, the friction of banality, and the overcast certainty of death we’re all there swaying in the circle with him. In these end times the church walls have come crumbling down and whether we know it or not, we’re all part of the church of daily atrocity humming the hymns on a subconscious level. Morby’s just pressing play on the recorder to save it for posterity.



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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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The Coathangers

On their sixth album The Coathangers are focusing their fury to a fine point, channeling their irritation with the world into targeted tension that’s more mulled than their early works. They’re no strangers to the scratch n’ slash punk pound but they’d been swinging more wild on their early records. While tracks like “Shut Up” are excellent reasons to shout down the shitstorm, on Devil You Know the band has zeroed in on what’s burrowed under their skin, whether its the NRA or unwanted advances. The album’s packed with pop hooks but those hooks’ll snag ya every time, and that’s what makes Coathangers great.

As they’ve acknowledged themselves, this record does congeal more than they’ve attempted to in the past. The band had been blessed and cursed with three songwriters and they’d typically split the album into the respective writers’ songs. Each was effective but the effect was often disjointed. Now, instead of sounding like power pop, punk and post-punk thrown in a jar and shaken to order, the tracks shift under your feet from tense rhythm chokers to candy choruses in the span of three-minute marvels. They even yank the plug and take the temperature down to a chill with the pillow-soft strains of “Lithium.”

And with that ‘90s-nodded title the band gives away what works best about The Devil You Know. Their tattered and taped vision of alt rock brings echoes that golden era for guitars without pulling it on like a punchline. Where Pixies, Veruca Salt, and Elastica bounced pop’s gloss and punk’s power back and forth, The Coathangers are true heirs apparent. The whip tension like pros, nail their targets to the wall and come off with the songs that peel paint while getting stuck solid in your head for days. The band has long proven that they can hang with the heavies in a genre of two, but it seems that by letting go of purity they found themselves at their best. If you’d ever written the band off, or pigeon holed them in any regard, its time for another listen.



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Kevin Morby – “No Halo”

Excited to see a new offering up from Kevin Morby today. The songwriter’s post-Babies career has only seen him perfect his shaggy L.A. troubadour persona, and with “No Halo” he’s sliding into a refined space – adding a cascade of flutes, stabs of sax, and smoky background vocals to his palette. The song is both a long way from his debut Harlem River, in terms of production, and yet not so removed from the heavy-lidded, heavy-hearted delivery that’s made each new of his records essential. With the expansive approach, Morby also turns in a high-concept video directed by perennial collaborator Christopher Good, who’s been putting his imprint on artists like Mitski, Waxahatchee, Anna St. Louis, and Okkervil River. The new record’s out April 26th from Dead Oceans, which you can apparently pre-order with, a, uh 24-page hymnal and sheet music. I guess. Sure, why not?



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Traffik Island

On his solo debut, Zak Olsen (ORB, Hierophants, The Frowning Clouds) casts a subtler shadow than he does with ORB. The record strips away any semblance of the doom-shaking freak fuzz and Sabbath hangovers that have permeated the trio’s work. However, the shaky, whimsical footprint of Syd Barrett remains. In fact, the affectation not only remains, but becomes the guiding light for Nature Strip. The record reclines in pools of purple light, slips through the kaleidoscope’s eye and revels in an impish glee that’s only been hinted at in Olsen’s other projects. Its not just the Madcap magician that makes his stamp (though it is indeed the boldest imprint), this appears to be an album built from the bricks of fragile souls. Its pop as purveyed by Kevin Ayers, Skip Spence, Roky and Twink, and Olsen has lovingly recreated a lush world of bemused wonder that would befit any of them.

As the volume and fuzz have ducked out of view Olsen eagerly replaces them with a palette of mercurial keys and chiming guitars, not to mention a bevy of swooning strings and flutes. The record is pastoral and peaceful, but with a mischievous smile. Olsen feels like he’s having fun playing the part of the damaged artist – indulging every inch of the studio while creating beauty and weirdness in equal measures. This bubbles over a bit with the almost too spot-on Syd dribble “Lazy Cat,” but in most other cases he’s drawn the caricature lysergic psych-folk with a steady hand and pleasingly good-natured wit. There was often a lingering darkness that made the works of the ‘60 acid-damaged set as tragic as they were enjoyable, but Olsen finds a way to imbue the genre with a playfulness that doesn’t end in pain.



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Cool Sounds – “Cactus Country”

Melbourne’s Cool Sounds swing back with another LP that follows up a solid stop-gap short player form last year. Still chasing the cool waters populated by Real Estate and other similarly minded US purveyors of languid dreams, the title track from their upcoming Cactus Country, is doused in a humid haze and underpinned with sparkling guitars. Loping along with no hurry in sight, the track practically squints in the sunshine, chugging some stutter-funk riffs that shake off a bit of the country twang that seeped into the Grudge EP. Making a move from Deaf Ambitions for a joint release between Melbourne labels Osborne Again and Hotel Motel (who released that aforementioned EP) the band is moving among some decent players in the Aussie underground. Looking forward to what the rest of Cactus Country has to offer.



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Woolen Men – “Brick Horizon”

Always a good day on the docket when there’s new music from Woolen Men to be had. The Portland band has spent their career bubbling just below the surface and threatening to break so let’s hope that their upcoming album for Dogs Table Recs give them a well-deserved spotlight. First peek into Post comes in the form of the wiry “Brick Horizon.” Built on a breathless beat and wrestling with their strings until every last bit of emotion is bashed from their fraught forms, the song is indie rock in the greatest sensed of the term. Still barreling down the road paved by their heroes The Wipers, the band picks up bits of Husker Du as well on this one. The song is as toughened and tight as they’ve ever sounded, giving good reason to be excited for their third full length to descend from the gods of angst and irreverence this Fall.



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Samara Lubelski

Samara Lubelski inhabits a world of subtle psychedelia. Her songs don’t hit you over the head with guitar pyrotechnics, effects or gimmick. Where other vocalists would belt, Lubelski prefers the intimacy of a whisper. Her songs hum along on a slipped frequency, and like a secret stretched between the notes her soft touch pushes the listener out of sync with time and space for just a while before it snaps back with an elastic ‘thwap’ as the album clicks to a close. She stitches the rhythmic burble of Krautrock to a knotted pop and sends it twisting through the mind with an effervescent fizz. Her hushed composure, paired with the delicate machinations of Flickers At The Station give the feeling of being shrunk and zipping through a molecular backdrop in perfect precision to Lubelski’s click-stop kaleidoscopic pop beat.

Though Lubelski has a folk and experimental background, her solo work increasingly picks up cues from Stereolab, melding the band’s progressive rubric to the airy folk-pop delivery of The Free Design or Wendy & Bonnie. Chalk this up to Lubelski’s continued collaboration with German pop tinkerers Metabolisumus, who serve as backing band for the recordings here. With their aid she helps to push her songwriting through the cigarette burn flicker of the film strip pop she’s been working towards, winding up in a feeling caught between sleeping and dream, nodding out while the 60’s science lesson filters in through the classroom speakers above. Flickers winds up yet another solid notch in Lubelski’s catalog- warm, nostalgic, and expertly built.



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Shannon and The Clams

The evolution of Shannon Shaw’s namesake hipshakers has been storied and slow. Unlike some of their peers, the band doesn’t knock out an album a year, not even close. With four albums spread over the last nine years and this, their fifth, arriving three years after the last, a Clams album is often one to wait for – mind you, though, well worth it each and every time. In their tenure, they’ve traced the line from lo-fi crackle to a clarity worthy of Shaw’s impressive voice. Onion finds the band embraced by Dan Auerbach’s label Easy Eye Sound and at the disposal of his studio equipment, as such, it’s the most crystal-clear vision of their doo-wop surf dream sequence yet. Each note drips down the window panes in reflected neon glory. The Clams are the quintessential carhop heartbreakers, but they manage to make the classic sound feel like a universal plea to for love, understanding and self-examination here.

Back on those early Hunx records, Shaw always seemed a secret weapon, a true vintage find among a sea of rollicking camp. Whenever she was on the mic, the track immediately thickened, given life with her perfectly imperfect balance of power and grit. The best rock n’ roll voices can belt to the barstools, but retain a little bit of grounding gravel that shows a life lived rather than a life longed. Shaw’s voice is probably one of the most prime modern examples of the style (see also The Detroit Cobras’ Rachel Nagy) and she’s often let her pipes languish behind a veneer of transistor static. On Onion the band rockets their back to the future bop in swooning, sumptuous stereo that pulls no production punches.

It’s satisfying to watch a longtime love reach the kind of potential they’ve always had in both construction and execution. Had The Clams ever been on your list to check out, then the time is now, as this might now stand as the best place to eke into their soul soaked universe – a high watermark if there ever was one.

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