Posts Tagged ‘Indie Rock’

King Tuff – “The Other”

It’s been four years since Kyle Thomas has released music as King Tuff and believe me, that gap has been felt. It’s great to have him back, though its unclear if “The Other” is a one off endeavor or the tip of a new album’s iceberg. From the heavily suggested note to follow up King Tuff socials, I’d wager the latter, but new music is welcome news either way. His last outing, Black Moon Spell, polished up his sound into 20 foot whirlwind of power pop and garage that still retained his gonzo sensibility. It was cleaner, but still undeniably Tuff. So, it’s with a bit of surprise that the latest track from Thomas strips all of the bombast away. He’s gone down alleyways of tenderness before (“Staircase of Diamonds”, “Evergreen”) but those songs have always retained the Mad Hatter twinkle that rested in Thomas’ eye.

On “The Other” he’s gone to the well of earnestness without a wobble of weird in sight. It’s a good look on him, and far be it from me to begrudge an artist a sea change when their old influences feel out of sorts. Thomas’s voice is hovering far above the mix, with just some plucks and a sunset swell of organ pushing him through. It feels like Tuff if he’d been binging the works of James Jackson Toth lately. Whether this song captures the tone of new works or if its just a muse that he needed for follow remains to be seen. While its a surprising tonal shift, this heart-on-sleeve approach fits Kyle well. I wouldn’t be opposed to some more tender Tuff if it came my way.





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Ultimate Painting – “Not Gonna Burn Myself Anymore”

Few records in the past couple of years hold up to the the bittersweet pang of Ultimate Painting’s last album, Dusk. It was a study in melancholy wrapped in appropriately lush production and marked by the brushstrokes of two of indie’s great new voices. The band now makes a jump from their home at Trouble in Mind to Bella Union and while the songwriting and production remains intimate and confessional, the tone takes a tip upward towards the light, as the album’s title, Up! might attest. “Not Gonna Burn Myself Anymore” is haunted by all the familiar ghosts of Ultimate Painting’s sound – wistful delivery, gently knotted guitars and a somber swoon that’s tempered just a tad with Cooper’s slight smile on the vocals. It’s a promise to keep expectations in check and be a bit selfish for self-preservation’s sake. For two musicians with busy schedule’s its probably a hard pill to swallow but it comes together nicely on this first single.

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Wand

Wand has been a fixture here for some time, and while quite a few other sources have noted that the band’s sound has dramatically changed on this record, they seem to be forgetting that Wand’s sound is constantly changing. While the most apparent reason for the shift would be the shuffling of members and a slide to a more democratic writing policy, Hanson alone wasn’t one to sit idle in his riffage cranking out the same tune time and again. With that in mind, Plum is a move towards a broader audience, but one that’s bridging their psychedelic past with an ever more malleable future.

1000 Days and Golem sat at opposite ends of the see-saw, with the overt heaviness of Golem pulling equal weight with the surprising shift to psych-folk that found its way wriggling into the DNA of the follow-up. Now the band shows an open love of the ’90s vision of psych as a component of large-scale alt-rock. When grunge was king, the weirdos often snuck in under the wire. As long as a chunky enough riff went crackling through the airwaves, the rest of an album could indulge with impunity. It’s in that tradition that Plum finds itself looking to Trojan Horse their own twisted wires among the references to Radiohead, STP, The Beta Band and Afghan Whigs.

They work this though in the fizzing guitar work on “White Cat” and the country pine of “The Trap”, but even the more apparent pop ballyhoos have their Easter eggs of the Wand of old – fuzz breakdowns, the singed-edge dream vocals of Hanson, a debt to ’70s prog rock time changes and a preponderance of found sound interjections that break up the band’s gravy-coated offerings to a more hesitant listener. In that way the album is much more subversive in bringing a new generation into the fold. It’s their most polished, but also often their most potent work. In opening the band up to communal collaboration they’ve cut ties with their L.A. fuzz-pummeling past while doing that which all reviews are claiming to look for in a band: they’ve grown.




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Kelley Stoltz – “Same Pattern”

San Francisco’s secret weapon, Kelley Stoltz, is back with a new album for Castle Face and he’s perfecting his brand of Neu-wave pop. Stoltz has lived a career on the periphery, often appearing behind the boards or in the guest musician credits of lauded releases, while his own never get the full acclaim they deserve. Even with label stints at Sub Pop and Third Man, Stoltz remains a secret handshake for those with discernible taste, but so be it, I guess. This hint of his newest is pulsating with life – motorik, hazy, blissful and buzzing. It’s a step into the ether for Stoltz, who’s often found his way along the garage-pop spectrum. “Same Pattern” is built on a throbbing vein of Krautrock that’s a step in a new direction, albeit fitting to the artist’s greater pop universe.

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RVG

RVG is the overarching name for the Romy Vager Group. The short, but impressive A Quality of Mercy swims with visions of ’70s and’80s heroes, wandering through touches of The Go-Betweens, Echo and The Bunnymen, The Cure and Patti Smith. The album indulges heavily in the lush, dark-rimmed tones of The Bunnymen the hardest and Vager’s voice is a dead ringer for the smeared stylings of Ian McCulloch. She’s enmeshed in the extravagant gravity and widescreen approach that made the goth darlings such longstanding obsessions year over year.

The record borrows a silk-screen of style, to be sure, but that style is nothing without substance. That’s where the band pounds the anvil harder than most adopters of minor key moroseness and ringing guitars. They aren’t just wistful for the aesthetics, Vager digs into disenfranchisement, pleas for some scrap of understanding and does it with a stately dignity that can’t help but round back on her similarities to Patti Smith. As she sings it feels like the gravity in the room reorients itself to the speakers, and reportedly the effect is visited tenfold in the live setting, where the band have kept audiences in rapt attention.

Increasingly we’re in a return to long incubation periods, brought about by bands regaining the means to self-release and experiment over time before finding their footing. In that respect it’s rare to find one so firmly and forcefully formed. RVG are a band that knows exactly who they want to be and then simply pulls it off in a manner that feels effortless; crafting songs that hang on the rain like old favorites. If this is the beginning for RVG, then I, for one, can’t wait to see where they’re headed.




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Milk Music

Rolling into their third album, Olympia’s Milk Music continues mining the wealth of ’90s indie ethos and smelting it into gritty gold. Mystic 100s isn’t a seismic shift from their palette, but they’re not the kind of band that need worry about evolution, as they more in the game of curating fuzz encrusted skronk and letting their amps pay their tab. Maybe the biggest shift here is that on Cruise Your Illusion they sounded as if they were a band that always just existed, comfortably rolling out the kind of fare other bands needed to sharpen their teeth to even be capable of pulling off. On Mystic they’re out to prove that they still have twice the chops of every upstart with a deep bench of Dino Jr. on the record shelf, but they’re pushing themselves past comfortable and into smoke rolled royalty.

I’ll be honest, when it came out Cruise Your Illusion didn’t shake my foundations. I liked it, it was solid, and you’d have been a damn liar to contend that the Washington band wasn’t capable. It’s the loss of that comfortability that’s striking here. They’re not just content to have people laud them with plaudits of being torchbearers of guitar rock in 2017; they’re looking to burn things down, break some skin on their fingers and bleed into the mix a bit. You can feel the band sweating out the songs on Mystic 100s and that sweat stains their music with a greater gravity than aloof capability ever could. Though the band are wading deeper into their catalog at this point, this seems like the exact moment where they truly begin.




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Vices

Chicago’s Vices lean hard into their love of a brand of distorted, shag thick rock that could have only been served up under the Alternative banner were it being made in the shadow of Y2K. They’ve found a way to take the signifiers of grunge’s fallout and make them fun for a new generation just finding their flannel. The album, recorded by the band’s own Shawn Wilson sounds like they studied up on everything from guitar tones and favored pedals to the era’s thick walled assault of sound that shot singles like cannonballs of cathartic youth. The best bits of American Consciousness feel so familiar that there’s almost a tendency to double check the name scrolling across the screen, confirming that indeed this isn’t a b-side dropped out of Interscope’s late ’90s library.

That’s not to say they lean completely into the “radio ready” pile, the band have a professed love for Shellac and the indie legends’ sinewy strand of riff finds its way in among the fuzz-pummeled hooks. I guess that’s what’s so endearing about the record, it got grunge-metal’s stomp and math rock’s self-serious technical twists, but the boys in Vices also seem like they had a collection that toppled into pop-punk, despite themselves. They know when to sound like playing in a band is a good time, and more importantly, how to convey it to the listener. There is a definite groundswell of grunge revival happening lately, and the younger generation is glomming onto my high school memories like, I suppose, we pillaged our own parents’ perception of the ’70s. Any revival bears hallmarks of retread, but when bands start cherry picking the best bits, it feels fun regardless of how much you’ve heard it all before.



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Ty Segall

Just like last year started with a blast from Ty, so starts 2017 with a new album from the hardest working man in garage-psych. For his second eponymous venture, he’s departed from The Muggers, shaken the deliciously diseased vibes that flooded Emotional Mugger and returned to finding peace somewhere between the Bolan bound twinges of psych-folk come down with a beautiful case of the shakes and proto-metal’s thick, earthen hammer of fuzz. Segall’s made no over arching claims on this one, just that its the best batch of songs he’s had in him and that’s what he’s putting forward. No small proposal in a catalog that stretches longer than most artists could ever hope to muster, but the man makes good on his promises to lay down some true new gems, glittering among a career full of amp-toasted earworm nuggets.

He’s both at his heaviest, besting even the electrified armor heft of Slaughterhouse, and his most pastoral, taking Sleeper‘s mellow mind to task. The heavy standout here is the 10+ minute opus, “Warm Hands (Freedom Returned)” which goes ques up the guitar god clip for our judges in the audience. If you came for the heavy psych vibes and wallpaper peel, please proceed directly to track three and let your brain melt like butter in the sun. For me though, as much as I appreciate a good, hard mind flay, its the softer side that finds me coming back again and again. Pristine plums like “Take Care (To Comb Your Hair),” “Talkin'” and “Orange Color Queen” beg for quietude, calm air and an appreciation of the artist’s presumably ample collection of ’70s country, folk and psych slabs for their inspiration.

The album employs a new (and yet not so new – welcome back Emmet Kelly, Mikal Cronin and Charles Moothart) backing band that calls up old friends, cuts the crew down to a core that can’t miss and records one of the first true big studio albums in the artist’s career. Cut with minimal overdubs, just a band in a room working as a unit to bring an album beating to life, its an record that won’t let itself slip from view in a year that threatens to be choked with big banner releases. I think, for me at least, that’s why I’ll always be waiting to hear what Segall does next. Every new album will make good on promises to, if not outdo the last one, always be an essential and vital voice kicking holes in rock’s altar.



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Stef Chura

As a Michigan native, I gotta love Stef Chura, just for stickin’ it out and never pulling roots on the rust belt. There’s a certain kind of malaise and self-flagellation I inherit to living in the mitten and it comes through on her debut record, Messes. She’s landed in Detroit and made the city headquarters to the recording of the album, enlisting fellow Midwest holdout Fred Thomas (Saturday Looks Good to Me) on production and bass here. The record leans into certain ’90s touchstones that anyone coming of age during the era might let warm their nostalgic heart; the distortion pedal punch of noise rising out of the calm chorus, feminist punk prose, and a starkness that feels like Albini might be creeping ’round the cables (alas, he’s not). The sum of the parts, though, doesn’t sound like it’s lost in the past, just keeping the best parts aloft.

Chura packs the album full of doubts, anxieties, stresses and breakthroughs. Its an album about all the shit that life throws as you and coming out, at least somewhat, better on the other side. It’s not about erasing that emotional heap from your slate, just not letting it overwhelm. Perhaps that vulnerability is what really brings the album swimming to the surface out. Chura’s ability to be self-effacing and pack it on top of thick, fuzzed, slightly knotty, and certainly catchy songwriting lets her stand as not just another artist flipping surf, jangle, or girl-group swoon into faded memories and faint touchstones. She’s cheekily mentioned that she decided she’d had to write at least album before she dies, but now that she has, I’m hoping its by no means a solitary creation.



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Tim Cohen

Tim Cohen is a prolific voice in the American lexicon of indie rock. Tell me I’m wrong and I’ll slap you twice. Between his output in Fresh & Onlys, solo, and as Magic Trick he’s pretty much always got something dropping on your doormat and the stark reality is that its rarely not worth a tug at your ear. On his latest under his own name, the first time he’s operating as such since 2010, he’s side-stepping his usual pop hangouts once again. The last time he donned his own name and threw it on the marquee of an album cover was for Captured Tracks’ Laugh Tracks, an album that became a springboard into his output as Magic Trick. As that band has taken on its own humid life, it seems that his given name is the preferred moniker for tonal temerity.

On Luck Man he doesn’t take on his usual pop pastures of love, fate, and loss, instead enacting a series of character sketches that take on odd diorama lives of their own. Its a move that could seem like it might invite a discordant album, but Cohen, being Cohen isn’t a typical pop purveyor and his idiosyncrasies have always been the heart of his songwriting. He’s able to lasso the three a.m. anxieties and empty belly feelings and grind them into the kind of satisfying sonic sausage that other songwriters would fumble with self-importance. The songs inhabit lives of their own, still imbued with Cohen’s moody musical sea changes, but hanging their through line on the gnawing raw nerve of bruised confidence amid stark surroundings. Cohen proves that whichever name he puts at the top, the listener is in for a dose of darkness served with just the right ripple of earworm vibes.


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