Posts Tagged ‘Jagjaguwar’

Anatomy of Design: Cut Worms

If it’s escaped your radar, the new Cut Worms is something of a heart-worn gem — an album that’s rooted in the lonesome cowboy strain that infected the West Coast rock songwriters from Gene Clark to Michael Nesmith. There’s an earnest nature to the record that’s bittersweet but able to walk into the wind and wilds with determination. Now while most know Max Clarke for his songwriting he is, in fact, an accomplished visual artist as well and his works have graced Cut Worms covers in the past, including the sculpture from 2018’s Hollow Ground. For the latest release, he’s created a series of inspired illustrations that mark each single on Nobody Lives Here Anymore. I spoke with Max about the ideas behind this new series and some of the design inspiration that drives him and his work.

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Cut Worms – “Sold My Soul”

With a nice string of singles trickling out, Cut Worms’ Max Clarke finally announces an upcoming LP to collect them all in one place. With a delicate slide into the auburn arms of country, Clarke aims to release the bittersweet Nobody Lives Here Anymore on October 9th. The latest single doubles down on the cool air country swoon that he’s been courting over the last couple of months. “Sold My Soul” is a quicksilver slide slung chapter of storyteller country-folk and he wears the mantle well. His Everlys harmonies have begun to fold behind the horizon, but there’s still a nice warm glow about Clarke’s songwriting. Echoing fellow Clark’s (minus the ‘e’) Gene and Guy, Cut Worms aims to let us all deal with sadness and loneliness on our own terms. The video is a nice piece of surreal pulp that lends itself well to Clarke’s sunburned saunter.

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Cut Worms – “Castle In The Clouds”

On his last album Max Clarke paid a visit to the 50’s harmonies of the Everlys, cut with a touch of twang that gave them a faded pastiche of Western Fringe and ’60s California neon humming through the night. From the sounds of “Castle In The Clouds” he’s taking the that touch of twang and turning it up a notch. The song pushes him away from those Everly Brothers swoons and into a lonesome territory that’s skewing more Gene Clark as he worked his way from The Godsins to Doug Dillard. I’ve been smitten by the current sweep of indie and folk towards an adoption of the Cosmic Americana and Country corners and Clarke has been doing it as well as most. This one leaves a lot of anticipation for his upcoming LP, which seems to have full details forthcoming. Either way, get it on the watch list and in the meantime spend a few minutes replaying “Castle In The Clouds” on repeat.

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Black Mountain

Black Mountain’s latest record thickens up its mustache and heads to puberty for an ode to newly minted freedom in the form of a driver’s license and a set of keys (rabbit’s foot not included). The album is named after the ’85 Dodge Destroyer that songwriter Stephen McBean’s been fixing up in the wake of his late life adoption of driving following a lifetime spent away from the wheel. It’s a paean to the open road, to the sort of symbiosis between man and machine that apparently forms when the engine’s revved and the paint is lacquered on the right shade of performance orange. Coupled with a lineup change that folds in new and returning members and an adoption of the crux between prog’s dirt weed swan song and the rise of metal’s caveman party pound, the album gives Black Mountain a good shake around the foundations.

Now I’m probably not the one to go pining for automobile anthems. Despite living among the scenic views of NY’s weekend escape route of choice, I still see cars as somewhat of a necessary evil. This is heresy as someone born in the shadow of Ford’s stomping grounds as well, but I’d just as soon hop a subway if it were always a choice. I drive a Civic, and it the motor rumbles the way that McBean’s pining for, I’d damn well get it checked. But I certainly understand the notion of needing cars to escape, to get freedom. Small town roots always leave the scar of tire tracks on your back as the only way to get some air of your own. Even if the smell of exhaust doesn’t boil your blood, there’s a sense of anticipation in getting a moment to oneself without anything but gas money holding you back.

Lyrical theme aside, the band is nailing the new direction that coincides with the troubled teen trappings they’ve employed here. There’s dirt under their nails from scratching Deep Purple into the back row of desks. There’s just the right amount of tatter on the cuffs of their denim jacket and this thing hasn’t washed its hair for a good four days. As much as the album evokes the love of the car, its also a love letter to the car as listening experience, which is actually something I can get behind. They’ve stuffed Destroyer full of the kind of anthems that rattle the windows while hotboxed teens park in the back lot. They find the sweet spot between volume and spaced synths that pair well with lying on the hood staring at the stars and wishing away the last year of high school so that you can finally be free of this damn town. They’ve created an album that sums up the center line metronome that taps along to the tempo. As much as the album is about that rumble beneath the pedal, its about giving a finger to authority, and that’s something we can all get behind.




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Black Mountain – “Future Shade”

News hits today that Black Mountain, the perennially prog vortex that swirls around Stephen McBean, has a new album on the way in May. Over the years the band has been whittled and reformed, but McBean’s brought on some heavy hitters for Destroyer including oft collaborators Kid Millions and Jeremy Schmidt along with members of Sleepy Sun, Flaming Lips, Dommengang and Swans. The first peek behind the curtain at the album is the fiery space epic “Future Shade”.

The track is slathered with Black Mountain hallmarks – organs that hew just shy of over-the-top, fuzz-metal leads, epic background vocals, and stakes that feel infinite in nature. Reportedly the album centers on the feeling of teenage freedom that comes from the unshackling of youth via a first car (the album itself is named after a Dodge Destroyer). In that respect, its easy to hear this cued up on the FM sandwiched between Black and White years BOC and Rush. There’s plenty of denim, delinquency and engine exhaust swirling through the veins of “Future Shade” that’s for sure. The album is out May 24th via Jagjaguwar.




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RSTB Best of 2018

So, it seems that 2018 is finally coming to an end. It’s been a hell of a year by most standards, but musically its been damn entertaining. Perhaps its fair that there’s some bright spot in all the chaos. Not to diminish the chaos, but when the negativity is at an all-pervasive fever pitch, its feels good to have something to hold onto. I’ll choose to remember 2018 as a banner year for music and for the birth of my second daughter rather than the year that page refresh politics threatened to give me an ulcer any day. Below are my favorite albums of the year, taking care to highlight some that might otherwise get forgotten. They’re in (quasi) alphabetical order with no other particular weight on the list. Keep your eyes out for a few more year-end features this week before I reset for the new year. As always, thanks for sticking with RSTB for these 12-odd years or so.

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Cut Worms

On his debut proper for Secretly Canadian Max Clarke invokes swooning ‘60s doo-wop, country shimmer, a dash of Danny Elfman’s quirk and plenty of love for The Kinks. Hollow Ground is particularly steeped in the Muswell Hillbilies era of the latter band, creating characters that are rough around the edges, but easy to love. He’s a storyteller in the country tradition, with few of his heroes coming out unscathed, but these tear-in-beer anthems find themselves in more precious terrain than hardscrabble hollows. While his shiny, shaggy country-folk cold easily find a kindred spirit in the likes of Sonny and the Sunsets and perhaps even slide after Beechwood Sparks on your infinite alt-country playlist, Clarke is crafting turn-key dioramas that are stuffed with moving parts that all seem to delight the listener rather than overwhelm the sense.

He’s crafting calliope wonderlands on “Cowards Confidence,” sweeping out a bar room tear-jerker on “It Won’t Be Too Long” and evoking the heartfelt warmth of John Denver or Neil Diamond on “Like Going Down Sideways.” The record flips the dial around enough mid-60s pop nuance it could practically qualify as a Wes Anderson soundtrack, all that’s missing are a few interludes from Mark Mothersbaugh. And just as often as the films connected to those soundtracks, Hollow Ground is a splash of colors, intricate draping and meticulous craftsmanship housing characters with a heavy heart and more than a dash of ennui.

Clarke’s skill is apparent here and its an impressive album for a debut – If this is only the start, one has to wonder how far he’ll go in time. Come for the whimsy, stay for the endlessly enjoyable songs that burrow deep with earworms and just a touch of aural pizazz.



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Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Over the last three albums UMO’s Ruban Nielsen has evolved as an alchemist of psychedelic blue-eyed soul, Stevie Wonder disco epics for the earbud mafia and cracked indie pop that fizzes fast but spreads smooth. It would be hard to top his previous album, 2015’s neon-hued groove garden Multi-Love, and to be fair Sex & Food doesn’t really. Its more of a lateral shift in the same environment, pulling from similar roots with often equally compelling results. This time around Nielsen injects a bit of psychedelic fire into the proceedings, as on first single “American Guilt,” a song built on speaker cone-crunching volume and guitar riffs that feel like they might shake the shutters off of the house. He hot-glues the guitars to infectiously rickety beats that sound like they might have been penned down under MacGuyver-like pressure using what bolts and bits were on hand.

The single is a scorcher and it finds a kindred spirit in the transistor-psych howler “Major League Chemicals,” however, If the whole record were operating on that level things might get exhausting. To his credit most moments are nowhere near as raucous as these peaks, opting often for Nielsen’s R&B butter-edged soul, soothing and smoothing things into bedroom eyes territory. Only he’s ruminating on the various consumptions that drive our lives and how they’ll hurt or heal us in equal measures. These calm eddies are where the album shines, grabbing hold tightest when the songwriter reaches just past the ripple-rainbows of shimmer in his production for a spark of soul. He latches on perfectly with “Not In Love We’re Just High,” another single cut that finds him grasping for the notes and making the audience feel the pull.

The album is a chemically induced k-hole that pulls listeners into Nielsen’s headspace, whirling pop splashes of glow paint all over the deep embrace of a couch and dimmed lights. There’s a certain satisfaction in an artist’s rendering of life as a stoned dive into your phone with the stereo on too loud. Anxieties and pleasures come quick and many, but ultimately the effects wear off and we’re left to deal with the dishes. Its good to know that UMO’s got you covered when you want to stay in and succumb to the cycle of slack, obsession and insecurity though. I’m on board for that ride.



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Unknown Mortal Orchestra – “Not In Love We’re Just High”

Admittedly, I dug the first single from Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s upcoming Sex & Food, it broke with some of the expectations that were hanging in the air after the success of Multi-Love and served as headspin for fans demanding more of the same. However, seeing how the band’s Stevie Wonder trapped in technology aesthetic is kinda filling a niche that’s not stuffed these days, I can sympathize with the head scratching / clamoring for some new nuggets of indie-soul shuffle.

The second track from the new LP strikes a contrast to both “American Guilt’s” bomb-about-to-blow pop aesthetic and the smartwatch disco of tracks like “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone”. It’s subtle, subdued, but still satisfies the want to sink your teeth into some head nodding nougaty goodness. The track falls into that quiet cool vision of the band that I’ve always had a soft spot for with the downtempo simplicity of “Not In Love We’re Just High” landing on par with the trojan-horsed earworms of “Necessary Evil” or “Secret Xtians.” What’s going to be interesting is how these two polar drops fit together into one album. Having been intrigued with the first, I’m only more eager for the big picture following this second taste.




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Wolf People

There are several schools of psych revial that run concurrent to each other in any given year, but Wolf People’s strain of Anglo-centric psychedelia marries the whimsical swords & sorcery, PhD caliber concept variety with a penchant for the heavier nugs of British proto-metal that began to spring up in its wake. They don’t really go in for the flights of fantasy lyrically, barring perahps “Night Witch”, but on Ruins they are embracing the itch for high concept. The album takes on the idea of an Earth in which the scourge of humanity is in its waning hours, being overtaken by nature as the heirs to the planet. They pin that concept to their brand of folk-rock, burnt to a cinder with the spark of psychedelia drawn in a direct line from the true heads of yore. There’s always been a deviant spore of The Moody Blues in the band’s sound (maybe its the flute, maybe its the timbre of Jack Sharp’s voice) but they embrace it fully on Ruins, conjuring up the spectre of prog loud and large.

That’s not to say that this is entirely picked from your dad’s stash of college LPs, Wolf People have an admitted love for both hip-hop and post-punk and while there aren’t overt inclusions of either in their pure forms (thank goodness), those influences seep through in their own way. Drummer Tom Watt swings the rhythms on Ruins, creating not hip-hop, but the kind of beats that well-tuned crate diggers tore from in the genre’s infancy. It was often the more adventurous strains of prog and rock that made for some of the most pummeling breaks and Watt seems to strive to find that charm in reverse. The guitars are thick as smoke over a ravaged 16th century village, but Sharp and Hollick weave them with a modern update blending the fuzz metal blast with the iron angles of a later ’70s vision.

It really isn’t an easy feat to bring this sound into a modern light, but Wolf People succeed in landing a foot in nostalgia proper and one in the archival spirit of an age that can cross reference the myriad histories of bands and movements in an afternoon spent internet digging. They form the best prog band that never set foot in the ’70s but holds its spirit alight for those that missed that the first go’round.




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