Posts Tagged ‘Lo-Fi’

The Gonks

A sly little lo-fi gem that’s snuck out in the latter half of 2019, The Gonks rip the ropes from your favorite post-punk homebaked bands and put them to good use. Throwing the checkerboad charms of Beat Happening, The Vaselines, Cub, Kleenex, and Dolly Mixure into the rock polisher for a few go-rounds, the resulting record gums up the works but still manages to knock some spit-shined weirdness out of the business end. Produced and recorded by Sonny Smith of Sunsets fame, the record has his mark of off-kilter, claptrap humor all over it. Yet, the band’s not just tugging at Sonny’s apron strings.

The Gonks capture the same feeling of ‘anyone can be a rockstar’ fun that gave punk its propulsion. With a few winks and a flash of teeth the band pound out zero-frills freakers that are packed with hooks and destined to shake the shingles. There’s a sweetness, even to songs about hitmen, lonely roads, nuns and death. The Gonks play it all straight from the hip, and though there’s that wink n’ smile at the heart of their work, the band aren’t fooling around. They’re not goofin’ the hooks, so don’t dance half-hearted. They had quite a few good teachers, but these kids are all right indeed.



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Tomorrow’s Tulips

Hate to say it, because it’s a bit of a lazy critical lob at this point, but the Tulips have sure been boiling down their late-period Velvet Underground to a bouillabaisse while recording their latest cassette. The band has always tipped the scales towards low-strung strummers with narcotic vocals, but Harnessed To Flesh strips away any previous guitar flash for an album that’s more appropriately harnessed to the carpet and shaking off the spins through two sides of spooled haze. There’s an even keel of hungover hum that drives the record with Alex Knost croaking through each song with the indifferent sigh of an art rock solo stint written off by the label as a break-even place holder. That he pulls it off with an air of ineffable grace is to his credit in committing fully to the rough-night sound.

The band are now four albums deep, and while they’ve mutated a bit since that first LP hit back in 2011, for the most part the band has hung close to the lo-fi linger, the post-grunge saunter and the nth wave no-frills strum of garage-pop swagger. They’re not busting their molds here, but there are some moments that beg more than one go-round on the headphones. “Overnight Obsession” is full of morning fog and aimless bliss. “Certain Frantic Quality” – despite having no frantic qualities whatsoever – hangs on a leathered shimmy that’s hard to ignore. Sadly, they tend to get a bit lost in the number ends of their songwriting spectrum more often than not, but when the band hits the right mix of sunglass slumped aloof burnin’ grist its hard not to perk up an ear. At four albums in I’m not betting they’re going to self-edit too much, but good times are notable here for those building out some shaggy playlists of late.






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Jake and Carolyn of School Damage on Tommy Jay – Tall Tales of Trauma

Though I’ve been a fan of both Jake Robertson (Ausmuteants, Alien Nosejob) and Carolyn Hawkins’ (Chook Race) individual projects, they’re often at their best when they come together as School Damage. The band embraces a raw, yet catchy form of post-punk that finds a through line from Young Marble Giants to Wire and Television Personalities. The two songwriters balance each other out in their reach for grit vs hook, so with that in mind Jake and Carolyn team up for a joint pick in Hidden Gems. The pair both harbor a love for Tommy Jay’s Tall Tales of Truama, aMidwest lo-fi treasure that’s sure to have eluded most.

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Honey Radar – Psychic Cruise

Chunklet and Honey Radar are always a winning combination and the release of yet another single by the lo-fi Philly pop unit is cause for celebration. Five tracks of shambolic Syd Barrett burial rites that exhume the shaggy spirit of clang-clobbered pop, echoplexed to perfection and smeared with enough hooks to keep ya diggin’ for the long haul. The lights are low, the smoke is high and the room is choked with sweat and stink and life when these songs are on. Jason Henn has a penchant for pop songs that feel like they jumped out of his guitar two minutes before the listener sat down, but they stick with the permanence of Guided by Voices deep cuts. Of course, the fidelity means that most Honey Radar songs sound like a scratch take, but I suppose overworking them might just take away the magic. It makes each one of their singles and EPs feel like a secret release slipped amongs friends at a house show. Recommended as usual.




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Mope Grooves

Northwest ramshackle poppers Mope Grooves have hot-glued together a brittle but bright indie pop album that rests on the brink of falling apart but glows all the brighter for it’s resolve to keep things loose. Coming off slightly impenetrable at first blush, the album reveals itself to be more than just a noisy nugget of homespun clatter. The record is built on the angst, noise and innocence that fueled The Raincoats, Beat Happening or more contemporary enclaves like Nodzzz or Brilliant Colors. Centering around songwriter Stevie Pohlman’s battles with depression and the push-pull nature of dealing with mental illness, the record was bound to be bruised. The band is able, however, to smooth the wealth of crushed aluminum riffs into a semblance of pop that embraces the exit wound of depression’s lacerations rather than dwell on the glowing hurt at the heart of the matter.

Featuring members of Woolen Men, Patsy’s Rats and Honey Bucket, the band is a catch-all of similarly minded travelers all coming together to saw at the human condition with rubber band riffs and a cacophony that heals like an uncontrolled howl rather than raise the collective hackles of listeners. Pohlman’s grasp on the outsider jangle that populated the ‘80s and ‘90s gives this one a lost rarity quality, like stumbling on a Talulah Gosh demo in an old Goodwill box. It’s a quaint shot of pop that can’t help but charm time and again.



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Sheer Mag – III

Over the course of three EPs Sheer Mag have built a solid reputation, largely on their ability to squeeze 70’s arena rock and sweaty 60’s soul into the same busted bucket while heaping on the politics in a way that makes them go down easy, despite their songs’ dark centers. The recordings have a tinny quality, but that’s a part of the charm. Christina Halladay sounds like she’s being broadcast over an AM wavelength right into your best memories. There’s a bit of Shannon & The Clams, a bit of Ariel Pink and they split the seams between Royal Headache and Thin Lizzy nicely. But underneath the aesthetics beats a passionate howl and lyrics that deal with the grim realities of working class women in Ciudad Juarez, the machinations of hate and the implications of emotional manipulation. There’s a lot at play here, but at their heart the songs have enough catchy bits to make that combination work swimmingly. Sure lo-fi has had its day and its probably time to crawl back to clarity but the core of Sheer Mag is stacked like Tootsie-pop perfection in its sweetness and jawcracking fun and if you listen close enough, you just might learn something.





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