Posts Tagged ‘Noise-pop’

Olumpus – “Beautiful or Bro”

It’s been about seven years since New Zealand’s Olumpus (nee Olympus) has been seen around these parts, but the Stefan Neville-led (Pumice, The Coolies) outfit is back with a new album and an impressive rotating cast in tow. With twenty-two collaborators on board, including Richard Youngs, Dan Melchior, and quite a few others that have haunted Neville and primary partner Pat Kraus’ orbit they’ve expanded the idea of Olympus from the last LP. The dazed crawl of “Beautiful of Bro” hints nicely at the appeal of the new record. The song tangles with fuzz and form, builds up slow and dissipates into a nebulous cloud that’s cluttered with debris. Neville’s sister Indira takes the vocals here and the whole song hearkens back to the noise-pop heyday that birthed small-press greats like Vibes, L.A. Vampires, and Psychic Reality. Just as it locks in, the song is swept to the distance, though I could listen to a loop of this for about twice as long. The new record is out through the band’s home at Soft Abuse. It’s flying way under the radar, but now you don’t have an excuse to miss out.



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Mike Donovan

Mike Donovan’s post-Sic Alps trajectory has swerved through as many mangled twists as the Alps themselves. At heart, he’s a man that can’t be pinned, placarded, and cataloged like so many, instead preferring to douse his pop, psych, and noise with a deluge of bleach and sulphuric acid. Following the crunch n’ crumble attack of Sic Alps he fluffed his pop chops on his first solo LP, opting for a folk shuffle that bordered on simple sincerity. Likewise the first stretch as Peacers landed as a garage gem shot through with a reverence for the Velvets and Syd Barrett resting in the palm of each hand. The further he gets from inception, though, the more murky the visions become. Peacers’ second act was tied in knots and dosed to the collar in plastic foam and feedback flecks. His last solo LP was a view of the sky from the drain, a shut-in shimmy that left the fray of its housecoat in plain view.

So that brings us to Exubrian Quonset just a year later, sounding more like Sic Alps than Donovan has in a long time. The fuzz is at the forefront, and there’s that hot-footed sway that always gave the band their charms. Yet, going into a Donovan penned record, I’m always looking for that transcendent pop moment and that seems to be absent this time around. He’s usually got a damnable earworm packed in there somewhere, one that comes bursting from the buzz to knock the wind out of the listener. He’s pushing towards the light with the fluorescent flicker of “B.O.C. Rate Applied,” and its probably the most pop moment on the album, but even with a late night glow, it’s a different side of his pop canon. I’ll always be holding out for another WOT (the whole thing is nothing but these brilliant moments), another “L Mansion,” another “God Bless Her I Miss Her,” another “She’s On Top,” and that’s on me. Donovan seems to be swimming in the fray much more often these days, embracing his hackles more than his come-hithers.

I’m not gonna fault him. The fray has always been a portion of the equation, part and parcel with listening to any band he’s helming, but it was finding the surprise inside that always made me smile. For the fuzz farmers and wobble poppers, there’s still a lot of material to chew on here. It’s not circling the storm drain as hard as the last time around, but it does still seem to be looking up at the stars from the curb. Something in the record feels like Donovan is closing a chapter, like he’s tying up loose ends. This is, in fact, his leaving San Francisco record, so perhaps there’s just a weight on the record’s shoulders that’s too heavy for the buoyant bounce of his pop past.



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The Telescopes – Early Studio Recordings

While The Telescopes would go on to refine shoegaze into beautifully fuzzy bliss in their later year, the band found their footing far from the restraint that would mark their eponymous Creation classic. From the outset the band found themselves down in the noise trenches chewing the furious punk swagger of the Stooges into feedback folds on par with Jesus and Mary Chain, Spacemen 3 and Loop. With such a large and still evolving catalog to tend to, though, those early EPs tend to get overshadowed and lost from the conversation of psych-punk classics. Bang! Records aims to correct that mistake, however, with the issue of Early Studio Recordings which rounds up the band’s pre-Taste EPs on to one thick platter for the feedback freaks.

The collection rounds up completely remastered versions of tracks from their debut single, Kick The Wall, 7th# Disaster EP, The Perfect Needle EP, and To Kill A Slow Girl Walking EP. Rounding up years spent between Cheree and What Goes On, the early recordings weren’t afforded as much cash infusion clarity as their later works and its nice to hear them scrubbed up and sweating like new. The lingering effects of The Telescopes can be felt foaming through the veins of plenty of newcomers looking to claim the psych crown, so best to take the time to rifle through the unabridged history of noise rock. JAMC and MBV will always get the most space on the page anytime some poor schmuck’s rhapsodizing about the volume infected guitar albums that’ll rattle the fillings right out of your head, but for my money The Telescopes should be seated right near the head of the table. Recommended that you pick this up and find out why.



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The Wolfhounds – Hands In The Till

As with many, I might imagine, my introduction to The Wolfhounds came at the hand of the C86 compilation. Though the comp is rather cohesive in its rounding up of the UK janglepop picture at the time there are a few outliers that stick out simply because they’re not as gentle as the majority of the fodder on the fabled collection. Chief among these aberrations are Half Man Half Biscuit, The Shrubs and The Wolfhounds. The latter actually lands close to the scope of many of the band’s but there’s a danger present in their sound that begs closer inspection. The band followed their excellent ’86 material with the biting “Anti-Midas Touch” EP starting off a noise-pop journey that’s still going.

As could only be expected of a quality UK band, they were participants in John Peel Sessions, leaving behind four sessions worth of incredible performances that sound surprisingly smooth all lined up. Given that the band was torn apart and reformed a few times over the span of the sessions, that’s no small feat. The comp covers a lot of ground and is notable for stringing together quite a bit of non-album singles material, touching on cuts from the Me, Cruelty, and Happy Shopper 7″s. The band have always remained admirable for swaying from the easy road, they’d captured their jangly beginnings in Unseen Ripples from a Pebble and the subsequent singles but turned around and drove the noise to the forefront with Blown Away, which likely dropped a few fair weather fans. This comp, sitting in the context of their excellent catalog proves that, like their peers in The Fall, McCarthy and The Wedding Present, they were an essential band carving out their own unique take on England’s rose. This is an excellent primer for the unfamiliar and an essential pickup for the ardent fan.



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The Lavender Flu

Considering Chris Gunn’s past in The Hunches and The Hospitals, the most glaring quality that permeates Lavender Flu’s sophomore release is a renewed sense of calm. While there are pop outbursts aplenty and redline levels that would make his history proud, the record also drags up moments that recall Galaxie 500’s quiet woolen itch and The Cakekitchen’s hazy jangle. Overall the record is locked together with quite a bit more glue than Heavy Air. It seems that the time spent touring his previous record and working out these new cuts with a full band in tow had an effect on Gunn. He translates the cohesion into a slightly less sprawling take on this particular niche between grunge, garage, psych-folk and the tentpoles that propped up an indie generation in their wake.

The band relocated to a Pacific Northwest cliffside for the recordings and the cool air may have tempered the band’s direction into the reluctant sighs that waft off of Mow The Glass. Gunn still has an urge to swing the style spinner to find his muse – crunching guitars through the grunge-flecked “Dream Cleaner,” dousing the burn with country slides on “Like A Summer Thursday,” and “Distant Beings,” then twisting his experimental nerves on “A Raga Called Erik.” He even dredges himself back into the arms of noise-pop with the graveled blast that accompanies “Floor Lord”. Within the span of Mow’s relatively brief half-hour(ish) span he covers a lot of ground. It reads like a mess on paper but sounds like a dream through the speakers.

The album never feels disjointed and that’s to Gunn’s credit more than anything. It comes off as capturing a college rock heart that beat somewhere between ’87 and ’93 – heartbroken and healed, besieged by angst and calmed by numb resolve. It’s unsettled at its core, scratching at the walls that would try to contain it. For all its ambitions it truly succeeds on Gunn’s ability to throw himself into a song harder than most would ever even try.



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Purling Hiss – “Out Tonight”

Seems fitting that Purling Hiss are taking a whack at Spacemen 3, the legends’ squall molded psych is an apt precursor to Mike Polizze’s own fuzz-caked face-melters. Though it seems they’re almost doing a twofer here. While the flip of this single is a cover of S3’s classic, “Walkin’ With Jesus,” the Purling original sounds like it came straight off of a day spent flipping Recurring over until the grooves got gooey. The song is sparking with that same ozone bliss that’s been a longtime Spacemen hallmark and the kind of hook that ducks its head under the horizon to let the repetition and guitar splatter do the heavy lifting. Personally, I’m a fan of the “best song a band never wrote” approach to homage, and while the world cries derivative, I just see a love letter blown thirty feet tall and electrified for visibility. It’s a fun curio that keeps the band’s fuzz pop banner aloft until the next album comes creeping in.

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Ex-Vöid – “Boyfriend”

In answer to the unspoken question that Ex-Vöid asks – why yes, I have been missing Joanna Gruesome lately. The band, featuring JG expats Alanna McArdie and Owen Williams, picks up flecks of their soft-touch crunch pop but adds a tougher edge to the guitars. “Boyfriend” does a few 90-degree tempo turns before settling into a driving pop burner that’s just as wide-smile fun as anything that the pair were doing with their previous outfit. Hung on a jilted lover narrative, the track is begging to be thrown on the speakers at top volume. It’s a bed jumper of an anthem that speaks well to the promise Ex-Vöid have in store. The song is the first taste off of their debut single for Don Giovanni, but hopefully this is just the beginning of something beautiful and bigger for the trio.




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Grouper

Days were when Liz Harris had a new album on the way it was the rippling fringe that was excited. Now by the grace of gauziness, Grouper is practically a household name (ok maybe not quite) and expectations are high going into Grid of Points. From the very first moments those expectations are met. Harris’ voice is still battling with hiss for prominence, but this time it’s winning out handily, soaring in a heartbreaking lilt over “Parking Lot’s” somber refrain and soaking the album through with a confessional nature that pushes her past the markers of dreampop and noise that used to pen her in. There’s still that natural warmth that makes Grouper Grouper, but it seems over time Liz Harris has seen fit to let us further into her world with an intimacy that’s palpable in every moment of the new record.

It’s almost too bad that warmer climes and sunny skies are on their way because every inch of Grid of Points makes me want to hollow out a couch cushion and bunker down to weather frigid gloom for another few months. The album is, as is usual with Grouper, haunting in its ability to draw sadness out like a fragile divining rod. Even without the cocoon of aural foam and tape hiss that’s ever present, there’s a feeling that just Harris and a piano would command rapt attention for an album twice this length. If anything, the problem is the album’s brevity leaves the listener wanting more – needing Harris to commiserate and tug gently at the toothache of longing just a little while longer.

I’ll take what I can get though, and this is Harris at her best, showing an artist willing to evolve, even if that evolution is just a gradual peek from behind the curtain over time. If there’s a shred of sadness looking for relief inside of you, then Grouper is here to rub salt in the wound. The pain is real, but the sparkle is worth it.



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Dog Chocolate – “Tesco Flag”

OK I’ll be the first to admit I’ve often balked at UK noise-poppers Dog Chocolate based on that name alone. It’s abhorrent, but not wholly off base on the sound of a band that’s enticing yet corrosive in nature. The band’s latest single, “Tesco Flag,” is scotch taped to a clanking rhythm that gives way to nauseous waves of synth overload, rusted through guitar tones and vocal chaos. Propulsive, disjointed and ripped to shreds by the last note, the song boasts plenty to love. The band pairs this amphetamine noise-dive with a bonkers video of the band dressed as nits tearing it up in the woods (though I suppose those trees are meant to be hair, eh). Either way it’s a corker of a song and gives me pause on my years of write-off on the band based on superficial means.


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No Babies

I’m tellin’ you it’s a banner year for post-punk and Oakland’s No Babies add another piece to the chewed glass puzzle of 2018 with their sophomore LP, Someone To Watch Over Me. The record, as with their debut, is built closer to punk’s beating heart, with frantic tempos propelling the accusatory throttle of Jasmine Watson’s vocals. The band pushes past the imaginary lines scratched in punk’s sand though, with a healthy lungful of sax skronk and some sandpaper conditioning to the guitar work of Ricky Martyr. Tracks jerk to a stop, crumple into metallic tumbles and knock all manner of jagged chunks out of the expected punk boilerplate. They remind me in a very good way of bygone Mexican punks XYX – a hole in my heart that I’m happy to fill.

The lyrics tend towards the progressive, as might befit the band’s barbed assault, working thorough screeds on consumer society, binary identity politics and police brutality. As such, in the tilt-o-whirl blur of 2018, the record has a vitality that’s palpable, delivered via sweaty as hell noise bursts bent on crumbling the roadblock consciousness of those that seek to pin them down. They’re channeling youthful exuberance into fuel for life, processing cathartic pogo politics into petrol for change. Someone To Watch Over Me, like classic works from Ni Hao or Afrirampo before it, is built on barely controlled chaos, bottled and funneled through a pinpoint at precise pressure. What sounds like an uncontrollable maelstrom from the eye of the storm is in reality a Rube Goldberg of sonic destruction when rolled back into focus. No Babies are architects of their own engine of change and working damn hard to crush the common consensus via twenty-five minutes of acid-stripped punk pummel.



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