Posts Tagged ‘Noise-pop’

Ryan Garbes

Still a steady stream of great albums tumbling out of 2020, so don’t expect a wrap from me while there are still corners to uncover. There’s more to scrape from this year yet. This one comes from a longtime favorite from the site, Ryan Garbes, who has been kicking around RSTB for years as part of Raccoo-oo-oon and Wet Hair. Both were constants on the site back in the ol’ Blogspot days and Ryan’s kept up the exploratory spirit in his solo releases since. Tabbed View explodes the notion of pop — burrowing incessant hooks under a layer of crust, a careen of noise-chewed psychedelics, and a deluge of disjointed rhythms. This release feels like it would sit right at home with the broken Teac days of Raven, burrowing through noise-pop fodder from Sic Alps, Times New Viking, and Psychedelic Horseshit. Though Garbes isn’t exactly miring himself in the past. That would be selling the record short. There’s a surreal crispness to this album that plucks it out of the lo-fi froth that constantly surrounded the class of ’08, letting this one creep into the room in 3-dimentional crystalized crumple.

Garbes’ sound has pushed into a sort of skin-slipped acid-sluiced funk as well and it’s a sound that’s hard to shake. The urge to dance is inherent in Tabbed View but the mechanics constantly elude the listener as the drums lag and lap and the guitars blot out proper motor skills under a wash of corroded fuzz. Garbes is inhabiting some sort of bomb shelter disco, keeping the captive audience fluid until the sickness seeps through the walls. There have been a lot of sounds that have come to define the year, but few albums hit like this one in 2020. Garbes proves he’s still a pop innovator, chewing on the wires and turning the taste of voltage into freaked funk for the rest of us.



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Bons – “Ready Reckoner”

Fruits & Flowers have served as an evergreen fount of warbled pop and jangled musings, but now they’re offering up something a bit more curdled than their catalog has harbored in the past. The debut single from Bons brings together a trio of UK players who’ve all found their niche in bands that buzz a bit more than they jangle. Here, as Bons, the trio, augmented with the addition of Aimée Henderson on the closer, land in a tussle between post-punk that’s been dented to remove the sharp corners and an almost pastoral sound that’s begs a bit of comparison to artists on Jewelled Anteler (not coincidentally a precursor to F&F as a label). The band opens the single with their noisiest bout — the crumpled and smeared “Steiner,” but things quickly calm from there. The rest of the EP hovers between the hypnogogic storybook psychedelia of Ghost Box releases and the unsettling ease of something like Blithe Sons. This isn’t pop by any stretch, but its just as fond of climbing under the skin. The record has a hard to pin endearing quality, warm like woolens but just as itchy in the same way.


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Jason Henn – “A Straighter Line (Ballad of JPHS)”

Following up on Honey Radar’s great LP from last year and a retrospective of their Chunklet singles earlier in this year, the band’s Jason Henn knocks out a solo LP for Cara Records. The bandleader has issued a few CD-rs for Chunklet collatortor Third Uncle Records and a self-released lathe, but for all purposes this marks his first LP under his own name. The songs retain a lot of the immediacy of recent Radar material — pitting a psych-pop penchant against his ability to knock out GBV-style fuzz nuggets that get lodged in the head like static-sore jingles. There’s plenty to love in on the album but the immediacy of “A Straighter Line (Ballad of JPHS)” exemplifies what makes Henn’s songwriting stick. There’s a breezy pop to the track but its hidden under the transistor vocals and the noise-pop barrage of guitars. Yet, its never abrasive, just a solid swinger with a bit of grit to it. The full LP doesn’t disappoint, with 10 more kickers in a similar mold. Jazz Pigs In High School is out today.

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Magik Markers

In the gap between Magik Markers Surrender to the Fantasy and 2020 it’s fair to say that the world has shifted, yet the band picks up their distillation of noise-pop and make it seem just as biting and relevant as ever. The group has long had a proclivity for balancing the brutal with the beautiful, wielding grunge-slung hooks alongside skin-flaying noise and tender moments that poke at the new skin underneath the wounds. The formula hasn’t changed but it feels like in their absence Magik Markers only became better conduits for their brand of barnacled pop shakedown. They ooze into the record, slow and primordial with eyes on the skies and heads in the mist as Elisa inhabits the spectral form for “Surf’s Up.” By the time they’re three songs in the sonic briars of “That Dream (Shitty Beach) are tearing at the listener with a thousand tiny cuts.

Both Elisa and Pete took the break from Markers to release solo works that embraced more tender territory and the tidal tone on “Born Dead” is an argument in favor of Ambrogio’s devastating way with a song. Even outside of the context of the album, the song’s layered synths and cavernous vocals relay a darkness and mournfulness that most songwriters never touch. While it would seem tempting to languish, the band jumps right back into the fray, draining the pool and skating in the sun with spot-on aughts noise pop that pulls me right back to an era when Eat Skull, Tyvek, and Times New Viking blistered the speakers for a summer or two.

As with any impulse in the Markers’ quiver, it doesn’t last as they weave further darkness over the last half of the album —plunging the listener right back into the depths that they plumbed in “Born Dead” and “Surfs Up” with closer “Quarry (If You Dive)” and the winding, tortured “CDROM.” The tonal shifts never feel wedged though — surging through bouts of depression and regret balanced with the requisite anger and joy necessary to deal with the overwhelming feelings. While bright spots appear, the album is more contemplative and haunted by the past than any of their previous albums. The lure of dark waters is difficult to resist and like the Markers maybe we’re all not dealing well, but we fight through nonetheless. 2020 is likely a year that we need Magik Markers more than ever. Its good to have ‘em back.




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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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