Posts Tagged ‘Philadelphia’

Sparrow Steeple

Philly’s Sparrow Steeple cloak themselves in an aura of psychedelic mysticism that plucks from the psych-folk and prog rock camps equally. Much like the worldbuilding bluster of Wolf People or Black Mountain, the band makes it seem perfectly plausible to run guitars through a melted fuzz wormhole, tack on blooze blasted harmonica and sing about Leprechauns, Wizards, Wolfmen and Whispering Woods. While most modern psychedelia has left behind the Seventies’ penchant for injecting their works with a fascination with fantasy, the band tumbles through their fanciful references with the renewed confidence of lit nerds who’ve updated from heavy stacks of Tolkien to the painted panels of Gaiman, Remender, and Marjorie Liu.

The band holds roots in Strapping Fieldhands, who’d dug through similar territory albeit with a bit fuller lineup, and the skillset of that band lends itself nicely to the Steeple’s jaunty, pub-swum anthems. The album feints for harder hills on opener “Roll Baby” – probably the closest they really get to the rail-rocked classic chargers of Steven McBean – then they begin to seep into wandering troubadour folk as the album draws on. Adding layers of clanging bells, stomps, and claps, the album sounds like it was caught live on tape outside of a tavern about 4 in the morning. Seems like the only thing missing is a holler to “keep it down ya bastards, we’re sleepin in here” as the album wafts to a close on smells of hay and horse fields.

The band is keeping the idea of the drinking song alive, opting for jovial more often than not but, they do go in for the occasional cracked-sky warnings (“Leprechaun Gold”) and potion potent head-swimmers (“Stabbing Wizards”) too. There’s something of a mischievous Syd Barrett Mad Hatter winkiness to a lot of their lyrical content, but they sweep listeners up in the moment so that it hardly seems out of place and before long, you find yourself singing along. While probably not for every head out there, the album’s got a growing appeal that lets an indulgence in the fantastical seem like it might be ready for normalization. Everyday’s begging for a cloak and some Moondog horns in Sparrow Steeple’s world, might as well grab a pair yourself.



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Sparrow Steeple – “Roll Baby”

Philadelphia’s Sparrow Steeple tap into an imagined lineage in which the grimoire obsessions of 70’s occult psychedelia never shook its hold on the world. Like Wolf People and Black Mountain before them they’ve sliced through the acid blotter and come out the other side dodging wizards and wolfmen with only the aid of blistering psych and folk rock to protect them. The band, which is comprised of ex-members of Strapping Fieldhands, continues the traditions of their former front, picking up a penchant for drinking songs and sea shanties wrangled into psychedelic alchemy. Album opener “Roll Baby” sees the band at their most raucous – cohering the electric shakedown with a dose of barroom harmonica (courtesy of Philly’s own “Harmonica” Dan Balcer) and some biting background vocals that give the song a dizzying off-the-rails quality. While it threatens to burn down the stage at any moment, the song holds on until the smoke dies down to smolder and ash. The band’s sophomore album is out on Trouble in Mind April 5th.



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Writhing Squares

The second slab from Philly’s Writhing Squares brings no disappointment, slump or stumble. The band is as restless and as ragged as ever on the new LP. Built from the embers of space rock and punk while chasing the same fevered hallucinations that haunted the ‘70s German Progressive set, Out Of The Ether imagines a less meditative method than the rhythmic wranglers that came before them. Storming through the halls of Hawkwind’s leather n’ lather vibes with whiffs of Amon Düül II piped in one speaker and The Contortions piped in the other, Writhing Squares aren’t here to get Kosmiche. Far from it in fact – they’re here to demand the cosmos pay up in sweat equity and they’re willing to rough up some rhythms to get their psychedelic due.

That the two halves of Writhing Squares come from a couple of Raven’s favored noiseniks is no surprise – the common ground between early Purling Hiss and Taiwan Housing Project is abundantly clear and goes a long way to explain the impulses at work on Out of the Ether. There’s an overt sinister quality to the record, rotted and raw. Writhing Squares conjure the sounds of nightclub sweat at the end of humanity’s rope. Post-societal collapse there’s no hedonistic joy, only the night terror taps of the band’s inhuman drums, the barbed wire gnash of vocal invective and the rusted saw of a salvaged sax beat into the shape of a call to arms. Provenzano and Nickles thread their wounds with bailing twine through the first half of the record, then smash the fourth wall to ecstasy with the side-long crusher “A Whole New Jupiter.”

While 2019 makes its play as a year that could use a record or two to salve our collective wounds, Writhing Squares make a damn fine argument to cut a few fresh ones first. There’s still work to be done. Stay agitated. Philly’s finest have your back.



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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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The Night Crawlers – The Biophonic Boombox Recordings

Entrance into The Nightcrawlers’ world is foreboding at best and the currency at the gate is time. Considering the Philadelphia collective recorded over thirty-five cassettes of home recorded material between 1980 and 1991, the true barrier to figuring out their Kosmiche wonderland is finding the time and patience to sift through their extensive improvisational float. Thankfully, Anthology have cut out a lot of the work for you, boiling down their boombox experiments to a hefty collection that weighs in at over two hours, but tackles some of their best psychedelic fodder.

The band released a handful of LPs along the same arc but would become consumed by their studio improvisations that they recorded down to simple boombox room recordings. This gives the works here a rough quality, pocked with hiss and dotted with coughs and clicks, but it doesn’t detract from the band’s commitment to the German Progressive lineage. They churned out some high quality special float that spurned their contemporaries’ dive down dance paths, opting instead for the hypnotic comfort of Tangerine Dream, Goblin and Klauz Schulze LPs as their talismans. As such they also bridge the gap between those early German synth weavers and more contemporary resurgence that have arisen through Emeralds, Oneotrix Point Never and The Belbury Circle. A definite recommendation for the heads out there and the Kosmiche surfers looking to expand their library.




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Yuzo Iwata

It’s 2018 and Siltbreeze is still knocking out jams, somehow that’s a comforting sentiment in these trying times. Philadelphia’s Yuzo Iwata has done time in Japanese outsider conduit Maher Shalal Hash Baz, and while this is a far cry from that nest of bees, the association does bump up his pedigree somewhat. The record is loose and low slung, riding a groove that’s shaggy at best and stalwart in its insistence on tying on no style too tightly. As the label so kindly points out, Daylight Moon finds itself akin to PSF sides and flips through the Japanese psych blues bible creasing pages in the Michio Kurihara and Tetuzi Akiyama sections liberally. Iwata can stretch a groove into the void, but he’s not just ambling aimlessly through guitar knots, his compositions carve out craggy valleys of deep set woe and he sets himself up alongside the forerunners of Japanese psych as a new vessel of spectral feedback foam looking to burrow into your ennui centers.

Early on the record seems like it might slip into some sunny territory, “Gigolo” is downright sprightly in its swing, but Iwata quickly sheds the jangle ‘n chug for a more meditative dropout that lacerates the eardrums with a sea of squelch and fire-bellied rumble. He shows his range though, and the sprightly take fits with his rifle through psych-out burndowns, Bardo Pond-esque chuggers and plaintive touch torch blues tracks that look for purchase in soft-feel psychedelia fuzzed slightly at the edges. Iwata’s done well to grab listeners’ attention here and with Daylight Moon he sets up a nice bar for himself to scramble over as he looks to the future. It’s not perfect, but it’s flawed beautifully.




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Bardo Pond

It’s almost hard to believe that Bardo Pond are approaching 30 years as a band, but at the same time, it’s hard to imagine the psychedelic landscape without them. I personally got hooked into the Pond, as I imagine quite a few folks did with Dilate, coming slightly late to the party but grateful to find them as hosts. They’ve spent the intervening years carving out their own place between the creased consciousness of space rock, dreampop, psych and noise. They come to their latest, Under The Pines, after an epic collaboration with Acid Mothers Temple and Guru Guru last year. The album cuts back on the sheer heft and volume that the preceding project fostered, placing vocalist Isobel Sollenberger floating high above a pounding cascade of feedback and atmospheric billow. This cloaks Under The Pines ably in the band’s dreampop guise.

They wear the style well, but as could be expected of a band that’s spent three decades chasing the tail of the psychedelic snake, they aren’t exactly hewing to a one note sound here. Even when the tracks are similarly built on caged squall, they’re constantly adding nuance to the sonic struggle between the overwhelming wall of noise and Sollenberger’s gorgeous purr. Sollenberger also adds a mystic touch of flute to the proceedings, giving the record a mournful air and another fleck of beauty battling the churning froth. Then, as if to prove their mettle tenfold, they ease out into a dustbowl of psych country for the album standout “Moment To Moment.” It’s this kind of song that stamps them as masterful elder statesmen in a crowded field of newcomers jockeying for time on the psychedelic speakers. In a career full of high caliber records, they’ve never sounded so at ease with their prowess than right now.




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People Skills – “89¢ Public Render”

It’s hard to pin down Jesse Dewlow’s sound under the name People Skills. He squirms from rock shadows to acoustic dirge over the course of his new album for Blackest Ever Black, all rendered half intelligible under a broken VHS veneer of faded sound glory that seems recorded in an oil barrel under the sea. He’s at his best, though, on the chaotic clatter of “89¢ Public Render,” a junkyard hymn of electronic thrum and buzzing guitar beamed through a b-movie asteroid belt that picks up some odd bits of chatter. He’s been honing a sound that’s desolate and dark for years and its coming to a head on the intriguing Gunshots at Crestridge.


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Purling Hiss

On the last couple of Purling Hiss records, they cleaned up their sound, dusted off the fuzz of any lo-fi shackles and made for the studio. In the process they may have walked a bit far from the grit that kicked the band into the world all those many years ago. Weirdon brought some jangle and kept true to its namesake of injecting an oddness into their world. Water On Mars was a studio pop juggernaut sanded of its rough edges. Now they seek to walk it all back a bit, finding a thread of grunge in their matured sound and striking a nice balance between the slicked back rock of Water On Mars and the amplifier overload of their early works.

There’s been a lot of fluffed up think pieces that float the notion that guitar rock has no place in 2016, that the guitar solo is dead, that this sound has come and gone and its not moving forward; but that talk seems to miss the point of great guitar rock, perhaps especially in 2016. Its about burning clean the weight of the world and letting the feedback singe away the top layer of bullshit on any given moment. Mike Polizze has always known the power of fried and fraught rock, the kind of scorching, fuzz soaked platters that can test the limits of a stereo system from the first four chords and lay waste to weaker contenders with ease. He’s still got that spirit in his heart and High Bias brings the growl back to Purling Hiss to help digest an American sense of unrest that’s permeated daily life.

Polizze’s finally found his balance, its probably his most outright catchy record, but it never comes off as pop in the truest sense, its rock, towering and infernal, lighting that fire and feeding on the oxygen of unrest. Its not a protest record, but its not a lighthearted affair. It culminates in the highwater mark “Everybody In The USA,” a song that seems to sum up the rest of the record and let it all crumble beneath a seismic crunch of guitars and ragged fury. If the band needed to wipe away the rest of their catalog and leave only this behind as a statement of purpose, then it would still leave a pretty outstanding legacy for them. Its the kind of record that feels like like Polizze finished it, sat back and just said to himself, “yeah, that’s the sound… that’s what I’ve been looking for all these years.”



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The Writhing Squares

Philly duo The Writhing Squares is the brainchild of Kevin Nickles (Ecstatic Vision, Taiwan Housing Project) and Daniel Provenzano (Purling Hiss, Spacin’). The connection to Purling Hiss and Spacin’ feels on the money, though The Writhing Squares have a cleaner vision of the psychedelic expanse than Spacin’ and a much more motorik take than Purling Hiss usually indulge in. They muster creeping ambience and snowball it into a torn vortex of psychedelic stomp. At their best they’re conjuring up a Hawkwind obsessed Suicide tapping into the cosmic (or is that Kosmiche) well, while keeping the beats locked and pulsing. They beg the question, did Suicide always need more flute? Maybe so if it wound up floating into the sweet strains of lysergic lockstep “Astral Trane.”

They aren’t totally clipped into the Krautrock tag with any dogged devotion, though, opener “Unknown Drone” finds its way through the darkness in dirgey drones with space rock pockets popping up all over. They push into a no wave flutter that pairs easily with psychedelic grind on “Lava Suit” throwing their guitar growl to the wolves of a James Chance sax skronk that gives the track plenty of bite. The rest of the album doesn’t falter. There are no real weak spots. Provenzano and Nickles are the rare pair that know exactly the sounds they’re looking for and know just how to grind it into sonic sausage. Deeper listens bring more and more pockets of joy from In The Void Above and its been a while since someone took space rock on a worthwhile tour of complimentary vices in the last few years. Keeping this one locked on the stereo and the knob twisted up. Its a burner.




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