Posts Tagged ‘psych-folk’

Beautify Junkyards

The fourth album from Lisbon’s Beautify Junkyards is a dazzling, dense work that recalls Broadcast, Os Mutantes, and labelmates Soundcarriers at their best. Cosmorama immediately vaults the listener through the looking glass, and straight into a liquid light show of colors and permeable realities. With a hook into folk and another in pscyhedelic jazz, the record is pastoral at its heart. The vocals of guests Nina Miranda and Alison Bryce move from whispered wisdoms to mournful sighs and ultimately pose as ghostly invitations. As the layers build around them, though, the progressive spirit of the band swings away from the simple folk setup and lets the lysergic lens coat the record in colors that are hard to pin down.

The works of Beautify Junkyards have always had a bit of a ‘through the hedge’ quality to them — a feeling of entering a lush, verdant world just hidden behind our own. The synths lay down opalescent mists. The guitars are mossy and wet like cut leaves, seeping through the songs with mystery that’s burdened with sadness. As with the last album, Espers’ Helena Espvall remains a key to the band’s psychedelic sway. Touches of Flute, cello, and zither give the album and otherworldly quality that plunges the listener further down the hidden paths. It’s hard to come up for air after the last notes of Cosmorama fade from speakers, but like being roused from a waking dream, the album lingers in the synapses even after it exits the ether. Fans of Ghost Box should know that the label’s a particular seal of quality these days, and Beautify Junkyards live up to the stable’s reputation nicely. Wrapped as all things at the Box are, in gorgeous Julian House artwork that tips this into collection fodder as well.



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Upupayāma

This is an excellent Bandcamp find that popped in a few feeds and got a nice breakdown over at the always spot-on Petal Motel, which is worth a read. The album is the sole work of Italian songwriter Alessio Ferrari, though it owes more than a small debt to the works of the Guruguru Brain roster. Splitting themes between the verdant Japanese psychedelia of Kikagaku Moyo and the psych-folk forebears further north of him — tapping into the Swedish and Finnish strains in particular — Upupayāma’s debut is impressive to say the least. The four tracks that make up his eponymous album are laden with flutes, cave damp guitar runs, and feline bass that creeps through each track with a distinct slink.

The world of Upupayāma is fantastical. He inhabits elfin wonderlands that are dark and mysterious, dark laboratories hidden underground, and firelight rituals. Darkness rounds every bend but the stakes feel personal and puzzling. Think more Over The Garden Wall than Tolkein here. Adding only further to the air of intangible intrigue is Ferrari’s use of an invented language through the majority of the songs, sliding this slightly through Magma or Gong territory with ease. While the touch of Canterbury prog takes root, the Japanese psych connection goes even deeper as well. Ferrari reached out to Kikagaku Moyo / Sundays & Cybele engineer Yui Kimijimai to mix and master the album, bringing the feeling ever closer to the humid hybrid of psych and folk that that particular set achieves. The album is a dense wander through knotted, intricate works that open into mirror worlds of color soaked sound. There’s a psychedelic innocence at work that oddly reminds me of the illustrations of Esmé Shapiro. Its an outstanding debut, and I hope that this one moves into a physical format at sometime, but for now, this is well worth digging into in any form.

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Wren Kitz

This is a nice swerve into heavier territory from Vermont’s Wren Kitz. The Burlington artist has often found himself enmeshed in the kind of psych-folk that would have played nice with Hush Arbors, Skygreen, and Six Organs during the boom of ’04, but with an album running with split support from Sophomore Lounge and Feeding Tube, Kitz has swerved into a feedback-fraught rock territory that’s a bit heavier. Early Worm bakes its riffs in the sun, never quite erupting into the kind of psych scorch that might emanate out of the MV & EE camp, but certainly traveling down the Golden Road for a touch. Kitz’ vocals have an aqueous float to them, lost in the waves like his folk works, but riding against a stronger tide this time around.

Early Worm soaks into the skin, an apparently easy record on the surface, tinged with a bit of sadness and sway. As it flips into the second side, though, the album takes on a bit more bite that the opening few salvos might let on. The gnarled pair “Intro (improv 1)” into album stunner “Georgie” elevate the record from a sunset melt into something that’s got a bit more aural heft. The intro tiptoes up to squelch before the 8+ minute “Georgie” lays out a quaking centerpiece for the album that’s tender and torn. The rest of the second side balances sunset and storm with a bit more improv squall and a couple of half-light closers. Kitz’ last LP for NNA was hard to pin down, but this one blossoms in the heart of the amplifier — a nice direction that I hope isn’t a one off.



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New Bums – “Billy, God Damn”

I love it when a band resurfaces out of the black hole of the zeitgeist to deliver something that you didn’t know you needed on a Tuesday morning. New Bums emerged much the same way on their debut — a collaboration between longtime RSTB faves Donovan Quinn and Ben Chasny, that paired up the psych-folk veterans for a worn and weary record that felt like it had an audible hangover. It was a brilliantly ruffled album and they emerge seven years later with another record that’s just as comfortably broken and bruised. The first taste of the LP, “Billy, God Damn” sails in on their smoke and soil rubbed delivery. Can’t wait for this one, but we’ll all have to be collectively patient until the record lands on shelves March 19th.




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Spencer Cullum

It’s always nice to see the sidemen get their due and 2020 has been a year of session players stepping up, especially within the realm of pedal steel — from Barry Walker to Luke Schneider, and now we can add Spencer Cullum to the list as well. Though unlike the others, Cullum isn’t bringing pedal steel to the forefront, rather he’s gathered his circle of Nashville players for an album that’s shot through with ‘70s Canyon AOR, UK prog, psych folk, and even a surprising touch of German Progressive coursing through its veins. Cullum slips from behind the bandstand to wind up an amiable, if subdued leader. Where others have tucked into Cosmic Americana and UK prog-folk with a flash, he’s ever the master of balance and shading, letting tracks simmer in their ambitions.

The impulses here swing from simple folk strains into lush works buoyed by strings, clarinet, sax and mellotron and pencer taps quite a few friends to add those touches. Sean Thompson, Luke Reynolds, Andrew Combs, Erin Rae, Annie Williams and James “Skyway Man” Wallace all pop up among the credits and their contributions help give the record definition. While he’s aiming for Matching Mole, Roy Harper, Caravan, and early Soft Machine, with so many local friends on board, the native Englishman can’t help inject just a touch of Nashville’s honeyed charms to the record as well. As the LP progresses he wanders further afield from the wooded confines of folk, letting a motorik murmur enter into view on “Dieterich Buxtehude,” and a soft jazz gauze fall over “Tombre En Morceaux.” The record does its best to embrace an out-of-time feeling, evoking an era of experimental folk that’s still reverberating today while bearing a few teethmarks of the kind of players who are pulled in for their perfectionism. It’s high concept prog from the best hired guns and while that means none of the ends are particularly frayed, I certainly enjoy its grand design.




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Trees – Trees (50th Anniversary Edition)

Now there’s quite a subset of catalogers of the past that would relegate Trees to the cutout bin and 2nd or 3rd tier in their essential releases of the ‘70s. While the band filled a similar swath as Pentangle or, more closely Fairport Convention, to discount them as merely a photocopy is to do the band a grave disservice. Comparisons between Fairport and Trees often come at the expense of Celia Humphris, who may not have the range of Sandy Denny, but hers is a more wounded delivery and in turn gives Trees an imperfect veneer that’s to their advantage rather than their detriment. Where the band truly excels is in marrying the wan English past to (at the time) the acid-peaked present. Folding out of primrose paths, the band expands on traditional songs with a keen ear for when and how to let the psychedelic flame burn and when to let the troubadour impulse carry them further down the wooded path.

This is exactly where Humphris shines, between the knotted riffs and the hallucinogenic tension she’s the common villager to Denny’s noblewoman. The band lays beneath her a tapestry that’s alive with visceral wonder and heady twists and turns. The older tales spin out as they did among many of their peers burnt through with a Wiccan wink that pulls them from the past and into a fevered dream of medieval fantasia. The moves they practice on their debut, The Garden of Jane Delawney set the stage for the originals that would populate the follow-up On The Shore, a record that might be more familiar to some for its Hipgnosis cover than its content. The band creates an imagined trove of traditionals on the follow-up, creating a schism in history with an extended renaissance that’s feels pulled from pulp novels and opium dreams.

With this 50th anniversary collection, Earth rounds up a complete picture of the band, finally elevating them from psychedelic curio into something more deserving of a deep dive. In addition to the band’s two albums, restored and remastered, the set collects two new discs of alternate mixes, early demos, BBC session tracks and 2018 live recordings in London. No doubt there will still be plenty who will see them as only a footnote in the psych-Nuggets column, but I think this collection makes their case quite nicely.



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The Left Outsides / Alison Cotton

Over the last few years, Feeding Tube has amassed an impressive collection of works by The Left Outsides, and subsequently solo work by singer / violaist Alison Cotton. The husband-wife duo of Cotten and Mark Nicholas have carried on the psych-folk torch following the dissolution of their previous band The Eighteenth Day of May. This Feeding Tube and Cardinal Fuzz pull triple duty, reissuing the band’s live set cut to CD-R, A Place To Hide from last year. The set culls quite a bit from the band’s previous studio album All That Remains, though they take pains not to merely recreate the album in the live setting. In the room. The Left Outsides can breathe new life into their works — here stretching the songs into haunted dirges that weep with harmonium and dread. The set’s rounded out with a few covers, one traditional and another a rather beautiful take on a 13th Floor Elevators tune, an inspired choice if there ever was one. The lone new cut is the opener “My Reflection Once Was Me,” a song that ties this release to the band’s new record, Are You Sure I Was There?

The song finds its way into the new album, slated for release next week, but its a changed animal. The harmonium drone is gone, replaced by the low growl of guitar, but Alison Cotton’s singular voice still drives the track with hints of deep furrowed sorrow. The album is a departure from the live set that inhabits A Place To Hide, still scarred with the heavy heart and melancholy that’s present in the duo’s work, but fleshed out into a psych-folk landmark that’s acts as a proper follow-up to the scarred and singed landscapes of All That Remains. As the album wears on the clouds pull in tight, blocking the wan moonlight and calling the mists from all directions. Like Espers, Fire On Fire, or most of the Language of Stone roster, this is a band that connects deep to the currents of UK folk and the dark pull of anguish and hope that have long played a part in it’s legacy. Both pull at each other on A Place To Hide, creating rivulets of tension that scar and soothe.

While they hold court evenly, with both Cotton and Nicholas taking on vocal duties within the new album, the labels have found room for one more Cotton related LP on the roster this year and it puts Alison’s solo works on par with the duo’s elemental sadness. Earlier in the year Cotton released a cassette for Bloxham tapes that saw her balancing the stark viola drones with her voce, playing up her Nico tendencies more than any other on the dock this year. The set opens wit the labyrinthine, 20+ minute “Behind The Spiderweb Gate” and delves deep into the darkness from there on out. The song winds her voice through eddies of glacial sadness leading into the layered beauty and stark mourning of the rest of Only Darkness Now, perhaps the most fitting title in all of the Left Outsides-adjacent catalog. Both Feeding Tube and Cardinal Fuzz have done well to showcase what’s so entrancing about Cotton and The Left Outsides and its quite an enticing spread of albums from them this year. If you’re unfamiliar, this trio is an excellent primer on what’s made the band and Cotton’s contributions so vital over the past few years.

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Big Blood

The collaborations between Cardinal Fuzz and Feeding Tube continue and this time they bring out another incarnation from the always entrancing Big Blood. This one’s an older bit of the Big Blood story, but its finally making its way to vinyl thanks to both labels. The family that harnesses the vibrations of the infinite together stays together, or so they say and while the pair includes daughter Quinnasa, this might mark her first appearance via the charming closer. Caleb and Colleen cut their teeth in Cerberus Shoal and Fire on Fire, but its always been Big Blood that’s truly felt like their own skin to inhabit and augment. This is one of the records in their stable that feels like they truly came into their own under the name. Dark Country Magic pretty much sums up the feeling here perfectly — the peace and love of their newer albums is traded in favor of a more dire psych-folk framework.

The moods are largely poisoned, shrouded, alone in the forest in harmony with silt and soil by day and offering blood to the moon by night. Big Blood’s emphasis on the ragged chorus of vocals remains one to their most effective tools and they can turn it from jubilant to harrowing within the space of minutes. They do let the veil slip mid record to dance in a full sun ceremony, but within the context of the rest of the record, the atypical moment in the sun feels more like a facade to put the listener at ease before the coven turns on them once the sun escapes the sky. Clatters of percussion, dusty guitars, and Kinsella’s vocals that leave an imprint on your soul — the record has everything a Big Blood fan could ask for.




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Elkhorn – “Acoustic Storm Sessions (exerpt)”

Earlier in the year Elkhorn released an album of pent-up psychedelic darkness and desperation that was forged in an unintentional lock-in during a snowstorm that caused them to miss a pivotal Brooklyn gig last year. The album, made with friend and collaborator Turner Williams, showed the band at their improvisational peak, exploring their psych-folk prowess by turning an environment of disappointment into something extraordinary. Seems that the album, which found them in a configuration with Jesse on acoustic, Drew on Electric, and Turner shifting between electric bouzouki on one side, shahi baaja on the next, spawned a sister album that’s just now seeing the light of day.

This time Elkhorn eschew the plugs to release their first completely acoustic album, letting three guitars entwine in the ice-ensconced studio to create something that’s both meditative and mercurial. Not quite born of the Basho/Fahey axis, not quite beholden to the kind of ambient plains dusters that spawned Barn Owl, this is is a more tempered vision of Elkhorn’s apocalyptic folk. On the sample below, you can feel just a small fraction of the scope of these acoustic sessions, stripped bare of the ozone-crackle of their psychedelic fry, but no less devastating in their barren burn. If anything, the austerity only enhances the permafrost isolation of the band’s stranded situation during the recording. The LP is out October 2nd on Centripetal Force and Cardinal Fuzz.




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Color Green

This loose-knit EP hits just right for the country-psych leanings I’ve been feeling these past few years. Admittedly the hold’s only getting stronger this year. Maybe there’s a comfort effect in the genre somewhere, but the melancholy melt has taken root this summer for sure. There’s been a solid pocket for works that fall just this side of psych-folk, and just that side of cosmic country pulling out of the tailspin of the ‘10s and Color Green fit the form well. The EP is the work of Noah Kohll and Corey Madden who have an admitted debt to the drift of the Dead that’s been wafting through the rafters of late, but they also give this a wash through New Riders waters with some stops off at the kind of private press gold that birthed Relatively Clean Rivers. The twang sits high in the band’s repertoire, but the vocals are whispered on the wind and buried in a second-hand bootleg ripple of tape hiss that gives this a timeless feel, rather than the usual lo-fi associations dredged up with the noise floor of Teac turbulence.

Faded sun is in the band’s veins, dipping just below the mountains while the band peruses a wrinkled junk shop copy of the Whole Earth Catalog. It’s just languid enough to eschew proper jam territory, but sprawled out so much that you know they’re itching to take it that direction on stage. The release is out via small Toronto imprint Maximum Exposure who’ve brought out some great small releases from RSTB faves Young Guv and James Matthew VII in the past few years. The site mentions this being an early release, so no word on whether that means a digital drop before a physical but no matter what format this one lands on your speakers, it’s worth it. There’s a perfect end of summer feeling to the songs — amiable, easy, and drifting on a wind that’s got change on its mind. Keep the band in your watchlist for good things to come. If the early James Matthew tracks give an indication where these EPs can lead, you’re gonna want to see what the band does when they get some proper sine on ‘em.




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