Posts Tagged ‘Ripley Johnson’

Rose City Band

Its been no secret around here that the sophomore LP from Rose City Band has hit hard. Expanding on the debut’s humble roots in private press psych, country, and Americana, the second offering from Ripley Johnson’s solo outfit refines his vision and takes a light dusting to the dollar-bin veneer. The scrub up doesn’t degrade the charms though, and the more refined RCB doesn’t lose a single ounce of the endearing value of Rip’s sound. Largely, RCB leans further into the streaked skies of Cosmic Country this time around, with a good dose of twang and ramble seeping into the strings underneath a blanket of heat-wave warble that seals in the saunter. Johnson forgoes a long psychedelic excursion like the debut’s “Fear Song,” this time around, instead focussing on set of songs that build to a simmer with just enough time to froth without foaming over. I

ts a tighter record, but that doesn’t mean he’s not interested in letting those liquid silver guitar lines shine. The hallmark sound of lysergic licks still graces the record, leaving Johnson’s unique stamp on it. While still paying homage to his original crop of past masters — Relatively Clean Rivers, Jim Sullivan, KAK, and Curt Newbury, — the vibes on Summerlong seem to be swinging full well into Western nodes of The First National Band, Timbercreek, or Country Funk. The shift is subtle but fits Ripley well. His honey n’ dust croon lays low like a fog over the horizons of these songs, which amble slow and choogle slightly less than he has in the past, but what they give up in rollick they make up in melt. Though, as the album wafts into its second half, the temperature heats up just a bit and the breeze dies down.

“Morning Light” picks up the pace, but not the urgency, still laying back into sunshine ease, but “Reno Shuffle” lets the night in and a bit of heat lightning, hinting at a bit of danger in the distance. For the most part it lounges in languid moments and spot-on shimmer. The album is a perfect companion to hazy summer days as they turn into warm summer nights. There’s been a wealth of entries to the Cosmic Americana canon over the last few years and this one’s standing near the top. While it was on constant rotation here, its possible that the debut from Rose City Band got lost among the releases last year. Hoping that same fate doesn’t befall this, because its definitely edging its way towards the top of the list of albums for 2020. Don’t sleep on this one.



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Rose City Band – “Real Long Gone”

Another shaker from the upcoming sophomore LP by Rose City Band. While the band’s debut slipped out quietly under the shadow of anonymity, leaving a few aural clues as to who was behind it, now Ripley Johnson (Moon Duo, Wooden Shjips) has taken his rightful place in the sun for the follow-up. The band’s been blending down the private press folk loner linger with the faded country swagger of deep bench ‘70s presses and nowhere does it coalesce better than on “Real Long Gone.” The song’s got a sunburnt soul, beaten by road dust and winding down the same turns that Turnquist Remedy, Country Funk, and Mighty Baby tracked before them. In the past the heat-curl of psych has obscured the twang-tipped wrangle, but here the country careen is on full display and feeling like just the thing to ease into summer. Warmer days have a good companion in the grooves of Summerlong.


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Rose City Band – “Only Lonely”

After last year’s stunner of a private press presentation on Ripley and Sanae’s Jean Sandwich Records, Rose City Band wafts out of the morning haze with a renewed focus on its principle songwriter (Ripley Johnson) and an even greater glint of late afternoon sun between its bars. The band signs to Thrill Jockey for a sophomore LP, Summerlong, and fades even further into the dusted dirt and sun-ripple rock of ‘70s country-psych and private press folk. Rip seems to have mastered the melancholy moments of clarity that cropped up on long lost singer-songwriter sojourns destined for dollar bin rescue by collector’s with keen ears. “Only Lonely” starts off the LP with a hip-swung jaunt — lofted high on late afternoon jangles, the buttery bliss of slide, and Johnson’s vocals dipping in and out of the smoke curls rising to the rafters. While the debut snagged the attention of the jam diggers and new-country creepers, this one’s poised to let everyone in on the secret sway that Rose City Band holds over a room. It’s only March, but I’ll be damned if this isn’t already one of 2020’s essential offerings right here.



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Moon Duo

The last time that Moon Duo graced a long player, they’d split their impulses up into dark and light – a duality that served them well, giving a showcase to their heavy psych hammer, but also their growing openness to more serene sources. They continue to tap the latter as they ease into the shimmer of Stars Are The Light, an album that finds the band diving into their love of dub’s endless embrace, disco’s euphoric lift, and the more open expanses of psychedelia where the genre invites listeners to loose oneself in sound and let the rhythms infect every pore. This time the tendrils of guitar wind around ever limb and digit. The sound permeates into the bodies systems, swimming in the blood and bile until it’s one with the listener.

The band has always had a pull towards the tendencies of their German Progressive forbears, finding a spot in the cave beside the Düüls (I or II), Guru Guru and Popul Vuh as they bounce sound off the stalactites of your consciousness. This time they go further from the mouth of that cave, letting the sounds disorient and the synths in particular sparkle like secret geodes lighting the way towards serenity. They too have pulled from the slow burn of Spacemen three, but here they seem to follow Sonic Boom on his travels through Spectrum and into the realms of E.A.R. They wind the more experimental production elements in an ache that’s rooted in their search for euphoria.

The shift is startling if listening to just one or two examples shuffled into their past output. Something like the title track, separated from the statement of Stars, when compared to the relative heavy groove back catalog crushers like “Slow Down Low” or “The Death Set” feels like being transported to a whole other planet of sound. Yet the glimmers have always been there – the gauzy strum of “In A Cloud,” the poppy sway of “Circles” – they all feed into what’s working through the veins of Stars Are the Light. Ripley and Sanae have found the balance, sawn off the fuzz yolk that held them fast to the legacy of Wooden Shjips and set themselves adrift into the cosmos here. The record is practically built for headphones as sounds bounce around in 3-dimensional drift, always anchored by the heartbeat skitter of rhythm that pulls the listener out of their shell and into the greater unknown.



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Moon Duo – “Stars Are The Light”

Though there’s been plenty of activity through Ripley Johnson’s camp lately, its been a couple of years since we’ve heard from Moon Duo. The band is back with a new full length on September 27th and it marks a bit of a sonic shift for the band. Their last album was split into halves — a yin yang of light and dark, with Volume II skewing softer than the band had ever ventured. Still there was the familiar motorik grind bubbling underneath the strums, though. On “Stars Are The Light” the band bubbles along on an effervescent beat, vocals lost in a cloud of bliss and those familiar guitars lines still dripping but no longer lashing. Did the lightness win? Is this the celebratory sound at the end of the battle? I suppose the whole album will have to land in our laps before that question is answered.

For now this is a summer quencher from the Duo, wrapped up in artwork by RSTB favorite Ardneks and Sonic Boom is behind the mixing desk this time around. Turn this one up and let the breezes batter away your blues. Also, I’m very excited to be able to announce that, for you Upstate, upstate adjacent types, and city dwellers looking for an escape, the band will be playing RSTB’s 13th Anniversary this November. The show’s November 15th in Kingston, NY at BSP. Along with Moon Duo Jeffrey Alexander of Dire Wolves will be opening and one more very special guest that will be announced in August when the poster surfaces. Check back for that soon and pick up a ticket here.

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Rose City Band

I premiered the first cut off of this killer a while back, but the week has finally come for the whole platter to land in our collective laps. The record, a slight sideline from Ripley Johnson’s duties at the helm of more than a few psych stalwarts, takes the mellow mantras of Moon Duo, strips away the motorik keys and beds down in a lush dusting of Cosmic Americana. Its that lushness that sets this record apart from the new crop of cosmic country crawlers these days. There’s a creamy brush of twang and a slow motion choogle ripplin’ through the ramble, but over the top Ripley’s keeping his croons echoing around a humid hothouse and it lays the album way way back into the pocket of blissed sunset sounds. Likewise the guitars more often that not achieve a particularly wet swelter that’s sweats from the strings, quenching dry country rollick.

It’s a bit of a detour from the Little Feat / Dead dichotomy that’s cropped up of late, but don’t you fret, Rose City Band are as locked into the endless euphoria of the eternal jam as any of their contempos. Once the record rolls ‘round to the mind melt of “Fear Song,” you know you’re home. The album’s at its most serene when it locks into a melted swoon, with the kind of liquid lysergic guitar that’s always been Rip’s specialty bouncing off the country strut in perfect balance. There’s a genuine feeling that this record has been lost in the stacks just waiting to be found by the right set of ears, a nod to the harder to pick up country-psych melters like Relatively Clean Rivers, Jim Sullivan, KAK, or Curt Newbury. Where Rose City swerves expectations, though, is by boiling those belters down with an ear towards heavier progression, recalling the latter half of Can’s “Spray” if those guys came up in Laurel Canyon.

Its an almost overwhelming year for music, with necessary releases popping up faster than any sane listener can grab them, but this is highly recommended for pickup. The record’s a psychedelic crossroads that’s not being traversed as much these days, and as usual Johnson’s created a record that’s absorbing as its own little world. Once this hits the turntable you’re set to repeat endlessly until the leaves give out and the skies are parched once again of that pristine pearl blue. Rose City Band is the calm center of your summer.




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Rose City Band – “Rip City”

Got a great gift to the psych-folk feeder today with the first offering from Rose City Band. The first single slides in on an autumnal glow of golden shivers, slow-motion choogle, honeyed hues, and cedar swoons. “Rip City” plays right into the hands of the Cosmic American cavalcade that’s building steam in all the best nooks and nodes across the tattered tableau of 2018-2019 – a sound I can’t quite get enough of these days. The album’s produced by Ripley Johnson (Wooden Shjips, Moon Duo) and mixed by Chris Cohen. It’ll serve as the first LP release on Johnson and Sanae Yamada’s Jean Sandwich imprint, who describe the LP as “finding its niche in the hazy sonic landscape of private press country and psych records, and alongside artists like Relatively Clean Rivers, Jim Sullivan, Kenny Knight, and countless other explorers of the pastoral underground.” While the rest of the details on the band remain locked and lean, the astute among you might recognize the voice floating above the amber ether here and crack a knowing smile.

The band offers a bit more insight into the roots of “Rip City,” in particular, noting that it’s “about trying to find peace (and maybe salvation) in a song, or more specifically in a sound. It’s about feeling melancholy and being OK with that. Looking out on a rainy day and just soaking in the dark and beautiful aspects of nature; maybe turning that into some kind of inspiration.” The record is out May 24th. First pressing is limited to 300 colored and 700 black vinyl LPs. Colored vinyl is available for pre-order exclusively from the band’s Bandcamp page.



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Wooden Shjips

With certain types of recreational drug use, or even meditation for that matter, there’s a point when the subject becomes detached from their current surroundings – a shift in time, an outside looking in feeling of calm introspection that lets slip the boundaries of pressing matters. In this stasis, somewhere between numbness and bliss, exists V the latest record from Wooden Shjips. The band seems to toss around that this is their “summer record” and to be sure there’s plenty here that compliments the staunch humid nights of mid-August swelter – Ripley Johnson’s guitars dripping through layers of wet reverb like condensation down a can, tempos slowed to a molten crawl, and bass that can’t be contained by rolled tight windows. More than merely a seasonal accoutrement, though, this record is a balm, a respite, a state of mind – or in the spirit of summer – a vacation from the current mudslide of daily life that threatens to consume us all.

With V the band has softened the focus on its trademark sounds – the fat, motorik rhythm section that slaps like waves against the breakwater, the sunlight suffused guitars that sparkle and ripple in equal measures and Johnson’s vocals that billow and diffuse in a cloud of vapor overhead. The enveloping warmth of this particular iteration of the band has added a few new moving parts as well. Are those strums peeking out of the haze on “Already Gone?” Were there always this many slinking keys in the Shjips’ universe? The vacation vibes bring on a prog haze that holds over from the lighter half of Moon Duo’s last experiment in duality and it feels like a missing puzzle piece found under the couch, perfectly cut to relieve the anxiety that was created in its absence.

Along with Cooper Crain (Cave, Bitchin’ Bajas) the band has created a perfect headphone record, adding further to the escape hatch mentality of the album. The aforementioned elements dance across the headspace in sketchbook animation while the bass acts as a barrier to the worries, realities, information overload and creeping dread that’s become a constant weight in 2018. For forty-two blissful, nebulous minutes Wooden Shjips let the listener breathe before the waters rise again. Best to gulp in a few last breaths, drop into the airtight bunker b ‘n b of sound and enjoy because those waters show no signs of slowing any time soon.





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Wooden Shjips – “Staring At The Sun”

Looks like this year some perennial faves are cleaning up, with Amen Dunes already ditching any trappings of fuzzed psych for a dose of refined pop drippings, and now the cataclysmic scuzz of Wooden Shjips takes a back seat to languid puddles of guitar laced with strums on their latest. Actual strums on a Shjips track, I think that may be a first, but while the fire may not be the focus on “Staring At The Sun” there’s still plenty of psychedelic drip happening here. Between Moon Duo and Wooden Shjps, Ripley Johnson’s always been able to cull from the “Planet Caravan” school of warbled psych, but here he leans in hard. The guitarists can be heard flecking the track ever so slightly with growls of guitar but generally finds himself in the reclining position, going full Spiritualized to create a track that blossoms with bliss.

I’m all for a band’s evolution so this side of Wooden Shjips comes just as welcome as their clear-cut, Earth-mover gyrations. Interested to see if the full album submerges itself in the same cool waters, but for now this one is hitting very hard.


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Moon Duo

As the sequel, or rather, better half to their Occult Architecture Vol.1 from earlier this year, Vol. 2 acts as the softer side of the band’s motorik psych-punk universe. Where the first volume was steeped in anxiety, tension and darkness; the second volume is by turns blissful, celebratory even. Its still chugging along with a chainsaw grind and lysergic stabs of guitar via Ripley Johnson, but now the tone is relaxed and surprisingly languid. The albums form a duality or a complete picture, but taken on its own merits, Vol. 2 is still pushing into Moon Duo’s best work.

There are strums, I think perhaps a first for Moon Duo, or even Wooden Shjips’ catalog. There are genuine moments of resplendence, flipping the band’s Kosmiche switch from throb to fizz. The pair submerge into a milky bath of sound that’s pulsating with light and love and all the Springtime green feelings that may have eluded their grasp in the pursuit of Krautrock edge in the past. Instead, this is pure dreampop, a silken submergence into ionic bliss that can’t hold back its own giddiness. Sanae Yamada’s synths emerge as a key component here, floating in waves of magenta majesty primed to induce shudders in the listener. As part of the band’s Yin and Yang concept, this fills the bill nicely, but even left to its own devices, it’ll sate your hunger for higher consciousness grind for months to come.




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