Posts Tagged ‘Soft Abuse’

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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Richard Youngs and Raül Refree

Soft Abuse’s slide out of 2019 leaves the world with some great offerings and this tender, hypnotic collaboration from Richard Youngs and Raül Refree is a gorgeously undersung gem from the latter half of the year. The record is built around just four-pieces, but they stretch the bounds of the singer-songwriter format, each clocking in well past the eight-minute mark. With brushes of Shearwater, Talk Talk, and recently reissued Jansch gem Avocet in its veins, the record is wounded, broken, but not beyond repair. The songs swirl around repeated phrases and figures until the pieces become mantras and meditations on loss and the lacerations of the past.

Youngs’ guitars are as languorous as ever, feeling lived in yet lucid. Refree adds a twist of heartbreak to the mix, his orchestrations drape All Hands Around the Moment in grey streaks of rain that tumble down the panes of its pain and seep into each and every groove of the record. Youngs is at his height of humility here, and the listener can feel the weight on his heart begin to pull them under as the record locks into the whirlpool of melancholy. Mercifully the album pulls out of its peril in the second half. There’s hope and relief in the verdant rebirth of “Another Language.” The song is a parting of the clouds and a calming of the hairshirt sighs of the opening two numbers. The record winds up hopeful, though still tempered by hurt with another quivering number to close out the collection. Youngs’ catalog is a dense garden to enter, but if you’re looking for a rather essential inroads, this right here isn’t a bad place to start, nor a bad place to linger.




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Donovan Quinn

Like a star on the horizon, Soft Abuse comes creeping in with some essential late 2019 releases, including the fourth solo album from Donovan Quinn. The California songwriter has been a longtime fixture on RSTB, having anchored Skygreen Leopards, New Bums, and Verdure in the past. His albums are few and far between, bucking a trend of so many lately to work feverishly to amass a catalog that could cripple shelves and wallets alike. Quinn’s measured pace always pays off with songs that constantly recontextualize the past into something undeniably new — like beams of a barn brought to new life in new construction. The ghosts of those beams remain ever present and they seep out slowly into the room to mix with the mites and stir up the senses.

The songs on Absolom are even more haunted than most of Quinn’s works, having evolved from an idea to build songs around the lore of other artists. Ultimately that idea was set aside, but there’s still a feeling of these songs having been lived in, lyrically or otherwise by the ethers and embers of the past. On the long, winding highlight “Satanic Summer Nights” Quinn conjures Nikki Sudden with an ear towards ambitious boundaries. Its Sudden rewriting the The Pretty Things’ Parachute for a new age. Elsewhere Quinn’s tales are rife with loss, haunted not only by his heroes but by feelings just out of reach. He saunters through the rooms, touching each stick of furniture and mourning the dust as much as the lack of inhabitants that let it settle.

On Absalom Quinn’s assembled a rotating cast of performers from his circle but their contributions are just paints in his set. There’s rarely been a record that has more of Quinn’s mark on it. His voice is embedded in the grain of the guitars, the worn spots on the piano keys, the magnetic fields on the tape. Whether or not these tales are his, he’s embodied them with his whole and its an undeniable record, one that stands high in an enviable catalog. Its late in the year, which makes me think that a lot of ears have shut themselves tight, but I hope this one reverberates across the cold air and into the hearts that need it.



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Richard Youngs & Raül Refree

Soft Abuse is kicking out the quality this week, with the announcement of a long awaited album from Donovan Quinn earlier this week and now inklings of one of Richard Youngs’ best yet. The Glaswegian guitarist teams with Raül Refre on an album of long, winding, hypnotic pieces that work together the artists’ interest in chamber music, liturgical song, and the heavy-hearted folk of Tim Buckley. “Nil To Mind” swirls ‘round the listener, built on a circular guitar form but aching with overwhelming sadness from Refre’s string accents. Youngs is prolific, to say the least, and you’d be forgiven for becoming overwhelmed by his outpouring of collaborations, solo works and experimental output under the “Foot Guitar” heading. That said, this album exemplifies why Youngs is such a vital force in folk and composition. This marks the duo’s first collaboration, but with such staggering work at hand, I hope this winds up the beginning of something big. The LP is out December 6th.



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Donovan Quinn – “Satanic Summer Nights”

Has it really been seven years since Donovan Quinn graced us all with a solo record? It seems this is absolutely true, though his collaborative project with Ben Chasny, New Bums, helped to heal the wounds of time in the interim. In that light, news of the upcoming Absalom comes with a sense of excitement and the first cut from the record, the twisting, epic “Satanic Summer Nights” sets the mood just right. The new album sees Quinn reconnect with a heavy cast of regulars in his musical universe – Chasny, of course, is here, lending a hand to mix the record, plus appearances by Elisa Ambrogio (Magik Markers), Jessica Roberts, Jason Quever (Papercuts), Michael Tapscott (Odawas) and Eric Amerman flesh the album out to one of Donovan’s heaviest hitters yet.

“Satanic Summer Nights” captures the whirlwind feelings of youth, the crushing weight of change, and the sting of betrayal set to a background of humid summer air. The pulsing pop twists and time changes give the song the grandiosity of Nikki Sudden tying together three of four of his best deep cuts into a pounding medley before collapsing to a heap on the stage. Given his roots in Skygreen Leopards, Quinn has remained an inspiration for RSTB since the very first days of the site, and I can say without hesitation that this feels like one of his most affecting records. Take a few spins through “Satanic Summer Nights” and look out for the new record on Soft Abuse December 5th.

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Steven R. Smith

The new LP from Steven R. Smith (Ulaan Passerine, Ulaan Khol, Ulaan Markhor, Hala Strana) is another darkened, weather-worn take on instrumental guitar. The artist has an enviable catalog among his many monikers and each comes with its own shading — where Ulaan Markhor sweats cinders from the strings, and Ulaan Passerine is laid back in the heather of psych-folk, Smith’s works under his own name tend to nip at darkness and light. A Sketchbook of Endings, while packaging his songs in a more digestible short format, retains the sense of deep furrowed psychedelia, burnt through with sage and soot. There’s a familiar fuzzed growl on the guitar, a desert air of doom in places, and the tentative hope of relief in others.

Smith’s works have long evoked a sense of loss and that sense comes striding through in the bleakest parts of Sketchbook. When Smith plays, the walls crumble into dust, but patterns of hope a scattered through that dust like apocalyptic tea leaves. Its up to us, the listener, to parse and parcel the bittersweet flecks that are strewn among the parched fuzz and solar scorched landscapes of his work. When his guitars build to a boil, the body is burnt, exfoliated, shed like a second skin. Spend enough time around the Celsius squelch of Smith’s output and its impossible not to emerge changed. That transformation definitely applies to Sketchbook. Fans of any of Smith’s output will find lots to love here, but any guitar disciple looking to find enlightenment should take some time with Smith’s catalog. This isn’t such a bad place to start either.



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Steven R. Smith – “Everything In Circles”

I’ve previously mentioned that when Steven R. Smith is on guitar, I’m listening. No matter what pseudonym he’s under (Ulaan Passerine, Ulaan Khol, Ulaan Markhor, Hala Strana) there’s bound to be cinder and ash woven between the frets. This time, though, there’s no name but his own on the marquee, and the announcement comes today for the release of A Sketchbook of Endings, his first solo album under his given name in eight years. The first cut from the LP is haunted by the same ghosts that walked the lands of this year’s Ulaan Passerine offering – driven by somber strings, hounded guitars, and the feeling of gaunt hunger and the edging panic that’s at the root of his recent body of work. “Everything in Circles” is defiant as well, a hardened resolve barrels through its being, rising with the winds through the song’s resilient swells. In many of Smith’s pieces there’s the feeling of being pursued, but here he flashes his own teeth in a moment of tremendous turnabout that feels like a turning tide. The LP lands at Soft Abuse in May.



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Ulaan Markhor

Anytime I see the Ulaan prefix and Steven R. Smith’s name flagging up in a given year I’m excited. Its guaranteed that whatever’s coming down the tubes is an instrumental crusher. So, after having capped off last year with a new Ulan Passerine album – the doom folk member of the family – Smith is circling back with a new tape from Ulaan Markhor, kicking through scuffed dessert psych with equal aptitude. Within his universe this iteration of himself winds up the most scathing, the most brutal and the most outwardly psychedelic. Picking up ques from Amon Düül and Guru Guru as well as post-punk bands like 13th Chime, the record is stark and discordant but oddly beholden to rhythm’s sway. Smith saws at the songs with John Cale scratches of violin while the dust-choked atmosphere projects menace and lonesome desperation.

The album revels in an almost hallucinatory loneliness in fact, like trying to find the way out from the folds of one’s own mind. The edges keep shifting though, and the exits flicker and disappear without pattern. All the while Ulaan Markhor underscores the frustration and deepening delusion with a hungry, voyeuristic eye. Smith has crafted a cinematic score here and the titles tell as much, but he’s pushing beyond the normal bounds of post-rock groundswell or Morricone-lite Western cloud gathering. Smith works the mechanics of build and simmer better than most and when he reaches a break in the damn on “Flowering” it rips the tension to shreds, never quite easing it, just turning up the volume to a roar and pounding imagined footsteps on the base of the listener’s neck. With Helm he’s created something heavy and lasting, an album that’s gets its claws in you, the kind where you’re sweating through the good passages and only notice once the storm has cleared.



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The Skygreen Leopards Archival Compilation

More great news filters out of the Skygreen Leopards camp today. After the release this month of archival Ivytree material for Recital Records, news comes today that former Skygreen home Soft Abuse will round up some early material from the band’s CD-r days. Culling from I Dreamt She Rode On A Pink Gazelle & Other Dreams, The Story Of The Green Lamb & The Jerusalem Priestess Of Leaves, and One Thousand Bird Ceremony, the new LP gives an overview of the band’s pre-Jagjaguwar days of live to tape captures and 3-minute folk-pop that beamed like the California sun. If, like most, you missed out on a lot of this material, then the release comes as an indispensable primer. Plus, this is the first time any of these recordings have found their way to vinyl. Just in time to usher in summer. The record is out June 22nd, right before they hop on a few dates with Frog Eyes on the West Coast.



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