Posts Tagged ‘Sub Pop’

RSTB Best of 2018: Reissues, Etc.

A large part of the site is not only focusing on new releases, but also the great reissues that are unearthed during the course of a year. Below are my picks for the best editions dug up by the hardworking folks on the reissue circuit. Every year there are less options to work from and every year labels continue to surprise me with what they bring out. I’m also going to take a moment to give tribute to an album that could have been this year but due to unfortunate circumstances didn’t make it to fruition.

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RSTB Best of 2018

So, it seems that 2018 is finally coming to an end. It’s been a hell of a year by most standards, but musically its been damn entertaining. Perhaps its fair that there’s some bright spot in all the chaos. Not to diminish the chaos, but when the negativity is at an all-pervasive fever pitch, its feels good to have something to hold onto. I’ll choose to remember 2018 as a banner year for music and for the birth of my second daughter rather than the year that page refresh politics threatened to give me an ulcer any day. Below are my favorite albums of the year, taking care to highlight some that might otherwise get forgotten. They’re in (quasi) alphabetical order with no other particular weight on the list. Keep your eyes out for a few more year-end features this week before I reset for the new year. As always, thanks for sticking with RSTB for these 12-odd years or so.

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Bend Sinister – Tape 2

One of the great, ink-black holes of interest in the pervasive Seattle music culture is A-Frames. The dirge-worthy noise punks were a black hole of chaos, tearing up S-S records and Dragnet before even they got themselves a Sub Pop deal and subsequently either delighted or deflated listeners looking for a certain Northwest sound. Long before there was The Intelligence and slightly before there was the idea of an A-Frames proper, there was Bend Sinister – the incubator of sorts for what would grow into a sprawling, narcotic entity. The band was built around Erin Sullivan, Min Yee and Josh Turgeon but later added in Steve Kaplan, who in turn left to make way for Lars Finberg. Lars, Erin and Min would go on to form A-Frames but it was in Bend Sinister that their love of noise punk produced some of the heaviest din associated with the region.

Named after a Fall song and professing love for The Electric Eels, Scratch Acid, Feedtime and Country Teasers, there’s no doubt that the band was about to gouge a few holes in the linoleum when they let loose. Homeless culls up a good chunk of the band’s ‘90s recordings on Tape 2, and it’s a must for fans of the A-Frames trajectory, but more than just a curio for Northwest collectors. Despite the relatively low-profile release status of a lot of the material here, it hammers pretty hard, not going for pristine power like some of their contemporaries but exchanging scrubbed audio for pure power in the end equation. Having missed out on Bend Sinister in its day, but loving everything that came as a result, this is a great primer and a peek at the seeds of what was to come.



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King Tuff

Everything on The Other sounds like Kyle Thomas wanted to break off from the King Tuff moniker and leave it behind – to fold up his old sun medallion and let it rest in the drawer for a spell. It has, in fact happened before, with Sub Pop signing King Tuff only to have him immediately flip the coin and work out the kinks as Happy Birthday. Still, after roaring back into the cracked leather of Tuff’s driver’s seat for another 8 years ‘round the bend following that diversion, there’s an understandable desire at this point to slip away into the shade. As much as Thomas’ 10-foot cartoon chassis is a beloved institution of power pop, it’s got to be exhausting to carry that towering persona around. In that light, this feels to my ear more like a Kyle Thomas solo record that someone in A&R begged him to keep under the Tuff moniker for categorical ease. Not that it tarnishes the Tuff brand, if it’s a Tuff record it’s actually one of my favorites, but I almost wish they would have let him rip the decal off and don the new hat.

The record still has an engine of power pop, though it’s pushed way beyond garage’s bubblegum snap and slid back the hi-fi party mask that found its way into King Tuff’s lyrics over the years. This is a world-weary record that’s pushing Thomas’s pop into lush production, still fairly larger than life, but now trying to duck that personality out of sight and ponder the preposterousness of life on this hunk of chipped granite. Thomas, largely alone, wrangles country’s grand vistas, glam crunch, glittering keys and jittery funk into the shape of one of 2018’s most delightful surprises.

The record follows a grand tradition of bands breaking stride and finding their bittersweet soul wrapped in high concept. This is KT’s Parachute, his Odyssey & Oracle, his Arthur. Like those albums it’s both over the top and a masterpiece of pomp, pathos and pop. The record has huge ambitions, sure, but I’ll be damned if Thomas doesn’t hit his marks every time. Are there lyrics that will date this to an exact moment in time, absolutely (“Circuits In The Sand”), but how is that any different from “Shangri-La’s” exploration of ‘60s idyllic suburb life? Does the record throttle his stylistic core? Yeah and that’s the point. That’s what makes it work and maybe, as much as this feels like a different animal dressed in a familiar sweater, maybe that’s what actually makes the case for keeping King Tuff on the hood ornament.

In the same way that those ambitious albums by the ’60s set pushed listeners out of rote garage territory and acted as portals to new sounds, this affords the past and future King Tuff fan a doorway through the shiny pop sneer and into a treasure of styles. There are hooks that will soar this into the infinite and a hugeness that tends to make pop albums treasures for generations of diggers to come. Even if the world doesn’t turn and take notice, this feels like a record with a long tail of influence down the road. If this is the beginning of a new chapter, or a complete new book, The Other stands to become a definitive moment for King Tuff.


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Bloods – “Feelings”

Been letting this one simmer for a few days but it threatens to blow hour by hour. Bloods have always delivered some great hooks swathed in a scrappy garage/indie vibe, but now they’re onto something more. They wormed their way into my heart back in 2012 and delivered a solid album two short years later, this week they rocket from outta nowhere after a pretty solid quiet period with their most overt pop nugget yet. Admittedly drawing on ’80s power pop / girl group gems like The Go Go’s, the track is glossy, almost tipping the scales too far, but not quite. It’s still got a belly full of fuzzed guitars and a sing-song chorus that’s probably best for shouting with the windows open and that’s about all you could ask for. In all truth this lands a bit closer to Transvision Vamp than The Go Go’s, and am alone in thinking that Bloods might tear up a cover of “Baby I Don’t Care?” Seems like they’ve got an album in the works and for a new U.S imprint no less (Share It Music). Consider me interested to see how they walk that edge, this feels promising, but I know that overproduction can go sour quick. Best not to overthink it though, for now this is a pretty solid bit of fun on repeat.




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King Tuff – “The Other”

It’s been four years since Kyle Thomas has released music as King Tuff and believe me, that gap has been felt. It’s great to have him back, though its unclear if “The Other” is a one off endeavor or the tip of a new album’s iceberg. From the heavily suggested note to follow up King Tuff socials, I’d wager the latter, but new music is welcome news either way. His last outing, Black Moon Spell, polished up his sound into 20 foot whirlwind of power pop and garage that still retained his gonzo sensibility. It was cleaner, but still undeniably Tuff. So, it’s with a bit of surprise that the latest track from Thomas strips all of the bombast away. He’s gone down alleyways of tenderness before (“Staircase of Diamonds”, “Evergreen”) but those songs have always retained the Mad Hatter twinkle that rested in Thomas’ eye.

On “The Other” he’s gone to the well of earnestness without a wobble of weird in sight. It’s a good look on him, and far be it from me to begrudge an artist a sea change when their old influences feel out of sorts. Thomas’s voice is hovering far above the mix, with just some plucks and a sunset swell of organ pushing him through. It feels like Tuff if he’d been binging the works of James Jackson Toth lately. Whether this song captures the tone of new works or if its just a muse that he needed for follow remains to be seen. While its a surprising tonal shift, this heart-on-sleeve approach fits Kyle well. I wouldn’t be opposed to some more tender Tuff if it came my way.





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Goat

Goat’s third album sees the band step away from some of the chaotic fury that’s marked their past two releases, embracing the acoustic, softer side of their psychedelic obsessions. Where 2012’s World Music came out of nowhere, grinding influences from African funk and Krautrock to Brazilian and Swedish psychedelia, their follow-up, Communion seemed like a lateral move. It was a higher profile burn down the same corridors, still impressively raucous and slightly unhinged, but not a big leap in sound from their debut. In the face of this, the band have chosen to focus more on their acoustic side amping up their reliance on Middle Eastern psych, the Bo Hansson class of homegrown musicians in their native Sweden and, as usual, African Highlife, but toning down the volume and pummel.

The band’s actually taken some criticism for their heavy borrowing from others’ traditions to craft a tapestry of their own, which is fair. There are absolutely some great originals that the band borrows from that should be lifted up, not replaced with Goat’s amalgam, but hopefully their digestion of influences causes more digging on the part of others as a result of their elevated status. If Goat act as the doorway to kids stocking their collections with Sublime Frequencies and Awesome Tapes From Africa reissues, then that’s a start for me. As for the record itself, Requiem smolders more than they have in the past, holding back some of their rhythmic outbursts in favor of strums augmented by a slow twisting kaleidoscope of smoke that finds them entering a more nighttime shamanic feeling, than “folk” per se. The best moments still have a touch of that rhythm kick, but get lost in the churning haze, like “Goatband” or the wind chime twinkle of “Psychedelic Lover”

These feel like wandering songs, shared songs that purport an oral tradition. They pull in the tribal elements that Goat has made their bread and butter, but they have a more transient quality to them. Its as if they’ve shifted their eyes from the stage to the roadside, playing with the people, rather than to the people. The record’s tone becomes hushed as it draws to a close on the spare, “Ubuntu,” easily the quietest and calming Goat track to date. This is finally a different side of Goat and one that, as usual, reveals more of what’s on the band’s record shelves than anything. The volume may be lower, but the echo still remains.


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Morgan Delt on The Pretty Things – Philippe DeBarge

The third installment of Hidden Gems is upon us. Hidden Gems is based on the idea of those records that are found along the way in life that you can’t believe you never heard about, the ones that just blow you away on first listen and seem like such a find. They’re the kind of records that get left out of all the essential decade lists and 1001 records you need to hear before you die type of listicle… the ones that got away. For this installment in the series, I asked Morgan Delt to take his pick at an essential piece of the past. He picked The Pretty Things’ lost album with French singer and socialite Philippe DeBarge. I asked Morgan how this psychedelic odyssey and true lost classic came into his life and what the record means to him.

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Morgan Delt

Stepping up to the big leagues, Morgan Delt makes the leap from Trouble in Mind to Sub Pop for his sophomore LP. The album’s still drenched in a psychedelic shimmer, though it become a more cohesive shine on Phase Zero than his more stitched together eponymous album. Delt seemed like an unlikely bump up from the psych underground. I liked his first tape and the album that grew out of it, but he’d felt like he was still finding his footing in those early recordings. He finds it well on Phase Zero, though, and to my delight he’s crafted something that runs better as an album than as individual tracks. As the label began to roll this one out in pieces, none of these hit hard. They weren’t particularly earworms or singles as such, but its when the whole picture comes into view that Delt’s prowess begins to take shape. The songs bleed into one another, creating a blurry and billowed tapestry of sound that’s immediately earnest in its psychedelic pursuit and engulfing in its longview approach.

Delt buries his vocals under a sea of echo and a dizzying world of kaleidoscope touches, painting with bright wide strokes and sketching in intricate details with a finer point. The album takes its cues from a host of 60’s nuggets that lean towards the pastoral and delicate; echoing bits of JK & Co., Millennium, Sagittarius and The Free Design while weaving some more intense moments through tracks like “Mssr. Monster” and “Sun Powers” that keep it headed into a proggier territory than might befit those touchstones. Its truly one of those albums that kicks an artist’s game up a notch, digesting the past and wearing a workbook of psych exploration on his sleeve, but still finding time to build something wholly his own in the process. Delt’s proven himself more than an imitator here and for any collector of psych gems, this stands as an excellent addition to any collection.

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Goat

Goat returns with another single, following up on last Fall’s “It’s Time For Fun” 7″. The new lead track doesn’t burn so hot as their past albums, but like that previous small format taster, its a cool water psych simmer that still ropes in Goat’s global tribalism and then pairs it with some excellent guitar ripples and an autumnal flute. The flip also takes things down a calmer road, diffusing the scorch of psychedelic bombast in favor of groove as a weapon of choice. Seems like all this is leading somewhere and perhaps there’s a new album on the rise, an album that speaks more to the communal harmony of Goat’s world influences than to the fevered pound of their war drums. Can’t think of another year in which that might be the best move, we could all use a little unity as of late.




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