Posts Tagged ‘Trouble in Mind’

Olden Yolk

On their sophomore album Olden Yolk solidify their folk-pop sound, edging in a touch more of the soft-focus psychedelia that graced their first while embracing the rhythmic pulse pounding under their gauzy glow. The band shares a great deal in common with Shane Butler’s former haunt in Quilt, but they’re drawing deeper into the damp depths of ‘60s psych than Quilt’s sunny veneer ever let on. With this new album they’re picking up similarities to Sunforest, Euhoria, and Sapphire Thinkers giving their sound a lushness that’s even more present than the last outing. Like bygone autumnal strummers Ultimate Painting, they’re burrowing into melancholy with a wholeheartedness that reverberates throughout Living Theater. This doesn’t land them in the bell jar, but perhaps perches them just adjacent, making charcoal sketches of said jar to send to pen pals who sigh like they sigh.

In fact, autumnal is the wrong word, if anything Olden Yolk are vernal and all the better for the May release of their latest record. They oscillate between streaks of rain and scattered beams of sun in mercurial moments between the album’s ten tracks. The best songs here (and its hard to choose) embrace both halves of their split souls. “Grand Palais” is a particular stunner, edging into the light on tip-toes but heading into its skid spinning ‘round and ‘round until the air becomes dizzy. “Cotton and Cane” is the band at their most pop, pinning poetry on loss to a careening crackle and a perfect vocal dance between the leads.

The songs take on their heaviest cloak when Caity Shaffer steps up to the microphone, though. Soft flutes and a gentle nudge of bass huddle behind her while she croons contemplatively on “Distant Episode,” the song palpably drizzling with tenderness. She’s equally heartbreaking on “Castor and Pollux,” a haunting tale of indecision and loss. The air of duality remains a glorious constant on Living Theater the singers’ intertwined voices and the bittersweet vibes following the tides between joy and sadness like the soft quiver of a diaphragm before weeping. The debut was an excellent introduction, but with album number two, Olden Yolk plead to be on your list of 2019 essentials.



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Olden Yolk – “Grand Palais”

The second album from Olden Yolk continues to sparkle with a new single, “Grand Palais,” today. Not as driven and direct as lead single, “Cotton & Cain,” this shows a bit more of the band’s West Coast psych lineage. The band lays back into the froth of fuzz riffs and bouncing acoustics before that the sunset slide into twang following the chorus. The song’s bolstered by cap gun blast percussion and the soft sighs of Caity Shaffer wafting on the breeze before its submerged in a haze of sound and soul as it draws to a dizzying close. The band continues to push their folk-pop just up to the edge of psychedelic pool without letting the waters stain them too deeply. Each new offering from them is a giddy delight, placing the record far up the list of essentials for 2019.

The band’s taking the record on the road with Ryan Jewell and Frank Maston on board in the band, which is another great reason to get excited!



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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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Olden Yolk – “Cotton & Cane”

One of my absolute favorite albums of the last few years has to be Olden Yolk’s rain and jangles debut on Trouble in Mind. The band announces the follow up Living Theater today with the first single “Cotton & Cane.” Recorded with Woods’ Jarvis Taveniere, the song retains their grey-skied delivery but sharpens the surrounding haze to a fine point. Shane Butler and Caity Shaffer continue to lock their voices into a heady spiral of harmonies while underneath them Butler’s strums run breathless and brazen, sloughing off the timid trappings of jangle with a defiant charm. The accompanying video finds the band wandering pastoral plains and flashing cryptic cards – embracing the bittersweet veil that falls on their sound. The new finds them again with powerhouse label Trouble in Mind, released on May 17th. Personally, I can’t wait.



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Sunwatchers

Following the searing burn of their previous album, II, is no easy feat but it seems that Sunwatchers are more than up to the task. As the band flings themselves into Illegal Moves, they tear another hole in the cosmic quilt – shredding the mind and invigorating the soul. Every minute of the new LP is built to launch the listener through a full-body wormhole in space and time – hurtling enough sax n’ skronk one minute to bend the brain, and cooling out the curdle the next with a rippling display of Kosmiche calm. In the world of Sunwatchers Free Jazz, Psychedelia, Krautrock and Space Rock are all on the same temporal plane – either that or once the needle drops we all inhabit several simultaneous universes that have converged on a single aural vessel to enter their plea for a balance between harmony and discord.

They were dipping into the well of electric Miles with shades of Ayler before, but that was then and this is now. Now there’s less mercy, less need to return to the structures that serve. Now the band is hot-gluing High Rise and Pharaoh Sanders to the tail pipe of Hawkwind’s space ship and letting the jagged edges tear up all the no wake zones along the Universe’s glowing canals. Now the band is slicing bits of Sun Ra’s Ark and tying them to the bumper of a biodiesel-powered minibus with Alice Coltrane (whom they cover as well) on the 8-Track at top volume – spreading an aura of defiant calm to the huddled masses. Now they’re building war cries and lullabies for a time when talk is rendered irrelevant so only the splatter of feedback and the warble of synths will communicate the proper level of dread and dreams and anger and anguish.

I said before that there’s no better moment in time for a band like Sunwatchers to exist, and I stand by that statement. The band is recording the moment the wave crashes and rolls back. Not only are they standing at the fray, but they’ve got the thread in hand to pull apart the seams as they tumble headlong into the unknown – taking us with them.



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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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Sunwatchers – “Greeneyed Pigmen (Get The Blade)”

There’s no better moment in time than for a band like Sunwatchers to exist than at the apex of culture and confusion that is 2019. The band’s sociopolitical leanings and egalitarian ethics welded to a psych-punk soul are only more confounded by the band’s dual love for free jazz tumult. Without an ounce of reservation they rain down fire on an audience that needs a good shot in the ribs every now and then to stay on task, because if Sunwatchers are anything, it’s hard to ignore. The second offering from their upcoming Illegal Moves barrels out of the gate with a getaway gusto, scattering scraps of Hawkwind LPs along the roadside and fueling the tank on the fumes of Mnehiro Narita and Kawabata Mokoto guitar solos. “Greeneyed Pigmen (Get The Blade)” is as cutting as anything the band have rattling around their catalog, and as usual the lightning strike of Jeff Tobias’ sax finishes the listener with precision panache. Gonna want to pick this one up in all its furious glory when it drops on Feb. 22nd.



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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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Rays

On their previous album Oakland’s Rays merged wiry post-punk with the current wave of Aussie indie that’s been riffling through Flying Nun singles and Go-Betweens B-sides as inspiration. There were bright spots of jangle that jutted through the din last time around, but on You Can Get There From Here the band has embraced their more melodic impulses upfront, giving the album an accessibility they’d sometimes rebuffed in the past. Like fellow West Coasters Massage, they’re clearly dog paddling through the best Aussie upstarts – cherry picking bits of Boomgates, Blank Realm and Terry – while leaning on a double-dose of detergent-core from The Clean and Cleaners From Venus.

The slight scrub-up feels good on them, though they’re not wiping away their grit completely. The record leaves plenty of un-sanded edges that give their sound the same kind of unfussed and genuine weight that their South Hemi counterparts have been cultivating in kitchens and practice spaces over the last few years. So many of those bands have embraced a laconic style that gives the impression each humble hummer has sprung fully formed from idle strums and stream of consciousness divining of the universe’s whims. Likewise, Rays, too, have perfected the art of sounding effortless. There are moments on You Can Get There From Here, that were no doubt fussed over in the writing room, but feel like they dropped out of the sky shaggy, shaky and catchy enough to crush your resistance on first listen.

While the particular strain of pop that burrows out of OZ on a regular basis, peddling curdled sunshine and tarnished hooks is still appealing to a niche base with a hunger for a less pristine pop present, its good to see more US bands adopting the model. Rays are proving to be ones to keep a constant eye on and with You Can Get There From Here, they’ve jumped up in the ranks on the list of 2018’s jangle pop essentials.



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