Black Fingernails, Red Wine: Made Me All Mine

Self-love is my greatest struggle, by virtue of an extreme aversion to any patterned pitfalls of narcissistic behavior that, inevitably, a person will fall into, but an imbalance on the bell curve of the spectrum meets at the point of insidiousness: believe too strongly in yourself and risk perspective, criticize yourself too thoroughly and risk pleasure.

But I can’t help it: I often tell myself, “everyone hides something broken” as a grounding device, a tool to down the ante of my anxious tics and nervousness about what I do and what I like and what I want to do and who I want to like. I inhale slowly, exhale slower still, to remove myself from poseur sentiments, my impostor syndrome. But these little devices do nothing for the depressed face to which  my lust for writing yields to an ersatz sensibility that I will never write a great piece or explicate an experience well enough to satisfy my own standards. And it sounds pathetic—it might be pathetic—but the only medicine I know of which ultimately retires this mental wall is my admiration for painters. Hence the beginning of this piece about one of my favourite records, Black Fingernails, Red Wine, recently remastered and rereleased for vinyl by Eskimo Joe as part of a slow rollout of their catalog and what I predict to be a publicity tour in anticipation of a new record sometime next decade. This record is a cure to a terrible truth, I’ve only realized through a tableau I viewed at the death of 2018 in the Belvedere in Vienna, Austria.

 

I picture my being in the mold of man painted by Egon Schiele, a subject for The Embrace (II), a body rendered to waves, writ in shires of lush, teeming gestures, powerful yet gentle arms, shoulders, ash tree skin cresting on hills discolored by the limestone bone beneath them, before, oddly, lines cast to roll-ridden pudgy middle, before the leg just as defined in power, as with intonations of the macabre inherent to the damned riddled corpse, a visual tragedy, Herculean, wrapped, writhing, twisted; in an embrace of life or death, protector or destroyer, lover or rapist painted in a pose both admirable and abominable, a tribunal between Socrates and Nietzsche with only a tanned Adonis as witness and record keeper, his body radiating with Jekyllian terror at the evil of his subconscious, as if horrified at his own binary potential between good and evil, yet entirely unaware of his own majestic entropy; too concerned, with, he like the audience is drawn to, the Venus of his desire, peach pitch skin, a shade of foggy warmth befit for dawn in April or October, dew dipped and glowing, a canvas colored equally in shades fresh with life, yet ripening with age, ever beautiful but with each mortal coup and stroke, human, she is as he is: binary, but replete with the prismatic tones of tints and shades and hues and flesh; their embrace is at once omnipotent as it is impotent; they can not stop time, only hold moments, they can not cure nature of itself, only euthanize it, before Schiele’s eyes, taking his mentor’s, Gustav Klimt’s, Der Kuss—a collage of art nouveau, impressionist, cubist romantics, stacked into a towering tableau moderne of symbolism; breaking down every foreground form to circles, squares, shapes concentric, linework woven and embroidered, polygonal fields of lilacs and blues bordered by gilded bronze and cubist coats and whirlpool robes, Eve kneeling to an L, eyes closed, her hand on Adam’s hand and his hands and her face, nymphic, harbored and cradled together, his head protruding from the stoic posture of its golden sheath, phallic, the ivy in his oaken crown pressing the flowers in her hair, her toes curling backwards, the idyllism of Klimt’s subjects immutable and tangible and impossible—and breaking it.

In this picture I see an insane man and madwoman in embrace, the field of violets and bluebells bleached into a quilted pile of dirtied linens like clothespieces, makeshift, temporary, a smudged meadow for the moment to be effaced by the future, laid diagonal to swirling, formless background noises of mustards, mayonaisses and olive, colours perhaps of modernity, perhaps of psychology but no matter; in this picture I see myself and I see my love, narcissism permitted; in this picture what I see is two nihilists, neophytes embracing the only thing they have left before that too is erased, the horror that Kierkegaard suffered, Turgenev discussed and Camus pondered. These notes are an avalanche come upon me each time I contemplate Schiele’s and Klimt’s pieces together, a barrage of inferences  collapsing upon my inward person, the id swallowing the ego whole in defiance of the superego, shaking it violently enough to the point of revaluation. If art fails to do so, then I am unconvinced that it is good1.

1This bare-minimum aesthetic theory brought to you by limited readings of 20th century psychology, ethics and an undercurrent desire to explain why the author is so enamored by Marc Chagall’s surreal oilwork in concert with more straightforward creativity just as earth shattering: sometimes the simplest art is something which shatters the emotional wall with an embroidered dept of basics paired with thread-bare themes, hence my summation for how both The Fiddler and “Under Pressure” can be considered moving pieces of human experience.

And I am, as of yet, uncertain whether Black Fingernails, Red Wine is a moving piece of art or not. I’m hesitant to assign it any some such legendary status outside of my personal canon for the same reasons that I’ve derided their first two records. Oblique devices for vague imagery of personal failings, interpersonal breakdown, innocent affection, carnal desire that like Temperley’s failings, fail to sound much more than just words to a melody, however much those words may sound more appropriate and securely connected. The big picture is defined, the details are left to the imagination—some might say this is a Van Morrison-approach to lyricism, but in practice it translates like Toto. Kavyen Temperley’s penchant to demonstrate his inability to write anything but opaque metaphors and prismatic non-seqiturs means that had I been all as flowery in my description of Eskimo Joe’s prosaic powers, you would have to ask yourself if I finally had railed lines of adderall, chugged a tall boy of Red Bull and sat down to a whooping “HUZZAH!” before launching into a bullshit diatribe-analysis about Temperley’s lesser wordsmithing moments better suited for a post-it note. My love for this long-player is not without its compromises and, much ado about Temperley’s poetry, the bass absolutely disappears in some mixes, squashed under the higher frequencies when played over lesser soundsystems, sometimes I have to really crank the bitch up before I can get her to growl. “Comfort You,” “New York” and “Breaking Up” power through this with their howling, wild wind piano and riffwork, but cuts like “Setting Sun,” “London Bombs,” Suicide Girl,” “How Does It Feel” and the like lose that swing that makes the title track and “Sarah” and “Breaking Up” and “Beating Like a Drum” so goddamn catchy. This isn’t so much a crime considering the phenomenally simple piano melodies and some passable string sections that cover it up, but the problem is still (not) there, lurking under the surface, supporting the menace exuded in Temperley’s tenor.

Yet, despite these nibbling quibbles with Eskimo Joe’s third record re discography, the fact remains that I anticipated the vinyl rerelease of this long-player with unbridled cherubic joy (just as I did for Inshalla and just as I am for A Song is a City; the cheeky bastards just can’t help but tease) and proceeded to devour it in two spins on Tuesday night, every cut on this long-player cracking open my person with a torrent of myriad aesthetic flashes just as it did 13 years ago to the month right to my predisposition to wonder on the watercolor faces of Stu Macleod, Joel Quartermain and Kavyen Temperley, lush brushed and brooding.

Eskimo-Joe-Black-Fingernails-Red-Wine

Because this was the record.

This was the record that launched a thousand days, accompanied a thousand dreams, sent me spiraling into innumerable replays of depressive episodes and rescued me with piano keys echoing, guitar riffs ricocheting, hooks vaulting, voice hollering from the cavernous grooves pocketed in this blood red record, disk turning on a ruby bath of pressed mid-Aughts alternative, as consequential of Seventeen Seconds, Primitive Man, Underneath the Colours and Echo & the Bunnyman as it was contemporaneous to Hot Fuss and A Beautiful Lie. And for the sake of comprehensiveness, I decided too that the CD edition, replete with demos, remixes and live versions was needed, really, I should just say wanted. The selected remixes are picked from a dancerock EP put out in the wake of the original record’s acclaimed release on June 10th 2006, an EP which I already have. And I’m not much sold on any of the other extras, live records require a headspace and the deluxe edition of Black Fingernails, Red Wine is no different, especially when considering how incredibly intricate and tech saviness the majority of the LP requires. There’s nothing there that the original twelve tracks couldn’t provide, with the demos specifically dragging Eskimo Joe back towards the genera that sounds so trite compared to the material unleashed 13 years ago upon Australian listeners expecting another regular alt-rock long-player; their second offering from Warner Bros. Australia is a tour de force record which lost an Australian Recording Industry Award (ARIA) for Best Rock Album of 2006 to Wolfmother’s eponymous debut, a fact which I’m still not salty about at all. At all.

I’m not even salty about it losing the album of the year category to Bernard Fanning’s new wave James Taylor post-uni eurotrip abbreviation of soft-rock hooks, singer-songwriter confessionalisms and a Gold Coast drawl that is Tea and Sympathy, only abated by the sense that (one) had the ARIA committee not given it to Fanning, they would have certainly given it to the Wolfmother Inc., for being syndicated by the pinnacle of mid-aughts comedy, Jackass II, and that (two) the ARIA’s are the Australian exec equivalent to the Grammies, signifying nothing but metal tinsel, champagne toasts and flaking album stickers commemorative only to the magpies in marketing murdering for some decorative scrap. This ambuscade feeds on my vanity, in both describing my distaste and hinting at what I needed; as John Rockwell debated in his essay to drum up critical & technical support for Linda Ronstadt’s career that “in rock criticism, commercial success doesn’t so much attest to quality as corroborate it,” before launching to extensive vocal analysis of Linda Ronstadt’s octave range, how it warbles along and how it wraps itself in the American Songbook as both a tribute and a triumph of the folk-rock-blues-country tradition recategorized off/underhandedly as “blue-eyed soul,” that is, whiteys singing over the black beat, whipped cream skimming on the coffee2, instead of giving Ronstadt her technical due. But I’ve neither skill nor capacity for such analysis. All I can explain is in basic terms: how Temperley’s voice rises to angelic falsetto “And I know I should’ve stayed in bed,” from the streetbeat down-on-his-luck baritone sinner singing on the boulevard of hell, “And where were you while we lay/ So drunk that we died;” how Quartermain’s percussion is exceptional in its punctuation, detailing the crescent crash on star-crossed eyes spurned with each smash of the cymbal and slap of the tom-tom; how MacLeod’s riffwork rings and shines and swoons with callbacks to Johnny Marr at his most angst-ridden musings—a whole record of nigh-orchestral “How Soon Is Now’s” along 42 minutes of neo-gothica altered-sanity; three lovesick lovers who love to love the loves who loved their love and all that Van Morrison shit despite their dying, hateful selves disseminated along every cut, even the sopping wet ones.

2Perhaps that’s why Bangs was so concerned with finding that “real” stuff, the one-hundo po’ cent bona fide blacker than black shit that’ll twitch and spin your eyeballs on themselves so fast, you struggle to keep the motherfuckers sealed in your head and attached to your brain, livewired hot and steaming, but I digress, another diatribe for another time.

See, what I needed was validation: something that loved me as I loved it unto death, wearing out the point to my quivering needle, my stylus mortal, my memory a ripple in the water, so much so I’ve fallen in love, broken my heart, relapsed, overdosed on Black Fingernails, Red Wine in multiplicity and with accelerating haste every time. I would die on this record like a Zephead would die on Presence. But this is not a Zephead record—that is Wolfmother and Wolfmother are successors to the alternative power rock formula that has permeated our most recent decades: add distortion and simplify (four chords and a bare minimum beat should do the trick); the Arctic Monkeys abused this neologism for danceroom punk and garage rock for the first four long-players of their career before listening to a Nick Waterhouse LP and deciding to submerge themselves in lounge music and so did Wolfmother, a contemporary half-a-world away, suckling off the same black tar teet as the most crass Page or Hendrix or Iommi fan would gather, it’s why hard rock proto-metal stylings peaked in 1975 and plummeted since; we hurrah the arrival of a Wolfmother or an Elephant or an Attack and Release as infusion of known products, but let us writers jerk off on those, lest the musicians songwrite with all the emotional depth of a rock band at the nudies, the pornographic vaudeville theatre (Greta Van Fleet, essentially). This is not to say Wolfmother are pretending to be “deep” but that there’s only so many ways to reference a melodic equivalent of “I’m gonna give you every inch of my love” before we understand what this “love” really is; I can count it one finger, I can listen to Wolfmother once per a year and it would be enough but I could listen to Black Fingernails, Red Wine every day from here to eternity. I could clutch my last pillow as it fades on the final notes of “How Does It Feel.” If I could die in embrace of this record, I would choose so, and I would be happy.

And that is validation enough.


Album Artist: Eskimo Joe

  • Kavyen Temperley—vocals, guitars, piano
  • Stu MacLeod—lead guitars, backing vocals
  • Joel Quartermain—drums, guitars, piano, backing vocals

Producer: Self-Produced w/ Burt Reid
Label: Warner
Genre: Alternative Rock, New Wave
Tracklist:

  1. “Comfort You”
  2. “New York”
  3. “Black Fingernails, Red Wine”
  4. “Breaking Up”
  5. “Setting Sun”
  6. “London Bombs”
  7. “Sarah”
  8. “This is Pressure”
  9. “Beating Like a Drum”
  10. “Reprise”
  11. “Suicide Girl”
  12. “How Does it Feel”

 

 

 

Release Date Buffet: May 2019

May 3rd

Beat Detectives – Nefertiti Abstract Movie
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: NYPD Records
Genre: Deconstructed Electronic

Sounds like a collection of samples to be sampled rather than songs sampled, like an electronic sketch book filled with vague half-renderings of parts rather than wholes, like a bunch of cuts fragmented into prolonged concurrent miniseries, all telling different stories over a lifelike pace despite depicting very particular moments with “Sex Taper/Sex Tape” series as my favourite, a downtempo ambient soul collage of bleeps and coos, then “High as Fuck” in the same vein of “Rolling Stoned” by which I mean absolutely elementary sounds sounding like a hazy deconstruction of cruising before bringing me back to this single question: is deconstructed electronic music now a trend, did Hi This is Flume just forecast us this trend?
Link

Drahla – Useless Coordinates
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Captured Tracks
Genre: Post-Punk, Art Punk

Damn those Sonic Youths, those Wires, those Parquet Courts; always taking up the mental real estate of the quotidien cityslicker, the common clay of found materialism, the post-modern automatons at once taut and tautological (y’know, morons) regurgitating shreds and bits of pulp faction, varying between inconsequential and inflammatory, to gangsay and score, add points to our digital and daily discussions with friends and strangers alike and count them as our pithy, burning highlight reel much ado about nothing. That this becomes the ultimate acolyte’s task of masturbation and self-flagellation, most often a mixture of both in truly fashionable S&M fashion, it’s not really a surprise that bands like Drahla find themselves precluded by how well they gather the attention of the “mainstream” artists and how well they can contribute to what the courant consider art. They might not even discuss the album—just what it means to consume it.
Link

Laura Misch – Lonely City
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Self-Released
Genre: Downtempo, Neo-Soul

Now here’s a proper use of genre; playing into a sonic strength to highlight its emotional counterpart. Downtempo is nothing if not a meditative remedy, like a sort of balm of loneliness rather than for loneliness. I like to play this record as a driving companion, in the same way as Nick Cave’s Push the Sky Away or Cat Power’s Dear Sir are made expressly for the late night drive. True loneliness, however, is the sound of silence, and Misch plays with that across the record (ballsy for only a 7-track, 20 minute EP-esque long-player), something Nick Cave never much attempted excepting Boatman’s Call and The Skeleton Tree and those records have too much going on around them to truly qualify in this select two record club right now. No, Lonely City, Dear Sir and Push the Sky Away can content themselves on feeling nothing but immense loneliness in a city of lonely faces; earthbound or celestial, the metaphor still works, you can drive to this record around the witching hours of an urban purgatory or a country sojourn.
Link

Sunbeam Sound Machine – Goodness Gracious
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Dot Dash
Genre: Neo-Psychedelia, Dreampop

Sunbeam Sound Machine (Nick Sowersby) is your mechanical cousin to the Black Moth Super Rainbow (words like songs interchangeable) and Sugar Candy Mountain and y’know, a delight for the AnCo freaks out there. I don’t mean to be rude, but the Animal Collective (hence AnCo) inspires some freakish levels of faith in people, probably in the same way I sound like a complete douchebag everytime I wax about Alt-J. Sunbeam Sound Machine, however, by virtue of their dreampop tedencies on this record is a neo-psychedelic mind-massage in near-ASMR fashion. Not even Avey Tare sounds this disinterested in the ephemeral, which is why I prefer his clinic to Sowersby, he gives us more. Neo-psych and dreampop can content themselves all they like, but both are too similar not to require some third wild-card genre to spice it up and make compelling music rather than atmospheric sound. And why spit some acid on this while cooing Laura Misch’s downtempo Lonely City? Simple: downtempo doesn’t pretend to be music for the awake, it understands itself as the electronic equivalent of sleepwalking. Laura Misch knows this, Avey Tare does too and so I assume Sowersby as well; he sells to the name, however, so he can enjoy his little sleep music gig here while throwing us melody-addicts a hook or two before we go back to criticizing just to criticize. And for what its worth, I liked those hooks.
Link

Versing – 10000
Producer: Self-Produced with Dylan Wall
Label: Sub Pop
Genre: Noise Rock, Indie Rock

Versing do a good job of it, actually sounding more like the Thurston Moore-led byproduct of a Sonic Youth revolution as opposed to Drahla’s more experimental “found sound” experiment, but don’t quite have the derisive sonic guff that Sub Pop is known for: acerbic sarcasm against its own punkishness, firepower deafened by its own Guns of the Navarone, revolution dulled by its own commercial interests; you know what, maybe Versing are the right stuff, the terminus of this particular line of thinking, the natural end of the next thing which will do the same thing, so all ye dads of the grunge generation, disaffected, late-to-the-party Gen X’ers listen the fuck up: Sub Pop has found your new noise rock summer squeeze and they’re called Versing.
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May 10th

Boogarins – Sombrou Dúvida
Producer: Gordon Zacharias & Benke Ferraz
Label: OAR
Genre: Psychedelic Rock, Neo-Psychedelia, Tropicalia

Brazillia neo-psychedelic tropicalia act Boogarins are an interesting sort of psychedelic band for me, a casual learner of Portuguese with ambitions to see Bossa Nova and Tropicalia acts live in their native Brazil. It’s difficult if to say what exactly makes this music sound so tropical, perhaps its just the fact that four Brazilians are playing it and automatically the brain is ready to ascribe some tropical subtext to whatever the hell they might be doing or maybe it’s just because Portuguese sounds like someone giving up halfway through pronouncing the equivalent Spanish and thus sounds as a more relaxed intonation. Whatever the case, the groove on this record is understated, murky and covered in underbrush, as if you have to cut through this dense sonic with a machete as contrast to when Glass Animals peeled it all back for their R-rated Jungle Book record, aka Zaba. The name Sombrou Dúvida itself is a play on words, “a contraction of “Sombra ou Dúvida”… which translates as ‘Shadow or Doubt’” per the press release and which highlights a Joseph Conradite twist: perhaps the only heart of darkness surrounding this record is the tangle of nerves listening to it.
Link

Emotional Oranges – The Juice Vol. 1 EP
Producer: Azad Nacify, Azad Right, Dante Jones, Stephen Feigenbaum & William Leong
Label: Avant Garden
Genre: Nu-Disco, Contemporary R&B

Fresh on a new indie label, Avant Garden, Emotional Oranges isn’t a debut LP, just a compilation EP of single projects including “Motion” and “Personal,” released in 2018. They claim a wide-berth of influences in neo- soul, nu-disco and contemporary R&B, y’know, new school stuff for the young’uns. The kind of shit for cruising down the El Camino Real in SoCal highway or, hell, making love to the light of a lava lamp. Ooey, gooey, oozy, woozy words which all do to describe this genre conglomerate of what is basically the Toronto-school of R&B; heartbeat bass beat taps, snare slaps, finger snaps and hand claps; let it be known Timbaland was the grandfather of the Toronto-school, they just decided to turn the bass way the hell up and let those low-frequency waves shake the rust from your brokendown palace of a heart. Well, The Juice Vol. 1 is certainly capable, if for one problem I’ve yet to solve, are they capable and nauseating like DVSN, or, nu-style aside, are they capable and refreshing like Jamila Woods?
Link

Jamila Woods – LEGACY! LEGACY!
Producer: Odd Couple, Peter Cottontale & Slot-A
Label: Jagjaguwar
Genre: Neo-Soul, Alternative R&B

I must admit, between Toronto and Chicago, I’m going to pick Chicago every time—in true American fashion, it’s not an old city, but it’s old enough that it doesn’t need neo- qualifiers to American songbook styles and I’m using American in the general sense that Canada and Mexico are American too, but I’ve yet to hear Mexico City soul; Until then we’re comparing Toronto and Chicago. Anyways, Chicago’s continued renaissance development into one of America’s foremost musical hotbeds has been well documented since Common and Kanye lit the joint on fucking fire in 2004 with Be. I’m probably simplifying this more than I should, but to hell with it: Jamila Woods is committed to continuing Chicago’s preeminence in neo-soul but she takes time to step back from modern addictions of BASS, BASS, BASS and some stereo percussion in favour of something more; guitar solos? Sure, that, but for those clamoring for stripped down moments, when the production team around LEGACY! LEGACY! peel her voice away for simple piano melodies, it’s almost reassuring—even the fiercest women need a moment to reflect on their softer sides, things without need for words, demonstrate as to what makes their persons so full. She doesn’t for many moments of the record, mostly just flourishes still hidden in the corners of the BASS. Furthermore, Jamila’s, like her contemporary Noname’s, major strength is in their wordsmithing and thematics; the play for this record? Big names of legacy, like ”ZORA” (Neale Hurston), “EARTHA” (Kitt), “FRIDA” (Kahlo), (James) “BALDWIN”, “SUN RA,” or (Jean-Michel) BASQUIAT, proverbally all about their legacy on her person, community or society and how she channels their various energies into each song.
Link

Pottery – No. 1
Producer: Self-Produced (?)
Label: Partisan
Genre: Art Punk, Post-Punk

I don’t usually try to read reviews of the artists I do impressions for, but while researching newest Montreal art punk outfit, Pottery, and their debut album producer, I couldn’t help but note some blogs highlighting this album’s “danceability” and on second listen, I see it—in the same way that I see Parkay Quartz last art punk record as a “dance” record: I think our standards for dance have just fucking plummeted. Moshing, strictly speaking, is to dancing what air guitar is to writing music—even grinding has more credentials then moshing—and sure you can shimmy to No. 1, but dance? With partners? Just mosh with more rhythm for cryin’ out loud. Leave those coordinated movements to the dance-punk records and maybe people will start taking this solid little chip off the old discography more seriously: art college punk.
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May 17th

Hey Colossus – Four Bibles
Producer: Ben Turner
Label: ALTER
Genre: Stoner Rock

Alter has proclaimed Hey Colossus as Britain’s most successful “stoner rock” band of the milennium, not really a tall order consider it’s only been 19 years, but still my population bitching aside, I would think that another group of limeys would at least challenge for the throne, there’s enough of them on those mossy rocks to do so, but I’m trying to be facetious (it just comes out that way sometimes, a trait passed down from my mother’s side), I’m just putting “stoner rock” in quotations to explicate the difference in decibels and drone effects between stoner rock and stoner metal and, for practical purposes, drone. Stoner rock employs drone as an effect, metal lives on it, drone lives in it. So, it took me three listens to get my bearings—Hey Colossus take their liberties to provoke your wonderment: just what fucking brand of rock related music am I listening to? And whether your disgusted, disinterested or delighted by it, I must admit to somewhat liking it, even if it isn’t exactly what I want to hear when I’m stoned out of my gourd.
Link

The National – I Am Easy to Find
Producer: Self-Produced with Mike Mills
Label: 4AD
Genre: Art Rock

I’ll come out and say it: the first National record I ever listened to was Sleep Well Beast, I’m new to this whole Matt Berninger-fronted world of understated alternative rock, having only crawled backwards to Boxer and only remembering enough to know that I Am Easy to Find is a radical step in electronic flare, just as understated as Sleep Well Beast, but a lighter, almost inspirational touch of synthesizers, no buzzing bzzrts and burps like its immediate predecessor, no, I Am Easy to Find is exactly that. And it reminds me of a band I do know well (as much as I hate to say it), Coldplay’s X&Y, with its teeming, eerily under-the-skin vibrancy in an overextended, near-double-album-length way. And if I ain’t right about that, then I might as well immediately retire from this goddamn gig. But while Coldplay’s entire career has been this sort of banal, limestone rock so soft it melts upon touching your very ears (the goddamn Jerrys of rock n’ roll, I tell ya), that the National moved in this direction is a mindfuck for both the casual observer and I assume the diehards with Berninger lyrics tatooed on their forearms and Dessner melodies embedded in their brain. This is a band that doesn’t need to bite because the threat has always been there since Boxer, but I spent all night sleeping to this record, just to prove its qualifications as a defanged beast of a record produced by a band firmly in a mid-life crisis with too much artsy pretensions (visual albums are always a dubious project), and while I can forgive these Bad Seed-lites for following in Nick Cave’s footsteps, I can’t forgive them for going in a route that reminds me of the Christ Martin Project, no matter how much better this album will age than X&Y ever has.
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May 24thth

Black Mountain – Destroyer
Producer: John Congleton
Label: Jagjaguwar (US), Dine Alone (CA)
Genre: Hard Rock, Psychedelic Rock

John Congleton is more up to my speed, see, I might’ve bitched a bit how Hey Colossus delved too deeply into drone without any post-rock pacing (the quiet-loud dynamic can get tiring if used on every track, but put it in a couple of spots across an album—three is a magic number—and you can be an artsy-fartsy post-rocker too!) but here on Black Mountain’s fifth effort, we have ourselves a ball with Congleton (who is quickly shooting up the ranks among my favourite producers) who turns this hard rock outfit into a serviceable neo-psychedelic stoner rock hybrid, on one of my favourite labels, no less (Jagjaguwar). So, I’m already predisposed to like this project from Vancouver (my favourite American coast, no less! Man, these guys just cannot lose) even if it’s not exactly revolutionary. I have absolutely no idea what they are singing about because it’s all outclassed by droney, moogey forays and backstops and well, goddamnit, I don’t wanna gush, so if you love Blue Öyster Cult, Wooden Shjips or Thee Oh Sees, just sit back and enjoy this monster, this machine, this Destroyer.

Link

Cate Le Bon – Reward
Producer: Self-Produced w/ Samur Khouja
Label: Mexican Summer
Genre: Art Rock, Neo-Psychedelia

I like to think of Cate le Bon as a girlfriend to Laura Marling—a little flashier sure, Reward is proof enough of that—but still somehow intimately connected even if they never have even said a word to each other. Listening to their records back-to-back, one from Marling, one from Bon is like watching two folkies (the former thoroughbred, the other alternative) riposte in musical conversation and weirdly, while Marling is more self-affirmative, Cate le Bon comes off as the more positive one—even when her lyrics drift into the pessimistic; slight of melody, I suppose. But when Laura Marling thew us all for a psychedelic-folk loop on LUMP, I didn’t expect Cate Le Bon to (relatively) break out the ritz: there’s some sparkle to her art rock step here on Reward, hell, she’s sipping on the same guava as Zach Condon with this latest offering. It’s a nice little ditty, but for me, it’s dubious whether the record can match toe-to-toe with the creole Cyrk or Mug Museum.
Link

Earth – Full Upon Her Burning Lips
Producer: Self-Produced w/ Mell Dettmer
Label: Sargent House
Genre: Psychedelic Rock, Post-Rock

The trick of it is this: I couldn’t tell you when one song stops and another begins excepting the small detentes between them. And while lead guitarist/bassist Dylan Carlson and drummer Adrienne Davies do enough to make each song feel fresh, they all just feel like movements more than pieces. They could’ve done without the titles begetting goth poetry and just made this record an hour-long jam sesh, and split it into one, two, three, four sides on the vinyl. I’d respect them more for it, that’s for damn sure—I’d even deem it necessary to describe it as “cool jazz-esque,” ‘long-form experimental” or “post-rock adventurism.” As it is now? It’s capable, but it doesn’t quite capture the sense of freewheeling musicianship that they tease at on the longer cuts. Where’s the earthen, 30-minute jam-monster, Full Upon Her Burning Lips? I yearn to hear it.
Link

Steve Lacy – Apollo XXI
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: 3qtr
Genre: Neo-Soul, Psychedelic Soul

New guy Steve Lacy has wasted no time since joining The Internet to strut his stuff, Hive Mind and Apollo XXI now being the biggest examples, the latter showcasing us the smoothest shit since the Eighties bumped that underground electro R&B shit on the downlow, mixed together with some new school ethereal funk that would make Funkadelic and Chic turn cheek to cheek and blush up. Seriously, the Chicness going on is absolutely off the charts and still sounds absolutely sublime. It lags a bit in between but never on the big moments, y’kno, the ones that push out the units; the first five cuts off this record have me thinking Lacy is a successor to Prince!(!!) Early-Eighties-era Prince, but still, credit where credit is due, Steve Lacy has my attention, moreso than the Internet ever did.
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May 31st

Psychedelic Porn Crumpets – And Now For The Whatchamacallit
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Marathon Artists
Genre: Garage Rock, Psychedelic Rock

Look, I know Highly Visceral Vol. 1 & 2 were nothing to write home about as especially mindblowing; but as far as albums go, I found these Perth boys to be superb in crafting a distinctly isolated space and garage rock, their records nothing if not essays on existence from literally the other side of the world (legitimately about 20-22 hours ahead, depending on the season). Perth is as isolated as a big city could get in our modern world—good news for climate crisis paranoiacs who need an out once this country goes to shit—surrounded by miles of ocean, desert and venomous animals that, should we commence nuclear upon the collapse of international diplomacy, make the beasts in Fallout look like absolute childsplay (I rescind my climate change advice). Sort of like what And Now For the Whatchamacallit is to King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s 12 Bar Bruise or, to be more topical, Fishing For Fishies, except you just need expand the space-rock elements of reverb to every track and highjack the Aphex Twin wizardry of “Acarine” and lo-fi funk bop “Cyboogie” with some jazz rock à la Sketches of Brunswick East or hell, any other Mild High Club musing. I’m not complaining, I just prefer Highly Visceral Vol. 1 & 2 for being, ultimately, more original than their mutant third record; as it turns out, Perth isn’t so isolated after all.
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Rose City Band – Rose City Band
Producer: Eric “Ripley” Johnson
Label: Jean Sandwich Records
Genre: Psychedelic Rock, Space Rock

The moment I saw Rose City I knew this was a Portland band, but I didn’t quite understand how they could sound so close to Wooden Shjips and feel so copycat. I was a little dismayed until I did the research; Ripley Johnson is behind the control board! No wonder this folk psychedelia, tapped straight from the Kurt Vile and space rock trees, is so wonderfully zonked out to the heavens from my native Portland, home of the California transplant brought here by his Wooden Shjips, this record is nearly 37 minutes of superbly mixed music, not psychedelic by virtue of its effects, but by its melodies. When the guitars already stretch when they sing, then the reverb doesn’t need to work hard to add some depth to the cuts. It’s music like this which I live for. It’s such an effortless record, with melodies that just tick.
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Rose Hotel – I Will Only Come When It’s A Yes
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Self-Released
Genre: Dreampop, lofi

Rose Hotel’s debut has a rough go of it; dreampop records usually do when trying to figure out that secondary genre which makes it all click—the xx were an anomaly, you heard it here first! And so were Slowdive, for that matter, you heard it here second!—for Black Belt Eagle Scout, it was dollops of grunge-painted folksiness. But here I am, left scratching my head as to what secondary spice most consistently rides on Rose Hotel’s commitment to what is the sonic equivalent of drooling on the hues of your shoes or admiring the texture of your local concrete mixture (aesthetically, I’m a big fan of the solid slabs, sonically, I respect the asphalt bridge with some wear). A large part of me wants it to be those New Orleans horn sections, blown to proportions contradictory to a lofi record. But it’s a damn hard thing to self-release and self-produce a record, but it’s an even harder thing to convince people that you’re as different—forget about capable—as all the things they’ve heard before.
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A Song is a City: How hard do you want to belong?

“All I got here is books and music
I used to have exercise but I out
Grew it”
– “Smoke,” Eskimo Joe

a-song-is-a-city-4e9a0f4b01874How hard have you wanted to belong to somewhere, someone, something?

For Eskimo Joe it didn’t take long. To my disdain, Kavyen Temperley said “It wasn’t until Girl, our debut album, that we returned to the sort of songs we had intended to do at the beginning.”

Oh, how this quote would have boiled my blood years ago. But the truth is unavoidable: the skills from Girl had been tested, weathered, but the material heart in A Song is a City remained unchanged. It still suffers from Eskimo Joe’s moods. Not just the ripe for ballad moods, but also when the lads, Temperely, Macleod and Quartermain approach their early power-punch stage on “Older than You.” The choral section saves us from Kavyen’s solo-falsetto on “Life is Better With You,” the pianos salvage “Car Crash,” but the fact remains: Eskimo Joe are still playing with how far they can take it across their sophomore effort.

However, for every problem this record carried over, answers are provided; yes,the guitars can get banal, but they quickly regain their edge; yes, Girl-relic “Older Than You,” is too cute for its own damn good, but the band improves the sonic on “Don’t Let It Fly”; yes, the lyrics can get one-note, but the poetry is vastly improved; and yes, Kav’s voice wobbles foppish on the line “whatever happened to this **breathe in** rooooom” but they absolutely thunder with an “all I know is she’s never im-pressed by me.And through it all are those piano accompaniments belie growing confidence. Eskimo Joe’s A Song is a City is what Girl wanted to be: an even-keeled smart garage rock record, an artistic credit builder, a message worth making. The record’s conceit was written as Temperley, Stu Macleod and Joel Quartermain’s lovesong-sick long-player to a city stuck on the other side of Australia—Freemantle. Yes, there’s still girls a-plenty, but there’s marked improvement in the musicality: pianos always on wing, drums crashing in the background, lyrics less stock and guitars layered over top, left and right.

Only the synthesizer play, which continues to breeze without much force, remains rudimentary—it’s an ambient thing that doesn’t really have much point other than to obscure what the rest of the record does well. It’s distracting and irritating and ultimately helps throw this LP’s efforts for greatness into futility. To intellectualize away this distaste: what city doesn’t harbor white noise and what metropolis has no muck? Regardless, it all translates to music that is populated with reasons, lyrics, din, migrating, meandering, moving to motives selfish but no less compelling. This is no great record; but despite itself it is a good record.

All this said: A Song is a City was never my favourite—it still isn’t—instead it vies for the number two spot with Black Fingernails, Red Wine. But with every year, the case for the former fortifies while the latter’s withers away, Black Fingernails now occupies a specific emotional space that casual listening could never satisfy. And there’s a reason why.

“All I know is she’s never impressed by me
– “This Room,” Eskimo Joe

I stated that the lyrics on this record are a marked step-up, I actually consider them the best of Eskimo Joe’s career. But it didn’t start that way: there are lyrics that make little sense at a younger age, not just semantically but emotionally. “You have to suffer the blues if you wanna play ‘em” is a proverb stuck in my head since high school days. I didn’t understand it until my college sophomore year, when I hurt the girl I loved and she hurt me right back. Fair dinkum, I started it. And ever since that proverb had its point—but that’s a story that need not be told here. I’ve got others to divulge.

Fast forward to Junior year, another girl, we had just burned strawberry incense and laid there, A Song is a City rolling from cut to cut to cut. I had no TV, just some libraries, one paper, one wax, one digital and dual monitors; we watched as the random alchemy of Windows Media Player develop on one. For days she left the words “All I know is she’s never im-pressed by me” stuck in my head. They still are, when I crush and strike out. Each time they rash a little redder, bleed a little easier, but sting no sharper, assuaged with the lies of growth: “All I’ve got here is books and music/Used to have exercise but I out-/ Grew it.”

Call it prestidigitation but because these lyrics found me at my most vulnerable, they’ve come to help me define myself. These lyrics that have come to know me, etched by people who don’t. Clapton has done it, the xx have done it, others’ have done it but Eskimo Joe did it first and they had done it again. At that moment she passed through the door, it had been A Song is a City’s turn to mark me, and none no deeper than “From The Sea.”

“I could have slept for days
It’s like a radar
and it comes
To you
from the sea”
– “From the Sea,” Eskimo Joe

I’d been listening to this song for nearly 14 years. I still had no fucking clue what “it” means to Temperley: a crush, a keepsake, a melancholy? This is Temperley’s temperamental and obtuse lyrical skill highlight—for once his straightforward obliqueness paints himself into a semantic corner where no one cares; “it” could be anything, but by dealing in poetic vagaries, any odd sight within the city (a passing car, an ocean squall, a fish-and-chip shop scene) could invoke and run with “it.” Me, I had given up on spoken-word semantics and settled on the musical ones.

It seems pastiche to use seabound metaphors to describe a song such as “From the Sea,” but on the floatsam reelback of delay at “Come Down’s” end, a ticktocking drum machine jetsam rocks on the wave of a main piano melody, try as the song might to drown it in rhythmic storm, it never wholly disappears. Like a radar, it continues to bob and revolve on the big blue. Perhaps this is what he means by “it.” Perhaps that’s “why.”

However, there is another candidate, on the second swell there’s a gorgeous piano melody played on the left flank of the choral mix, siren’s melody calls, limestone keys calcify then dissolve. It’s not exactly fleeting, but it doesn’t stick around for long; in the wash of guitars and Kavyen, perhaps this is that “it,” perhaps this is that “why.” Lost until found then lost to be found again. For anyone listening to this song on the first few listens, either should suffice; but not for me.

The first times I found this piano riff was in Australia, in the Land Rover, on the radio, Triple J, as usual. There is no singular instant; just a continuous scene with inescapable truths and souvenir spitshine. Triple J loved this song and along with Missy Higgin’s “Scar,” it flipped on static frequently enough that somehow it became indelible and everlasting to my memory. Funnily, I never confirmed it to be an Eskimo Joe cut until after I fell in love with Black Fingernails, Red Wine and the subsequent remix EP, but I heartily digress, it was a song of my youth, known or unknown, confirmed all the same.

I later found the riff in a car of my own, recently graduated, living with parents, driving, at night, from whatever happening—either work or a concert, I hardly remember—no radio, just a CD brought to me from a family friend, Daz, who had also migrated to the States and gone back to Australia with a list of orders. That he remembered mine imbued the record with something, a vague sense of connection, perhaps, with a land I call mum in secret. That might have been “it.” That might have been “why.” But on the dark return route, it was gone before I got to the driveway

When I returned to Australia to visit mates and enjoy what I had lost for a decade, eventually my host and I needed a day to separate. An unfortunate necessity for my personality—we’d spent the last being best mates, but even that needs a moment to cool—I had no plan, content to wander the streets of Melbourne, enjoy the odd art museum and watch the riverboats cruise the Yarra and her upside down run. Eventually I was in Queen Victoria park, sitting, spectating, writing at a mound, shared, between two palm trees and me and something else. A ghost, a power?

I didn’t know what to call “it.” But at the smell of Eucalyptus, the charge of Spring hail and sudden thunder, the sound of Kookaburra calls and notes opening on the sight of the Yarra, I knew what it was, what it is.


Album Artist: Eskimo Joe

  • Kavyen Temperley—vocals, guitars, piano
  • Stu MacLeod—lead guitars, backing vocals
  • Joel Quartermain—drums, guitars, piano, backing vocals

Producer: Self-Produced w/ Paul McKercher
L
abel: Warner/Mushroom
Genre: Indie Rock, Garage Rock
Tracklist:

    1. Come Down”
    2. From The Sea”
    3. Life Is Better With You”
    4. Older Than You”
    5. A Song Is A City”
    6. Don’t Let It Fly”
    7. I’m So Tired”
    8. Seven Veils”
    9. Smoke”
    10. Carousel”
    11. This Room”
    12. Car Crash”

Lullaby: A capstone for Plant’s ceaseless career

robert-plant-lullaby-and-the-ceaseless-roarIt should be stated: this is my favourite record Plant’s ever signed his name to.

Further, it’s the best record he’s ever done—and that’s including Led Zeppelin. A pause, one word of incredulity and the question en suite:

“What!” Rings the first bell.
LED ZEPPELIN III EXISTS!” Lights the rest.

Yes, yes, yes, to tell the town, it must seem heretical! But this denies a powerful, intricate journey Plant has enjoyed since the end of his epic of Gods amongst men, as a bard of the beserkergangs waxing with the waves of each great stadium surge, each tidal thrust of Page’s many axes, the smack of Bonham’s maces, the remedies of John Paul Jones’ pagan medicine bag. Rambling on solo and consorting with Phil Collins in a frequent but inconsistent manner, Plant’s Eighties records were solid but unspectacular, his backing bandmates always bringing elements to bear, but no solid artistic vision outside of a simple directive: “not Zeppelin.”

And try as he might, but the spectre of Zeppelin would haunt him throughout the early Nineties—him only finally accepting it with the monumental No Quarter collaboration with Jimmy Page. From there, Americana, delta blues, dervish, Berber and roots rock began to swirl and come together more easily to him, instead of striving to transfigure his past away, Plant assumed the head job of an alchemist’s guild containing to, a lesser or greater extent brewing cauldron after cauldron of ergot bubbles from the slopes of Applachia to the sands of Mali to the streets of Marrakesh and back now to the black hills in Wales. This wizened son of Baldr, fair-haired-turned-silver wears his route: toes tapping, shoed in Appalachian leather, voice coaxing, coated in soft Kashmir, wrists weaving, frilled in West African silk, legs loose, lined with Welsh wool. In his hands are a bendir—his percussive addition that outdoes a simple tambourine man.

It’s all there on lullaby… and the Ceaseless Roar. Commencing with brooding bayou rock, blossoming Celtic chantries of doom, finishing the frenetic mania of a Jajoukan dervish with guitars whistling each note in steamboat blues. Every step—and misstep—is represented. Even the adventure-prone production belies a similar approach to Shaken ‘N’ Stirred.

Yes, Carry Fire is the record that receives more acclaim, but lullaby… and the Ceaseless Roar is by far the better album. The former does its title justice, it carries fire and continues an impressive run of personal success since The Mighty ReArranger (a record that just sounds more and more divine every listen), Carry Fire is the melting pot in full action: everything starts to really goop together. But that can leave some songs wanting for form. lullaby, meanwhile, lacks not in form—the transitions from style to style are noticeable, yet seamless—Plant had not yet begun his full work with elements, instead continuing his travail in things with elements bled in: “Little Maggie” with its work-song wracked guitar and wailing riti; “Rainbow” with its pounding percussive sections; “Pocketful of Golden,” with its echoing sentiments of a cut 46 years its senior; “Turn It Up” with Liam “Skin” Tyson’s and Justin Adam’s menacing riffwork; “A Stolen Kiss” with John Baggot’s piano sounding just as glass textures: smooth yet stark; “Poor Howard,” with its banjo soaring amongst a digital rereading of Lead Belly;  “Up On Hollow Hill” and “House of Love” with their death-march haunt of Dreamland; “Arbaden” with Baggot’s travail to chew up  “Little Maggie” and spit it back out by the bits.

The songs all follow the greater evolution of twelve-bar blues and roots rock, but the sheer number of elements gives this now-classic music form modern wings, flying past any turbulent swirl of too much instrumentation. Each has its part, consequently even the conventional sounds new and fresh—the guitars and synthesizers and pianos are a soil base, but more often the kologo, ritis, bendirs, Moogs, djembes, tehardants come to mix within the loam as rhythmic and sonic clay. The largely African-based bells and whistles are than played as—well to make another metaphor—if these instruments were alive, then Adams, Tyson and Juldeh Camara play these to within an inch. Absorbent and sponged with the scarlet of a bluesman’s fingertips, the clay rusts with blood, as if the very ground itself bleeds this music. To lullaby… and the Ceaseless Roar, all the earth and sea and sky produced the record, elemental to the last.

The record only trembles at “Embrace Another Fall” and “Somebody There” but nothing feels wrong with the former’s dirge and the latter’s punchiness. (“Somebody There”, as Murdoc Niccals would say, serves as a “very genuine pop moment.”*) Both showcase a finality to their Side. “Embrace Another Fall” leaves listeners in the depths of despair only to be shocked back to life with “Turn It Up.” So too does “Somebody There” never beget a musical, it denotes a time to rest and recharge before a harrowing and satisfying ultimate Side C.

For most lovers of Percy Plant, this record can be conflated with his career path since the loss of his best friend, John Henry Bonham. There seems very little reason not to—if Bonham was a beating heart ripped from the core of a band, then it is only natural that Plant was very tender in dealing with the gaping crevice since. But Plant and his Sensational Space Shifters are living proof to the value in musical exploration, in studying elements outside of the conventional Western then finding the harmonics between them.

Full, earthy, warm, cold, gusting, soothing, this record is all the journeys of a Viking who survived, written into a succinct 49-minute saga.

Album Artist: Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Nonesuch/ Warner
Genre: Psychedelic Folk, Worldbeat
Tracklist:

  1. “Little Maggie”
  2. “Rainbow”
  3. “Pocketful of Golden”
  4. “Embrace Another Fall”
  5. “Turn It Up”
  6. “A Stolen Kiss”
  7. “Somebody There”
  8. “Poor Howard”
  9. “House of Love”
  10. “Up on the Hollow Hill (Understanding Arthur)
  11. “Arbaden (Maggie’s Babby)

*Addendum: This was written in early, early 2018 and I have since disavowed pop as a genre in near totality

Girl: Eskimo Joe’s damnable, affable debut

a30c7d82bd8a474771754bb41f07c2f5

Outside a marketplace on earth
There’s a subject we all talk about
It’s called girls and how they work”

I was this close,” I said, suddenly, interrupting my own train of thought, raising two hands with about of foot of air between them, “to finishing an outline on the damn thing.” But then I thought, if Eskimo Joe only needed deliver halfway on this Girl, then that hands me carte blanche on how to review the damn thing. A crass box from Australian imprint, Modular (you might know them now for releasing Kevin Parker upon the word). But that still couldn’t stop the squints from arriving, the glass-eyed fogey in me, coming to measure how much I love (loved?) this band, how much I bleed (bled?) for Kavyen Temperley, Stu MacLeod and Joel Quartermain. But here’s the secret: nerds don’t know shit about having loose fun. Not just bad jokes fun or racy games fun, but plastered drunk and poledancing in your grundies fun. True in college, true when reviewing this record. As young MacLeod so crassly addressed it: “We’re not hopeless romantics, we just like a bit of intellectual stimulation to go with our poontang.” What a college-level philosopher. It’s only right that we run on feeling with this Girl. Settled on fucking it, maybe edging on an S&M engagement with it. No promises.

There are three career trends that Eskimo Joe would lay down on Girl which will see sporadic listed reference as I ramble from point to point, starting with the first: that this record was inspired exclusively by that Oasis drivel? Bullshit. They may admit to anglophilia, to a nubile britpop fascination, but I don’t care if they brought in veteran producer Ed Buller to curate their debut long-player to that end, because this is as American-Australian independent rock as it comes. Caught between phases of grunge and stadium garage and loving it until literally blue in the face. After two exclusively garage rock EPs, Eskimo Joe begins their career seesaw of influences alternating between Turnstyle riffs and soft blink-182 lyricism like it’s some sordid icebreaker game when before they sounded so free—horny, hungry teenagers—excited that they could even fuck around with a guitar, much less get paid for it. Where’s that goddamn nothing-left-to-lose confidence, the downright pluckiness of Eskimo Joe? Yeah, losers they were, but humans, yeah, youthful they were, but not overwrought. Well that’s all gone—Girl is a blantantly post-grunge affair panhandling, not even for your money, but for your attention.

Look at all these Silverchair and Smashing Pumpkins tricks I know,” she says, spurts, exclaims! Even I can’t help but have a soft-spot for a music taste that fawns on the darling acts, the ones that write anthems and operate at the vortex center of generational tempests and the seemingly resplendent “whatever-the-fuck-they-call-it” factors. If Humbug existed in 1999, Girl would have fawned all over it. She wears her music on her sleeve, which makes the conversation easier, if forced. She’s not shallow, but interests coat her denim jacket. She gives the bait free to keep the conversation focused on her and away from us, the fishers looking for the catch of the night. So when I complain about this guitar-based basicness of influence, I can’t help but be keenly attracted to it, I somehow still find myself enjoying this thing at parts. Which brings us to career trend number two: straightforward lyrical obliqueness.

How painfully playful yet naughty Girl is. How much I wish I could share her naïveté, her naif sense of rough sex and adulting. How 19 of it, to assume her reason of being a kid is going to excuse how people increasingly assume that she’s an adult; that she knew what she was doing all along. The voices on Girl tease from switch-on, switch-off lo-fi vocal filters like pillow whispers, to falsetto coos like kitten chirps then moan deep and drown in husky, heavy, scratching, biting growls. She’s done this before, you should have realized; she’s already bought her first pair of fuzzy handcuffs. And it’s all coming to bear in her dorm room, her student apartment, her own little self-contained stories that venture into metaphors not even remotely connected: “Its hard sometimes being yourself, like discarded rags on your top shelf.” What the fuck does that even mean, Kavyen?

At one point these lyrics were annoying, not just confusing, but the drunken mask erased much of last night feelings, excepting these: waking up, listening to the scrambled-egg riffwork of this record, looking to your right and seeing her there with a grin laid upon the veil. Well, it makes sense why someone would like Girl; just enough volts to wake you up, just enough soft moments to enjoy the puppy-love experience of tangled legs and hangovers:

When I wake up, in the morning
You look so good, you look so good
When I get up, when I’m yawning
You look so good, you look so good, to me”

And to puppy-love something is to know the deal: no conditions. There’s no if, there’s just a when. Neither is there an end. No terminal phase for this premise, no emotional riposte to counteract the pure infatuation of morning. Yes the metaphorical obliqueness is nettling, but it comes from a voice so raw and potent, so goddamn endearing. Which brings us to career trend number three: endearing rhythms and melodies. Whether it’s the aforementioned vocals, light or husky, those cute little pristine pianos like ceiling stars (“Liar,” “Just Like Me”), or the guitar progressions that twinkle like twee and grind like “fuck me” (“Head Hurts,” “Election,” “Driver”) Eskimo Joe are not adults, but they have definitely grown up. Gone is the angst, come is the anxiousness. Girl, by all accounts, is a holotype for alternative rock debuts; agitated, unsure, nervous. Hell, Girl is absolutely agoraphobic, with no single cut threatening four minutes, the closest she comes to the threshold is a whopping three-minutes-43-seconds on “Sydney Song.” The question “Am I doing this right?” bubbles under Girl’s every action no matter how sure she appears or how much others assume her to be, at first listen, adult.

Probably the only “big-hit” cuts I can tolerate are “Wake Up” and “Sydney Song,” but it is obvious that damn near half this record got mixed-up in such disingenuous trappings without the same charisma. The more I listen to “Liar,” the more it slips up in describing dishonesty as a fashion rather than a habit. It denotes the beginning of the less-pleasant twitching, continuing on, in order, to “Take A Rest,” “Love List,” “Just Like Me,” “Who Sold Her Out,” and the nauseating “Planet Earth.” I’ll understand if most of you can’t even get halfway through that conversation. But despite all the chatterbox clutter and try-hard signs of cool-ture, Girl still has something you would have only gotten from bands in the late Nineties: bleeding-heart honesty. There’s a real beating heart down there, it’s just been wrapped in material tinsel. Think of this record as extrapolating on the first love that is Third Eye Blind. Telltale adolescent signs fade away on this record—that 90210 interest is fucking fleeting—and singer-songwriter-rocker compulsions that peak out on “Head Hurts” actually show out on “Slow Down,” “Election,” and “Driver.” Indeed, they lay along this record like hidden gifts; I actually like these tics more then Girl’s incessant need to rely on that anthemic rock bullshit. And they even out the dealbreakers because I’ve lived with her. And she’s still curious to me, if not loveable, this Girl. So I’ll still sing along to every moment of her—she’s too fundamental to my being not to—but I wouldn’t want to introduce someone to Eskimo Joe with this record.

Too much puppy-love y’know?

Album Artist: Eskimo Joe
Producer: Self-Produced with Ed Buller
Label: Modular
Genre: Indie Rock, Garage Rock
Tracklist:

    1. “Head Hurts”

    2. Wake Up”

    3. Planet Earth”

    4. Who Sold Her Out”

    5. Love List”

    6. Liar”

    7. Election”

    8. Take a Rest”

    9. Slow Down”

    10. Sydney Song”

    11. Just Like Me”

    12. Driver”

Release Date Buffet: March 2019

March 1st

Hand Habits – placeholder
Producer: Self-Produced with Brad Cook
Label: Extreme Eating Records
Genre: Singer-Songwriter

The singer-songwriter amble is an admirable trait, but without even a laidback percussionist it has no live drive, no appeal in the flesh. So placeholder, much like its predecessor, does well in studio but it’s all moot in today’s game if she can’t get that drummer to help her hold the stage. A girl and her guitar might work on record but today’s records always require something more lest it’s all the less compelling.
Link

FEWS – Into Red
Producer: Joakim Lindberg
Label: PIAS Group
Genre: Post-Punk, Shoegaze

Another day, another post-punk band, one word, all caps. But where FEWS(!) prior sounded similar to say, industrial Violent Femmes, now they seem overwrought in that Linkin Park gothica. Gracefully they don’t go the full emo—that would too much, y’know?—but they definitely make this post-emo punk sound their own, combining the drained emotion vocals with that reverbing, warehouse shoegaze. Of the two though, the instrumental fervor far outstrips whatever vocal flavor they’ve chosen.
Link

Pink Mexico – Dump
Producer: Jeremy Scott
Label: Little Dickman Records
Genre: Garage Punk, Surf Rock

I don’t know why I let this factory (forget about garages, this is a warehouse) punk record run three times over before moving to the next guy. I don’t mean that in a bad way; I let it just kind of take me, beat my skull in with a shovel, and then left me three times in a row and remembered why I like the taste of blood. Sadistic, I know, but then so is listening to this record spin after spin after spin.
Link

Pkew Pkew Pkew – Optimal Lifestyles
Label: Dine Alone Records
Genre: Pop Punk, Punk Rock

If American Pie ever needs a reboot, Pkew’s got the soundtrack ready and waiting.
Link

Pond – Tasmania
Producer: Self-Produced with Kevin Parker
Label: Marathon Artists
Genre: Neo-Psychedelia, Dream Pop

Pond usually like to make their albums difficult, sucking on a lower-grade fume than Panda Bear and his Animal Collective buddies go for, but I think spending all that time with Kevin Parker has paid off—Tasmania follows The Weather in creating records that are their most digestible long-players since Beard, Wives, Denim all without stepping on Currents’ toes. All in all, a fine addition to the burgeoning Australian neo-psych tradition.
Link

Royal Trux – White Stuff
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Fat Possum Records
Genre: Hard Rock, Psychedelic Rock

Famously off-kilter, bizarre and out of their minds,
White Stuff is as the title suggests: a collection of wonking tonking honking mixtures of hard rock, hip-hop and neo-psychedelia. At times I don’t know if I’m listening to the Gorillaz, Limp Bizkit, Aesop Rock or Cage the Elephant. None of these are contemporaries, all of them came after Royal Trux, but goddamn does Trux make it sound like none of that matters.

Link

Sundara Karma – Ulfilas’ Alphabet
Producer: Alex Robertshaw
Label: RCA
Genre: Indie Rock, Pop Prog Rock

Oscar Pollock’s voice perplexed me all the way to the shops and back, I, struggling to identify the ingredients, nearly got caught in traffic solving that tenor too low for the Peters, Gabriel and Green, yet not as overblown as Bono’s ever oddly inspiring yelp. That voice even reaches for some of the Nick Cave sardonic appeal and tries to hit notes in Mika’s lower range. But then the lightning was bottled; at its core this is a voice of the Davids: Bowie and Byrne. And Sundara Karma lather that voice in music with so many influences it almost feels Ulfilas’ Alphabet is but a tribute record to turn-of-the-Seventies art-rock replete with keyboards, pianos, violins and time changes.
Link

Sun Kil Moon – I Also Want to Die in New Orleans
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Caldo Verde
Genre: Singer-Songwriter, Folk, Spoken Word

I don’t think Sun Kil Moon records can be graded along the jists of poor, mediocre, good or great. Rather, every Sun Kil Moon record is like a folk rendition of a PT Barnum exhibit. Shit at this point, Mark Kozelek could fill the whole museum with his inane neurotics and obtuse lyrics, no problem, and we’d all take a tour just to see what’s going in that head. The answer is saxophones, random, yet tasteful, saxophones.
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Solange – When I Get Home
Producer: Self Produced with Panda Bear, Pharrell and Tyler the Creator among others
Label: Columbia
Genre: Neo-Soul, Alternative R&B

The mark against neo-soul is a predisposition to never assert itself, requiring other genres to add some vigor to the venom as Anderson .Paak has so gladly demonstrated over the course of his career. Well, Knowles said fuck it to all that noise with Seat at the Table. If Knowles, mad and frustrated, demanded for some r-e-s-p-e-c-t on her 2016 long-player, then When I Get Home is wont for some tranquility. It barely even raises its voice not that Knowles really needs to. But she continues to astound by making psychotropic soul without lo-fi sensuality seem easy.
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Wander – March
Producer: Jack Shirley
Label: Headless Queen Records
Genre: Post-Rock, Math Rock

Wander continue to perfect the already perfected: that sound of post-rock, the quiet-loud pyroclastic flows; oozing, exploding, oozing, then exploding again without much thought given to the reasons why a volcano would explode. It’s all one word titles bhereft of worded explanations; fine, I really don’t mind it, being the guy who finds post-rock relaxing via a twisted meditative value of virtue in volume—yes, I really do use cacophony to contemplate—but its not about that, first impressions limit predictions on whether March will be worth walking back to. Time, unfortunately, never moves at a run.
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Yves Jarvis – The Same but by Different Means
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: ANTI‐
Genre: Neo-Soul, Psychedelic Folk, Ambient Gospel

Montreal-based singer-songwriter-producer madlad galore, Yves Jarvis by any other name, really has made the most confuddling gospel records this year. The neo-soul coating intrigued me, the psychedelic folk gamed me, but it was the vacillation between lo-fi and ambient gospel that perplexed me. And it’s not like the record is a real barn-burning affair; it’s not even a flame, nor a spark. It’s that last little coal that won’t go the hell out, instead burning the whole night long.
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March 8th

Astralingua – Safe Passage
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Self-Released
Genre: Experimental Folk

Totally not intended but a happy accident nonetheless, DM’s should thank Astralingua now for providing them a soundtrack when the squad heads to the High Forest.
Link

The boys with the perpetual nervousness – Dead Calm
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Pretty Olivia
Genre: Garage Rock, Surf Rock

Andrew Taylor (Drop Kick) and Gonzalo Marcos (El Palacio de Linares) make up the boys with the perpetual nervousness if the only reason they could so nervous is if the rest of were just gonna shrug and say “yep, you made some surf rock.” Like, what do they have to be nervous about with their debut? It’s fairly innocuous, twenty-five minutes of easy-listening with no bite.
Link

Dido – Still on My Mind
Producer: Self-Produced with Rollo
Label: BMG
Genre: Downtempo, Electropop

It’s not that Dido’s released bad records; more that some don’t take as much as others. Well, Still On My Mind is probably her first LP since Life For Rent that really takes. She’s always played on the edges electronic music with her brother Rollo; and Still on My Mind’s predecessor, The Girl Who Got Away, was so forgettable, you wouldn’t be wrong to think this was the first real deep dive embrace of skittering electronic. But here, now, on this long-player: Dido has contructed a pixie cut Cher attitude with no autotune, transformed and mastered her role as an elder stateswoman of electropop while the rest of us were just making “Thank You” memes.
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Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost, Part 1
Producer: Self-Produced with Brett Shaw
Label: Transgressive, Warner Bros.
Genre: Art Rock, Alternative Dance

Art rock is the best that could be done; because Part 1 is beyond any single genre. Not even alternative dance feels right, damn it. Both are superlatives that square this record in. Imagine calling Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon fucking prog-rock. Exactly. It feels wrong and for eight-tenths of the way, Foals tesseract on their style. At then ninth of ten, however, Foals collapse, indulging at the end to slow ballads of gluttonous wrath and ruin to their own irony and lose the pointedness that carried the rest of the record. They rob the record of a good cliffhanger by trying to tidy it up. Still, don’t dabble in some foppish contrarianism; this is a serious album of the year contender.
Link

Ghost Chief – Paint Leaves
Producer: Self-Produced with Jim Keaney
Label: Self- Released
Genre: Folk Punk, Emo Folk

Oh man, this was not as advertised. Do you like moshing to a folk soundtrack? Well, maybe you’ll like unleashing your inner emo to one. Ghost Chiefs somehow manage to combine the twee pluckiness of early Los Campesinos material with some raw emo rock mike swallowing. I like it and I don’t even like it when artists mike swallow! Oh and Jack Shirley mixed and mastered this thing; dude gets around.
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KOKOROKO – KOKOROKO (EP)
Producer: Self-Produced(?)
Label: Brownswood
Genre: Afrobeat, Instrumental Soul

All the promise in the opening notes of KOKOROKO display that Afrobeat style brimming with energy and then trimmed with free jazz noodles on leading cut “Adwa,” and an absolutely sublime guitar felt on “Abusey Junction,” but the middle of this record just devolves into instrumental soul and that’s not what Afrobeat signed up for. Where’s the flare? Where’s the pidgin message of oppression? Gone, leaving an EP half proficient, half unsurprising.
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Nick Waterhouse – Nick Waterhouse
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Innovative Leisure
Genre: R&B, Soul

If you couldn’t guess it, till now, yes, Nick Waterhouse really plays up that new-age reincarnation look of Buddy Holly. But here’s the thing: he still doesn’t sound like Buddy Holly—and that’s a good thing. His style intertwines, wraps, grips hard on the soul and funk elements that only accent a Black Keys LP. There’s a dangerous swank to Waterhouse’s eponymous fourth record that is all Waterhouse. The closest comparison is Eric Burdon and the Animals with more horns but even that cannot do
Nick Waterhouse
justice; this record manages to connect 1969 with 2019.
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SASAMI – SASAMI
Producer: Self-Produced with Joo-Joo Ashworth, & Thomas Dolas
Label: Domino
Genre: Indie Rock, Shoegaze

Wildin’ stats time: a lion share (90 to 95) percent of music is made for consumption; a lion share of that music made for consumption (somewhere north of 60 percent) is to be consumed mindlessly; and the percent that all these statistics came from my ass is a steamin’ Benjamin. But listening to SASAMI kind of reveals how jaded one can get listening to music written as melodic testimonials; no matter how much SASAMI can break her heart and mine over the course of forty-ish minutes, the temptation is conclude with “another one for the pile.” Not a bad pile, mind you, but another one for another pile nonetheless. Here’s my ultimate suggestion however, pull this one from the pile, dust it off and enjoy it—this shoegazing affair uses all the power of the rustle and whistle to make some efficacious slow tempo rock.
Link

Sigrid – Sucker Punch
Producer: Martin Sjølie,
Odd Martin Skalnes, Askjell Solstrand, Patrik Berger, et. al
Label: Universal Island Records
Genre: Electropop, Dance

If Sigrid wasn’t already before, her debut record will skyrocket her demand as an ace in the festival season undercards. Stitched together from the better part of her EPs, what’s most satisfying isn’t how high she reaches with lead singles, but how the deeper cuts fulfill the early inklings of orchestral dance (“Don’t Feel Like Crying”) or the bluesy Adele-like vocal warbles (“Dynamite”). For the casual fan, she does well to differentiate from Tove Lo’s heavier house dynamism of a bad girl with a conscience, the bar of measure for Scandinavian electronic vocalists for the near-future.
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VICTIME – Mi-tronc, mi-jambe
Producer: Simon Provencheur
Label: Self-Produced
Genre: Post-Punk

French experimental punk band, VICTIME seem to have gotten their wires crossed: trying to fuse together no wave and new wave into a screech jangling affair that sounds like some Thurston Moore tapes better left forgotten.
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March 15th

Baiuca – Misturas (EP)
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Raso Estudio
Genre: Indietronica, Galician Folk

I am a simple man. I hear Maghrebin influences and I like. Even when the indietronica doesn’t quite do that divine sound justice as with Ammar 808’s Maghreb United. Now, Baiuca might not be using any maghreb instruments, and the choral synchronicities with Berber chants might just be coincidence, but it’s done so well. Vocal dervishes exaulting the spirit at its most primal then there mashed together with heartstring and flute melodies, snapclap beats, bass punches and snare slaps. It’s cruel that this EP sounds so easy to make; really it’s just testament to how effortless it is to like the thing.
Link

The Brian Jonestown Massacre – The Brian Jonestown Massacre
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Tee Pee
Genre: Neo-Psychedelic Rock, Blues Rock

Maintaining standard is hard, man. Even when one hasn’t been in a biz for a long time; that creeping feeling of compromising tastes becomes known, becomes present, becomes hard to stave off. But just as sometimes this feeling gets bucked off for certain bands, other bands know just how to make people tick. The thing is, I like it when the Brian Jonestown Massacre do this space blues sound. And that it swings with the Allah-Las at the same time just puts a peach in my cobbler. It’s nothing amazing from Anton Newcombe and the gang, but it makes the passing of the days easier.
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CHAI – PUNK
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Sony Music
Genre: Dance-Punk

I don’t think any culture will ever attain the same level of zany as Japan’s. Yes, I just used zany nonironically to describe a culture with, let’s say, easily 1000 years on the United States. Likewise, CHAI’s Punk effort. It’s dance-punk taken to the logical Japanese extreme. It’s sugary-acid to the point of decaying your teeth. But you’d be too high to care. It’s Kero Kero Bonito but everyone in the band is a Powerpuff Girl. There’s four members. So that metaphor doesn’t really work. Guess what, I’m riding too high to care.
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The Comet is Coming – Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery
Producer: Tom Arndt
Label: Impulse
Genre: Nu-Jazz, Avant-Garde Jazz

Dr. Manhattan listens to Sun Ra. I’m sure of it. And the Comet is Coming, well, they listen to Sun Ra too; and being a Jazz troupe they’ve probably listened everything else in between too. But adeptly, they don’t step on any one other jazzman’s shoes. They play their game, they go to space, they live a life on Mars, but they make music for Earthlings as if Martians who only listened to the underground FM stations of the twentieth century. What’s evident from the start, however, is how much they want this record to be heard—no, really, the mixes are obsecenely loud, maximal affairs. Apparently they picked up the sound wars too.
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Danger Mouse and Karen O – Lux Prima
Producer: Danger Mouse
Label: BMG
Genre: Indie Rock, Experimental Soul

A gem, Danger Mouse sounds revitalized with Karen O in the booth and unconstrained to stretch their experimental sides; this ambient soul funk record is probably his most ambitious since Rome and his best since St. Elsewhere. Karen O matches it with some of her most haunted vocals yet. Together, they fill out a ghost-story collection of under-the-skin spookiness that could haunt any nightclub anywhere.
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Elizabeth Colour Wheel – Nocebo
Producer: Seth Manchester
Label: The Flenser
Genre: Shoegaze, Noise Rock

Elizabeth Colour Wheel are cheeky; edging their thundering toes to the line between noise rock and metal. Of course, these things are always more of a scale, but it’s pretty telling that these boys have tipped it. Curious though; they don’t seem to find any, well, (joy is too happy an idea,) let’s call it catharsis, in doing so. A little lacking in conviction despite the boneshred dread they’ve so clearly made their own. If the difference between metal and blues is that between the hunter and the hunted, then why does this particular hunter sound so lackadaisical about what he’s doing here. It feels less like the most dangerous game and more like the most boring frame.
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Flevans – Part Time Millionaire
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Jalapeno
Genre: Soul, Funk, Nu-Disco

There’s not much new here on Flevans’ fifth record—regardless if it’s new to him, that is—see this thing here is a simple soul record refreshed with disco tinges in that n-u style; Flevans is just mixing, layering, lathering it all together to give listeners that classic Sly-by-Chic Sunday soul record. It’s a step below the headinessof the .Paak, but that’s no dig; .Paak can get a little too lo-fi for his own health. And anymore flattery would ruin this record, so don’t twist your head off when Laura Vane belts it out on “Ex-Factor” like the second coming of the black Mary Magdalene, the famous Ms. Lauryn Hill. Flevans smartly dials back the piano, letting the organ, bass and drums carry this cover cut with a glide. The downside? No cathartic guitar solo to see us off. So sure, Flevans plays clever, but the emotion is being poured in by his guest singers.
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The Hazzah – Post
Producer: Michiel Mutsaerts
Label: Mink
Genre: Garage Rock, Alt-Country

Fuzz is, among other things, fanatically overrated—they ain’t bad, but as with any semi-good symbolic band (Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, Tame Impala), they get hoisted. Well, I’m a hoister and so are The Hazzah. Aptly named, but not sure about this alt-country appelation; it’s about as right as the Rolling Stones were considered alt-country. They might be to country as Weezer are to independent rock. Yeah, but no. And really, they’re hoisting these influences high and mighty (but never too much, less we all grumble comparisons to Greta van Fleet in low tones of disdain). I’ll take it, what is a debut supposed to be if not some sort of overall rip-off or covering affair? Beatles did it, Stones did it, Zeppelin sure as fucking hell did it, the Hazzah do it. The lasting cultural contribution of rock and roll, folks, finding something and making it your own.
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HVOB – Rocco
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: [PIAS]
Genre: Deep House

It’s always a struggle with electronically sourced melodies, beats, harmony; always a struggle to identify if there is something human behind the music. Mr. Fingers, breaking ground, might have known this. Might have not. But he was afforded the affection of being one of the first. Moby’s Play, well that’s a different story; you try to avoid words like “heart” and “soul” when describing musicality and motivations and in that way music writers becomes a car aficionados gushing over Alfa Romeos. But Play, now that was a sleek package. Every bit of pedigree was evident in that set of wheels, 4C power in a fourth record. So, where does HVOB come into this wax? Well, it’s simple; when I have to say that it feels like there is no “heart” or “soul” in the record, then there really is nothing going for it. Sure it gets moody and exploratory, but it’s long-winded, unwieldly, taking too long to accelerate to an unimpressive top speed. At least Silk and Trialog had the decency to cut back somewhat and the debut gets an overall pass for being a long-form introduction, but aïe, aïe, aïe, I have to ask if this double long-player could have done with a little more elegance in its engineering; cutting off the unneccesary toggley wobbley bits on either side of the engine. Huh, guess I’ll just have to keep listening and wondering.
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infinite bisous – period
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Tasty Morsels
Genre: Dreampop, lo-fi

This record is a five out of five, as in, upon playing, five out of five hours. All of them knocked. That is the true mark of an infinite bisous’ record. Can you fall asleep to it and then awaken without a subconcious hatred of the tunes? Glad to say that with period, that you can, and, even better, once you’re awake you will have a solid record to enjoy for a spin before finding something with more of a pulse. Much in the Beach House fashion, this isn’t music for every waking moment, folks; it’s music for the resting ones. But unlike in the Beach House fashion; people can admit it’s a snoozer.
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Nanami Ozone – NO
Producer: Alec Noni-Muss
Label: Tiny Engines
Genre: Indie Rock, Noisepop

When an indie rock band doesn’t want to fully commit to the noise, we get a record like this. Some people will postively puke out the putrid words, “noise pop” to describe it—but I fucking refuse. That’s selling this twee Phoenician quartet the short-stick—and they’re the ones with a good record to sell, no less! Sophie Opich works her Rachel Goswell vocal angle while the rest of the band plays at a decible higher than shoegaze and a couple lower than noise rock. It’s a most gosh darn adorable tweegaze record on the market this year, and somehow I think will it stay that way.
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Oozing Wound – High Anxiety
Producer: Self-Produced with Gregoire Yeche
Label: Thril Jockey
Genre: Sludge Metal, Noise Rock

It’s often stated that metal is violent. In reality, it’s a purifying sponge. I just don’t listen to metal often, having made the divorce final with Blue Öyster Cult’s Fire of Unknown Origin, but Oozing Wound hit something with High Anxiety, either by riding the universe’s vibes of outed anger, gorging on culturally enshrined stupidity or complaining about that tween shitbag who plays FortNite and would simultaneously call you a faggot while boasting his sexual prowess with, who else, your mom. I would be angry about it, but Oozing Wound beat me there.
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March 22nd

Andrew Bird – My Finest Work Yet
Producer: Self-Produced with Paul Butler
Label: Loma Vista
Genre: Chamber, Singer-Songwriter, Indie Folk

Virtuoso and idiosyncratic, Bird does what he does best and melds chamber, folk and singer-songwriter traditions together while discarding his his more neo-classical compulsions from Echolocations: River. There’s no time to lose on My Finest Work Yet, waxing on the absurdity of health pills, civil cold wars and online vitriol and making peace with the modern times. Hell, the recreation of Jacques-Louis David’s Death of Marat should speak plenty of how dire Bird finds America’s current predicament; hence his attempts to summon the feel of pre-electric Dylan into his lyricism, mixing it with literature and scripture to build arguments covering many bases. So you can bet he’s still haute-culture, but you have to listen for it a little harder.
Link

Avey Tare – Cows on Hourglass Pond
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Domino
Genre: Neo-Psychedelia

Really, hypnagogia and neo-psychedelia should just count as one as the same—the intent is the same and to the untrained ear (read: most consumers) the differences don’t exist. So instead of getting all highbrow critical, sorting tape machine recordings from delay-based synthesizers, I propose we just call it all Neo-Pyschedelia and call it a day. Avey Tare agrees and does his best to combine the two into one cohesive argument here; with the music dabbling in the same
ambient haze of AnCo’s Tangerine Dream, while still putting together a pulse à la Ariel Pink. Wirey, phased out vocals, freeform solos, electric cowbell percussion, the occasional acoustic guitar, they all weave together in Cows on Hourglass Pond to create the first certified GOOD neo-psychedelia record this year.
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Capsula – Bestiarium
Producer: Self-Produced (?)
Label: Silver
Genre: Psychedelic Rock

Neo-psychedelic surf rock is certainly en vogue when pre-dated bands like Capsula have jumped into the mix; offering their spin on a La-Luz-by-Oh-Sees-by-Fuzz mélange-à-trois but without sounding nearly as inspired as any other band doing it too. Capsula just sound like Ghost King who sound like Segall when he was doing this shit for demos with Jon Dwyer. Capsula are no instrumental schlubs, it’s true, but Bestiarium is just stale as hell. They would have done better to take a single angle and lean into it with occasional accents, rather than take all three and murk them into a sloppier-than-needed goop of all three because they’re trying to sound like someone else, the problem is I don’t even think they know who that would be.
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CROWS – Silver Tongues
Producer: Self-Produced (?)
Label: Balley Records
Genre: Post-Punk, Punk Rock

There is a certain magnanimity to this popular revivification of ancient styles, an effervescent bubbling over of stylistic re-review after the dog years of the hip-hop revolution and the “alternative” rock imperium. It’s not that the underground did not exist, it’s that the public consciousness had lost interest in it. The new revival of new wave, “second wave” become ever more apparent in this, as has its grittier, more belligerent brother, post-punk. CROWS, a typographic and sonic contemporary to Joe Talbot’s IDLES (and signed to his label) and well, that’s about it, the songwriting might swirl in indecision between punk, post-punk and new wave, but its fatal wound came when I asked myself if
Silver Tongues was a
pseudo’d IDLES record the entire time.
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Dream Ritual – Trips Around the Sun
Producer: Self-Produced (?)
Label: 693977 Records DK
Genre: Alternative Rock, Psychedelic Rock

It’s fair to say this record is a bit of psychedelic sure. But as soon as “Breathe In” finishes, it’s gulping garage rock by the gallons—it’s more akin to some sort of half-in, half-out stoner rock at times. Stoner Grunge, even, which “Outside Your Window” does admirably. But at no point do I feel the psychic peel that it purports to have. The best that could be said forTrips Around the Sun is that it performs The Wall trick to middling results as if it were the trump card to the game when really it’s just a high-five to the self.
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Flume – Hi This Is Flume
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Future Classic
Genre: Glitchhop, Deconstructed House

Ahh, the mixtape, the electronic and hip-hop equivalent of impromptu spitballing and combobulation. The sketch book to the long-play canvas. Flume’s second LP Skin, was big—too big—and Hi This Is Flume is the kickback reaction; Flume’s just looking for features and collabs that don’t lend themselves to stadium shows but to a Boiler Room set. This thing glides in a way that Skin dreamed it could and allows for more of Flumes glitchy, futurebass sounds to just ooze into each other before being chopped up Benihana style by JPEGMAFIA bars, Eprom collabs and SOPHIE remixes. It’s also not as bloated as Skin, presumably because it’s arrival isn’t dead in the water, but also because it soaks up all 38-minutes of runtime without turning to a soggy, sopping mess.
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Ibibio Sound Machine – Doko Mien
Producer: Max Grunhard, Tony Hayden
Label: Merge
Genre: Afro-Funk, Electrosoul

Ibibio Sound Machine is the type of future Talking Heads presented to us in “I Zimbra,” not one curated by white artists in the slimy post-punk slums of Seventies London, but one powered by a fusion of West African immigrants in the high-tech wizardry of a society struggling for a path to post-scarcity. One thing not in short supply on Doko Mien is creativity; they’ve given up a bit of new wave and moved towards Chic-like discofunk—that chucka-chucka guitar no lie, man—but in doing so they incorporate a bit of Tuareg blues and major electrosoul vibrations. Eno Williams and the gang are cooking on Doko Mien and inching closer and closer to M.I.A.’s title as Britain’s premiere world music act.
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Marble Arch – Children of the Slump
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Géographie
Genre: Dreampop

The other day I made a declaration: I don’t like dreampop—it’s crawling with too many disaffected sad bastards and bastardettes for me to enjoy. And yeah, I fucking know—the xx are criminal in this regard—but at least they realize that dreampop in-and-of-itself is no longer an album seller; so they send out Jamie xx to do some fieldwork and bring back house and soul elements while Romy and Sims perfect their guitarwork at the cost of putting ANY EMOTION WHATSOEVER in to their lyrics. But that’s alright, it works most of the time. But… uh, shit, this was supposed to be a Marble Arch impression and well, that’s the thing, as much as this French shoegazer imbibes on this whole Dream Academy jive he at least has the courtesy to stick closer to that Galaxie 500 source and even insert some classic Eighties ballad guitar work auf Spandau Ballet, most notably on the tail end of “Today.” So no, I don’t like dreampop, I like dreampop when the artists go beyond it.
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Orville Peck – Pony
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Sub Pop
Genre: Singer-Songwriter, Alt-Country

Mix Chris Isaak, Elvis Presley, some general Eighties stadium reverb of the Bon Jovie type and a sparse instrumentation that warbles between shoegaze and psychedelic folk and you still couldn’t match the slow burn affair of Orville Peck’s Pony. It’s like an entire record compilation of “Wicked Game” vibes with one glaring exception: this cowpoke’s been poking around the pies and found some colour-inducing caps. It’s heartbreak on the Badlands horizon, so just sit for a while and admire Pony like you admire that big ol’ sky—she’ll never let ya down.
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Ritual Howls – Rendered Armor
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: felte
Genre: Goth Rock, Post-Punk

Rendered Armor is the type of the record that sounds like it came out in 1983 and Ritual Howls sounds like the kind of band that wears all-black, skin-tight leather, jack boots and sunglasses that barely cover its eyes. And that because it would and, actually, they should. They really did just say fuck it to everything else in between then and now and made a record that would b-give, give Bauhaus a run for its money. I mean, er, I’m not complaining, I’m just, er, just laughing. Paul Bancell sells the lyric: “The roses are melting, dripping with science, dripping with hope” too, er, too fucking well and I really don’t know how to deal with it.
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The Sh-Booms – The Blurred Odyssey
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Limited Fanfare
Genre: Garage Rock, Soul

Good God, this is just excruciating—nearly 40 minutes of garage and soul—the second record this month I’ve done the service to listen with this genre-clash and invariably the worse. At least Bencoolen could pass off as well-paced and punchy and even then I feel like my premiere piece on Atwood Magazine gave too much positivism in place of what was solidly serviceable. The opposite of a hit piece. So allow me to right the ship: The Sh-Booms epic aims of the The Blurred Odyssey only manage to make flou the lines of mediocrity. It’s not that the entire record is bad—they just have a violent fascination playing with a thrashing vomit garage-rock brand for far too long and drown out the more interesting Sixties beach R&B, black and white swirl sonic that just complements the soul in a way that their alt-rock propensity fails. Shit, the album-ending cut, “The Final Sleep,” might be the best one on the record because it finally lets you, I dunno, BREATHE. Even Sabbath knew that if you wanted to be a fucking riot, you have to at least pump some goddamn space and oxygen halfway through the record.
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Vendredi sur Mer – Premiers émois
Producer: Lewis OfMan
Label: Profil de Face
Genre: Electropop

Barbie Lafebvre is brune, petite, and chic. Contures that cut diamonds, aviators that hide amethysts. She goes to the beach. Sometimes with friends, sometimes just alone. This is one of those days alone, vendredi sur la mer. She has an AM/FM radio from the eighties, y’know the one, small, black, rectangular, grilled with a slight warm fuzz. She smokes cigarettes, puts them out in the sand and leaves them for the gulls to pick around. Life ain’t nothing but a phase; people ain’t nothing but some means; music ain’t nothing but a sound. And this biopic summary is just like chère Barbie; she’ll drop you off right where you were found. Horny and confused.
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Wallows – Nothing Happens
Producer: John Congleton
Label: Atlantic
Genre: Garage Rock, Shoegaze, Electropop

Well this is just fucking criminal man; most weeks only get one or two records for the year end lists but March 22nd, 2019, well this one might well go down with five big ones. It’s funny too, considering this all might change by years ends, but Wallows’ Nothing Happens is just the right formula: a Garage Rock base marinated in notes of Electropop and Shoegaze, fucking “Scrawny” is your Diary of a Wimpy Kid cum summerbop come early. I mean, when mother earth is moving the schedule up summer, why not start rolling out the hits early? They even throw some latin horn flares on “Ice Cold Pool,” pushing some soulgaze out to keep this hotbox fresh. And when you need cooling off, look to the the B-Sides on this long-player. I mean, aw hell, March has just been a good month for rock n’ roll fans and Wallow just showcases how spoiled for choice they are this month.
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March 29th

Billie Eilish – WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Darkroom/Interscope
Genre: Electropop,
Bizarropop

If you didn’t know Billie Eilish, you would have thought her the ghoulish princess of electropop, a little shopkeep of musical horrors, and WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? does nothing to allay this sense of creeping creepiness. Simultaneously trying to lull you asleep and warn you of the monsters under the eyelids, her vocals are ASMR threats and coos, and at times she places hard limiters on her bassier tracks, leading to disconcertion via distortion. Something has possessed this woman creatively and if you’re already a fan, you’ll love it; if you’re a general observer, you will be intrigued by it; but I don’t know if much observers will stick by Eilish’s heavily idiosyncratic bizarropop proclivities.
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Chris Cohen – Chris Cohen
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Captured Tracks
Genre: Singer-Songwriter, Neo-Psychedelia

Folk neo-psychedelia is a weird genre type. It’s broadly a minimalist aural affair; kind of like space punctuated by sound, but without the pure quantum melodicism (or lackthereof) of free jazz. Singer-Songwriter, on the other-hand is the soft-rock of folk and bluegrass genres. Yeah it’s folk-eeeee, but it’s not quite folk. So sure, Chris Cohen is by all accounts playing on similar vibes to James Taylor, but with radically different sonic results. I thought this was a Damon Albarn solo record (and a fucking bizarre one at that) for the first three tracks, but no, that’s Cohen. And has me curious; curious to hear Avey Tare or Tobacco go acoustic and gentile—“Edit Out” is a cloudwatching anthem and a sonic that could house some more tenants.
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Garcia Peoples – Natural Facts
Producer: Self-Produced with Jeff Zeigler
Label: Beyond Beyond is Beyond
Genre: Psychedelic Rock, Jam Band

Garcia Peoples can’t really wait to let you know how much like they loved the great ones: Jerry Garcia, Duane Allman, Dickey Betts, Tom Verlaine, Richard Lloyd, the guys who knew how to jam and new how to noodle. They portend to be a part of this group, but I’m not so sure. See I like it when a jam band actually, I dunno, jams and doesn’t just work in little noodles around their songs. It might flow better if I have some cannabisical favours and flavours rolling around inside me, but that’s a poor litmus test. Good psychedelia is the drug and Natural Facts no matter how folksy or outdoorsy it tries to be, is just chock-full of bobo melodies. It really just sounds like a couple dudes from Jersey mucking about with guitars and moaning about vaguely proto-philosophical mary-janeisms and if there’s one thing psychedelia is about, it’s a place of mind, not a sense of place.
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Laura Stevenson – The Big Freeze
Producer: Self-Produced with Joe Rogers
Label: Don Giovanni
Genre: Indie Folk, Sing-Songwriter

Yes, there’s the woo of Emmylou Harris, swaggering down the roadside, but Stevenson sings more akin to a pop vocalist rather than an interstate vagabond; not as much weather on the chords, I’m afraid. And yes, there’s a big-brew-sky offering the little comfort that it can, but this time it’s not blue and the “Hawks” caught outside now have to contend with the rain. It’s the smallest “big-bluegrass” sound that Stevenson puts on the record, employing reverb to make her voice resonate and reflect like a tidepool caught in Kansas. It’s not natural, but it looks and sounds good and it glides the track right into “Big Deep.” And just like a person caught in the tidepool caught in Kansas, the segue is shivering cool.
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Lower Slaughter – Some Things Take Work
Producer: Self-Produced (?)
Label: Box Records
Genre: Garage Rock, Hard Rock

Self-described noise rockers, Lower Slaughter, do more harm than good by calling themselves noise rockers then making a record that never amounts to such. There’s nothing wrong in this record being a run-of-the-mill garage rock record. It does the job quite well and thankfully I was tipped off in that direction by the noble indieheads over on reddit. But if I hadn’t, if I had gone in to this expecting a noise rock affair and instead receiving garage-rock-rabble, there would be a markedly different attitude in this here blurb. Moreover, I think Lower Slaughter would do better to actually discover their noise rock sound rather than rely on fairly standard grunge licks and disaffected soul singing. They sound tired and while Some Things Take Work, some things require too much work for too little return. This garage rock sound is one of them.
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Marvin Gaye – You’re the Man
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Motown
Genre: R&B, Soul

Most “recovered” projects usually never pan out well; always keep the expectations low. Last year’s Coltrane package via Impulse! was meticulously curated by Ravi, but it wasn’t exactly a screamer. Coltrane heads would be keen to collect it, but much like Zeppelin’s Coda, it’s not absolutely necessary. So then, is You’re the Man ultimately necessary for someone looking to bridge the gap between the street slanging What’s Going On and the supplicating Let’s Get It On? Well, I can guarantee it roughly crosses the thematic crevasse, switching between the political and spiritual on a dime, hell, it even does throwbacks to the classical Motown sound; but it also could do without the SalaAM ReMi remixes as much as Thriller 25th Anniversary edition could do without Kanye West and will.i.am reworks. Gaye doesn’t need someone to spruce his message up when “Politics and hypocrites/ Is turning us all into lunatics” proves a more prescient line in 2019 than it was in 1972. Gaye’s augurations aside, even the down-side cuts demonstrate just what we had nearly lost; the smattering of side-project singles sound like they should be a part of the actual record’s runtime and not just tacked on peripheries. Hell, they prove the simplest truth: we came for the Marvin, and Marvin is all we need.
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Quelle Chris – Guns
Producer: Self Produced with Dane, Chris Keys
Label: Mello
Genre: Abstract Hip-Hop, Jazz Rap

I thought I was joking when I mentioned Donald Trump has become the best lyrical gift for songwriters and MC’s looking to inject topicality into their music. Like silicone to the ass, it’s unnatural yet standardized, beautiful revulsion: “I-could-stand-in-the-middle-of-5th-avenue-and-shoot-somebody-and-I-wouldn’t-lose” is broken up word-by-word by third party persons and caps off Quelle Chris’ “It’s the Law” and his simmering anger on legal double-standards wrapped up in a louche, slithering bassline that recalls MF Doom, “your favourite rapper’s favourite rapper.” Quelle (pronounced Kwel-A) works this angle, abstraction menacante, into a jazzier space, like he’s just a New-York-stones’-throw away from Harlem but close enough to a lo-fi Lower East Side, y’know what I mean—it’s all artsy and shit—that instead of your youtube study beats channel, all you political scientist majors could just put this record on and go on your way, enjoying your Dialogues and your Guns.
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Ty Segall & Freedom Band – Deforming Lobes (Live Album)
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Drag City
Genre: Psychedelic Rock, Garage Rock

Ty Segall is not a man; he’s a machine, a project, a collective. A Miles Davis. A Pink Floyd. A Ty Segall. Difference is with Miles Davis and Pink Floyd is I have the in with those groups. With Ty Segall things are harder. I’ve not consumed every Ty Segall product, but that speaks more to the sheer cliff of output Segall has managed in a period of 10 years, moving from aJohn Dwyer understudy to the three-hundred album man, then to a weakness of the flesh. Regardless, these are impressions, and on first impression Segall is at once a standard-bearer and an outfit apart from the garage psychedelia of his peers. On Deforming Lobes he moves from puckish Eric Burdon bluesboy vocals to shredding, tone-delayed riff-and-chord-work as if he’s trying to play Television or Replacement licks with the stage presence of Mark Knopfler. Much like the Dire Straits, the crowd is! there to see him. But unlike King Tuff’s Live at Third Man Records “official” bootleg, this record trades live ambiance for studio-like fidelity. You wouldn’t even know if this were a live record had they not faded in audience noise at the end of each track. It’s probably one of the easier Segall products to digest and probably a good buy for some newbie curious to get in on action (even if only chalked together with b-sides and even if probably marketed for the veterans). So as a record, it’s good stuff, but as a live record, it’s kind of just not.
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White Denim – Side Effects
Producer: Self-Produced (?)
Label: City Slang
Genre: Psychedelic Rock

So thas it? We some kinda, uh, sui-side-b squad?”

I like to think that’s what these cuts would say if they had sentience. And it makes since, considering that this album fits together like multiple pieces from multiple puzzles from multiple years, accrued by White Denims mercurial transformation from noise-punk to garage-psych to jazz-and-jam. The highlights are evident: the off-kilter “Hallelujah Strike Gold,” the whacky neo-psych “NY Money,” the baritone bumper “Introduce Me.” The problem too, is evident: the record kind of languishes between them with cuts more like curios than actual curations. As a record, this is the antique roadshow interupting White Denim’s regularly scheduled programs. Side Effects is for the eclectic, the curious, those devoted enough to spend a Jackson for three nuggets and six oddities.
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Pony: Orville Peck’s first in class debut

a2255775736_16From the horses jowls, judge, I damn well hurd Orville Peck neigh and burr it himself, I swears on it!: “Psychedelic outlaw cowboy croons love and loss from the badlands of North America.”

Well, golly, Sub Pop, I never knew a horse could write too. This muss be sum kind o’ Pony, muss be sum sorta showhorse, muss be sum sorta stallion to be so broken up over mares past and passin’ by his tourwagon on the ol’ rodeo trail. The road never felt so empty and lonely and ready to go a-rockin’ ‘n’ a-rollin’ with little cares to them lumps in your beatin’ heart. Sweet baby James, ain’t it sad? Not so, judge, y’see, Peck gets it. He understands that if yer gonna slow ‘er down, get it ‘er done, see ‘er through, yew better know what yew’re holdin’ lest yew start foldin’ and by good golly gosh, I mean goddamn if Peck’s voice ain’t a King-high straight—Presley, Cash, Robbins and Isaak—all right in a row.

Ya see dis cowpoker knows: yew can’t ever capture no “Queen of the Rodeo,” can’t ever transform ‘er intew yer very own empress of the plains; but here come’s Peck, “Ye’re ridden out with nowhere else to go,” he drawls out. Yeah, she’s wild, yeah, she’s free and yeah, she’s rough goin’, all us sorry suckers know it too, damn fools, each and everyone who mistook a Bertha for a sweet Melissa, we jus don’ wan’admit it. But here come’s Peck, he knows how it is—her life is his—so while all us saps just keep bluffin’ on pairs missing one for the trip, he has the blues to put us dumb romantics in our place: “You know the tune so the words don’t matter, beyond this town lies a life much sadder.”

Well hot shit, if Peck is sellin’ the real deal, then this carpetbagger best be believin’ the snake oil; he really did see them last great plain parades on “Buffalo Run.” That cha-ris-ma oozes when the wheels blow out and the trips just don’t come, because even when he loses, he plays for him and his:I caught you staring at the sun, looking out for number one.” He plays like he ain’t got nothin’ to lose, guitar runnin’ on empty, voice singin’ on fumes, he crashes on the shoulder before strikin’ a barter. Your whole tank, his last cigarillo. Looks like he might just make the rodeo after all. And before you get mad at this black mask rider, “don’t cry, you’re just another boy caught in the rye.”

See, Orville Peck understands the “Old” West. You won’t survive out there if you can’t wheel-and-deal like the rest; so if you’re the sad one, tradin’ it all for the tobacco, then you ain’t got no one to blame beside yourself. No judgment, that’s just how it is, all the tautologies in the world understand: keep on keepin’ on isn’t just advice, it’s a way of life. In that way Peck ain’t just a successor to your down-on-his-luck cowboy, he’s a successor to the steel riders, mirroring Jon Bon Jovi’s penchant for a big-sound style to match the ever bigger sky (no small wonder that’s where the planes fly—they’ve got so much space!), he’s a ranchero who watched the farms swallow the plains, a granger who watched the roads carve up the farms, a trucker who watches the robots fill up the roads. See, Peck understands: one way or another, jingoisms grow stale and ponies grow old.

The pacing, then, tracks anything from sunrise to set; “Dead of Night” to “Kansas” goes from dawn to an early lunch, “Old River” and “Big Sky” feel like solitude at high-noon, “Roses Are Falling” rings in the evening and “Nothing Fades Like the Light,” well, y’know what I mean. But yours truly has indeed ripped records over pacing so slow and dreary; so what gives? Why is Pony so different?

Because Peck’s voice is heavyweight and it punches with all the force of a boxer realizing he’s no longer a contender. A main street route hollowed out to an alleyway beat. One Isley Brother who’s lost his other. It’s like an entire record compilation of “Wicked Game” vibes with some exceptions. One: steel guitar, not your regular cowboy’s instrument of choice, but an effective one no less. Two: this cowpoke’s no doper, he’s been pokin’ ‘round the pies for some colour-inducin” caps. Result: a whole lot of space with which to relax. No need to hurry happiness, no reason to break down and cry, just sit, breathe, watch the funny squiggles, and let the past pass with every cut, every strum, every note.

None need hang up over the big sads: girls, trucks, dogs. Usually pop country records sprinkle beer and the open road as it goes. What’s refreshin’ is that Peck decided to subtract the dog, generalize the relationships and keep the album focused on the sky and the road. It’s country as intended, not as sold. The instrumentation is so simple and the moods so sparse, that what we have here is a record that does more with less—think like what xx did to electropop, but in a different direction—this record returns to an old Fifties cowboy blues record spruced up with Eighties production values: “reverb’ration, reverb’ration, reverb’ration.” But that’s not what makes this big iron such a dead ringer. It’s all that lyricism that I wax to. Pointed, but blunt, abrasive but smooth, old but, well, y’know.

Pony deals together twelve hands with the same message: there’s always a heartbreak on the Badlands horizon, so just sit for a while and admire Pony like the big ol’ highway sky—she’ll never let ya down.

Album Artist: Orville Peck
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Sub Pop
Genre: Singer-Songwriter, Alt-Country
Tracklist:

    1. Dead of Night”
    2. Winds Change”
    3. Turn to Hate”
    4. Buffalo Run”
    5. Queen of the Rodeo”
    6. Kansas (Remembers Me Now)”
    7. Old River”
    8. Big Sky”
    9. Roses Are Falling”
    10. Take You Back (The Iron Hoof Cattle Call)”
    11. Hope to Die”
    12. Nothing Fades Like the Light”

Bottle It In: Kurt Vile tours his back-alley kingdom

Back allbottle-it-in-coverey cats crawl, miaoul and frazzle, hissing hard for a scrap where the down-on-their-luck fix to make tracks, leaving as quick as they got there, pound pavement by the miles, never realizing where they stand is where they might just be staying for a while, waiting for that deal to go down—as bad as they are ungrateful—spending another day-in-the-life running from something in particular to nowhere hidden, out-of-contact or just downright irregular; there’s just too many squares blocking around in this goshdarn fleamarket not to be recognized somewhere, not to catch a glance, hark it and remark it: “hey haven’t I seen or read or heard this before?” Wipe the dust and hide the glare, get lost in that look of the author, that distant eyed stare, or the guitarist, that wick wit’ flare—whether a cold scowl or a snarling grimace-growl, it’s all in them jowls—encircled by a vinyl-pressed halo, what a dude, what a goober, he’s a street angel, probably spent his early day hustling the corners, scouting for the best street angles.

You might think it’s age but really it’s taste right from bottle, wear worn right on jacket, sold faulty with the throttle. The record just lazes and only switches ‘twixt two gears, a fair few tracks just go ear-to-ear and others beckons you here, on the beanbag between the stereo to actually listen instead of leaving your attention in the smoke pillows, cloudwatching the shapes all-a-cannabisical, purple elephants don’t exist except in grayscale and we should refuse to believe that Kurt Vile hasn’t tried medical—he knows the good shit—but he’s a better breath inhaled from guitar to needle to speaker and there’s not a stress-filled day he can’t handle. And his latest effort is no different; just a man and his band and his guitar and some tunes ready to jam, stretch it out and digs his claws into the fuzzy warm carpet, waxing Hobbes to your Calvin.

Summer’s end is a theme among many but this released just as I was thinking when will this summer get bent before vinyl the on Bottle it In warps and bends? It’s happening I believe but these croyances have too much to grieve, too much nuances—Kurt’s never been about that, he’s always been simple:

Oh he’s spoken of beliefs going down, spoken of the smoke rung halos, been the slacker soundtrack coming in, decade too late; “where were you man?” Richard Linklater says, incredulous, “the movie’s done and wrapped, DVD boxset, Blu-Rays coming next.” Guess he didn’t get the memo: what’s the continent but not a bigger island? Cuz somehow Kurt Vile is stranded incognito, in an awkward phase between masterpieces still proving he’s a master too. To who? No one in particular, hazard a guess. Even he knows a record has a shelf-life, even he knows when a record is ripe for the flea market pickings. Just a shame he Jeff Beck’d it and made a record too good for the album art’s intent and purpose, no one’s going to secondhand this record ‘cuz no one should, not unless they’re desparate; it might not be his most astonishing but it is his most solid. Whether Blow by Blow or a Cry of Love, 462 Ocean Boulevard or a Wake of the Flood, a Moonflower or just plain Songs from the Wood, this record takes stock between them all—on the cusp of something great, but instead choosing to stay in a mood.

Not quite as eclectic as Walkin On a Pretty Daze or melancholic like Smoke Ring for My Halo, not as gung-ho as b’lieve I’m going down… or primeval as Childish Prodigy and everything that came before, Kurt Vile is in Mayertown—the mid-career-crisis—and he’s handling it well; he’s cooped up in the industrial parks, hiding out by the byways rather than making moves on mainstreet, looking for inspiration in the shape of oil on water, he has no one to answer to and, hell, he even says so:

I park for free”

He knows the parking officer routes like he knows the notes on his guitars—he can feel them even when they’re not there. But let’s be honest “Loading Zones” is just standard fare. So taking a leaf from Jimi’s book, Kurt decides forward can only be achieved backwards and whether by audio wizardry or just plain technical showboatery, blows out at ten-minute epic, “Bassackwards” perfect for lazing under the hot September sun, watching heat wiggle, warble, worm everything from the ground up and on. Along the whole cut Peter Katis has you second guessing if it’s a guitar riff layered in reverse or just an accordion-synth breathing hoarse and what bubbles to surface might be Mary Lattimore’s harp or buddy Bob Laakso’s bass or even Kurt’s voice, but what pops is Barbara Gruska’s kick drum and Kurt’s fingerpicking pace. Eventually, you won’t care to note, just to enjoy—the track alone is worth the admission price.

But it contains no important moments or career-shifts and it highlights no change in attitude or demeanor, meaning this Kurt Vile record won’t be considered his best; most people probably won’t remember it after the first press.

Maybe a few casual diehards and lackadaisical collectors, the common consumer clay of the industry, y’know, walking oxymorons, will have picked it up last minute at the record shop. But most? Most’ll be back at the old open air market, replete with crystal pendants and hand-stitched attire and some crazy old guy with wispy white hair, khaki shorts and stacks of old vinyl ready to be sold off for debts. No matter where, they should pick this record up, haggle it and take it home. They probably haven’t heard it in a while, haven’t listened to it for even longer—probably don’t remember all the things it could do to make ’em smile, close their eyes and dive; in the past or in the moment, Kurt Vile’s Violaters are playing to foment, there brewing a better record for later, but this long-player plays like the future never mattered.

Album Artist: Kurt Vile and the Violaters

Label: Matador

Producers: Kurt Vile, Rob Laakso, Rob Schnapp, Peter Katis and Shawn Everett

Genre: Blues Rock, Psychedelic Folk, Singer-Songwriter

Tracklist:

  1. Loading Zones
  2. Hysteria
  3. Yeah Bones
  4. Bassackwards
  5. One Trick Ponies
  6. Rollin with the Flow
  7. Check Baby
  8. Bottle It In
  9. Mutinies
  10. Come Again
  11. Cold Was the Wind
  12. Skinny Mini
  13. (bottle back)

 

Post-Earth: FEELS better, FEELS good

feelspostearth

FEELS never really “burst” on to the scene, although their eponymous debut record definitely would have you think it.

The post-punk proto-metal mashup did quite the job of summoning some sonic squalls; but it never had the production to take it from demo-tape sensibilities to stellar debut. Nor did it have the depth to have anyone believe this was some sort of post-punk stadium sellout act. What it did do however, was show the listeners what kind of beach FEELS would be hanging from. And with Post-Earth are looking for waves on which to start exposing refined tricks.

Shannon Lay’s fingerpicking-good melodies are incredible across the record, “Awful Need,” “Post Earth” and “Tollbooth,” all hole-in-the-wall testaments to dredge-full rock; but “Find a Way” remains the gamechanger—a surf rock cut with some rancor; reminiscent of La Luz if Shana Cleveland and the gang finished every instrumental refrain by throwing back their heads and coming up with fangs out for the vocal chorus. A wholly unsurprising turn of affairs when you realize Ty Segall rules LA as an underground lizard king. Not being the biggest Segallcore nerd out there, it’s surprising how many of his related artists still tick my boxes between mild curiosity and vested interest. That FEELS recall La Luz is certainly not the worst thing—there are worse bands out there to harmonize with—it’s just sort of the nature of a crowded music scene; artists will end up standing back-to-back, taking a similar vibe into opposite directions. In much the same way that La Luz play neo-surf rock psychedelia, FEELS play post-surf punk psychedelia. The problems come when bands repeat themselves insufferable singer-songwriter nausea, delving so far into their personal world that they lack the wont to expand. Hell, if I ever write a memoir book, it’ll be a once-per-every-twenty years type of deal. But to digress, they blew that shit all out of their system with Feels and so decided the best way to rile up the acid ducts on Post Earth was to just start spitting. Téléphone would be proud.

This doesn’t save them entirely from the headscratching moments, though; on “Tollbooth,” the band does their best to mock-up early-Nineties Pixies, but play too hard with the extremes. Even Francis Black wasn’t mad enough to destroy eardrums for only fifteen seconds out of a two minute track—the twiddling melody was easily enough. They do a much better job putting that rancid explosion of veritable spleen into “Deconstructed,” which just goes the full Trompe le Monde, hollering, moshing and jumping straight into the cathartic “Find a Way.” Oppositely, “W.F.L.” hangs-ten right off the wave, but in anti-climatic air; the cut never assimilates well into the long-winded introlude of “Sour.”

Amy Allen, feeling left out, finally chimes in and refocuses the cut with a fingerlicking good bassline, leading the outfit in righteous cacophonies of wrath and ruin; the track runs tense, a cable wire that, once it cuts back, won’t cut clean. On the cusp of a fight, it flees street-by-street, flying abreast to “Find a Way” as prime examples of how to inject melody into grimey aural environs: with urgency. Together they form a perfect soundtrack for an LA remake of The Warriors (Hollywood, forget I said this). The thing is however, FEELS are so maddeningly coy on “Sour” that one worries there will be no loose wires—that this gang of Rexy’s won’t break out the cage and rampage all the way up LA. Just in time the combined fury of Lay and Geronimo hurricanes and FEELS come to frenzy.

They are kept in pace by Michael Perry Rudes, who runs under this record with phenomenally tight drumming top-to-bottom. None better than on “Last Chance” and “Post Earth,” where Rudes flexes with little drummer boy tom-toms before storming into some serious dogs of war drum fills; Rudes’ constant presence in the mix comes down to Tim Green’s solid production ideas. FEELS refrains from the truly experimental, stealing heavily from the Sonic Youth-school of primeval grunge records for measured forays into feedback and reverb. Along the long-player it mostly works out fine, but can get them into trouble. “Anyways,” one of the weaker tracks on the record, plods with a sort of half-hearted menace, attempting to mimic the “Deconstructed” vibe but with vastly more well-developed parts. The result is something that shoots itself in the foot to replicate walking on glass. Its just not the same and a gross misuse of some solid ideas. But while FEELS and Green can misfire, they no longer rely on a simple post-punk storm of sound, adding a quiet-loud post-rock formula all while normalizing the wavelengths and cutting themselves off before indulging too hard. Smart, efficient post-rock; what a delightful oxymoron.

Trading off the record is its pacing, it mashes together all these great moments in the middle into one collective musical mélange before breaking on slower tempo cuts. The density between the choral “Find a Way” and the swaying “Flowers” means that pairs “Sour” and “Last Chance,” “Post Earth” and “Tollbooth” find themselves congealed together. Taken apart, listeners can enjoy how Green and the group made each cut different, but when put together where one begins and one ends becomes a difficult task to tell. That heavy Segallcore malaise grows in might as the long-player progresses and the differences in emotion become more subtle to the point of wondering if they even genuinely exist. It becomes both a stylistic consistent and a bathetic curse that renders record emotionally unavailable at times, whether in an unspoken rage or a disassociative droll worthy of Deerhunter’s latest output.

All smiles D.J.T
War dogs on the street
The land of the free
One nation under fraud”

–“Cars”

And while their lyrical grievances can devolve to tautologies and platitudes of equivalent systemic fuckery and bullshit gamesmanship, it all feels like a part of the point of these punk aesthetes: they need a “them” for “us” to rail against. Thankfully, the tautologies are taut, lasting no more than a few bars as opposed to several beers your <insert crazy relative here> downs just before telling you exactly “what is so fucked up about our political age.” Once again, FEELS know how to involve themselves without overindulging.

Because the things that make this record worth it makes this record even more worth it. The phenomenal instrumentation and musicianship plays into a Bangsian motto of “the grimier, the rockier, the better” and they make that idiomatic approach tick on the every part of their sophomore effort while still allowing for more long-form melodic, harmonic and rhythmic skill. The balls-to-walls gangbang power-chord noise riot that was their debut could not afford them this luxury of showcasing how Geronimo and Lay can interwine their guitars and their voices in a melodic duet, how Allen can bungie jump in or tightrope across cuts with her basslines and how Rudes can underpin it all with his tom-toms and right foot. When FEELS cook, they fucking hibachi.

Indicatively, FEELS made a jump, and despite my crocheting back-and-forth rapport with the record (I had to listen to this damnable, affectionable thing over twenty times before really solidifying my thoughts), it’s a reminder of why fans of New Wave exist: they want music that is errant, even flippant, of being good. Such a qualifier is ancillary to the idea of making rock moves. It doesn’t matter if the instruments are strung together with fishing line and ducktape, it doesn’t matter if the production is more studio-polished, it doesn’t matter if the mood is existential dread all day, it doesn’t matter if the lyrics are truant and curt. Deal with the moralization later, commit to the now right now. If it feels good, than FEELS are good, and believe it, Post Earth feels good.

Album Artist: FEELS
Producer: Tim Green
Label: Wichita
Genre: Post-Punk, Surf Punk
Release: February 22nd, 2019
Tracklist:

  1. Car”

  2. Awful Need”

  3. Deconstructed”

  4. Find a Way”

  5. W.F.L”

  6. Sour”

  7. Last Chance”

  8. Post Earth”

  9. Anyways”

  10. Flowers”

Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost: Foals slick up a slice of progressive dance rock

2ab6eag683d21-1There were some nasty looks given to the indiehead floating the idea that the Arctic Monkeys did not hold the title of best British rock band, writing, recording and touring since the end of AM’s commercial clout.

And it bears admittance; I was skeptical at first read 2017, finally getting around to listening—stubbornness is a bitch—and not wanting to admit to resting in either camp. The xx stood front and center with their New Order/Joy Division electronica kick that ranged from rhythmic to exceptionally excruciating. Foals shut my sputter shit real right and quick. Holy Fire alone shot them up the list Antidotes and What Went Down just sold it (sorry, Total Life Forever). Whereas the Arctic Monkeys have Albarn’d themselves by paroding their own inclinations—Tranquility Base Hotel Casino serving as both a natural rhythm and blues progression from AM (perhaps the smoothest stylistic transition of their four)—and showcasing their self-perception as Turner’s left arm to The Last Shadow Puppets’ right, Foals have continued to be Foals. Yannis Philippakis may be the bandleader but this band hasn’t reached the Eddie Vedder-Pearl Jam dynamic, not nearly. To separate lead vocals and guitarist Philippakis from guitarist Jimmy Smith, drummer Jack Bevan and bassist Edwin Congreave is to separate grey from the overcast. And by album number five, that’s not normal. There usually is a separation between the lead man the gang at this point. Some difference in style from the soloist and the chorus. But for Foals, there is none.

And lo the guitars on “Exits” and “White Onions” will make listeners cry—Foals are back in total and still know how to rip cord and charge the metal beasts as they always did. No longer the goal, but still the thread carrying them from Antidotes to Everything Not Saved Part 1, Philipakkis and Smith’s riffwork remains, ever reflecting the dreadful shred of existence that wrought prior records in iron and shines the carbon-fiber case of their post-apocalyptic visions. They even find a new weave on “Syrups” inhabiting a funkier space than ever before.

But surrounding this central piece they have switched from the mechanics to the machines in wholesale manner—synthesizers and keys have always been contributors to their music, but the new long-player employs them at wider and wider berths as melodic leaders for Foals new world vision; ironically, their employment of synths and keys are the most positive part of the record, with Philippakis, Smith and Congreave all writing and programming for the new record and progressing to the forefront by “In Degrees.” Foals, as much by design as by accident, have cycled from garage-sourced Soft Cell successors to post-punking Muse inamoratos to worthy LCD Soundsystem compeers. Not even James Murphy couldn’t contemplate this dance on the razor edge of a collapsing society—he always sells the hope, none moreso than on american dream, that things will improve at the deepest point of despair. Well, Foals ain’t buying that shit, Murphy. “On The Luna” licks on the synthetic organ as the band gambols at the altar for a new-wave “1999.” The old world is burning and they are at once scathing those dastardly baby-boomers and saltating to an inherited avarice.

And when the key recede, its the phones which take their place on “Café D’Athens,” from vibra to xylo to marimbas, written with Tony Allen’s Afrobeat collaborators and polished slick by percussionist Vincent Taeger. The cut caps clean the best section of the record: the mal à l’aise of “Syrups,” the decadence of “On the Luna,” and the despair of “Cafe d’Athens.”

The onward trajectory of the majority of the track-list sets Foals as prime contrarians dismissing the invalidity of linear progress. Obviously, to compare Part 1 to Antidotes belies evident growth and to compare Part 1 to Part 2 belies impossibility—we’ve yet to know if Part 2 takes a step back—but the comparison between Part 1 and Total Life Forever is manifest, hell between Part 1 and What Went Down the only thing that slope has only steepened upwards; Foals have found a sonic trajectory and manipulated it to practical perfection. Brett Shaw works to keep them on message, but for the third record in a row Foals have sharpened their ears to a pin-drop while expanding their instrumental and lyrical vocabulary.

In introducing xylophones into their sound for “Cafe d’Athens,” Foals undertook the first steps in a natural evolution from the straightforwardness of the keyboard. They use them well and would do well to employ them after the fait accompli Part 2 if only to ensure their signature riff-and-key-work refrains from overexposure on future records, especially when they have already mired in anxious, melancholic, miserable moods since, well, forever. Yes, Foals mastered them and moved them from simple alternative garage rock into the hypothetical world of Neo-Progressive rock and, yes, they highlighted viciously depressive images of a depressing future, becoming one of the few successful bands to merge dread with dance-able rock without dribbling.

I tried to make a call to heaven
Phone lines cut back in ’97
Radio silence all the way down

– “Syrups”

But their lyrics remain simple, never quite unraveling elegantly and instead forging dystopic negative with one-track efficiency. Images of human society pushed underground, obsessions of Orwellian privacy, dress-downs of a declining culture, gasping a slow death by degrees, Foals are quick to the draw. And despite keener observations than most, it seems that Foals themselves don’t care if listeners understand them, masking a great deal of vocals with effects and grafting the woe in their words to the psyche of their production rather than the clarity of their discourse. For seven-tenths, this art-rock record rips quick with pointed messages, melodies and progressions—even the slower cuts glide agile—by prioritizing what to sharpen on each track. Their vacillation between above-average and excellent only hiccoughs when the pacing begins to switch back on itself. It’s not that these last three-tenths were written poorly, it’s that they fit poorly. “Surf, Pt. 1” works as an interlude build up, but not when the swarthy, Joshua Tree-esque deep cut “Sunday” attempts the cliffhanger and then “I’m Done With The World” renders it redundant. Foals intended these cuts to ensconce the record, but do so prematurely when it’s only Part 1 of a double-dipping long-player scheme.

Resultant: a downgrading of the record from an absolute recommendation to a conditional recommendation (if only a small condition). If you can swallow this misfire, more power to you because Foals otherwise hit all their neo-prog marks. They might not have the same grandiose flamboyance of classic progressive rock, but they have the same ambition and, like Alt-J, they make up for the encyclopaedia operatica musicality with a cold embrace of audiophile austerity. When Foals sees no warmth in the future, why the fuck would the music? It is testament to Foals’ musicianship to balance between comfort and warmth, dance and dread, art and rock as they do presque the entirety of this LP.

Nonetheless, Foals are in a precarious position now; with Part 1 being such a near-sublime listening experience, it hinges on Part 2 to make this their year. Oh sure, the concept will be nominated for awards, the Grammys will lap this big-concept-by-solid-execution up. But Part 2 will either confirm or change the entire narrative. Now, everything goes in slow motion, Foals have made the alley, and the house is standing watching relishing for the oop.

Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost, Part 1
Album Artist: Foals
Producer: Self-Produced with Brett Shaw
Label: Transgressive, Warner Bros.
Genre: Neo-Progressive Rock, Alternative Dance
Tracklist:

  1. Moonlight”
  2. Exits”
  3. White Onions”
  4. In Degrees”
  5. Syrups”
  6. On the Luna”
  7. Cafe d’Athens”
  8. Surf Pt.1”
  9. Sunday”
  10. I’m Done with the World ( & It’s Done with Me)”