Orb Temple by Lubbock, Texas-based ambient project Aura Gaze is an album comprised of two extended tracks of equal length: “Orb Temple (for zither)” and “Orb Temple (for synth).” The first is comprised of layers of textural yet ethereal drones, flowing, resolving tones and and minimal, processed string sounds perhaps gentle strumming on the named instrument sounding utterly unlike any traditional use of zither. It makes one think about music one might make trying to imagine the background workings of dreams and the unconscious mind—the rhythms, the composition of immanent psychological energy before it manifests as thoughts we would recognize as such. The second track shares a similar resonance but with purely electronic sounds takes us on a journey from the sources and base energy components of the quanta of perceived existence, of cognition itself. Of course it is impossible for us to fully experience these sorts of things in real time because we require the cognitive framing to even conceptualize what that might be like but with music and and other forms of art we can use our imaginations to express an approximation of such primal concepts for us to experience without having to impose verbal or cultural constructs that impede our apprehension of ideas through our enforced frames of reference as born of a specific set of shared assumptions. Yes the filters of mother culture and the use of technology and how our imaginations are shaped by a collective creative and symbolic language exist in all art but music separate of conceits of adhering to a narrow sense of accessibility stands a chance of bypassing those filters. Orb Temple perhaps borrows the familiarity of rhythm and major scale tonality at points to draw us in to a deep sense of peace and a journey in brightening the dark corridors of our minds in trying times but in doing so it also reminds us that imagination and not having to couch all our thoughts and emotions in forms that have been imposed on us by a full bombardment of media, that, in fact we can cleanse our minds and move toward creating the kind of space in our heads that is open to creating expansive and fortifying experiences for ourselves and others. Listen to Orb Temple on Bandcamp (where you can also purchase a download or a limited edition compact disc through Somewherecold Records) and connect with Aura Gaze at the links below.
Luke Mossman may be better known as a guitarist in Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, or if you were in Denver at the appropriate time, Achille Lauro, but in late spring he released his debut solo, self-titled album as Ghost Gnotes. The record, which is now available digitally and on vinyl at the Bandcamp site, showcases Mossman’s keen ear for sonic detail in crafting introspective, pastoral melodies. With hushed vocals and delicately luminous guitar accompaniment Mossman puts himself fully into that space of not being on the road with other musicians where even the long stretches of time between waking and soundcheck seems to be occupied by the emotional energy preparing for the next show. One gets the sense that Mossman set aside the intensity of touring to assess and reconnect with who he is separate from pre-established creative contexts. The unadorned simplicity of the songwriting allows for a sustained immediacy and vulnerability that runs throughout the record. Fans of Iron & Wine and Nick Drake will find some resonance here in Mossman’s arrangements and subtle dynamic flow.
To usher in the release of the record, Mossman released the single “Alone is an Earful” and an accompanying music video. The song features minimal percussion and expressively low key piano work that puts at center words that sketch in elegant detail an appreciation for the little things you notice when you allow yourself the space to not impose your ego on what you take into your mind. The video directed by fellow musician Rett Rogers is like a collage of memories and images of faintly remembered dreams immediately prior to waking up. The album, recorded in Eu Claire, Wisconsin with Mossman’s former bandmate in Achille Lauro, Brian Joseph (whose credits include work with Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens and Local Natives) is a poetic exploration of the exercise of grace and gentleness with yourself and others in creating a tranquil headspace that fosters genuine connection. Watch the video for “Alone is an Earful” and follow Ghost Gnotes at the links below. To purchase the record, visit the Bandcamp page.
Former Coves & Caves and My Side of the Mountain frontman and songwriter James Eary has a new project called Debris Discs. The lead single from the forthcoming full length album “We Never Die” sounds like a nostalgic roller skating rink anthem that never was. It combines soaring background melodies with bright, distorted synth figures and Eary’s commanding yet introspective vocals. The dynamics of the song are as transporting as the tone with the three aforementioned elements working to elevate the mood in different but complimentary ways. The vocals keep you in the moment while one synth line bathes you with luminous sonic energy and the other sweeps you along in its irresistible emotional momentum. Listen to “We Never Die” on Soundcloud and connect with Debris Discs at links provided.
Suzie Chism’s new album Where dabbles in styles across its nine tracks but in doing so it reflects the themes of the record. Fuzzy guitar give a quality of modern garage rock or neo-grunge, melancholic synths create introspective moods and textural acoustic guitar give a sense of spontaneity. All contribute to an album that seems to come from the perspective of someone who left her home town to go to some place more seemingly glamorous until you get there no matter how streetwise you thought you were before getting there. The story arc of the album, if indeed there really is a through line, is one of a person who puts on a brave face in situations that seem to call for it and in a process of self-discovery and adapting to life in a bigger city with a culture where presenting yourself is expected one can come to lose a bit of a sense of self for a moment or for an extended period of time until you realize you yearn for real connection with people. Throughout the album you get the feeling the narrator in each song is struck with a forlorn heart. On the title track the line “If lonely is a state of mind then where am I?” speaks to the existential crisis you hit when deep down you know that so much upon which you’ve been focusing your energy is folly.
On “Something Blue” we hear that maybe the spirit of making the best of things is derailed when the subject of the some comes to the realization that in her headlong pace to reach what she thought was desirable is making her miss what’s actually good in her life and that she’s fearful of staying in bad habits that make that an inevitability. And by the end of the album, these personal insights set the stage for at least trying to make one’s actual dreams come true. “Night Walks” is like a cross of rockabilly and 60s pop and there is a vibe of 60s girl groups and the compelling melodrama of that music to Chism’s songwriting on Where but it has that sense of self-awareness that one hears in more modern times by similarly influenced music with Best Coast—the knowledge that maybe you have made some missteps in life but having an internal compass can keep you aimed toward what matters. It is a record about questioning your own assumptions about what you’re life is supposed to be about. Listen to Where on Spotify.
Jakob Leventhal’s “Back Again So Soon” unfolds with a lingering guitar line and an expansive rhythm that sets a contemplative pace accented by melodic bass and impressionistic percussion. Leventhal sounds like he’s taking a deep, slow motion dive into melancholic, emotional drift. A bittersweet mood permeates the song like he’s taking a walk through an old house where he made so many memories that have haunted him deep but come to him so vividly when in a familiar environment and the way those can trigger memories you buried or left far behind in the living of your life. The lyrics sound like a one sided conversation, an observational confessional, between the author and his life and how he has lived it. Though the song works on its own, it is part of a larger record and it ends on a note that makes you want to hear more of what these reflective words might be about and the personal exploration they suggest is ahead. Listen to “Back Again So Soon” on Spotify and follow Leventhal at the links provided.
Chicago’s Dead Lucid inject a great deal of noisy psychedelia into its post-punk on the new EP Desolation. Obvious touchstones can be heard on “Romance” like early Joy Division and that band’s own roots in the stark menace of the Stooges. The guitar operates like a droning wash over the bass and drums while the raw vocals carry the melody. “Rain” sounds like it’s going to be a dirty surf track but the tribal percussion bludgeons its way into the song and as the straight ahead guitar edges toward a warping, grinding sound. “Ambrosia” begins with a desolate introspection but blossoms into a dynamic yet melancholy ballad. “Head” brings things back into the realm of proto-punk and a charging song about coming unhinged. The title track of the EP is a sprawling fusion of minimalism and guitar solo maximalism yet one in which a sense of hitting rock bottom finds its expression when those fiery passages dissipate. Fans of Pop. 1280 and Protomartyr will appreciate how this EP doesn’t get stuck in some trendy post-punk of yesteryear worship nor does it try to scratch every itch of flavor and its own psychedelia while a nod to when Led Zeppelin went weird or something like Captain Beyond hanging out with Robin Trower and getting trippier is very much its own. Listen to Desolation on Bandcamp and follow Dead Lucid at the links provided.
Reversing his name to the project moniker Sreym Mctim, Mitch Myers released his latest album Split Ends, Split Head. Often his vocals are nearly whispered just shy of sotto voce, like he’s needing to keep a secret lost in a toy store of devices that make the various sounds in each song. It’s a record that may remind some in an oblique way of a combination of 2000s Legendary Pink Dots records and late 90s indie pop where, in the latter, the artists thought nothing of including straight ahead sounds and noise on the albums as part of demolishing convention even as they wrote some of the most exquisite pop songs of the last thirty years but on their terms and with the former through purely aiming to express a mood and a psychological space with whatever tools can most closely approximate it. There is a sense of darkness, isolation and disorientation that runs through each track and one envisions a hall of mirrors that challenge Myers’ narrator with aspects of his life that he has chosen thus far to ignore or see as suited his personal life agenda and ego at the time. By the end and the track “Old Flame” the narrator has been shorn of his erroneous notions and the false foundation that was the bedrock of his life, left vulnerable but able to rebuild from a more honest place. The amalgam of dark psychedelia and organic indie pop is fascinating across the album but it’s one for those with a taste for psychologically raw songwriting. Definitely for fans of Orbit Service. Listen below and follow Sreym Hctim on Facebook.
Lead track “drippy tree” is an interesting and comforting collage of retro synth sampling and minimalist beats that pulse and bounce softly like one of those balloons with a grip shaped like an animal head that many people rode around on as kids. And that sort of melancholic, textured atmosphere with some white noise melded with abstract melodies layered with flowing tones and blurred beats that is suggested in “drippy trees” manifests in a variety of ways across the album without ever really replicating the feel of each song. In that way it’s reminiscent of early Aphex Twin but after the advent of modern experimental electronic dance music, tropical pop and deep house. Earth Control Pill pulls ideas together for this album as the title suggests as an organic process of layering wherein the elements complement each other seemingly naturally in the context of clearly technologically produced sounds. Altogether the songs, as sequenced, feel like a slow processing of sorrow by soothing the pains of loss while knowing they’ll never fully go away and the feeling of resignation of that reality. “Fog” strikes a somewhat jaunty note and, in fact, sounds the least like fog of all the songs though may highlight a time of fond memories connected to fog and how magical it can seem on an otherwise sunny morning. Whatever the inspiration or impetus behind this collection of music, it might be described as an ambient version of indie pop with the assembled use of discarded and currently unfashionable sounds to make something beautiful and tranquil with no obvious touchstones in contemporary commercially popular music.
This debut LP from London’s Abjects strikes one as something akin to a frantic, grunge-y power pop record. But in the interest of not getting lazy and being quick to pigeonhole a band, the members of Abjects come from different corners of the world and met up in the UK bringing with them a vastly different set of cultural backgrounds that does give these songs an ineffably different flavor than 90s retro bands that all grew up in countries where the predominant language is English. The rhythms have an urgency yet fluidity that makes it easier to change directions and character rapidly with guitar work and vocals that seem adept at working counter point giving the songwriting an unusual and fascinating dynamism like something one might have heard in early Blonde Redhead songs or out of Velocity Girl.
One thing Bison Bone has always done exceedingly well is not limit its songwriting and creativity to the expectations of a subgenre of music. Yes, it’s coming from the world of country but also psychedelic rock but for the latter not in any obvious way. Its instincts seem inspired more by the hybrid country, punk and psych of the likes of The Flesheaters, Green On Red and Uncle Tupelo than much of the Americana that has come along since where it has not been too predictably been bathing in the musical DNA of early 1970s Laurel Canyon. Bison Bone’s music sounds like there is some real grit and real life experience behind it and paying of dues and not trying to mimic a beloved and trendy style of music. Take Up Trouble is urban honky tonk with the relatable storytelling intact but with a flair for wordplay and thoughtful commentary. What really makes these songs is the little details that bring the song together like the minimal guitar solo in the middle of “Hey Bartender” and the drone at the beginning of “Late December” to suggest memories of coming out of the haze of a memorable dream or of the heatwaves on the late afternoon road following a long day of driving and having a moment of reflection on what it’s all been about.
Like an industrial ambient rendition of a culturally hybridized folk music from a hundred years hence, this latest solo record from Bruce Lamont of Yakuza is akin to an Ian McDonald novel. The latter has written several works of science fiction and fantasy that seem aimed at subverting tropes set in places that aren’t the usual locales for fantastic fiction. The influence of anthropology and straight out cultural concepts outside the developed world is so pervasive his work has a tonality and range that is refreshingly unpredictable. Lamont’s interest in non-Western musical ideas too informs these songs of immersive textures and compound rhythms. With “Goodbye Electric Sunday” the science fiction parallels are obvious but throughout Lamont weaves a series of narratives that are reminiscent of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts in sounding ineffably futuristic but as a commentary on the civilization on the verge of collapse of now.
Denver’s Confluence represented a musical rebirth for songwriter Ian Gassman whose work in other bands including his 2000s indie rock band Night Owl. The latter was more in a power pop meets Elvis Costello vein. Confluence was much more math rock in the late 90s and early 2000s sense that one heard touches of in the likes of Modest Mouse and Deathcab For Cutie. Confluence made no bones about nor held up its nose at complex arrangements and guitar solos but all in service to the song. Like it was using its technical skills to have fun and not just to show off. This record came out four years after the band was a functioning outfit and serves as a swan song and a reminder of how Confluence managed to fully integrate indie rock with musical chops and emotionally resonant vocals with a refreshingly unironic earnestness. Fans of LVL UP and Palm should definitely give this record a listen.
Obvious touchstones for the 2016 Eerie Wanda album Hum would be 60s pop stars like Margo Guryan and Françoise Hardy. All of that atmospheric soulfulness and orchestrated sonic details was present in Marina Tadic’s songwriting and recording for that record. For Pet Town, Tadic stripped back some of the seeming orchestration and opted for the use of space and non-tonal atmosphere as well as raw guitar recording, fretting sounds included. The result is a more up close focus in sound rather than the nearly panoramic folk pop of Hum. Same introspective, melancholic lyrics but this time reminding one of the vibe of the Beach House’s 2008 album Devotion conveying a sense of warmth, isolation and reflection on times that haunt you with a sense of comfort and nostalgia.
A welcome return to the songwriting of Mike Marchant who in the 2000s and early 2010s brought an uplifting moodiness and energy to his indie rock bands Widowers and as a contributing songwriter to Houses as well as Mike Marchant’s Outer Space Party Unit. This isn’t as overtly as experimental as Widowers and the Outer Space Party Unit, nor as psychedelic as the latter. Rather it shines on Marchant’s gift for subtle dynamics and vocalizing with strong yet nuanced emotion. Throughout the EP it’s a mixture of texture and bright tones with driven and shaped by the aforementioned qualities. Marchant has struggled with serious health issues for several years at this point and one is tempted to look for that in this set of songs and if it’s there it’s more in the focus of the songwriting to put something together that feels good and honest to perform and worthy of attention beyond one’s consideration shaded by knowledge of his challenges as a human, at least not anymore than everyone faces. As such, Marchant demonstrates here why he garnered such wide attention during his time in Denver because none of this feels rote or desperate to recapture past glory. There is a timeless quality to Marchant’s music because he’s never really tried to fit in with trends while not spending much time mining the past. This EP is a great example of that. It’s not his masterpiece but if this is a comeback it’s better than many we’ve seen.
Pulling apart this record to its components and influences is easy enough because there’s plenty of post-rock informing the guitar ideas, 80s and 90s darkwave and downtempo. But what it really sounds like is if someone got the essence of 80s moody Goth/post-punk but didn’t get trapped there with same production ideas and mood. There’s as much modern electronic pop aesthetic throughout the album like everyone involved is well aware of the likes of Purity Ring, Robyn, CHVRCHES and Phantogram. Composer Jesse Maddox is known more for his work in the world of taiko in Colorado including manufacturing the drums but has had a lifelong interest in dark, industrial music so working with talented dream pop vocalist Angela Cross from Los Angeles with the finished songs mixed and produced by Dave “Rave” Ogilvie of Skinny Puppy fame the project could have been fairly predictable. But it is instead of a deeply atmospheric, sonically rich set of songs including a cover of “Smothered Hope” that shares with the original and deep melancholy and being engulfed with urgent emotions but is more in a psychedelic vein, more Tear Garden than Skinny Puppy. Speaking of the former, Edward Ka-Spel does guest vocals on the stark yet lush and cold “Surrender,” and brings to the song his signature vocals lending a sense of being at the end of one’s struggle with all the things your ego screams to cling to before acceptance of your own mortality sets in.
Doran Robischon was once a guitarist in Gauntlet Hair and since that time there have been hints of a new musical project. Then Shadows Tranquil played shows in the past couple of years. But if you missed them there was no way to hear that music until the fall of 2018. Wander may remind anyone in the know of another Denver band, A Shoreline Dream. But only in that there are the aesthetics of electronic music underlying the songwriting. But there is more noise rock and psych punk behind the drifty push of the songs on Wander. In that way at times one is reminded of Nowhere-period Ride especially when the songs shift dynamics and add expansive layers of atmosphere and percussion only to pull the sounds back and redirect their momentum as the stream of sound progresses. The recording might be a little lo-fi for some tastes but that adds something of a tiny bit of mystique to music that sounds like the musicians skipped the late 90s and 2000s entirely and landed back in 2018 a late entry into the Holy Mountain Records (USA) catalog.
Balancing the humorous with the meaningful and melancholy is a difficult balancing act in music, but T-Rextasy have long since mastered that art and this record simply reveals an evolution in the band’s sophistication of songwriting. “Coffee” has plenty of profane and playful double entendre while articulating a relatable frustration. The songs aren’t merely irreverent surf-ska punk songs, they’re like musical theater pieces for a play about young urban Bohemia but brimming with sharp observations as social commentary and character sketches that explore what it means to navigate the fraught political, economic and cultural environment in America today. Identity, sexuality, class and examination of one’s yearnings are discussed in story form with an undeniable affection and compassion for all the soft and hurt spots in everyone. Fans of the the melodramatic tones employed by Julie Brown in “The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun” and the teen tragedy songs of the 60s that inspired it will find much to love with Prehysteria.
This is the latest installment of our periodical records review column with the featured album being Them Are Us Too’s posthumous swan song Amends out on Dais Records.
Them Are Us Too’s gift to its listeners is a nearly unmatched ability to distill all the pain, disappointment and sadness of a lifetime of unrequited love and rejection by others, by society and ourselves into soaring melodies that sublimate those feelings into ethereal shadows that can no longer overwhelm us even if they can still haunt us. Amends may be the final record from the band due to the tragic death of guitarist Cash Askew in the 2016 Ghost Ship fire. But the music’s power to take gentle yet strong rhythms and couple them with intertwining melodies, luminescent and melancholy, as a vehicle for honoring genuine emotional expression is a testament to the duo’s enduring alchemical ability to soothe the spirit.
Pretty much impossible to say when this album was written and recorded post-1980. Its sensibility and aesthetic points to 80s and 90s synth pop. The guitar on “Celeste (Can You Feel It)” sounds like something out of a more ambitious New Wave band but set inside a song that could have come out in the past 10 years among artists tapping into 80s pop sounds to capture a sense of nostalgia. But NEON RESiSTANCE isn’t mining nostalgia. It is doing something more interesting and meta by using an older set of musical parameters and sounds with modern production to evoke a personal style of songwriting that looks forward as many bands of the 80s seemed to be doing but avoiding getting that all wrong by really giving the songs an unusual emotional dimensionality and nuance with nostalgia-tinged melodies as relatable self-reflection and not self-obsession. Sonically it’s difficult to compare this multi-faceted pop record to much of anything else but perhaps Nina Hagen’s 1982 experimental rock/New Wave masterpiece NunSexMonkRock. There was little like that then, there’s little like this now and every track is worth your time.
Wesley Davis seems to generate his albums around themes that express the essence of ideas that have taken up residence in his imagination. 2015’s cloudLanD has an airy, drifty feel suggesting a sense of space and peace. Vaccine’s claustrophobic drones and repeating circular phrases spawn others that intersect in ominous, dissonant patterns suggestive of one set of sounds mutually infecting another to produce a third sound that’s darker with descending tones. Not an anti-vax abstraction, but more a comment on not trusting corporations and moneyed interests to provide a cure. In that way, it’s a bit of a cyberpunk ambient album but one that doesn’t make the dystopia seem kinda cool.
Jake Danna minces no words in his critique of American culture in general and his local community in particular. From the self-appointed expertise on all things and the lives of other people due to the internet and social media (“Ghost Milk”) to the limitations of bravado to dignify one’s life and art (“Prop Comic”) and the poisonous, self-eroding qualities of unreigned-in/unexamined cynicism (“I’m Still Cool, Right? (feat. WC Tank), Danna’s observations are a cogent assessment of the root ills of modern America’s writhing cultural anomy beyond platitudes of left and right. 4Digit’s production as further brought into detail by ManMadeMadMan’s mastering is what shines just as brightly. The beats, the streaming details of sound to accent the mood, tone and texture, the vibrant atmospheres and the masterful flow of melodies to suit the moment are not subtle so much as fully integrated and you get a to take in 4Digit’s imaginative composition with the 26+ minute closing track, “The Life of 4Digit Vol. 1.”
An always engaging listen akin to an unlikely and thus refreshing synthesis of B-52s, Lords of Acid and breakcore, La vie c’est mort from Bordeaux, France’s Daisy Mortem is a sort of decadent industrial dance pop. A lot of American industrial dance groups fall back too much on mediocre 90s EBM. On this EP, Daisy Mortem taps more into mid-80s New Wave’s melodramatic emotionalism but using the sound palette of modern electronic dance music to craft songs with a giant sonic imprint. Imagine the curiously compelling upbeat and alien quality of Classix Nouveaux minus the schlock and with a sprinkling of influence from Sparks and Fad Gadget. If Fellini had lived to make a movie about Bohemian New York City in the 80s, he would have done well to have tapped Daisy Mortem to score the soundtrack because this band is that exact vibe—bombastic, lush and brimming with vitality.
Easily The Damned’s best record since Machine Gun Etiquette. But it would be more honest to say it’s the band’s best record since it’s debut. Most bands more than forty years into their career are creatively treading water. The Damned apparently found some juice in their collective imagination to write an album in the classic style of writing a cohesive record of quality material beginning to end. Most bands write a record this vibrant early in their careers. “We’re So Nice” rocks harder than but has a similarly deft orchestration of melody and harmony one might expect out of The Zombies. It should come as no surprise that Tony Visconti, one of the minds behind shaping the best Bowie records, was on board for Evil Spirits. But even the most brilliant production can’t make up for subpar songwriting. Even if you didn’t know this was The Damned, so many of these songs are striking and timeless. “Shadow Evocation” is like a long lost cousin to something The Moody Blues might have written in the 60s—a windswept, imagination stirring mini-epic. What makes Evil Spirits such a remarkable album is that The Damned prove track to track that they know that if they relied on only one trick, one tempo, one songwriting style they’d bore themselves as much as us and that should count for something in any band much less one that could easily skate along on the laurels of its older classic material. The Damned have create what should in time be considered new classics with this record.
For its final record, Frog Eyes has refined its raw noir Americana sound to a place of great clarity that brings the conflicted emotions into sharp focus. Carey Mercer still sounds like he’s shaken by the force of emotion even as he delivers his words with the confidence and quaver of a Bryan Ferry. With this album, more than previous Frog Eyes releases, each song sounds like a room, an environment, a psychological space Mercer enters with immediate, cogent commentary. At times, as with “Idea Man,” the music feels like the modern equivalent of an early-to-mid-70s Genesis record with the elegance of sonic detail, mysteriousness and grandeur. Maybe Mercer wasn’t listening to a steady diet of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway or Foxtrot but this Frog Eyes swan song resonates with the artistic ambition and exploring the possibilities of one’s own songwriting and reach as a musician.
Somewhere in England there’s a high tech train station going to the places where it sounds like Boards of Canada songs take place and this is the gentle effervescent music to put you in the mood to be in a place of peace and disconnect from the rough and tumble everyday world. The cycling tones of “Off Grid” seem aimed to help you reprogram your brain to check out of the ambient anomy that comes with life in the twenty-first century and take a trip through a languidly melodic soundscape for nearly fifty minutes before being dropped off in a beautiful place out in the country.
With heartbreaking imagery throughout, this second album from The Milk Blossoms quickly becomes impossible to resist in drawing you in to tender yet intense emotional experiences that might be off putting to those with an aversion to psychological intimacy at this deep a level. But The Milk Blossoms never seem off putting. The band bares its alchemy of words and sounds with a brave openness borne of knowing you’re speaking truth or at least your truth—a quality that never goes out of style and which can never but completely duplicated as something idiosyncratic to the artist in question. The Milk Blossoms make pop music the way some people make something special for a loved one—with great attention to detail and with a care and affection and without expectation of anything in return. Was this written in an old lighthouse? A treehouse? A cottage in the woods waiting for the winter to thaw? Probably not but it has the feel of taking time out in isolation to allow the nuances and strength of feeling to emerge and find their perfect expression.
This is the sound of the world around us crumbling and eroding and our inability or unwillingness to reverse course. Like the manifestation of Derrick Jensen’s Endgame. Oryx could have pummeled us with some doom-y deathgrind but there is simply a greater diversity of musical ideas here than all of that. The dynamics, for one, while often insistent, leave enough space so that the crushing avalanche of sound hits harder. It also means that, unlike some bands in the realm of extreme metal, Oryx’s songs never truly feel same-y. Across this album the duo pushes the boundaries of what the music can be by fully integrating brutal sonics with atmosphere. Stolen Absolution’s long stretches feel like an intense journey but none that leave you worn out for having taken them.
Featuring what might be the album cover of the year for richness of content alone, Gentle Leader is ten songs in the noise pop vein. Upbeat, irreverent, bordering-on-twee-but-confident, Peach Kelli Pop’s songs have great melodic vocal harmonies and wide ranging rhythms. Closing track “Skylight” reveals the band’s experimental guitar edge hinted at earlier in the record confirming that Peach Kelli Pop has more to offer than the exquisite pop gems that have been a large part of its recorded catalog to date.
The retro-futurist sonic flourishes across this album are reminiscent of a sunny Laurel Canyon psych Broadcast in a pop moment. Or perhaps like Death & Vanilla in that the melodies are nostalgic but the undertones and rhythms suggest a grounding outside the English-speaking music world. As the songs on the album fuzz and incandesce one wonders if the band watched a whole lot of reruns of The Ed Sullivan Show and nailed the vibe and the aesthetic when old Ed had on the hippest guests that didn’t have to compromise and could just shine on a program where the evils of the modern music industry weren’t so firmly in place to insidiously influence and water down popular music into the lowest common denominator product, rather when taste makers had taste and a sense of adventure. Do Right may be retro and couched in a sense of nostalgia but the details on album closer “Do You Know The Place,” and throughout the record, those qualities sound surprisingly fresh at a time when looking back four or five decades and more for inspiration is so played out.
The track names on this album from Denver based synth supergroup Synth-Drone collective suggest a collective telling of life in some far flung future akin to Larry Niven’s Tales of Known Space but with the dark cloak of a minimalist, existentialist Tarkovsky science fiction film like Stalker. The name of the album doesn’t spell out but hints at the scientists of the time depicted in this album searching in earnest for the real science equivalent of the mythical first sound, the teleological ground zero vibration, that launched the universe into dynamic life because it has been discovered that the universe is dying and the only thing that can reverse the process is to discover the appropriate wavelengths to stop the impending doom of all and everything. Except someone in the scientific community knows it’s all for naught and just another attempt by sentient beings to interfere with the natural order of things with the hubristic notion that mortals can fix anything if they set their minds to it when in fact by our temporal nature and perspective we can never known enough to impact everything. Which is a downer but in the case of this album, it’s a beautifully compelling, drone-driven soundscape of a time when humans and other intelligent creatures have to learn to accept the inevitable.
There’s always been a bit of a cinematic quality to Wye Oak’s music and one might perhaps clumsily say the new album is to If Children what Fargo is to Blood Simple—not massively better but more sophisticated, more intentionally stylized with its newfound skill set and sonic palette. The melding of acoustic instruments and electronic production is so complete that the band seems to effortlessly bring to bear tones, rhythms, textures, melodies and atmospheres to craft songs as experiences. Wye Oak hasn’t ditched classic songwriting methods and models, it’s just taken those structures and filled them out with rich content. But what does Wye Oak have to say this time around? Refreshingly the band asks more questions than providing a set perspective. At a time when too many bold-yet-curiously-vapid-and-trite statements are made in the public sphere, it’s asking thoughtful questions and pondering issues about life and the world without a sense of one’s own certainty as a nod to the fact that we can’t know everything while not discrediting our own thoughts and feelings that makes this record remarkable. The title suggests chasing after goals while those goals we are encouraged to think of as ends in themselves become elusive and we are forced to really think about what it is we’re all on about and if the chase is worth it in the end. Because of that, The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs really is the kind of record that needs to be out in the world questioning the dominant paradigm not with firebrand skepticism but compassionate curiosity for ourselves and others.
This is the debut of our record reviews column. It has that name because each review here will generally be a brief set of impressions on each album. Because that might be more useful to most readers than an extended analysis. It may include releases that came out earlier in the year and each column will be updated as we add reviews. The featured album will usually get more attention and for April 2018 it is the new Black Moth Super Rainbow record Panic Blooms, out May 4 through the band’s own Rad Cult imprint.
Black Moth Super Rainbow – Panic Blooms – Rad Cult
Why is the new BMSR album the featured album? Because Tobacco and company are making some of the most idiosyncratic pop music today and the world needs more art that isn’t so easily nicked and dumbed down for people who can’t meet the art on its own terms, enjoy it thusly and perhaps be changed by it in some way.
It’s tempting to call Black Moth Super Rainbow the American Boards of Canada for its masterful recycling and repurposing old electronic music sounds into interesting new shapes that are as retrofuturistically alien as they are comforting. Panic Blooms makes more obvious BMSR’s use of hip-hop production styles in the mixing and beatmaking. But rather than some as-yet-to-exist abstract trap IDM record, this album comes off like the band is trying to reconnect with the musical spirit that first inspired it to make music. Like a search for a reason to keep doing this stuff. There’s always been an element of self-effacing humor in the band’s song titles and lyrics so “Bad Fuckin Times” makes sense. But “Rip On Through,” “One More Ear,” “We Might Be Back,” “New Breeze” and “Bottomless Face” hint at an artistic existential crisis. And yet, this set of songs has a coherence that wasn’t quite there on the 2016 Seefu Lilac EP. Panic Blooms, the title, suggests coming to the realization that maybe one is out of ideas and that very fear that shakes you to the core of your being, cutting you to the psychic quick, can either sink you or blast out yet another vital wave of creativity. The latter seems to be the case here and track to track, it’s a Black Moth Super Rainbow classic on par with 2007’s masterpiece, Dandelion Gum.
Breakdancing Ronald Reagan – Harsh Noise – Self Sabotage Records
Johnathan Cash, aka Breakdancing Ronald Reagan, is too much of an irreverent performance artist to take his sound mashups and collages at face value. Processed and pitch shifted vocals and cut-up short stories amid blasts of echoing white noise make “Playing Windchimes With My Feet” a bit humorous as it is disturbing. Rather than take himself too seriously, Cash has a song called “You Can Tell A Noise Act Sucks If All Their Tracks Have Really Long and Stupid Titles,” which he performs live, in which he describes what makes so many noise acts boring while embodying the same. Meta. The whole Breakdancing Ronald Reagan thing is meta. Equally ironically, Cash’s pieces on this album embrace the shittiness he mocks and pushes the concepts to their ridiculous logical conclusions while having made something worth listening to. Unironically, or so deeply ironic it isn’t, is that there actually is a lot of harsh noise on this tape including negative real or faked audience reactions.
Drinks – Hippo Lite – Drag City
Cate Le Bon and Tim Presley cut out most of the civilized world’s multifold distractions to write the follow up to 2015’s excellent DRINKS album Hermits on Holiday. Not getting poisoned by the incessant inundation of mediocre ideas resulted in one of the most fascinatingly eccentric pop albums in recent years. “Real Outside” has the kind of borderline atonal, unconventional percussion driven, non-standard rhythm that made Young Marble Giants, Liliput and, well, certain songs by Crass so listenable. Many musicians would sequester themselves and come up with the same old stuff they always do, Le Bon and Presley came up with a freak folk pop world or labyrinthine textures and warping tones and melodies to get lost in.
MIEN – MIEN – Rocket Shop
Opening track “Earth Moon” hints that you’re in for a record that was obviously informed by Screamadelica-period Primal Scream, the more gently psychedelic Brian Jonestown Massacre songs and pre-A Northern Soul era Verve. But the kosmische vibe of “Black Habit” breaks that impression. The driving/droning bass and tom heavy drumming and synth swells take the songs right out of what you’d immediately expect of musicians who are also in The Black Angels, The Horrors, Earlies and Elephant Stone. And from there album dives right into different realms of sound in terms of music and production. If “psych” is to continue to have any real meaning it’s going to be more like this in which the musicians clearly want to place themselves into alternate states of consciousness through the music they make rather than imitating someone else’s style completely. Sure there are familiar, comfortable elements if you’re familiar with the band members’ other work but they can’t help but be who they are and that also includes being seekers of experiences that expand the mind and stretch one’s creative capabilities. The album isn’t aimed for a mainstream audience, it’s aimed at the heads that crave something as different as maybe the first time they heard The Black Angels at a time when psychedelic rock just wasn’t in the general zeitgeist. But here there are more overt electronics in the mix and an electronic aesthetic to give a new dimension to what we already expect from the people in this band.
Mondo Obscura – Focus On Black – Symbolic Insight
Mondo Obscura doesn’t sound dated but its mixture of dub, IDM, ambient, dub and techno might have fit in more with the world of music that existed in the early-to-mid-90s when bands like Meat Beat Manifesto, Underworld, The Orb, Faithless, Rabbit in the Moon and Future Sound of London were blurring the lines between experimental electronic music and the more dance-oriented faire you might have heard at rave or a club catering to that kind of music. Particularly so with Focus On Black. Samples flow in a stream of tones buoyed by progressive beats driven by dubby bass lines. It has the structure of cinema with short chapters, fluid, fast cuts, some long takes like a Danny Boyle film or early Matthew Vaughn. Think progressive trance without the wack, safening elements blended in. Perfect after hours music for the chillout zone.
Night Grinder – Animus – Fourfold Records
An angry, prog-inflected industrial concept album is probably the last thing anyone would expect to be worth listening to in 2018. And yet, this sophomore Night Grinder album is such fascinating take on bringing all those ideas and more to bear on the miasma of social ills plaguing us all at once lately. By channeling that overwhelming feeling and refusing to be blasé about events we would have collectively reacted to with horror and utter outrage rather than resignation, Brad Schumacher (aka Night Grinder) has delivered a non-didactic statement across fourteen tracks regarding, yes, the dual meaning of the title, Animus, which means both “hostility” and “motivation to do something.” Schumacher makes no overt suggestions, but honors the fact that the paralysis of Americans in particular and the world generally in the face of the need to do something practical and productive about the seemingly endless internecine conflict across political and cultural divides is only ensuring more of the same evolves into worse. An updated on the Edmund Burke quote about how “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Evil, as it were, may not be triumphing per se, but the shittiest people sure seem to be prevailing, Schumacher just sees an end, not so difficult if complicated, to that trend and articulates that idea throughout Animus without hitting you over the head with an annoying level of messaging.
Solypsis – Solypsis-Devisor – Component Recordings
Out of James Miller’s prolific and diverse body of work, this one seems closest to synthesizing a bit of his Foetus-esque industrial noise beats with his knack for generating unpredictable melodies. Or maybe it’s just that he ties the melodic structure to borderline chaotic beats. There’s plenty of noisy breakcore composition across the album, as in “Death Threat,” and melancholy industrial dub the likes of which is represented well in “Life In A Hole,” but this Solypsis album shines best when Miller seems to go off his own deep end. “Straight From My Heart” is the sound of a songwriter who has hit bottom and still managed to laugh at the absurdity of heartfelt despair. “We Make Our Own Monsters” is uncommonly insightful as a title but is it a bit of a pun when the track is itself a fuzzy, lumbering, monstrous beat that Miller wrote himself in a life of musical output that isn’t exactly short on menacing work? In ending the album with “Wrong Tube,” Miller lets us know that even in his worst personal moments his humor is never completely gone nor is his ability to use the manipulation of minimalist elements to get under the skin of anyone that takes the time to delve into this album.