For many reasons, I have been sitting on too much stuff lately. So, here’s to catching up:
Constantine, “Worshipping the Sun” b/w “Blue Iris Baby” (self / Guerssen Distribution).
Chicago’s Constantine privately pressed their first album in 2015 and added a 7″ with two non-LP cuts (!!!). If only to trade in a phenomenal business practice, it is entirely worth diving into this 7″ (sorry I haven’t found the LP yet!), but the paisley worship is quite divine. The title cut is a serious effort to blur the edges between the recent garage revival and brighter country passageways, but my opinion on that song is only obscured by the fact that the backside is catapulting to my favorite song of the entire year. Oh, there is so much wide-open-calmness throughout the guitar lines, while an array of keys / mellotrons color the track with additional textures and a sense of suspense or adventure. What really gets me is this lovely laziness (a good thing) that allows the track to fully creep out from beneath itself and uncoil along an uncertain path, in a way that reminds me entirely of the Fresh & Onlys title cut to Secret Walls (again, a good thing). Where those looping basslines and chorused lead lines pointed the garage revival into Echo & The Bunnymen worship, Constantine provides a hint for the redirection of those looping lines back to a more organically California history and background.
Muyassar Kurdi, Ascending (self)
Over a series of recent releases, Muyassar Kurdi tested the limits of tape manipulation, free expression, and spiritual manipulation, submerging a prolonged journey into deeper and more-challenging waters. Ascending takes a stunning left turn, as a series of live recordings from the summer of 2015, where Kurdi restrains and edits the potential and energy of those expressions into looser, more sparse, even baroque exercises. The title track is especially enticing, where the instrumentation behind Kurdi’s vocal excursions fluctuates between downright pop-psych mysteries and foreboding hums. It is a complete contrast from the previous performance I witnessed, where Kurdi focused on the noisier end of the dial (a good thing). With new stories to tell, or new angles on the experimental narrative, Kurdi pushes the values of free expression into more accessible and terrifying (equal parts) production. A treasure for wading into those waters.
Running, Wake Up Applauding(Castle Face)
Let’s get this out of the way: Asshole Savant (Captcha) is my favoring RUNNING record, simply because it effectively captures the band’s approach to rhythm & chaos, songwriting, and production in the shortest amount of time possible. It’s an excellent exhibition of a band simply “doing what they do” and leaving it at that. Still, it’s impossible to deny that Wake Up Applauding is probably the group’s best record, partially because the trio explode their mission statement from Asshole Savant into a somehow-more-focused variation of synthetic noise. Beyond that, album closers “Wake Up Applauding” and “Art Seen” as a duo function as the best possible ascension of art-damaged punk. These songs are the closest thing to Flipper’s “sacrifice” that I’ve heard among recent punk bands (in terms of blistering sonics and unrelenting songwriting hooks). Any written description will sound like any RUNNING review: rhythmic shifts, tempo-bending bass’n’drums punk, regenerative flange guitar, you’ve read it all. But beyond previous efforts, the songwriting and production take the precision of earlier mission statements and elevate it to another level of destructive tendencies. GAH
HOGG, Carnal Lust & Carnivorous Eating (Rotted Tooth)
Inquiry: Could there be an album that expresses the entirety of Rotted Tooth Recordings as a genre? I think HOGG’s first vinyl effort is such a genre-defining record. To those familiar, I’ll leave this at “Bad Drugs plays Exhaust Yourself by RIND.” This is one stopping point, and the best way I can describe this record. But let’s work beyond namedropping otherwise: basically, HOGG use their collective power to bend synthetic sounds into howling industrial pummeling and minimal beatscapes. The whole thing collapses into animal noises at times (I think!). HOGG effectively use short, stunning compositions to highlight certain ideas or potential sounds, and then converge those elements on a few full-length songs that serve as ridiculously bad vibes pop bliss. Way back, I waited nervously in Cleveland as my mailorder copy of Raw Powder by Bad Drugs arrived, nervous as it was the first REALLY heavy record I ever bought. If you’ve yet to take the dive into HEAVY and BAD VIBES music, this HOGG record is a great contemporary starting point.
Sovus Radio, Sovus Songs (self)
I’m admittedly biased from my tenure at ‘Spective Audio, but Sovus Radio must possess one of the best unreleased albums of the last decade. That a band of the quality of Sovus Radio remains unreleased (properly, anyway; one of their songs appeared on Vital Sound 1) is increasingly more unbelievable (a) during the time of digital proliferation, (b) during the vinyl bubble, (c) during the era of Deerhunter, and (d) during the era of ever-quicker reissues and archival records. So, for goodness sake, someone contact Sovus Radio and distribute their record: what you will find is an irresistible set of power-pop songs that, at their core, are winding and well-written affairs, doused in equal parts soul and psychedelia. What strikes me about the Atlanta psych movement circa 2006-2009 (or so) is the clear starting point of “soul” as the backbone, as opposed to shoegaze, hard rock, etc. As a result, there is a downright catchiness to Sovus Radio that will literally lead you to ask, “How did these guys go unheralded outside of Atlanta?” Buy these songs before they go away.
Cloudland Canyon, An Arabesque (Medical)
I already published a note about this album at Decoder, but hot damn is this set of tunes impossible to shake. Heady glitchy psych vibes? Check. Layered oddities? Check. Hot electronic beats? You bet. Near-guilty-pleasure new age nods? Absolutely. Near-guilty-pleasure SMOOOOTH production? Yep. What I keep asking myself thanks to Cloudland Canyon is whether krautrock needs to be “tight.” Oh, that catchword never leaves: “motorik” drums (I’ve used it), repetitive backbeats, etc. I’m not going to call Cloudland Canyon “sloppier” than traditional krautrock, because they’re not a sloppy band. But there’s this feeling of wide open propulsion and airy percussion that adds new dimensions to the standard krautrock interpretation. “Try Faking It” stunned me as an absolute jam, but the rest of the album grows and grows and grows.
Lyonnais, Anatomy of the Image (Geographic North)
If there was one song I wish I could write, it’d be “Modern Calvary” by Lyonnais, from their first record. The constellation of drone, dramatic and heavy (but not over-processed) effected guitars, snare-driven kick-in, and manipulated-group vocal is exactly how a “shoegaze” song should sound. Lyonnais never buried their vision in unthinkable or unfathomable layers, which should make the more direct production of their new album less stunning. What they accomplish is simple: they extract that sheer sense of drama perfected on “Modern Calvary,” and extend that form throughout multiple formats (including vocal-driven pop, and heavy instrumentals). From what layers the band did use on their previous efforts, they emerge with a structural approach that allows them to build their ideology into several different directions. Farbod Kokabi places deep and angular vocals at the center of the listener’s attention, presenting a timbre that crystallizes echoed guitars and synthetics into a directly confrontational pop format. The band almost sound naked away from their drone, exposing themselves by whittling their loud and longform experimentation into an album that is ready for radio consumption while also being completely unclassifiable according to that metric.
Chuck Johnson, Velvet Arc (Trouble In Mind): Earthy extended guitar-weaving highlighted by low-string rumbling grit and gorgeous pastoral passages. RIYL: Chris Forsyth, The Byrds, King Blood (seriously)
High Llamas, Here Come the Rattling Trees (Drag City): Expertly cyclical orchestrated pop that rides on recurring themes and bright production. RIYL: Apples in Stereo, Joanna Newsom, Valet.
Captain Beyond, s/t (Used): HARD guitar-driven progressive rock marked by extended, mathy songwriting and sharp, extremely dry production. WORTH THE HYPE (at nearly any price).
Sade, Diamond Life (Used): GENIUS smooth rhythm & blues. Guilty pleasure supreme with great instrumentation (production porn).
U.S. Maple, Sang Phat Editor (Used CD). WORTH THE HUNT!