Monday, April 27, 2015

Pillars and Tongues "End Dances" on Empty Cellar Records

A friend of mine from Ireland always used to swear by The Blue Nile. They rarely recorded, releasing albums every six or seven years. He made them sound mythical and different from the bands I knew who went after commercial success or pushed the underground envelope. They seemed to be able to redefine what intelligent and hugely produced sound could be. A band with the skill and resources to pull off something really unusual within a traditional pop structure. The resources required for production today may not be as taxing but that skill and direction is still a rare thing. The Blue Nile is the first thing that came to mind when listening to End Dances from Pillars and Tongues on Empty Cellar Records. Vocally Mark Trecka has a similar cavernous crooning delivery. It's a naturally gifted vocal that softly works over loops and weird atmospheric samples in perfect contrast to the mysterious dreamlike soundscape they create over both sides of this record.

A-Side's "Knifelike" begins the epic journey the way that a bleak landscape can convey the huge distances between people and places. The way those vast stretches of the planet aren't inhabited by much life at all like this understated rhythm consisting of an electronic sounding woodblock and rim shot. They favor these cool, minimal structures with just enough of a skeleton to be somewhat recognizable with haunting loops of scratching metal becoming an ancient kettle drum. Mark's vocal is an emotional chant, witness to a ritual, a primal, ancient rite reenacted by a trained classical vocalist who's aware of the space and the way a body can project. "Dogs" takes on a middle eastern quality with melodies that scatter everything at random managing to sculpt a form with enough structure intact to enforce melodic pop. Beth emerges from the background an essential ghostly element mirroring his emotional delivery. They can feel like the southwest, a purple, flat mesa style landscape mixed with Moroccan architecture. There's nothing specific being hinted at but something even harder; an attempt to understand the much larger picture. Over and over this record gives you the space to attempt to go to that place and the time with it to spend on the subject. "Bell + Rein" begins with the sound of a natural orchestra tuning up with the rattling of guitar strings, decaying loops and infinite feedback. Sounds that create themselves without any intervention if you're willing to let that chaos work itself out like the Dirty Beaches soundtrack to Water Park. You have to be willing to leave things to chance but you're never going to get tired of creating the work live. Any of these tracks are going to take new shape every night and always be surprising like The Disintegration Loops ending up in a completely new place from where it started. Set up the parameters and let it twist into a new shape. Heavily meditative and underneath a violin willing it's melody into a very specific direction after all and I'm hoping it happened in the same room, live while these sounds were rising and fading into something new. "Points of Light" is positively optimistic with Beth harmonizing to the point of pure religion of a layered choir of voices, the primary instrument of the band. It's the thing that honestly can't be duplicated. The one instrument that can't be replaced by any sort of technology - you can shape it with autotune, but the foundation has to be there. They create a slow moving, half height wall of sound that's exponentially growing, not in a threatening way, but coming in for a closer look. If the human voice is the centerpiece in their exploration of these huge themes then Mark's vocal is the the core of that search.

On B-Side's "Medora" they introduce more subtle rhythms and as much of this feels free and open, there are times it gets a little ominous or dark. I think those opposites are at work here. It can be a serious affair with no room for lightness. After all they're tackling huge existential questions, from the place of a spiritual echo chamber their voices expanding out into a supernova of harmonies. It's impressive the organic, natural sound they get out of clearly manipulated samples. They don't immediately give up their source and provide a foundation for Mark's vocal to squarely place this in a real place. The repetition and loops encourage a meditative trance like some kind of new age psych, mentally changing the way you approach hearing these sounds. This violin demands a thought process with a sort of math inherent in the melodies or maybe because it's such a frail temporary sound that seems to float by like some kind of balloon string just out of reach. "Ends" is one of the most memorable tracks giving in to the most random acts of chaos, the fading layers of loops come crashing in heavy waves with a skeletal tiny violin the only sign of humanity in this endless sea of bubbling static. "Ships" picks things back up and is the dawn breaking, harmonies flying, a clearing of the storm. This is Pillars at the height of their powers, the culmination of all the previos tracks, all the ways they've been building to this point with a real sign of hope. We might not have come up with any answers but they might be suggesting that we don't have to either.

Deluxe package here with heavy tip on sleeve and newsprint fold out insert with lyrics and liner notes. Really honors the material inside. Pick it up from Empty Cellar Records.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Blood Sister on Unpiano Book (Records)

Not even a month ago I covered Blood Sister's first release and now I find out about this independent book publisher who decided to make the San Francisco based trio their first vinyl release on their not at all a record label. I personally hope it starts more of trend getting small publishers and equally micro labels to collaborate with audio materials for their stories and vice versa - like Zoo and a Movie's long form comic which inspired the 4 song EP that went with it, it's something that very very rarely happens. Maybe this is the first step or maybe Unpiano just couldn't help themselves. I get it.

A-Side's "Why Would You" opens with the track's signature glitchy guitar (?) melody pushed through broken electronics and bending through path cables in a sort of watery Blank Dogs sound. These live drums are essential and you either go full circuit or have that balance of human drumming to keep things interesting live and this slappy static snare isn't going to be mistaken for polish or anything. Mostly guitar based in a Jesus and Mary Chain dense fog, it's weird when they subtract layers and there's still more working underneath. Magicians that conjure a catchy melody out of hazy chaos. You wouldn't begin to know how these pieces fit together and it makes for compelling listening every time. Call it lo-fi, but that's like saying a book is a lo-fi movie, it's just it's own mysterious thing. Dual guy girl vocals that also is the key to humanizing this sort of thing, making it even more haunting if the all black packaging didn't make you interested already. Sounds like an apocalyptic My Bloody Valentine or The Swirlies through a portable speaker that guy plays surf rock on under the bridge in the park. This is another document supporting that yet to be recorded full length.
B-Side's "Bart Simpson" only muddies the water further. This dark guitar chaos has something to do with the cartoon character? You can sort of hear that kooky twisted surf sound they create with swirling distortions shifting these melodies around with multiple chorus pedals and phasers...? Who knows, I can't help but get caught up in this sound, it's completely foreign like Gary War. Broadcast from another galaxy, proof of intelligent life but just try to enjoy it. The beachy woooooo's could be the cowabunga to Bart's presence here, all I know is I want to go listen to Barbed Wire Kisses again.

Get it from Unpiano Books direct.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Church Bats on Windian Records subscription series #3

Todd from Brooklyn's Church Bats was friends with Windian Records founder Travis Jackson before his passing early last year. They had always talked about putting a single out on the label so when the torch was passed to Eric Brady he included their latest as part of their ongoing subscription series. Windian has always felt like a label with a real clear direction when it comes to releasing contemporary punk garage bands and revisiting a lot of incredible forgotten singles thanks to Travis. The Church Bats are in good company and had the direct blessing from Travis himself. Since that tragedy, Todd has stepped up the bands efforts in remembrance of their friend and Travis' influence and spirit continues on now in Windian as well as The Church Bats.

A-Side's "Foreign Land" opens with a measure of jangly brittle riffs before the heavy hulk beat breaks in, Shingo is attempting to bash a hole right through the skins with a serious part of the budget set aside for for drum repair. Todd uses a doubled up vocal and what sounds like multiple guitars speeding through big fist changes, waiting for a measure so the huge solo can scream in over wrists firing in a snarly Blues Explosion sound. Riding the frequency right into the edge of the hissy peaks, boost the treble and mic a tweeter back through the board. It's full of static and crackle rushing this punk to the end in case somebody pulls the plug. It's always hard to capture this sort of spontaneous high energy sound like their coming right out of the speakers, playing directly in the room, but they nailed it.
B-Side's "Half Man, Half Shellfish" slowly wrings out this riff, twisting the neck between two chords in a meandering ocean roll. Slight shift up the register in that traditional blues scale. Dirty and crunchy sounding, it's all about how you bend your knees on this one. Turning out to be an instrumental that refuses to speed up in any way, trudging through molasses at night, the sun is going down and all kinds of animals are coming out for dinner. Bring out the broken bottle neck slide and make those strings squeal working it's way into a sewer surf sound with more gutteral distortion than reverb but this is that mix of spilled beer and alcohol that seeps into the wood bar. It can not be manufactured.

Get it from Windian. Have you even been paying attention?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Nervous Twitch on Punk Fox Records

Knowing better than to have any idea what expect from the Punk Fox label, I let this four piece from Leeds, UK, Nervous Twitch walk me through the past fifty years of music history across the two sides of this single. It's weird that I find myself going back to those girl groups from the '50s thanks to Guantanamo Baywatch or yesterday's single from Susan practically daily but you'd be crazy not to hear the direct thread between The Shangri-La's and something like Personal and the Pizzas. These guys start out in the early '50s and head straight into post punk that round peg in the square hole.

A-Side's "Jonny's got a gun" blasts right into that chorus lyric right along with a three chord jangle at spastic speed, whoever came up with their name gets a free drink. Erin on vocals and has got it out for this Jonny character, who's been historically maligned in so many songs. Bash that sentiment out on the fretboard, 'got a gun' repeated that over and over in the garage, cranking on chords, tracking harmonies together updating The Angels "Boyfriends Back" and uping the stakes. Enter huge reverb on "And we did" with muted clicking chords to slow things down. A toy xylophone sounding electric plunged under water and held down with weights. I like this slower, down low vocal sounding like the Midnight Snaxxx leather jacket harmony with the attitude of The Coathangers. Greaser '50s vibe with a tambourine and warbling wah of a reverb coiled up and sprung down the stairs like a slinky. The drums have that shallow cardboard box feel, a nice mix of homemade and studio sounding, nailing that crafty quality of these sort of reenactments. They should open for Shannon and the Clams or Hunx of course, there's room for more of this winking nostalgia.
B-Side's "Modern World" opens with a heavy Wire sounding bass line that shifts into post punk reggae Clash sound. Erin is right in the front of this mix, slightly blown out with a jagged vocal delivery over stabs of new wave strings between this stutter jangle. More ominous and bleak sounding until they hit that chorus and it's almost a hyper maximum density shoegaze. They seem to have absorbed the past fifty years and playing through all of it across these two sides, can't decide? You don't have to, play it all.

Get this by contacting Chris dot punkfox at gmail or their bandcamp page.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

San Kazakgascar on Lather Records

Sometimes it's crazy when I realize I covered a bands previous single seven years ago. San Kazakgascar has been around for at least nine years now, an incredible feat for any band, let alone a four piece of experimental mideastern psych featuring a clarinet from Sacramento. I have to hand it to a group clearly out to please themselves and in the process create truly unique weirdness.

A-Side's "First Nation Spy" opens with a heavy kick thud and bouncy bass groove, a clicking tightly wound guitar melody is poised to spring out of the reverb with a heavy picked push on those strings ricocheting off the frets, definitely recorded live. That clarinet is an amazing touch, out of nowhere it pops into this soundtrack to a middle eastern Repo Man. The vocal hums along in the same minor key structure as this springy sitar sounding guitar. Plenty of weirdo percussion layers of triangles and shakers to keep the hookah smoke wafting. It's a psych sounding Turing Machine; plenty of tension in the chase sequences obscured by the smoke from the chronic. Loose and hectic they're still at it, flying that very specific freak flag.
B-Side's "Last Man Standing" smacks a tight conga drum while that bass nails the same notes somehow with a southern pacific, snake charmer feel in this dream mirage. It looks like there's water up ahead but it's this four piece just channeling their primitive side and you're witness to this raw, eastern seance. Really great anti-guitar tones out of that electric. This one happens to finally break into a darker, ominous feel, telepathically growing at the right moment. Jed Brewer's vocal about being the last man in an apocalypse among the pools of fracking water hits close to home. Just when you thought this was some futuristic fusion, like a klezmer Godspeed You Black Emperor they drag it back into the strange combinations of things happening today.

On black vinyl from their bandcamp page or Lather Records.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Makeouts on Radio Obligato Records

Even Stockholm, Sweden can't escape the snotty garage sound covering the globe. I like to imagine there isn't a city on the planet that doesn't have it's own drunken mess of a stripped down three or four piece garage band recording songs about pizza, drinking and the opposite sex on whatever recording devices are available. There is something decidedly classic about the instrumentation and impulse. It also selfishly means there's going to be a lot more seven inches to talk about. The Makeouts are a four piece that don't care where they're from only they've found blood ties with the likes of Hunx and Ty overdriving distortion, drums - vocals into the red. With a couple of full length releases on Bachelor records, their last single was nine years ago so lets face it those guys were probably influenced by The Makeouts in the first place.

A-Side's "All about you" rushes in with machine snare, high twisted multiple shreiking guitar melodies and bass running up the fretboard pushing the limits of the VU meters hitting the edge of that plastic box. A massive party sound, the whole band yelling in the back of this ensemble sound, somehow remembering to keep this on track in hyper Matthew Melton style in that sweet combination of speed and melody. Anyone that's opened for Jay Reatard is automatically good with me and there's a hardcore Nobunny feel to this, centered on melody but mostly out for speed and tough greaser vocal that sounds like the end of the party with a sinister undertone, made extra scratchy on this pressing. Pining for this relationship and sounding unbalanced and manic like the narrator in Blood Visions, off his medication and hopefully harmless?
B-Side's "I can't help myself" is subtitled '(ode to record collectors)' on the front sleeve cranks in a scratchy lead guitar strut, thuddy caveman smash drums and a stumbling second lead walks right into that shop with the boxes of dollar records out in the sidewalk. Completely snotty and coming on like a worn adverts single with no sleeve. The lyrics I'm catching are hilarious; comments on the message boards, reissues, driving hours to go look through a garage, stacking shelves to get satisfaction. It hits a little too close to home, but then this'll be the first song to actually address my serious problem. I'm not going to admit it though. They start to really pound away into a dirge version of the track just as it fades out though. Guess we have to wait for the import seven inch with the alternate B-Side.

I found it at this Swedish distro or head over to radio obligato.

Not from this single but you get the idea:

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Belltowers on Market Square Records

I honestly don't think I can think of anyone as single mindedly committed to the '60s psych pop sound as Paul Messis. It's one thing to have the ear and technical skill to pull off flawless updates like he has on his own full length records but now he's started a label and released records from contemporary artists working in the same paisley nostalgia on Market Square Records. His dedication to the reexamination of the sound of that era has got me rereading Jim Derogatis' Turn on Your Mind and tracing this experimental/super produced period into today. The Belltowers out of Orlando, Florida are taking that double hollow body jangle, tight snare precision and bass into a future psych that's drawing on those influences in completely authentic ways. Of course the four of these guys play a huge variety of instruments according to the liner notes, which is just about required for this sound.

A-Side's "Here To Stay" lets that acoustic slowly set the hazy parts per million ratio and expand the cloud right into a verse vocal piled with harmonies and doubled up takes, leaning towards the same '60s period Neil Young. An organ peeks out of the mix before a couple of solo's with decidedly new millennium effects, but they weren't ever setting out to be a cover band. "This love is here to stay." That's more like it, I equate this foggy bliss with the hypnotism that comes from that connection and this song takes those classic groundwork and relevantly expands on those ideas dropping you into the head over heels sound of first dates and the sun coming up.
B-Side's "Lovin' You (Leading Me On)" opens with that high treble shiny guitar line alternately picking and strumming into the opening verse from Paul Mutchler but I'm a little worried about their being taken advantage of. This far out psych shouldn't be about this downer side of love right? It figures that they're so dedicated to this sound they've missed the signs, blindly falling for it. The instrumentation of this mind altering sound is always complex and a twelve string lays down a foundation rhythm while the tambourine shakes in multiple time signatures. Thomas Miller on drums has that perfect frantic skittery energy for this mid tempo groove feeling like it's leading the rest of the track waiting for the melody to catch up, jabbing triple time fills at every turn. I'm getting a massive "Turn Turn Turn" vibe from this too. Multiple layers of harmony and talent.

Pick this up from 13 O'clock records here in the states. They're carrying a ton of great releases across the board from The Young Sinclairs to The Ar-Kaics, practically the entire catalog of just plain good psych.