Sydney, Australia’s Low Life last week released Downer Edn (pronounced like “edition”), their first set of new material since 2014’s Dogging. Having expanded to a quintet with the addition of Dizzy Daldal and Yuta Matsumura to the ranks the result, as you might expect, is a fuller-sounding record that retains all of the roughness that made Dogging such a thrill.
Opener “The Pitts” starts us along, wrapped in a gothic fog, music and vocals heavily cloaked in grit, before galloping off into a four squared mosh pit groove. Highlights are many, the group’s knack for a burying moments of melodic bliss amongst the gloom in tracks like ‘Lust Forevermore’, which feel like a rope thrown over the bow. The album’s mixing of death rock, psych, Magazine-style post-punk and flanged new wave is a heady concoction that’s as much fun to drink deep as it is to parse through. Personal fave, ‘Rave Slave’, sounds a bit like A Bell is a Cup or Ideal Copy Wire pushed into the red of the more dramatic Killing Joke on Brighter Than a Thousand Suns.
As with Dogging, these tracks can barely suppress a sneer at the general state of, well, most things – a kind of equal opportunity disregard that tends to underpin most worthwhile critical pieces, musical or otherwise. Mitch Tolman’s vocals generally idle in a fixed simmer, as though he can’t be arsed to indulge the anger underneath and, when so moved, can only summon a withering “fuck it” (‘Glamour’). According to the notes accompanying the record, it was heavily influenced by their hometown, and I think many can relate to a heavy ambivalence towards the place they grew up (either from inside or from a distance) – particularly one as iconic as Sydney. The changes (the good, bad, and eye-roll worthy) that take place over time can inspire both pride and dismissal in equal measures. Downer Edn feels as much an embrace – without sparing the rod – as a mirrored shield held up against the cities ills.
Downer Edn is out now, courtesy of Cool Death (AUS), Goner (US), and Alter (EU/UK).
The Murder Capital, “Feeling Fades” (Human Season)
Dublin, Ireland, quintet The Murder Capital are a rising force, and not in a cheesily histrionic, Yngvie Malmsteen kind of way. Having stormed out of the gates with debut track, “More Is Less” (which, I believe, is only listentoable via live video (and worth it)), they come for the castle on follow-up, “Feeling Fades”. James McGovern’s intensely sung/shouted vocals are equal measures antagonizing and resigned (not a million miles from Birthday Party-era Cave) like a heated discussion with a stranger at the bar at closing time, climaxing in a wordless paean. The music tip toes the proverbial razor wire, building tension if not release, putting them of a piece with other modern post-punk purveyors like Protomartyr. The band have a host of upcoming tour dates, which can be found on their site.
Hash Redactor, “Good Sense” (Goner; Upset the Rhythm)
Can a band featuring members of two great bands be, unto itself, great? If that band be Hash Redactor then, gentle reader, early evidence suggests a resounding hell (to the) yes. The contributing bands in question are NOTS (bassist Meredith Lones and drummer Charlotte Watson) and Ex-Cult (singer/guitarist Alec McIntyre) – whose musicalstylings have often rattled the bookshelves at tgh hq – joined by guitarist George Williford. Debut track “Good Sense” welds a brilliant, lurching bassline onto phased-out guitar swoons and deadpan vocals. A bit reminiscent of the Butthole Surfers in spaces, the track just continues to build across its 2:50 run time, before abruptly downing tools. Hash Redactor’s long-form debut, Drecksound, is due April 26 from Goner (US) and Upset the Rhythm (UK/EU) and is now available for pre-order here and/or here.
NOTS, “Half Painted House” (Goner; Upset the Rhythm)
Speaking of NOTS, the Memphis psych-punks have a new album – 3 – coming out May 10 (also) from Goner (US) and Upset the Rhythm (UK/EU); it will be the band’s first new music since 2017’s “Cruel Friend” 7” and its first as a trio, following the last year’s departure of keys player Alexandra Eastburn. Album teaser track, “Half Painted House”, is one of the best things they’ve done. Further tightening the loosely-spooled, straight out of the garage ravers of their earliest output, the track glides along a solid groove (those basslines again!), providing a north star through the hazy, fogged synth sounds and stage-left siren howls. Each new release from this band makes us antsy to hear the rest, and “Half Painted House” is no exception. Pre-order 3here and/or here.
Olivia Neutron-John (bka, On-J) – self-proclaimed leader of the ‘post-bro movement’ we all need – is the project of Washington, D.C.’s Anna Nasty, who has also done time as a member of the Ian Svenonius-fronted Chain and the Gang (see what we did there?). “March” is her first On-J release since 2014’s “Injury Train and I’m Never Getting Off It” single, and serves as a teaser for a forthcoming, eponymous debut long-player. The simplest of rhythms and basic melody – the titular, casiotoned beat and one note key – is soon wrapped in a truly beguiling, serpentine bassline, Nasty’s words sounding as though processed through a megaphone as she vocalizes a relationship’s push/pull (“is this what you want?/..but it feels good at night/doesn’t make it right”). Olivia Neutron-John is due May 10, on Sister Polygon, and is available for pre-order now. On-J is also currently on tour (including some dates with Priests), with dates to be found on her site.
Our latest in a series of recaps of albums we loved from the last calendar year…
Starchild and the New Romantic, Language (Ghostly International)
Starchild and the New Romantic is the brainchild of New York-based Maryland transplant, Bryndon Cook. A multi-instrumentalist and vocalist who has also worked with fellow travelers like Devonté Hynes and Solange Knowles, Language is an exemplary slice of lush, 80s-inflected r&b. Drums don’t so much hit as disperse, synths probe longingly, guitars flicker and wane. While the purple one’s haze hangs thick over this set, you also hear the ambitious, heart-on-sleeve arrangements of bands like Force MD’s or the Blue Nile – Cook’s revelatory voice reminiscent of the underlauded Jesse Johnson or Melvin Riley in its plaintive tenor notes. As an added bonus, ‘Only If U Knew’ and ‘Hangin’ On’ might be the best ‘quiet storm’ summoning slow jams I’ve heard in an age. It’s a record that takes things back and pushes them forward simultaneously. Highlights include: “Hangin’ On”; “Language”; “Good Stuff”.
Austin-based trio Borzoi released their latest, A Prayer for War, last September. I’ve listened to it many times since and, though I find it absolutely stunning, I’ve no real idea what to make of it – and that, friends, is what makes it great. Sure, there’s elements of punk, acid-drenched post-punk, funk, a free kinda jazz, noise, dweebs, wasteoids, dickheads, righteous dudes, a fuckin’ partridge in a mother fuckin’ pear tree. All there. In the end, though, the record breaks down to a feeling – and that feeling is “tenuously hinged”. The skittery, jittery atmosphere is shot through, here, with bursts of melody (“Schlock”) and, in many other places, with a heavy boot to the face (“Lizard Men of the Third Reich”). Buckle up. Highlights include: “Schlock”; “Big Pink”; “The Tonsure Twist”.
Rose Mercie is a quartet based in Montreuil, France. Their debut, self-titled album came out last March, and it’s intoxicating. Stripping elements of hypnotic psych, folk and dream pop to their bare essentials – there’s nothing adulterated in the arrangements or production here – then building them up again, with a layer of girl group in the rhythms and vocal interplay. Tracks like highlight, ‘Moyen-Age’, recall a less ornamental Broadcast; elsewhere, ‘The End of Love’ projects The Raincoats jamming in a hazy flat with the Velvet Underground. While largely bucolic in feel, there is a bit of welcome menace “In the Valley” – it’s an album to sit with, the eight tracks unspooling at a deliberate pace. Settle in and listen. Highlights include: “Moyen-Age”; “Floating”; “How Can I Talk”.
Nashville, TN trio Datenight (US) serve up garage-punk with a side of power pop hooks and classic, driving midwestern rock on last February’s Comin’ Atcha’ 100mph. It’s an apt title, with no more than half of the dozen tracks in the set clocking in on the high side of two minutes. Each cut, though, leaves a mark; the melodies linger long after the band has roared on to the next. Be it the straight up Sonics’ garage rumble of ‘While it Lasts’, the blissful lo-fi jangle of ‘Poor Exchange’ or the perfected combo of highlight, ‘Tennessee Rider’, the set drips with brio – it’ll have you singing along, even when you don’t know any of the words. Fab. Highlights include: “Tennessee Rider”; “Poor Exchange”; “In and Out”.
Olympia, WA-based Gen Pop released a six-track EP last May, entitled II. Lifting off from their devastatingly potent debut, On the Screen (released less than a year prior), II offers a virulent slice of old school hardcore for the modern world. Featuring MaryJane Dunphy and Ian Corrigan from the fantastic Vexx, the band manages to push a swirl of sounds into a tight timeframe. [Update: MaryJane Dunphy has left the band. Elle Svete both sings and plays guitar on “No Change”] features tepid vocals transposed over Flex Your Head-summoning musical righteousness, while tracks like ‘Waxing State’ and ‘Din’ inject a bit of post-punk jitter and Buzzcocks’ guitar melodiousness. Highlights include: “No Change”; “Waxing State”.
Part the second of our ‘apology tour’, in which we continue to dig through the list of records that touched us last year and make sure that we spread the good word.
Salad Boys, This is Glue (Trouble in Mind)
Christchurch, New Zealand’s Salad Boys returned last February with their latest album, This is Glue, and it’s a thrilling listen. Opener, “Blown Off” lifts off with a thrum like a motorik “Kids in America”, before dissolving into a blissful Buzzcocks charged guitar run, and the remaining tracks employ shades of indie disco, the purest power-pop, pearlescent strum-pop (“Exaltation”), orphic psych and early REM jangle (“Psych Slasher”). It’s lush, without being cloying; polished, but still retaining scuff and patina. Highlights include: “Psych Slasher”; “Right Time”; “Going Down Slow”.
Also released last February, Pinned, the latest from C.A.R. (the recording project of London-based Franco-Canadian Chloé Raunet) features elements of icy, Yaz(oo)-like new wave sensuality, post-punk empty spaces, and dubby trip-hop – all blended into transportive art-pop. There’s a Nina Hagen art-bounce meets Grace Jones cool on tracks like “Heat”, “Growing Pains” gradually adding gorgeous layers of glacial synths and ethereal background vocals to a stark bass/drum combo. C.A.R. has since released several remixes (I particularly enjoyed Peaking Lights’ remix of ‘Daughters’), one of which included a new song, “All But…”, as a b-side. Highlights include: “Growing Pains”; “Heat”; “Cholera”.
Ravyn Lenae, Crush EP (Atlantic/Three Twenty Three Music)
Ravyn Lenae hails from Chicago, and released a smoke bomb of an EP last February called Crush. Lifting off even higher than her dizzying 2016 debut, Moon Shoes, the EP provides an intoxicating cache of silky smooth, new-old school r&b tracks. Lenae’s effortless voice balances featherweight highs and funky gnarl, moving stealthily through hazy grooves that evoke everything from Funkadelic, the Isleys, Erykah Badu, and Prince. Steve Lacey’s head-swimming production provides highlights as well (see the introduction of the bass in “Computer Luv”, on which he also provides vocal accompaniment). More of this, soon, please and thank you. Highlights include: “Closer (Ode 2U)”; “Computer Luv”.
Sometimes, an album comes along whose constituent parts may seem familiar, but taking a step back to view the entire picture reveals something new and difficult to describe. A Ghost, A Beast, the debut full-length from Zed Penguin – the musical project of Edinburgh-based Australian, Matthew Winter – is such an album. The shapeshifting arrangements meld psych, chamber-pop, the wry, arty-rock of Zevon, and tensile post-punk, Winter’s tremulous tone recalling a mix of Joe Jackson and Ian McCullough. Some moments transcend – to wit, the glorious ‘End of Time’, with it’s shimmery jangle. Highlights include: “End of Time”; “Wandering”; “Violent Night”.
Our Arkansas pals in Ten High released the Autobondage EP this past October, and it slays. Five fuzzed-out, gonzo tracks held together by a steady, powerful bass/drum battery. The roiling opener, ‘Dr. Choice’ (featuring vocals by drummer Devan Theos) couldn’t possibly be a more apt, ‘in the red’ introduction to the splendor on show here. Trading in the same gloriously trashy garage/blues/punk sleaze as debut, Self-Entitled, these tracks manage to tighten things up a notch, without losing any of their edge. Highlights include: “Dr. Choice”; “You Want It”.
L.A.-based quartet Smokescreens released their latest, Used to Yesterday, last summer. Appropriate to that season, the album is jam-packed with absolutely gorgeous power-(psych)pop and Paisley Underground-style hooks. The band’s online bio mentions a mutual admiration for Dunedin sound between founders Chris Rosi and Corey Cunningham, and you can hear it loud and clear on tracks like ‘Buddy’. But there’s also a US spin on things, with ‘Steel Blue Skies’ adding a slacker-y take, and the band channeling the Velvets on ‘Fool Me’. Highlights include: “Steel Blue Skies”; “Jolly Jane”; “Used to Yesterday”.
The past several weeks have seen the release of many great new tracks, from artists both known and loved, and new. Here are a few to get started on, with more to follow.
Mr. Twin Sister, “Jaipur” (Self-Released)
Up first, New York’s Mr. Twin Sister, who return with, “Jaipur”, their first new music since 2016 and our favorite – if we must choose – of three (!) new tracks to emerge over this past summer (“Power of Two” and “Echo Arms” the others). “Jaipur” is a beguiling reentry, retaining the suave r&b/‘baby-making music’ sound of 2014’s self-titled effort, all swelling strings and lush vocals – but the storm here feels anything but quiet. All that smooth is jarred by a sped up Bollywood tempo and horn blasts, reflecting a more jittery, self-conscious take on love – anxiously looking for it, while simultaneously fearing that, once found, you’ll just fuck it up and run away, disappointing both the other and yourself.
It’s unclear whether any of these new tracks will be included as part of a forthcoming long-player, but take your chance to hear them live on the band’s upcoming tour, beginning October 18 in Allston, MA.
Rat Columns, “Sometimes We’re Friends” (Slumberland)
Another welcome return, this one courtesy of Rat Columns, the recording project revolving around David West, who we’ve previously gushed over thanks to their sublime 2017 album, Candle Power.
“Sometimes We’re Friends” is released as part of a year-long tribute in honor of Slumberland Records’ 30th anniversary. Riding in on a lovely jangle, the track captures the same effortless charm as found on the album, with the kind of road-weary romanticism of bands like The Go-Betweens, Prefab Sprout and the Blue Nile married to an early Cure style guitar chug, uncoiling into an extended and repeated chorus. It’s fantastic, and hopefully means there’s a new full-length coming soon.
Papercuts, “Laughing Man” (Slumberland)
San Francisco’s Jason Quever returns with Papercuts, bringing the kind of vertiginous psych/dream pop that made us believers on 2009’s You Can Have What You Want. “Laughing Man” was the first of the new tracks we heard (followed closely by “Sing to Me Candy”), and it grabbed us immediately with it’s “Be My Baby”ish beat and woozy harmonies. Sweetly melancholy vocals describing someone “staring into space”, gripped by a memory they “can’t face”, before requesting we be upstanding not for the mayor of simpleton, but the laughing man.
The track will appear on Papercuts’ forthcoming new album, Parallel Universe Blues, due October 19 on Slumberland.
Molly Nilsson, “Slice of Lemon” (Dark Skies Association; Night School)
Another returning fave – this time, Molly Nilsson shares “Slice of Lemon” from her forthcoming full-length, 2020 (that’s the lyric video, above). It’s another world-beating slice (sorry) of new wave-flecked sophistipop. Riding a woozy synth and laconic beat, Nilsson’s lyrical focus feels placed on the beginning and end of a relationship, viewed through the eyes and ice of the narrator and the other – there’s a pang of wistfulness, but without regret. The track feels simultaneously new and like the song that could have soundtracked an alternate version of the denouement to “Sixteen Candles”, in which Sam eats the birthday cake alone, bummed it didn’t work out with Jake, but ultimately ok with it.
2020 is released November 2 on the ever-amazing Night School Records and Nilsson’s own Dark Skies Association imprint. Follow along on fbook, where you can find Nilsson’s upcoming tour dates in the EU and North America.
Lithics, “Photograph, You of” (Thrilling Living)
Back in May, Portland, OR’s Lithics put out one of our favorite records of the year in the form of Excuse Generator. Last month, the band released a one-off single on the Oakland-based Thrilling Living label, and it’s every bit as vitally abrasive. The a-side is a fantastic continuation of Excuse Generator’s tetchy and tuneful post-punk, sneeringly cool vocals playing off the rambling rhythm and jagged one-two guitar lines. B-side, “Lost Signal” brings a kind of Devo meets Television vibe sure to invoke full body shakealongs on the dance floor. One of the best band’s going right now, no doubt.
Cover art for Germ House/Far Corners split cassette.
Jeckyl/Hyde, Bowie/Ziggy, Urkel/Urquelle – history is littered with famed alter egos. To this storied list, add Rhode Island-based bands Germ House and Far Corners, musical alter egos conjoined via frontman/guitarist Justin Hubbard.
The bands’ split cassette, released in June on the New York-based Fuzzy Warbles label, is an excellent showcase for Hubbard’s (together, in Far Corners, with co-conspirators Joe Corluka and Dave Dougan) musical stylings. Side Germ House (a project described as both a solo project and “partially fledged live rock outfit”) is an artful indie pop collage recalling, at times, Beck and Devo with its shards of jangle, twitchy post-punk/new wave, garage, and 70s rock (personal fave, “Inside the Room”). Side Far Corners feels an overall heavier and headier endeavor, upping the fuzz and folding in psych, punk/hc and noise (personal fave, “Gold Choice”). Excellent.
Grab a copy of the split cassette here, and catch Germ House live at one or more upcoming dates, which you can find on fbook.
Terry is a name whose Nordic meaning is, apparently, ‘like Thor’. Terry is a soft material used to make luxurious towels and bathrobes.Terry is also (and most importantly) a Melbourne-based quartet comprised of musicians from a veritable smorgasbord of excellent Australian indie groups including UV Race, Total Control, Dick Diver and Primo! (and those are just the ones I already know and like – I’ve got to get busy listening to the rest). Following their early EPs and a duo of excellent albums (2016’s Terry HQ and last year’s Remember Terry), the band return with the fantastic, I’m Terry.
I’m Terry retains many hallmarks of the band’s sound – interchanged and/or tandem vocals (one of the men sounds an awful lot like Robyn Hitchcock to me, but forgive me, dear reader, for I know not whether tis Zephyr Pavey or Al Montfort); a Gun Club-esque perversion of country slide – further enhanced and dynamic than on prior releases. The languid cool veneer is also present, as is the band’s knack for wry, observational lyrics – I was reminded of early Go-Go’s tracks like “This Town” for the ability to match this type of language with a kind of gritty pop (see also bands like The Vaselines and The Fall).
This detachment works particularly well when cracks start to form and the band allows itself to indulge in the sneer underneath, as in the full scale rockouts of closer, “For the Field”, and the conclusions to “Bureau” and ‘needs a dance to go along with it’ “The Whip” (the former ultimately cascading into a blissful fade out). Highlights are many, and include the Ballboy-like stream of consciousness vocals on “Carpe Diem”, which sounds like a kind of warped lullaby, and the aforementioned pogofest that is “The Whip” (just try getting that ‘na-na’ chorus out of your head anytime soon). My personal favorite flits, usually alighting upon the hypnotic “Under Reign”, with its sly bassline amplifying the “reek of reason”; calm recitations emboldened by cinematic synthesizer, creaking under the weight of a crazed saxophone solo. Brilliant.
I’m Terry is released August 31, courtesy of the phenomenal Upset the Rhythm label (seriously, in what world does one roster include Terry, Primo!, The Green Child, Gen Pop, Vexx, Sauna Youth, Vital Idles, The World…crazy). Surveil (in a supportive way) Terry’s online movements on instagram and/or the twitt. The band’s upcoming tour dates in the UK and Ireland can be found here.