NEW MUSIC: Slark Moan – Honesty

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Almost a Beach Boys sound at the start of this new track from Slark Moan. From there it opens up into cascading piano notes before settling on a rubbery bass groove and classic baroque and power pop shapes. Vocal harmonies soar skyward while Ringo-style drums keep the song in check, while also adding some nice rhythmic colour behind the vocal, inhabited by the wandering ghost of Harry Nilsson. This is classic psych pop/rock of the retro variety but executed with skill and dreamy precision.

The song comes from his sophomore album Superstition for the Consumer Romantic (out August 9th), which took about a year and a half to craft. Sloan also spends much of his time on the road touring as a hired gun for an assortment of alt-country/pop acts such as Kelsey Waldon, Margo Price, Sam Outlaw, Erin Rae and more.

NEW MUSIC: Orion’s Belte – Cherchez La Ghost

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It’s hard to ignore the killer groove and minimal exotic funk of this track from Norwegian trio Orion’s Belte. They released their debut album Mint last year and have already followed it up with the EP Slim in 2019.

‘Cherchez La Ghost’ is their brilliant take on the Ghostface Killah track, mixing a great breakbeat with effect-laden pedal steel and an nervous twitch of a magical low-slung bass-line.

ALBUM REVIEW: Big Thief – U.F.O.F

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Big Thief
U.F.O.F.
4AD

What started with a debut album in 2016, that introduced a fragile and poetic songwriter and her band, has blossomed into a fascinating and quickly evolving career for Adrienne Lenker and the rest of Big Thief. They’ve been touring relentlessly, Lenker even having time to record a well received solo record last year. From Masterpiece to Capacity and now U.F.O.F, the quartet have gently worked away at the canvas of folk and knotty guitar music that draws on both conventional song structures and avant garde curiosity.

This album continues the mystery and beauty of their previous releases while adding even more depth and textural minutiae. There are drone-like textures,  found sounds – like the rolling effect at the start of ‘From’, and fascinating percussive elements that rise and fall in the mix. There’s a feeling of perpetual motion in many of the songs due to the looseness of the arrangements and the playing which makes the music sound both improvised and highly arranged. ‘Jenni’ imagines a Cat Power-fronted Tortoise in the way they use organic instrumentation and allow volume and tone to fluctuate as the song slowly unfurls.

The straightest moment comes right at the start of the album with opener ‘Betsy’ and its sparkling acoustic guitar, gently shuffling drums and Lenker singing in a lower-than-normal register. It’s intimate and affecting and pulls the listener right into the album from the get-go. ‘Contact’ is dreamy and meditative until, as if waking in terror, the guitars gain sharp edges and Lenker emits piercing screams.

If they didn’t already, now Big Thief unequivocally have your attention. Lovers of inventive music would be foolish not to join them on their post-folk journey.

Chris Familton

NEW MUSIC: Velvet Starlings – Kids In Droves

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Here’s a great slice of authentic garage psych rock from Los Angeles band Velvet Starlings, fronted by Christian Gisborne. ‘Kids In Droves’ cuts a fine balance between 60s UK mods sounds, a tough Britpop angle and US garage rock circa Nuggets. The single follows their self-titled EP of last year which has seen them generate some major radio attention and a US and UK tour dates.

ALBUM REVIEW: Lambchop – This (is what I wanted to tell you)

Lambchop

Lambchop
This (Is What I Wanted To Tell You)
Merge Records

The band Lambchop is a very different beast these days, compared to a decade ago when they numbered up to 12 members with more of a conventional country soul sound. Now Lambchop is essentially Kurt Wagner with a small coterie of collaborators – a much more intimate proposition yet still possessing the gorgeous and hypnotic Lambchop qualities that have always been at the heart of their deeply soulful, emotive and intellectual music.

With compadres Matt Swanson (bass), Tony Crow (bass) and Matthew McCaughan (of Bon Iver and Hiss Golden Messenger) who co-wrote and produced the album, the band further refine the sound that first took shape on Mr. M (2016) and then blossomed into new eclectic pastures on the synth and auto-tune affected FLOTUS in 2016. Those new explorations are still embedded in the music on this record but there’s a leanness and a barer framework to these songs. You can hear the trademark melancholy via Wagner’s voice and the generally downbeat tone of the music but the songs are filtered through jazz, hip hop, future soul and the kind of avant-pop sounds that people like Scritti Politti, David Sylvian and Mark Hollis of Talk Talk developed.

Wagner’s way with words still shines through these lush textures, his devastating way of making seemingly simple phrases carry additional weight. It’s in his somnambulant delivery, the heavy use of effects on his voice but most importantly it’s the words themselves that carry the greatest weight and air of curiosity. “I’m in a Mexican restaurant bar, watching surfing and it’s amazing” he sings on ‘The Air Is Heavy And I Should Be listening To You’ and on ‘The You Isn’t So New Anymore’ he simply states “Michael Jackson just informed me that Santa Claus is coming to town”.

Wagner is firmly in his post-country phase, maybe he’s really always been there. Regardless, he’s a relentlessly inventive songwriter who is as devoted to sound, texture and atmosphere as he is to the lyrical possibilities of his poetry.

Chris Familton

 

NEW MUSIC: David Ellis – Eyes To The Sky

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T-Rex, Devendra Banhart, freewheeling melodies soaring over folk and acoustic psych boogie sounds – those the are the elements at play on this delightful track from English songwriter David Ellis. ‘Eyes To The Sky’ breezes along on a warm, spring current of air with a bucolic and organic vibe that perfectly balances wide-eyed innocence and some serious songwriting craft.

‘Eyes To The Sky’ comes from his new LP Misty Heights album, due out on August 15th.

NEW MUSIC: PCM – Ma

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Some hypnotic ambient composition to round out the week on Doubtful Sounds. PCM is an Italian ambient trio comprised of musicians Francesco Perra (P), Matteo Cantaluppi (C), Matteo Milea (M). They’ve come together to record this non-album single ‘Ma’, ahead of a full-length release. It shimmers and drifts, it’s aqueous and cloud-like in the way it moves and transitions gently across nearly eight hypnotic minutes.

Matteo Cantaluppi probably most known for his independent pop production duties has released, as a musician, a symphonic-ambient album with Baffo Banfi (“Biglietto per l’Inferno” founding member and Klaus Schulze’s collaborator) called “Frontera.” Francesco Perra is an ambient musician who often utilizes the guitar for his rich soundscapes. He’s published 3 albums, Music to Disappear (Idealmusik), The Neptune Sessions (Clubland Records), and Soundscape Box 1 (Tranquillo Records) under the name of Perry Frank. Matteo Milea is a sound engineer and sound designer who is also responsible for the trio’s art direction, giving visual representation to PCM’s liquid sounds.

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Beastwars – IV

Beastwars

Beastwars
IV
Destroy Records

Sometimes it takes monumental life events to galvanise a band, or any creative endeavour for that matter. In the case of New Zealand band Beastwars it was the diagnosis singer Matt Hyde received, confirming Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. In the weeks following his chemotherapy treatment the band hit the studio and recorded their fourth album – a blistering, pummelling, cathartic battle cry of a record.

“You can never get away from your mortal decay,” Hyde howls on ‘Mortal Decay’. This is an album that addresses mortality and the brutal reality of our time on this earth and the fragility of life. Out of that there is a sense of immense strength and resolution from both singer and band. There are winding, ruminative passages in some songs that add a reflective quality to the heavier, more visceral sound that dominates the album, but don’t start thinking this is a metal band going soft, their essence of heavy swinging and paint-peeling riffage is still firmly intact, made even more powerful with the quality of the songwriting and ideas on IV. 

As musicians, the band sound freer and more inventive than they ever have before. There is colour and shade on a song such as ‘Omens’ which combines the moodiness of Tool with lumbering doom metal density, while on ‘Mortal Decay’ the song straightens into pure metal chug and gallop at the three quarter mark to brilliant effect. On ‘The Traveller’, Hyde stands exposed, delivering an affecting primal scream  before the band join him and carry the song forward on a comforting melodic bed of heavy bass and avant garde guitar squalls. ‘Wolves And Prey’ tumbles and churns like a spinning vortex and ‘Like Dried Blood’ combines a piano and Hyde’s ghoulish vocal to great effect as the thunder grows and the riffs thicken and fill the air like heavy smoke.

“Out of adversity comes opportunity” said Benjamin Franklin and Beastwars have taken that mantra and bled a visceral, life-affirming album into existence. You’d be hard pressed to find many better metal albums than this in 2019. 

Chris Familton