Andrew Graham & Swarming Branch
Classic Glass [LP; Tonk]
Classic Glass is such a dippy record but its boundless pop energy eventually broke through my defenses despite my fairly intense reservations. Andrew Graham & Swarming Branch (why not just a simple band name? fuck man) flaunt fuzzy-fun chops as they explore the haunts no one is even thinking of traversing these days. Which is why I refuse to pass this one into the burnout pile. It believes in rock and/or roll, deep in its carefree soul, and who am I to argue with that? That’s above my pay grade, Wilbur. What’s more, I truly believe there are times when Graham and his wacky bunch hit upon a plane higher than your typical young-guy-tinkering-around level. It’s not all the time, mind you. If these puppies want to go anywhere in this crowded climate they’re going to have to whittle their songs down and fill their expensive-to-produce LPs with nothing but the straight-butter. Until then, however, Classic Glass represents a decent swipe at something that was probably unattainable anyway, so I can’t fault them for trying. Hints of Elephant 6, too, if that means anything to anyone these days.Links: Tonk
Intergalactic Letdown [CS; Teen River, Lillerne]
In the recent tradition of Chicago tape-gazers comes a new band of echoed ghosts called Tereshkova with one of the most depressingly-uplifting albums to come out in years. Years, I tells ya. Intergalactic Letdown might be the most inspired sack of sorries in Bummer Town, everything trudging not only through generally slow tempos (although “Downtown” is a helluva burner), but downtrodden and exceedingly minor chord progressions. This is music that, though it does have a wispy, see-through air to it with melodies hovering all up in a hazy cloud, ends up weighing more than a semi-truck on Jupiter. There are keys, guitars, bass, drums, and vocals on this, but stripped-down arrangement styles make it seem more like the effects pedals are the real instruments or band members. That is, tunes aren’t defined so much by the chords as they are by all that tremolo and distortion piled on top of everything, all of it giving Intergalactic Letdown real mass and gravity. It’s an odd mix, somewhat unbalanced for sure, nearly tipping over with the effects all but hiding the actual songs themselves. But it doesn’t tip over, and those beautiful songs really do get their chance to shine through the thick panes of glass, producing pure rainbows on the other side. Early Yo La Tengo comes to mind, Beat Happening, Jesus & Mary Chain, twee as a style in general – that good, yes. One of the best albums of the year – yes. Sometimes I fear these little 300-word Cerberus posts are dooming these very good, very important releases to a cassette-chic category they might not be able to break out of, so let’s hope like hell that doesn’t happen here. There’s more great stuff out there, so cheer up indie-kid. Or don’t, whatever.Links: Tereshkova - Teen River, Lillerne
Size and Scale [LP; Michigan Independents Network]
The hyperbole of press clippings lead me to completely miss the point of Size and Scale upon the first few listens. They compared Whales to bands with little in common, dwarfing the band’s own prolific pop style. While not a band to wow on any given listen, over the course of time the band’s album warms to your own sensibilities. At times fluffy in its aims, others grimy and grungy – Size and Scale is ambitious as only a band without a label, without prospects, and without careers can be. All those high hopes and childish dreams wrapped up in a document well worth peddling. Don’t get lost in press clippings, just in the emotional highs and lows of a band–just like any other–working to breakthrough glass ceiling #1 on their way through the other 2,396 that await. There is no business behind Whales other than that of collecting their influences onto a circular obelisk for Victrola playback. It’s good and that’s what matters. Close your eyes to everything else.Links: Michigan Independents Network
Loveher [10-inch lathe; In Context]
HAHAHA, well I knew I wasn’t going to beat the rush on this one, and when a record exists in a run of 25 even the web can’t keep up. So no, you can’t get Shelley Burgon’s luscious one-sided 10-inch lathe on clear wax, but chin-up, soldier, as Che Chen and others have releases in the offing for In Context Music. Be sure to imbibe her harp permutations via the BandCamp link below though, because they’re incredibly soothing and intricate as snowflake sound fragments. Electro-acoustic music can verge on the cold/clinical, but Loveher couldn’t be any less so. Its slow ascent from a fragment of an idea to a fully bloomed bud is reminiscent of a sun rising or a planet orbiting, slow and reassuring, as inevitable as the tides. A few of the sequences are eerily redolent of soundtrack work you’ll barely realize you’re hearing as you watch films, but Burgon inhabits a space all her own. She is to her harp what Julie Barwick is to her own voice, so pure and elegant you wonder why others crowd their compositions.Links: Shelley Burgon - In Context
Stoked Casual [CS; MJMJ]
Shakin’ Babies is one of those bands that leaves a writer wordless. Writers like to be clever. They like to write things no one else would write. And bands or artists that inspire these kinds of flowery-adjective narratives from us folks generally occupy those hyper-bizarre zones of cassette culture - stuff from the far reaches of the outer-cosmos, etc. We like words like “ethereal” and “prismatic.” But Shakin’ Babies? Shit, this band is from planet Earth. Planet Earth circa 1961. Although Stoked Casual doesn’t have the glossy sheen of an old Onyx cut, what with the drums sounding like sticks on cardboard boxes in spots, it still feels like it came right out of the garage of a Doo-wop someone lost in time. It’s just got that sound: snappy rhythms, sweet vocal harmonies, 6/8 sways, tremolo tones wound through curly-cued guitar cables, and that damned amazing voice from a singer called Jess Oleson (write that name down, people). It’s pulled together and snapped like a Polaroid shot in your parents’ scrapbook from prom night. Sticky dance floors, malt shops, drive-ins, poodle skirts… I could go on, but I don’t think I have to at this point. You already know that you love this.Links: Shakin’ Babies - MJMJ
Swim Tape [CS]
Elevator hell ride down the gaping mouth of pop. From a warped Minnie Riperton sample to magnetic field recordings in moments of odd tranquility, Josh Abramovici takes on the avant persona of Teddy Riley. Swim Tape is a soothing (but not TOO soothing) challenge of the mind and body. Abramovici provides the soul, heaping Afrocentric helpings of it. I find myself pressing all the buttons on the long trip, making sure to stop at each floor to browse before jumping back on the lift just as the doors threaten to trap me on the 7 1/2 floor. It’s my head, Abramovici, but I rarely travel inside it. I’d rather live the moment. So as I take one last deep breath to meet the devil, turns out that’s it’s just Tim Curry in a bitching outfit as Mia Sara seduces us both to the docile re-imaginings of 80s neo-soul. Is it Sade or Snacs – who gives a damn? The weather’s warm, the view is splendid, and I have an eternal mixtape to remember what it was like to have a soul before Abramovici stole it and used it as music.
High Aura’d / Blood Brightstar
split [7-inch; Anti-Matter]
With such immaculate presentation I would have afforded this split b/n High Aura’d and Blood Brightstar some leeway, but it wasn’t needed. At all. Both bands present a unique piece bold enough to justify the lavish jacket and doublemint-green wax (vinyl color the exclusive property of Anti-Matter Inc.), the audio lending energy to the visual accompaniment and vice versa. High Aura’d slip right into a drone coma the minute you lay needle to wax, and it’ll take you down with it until an unexpected locked-groove conclusion (when are they ever expected though?) seizes your nosehairs and demands you flip the record. Blood Brightstar await your proper-blackened ears on the other end, their Earth-y, filmic ruminations echoing loudly across the desert. I catch myself waiting for a King Dude vocal that never comes; remix? Not a rowdy release by any means and that’s the charm of it, as darkness comes in many forms. Don’t turn on the light if you want to see the true shape of the moon. Two-hundred-and-50 copies; get at least one.Links: Anti-Matter
Soft Erase [12-inch; Emerald Cocoon]
Metal Rouge says that they are “Punk, in the spiritual sense of the term,” and I like that insofar as it makes me want to describe the band’s sound as this: Spiritual punk. It’s something I’m still trying to figure out in my head, but I think it describes the way the group has a grimy, prickly, frustrated bent to it while at the same time having the beautiful psychedelic lucidity of Spacemen 3. You’ve got Helga Fassonaki, the noise-crooner otherwise known as Yek Koo, and you’ve got Andrew Scott, who copilots the operations at New Zealand-gone-LA weirdo label Emerald Cocoon along with her. And quite the pairing they make together here on this new LP, which mines the depths of despair to launch the band like a rocket ship into a scorching squall of guitar feedback and distortion. I mean… good GOD, it’s a hurricane in the grooves of this record. Where minimalism has the muscle to be maximalism is where Metal Rouge finds its sweet spot, setting up soft, paper templates of song with looped melodic lines and thrumming beats for guitar amps to tear apart piece by piece. Meanwhile, Fassonaki’s multi-prismatic voice floats on top in its spooky way, chanting incessant lyrics and swarming the mix like a militia of ghosts. The whole thing is at once hazy, disorienting, and opaque, while at the same making room for moments of sheer gorgeousness that are presented with breath-of-fresh-air clarity. That the improvisational method and single-take approach of the band can produce works of such obvious emotional weight is the real selling point here, making way for Soft Erase to be in the running for best noise-related release of the year.Links: Metal Rouge - Emerald Cocoon
Effigy [CS; VAALD]
The triangular relationship between creator, created and consumer can be a troubled one. Artists have fan bases, blind followers; the kind of person who will defend any piece of music that has a specific name attached to it. But take away that creators identity and the whole system gets uncomfortably imbalanced; trepidation suddenly seems a necessity as we expose ourselves to something without knowing how it will affect our body.
Torn Birch is just such an uncomfortable space. It’s an “anonymous” project, part of the first batch of tapes released months ago on Hooker Vision’s noisy bastard child VAALD. We don’t know who created the cold slivers of black and white noise or who’s screams are sprinkled among the guitar, electronics, and muffled field recordings of Effigy’s five tracks. The facelessness of it allows for an amount of displacement; they can be the listener’s screams, they can be internalized anguish given form on a black 30 minute cassette. The nebulous origin of the sounds allows us to personalize them; eliminate the names and faces and they become our own to play, absorb, rewind, mull over, masticate, flip-over, ponder, breathe and sleep to.
Finding out that Jim Haynes, Ryan McGill or Grant Evans himself is disgorging these primal growls would add it nicely to their oeuvre; put it next to one of their tapes on your shelf, it’s a comfortable enough place. But if it’s just a name and a title suddenly it does not fit so neatly; maybe it fits better on a bedside table or stacked, easily accessible, on the top of the bookcase. The simple design of the case becomes a puzzle and it seems to find its way back into your fingers, turned over and over, disassembled looking for clues to its origin or trajectory. Unable to compare it to other releases by the same artist, we are forced to listen with fresh ears, trying to pick up on stylistic tendencies or clues to whose hands are on the instruments. The mystery becomes part of the allure, and in that perhaps it is not worth solving.
Message from Era Ora [12-inch; Sound of Cobra]
Message From Era Ora is exactly what this column needs; a fresh aura, something to zone out to in an entirely different way. Embryo recorded this tight little son of a bitch in 1976 at various live venues, and while the group birthed 20 albums or in its heyday, if you haven’t been paying attention I don’t hear any reason you shouldn’t consider Message a decent Square One. It’s amazing to me that a recording from 1976 can sound so pummeling during a tom-tom rape while a lot of the records I spin from NOW don’t carry the same gut-sucking punch. Beyond that, if you get inside these compositions and stay with them from top to bottom it becomes apparent there are wicked forces at work here, and nothing short of a tractor-beam pull is required to put jammy jazz-prog, drenched in Fender Rhodes, like this across. They nail it, and have fun doing it. The solos don’t hitch up or anything, but I prefer the sections wherein the players lock horns together and thresh out intense clusters of activity together the most. I’m reminded most of fellow travelers like Sun Ra, Magma, Art Bears, Gong and the like, along with AMT and other psychedelic jamsters. There’s a shitload of other stuff that factors in, which I’ll let you suss out once you inject Embryo’s Message for yourself.Links: Sound of Cobra