Friday, April 28, 2017

Online Sounds: Swansea — Flaws

Self Group
Release: 4.28.17

Vocalist Rebecca Sanborn freely details a running stream of thoughts and observations as "Red Mittens" unfolds, introducing Flaws, the newly released second LP from Portland trio Swansea. While Sanborn riffs through what she sees and feels, ("And, I don't sound cool/I don't sound smart/I don't sound awesome/I don't even sound like a freak"), she's anchored by a clap-along backbeat and minimalist stabs of synthesized tone, electronically enabled pop sugar a touch more elaborate than the "Warm Leatherette" of yore.

Swansea, the work of Sanborn (Loch Lomond, Blue Cranes), drummer Ji Tanzer (Blue Cranes), and multi-instrumentalist Kyleen King, is fun sans guilt, integrity and attention paid to how they approach synthpop constructs ("This Time") and percussive loops ("No Blame"), ear candy that's neither MOR or disposable.  Particularly engaging is the chamber-infused "Just Like It Used To Be," arpeggiated keys and bowed instruments that drew me in upon first listen.

Below is a stream of the full album courtesy of Us-Them Group.  If you like what you hear, you can purchase Flaws at Swansea's Bandcamp site.  For more information on Swansea, head over to their site.

Letters From A Tapehead

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Music Pounding In My Head: Parlor Walls

Parlor Walls
Northern Spy Records
Released: 3.17.17

The Azerrad-approved outskirts of rock n’ roll music seem a largely accessible landscape since the days of tape trading and ‘zines, that subculture of miscreants and weirdos who, for a period of decades, subsisted on fodder cultivated by DIY record labels and performers who operated a little to the left of the synthetic tastes catered to by the American spoon feed. While rock music has lost relevance to a populace auto-tuned out and engaged by karaoke television, those outskirts still thrive and produce smart, thoughtful, and provocative sounds, aided by the tools granted them by the Internet to enable limitless self-promotion. This is necessary in post-truth America, especially when the powers-that-be seem poised to strip away funding for public broadcasting and the arts.

Listening to Parlor Walls’ debut LP, Opposites, I thought about how I would’ve interpreted an album like this twenty or thirty years ago, its makeup a bold clash of melodic pop and rhythmic irregularity. Questioning the legitimacy of working against oneself in both talk and action, Parlor Walls singer/guitarist Alyse Lamb asks, “Hey, why don’t we go… and play opposites?” her voice laced in tired disbelief, subtly pondering the need to address what could be, in her mind, an absence of commonsense.

This is the substance of "Play Opposites," the intro single from the Brooklyn trio, the examination of a population’s willingness to engage itself in self-sabotage. “Burn it to the ground… There ain’t nothin’ left…,” Lamb says again and again, applying repetition as if to convey the public’s annoying tendency to forget its history and its willingness to do the same shit again and again.

Throughout the length of Opposites, Parlor Walls recalibrates NYC Fringe while borrowing its convulsive free jazz cues from The Pop Group, the results a wiry, jazz-infused, often dissonant and fascinating work of art pop that recalls the creative angularity of early Blonde Redhead and the most abrasive aspects of Mars, DNA, and Sonic Youth. As a vocalist, Lamb exudes a delicate balance of vulnerability and angst, her demeanor liable to swing any which way the music requires, a corresponding melodic sensibility often giving way to more aggressive and abstract reactions. From the outset with "Crime Engine Failure," Lamb is the gentlest presence, her voice airy next to the honking saxophone blasts from Kate Mohanty and cyclical trashcan percussion from drummer, Chris Mulligan. Once the track fires up, though, there’s an artful confidence and confrontation to Lamb following the oft-referenced QUIETLOUDQUIETLOUD modern rock idiom, which Parlor Walls manages to make its own.

Referencing a type of music that Lydia Lunch once referred to as “music that references nothing else,” Parlor Walls revels in the aural mutations No Wave’s short-lived and seminal reign inspired, the lopsided disco rhythm of "Amabassadress" and the heightened wheeze Lamb chokes from her guitar in "Hesitation" recalling the era’s antagonistic disposition. And, it is these aspects of Opposites that garner the most attention upon first listen, outsider art nods that inform environs as anxious as those in "Teach Me Where To Roam," (which could owe something to Liars’ 2006 LP, Drum’s Not Dead), and the droning noise pollution of "Me Me My."

But, most striking is the sensitivity with which Parlor Walls approaches these sounds, never settling to compose weirdness for weirdness’ sake. During "Ambassadress," for example, there’s a section just following its initial beat-heavy stride when Lamb’s voice really emerges, bathing the activity beneath her in enough melody that a lushness is revealed, the sharp knock of the song taking on another dimension.  Emotional resonance makes the album more accessible, enabling the group to find creative ways to satisfy their attachment to avant ideas while creating something cohesive. Even despite the lengthy tangent that courses through "Birthday," a midway section of repetitious throb that props up Mohanty’s free-flowing sax, Lamb’s melancholic tone is its most affecting characteristic, her vocal approach granting something that’s abruptly constructed a touch of grace.

With that said, though, my favorite offering is the album’s most direct inclusion, "Love Again," whose steady and sturdy pace is dramatized beautifully by Lamb’s guitar and Mohanty’s brass. As effective and affecting as Parlor Walls sounds when they dismiss the constraints of conventional songwriting, that three and a half minutes of riff and melody is the band’s true embrace of those outskirts I’d mentioned earlier and the necessary rewrite that rock n’ roll had undergone following the trappings of babyboomer nostalgia and the genre’s subsequent and unfortunate disconnectedness with then-new audiences. And maybe this album doesn’t constitute an independent and/or modern rock rejuvenation per sé, but it’s difficult to remain at odds with the possibility of such an occurrence when the genre still means something to some people and still inspires work this meaningful.

If rock is truly irrelevant, that’s fine.  It still sounds great and it's a lot easier to find.  You just have to be willing to dig.

Letters From A Tapehead

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Gotta Read The Labels: RidingEasy Records

Yes, it's April 20th.  4/20: The day all marijuana connoisseurs and casual appreciators light up as a community and celebrate their common love of altered reality. 

Normally, I'd be combing through my music library trying to locate the perfect songs for the occasion and throwing together a nice little online compilation for everyone's enjoyment.  Instead, I'm going to take the opportunity to spotlight a series of stoner rock compilations from RidingEasy Records, Brown Acid, which, as of today, will see the release of its fourth installment. 

Beginning with its first volume in 2015, Brown Acid is comprised of obscure stoner rock and proto-metal singles from the 60s and 70s, located and curated by Permanent Records' Lance Barresi.  Collaborating with RidingEasy's Daniel Hill, Barresi's passion for digging up these largely forgotten tracks has offered new life to this music via this expanding collection. 

So, since Brown Acid: The Fourth Trip is out today, I thought it appropriate to post the selections from the entire collection.  If you like what you hear, and I think you will, please support the label (and the artists) by purchasing the music. 

The albums are posted with permission by Us-Them Group, who also provided the information on Brown Acid: The Fourth Trip.  You can read that below. 

About Brown Acid: The Fourth Trip: 
If you thought we were getting close to the end of the Brown Acid series with our last Trip, you were dead wrong...we're only just getting rolling. The well of privately released hard rock, heavy psych, and proto-metal 45s is deep and we are nowhere near tapped out. Most of these records were barely released and never properly distributed so they ain't easy to find, but they're out there if you're willing to dig...and we aren't afraid to get our hands dirty. Hard calluses have formed from handling the shovel and we've sifted through a lot of dirt, but we've dug up another ten tremendous records to share with all the heavy heads out there. This volume brings together eight insanely rare and skull-crushingly heavy 45s as well as two previously unreleased bangers.

You may remember the Zekes' jaw dropper "Box" from the First Trip. If you don't, you better go back and refresh your memory, you stoner. That song rips! And so does this previously unheard recording we legally obtained from the Beverly Hills records vaults. "Comin' Back" is the longest tune we've yet to include on this series and it's a full-on rager! The only surviving copy of this recording came to us on the original 1/4" master tape from Hollywood's long-defunct Demars & Duffy Music. We did our best to preserve the recording and we think you'll appreciate the rawness.

There have been numerous groups named Bad Axe over the years, but the one you hear here is the baddest. This five-piece fresh outta high school kicked out this jam (and a few others) in a Chicago studio in 1973 just for the hell of it. As a garage band, they were previously named The Burlington Express and they went on to be known as Bitch, but these dudes hit their stride as Bad Axe and "Coachman" is their crowning achievement. It went completely unreleased until 2014 when Permanent Records issued it and "Poor Man, Run" as a limited edition 45 with a killer picture sleeve. It's long out-of-print and only obtainable now on Brown Acid.

The rest of the records included on this volume vary in rarity, but at least two of them were virtually unknown until we discovered them. You'll win the lottery before you find copies of all of the original 45s in even the best record stores. Many of the records included in this volume are owned only by the members of the bands and some of the band members don't even have personal copies. That's just how hard these guys hit it back in the day! We're lucky some of these guys are still alive and well enough to give us permission to use their masters.

About the Brown Acid series:
Some of the best thrills of the Internet music revolution is the ability to find extremely rare music with great ease. But even with such vast archives to draw from, quite a lot of great songs have gone undiscovered for nearly half a century -- particularly in genres that lacked hifalutin arty pretense. Previously, only the most extremely dedicated and passionate record collectors had the stamina and prowess to hunt down long forgotten wonders in dusty record bins - often hoarding them in private collections, or selling at ridiculous collector's prices. Legendary compilations like Nuggets, Pebbles, ad nauseum, have exhausted the mines of early garage rock and proto-punk, keeping alive a large cross-section of underground ephemera. However, few have delved into and expertly archived the wealth of proto-metal, pre-stoner rock tracks collected on Brown Acid: The Fourth Trip.

Lance Barresi, co-owner of L.A./Chicago retailer Permanent Records has shown incredible persistence in tracking down a stellar collection of rare singles from the 60s and 70s for the growing compilation series. Partnered with Daniel Hall of RidingEasy Records, the two have assembled a selection of songs that's hard to believe have remained unheard for so long.

"I essentially go through hell and high water just to find these records," Barresi says. "Once I find a record worthy of tracking, I begin the (sometimes) extremely arduous process of contacting the band members and encouraging them to take part. Daniel and I agree that licensing all the tracks we're using for Brown Acid is best for everyone involved," rather than simply bootlegging the tracks. When all of the bands and labels haven't existed for 30-40 years or more, tracking down the creators gives all of these tunes a real second chance at success.

"There's a long list of songs that we'd love to include," Barresi says. "But we just can't track the bands down. I like the idea that Brown Acid is getting so much attention, so people might reach out to us."
Brown Acid: The Fourth Trip will be available everywhere on LP, CD and download on April 20th, 2017 via RidingEasy Records. Pre-orders are available for digital (with immediate download of the first single) at Bandcamp, physical pre-orders at RidingEasy Records.

On The Web:

Letters From A Tapehead

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Evil Usses: "Gambino"

Bristol's The Evil Usses have released their new album, Amateur Pro Wrestling, via Stolen Body Records. The album was produced by Deerhoof's John Dieterich, an appropriate choice given the group's level of spirited experimentation relative to Deerhoof's own distinct brand of avant-laden rock n' roll.

In the interest of promoting The Evil Usses and the band's honorable and clear attempts at avoiding convention, I'm recommending you give a listen to the single, "Gambino," which is an energized bit of art-prog replete with jazz accents and structural creativity, zero pretension and none of the staleness one may associate with what I would call a genuinely fun listen.  

All info comes courtesy of mutante-inc.

The Evil Usses are a Psychedelic Jazz Rock band from Bristol, comprising of guitar, saxophone, bass and drums. They have been praised for their wild and energetic live shows and, since forming in 2013, have performed extensively across the UK, at Glastonbury, Supernormal and Green Man. They have also accompanied bands on Radio 6 and BBC Introducing, as well as sharing stages with bands such as Melt Yourself Down, Sons of Kemet, Selvhenter and Kikagaku Moyo.

Their eponymous debut album (2015) saw them working with Jim Barr (Portishead/Get the Blessing) and they have since finished their second LP, Amateur Pro Wrestling, which was produced by John Dieterich (Deerhoof) and engineered by Oscar Rowe in the band's home studio.

The choice of Dieterich as a producer for this album was motivated by the band's shared regard of his work with Deerhoof, Powerdove and Half Japanese. Moreover, his DIY approach seemed a perfect match to The Evil Usses' own way of working. The results show that with a bare minimum of recording equipment and a great deal of care and attention, a studio quality sound is achievable from a 1970's semi-detached bungalow in a suburban cul-de-sac.

The record is a true collaboration, with each member contributing equally to the writing process. Amateur Pro Wrestling is an album of mutual appreciation of sound as art, working with pastiche, subversion and humour, yet not without sincerity. It is the combined effort of artists who seek not to fit into prescribed boxes but rather to explore the indefinable gaps between genres.

Set for release in March 2017 on Bristol Indie label Stolen Body Records it will be available on limited edition transparent coloured vinyl, compact disc & cassette.


Twitter: @evilusses
Facebook: /theevilusses

Letters From A Tapehead

Friday, April 07, 2017

TRAX!: Girls In Synthesis, The Peacers, Demen

Girls In Synthesis: "Disappear" (via Big Mouth Publicity/YouTube)

The Peacers: "Jurgen's Layout" (via mutante-inc./Drag City/Bandcamp)

Demen: "Ambur" (via Rarely Unable/kranky/Soundcloud)

Letters From A Tapehead

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

clipping.: "True Believer"

A new video from clipping.'s 2016 LP, Splendor & Misery, premiered today via Sub Pop.  You can check out the video below.   

Splendor & Misery is currently available for purchase at Sub Pop and Deathbomb Arc.  The video and all associated links and info come to you courtesy of Sub Pop. 

Watch Clipping’s new video for “True Believer” from Splendor & Misery, the group’s Hugo Award-nominated album

Clipping have just delivered an official video for “True Believer,” from Splendor & Misery, out now on Sub Pop. “True Believer” was directed by longtime collaborator Carlos Lopez-Estrada and stars guest vocalist Paul Outlaw as an astronaut floating from planet earth into outer space [watch here].

In further exciting news, Clipping’s
Splendor & Misery has been shortlisted for the “Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)” category of the Hugo Awards, which are given for specific works of science fiction or fantasy in the preceding calendar year. The awards ceremony will be held at Worldcom 75 in Helsinki, Finland on August 11th, 2017.

Later tonight (April 4th), Clipping will appear as support for the Flaming Lips in St. Petersburg, Florida at Jannus Live.

Splendor & Misery is available now on CD/LP/DL/CASS worldwide from Sub Pop [link here] and Deathbomb Arc [link here]. The album features the highlights “Baby Don’t Sleep,” “A Better Place,” and “Air ‘Em Out,” was produced by the band, and mixed by Steve Kaplan in Los Angeles. Wriggle is also available from Sub Pop [link here].

Letters From A Tapehead

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