Bring out the big guitars.
Kyle Thomas’ latest album as King Tuff sheds the folkie-dreamy aura that seeped through the 2012 self-titled and lets it rip. You could forget, listening to this album that Thomas sat in for Devendra Banhart’s freak folk family photo on Cripple Crow, or that he once crooned over ephemeral acoustic tunes on the wonderful and (sadly only) Feathers album. You might remember, listening to this album, that Thomas played guitar in the metal-celebrating Mascis side project Witch, especially in “Headbanger” though its guttural growling cedes to muscle-bound bubblegum (a la one more Thomas project, Happy Birthday, come to think of it).
Still right from the beginning, Black Moon Spell carves a different niche for itself than any of the front man’s other projects, or indeed his first outing as King Tuff. Just like Ty Segall’s Slaughterhouse ditched the haze and jangle of psychedelic fuzz, Black Moon Spell powers right over its poppy, good-time predecessors. This is hard, riffing guitar rock, belligerently amplified and freaked with fuzz. If Feathers ever put you in mind of Tyrannosaurus Rex, King Tuff will recall instead the full-on, glam-tinted, guitar-thundering T. Rex of “Bang a Gong.”
On the fourth volume of Another Timbre’s Berlin Series, things get more complicated. Like the first three volumes, it’s a split release, and like those CDs it features improvised and composed new music by Berliners. But the definition of “based in Berlin” loosens here, the split between the two parts is less absolute and the music is less tethered to “improvised music” as a discreet set of sounds and practices.
Despite its alienating title, Distance and Decay feels intimate. It’s an intimacy that comes from more than just Shakhnes’s recent choice (starting with last year’s Glistening Examples LP Leave/Trace) to begin using his real name after a string of releases as Mites. It also doesn’t wholly derive from the fact that this album feels somehow born of his personal experience. Above all, the intimacy in these four extended pieces comes from their immediate, built-in familiarity.
It’s possible that leading with the saxophone was misdirection. Among the rewarding aspects of listening to Frozen Letter, the fourth album from Chapel Hill trio Spider Bags, is the sonic range on display. To put it another way: this is an album that flows like an album. There are two distinct halves, the first with one song over three minutes, the second with none shorter than five. And, yes, there’s some saxophone, roaring in to join the celebratory clatter on opener “Back With You Again in This World.” But it’s less the kind of side one/track one that’s a blueprint for what to expect and more a statement of purpose. Frozen Letter encompasses catchy and introverted in equal measure. You can dance to some of these songs; others, like “Coffin Car,” border on slow-core. What’s most impressive, though, is that this album feels cohesive: this is a band with range, and it shows.
A late blooming leader, pianist Don Pullen spent much of the first decade of his jazz career as a sideman. Pullen started with ESP label iconoclast Giuseppi Logan, breaking off into a creative partnership with drummer Milford Graves and later hooking up with Charles Mingus’ last influential band. His proclivities frequently leaned freer than the bassist/composer, and after chafing at the boundaries of the band’s songbook, he broke away once again this time to finally realize solo aspirations.
Contrast isn’t exactly the musical quality many associate with “metal.” Force, relentlessness and unremitting density might come more quickly to mind. But Oregon’s YOB has put together a terrific run of records as dynamic as they are heavy. Reflectivity has always been part of the trio’s musical personality, a speculative and at times heavily textural dimension that actually accentuates the sheer weight of their sound. It’s not as simple as suggesting that this alternation parallels that which Mike Scheidt layers into his guitar sound (now phased-out arpeggiation, now hell riff) and vocals (now Geddy Lee croon, now cosmic roar), but that’s not totally out of place either. With a steady lineup for the first time in a good spell, the band’s profile has risen as its music grows. Fittingly, on their first release for Neurot, all the band’s elements are amplified and woven into some of their best music ever.
Robert Curgenven is an Australian composer and sound artist currently based in the UK, whose work on Sirène is deeply affected by his roots in Cornwall. Cornwall is a land steeped in history and mythology, with a landscape dominated by rugged valleys, windswept moorland and battered coastlines. Curgenven’s focus is on the sea, as indicated by the title, and he manages to convey something of the grandiose potency and inherent menace the ocean has represented to so many Cornish people over the centuries. The waters are choppy and treacherous off the Cornish coast, and so represented a clear danger to local people who, paradoxically, relied on the sea for their very existence, as their main source of food.
Hey … I was around, guy. I was there when nobody gave a fuck for Further. People had their reasons, all of which were valid for the early-mid ‘90s West Coast indie rock scene in which they kicked around. The brothers Rademaker – Darren and Brent, guitarist and bassist, respectively – had been kicking around southern California since the early ‘80s, with their new wave band A New Personality. Coupling with drummer Kevin Fitzgerald, they weaved and bobbed their way through the ‘80s, rebranding themselves as Shadowland along the way, and getting a big-money/no-traction record deal with Geffen in the late ‘80s. They slugged it out in the moment before grunge happened, with no takers on their dark paisley sounds, and disbanded just as grunge overcame their former record company’s futures, and the industry overall.
Shadowland would’ve received a drubbing even if the alternative nation never happened, so it’s both interesting and perplexing to see how they decided to operate afterwards, by picking up second guitarist Josh Schwartz and rebranding themselves as Further. Where Were You Then? compiles tracks from the band’s 7”s and EPs, covering their early days up until the Schwartz and the Rademakers became principle members of Beachwood Sparks and The Tyde.
In 2010, when Esben and the Witch showed up suddenly on a big indie (Matador) with an enormous-sounding single (“Marching Song”), this outfit seemed like one of the most capable of the crop of bands that were reconfiguring goth in the wake of aughts reconfigurations of jagged post-punk. And their follow-ups were capable, though none really followed through on the spacious gloom of “Marching Song.”
Carnival of Souls starts in a feedback scree that gives way to the kind of grinding, abrasive, maniacal groove that you might expect from Pere Ubu, particularly after 2013’s rock flavored Lady of Shanghai. Yet it quickly devolves into a more surreal, melancholy experience, a not-quite-right landscape of shifting shapes and elliptical spoken word descriptions. If Lady from Shanghai was a freight train roaring off the tracks, Carnival feels more like wreckage and aftermath. It is pensive and imbued with loss.
Tom Harrell’s tenure at High Note continues with Trip, a departure from his last vocals-inclusive project for the label and return to an all instrumental setting with which he is intimately familiar. Tenorist Mark Turner, bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Adam Cruz comprise the band, and each is totally attenuated to Harrell’s mellow but far from sedate aesthetic. All compositions are of the leader’s devising and reliably probing.
The opening “Sunday” sets a mood with a deep bass throb and loping, expansive rhythm. Okegwo goes for maximum aural girth with his strings, and Cruz taps out sparse steady beat on cymbals for the horns to take turns gliding across. “Cycle” is frenetic by comparison but still replete with rounded edges and a plush center — thanks once again to the corpulent Okegwo sound. Rapid chases fuel the theme before another relay race of solos starting with Turner’s aerated variations. Cruz carves out some creative space before a closing ensemble volley.
The first wave of psychedelia was formed by a fairly narrow set of experiences. By and large, it was made by people in their 20s — people who had taken some drugs and had some sex and wanted more of both. It was all about an appetite for sensual overload. What priorities and life experiences might shape psychedelia made by a guy in his 50s? Probably enough sex and substances to know the limits and live with the consequences of each, as well as plenty of other experiences that those youngsters couldn’t even imagine. Facing the deaths of people you know and living on, raising kids on free-lancer wages, partnership beyond the dissolution of love, take your pick… how will that stuff make your head spin when you put it into the brain that spits out a tune?