I listen to a lot of neo-psych. To hear my spouse talk about it, I only listen to neo-psych. But I’d like to point out that I also listen to vintage, classic and proto psych. And country psych and soft psych, and then there’s synth psych, garage psych, psych soul, psych jazz, prog psych and psych folk. Lots of psych folk. And folk psych. I’m into psychedelics, folks. Wand’s third record in about a year finds the band almost as bugged out as I am, using the studio like a water pipe, filtering nuggets of sunshiny pop through a murky solution of heavy prog. It’s heady, brah—more flange than that nitrous balloon I hit right before Tull in ’92. Haven’t really been the same since. But, yeah, Wand delivers dynamic, lysergic rock ‘n’ roll on burners like “Paintings Are Dead” and the elven frolic of album closer “Morning Rainbow.”
—Sean L. Maloney
Poor Josh Ritter. God has anointed him a prophet, sending him out to tell the rest of us that: a) the end is nigh, and b) we’re all going to be toast. It’s not good news, but instead of letting it drag him down, Ritter is finding a seat by the bonfire, unpacking a bag of marshmallows and letting his words flow like beer at a kegger apocalypse. There’s “Henrietta, Indiana,” the story of a father and son making a booze run to Putney, Ky., that ends in three dead bodies. There’s “Seeing Me ’Round,” about a man who’s been stabbed once, shot twice and thrown off a bridge onto the ice below; he may or may not be alive. In between, there are beckoning graveyards, tempting infidels, parents who rush their daughters to bible college, Moses looking at the moon, a Jesus who hates high-school dances and Ritter himself, making good on his promise that “If you want to see a miracle, watch me get down.” He does, again and again, in guitar lines that are jittery with pop portent, hosting a sharp-witted party for nonbelievers everywhere.
Established in 1973, Los Lobos is an American institution, not just another band from East Los Angeles. Boasting singers who write real songs and savvy multi-instrumentalists, the original group has managed to stick together to create an amazing body of work. Part of being a classic band is making classic albums, which Los Lobos has done quite consistently. Gates Of Gold is its first album of new material in five years, and a welcome addition to its expansive discography. With plenty of revved-up guitars and some Latin rock, as well as soulful balladry, Los Lobos can be counted on to generate a timeless formula that transcends strict categorization. While singer/guitarists Cesar Rojas and David Hidalgo do the heavy lifting, this is a team effort all the way, with Steve Berlin, Conrad Lozano and Louie Pérez adding a range of sonic backdrops including hard blues, acoustic introspection, greasy garage spunk and progressive-minded studio rock.
Though bands have been routinely fusing metal aesthetics with shoegaze dynamics and post-rock’s larger-than-life scope for decades, Deafheaven’s 2013 album, Sunbather, won considerable acclaim for how seamlessly it blended the three, simultaneously becoming the most lauded and despised metal album in recent memory upon its release, notably drawing the ire of both the Bay Area DIY scene—which had served as the group’s initial launching point—and the international metal community. New Bermuda finds Deafheaven as dynamic and wildly ambitious as ever, weaving gorgeous, almost pastoral instrumental passages in between some of the very heaviest music the band ever cut to tape, even as it wears its influences a bit too clearly on its sleeves, liberally cribbing from Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s “Sleep” for the opening guitar figure of “Come Back.” The end result, though, is a staggering masterpiece, one that’s quite possibly the finest American metal album since Neurosis’ Through Silver In Blood.
Though Kylesa has released seven proper albums since forming in 2001, Exhausting Fire is the fourth—and best—installment of what will hopefully one day be recognized as the finest thing going in the forward-thinking heavy underground. (From metal to authentic heaviness without any metal to a gazillion points throughout.) Since the release of 2009’s Static Tensions, Kylesa has trafficked in a wholly original utilization of massive burliness via riffs and teeth-rattling heaviness; tastefully applied psych elements; the most infectious of hooks (guitar and vocal anchor Laura Pleasants is the primary source of this crucial attribute) that recall the greatest examples of ’90s downbeat indie-rock excellence; frequent forays into tribal and polyrhythmic drumming that somehow double as the perfect framework for the heaviest pop band on the planet; and an immediately identifiable—not to mention emotionally impactful—male/female approach (not always within the same song, however) to the venerable vocal dichotomy of ferocious and visceral played against hauntingly beautiful. If Exhausting Fire emerges from the looming “best of 2015” listicle-orgy as a dominating presence, then music journalism might survive another year.
Three years ago, guitarist Tom Carter (Charalambides, Sarin Smoke, etc.) checked into a German doctor’s office with what seemed like a bad flu. It turned out to be pneumonia so severe that he ended up in a coma. This double LP of solo electric guitar instrumentals resonates with that experience and its life-changing effects. Psychedelic musicians have long celebrated their psychoactive substances of choice; Carter includes a slow-paced, rue-tinged ode to a beta blocker. Clean-toned rhythm figures pulse like a deep subconscious state, and the leads rise up through them with the enforced patience of an ascending diving bell. When Carter finally busts out the fuzz-tones that emerge on side three’s “Prussian Book Of The Dead,” you hear the exultation of someone who isn’t just cutting loose for the sake of it, but has good reason to savor the fact that he’s still alive.
Creepy-sexy pre-EDM goddess Peaches expands her bitchy brand and salty sound beyond naughty electropunk for Rub, her first album since 2009’s I Feel Cream. Being away from the studio gave her time to ruminate with the lyrical and vocal help of Kim Gordon and Feist—women who, like Peaches, changed how we channel sound and femme imagery, rather than just make dirty sex talk and skeevy dance rawk.
Noise producer Vice Cooler provides Peaches a maximal tone for hard synth-pop cuts such as “Light In Places,” as well as the dramatic, hook-filled “Close Up” (with Gordon chatting up the chorus) and the majestic “I Mean Something,” featuring Feist. Peaches opens up a bit and sing-speaks socio-conscious rhetoric like “Liberate en masse/Eliminate the class/All humans, free at last,” but, of course, finishes that line of thought with something as rude as “So much beauty coming out of my ass.” With that, it’s important to know that Rub stilly happily rubs listeners the wrong-right way with crass, curt tunes such as “Dick In The Air” and “Vaginoplasty.”
Although Felt-fans Alasdair MacLean and bassist James Hornsey started collaborating while in their teens and formed their first band in 1991, the debut Clientele album didn’t appear until 2000. Between then and 2010’s mini-album Minotaur, the Clientele released five albums, each a crepuscular treasure. Although several members came and went from the quartet, and the arrangements on some albums expanded to include strings or a horn or two, MacLean’s hazy, melancholy vocals and crystalline guitar picking made the LPs remarkably consistent. Alone And Unreal compiles 10 album tracks plus one recent single (“On A Summer Trail”); it’s neither better nor worse than any other Clientele album, but it’s an excellent primer. The real treat for fans, though, comes in the deluxe edition, which includes a 10-track “lost album” from 1994, The Sound Of Young Basingstoke. Although the production is a bit thin, the songs, some of which resurfaced later, are as shimmery and inviting as the ones chosen for Alone And Unreal.
When I was 10, I had a Swedish nanny who used to sing lullabies to me in her native tongue. One night, a friend slept over, but unbeknownst to her, he was the son of a Swedish diplomat. When she left, he said, “Her song is about hoping you die in your sleep.” I said, “It’s so beautiful, I hope I do, too.” None of that is true, but it illustrates a good point. Dungen’s Gustav Ejstes has never sung in English, but language is only a barrier if you perceive it to be. Allas Sak, Dungen’s first album in nearly five years, is a brilliant pastiche of styles—swelling piano/guitar prog, quirky jazz fusion, Traffic/Jethro Tull-tinged rock—with Ejstes’ quietly evocative voice becoming another musical texture in the absence of discernible lyrics. With repeated listenings, his unintelligible phrasings can take on some faux-significance as one’s imagination shapes it into a recognizable form. For the record, Allas Sak loosely translates to “everyone’s thing”; from Ejstes’ Swedish mouth to the world’s multilingual ear.
Wavves’ history is littered with low-grade dramatic stupidity and unexpected collaborations (MTV, Big Boi, Grand Theft Auto). It’s so much that you wouldn’t be kicked out of bed for thinking vocalist/guitarist/mastermind Nathan Williams was masterminding an extensive punking that, after the big reveal, saw Williams, Ashton Kutcher and Alan Funt emerge and break into a set of bastardized Dick Dale and Ween covers. Hell, a small corner of the internet (read: the Wavves Facebook page) is still losing its shit over the latest promo pictures of the band dressed like the Spin Doctors still sell records. Who’s to say chains, even if they be gold, shiny and hanging from around members’ necks, aren’t being yanked left, right and center?
However, even if we are being collectively yanked, you can’t deny that the yanking at the hands of V feels pretty good. (Minds out of the gutter, people!) Many complaints were launched after Afraid Of Heights sidled toward Green Day-ish punk. That idea will have holes poked in it with the razor-sharp guitar and its recall of twitching surf rock. Imagine Devo and the Ventures setting up face-to-face on Venice Beach à la Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time. Williams emerges from a cotton candy-colored yurt, counts the mess in, and it soars with the flanged guitars and sock-hop rhythms of “Heavy Metal Detox,” the wiry power pop of “Way Too Much,” and the infectious vocal lines of “My Head Hurts” slicing thin strips of the Ramones and basting them to quirky surf rock executed with no-consequences brattiness. Sure, it’s steeped in familiarity, but it’s also fun in the sun, and who cares if they end up with weird tan lines because of the backward baseball caps?