Friday 31 January 2014

INTERVIEW - Alpine Decline

This weekend I'm am super psyched to announce that Sonic Masala has been able to lure from Beijing the inimitable duo Alpine Decline, who have a fifth record - that's in about four years too - ready to lay waste to Brisbane. They will be playing Trainspotters on Saturday February 1 - supporting the hometown return of Tape/Off after their national single tour - as well as playing an instore performance at Tyms Guitar on Sunday February 2 (2pm). Both shows are free, so there is no excuse to not immerse yourselves in the embryonic fervour of Alpine Decline's music.

I spoke to Jonathan Zeitlin from the band last week...

SONIC MASALA - Alpine Decline is, to me at least, a mystery band - having carved four immaculate albums seemingly out of the ether, slowly changing from the Doug Martsch self-titled album to the marred contemplation of Night Of The Long Knives or the haunted Visualisations. In fact each album can be quite chimeric - appearing to be one thing one moment, then spinning on its head the next. Can you run through the evolution of the band, how circumstances/environments coloured each record? 

Jonathan Zeitlin (Alpine Decline): I think you pretty much got it right with the whole "carved…seemingly out of the ether" thing. Theories are currently being tested at the Large Hadron Collider. Physicists are confident experiments will bear out their mathematical calculations… We try to think of the albums outside of the artist-evolution narrative and imagine them each as episodes in a genre series or something - the way you can dive into the noir detective world in a Raymond Chandler novel without needing any story continuity. Someone who finds out about us, now or in 20 years, can then totally explore each record like a trip into some far flung destination within our universe. If the albums themselves are chimeric, it's because our reality, like most people, is a constantly flickering, twitching thing, and we're trying to explore that rather than just execute a particular aesthetic that fits neatly into a genre we like or what the rest of the music world is up to. The circumstances/environments of recording at City Terrace in East LA with M Geddes Gengras and recording in a bombed-out subterranean fume-choked space in East Beijing with Yang Haisong have their mark on the sound and content of the albums, but we'll let someone else explore that topic… 

SM - How would you describe Alpine Decline? 

JZ: In the Venn diagram we're roughly, hopefully, in that space where songwriting and sonic chaos come together. We're into tangible reality over abstract aesthetics, but with the belief that otherworldliness, mysticism and myth are a part of that tangible reality. Alpine Decline should be discovered buried under a thousand feet of snow, somewhere, in some other time... 

SM - The sonic shifts between songs, let alone albums, alludes to restless sonic spirits. What are your core influences - where you always begin as a band? Is taking yourselves out of the comfort zone part of the process? 

JZ: Trying to have new experiences, get to some far out spaces, continue developing the narrative - that's just how we feel we should be living our lives and we don't think our music should be some separate thing we're doing. The albums are the artifacts and the means by which we hope to share these experiences and connect to people on a humanist level. We begin by trying to tie our concrete world and perceptions to images, language, and sounds. We feel like we can trust our craftsmanship as musicians and songwriters and just focus on creating something that is genuine and deep and complete. 

SM - The intricacies of much of the albums makes the aesthetics feel bigger than a duo - how do you go about replicating things live? 

JZ: There are some things that we can do to make our sound more 3 dimensional live - some secret sort of things involving old tape echoes and other kinds of magic - but we stay away from loops or prerecorded stuff so it comes out pretty different. There's a way we think about records and there's a way we think about playing live. With just two of us on stage, the thrill is in connecting with each other and trying to build up this massive storm of sound. The risk of it collapsing and our natural tendencies to let it rip on guitar 'n drums makes the live sound a lot more aggressive and raucous. 

SM - You are now a family - how has that altered Alpine Decline, either in vision or logistics? 

JZ: Becoming parents was like shooting the joy diamond through our foreheads - it's a total trip. The logistics of touring with a baby are different, (laughs). After Australia we'll be touring across China blowing out the new album, and that should be a trip with the kiddo. We'll see how, or if, it alters Alpine Decline. Our internal logic is kinda hard to penetrate and tilt off its axis, but you never know. 

SM - You are based in China - what is the music scene like there? Is it a community spirit; is it cliquey; easy to be included; easy to be ostracised? 

JZ - We can only speak to our own experience, and should probably avoid making big general statements about China. We've been lucky to fall pretty deep into the Beijing scene, but I gather a lot of foreign artists of all disciplines have a difficult time finding their place within these communities. But if you're trying to compare it to other places, if you're not obsessed with breaking through into a certain scene here, it's an incredibly free, Wild Wild West place for an artist. Falling into the Beijing scene has allowed us to meet some really incredible people and bands, as playing music in general has all over the world, but perhaps that mostly matters to us personally, and hasn't necessarily altered our music. We've always been working spinning out Alpine Decline and take the periscope view of the outside world. 

SM - The actual move to China is intriguing. I understand that the move was almost dictated by the band itself - it created the headspace that led to you moving there - is that correct? 

JZ: Well OK so yes but it's also just our lives… I guess the writing process we've embraced is designed to erase any line between our lives and Alpine Decline. But yeah I guess I've always thought about my life and made decisions like it was a novel or film, and I guess that kind of ego is drawn to drama, and at a certain point after 10 years in LA it felt like, "This is the part of the story where suddenly everything changes." But that realization came through making the first three albums, and at some point while recording the third album “消失/Disappearance" it was like we were, uh, reading the oracle bones and they were telling us our future was out in the wreckage and chaos of east Beijing. 

SM - There seem to be a lot of ex-pats working out of China - Pairs, Stegosaurus?, Death To Giants are just three I can think of - is this a creative hub of "outsiders" gravitating towards one another, or just happenstance? I do realise that China is a pretty big place (laughs)

JZ: Those three are all Shanghai bands - and foreigners are really the driving force behind a lot of what's happening in that scene, expats working really hard to create the same kind of fun, passionate, dedicated music community as they had in their countries of origin, trying hard to get Chinese interested in this kind of thing. In Beijing it's sorta flipped, with Chinese driving the scene and expat artists often orbiting around the edges more. I think we're in this really great zone where the initial feelings/issues of being expats have kinda drifted into the background and other things have taken up a place front and centre in our focus. It's still, everyday, a trip living here, though. 

SM - So I feel that there is and continues to be a narrative that governs the evolution of AD. How does the new album fit into the mix? 

JZ: Well the narrative of the records is woven deeply with our own narrative, our own reality, although it's probably best to let listeners dive in and not try to direct any analysis or their experience with the music. GO BIG SHADOW CITY is, to me, the most maximum, expansive, panoramic album yet - both in its sounds and songwriting - and I feel like its role in our series of records is to push the rocketship into super-sonic, solar-shielding peeling off, into-the-white saturation. I hope at the end you pull off the headphones, pupils dilated, sweat beading on your upper lip, wondering where you are and what the fuck THAT was. 

SM - I see that you are doing a drone set in Melbourne. Can you tell me a little about the drive behind that? (I'm a fan of so many different types of music, but drone/found sound/site-specific music fascinates me the most...I'm trying to develop a novel or script around the whole process...) 

JZ: I dunno if it's exactly drone music, but when we took a short break from playing guitars and drums last year, we set up stacks of tape machines, synthesizers, no input effects chains, and started drawing up this set. It shares a moral kinship with the atmospheric world of our albums, the sonic architecture that surounds the songs, but with the space and expansion you get when you pull away the flesh 'n bones of drums and guitars. Which I guess makes it all blood and neural sparks (laughs). 

SM - Will you have vinyl at the shows? 

JZ: Yup, we're lugging some vinyl copies of our new album GO BIG SHADOW CITY and some copies our first four albums too. In case you can't find us at your local record store, you can always buy our albums directly from us at or various other places on the Internetworks.

Make sure you get along to one of these shows - Alpine Decline really are one of the best-kept secrets in the musical world in my opinion - a ridiculously huge statement, but I stand by it. Go Big Shadow City, and all the band's albums, are out now through Tenzenmen Records.

Thursday 30 January 2014

Cursing The September Girls

I’ve been watching the progress of Ireland’s lost pop noir rockers September Girls for some time, ever since they dropped their Green Eyed/Danny Wood 7” through Soft Power Records back in 2012. The girls have built up a steady oeuvre of reverbed and honeyed harmonies with a buoyant instrumentation laced with something more sinister since then, and now they arrive with their debut album Cursing The Sea (coming out on Fortuna Pop).

 That undercurrent of darkness has bubbled closer to the surface over time; the quintet busy in the shadows over the twelve track on display here and is never more haunted and suggestive than on ‘Left Behind.’ It’s clear the 60s garage pop resurgence that continues to reverberate some years onward have left its indelible mark on the band – listen to the opening moments of ‘Heartbeats’ and you can hear a sneering Mamas & Papas, pastoral pop dressed in leather – but there are moments that echo further outwards into the early Gothic dourness of The Jesus & Mary Chain, as the broiling post-punk of ‘Ships’ attests. The slight shifts in nuance comes from the fact that four out of five members are songwriters, an evident source of inspirations that allows Cursing The Sea to shy away from the more predictable mores of the genre. September Girls still reminds me of Brisbane band Feathers, which makes me sad, because they were a great band that were really starting to flex their creativity. But Cursing The Sea makes me happy too, as September Girls are here to pick up the slack and run with it. The end result is a dark, seductive whisper from behind you – wind on your cheek, promising danger and desire in (un)equal measure.

Pre-order Cursing The Sea here.

Wednesday 29 January 2014

Line Bo Ningen Against The Wall...

I was supposed to have interviewed London-based Japanese acid psychers Bo Ningen last week, but due to unforeseen circumstances I missed the boat. Which is a shame, as new record Line The Wall is as wailtastic as you could possibly imagine. Brought out by Stolen Recordings and newly-minted Aussie label Black Night Crash Records (run by one third of awesome Melbourne band Iowa, no less), Bo Ningen's second LP is a face-melter. There are moments when I feel like I'm listening to At The Drive-In mechanics driving The Mars Volta flights of fetid fantasy - single 'Henkan' truly embodies such celestial clusterfucks of flailing sonic frisson. There are moments where the four-piece take things into a more chugging, 70s psych mode - 'Daikaisei Part I' is the perfect encapsulation of that, at least in the beginning - further into the album and Parts II and III strap you to the fuselage of a ship destined for a distant sun. The repetitive squall of '32 Kaiten' on the other hand will always get my pulse racing...

I've seen these guys a few times when I lived in London. Once in the 100 Club - I think they supported Pulled Apart By Horses? They blew everything to smithereens every time, and they do so again here with Line The Wall - buy it here. They are playing Big Day Out right now, and they are going to play Primavera Sound (alongside the most excellent Courtney Barnett, an incredible coup for her!) in May. This hallucigenic mind melt is only getting started...

Tuesday 28 January 2014

Sexy Lords Of The Marijuana Deathsquads

If I hadn't already heard the wicked brilliance of the bizarro 'Ewok Sadness', I still would have bought Oh My Sexy Lord from Title in Southbank on Monday. Why?

1) I was buying other records at the time, and when the impulse hits me, it hits hard, and I find it hard to reconcile with reason (Beaches, Woollen Kits, Super Wild Horses and Constant Mongrel also now have a new home);

2) Because Title had 20% off everything in the store (so I had to buy a Taschen Press book on classic Horror films and a DVD of Klaus Kinski Western The Great Silence);

3) And because Oh My Sexy Lord is the latest album from a band called Marijuana Deathsquads.

Seriously, how can you fuck with that? One of the best band names I have heard in - well, ever. It helps that the Minneapolis madman are led by Ryan Olson, he of Polica and Gayngs fame/infamy - the guy has the knack of finding the best hooks from the wildest nooks and crannies. Roboticised, squeaky vocals over analog synth drones and freakouts, epileptic drumbeats and the solar flare of a comet trail frying the edge of the tape - this is what Tyondai Braxton should have created after having left Battles behind (not that his experiments aren't worthy of consideration...just that this is more inherently interesting).

Get Oh My Sexy Lord here through Totally Gross National Product. Then play it really really loud, grab your other, and get freaky. Like, REALLY freaky...

Monday 27 January 2014

Hits From The Box #79 - Straya n Shit

Let's spend this after Australia Day Australia Day with ten Australian acts, just to be all parochial and flag-wavey while we digest our overconsumption of flesh and alcohol. Welcome to Hits From The Box - National Pride Without The Racism/Shitness Edition. I want to cut out the poeticism (my eyes)/rambling pretension (most others' eyes) today, and just offer you some great Australian stuff. I hope I do all these bands justice.

Broadcasting Transmitter is a cosmic Other from Sydney, if you listen to them. If you listen to me, I would call them kosmiche Other - creeping space ephemera, leaking through our atmosphere from a long dead star (OK, so the poeticism/pretension takes no holidays...). Hungover & High is the band's EP, and it's all kinds of astral projection, spatial invasion, tangential transience and palatial hallucinogens - in short, a psych monster like no Other. The excellent folk from Octopus Pi (alongside the band's own Time /\ Space label, have put this excellent release out - let's hope there is plenty more where this came from - it's brilliant.

Ryan Potter from Nikko and The Scrapes has his own (other) thing, The Maryettas, which we have featured on Sonic Masala before. He has a new release out (through Brisbane scrambled garage doyens Long Gone Records) called Great Australian Rope Trick, and it finally marries up the sunniness and grittiness that the varied performance in the live domain tend to offer up. Without the Gothic heft of Nikko or the unbridled skeletal mayhem of The Scrapes (although he is joined by Psy Ants/Knee Chin skinsman Aiden Hilcher on these recordings), Potter's songwriting nous and guitarplaying idiosyncrasies come to the fore. It's country & western for someone not truly attuned to country & western. I saw a Turkish-Iraqi movie last year that was a take on the modern-era Western genre, and Great Australian Rope Trick is sorta in the same ballpark, or at least shares some of the same DNA - a quirky mess, both bittersweet and just plain bitter, yet always fun, always loose - and if it was scored by Crazy Horse. Expect to see some of this on a Sonic Masala show soon...

Another week, another Room40 release it seems. This time we have Berlin-based Simon James Phillips and his clustered, cloistered piano compositions, Chair. Imagine tearing into the finely calibrated strings within a piano with blunter instruments - fingers, fists, teeth - a visceral quality, yet still imbuing everything with the subtle finesse that such a musical receptacle requires. Chair somehow feels like that, like a living pulse, a raw yet still graceful extension of one's slowly escalating heartbeat as emotions - whether they are love, hate, sorrow, frustration, joy, depression - coalesce to a seemingly insurmountable height, before tempering again. It's an art piece, an ambient breath of life, and an instinctual emotive suite of sound. Very recommended.

Back to Sydney, and Beast & Flood have scratched out a blasted testament to anguish with their new EP Forever Homes/Name Split. It's rough, a screaming melange of angle-grinded noises stretched to within an inch of their lives - post-punk for the frightened, for the disenfranchised and for those just to the left of the hardest of the core. And when the earth is blasted and the steel-town despair has washed the rest away, 'Human Future Warmth' is the light reminder that there is hope amongst the ruins, within the gaps and silences. A statement of intent.

Melbourne-via-Berlin trio Warmth Crashes In claim that their interesting, star-spangled, electro-sheen take on Krautrock instrumentals comes from an appreciation of both Spiritualized and The Chemical Brothers. I can see that; I can see a lot of fellow continental ex-pats Civil Civic and Canberra's TV Colours in the band's World Driving Champion EP. An elemental groove train from beyond the stars, these four tracks pulse with intergalactic energy and verve.

The Dunes are from Adelaide, and are much more glacial in their approach to luring the listener in, crafting a gauzy set of dreamscapes for Stacie Reeves' vocals to bubble and soar over. Their new EP is called La Musique Nouveau, which in my mind says a lot about the approach the band is embarking upon. There is a semblance of Mazzy Star or some Paradise Motel in the opaque way these songs flow around and inside you - equal parts flimsy and transcendent, with a lingering darkness held within - special stuff when it grabs you.

A sunnier proposition comes from (where else?) Brisbane with pastoral pop whippersnappers The Good Sports. 'Out Of The Way' is their debut single, coming from an soon-to-be-released EP, and apart from amazing artwork depicting a John Deere harvester (farm childhood right here), it's a lazy sojourn through fictitious fields with some newfound friends. Saying this sounds like it could have come from a more sedate corner of John Dwyer's mind seems like an excessive reach, but it ain't far from the truth. It's more than enough to have me champing at the bit to see how much these guys improve over 2014.

I have also mentioned Melbourne shoegaze/psychheads Flyying Colours in the past - well they appear ready to blast into the stratosphere after signing to UK label Club AC30 (home of the likes of Ringo Deathstarr and Air Formation). Their influences are achingly clear, but it's delivered with panache and some blistering white noise, and that is more than enough for me to want them to hurry up and bring out a release.

When Ray Ahn says something is super-exciting, you sit up and take notice. The Hard Ons/Nunchukka Superfly madman bestowed such praise on Melbourne's Wicked City, who have been slaving away since 2005 without anywhere near the universal acclaim they probably deserve. Bro Fidelity Records have kindly brought to the world their latest album Worsted Yarn, and it's one of the clearest cut amalgams of classic straight up rock and more "modern" takes on the genre I've heard. It doesn't always float my boat, but boy, when it really gets brutal it's a balltearer of an album. I could imagine this taking someone's eye out live - willingly.

Let's finish up with Magic Mountain Band, shall we? I'm always going to be more than a little intrigued by a band whose Bandcamp handles include the words 'instrumental', 'desert', 'experimental' and 'rock'. Then I looked at the above photo - I couldn't tell whether they were going to whip out a mean Mumfords banjo solo or smash my skull in with said instrument. Their upcoming is called Wilderman; their only available track 'Into The Wild' is epic and brutal in all the right ways. So, there you go - I'm losing my mind in anticipation - it's like this band was made with me expressly in mind (I am often called a lumberjack, and in "certain circles" a bear, so, you know, there's all kinds of weird and wonderful correlations here...) Wilderman is released only a couple days out from my birthday too. Hole E Shit. Fin.

Happy post-Australia Day everyone!

Wrestling With Husker Dü Always Equalls A Dirty Nil

I had other concerns for the start of this week - interviews with some local bands for The Music magazine, hitting up more reviews for the upcoming Sonic Masala Records releases, new albums from Harmony and Guided By Voices - and all of those things are still in effect today - but I feel that I needed a more visceral, literal morning kick to the face to start the Australia Day public holiday. I'm sure there are some of you that are in a hangdog phase right now, where you either feel pins and needles in your face, or nothing at all. Well here is some straight up grunge rock punch from The Dirty Nil. Don't let the excellent song title throw you - 'Wrestle Yü To Hüsker Dü' is a grunge anthem in the Violent Soho vein. And that is an imminently excellent thing - I will always have a part of me trapped in the heart and soul of the early to mid 90s, sneaking into my bedroom to strap into these fat riffs, wails and thundering drums, flailing around on my bed like a lunatic, where no one else could see. This is another reason why music means so much - it makes you feel better, or better still, free. Cheers guys - the day can start now.

'Wrestle Yü To Hüsker Dü' is off The Dirty Nil's upcoming EP Smite, which is available here on 10" white vinyl.

Sunday 26 January 2014

Dealing In Caroles

There is no denying that Auckland trio Caroles are anything but a bunch of kids wholly consumed with the truest slacker ambitions - playing in a band, playing computer games, and getting hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh. Hollow Trophy is much more abrasive than you would imagine from the band photos, but it's all relative, isn't it? Stoner rock and doom aren't float away sounds either, right? This is pretty brutal, but also pretty damn good. Now, let's bong on...

The band have new stuff on the way - stay posted on that. Maybe we can lure them over here sometime in 2014?

Saturday 25 January 2014

Avant Garde Blood Sports

Good mate Paul - yes, he who co-founded this "illustrious" blog - turned me onto this little release from Sheffield trio Blood Sport. Their six-track LP Life In Units is equal parts precise math instrumentation, weird errant pop, scrawled intricacies, sci-fi malapropisms and spastic rhythms - suitably skewed stuff. Even the cover art is an amalgam of the artwork of David Hockney and Francis Bacon - when heady worlds from either end of the spectrum collide, it bears strange fruit. Yet Life In Units is incredibly beguiling, and when a track like '20202016 VIP' hits its stride, you will find yourself rocking back and forth, hunched in a standing foetal position, ready to be taken up by a higher being. It's only music, sure, but when Blood Sport understand the seduction of the sonic slipstream, they wield almighty power.

You can buy Life In Units on 12" vinyl here. Blood Sport are playing at Birthdays in London on February 8 with Tera Melos - and are also supporting Mike Watt in their hometown in April. Then the penny drops. Kindred spirits there. You should get along if you are in the area - or even if you aren't - TM are sweet dudes, and I think Blood Sport will defy their name and have a pint with you rather than make you bite the kerb. But that's just hearsay on my part - they could still stomp the shit out of you. Only one way to find out...

Caring For Artifacts

I wrote about Dominic Renee AKA Artifacts back in July last year as part of Hits From The Box (which incidentally has become the most read post in the history of this blog's existence! The other artists in that post - White Reaper, Diver Dress, Crypts, Petra Glynt and Food Pyramid. Now which one is bringing the punters in droves???) Well, Artifacts is back, and 'Barely Cared' is an even better track. As with the other two Artifacts tracks out in the ether to date, 'Heal Me' and 'Coral', 'Barely Cared' is brilliant in its simplicity - keep things minimal in change, a continuity of slack-jawed vocals, motorik drums and a guitar line that rolls lazily back around, hypnotised by the laconicism - but then it flares into life, a soaring lead here, a distorted breakdown there. 'Barely Cared' is a succinct title, because at times it feels like there is little if any effort going in - but its all a ruse, the word barely the key one, as this spirals into a gloriously simmering lo-fi corker. It's a great little track, and if things come easy like this track feels, Artifacts should be in for a big year. Here's hoping, for all our sake.

Friday 24 January 2014

Spectres In The Too Pure Sky

I have always had a lot of respect for Bristol's premier label Howling Owl Records. They are, in my opinion at least, actually one of the UK's great labels - and my thoughts hang almost solely on the fact that Spectres resides in the belly of this beast (it helps that they run it). The four-piece's Family EP from 2011 was a fresh blast of fettered air, blowing out the cobwebbs and blasting most no-wave contenders away (not that there are many in this day and age - but when a good one comes around, they are just about the best thing on the planet). They had a split out last year with The Naturals which was pretty great - but this 7" (actually out on Too Pure's Singles Club - get in on this here) pretty much pisses all over it. This is no backhanded compliment either - the A-side 'The Sky Of All Places' is still sonically tearing the ozone down around you, but in a melodic fashion that whilst your ears bleed from hearing too much, your gums bleed from grinning too much. Aural gingivitus? But that sounds bad for you... Then the B-side 'Sooky Eyeball' gut punches you, a squalling high end redliner that feels destined to make the Richter Scale obselete.

SO it makes sense that this absolutely killer single  ends off this Friday night - seriously, one of my favourite bands in the UK right now. And they are spending their first day in the studio today for what will become their loooooooong-awaited debut album. Friday - it was a good day.

Living In Electric Scraps

Laura Hill continues to impress. For those who have seen her myriad shows around Brisbane as Scraps, you are already on the bandwagon - but for most of you, her knowing-naive-synth-pop knows no bounds. In fact Hill has gotten so attuned to finding the infectious groove in the dirtiest, tinniest, trapped-in-a-metal-bin beat that it becomes a surreptitious delight, sneaking up on you in usually inopportune moments, hooks bearing fruit in your mind days or even weeks after the song last rang in your ears. Her plaintive disco wraith stylings may seem simplistic but are anything but - Scraps is a dark electro-pop force to be reckoned with.

And as is the way with a bunch of great Brisbane bands (Blank Realm being the most obvious), UK label Fire Records has latched on Scraps' inimitable wasted disco jams, putting out her Electric Ocean record (it's due in March). The brilliance of this album is what makes Australia, and indeed Brisbane, such a beguiling and creative dustbowl of musical innovation - Electric Ocean comes solely from Hill's viewpoint, living by the day, scraping together vignettes of sullen ennui that occasionally spikes in a glorious winning moment, but can just as inexorably spiral into sweat-stained exasperation. And its through the music, a pastiche of childhood rememberings and upbeat anthems shone through a prism of close-at-hand instrumentation and world-weary battles, that Scraps overcomes. What I'm saying is, Scraps is the real deal, a triumph in belief over matter. It's there in every fiber. Dancing in pain; dancing for pleasure.

You can pre-order Electric Ocean here.

Thursday 23 January 2014

Double Booked At The White Lodge

It's funny how you find out things about your hometown. When I was overseas a few years ago, there were bands popping up like Tape/Off and Dreamtime that I heard, was so stoked to hear, but didn't know they came from Brisbane. Now I consider those dudes friends (and they play excellent music).

Then there is White Lodge. In the space of a week I have been slung two releases from this Brisbane trio - and I've never heard of them. The thing is, they are pretty good. Firstly the band put out an EP last year called Holy Void, and it's a bit eclectic, jumping from jangly guitar pop ('Breath of Shiva') and the now-familiar off-kilter garage sound that Brisbane knows and loves ('Teenage Fever Dream') - but when you have a track that sounds like the fucking Murder City Devils high on PCP performing at Al Swearengen's bar in Deadwood ('Red Moon Hex'), you sit up and take notice.

Then newly-minted Chicago label Gary Records contacted me. They are specialising in creating 7" splits of international bands, bringing light to small bands and bringing countries together. Their first installment features Forests, this great band from Taipei - and White Lodge! They play more to the garage side of things on this release, and it's good enough - but I much prefer the truly unhinged stuff. Especially when the sloppy guitar pop that Forests displays is more lo-fi and all the more endearing for it (seriously, 'The Fall' is pretty killer). Still - we can hope, right?

Wednesday 22 January 2014

Hits From The Box #78 - Last Day Of Freedom

I start a new "day job" tomorrow. Working for the gov'ment. I'm excited and frightened. It's a 9to5 job, something I have never done before; Ill have my nights and weekends to myself (also something I haven't truly had since my university days); it's something outside of the realms of anything I've worked on before. But I'm frightened, because now I'm a G-Man. By proxy perhaps - but still, is this the moment of my moral downfall?

Hahahahaha. I've been morally bankrupt for ages. Within three weeks Ill be sacking people by the thousands with something close to the after-coitus glow. Just you wait and see...

Let's start with some scuzzy misanthropy, shall we? New Jersey punks Slippertails have crafted a dirty blown-out mess in the form of There's A Disturbing Trend, nine tracks of self-deprecating sludge folded into a cast-iron oven and blasted by 1000 degrees - burnt, brittle, and bound to last the test of time. It's the sound of that guitar - I'd gladly break my teeth on these tones, then gum on the remains. And Nick Casertano's vocals evoke a bulldozer driver falling into a medicated coma at the wheel, whilst the cab's speakers rattles from a Doolittle cassette that is caught in the player and is slowly melting into the machine. Get this - NOW.

Not to be outdone, Atlanta trio Outrageous Fun have an equally breakneck release out called Trustfund DIY, an EP that shows the band are able to play loose and free with whatever medium they so choose. Therefore a balltearer ('Rock n' Roll'), a country baptism ('Prom Song'), and a discordant sojourn down the western tracks that Isaac Brock haunts ('Out West') can be peas from the same sordid, deformed pod. These guys are only coming to terms with the world and their place in it, but these six tracks are incessant growers, which is incredible.

Copenhagen sure has the nihilist post-punk gravel dweller subset well and truly covered. Here's another one, although with the name Ocean View it does blindside you a little. This ain't no breezy Real Estate sojourn though - the band's Ocean.Puke.Future EP slots nicely into the slipstream that the likes of Iceage and Lower have set before them, with a bit of Cult Of Youth flirting with Pop 1280 on the very fringe. It's real, then, not an artificial pastiche of what's come before. They wade into the Danish arts scene to the point where putting out zines can be as, if not more, important as playing music, but if you have the chance it's imperative you catch these cultish bastards at their own game - their music, like the most garrulous of tapeworms, grows inside you and never lets go. Buy it here.

Exploding In Sound Records have kicked so many goals since its inception a few years ago. Pile, Ovlov, Krill, Speedy Ortiz, Fat History Month, Kal Marks, Grass Is Green, Porches... Another great record that they helped put out last year was Bent Nail, the EP from Yonkers-based Palehound. The project is driven by 19yo Ellen Kempner, who has a heady knack of writing insidious grungy guitar hooks, hung over her soft, simple lyrics - not too dissimilar from Speedy Ortiz's Sadie Dupais, then. And to be fair, you can see Palehound following the same meteoric route too, and with good reason. And with a 7", Kitchen, on the way with Kempner's band in tow, we can only hope it hits this year.

Who wants some vintage rock n roll with outrageous hair? You? Well, The Tye Trybe deliver, even if they themselves are barely out of the shrinkwrap. Their World Is Born EP sounds like stripping back guitar based rock and roll to its skeletal form, then thrashing the shit out of the remains. How can you resist losing your mind when rock is treated with equal parts reverence and disdain. These guys have still some stylistic hang-ups, but if they fully lose themselves to the grind like 'Shine Them Shoes' intimates, these guys could blow a hole in the sun. you have been warned.

It's all been a bit aggressive (Kempner's vocals can't hide the 90s guitar drive of Palehound), so let's finish off back home with Australia beatnik Power Moves (AKA Austin Buckett of Golden Blonde). This Psycho Shower Scene album (out through Dream Damage Records) is one whacked out beast of sample-lead mayhem, yet it's the insistence on using samples of high-hat level percussion that really sticks with me. That, and the roiling aural mush that my brain turns into when listening incessantly to such absurdly hallucinogenic guff. It's described as sampling Chicago footwork, dub, r'n'b - and Tim & Eric. Fair dues. It's incendiary stuff, maybe even the stuff of neuro-urban legend - which is why it will be widely ignored. DON'T BE ONE OF THOSE.

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

Little Shits

This is the first of two posts today that mentions excellent Brooklyn label Exploding In Sound. I've written about the great Krill before, yet their upcoming EP Steve Hears Pile In Malden And Bursts Into Tears is something that warrants a little more feverish excitement on my behalf. That fact that it is a "failed concept album about two kids living on the outskirts of Boston who discover they are characters of a Pile song" is one thing; the fact that it's coming out as a black-and-white 10" is another; but the strength of 'Turd' alone has me breathing into a brown paper bag. The song itself manages to wade out into the murky waters of uncertainty, being pulled in either direction by riptides of disparagement, frustration and hope, and manages to tread water, a buoyant repellent to the detrimental effects of trying at life and failing. Krill just keep popping back up again, a cork in the frothy ether, and keep on fighting the good fight.

You can pre-order the EP here.

The Dirt On East Brunswick All Girls Choir

Out of the myriad bands that grace the underbelly of the Australia music scene, one of the hardest to classify (in my opinion at least) is the equally inexplicably named East Brunswick All Girls Choir. The band isn't choral in any way; often they are atonal in the truest sense (AKA out of whack tones altogether); their love of the blues is countered abruptly by their aggressive throttling of it, a type of aural auto-erotic asphyxiation; and when the cacophony dies away, what can be left is something fragile, quivering, and altogether beautiful.

Such a description doesn't give East Brunswick... justice - I'm not sure if any such description exists. They have played alongside Thee Oh Sees, The Chills and The Bats though, so their raucous poeticism has found kindred spirits. Now they are prepping a new album called Seven Drummers (so-called due to the number of drummers that have gone through the mill since the band's inception in 2008), and 'Dirty Bird' is the prefect representation of what the band is capable of. It's like a broken-down sea shanty, on the deck of a ship in the middle of a monumental storm, led by a madman evangelist who is tearing his voice box out of his own throat through internal turmoil, whilst instruments are strangled out of both frustration and love. It proves beyond doubt that East Brunswick is an elemental force, and deserves much more kudos than they're ever likely to get.

Seven Drummers comes out in a few months. If you are in Auckland though, you can see them play at Whammy Bar on Wednesday February 5. I daresay Australia shows are imminent - but these guys are fickle beasts, ruled only by primal instinct, so we shall see. 

Tuesday 21 January 2014

Frozen Cymbls Rising

CYMBLS is a duo from Rome, Italy, and their release Farewell Said I Rising (out now through Upside Down Recordings) has absolutely floored me today. Reviews from the likes of Norman Records, Drowned In Sound and Rough Trade have been using liberal comparisons to the likes of Hype Williams, Ennio Morricone and Broadcast in their effusive adulation of the band, and I can especially see Broadcast in the hushed mantras that coalesce around the fifteen minutes here. I have to say though that the cover art perfectly encapsulates the frozen alienness of the soundscapes on offer here, the organ and disembodied vocals the only true anchors as the bass and percussion push further and further to the drop-off at the end of the world. Buy it here.

Splits Are Double Trouble...

Fancy doing the splits? You should - especially if they come out as good as this quad of demented beauties...

Sonic Masala regulars Pairs have paired up (fitting really) with equally nutso Shanghai-based band Stegosaurus? (pictured doing the grooming thing above), another bunch of ex-pat lunatics all about strangling instruments and ranting and raving into blasted microphones. The release is a direct challenge - Splits Don't Work is a work of halves, as a split should be, but each band tries their hand at each others' songs, thus highlighting the anarchic thrashing of Stegosaurus? and the beauty in repetition that Pairs can create, when they aren't tearing the room apart (except for the last song 'Parasite', which is a typical Pairs rant ending in a dustbin rancour - that's good, by the way). It's a lot of fun for sure.

Next up is a split cassette that Nashville label Paco Tapes put out showcasing the talents of New Orleans trio Woozy and hometown raucous dreamers Dogtooth. Now sold out, Somebody Else's Problem is in turns a calamitous chugging ride through the desert, and a squalling party song drifting into the sky like a helium-filled balloon.

The next split sees us continue in the intercontinental vein, as we touch down in Aberdeen, Scotland, and the backyard of Cool Your Jets Records. The first release from the newly minted label is this 7" that features laconic punks Pinact and Min Diesel. The 7", imaginatively titled Pin Diesel, shows both bands thrashing out their guitar rock with typical laissez faire, distorted abandon, and reminds you why playing guitar in the 90s was so much more fun than most people playing guitar in the 00s. Dirty, devilish, dangerous - delicious.

Finally we'll settle in the lower bowels of the UK where Art Is Hard Records reigns supreme. The next in their long list of fascinating releases comes this delectable slice of 7" wax, featuring Exeter loose cannons Birdskulls on one side, and scuzzy kids Bloody Knees on the other. The bands provide two songs each for the record, of which Birdskulls' 'Alley Gorey' is the first cut. Preorder the release here.

Second Sonic Masala Records Announcement - Roku Music's New Single COLLIDER

We've really put our foot in it, haven't we?

It seems that when you decide to step out from behind the words and actually DO SOMETHING about the music you love, the workload intensifies - or at least my mind does. All of these exciting times merge with the fact that you want things to go well, that other people are depending on you - it's like having a family.

I'm very glad however to have Roku Music as part of the family. Each member of the band has been/is in local acts that I really admire - No Anchor, Tiny Spiders, The Rational Academy, O, The Madisons...the list goes on. But what the melding of minds of Donnie Miller, Innez Tulloch, Jody Gleeson and Thomas Roche creates is far more than the sum of its parts. I've seen Roku Music in its quickly evolving stages, growing from an experimental two-piece, to a rough-and-tumble trio, to the fully formed four-piece they are today. And their upcoming debut record, Collider, is breathtaking in its beauty, its power, its atmosphere, its raw emotion. The first single is the opening song and the title track, and it is the perfect embodiment of why Roku Music are fast becoming one of the unsung powerhouse bands of the continent.

Ahem. I'm swelling up. I'm just so proud! Family, huh?

Collider will be out March 3 on (who else?) Sonic Masala Records. The album launch coincides with a massive nationwide metropolitan and regional tour throughout March & April. News about that and the album proper to come.

PYPY Give You A Pagan Wake Up Call

This album has been plaguing me for the past week - and I don't know any reason why I shouldn't pass it on. PYPY is a band from Montreal, that slither around in the post-punk/garage rock shadows, refusing to be pigeonholed, refusing to sit still. Their album Pagan Day has some goddamn killer tracks on it, most of which are led by co-singer Annie-Claude Deschenes. Whether they are going hell for leather down the rabbithole, dragging Siouxie kicking and screaming behind them ('Pagan Day'), losing their shit in a fuzzed-out psych breakdown ('She's Gone') or slowing things down to a sensuous grind as in 'Daffodils' (before the disturbing yet strangely alluring chorus), all is done with brazen confidence, a sneer and a leer. 'Too Much Cocaine' is the best song to describe, well, getting on the horse once too often, and breakneck punk grows wings and flies into the sun on 'Ya Ya Ya/Psychedelic Overlords'.

This is possibly the best album to come out of the Slovenly Records garage - it really is that good. Pre-order it now (it comes out in February).

Monday 20 January 2014

A Woodsman's Birthday

It isn't for a while yet - a few weeks, anyway - but my birthday is coming up. It lands on a Tuesday this year, and Tuesday tends to be a popular day of the week when it comes to putting out records. 2014 is already looking like being an amazing year for me as it is what with the label launched and so forth, but another thing that hints at how great this year will be comes in the form of Denver band Woodsman's third, self-titled record coming out on their own Fire Talk Records on my birthday! I have already had a sneaky few listens to the album, and it is very great indeed. Bizarrely I've always preferred their EPs to their albums as far as a holistic listen goes, but Woodsman might just be the first truly great record from start to finish that the trio have committed to tape. 'Rune' you have all probably heard - it's truly great - but the whole album offers up myriad delights and surprises such as the destructive 'Loose Leaf' and the reverb-heavy sunlit malaise of 'Obsidian'. Bliss.

Pre-order Woodsman now - you can either get a limited edition hand-collaged sleeve or a yellow bit o wax for your troubles. Happy birthday to me.