Friday, May 19, 2023

Spring 2023

Lula Asplund - Unravels by a Thread [Drongo Tapes] 
Seattle’s Drongo Tapes keeps busy busy busy and the label’s first cassette by Lula Asplund, Unravels by a Thread is a head turner. Opening track, “Static Overlay”, sounds a bit like that first Elklink album if Elklink was something that people might actually want to listen to (not a diss, I LOVE Elklink). Then comes the bait and switch, “Static Overlay” is odd but approachable but “Just as Flowers Open” and “Ongoingness” give you a good smack in the face, each in different ways. Reminds me a bit of my beloved Caldera Lakes with the harshness toned down. I love it. A human voice mediated/obliterated/resurrected by technological clutter. Asplund is a new artist to me and I’m excited to hear which dark alleyways she slithers down next. I like the cut of your jib, Lula! 

Eyes and Flys - I Don't Care Where You've Been, I'm Just Glad That You're Home [no label] 
It’s been too long since I last checked in on Buffalo’s favorite sons, Eyes and Flys. Putting out DIY self-released 7” singles like Y2K never happen’d, the Eye Flying machines have amassed a clutch of great singles in a few short years. This one has an unwieldy title on the A-side “I Don’t Care Where You’ve Been, I’m Just Glad That You’re Home” and it’s one of my favorites so far. A hairy, midtempo pop number, fully-stocked with shakers, an earworm guitar hook and a glockenspiel buried even deeper than Pat Shanahan’s vocals. The scuzz is true to form, with songwriter Shanahan putting a sterling indie-car pop engine in the body of an old stained couch. Lyrics are on the sad side as Eyes and Flys’ are wont to be, plumbing the depths of seasonal depression but buoying them to tarnished twinkle. “Buffalo” continues along the same trajectory, with the tempo kicked up a notch, delving into the eternal equation of aging bringing along proportional regret. It’s a tough pill everyone has to swallow but the la-la-las and sing-along refrain of “I hope they never find me” makes the bummer go down a touch easier. I believe this is the first E+F dispatch to be recorded in LA and the liner notes’ command/taunt of “Move to California you dumb shit” feels like a personal attack on me specifically, as a recent ex-Angeleno. When you read a scathing pan of an Eyes and Flys record in the next issue of AuxOut (coming in 2026, setbacks notwithstanding, mark your calendars!), you will know why! 

Seth Kasselman - Analogous Fools [UR Sounds] 
The Big Kass is back! Well, as of last year when I got this tape. Seth Kasselman surely has something new and gorgeous brewing as I write this. I did this whole song and dance the previous year, I love Warm Climate (Kasselman’s brilliant now deceased avant-glam project) but Kasselman has leaned much harder into that avant- tag with his recordings under his own name. Like 2021’s UV Catamaran, Analogous Fools drums up a synthetic soundworld. It’s your choice whether to dip a toe or take a cannonball off the high dive. Fools, however, is the more accessible entry point. Kasselman considers it a song cycle. Though no one will mistake this for Schubert, the Schu certainly fits on tracks like “I Don’t Know What to Think of the Moon” which is chock full of melodies, as glitchy and fractured as they may be. Kasselman’s signature clarinet pokes through at times but synthesizer is the dominant sound force here. “Slow Pretender” and “Breaking In Time” are slow movers incorporating both IDM and abstract drones while something like “Say It Like Elevator Lungs” recalls some tasty Prefuse 73 odds and ends. “One Way In, One Way Out”, on the other hand, is less visibly structured with a stronger presence of processed acoustic instruments, a real adventure that covers a surprising amount of ground in only 3 minutes. In a similar vein, “Moon (Reprise)” delivers a heavier dose of clarinet, and I always welcome a bit of electro jazz smash ‘n grab. My personal preference leans towards UV Catamaran’s at-times frightening, submersible soundworld but, with Analogous Fools, Kasselman continues to show he’s capable of nailing any musical avenue he travels down. 

Kilynn Lunsford - Custodians of Human Succession [Ever/Never] 
Kilynn Lunsford is a vet when it comes to making great records, whether with Little Claw or Taiwanese Housing Project she has always delivered. Custodians of Human Succession, her first solo LP, is no different. Scratch that. It actually is very different, but it’s just as good. She’s managed to make a record that’s fun and replayable, yet bizarre and elusive. After many listens my grasp hasn’t become any firmer. Custodians’s secrets will remain just that. 

With an initial punk-electronique framework harkening back to the likes of DAF and Suicide, Lunsford incorporates tons of influences here but without really sounding like any of them. Several strains of hip hop DNA, from boom bap to Timbaland to Boy in da Corner, are woven in here next to echoes of sonic-provocateurs like Halo of Kitten and Inflatable Boy Clams. The unnerving “Tammy and Her Friends” nods to the very early days of Industrial, before it had a name. On “Three Babies Make Ten” particularly, and throughout the album, Lunsford employs an odd and indolent drawl, made that much odder by editing, filtering and reversing Lunsford’s voice at different points. She’s not quite singing, not quite speaking, not quite rapping. Her voice exists on the outskirts of everything. 

With a few shades of PJ in ass-kicking mode, “Vessel Creep” is the only track that nods directly to her rock outfits Little Claw and THP, while Lunsford mostly ingratiates herself among 00s electro-mutants like Adult. and Mu on tracks like “No Disabuse”, “North Sea Shrimps” and “Sewerland” which would become an instant electro-smash if it ever found its way into a movie or TV show. “Where the Moon Waits” approximates the “Heard it Through the Grapevine” bassline and garnishes with heaps of pillowy synthesizer. It’s Custodians's prettiest track certainly, particularly when a chorus of angels appears and starts purring “Pissing blood in the skies above”. The only band in recent memory that comes anywhere near Lunsford’s orbit is the similarly unique Angels in America (particularly on “Freshest Taste”) but Lunsford has made something that’s nearly RIYL-proof. 

Produced in collaboration with Donald Bruno, the sound of Custodians of Human Succession is incredibly important here. For a record where nearly all sounds, Lunsford’s voice aside, are synthetically-birthed, Custodians sounds spacious rather than suspended in a vacuum. It doesn’t try to pulverize with its bass throbs either, which has gotten to a point of being perfunctory. It sounds modern and timeless, a record that could have appeared in the late 1960s, or in the 2060s, and blown some minds at either point. But we’re fortunate to have it today. Harnessing the considered production with her taste for catchy beats and idiosyncratic phrases, Lunsford has fashioned a new kind of discomfort-pop; it doesn’t feel quite right but it definitely sounds good. 

Mushfoot - Time Before Land [Moone] 
Terrible band name, but I hate all band names since 2011 (I should slap that slogan on some t-shirts and re-brand AuxOut as a corny merch site). Based on the cover, they’re a gaggle of goofballs and you gotta be a goof to name your band “Mushfoot”, amiright? I’m all over “My Shrinking Heart”, a twisted, lobotomized graduate of The Magnetic Fields School of Songwriting and Industry. Totally great. Time Before Land keeps things relatively varied with the 70s Euro-cinema folk stylings of the title track, foggy synth-pop on “Lonely Time” and the loping pleasure-stomp of “Nobody Can Show You”. Not the terrible “New Grass” music one would expect from a band called Mushfoot. You tricked me. 

Richard Papiercuts - Reunion [Ever/Never] 
Since his first solo venture, A Sudden Shift, Richard Papiercuts has been gradually refining his approach with each successive release. A Sudden Shift’s eclecticism, namely its occasional Beefheartian wildness, stripped down Tears for Fears cover and Scott Walker-fronting-classic-rock-band experiments, has long been left in the rearview, with his subsequent LP “IF” and 12” Twisting the Night beginning to zero in on Bowie as Richie’s patron saint of choice (80s Bowie, in particular). Papiercuts latest full length, Reunion, doubles down on Let’s Dance and, in the process, becomes his best and most consistent record to date and I say that as a fan of all his records.

Comprised of just six full-bodied tunes, simply put, there’s no filler here. Rich gets his eyeliner out for the moody kickoff “Judgment”. Bits of Echo & the Bunnymen, early U2 and The Chameleons all find their way in but all that dark stuff is cut by the chattering tambourine in the chorus. A swirling cauldron of chorus pedal bravado, chiming piano and strangled sax skronk. A top Papier cut, as far as I’m concerned. The sentiment continues with the insistent violin stabs of the gothy chamber ballad “Anita Sing”. It’s not all trenchcoats and pale complexions though. Enterprising hip hop producers ought to take note, “Reunion” and “After Hours” are ripe for your scavenging. “Reunion” with its thumping bass pulse and ascending synth brass line conjures images of a young Papiercuts working his hips to “Like an Eagle” down at the local disco and it’s not the only time he gets funky on the record (note: slow jam closer “Night Beats Night”). “After Hours” is another highlight driven by a single-note piano line and groovy bass and guitar interplay, it amounts to the single catchiest anthem Richard has put forth yet. If you’ve got all the past Papiercuts records, Reunion is a perfect ending (for now) and, if you don’t, I can’t think of a better starting point. 

Rider/Horse - Select Trials [Ever/Never]
Rider/Horse - Feed ‘Em Salt [Ever/Never] 
So is the northeastern noise rock duo, Rider/Horse, ultra productive or am I just a lazy piece of shit given that they finished and released another LP (Feed ‘Em Salt) before I finished writing my fucking review of their last LP (Select Trials)? On second thought, don’t answer that. Select Trials, the debut LP from duo Rider/Horse (unspecified which is Rider and which is Horse), first leapt from my speakers a year a half ago and it was and is a racket to be reckoned with. Also, to my surprise the first song is actually about horses. I know Skin Graft Records is still chugging along (and I confess I haven’t kept up with them) but Select Trials sounds like what I imagine a 2020s Skin Graft record should sound like. All the usual buzzwords: angular, serrating, corrosive. Catchy tunes bundled up in a steel wool coat. 

“Tremolo Harm” is the hit thanks to a needling earworm guitar melody that will be playing on listeners’ brain radios for years to come. “Code Clicker” is filled with epic “fuck yeah” energy and I can’t get enough. Who wants to play some FUCKING SPORTS with me!!? The bass riff on “Today’s Gains” is positively nauseating and I love it. The dour “Chime Inn” wouldn’t be out of place emanating from the John Sharkey III axis (later Clockcleaner, PRF, etc.) and the band even shares Sharkey’s Depeche Mode fetish on “Theme” (from Feed ‘Em Salt). The rhythms here are off the charts. Never boring but, importantly, never too busy. Sometimes the drums sound like drums, sometimes they sound electronic and sometimes they sound altogether programmed and manipulated. Maybe a mix of all three? None of the above? Reminds me a bit of how Cabaret Voltaire approached rhythm (minus the acid house fixation) particularly on a track like “Prawn Ranch”. 

Feed ‘Em Salt
’s opening salvo “Florida Gasoline” is as appropriate as they come. Grinding, seasick bass melody. Vertigo-stricken pedal steel by Zoots Houston. Relentless musical machinery. “Rotting Profits” feels about as uplifting and life-affirming as Rider/Horse is gonna get. The addicting, adrenaline-inducing bass line and syncopated drum pattern would be a bonafide dancefloor filler in the hands of any other band but the duo stays true to its ethos to keep tension high and grind you til you fracture. No release and no relief, says Rider/Horse. “Great Innings” and “Pretend You’re the Worker” hit the grooves similarly hard. “Worker” in particular unveils a more dynamic attack than the first LP. Reminds me a bit of La Grande Triple Alliance in late 00s France, mainly The Dreams and related bands (Heimat, The Anals). Fierce rhythms (here what sounds like a vigorous hand drum loop) dominate the noise addled frenzy. 

Initially, I took a bit more of a shine to Select Trials, but after time I’ve been converted to Feed ‘Em Salt. The raspy chirp is left behind. Jagged guitar, sneering voice and treble frequencies in general are deemphasized but the duo has refined and honed their sound, placing the supercharged rhythm section even more front and center. I shifted from thinking of it as neo-Skin Graft noise rock to a highly fucked up dance record. Rather than piercing you with skin deep harpoons and tugging you along as Select Trials does, Feed ‘Em Salt gracefully and methodically punches you in the gut until you submit. I tap out. 

Sir Tad - Sir Tad Goes Deeper & Deeper [Purple Akronym] 
Sir Tad - You’re Home [Tynan Tapes] 
I’m such an O.G. that I was listening to Sir Tad pre-knighthood, back when he was known simply as Tad from the neighborhood. He dropped one perfect dub-pop cassingle and vanished without a trace. Well, Tad has returned home a little older, a little bit wiser, and practically royalty. Contrary to its name, the 15 minute Sir Tad Goes Deeper & Deeper is comparatively slight to You’re Home. “Deeper & Deeper” (and its guided meditation sequel “Deeper & Deeper Pt. 2”) features quacking synth sounds reminiscent of Pino Donaggio’s soundtracking of Girl’s P.E. class in Carrie but most of the tape finds its muse in a thrift store keyboard. “Great Generic Park”, for instance, consists of nothing but battery-powered organ bleats and a delay pedal. You’re Home expands considerably in terms of pallet and scope.

You’re Home
finds Sir Tad rifling through decades of family memories such as old answering machine messages about taking care of neighbors’ cats. The echoing wheeze of a chord organ and a shuffling rhythm welcome you like a warm blanket on the opening title track. There’s a tinge of sadness to the winsome vibes of You’re Home, though, as the album is dedicated to the memory of Max Krakoff, the brother of Tynan Krakoff a.k.a. Sir Tad, and Max is featured as a child on “Break a Leg”, providing his own rendition of the Kit-Kat jingle among other charming moments. Old keyboards and tape players are certainly at the center here, but occasionally augmented by the majestic zing of autoharp (such as on “Bird of Paradise”). While Sir Tad takes a few detours like the frenetic “Slitherin’ Slop”, You’re Home is a web of kind reminiscences, some seem personal, others less so. But all moments captured anywhere were personal to someone, at some time. And that’s the effect of listening to You’re Home. The personal is still personal, even if it’s not personal to you or me, and Krakoff invites us to experience his personal. It doesn’t get better than the lilting “Bloom like a Highway”, where Krakoff builds up reedy melodica and stumbling keyboards around a processed recording of someone giving driving directions. Despite being offered directions, I don’t know where I’m going when I’m listening, but I enjoy the moment while I’m in it. Maybe, as Sir Tad suggests, I’m home. 

Valley of Weights - Valley of Weights [Skell/Sool] 
Weight is right. The debut from Valley of Weights is a hefty honker of a 2xLP. Sharing members with the likes of Vatican Commandos, Burnt Hills and Sky Furrows (who dropped what is still quite likely the best LP of 2020) I was keenly interested. The reason for the double platters is the uncanny Valley serve up a selection of whacked out yet still tight rockers on the first record while the limbs get loose on record two with improvised wig outs. I’m partial to the first LP (“You always were a rocker” a noise scene luminary once complimented/condemned me) but there’s something for everyone on the menu here. 

Valley of Weights take it back to the days of Simply Saucer, not that anyone living in the days of Simply Saucer knew they were living in the days of Simply Saucer, nestling in that narrow zone between oddball and classical rock & roll. These northeasters like to strut (“Turn Out the Light”, “Wartime Draughtsman”, “Passes”) and they even dabble in mellow grooves (“One That Can See”) and outright burning down the discotheque on “A Tension Span”. Thumping bass line, staccato street fight between the guitars, a singer who sounds like he’s locked in a closet. It’s got everything you need to set the dancefloor on fire. My favorite line (the quotidian genius of “take a digital photo and bring it to the interview”) pops up on “Turn Out the Light” amid the kraut-guitar swirl. The influence of one of AuxOut’s pet bands, Slovenly, pops up on a couple tracks, unsurprisingly making them favorites. “Seven Figures” has a bit of that curious SST seasoning. Weirdo jazz talk rock pushed along by a busy, burbling bassline with a pleasant dusting of cosmic synth chime. Valley of Weights might be at their best on the urgent “The Great Simulator”. The insistent, crunchy guitar riff earns MVP honors. 

The second LP is the designated “freak out” LP but it’s really more of a jammer. “Ennio was Right About Hawkwind” is not so much about blasting off into the kosmische Rhineland, but kicking into some sturdy grooves and proggy pulses. A bit like when Television would flirt with a disco beat. On the flip, “Roentgen Elevation Man” is some kind of post-rock blues amalgam. And there you have it, one LP for the right brainers and one for the left brainers. Kinda like when Donovan put the psychedelia on one record and the folk tunes on the other, pick your pleasure and everyone goes home happy. 

Way back when, over a year ago, I grabbed some records from the Courtesy Desk distro and I was so hyped about the contents of my package I started writing some reviews intending to slap on “bonus content!!!!” for the next AuxOut post, and well here they are… unfashionably late, as always.

Chronophage - Th’ Pig Kiss’d Album [Cleta Patra]
Took a chance on this one because I seemed to remember hearing good things about Chronophage’s first record and Cleta Patra is a label run by Candice Metrailer from Mystic Inane and I’m pretty much in the bag when I see she’s involved in something. Damn glad I did because Th’ Pig Kiss’d Album is great! [Upon hearing Th’ Pig Kiss’d Album, I backtracked and sought out their first album (also on Cleta Patra) and can confirm it, too, is excellent.] I’m not quite sure how to classify Chronophage. Guitar/bass/drums/synthesizer. Multiple singers. Certainly in the punk sphere but not in any ordinary way. I feel like everything I’ve read about Chronophage mentions SST, and I agree! Chronophage sounds like a band that would have been on SST back in the day. They would have been one of the oddball bands that never got famous like the famous bands but were actually better than the famous bands. So many good cuts here but none better than the Richard Hell-esque punk-eloquence of home run closer “Name Story” which I couldn’t get out of my head if I wanted to (and I don’t want to!). 

The Shifters - Open Vault [Adagio830/Insolito]
How many contemporary bands are there that I would shell out for a Germany-only 2xLP of iPhone-recorded demos using a children’s Spongebob drum kit? Just one. And that band is Australia's The Shifters. Serious consideration must be given to The Shifters’ self-titled debut being the best rock record of the past ten years and, well, Open Vault isn’t that good. But it’s still pretty damn good. There are a fuck ton of songs and, in all honesty, I haven’t completely digested it all, yet I look at that as a good thing. I have my whole life to fall madly, deeply in love with Open Vault, and I surely will, Antipode addict that I am. A few highlights are remnants from an abandoned album (Pyramid Scheme) “Right Stuff” and “Removal Business” which is solid Shifters gold, shuffling piano ballad “Crossroads at Vybor”, great shambling home demos like “Shifting”, “Medieval Kicks” and “Faux American History 101” (perhaps a spiritual successor to Tommy Jay’s “I was There”...) and a rollicking live recording of “Out on a Walk”. Bonzer mate. 

Star Party - Meadow Flower [Feel It] 
Having heard “Push You Aside” one place or another, I was super hyped to grab the vinyl debut of Seattle’s Star Party, Meadow Flower, via the reliable Feel It label. You could tell immediately by the fuzz-drenched sugar rush that Star Party are fans of Scotland’s 53rd and 3rd label (Shop Assistants, The Vaselines, The Pastels) and probably Black Tambourine as well. As far as I’m concerned that is an underused well to draw inspiration from. Modern bands take note. Star Party seems to have intimate knowledge of what they do best given that they made music videos for each of the three songs that tower above of the rest: “Push You Aside”, “Shot Down” and “You and Me”. Even though the remaining five songs are solid, a part of me can’t help wishing Star Party stayed in the tradition of 53rd and 3rd’s classic, all-killer-no-filler, eternally replayable 3-song 12”s (Shop Assistants’ Safety Net, Vaselines’ Son of a Gun) because these three songs are that good. 

The Stick Figures - Archeology [Floating Mill] 
I don't know who this Floating Mill proprietor is but he/she/they are heaven-sent. The Stick Figures were a band from Tampa, FL in the late 70s who only released one 7” EP that you’ve probably never heard of. (It fetches triple figure prices from those in the know.) Archeology, as you might assume, collects this EP and unearths unreleased songs recorded in 1980 and it is as goddamn essential as they come. I was gobsmacked the first time I heard “September”. All this time, The Stick Figures from Tampa were the inventors of indie rock and I had no idea. Everything about that song is absolutely perfect. Rachel Maready Evergreen’s lovely vocals, the infectious melody, and the band’s refusal to commit to the pop genius bit by throwing in wild guitar feedback, inexpertly played xylophone and crispy recording fidelity. It is truly a revelation. But that’s not the only thing The Stick Figures do (well). "N-Light" proves that mutant disco was happening in Tampa and not just NYC. Of course, The Stick Figures were actually more adventurous than their No Wave brethren given that they were able to seamlessly graft on pop rock choruses and melodic violin parts to the frenetic grooves. Similarly, "Crayola Bowling" is able to marry psychedelic jangling 60s melodies with the punk-funk that came into vogue in the early 80s (they're doing this pre-80s, mind you) fueled by synthesizers and an extended organ freak out. As far as the unreleased stuff goes, there isn't a drop off in quality. Tracks like "Green", "Language" and "Energy" sit quite nicely next to the tracks from the original 7". "Mr. Simon" is one minute of pure sugary noise. If "Yesterday" had actually been released at the time, it could have absolutely been a hit. Funky, rolling bassline, earworm guitar lick, snarky female vocals, perfect recipe. Could say the same about the new wavey power pop of "Make a Fire". The dirge-y "Everplayed" presages great bands like Run On that didn't get going until the 90s. Not a single dud in the bunch. There's so much more I could say. The most essential archival release I've come across in a long time. Fun liners including contemporary reviews too. I love this band. Seek it out!