Mythic Sunship : Land Between Rivers

Mythic Sunship seem to have appeared out of some ancient musical text. Through sounds and textures as old as weathered folklore and whispers under the breath in the shadows of centuries-old mountaintops, these Danish musicians make music both primitive and not of this earth. Like thunder clapping in the distance, their new album Land Between Rivers takes its first breath as a quiet chattering, but soon pours its mighty roar down and never lets up. Never. Mythic Sunship made their initial landing last year with their fiery Ourboros. It made no qualms about what Mythic Sunship were about, which was pummeling guitar, crushing drums, and epic songs that sounded like explosives battles put to music.

On Land Between Rivers opener “Nishapur” their ear-shattering mission statement stays on point. It opens with quiet, brooding guitar that builds into a cacophony of fuzz and distortion. Quite literally a wall of noise. Drums crashing like angry waves against the hull of a ship, guitar squall bashing into itself over and over, and bass acting as an anchor so as to not let the song fly into orbit “Nishapur” is a bludgeoning of the senses.

It’s one hell of an opener.

“High Tide” has an almost garage-y vibe in its opening moments. Motor City acid fuzz sprinkled with something sinister; something not of this earth. Soon enough though Mythic Sunship hit the interstellar overdrive button and light speed is reached. Anything resembling the gritty streets of Detroit in 1969 are washed away by the primitive drum beats and hazy, reverbed guitars that knock our psyche into orbit. There’s a sense the Sunship crew have tapped into some subconscious, Altered States-like primitive instinct. I’m not calling these cats cavemen by any means. I mean, what caveman could man a rockin’ ship this advanced? What I do mean is that they’ve gone deep in search of the essence of heavy here. They’re going back to the beginnings of that heavy, far out sound. Sabbath, Blue Cheer, Hawkwind, and all those other brave souls that took that one small musical step for man, so that there could be that one giant musical leap for mankind. They leave the frills, movements, suites, and concepts for the art school types and wordy chaps. Here we have pure rock concentrate.

“Silt” finds us in a haze of distortion and feedback. It’s like being lost in a blazing ball of white light. Blind to the world, you can only feel your way around the room in a glow of distilled energy. Soon enough the light fades and in its place is a darkened sky, lightning pulsating just behind the storm clouds. It’s an overwhelming display of power and existential doom. “Silt” is the heaviest Mythic Sunship have gotten, cresting Om and Sunn O))) territory, but without all that unnecessary chanting. If you turn this one up to 11 you may disintegrate before you reach the end.

Land Between Rivers sounds like a band in the midst of a musical storm. Mythic Sunship have upped themselves and their debut with an album that wastes no time getting around to melting your psyche. With three tracks spanning over 30 minutes, the Sunship lock into a distortion-laden groove and never let up until our ears are buzzing and the space/time continuum has been fully disrupted. Land Between Rivers is blissful, primitive rock for the new millennium space traveler.

8. 4 out of 10

Jay Som : Everybody Works

Melina Duterte, aka Jay Som, seems to be bringing something back to pop songwriting. Something that is sadly lacking in so many “pop” albums as of late. Pure songcraft. Not since St. Vincent’s debut have I been taken this aback by a new artist. Duterte isn’t satisfied with just a good song. She starts with a good song, then builds on the framework and ornaments it into something quite spectacular. She’s as DIY as they come; writing, recording, performing, and producing herself like a pro. But at only 22-years old this Oakland native is just starting. If Everybody Works is just starting, then I can’t even begin to imagine what hitting her stride will sound like.

Everybody Works succeeds on so many levels. It’s a confessional heartbreak album, it’s a catchy-as-hell pop album, and it’s an expertly constructed art rock. Duterte spares no bells and whistles, yet the album still feels very intimate. “Lipstick Stains” opens the album on this beautiful dream-like note. An airy, lush piece that sounds like a cross between Rufus Wainwright and Cocteau Twins. It’s accusatory and longing all at once. “The Bus Song” has a modern pop feel, with bits of Jon Brion production touches and No Joy in pure sweetness mode. “Remain” is an absolute gem of a song. Early 80s alternative shimmers and shines with with Lush-like melancholy. “1 Billion Dogs” sounds like Veruca Salt on a Blake Babies kick. It’s all fuzzed-out punk goodness, but with a syrup-y sweet center.

Elsewhere Jay Som confronts an ex-lover in “One More Time, Please” and on “(Bedhead)” she unravels like a warped cassette tape spewing in a Sebadoh-like confessional track. Duterte’s voice always remains sweet and innocent throughout these tracks, which adds to the pain she’s attempting to exorcise through song. “I’m a good kid/I swear I don’t lie” Melina sings in title track “Everybody Works” like a less jaded Liz Phair. There’s just the right amount of fuzzy guitar and sweetly sung vocals that make you want go back for another listen. “For Light” ends the album on a dreamy, shoegaze-y note, stretching over 7-minutes of loping drums, gently strummed guitars, and an almost Prince-like soulful mourn. It’s a beautiful ending.

Melina Duterte is one of my new favorite songwriters. She puts songs together like a master builder, laying a solid foundation and then building up from there. Ornamenting and arranging these mini-symphonies to put in my ears. She creates these lush sonic worlds with each track.

Everybody Works is a stunning debut from Jay Som. I can’t wait to hear what comes next.

8.2 out of 10

 

 

Timothy Fife : Black Carbon

Timothy Fife seems to have locked into another realm on his Mondo/Death Waltz Originals debut Black Carbon. Within these three key tracks there seems to be worlds and entities that bubble up from the cascading synths and eerie oohs and ahhs he creates with nothing more than circuitry, wires, and electrical impulses. You get a feeling of traveling through space and time as you let the album roll over you. There’s both a sense of new age enlightenment and darker cult realms, sometimes in the same song. Fife is a student of both music and of the macabre, and he works them both into one momentous work of art on Black Carbon.

I first came to know Fife’s work on last year’s excellent Form Hell, a release by Fife and fellow synth enthusiast Christopher Livengood’s project called Victims. With Form Hell, Fife and Livengood released two immense tracks on the world that brought to mind the best of Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, and even John Carpenter. My eyes were opened to what serious voodoo Fife could summon with analog devices. When I’d heard Timothy Fife was releasing his solo debut album with Death Waltz Originals I knew it was going to be one of the best of the year. Well Black Carbon is here and it lives up to all my made up hype, and then some.

“Sydney At Night”, even before the music starts, sounds like an epic journey. It opens with the sound of evening overpowering you. Chirping creatures, distant winds, then electrical disturbances slowly take over in your head. Buzzing feedback, horror film dissonance, and eventually a synth melody makes itself known. Propulsive, electronic rhythm moves you along through a makeshift night sky. Blackness pushes over your face as chills take over your body. Musically we’re in komische territory, all bubbling synths and desolation. Beautiful, beautiful desolation. Fife has worked out a krautrock masterwork here. All 17 minutes are vital to the overall atmospheric beauty here. A frayed psyche never sounded so good.

For the digital-only crowd there’s a bonus track in “Alebedesque”. It’s a dreamy, hallucinogenic track that feels like you’re slowly falling through space. It suddenly switches gears and turns into an almost industrial noise track before dissolving into the atmosphere.

Lead track “Black Carbon” powers through a mere 3 minutes and some change, but what it accomplishes in those few moments feels like one hell of a journey. Those familiar with the Victims EP will find “Black Carbon” familiar and inviting. It’s an ominous riff with bits and pieces bobbing in and out of earshot that make you look around the room thinking someone is sneaking up on you. It’s short and sweet, but nonetheless overpowering.

We finally arrive at album closer “Low Plain Landscape”, a sort of aural journey into the ether. It carries new age tendencies; swaths of dense soundscapes that swell and collapse onto themselves, revealing new layers and emotions the deeper you get. It’s this gentle walk through the mist. “Low Plain Landscape” is the peace and enlightenment we searched for through the darker journeys taken before.

We began in the dark and have now reached the light.

Black Carbon is a stunning debut from Timothy Fife. He brings to mind many of the greats that came before him, but brings something completely his own to these excellent songs. There is a flow and continuity here that makes this record an engaging listen from start to finish. So put on your headphones, close your eyes, and get lost in Black Carbon.

8. 3 out of 10

Billow Observatory : II: Plains/Patterns

Billow Observatory exist on some ethereal plane. The music that Jonas Munk and Jason Kolb create has the feel of a constant, syrup-y flow through time and space. It’s no surprise as to the duo’s penchant for grandiose musical beats given their main gigs(Kolb is a member of Detroit, Michigan’s Auburn Lull and Munk is part of Denmark’s Causa Sui, as well as Manual, solo work, and with synth extraordinaire Ulrich Schnauss.) But within the warm embrace of Billow Observatory these two expand the sound into these vast swaths of  blanketed noise. Vast open space is something these two know a lot about, given the miles(and years) between their collaborations. Fortunately this transatlantic duo use the situation to their advantage, giving each plenty of room to stretch out and take their time getting to know the music.

After five years of collaborating and sending music files back and forth Kolb and Munk have finished their second album as Billow Observatory. II: Plains/Patterns is a cavernous beauty of an album, filled with ambient textures, shoegaze melancholy, and kosmische sensibilities. Floating in space never sounded so good.

Listening to this album it’s quite hard to describe what I’m hearing. It’s like describing the aurora borealis to someone who’s never experienced them. Sure, we’re all familiar with the night sky, colors, patterns, and shapes. But to accurately describe the northern lights to someone who’s never seen them so they can truly feel the emotional impact is a fool’s errand. Listening to a song like “Pulsus” or “Nulstil” is just as much a visceral experience as it is a listening experience. Both build an emotional center with rhythmic patterns and cavernous synth. I can tell you that there’s a real impact in these pieces. I think of Brian Eno, Popol Vuh, and Klaus Schulze as Billow Observatory runs through my ears. “Kercheval” is something quite different. I hear elements of Kevin Shields’ wall of guitar noise from Loveless in this track, even though the guitar in this track is swallowed up by cavernous reverb. There’s also an organic quality in this song. Movement and regeneration; a sense of new life growing from the soil.

Like I said, it’s hard to describe.

If there is a centerpiece, that would be “Plains”. This is a ten-minute epic that has the feel of circuitry buzzing and square waves dancing across small blue screens. It’s future ambient techno. An explosion of ideas and spatial motifs that pays off at every turn.

Elsewhere, “Montcalir” sounds like last breaths before that big reveal at the end of it all. Quiet, resolute, and beautiful. “Vex” bubbles and beeps like morse code from deep space before a ping ponging rhythm takes shape. “Plum” is just gorgeous. You’re overtaken by a bouncing synth and little guitar swells that feel like tiny revelations forming. From start to finish, this record is a journey.

With II: Plains/Patterns, Billow Observatory have honed their sound down from the endless, reverberating decay of their 2012 debut. Where on that album there seemed to be an endless drift into the dark(albeit a beautifully ornamented drift), Plains/Patterns has brought the expanse into something much more attainable. Something you can truly touch and feel. There’s an overwhelming sense of destination on this far out journey.

8.4 out of 10

Causa Sui : Live In Copenhagen

So one day last week I arrived home from work to see a cardboard box waiting for me on the front porch. When I went to pick it up I thought at first that someone had sent me a set of Encyclopedia Britannicas from Denmark as this thing was heavy. Like, really heavy. After further examination it dawned on me that I was holding Causa Sui’s Live In Copenhagen and dropped everything in my hands and made a bee line for the turntable.

It’s been a few weeks since the preorder went up for this mammoth 3-LP set, but we’ve made the most of it(Petty once said the waiting was the hardest part. He must preorder albums, too.) I went back and revisited some Causa Sui LPs I thought you good people should definitely check out if you hadn’t already. It was a swift reminder for me that these musicians from Denmark have done some major expansion in their sound since those early days. From stoner fuzz rock to experimental and expansive, the quartet known as Causa Sui have opened their brains and let some freaky sh*t get in, which is all the better for you and me. And with the studio wizardry getting better so has their live set. Live In Copenhagen shows the band in 2013 and in 2016. LP 1 is live at the Jazzhouse for the Return To Sky release show, while LPs 2 and 3 are live at Dragens Hule for the album release of Empori Tide. Both sets are on fire and show a band hungry to spread their gospel to as many ears as they can. Highlights? You want highlights? Well okay then.

Let’s start with Live at the Jazzhouse from April 29th, 2016. This set opens with “Rip Tide”, a fiery explosion of cry baby wah, drums being beaten into submission, and organ that sounds like it’s on fire with wailing saxophone joining the cacophony of noise. Imagine Jimi Hendrix and the Experience, with special guests Ken Hensley on organ and John Coltrane freaking out on acid. That’s the scene going on here. I can only imagine the faces melting in the audience. This Summer Sessions Vol.2 track never burned and smoldered quite like this before. Return To Sky’s “Mondo Buzzo” sounds like an ancient tribal incantation used to bring the Gods of Rock back from their eternal slumber(which started right after the release of Sabbath’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.) Munk, Kahr, Rasmussen, and Skott pull this one off beautifully. If there was a 90s album that I feel Causa Sui channel it’s Soundgarden’s Superunknown. That record’s ferocity and visceral slap in the face is alive and well with Causa Sui, and this live version of “Mondo Buzzo” is sonic gut punch for sure. The breezy vibe of Euporie Tide’s “Ju-Ju Blues” is a welcome respite from the massive crunch we experienced up to this point. It has an almost Doors-y vibe with Rasmussen’s organ and Skott’s jazzy drumming. But in this version Krieger was replaced by Jeff Beck. Pretty soon the earth is cracking open and molten lava is spraying everywhere. This is an epic 10-minute banger, people.

Face. Melted.

When we move to LP 2 we step back in time to August 9th, 2013 at the release show of Euporie Tide. This was the album I was introduced to Causa Sui by, but it took the Pewt’r Sessions to pull me in completely. That’s not to say Euporie didn’t impress me. It did. In fact, they play an amazing version of that album’s “Eternal Flow” at the start of LP 2. It’s amazing the volume four guys can get on such a small stage. They could be at Red Rocks by the sound of this. Then they jump into a brain-melting version of “El Paraiso” that would delight fans of anything from Santana to Graveyard. It’s both a balls out rocker and a psychedelic journey. Side D sports “Portixeddu/Tropic Of Capricorn”. It’s over 15 minutes of psyche-melting noise. Put on some headphones, drop the needle, and you’re welcome.

LP 3 opens with a great cover of Agitation Free’s “First Communication”, followed by a powerful “Homage” from Euporie Tide. “Red Valley” ends side E on a high note with one of Causa Sui’s most doomy tracks in their repertoire. You can almost see the stage morph into some post-apocalyptic desert scene as the song blows into a Sleep-like dirge. Side F is taken up by a Causa Sui-approved version of John Coltrane’s masterpiece “A Love Supreme”. The band welcome Johan Riedenlow back to the stage to sit in for the legendary Coltrane and they take the jazz epic on a ride through 50 years of music history. Instead of attempting a “paint-by-numbers” version of the piece, Causa Sui and Riedenlow open the song up into a psychedelic jam session. It’s a massive piece that pays homage to a legend while still maintaining the essence of these four lads from Odense(don’t worry, you can still chant “Love Supreme, Love Supreme” right along with it.)

I was never a big fan of live LPs. I think something is lost in the translation from stage to stereo. You may get an accurate take on a band’s work, but the sweat, aura, and buzzing heat of that magical space is lost. There have been a few live sets that I’m glad to have in my collection as they do have the ability to pull you into that evening, even if you’re just buzzed on the couch at home. Wilco’s Kicking Television, The Allman Brothers’ At Fillmore East, Television’s Live At The Old Waldorf, and now Causa Sui’s Live In Copenhagen. There’s a few other great live LPs, but these are the handful I swear by. Causa Sui’s other live album, Live At Freak Valley is well worth your time, but sonically Live In Copenhagen is just amazing. It shows just how much of a force these guys are live.

Put this one in your ears.

9.3 out of 10

Want to hear this but you’re not into antiquated forms of music delivery? No problem, you can download this over at El Paraiso Records in MP3 or FLAC form. There’s extra tracks as well that aren’t included in the vinyl version. So go get it.

 

Real Estate : In Mind

Real Estate have always come across as indifferent to the world around them. They seem to be completely aware of the what’s going on, but despite the good and bad that comes crashing down all around they breezily strum and sing their songs of nostalgic navel gazing and pining for something they may never get. 2011s Days felt like the moment where the New Jersey crew came into their own. Melancholy jams with an east coast jangle that seemed to pay tribute to both Springsteen, the Grateful Dead, and the Feelies all in the course of a single song. 2014s Atlas solidified Real Estate as the kings of bleary-eyed jangle, taking their worldview of early 20-somethings looking for the next kegger and wanting to impress that unattainable childhood crush to almost 30 and wondering where do you go from here? Martin Courtney, Alex Bleeker, and Matt Mondanile all followed their muses to solo projects but always found their way back to those summertime New Jersey barbecues and late night rooftop ponderings that Real Estate turned into stoned meditations on suburban upbringings.

But now with their newest album In Mind, Mondanile packed up and moved away from the neighborhood for good, leaving Courtney and Bleeker to keep that porch light on for us to find our way through the fog of memories. Along with Jackson Pollis, Matt Kallman, and Mondanile replacement Julian Lynch, Real Estate have made their best record yet.

I think there has always been a progressive side to Real Estate. Not in a 2112, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway sort of way, but in the way Courtney and company used the themes of growing up, dropping out, and wondering what it all means as a narrative throughout their albums. And musically, however breezy and pleasant the band comes across, there’s something very meticulous and forward thinking in their guitars and melodies. Lead single “Darling” is instantly recognizable with those pristine guitar lines and clean drumming, but with the addition of synths that hang over the song it feels like a step into new territory for these guys. Courtney has the most pleasant voice in modern rock and roll. He could sing directly from a phone book and there would be something mildly existential about it. This song is no different. They’ve set phaser(pedals) to stunning. “Serve The Song” has some distorted guitar opening the track before we sink into pining for childhood haunts and a pleasant dip into electric piano 70s lull. “Stained Glass” sounds like the Byrds, but without that southern California shine. It’s more like hungover melodies for the regretful morning after.

Timing has always been Real Estate’s biggest strength. Sure, the crystalline and chiming guitars, sweetly melancholy vocals, and overall dreamy aspect of their songs are great. But how they lock into each other as musicians is one of their biggest strong points. There’s a heft to this music that in other band’s hands might come off more twee. Maybe it’s that New Jersey upbringing. Take a track like “After The Moon”. There’s a certain sway in it that without that Real Estate magic might come across too soft rock, or a poor man’s Band Of Horses(as if a rich man’s BOH is any better.) In the hands of these guys quiet moments like this become almost existential. As good as each of their solo projects are, together is where the magic truly is.

Elsewhere “Two Arrows” blossoms over the course of nearly seven minutes, revealing chiming guitars, longing vocals, and an almost tome-like feel. “Holding Pattern” moves along on an early 80s feel, complete with icy synths, jazzy chord structures, and groovy drumming. It’s part Alan Parsons Project and part Motels. “Time” is completely new and engaging, with a space-y bossa nova feel and breathy keys. “Same Sun” shimmies like a midnight stroll home, while “Saturday” is the definitive period at the end of album.

Real Estate continue to move along in interesting musical directions. In Mind captures a group of guys at their best. A snapshot of “good old days” pondering, but never in a pretentious way. Real Estate are the guys at the corner bar happy to drink a beer or two with you and talk about the old times. They’ll even buy the next round. In Mind is an open invitation and a testament to that.

8.1 out of 10

 

Spoon : Hot Thoughts

It’s been over 20 years since their debut album Telephono was released in 1996, and they have done nothing but look forward ever since. I have no problem saying that Spoon have released some of my generations best rock records, and they’ve done it continually on their own terms. Through a major label fumble that would have broke a lesser band, Spoon have built their sound on a steady diet of Wire, The Jam, the Kinks, the Pixies, and Brill Building pop. The result is something completely, well, Spoon.

Girls Can Tell was the album that, for me, officially started what would be their winning streak and Kill The Moonlight was the defining indie rock album of the 2000s. Britt Daniel’s white boy soul vocals and sparse, angular guitar work combined with Jim Eno’s powerful, clean drumming created a magic that producer Mike McCarthy harnessed in the studio.

From there the world was Spoon’s oyster.

Each album that followed redefined and honed their sound. Gimme Fiction, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Transference, and They Want My Soul all had something to offer and built on what came before. One thing each of these records have in common is a gradual lean into groovier territory. “I Turn My Camera On” and “My Mathematical Mind” to “Don’t You Evah” and “Eddie’s Ragga” to “Who Makes Your Money” and “Nobody Gets Me But You”, all of these tracks showed a much more groove-centric Spoon giving their dancier tendencies some play time. With 2014s They Want My Soul there was a push to mix the indie rock heartbreak of earlier records with a much more polished sound. The result was one of their most acclaimed albums yet. Now with the release of Spoon’s ninth album, the excellent Hot Thoughts, there seems to be no reason to believe Spoon can’t conquer the world at large.

“Hot Thoughts” was the first single released and it’s this opening salvo that seems to mix everything we’ve come to love about this Austin band, which includes Britt Daniel and Jim Eno, as well as Rob Pope and Alex Fischel. Dance-y rhythms with a touch of Stones-y flair all covered with an air of urgency. Daniel’s vocals seem to only get better year after year, and this year is no different. “WhisperI’lllistentohearit” is keyboard heavy, but in a 80s drama kind of way. There is guitar on this album, but it’s used sparsely and when engaged to great effect. There are some heavy Divine Fits vibes here, too. With the addition of Alex Fischel, that band’s keyboard player and Daniels’ bandmate, the comparison is not without its merits. This is not a bad thing, either. “Do I Have To Talk You Into It” is the most fun I’ve heard Spoon have on record in a long time, and it doesn’t hurt that the piano melody is pretty similar to Gimme Fiction’s “The Beast And Dragon, Adored”. “First Caress” is another dance-y number that gives you bonus points for indie rock and dance floor cred. “Pink Up” is a beautifully ornamented track that is pushed more by the music than vocals. It’s space-y vibes and jazzy tendencies is a new sound for Spoon and it works well.

The album is produced by Dave Fridmann, who sat in on a few songs with the guys on They Want My Soul. Here, his presence is known but his “in the red” production style doesn’t define the sound of Hot Thoughts. If anything, the guys just use it as a new color to fill in the lines of their already stellar songs. This seems like a great fit for all.

“Can I Sit Next To You” is a full-on come on in song form. Daniel puts his come hither falsetto to good use here, while “I Ain’t The One” feels like a theme for complete heartbreak(it’s use in the season closer for Shameless was damn near perfect). It helps I’m a sucker for that Wurlitzer sound(and I might have a man crush on Britt Daniel.) “Tear It Down” could’ve been a b-side from the Gimme Fiction days. It’s sorta perfect. “Shotgun” sounds like Spoon got onto a “disco Kiss” kick for an afternoon. The result is this tight leather pants-wearing groove fest of a track. The album ends on a space-y jazz instrumental, which is again kind of a genius move.

Is Hot Thoughts Spoon’s best album? Not by a country mile. But guess what? 20 years in and Daniel and Eno are still redefining themselves each time out. They’ve got this tight knit crew after all these years that seem to have found the right amount of slick, weird, heartfelt, and funky that “get it”. Head back in the wayback machine to 1996. Look around the scene and find the music tastemakers at that time, then head back to 2017. Of that musical might, who’s still moving forward? Who’s still pushing and still vital? It’s a small group, and Spoon are at the forefront.

8. 3 out of 10