2016 is already half over, so it’s time to evaluate some of the best releases that have come out the past three months. There weren’t really any surprises for me, as the heavy hitters I had been anticipating delivered. I didn’t know ahead of time when Male Gaze and Radiohead would come out with albums, but I was looking forward to them, and they didn’t disappoint. Lola Colt definitely moved up in ranks as one of my favorite current bands. It was a good time for sophomore albums from Lola Colt, Male Gaze, Purson, Messenger and Electric Citizen. Swans maintained their high standards with possibly the last release of their career, and Gojira took a left turn into post-punk (and post-industrial/post-metal) territory.
1. Lola Colt – Twist Through The Fire (Black Tigress)
In last year’s Psych Noir piece, Lola Colt was the key focus in the section titled, “Guns, Peyote ‘n’ Dark Highways.” Their evocative debut Away From The Water (Fuzz Club, 2014) brought to mind garage noir pioneers like The Scientists, Gun Club, Gallon Drunk, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Italian western composer Ennio Morricone, post-punkersAu Pairs along with psychedelia and the lyrical B-movie revels of Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats. While no single track ever disappointed, even B-sides like “Boom Boom Blasphemy,” “Time To Burn” and “Diamonds,” it seemed the band had plenty more potential for growth.
While a lot of bands keep a laser sharp focus on their musical style, which can be a good thing, Lola Colt’s world manages to be dark and menacing but also expansive and traversely. Their second album is the manifestation of that vision, touching on Israeli folk and North African percussion with the psychedelic boldness of peak Jefferson Airplane and Siouxsie & the Banshees, at least their spirit firmly packed away in their DNA, but the sound easily discerned as their own. | Full Review
2. Male Gaze – King Leer (Castle Face)
I was excited by last year’s all too short debut mini-LP by Male Gaze, which combined dark post-punk with garage psych. On their new album, they don’t sound so much inspired by the Chameleons and Blue Orchids as much as they do more contemporary, poppy post-punk like Franz Ferdinand and The Strokes. I’m not complaining though. Even with their most melodic songs, like “Ranessa” and “Stupid Heart,” they keep the edges roughed up with a loose, garage punk feel. The album is anchored in the beginning (“Got It Bad”), middle (“Easy To Void”) and end (“This Is It”) by muscular numbers with Matt Jones’ distinctive baritone and guitars in overdrive The biggest departure is the languid, acoustic “Green Flash.” They took a risk, and while it might not be a highlight, they pull it off by demonstrating the kind of heart and soul that made Royal Headache’s High so convincing last year. Like High, it’s a short album, but it’s packed tight with great songs, as “Lesser Demons” and “Bad Omens” offer additional hooky highlights, the latter even dabbling in some jangle pop. Despite displaying what I believe is massive potential from their first single, the band seems to be coasting somewhat under the radar, even for being on an indie (Castle Face) label. Whether they decide to do some proper touring, or it remains an obscure side project, few bands will match the consistency of King Leer this year.
3. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (XL)
While every album Radiohead has released since 1997 has been a highly anticipated event (even when we never knew exactly when the last three were going to drop), The King Of Limbs was a disappointment in hindsight. They seemed to get stuck in their idea of being electronica pioneers to the point of nearly forgetting how to be a band, resulting in their most boring album. Yet live they are always dynamic, so there was always hope. A Moon Shaped Pool is possibly their most cohesive work since Kid A, and overall their most beautiful. Much to my delight, several songs have them delving into psych prog, one my my own favorite pet hybrid subgenres. It makes sense that these Brits would show an interest, as there were some brilliant, folky English albums released during the early 70s when psych morphed into prog. Whether they heard some Comus, Dark, High Tide, T2, Gun or others, it’s hard to say, because they still sound like Radiohead, and as inscrutable as ever.
4. Causa Sui – Return To Sky (El Paraiso)
Once considered Colour Haze acolytes, this Danish instrumental jam psych band showed an exploratory, improvisational spirit with a series of nearly jazzy experiments over the past decade. Return To Sky finds them returning to heavier territory of extended sessions of fuzzed out guitars with extra sprinkles of cosmic stardust. This breathtaking set could be their best.
5. Purson – Desire’s Magic Theatre (Spinefarm)
Since I heard the goth-prog-psych-folk-proto-doom of their 2012 single “Rocking Horse,” the massive potential of these paranormal psych Beatles freaks was apparent. Their debut album The Circle And The Blue Door (2013) fulfilled that promise, and their latest is another step in fleshing out a much more ambitious vision than being merely 60’s rock revivalists. It’s an art rock fever dream filtered through their own scintillating flavor of psych noir.
6. Messenger – Threnodies (InsideOut)
I was on board with Messenger since their promising psych prog debut Illusory Blues (2014). Their second album is quite different, with the band expanding from three to five members, and evolving from a folkier sound to a heavier, sleek rock sound. “Oracles Of War” is the heaviest thing they’ve done, paying tribute to Sabbath and other bands on the Vertigo roster from the early 70s. It’s also the closest I’ve heard another band get to what Norwegian psych proggers Spirits Of The Dead have done. I’ve been dying for more of this sound, so I fully support this. The band doesn’t just measure up to past and recent influences. There may be similarities with Animals era Pink Floyd, but honestly I feel that Messenger is a more engaging listen with much more consistently on-point songwriting. “Celestial Spheres” has them forging forward into fairly uncharted territories, a master stroke of complexity and a sticky melody that peers should take notice of. The progtastic “Pareidolia” is just as impressive, while the more subdued “Balearic Blue,” “Nocturne” and “Crown Of Ashes” provide nicely varied pacing in mood and texture.
7. Swans – The Glowing Man (Young God)
At this point it seems Michael Gira can do no wrong, arguably never having released a bad album with the Swans or Angels Of Light in the past 33 years. Such an impressive career spanning post-punk, noise rock, avant noir, and folky Americana is unmatched unless you look to Einsturzende Neubauten or Nick Cave. The fourth album after reconvening from a 14 year break, and the third lengthy double album in a row is also allegedly their swan song as Gira retires this lineup of the Swans. It’s slightly less aggressive than To Be Kind (2014) and arguably more cohesive than The Seer (2012), a fine conclusion to chapter 2.0. I’m sure we’ll hear plenty more from Gira soon.
8. Gojira – Magma (Roadrunner)
I sometimes go months without getting in the mood for the extreme end of metal, but I’ve always got time for French avant death proggers Gojira. One of the best live bands around, they are dependably full of righteous political rage, with lyrics often addressing our impending environmental doom. It’s not entirely surprising then, that the band’s latest bears a strong influence of another angry apocalyptic band, post-punkers Killing Joke. It’s not the direction, however, that I would have predicted, or even wanted to hear. But Gojira don’t care about what we want, they follow their own muse, with an extra dose of good old personal grief (the Duplantier brothers lost their mother). And with adjusted expectations, they’re successful once again.
9. Electric Citizen – Higher Time (RidingEasy)
Electric Citizen’s debut Sateen (2014) showed a lot of promise with a groovy psych noir sound, and put on a great live show that showed most of the band members are veteran road warriors with past lives in other projects. Their second album benefits from their touring experience, and has turned to a heavier hard rock sound, with a touch of early 80s British heavy metal in the mix. Laura Dolan translates her badass stage presence into her most confident vocal performance yet, all the better to nail down the tight, concise songwriting with a harder hitting performance.
10. Kikagaku Moyo – House In The Tall Grass (Guruguru Brain)
Japanese folk psych band Kikagaku Moyo turned a lot of heads with two really strong releases in 2014, Forest Of Lost Children and Mammatus Clouds. House In The Tall Grass continues the roll with a good summary of their strengths, from lovely liquid dreamscapes and bedroom acoustic picking to extended guitar workouts.
11. Dark Suns – Everchild (Prophecy)
Germany’s Dark Suns have come a long way since their first album in 1998, evolving from progressive doom and death metal to more straight up prog metal, and with fifth album Orange (2011), their own take on psych prog with a jazzy influence. Everchild fine-tunes this recent direction, with more jazz in the formula, as they have brought in a trumpet and saxophone player as permanent members. An interesting bonus is an extended ten minute art rock treatment of Tori Amos’s “Yes, Anastasia.”
12. The Mystery Lights – The Mystery Lights (Daptone)
Garage noir rockers The Mystery Lights formed over a decade ago in Salinas, CA, but it took a move to to NYC to inspire them to complete their debut full length. The move also may have inspired them to add a little CBGBs era punk to their surf punk. To be honest, the album would have been even better if their guitarist went full-on Robert Quine (he made Richard Hell’s Voidoids great), but it’s a very nice start.
13. Jon Deitemyer – Tall Tales (ears&eyes)
While I feel I have a pretty good grasp of jazz history going back to at least Kid Ory, my knowledge pretty much falls off the cliff by the mid 70s. While I know there has been a lot of great jazz in the past few decades, I’ve been more distracted by, well, all the other genres I’m into. On top of that, my tastes suffer from a bit of arrested development in my preferences for psych, metal and punk. There’s always a few jazz albums every year that grab my attention and make me feel, at least temporarily, like a full grown adult. Jon Deitemyer is a drummer who provides to heartbeat to several projects, most consistently with Patricia Barber Quartet, Matt Ulery’s Loom and Zach Brock. While I’ve heard great albums lead by drummers (Elvin Jones, Max Roach), this is pretty unique in that Deitemyer also wrote some great, poetic lyrics on several tunes, sung by Leslie Beukelman. While there are great solos to be found, the performances are pretty direct in service to the memorable songs, and lovely moments like the stunning piano melody played by Rob Clearfield on “A Little South,” which has been lurking in my dreams the past couple weeks.
14. Wo Fat – Midnight Cometh (Ripple)
Wo Fat have been my favorite source of fuzzed out psychedelic voodoo blues next to Elder for over a half dozen years. While they have not strayed far from their formula perfected on second album, Psychedelonaut (2009), their sixth album does refine things a bit with possibly their best sounding recording so far, and Kent Stump’s vocals have become a bit smoother and less like Rowlf from the Muppets. “Riffborn” is the most compact statement, piling on the titular riffs fast and heavy for five minutes, while “Le Dilemme De Detenu” brings out the funk. However they’re also as trippy and expansive as ever on “There’s Somethin Sinister In The Wind” and “Of Smoke And Fog.” After all these years I still haven’t seen them live.
15. VUM – Cryptocrystalline (Secret Lodge)
VUM have been kicking around for over six years, and this latest album finds their darkwave electronica in full bloom. A sort of electro post-punk flipside of Lola Colt’s psych noir.
16. Hypnos – Cold Winds (Crusher)
Sweden has been teeming with great hard rock albums recently. The latest from Hypnos maintains the high quality riff to hook ratio, spearheaded by the smokin’ single “I’m On The Run,” a tune that UFO or Thin Lizzy would have been proud to have written. The Swedish sung “Det Kommer En Dag” starts out as a slow burning ballad, turning up the juice in the last couple minutes, bringing to mind mid-70s era Scorpions. They wrap things up with “1800,” the longest track at 8:31, progging things up with a bit of flute and revealing some Wishbone Ash DNA in their blood, something that Iron Maiden more successfully took to the bank. A U.S. tour with Horisont and either Black Trip or Dead Lord would be awesome.
17. Steve Gunn – Eyes On The Lines (Matador)
Steve Gunn is a prolific guitarist who collaborates with a lot of people. I first noticed him on the folky Time Off (2013). Way Out Weather (2014) fleshed his sound out with a full band, and the newest album is his most ambitious yet, with a nine piece band. The showcase, however, is Gunn’s guitar playing, which encompasses everything from Bert Jansch, John Fahey and Sonic Youth. Great Americana for summertime back porch listening.
18. GØGGS – GØGGS (In The Red)
While Fuzz had been Ty Segall and Charles Moothart’s heaviest project, GØGGS, with vocalist Chris Shaw eclipses it with a ripping, gonzoid delivery more in line with the freeform hardcore punk of SST band BL’AST! than their usual garage psych influences. In a random mix with other music, GØGGS can be jarringly brutal in an unpleasant way. However taken as a whole, it’s kinetic energy builds into something viscerally powerful and satisfying if you’re in the right mood. While there are plenty of recent albums that are heavier, such as Nails’ You Will Never Be One Of Us, I prefer the looser garage punk approach over the claustrophobic brutality of some of the hardcore/grindcore bands.
19. The Gotobeds – Blood // Sugar // Secs // Traffic (Sub Pop)
I loved the hell out of their debut album, Poor People Are Revolting (2014). While their cover designs and band name reference classic UK post-punkers Buzzcocks, The Fall and Wire, their sound has a more American, shambolic garage rock flavor, with an extra dose of sarcasm and gleeful vulgarity. Comparing them to the likes of Protomartyr and Parquet Courts they may admittedly fall short as the new lyrics are often pretty stupid. But I’m not voting them into political office or hiring them to teach. They’re meant more for some fuzzy-headed fun in a hot bar with a sweaty glass of beer.
20. Young Docteurs – Beginning At The End (Citadel)
This is a special event. 38 years after the Canberra, Australia band formed in 1978, Young Docteurs are releasing their first full length album. They had a fairly unique twist on psychedelic garage punk and post-punk, at least for the time, kind of a mix of The Damned and Magazine. The band put out a few singles, but despite the fact that they never really officially broke up, it took them until now to put out a proper album. Since then, fellow Aussies The Scientists, The New Christs and The Church have explored different aspects of what they started, but they deserve to be acknowledged as peers with fellow proto punk pioneers Radio Birdman and The Saints. On “Man In The Box,” they even pay tribute to KISS’ “Black Diamond.” While copies have been floating around since last year, the proper international release of the album wasn’t until June of this year. Or maybe it hasn’t happened yet. Typically it’s hard to tell with this band. Hopefully they will make it available on Bandcamp or Spotify at some point. Meanwhile, a CD is available from Citadel.
Bubbling under there are many other very good to excellent albums worth hearing. I appreciated albums by Blood Orange, Kendrick Lamar, and Beyonce, but they’re just not what I spent most of my time listening to. That would be more psych (Comet Control, Mythic Sunship, Electric Eye, Jakob Skøtt, Os Noctàmbulos), garage (Dead Coast, The Coathangers), post-punk (Traitrs, Eagulls, Drangsal, Spectres), prog (Knifeworld), jazz (Niecheć, Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids, Fire! Orchestra, Esperanza Spalding) and of course plenty of hard rock and doom (live Truckfighters and Colour Haze albums, Bad Acid, Gozu, Lord Vicar, Wheel In The Sky, Cardinals Folly, Bright Curse).
One last honorable mention is British band Black Peaches. On their debut Get Down You Dirty Rascals, they combine extremely polished, accomplished musicianship with influences from the American south like The Allman Brothers and The Meters. It’s not something I’d have predicted I’d be into, but it’s gotten a lot of play time this summer.
Bands I’ve been looking forward to new material from that have release dates include Hammers Of Misfortune (Jul 22), Dinosaur Jr. & Blues Pills (Aug 5), Wovenhand (Sep 2), Truckfighters (Sep 30) and Syd Arthur (Oct 21). Opeth doesn’t have a release date but an album was announced sometime later in the year. Spirits Of The Dead, Troubled Horse and Wolf People have not yet announced dates, and it’s killin’ me!