Claire Cronin - Came Down a Storm (Ba Da Bing Records!, 2016)
Listening to Claire Cronin play songs off Came Down a Storm live and then stepping into a record like this was a revelatory experience. Claire Cronin plays stately, lithe folk music that in its form brings to mind more of pastoral British and New Zealand psych-folk than it does the starkness of the American West where Claire has made her home. There are skeletal passages that retain all of the weight and emotional heft of a voice and acoustic guitar that jump straight from wax into a living room (or bedroom where I saw her perform these). These come in the literary qualities of Cronin's image-making, the way she can take defeatism out of the inevitability of death and process of dying, as well as her minor key lines and the slight quiver in her voice that rattles from the back of her throat towards the end of passages. Much of the ineffable qualities of Came Down a Storm, however, come in her composing partnership with Deerhoof's John Dietrich. With Dietrich these skeletal songs are introduced to entire worlds sound created by acoustic instruments bent and stretched to create ominous maws or incredibly moving passages of droning organs underneath distant drumming, prepared guitar to discordant, belfry-shaking noise-laden squalor. Those familiar with Dietrich's work with Powerdove's Arrest are aware of Dietrich's ability to supplement and augment ideas that are already fully furnished into some other, but familiar, beast.
Lyonnais - Anatomy of an Image (Geographic North, 2016)
Sermonizing over heavy drone, shrapnel-spewing guitar and a healthy amount of saxophone shredding, Farbod Kokabi's vocals on "Vienna Circles" suggest observance of a world of utter absurdity and paranoid self-reflection, something akin to David Byrne's narrator in "Once in a Lifetime". The Talking Heads comparisons stop there as Lyonnais' latest album explores the darker underbelly of manicured post-punk. Like This Heat being remixed by HEALTH. Anatomy of an Image offers an exploded view of the mechanics of writing these type of songs that both menace and hypnotize, burying some anxiety-producing rivulets of jagged riffing underneath the dark magic of a lock-steady kraut groove. But not even this protective spell allows deep unease and paranoia to seep through relentlessly dancy bass lines. It starts somewhere in Kokabi's faraway baritone howl, spews out from Kokabi and Lee Tesche's stutter-stepping guitars and TJ Blake's electronically-augmented drumming. With both Kokabi and Farzad Moghaddam are two of the founding members of the excellent Geographic North, while Tesche and Blake play in Algeirs and Lotus Plaza respectively it is difficult to call Lyonnais a side project. The project is as expansive as it is focused, alienating as it is immediately arresting.
Seven Feathers Rainwater - New Wig (Self-Released, 2016)
It has been a long time since I've written about Seven Feathers Rainwater. Their last longplayer 15 Apple Magicians was my favorite of 2011 and serves as a time capsule of a lot of thingsthat were happening in 2011 both musically and personally. Seven Feathers Rainwater is a Salt Lake City band which formed when I was living there and grew in terms of quality of ideas and musicianship by the time that album came out and I left the city. Returning to this time with New Wig, I can fortunately say that Seven Feathers Rainwater did not get stuck in stasis. The maximalist-propulsive electronic compositions that Animal Collective helped usher into the musical zeitgeist of the time with Merriweather Post Pavilion hasn't completely diminished, but Seven Feathers Rainwater, like the rest of us, have come down from that wide-eyed sugar rush. New Wig still burrows deep into trance-inducing psychedelia under the weight of a thousand pedals and electronics, however, New Wig, feels much more off the floor and less bound by time. "Dreamin'" for example, segues from the hazy bliss of a languid pace of poly-layered, sunbaked slowburner into a Madchester-inspired swath of dense late-80's psych-pop/dance bleed. It's easy to get lost in the beautiful slow fade from one passage to another, a type of bleary-eyed transition from one dream state to another while still faintly tracking the circular, looping progression from form to pure expression. A wonderful return.
Slomo Drags - Slomo Drags (Already Dead, 2016)
Damnit if this isn't the most supremely perfect pop records to come out this year. A wonderful collection of crunchy power pop chord progressions, fist-pumping singalong choruses, punchy horns and, their obvious ace-in-the-hole the addition of Marcus Rubio/More Eaze's deft left-field pop sensibilities on synthesizer and immediately recognizable breathy falsetto. Slomo Drags are a beautiful homage to Prince, Ric Ocasek and Beulah all wrapped into a bright pink tape coffin. The songwriting is tongue-in-check clever without being precious, whip-smart and tight without being antiseptic. The most convincing reason why I should still care about indie rock in the last few years.