No, I don’t have some clever post-Thanksgiving angle for this new-release rundown, aside from the fact that I’m damn thankful for these new releases by PNW bands, all of which merit much praise, induce much joy, and should probably be on your Black Friday shopping list.
hERON, Desolate Paradise (Concuss Music): I lent an enthusiastic shout-out to this Seattle/San Antonio trip-hop band’s great 2017 debut long-player a few months back. Desolate Paradise, their new five-song EP, serves up more of the same in the best sense of the term.
Sonic sketch artists Rob Castro and Progeny continue their penchant for mining hypnotic low-fi grooves from seemingly duct-taped electronics and crackling analog samples here. “Cruel Intentions” is a sultry jam built around a purring sampled sax and strains of ice-rink organ that somehow manage to be sexy as hell. “In To Darkness” and “Human Extinctions” continue the band’s shuffling retro sci-fi vibe. “Keep Drowning” builds an unlikely hip-shaking dance foundation beneath tinny guitar strums and fairy-tale keyboards. And Desolate Paradise closes with “Hummingbird,” the band’s most assured, sensual dance cut yet.
hERON’s goal, near as I can tell, is to create a catalog that’s free-flowing and mesmerizing enough to play in total, on repeat, for eternity. Mission accomplished so far.
Leava, True Blvrs (self-released): There’s definitely some Radiohead in Seattle multi-instrumentalist Simon Nicol’s (AKA Leava’s) DNA, particularly in his wounded-spectre voice. But his skewed imagination–brilliance, even–as a sonic architect shines in his atmosphere-drenched songs. “Had Enough,” True Blvrs‘ first single, sounds less like In Rainbows and more like some lost Motown ballad, crooned by Smokey Robinson’s neurotic dark-angel twin brother in an abandoned cathedral.
Meantime, the druggy Jesus and Mary Chain stomp of “PIAPD” (stands for “Primal Is As Primal Does”) is every woozy psych-rock band you’ve ever heard, with Phil Spector behind the mixing board.
Best of all, Leava’s unafraid to throw wrenches of experimentation into his songs. Creepy, atonal retro keyboards chase down Nicol’s increasingly fearful voice and unsettle the sensual synth-funk cushion of “CDT.”And even when he sounds a little too close to Kid A-era Radiohead, there’s always some weird sonic twist to distinguish the songs, like the (sampled?) flute notes that circle Nicol’s raggedly eerie tenor like tiny demons on the haunting “Hangers-On.”
“Had Enough” and “Hangers-On” are up now for download; the rest of True Blvrs drops on December 14.
SLOUCHER, Be True (Swoon Records): The world will always have a place for pop bands that can wring wounded romance from the right combination of lovely melodies and crunchy guitars. And SLOUCHER are more than worthy of carrying the pure-pop torch that’s been passed from The Beatles to Big Star to The Posies to Elliott Smith.
The guitars on Be True are a little more muscular and noisy than on the band’s debut, Certainty, but the core of the band’s sound remains lead singer Jay Clancy’s lyrical sense. He’s refreshingly self-aware and wryly humorous, unafraid to wear his heart on his sleeve, and a staggeringly consistent songwriter.
Be True‘s one of those records where each listen yields a new favorite song, but three tracks are insinuating themselves most persistently. The title track/first single is 3.5 minutes of young love at its most winsome; “Perfect for You” counters its stormy ’90s alt-rock guitars with a gorgeous psych-tinged chorus; and “Cloverdale” is a funny, nuanced slice of life filled with tiny lyrical details (“Buying some junk food/this old drunk dude called me Cobain, and then I walked away”) worth their weight in gold. All told, I haven’t heard a better guitar pop record in all of 2018. I doubt I will. And that’s something to be (yes) extra-thankful for.