Doug Tuttle – Dream Road (Burger Records)

11183_JKTWhen listening to Doug Tuttle’s latest album Dream Road, one is immediately struck with how much of a sonic architect this guy is.  It’s of little wonder his other gig is building guitar effects pedals.  Tuttle musical specialty is spinning the paisley patterned sounds of yesteryear into something instantly familiar yet fresh.  Every analog sound from the swirling mellotrons to the backwards guitar solos are in exactly the right place.  It’s the musical equivalent of a rec room with shag carpeting, a beanbag chair, and a top-notch hi-fi with good record collection. I reckon his guitar tone is most likely the envy of at least a few boutique lurking guitar snobs as well.

On his fourth solo album and debut for Burger Records, he seems to have settled into a comfortable groove with his own brand of gentle psychedelia, leaving behind the fragmented approach of his prior record Peace Potato.  Tuttle also folds some new sounds into the mix including a little bit of Nashville twang that creeps around the edges, and even a little AM Gold on the effortless sounding light pop of “Did You Need Someone.” Even though he seems to have settled into more conventional song structures, and expanded his sound pallet some, there’s a feeling of restlessness that seems to hang over Dream Road. The album is bookended with two songs “I’ll Throw It All Away,” and “Fade” that both appear to find the artist at a crossroads. Let’s hope he’s not ready to pack it in yet, especially with albums as good as this issuing forth on a regular basis.  Even though the pay is probably terrible (but probably better than writing record reviews), we need guys like Tuttle building cool effects pedals and fighting the good fight to keep the torch aflame.

Buy Dream Road via Burger Records.

Jandek – The Ray (Corwood Industries)

It’s been awhile since a package from Corwood Industries has graced my mailbox, and it feels like a visit from an eccentric uncle that you haven’t caught up with in awhile.  Sure, there was a time when you used to drink beer together after work, and ponder the bigger questions that life has to offer.  But then things change, time keeps moving and you lose touch.  Do people still review Jandek albums or for that matter even read record reviews anymore?  In the world of Jandek everything always seems to boil down to a question mark in the end, and that’s probably by design.

Since 1978 the entity known as Corwood Industries has been privately issuing a singular body of work mostly credited to the entity known as Jandek (save for the initial release Ready For The House which was credited to The Units, until a cease and desist letter resulted in a change of plans).  Noted rock scribe Byron Coley in Spin Magazine described this debut as an old dead leaf blowing around the country painted dark purple.  This was just the beginning, and there were plenty more purple leaves to come.  The music issued forth at a steady pace from the mysterious Houston based Corwood PO Box, first as a singular form of avant folk blues that was not for the faint of heart.  As more and more albums sprang forth, additional instrumentation was added, and occasional anonymous collaborators would pop out of the woodwork to add color and surprising twists.  Until Jandek’s emergence from the shadows in 2004 to perform live, no one was even 100% sure if the man who appeared on the album covers was the person behind the sounds presented.  It appears that the representative Corwood sent just happened to bear a striking resemblance.

I spent a lot of time in the late 1990’s staring at those blurry album covers, listening to those records, and looking for clues while pondering the mysteries and motivations of the artist behind it all.  It even prompted me to assemble not just one, but two tribute albums, in part just to help me work out how other people interpreted the otherness of the sounds presented.  Somehow, this all brings me back to Jandek’s latest, The Ray which in a lot of ways feels like a culmination of the work that Corwood started back in 1978.  Consisting of one-hour length piece, it’s also by my estimation the closet the artist has come to something resembling psychedelic rock.  The instrumentation which seems to consist of drums, bass, guitar, and synthesizer that swirl and churn like a maelstrom around that artist’s anguished vocals which read one part twisted inner monologue, and one part conversation with God. The music throughout the piece is ever changing, yet ever the same; it feels like the musical equivalent of driving in a blizzard. While the lyrics telegraph feelings of isolation, deep psychic wounds, and a desperate longing for escape before the narrator seems to resign himself to the will of the divine at the end of the movement. Though it’s hard to say for sure, one gets the feeling the artist played all the instruments on this one, and seems to have taken a lot of the lessons from his decade plus experience playing live with various collaborators to forge something new from the musical language created on such seminal Jandek albums as The Rocks Crumble and Interstellar Discussion.

It’s always tempting to read into such a singular statement as a signal that Jandek’s days of music making may be drawing to close, but fans have been thinking that since the cacophony of “The Electric End” that closed 1987’s Lost Cause album, or the then out of character solo piano piece that provided a coda to 1999’s The Beginning.  In 2003, Corwood promised the makers of the documentary film Jandek on Corwood that the future would be surprising.  Turns out that it was, and I have a feeling that it will remain so, especially if albums as strong as The Ray keep issuing forth from a certain Texas based PO box.

Buy The Ray from Corwood Industries.

Joseph Airport – Diorama Pt. 2 (Joseph Airport Records)

a0430959797_10It’s got to be difficult to be an old school indie rock band in 2019, even one as good as Joseph Airport.  Considering the sea of indifference that most bands of their guitar slinging ilk are forced to sail on in this day and age. I for one am glad they soldier on, especially when the fruits of their collective labor are albums as good as Diorama Pt. 2.

It’s easy to compare the Detroit based Joseph Airport with their good old fashioned angular mid-fi crunch to Dayton, Ohio’s lo-fidelity all-stars Guided By Voices, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But I think that’s a bit like comparing Badfinger to the Beatles. There happens to be a lot connections between the two groups that I think are worth noting. These guys bear the special distinction of being one of only a handful of acts to have a record released on Bob Pollard’s Rockathon Records label that wasn’t directly associated with him. It’s also important to note that guitarist Matthew Cutter is the man behind last year’s excellent Pollard bio Closer You Are: The Story of Robert Pollard and Guided By Voices. The group’s latest also features tracks recorded with Tobin Sprout; the man who I consider to be the Harrison to Pollard’s Lennon/McCartney when it comes to GBV’s classic lineup. So, the bottom line is these guys pilot an aircraft of a similar design to their mentors. The real question is how well do they fly?

I’m happy to report they manage to hit very few pockets of turbulence on the their latest, and manage to stick the landing. It’s an album chock full of soaring hooks, alternated with just enough mysterious psychedelic & proggy weirdness to keep the listener feeling pleasantly off-kilter. So, if you’re feeling a hankering for those long gone days of the late 90’s with a fresh approach, it might be time to book a flight with Joseph Airport.

Order the album via Bandcamp.

Spiral Wave Nomads – s/t (Twin Lakes Records / Feeding Tube Records)

SWN cover art-01As a musician, it isn’t always easy to capture that moment in an improvisational situation where the pieces all click together to become something other. That mercurial sound of the players’ subconscious unfolding in real time. The Spiral Wave Nomads manage to pull it off against the odds with their self-titled debut.

Those aforementioned nomads are a duo comprised of Eric Hardiman and Michael Kiefer. Both of whom have put in some serious time in the sub-underground trenches. For the Albany based Hardiman, his resume includes being a member of the psychedelic rock collective Burnt Hills, and his one man ambient/noise project Rambutan; all while curating limited run avant-garde damage on his Tape Drift Records imprint. Kiefer’s prior work includes time with exploratory outfits such as More Klementines, Rivener & the neo-Americana of No Line North. He also runs the Twin Lakes label. This album is a co-release between Twin Lakes, and the seemingly inexhaustible underground wellspring that currently is Feeding Tube Records.

It’s pretty remarkable how full these tracks sound for being credited to a duo, and how much musical ground is covered by Hardiman and Kiefer on these takes.  From the swirling Crazy Horse influenced stomp of “Blue Dream,” replete with Hardiman’s searching guitar leads to the technicolor buzzing eastern drones of “Wabi Sabi.”  While “Floating on a Distant Haze” is content to drift on a sea of serene kosmiche musik waves.

Spiral Wave Nomads is an album electrically charged by the sound of two artists hunkering down for the simple joy of seeing what might happen in the moment, and the results are stunning. Ride the darker wave.

Buy the album from Feeding Tube Records.

Guided by Voices – Warp and Woof (Rockathon)

Warp_frontcover

Sometimes I think that it must be exhausting being Robert Pollard. Hell, sometimes it feels exhausting just being a casual fan.  After dropping a double album Zeppelin Over China only a few months back, the fading captain sails back into port with another offering under his arm from his most reliable crew Guided By Voices.  The aforementioned album in question is Warp and Woof, and while it’s credited to the same rock solid lineup that has graced the past few exemplary efforts, it feels like a different animal altogether.

The album’s genesis started with an itch by Pollard to record some quickie EP’s following the completion of their last album, however when a boombox writing session produced six fully formed songs in under half an hour, it seemed another album was brewing faster than previously expected.  I imagine this would probably be a surprise to absolutely no one in the Pollard-verse given this guys proclivity for cranking out tunes.  Although this time there seems to be an element of Pollard having his (August by) cake and eating it too, as the material that comprises Warp and Woof was first released a series of 4 7″ EPs (which are the amazingly titled 100 Dougs, Wine Cork StonehengeUmlaut Over The Ozone, and 1901 Acid Rock) prior to the albums release proper.  Although GBV’s label Rockathon issued the following disclaimer about those cheapskates thinking about getting just the EP’s and not the album proper, “Just because you have the 4 EP’s doesn’t mean you have the album! Our Uncle Bob is the king of sequencing.”  As far as that whole thing goes, I think I’m just gonna leave it to the GBV podcast dude, to figure all that out as far as what’s what.  I’m sure that episode should be dropping any day now (if it hasn’t already).

What I do know is that Warp and Woof has a looser more fragmented vibe than anything else that has been credited to GBV’s so-called “new classic lineup” thus far.  For those familiar with the GBV oeuvre, think Alien Lanes or somewhat more recent reference point Let’s Go Eat The Factory.  That’s probably the more spontaneous circumstances of the writing and recording with guitar tracks being cut at sound checks or in a van hurtling at 60-plus m.p.h with Pollards’ vocal tracks being laid down in hotel rooms or small studios.  Unlike the past few albums which featured compositions that were meticulously crafted by producer Travis Harrison, and the group into miniature alternative universe arena rock epics using Pollard’s boombox sketches as the blueprint.  The end result is collection of tracks that whips by faster than the mile marker signs on your way to the next gig with plenty of left turns, and unexpected detours.  Quicker, dirtier, and more psychedelic; should probably be the disclaimer on the hype sticker.  If all this sounds like your cup of tea when it comes to GBV, then perhaps it’s time for another faster than expected motel check in with Uncle Bob.

Order the album via Rockathon.

Gary Wilson – King of Endicott (Cleopatra Records)

Gary Wilson 10x10It seems appropriate that both Gary Wilson and Rod Serling share the same hometown of Endicott, NY as Wilson’s latest album sounds like the kind of music that one of his characters would be playing in a seedy nightclub staked just on the outskirts of the Twilight Zone.  The artist known as Gary Wilson emerged from his parents’ basement sometime around 1977 fully formed, covered in flour, and sporting cat eye sunglasses with copies of his breakthrough album You Think You Really Know Me tucked under his arm ready to blow minds.  The music contained on that record was an improbable hybrid of bedroom funk meets the avant-garde with just enough rock ‘n’ roll in its DNA to make it some previously unknown mutant form of pop music.

Things of course didn’t go exactly as planned.  As Wilson’s late ’70’s and early ’80’s attempts at stardom fizzled, the artist retreated back into a self-imposed fortress of solitude in the form of a dead end job with a steady helping of playing regular lounge gigs on the side.  Things picked back up again around the turn of the century with the rediscovery of his aforementioned magnum opus, and he’s been at the wheel ever since pumping out a torrent of releases both new and archival; there’s even been a Christmas album for God’s sake.

The King of Endicott is a love letter from Gary to his hometown, chock full of homages and references to his city of a thousand lights. Wilson seems to be trying to put himself back there with recollections of places and lovers who might be real or imagined, it’s sometimes really hard to tell what’s what in the Wilson-verse, or what exactly is lurking beneath the surface on even the sunniest of musical offerings on here. With lyrics that read more like the artist’s inner monologue than anything necessarily based in reality.  While some of the artist’s edgier musical proclivities have been sanded down with time, what’s remains is the pulse of a drum machine, and a gnawing obsession with wanting to be wanted; peppered with just enough of his trademark weirdness lurking around the edges to make you feel uncomfortably at home.  The King of Endicott makes it clear that Gary Wilson is still here, and still waiting to take on that perfect date to the park in his magic city.  If you’re game for a real sick trip, swipe right.

Order the album direct from the artist.

Bill MacKay – Fountain Fire (Drag City)

cover_1544126457352464Based on the sounds contained on Chicago-based avant-folkie Bill MacKay’s latest album Fountain Fire, it seems apparent he’s been racking up the miles both literally and figuratively.   It’s a dusty gem of an album that slowly reveals its treasures with repeated listening, and feels like a sprawling road trip across a new weird America with a transatlantic flight or two thrown in for good measure.

Album opener “Pre-California,” sets the table in a cinematic fashion, allowing a widescreen view of MacKay’s 6-string sprawl replete with walls of rumbling, and sliding guitars which evoke images of tectonic shifts, and primordial volcanic ooze.  It’s a mostly instrumental set, but the few tracks which utilize vocals are stunners; such as the Janschian English folk moves displayed on “Birds of May.”   It’s a timeless sounding set that hums with a crackling kinetic energy, even in its quieter and more contemplative moments.  Closing with the urgent and apocalyptic sounding “Dragon Country,” MacKay seems to evoke the sound of darkness descending with its nervy acoustic finger picking, walls of tremolo, and sneaky electric guitar lines.  Fountain Fire is an album that evokes powerful emotions and imagery almost entirely via MacKay’s masterful guitar work.  Just hop in the van, and let him do all the driving; it’s a trip worth taking.

Order the album via Drag City.