Despite arriving with one of the worst names among indie rock in recent memory, San Diego’s Tropical Popsicle still manages to set the controls to stun on their unassuming, yet potent, debut single. The burgeoning Volar label has proven to be the Captured Tracks of the West when it comes to issuing semi-unknown bands mining a similar pseudo-Mancunian minimalism, and Trop Pop (as I prefer to call the band) tends to obscure bubbling melodies under a shroud of summer bummer atmospherics. This is the solo work of Tim Hines, but Hines has recently acquired a trio to accompany him who will surely aid in creating a mood onstage whereby the oxygen is sucked from the room and the crowd mopes accordingly while hanging on every one of Hines’ occultist fantasies. In “Beach With No Footprints,” Hines speaks of the “beast who takes each breath,” while his shaman moan on “Always Awake in Shadows” claims, “Your will is my command.” Each breathy line becomes more convincing than the last. Both tracks balance syrup-thick organs and surfer rhythms brought to a slow-motion pant, an aesthetic that shows Trop Pop knows the existential wonder in their oceanic surroundings, but prefers to see it as existential dread on the dark side of the coastline. Not unlike the moody surprises from Clinic when that band first appeared or the shambling slouch psychedelics of the Crystal Stilts, Trop Pop is unique in sounding completely foreign even among the bevy of bands creating similar waves. What’s not unique is their reliance on the beach for literal inspiration. That’s a trend which should be going the way of the off-shore oil rig.
Of course, Woods are not from California, but their massively overlooked new album, Sun and Shade, and their preference to hold the annual Woodsist Fest near a beach in Big Sur might suggest that the prolific band was born of the Bay Area. Were we following the theory that Woods were a parallel to the Grateful Dead, the aforementioned album would be their Aoxomoxoa, as it’s steeped with freaky experimental excursions matched with the dusty pop nuggets we’ve come to expect from Jeremy Earls and company. This, their first single for Sacred Bones, is apropos were one to stick to that theory and the belief that the label is a perfect home for Woods’ more left-of-center psychedelia. “Be There” is beaten to a brown-acid folk dirge, looking for a meditative escape through some serious searing guitar dementia and a droning mantra supplanted as the song’s backbone. You’ll know it is Woods simply because of Earls’ fragile falsetto, but the band behind him is a clangorous mess of room noise, percussive shuffling, and earnest freeform. It seems that Haight-Ashbury hangover continues on the melancholy wash of “Find Them Empty,” which may just be one of the finest tunes Earls has ever penned. Existing in a very Strawberry Alarm Clock vacuum, the song is deep in shades of paisley prints, following trails not unlike the Wooden Shjips. This is the closest Woods have come to the Troggs and that’s a vicinity I want to imagine they can orbit in any of their many configurations.
In judging a single by its cover, I nearly felt compelled to skip the Land of Blood and Sunshine based on the bad vibes the whole package seemed to be radiating. The Phlegm Realm EP looked like something that might accompany a newsletter from Zendik Farm. Maybe this was to be music made by Death Valley bohos who think Burning Man has become too corporate or Midwestern steampunks gone gypsy. But cutting to the wax and bypassing the ugh-inducing art, the Mashaltown, Iowa group has a load of surprises in store on this short, but intricate, debut. My suspicions weren’t entirely suspect; the Land of Blood and Sunshine do tend to come across as neo-pagan folkies or communal country goths in their ambitions to mix everything from twee-pop tuned to the Music Tapes to Balkan rhythms and acoustic prog-guitars befitting Man Man. As separate pieces that might be a lot to swallow, but somewhere along the way LOBAS make it work by giving into an intoxicating jam that plays to all of those strengths. This is a very good band with a lot to offer, if only they can get off the dreamcatcher blotter bullshit.
Kevin J. Elliott