Gary War
Horribles Parade
Sacred Bones

When coming across projects like Gary War, there’s always a temptation to toss the record in the pile marked “bedroom psych” and let that be the end of it. To be sure, a good number of listeners have often lumped the New York–based act together with similar sounding operations. Ariel Pink comes up as a frequent and popular point of comparison. Blank Dogs provide another obvious touchstone, given the mysterious nature of each group’s initial work, the collaboration between the two, and Gary War’s affiliation with Captured Tracks, the label run by Blank Dogs’ Mike Sniper. Horribles Parade, however, establishes Gary War as a truly singular artist worthy of attention.

The follow-up to last year’s New Raytheonport and Gary War’s second release on the venerable Sacred Bones label, Horribles Parade serves as a solid example of what good lo-fi psychedelic rock is capable. Throughout the record, each song benefits from remarkably intricate arrangements. Sure, there’s the basic guitar, synths and found sounds run through the effects gamut that are typical of the genre, but the dense layers are constructed in a capable manner that inundates the songs with sound without getting too chaotic and rewards multiple listens—especially through headphones.

While the bulk of Horribles Parade delves into a darker, groove-oriented corner of the psychedelic landscape than that of its predecessor, the album does showcase Gary War’s versatility. “No Payoff” takes on a lighter, pop-tinged air that makes good use of the watery vocal effects, while “For Cobra” provides an interesting trance counterpoint. Productive detours like these help to make Horribles Parade the successful sophomore effort that it is, establishing that, while there’s still room to grow, Gary War is in the right place at the moment.
Ron Wadlinger

See Mystery Lights

Even though contemporary “dance” and “punk” haven’t been so far apart since the 1970s, with the former rediscovering art in disco and the latter blanketing traditional rock tactics with noise and caterwaul, DFA Records has continued to stay relevant despite the death of the “dance-punk” genre they became so heavily associated with over the past decade. That’s because, despite the party line on the label, DFA?s never been a one-trick pony. In fact, James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy have always showcased a diverse corps of musicians (you couldn’t catch a foothold on the ground shared by Black Dice and Hercules & Love Affair), and new recruit Jona Bechtolt, working with Claire L. Evans under the moniker YACHT, is yet another unique entry into the label’s varied cult. Bechtolt’s sixth album and his first on DFA, See Mystery Lights, mixes visceral percussion and barely-sung vocals, like that of LCD Soundsystem, with sugar-rushed energy and nursery rhyme melodies similar to off-Broadway guys like Dan Deacon and Max Tundra. And while Bechtolt’s latest is too uneven to gain entry into the ranks of the label’s elite, See Mystery Lights is a pleasant diversion that occasionally matches the work of his esteemed kindred spirits.

Bechtolt starts off with an ironically winsome paean to childhood atheism, “Ring the Bell,” in which he sings, “Will we go to heaven or will we go to hell? It’s my understanding that neither are real” to the charming lilt of a Kindergarten sing-along. Later, he indulges in some cowbell-infused four-on-the-floor disco on “Summer Song,” a track that is sure to sate the appetite of anyone eagerly awaiting the next LCD release. (It was written in homage to his labelmates.) But the album hits its peak on “Psychic City (Voodoo City),” the kind of deliciously inane anthem that would?ve been a huge hit in 1997 alongside other willful absurdities like “Brimful of Asha” and “Tubthumping.” Unmoored to any trend or conception of what is hip, “Psychic City” is propelled by a beat that sounds like a thousand rubber balls bouncing around the insides of a robot, and Evans’ wordless chorus (“Ah yi ah yi ah yi ah, oh oh ohh!”) is going to be stuck in my head all August.

But See Mystery Lights doesn’t always hit its mark. The idea for “I’m in Love With a Ripper” might’ve inspired a few laughs in the studio, but it’s a pretty weak pun around which to build a whole song. And when Bechtolt starts adding extra syllables to the end of phrases on “We Have All We Ever Wanted,” it sounds queasily close to James Murphy’s trademark delivery. But even these songs are enjoyable, and if we apply Howard Hawks’ filmmaking philosophy (“three great scenes, no bad ones”) to music, we find that See Mystery Lights, while not groundbreaking, is a modest success.
David Holmes

MP3: “Psychic City (Voodoo City)”

The Skygreen Leopards
Gorgeous Johnny

Though very few have been following along with the myriad projects formed as appendages from the Jeweled Antler Collective (and there are plenty), those who have, were likely drawn to those albums by proxy of the Skygreen Leopards. The duo of Glenn Donaldson and Donovan Quinn are perhaps the most traditional of these bands, but even their records tend to float amorphously in the psych-folk framework, frequently peering through a dreamcatcher gauze with songs that seem to form out of thin air and evaporate just as quickly. Anyone looking for more of the same pastoral mysticism and half-baked bliss will likely find Gorgeous Johnny both a blessing and curse.

From the outset it appears everything from the arrangements to the vocals (which were once the love/hate deal-breaker) have become more urbane. While the songs may have lost a bit of their balmy charm in the process, the hooks have only increased. Take, for instance, “Goodnight Anna,” which may not retain its Zombies-esque chamber-pop chorus were it stripped to a completely acoustic core. With additional help on piano provided by Jason Quever (of the Papercuts), the Leopards are able to stretch out as a full band, especially on nuggets like the title track, where the bubbling of their joined efforts mirrors Goat’s Head Soup–era Stones were they a benign meadow cult. Still, as much sunshine that surfaces on the instantly catchy “Dixie Cups in the Dead Grass” and the sickly sweet “If Our Love Fails,” Donaldson and Quinn continue to maintain the outsider psych quirk for which they’ve always been known, only this year’s version of Syd Barrett and Skip Spence find them quite lucid and direct in their intentions.
Kevin J. Elliott

MP3: “Dixie Cups in the Dead Grass”

Bird and Flower
Here We Cease Our Motion
Sunken Treasure

Like running in high heels or kissing a stranger, Bird and Flower’s first full-length release, Here We Cease Our Motion, turns inklings of playfulness and vulnerability on their ear. Alaska-bred Eve Searls recorded all 10 tracks of this gossamer lo-fi journey in her tiny living room. She and her ukulele are sometimes coquettish and sometimes somber, weaving through lilting harmonies and staccato beats. If Feist and Karen Carpenter had a 1940s-era love child, but she was reared by Laura Veirs, it might sound a little bit like this.

Much like the style of Japanese ink painting after which the band is named, Bird and Flower is intimate, delicate, and inadvertently deliberate in its songwriting approach. Throughout, as Eve tells tales of floating in love syrups and misunderstood atmospheres, it’s as though she’s sitting right next to you, so close your knees are touching. With shaky aplomb, she forges her own religion in “The Healing Service,” making you want to hold up a pink Zippo or knitted pair of devil horns. “Hot Boots” is the librarian turned call-girl ditty you’ll undoubtedly be singing to yourself at 3:00 a.m. while diving into leftover pad thai. There’s no avoiding it. And you can almost picture Danger Mouse perched in the La-Z-Boy next to Eve in “That’s the Ticket” and “Radio Story,” directing her to suffuse a little more banjo here and a touch less harmonium there.

This is an album to which you could bake a bumbleberry pie or sob through a stack of handkerchiefs. Eve will offer savvy catharsis no matter the occasion. Word to the nightingale.
Alexandra Kelley

MP3: “Hot Boots”

Bad Boy Bill
The Album

It seems a major oversight that rarely is Bad Boy Bill mentioned in the discussion of American electronic DJs. While Moby may be the genre’s top seller when it comes to albums in the U.S. Bill is the largest selling mixtape artist, with his various compilations pushing more than a million copies sold. In the words of Saint Dangerfield, that’s “No respect.” Undeterred, though, Bill has stepped from behind the decks to finally release his debut full-length as an artist, the simply titled The Album.

One would think that, after 25 years in the game, all there is to be discerned about Bad Boy Bill’s music would be known from his copious tapes and live appearances. His brand is based on a collision of funky big room house tunes, a touch of breakbeat, and a smattering of electro stirred up with an impressive collection of turntabilist skills. So how is the artist different than the DJ? The answer is kind of a surprise.

Fans of BBB’s hard charging dancefloor filler will be in a state of shock when they hear The Album. At first gleaning, it seems like business as usual. “Do What U Like” is an electro jam that wouldn’t sound out of place next to a Justice remix or an Mstrkrft tune. The following few songs continue along those same veins—time to push eject and write the review. But halfway through, the Alyssa Palmer–assisted “Falling Anthem” changes everything. It seems that the DJ who didn’t know any other style than aggressive banging has been hiding a strong pop sensibility.

From that point on, The Album continues to mix the traditional style of BBB with the unexpected. “Ishy” is a ’60s by way of the ’90s rock tune that has an honest-to-god horn solo. “If I Tell You”, which also features Palmer, is a slow-burning R&B tune about love deferred, but BBB also delivers with the party jams, like on “Rockit,” a clever recasting of the Herbie Hancock classic, and album closer “Don’t Stop.” Hopefully this record will net BBB the respect he deserves, as The Album capably proves that old dogs can learn new tricks.
Dorian S. Ham