New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: explosions in the sky

Darkly Eclectic Psychedelia and Americana From the Reliably Captivating Raquel Bell

Singer and multi-instrumentalist Raquel Bell has built a wildly eclectic career that spans from her work with legendary/obscure psychedelic art-rockers Norden Bombsight, her aptly titled Dark Tips duo with violist Jessica Pavone and her solo writing, which ranges from post-Exene punk-flavored Americana to the furthest fringes of the avant garde. Bell’s debut album as a bandleader, Swandala is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s the most keyboard-oriented project she’s been involved with. Her next gig is at the Grand Star Jazz Club, 943 N. Broadway in Los Angeles on Jan 17.

The album’s opening track, Stones, was originally written for a Klaus Nomi tribute show. This lush, jauntily bubbling, swinging number is a cross between My Brightest Diamond and Explosions in the Sky. Bell describes Vibration Carnation as “seducing over-compression to capture a dream quality;” her outer space witch vocals loom over sweeping, starry keys, Jonathan Horne’s big dramatic stadium guitar chords, Lisa Cameron’s low-key bass and Adam Jones’ drums. “Maybe she wants to cross over to the dark side with me and all my friends,” Bell intones.

With its catchy, watery guitar multitracks rising to a slashing peak, A Solo to Mars looks back to early New Order before they went all synthy. Bell’s rainswept, wounded vocals glisten throughout the album’s best track, the melancholy country ballad Who Gets to Name the Name, Bob Hoffnar’s pedal steel soaring in the background against spiky reverb guitar accents.

The epic Wizard Liar is a growling psychedelic soul groove as the Dream Syndicate would do it – but with hints of dub reggae and a woman out front. The final two tracks – both the spare, acoustic It’s Growing In Your Mouth and the achingly bucolic Swan, with violin by Justin Scheibel, piano from Zac Traeger, theremin by Blair Bovbjerg, and Thor Harris on vibraphone – reflect the breakup of Bell’s “love affair with her trailer,” moving back from the boondocks to Austin. It’s both a good capsule history of Bell’s wide-ranging vision and a great late-night immersive listen.

Volcanic Antiwar Instrumentals from Sleep Maps

Postrock/dreampop instrumentalists Sleep Maps have a ferocious, politically spot-on new antiwar album just out, titled Medals. Inspired by the 1971 Winter Soldier protests – led by Vietnam vets who publicly disowned their medals as a repudiation of war crimes at the highest levels of power – the long 4-track ep sets smartly chosen samples of commentary from across the decades against a backdrop of blistering, murky guitar-fueled swirl and roar. More bands should be making music this powerful and relevant. The whole thing is streaming at their Bandcamp site.

Frontman/multi-instrumentalist Ben Kaplan played all the instruments on the band’s previous, more metal-oriented album, Fiction Makes the Future. Although he’s got a full band now, it’s not clear if the latest album is all him or not. Whatever the case, he’s a tremendous guitarist. Tremolo-picking is his thing: he’s got a right hand that Dick Dale (ok, if Dick Dale was a righty) would kill for. Wailing up and down on the strings, his amp ringing with reverb or smoldering with distortion, he sounds like a one-man guitar orchestra, something multiplied many times over as he multitracks himself. Immediate comparisons that come to mind are Mogwai and My Bloody Valentine; Kaplan is also obviously into the more interesting side of metal, and will occasionally reference an atmospheric indie band like Explosions in the Sky. And unlike the previous album, this one goes in a goth direction when Kaplan puts a watery chorus box effect on his guitar.

The first track, The Final Weapon opens a la Siousxie’s Icons with muffled cannon-fire sonics, followed by a brutally disingenuous Lyndon Johnson sample. Kaplan taps and then tremolo-picks over a tricky tempo, rising and falling and then bringing in the watery 80s jangle. The dirge Blackout Eyes looks at the alienation and disillusion faced by veterans, with quotes from the January, 1971 Winter Soldier demo interspersed among moody atmospherics spiced by savage picking and what sounds like a string patch on a guitar synth. The Heavens Gaze Empty explodes with eerie MBV-style close harmonies and macabre chromatics, lush and ominous, as much a dismissal of the insanity of war as the samples of the vets throwing their Purple Hearts and Distinguished Service Crosses into the pyre. The final track, Horror in the Telescope  is the most careening and haphazard, and maybe for that reason even more powerful, at one point revisiting a gothic riff from the second song as crunchy Pantera-style metal. This album ought to pick up a lot of fans on both the metal and indie side and makes a killer reel for Kaplan in the event that he’s looking for film work.