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RATING: 6/10

Ghost Hospital play psych-influenced lo-fi garage. Though the easy comparison to make is the BLACK LIPS, there’s some sublter, weirder vibes at work. Combining trebley guitars and shitcan vocals the album feels made for a hot summer blunt marathon. It’s highly comparable to the HELLSHOVEL LP in tone and feel, but where that LP capitalized on shimmery, tweaked-out acid vibes and nailed them to catchy tunes, this LP lacks a little in the songwriting department. Side-A is dominated by hazy, sunny numbers, most of which recall (ugh) WAVVES. The tunes are simple, which isn’t a problem in itself – some of the best songs ever written are one riff and 2 verses at most – but in the case of this LP, the tunes just don’t seem to change much – they’ll cruise on the same couple bars, looped for the runtime. With the exception of tracks like “Sitting Duck” or closer “C+,” a lot of the tunes slide by without making much impression at all…which is a problem, given that the two tunes both show up 3 tracks from the end. This band shows potential, though – “Hard to Say” makes me think they’ve got some melodies in them, and the effects in “Salad Shjooter” and the sound effects hidden throughout the record make me think there’s some genuine good psych-ey things yet to come. This could be a really good EP, perhaps, but the tunes just aren’t all there for an album.

LISTEN/DOWNLOAD: Ghost Hospital Bandcamp

RATING: 7.5/10

I used to really love noise-rock and all that aggressive, abrasive stuff. I still do, but I think I’ve cooled off to it, just out of the sheer number of faceless, crash-and-bash ‘lo-fi garage’ bands that seem to love distortion and noise mostly because it’s a good way to hide a lack of ideas. I mention this because it’s bands like Montreal’s Hellshovel that prove that music need not pummel you into submission to engage you as a listener. Hellshovel’s brand of easy-going psychedelia is an ideal soundtrack for a sunny day, with or without the aid of certain controlled substances.

What immediately jumps out on the opener, “Ivan’s Hammer” is the vocals – obscure, but thankfully not by a fuzzbox. Instead, they opt for a phaser, giving the vox a blurry, underwater quality. The music rolls along pleasantly to compensate – it’s NUGGETS, but lost down an psychedelic rabbit hole. In a way, it also reminds me of a tamer BLACK LIPS (I said ‘lo-fi garage,’ it was only a matter of time before they got dragged in). Each one of these tracks sounds like some deeper-than-deep cut, dug out of an old acid casualty’s basement, by some hopelessly obscure band – it’s pretty fucking cool. Hellshovel manage to replicate the 60’s in a way that feels neither ironic nor hipper-than-thou, nor self-conscious hero worship. It’s organic and natural, which lifts this record above scores of slavish flower-power imitators.

“Summer’s Over” strikes me as the kind of song that actually earns its title – the chorus, phased, and otherwise fucked-with guitars actually seem to bring out the last warm days of September. Other highlights include the next track, “Whoever Brought Me Here Will Have To Take Me Home” – the vocal manipulation here is excellent, bringing Hellshovel’s true-blue psych colors to the forefront. The record’s good – I keep waiting for it to burst into some freakbeat meltdown, and it almost does on “Snowflakes in Russia,” but mostly it’s content to relax in the sun. It’s almost too mellow at times – entire songs can slide by without a blink. That’s not a dealbreaker by any means; it’s just how Hellshovel does stuff – they’re not making music for raging parties or for face-crushing live shows; this is music for a sunny day and maybe a game of disc golf or something – the kind of thing I’m missing while I’m freezing in Ireland. I’ll be keeping this one on board, if only because I respect Hellshovel. They’ve managed to take a familiar formula and do it well – in my book, that’s more compelling than any number of distortion pedals.

LISTEN/PREORDER: Slovenly Bandcamp 

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RATING: 9/10 – TOP TRASH

I’ll start by saying the Brian Jonestown Massacre are one of my favorite bands, so I may need to wipe the drool off my face at points. They’re one of the rare bands who manage to operate the way John Peel described The Fall: “always different, always the same.” Though ringleader Anton Newcombe dons and tosses musical hats at will – now droning shoegazers, now sneering British Invaders – they always manage to be instantly recognizable. “Aufheben,” though distinct from rockier past efforts, isn’t a kaleidoscopic tour of everything the way “Who Killed Sgt. Pepper” was. The album hones in, laser-like, on a stoned Eastern drone-rock sound; all triple-layered vocals as on “Seven Kinds of Wonderful,” and BJM’s celebrated penchant for sitar as on “Face Down on the Moon,” but this buzzing electric haze is paired with a Krautrock-y rhythm section, sharp drums and a strong focus on beat drive “Illuminomi” and “Vilholliseni Maalla.”

Overall, this record follows the pattern laid down by 2008 effort “My Bloody Underground.” Though often maligned, that album worked for its success in establishing mood – this album works (better than its stylistic father) because of its insistent focus on groove. This is a double-edged sword, though: when it works, it really fucking works – tracks like “Stairway to the Best Party in the Universe” can hang with the band’s absolute best, but the propensity for jams sometimes leads the band into tracks like the opener, which spins its wheels for 4 minutes without really doing much. It’s a minority occurrence, for sure. Though some tracks can feel empty initially (Anton seems to be minimizing his presence here – vocals are subdued or obscured, if present at all), overall “Aufheben” just seems to be more focused than any other Jonestown album on sheer soundscape (for evidence, see the opening to “Blue Order/New Monday”), rather than ‘rock’ or ‘lyrics’, and so this is unquestionably an album that demands several plays and attentive listening before it unfolds its secret psychedelic jam mojo – I confess I needed three plays before the torrent of technicolor headfuckery inside this record came pouring out.

“Aufheben” appears to me to be the mark of veteran musicians, masters of their craft, yet thankfully slaving hard to push their sound forward. Jonestown are utterly their own band at this point. This record, a subtle, sonically rich tab of pure LSD merely posing as a new album, sounds like nothing else that will be released this year. 13 albums in, BJM show no signs of slowing down.

LISTEN: http://soundcloud.com/cargorecords/sets/bjm/s-jo7fb

BUY: Widely available; try google.

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