Warmer Milks Soft Walks (Animal Disguise) CD - One of the sweeter surprises of the last year can be heard among the the stoned roots pop vibes of Soft Walks. Warmer Milks the art slop grunge band takes a breather so that Warmer Milks the vintage/cracked roots ensemble can emerge. The wandering fingerpicking strings of opener "Untitled" give way to the urban-escapism of "Wild Spring." "The Friends" with its drunk harmonies and slacker country blues rhythm seems heavily indebted to psych blues Stones and Neil Young loungin' 'n' scroungin' on the beach. The equally majestic "A Bulb in the Dark" ups the country ante and approximates stoned country pop bliss ala The Silver Jews or Pavement on the "Range Life," and concluding this run of ragged anthems, the epic "Patio Blues," with a rousing sing-along chorus climax that will have you joining in every time. Awesome vintage production by Paul Oldham of Speed to Roam and the legendary Oldham clan.
Donovan Quinn and the 13th Month Donovan Quinn and the 13th Month (Soft Abuse) CD - Mr. Quinn jangled his way into my heart as one half of the Sky Green Leopards and perhaps more potently as the soul contributor to Verdure, whose The Telescope Dreampatterns (Camera Obscura) remains a minor late night classic 'round these parts in terms of stone folk pop transcendence. With his new band the 13th Month the psych touches are not as abundant, but the Dylan love is in full form across a dusty shuffling pop backdrop that should appeal to fans of the aforementioned West Coast folk-popsters, Wooden Wand, MV/EE and the like.
Current 93 Birth Canal Blues (Durtro/Jnana) CD - Here's a fine teaser EP to prepare us for the imminent arrival of Aleph at Hallucinatory Mountain, which is guaranteed to kick off another onslaught of patripassionist prophetic folk doom. These four songs land somewhere between Soft Black Stars and Black Ships... and genuinely do the trick with strong melodies, cryptic lyrics, stark musicianship, blistering vocal performances from David and highly psychedelic production. Works for me. Scary at high volumes. None of their Apocalypse folk followers even come close.
Pantaleimon Tall Trees (Abaton) - Really meant to write something about this short CD-R long ago, so better late than never. This time Andrea Degans' support comes in the form of Irish folk droners Plinth for four short songs of minimal chamber folk splendor in just under 11 minutes of levitated pop bliss showcasing Degan's ethereal warm voice to perfection. This is a fitting gem from the always unique Abaton Book Company label and comes with the highest recommendation, in fact. Let the healing begin.
D. Charles and the Helix After Hours (Black Dirt) LP - Had a good ol' time groovin' and grinnin' along to these country psych folksters when I saw them open for Jack Rose in St. Louis last year. D. Charles looks sorta like Doug Sahm and even kinda sounds like him too, though he claimed only to have just discovered Sir Doug when I mentioned the similarity. For fans of Townes, The Band, Flying Burritos/Byrds and outlaw country of every stripe. This was definitely the discovery of the year in '08 for yours truly. After Hours' ramshackle analog production is as much an asset as Charles' otherworldly "how ya doin'?" sunburnt vocals washing over the troubled mind like a warm Summer breeze. Laid back and (mostly) stress free. Apparently this is sold out at the source, but something tells me it's still out there in them racks if ya do the digging.
Daniel Higgs Metempsychotic Melodies (Holy Mountain) CD - This is the followup to the masterful Ancestral Songs offering up four more epic psych folk devotionals that draw from diverse/vast worlds of spiritual/artistic influence to probe the depths of the human heart/soul in word/sound. Daniel Higgs is a national treasure, and may not be for everyone, but fans of Jack Rose, Six Organs of Admittance and Paul Metzger should be aware the Lungfish guru's contributions to noise raga illumination. Dark beauty for the ravaged children of God.
Roy Harper Stormcock (Science Friction) CD - Stunning reissue of one of Harper's very best albums. If you love Nick Drake, John Martyn (RIP), Led Zeppelin and other stalwarts of the Brit psych folk scene, you absolutely NEED this album. Trance-inducing melodies, soul-stirring vocals and sterling folk blues guitar (by Jimmy Page!) that stands the test of time and infinity beyond -- via Harper's own Science Friction label.
Damon & Naomi More Sad Hits (20-20-20) CD - Thanks so much to Damon & Naomi for sending over a promo of the album that started it all way back in 1991 after Dean Wareham unceremoniously sacked the beloved rhythm duo from Galaxie 500. Can't really tell you how well this has aged since its release in 1992 other than I can now safely say it's a little masterpiece of stoned psych folk pop that covers all the bases from chiming acoustic guitars to lidded drone folk and the little cul de sacs in between. Like the above Harper album, comes in a splendid heavy album style package. Definitely one of Damon & Naomi's very best, not to mention a cornerstone of the early '90s American psych underground.
Crow Tongue Ghost Eye Seeker (Dark Holler) CD - Timothy Renner's music has always been as much about healing as seeking, and Ghost Eye Seeker is a broken soul healer if ever there was one. This is mountain music for the third eye, deep space meditations for the the darkest of nights, mystical tones that conjure a new language of light. Just as if you go back far enough in time you find that country and blues and jazz are ultimately the same thing, this feels like a progression in the other direction through myriad stylistic shifts and psychedelic eons to arrive at a place where all is one and it echoes. Another brilliant dispatch from Pennsylvania's Beating Heart and among the very best 2008 had to offer.
Jesse Sykes and The Sweet Hereafter Like, Love, Lust, and The Open Halls of the Soul (Southern Lord) 2LP - What a title, huh? This slice of solemn folk pop beauty lives up to its implied promise. Jesse Sykes was last heard (by me) singing the lead vocal to the magnificent "Sinking Bell" on the Boris/Sunn o))) collaboration, and here we get her complete with full band backing playing a kind of lazy almost country pop that sneaks up on the listener and holds tight. Sykes has a haunted whisper of a croon that's plaintive and accessible, but also emanates a slightly warped sadness all its own. Somewhere between Mazzy Star, classic Band, Sister Lovers and heaven and hell resides Like, Love, Lust, and the Open Halls of the Soul.
Wovenhand Ten Stones (Sounds Familyre) CD - Fourth solo effort from David Eugene Edwards (of 16 Horsepower) is a monster of dark, reverberating psychedelic blues and rapturous mountain folk that ultimately comes together into a surging, unique kind of folk rock that's at once tribalist, fierce, hypnotic and otherworldly. Edwards is definitely one of America's most unique "roots rockers" out there. Expecting great things from their live set at SXSW.
Alastair Galbraith Orb (Next Best Way) CD - It's always a good thing when Master Galbraith sends us further musical dispatches from his home in Dunedin, New Zealand. If I have my facts straight Orb is the first solo album from Galbraith since his masterful primitive drone folk opus Cry (Emperor Jones) back in 2000. Otherwise he can most recently be heard in trio with Richard Youngs and Alex Neilson on Belsayer Time (Time Lag), every bit the beauty such a tonal mindmeld would suggest. But when it comes down to it, I fell in love with the music of Galbraith because of the kind of songs found on Orb -- tiny snippets of minimal drone blasts, haunted lo-fi folk confections and weird rock segues all dressed up with tasteful psych effects and odd found sounds anchored at their core by Alastair's unmistakable ghost voice. No one sounds like this guy, but if you go back far enough you can find similar tonal kinship in the recordings of Syd Barrett, Skip Spence, Simon Finn and Nico among a few others (John Cale!). You get it. As essential as it gets.
Bonnie "Prince" Billy Lie Down in the Light (Palace/Drag City) CD - I should fess up here to a bit of lyin' down on the job. I've been a fan of Will Oldham basically since the first moments I heard him way back in '93 or whenever I chanced upon that weird opus, Palace Brothers' There is No-one What Will Take Care of You the first time, and like the best of friends, he's gotten older with me, and grown well beyond me at this point. I'm so behind that this is not even his most recent release. That would be Beware, which just hit the shelves this month. That's a different story, as is his recent collaboration with Meg Baird and Greg Weeks (both Espers) which hatched in '07. Basically, Lie Down in the Light just might be the most consistently thrilling, life affirming, folk pop masterstroke to bear the Bonnie "Prince" stamp since the landmark I See a Darkness. The melodies, the musicianship, the harmonies, Oldham's glorious voice singing lyrics of love, family, sacrifice and heartbreak join together to weave a quilt of undeniable humanism which just happens to be some of the finest American roots music of this or any other decade.