Doug Mosurock

Throw some guidelines for artistic conduct and appropriation into a small collective of musicians based in the same sleepy town (Olympia, Washington, in this case) and you can begin to see how inspiration takes root and how a scene is born. Chris McDonnell's Trans FX project, over the course of three albums released in the past two years, has deftly moved from the recesses of goth to the kind of blasted grandeur found in David Bowie's Berlin trilogy.

Glaswegian quartet AMOR is one of the greater, and darkly pleasant, recent surprises in dance music. Leader Richard Youngs (vocals, keyboards) needs little introduction to followers of experimental sound art, with a body of work spanning decades and encompassing hundreds of releases — from ruminative folk (1998's Sapphie) to mournfully piercing displays of noise and tape loops (Advent) and points in-between both introspective and maximal.

The journey between Adelaide, the port city and capital of South Australia, and Anacortes, Washington spans well over 8,000 miles. It's a distance that, for the second time in its career, the six members of Adelaide band Wireheads have traveled to record an album, specifically to gain access to K Records/Dub Narcotic/Beat Happening lynchpin Calvin Johnson once more, as a producer for their fourth full-length Lightning Ears.

At face value, Ravenna, Italy's Havah makes dark rock with a soul of stone, a melancholic coming-to-terms with the fight against historic evils, which rise and threaten once more. Ostensibly a concept album about resistance fighters — some barely in their teens — in the mountains and countryside around Ravenna, who fought back for their own survival against Nazis and brownshirts alike during WWII, Contravveleno's songs are based on the tales passed down from that generation onward.

"Glass Walls," from The Terminals' new album Antiseptic, revels in an antiquity that's earned through experience. There may not be any better way to gain perspective on the history of this Christchurch, New Zealand, band than to start at the beginning of that journey. For that, we'd have to look all the way back to when guitarist and vocalist Stephen Cogle and drummer Peter Stapleton cut their teeth in Vacuum — a late '70s outfit that, in sound and membership, forms a Rosetta stone for Kiwi underground music.

The target that New York's Endless Boogie aims to hit with its music is about an inch wide and 10,000 feet deep. That the band threads the needle every time speaks not to the message implicit in its name (yes, this is fried electric-blues boogie; yes, its songs tend to roll on for considerable lengths), but to the satisfaction that message suggests.

Written as an aside to having lost a slot opening for The King Khan & BBQ Show on the grounds that the band's music was "too depressing," WVWhite's "Drag Down" sets the pace for the Columbus, Ohio, quartet's second album, House Of The Spiritual Athletes. But something a little more involved is happening here: We're not only listening to a band hone in on its sound for the foreseeable future, but also hearing the manifestation of a two-generation indie-rock family tree.

Feral Ohms is a Bay Area power trio comprising Ethan Miller on guitar and vocals, bassist Josh Haynes and drummer Chris Johnson. Having been involved in some of the most primal psychedelic outings of recent decades as the frontman for Comets On Fire, Miller gleefully regresses to the point immediately before the release of that group's 2001 album, up until now the most unhinged performance of his musical career.

Between the release slate of the guitar-focused VDSQ label and formidable recent works by instrumentalists like Anthony Pasquarosa and Rob Noyes, both of whom arrived through the back door of punk and hardcore, folk guitar has seen a recent upswing in visibility. The reason has a lot to do with folk's appeal as one of the last frontiers in guitar-oriented music. This is a field where technique and vision can quickly equate to a musical persona. It's also a very rich seam for cultural archaeologists and historians to dive into, providing invaluable context for new explorers to discover.

Philadelphia's Purling Hiss is now eight idiosyncratic albums into a remarkable career, and the new High Bias moves freely in tandem with the psychedelic, jam-oriented early works of bandleader Mike Polizze — as well as the unwashed, long-haired pop strum of 2009's Public Service Announcement and 2014's Weirdon. It also doubles down on the grungy, mainstream aspirations of 2013's Water On Mars, taking that album's cleaned-up aesthetics and pushing them into prismatic near-detachment.

It's tempting to assign personal signifiers to music once we acquire it and make it our own, and thus it remains an attractive goal of making music to create something that can hold all of that meaning. This is well-worn territory for Marching Church leader Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, whose other notable musical outlet, the punk band Iceage, issued its debut into a storm of social media hype and sideways questioning — a lot for a group of 18-year-olds to weather, and a proposition that bands of their kind from generations before did not need to endure.

Chicago's Brett Sova spent the better part of this decade working through a haze of rhythms, psychedelic notions and loosely connected processes as Axis: Sova, releasing two albums and a handful of singles as a solo project. Relying on a drum machine and a barrage of effects pedals, the project staked out its own amorphous claim on select minds, occupying a liminal territory where genres and concepts didn't bleed into one another so much as force themselves out of separate dimensions to claim the same space.

Tracing the origins of Columbus, Ohio's Connections would take you back to the mid-late '90s, when singer Kevin Elliott and guitarist Andy Hampel were out of high school and in a band called 84 Nash. The only band signed to the Rockathon label despite having no formal relationship to owner Robert Pollard's better-established pursuit (behind the mic with Guided by Voices), 84 Nash got to tour extensively with its benefactors.

Blood Visions was, for many, the first exposure to the jimmy-legging tunefulness and frantic musicianship of the late Jay Reatard, and it was the record that pushed him into a spotlight that at times seemed more like a moving target than like anything that might bring focus to the person behind the music. But there had been a path to that solo career, one that led from myriad earlier projects and one-offs which showcased a talent that couldn't be reined in.

Formed in the fringes of early '90s Los Angeles indie rock, The Summer Hits crafted pop that lingered around the orbits of twee, shoegaze and ramshackle teenage garage rock. What set the band apart was its approach — it caked on elements of those sounds to extremes, noisy and pretty all at once, and played with a grit that made the master tapes buckle.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

As one of the two guitarists and principal songwriters in the Denton, Texas, bands The Marked Men and Radioactivity, Mark Ryan indulges his gifts for heart-on-the-sleeve melodic punk and power-pop, respectively. But his band Mind Spiders seems to act as the warehouse in which Ryan stores his other obsessions: vaguely sci-fi-influenced, tightly wound, good-time rock 'n' roll, set off by dual drummers and the occasional synth.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.


Now that it's been around for 50 years, it's worth asking: What is psychedelic music today? What does it mean? Is it another term for loud rock? Culturally appropriated dress? Tambourines? Trippy electro? Or is it something more?

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released.


Barreling on after a non-stop flurry of activity over the past eight years, Ty Segall is dropping his 10th solo album in the dead of winter, its cover depicting a Xeroxed baby head as it peers out of the fold amid a field of toner-black gradients. Staring into that disquieting image is adequate preparation for Emotional Mugger, which feels as fractured and delirious as anything he's recorded.

Before you've heard a note of this new Woods track, the long-running bedroom/lo-fi folk-pop concern gives away a name, an image and an association to the people in the back seats, the true heads in the room: Sun City Girls. That long-running underground outfit's glorious rip on world music, psychedelia and general prankster-isms lives on in the hazy late evenings that permeate "Sun City Creeps," the first single from Woods' upcoming album, City Sun Eater In The River Of Light.

Review: Fuzz, 'II'

Oct 14, 2015

Note: NPR's audio for First Listens comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

Review: Wavves, 'V'

Sep 23, 2015

Note: NPR's audio for First Listens comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.