Quarterly Review: Khemmis, Mutant Flesh, War Cloud, Void of Sleep, Pretty Lightning, Rosy Finch, Ghost Spawn, Agrabatti, Dead Sacraments, Smokemaster

Posted in Reviews on March 24th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

quarterly review

Alarm went off this morning at 3:45. Got up, flicked on the coffee pot, turned the heat on in the house, hit the bathroom and was back in bed in four minutes with an alarm set for 4:15. Didn’t really get back to sleep, but the half-hour of being still was a kind of pre-waking meditation that I appreciated just the same. Was dozing when the alarm went off the second time, but it’s day two of the Quarterly Review, so no time to doze. No time for anything, as is the nature of these blocks of writeups. They tend to be all-consuming while they’re going on. Could be worse. Let’s roll.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

Khemmis, Doomed Heavy Metal

khemmis doomed heavy metal

Denver four-piece Khemmis have made themselves one of the most distinctive acts in metal, to say nothing of doom. With strong vocal harmonies out front backed by similarly-minded guitars, the band bring a sense of poise to doom that’s rare in the modern sphere, somewhat European in influence, but less outwardly adherent to the genre tenets of melancholy. They refuse to be Paradise Lost, in other words, and are all the more themselves for that. Their Doomed Heavy Metal EP (on 20 Buck Spin and Nuclear Blast) is a stopgap after 2018’s Desolation (review here) full-length, but at 38 minutes and six songs, it’s substantial nonetheless, headlined by the Dio cover “Rainbow in the Dark” — capably done with just a flair of Slough Feg — with a take on Lloyd Chandler‘s “A Conversation with Death” and “Empty Throne,” both rare-enough studio cuts, for backing, as well as three live cuts that cover their three-to-date albums. The growls on “Three Gates” are fun, but I’ll still take the Dio cover as the highlight. For a cobbled-together release, it feels at least like a bit of thoughtful fan-service, and really, a band could do worse than to serve their fans thoughtfully.

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Mutant Flesh, Evil Eye

mutant flesh evil eye

There are shades of doom metal’s origins underlying Mutant Flesh‘s first release, the eight-song/33-minute Evil Eye, but the Philly troupe are too gleeful in their weirdness ultimately to be paying full homage to the likes of Witchfinder General, and especially in a faster song like second cut “Meteoric” and the subsequent lead-guitar-flipout-and-vocal-soar title-track, they tap into the defiantly doomed vibe of earliest Saint Vitus. That’s true of the crawling “Euthanasia” as well, which crashes and nods as it approaches the six-minute mark as the longest inclusion here, but even the penultimate “Blight” brings that twisted-BlackFlag-noise-slowed-down spirit that lets you know there’s consciousness behind the chaos, and that while Mutant Flesh might seem to be all-the-way-gone, they’re really just getting started. Maybe their sound will even out over time, maybe it won’t, but for what it’s worth, they do ragged doom well from the opening “Leviathan (Lord of the Labyrinth)” onward, and feel right at home in the unhinged.

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Mutant Flesh on Bandcamp

 

War Cloud, Earhammer Sessions

war cloud earhammer sessions

Having just shredded their way across Europe, War Cloud took their set into the Earhammer Studio with Greg Wilkinson at the helm in an attempt to capture the band in top form on their home turf. Did it work? The results on Earhammer Sessions (Ripple Music) don’t wait around for you to decide. They’re too busy kicking ass to take names, and if the resulting 29-minute burst is even half of what they brought to the stage on that tour, those must’ve been some goddamn shows. Songs like “White Lightning” and the snare-counted-in “Speed Demon” and “Striker” feel like they’re being given their due in the max-speed-NWOBHM-but-still-too-classy-to-be-thrash presentation, and honestly, this feels like War Cloud have found their method. If they don’t tour their next album and then hit the studio after and lay it down live, or at least as live as Earhammer Sessions is — one never knows as regards overdubs and isolation booths and all that — they’re doing themselves a disservice. War Cloud play metal. So what? So this.

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Ripple Music website

 

Void of Sleep, Metaphora

Void of Sleep Metaphora

Void of Sleep return after half a decade with the prog-doom stylings of their third album, Metaphora (Aural Music), which stretches dramatically through songs like “Iron Mouth” (11:00), preceded by the intro “The Famine Years” and the shorter “Unfair Judgements,” preceded by the intro “Waves of Discomfort,” and still somehow manage not to sound out of place tapping into their inner Soilwork in the growled verses/clean choruses of “Master Abuser.” They get harsh a bit as well on “Tides of the Mourning,” which uses its 10:30 to summarize the bulk of the proceedings and close out the record after “Modern Man,” but that song has more of a scope and feels looser structurally for that. Still, that shift is only one of several throughout Metaphora, which follows the Italian five-piece’s 2015 LP, New World Order (discussed here), and wherever Void of Sleep are headed at any given moment, they head there with a duly controlled presence. Clearly their last five years have not been wasted.

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Aural Music store

 

Pretty Lightning, Jangle Bowls

pretty lightning jangle bowls

As yet, Germany’s Pretty Lightning remain a well kept secret of fuzz-psych-blues nuance, digging out their own niche-in-a-niche-in-a-niche microgenre with a natural and inadvertent-feeling sense of just writing the songs they want to write. Jangle Bowls, which puts its catchy, semi-garage title-track early in the proceedings, is the duo’s second offering through Fuzz Club Records behind 2017’s The Rhythm of Ooze (review here), and seem to present a mission statement in opener “Swamp Ritual” before bringing a due sense of excursion to “Boogie at the Shrine” — damn that’s a smooth groove — and reviving the movement in “RaRaRa,” which follows. Closer “Shovel Blues” is a highlight for how it drifts into oblivion, but the underlying tightness of craft in “123 Eternity” and “Hum” is an appeal as well, so it’s a tradeoff. But it’s one I’ll be glad to make across multiple repeat visits to Jangle Bowls while wondering how long this particular secret can actually be kept.

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Fuzz Club Records store

 

Rosy Finch, Scarlet

rosy finch scarlet

The painted-blood-red cover of Rosy Finch‘s second album, Scarlet (on Lay Bare Recordings), and horror-cinema-esque design isn’t a coincidence in terms of atmosphere, but the Spanish trio bring a more aggressive feel to the nine-track outing overall than they did to their 2016 debut, Witchboro (review here), with additional crunch in the guitar of Mireia Porto (also vocals and bass) and bassist Elena Garcia, and a forward kick drum from Lluís Mas that hammers home the impact of a cruncher like “Ruby” and even seems to ground the more melodic “Alizarina,” which follows, let alone the crushing opener/longest track (immediate points) “Oxblood” or its headspinning closing companion “Dark Cherry,” after which follows the particularly intense hidden cut “Lady Bug,” also not to be missed. Anger suits Rosy Finch, it seems, and the band bring a physicality to the songs on Scarlet that only reinforces the sonic push.

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Lay Bare Recordings store

 

Ghost Spawn, The Haunting Continuum

Ghost Spawn The Haunting Continuum

Brutal, gurgling doom-of-death pervades The Haunting Continuum from Denver one-man-unit Ghost Spawn, and while the guitar late in “Escaping the Mortal Flesh” seems momentarily to offer some hope of salvation, rest assured, it doesn’t last, and the squibbly central riff returns with its extremity to prove once more that only death is real. Multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Kevin Berstler is the lone culprit behind the project’s first full-length and second release overall (also second this year, so he would seem to work quickly), and across 43 minutes that only grow more grueling as they proceed through the centerpiece title-track and into “The Terrors that Plague Nightly” and the desolate incantations of “Exiled to the Realm of Eternal Rot,” there are some hints of cleaner grunts that have made their way through — a kind of repeated “hup” vocalization — but this too is swallowed in the miasma of cave-echo guitar, drums-from-out-of-the-abyss, and raw-as-peeled-flesh production. Can’t get behind that? Probably you and 99.9 percent of the rest of humanity. For us slugs, though, it’s just about right.

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Ghost Spawn on Bandcamp

 

Agrabatti, Beyond the Sun

agrabatti beyond the sun

It’s kosmiche thrust and watery vibes when Agrabatti go Beyond the Sun. What’s there upon arrival? Nothing less than a boogie down with Hawkwind at the helm of a spacey spaced-out space rocking chopper that you shouldn’t even be able to hear the revving engine of in space and yet somehow you can. Also synth, pulsating riffs and psych-as-all-golly-gosh awakenings. Formed in 2009 by Chad Davis — then just out of U.S. Christmas, already at that point known for his work in Hour of 13 and a swath of other projects across multiple genres — and with songs begun to come together at that time only to be shelved ahead of recording this year, Beyond the Sun sat seemingly in some unreachable strata of anomalous subspace, for 11 years before being rediscovered from its time-loop like Kelsey Grammer in that one episode of TNG, and gorgeously spread across the quadrant in its five-cut run, with its cover of the aforementioned Hawkwind‘s “Born to Go” so much at home among its companions it feels like, baby, it’s already gone. Do you need sunglasses in the void? Shit yeah you do.

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Agrabatti on Bandcamp

 

Dead Sacraments, Celestial Throne

Dead Sacraments Celestial Throne

Four sprawling doom epics comprise the 2019 debut album — and apparently debut release — from Illinois four-piece Dead Sacraments, who themselves are comprised from three former members of atmospheric sludgers Angel Eyes, who finished their run in 2011 but released the posthumous Things Have Learnt to Walk That Ought to Crawl (review here). Those are guitarist Brendan Burchell, bassist Nader Cheboub and drummer Ryan Croson, and together with apparently-self-harmonizing vocalist/guitarist Mark Mazurek, they cast a doom built on largesse in tone and scope alike, given an air of classic-metal grandiosity but filtered through a psych-doom modernity that feels aware of what the likes of Pallbearer and Khemmis have done for the genre. Nonetheless, as a first record, Celestial Throne shines its darkness brightly across its no-song-under-nine-minutes-long lumber, and affirms the righteousness of doom with a genuine sense of reach at its disposal.

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Smokemaster, Smokemaster

smokemaster smokemaster

The languid and trippy spirit in opener “Solar Flares” is something of a misdirect on the part of organ-laced, Cologne-based heavy rockers Smokemaster, who go on to boogie down through songs like “Trippin’ Blues” before jamming out classic heavy blues-style on “Ear of the Universe.” I’m not saying they don’t have their psychedelic aspects, but there’s plenty of movement behind what they do as well, and the setup they give with the first two cuts is effective in throwing off the first-time listener’s expectation. A pastoral instrumental “Sunrise in the Canyon” leads off side B after, and comes backed by “Astronaut of Love” (yup, a lovestronaut) and “Astral Traveller,” which find an engaging midpoint between the ground and the great beyond, synth and keys pushing outward in the finale even as the bass and drums keep it tethered to a central groove. It’s a formula that’s worked many times over the last half-century, but it works here too, and Smokemaster‘s Smokemaster makes a right-on introduction to the German newcomers.

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Tonzonen Records store

 

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Pretty Lightning, The Rhythm of Ooze: Blue Liquefaction

Posted in Reviews on December 13th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Pretty Lightning The Rhythm of Ooze

Much to its credit, The Rhythm of Ooze inhabits the fluidity its title implies. Does it even need to be said that the rhythm of ooze is about something that flows? Something malleable to suit a given purpose? Something that can be changed in its direction and manipulated? Think about pouring viscous liquid into a vertical maze and watching it crawl its way toward the end. The 10 tracks of the third full-length from Saarbrücken, Germany, two-piece Pretty Lightning — issued by Fuzz Club Records — works not all that differently. A decade after first getting together, the self-recording/self-mixing duo of Christian Berghoff and Sebastian Haas embody a psychedelic and loosely progressive take on heavy blues rock, chic like Black Keys and geared at times toward a similar-feeling idea that they might at some point make skinny white people dance — “This Machine is Running” might do the trick if anything ever could — but more expansive ultimately than most indie-minded rock is willing to let itself be, stretching into a lysergic hypnosis of effects and an immersive swirl that, indeed, carries the audience smoothly from the top of that maze to the bottom.

As they follow-up 2015’s A Magic Lane of Light and Rain (on Cardinal Fuzz and Sound Effect Records) and their 2012 debut, There are Witches in the Woods (on Fonal Records), their sense of command is strong, but that does nothing to undercut the playfulness of arrangements like that of “Rainbow Fantasies,” with its interwoven layers of effects-soaked guitar and jingling bells, or the inclusion of organ on opener “Thunder Mountain Return” that complements the bounce of that 7:42 track that bookends with 7:57 closer “Born to Snooze” as being nearly twice as long than the bulk of what occurs between. To go with versatility in terms of the elements at play, Pretty Lightning offer a ready juxtaposition of tempos, showing early stomp as the quicker “Willow Valley Blues” picks up from the dreamy beginning “Thunder Mountain Return” uses to ease the listener into the record and sets itself to establishing the subtle momentum that pushes through one song and into the next among the eight shorter, three-to-four-minute pieces sandwiched by the start and finish.

Also much to The Rhythm of Ooze‘s credit, it does not lose its underlying sense of cohesion while engaging this fluidity. There’s no secret to accomplishing that — it’s the songwriting. Haas and Berghoff don’t necessarily lean overly hard on the making of hooks, but even the backwards loops and soloing near the end of “Tangerine Steam” — which lead, suitably enough, into the more percussively-forward “Loops” — provide a memorable impression, and when they do want to elicit a chorus, they’re certainly more than able to do so, as songs like “Willow Valley Blues,” “Loops,” the swaying title-track, “This Machine is Running” and the penultimate “Moles” demonstrate. This notion of craft meets and lives comfortably alongside the shifts in approach on display across the 45-minute span of the album, as well as the psych-blues aesthetic that at times listening can make one feel like they’re in a beer commercial. But good beer. Not some shitty macro.

pretty lightning

Pretty Lightning, in other words, offer style and substance with their oozy rhythm, and the dynamic turns Haas and Berghoff hone throughout are not to be understated. To wit, “Thunder Mountain Return” seems in its first minute to set up a hypnotic loop of plucked and echoing banjo, hypnotizing the listener as a subtle wash of effects builds up behind, and it ends with that same progression — mirroring the bookending nature of the record as a whole — but the back and forth conversation between shoegazing patience and get-up-and-move begins as soon as the shove of “Willow Valley Blues” starts, and that is immediate.

It’s almost a call and response from there from one side to the other: “Tangerine Steam” channeling Dead Meadow while “Loops” basks in some of the most satisfying movement-based fuzz I’ve heard since Elvis Deluxe‘s woefully underappreciated Favourite State of Mind LP; “The Rhythm of Ooze” finding some middle ground between the two sides to lead into the more energetic “This Machine is Running” which gives way to the instrumental exploration in “Rainbow Fantasies” and “Pale Yellow”‘s rambling technicolor-cowboy drift; “Moles” once again reviving the swagger before “Born to Snooze” purposefully leaves its structure behind and sets out in its second half on one final exploration that will ultimately bring the album to an improvised-sounding and willfully imperfect end of synth and drums. These changes can be drastic but are easily followed with the mindful direction provided by the band, who do little to play to the novelty rawness indulged by some duos and instead take full advantage of a laudable creative range.

One more aspect to the album’s credit? The tones. I noted above aspects of shoegaze at work and the fuzz of “Loops,” but it’s only fair to emphasize the point of how much work the consistency of tone and the depth of tone does to unite the material throughout The Rhythm of Ooze. Tone is a key ingredient, and along with the vocal echo manipulations, it is what lets so much of Pretty Lightning‘s bluesy pulsations carry a psychedelic aspect as well. By giving the record this sense of fullness, they’ve made it all the more enticing a listen, and though they take risks in terms of setting up the contrast of tempos, tone is as much a factor in holding everything together as is the foundation of songcraft beneath the stylistic interplay.

The Rhythm of Ooze does not come apart and does not separate into its constituent aspects despite refusing to hold its shape, and Berghoff and Haas not only make their way through the maze they’ve set before themselves, but they do so without once getting lost along the way or veering off course. As such, their third long-player is a neo-psych collection brimming with purpose and fueled by a clear enthusiasm for its own making, passionately executed but not rushed even at its most active, and only stronger on the whole for the diversity and the chemistry so obviously at its core.

Pretty Lightning, The Rhythm of Ooze (2017)

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Fuzz Club Records website

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Yagow Post Video for “Time to Get Rid of It”

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 31st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

yagow

Grainy VHS sci-fi footage, rocket boosters at full thrust, shots of space in all its practical-effects vastness mixed in with astronauts in various stages of trial and experimentation? Yup, that sounds about right for the kind of trippery Yagow proffer in the five-minute “Time to Get Rid of It.” The song comes from the German trio’s upcoming self-titled debut (review here), which is out June 16 on Crazysane Records, and the found material that makes up the clip for “Time to Get Rid of It” coalesces fluidly around the molten, cosmos-gazing rhythm of the track itself, resulting in a multi-sensory package that’s easy to digest and seems only to lead the listener from chill to chill over the course of its relatively brief but hypnotic five minutes.

And that’s pretty much the story of the thing. One of the major strengths of Yagow‘s Yagow is the firm confidence with which it advises those who’d take it on to strap themselves in and get ready for the outward ride that is about to and in fact does ensue. That kind of command is pretty rare in groups with such a lysergic focus, but Yagow treat it almost as an afterthought, and as they move forward one will be interested to hear how the underlying shuffle of a track like “Time to Get Rid of It” and its crafted hook wind up being treated as a stage in the development of the band. That is to say, I look forward to finding out in the longer term how nascent Yagow is as an album and where the trio might go in terms of sound and aesthetic in following it up.

But they should probably release it first. Once again, June 16 is the date for that, so keep an eye out. And while you’ve got your eye out, you can dig into the “Time to Get Rid of It” video below.

Please enjoy:

Yagow, “Time to Get Rid of It” official video

Video by Daniel Fuchs & Manuel Wesely

YAGOW is a psych-space-rock trio based in Saarbruecken, Germany. Loud guitars, drones and ghost-like vocals build up other-wordly soundscapes reminiscent of 70s avantgarde acts and the shoegazing sounds of the past decades.

Pressing Info:
Limited to 300 copies on black 12″ vinyl
Screenprinted PVC overbag (kinegram effect)
Neon-printed LP cover

Yagow is:
Marc Schönwald: Drums, Percussion
Kai Peifer: Bass on ‘non-contractual’
Jan Werner: Vocals, Guitars, Drones
Axel Rothhaar: Bass

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Yagow website

Yagow preorder at Crazysane Records

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Review & Track Premiere: Yagow, Yagow

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 8th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

yagow yagow

[Click play above to stream ‘Snake Charmer’ from the self-titled Yagow LP, out June 16 on Crazysane Records and available to preorder here.]

An overarching feel of lysergic serenity would seem to be the means to its own end on Yagow‘s self-titled debut, which is to say that the six-song first outing from the Saarbrücken, Germany, three-piece sets for its primary goal the very wash it uses to meet that goal. It is an exploration of vibe and mood, space-gazing through its 42-minute stretch propelled by unknown fuels. Recorded by the band — guitarist/vocalist/noisemaker Jan Werner, bassist Axel Rothhaar and drummer/percussionist Marc Schönwald with Kai Peifer (who also mixed, along with Werner and Berni Götz, who also mastered) on bass for side B’s “Non-Contractual” — and issued through Crazysane Records, Yagow‘s tuned-in headspaces should feel familiar to those who’ve worshiped at the altars of The Heads or Loop but they seem interested in casting their own melodic identity as well in these tracks.

One can hear this in the organ-style sounds of opener and longest track (immediate points) “Horsehead Nebula” or the sitar of the subsequent “Snake Charmer,” buried in the mix though it is, and the result is an outing of headphone-worthy depth that comes across as honest in its intentions and likewise assured in how to meet the goals it has set. Songs play out one into the next with a patient fluidity and perhaps a budding sense of nuance, and it seems that the only thing Yagow don’t leave room for in the album’s span is pretense. This is head music for a head audience. It’s not trying to say anything it doesn’t want to say and it’s not trying to be anything it isn’t. Listeners can either sign up for the journey or miss out on the trip that ensues.

For what it’s worth, the band makes a pretty compelling argument toward the former. While remaining up-front in their purposes and playing by the rules of vinyl modernity by splitting Yagow neatly in half, three cuts to a side, they nonetheless execute a classic psychedelic vibe — not necessarily playing to influences from the ’60s or ’70s, but certainly aware of those roots. Each song in the record’s first half — “Horsehead Nebula,” “Snake Charmer” and “Moss and Mint” — has something to stand it out from its compatriots, whether it’s the aforementioned melody and sitar of the opener and its follow-up or the return of that particularly blissful tone that either could be keys or could be guitar effects on “Moss and Mint,” coming on more languid the second time around and allowing the three-piece to convey an overarching flow as well as distinguish the individual from its surroundings. “Oh yeah, that’s the song where that happens,” and so on.

Whether this is done consciously or not on the part of the band — one doesn’t want to assume either way, and this material almost certainly has its beginnings in jams either improvised or led by one member or another — is secondary compared to the effect it has on the overall listening experience, which, when taken front to back, proves duly consuming and switched-on in its overall affect. As Werner‘s vocals drawl out amid the wash of “Moss and Mint” after the more winding space-charged fuzz of “Snake Charmer,” there’s some subtlety to be found for those who’d pay repeat visits to Yagow‘s psychedelic palace, but even if the album splits in half, it’s more about the entirety of the thing than any one song, or even part. And that’s not to its detriment in the slightest.

yagow

Rather, as side B starts with the more blown-out low end tonality of “Time to Get Rid of It,” that subtlety only turns out to make the offering richer on the whole. Atop a steady rhythm, vocals echo out and another distorted wash is conjured, and truth be told, Yagow have by this time set their methods forward for their audience. There’s little they do across the second half of their debut to deviate, but they do successfully build on what they’ve already accomplished sound-wise, which seems more important than it would be for them to present some radical shift. “Time to Get Rid of It” drifts into and through a section of vocals over chimes before Schönwald‘s drums resume their push into the song’s final third, and the eight-minute “Non-Contractual” makes its first impression with drums as well building to a trade of tension and release across its span that reminds a bit of a less folkish Quest for Fire, and toys with momentum in a manner that it seems a lot of the prior material avoided in favor of worshiping more ethereal atmospheres.

Perhaps in part because it’s longer — one might consider it a companion piece for the opener, as it also tops eight minutes — and perhaps in part because of the droning resonance that lays underneath a goodly portion of its stretch, “Non-Contractual” feels more expansive, especially in its back-half jam, with an element of vibrancy that serves it well leading into closer “Nude on the Moon Dance,” which echoes and reinforces the ringing tones of “Horsehead Nebula” and “Moss and Mint” as well as the thrusters-engaged forward rhythm of the latter portion of “Snake Charmer,” all while feeling a little less hinged in a way that speaks to the real potential of the band to let loose a little and break some of the rules they’ve set for themselves here.

It’s worth remembering, and important to remember, that while they’ve been around for a few years (their social media presence starts at 2013, if that’s any measure) this self-titled is their first collective outing, and ultimately it’s to their credit that one hears a song like “Time to Get Rid of It” and waits for Yagow to expand on what they presented in the album’s first half — because it means they’ve done their job in establishing their core sound. And so they have. The work before them now as they move from one liquefied slab onto the inevitable next should be in furthering the lightly progressive undertones delivered here. Maybe that’s in building on the arrangement flourish of “Snake Charmer” or in being willing to dive deeper into the off-the-cuff feel of “Non-Contractual” and “Nude on the Moon Dance” — I don’t know. It will be their songwriting that makes that decision in the end, but what matters for the time being is the foundation they’ve given themselves on which to build, which feels flexible enough to accommodate any range of directions they might want to take.

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