PLAYING MELBOURNE: The True Story of Bananagun Invigorates the Senses

Photo Credit: Jamie Wdziekonski

Bananagun kick off their debut tropicalia-afrobeat-jungle safari mashup album, The True Story of Bananagun, with the lyrics “There is nothing special about me, just another apple on the tree,” but nothing could be further from the truth. This five-piece band hailing from Melbourne have something special.

A love for The Jungle Book united vocalist, guitarist and flautist Nick van Bakel and his cousin, drummer Jimi Gregg as kids. As adults, the image of Mowgli swinging wildly through the cartoon trees of a jungle canopy to this swinging safari beat makes total sense. Jack Crook (guitar/vocals), Charlotte Tobin (djembe/percussion) and Josh Dans (bass) were all friends prior to becoming bandmates, which shows in the easy harmony they find for what sounds, to my ear at least, like a lot of instruments to make work in sync; to think that Bananagun began as a solo project for Van Bakel is mind-blowing.

It’s no surprise to learn that the group provide such eclectic, unusual and yet cohesive tunes when they have spent so much time playing spontaneous late night jams, often hanging out at Melbourne producer John Lee’s Phaedra Studios in Melbourne. Certainly, the tightly-knit group make an impressive impact on record – it’s a deep shame that their May tour was cancelled and we can’t (for the foreseeable future) combine some form of Brazilian-Afro-dance with ’60s flares and oversized sunglasses in a big outdoor party somewhere.

The symbol of the banana as a gun speaks much to the peace, love and unity that the band is all about. If I told you this album was actually a cleaned up version of a sixties recording, you wouldn’t blink an eye. Beautiful afro-orchestral “People Talk Too Much” is lively and percussive, enlightened by joyful bursts of sax and strings that rise and sound before lulling back to their own worlds. The spirit of Fela Kuti lives on in this single – the highlight of the album, for my liking. A cacophony of birds turns into a symphony on “Bird Up!” flute and strummy, summery guitars raise “Perfect Stranger” into the clouds, sixties-style multi-vocalists hark to the Monkees on “Modern Day Problems,” and toy piano even makes an appearance on “The Master.”

Van Bakel lives just an hour or so outside of Melbourne, away from the hubbub of the city centre. “Bird Up!” was a mash-up of the songs of the kookaburras and parrots that soundtrack his daily life in regional Victoria. It is emblematic of the album as a whole, reflecting both the personal lives but also the daily inspirations and nostalgic influences on the band members.

“Taking The Present For Granted,” in particular, is a paean to mindful, conscientious living. It is prescient in its reminder that we must get out of our own narratives of anticipation or rehashing the past to embrace the sensory wonderland of the right now.

The True Story of Bananagun was released in mid-July via London imprint Full Time Hobby Records. Bananagun joined the label in 2019 alongside artists like Serbian-Canadian ethereal folk singer Dana Gavanski, Brazilian psych-pop duo Aldo, and dark indie-Americana purveyors Ohtis. The match seems a natural fit from an outside perspective, with an eclectic roster of international artists who have taken a world of influences, personal and collected in their physical and artistic travels, and channeled them into harmonic offerings of the individual to the collective. As diverse as Full Time Hobby’s roster is, there’s a sense of joyfulness, a searing need to tell stories and to connect, at the heart of the music – and that’s especially true with Bananagun.

Right now in Melbourne as we face mandatory mask-wearing, hundreds of new Coronovirus cases daily and constant news of deaths and illness, something as buoyant, nostalgic, and shamelessly celebratory of just being alive and making music as The True Story of Bananagun is a tonic for the spirit and senses.

Follow Bananagun on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Cate Von Csoke Celebrates Beauty and Danger With “Dream Around”

Photo Credit: Emma Kepley

Desert sun stretching over miles and miles of open space, not a soul in sight. With COVID-19 on the mind, it’s imagery that might conjure up thoughts of Mad Max or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. But when Australian-native, Brooklyn-based songwriter Cate Von Csoke wrote her new single “Dream Around,” she didn’t have apocalyptic visions in mind. The single is a hazy, psychedelic interlude that conjures up visions of lovers entwined in the back seat of a car; the rest of the journey on hold for a moment.

“There’s a look in your eyes tonight / And it’s written all over your smile / I’ve been walking on dandelions / All I wanna do is dream around,” Von Csoke’s voice echos pleasantly. The repetition and reverb of traditional psych music are alive and well within the track, but there’s a refreshing subtlety in Von Csoke’s approach that reveals itself upon a repeat listens. Her upcoming LP Almoon, due out June 5th, is billed as a journey in “western noir.” Von Csoke, the desert’s answer to Lana Del Rey, dressed in all white, is delightfully mercurial in her promo pictures. The style is familiar, the music nostalgic, a much-needed dalliance with a simpler time.

Listen to AudioFemme’s exclusive stream of “Dream Around” and read our full interview with Cate Von Coske below.

AF: You’re originally from Australia and you currently live in Brooklyn. Would you say your sound is mostly influenced by your home country?

CVC: The desertscapes of both the US and Australia as well as the urban landscape of New York are all constant influences on my sound. However, I believe even if you aren’t mindful of a particular landscape or experience, you are taking it all in with the chance these moments will reappear in a dream or a sound unknowingly.

AF: When did you start writing music? And what was the first song you wrote that made you go: Okay, I should really do this?

CVC: I grew up in a family of musicians so it’s hard to recall a time when we weren’t “writing.” The first song I can clearly remember (perhaps because I sang it on the bus as a painfully shy 11-year-old) was coincidentally called “Dreams Come True.” Writing has always been a means of escapism and feels more like a necessity than a desire to achieve something. Moving to New York was certainly pivotal though and is an amazing source of inspiration and a place where dreams really do come true.

AF: You worked with Jared Artaud of The Vacant Lots and Grammy award-winner Ted Young on your upcoming album ​Almoon​. What was the recording process like?

CVC: I met Jared at a Slowdive show in New York and then played a show at a night he curates in New York called Damage Control. After the show he told me he would produce my album. Ted Young was there too and offered to engineer. They have worked on all The Vacant Lots albums together over the years as well as with many musical greats individually. All that experience and the relationship between them is extremely evident and valuable. We recorded at Sonic Youth Studio and were blessed to have Steve Shelley on drums and percussion. It was an incredibly inspiring experience and I believe we created something beautifully unique.

AF: Tell us about “Dream Around” – did this song start with a lyric, a memory, a place in your mind?

CVC: “Dream Around” is a celebration of the beauty and danger of dreams. It began with the line “I’ve been walking on dandelions…” romantic or crushing.

AF: The video for your debut single “Coyote Cry” was super dreamy. Do you spend a good amount of time curating a look to go along with your sound?

CVC: Thank you. I was fortunate to work with two dear friends, Nicole Steriovski and Jenna Saraco of Either And Studio on the music video. Their work embraces a subconscious reveal, the line between fiction and reality often blurred and up for interpretation. The aesthetic is genuine to an aspect of who I am as a person. We all play many characters in our lives, but the mysterious has always been something I’m attracted to as I’m often accused of being “off with the spirits.”

AF: In a few short words, tell us what we can expect from the album.

CVC: Almoon is a psychedelic, minimal-for-maximum effect eight-track offering of introspective anti-love songs, anchored by dark, hypnotic vocals and intriguing lyricism t​o not reveal, but hint at, the beauty and secrets of life.

Follow Cate Von Csoke on Facebook for ongoing updates. 

PREMIERE: SUSU Psychs Out Listeners With Trippy “Let’s Get High” Video

Credit: Sarah K. Craig

The first time Liza Colby and Kia Warren recorded music together, they looked at each other and collapsed into a shared giggle fit in the studio. Since then, they’ve done the same during live performances; it’s one of many habits of theirs that make their relationship akin to iconic sitcom friendships like Ethel and Lucy, Laverne and Shirley, Pam and Gina.

When they met, Colby and Warren were both front-women of rock bands, Liza Colby Sound and Revel in Dimes. Now, they have their own band, SUSU, which released its debut single, “Let’s Get High,” on 4/20 this year.

The song is both an ode to the members’ friendship and a poetic depiction of psychedelic trips they’ve taken together. “We were crossing our frequencies / a place that we could escape to / and no one else could find,” Colby sings, to which Warren replies: “I could see you looking at me / but I was looking at me through your eyes / all the boxes were turning to circles / couldn’t tell what was yours from what’s mine.”

In the video, colorful images of each woman’s face singing alternate with trippy imagery of lakes, trees, and jellyfish. With the members separated due to the coronavirus, the concept behind it was basically, “Can we please make a video out of nothing? Can we make this happen when we’re on opposite sides of the country?” Colby laughs. The final product is meant to emulate the lava-lamp-like screensavers on laptops — the perfect visual to stare at and meditate to while tripping.

While most of their songs were written sober, Colby and Warren have used weed and psychedelics to get closer to each other and gain inspiration for their music. They remember one acid trip in particular that was formative for their band and their relationship. When they decided to leave the house that day, Warren suddenly became very concerned about what they were wearing. “In my mind, I saw how I wanted to look — it’s one of those Grey Gardens things where you see a lady in a fur coat,” she says. She remembers thinking, “I don’t know if I can go outside if I don’t have a cashmere beanie or something.”

They dug through the closet and dressed themselves the way Warren was envisioning, then wandered back home. Then, Colby’s husband came home, and as they went to bed in separate rooms, the women kept yelling at each other through the wall. “We stumbled across some good gems and discovered ourselves,” Warren remembers. “What I take away [from these experiences] is certainly how I want to express something or a really funny way of encountering something, or if a character came out, like a Grey Gardens character.”

Credit: Sarah K. Craig

Part of the duo’s connection comes from both being women of color fronting rock bands, which allows them to support each other through the challenges they face. “There are certain kinds of expectations of what a person making rock and roll is,” says Warren. “A lot of the time, when we’d be pitched for something, they’d be like, ‘not bold enough, not black enough,’ and we’d be like, wait a minute, we’re just doing rock and roll — it shouldn’t be contingent upon what the person looks like. When Liza performs, there’s no shying away. She’s always an inspiration, like ‘stick to what you’re doing and don’t feel like you have to fit someone’s expectations.'”

“We are rock and roll just by being us,” says Colby. “Being rock and roll is doing the things that aren’t in the box, that aren’t necessarily what you think they are. And that is what we’re pushing each other every day to do.”

Follow SUSU on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Guayaba Melds Bossa Nova, Psychedelia and Horrorcore on New LP

Photo by Úna Blue

In 1959, in the midst of an American craze for bossa nova, Brazilian director Marcel Camus made his stunning film Black Orpheus, an adaptation of the Greek tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice set in the mid-century favelas of Rio de Janeiro. In the opening scene, a clamoring procession of villagers play tambourines and drums, women transport jugs of water on their heads, and children play dice in the dirt. Slowly, soft singing and nylon-string guitar fades in like a gloomy, mysterious fog. This is “saudade,” the Portuguese word for a profound, encompassing melancholy, and the essence of Fantasmagoría, the new spell-binding album from Afro-Cuban rapper Guayaba, which arrived November 11.

The follow-up to 2016’s Black Trash/White House, Fantasmagoría is more than Black Orpheus—it’s a fever dream imbued with elements of South American psychedelia, negro spirituals and horrorcore. With artful concept and elaborate production, Guayaba guides the listener through revenge, magic, and death, then brings us back to life again. The album channels saudade, as well as magical elements of Candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian religious tradition akin to Santeria, and the concise, pared-down beauty of bossa nova. In fact, the film Black Orpheus—which Guayaba “enjoys quite a bit”—is referenced directly in a track by the same name.

Audiofemme caught up with Guayaba to hear about their early days of performing, their wordplay and theme-driven songwriting process, and the making of Fantasmagoría.

AF: Tell me about how you got into music – what inspired you to start performing?

G: Music has been in my life for as long as I can remember, which may be a stereotypical answer. I was in choir from a young age, sang in a few school talent shows, had a bit of classical training in community college and some vocal music classes in college. I was absolutely terrified of performing in the beginning, so I worked my way up in a somewhat linear fashion; uploading music semi-anonymously to myspace, then uploading videos of myself on youtube, onto coffeeshops/busking, and finally my first live show in January of 2015. By then I felt prepared enough to perform in front of others, but it was somewhat of a journey. As for my inspiration, I wanted to do operatic vocals for a gothic metal band. I wish my origin story was more exciting.

AF: Do you have a creative process? Do songs most often happen in pieces, on-stage, or all at once in the studio for you?

G: My creative process definitely takes place in pieces. It may take a minute for me to put together a song; sometimes it’s very easy, sometimes it’s 3D chess. I like to include particular themes and wordplay in my music that I do have to think about, so I’ll often revisit lines to see how I feel about them. 

AF: How do you define your sound and influences? Or do you prefer to let it all be undefined and organic?

G: I jokingly have referred to my music as ‘funeral trap’ before, but I do feel like that’s a somewhat accurate description of my rapping. I stand at a crossroads of horrorcore, alternative r&b, psychedelia and latin music. and I like to play with the idea of what things are or aren’t musically. Things are developing so rapidly in the musical climate, especially in hip-hop. As a joke I often call myself a grindcore musician as my songs are often short. 

My influences are extremely broad; I minored in ethnomusicology at Evergreen and have an appreciation for every genre. For this album specifically, my influences are across the board; from Yma Sumac to Billie Holiday to Diamanda Galas and so on. I was and am a huge metalhead and goth kid, and elements of that slip into this record as well. There’s an overwhelming sense of dread hanging over the head of the listener, and it invokes a sense of saudade despite there being very subtly bossa influence. We’ve taken South American psychedelia, negro spirituals, choruses of the dead, and dances of the living and invited them to stay here for a while.

AF: Tell me about the inspiration behind your new album, Fantasmagoría. What does the title mean? Or rather, where is Fantasmagoría? It feels like you’ve taken us to a new place.

G: The definition of Fantasmagoría is “a sequence of real or imaginary images like those seen in a dream.” It was also a form of horror theatre that used projected images and often sensory elements. The album’s overarching themes are sleep, death, magic, and revenge, and guides you through an uneasy dream that turns into a nightmare within a nightmare. It is largely based on my own dreams, of which I am lost deep in forests being chased, feeling a terror I’d never feel in the waking world. Fear that gives me the anxiety of death and forces me to come to terms with it. I float down rivers of crocodiles and wild dogs snap at my heels. I wanted to build a sense of urgency that occurs when you have to run, but it feels as though you’re running through quicksand. I want to portray the feeling of seeing who you hate the most, but only being able to hit them in slow motion. The frustration, the fear, the anxiety; it’s something we all experience. But the way I experience it lies deep within a jungle and I will only take you deeper.

AF: How did the new album challenge you? How do you think it expands on your earlier work?

G: This album challenged me in ways that I could never imagine. I’ve never put so much work into a piece of art before, and I’ve never invested so much of myself into something like this. Black Trash/White House was a fun experiment in finding my sound/establishing myself as Guayaba. It was recorded in Luna God’s (the producer’s) bedroom and I just didn’t take it as seriously as I could’ve. We put a lot of hard work and time into Fantasmagoría; I wanted a cohesive concept that I felt proud of, not just something I slapped together out of what felt like necessity. BT/WH was surprisingly well-received, and I had to elevate that. I had to take my time, but things happen for different reasons.

 AF: Who was essential to making this album happen? Who appeared on the album and what did they bring to the table?

G: Eric Padget is the other essential person on this project I couldn’t have done myself. Eric had me come in for sessions in his isolation booth, engineered and mixed the record, and has generally taken care of every aspect of what needs to be done that I’m not able to take on (distribution, promotions, etc). He is also just an amazing friend who got me through hard times when I thought I was going to give up, or on days where it felt like I could sleep through a week. Eric is amazing and this project would not exist without him.

Fish Narc is the producer of “Mariposa Mala,” and WOLFTONE produced the rest of the beats on the album. He’s a good friend who made the beats for me knowing the sound I was looking for, so I just went for it. We brought in Lori Goldston, an amazing noise cellist, and Michaud Savage, who played the classical nylon stringed guitar. Eric also played the cornet which was excellent. I did all of the percussion and vocals/animal sounds as well.

Without their involvement, this would’ve been a completely different album. Eric is amazing to the point that, towards the end of the record when I asked about adding live instruments, he asked “What did you have in mind?” without hesitation. They added an entirely new dimension to the beats and made them stand out in a way that I think is really exciting.

AF: As a fan of Latin music, I was really interested in your song entitled “Black Orpheus”—which, in some ways, fees like a modernized version of the classic by Antonio Jobim. What’s the story behind that one?

G: Black Orpheus is a film that I enjoy quite a bit. Stunning music and visuals, I love the intersection of the greek tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice in the setting of Carnival. It’s not a concept I’d seen before and it’s quite interesting to see how that was interpreted in 1959, as many black actors in starring roles in a film in North America would be unheard of at the time. It also touches on elements of Candomblé, which has very similar elements to Santería. There are touches of bossa nova throughout the project; the saudade invokes a melancholy that goes with the tone of the album, and in a way is a neighboring diaspora that has many similarities to Cuba; there is a large black population, but only white Brazilians are praised and put into the spotlight. Orfeu Negro was refreshing for that reason as well. I wanted to draw those parallels to a modern setting while also keeping elements of the Greek myth intact.

AF: I love “ D.U.M.E.” It’s like a scorned lover incanting a curse, and it aches in such a gorgeous way. Is this song based on real life, a character, or a combination of the two? Do you tend to write from real life or by embodying other characters/points-of-views?

G: This is rather dark, but “D.U.M.E.” is a spell I’ve cast on an abuser of mine who froze my life for a second and that I was able to break free from. I’ve never felt such a blind, visceral hatred for someone to the point of putting so strong of a curse on them; but this person is dangerous and harmful to black women, and I bind him from hurting others the way he hurt me. There isn’t much to be done about the damage caused, but this song was a way for me to help release some of the hurt and hatred I have inside, because it felt like it truly did something. I’d like to think that it’s a spell that can be  used for anyone who feels the way that I do about someone, but only if the person is still being actively harmful. The “D.U.M.E.” candle is one of the most powerful and isn’t to be toyed with.

I often write from real life, but I like to toy with different ideas and experiences for sure. I’m working on an upcoming EP and there’s a song about a haunted phone number, for example. I rap as a more fantastical version of myself, who is able to say what they wouldn’t be able to in real life. I’m rather shy off stage and its great to tell the stories I’d like through performance.

AF: What are your thoughts on the rapidly changing/contracting Seattle music scene? What has been the most challenging about the change? Do you plan to remain here as an artist?

G: The changing of the music scene in the city has a direct correlation to the city changing as well. The city has become more corporate and I think that means they are looking for safer, more radio-friendly artists to play events, and I do still feel like parts of the city are afraid of hip-hop. Seattle drains me as a city. People are (usually) extremely kind to me when I perform, but there’s still a veneer of strange, unwarranted judgement that drives many artists away from performing live. I’ve definitely gotten off of the stage and cried a few times due to the passive aggression of reactions to my performances; I know others have experienced that as well, and if it keeps happening, there won’t be many artists left.

I, like a few others, are tokenized as being the “alternative women” rapping in Seattle. There’s a rather obvious rotation that we’re included in to diversify bills, and it really makes you question whether you have talent or if you’re just filling a slot. 

Many, many artists are realizing the stagnation of the city and are leaving after a certain point. I completely understand. I’m lucky to have a wonderful audience of fellow queer folks, but many of the tech bros (as a whole, there are obvious exceptions) that attend shows are belligerent, rude, and downright people I don’t care much for performing in front of. I’ve never lived in Seattle in my life and likely never will; it’s a city that makes me wildly uncomfortable that is only going to get worse as Amazon roots deeper into the soil; but I play music there and seeing the change has been astounding.

AF: What are your goals as an artist overall?

G: My goals are to be able to make the exact music I have in mind, and to collaborate with artists that I respect and think I’d work well with. I’d like to work with multiple producers who have me in mind, I’d like to go all out with performances, and I’d like to hone my craft overall; I never want to stop learning and growing as an artist. I’d like to DJ at some point as well. Ultimately I don’t think I’ll be rich and famous and have no desire to be; I’d like to be able to take care of myself and my tía, be able to tour around the world, and to just quietly spread my sound through alternative genres and be recognized as an artist that puts a lot of work into their craft.

Follow Guayaba on Facebook for ongoing updates.

TRACK REVIEW: Kikagaku Moyo “Kogarashi”

Kikaguru Moyo

Japanese ensemble Kikagaku Moyo have released a new single “Kogarashi” leading up up to their record House In The Tall Grass.

In the new track, the band takes a more idyllic approach in production without straying far from their psychotropic sound.  Swirling harmonies soften up the disciplined rhythm.   “Kogarashi” showcases the band’s ability to blend the natural wo rld with celestial, surreal elements to make for an outcome that is spectral and eerie, yet stays true to their self-described “feeling good music.”

On the song’s inception, vocalist Tomo Katsurada says, “It was a nice warm day in the Autumn to get stoned and pass out in the park.  I remember I was surrounded by the multi-coloured dead leaves and felt warm when I woke up.  But all of the sudden, Kogarashi (the Autumn wind) blew all of the leaves away.  It was a beautiful and psychedelic Autumn moment.”

House In The Tall Grass will be released on May 13 under Tokyo-based record label Guruguru Brain, and the band will be touring the UK later in May.

Listen to “Kogarashi” below!

WILLONA ON WAX: Seattle Grunge & African Psych

Willona On Wax Vol. 1

Each month in Willona on Wax, Willona Sloan reviews new vinyl, reissues, and vintage finds. For her first installment, she reviews a Soul Jazz comp of lesser-known Northwestern grunge bands, and an Analog Africa comp of psychedelic sounds from Benin and Togo.


No Seattle: Forgotten Sounds of the North-West Grunge Era 1986-97 (Volume One)
Compilation by Soul Jazz Records


The thing is, I really wanted to like this record.  From the first song I heard — Thrillhammer’s “Alice’s Palace” — I knew that I would.

The majority of the bands on No Seattle never got record deals; they didn’t tour extensively outside of the North-West region and they didn’t achieve fame; therefore, their output was often raw and unpolished. The liner notes set the context for how tiny the rock scenes were in these small towns in Washington and Oregon, where the floor breaking from the walls at a house show could be a band’s biggest (or at least most memorable) gig — as it was for the band Pod.

It’s easy now to see how Nirvana evolved from this music scene.  The band’s Bleach-era songs fit neatly into this musical context, where bands were blending hard rock, metal and punk with throaty vocals that matched the ferocity of the music.

Often, comps lose steam and focus, but Volume One is solid all the way through.  Stand-outs include the delightful Starfish track “This Town;” a grungy, psychedelic tune by Yellow Snow called “Take Me For A Ride;” and Crunchbird’s erratic and emo “Woodstock Unvisited.”

Packaging: Double LP with a digital download code. The liner notes explain the idea behind the comp and give brief band bios.

Where to Get It: Purchase No Seattle from Soul Jazz Records here.



African Scream Contest—Raw & Psychedelic Afro Sounds from Benin & Togo 70s
Compilation by Analog Africa

African Scream contest

While record shopping in downtown Athens, GA, I saw this amazing album cover propped on display: an African singer, leaning cool, dark sunglasses, flared bottoms and a rock ‘n’ roll mic tilt that meant business.

This marvelously funky, groovy compilation reissues singles from popular 1960’s and 1970’s artists from Benin and Togo.  The compilation is the painstaking work of an enthusiastic German-based collector who selected the included tracks from the thousands of records he discovered during crate-digging expeditions in the two countries during the early 2000’s. In his notes, Samy Ben Redjeb explains that during the 1960’s and 1970’s the music of Benin and Togo was influenced primarily by Cuban and Brazilian rhythms; Congolese-style Highlife; French-African music, local traditional music, which included music used during Vodun (Voodoo) ceremonies; as well as American soul and funk.

Despite being a mishmash of influences, the compilation works well as a unit of highly danceable tunes. Standouts include “Oya Ka Jojo” by Les Volcans De la Capital; “Mi Kple Dogbekpo” by Lokonon André & Les Volcans; “Se Na Min” by El Rego et Ses Commandos and “Gbeti Madjro” by Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou (video below).

Packaging: The inserts include interviews with the musicians, many of whose records have been long out of print.

Where to Get It: You can order the vinyl or CD or get digital downloads from Analog Africa here.



ALBUM REVIEW: Israel Nash “Rain Plans”


The long-locked, regally bearded songwriter Israel Nash Gripka marries spacey psychedelic guitar work to wind-chilled vocals that pay a nod to Neil Young; Gripka’s songs amble, they meditate, they conduct experiments in theme and variation. His third and latest studio album, Rain Plans (out August 19th!) finds Gripka signed to independent British label Loose Music–an apt enough match, given Loose Music’s strong stable of Americana standards like Townes Van Zandt, Neko Case, and Steve Earle. And Gripka has some history in common with your average modern cowboy: originally of Missouri, he moved to New York City to release his first two albums, then split for Dripping Springs, Texas, where he soaked up what he refers to as the area’s “desert folklore” as inspiration for this forlorn, majestic new release.

I’m always interested to see what comes from a matchup of psychedelia and Americana. Despite the genres’ shared theme of wanderlust, the former tends to focus on that wandering’s texture and color, whereas the latter deals in oral history and storytelling. Long stretches of Rain Plans feel like deliberate efforts to let the songwriting move on a long leash, to see where the mind will go when it’s left to its own devices, in the absence of the civilization or plot. The musical patterns are cyclical, the melody unhurried, even listless. In one of the album’s most interior portions, in the back half of the title track, all  vocals melt away, leaving a swirling and seemingly endless cycle of mesmerizing guitars. The only thing that remains fixed is the pace: held firm, as if by a metronome, at a slow stroll.

So it’s clear that the album is a journey, but one that moves in circles, and it may test many listeners’ patience not to see the point of all this meandering. With all due respect to the virtues of wandering without being lost, these songs are so relaxed that they sometimes don’t appear to grow from start to finish. There isn’t necessarily going to be development from one end of a song to another; in the worst case scenario, the music instead restates the same idea over and over again, in different ways. Rain Plans isn’t necessarily an album that’s going to tell you a story that has a clear-cut beginning, middle, and end.

But if you have time to sit with it a while, the album proves that, for Gripka, spaciousness rarely equals stagnancy. Consider the shimmeringly gorgeous “Iron of the Mountain,” which establishes a single, circular melody–one moment in time, one color–and then extends it for almost four and a half minutes. Rain Plans richly evokes the vivid aesthetic of folklore: it’s a snapshot, rather than a story, of the landscape. Think of it as a collection of moments, which bear loose connection but don’t need each other in order to function.

The only exception to that logic is the closer, “Rexanimarum,” which is Rain Plans’ most unabashedly rootsy track, with lyrics like “pour me out just like sour wine,” and even echoes of old country songs, “got the money if you got the time.” With a lovely and light touch of backup vocals, this song may be the album’s sunniest, and is certainly its most singalong-friendly.

Check out the full album stream over at the A.V. Club, and go here to order your physical copy of Rain Plans! Listen to “Rain Plans,” with all its swirly melodies and smooth vocal harmonies, below via SoundCloud:


ALBUM REVIEW: Guy Blakeslee “Ophelia Slowly”


Whether performing with a trio or a quartet or semi-solo, whether in full psychedelic mode or reinterpreting the blues, Guy Blakeslee has a fantastic knack for making music that sounds haunted and doomed. June 10th marks the release of Ophelia Slowly, which, though not Blakeslee’s first solo release, is the first to come out under his real name instead of some permutation of the stage name Entrance. It hasn’t been long since Blakeslee released a record–The Entrance Band’s Face The Sun came out last November–and both that album and Ophelia Slowly chronicle a journey out of darkness and tumult, and into the proverbial light. Blakeslee has a history of substance abuse and was struggling to get clean when he wrote many of the songs on both these albums, so it’s natural that they would share a preoccupation with the material, but Blakeslee manages not to repeat himself at all with the release of Ophelia Slowly. Face The Sun was a rock album, heady and guitar-driven, with watery melody lines and psychedelic wah-wahing that trafficked in symbol and metaphor more than it did straightforward storytelling.

But on Ophelia Slowly, Blakeslee’s voice and lyrics become the focal point of the music. In the interest of holding the spotlight on the story line, Blakeslee keeps the music very simple, and many of the songs–“Smile On” and “Ophelia Brown,” notably–maintain a straight, sing-song-y structure that recalls elements of his early work, back when Entrance was a solo project and Blakeslee liked to reconfigure the blues and give it a psychedelic twist. However, despite the simple rhythms and emphasis on narrative, there’s little on Ophelia Slowly that’s musically reminiscent of the blues–the album’s foundation consists primarily of looped synth lines and an unassuming drum machine track.

Blakeslee has long been fascinated by states of trance. This album–which is, essentially, his version of an introspective, songwriter-y project–concocts swirling, circular guitar parts and a tightly rhyming vocal line that escalates, like a spiral staircase, as it moves from phrase to phrase. For Blakeslee, the music tells a story best once it’s in this hypnotic state. This concept is familiar turf–in the twenty years he’s been making music, Blakeslee has perfected the trick of creating a whirlpool inside a song–but Ophelia Slowly manages to maintain this churning, circular state for almost the full length of the album. That’s not a complaint. Actually, it’s impressive that the record’s repetition never wears out its welcome. “Told Myself” is a great example: with quiet, whining anguish, Blakeslee plays with the phrase “You were true and a liar too,” shifting meaning and replacing a word occasionally as he relentlessly repeats the lyric. “You were clean and a junkie too,” the song finally concludes, in the same stretched-out, high pitched melody, over a strummed acoustic guitar. They’ve got potential for melodrama, but in Blakeslee’s hands, the songs are beautifully ragged. As a collection, Ophelia Slowly is foreboding, not too optimistic, and full of compelling grit and fatigue.

You can check out “Kneel & Pray,” off Ophelia Slowly, below. The full album will be out June 10th.