By The Paperhead (Trouble in Mind Records)
Farfisa organ. Verbed-out guitars. Muddled, cryptic lyrics set to spacey, mid-tempo psychedelia. These tools aren't mere relics, frozen in time in Nuggets box sets or Chocolate Watchband and Moby Grape 45s. They're alive and well on The Paperhead's self-titled LP, which conjures images of hazy opium dens and Haight-Ashbury in its prime, before the bubble burst and members of the Hippie Generation realized they had to make money one way or another.
No, The Paperhead doesn't particularly expand upon the principals and the techniques established by genre-defining tunes like "Norwegian Wood" and 13th Floor Elevators' "You're Gonna Miss Me," but coming from a group of kids still in their teens, it's a damn fine homage. An homage with songs like "Let Me Know," with its vaguely Eastern, mind-bending, cyclical guitar riff and droning, hypnotic vocals. "Can't Keep My Eyes Open" is a journeyman's voyage, dissolving from up-tempo, riff-driven garage psych into a floundering freak-out and, finally, the frantic sounds of a furiously played tabla. (Or perhaps it's a djembe? Whatever sort of drum it is, it's Eastern, and it sounds awesome.)
Start to finish, The Paperhead is pleasantly loose and soupy — a collection of day-tripping excess barely congealed in the afternoon sun. Where this — their first full-length effort — betrays clear affections for psych-rock box sets and (probably) heady cannabinoids, it also shows a great deal of potential. As long as The Paperhead keeps making sweet, swirling slices of sentimental psychedelia like "Do You Ever Think of Me?", we should all keep paying attention. —D. PATRICK RODGERS
By The Little Bear (Plastic 350 Records)
Last year, The Little Bear released a split cassette EP called Sexttape with PUJOL, one of Infinity Cat Records' mainstay bands. Set against PUJOL's grainy, punky folk jams — and Infinity Cat's larger roster of rowdy, basement-party rockers — The Little Bear's understated songs felt a little out of place. So Infinity Cat created a new imprint just for them — well, for them and label co-founder Robert Ellis Orrall's band, Monkeybowl — called Plastic 350.
The Little Bear's newest EP, Bridges, sounds considerably more polished than its analog-only predecessor — likely a nod to the interest the band has garnered from some pretty big corners of the A&R world, where spray-painted tape cases are a less common sight. On the title track, singer and songwriter Claire Guerreso — who's got the kind of voice that can turn a clattering club into a vacuum-sealed listening chamber in the matter of a few verses — delivers a disarming tale of "the love between children, and what it can do."
If that sounds like such an uncool topic for a song, well, Guerreso is refreshingly unabashed in her songwriting, and is as uninterested in pretense as she is unafraid to risk sentimentality. But if you want cool, The Little Bear can do that too, though with their own bent. There's a lilt to "Coldest Cloud" that will connect with fans of atmospheric indie rock a la Cortney Tidwell, but Guerreso twirls her vocals in a way that at times lands more like Blige than Bjork.
If anything, Bridges doesn't quite capture the supple, interlocked playing of the band's live performances — oddly enough, the hissy, lo-fi cassette release does a better job of that — but it is a compelling document of a singer who's hard to corner, leading a group that sounds just as at home covering folk staples like "This Little Light of Mine" as they do working up R&B-laced pop, engaging in playful Lindsay Buckingham-isms and grooving achy, soulful ballads. —STEVE HARUCH
By Casa Castile (Self-released)
Yes, Casa Castile's Umbra has been available for download on their Bandcamp site (casacastile.bandcamp.com) for over a month now. But it's just been sitting there, too few people raving about it.
As much as some folks balk at using oversimplified phrases and genres to describe records, the term "bedroom pop" is absolutely the sort of music featured on Umbra. There's no way to better depict it. These sounds — these dense, multifaceted sounds — must come from a small, quiet room (well, that's just a guess, really) where an obsessive, meticulous sonic wizard (in this case, central member Andrew Nabuco) laboriously constructs them using guitars, synthesizers, banjos, effects processors and anything else he can get his hands on. And — like any good pop record — Umbra is, at its core, structured around memorable, transfixing melodies.
"Slowly Fading" opens with delicate, graceful strings and finger-picked acoustic guitar reminiscent of '60s and '70s baroque-pop masters — Lee Hazlewood and Harry Nilsson, particularly — before jumping into a thick, grooving bass line and a beat that are pure hip-hop. And then there's "Desert Cat," with its complex rhythmic nuances and lingering, ghostly vocal harmonies, which Nabuco slathers on like a Dutch Master applying layers of paint to a dark, opaque background. Umbra is a record that is at once accessibly catchy and nebulous. It is introspective pop music at its finest: diverse in its influence, painstakingly assembled and sharply performed. —D. PATRICK RODGERS
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