Album Picks: Pharmakon, Foxygen, Kevin Morby

Posted by Billy Gil, October 14, 2014 11:15am | Post a Comment

Pharmakon - Bestial Burden (LP [Blood Red Vinyl!], CD, Download)

To listen to Pharmakon is to stare the beast straight in the mouth. Margaret Chardiet’s latest album starts with heavy breathing, panting and a buzzing synth that sounds more like an electroshock therapy machine. “Intent or Instinct” builds deliberately with an atonal loop gathering strength until she unleashes a nasty banshee wail. Free of too much digitized effect, it sounds truly bloodcurdling. It’s also immensely cathartic. And “Body Betrays Itself” feels like it takes over your very being, her most powerful musical statement to date. Not everything in such harsh surroundings works—“Primitive Struggle” is about as inviting as it sounds, full of coughing, spitting and heaving along to a digital heartbeat. But Chardiet can really surprise you, too. “Autoimmune” actually nudges closer to something resembling pop, like the dirtiest Trent Reznor would ever let his hands get. And in the incantation of the title track, Chardiet’s actual, human voice can be heard, albeit echoed out into infinity, and the result is quite affecting, given how she shreds her voice across the rest of the record. So Bestial Burden isn’t for the faint of heart. Dismiss it and you might even get a laugh out of its relentless brutality. But give it your full attention, and it just might change you. So don’t be afraid. Dive in and let Bestial Burden swallow you whole. Note: If you like her records, you should probably see her live.



Foxygen - ...And Star Power (LP, CD, Download)

Foxygen’s new album is a sprawling double-length opus that packs as many great psych-rock melodies and eccentric ideas as will fit onto one album. Foxygen’s songwriters, Sam France and Jonathan Rado, turn their talent and rivalry into something truly strange and special. The album still relishes in turning classic rock on its head, with Bowie-esque loungey pop songs like “How Can You Really” that sound instantly memorable while still remaining idiosyncratic, coy even. There’s a real sweetness to tracks like “Coulda Been My Love” and its Stonesy whispered nothings, while “Cosmic Vibrations” reimagines The Beatles’ “Long, Long, Long” as a languid sungazing weed jam that explodes into a hippie romp. The band’s lyrics cut through the lazy cool with real emotions, asking “if you don’t love me anymore, how come you never say it to my face?” on “You & I” and finishing desperately with “Why doesn’t anybody help me? Why doesn’t anybody care?” From there, the album gets wilder, delving into piano-laden suites with beatnik delivery and Flaming Lips-ish psychedelic breakdowns (“Star Power I-III”). The album becomes like a hall of mirrors in both scope and sound, as songs fade in and out, turning from organ-fueled kraut pop to lo-fi synth ballads and everything in between, mixing Link Wray and Suicide and The Clean and whatever else until it sounds kind of like three mixtapes glued together with weird little melted intros and outros barely holding it together. It goes without saying that this is not an album that was made with the iPhone generation in mind. You miss a bit of their last album’s brevity and ease. But what would a Guided By Voices album be without its odds and ends, for instance? What …And Star Power is, is never boring. Lots of things pass for psychedelia these days, but this is the real deal, an album guided by unbridled thought and passion and dream logic rather than aged constraints.


Kevin Morby - Still Life (LP, CD)

Former Woods bassist and Babies guitarist Kevin Morby fashions himself as a freewheeling troubador of gently downcast tunes that snag you on repeat listens. He's capable of sweetness, on songs like the romantic "All of My Life," but I find him even more appealing as a songwriter capable of getting down in there without feeling like he's needlessly moping, as on the slowly percolating "Drowning." It helps that he pumps a few of these tracks with a pulse, like the rollicking "Ballad of Arlo Jones" and spirtual "Amen," so as not to get too mired in the muck. Sometimes you gotta wallow, and Still Life is just the record to carry you through it.

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Album Picks (146), New Albums (213), New Releases (214), Pharmakon (9), Kevin Morby (11), Foxygen (13)