Trummors

Consider your cosmic country rock needs met for the summer. Trummors’ Headlands is a gorgeous sonic road trip through the beauty, sadness and mystery of the American west (or what’s left of it), packed with sunburnt pedal steel, close harmonies and sneakily sophisticated songwriting. Think New Riders of the Purple Sage, American Beauty-era Dead, Neil’s Harvest and the early 70s work of Iain Matthews (whose “Hearts” is given an absolutely perfect rendering here).

The core Trummors duo of Anne Cunningham (vocals, harmonium) and David Lerner (vocals, guitar) is joined on Headlands by a crack band of fellow travelers — especially strong throughout is Kevin Barker’s b-bender guitar work; check out the sparkling solo that closes out the appropriately named “Breezin'” or the fuzzed out blast that pleasingly interrupts “Hollis Tornado.” Roll the windows down, crank the volume up and head for the open highway with Trummors. words / t wilcox

Trummors :: Spanish Peaks

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In the 1990s, Roky Erickson was rediscovered. Psychedelia’s forgotten man, a cult hero for decades, got a new lease on his creative life.

In the mid-1960s, his legendary 13th Floor Elevators roared out of Austin, establishing the template for rock psychedelia. Their garage punk squall was so propulsive, so “out there,” it spooked even the Grateful Dead and their San Francisco cohort. But years of struggle followed, during which Erickson’s schizophrenia was exacerbated by drug use and dubious medical “treatment,” including sessions of electro-shock therapy. After stints in institutions and years of legal trouble, Erickson ended up living behind an adult bookstore, surrounded by buzzing shortwave radios, police scanners, and TVs, subsisting on a $200-a-month Social Security check.

“For as long as he can remember — if he indeed can remember — Roky Erickson has been called many things by many people,” wrote Robert Wilonsky, visiting Roky at that small place, for an insightful story published by the Houston Press. “He’s been lauded as a Texas music legend whose name belongs up there with Buddy Holly, Janis Joplin and ‘T-Bone’ Walker. He’s been called one of the fathers of psychedelic music…And, unfortunately, he has been pigeonholed as a reclusive lunatic who does daily battle with the demons swirling inside his drug-damaged head.”

Roky Erickson :: Starry Eyes

But the ’90s saw a renewed interest and the start of a creative stretch for Erickson which continues to this day. In 1994, Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers’ Trance Syndicate label released All That May Do My Rhyme, Erickson’s first studio record in nearly a decade. It followed a 1990 compilation, Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye: A Tribute to Roky Erickson, which had turned on a whole new generation of fans, featuring ZZ Top (whose roots stretched back to the fertile Texas psych scene the Elevators helped establish), Primal Scream, Doug Sahm, the Jesus and Mary Chain, T-Bone Burnett, R.E.M. and others paying tribute to Roky’s trailblazing sound. Both records have recently been reissued — by Play Loud! Productions and Sire for last month’s Record Store Day, respectively.

While neither capture the wildness or the paranoia of his work with the Elevators or Aliens, both help to illuminate Erickson’s strength as a songwriter. Where the Pyramid Meets The Eye demonstrates how his songs influenced far-flung genres, from the psych folk of Bongwater to the alt-pop of John Wesley Harding to the mystic punk of Jesus and Mary Chain; All That May do My Rhyme drills down on Erickson’s rockabilly and trad folk-rock foundation, his strained voice working over the production of Casey Monahan and Texas roots artist Speedy Sparks and accompaniment from Leary, Charlie Sexton, and others.

Featuring songs from his back catalog, remixed versions culled from previous sessions, and a few newer compositions, the record feels purely Texan, dry and jangly. Best of all is a duet on “Starry Eyes,” perhaps Erickson’s sweetest tune, with Lou Ann Barton, whose version of “Don’t Slander Me” is a highlight of the Pyramids compilation as well. “Starry eyes/what can I say to make you listen?” Erickson pleads. Decades later, via films like You’re Gonna Miss Me and 2010 LP True Love Cast Out All Evil, a fuller view of Roky has emerged — his science fiction and B-horror movie lyrics sorted in the context of his inner life — but All That May Do My Rhyme helps make clear his musical essence, while Where the Pyramid Meets the Sky helps show how others took his strange sounds new places. words/j woodbury

helium

Led by Mary Timony, Helium was one of the great ’90s guitar bands. On records like 1995’s The Dirt of Luck and 1997’s Magic City, Timony and co. created deeply personal and catchy indie rock, blending in progressive textures and expressive guitar work as the band went on.

This week, Matador Records reissues both records, pairing the latter with the No Guitars ep. Additionally, the label’s prepared a double lp collection of b-sides, demos, and rarities called Ends With And. Taken together, the discography helps make a case for Helium as one of the most idiosyncratic bands in ’90s indie rock, whose work sounds fresh and engaging in modern context, and positions Timony as a true guitar hero, “the only human being to make a Paul Reed Smith seem cool,” Gerard Cosloy writes in the liner notes of Ends With And.

This summer, Timony presses pause on her phenomenal band Ex-Hex to tour as “Mary Timony Plays Helium.” We spoke to the guitarist and singer about reevaluating the work of her former band, re-learning her own songs, and what the creative spirit of the ’90s was like.

Aquarium Drunkard: How has returning to Helium’s music been for you?

Mary Timony: It was cool. It was a real treasure hunt. I spent a month or so just kind of going through stuff I’d saved in tupperware bins in this basement and attic. I was looking for stuff I remembered I might have. It was a combination of racking my memory and searching things I’d saved. It was pretty fun; you always feel like you are hopefully saving things for a reason, that it’s not just junk. [Laughs]

AD: What kind of person do you hear playing and singing on those records?

Mary Timony: It’s always hard to hear yourself. I’ve never liked listening to stuff I’ve done, especially stuff that was done quickly… it’s never pleasant. [Laughs] But so much time has gone by, I’m on the other side now. I’m able to be a little more objective. It’s almost like listening to another person. The early Helium stuff I’ve always been embarrassed of, because my singing was not that great. But around The Dirt of Luck I start to feel okay about it.

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What do Gram Parsons, Tom Petty and Brent Rademaker all share in common? You guessed it – the Sunshine State that is Florida coupled with a deep fascination of country rock. All three soon jettisoned to the West Coast where they soaked up the better sun/bigger waves. While Gram haunts the desert of Joshua Tree and Tom continues to explore his Byrdsian jingle-jangle obsession – Brent has reinvented himself time and time again with album after album of cult classics with his groups Further, Beachwood Sparks, The Tyde and his most recent GospelbeacH whose sophomore album Another Summer of Love comes out this June on Alive Records.

whitney

It had been a weird two days for Whitney. Coming off of the first weekend of Coachella, the band was feeling kinda bummed over the experience. Or at least, that’s what they told the crowd the next night, at the first of three sold-out nights in San Francisco. The first night of the run was a tour-highlight for the band, and the excitement from the quick-turnaround was palpable.

AD sat down with principal members Julien Ehrlich and Max Kakacek the next afternoon, and went deep on their continuing inspiration and partnership, what to expect next from the band, and how they’ve maintained their love of the music in spite of playing it non-stop for over two years.

Whitney :: Red Moon

Aquarium Drunkard: Where are you at right now for your second record, and how is it going?

Julien Ehrlich: It’s good. Whenever we’re home it takes a few days but then we usually get an idea up and running – we’re just essentially making the same record… because you know, we have all the Light Upon the Lake demos, we initially thought we were going to release them all in that demo form – we’re kinda just doing it the same way. I imagine we’ll wind up re-recording it – we’re a few songs in.

AD: You played a new one last night – and you played live shows several times before you ever released any of that original material – do you like work-shopping material in front of an audience?

Max Kakacek: I think the way we play songs live versus the way they’re recorded is we have to rearrange things. The recording of the new song right now is super-string heavy, and obviously we don’t have those live, so a lot of playing it live is figuring out how to shuffle around, as musicians, to arrange it has a dynamic arc, that strings would have provided. So we’re learning, every time we play we’re learning how to make it a little denser in certain parts, and where to back off.

AD: For the rest of the band, having them in on it, for a full cycle, is that changing your process with how you’re writing? You’ve been effusive about your trust for the other members of the group and their contributions – is that a trust that continues to grow as you record this, or is is the same strong bond that’s always been there?

Julien Ehrlich: We still definitely need the songs to come from us two, but we spend so much more time with these dudes now – maybe we’ll write half their part, teach it to them, and ask what they think they should do there. Whereas the first one was entirely written by us. We’re still conscious that the songs need to come from our two brains, and only our two brains probably…

BIG THIEF

Big Thief’s debut lp, Masterpiece, was one of the more subtly arresting releases of last year. Its gauzy, vaporous air, the songs’ swooning and drifting colors – and Adrienne Lenker’s hushed and heartfelt vocals – all coalesced into the essence of the record’s understated effect.

At the center of that album is the wistful “Paul.” A simple love song at its core, its quietly expansive center evokes a dark and absolute sentiment, an ode to starry-eyed lovers, hurricane riders and moonshiners alike, none of them going unheard, as Lenker’s voice stands its ground amongst a swirling sonic wonder. An album highlight, the tune only hints at this band’s ability to transport its listeners, leaving behind something overpowering, yet just out of grasp.

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Ought frontman Tim Darcy’s solo debut Saturday Night has been on heavy rotation (our interview with Darcy forthcoming). In the meantime, Ought’s Concert à Emporter.

La Blogoteque gets deserved credit for their direction and cinematography – but holy shit, that sound. It’s so crisp. You’d think recording outdoors would decrease fidelity but Chryde (La Blogoteque founder) and co. prove you wrong with each upload. Right around the 4-minute mark, right as things feel precipitately too close to going too far off the rails for 4-minutes into a 15-minute video, the band maneuvers around to a song with a near-delirious combination of vitriol and conviction. As the music comes to an end 10-minutes later, there’s no denying what a woman yells from a passing car, “Yeah! Rock and Roll! Rock and Roll!” words / b kramer