Population II is a rising Montreal-based psych rock trio that has developed and honed an improvised songwriting approach that meshes elements of rock ‘n’ roll, free jazz and linear rhythms to create an incredibly nuanced yet trippy sound.
The rising French Canadian act’s Emmanuel Ethier-produced full-length debut, À la Ô Terre was released last month through Castle Face Records, and the album has received attention across Quebec and elsewhere for featuring material that’s a mind-melting mesh of hard psych with a punk sentiment — while featuring some exploratory free jazz-inspired moments.
Clocking in at a 7:38 À la Ô Terre’s latest single, “Ce n’est rêve” is an atmospheric Doors meets Thee Oh Sees-like number centered around alternating quiet verses and loud choruses held together by a sinuous bass line and propulsive jazz-like drumming. featuring shimmering keys, slashing guitars and ethereal falsetto crooning before closing out with an explosive and noisy freak out. In Montreal’s scene, they’re one of the most buzz-worthy acts out there — and this track will further cement that growing reputation.
Directed by Ëmémôr and Tristan Lacombe and featuring typography and animation by Laurence Martin, the recently released video for “Ce n’est rêve” is a trippy and murky visual that seems to nod at Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a Face:” we see the band members faces superimposed over kaleidoscopic colored projections and the other band members’ faces, as well footage of mysterious figures playing the various instruments in the song.
REX is a rising, Amsterdam-based indie rock trio that features members with very diverse musical backgrounds: Jonathan Rex (vocals, guitar) grew up with flamenco in his blood, Nout Kooji (drums) grew up in punk rock, and Sara Elzinga (bass) grew up in a blues loving home. But despite their different musical backgrounds, the Dutch band’s sound draws from Nick Cave, Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen and flamenco, while thematically their material tackles dark and murky topics — and as a result the band has developed a profile both nationally and across sections of the European Union.
Because of their growing profile, the members of the Dutch act have played shows in the UK, Germany and Spain. They’ve opened for Claw Boys Claw — and they’ve made appearances across the European Festival circuit, including Into the Great Wide Openlast year. Adding to a growing profile, Rex released their self-titled debut EP earlier this year, and the EP’s latest single is the brooding “Dm.” Sounding like an incredibly stylish synthesis of The Doorsand Nick Cave, the track is centered around slashing guitars, an explosive guitar solo, and a propulsive rhythm section powered by a sinuous bass line, the track is a darkly seductive platform for Jonathan Rex’s sonorous, Glenn Danzig meets Jim Morrison’s baritone and Silia Hollestelle’s plaintive and expressive vocals. It’s fitting since the song is focused on a troubled male protagonist desperately calling out to a lost lover. Expanding upon the song’s theme and story, Jonathan Rex says ““His lover tells him that they can only be together if he chooses to cross the ‘other side’ where she will be waiting for him. Knowing that he will have to cross the river to the land of the dead, insanity starts to creep in.”
Shot in the Dutch forests, just outside Amsterdam, the recently released video for “Dm” evokes Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe movies — a feverish and hallucinogenic journey through the dark recesses of the human soul and mind.
Helene Alexandra Jæger is a Norwegian-born, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and creative mastermind behind the rising recording project Holy Boy. Recorded at Ben Hillier’s London-based Pool Studios, Jæger’s 2017 Holy Boy self-titled debut was released to widespread critical acclaim with EP single “The Blood Moon” receiving airplay on BBC Radio 1 while establishing her sound – a sound that takes cues from The Velvet Underground and Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden, Suicide, the dark side of the 60s, vintage girl bands and West Coast hip-hop and she has dubbed “neon gothic.” Thematically, the Norwegian-born, Los Angeles-based artist’s work focuses on “explorations in consciousness,” she explains in press notes.
Building upon a growing profile, Jæger performed sets at that year’s CMJ, NXNE and SXSW. She followed that up with the critically applauded single “Elegy,” which The Line of Best Fit described as being “at once eclectic and utterly immersive; smoky and classic, yet simultaneously futuristic.”
Much like the countless emerging artists I’ve covered on this site over the past decade, Jæger began the year with big plans to boost her profile and her career that included booked sets at this year’s SXSW, which would have corresponded with the release of the first single off her forthcoming 11 song, full-length debut, which is slated for release this summer. Of course, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, SXSW was cancelled while countless other festivals, tours and shows were postponed until later this year. Interestingly, the album’s first single was released last month – and it turns out to be an eerily fitting and timely cover of The Doors’ classic “Riders On The Storm.” Centered around layers of shimmering organs, including Hammond, Rhodes, Optigan and Vox Continental, vintage 70s drum machines and 80s Casio synths, along with Jæger’s dusky vocals drenched in gentle reverb, delay and other ethereal effects, the Norwegian-born, Los Angeles-based artist’s haunting and cinematic rendition retains the somber and brooding tone of the original while adding that seemingly unending sense of dread and uncertainty that we’ve all felt in our lives over the past month or so.
The accompanying video is fittingly creepy and yet highly symbolic: it features a lo-fi, computer generated skeleton in space, walking up a never-ending staircase.
I recently exchanged emails with Jæger for this Q&A. Current events have impacted all of us – and they’ve found a way to bleed into our personal and professional lives in ways that will likely reverberate for some time to come. Because she had plans to play at SXSW until it was canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we chat briefly about how the pandemic has impacted her and her career. But the bulk of our conversation, we chat about her attention- grabbing cover of The Doors’ classic tune, and what we should expect from her forthcoming debut. Check it out below.
___ WRH: Most parts of the country are enacting social distancing guidelines as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here in New York, we’ve been social distancing and in-quarantine for the better part of three weeks. It’s been tough – but it’s for the greater good. How are you holding up?
Helene Alexandra Jæger: I love New York, and it’s crazy what’s happening right now. I hope it turns around and that we all learn something from this that can save lives in the future and now. Here in L.A., we’ve been at home for three or four weeks — I can’t even remember — and most things have been shut since then. It’s been strict, but I’m grateful for that – better safe than sorry in this type of a situation.
I’m lucky as an introvert, I’m quite comfortable spending time on my own reading, exploring info online, creating and listening to music.
WRH: You were about to release new material at around the time that SXSW had to cancel because of the COVID-19 pandemic. How has COVID-19 impacted you and your career at the moment?
HAJ: The cancellation came so suddenly; the whole festival was shut down less than a week before I was headed there to showcase my album live for the first time. I feel the cancellation of SXSW was a turnaround, for the first time people started to realize how serious this outbreak might get…
Until that, most people I heard from thought the danger was exaggerated, and so I’m really glad the city of Austin made a firm decision, because I don’t know what the situation would have been like if 60,000 people had gathered for SXSW as planned, just a few weeks back.
Since this outbreak, I’ve been trying to manage the “Riders On The Storm” release that was too late to cancel — and somehow turned out to be more poignant right now than I’d ever expected.
I was planning to release my debut album this spring, was working on music video plans, and had live shows in the pipeline around the release, but that’s all on ice now. The good thing is, I get to create more and spend time making more music. I also have a poetry collection I’ve been working on for a while, and it’s given me time to focus on that and prepare for that release.
WRH: How would you describe your sound, for those unfamiliar to you and Holy Boy’s sound?
HAJ: This is always tricky. I feel like it’s a world where it’s dark, but there are neon lights on, and you can see the stars and the moon. There’s a dreamy quality to it, but it can also get gritty and sensual. I sometimes think of it as Moon in Scorpio, 5th house, that’s my placement. It’s a dark and deep place where there’s sometimes a feeling of being closer to space than earth. Musically, I call it Neon Gothic or LA noir, organ rock.
WRH: Who are your influences?
HAJ: I love all kinds of music, but for this coming album, I’ve been immersing myself in what felt like it resonated with the emotions in those songs. Songs like “No Quarter” by Led Zeppelin, David Bowie’s Blackstar album, “Nikes” by Frank Ocean, Suicide and songs by The Shangri-La’s, Johnny Jewel’s work . . .
WRH: Who are you listening to right now?
HAJ: I’m really enjoying the Spotify Discover Weekly playlist where the algorithm presents you with music it thinks you’ll like, and I’ve been going on a deep dive based on doing research for a TV idea I’ve been working on… A beautiful and uplifting raw song I think everyone could benefit from right now is an old gospel type recording “Like A Ship” by Pastor T.L. Barrett and The Youth for Christ Choir… I think it’s a really inspiring song for this time.
I’ve also been listening to demos and outtakes from Bob Dylan’s “Blonde On Blonde” sessions and it’s been such a revelation to hear how incredibly different the other takes were… To see how fluid his process was, that a song like “Like A Rolling Stone” ended up the way we know it, when the other takes were so different… There’s a real magic to it. Like listening into an alternate reality.
WRH: You recently released an eerie and ominous cover of The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.” I think if Jim Morrison was alive today, he would have really dug what you did with the song. What drew you to the song? Have the living members of The Doors heard the song? If they did, what did they think of it?
HAJ: That means a lot to me, thank you so much. I know he had an interest in the worlds beyond and the nature of life and death, which I personally resonate with, so it was a great experience to channel one of his/their songs . . .
One of the reasons I was drawn to making a cover of “Riders On The Storm”, besides being a huge fan of The Doors, is it feels like a seeker’s song, and it felt like a kindred spirit to the way I look at the world. A sense of not quite being at home and not quite belonging on earth.
From what I know, they haven’t heard it, but I really hope they would enjoy my version. I hope they are all safe and well, all four of them in this world and the other.
WRH: The recent video for “Riders on the Storm” features a computer-animated skeleton in space, walking up an infinite staircase. It’s fittingly ominous and as eerie. How did you come about this treatment – and what is it supposed to represent?
HAJ: When I saw Andrei/@dualvoidanimafff’s lofi retro futuristic animations online, I knew I wanted to work on something with him. For “Riders On The Storm”, I just saw this idea of a skeleton walking up a never-ending staircase in space… Like man’s ascension, our eternal human quest to become more or to rise out of the limitations of physical life, to reach this idea of heaven or perfection… It felt to me like a logical depiction of the song’s theme, “Riders On The Storm”… The impossibility of our pursuit, but also the beauty – that throughout history we’ve never stopped trying.
WRH: You have an album slated for a late August release. What should we expect from the album?
HAJ: My version of “Riders On The Storm” is definitely in the same world that the record takes place in. An otherworldly atmosphere built around Hammond/Rhodes/Optigan organs, Vox Continentals, vintage 70s drum machines and obscure 80s Casio synths. It’s definitely a nighttime record, it’s happening in the dark, songs that I hope can be cathartic in a time like this and what most likely lies ahead.
Matt Koenig is a Pittsburgh-born, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, who has navigated his career as a completely independent act, never signing to a label. Citing a diverse and eclectic array of artists as influences, including the likes of of Tame Impala, The Beatles, Parcels, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, and Daft Punk, Koenig views his work with his (mostly) solo-recording project The Undercover Dream Lovers as bridge between different eras, combining themes and techniques from the past with those pointing the way toward out future.
Interestingly, without the machinery of a label, Koenig has built up a profile for himself and his work: so far, tracks like “Good Luck” and “Come Home” have gone viral — with “Good Luck” amassing over 11 million streams and charting on the Canadian andUS Viral 50 lists, and “Come Home” amassing over 14 million streams, landing on the New Music Friday playlist and the US Viral 50. Additionally, Koenig’s work has appeared in a number of TV shows, including VICE’s Fuck That’s Delicious, NBC’s Good Girls and ABC’s Whiskey Cavalier. Additionally, Fender featured Koenig on their Instagram story.
Koenig’s Undercover Dream Lovers full-length debut It’s All In Your Head is slated for a February 2020 release. Recorded at Koenig’s Los Angeles-based home studio, the album features a collaboration with Dent May. Interestingly, the album’s first single, album opening track “A Way Out” is centered around a disco-influenced groove, shimmering synth arpeggios and Koenig’s plaintive vocals. And while seemingly drawing from dance floor friendly sounds like Tame Impala, Neon Indian, Oracular Spectacular-era MGMT and theBee Gees among others, the track also reveals some (subtly) ambitious songwriting, with the intention of being part of an energized, ass-shaking live show.
Directed By Otium, the recently released video follows Koenig on a wild night and day that includes strange happenings, a chance, seductive meeting with co-star Michelle Saur, a fight that leaves Koenig’s character with an enormous black eye. Throughout the video has the feel and tone of a drunken fever dream with odd imagery and events that barely make sense — but are taken with a c’est la vie sort of acceptance.
Initially formed as Bad Vibes, the rapidly rising San Diego-based psych rock act Drug Hunt, comprised of Rory Morison (guitar), Jason Michael Myers (guitar, vocals), Nick Sinutko (keys, vocals), Jordan “Fnord” Searls (bass, vocals) and Ryan Schilawaski (percussion, vocals) released their Daniel Cervantes, Jordan Andreen and band co-produced self-titled EP through Blind Owl earlier this year. Centered around a seemingly vintage sound that meshes elements of post-punk, psych rock and British hard rock and early metal, the self-titled, four song EP is a concept effort that finds the band confronting ritualized power structures.
The EP’s latest single slow-burning, doom metal meets psych rock dirge, “The Blood” is centered around a dusty, analog production, fuzzy power chords, tons of feedback and distortion, a forceful and driving rhythm section, some blistering and dexterous solos and soulful Jim Morrison-like howls andcrooning — and while inevitably drawing some sonic comparisons to The Doors, Black Sabbath, Steppenwolf and others, the brooding and expansive song is the band’s examination of the universal belief in creation and divine intervention, inspired by the band’s own journeys to the source of religious and spiritual ideologies. And yet the song feels ominous and foreboding, as though evil spirits and doom are lurking right around the corner.
Last month, I wrote about the Chicago-based psych rock act Lucille Furs, and as you may recall, the act comprised of Patrick Tsotsos, Nick Dehmlow, Brendan Peleo- Lazar, Trevor Newton Pritchett and Constantine Hastalis initially formed in the Logan Square section of Chicago and in a relatively short period of time, the band added themselves to a growing list of attention-grabbing indie acts from the Chicagoland area, thanks in part to a sound that borrows liberally from the likes of The Zombies,West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, Temples, Love, Diane Coffee, Charles Bradley and others. Interestingly, since their formation, half the band has relocated to Los Angeles, and as the band mentions, listeners will likely hear the sounds of their new home within some of their work.
Recently pushed back to a March 15, 2019 release through Requiem Pour Un Twister Records, Lucille Furs’ forthcoming sophomore album Another Land was written back in September 2017 and was recorded direct to tape before being completed at Treehouse Records. Rather than being topical, the album’s material is rooted in the surreal and esoteric — perhaps sin a way to aim at the timeless. The bouncy early 60s-inspired stomper “Paint Euphrosyne Blue,” was centered around jangling guitars, twinkling organs and infectious and soaring hook that recalled The Monkees and The Doors. And while a perfect soundtrack for a road trip, the band noted that the song referenced the goddess of mirth, with the song being about the human need to adapt to the point of becoming unoriginal.
AnotherLand‘s latest single is the shimmering Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles and The Turtles “Happy Together“-like “All Flowers Before Her” and much like its predecessor, the song is centered around a bouncy and buoyant hook and lysergic, 60s vibes — but with a blazing guitar solo and a subtly modern touch.
Describing themselves as five dickheads from Melbourne, Australia‘s real Wild West, the suburban town of Werribee, the up-and-coming garage rock quintet Auntie Leo & The Backstabbers, comprised of Dillon Melita (vocals, guitar, harmonica), Kole Karavias (guitar), Cameron McNish (bass), Marcus Melita (drums) and Dean Zitter (keys, percussion) can trace their origins to two rather serendipitous but very real events — exhausted from being kept awake all night by a mutual friend watching the classic Western The Good, The Bad and The Ugly at full volume, the band unintentionally formed when a misplaced tobacco pouch accidentally left on the roof of their car an later found again on the side of Great Ocean Road on their way home wound up becoming the inspiration for their first demo, “Choice Blues.”
Since then, the band released their critically applauded Wet Brain EP, which they supported with opening spots for Amyl & The Sniffers, Regurgitator, Tired Lion, Hiatus Kaiyote’s Nai Palm, Drunk Mums, Mesa and The Bennies, as well as a set at Melbourne Music Week. Building upon a growing profile, the members of Auntie Leo & The Backstabbers recently released the “Roaches”/”Down” 7 inch, which they’ll support with their first ever headlining national tour of Australia. “Roaches,” the A side single is a sleazy surf rock meets garage rock meets psych rock track that sounds as though it could have been released in 1964 — while simultaneously inspired by JOVM mainstays Crocodiles. Centered by jangling guitar chords, a propulsive rhythm and a stomping and a dance floor friendly hook, the song was inspired by an ill-fated trip to the beach in which an unusually high volume of dead cockroaches washed ashore and ruined what had been an otherwise nice day. The B side “Down,” is a bluesy stomper, centered by wailing harmonica, and looping 12 bar blues guitar. Sonically “Down” bears an uncanny resemblance to L.A. Woman-era The Doors but with a sleazy, boozy air — just how I love it.
Comprised of Patrick Tsotsos, Nick Dehmlow, Brendan Peleo- Lazar, Trevor Newton Pritchett and Constantine Hastalis, the up-and-coming psych rock act Lucille Furs initially formed in Logan Square section of Chicago — and in a short period of time, the band added themselves to a growing list of attention-grabbing psych rock and indie rock acts in the Chicagoland area, thanks in part to a sound that borrows liberally from the likes of The Zombies,West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, Temples, Love, Diane Coffee, Charles Bradley and others. Since the band’s formation, half the band has relocated to Los Angeles, and as the band notes, listeners will likely hear those influences within their work.
Slated for a February 15, 2019 release through Requiem Pour Un Twister Records, Lucille Furs’ forthcoming sophomore album Another Land was written back in September 2017 and was recorded direct to tape before being completed at Treehouse Records. Rather than being topical, the album’s material is rooted in the surreal and esoteric — perhaps sin a way to aim at the timeless. Interestingly, the album’s latest single is the bouncy and stomping “Paint Euphrosyne Blue,” a track that sonically sound as though it could have been released sometime between 1964-1968 as the track is centered around jangling guitars, twinkling organs and an infectious and soaring hook that recalls The Monkees, The Doors and others. And while arguably being a perfect road trip song, the band notes that the song references the goddess of mirth — and that the song is about the human need to adapt to the point of becoming unoriginal. It’s about chasing Van Gogh’s depression because it makes you feel like a better painter. So at its core the song is rooted in a bitter yet hilarious irony.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve written a bit about the renowned San Francisco, CA-based psych rockers Wooden Shjips, and as you may recall, although the act is currently comprised of founding member and primary songwriter Ripley Johnson (guitar, vocals), Dusty Jermier (trumpet, bass), Omar Ahsanuddin (drums) and Nash Whalen (organ), the band can trace their origins back to 2003 when Johnson started the band with the intention of finding a group of non-musicians and creating music with them, centered by the underlying idea that untrained musicians would have a different outlook on what music is and how it’s played, essentially bringing something fresh to to the table in a fashion reminiscent of the garage rockers of the early 60s, the Velvet Underground and 70s punk rockers did. As the story goes, Dusty Jermier, one of the longest tenured members of the band was originally recruited to play saxophone, an instrument he had never picked up before while members of earlier iterations of the band frequently had such a lack of interest in playing live for anyone that the band didn’t bother looking for gigs.
Eventually, the band settled to its current lineup but with different intentions. Johnson, who’s a fan of largely impenetrable albums and arcane, small-press poetry books was fascinated by the idea of books that went unread or became largely out of favor and/or of print that were rediscovered by collectors or some bored critic looking for something different, and praised for being lost and under-appreciated gems. The band had purposely set out to make obscure albums that Johnson envisioned randomly leaving in libraries, thrift store margin bins and on park benches. Eschewing a MySpace page, a Soundcloud account or a website with MP3 downloads, the band gave away a limited pressing of 300 copies of their debut 10 inch vinyl album, paying the shipping costs for out of town requests — and unexpectedly, the album received some rave reviews, including one from Rolling Stone, which raised the album’s cachet and the band’s profile, thanks in part to a sound that the band has described as “a minimal, droning kind of garage band-influenced psychedelia with a noticeable 60s Krautrock influence” with some comparing the band to Suicide, The Velvet Underground, The Doors, Soft Machine and Guru Guru.
Building upon the growing buzz surrounding them, the members of Wooden Shjips released 2006’s “Dance California”/”Clouds Over the Earthquake,” to mark the centennial of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which sold enough for the band to break even on their investment, and “Summer of Love 2007,” a single inspired by groups, who worked to make the world the kind of place they wanted to live in, like the Diggers, a local anarchist collective that founded the first Free Store and served free meals in Golden State Park to any and all comers, and the proceeds from the single went to the charitable foundation Food Not Bombs. Adding to a growing profile, the band’s second, real gig found them opening for the psych rock legend Roky Erickson.
The band’s self-produced and self-recorded full-length debut was recorded in the band’s rehearsal space, using a half-inch eight-track console that Jermier found, making the album a strictly analog affair aimed at getting high-quality and high-fidelity on an extremely low budget. Some tracks were layered-up demos while others were live studio jams with drum parts adding later, since they only had two tracks of the drums and no way to keep instruments from bleeding into each other noisily. But despite — or perhaps because of its DIY fashion, the album was released to critical applause that lead to the “Loose Lips”/”Start to Dreaming” 7 inch released by Sub Pop Records. Since then, the band has released three more full-length albums, 2009’s Dos, 2011’s West, 2013’s Back to Land and two compilations 2008’s Volume 1 and 2010’s Volume 2 — and they’ve managed this while the band’s Johnson has been busy with his acclaimed side project Moon Duo, with Sanae Yamada that has released four full-length albums and one EP. Interestingly, V, the Bay Area-based psych rock band’s fifth full-length album and first album in over five years, finds the band reportedly expanding upon their sound while lightening the overall vibes, with the material being decidedly laid back, almost summery jams.
Written last summer, Johnson has publicly said that he has viewed the material as a necessary antidote to the pervasive political anxiety and apocalyptic panic of American life; in fact, as Johnson says in press notes,“We had huge forest fires just outside of Portland and there was intense haze and layers of ash in the city. I was sitting on my porch every evening, watching ash fall down like snow, the sky looking like it was on fire. It was an apocalyptic feeling. Summer in Portland is usually really chill and beautiful, and we were working on a ‘summer record,’ but the outside world kept intruding on my headspace.” V., a graphic representation of the Peace sign, seemed apt to an album focused on the power of peace, beauty and resistance. The music is a balm against the noise and negativity.”
V’s first single ““Staring at the Sun” featured a shimmering guitar pop sound with a steady groove reminiscent of Buffalo Springfield‘s “For What It’s Worth” and Psychic Ills‘ Inner Journey Out, and “Red Line,” its shoegazer rock meets classic psych rock-inspired follow up single may strike listeners and fans as a bit of return to form, as it features a hypnotic groove — while much like its predecessor, emphasizing slowing, down and pressing the reset button in a world gone absolutely mad. The album’s latest single is the twangy, Buffalo Springfield and Neil Young and Crazy Horse-like “Already Gone” — with a subtle twist to the proceedings, twinkling synths reminiscent of Who Are You-era The Who; but regardless of its influences, it’s the perfect road trip song, as it possesses an overwhelmingly optimistic view, centered on the possibility of new adventures, new friends, of transformation, of being lost and found within the double lines. Unsurprisingly, the recently released video begins with the band’s Johnson getting his bike to ride to the band’s studio space on a glorious day — much like today here in New York — to meet the rest of the band. And of course, they play some hackeysack together — because they’re hippies. But all is right and glorious: bullshitting with your friends and playing music is necessary in a world that’s mad. It’s sometimes the only thing you’ve got.