Ghost of Garage: Lo-fi psych from the Bay

If you like your psychedelia served in analog grit and puddles of reverb, the fresh output of the San Francisco underground should definitely pique your interest. Recent months have seen releases by three of the scene's current heavyweights ... Thee Oh Sees have a new full-length split on Tomlab/Castle Face, Sic Alps have compiled two year's worth of vinyl/cassette output for Animal Disguises' A Long Way Around to a Shortcut, and The Hospitals have just unveiled their latest LP, Hairdryer Peace. Though the sound quality and overall technique may vary, the three outfits share a common aesthetic: obliterating pop/rock approach with high trim levels and distorted disorientation. I've written reviews for each of the releases, which I've listed below in order of decreasing fidelity:

Artist: The Hospitals
Album: Hairdryer Peace
Label: self-released

In "BPPV," singer/guitarist Adam Stonehouse best conveys the sentiments of Hairdyer Peace by decreeing "I feel dizzy, I feel stoked." If that frame of mind sounds enticing to you, then the new LP from the Hospitals will do the trick nicely.

Stonehouse and co. aren't concerned about such eccentricities as being a tight band - their intentions are much more sadistic than that.

Fidelity has been forsaken completely here, with melodies and rhythms sounding like they were assembled from the remnants of a weathered punk rock mixtape that spent some time in the washing machine.

The success with lo-fidelity is the complication that it automatically presents the listener. It's confusing, a literal mess of garbled guitar and tin can drums with a bucket of maxed-out noise thrown on top. It may sound like a trainwreck, but it's an intentional one . It happens during "Animals Look Natural," when the noise drops out to lonely vocals, quickly descending back into the fray to a devilish effect.

It doesn't really take any steps toward depolarizing those that are immediately turned off to this sort of dumptruck noise rock and those that revel in it, which is the main problem with justifying music like this. But the bottom line remains: this shit is bizarre, will probably make you uncomfortable and confused. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Is it?

Artist: Sic Alps
Album: A Long Way Around to a Shortcut
Label: Animal Disguise
San Francisco duo Mike Donovan and Matthew Hartman have been bruising the psychedelic scene for a couple years now, channeling the ghost of garage rock through guitar jangle and overloaded amplifiers both in the live context and through limited-edition recordings. Their debut full-length was released in 2006, but was recorded with the original lineup of Donovan, Adam Stonehouse (The Hospitals) and Bianca Sparta (Erase Errata). Stonehouse and Sparta left shortly thereafter, allowing Hartman to pick up the slack and maintain the vintage noise-psych vibe, recording a string of limited 7"s, 12"s and cassettes as a duo in 2006 and 2007. Each of these have long been snatched up, leaving Detroit-based Animal Disguise records to provide a CD compilation of the band's analog output over the past two years. Check the back of the disc for a track breakdown of which songs belong to which release, beginning with their most recent recording, the Description of the Harbor 12" on Awesome Vistas. The album starts out with a damaged cover of the Strapping Fieldhands' song, moving through uppity garage-pop structures before dipping back into paranoid noise collage and fuzzy nostalgia. I'd prefer to hear these tracks on the analog formats for which they were intended, but hearing them at all is an acceptable substitute. At least I won't have to get off the couch to flip “Strawberry Guillotine” over to the B-side …

Artist: Ulaan Kohl
Album: I
Label: Soft Abuse
Few figures in the music underground can boast such a consistently compelling discography as that of L.A.-based multi-instrumentalist Steven R. Smith. Since the mid '90s, Smith has been involved with a revolving door of monikers and associations, from his solo recordings under his own name and Hala Strana, to his involvement with the Jewelled Antler Collective and Thuja, to his early efforts with haze-punk outfit Mirza. I is the beginning of an ambitious new project and a brand new moniker for Smith, the first installment of a three-part suite broadly entitled, "Ceremony." The record comes hot on the heels of Owl, the 11th full-length release under his own name (not to mention a spectacular new Thuja LP put out by Important earlier this year), and the first to showcase Smith's vocal talents. On I, the theme is much more dense, distorted, and aggressive than much of Smith's previous output, with organ and rhythm guitar providing the foundation for Smith's crackling riffs, often touching on Matt Valentine's lunar blues, or the noisier side of Charalambides' Western noodling. All told, I emerges as another notch in the belt for Smith's entrancing catalog – a successful amalgamation of what he does best, melding timeless soundscapes with stark psychedelia. Be on the lookout for II, which is scheduled for release this Fall.