A Beginner's Guide to Castle Face Records

Hive Five: Our Daily Listicle of Musical Musings

Next month marks the 45th anniversary of the classic Velvet Underground & Nico album with a whole bunch of reissue options. But we're most excited about Thee Oh Sees' John Dwyer and his Castle Face label, who have put together a full album of covers to celebrate called Velvet Underground & Friends.

Like the Velvets, each artist handpicked by Dwyer shares the tastemaker’s DIY aesthetic and penchant for analog recording. Yet all bring something different to the table. Working to define psychedelic rock on their own terms, Castle Face artists tend to incorporate whatever organ flourish or jangly guitar suits their demented sound best. And yes, they are truly demented. We’ve picked out five essential Castle Face albums that every flower punk should have in his or her back pages.

1. The Mallard, Yes on Blood

As we tipped a few weeks ago, the Mallard are newest addition to the Castle Face clan and released a debut that sounds like diving head first into the Jefferson Airplane’s rabbit hole, thus making them a great place to start. This fourpiece doesn’t sing, they yelp and whoop like banshees. And they love playing tricks on their listeners: Just when you think you’ve settled into a groove, frontwoman Greer McGettrick kicks up the tempo and sends the whole mess careening off the rails. She’s built up a rabid following thanks to a swagger that’s half parts terror and gleeful abandon, so it’s little wonder that these upstarts frequently open for Thee Oh Sees.

2. Ty Segall, Ty Segall

A year before he perfected his lo-fi sludge on 2010’s Melted, Segall was slow dancing with demons on this early self-titled album, released on Castleface. No one does spook punk better than Segall, who’s never sounded more convulsive or possessed than he does here. Like a pit bull flashing its pearly white teeth, Segall makes a being a creep seem downright lovely. On “Watching You” he warns the listener of impending doom, though it’s unclear who should be scared of whom.

3. The Fresh & Onlys, The Fresh & Onlys

The Fresh & Onlys broke out in 2010, and rightly so thanks to their beach blanket anthem, “Summer of Love.” Incredibly catchy and stripped of all pretense, the Fresh & Onlys shows frontman Tim Cohen at his most evocative, spellbound by love yet frozen with doubt. “The feelings in my heart are painted flowers / When the raindrops fall, they wash away the colors,” he swoons on “Feelings in My Heart.” This is pop music for dreamers, drifters, or both.

4. Blasted Canyons, 2nd Place

These goth ne’er do wells are striking out for the beach and nothing, not even a crushing wall of distortion, is going to stop them. “All I wanna do, all I wanna do is get high with you,” they groan on “Get High.” 2nd Place is their second Castle Face effort and our only advice at this point is: Buckle your seatbelts.

5. Thee Oh Sees, Sucks Blood

A few weeks ago, we broke down Thee Oh Sees in very specific ways, but if you want to just focus on one record for now, check out their mellow come-down album, Sucks Blood. Years before they kicked out the jams, Dwyer’s band was crafting slow burners like “You Make Me Sick, Oh Yeah” and “Iceberg,” a haunting ode to the Velvet Underground’s “Candy Says.” For a group better known for serving up heaps of jittery scuzz, Sucks Blood is a striking departure that gets more surprising with every listen.

Velvet Underground & Friends arrives November 6.

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