Monday, June 13, 2016

Artist: Gar Gar

So yeah. There's this band. It's called Gar Gar. And it's fronted by a mutant. He's half human. The other half is gar. As in, long ass fish, with long ass teeth. See http://gargar1.bandcamp.com/.

From the band's “Mutant,” we learn that Gar Gar just happened to mutate before the rest of us did. We all will – mutate. If we're lucky. Others will die in the alien attack. Some will never adapt at all. Radiation, UV rays, nuclear fallout. But survivors will share one thing in common. We'll all be gar-people. Singing songs about the mutant who saved us. Our favorite mutant war hero: Gar Gar.

It's entertaining as hell, and it's not even a concept album. A significant number of “normal” songs flesh out a complementary narrative – the dangers of contemporary society – and it's here that Gar Gar brings to mind the B-52s. The comparison is instructive: Fred Schneider could not have gotten as lyrically buck-nutty without the guitar riffs driving “Rock Lobster” and “Private Idaho.” Here too, it is Gar Gar's expressive guitar riffs that tie disparate elements into distinctive bows.
Along the way, Gar Gar takes you on a tour of guitar genres notable for their riffsmanship. Thirty seconds into Gar Gar's self-titled album, we hear the first strands of surf. With Joey Santiago on the brain, I'm reminded that early on, the Pixies were experimental too. Also, on “Meximelt666,” we get surfy tremolo picking a la Dick Dale's “Miserlou.”

“Psycho Billy” had me investigating whether it was psychobilly. I typed psychobilly into Spotify, hoping for a playlist grouped around the genre, and luckily spotted a Reverend Horton Heat song ranked highly in the search. After confirming that Horton Heat was an exemplar of the genre, I revisited my favorite album of theirs, It's Martini Time. And comparing that album's lead riff, with the spectacular riff on Gar Gar's “Psycho Billy,” it seems that Gar Gar's song-naming function is fully formed.

But the Horton Heat comparison nets additional similarities in that they both bring the funny. The Reverend did it with gems like “That's Showbiz” and, better yet, “Cowboy Love,” a song from '96 that boasted the lyrical hook (in a love song), “It's interracial cowboy homo kind of love.” The fact that Gar Gar's funny can sometimes take the form of pop culture listicles – “Just 1 Drink,” “Meximelt666” and “Ouachita” come to mind – add weight to the B-52s comparison (whose songs like “Funplex” and “Channel Z” do the same). It also places Gar Gar in the province of humor-included experiments such as my beloved Cornbugs (“Clown Smile – Death Warmed Over”). Like Gar Gar, the success of Cornbugs rested largely on spoken word (the singular vocal talents of horror actor Bill Moseley) and guitar (virtuoso shredder Buckethead).

Generally speaking then, a band can get by on spoken word and humor. It can even do so while fronted by a mutant gar. But to pull it off, it's gotta have an ace on the six-strings. And Gar Gar comes replete – with riffs to spare.

*** The author of this review, Leonard Fisher, plays the taiko for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Monday, September 14, 2015

Music Review: Nick B.

Artist: Nick B. 
Music reviewed: http://nickb.bandcamp.com/album/unexpected-thoughts-welcome
https://soundcloud.com/713nickb
Links: http://www.713nickb.com/
https://www.facebook.com/713NickB/

The end of Crystal Castles marked the beginning of two promising solo careers. Both Ethan Kath and Alice Glass released singles sounding eerily similar to Crystal Castles output. What better way to peel away Crystal Castles fans? Put less charitably, their musical marriage dissolved, they plotted to kidnap the kids. Accusations flew: Kath can get a female singer anytime he wants, as he did with “Frail”; while Glass can bum a musician/producer from HEALTH, and bring us “Stillbirth.” But to my way of thinking, this question was settled long ago with “Vanished.” The song was light, so Alice couldn't lay claim to some dark aesthetic. And the lyrics were Van She's, so neither could take credit for those. And yet Kath elevated the source material to pop gold via a series of “bings” that can only be likened to elevators and '80s department stores.

For the same reason, Houston-based rapper Nick B also wins. Nick B fascinates by deep-diving a diversity of sources for intriguing samples and production. And since he's not confined to rapping about crime or drugs like a DMX or Clipse, Nick B can follow the music on lyrical tangents. Is Nick B rapping over Raisi K the Raisin Man's Pagliacci-inspired production? Then he uses it as an opportunity to rap about being a sad clown. Rapping atop Jon Wayne's kung fu movie-sampling “You Don't Want It”? Then Nick B can bring battle raps like “Fruity ass niggas is Fanta / Yeah you pop, but easily just fizz out.” Nick B even shows off his softer side on slow jam “The Reasons” (“Make you think you little crazy / To love this lady / And then have a baby”), and showcases his lovely hook-singing on “Prepared (Prod. By The Deli).”
But even beyond using a diversity of production to point in new directions, sometimes it's just nice to be able to appeal to niche audiences with things like kung fu and video games – the latter of which get the Nick B treatment on “Work” and “The Message (Prod. By JonWayne).” There's a danger in mixtapes though. Rapping over established producers like Knxwledge can work wonders. But it's a tricky business trying to rap over a producer as idiosyncratic as Flying Lotus. Very few can do it. Kendrick Lamar earned kudos for doing so over Kamasai Washington. But even Jay Z fell short of topping Jim Morrison on the Doors-sampling “Takeover.”

Nick B's voice can occasionally break high (as on “Contempt”), and can flow without enough tempo changes. But these things can be forgiven on the strength of raps like: “Hold up / 'Bout 9, 9-10 civilians / Wanna talk brilliant / But don't do a damn thing” (“Playing Games (Prod. By dpeee)”). And Nick B found the formula for minimizing these issues on “Art of Fighting Ft. Suicide Scotty (Prod. By Illingsworth).” Just like the Jacka, whose woozy flow carried the risk of getting stale if uninterrupted, Nick B changes up his flow by including guest rappers like Suicide Scotty. And when he does so over musically memorable production by Illingsworth, Nick B's "Art of Fighting" nearly hits the highs of the Jacka's “45.”

By featuring guest rappers, and continuing to tailor his fine lyrical content to tantalizingly diverse producers and samples, Nick B can remain prolific and we'll never get enough. In other words, if you didn't think I Love Lucy could be turned into rap, you haven't heard Nick B.

*** The author of this review, Marvin Freeman, plays the tan-tan for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Artist: Trash Gendar

Artist: Trash Gendar
Review by Jessi Roti – @JessiTaylorRO
Album: Mass Canon
Links: https://www.facebook.com/trashgendarband
http://trashgendar.bandcamp.com/album/mass-canon

Brooklyn-based Trash Gendar describes its debut EP, Mass Canon, as “a freefall into the murky depths of musical, sci-fi odyssey.” That’s dead-on. Sonically, elements of folk, bluegrass, indie rock, and electronica blend together to make a surprising, eerily haunting, but totally enjoyable experience.

The EP unfolds with a slightly vaudeville “Inimitable Touch: Circus Horrificus,” which sounds just as it’s titled. The trippy folk turns into rushing indie rock, with a down-home feel that’s inexplicable for a band hailing from the east coast. Entering the fun house, “Horrificus” may lead you to run to the emergency exit, but you’ll feel relieved when you don’t ever find it.

“Transmission 1.1013” and “Tunnels” reflect a Dirty Projectors-like exploration into minimalism. Thematically-arranged, “Tunnels” seems to be the turning point in Trash Gendar’s journey. A poignant reflection, it features the line, “You are so dangerous. And I am not dangerous, but I wish I was.
A second “Inimitable Touch,” this one titled, “Moss Canyon,” boasts the abstract chant, “Sleep again. Pull back your arms and spill your heart” amidst other incantations shrouded in foggy distortion.

But realization is reached in “And Then 30k Years Happened/Desperation Seagull,” the most raw and rocking song on the EP. It’s the epic climax, the part of the odyssey where our hero(es) are changed. This notion of being “free” is exemplified by the rush of the acoustic guitar against the expansive drone of the electric and the pounding of the drums.

Trash Gendar’s ambition seems satiated at the EP’s closer, “Spin.” Earnest and poignant, it’s a slow-burn, like crackling embers. It’s sexy and confident, but in an understated, almost vulnerable way. The listener’s “odyssey” with Trash Gendar ends, but really it’s just beginning.

Mass Canon is ambitious for a debut, sure. It’s abstract and maybe buried underneath too many metaphors, sure. But its complexities are exciting, rather than being so simple it verges on boring. If you listen, there’s a story worth being told. You just have to be willing to enjoy the ride.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Artist: The Deadly Vipers

Review by Jessi Roti – @JessiTaylorRO
Artist: The Deadly Vipers
Album: Ouroboros
Links: https://www.facebook.com/deadlyvipers.detriot
http://deadlyvipers-detroit.bandcamp.com/album/ouroboros

It seems to be the witching hour for female musicians. While there’s a high demand, there’s still this need for women to prove themselves – especially in rock music. Being “heavy” enough or being truly authentic is constantly questioned, even if it’s being questioned subconsciously. So, how can true musicians, who also happen to be female, keep from breaking the “spell?” By creating something absolutely fearless, like The Deadly Vipers did on their latest release, Ouroboros.

The Detroit-based, all-female outfit packs a Joan Jett-like snarl across 10 tracks. Booming with more aggression than angst, there’s no prim or polish when telling someone to “shut the fuck up,” talking about going to the graveyard, or being bored to the core.
Burrowing itself somewhere between psychedelic and grunge-riddled garage punk, the girl gang seem to be plugged into a punching bag, time machine rather than some amplifiers. The brilliant, psych-instrumental, “Deja Blu” is so pure, so creepily hallucinogenic in the best way psych should be, it’s impossible to ignore. There’s an obvious understanding of rock history, with nuances garnered from talks of the shaman similar to The Doors, to The Runaways, and even a slight Soundgarden feel on the introduction of “Evolution Stone.”

Each track sounds like its own announcement, or pronouncement. “Encountering the 5th Kind” borders on a rallying cry if sang through a megaphone. “Negative Doldrums” and “Yada Yada” both employ anthemic chants reminiscent of The Ramones’ seminal, “Hey-ho, let’s go!”

In their band bio, they write, “The Deadly Vipers carry their crusade through waves of thundering beats performed by a group of kick ass chicks who are intensely dedicated to the sound.” The sound knows no gender and rock and roll knows no rules. However, if the crusades are going to continue for women in rock music, I’m pulling for these kickass chicks carrying the torch.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Artist: Zapruder Point

Artist: Zapruder Point
Links: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Zapruder-Point/365328556980817
http://zapruderpoint.bandcamp.com/

Although there are vocal similarities, the progression from REO Speedwagon to fun. to Zapruder Point, has been marked by an evolution towards dignity – that is, away from the cheese that overfilled its birthing suite. Indeed, with song lengths (short) and titles (charming) recalling Sufjan Stevens, not to mention a melodic reference to “Tiny Dancer”-vintage Elton John (Get On With It), Zapruder Point's Clicks & Whistles is a remarkable assemblage paced by acoustic guitar and memorable for its compelling harmonies (e.g. The Creak of the Landline).

Nearly every song includes a hook-worthy turn of phrase: “I keep ‘em drawn all summer long” (The Spokesperson for Winter), “People aren't pixels” (Bury the Lead), “Mapping out the sound of letting you down” (Cannon (College)), “But it's not a reason to stay” (Come for the People, Stay for the Buildings), “This has to stop” (This Has to Stop), “Get on with it” (Get On With It).
But lyrically, it is “The Disgraced Politician's Former Mistress Tells All” that reaches the potential hinted at by these hooks. The song is poetic primarily because it doesn't have to be: It's poetry in its conception. Specifically, the track offers a subtle slice of life from a relatively under-explored point of view: that of a politician's former mistress. After establishing the logistical arrangement (“They were always nice places / It was never by the hour / a half-dozen Sheratons / a handful of Trump Towers / ... so he’d order up a bottle / while I hopped in the shower”), Zapruder Point achieves poignancy by finding parallels in the most divergent of circumstances, “If I stood towards the back / they’d let me hear him speak / His promises would echo so / my heart would skip a beat / I preferred his anecdotes / from growing up in the south / and getting out.”

In Clicks & Whistles, we also find instrumental flourish – i.e. This Has to Stop's personality-laden guitar solo (esp. 1:33) and Do You See the Rifles' song-defining sounds/strings (at 1:07) – as well as samples adding texture, e.g. Exterior House's mash-up of “I'm not here to make friends” reality show clips. These combine perfectly on album-opener Cannon (College), which has fuzzy radio underpinnings giving way to noisy but melodic guitar-wash (at :58).

Simply put, Zapruder Point are an engaging lot. Their considerable talent and dynamic song-writing make them the natural successor to Frightened Rabbit.

*** The author of this review, Curtis McDonald, plays the tambor huacana for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Totally Wrecked

Artist: Totally Wrecked
Links: https://www.facebook.com/totallywreckedmusic
http://totallywrecked.bandcamp.com/

Devolved from the music of the Spaceshits, Totally Wrecked is garage rock incarnate who last year released the four-volume series of EPs, Garbage Tapes. Unlike that defunct Canadian act, who at least had bass, backing vocals, claps and hand-percussion, Totally Wrecked is a duo featuring only guitar and drum. So the difference between the bands is roughly the same as that separating Mike Patton's Mr. Bungle and Tomahawk projects -- namely, The Spaceshits and Mr. Bungle are interesting but innocuous, and Tomahawk is dense and dangerous.
Of 17 songs spread across EPs with names like Damaged Gods, Blue Vomit, Trunk Dank and Wasteoidz, the drummer bashes it out to swells of distortion with a vocal howl that's visceral. The lyrics are mostly indecipherable; so I'll simply say it's hard for even great bands to relate or be memorable without words. Leonard Cohen, world famous for a song called "Hallelujah," is the same man who slayed us with the lines "give me crack / anal sex / take the only tree that's left / stuff it up the hole in your culture" and "destroy another fetus now / we don't like babies anyhow." Even those lyrics would endear us further to the garage gods that are Totally Wrecked.

TW manages to write as well as whatever garage band the indie press is sucking off at the moment, and they present it cloaked in the marketing anarchy favored by Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All -- their faces are either wrapped in the American flag or covered by a rubber skull mask, which looks ominous atop a Mexican poncho (same effect as skeleton mask/Hawaiian shirt in Oliver Stone's Savages); and their album art features candid nudity with the high-fashion aesthetic favored by Terry Richardson.

We get some nice riffs on Damaged Gods' "Skunk Beach," Wasteoidz's "Play Dumb" and Blue Vomit's "Blackhawk." Standout bands of the subgenre always feature a vocalist who strangles the best out of his vocal effects, and Totally Wrecked is no different. The vocalist makes effects his bitch on songs like Blue Vomit's "War Cry," which is screaming garage-blues music that will have you ditching the Black Keys and its many knockoffs.

Totally Wrecked's Bandcamp page states that they're "officially done with punk music." God I hope not.

*** The author of this review, Nathan Ellis, plays the talking drum for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Toofunchild

Artist: Toofunchild
Links: https://www.facebook.com/TOOFUNCHILD
Toofunchild.Bandcamp.com

Toofunchild features layers upon layers of loosely structured vocals -- two lead singers across multitudinous vocal tracks -- in a way that recalls the darker side of Modest Mouse. For those of you who don't know, behind each Modest Mouse radio single lurked something vocally vicious, as on MM's "Invisible." Because some would prefer a comparison not tangentially related to the softbatch "Float On," you could instead liken Toofunchild to the orchestrated anarchy of Titus Andronicus, especially with TA's vocal choruses on The Monitor's "A More Perfect Union." (I'd name-check Thursday, but screamo doesn't work so well without the emo, and this type of vocal interplay falls short the few times it's used here.)
"Ice Temple" is the perfect album-opener and exemplar of TFC's sound. During the song's first-half, the lead singer's tone, melody, phrasing and harmony are rivaled only by the complementary contingent of drums and guitar. The two vocal leads are well-employed on "Cappin' Tradin'." Ascending electrics (guitar and bass) are joined by uptempo vocals sung in unison, "what happens when the sun won't shine, and the rain won't fall, and the trees won't grow." The pace is skillfully halved by choppy chords that support a second unison vocal hook, "I built this house for you / And you came and tore it down."

On "Weewu," after a lone guitar introduces the song -- the riff, a drugged-out version of the already stoned "Up Around the Bend" by Creedence Clearwater Revival -- we get relatively hushed vocals, giving way to a melodic hook of "Where it came from / What his name was," followed by a drum-addled bridge from which we glean pop culture touchstones like Coca-Cola, I Dream of Jeannie and Aerosmith's "Janie's Got a Gun." (I wouldn't be able to make the rest out without a lyric sheet, but it sounded great washed down with beautiful song-ending "wa-oh.")

"Windows 3.1" adds another dimension with its placement of a mini-Moog, providing instrumental melody always welcome amid numerous male vocals. And the first half of album-closer "New Thirst Lent" has Toofunchild flexing another muscle -- namely, that it can slow-burn with the best of 'em.

Toofunchild is among the very best Chicago has to offer. Which is fortuitous, because the band's name and logo (possibly controversial?) are just as memorable.

*** The author of this review, Mike Owens, plays the surdo for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Swearwords

Artist: Swearwords
Links: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Swearwords/273879625979733
swearwordsmusic.com

Swearwords is a relentlessly poppy five-piece fronted by Neil Bhandari, who approaches Ben Kweller and Jeff Tweedy in talent and personality. Having the opportunity to review two EPs, 2011's Ration the Joy (three songs) and 2012's The Central Standard (four), we see a consistency in product that is also notable for its infectious piano punctuating savvy song structures.

The standout track is "West of Western" with Neil's expert vocal phrasing, guitarist Milan Bhandari's choppy chords-as-bridge/pre-chorus, and Susan Berch's piano climbing into "now everybody's running / now everybody's looking cool." Over both EPs, Susan and Milan demand the spotlight as they trade guitar and piano, and we end up enamored by both. They alternate, as on "Bullet Blue," which begins with a tense guitar riff, is replaced by pleasant piano, and gives way to an early-in-the-song guitar solo with classic Chicago tone.
"Austin TX" features a narrator describing without regret a relationship done gone (to Austin). It could have been written by Wilco with its chill tempo, hushed harmonies, and thoughtful lyrics like, "if we'd only eat when we're hungry / everything would taste like love / if you would've known any better / then I'd have never had any fun." At the other end of the spectrum, we get catchy barn-burner choruses on "Sleepwalker": "I'm in love and it's about time (get it right)," which are nicely set up by an always appropriate rhythm section.

"Walking is a Sport for One" introduces more tools in Swearwords' pop arsenal: Los Campesinos!-style male/female vocal interplay ("always been and it always will be"), as well as organ (instead of straight piano), both unchaining the promising pianist from her piano bench and second mic. And though I'm not sold on walking as an ostensible subject matter for a song/hook, it is the verses of "Walking" that have Swearwords sounding like the collection of irrepressible talents it is (newspaper hats; side streets sharing the silence).

On "Almost Gary," and unlike most of us, Neil is at his best when high (that is, high in the range), "don't dare compare / and don't trust what you hear / I been back in this town / for the last hundred years / would write clever verses / but they'd sound too rehearsed / threw out my pens, pages, guitars and words." With this lyric, Neil's narrator takes to task cleverness, while ending the song with a lyric that is, well, clever, "honey / no one here thinks we're funny / it's okay / I don't think they'd laugh anyway." A line like that (especially to end a song), considered in light of the whole, proves it's possible to be both clever and talented. Swearwords certainly are.

*** The author of this review, Jimmy Cole, plays the sabar for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Stolen Airplane

Artist: Stolen Airplane
Links: https://www.facebook.com/StolenAirplaneBand
http://www.reverbnation.com/stolenairplane/songs

Stolen Airplane's newest EP features intricate guitar patterns; knock-down, drag-out drumming; and the lyric, "How can you sleep at night?" ("Innocence"). Well, Stolen Airplane, with all your feral yelling and guitar wailing, I really can't! But why sleep when this rocks so hard.

Each of the EP's tracks unfold with the rock essentials firmly in grasp: high-caliber fretting and drumming, both of which add color and shape. This is a band that builds slowly towards crescendo, instead of bashing it out early and often. And since they opt to let dynamism affect their listeners, let it be said that the men of Stolen Airplane never shoot their wads too early.

Now for me, Stolen Airplane works better as the song than the band name. Songs provide context that, here, let us know we're talking about small planes. Otherwise, large planes are still in the mix, and so the thoughts conjured by the no-context band name: I hear of stolen cars but not stolen airplanes; who steals airplanes; oh yeah, terrorists.
Setting that aside, fleshed out with song lyrics, a stolen airplane works wonderfully as a metaphor for human desperation. Before reading the lyrics of "Stolen Airplane," it struck me that a two-seat airplane, stolen, would perfectly parallel a new romance. Your life was devoid of romance (or transportation or the adventure of theft); but now that you have it (in the air), you don't really know what you have (does it have enough fuel) and you're petrified it'll end badly (fall out of sky; shot down by a third party; or with pissed-off people waiting for you on the tarmac).

The actual meaning of this song seems to be closer to the desperate condition of someone suffering a terminal illness: "When you said that you were done with waiting rooms / Done with shaking hands with your own doom / We were pretty sure it wouldn’t last, wouldn’t last, fading fast / If we can start this stolen airplane / I’ll get you back before they know we’re gone." The final line further proves the suitability of the symbol: there are practical consequences to escapism, whether the escape is romance, evading treatment, or stealing airplanes.

The standout track has to be "Hero." We hear a relatively speedy churning guitar part that's selectively employed to great effect throughout the song. It would be good enough alone, but we also get an angular riff that provides a capable complement, as well as drumming that is, as always, varied and special. The reason "Hero" stands out to my ears is that the band seems to be invigorated by this, a song that's uniformly uptempo (rather than a steady build), and because the vocal is so sneeringly punk.

Stolen Airplane is showing off their chops on this EP. It's a diversity of song-writing that proves they're more than a one-trick pony. But a pony needs that one trick to make the kids' party circuit. Stolen Airplane's trick is exemplified by "Hero." (That is, unless their trick is crafting suitable metaphors no one else has thought of, because that's a pretty good trick too.)

*** The author of this review, Chris Sullivan, plays the pakhavaj for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Slow, Pioneers!

Artist: Slow, Pioneers!
Link: https://www.facebook.com/slowpioneers

The intended meaning of a band name is relatively meaningless. It's the fans who'll be supplying relevant definition. As an example, setting aside actual etymology, here's what the band name “Slow, Pioneers!” means to me: Slow the fuck down, pioneers! No need to find exotic sub-genres that don't age well (dubstep). We'll just do what's tried-and-true that much better.

With a bassist to choke a hippo [Brian Borzym, resident hippo-choker], and charismatic vocalist Eric Maly, who shades to Wilco's Jeff Tweedy (e.g. “Goodnight I Say to You”) and Blur's Damon Albarn (“Jonna Was Right” at 1:49), Slow Pioneers have already found melodic meaning in These Parts.

The standout track of this collection [of demos yet to be Kickstarted?] is “My Star,” which eclipses the Ian Brown (Stone Roses) song of same name. [Since it was the first Slow Pioneers song I heard on SoundCloud, it was so good I had to Google it to ensure it wasn't a cover.]
With sumptuous bass filling the room [I would've said “bass nectar,” but that's been so rudely co-opted by a DJ/producer guy], the memorable track features gentle, well-produced vocals cradled by expert keyboard/piano work. In this regard, one ancestral predecessor could be Alan Parsons Project's “Eye in the Sky” [come on, you like it], but Slow Pioneers can't be lumped into soft rock.

In fact, the very next SoundCloud track, “California,” is an uptempo road song that's built on Borzym's rollicking bass, with song-appropriate piano accents including a variation on Carole King/Herman's Hermits' "I'm Into Something Good" (at 1:27). Indeed they are.

Whether it be the narrator's surfing (“California”) or skating all the way to State Street (“The Details (The Sun Rises in the Heart, Too)”) or the hook of “These Parts,” which starts at :46 and doesn't end till the space invaders won, Slow Pioneers truly does it better.

*** The author of this review, Clarence Ford, plays the o-daiko for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Sheep Numbers

Artist: Sheep Numbers
Links: https://www.facebook.com/SheepNumbers
http://sheepnumbers.bandcamp.com/

When your locket is missing a piece, consider asking the girl who you hate. If you're truthful, the only reason you dislike her is that she's so different from you. So keep in mind: Opposites eventually attract, and you just might find yourselves finishing each other's sentences and performing “Let's Get Together” (to reunite your parents). In other words, Mike Martello aka “Sheep Numbers” is the Susan and the Sharon, the yin and the yang, or more appropriately, the Elliott Smith and the They Might Be Giants. [Don't believe that a band could nail such a musical range? Fire up The Canine Psychology's closing tracks: the appropriately-titled “Power Down” and “Get Up!” It's all you need to know (in addition to being a lovely bit of sonic whiplash).]

So how does Sheep Numbers pull it off? Polished production, fascinating keyboard sounds (e.g. “Me and You” at 2:32 and “Angel Song” at 1:03), and high-concept lyrical arrangements that carry the occasional impenetrable lyric. Lyrically-speaking, details tend not to be too important when the broad-brush big picture is so compelling. So, on “Change Me Up,” if “shoot me with remote controls” doesn't make sense in a vacuum, it is readily comprehensible in light of its organizing hook (“I don't want to be the same”), and is merely a trifle when compared to clever turns-of-phrase such as “This wooden boy is turning real / I don't wanna be the same.” [Also contrast the “bandages for balloons” of “If You Won't” with the cleverness that follows: “And if we break apart / I hope that we grow back someday.”]
And on “Falling Infinity,” a lyric like “I'll hold you till your jeans turn blue” simply serves to set up a thought that reverberates: “And as we sleep / you glow a color / that humankind / has yet to discover.” The stutter-step acoustic also sets up flowing chords that feature the memorable hook: “I'll draw your face with my finger, just to see you again.” And our lovesick narrator is just darling as he attempts to elaborate on how his infatuation is manifesting itself: “I got some glitter / Stuck in my eye / It made you sparkle / As you walked by / I washed it out / And looked once more / But you still sparkle / Same as before.” His romance is our new favorite pop song.

Vocally, with “Me and You,” we get a solitary, unaffected vocal performance recalling Leonard Cohen's “Famous Blue Raincoat,” Radiohead's “Faust Arp,” and even Sufjan Stevens' “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” But advance to the following song, “I'm Gonna Get You,” and the dimension exponentially multiplies with each additional vocal track. [These layers normally accompany Sheep Numbers' down-tempo numbers that draw the Elliott Smith comparison.]

Sheep Numbers is a universe unto itself. Behold the sheer entertainment of being taken through a perfectly crafted concept. A song called “Pilgrim (On the Inside)”? It's quite literal: “beneath this skin and fat / I've got a pilgrim shoes and hat.” What else would explain why he hasn't been acting like himself? He's got a 17th-century settler hiding inside his flesh. Brilliant! That's Sheep Numbers.

*** The author of this review, Craig Griffin, plays the mridangam for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Roman Flowrs

Artist: Roman Flowrs
Links: https://www.facebook.com/RomanFlowrs
http://romanflowrs.com/

To my thinking, all “Peso” needed to launch a six-million-dollar Mob was its lovingly woozy hooks (Ty Beats) and A$AP Rocky's one astonishing rhyme, “Couple A, B, C's, bad bitch double D's / Popping E, I don't give a F, told you I'm a G” (well, those things, and the viral video). My point though, is that if you put aside Rocky's subsequent fame, which elevated him to larger-than-life status, most pre-deal rappers don't, as A$AP claimed, import cocaine [importation, as distinct from dealing] or rock the Raf Simons menswear [a $620 scarf, anyone?]. Artists can sing/rap about anything they want, but we don't gotta believe it. It's just too easy to make shit up. [As an aside, hip-hoppers' claims to both the high life and treason-level crime have become the rap game's penny: functional (fitting rhyme schemes), commonly accepted (an artist who's fronting won't call out another pretender), and relatively worthless.]

So it's the promising start that has a rapper like Roman Flowrs opening his debut LP, #OneHellOfAPromo, with a conversation with his grandma (“Hello Tomorrow”). It sets the tone that this positive influence is cool with Roman keeping long hours, as long as they're spent with his musical pursuits (as opposed to something less productive). The song's hook also hints at the album's potential, boasting well-positioned bass and [auto-tuned] background vocals, e.g. at 1:09.
The track to follow, “Lake Shore Drive,” is even better, beginning with a suite of horns (Nico Segal) on what may be #OneHellOfAPromo's standout track. (Heck, it even alludes to Destiny's Child early hit, “No No No (Part 2)”!) Built on quality sing-rapping in the same way Kendrick Lamar's “Swimming Pools (Drank)” was [but with a voice akin to Big Sean's], the rhymes are among the best on the album. This is partly due to the fact that the lyrical portraits are rooted in a Chicago experience that comes across as credible.

That is, rather than being all Maybachs and capo-level crime, it's cruising Lake Shore Drive, appreciating women (“I like model chicks, but 'hood bitches' ass is meaner,” with one such chick/bitch offering, “I know you got a girl, so I don't mind being your number two”), weekend-tripping to Lake Michigan (“I was so young, I thought it was the sea”), albeit with some crime in the neighborhood, e.g. “Where I'm from, being 21 is like an urban myth”; “They robbing Santa Claus before he drops off any gifts”; “Where I'm from, the dope boys is the rock stars / But they can't cop cars without seeing cop cars.”

#OneHellOfAPromo makes for an enriching listen with musical flourishes (mostly in introduction): the funky bass of “Roun Town'” (at :03), the fascinating round of vocals on “Local $elebrity” (at :12), the sumptuous keyboard arrangement of “Into the Light” (:00-:37), and some nice guest vocals by Thomas DaVinci (“Hello Tomorrow,” “Into the Light,” and “No More”).

But it's the skit of “Flex Season II” (at 2:02) that's perhaps the finest example of a right way to do things at the “Peso” point of a rap career – that is, before the six million hits the bank account. The humorous bit has a player defending himself: “[Paraphrasing] It's not like I had to try: I pulled your girl with a six-piece! So start getting money; that way your girls won't go hungry and get disloyal.”

The sketch would be less notable if the rap industry wasn't so obsessed with the high/low mixture of riches and crime. As it is, the skit reminds that even in street-oriented rap, there are other things to talk about [think: Kanye's “The New Workout Plan”]. And it's the original voices like Roman Flowrs' that are best positioned to end up on lists of legends like that of “All for You” (at 3:24), i.e. Kanye West, Lauryn Hill, Jimi Hendrix, and Marvin Gaye.

*** The author of this review, Phillip Bryant, plays the maktoum for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: RayisDude

Artist: RayisDude
Links: https://www.facebook.com/URDudes
http://www.datpiff.com/RayisDude-Illnoize-Hockstar-Presents-PSA-Mixtape-Vol-1-mixtape.391820.html

Hockstar Presents PSA Mixtape Vol. 1 showcases the MC talents of Illnoize and RayisDude. These MCs are technically proficient with unique flows; but it's their thoughtful personas that make it natural they would share a stage.

First, RayisDude. It's been said that writers should never write about the jungle unless they've been there. When writing is not rooted in experience, it'll be a superficial rendering at best, while offering nothing particularly penetrating. For the most part, RayisDude gets this right. At his best, RayisDude rhymes in thoughtful observation about the crowd around him. On "Chicago's Got Talent," he breaks down Chicago's neighborhoods, "South side's always laced with cops / And while my neighborhood is worried about those people taking parking spots." Turning next to his cohabitants, "Allow the word to echo / But nobody's listening / They're stuck inside their headphones." And finally, to its heroes, "So I'm screaming Michael Jordan / Never God's name in vain / But he's the next best thing."
And because rappers on the way up are best measured by who they are, and whether or not they know it, it's promising that RayisDude's persona is locked down. On "Suicidal Hands," he admits to being a "middle class white boy." Fortunately, this translates to having only one foot outside the gutter (while watching Channel 9 News' Tom Skilling): While he pops a pill for breakfast, he knows it's slowly killing him; and though he'll never touch cocaine, he'd never judge others who do.

As for Illnoize, he has a voice for rap -- a cross between Andre 3000 and ASAP Rocky. And his rhymes are just as good. I'd venture a guess that the Allman Brothers sampled, never thought to boast, "Causing delusion / Crazy confusion / People need this like a blood transfusion / Colder than a bobsled luging" or "Make words so delicious like alphabet soup."

And when Illnoize isn't topping southern rockers, on "Rollin" he sets up hooks like "Different color pills / Make me feel golden / Seeing pretty lights / Flow like the ocean / Open up my eyes / And I see that I'm floatin'" with skilled verse, "I'm steadily approaching the peak of my prime...now I'm feeling inclined / To go find a girl / So we can both grind / It's only 4 am / I know I got time / But I don't have rubbers / And I don't want kids / And I don't want to tell 'em they were born like this." Same goes for "Nobody Knows Me": Illnoize prefaces the refreshingly honest hook, "You say you might have heard of me / But nobody knows me," with the credibly biographical, "Kid from the 'burbs / Never had to mask it / Only gun I ever shot was made out of plastic."

So let it be said that Illnoize and RayisDude are what's next in Chicago's alt-rap scene. (And their label, Hockstar Presents, has got its finger on the pulse.) Each is scheduled to release his own EP, but this mixtape should tide us over with its suitably chill instrumentals and ear-catching samples by the Allman Brothers and even the Bee Gees ("New York Mining Disaster 1941").

*** The author of this review, Victor Butler, plays the madhalam for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Artist: Sex With Rollercoasters

Artist: Sex With Rollercoasters
Links: http://facebook.com/sexwithrollercoasters
http://sexwithrollercoasters.com
http://youtube.com/sexwrollercoasters

With song titles averaging nine words and referencing airplane pilots, songs with male falsetto and audio clips of spoken word (2:40 of “To Darcy Merry Xmas 09 From Your Favorite Attorney”), Sex With Rollercoasters' Greatest Hits Volume II initially brought to mind Grandaddy's The Sophtware Slump. But the better preview of Sex With Rollercoasters came from its music video for “All My Friends Are Dead.” It's a funky partier who pukes rainbow-colored psychedelia that instead of ending the party, starts it anew.

I didn't get that at first. The pair of standout tracks, “Dumpster Baby” and “Oops,” are tame by comparison, and collectively constitute a template for future success. While they do not demonstrate the vocal range of “Something About An Aeroplane Pilot (:30-:38), or utilize the optimal lower vocal of “The Helicopter That Was Afraid To Fly” (1:10), “Dumpster Baby” smartly uses falsetto selectively (:57), much like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.
More than that, “Dumpster Baby” works through expressive guitar riffs and complementary drums, placing the band squarely in the indie rock lineage of Wild Nothing (“Summer Holiday”), Real Estate (“It's Real”), Beach Fossils (“Daydream”), and DIIV (“Doused”). Also paced by guitar is the more upbeat “Oops,” a story song that despite the familiar tale of adolescence having real consequences, displays a deft touch and considerable charm. Colorful keyboarding is just as effective here in backing (:07) as it is elsewhere when more prominent-in-the-mix (intro of “The Girl With The Pelican Keychain”) – this non-guitar instrumentation bringing to mind the Mates of State (“Fraud In The 80’s”) and They Might Be Giants (“Birdhouse In Your Soul”) of the musical world.

Add to that lyrical refrains like “Sunshine's never gonna find me” (1:08 of “Teens at Higher Risk”) and references such as “factory defaults” – which I took to be an apt description for the detrimental nature/nurture of a particular character's parents (2:28 of “It's Not A Cage If It Has Ribbons”) – and it becomes clear that Sex With Rollercoasters is pretty spectacular in pop mode.

But it is the funkiest section of Greatest Hits Volume II that I kept going back to – “The Girl With The Pelican Keychain” at 1:43. Putting aside its allusion to “You Keep Me Hangin' On,” which is more Kim Wilde than the Supremes and is not the only melodic reference on the album [e.g. Eartha Kitt's “Santa Baby” (“Something About An Aeroplane Pilot”) and LCD Soundsystem's “North American Scum” (“Teens at Higher Risk”)] – there's something wonderful about that lyric (“Dance to the beat of another / It keeps me hanging on”) sung over Partridge Family ba-ba-bas funneled through a progression that is more Foo Fighters' “I'll Stick Around” than “I Think I Love You.”

To try to put this memorably musical moment into words, indulge me for a second. Walking west on Chicago Avenue in Chicago away from Lake Michigan, past the Museum of Contemporary Art (where he was apparently making exotic balloons or something), I ran into Wayne Coyne – reedy thin, rock layers, large ‘fro, frontman swagger to spare. Did I talk to him? No. (How does one talk to Wayne Coyne? Even Kesha needs acid to do that.) But I felt all the funkier for the encounter. And that's what listening to the aptly-named Sex With Rollercoasters is like. Walking past Wayne Coyne.

Then puking psychedelic rainbows.

*** The author of this review, Eugene Long, plays the khol for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

LIVE! InDaze

Artist: InDaze
Link: https://www.facebook.com/InDazeNY
We were lucky enough to catch fan favorite InDaze at Freddy's in Brooklyn's Park Slope South neighborhood. The show was packed with all manner of dancing fans singing along. So what has this reviewer been missing out on by not having seen InDaze until now? Recall the best parts of 311 and Sublime, and you'll arrive at InDaze's high energy party music, powerful vocals alive with personality (Sublime's Nowell rather than 311's Hexum), and pop gems of the reggae variety liberally sprinkled with crowd-pleasing rock breakdowns. Going further, it has been said that all great bands have one thing in common: a tightly wound rhythm section. And InDaze has it in spades. So check 'em out now, before their growing fan base means cavernous music halls over not-a-bad-seat-in-the-house bars and lounges.

*** The author of this review, Aaron Perry, plays the changgo for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

LIVE! Bree Klauser

Artist: Bree Klauser
Link: https://www.facebook.com/BreeAndTheWhatevers
One of the problems I have with jazz and blues singers of old is that they don't rock the Trash Bar in Williamsburg. So we happily settled for an attractive blues/jazz/pop chanteuse, Bree Klauser, who playfully delivered lively melodies with a skilled combo of guitar/bass/drums/keys. We heard some nice bluesy guitar on My Cocaine (by another Klauser), jazzy drums on The Strain, rolling piano on Come My Way, and keyboards sounding a world music string/piano interplay on Isolde. Bree even unveiled a Christmas original that could go toe-to-toe with [read: break the monotony of] dusty standards on heavy mall rotation. Bree has a wonderful voice that can go anywhere and do anything. Her breathy instrument dances flirtatiously on jazz/blues-tinged pop songs you'll be adding to your iPod in time for Christmas shopping.

*** The author of this review, Steve Henderson, plays the ishakwe for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

LIVE! ONPOINT (0n901n7)

Artist: ONPOINT (0n901n7)
Link: https://www.facebook.com/onpointtheband
ONPOINT (0n901n7) is a massive attack of guitars, an onslaught of fingers flying over fretboards. At the middle of two lead guitarists is rock goddess Olga, bringing it all together with a skillful blend of forceful lyrics and soothing, wordless entreaties (or non-lexical vocables, if you prefer). There's beautiful symmetry in Flying Vs flanking such a lithe female front. Not knowing the etymology of the ONPOINT band name, I'll guess it references the undeniable fact that their guitars are perfectly in synch, or on point, with both each other and with their beats, which are custom-built and run through a laptop. Any guitarist worth his or her salt will tell you that precisely splitting beats becomes progressively more difficult the faster you play, and these guys are beat-splitting at blistering paces. Fortunately for us, it's all symphonic interplay, rather than fatalistic dueling where everyone loses. And they absolutely nailed a Nine Inch Nails cover ("Wish") where the guitars properly cut out so we could fully absorb the lyric, "fist fuck." ONPOINT's originals are filled to the brim with riffs, so much so that chords and cut-outs are minimally used to maximum effect. Just feet away from ONPOINT's perfectly coordinated guitar riffs, we were floored.

*** The author of this review, Fred Wood, plays the hira-daiko for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

LIVE! Devils Walk As Saints

Artist: Devils Walk As Saints
Link: https://www.facebook.com/devilswalkassaints
Devils Walk As Saints is a rock trio worth catching in either NYC or its native Washington D.C. With a drummer keeping perfect time, and a bassist as active as his fretting fingers, frontman Dave Z is not unlike Titus Andronicus' Patrick Stickles with a voice full of character setting up a full-throated delivery that goes for the jugular. At DWS' best, Dave Z runs the risk of raw vocal chords, and wrests rock embellishment from his lead guitar, while the band's pop songcraft opens up into rock choruses repeating phrases of personal meaning. Firing on all cylinders (and unlike the capital it hails from), DWS is a live act that actually puts the work in.

*** The author of this review, Brandon Kelly, plays the dundun for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

LIVE! The Hunting Party

Artist: The Hunting Party
Link: https://www.facebook.com/TheHuntingPartyBand
The Hunting Party's "Bobby" exists in the same space occupied by "The Hardest Part" by Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, and that's a good thing. The Hunting Party is a welcome addition to NYC's indie music stages, blending a refreshing female lead with Americana instrumentals including a banjo and harmonica. THP is at their best when Erica Lane haunts the same moonlit country nights as Reba McEntire. There's a trace of Jewel in her vocals. Indeed, this five-piece band is the perfect setting for The Hunting Party's jewel, Erica Lane.

*** The author of this review, Roy Watson, plays the dimdi for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

LIVE! The Fine Machines

Artist: The Fine Machines
Link: https://www.facebook.com/TheFineMachines
Effectively only one/third of The Fine Machines played his respective instruments at Trash Bar. The bassist was alone on stage with singer/rhythm guitarist, Dan Piccoli, but played the banjo instead of his usual upright. Absent was guitarist Jim Joustra and, judging from TFM's YouTube videos, we missed something special -- his are excellent song-appropriate solos. However, every bit his equal is professional-caliber vocalist Piccoli. Likable with a good look and the passionate delivery of Chris Martin (Coldplay), his voice possesses a strength and personality on par with any singer-songwriter atop today's folk rock scene. Piccoli's voice is pure and compelling sincere. With an abundance of talent on vocals and guitar, and traces of contemporary Americana, TFM will serve as the soundtrack to movies and our lives for years to come. The Fine Machines are the American successor to Mumford & Sons.

*** The author of this review, Ralph Peterson, plays the dhol for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Monday, March 16, 2015

Artist: Radium Wild

Artist: Radium Wild
Link: https://www.facebook.com/RadiumWild

There are slow-developing songs that are nonetheless memorable for their eventual hooks – even in the pop genre. Corinne Bailey Rae (“Put Your Records On”), Colbie Caillat (“Bubbly”) and Sara Bareilles (“Love Song”) come to mind.

And then there's Radium Wild, whose indie pop gems are immediately catchy as they merrily bounce along – from the opening bar. In this, Radium Wild joins the pop pantheon previously populated by Feist (“1234”), Amy Winehouse (“Rehab”), Ingrid Michaelson (“Be OK”), and Lily Allen (“LDN”).

(Someone like KT Tunstall found success with both: immediately catchy with “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree”; eventually memorable with “Suddenly I See.”)
Radium Wild's infectiously bouncy song-craft features playfully percussive piano, drums and acoustic strums, with colorful horns minimally employed to maximum effect. (The piano is prominent and uniformly proficient.) And as an added plus, Radium Wild's self-titled EP comes replete with compelling concepts, such as the release-form-as-break-up metaphor (“Release Form”).

There is a notable barrier when it comes to entering the upper strata of indie popdom. Mandatory is the appealing vocal lead, and Radium Wild is well-served by Lindsey Aufricht. Aufricht's vocal is strong and clear, and strikingly soulful. Simply put, she delivers on the promise of the genre. Indeed, Aufricht rises above even her fiercest competition (the above artists) when she shows she can also shade to Adele on the slow-burning “Remember When.”

It took Camera Obscura over a decade to find truly memorable melody (“French Navy”). With Radium Wild, it's taken a fraction of the time to shine. (In fact, this is their debut.) And as Emeli Sande has recently shown (with last year's “Next to Me”), this music, popular for a reason, isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

*** The author of this review, Keith Cox, plays the dhaa for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Pixel Grip

Artist: Pixel Grip
Links: https://www.facebook.com/PixelGrip
http://pixelgrip.bandcamp.com/

While it was certainly coincidental that I ran across Pixel Grip's Here Comes the Disaster on Halloween, it couldn't have worked out better. Like Memory Tapes' “Walk Me Home” holiday series of spook-wave, Pixel Grip works just as well ratcheting up Hallows' Eve creep as it does transforming an everyday walk-in-the-park into an event: “I walked in the park the other day”...“So?”...“I was listening to Pixel Grip at the time”...“Nice.” [A closer chill-wave match might be Neon Indian, given Pixel Grip's paring of gauzy vocals with heavy keyboard settings (“Uber Color #3 (with Well Wishers) at 1:35).]
One of the best compliments paid to relatively new bands is that they arrived on the scene “fully formed.” This connotes a product that's both consistent and quality. [The opposite of fully formed is half-baked.] So it is with Pixel Grip. Other than an allusion to Sneaker Pimps' “Low Place Like Home” (on “Dr. Peterson”), which I now know to be homage [from Pixel Grip's Facebook page, which lists the 90's trip-hoppers as an influence], they strike nary a false note, in sound or mood, on this penetrating debut.

Here Comes the Disaster is a beautiful beast whose slow movements read ominous – heavy as they are with virus. “My Blue Electric” is a great place to start: a muffled beat serving up a rhythmically mesmerizing keyboard loop with effects-laden baritone. It's the rare band that can excel at this type of loosely structured minimalism, but also serve up the hooks like Pixel Grip can. From the non-lexical falsetto on “Pipe Dream” (at :54) to the male harmonies-over-bass run of “On Fire” (at 1:57), Pixel Grip packages them with hook-caliber lyrics, “Just like a ticking bomb, the time is up, we'll all be gone, we'll all be gone” (“On Fire” at 1:57).

So let it be said: Pixel Grip arrived on the Chicago scene fully formed. I'd go further. They're already woven into the fabric of the city (and not just that of “Belmont Harbor”).

*** The author of this review, Justin Bailey, plays the toba for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Pastor Funkpleez

Artist: Pastor Funkpleez
Links: https://www.facebook.com/pages/PASTOR-FUNKPLEEZ/126250914055892
http://www.reverbnation.com/pastorfunkpleez

I love Bootsy Collins, but not really for Parliament-Funkadelic reasons. He's also a sort of “hype man” for super-group Praxis, which features fellow instrumentalist masters Buckethead and Bernie Worrell. Relevant here, Bootsy didn't perform the prominent bassline of P-Funk's #1 R&B hit “Flash Light” – Worrell did (on keys). This becomes slightly less strange in light of the fact that Bootsy did funk up the track – on drums. All of this is to say: I'm pretty sure Pastor Funkpleez is the second coming of Bootsy Collins.
Yes it's in the names – Bootsy wears boots (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Play_with_Bootsy) and Pastor Funkpleez preaches funk (http://www.reverbnation.com/pastorfunkpleez/songs) – but it's more than that. Pastor Funkpleez is first and foremost a bassist, structuring deliciously “funky things to play with” from the bassment all the way up to that funkified weathercock.

And he's vocally compelling too, whether smoothly singing or delivering a string of funky utterances (all it takes is a few: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Df7_skLvbsU). But in blending his vocals, Pastor Funkpleez's “Something' from Nothin'” crafts a vocal hook that rivals “So Fresh, So Clean” by funk contemporaries OutKast.

Pastor Funkpleez has the requisite swagger. On “T.O.T.R,” our funk-master is shocked, positively “pissed, you don't notice [him].” It's the same flash that distinguishes Morris Day on the Time's “Jerk Out.” The titular acronym of Funkpleez's “T.O.T.R.” is fleshed out with its lyric, “T[urn] O[ff] T[he] R[adio],” as in “Turn off the radio / Let's go to a live show.” Indeed. Because there's not much funkier than Pastor Funkpleez, live.

*** The author of this review, Jack Morgan, plays the dahol for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Artist: Okapi

Artist: Okapi
Links: https://www.facebook.com/okapiband
http://okapiband.bandcamp.com/

I personally view Okapi through the lens of R.E.M.'s “Low” (which, along with “Country Feedback,” is one of the better deep cuts from the Athenian alt-rockers' mainstream days). Okapi is partially to blame. They got me to thinking about “Low” with their pulsing bass introduction to “Powder” (even though it's melodically closer to Nirvana/the Meat Puppets' “Lake of Fire”). But it was not until repeated listens did I remember the R.E.M.-Okapi connection. Because it was then that I got my hands on the lyrics.

Despite the fact that “Low” was one of my five-star iTunes songs for years [“what is an 'iTunes'?”], I just now realized I have no idea what the lyrics mean: “I've been laughing / Fast and slow / Moving in a still frame / Howling at the moon.” And while they likely make perfect sense to the song's narrator, they remain largely impenetrable to me. So it is with Okapi's lyrics. And yet, like “Low,” it's the music that sucks you in. To the point you love it. Even before you know what it means.
Ah, the music. Starting with “Virgin Lips,” which recalls the quiet instrumental excellence of Tim Hecker, we exist within Okapi's darkened landscapes for five minutes at a time, hearing true organic orchestration using only bass, drums, and cello. That's right: Nary a six-string guitar in sight. Whether crawling up the “Water Spout” (like the song's narrator) or making a song move like Me'Shell Ndegeocello/Van Morrison did for “Wild Night” (“Partisan You”), the bass is finally a star. Meanwhile, the kit/hand percussion rolls, clicks, and clacks, even providing the color while the bass supplies the time-keeping groove; and the cello alternates between nuanced experimentation and pure emotion.

There's a tiny obstacle that keeps us from truly spacing out to this fascinating instrumentation, and that's the lyrical density (lots of words + lots of meaning-per-word). This, along with a relatively naked vocal (appropriately alt-rock in character, e.g. A Perfect Circle/Tool, Incubus, and Placebo), has us hoping for future additions of vocal layers, nonlexical vocables (oohs/ahs/etc.), and a halved word count, which would serve to focus our attention on the more accessible of the poetry: “My halo has been lifted and carried away” (Virgin Lips); “We’ll give you to the setting sun” (Upon the Clearing); “Dead to a sense of relief” (Water Spout); “As my colors change....I watch your mold grow” (Partisan You); “I would commit a thousand sins....Journeying to the center” (Powder). (After all, even R.E.M.'s “Low” contained an easily understood hook – “I skipped the part about love / It seems so silly/shallow and low.”) Anything to facilitate our deep dive into Okapi's lovely sonics.

In their capacity as alt-rock's elder statesmen, R.E.M. would surely be proud. There's a first-rate alternative to rock 'n' roll bands who've grown tired of the genre, but continue to play it all the same. And its name is Okapi.

*** The author of this review, Ryan Rogers, plays the def for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

LIVE! No-Re-Gretz

Artist: No-Re-Gretz
Link: https://www.facebook.com/pages/No-Re-Gretz/269635359812503

No-Re-Gretz as a band name is more than the “no regrets” mantra. It's also a warning you're about to get bitch-slapped by frontman, Chris Gretz.

There are carefully packaged rock stars (long/lean; neatly pressed/artfully rumpled); and then there are the Axl Roses and Chris Gretzes of the world – rock swagger to spare, until that tightly-wound rock energy unloads all over some unsuspecting photographer. Luckily, there would be no such incidents at a venue packed with the No-Re-Gretz faithful.
Gretz easily sells a set marked by seemingly disparate elements from metal-edged originals and covers (e.g. “House of the Rising Sun”) to southern rock. And though Gretz was blessed with a voice made for metal, he's also surprisingly soulful when he's strapping on an acoustic for the down-tempo arrangements. But it is quite the treat when he introduces the final song of the set by saying, “Here's a metal one for you called 'Man in the Casket.'” After that, it's all bouncing-off-the-walls-of-the-rubber-room to the maniacal howl of a caged beast – let, that fucker, out.

Gretz & Co. own every bit of the stage. Each nook and cranny of its monitor-built stage-front was filled with a No-Re-Gretz member sitting, standing, jumping off, or strolling in front of [with wireless guitars].

No-Re-Gretz is firing on all cylinders. Their fan base is vital and vibrant. They have an easy stage presence (not to mention gorgeous instruments and merchandise). And most importantly, No-Re-Gretz is a high energy stage show with metal-tinged hard rock sure to entertain. The audience was well-served last night.

*** The author of this review, Henry Collins, plays the dhaulli for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Minor Decline

Artist: Minor Decline
Links: https://www.facebook.com/minordeclinepunk
http://minordecline.bandcamp.com/

With album art reminiscent of Chixdiggit!, Minor Decline is just as poppy; and even with songs proclaiming the world has gone to shit (in a song called "Puke Parade"), MD is no less likeable. But it is NOFX who systematized the punk ethics that are followed today with great success by bands like Minor Decline: While punk bands are to call out social injustice wherever they find it (as MD does with financial scandal on "Bank Robbery" and broken presidential promises on "Days of the Weak"), they can never lose their sense of humor, which serves to avoid the appearance of self-righteousness.

Minor Decline flexes this funny bone throughout The Front Nine. A song title like "IFYM" can't have prepared you for a revenge fantasy that has the narrator boasting, "I Fucked Your Mom." And Minor Decline pokes fun at no-taste Americans and all Canadians (including Chixdiggit!) on "Redneck Americans": "I have pointy toe boots / I wear blue jean suits / But I'm not Canadian / I'm fuckin' redneck American." (And does the album contain a sample of Romney touting McCain/Palin back in '08, and also promising not to make shit up on TV? Hilarious.)
NOFX also mandated short/varied/catchy song parts to accommodate listener ADHD, as well as the employment of skilled instrumentalists across the board. In this regard, Minor Decline executes punk with pop precision, expertly building diverse song parts around punk, ska, oi-like chants, and even doo-wop. (And thankfully, they also avoid boring song endings like the plague.) Examples of MD's instrumental expertise abound: the lead guitar's snake-y riffs on "The Front Nine"; the band's solid rhythm section on "Huff, Puff, Heave"; and the bassist on pretty much every song. It's also a huge part of Minor Decline's appeal that Jake Thomas conjures the character and credibility of Fat Mike's vocal.

The standout track has to be "Bank Robbery." A chubby bass intro sets up a vocal reveal that has the Securities and Exchange Commission watching fuck-tapes instead of Wall Street -- "you're getting laid while America got fucked"; "they fuck our economy annually"; "slap the SEC." It's yet another showcase for the band's skillful song-writing, including a melodic guitar/bass bridge (at 1:51) that is merely a prelude to song-ending "shoo-be-doo-wop" -- and gosh that bass is good.

Let it be said that Minor Decline has what it takes to knock your dick off. And they do it early and often on The Front Nine.

*** The author of this review, Peter Campbell, plays the supertumba for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Midnite on Pearl Beach

Artist: Midnite on Pearl Beach
Links: https://www.facebook.com/MidniteOnPearlBeach
http://midniteonpearlbeach.bandcamp.com/

Although Midnite On Pearl Beach's Lamplighter opens with ambient synths and worldly strings, it's the track's pulsing bass, slinky guitar riff, and falsetto vocal that seep “Deep In Your Bones.” As soothing starters go, it's right up there with Air's “Playground Love (With Gordon Tracks).” Track two follows suit, “Freedom (Is a State of Mind)” introducing gauzy backing vocals and cool blues licks (e.g. :50).

But it is “Modern Gods” that's an early indicator of the Midnite to come. Justin Jahnke's verse vocals are impeccable – they're singular, charismatic, and appealing to our deeply-suppressed instinct to chill. This otherwise down-tempo track is funked up by an interlude (e.g. 1:12) that's as good as the transition back into the verse (e.g. 1:27). Heck, it even ends well (at 3:00).
Appropriately then, there are niceties tucked everywhere on Lamplighter: the transcendent bridge of “A Cold Sun” (at 1:34); the horn-laced, background vocal phrasing of “One Foot Left” (at 1:06); the upright bass, trickling keys (1:40), and layered guitar intricacy of “Wilderness” setting up its memorable hook (at :57) and ascendent embellishment (the “ah-oh-ah-oh” of 2:25).

The standout for me though is “Common and Line.” Set in Shreveport, the song regales us with tales of a “shell of a building on Common and Line,” a peculiar structure akin to Hotel California – in a song as funky as “Love Shack.” Hand claps keep time as Jahnke struts over a bouncy bassline colored in by organ, with a speedy vocal phrasing recalling “Silvio”-vintage Bob Dylan. [The character of Jahnke's vocal is normally closer to Ryan Adams (but given Adams' notoriously varied delivery, that might not tell you much).]

For a sampling of Midnite, check that sequence a couple minutes in (“Common and Line” at 2:07): Jahnke's vocal delivery of “long”; a subtle bassline that transitions to a stop; this instrumental cutout spotlighting Jahnke's vocal. All this in a song that goes on to introduce song-appropriate harmonica, and ends by playing keys against rhythm section. Excellent.

So don't miss Midnite On Pearl Beach. It's one not to be missed. (Even if you currently find yourself closer to Oak Street Beach.)

*** The author of this review, Dennis Turner, plays the requinto for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Linda Marie Smith

Artist: Linda Marie Smith
Link: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Linda-Marie-Smith-Band/330763523631

Linda Marie Smith's MEARRA is a concept album based on the legend of the selkie. Selkies are mythological creatures found in Faroese, Icelandic, Irish, and Scottish folklore. As the legend teaches, selkies live as seals in the sea, but shed their skin to become human. This, apparently akin to swan maidens that shape-shift between human and swan forms.

And since selkies make contact with humans for only a short time before returning to their sea homes, the tales invariably end up as romantic tragedies. So too with Smith's MEARRA: Its story arc moves from love to transformation to loss. But whether or not the lore itself fascinates you, you'll no doubt be swept up by the romance (until you're heartbroken by the tragedy). Since we've all seen human romances peter out less-than-epically, there's something to be said for a love that has to end before it dies.
MEARRA is thoughtful song-craft lushly orchestrated by studio-caliber musicians and expertly produced by Rich Rankin; and it's all carried by Smith's clear and rich and compellingly emotive vocal. For me, the album's standout track is "Seals of Silver and Gold." The song is built, musically, on piano and, lyrically, on a litany of romantic depictions of seals, which unfold as a series of questions with a vocal refrain supplying the answer. As in: "What haunts the shore caves all these years? What waits by moonlight yet sings without fear? Seals of silver and gold." The question-answer device is a winning one, made all the more appealing by Smith's lovingly tender voice, cradled by beatific acoustics -- guitar, winds and strings. These mood-defining elements create a perfect moon-lit night for us to be at-peace in.

The effect is not lost on the track that follows, "Surrender to the Sea," which opens with Smith's lone piano that takes its time, haunting the landscape. It moves us to melancholy, until our attention is diverted to more gorgeous music in the distance (hurdy gurdy). An electric guitar cuts in, and snaps us to attention (before sliding away along the fretboard). Then the singing: "I hear them calling / Calling me home." It is the selkie, narrating the first-"person" experience of being drawn back to the sea. For once, I understand. And only Smith's MEARRA could have brought me here.

*** The author of this review, Gregory Carter, plays the acchan chenda for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Kathy Greenholdt

Artist: Kathy Greenholdt
Links: https://www.facebook.com/kathy.greenholdt
http://kathygreenholdt.com/

With her new album, When You’re Dead, Kathy Greenholdt solidifies her reputation as a gifted vocalist with ruminations on bravery, peace and even God. In Greenholdt's unique brand of Americana-infused folk/pop, her assured vocals shift and shade to fit each song's mood, alternately bringing to mind Lorrie Morgan, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Victoria Legrand. And they're accompanied by the outstanding production and exemplary instrumentation of Dolly Varden's Steve Dawson.

Whether it's with the American roots instruments of "Peace," the mood-defining guitars and percussion of "Moon Song," or the expert vocal intro of "When You're Dead," a song whose deliberate pacing and prominent bass recall the Cowboy Junkies -- Kathy Greenholdt's newest album offers us a chance to pause, and examine our relationship with God and each other.
As an example, the song-writing standout, "Moon Song," opens with simple strumming over which we get the flourish of romantic acoustics and hand percussion -- these are joined by a scene-stealing slide, then a piano. Greenholdt's richly-toned vocals conclude, "I know you’re somewhere / Under these stars / But I just can’t see / The way to your heart." It's an accomplished original that hints at the dream pop of Beach House's Bloom.

Lyrically-speaking, in Greenholdt's narrator's prayer for courage to Joan of Arc -- the French war heroine (and apparently a saint of the Roman Catholic church) -- the narrator humbly beseeches to poetic effect, "Let the others call you crazy / So am I / So am I / Saint Joan, make me brave and bold" ("Prayer To Saint Joan Of Arc"). Likewise, on "When I Dream," we're confronted by words taken from our mouths, "When I dream / I dream so far / Away from what my days are."

In Greenholdt's vulnerable narrators, we see our own insecurities. But it's just her way of saying she's been there.

*** The author of this review, Stephen Adams, plays the repique for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Ignore the Wolves

Artist: Ignore the Wolves
Links: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ignore-The-Wolves/164972926992753
http://ignorethewolves.bandcamp.com/

As a music writer, there's nothing more frustrating than not being able to categorize a band. Not being able to find where it fits in the vast expanse of recorded music. It's for our peace of mind more than anything. We know everything about music. Until we don't.

But usually it's easy. Dig deep, discover what the band sucks at, and make a note of it on the map, 'cause that's not the treasure – that's just the shit burying it. Thusly, by process of elimination, we recommend for the band paths to pursue, and the forks in the road they should definitely double back to reconsider.
But when we discover a band whose artistic heft brings to bear a full complement of colors perfectly shaded to the rainbow, it's difficult to summarize without giving short shrift. So it's better to just list. To identify the moving parts, and how they relate to the whole. This is what we'll be doing here, because Ignore the Wolves is one such band.

So let's break it down. Singer-songwriter Matthew Buist's guitar patterns form deliberate brush strokes well-suited to the DIIV School of Expressionism. More than that, and necessary for a band whose pallet is limited only by the man himself, Roy G. Biv, Buist's vocals are positively chameleon-like. Built to Spill falsetto on a song that picks up where Grandaddy's Just Like the Fambly Cat left off (“This Girl With A Cat...On My Street”). A talk-rock combo reminiscent of the similarly diverse Butthole Surfers (“Relax!”). And even when in the background, Buist blends like The xx on the female-fronted “Willows,” and auto-tunes like Bon Iver on “The Red Moon.”

If you could extract the essence of Ignore the Wolves, it would be the short impressionist pieces guided by expressive guitar, as on “To Cease To Be Seen,” which includes vocals by Mouth Dakota frontman, Justin Wood. But it's the layered, low-in-the mix vocals, and prominent drumming, that create the hazy melancholy most easily spotted in chill-wave genres. (Washed Out's “A Dedication” would be the chill-wave analogue that inches towards this middle ground.) And just like electronica, dynamics and textures make all the difference; in this regard, Ignore the Wolves has it all in “Woodpecker,” with its song-stopping guitar intricacy, and keyboards joining with new layers (:46).

Perhaps most notable is “The Red Moon,” which has Ignore the Wolves getting all conventional on us – or as traditional as you can get with a single-lyric, two-minute song. But Ignore the Wolves “going pop” just means that on this, one of the best tracks I've heard in awhile, the vocal is not blended with several other vocal tracks and buried lower in the mix. Instead, it’s a front-and-center performance by the compelling Anchors vocalist, David Black; and though it's a departure from Ignore the Wolves' norm, “The Red Moon” retains everything we've come to expect from Ignore the Wolves. Pronounced drums? They start the song. Emotive guitar work? Well, the singing stops at :42, and the guitar starts at :43, owning the final minute of this two-minute song.

If the internet fragmented and fractionalized music into multitudinous genres, Ignore the Wolves still hits many of them, even the less-than-guitar-centric ones, making them a music writer's nightmare.

And a music fan's dream.

*** The author of this review, Frank Hill, plays the boobam for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8