Thursday, November 26, 2015

Sinkane - Steven A. Clark -- Black Cat - Nov 25 2015

by John Miller

Steven A. Clark - Wrongly, I assumed that the Backstage would be dead considering the proximity to the holiday; it is packed. I am surrounded. I'm usually okay with the extracurricular activity but tonight is particularly distracting. It's difficult to concentrate on Steven A Clark with the bombardment of a life philosophy that can be best described as, 'simplify'.

Steven is passionate and clearly into what he is doing. He tries his best to get the holiday crowd moving and it's hard not to. With a voice as strong as his, I will say that I am disappointed that there isn't a live band behind him. The gentleman working on the MPC is doing a bang up job but I don't think anything can replace the real thing. I feel as if that may come as dismissive; however that is not my intention. The compositions are well thought out, leaning on late 80s, early 90s production styles with some modern EDM thrown in for good measure. Looking to the past but not dwelling on it. Regardless, the work on the MPC is significantly better than what I witnessed earlier last week.
I hear shades of Twin Shadow's sophomore effort Confess. That passion mixed with heavy production. But Mr. Clark is far less obvious with his songwriting. While I found Confess to be a rewarding album, there is no mystery. Steven on the other hand, has more control; there is more to this story than he is leading on. Then the show stopped. His family joining him for the first time tonight, Steven got choked up and had to collect himself. As jaded as we all are, it is sobering to see real emotion especially in such a public setting. That took courage to be so raw.
Sinkane - I want to pretend like I have something better going on, an excuse to leave early considering the holiday but to be honest I've got nothing. So on the suggestion of my editor David, I am sticking around for Sinkane's show as his performance from last year was one of his favorites. Sinkane begins with a slow solo as the keys fill in the background with a steady chord progression. As tacky as this sounds, it reminds me of the short time I played with a band. That sounds bad doesn't it? And the drums begin to thump away. The pattern is constant.  The drummer moves from the toms to the high hat and snare almost no variation. Vocally it's laid back, just another layer before the time changes and guitar solos.

There are certainly prog elements here but fuck if it isn't positive. I'm so steeped in minor scales that I forget what majors can do. They are really playing something special tonight. The levels are fantastic; the bassist bumps and in no way has been mixed down at all. Like everyone else he is constant presence.

I am reminded of Zechs  Marquise, especially the guitar and drums. The time changes and big solos.  The crowd is captivated by the performance breaking out in applause mid song just to make sure Sinkane knows they are still here. There are rarely pauses as they just continue to do fantastic things. Good call, David, fantastic show from beginning to end.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Flamin Groovies - The Ubangis - Jake Starr and the Delicious Fullness -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Nov 23 2015

Jake Starr and the Delicious Fullness - This local band's music seems simple at first, but a careful listen of a full set reveals a level of complexity worthy of their lengthy band name. There is a rootsy rockabilly core pushed through modern sounds with nods to punk and pub rock, all with good energy and control. Take Mitch Ryder, the Count Bishops, Eddie and the Hot Rods, Chelsea, and Reverend Horton Heat and put them in a blender until smooth. The result is this band with its strong vocal work and sharp guitars. I enjoyed it. The crowd of old Flamin Groovie fans also really got into this, as they should.

The Ubangis - I suppose it is time to see a DC band that has been around 20 years for the first time (I am sure there are more out there if I really dug in and sought them all out). These guys are a trio of guitar, bass, and singing stand-up drummer. They have a few instrumentals in their arsenal and really have a strong Link Wray sound (I almost said link to the Wraymen for those that know how my brain works). It is almost too composed as their energy seems to slip mid-set. They come back well however, and end a good note. Not earth shattering, perhaps a touch of psychobilly here an there might be fun, but still a decent enough set and well placed before tonight's headliners. And extra credit goes to the band for nicknaming guitarist Randy Manos, 'the Hands of Death'.
 photo: Audrey Phain
The Flamin Groovies - The one person I know who was at the previous DC show was totally alike in mind when the first thing he said was 'let's hope for better than the U Street show'. That show was a serious disappointment as there was constant feedback, an irritated band, and one sad reviewer. I am a bit dismayed that I learned they still did not do a soundcheck, as that clearly undid them last time. But since this is more a rock club and the club soundman is there to work with their guy, we can hope. But there it was, feedback and weird underlying noise as the soundmen were frantically trying to get things right. Thankfully it improved and was not near the distraction of last time. However, I really wish the band would do soundchecks. Frankly, they should probably save money on a soundman as well, as he does not seem to be helping things at all.

That said, it was not a disaster as the band started off with a Byrds cover which appropriately set the stage for their west coast jangling, engaging and rocking guitar interplay. The rhythm section is rock solid and their songs are really welcome on the live stage with all the glorious hooks and sway. Vocally, Chris Wilson was a little more ragged than I expect but he and Cyril Jordan pulled it off well enough. So this was a worthwhile make-up for the U Street debacle. It was not magical, but it was high quality power pop music delivered by a band that should have connected better with larger audiences long ago. I enjoyed my night out, as did most of the crowd.

Facebook Grab of the Day: Be careful with that cropping, Canada...

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Ocean Blue -- Jammin Java - Nov 21 2015

by John Miller

The Ocean Blue - The band is performing two separate sets this evening; their first two records.  They begin with Cerulean, their effort record. The Ocean Blue have a real easy sound and one that is most decidedly late 80s, early 90s alt rock. They are not quite as aggressive as the music that would come to dominate much of the decade, but this mid-tempo almost slacker rock. Stylistically, it’s like a less complicated Sebadoh. I also hear pieces of the Church, REM, and hints of The Smiths. Acoustic guitar, mixed with electric, steady drums and a fuzzy bass, even some keys. The keys are there to evoke a specific feeling more than anything. The band doesn’t lean on them, they simply reinforce a dreamlike tone; halfway between being awake and asleep on the couch.
This is the first show I have seen at this particular venue that hasn't had an acoustic or folksy bent. Anticipating a similar performance, I was pleasantly surprised that the majority of the members were plugged in. I find myself moving towards the back, comfortably knowing that I can still feel the energy of the set. As with most of these shows I review, I am wholly unfamiliar with the headliner. From what I have gathered The Ocean Blue was a mid level band, always on the cusp of breaking. It's always interesting seeing these types of bands, wondering what if? And tonight is certainly seeped in nostalgic excess. So much energy tonight; sing-a- longs, yelps, and screams of approval as each aside, whether it be pandering to the past, or hocking vinyl records in the back, the crowd responds with no less than rupturing approval. Even though I have yet to go to one of these retrospective shows on my own, I imagine the thrill to hear seminal records in their entirety must be a thrilling and ultimately rewarding experience; the nadir of nostalgia.

Another interesting bit from tonight’s show was the use of a projector. While doing so is certainly nothing new, it was with the way they used it that was new to me. Switching between minimalist images, a retrospective of photos, and tour dates from their heyday, helped further cement the whole idea of reliving the past. These simple images, tour dates with their respective locations (Baltimore, George Mason, Richmond, Virginia Beach) all elicit fanatical responses.

The first set ends up lasting a little less than an hour. The Ocean Blue took a well deserved break and the second set begins around a half hour later. The short intermission does nothing to the audience, as their energy level is constant throughout. As far as any differences between the two albums; the second set, their self titled debut, sounds a lot livelier than the first. The drums play a larger role, more vibrant, quicker than before. There seems to be more variations with the keys as well. More dancing, less shoe gazing, and despite the difference, the crowd is still as boisterous as ever dancing a long like it's 1989.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Beat Connection - Phantoms - LanceNeptune - DC9 - Nov 19 2015

LanceNeptune - The cloudy rainy day has ended, but the ominous overcast remains as I see a solitary figure take the stage behind a computer and electronic box. But the skies break rather quickly as this local musician takes an moody atmospheric beginning into likable R&B mode. The instrumental music is tuneful with just enough rhythm and is quite relaxing in an old school way. Maybe old, old school now to keep up with the amount of decades between early Earth Wind & Fire and today. This was a good start and anytime I say that for a solo electronica act, it probably is really good.

Phantoms - The crowd filled in during the opening set and is quite sizable for this dapper LA duo, also behind electronic tables. But this has those throbbing beats and pulsating bursts of melody that make me nauseous. Not so with the crowd, as the dancing gears up some. But of course, this is 'dance by numbers' music, so that is not too surprising. There are plenty of vocals now, but it is all sampled material that the crowd can likely identify a lot more than I can. It was an effective set, but those pulsations were a bit of a distraction to my concentration as I dug into my novel in the back booth.
Beat Connection - Thankfully Seattle's Beat Connection creates their beats the old fashioned way, with a live drummer setting up the bass, keyboards, guitar, and vocals. And they create every bit of a quality dance atmosphere as any electronic band. But there is also plenty going on for those of us whose bodies are not up to the task anymore. The vocals are excellent with soft romantic tones that can keep up when they ratchet up the sound. The drummer varies the beats quite a bit and the tempos less so, but there is enough variety within their overall theme to clearly distinguish their songs. Most of the songs feel well thought out. This show was a big improvement over an opening gig at the 9:30 Club as the small stage brought out the warmth and was drowned on in the volume. So, all in all, a pleasant surprise for me tonight and much less a surprise for the mostly happy crowd at the DC9.

Video Grab of the Night: As the Premier League kicks back into action tomorrow, there is always a need for speed with finishing skills for many a team. I am not sure it would be legal or even if they could locate the player, but this interloper showed off great skills here:

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Made of Oak - Tuskha -- DC9 - Nov 18 2015

Tuskha and Made of Oak
by John Miller

The beats are slow. Nothing but an Axlom and a MPC. Two young men clad in impossibly tight black jeans work the quiet crowd. The pieces are very approachable, safe. Is it rap, pop, EDM? To answer my own question, the accessibility leads me to believe that it's pop. While there are elements of the aforementioned genres, it really isn't challenging. I don't necessarily say that as a pejorative: there is a place for this as the audience is clearly into this. It is crowded for an opening act but like the music, everyone is so even keeled, and exceptionally quiet. And to be honest aside from the table to my immediate right, there is almost no chatter at all. It's odd. But I digress.
Frankly I'm kind of reminded of 1999, while the music never reaches those levels of awfulness; there is certainly something to be said of the casualness they slip from lilac bushes, to a very quick rhyme scheme. It's uncomfortable. This is a lot more challenging than I thought, so it's obvious my previous statement may have not been all that accurate. After the show I had a couple of folks talk me down from the ledge and ultimately come to terms with the performance.

As far as EDM is concerned, modern flourishes and influences abound. A retro feel coupled with sound design games. It's not that bad but I have a feeling that we are reaching, if we haven't already, peak 80s influenced dance. As negative as this has been, and I put that on myself, Tuskha can clearly play their instruments but I find that the artistry isn’t there, like they are simply going through the motions.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

together PANGEA - White Reaper -- DC9 - Nov 17th

White Reaper - I began a record review recently with 'from the fertile musical grounds of Louisville, Kentucky' comes.... That intro works again here with these four guys that take the more universal elements of punk-power pop and merge in some garage psyche sounds to create a high energy beast. It is great to see a band jump around like the early days of punk rock and with high octane music like this, it is pretty hard not to. They are letting it all hang out with a driving rhythm section, hyper guitar, and looping synth runs. The songs are good with the closer being outrageously catchy with its piercing organ-like line working off a ferocious but melodic core. Reap the benefits of a great set of music and see this band next time through.
together PANGEA - This SoCal band has been through a few times before and has put on some great sets, so I expected nothing less tonight. And of course, they delivered. They are a perfect follow-up to White Reaper so this a great tour pairing. The sound is similar but more guitar oriented here. They work the same terrain as the Dickies, but with more of a nod to driving 60s garage rock. But the pace and hooks are up there with the best of the punk era bands as well. The crisp drumming is what strikes me as being particularly important and gives a quality base and pace for the bassist to lay down flowing, driving patterns that allows the guitarists to rollick and roll to their spleen's content. The vocals are good with one guitarist taking the lead. The bassist adds a lot of harmony and depth to the singing with the drummer chiming in as well. The songs are gritty, tough enough, but with a drive to the heart that keeps them memorable and familiar sounding even if they are new. Good crowd tonight, energy erratic, but quite intense in spots. Little time for catching one's breath as these guys only stopped for the briefest of patter a couple of times. Otherwise, it was song after song, which is a great way to do it when you have songs like this.

Facebook Grab of the Night:

Monday, November 16, 2015

Diane Coffee - Duskwhales - Dead Professional -- DC9 - Nov 15 2015

Dead Professional - I always look forward to having this trio on the bill. You are assured of one fine set and invariably get some excellent bands with them. I appear not to be the only one who thinks this way as there is a sizable crowd that is here for a relatively early start. They are treated to Dead Professional's blend of Americana, indie rock, with a smidgen of power pop in the mix. There are some songs that are more Americana than others, although there is an urban sensibility to it, so it flows honestly and effectively. There is not a whole lot of flash, but some great songwriting and solid playing. The band chuckled that they were not used to an audience taking them so seriously. Sadly that is the exception to the rule far too often, but it just may continue for this band.

Duskwhales - Somehow I have missed this Manassas trio until now. As I have said before only a few times--my loss. They balance assertive power pop with popsike and play with tempos and forms that make it exciting for rockers and pop fans alike. the keyboards are a great influence on the melody and the overall vibe with the guitar offering a crisp strumming to counter. The drums carry it along and the vocals are pretty wild. I am reminded a bit of the Dickies, but then Sparks comes to mind as probably what the vocal and even some of the musical style relates to best. It is catchy, playful, and great fun. Not a band to be missed if you get the chance (and why not just make the chance).
Diane Coffee - I certainly don't mind drummers moving front and center downstage to show off their other skills if they have them ala Grant Hart, Dave Grohl, and a few others. I was hoping that Foxygen's drummer would have some of those skills in the vocals and melodic songwriting and he quickly proved that he had. Serious vocal gymnastics stood out immediately and throughout. The band had more of a supple backing approach to laying the foundation for the wild vocal runs. But the band also could step to the plate and bring forward some sharp guitar moves and keyboard passages. His stage patter was even crazier as he sounded like he could pass an audition to be the studio announcer for The Price is Right. But then it was quickly on to more music, which caused more dancing than I usually see on a Sunday night. But this was a great crowd enthusiastically reacting to three different yet excellent bands, so it made perfect sense.

Facebook Grab of the Night: If you can't get to DC Rock Live or other writers of the local scene, feel free to apply this handy chart I found to whatever music you are presently discovering:

Sunday, November 15, 2015


A big holiday tends to cut the overall number of shows that week, but there are plenty of good ones to check out before and after Thanksgiving. Here are but a few on my radar:

White Reaper and Together Pangea will easily get me in the mood to travel to Philadelphia to see Nik Turner's Hawkwind ten days later. But all you have to do to explore space, is come to the DC9 on Tuesday, Nov. 17th.

Hiss Golden Messenger returns to the Rock'n'Roll Hotel also on Tuesday the 17th if you like it more grounded.

Or try a UK act on the 17th, as Shopping heads over to the Black Cat.

Tuskha hits the DC9 on Wednesday, November 18th. Don't miss!

Since Thanksgiving won't have many shows, bands have loaded up on the Thursday before. Health/Picture Plane at Rock'n'Roll Hotel, Beat Connection is at DC9, !!! is at the Black Cat, Parliament-Funkadelic rolls in to the Howard Theatre, All Dogs is at Comet Ping Pong, and the Dave Rawlings Machine is at the Lincoln Theatre. Phew.... here are just a couple videos to help you decide.

Ocean Blue comes to the Jammin Java on Saturday the 21st.

The might Flavor Waster (ex-Caverns) is a new band I do not want to miss. They play at Songbyrd on Sunday, November 22nd.

The almighty Flamin' Groovies will be at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Monday, November 23rd. Catch them while you can.

Steven A. Clark gives you a night out before Thanksgiving if you are not busy preparing a feast. He's at the Black Cat on Wednesday the 25th.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Fuzz - Walter -- Black Cat - Nov 13 2015

Walter - The pall of going to a show minutes after watching what happened at an Eagles of Death Metal show in Paris was not visibly shared that I could see tonight at this sold out show. I am glad people shared the attitude of going out and continuing to support live music and not be swayed by isolated events, but still it was odd tonight. This LA trio blasted away some interesting psyche-rock with powerhouse rhythms and quirky odd post-surf guitar moves. The vocals were twisted and odd and there was a lot of creativity early on. It flattened out a bit and the oddball humor definitely did not work tonight and it would not work on me most any night (intentionally poor and spontaneous raps, non-sequitors, chatting in and away from the microphone mid-sentence). Fair.
Fuzz - Truth in advertising with this band as they blast away with fuzz and fury. This is one of the many outlets for the prolific Ty Segall who handles drums and vocals with this trio. Charles Moothart handles the guitar while Chad Ubovich adds the bass. They both take turns at lead vocals and there are harmonies as well. The songs jam away with just enough precision, but loaded with noise and energy. The best thing about the band is that it has Segall's songwriting skills which pull from the style of a band like July, who mastered the pop, prog and psyche elements of the late 60s. These songs are good enough to go with a few different interpretations, although heavy psyche rock probably serves them best. Crude and catchy and a nod to the late Phil(thy Animal) Taylor was appropriate. Definitely recommended, although some people should have gotten tickets earlier as it sold out just as the doors were opening.

Playlist of the Night: I am always keeping my eyes open for those gateways to alternate universes. Not having found one, I devised a Youtube playlist starting off with tonight's Fuzz and continuing through some highly strange versions of songs from King Crimson's 'In the Court of the Crimson King'. Just click below the brilliant Barry Godber cover and little will be as it seems.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Natalie Prass - Loamlands -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Nov 12 2015

Loamlands - From the fertile vallies of North Carolina comes this quintet of guitars, bass, and drums. The vocals are supplied from two women, the lead vocalist bringing a balanced Americana twist to an otherwise Fairport Convention styled folk-rock. I hear a tad of backing for a bit, but mostly it is ringing guitars over a nimble rhythm section that keeps it rocking, but not too hard. There is no Richard Thompson here, but this is a welcome sound from a band who has enough songs to create a fine opening set tonight.
Natalie Prass - This is the finish of nearly a year's worth of traveling and touring and Natalie Prass is a bit giddy about it all and having a great time interacting with the large crowd tonight. Oh yeah, she and her band play some fine music, too. She has a soft quiet voice, but has a great range of expression within and can push it just right to pull you in to her songs. The band starts off in the usual folk-rock manner, but works lounge into the style early on and then varies the template over the course of the set. Natalie Prass adds some rhythm guitar while other times focusing just on the vocals, almost as a quieter Louise Forestier. It was all bright and smart with the rock moves as well as the jazzier bits. Her cover of 'Sounds of Silence' from a forthcoming EP was released today, so it earned a spot in the set. The lounge rock of the band prompted a friend to ask me if this was a cover or some kind of merger. The vocals were clean and it is quite appropriate to play with the backing as Simon and Garfunkel had released it as vocals and acoustic guitar. After doing nothing, the label got a band in to add a light rock backing and it became a monster hit. So Natalie Prass brought a playfulness to this serious song in the same manner she did with her original numbers. The crowd dug it and it was a fine closing night for Ms. Prass.

Quote of the Night: from Natalie Prass (who would amend her quote if she had been at the Vashti Bunyan show here a few years back)... "Sorry guys, I have like the quietest voice ever--I should have been a mime."

Monday, November 9, 2015

Marrow - Wylder -- DC9 - Nov 8 2015

Wylder - A DC collective starts us off tonight, and if the band contains drums, bass, guitar, keys AND violin and mandolin, you would be hard pressed to guess anything other than Americana or some rootsy nearby sound. And you would be correct, although the band's diversity and pop integration create a more original and satisfying sound. The violinist is particularly talented and has a lot of original moves that really give this music a unique touch. But the band is loaded with fine players and songs that are mostly bright and fun, but with just enough deeper and darker moments to keep a long set continually interesting.
Marrow - After I got over my 'did Chris Darrow cover Yarrow?' thought and wondering if I specifically chose to come out tonight with the 'I shot an Arrow in the air, where it landed I know not where' sense of randomness as the reason; I settled down to listen. No Americana here but a quartet from Chicago that has loads of sound and precision spraying off in many less than random directions. There are folky Velvet Underground moments, American krautrock excursions, and even math rock that somehow sounds positively poppish. The female vocalist on keyboards often harmonizes with the male vocalist on guitar emitting an intriguing but melodic focus. Their instrumental moves are quite adventurous as well and I like the fuzz in the guitar that sounds great, but somehow does not really invoke the sixties. Well, except for one song where they sound like Fifty Foot Hose, who only through sheer accidental birth, was a sixties band. Clever, accessible, weird, and wonderful--this band with only one album to its name is on to something. It was a small crowd tonight, but the enthusiasm per person was as high as anything I've seen in a small to moderate sized crowd in some while. So grab on to this band, while you can, although I think that there may be a ceiling for bands with this much creativity. Then again, bands like Sonic Youth have raised that ceiling, so I will anxiously watch how Marrow develops.

Video of the Night: Well let us give credit to Fifty Foot Hose, as they are not exactly a household name.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

WACKEN 3D - A Movie

Wacken 3D - The Goethe Institut of Washington DC is in the midst of its Neu:2015 film festival. I would encourage everyone to take a look at what they do there, both at this film festival and throughout the year. I always find a few interesting events to take in. But a 3D movie of Germany if not Europe's longest running and biggest metal festival is what attracts me there today.

The coverage is of the 2013 festival and the filmmakers give a positive airing of the crowd and the bands for the most part, with a good mix of music and the drawing together of people and bands from around the world. The story could be even more developed as they cover fans from Asia, North America and Europe who are quite intelligent and interesting to hear from. They spend some time talking to Motorhead's Mikki Dee, Anthrax's Scott Ian, Alice Cooper, and Henry Rollins. All of these bands are featured live, except for Rollins, which is just as well, as he has not done anything musically of interest for me in 31 years. Instead, he does his usually talking head routine, where he adds enthusiasm and shows a keen grasp for the obvious. I will never understand the appeal.

Bands that fare well are Sabaton, Anthrax, Deep Purple and a segment on various champion bands from something like 29 countries competing for a record contract at one of the smaller stages. There was a great Mongolian band that mixed traditional instruments with electric guitars and such, that came in a frustrating second place. But the attitudes of all bands were good and it the positive vibe stayed, even through rain, mud, and trash pile-up--all the expected festival results.

This is a fun movie with 3D excitement that will hardly replace Woodstock, but is a nice minor exploration as to what makes live music work.

We Were Promised Jetpacks - Seoul -- Black Cat - Nov 6 2015

by John Miller

Seoul - I'm a little late tonight; traffic, and as a result missed the majority of this set. Monday I compared Ra Ra Riot to Phoenix and that was probably a reach at best. While yes, there were some similarities, the comparison was probably erroneous in regards to their closeness to sound. Phoenix has this blasé, easy attitude, one that comes with years of playing and a confidence in their abilities that Ra Ra Riot’s earnest style lacked. And it is that attitude, specifically the blasé that I immediately notice with opening act Seoul; the easy, laid back sound that could care less if you dance or not. Yeah they'd probably like you to move but if you are partial to a cold beer and staring at the floor, they'd be perfectly fine with that as well.
We Were Promised Jetpacks - The band sneak on to stage under the guise of a rather ominous backing track. It's loud, they are playing the shit out of their instruments and every one bounces along to these mostly 4/4 post punk pieces occasionally wooing in between the rare breaks in vocals. The bouncing comes as the drums speed up, letting this amped crowd know that now, is the time to move. The drums rhythmically thump as it becomes most apparent that, it’s the drums, which they lean on the most. They sound great and with every fill or time change, We Were Promised Jetpacks follows right along.

The songs played so far tonight are significantly longer than I expected. I suspect that has to do more with my listening tendencies than anything We Were Promised Jetpacks is doing. It isn't as if they need to think about length as there is more than enough going on here. Rhythmical changes abound, as they move from quite, fast and manic, then back to shoe gazing.

Sorry to belabor a point, but these drums really are something. As We Were Promised Jetpacks begin their fourth song, the drums set the tone for an especially engaging piece; slowly, gradually building to an exceptional apex before an amazing resolution. The action rises, they grow and change over time, climax, then as the denouement starts to take shape, the rest of the band supports the completion of this tale.

It's interesting to hear a vocal accent throughout. Usually more often than not, accents disappear under layers of music, hiding. Though it certainly isn't a 'Willy' type of accent, that hint we are hearing, is a welcome addition, and does just that, adds another layer. Adam is effortless. Relying mostly on a clear, average tempo, there are occasional bursts as he becomes more punk than post - punk, then back again.

The crowd is suspiciously lively tonight. There is a back and forth even though We Were Promised Jetpacks are on the quiet side in regards to their crowd work. They don't say much but the crowd responds to the music as opposed to any asides, clapping in unison and occasionally singing along. Each end is met with a rousing applause of whistles, incoherent yelps, and standard clapping. I even saw some drunken head banging.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Ra Ra Riot - Sherman Whips -- DC9 - Nov 2 2015

by John Miller

Sherman Whips -Baltimore natives Sherman Whips begin tonight's sold out show at DC9. The effects of last weekend seemed to have finally worn off as the crowd is active to say the least. The groove is different, strange; repetitive guitars against steady drums. The music moves but in this herky, jerky motion. Time signatures are all over and there are plenty of endings that don't quite end. I wouldn't call them progressive but they do share some characteristics with the genre. Their songs are way too fun to be branded as such; bright and strange.

Halfway through the set the bassist breaks something and they begin an impromptu cover of Gary Numan's Cars. I can't tell if they are buying time just partial to early eighties synth-pop. As far as comparisons go, I am reminded of the late Imperial China, however it has been so long I may be remembering incorrectly. Vocally it's a mix between them and Presto Bando. It's weird and I like it. These types of shows I can never be sure what is real and what isn't. It's nice when a band makes you question reality every once in awhile.
Ra Ra Riot - It is packed. Ra Ra Riot certainly has this crowd in the palm of their collective hand. One might expect that with a name like Ra Ra Riot, there would be speed and a certain disregard for bodily harm but these Syracuse natives have a much more reserved sound than their name would suggest. I can't help but think of Hot Hot Heat and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. There may have been some technical issues as the show started late but the crowd could care less. At this point I am trapped in this corner booth.

Lots of layers tonight, there is even a cellist. I was concerned that the compositions may lean too heavily on the cello; however it is just that, another layer adding to the complete sound. The instruments that pop for me the most are the drum and bass, which is odd considering I am hearing everything from a tambourine to keys. Perhaps one of the most interesting elements was the guitar as it was so soft I had to ask if there even was a guitarist playing tonight. The bass especially, is loud and thumping; it certainly isn’t mixed down at all. The drums are constantly filling any small gaps; they are loud and frantic. Vocally, the lead is soft but clear, confident but not overreaching. Tonally I am reminded of Phoenix, a mix of indie rock and dance. There is darkness but they always seem to find their way out fairly quickly. It’s safe, perhaps more than I am comfortable with, but the audience’s uncoordinated movements tell me that they are enjoying this despite any reservations I may have.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Joanna Gruesome - Aye Nako - King of Cats - Polyon -- DC9 - Nov 1 2015

Polyon - A local trio starts tonight, check that a duo, as a synth player (if I heard correctly) is AWOL. I am glad to know this, so I don't have to do the usual, is a guitar/drums duo missing an instrument or not, as in this case they really are. What is left is some free and loose drum beats with murderous guitar riffage and post-hardcore vocals. Die Kreuzen meets Tales of Terror? This is a progression of various forms loud and noisy that is effective in sound more than song. However the last song was pretty brilliant in all the right ways.

King of Cats - Oh my. Is this the unholy spawn of Devandra Banhart and Susan Tyrell on steroids? This is a one living entity band on guitar and 'vocals' with some of the Gruesome band members adding some Velvety Modern Lovers touches to some of the songs. Words will not describe this vocal style, but if you successfully completed course work of Rush-101, Lydia Lunch-201 and Pavlov's Dog-301 then you may be ready for Oxford, in this case Oxford's 401 level course, King of Cats. I'm thinking way too much about course work as I heard his lyric 'You may have noticed' as 'You may have no test.' Well, he has got me listening to the words, which I rarely do in a live setting. There is no middle ground to this, so choose your side. I am still pondering.

Aye Nako - Even this edgy brand of indie rock with loads of Sebadoh/Pavement moves sounds positively AM radio after the opening sets. But this quartet has a refreshing effect tonight as the songs are well put together by fine players who have some decent ideas within a comfortable sphere of sound. They push hard at times and pull back at others to keep the set flowing well. These Brooklynites are well worth a listen.
Joanna Gruesome - This Welsh band brings the abandon to the show, while somehow holding all of this furious music together. This is great punk rock blended into hard psyche-rock mostly formed around wildly exciting songs when they really cut loose. They have a strange vocal style with a female vocalist that occasionally touches a keyboard in between a shrieking football slogan style that barely cuts above the noise of three guitars and a rhythm section. Then when the two guitarists on each side of the stage take over with spacier male/female harmonies, the music settles to let the vocals through. It goes back and forth, forth and back like this all set long. Crazy fun for sure, and the rather large crowd that has come to take it in is pumped for it all. This band's albums are good, but you really need to catch them live to buy yourself some more adrenalized life to last another year.

And speaking of punk rock, I have given money to a 'politician' for the first time ever, and it matters not that it is a Canadian 'politician'. If you want a straight shooter, a hard worker, and just an all around great guy to succeed at this racket, give Joe Keithley's kickstarter page a look. Talk minus Action equals Zero.

Elect Joe/DOA Green Party Fund

Youth Lagoon - Moon King -- 9:30 Club - Nov 1 2015

Moon King - A little late but you can only do so much with a candy hangover. Two things; Moon King are a lot louder than I had expected. Immediately I am greeted with a wall of bright pop rock. It is certainly a significant change of pace from the dark sounds that we have been seeing recently. The long march to Halloween has finally ended. Secondly, 9:30 is empty. This isn't a slight towards the artists playing tonight but perhaps an indictment against how we all left whatever we had on the floor last night. The day after Halloween, especially one that lands on a Saturday, is rough.

It's quiet. That may seem obvious but with each piece; the crowd has become increasingly silent. The lead singer, Matt, has taken notice and calls us all out. He implores that tonight will be ‘chill’ as to not interfere with all the hangovers that are being recovered from. Despite all of our lackadaisical attitudes I am really enjoying this. And as I said earlier, it's a nice change as I was expecting something far different. Going into a lot of these shows I try not to be judgmental or form an opinion beforehand. I wasn't so successful tonight. I had assumed, incorrectly, that this would be another male/female EDM duo; quiet, sad, and contemplative. Vocally it couldn't be further from the aforementioned example. The two are clear, loud, and the harmonies match due in large part to Daniel’s falsetto. The two, Daniel and Maddy split singing but considering Daniel's range, sometimes I find myself looking up just to make sure. Maddy's guitar work is good; it’s full, switching cleanly between the upbeat and more complicated patterns when appropriate. It's not overtly complicated but it doesn't need to be. It does the job and if everyone wasn't so apathetic tonight, they would surely be dancing.

To be honest, it has become kind of awkward between songs, as the attitude of this crowd seems to be taking a toll on them. Daniel still checks in making sure that we are all still alive and the response is tepid at best. Perhaps I am relying too much on my personal opinion but it was a great set despite the audience.  Occasionally the bassist, takes to the keyboards to add an additional layer. Although not unexpected the occasional triplets meld well.

As far as comparisons; since they rely so heavily on vocals, I am reminded of Kill Hannah and Silversun Pickups. They are definitely radio friendly and I am surprised that they don't have more of a following. Let's be honest though, when was the last time any of us listened to that antiquated platform.

Youth Lagoon - Even between sets the crowd is suspiciously quiet. The music is barely audible, while the majority of those on the second level sit as they nurse their beverage of choice. Though as Youth Lagoon take the stage they seem to be somewhat more receptive. Compared to Moon King before them, Youth Lagoon relies heavily on Trevor's keyboards. He definitely leads, as his surprisingly simple keys finally get some of this crowd moving. It's surprising; so far the majority of what I am hearing from the keys is piano. Even though that sounds derogatory, it shouldn't be taken as such; I assumed that this would be more reminiscent of effect heavy bands like Tyco or Neon Indian. While there are patches here and there, it's that piano that is leaned on for the majority of the set.

The drums are great. They too seem to lean on a particular sound rather than pattern. The constant thumping of the tom is an excellent choice when paired with the more traditional keys. It's sweeping and adds a Hollywood feel to these songs; the calm before an inevitable storm. Hints of Rufus Wainwright seep through, though only occasionally as the quiet quickly makes way for some very aggressive changes. And then the bass starts moving and the snare remains steady. It's low key dance, lots of fuzz. While we all wait for it to drop, it does in a most unexpected way; the bassist moves to the drums as extra hands are needed for the crashes, the guitar slowly builds, and Tony runs unencumbered, hands raised as he frantically tries to get the crowd excited. Then as quickly as it began, it ends.

This frantic back and forth, manic. The changes are unexpected; it gets so quiet I can hear the dishes in the kitchen drop into the sink as the water bounces off them. An excellent comedown from a hectic weekend even if the bros in front of me are checking out their fantasy stats.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

RECORD REVIEWS - October 2015

Casio, drum machine, soulful vocals… not much more. Even if I loved the vocals (they are ok), this is a recipe for me to hit the snooze button. The songs were light pop, quite unfulfilling. There were moments, but the premise is just something I should probably avoid as I find it more light intellectual than emotional. And since I have so little to say, I will go into a rant. This is a one-man band and sound likes it. This is becoming a trend, long running and large. And if it is just you writing and recording, why don’t you just use your name, real or stage, and don’t hide behind what sounds like a full band. This is you, your music, so own it, right from the name on the front of the album. But hey, at least he got half the band name right.

This album succeeds in taking comfortable sounds, styles, and singing and combines them into some of the more exciting and daring arrangements possible, while still maintaining a general accessibility. Balint is a Hungarian violinist and singer who has spent the eleven years between solo albums working with Michael Gira, John Lurie, and Marc Ribot. She has also appeared in a Jim Jarmusch film as well as television, and stage. So if her music is diverse and exciting, it is not too terribly surprising with this resume. This is simply a great album for any rock fan who likes that perfect mix of art and rock excitement. This is one not to simply nod your head and say nice, but to go out and find and listen to all the way through. I will be surprised if you are not hooked well before the record ends.

Songs to start with first:

The Mother - Sultry singing and some quiet yet jarring moments in the arrangements make this opener special.

Let’s Tonight It - Just as I thought I had their style down, they add a hefty rock hook with the super cool singing.

Departure Song - OK, this is the third song. It is great, too, with a spooky feeling and a banjo. Just listen to the whole album.

Pop music with a touch of shoegaze? There are some psyche moves here as well as this somewhat delicate band likes to push outward enough to keep it interesting. This DC band has been around a couple years so they still are pretty fresh, but with a good time together as well. I think elements of both show up here with a savvy experience that still has enough youthful energy to push hard on the boundaries of songwriting and sonic expectations. This is quite a nice effort here and it has a level of passion and professionalism that should appeal to the DC scene. Now to see what they can do live.

Songs to start with first:

I Don’t Need Your Love - The opener has some heft and if you are still on the fence by song’s end, you may want to explore elsewhere.

Neighborhood - The choppy meter of the vocals still sounded smooth somehow.

Our Love - Loud/Quiet and a nice song as well.

Breezy pop rock stylings here will either be welcome or an over-sweetened turn-off. It is best to cut the flavors with something tart or in this case, psychedelic. I was worried about this album at first, but it kept getting more and more interesting throughout, even sounding like some forgoten prog-psyche and slightly folk album from 1970 that was collecting dust in the corner of my record collection. Other times, it goes in a pop direction that may work with some more than others. When they are really spritely and challenging, they work quite well for me and there is just enough of that to recommend a listen.

Songs to start with first:

Sunset of Our Troubles - A quirky prog folk feeling works around this band’s core style. Interesting.

Happy Living Things - An old fashioned spaciness is deep in the mix… could use more prominence, but still intriguing.

Out - This is quite psychedelic and interesting from start to finish.

I keep thinking maybe the Dawn Drapes are just too mannered a pop band for me. But as I keep listening, I gain respect for their keeping the pace down and the hooks warm and friendly. There is a bit of folk in here and just enough rock to hint at a good live show (I have confirmed that in the past, but it has been a couple years). The good thing about getting so many albums in (or so many live shows to choose from) is that you get reminded of the qualities of such a varied number of bands in the world. The Dawn Drapes occupy a tiny space in the world, as do almost all of us, but have plenty to offer these ears.

Songs to start with first:

With Time - The opener establishes the breezy pop style with some startling backing vocals that made for a nice counterbalance.

Brooklyn - Normally, I am not much for breezy pop and jazz moves, but somehow they get this to work well here.

Hiareth - Oh, I don’t know. I just like this one.

By Kyle Schmitt
The Digs set a brisk pace on “Ready Set” and “Manic”, the opening songs on the Boston trio’s album Manic. Their punk backgrounds are evident on “1564” and “Origins”, which sounds strikingly like Green Day. The band discovers a new gear, however, when it adds a touch of western badass through the protagonists of “Gunslinger” and “Red Ryder”. The Digs can definitely turn a phrase, claiming that “I’m Ishmael when I’m sober, and I’m Ahab when I’m drunk” on “Low Bar”. Even better is “Green Line”, a funny grievance about a balky transit system spoiling a big night out to the bar. The band’s ire eventually reflects off the tourists trying to find Fenway Park and back at the jerk wasting his breath to complain about the rail line.

Songs to Start With First:

Preach - A blowhard savior casts down tough salvation on the sinners below, reasoning that “if we make them feel like shit, perhaps we might just save their soul.”

Gunslinger - A weary rambler laments his past mistakes, finding himself “right back here again, drawing circles in the sand.”

Green Line - Channels the Supersuckers trying vainly to make the watering hole in an urban labyrinth.

Instantly, Mr. Dogg (Actually Mr. Stephen Murray) makes his intent known in following in the large footsteps of Billy Bragg or Robin Hitchcock. There is punk rock in this folk (ala Bragg) and sleek musicality as a third element (ala Hitchcock). And of course, this all makes perfect sense as Murray was a member of Joe Strummer’s last band, the Mescaleros. Dogg plays violin as well as guitar and piano, so he offers a wide away of sounds in support of his interesting vocal lines. The lyrics are interesting and the musicality is fresh with an invigorating spirit that makes this album a pleasure to spend time with. This is an excellent record that will easily resonate with Europe, but has loads of quality that I hope will translate for American audiences.

Songs to start with first:

Conscience Money - The opener offers quirkiness, pointed politics, and oddly shaped energy—wake up and listen.

Pound of Grain - Fun psychedelic moves make a killer counterpoint to his intense vocals.

Like I Used to Be - Light hearted in vocals with pounding crazed rhythmic closing. Wild contrasts.

This is a decent Americana folk album. It has all the requisite ingredients: guitars, banjos, and violins; earnest male vocals; strong female harmonies; and there is some piano. Yet they ‘go big’ at times with ethereal vocals and rising crescendos with strings such as at the end of ‘Veins’ which is quite nice, actually. There is a lot more here to recommend than not. The core sound is acceptable, if not like many other records I have heard in recent years, but the extra touches they have with careful quiet moments create an extra layer of interest.

Songs to start with first:

Veins - Their power song.

The Flood - A great use of quiet in this longer cut.

The Returning of the Doves - The female voice is particularly striking and it almost psyche-folk at times.

I suppose the glib way to describe the Flamin Groovies greatest hits is to say it is one song long with ‘Shake Some Action’. That song is easily one of the best power pop songs of all-time with its infectious groove, monster guitar hooks, and throbbing bassline. And of course this song leads the way of 24 songs in their arsenal along with a bonus 25th song, ‘End of the World’, which is quite good even if the chorus is reminiscent of their all-time classic. As for the rest, some are more distinct than others, but they all have a hard driving west coast edge psyche-rock that had enough heft to allow them to be rediscovered in the punk era, more than a decade after their origin. This plays really well and is going to get a lot of replaying in this household, guaranteed. Note—this album has been out a while, but I thought it due a mention in lieu of their upcoming live appearance.

And although they were victimized by some of the worst sound you will hear at the U Street Music Hall, I really want to give them another chance when they return to DC at the Rock’n’Roll Hotel on Monday, November 23rd,

Songs to start with and end with and play in between:

Shake Some Action - One of the greatest songs of all-time.

My initial excitement turned to trepidation when I heard that 2/3 of Caverns, perhaps my favorite all-time DC band of this century, was back in a new band called Flavor Waster. Caverns did amazing things with piano, guitar and drums in a sort of post metal, classically influenced frenzy. They have added more electronics, which worried me some, but also have added vocals, a drummer and another instrumentalist to round out their new and fascinating sound. The good news is that it is still heavy and innovative. There are not quite the clean dynamics of the previous band, as it is replaced with a bit more airy sounds. It is a bit more psychedelic and the vocals give a unique character to the band that will stay with you long after your first listen. I am excited to have some of the Caverns guys back, and even if I did not have a list of band members, I would still be putting Flavor Waster on my short list of ‘must see’ DC bands.

Songs to start with first:

The Comments - Yes, there is electronica, but also cool vocals, shred guitar and a gutsy song results right out of the gate.

The Perils of Revolutionary Piety - Great title and a cinematic story throughout the song.

Private Language - Epic closer, heavy as anything, but with vocals that soar even higher.

There is just under 40 minutes of instrumental music spread out in four songs. I had expected a dark ambient excursion based on the first song, but then this duo shifted into a spritely number with acoustic guitar. The third cut had a keen electric guitar workout that was much more song oriented than ambient, so these guys really gave character to each of their songs. The closer is the longest cut, which ties it all together in style. This is a style that I grade rather harshly at times, but these two get it right for me and certainly will for fans of this style. I would be happy to see them on the Sonic Circuits schedule, for they offer a lot of variety and skill.

This is the second ‘magic’ band in the last two months (Slow Magic, the other) that has failed to come any where near magic, or even the Magic Band for that matter. This version is also a pop band that has a cuteness more than an edge, although there are some bursts of electronica or guitar that toughen up a few of the sounds. At the end of the album, every time they broke away from their basic pop sound style, I enjoyed them. For me, this is a work in progress or at least mixed results, but there likely is a market for their core sound with their skill set.

Songs to start with first:

Falling - A good quick rhythm guitar drives this one home.

Candy Apple - The popsike harmonies work well here.

Ordinary Feeling - A more acoustic song with a heartfelt vocal. This is what I would like to see a lot more of.

This album is on the short side, but stretches out each of its eight songs into a full blooded mood piece, mostly dream pop, but with strong melodic instrumentation. This has a tough and crisp backing, so you really won’t be dreaming away comfortably while the songs flow by. Shelly really is from Athens, although this is Greek duo likely does not stay in Athens all of the time. They should certainly find fans of this music both within the established community of electronic goth pop lovers and folks like me, who are willing to meet them half way if they hit enough of my buttons on melody and vibrant rock moves. This duo does all of that and this was quite enjoyable all the way through.

Songs to start with first:

Now I’m Ready - This has a Dream-pop meets Tangerine Dream type rhythm. Effective and interesting.

Hollow Man - Brisk rhythms, gutsy melody with vocals that manage to carve space deeply within.

Hunter - The closer is the longest and the way they channel Dead Can Dance will be a lasting memory.

With ‘The Beekeeper’ part of the name now dropped, Lady Lamb is keeping her name simple, while her music has some sneaky complexities worked in. She has a firm grasp on pop hooks and the right amount of spirit to push the energy levels higher when needed and pull back into some quieter emotional moments. The lyrics will grab your attention quicker than most as well. So basically, there is a lot going on in this music, even as you can just sit back and smile or get up and dance to it all. There are twelve songs here and I am amazed at the varied songcraft within them. There is almost too much imagination for one album, but with an understanding of pop hooks, it never becomes confused or precocious. It is just an excellent album that deserves a vast audience. I have three songs listed below, but they are the first three as they all amazed me right off of the bat. But listen to all twelve, as this whole album is excellent.

And check out Lady Lamb live at the 9:30 club, this Monday, Nov 2nd.

Songs to start with first:

Vena Cava - the nice pop start is augmented with some powerhouse rock guitar. I love good contrasts.

Billions of Eyes - Big beat, loads of spirit and an interesting song to boot.

Violet Clementine - And now there is a brass passage? Crazy intelligent and crazy entertaining.

I really like the way this band writes songs, bold in melody, but mysterious in vocal lines (and delivery). They seem as smart as they are talented and have worked out a way with a basic alt rock/pop hybrid that could easily be very general and forgettable. Instead, they use pulsating piano chords surrounded by guitars that either create atmosphere are cut into the melodies with interesting counterpoints. The vocals are lovely and the drums steadily create a thoughtful walking pace. This was a real pleasure and calmed me down from my usual state of stress with deadlines and whatnot.

Songs to start with first:

Cicadas - The opener creates a lovely atmosphere. Also, I spent one year in DC in 1987 before returning in 2004, hitting the seventeen year cicada cycle right on the dot.

Home - Man, is this chorus catchy and thick with warm surround sound… even in basic stereo.

Sinks - Haunting song with a powerful dramatic musical incline.

This has that bluesy deep feel of folk rock that tries to balance a couple styles that are close but have key differences. The vocals are the closest to blues or roots music, while the band and the guitars, both acoustic and electric, flow in a folk rock manner and keep things upbeat. This is all agreeable music, but it did not move me as much as I hoped. The lyrics stood out for the usual wrong reasons—phrasing and obvious thoughts. There is talent here and if the formula is reworked with a bit more variance and surprise, it may work better for me.

Songs to start with first:

Flying - Good breezy folk rock with hearty vocals.

Nonetheless - A little more grit and drive in this cut.

Mrs. Write - The easy going rock style is highly effective. The album needs more of this.

There are fifteen songs here that all comfortably work together to form a portrait of a family sitting on the porch singing along to a banjo, violin, and acoustic guitar. This is Appalachian folk style with lots of songs like ‘Green Icy Mountain’, ‘East Virginia’, and ‘Cold Frosty Morning Kitchen Gal’ that gives you a feeling of their music before note one. Of course this porch music has three excellent female vocal harmonies recorded with top notch equipment, so the imagination needs to be stretched a little. This is all simple enough and you have heard it before somewhere somehow, but if you like the style, these harmonies will pull you hard toward listening more to this band.

This has a British rock feel with a little bit of American west coast jangle, remind me most of Echo and the Bunnymen. Yet the Mantles shoot for more pop moves. I think they succeed quite well. There is a mix of moderately intense cuts to some brisk strong rockers. They have the hooks and the ability and it will be interesting to see if they can bring the energy even higher in the clubs, as that is where this music will really click.

Songs to start with first:

Island - The opener balances nicely paced rock music with a pop sensibility allowing them to move in either direction thereafter.

Police My Love - This baby rocks with gutsy guitar, strong vocals and a crisp pounding rhythm section.

This seven song effort (long EP, short LP) is by Matthew Friedberger, known more as one of the sibling songwriters from the Fiery Furnaces. I saw the Furnaces a number of times and they had the ability to shift themes along with subtle style differences from album to album, with Matthew changing from keyboard focus to guitar based songs. I did not expect anything this daring here. This is wild, epic oddness that stays within a comfortable musical form in the manner of Tea & Symphony or the British Nirvana. It has that quirky musical humor that the British bands did better than the US and the rest of Europe for that matter. This is crazy fun and really catchy. The vocals are twisted in extreme directions and guitars and keyboards battle for prominence above the pounding rhythms. There are quiet/loud contrasts as well, just too much to explain or do it justice. Adventurous listeners, here is your main dish tonight.

I always expect a bit more psychedelic sound from this band, but once I settle in to their electronic pop groove (still with dashes of psychedelia), I enjoy what they produce. It varies from psyche-infused rock to electro pop with a couple of levels in between. The vocals tie it all together and it is a pleasant listen. I would only ask for just a bit more brazen sonic attack or a touch more psychedelia that they prove they can employ well. When they do, it really clicks well and even when they play it safer, they have a lot to offer. They tour hard and should warrant a visit when they are in town as they have a sound that would get you mentally, if not physically moving.

In fact go see them tonight at the 9:30 Club!

Songs to start with first:

Roswell - A fine balance between psychedelic rock and electronic pop is mapped out in Roswell (a town far less mysterious than its reputation).

Come Back - A strong melody sounds smart and catchy.

Apocalypse - A stirring rocker with gutsy guitar, solid vocals, and an overwhelming drive.

If you are looking for ten quiet, pensive singer songwriter cuts, you may want to give this a try. It is not as dark or twisted as John Grant, nor does it fly as close to the sun as Nick Drake or Tim Buckley. But Daniel Martin Moore has a rich voice and nice piano accompaniment among other instruments.

Songs to start with first:

Golden Age - The title track establishes the style and shows a quiet strength in the voice.

How it Fades - I feel a little Nick Drake int the vocals and the piano and drum combination is effective with melody and punch.

On Our Way Home - Breezier cut, at least musically.

Hmmm… electronic pop… There are female vocals, not terribly chilly, but cool and composed. The music is punchy and melodic and it moves on and on. It is a fair listen if this is what you are after. ‘My Song 9’ was the one song I smiled to.

This brand of dance band sound seems quite decent. That is about as definitive as I can get, because I really do not care for the genre and when a band does a few things right for me, it may be wrong for some genre fans. There are some things I don’t care for in the pulsating beats and quasi-ska styling, so it is still not a record I want to dig too deeply into or go to very often. There is some nice sonic variety and surprise, so I would think a night in the clubs with a clever band like this would be great fun if you were young and you just had that need to move. So if that is you, I advise you to respect the neon indian.

The first three albums are all being reissued on vinyl. And the band hits the Jammin Java on Saturday, November 21st.

THE OCEAN BLUE - The debut album from 1989 certainly has that American Smiths vibe that the band would not argue against. This is full of great guitar lines and steady rock backing for dreamy pop oriented vocals. They manage to keep it rocking with plenty of pop hooks and enough lush atmosphere that showed what more would come.

CERULEAN - This is my personal favorite Ocean Blue album. It has some of the jangle rock steadiness of the first LP with stronger hooks and even more interesting songwriting that they continued on with. The songs from this 1991 album really stay with you long after. The complexity is still warm and close with near-REM like magic.

BENEATH THE RHYTHM and SOUND - This is the band’s third album. It shows a maturity in the compositions as they can add folk moves and differing intensities among the rock songs. There is a lot of jangle in the guitar and it definitely sounds like a quality indie rock effort of it’s time in 1993. This band’s way of being warm goes to cuddly warm, which works in their best of songs, but may be a bit too much for those that like a harder edge.

I remember my older cousin playing me a new album he just obtained by some unknown band called Heart. Obviously the Wilson sisters were the dreamboats on that album, but the lead guitarist by the name of Roger Fisher captured my attention. He certainly toughened up the sweetness of the sisters, although they ultimately proved over a long career that they could match the toughness as well. Fisher went off of my radar and I always wondered what happened until this landed in my inbox. It is a fascinating and eclectic live album from Roger and Michael Fisher and their band the Human Tribe. The known past is visited right off the bat with a ripping version of Barracuda that has female vocals and roaring guitars, but has a certain personality to it so you know it is a different band doing their strong interpretation of this classic. Then it is off to a jazzy blues take on ‘Fever’ and ‘Spell on You’ . After that it is mystical progressive music, featuring great guitar runs interlaced with violin solos and an undulating rhythm section. And why not just finish this off with a seventeen a half minute version of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’ (with Heart’s Mistral Wind worked in)? I am not sure I have a bad version, but this one is great and it held me from end to end with its alluring vocals, violin work and snake charming sounds from all the players. This band is appropriately named as they are a rather organic tribe of individuals creating their own body on stage. So not only is Roger Fisher and his brother Mike alive and well, they are still playing with a nod to their past, but with a fresh energetic and creative spirit that is really fun to behold. I look forward to their new studio work as well.

This short LP/long EP has seven fresh songs that have a warm lounge feel, yet just enough edge to generate some sincere excitement. Ultimately a soulful mood is established with Sullivan’s thoughtful vocal interpretations. At times it is scat and energized, while other times there is just a slight tremble to her clean delivery. The music is good, full, but not intrusive with strings and even some interesting electronics used sparingly. Only a couple times did I lose interest, while most of these songs kept me engaged the whole time. This is not wildly different, but has a subtle personal space carved out that may worth exploring.

Powerful brew, this stew. It starts with a ferocious punk rock attack, but adds dirty blues, thick sludgy hard rock or Fang like punk rock. This is thick and gooey and far from a mess or at least the mess is well under control. This is in that in between land between punk rock and grunge that used to have more punk rock in it before hardcore and various other segmentations. They do well with lots of open high-hats, intense vocals, booming bass, and oh those guitars. Good stuff, dig in, chow down, and belch loudly.

Songs to start with first:

Get Up Get Out - And this song will have you up with its ferocious sense of abandon.

Wicked Man - Wicked riff with fuzzy guitar lead and then comes the song.

My Angel Above - A ballad of sorts with some twisted and very ‘eavy guitar toward the end.

    by John Miller
I don’t know if VIDEO could have picked a more difficult name but I will say their SEO is on point. Whoever is in charge of search engine optimization over at Third Man Records is doing their job as they were a lot easier to find than one might imagine doing a simple internet search. The Entertainers is their second effort, their first to be released by Jack White’s label. Immediately I am reminded of two albums I spent considerable time with; Officer May’s Smoking in A Minor and Combine’s The History of American Rock and Roll. Both bands are long now defunct but the fuck you garage aesthetics of VIDEO are certainly apparent with this new release.  Don’t let the first track (or the beginning of the second for that matter) fool you, as soon as the vocals begin, it’s as if this unaffected, broken, blasé style is a thesis, “We are here to entertain you”.

Songs to start with first:
New Immortals – The vocal style reminds me of early hardcore. Not so much the cookie monster screaming we have come accustomed to but this strained enema of hate. It’s an interesting mix when coupled with their garage sound.
No Art – Rarely do VIDEO slow down but when they do it’s as if they are doing so in a confrontational sense; jabbing their finger into your chest to get a point across even if it that point is as trite as saying, “there is no art left in this world”.
Opening – I am a sucker for just about any opening piece with a piano. Even though I find this track to be somewhat dissociative of the album as a whole, the simple piano piece is like a eulogy before everything goes to shit.


Yay! Real 1970s UK style punk rock here, such as we used to get from the Adverts or Penetration or X-Ray Spex with great desperation in the vocals and tight music on the edge of abandon. Yet somehow this band is from Austin. Yes, that is a smart, eclectic scene, but this sound separates them from just about anything I have heard out of there since the early 80s. There are some sharper post punk sounds here in the mix, although nothing overly arty, just sharp enough to stand out well. This album is fresh for young or old and it shows that the right kind of punk rock will always be around in some form, occasionally brought to life by creative people with spirit.

Songs to start with first:

The Entertainers - Wow! After a spacey opening, this roaring cut sets the tone. The pace car is out of control.

Drink it In - Tight little monster unleashed.

The End of it All - The ‘epic’ closer is a droner with plenty of bite.

This Belgian quartet follows a well established path, if not particularly overused, of post hardcore with death metal moves. From Rudimentary Peni to Napalm Death and many more, you may have heard this before. Yet the good news is that this band sounds lively and vital with some creative tempo shifts and guitar moves that keep this from ever becoming ‘just like all those other bands’. Of course if you don’t like it wild and heavy, you may want to steer clear, as these guys will leave wounds or vvovnds at any rate. There is more abandon in the vocals than deathly growls and the band feeds off of this as well, so the tidal wave crash of these songs not only will leave the expected impact, but you may be hearing the tunes in your head while you sort through the residue.

About ten years back, there were all these Wolf bands touring through in packs, and it was hard to tell them apart by name, although you could by listening. So this is not Wolfmother or Wolf Parade or even Wolves in the Throne Room, but an industrial rock band from Detroit, dark and edgy. If you were into the dark no wave bands of NYC, especially those with songs like the Swans, you should gravitate to this. Savage Republic also comes to mind and they even channel some of the Eastern mysticism of the Third Ear Band in much of this music. There also is a bit of that crazy Sun City Girls style here in the sound, but more so in the quantity of releases. I have not done a full study of Wolf Eyes, but these six songs clearly are more interesting than much of what passes for post-industrial music these days. This is dark, but not terribly disturbing music in the comfort of your home.

YOKO and the OH NO’s “YOKO and the OH NO’s”
There is usually plenty of swagger in garage rock and that is certainly evident here. Yet it is the slightly cool and thoughtful vocal presence that pulls it back a bit, while adding just enough sophistication. Instrumentally, it is there as well as these guys manage to cook up some creative sounds, such as in ‘Lone Wolf’, while still delivering the power and the hooks. It is really easy to get me to like your garage rock/power pop/popsike record, but this band has just a little bit extra for everyone else as well.

Songs to start with first:

She Knows It - The opener tears out of the garage at a pretty good pace.

Love U - Dirty blues cuts are usually not quite this tough.

Nobody Wants to Know - Sharp little pop number with inviting hook and plenty of bite.

Maybe I am just getting too many records in, but it seems like all that indie rock that started sounding the same in a post-REM manner has now morphed into a west coast pop-rock, either with a smidgen of roots or a dash or psyche. Here it is more the latter, which is my preferred choice. Still, this is all a little too laid back, especially in the vocal department. At times the pace is close to brisk, but it all just allows you to sit back and drift off a bit. That is ok, but I would prefer more dramatic moods from this UK band rather than something that just seems too in between concepts of atmosphere popsike and rock music.

Normally I like albums that take me back to the late sixties and early seventies, but this album really has me scratching my head. I hear modern versions of CSNY, Carole King, Loggins and Messina, and so many more singer songwriters from that era who were between a folk rock and classic songwriter style. This is quite intriguing as it almost sounds like a lost relic, although it has just enough of a modern production touch to belong to the 21st century. By the end of the ten songs, it is less eerie, but there still is such an interesting timeless quality to this that hangs in the air. It is not for everyone, but it is fascinating for those of us that have a long history of musical eras.

Songs to start with first:

Here and Now - Lighter acoustic guitar and even lighter voices here.

Laika - Nice hook and one of the more interesting keyboard arrangments with guitar.

We are One - Although, I would rather hear ‘We are THE One”, this had a fun breezy style to it.