Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Walking Guys - Andrew Tufano - Throwing Plates -- Jammin Java - Sep 1 2015

by John Miller

The Throwing Plates and Andrew Tufano - It was a homecoming of sorts for both opening acts, Throwing Plates (nee Jamie & James) and Andrew Tufano. The two are local to the area and at least three of the four players were coming home after touring the country this past summer. Other than the obvious (the vocalists) it was difficult to differentiate the two as once the Throwing Plates finished their set, Andrew Tufano swapped spots with Jamie, while James and bassist Doug remained. The two had a very similar sound and could be best described as something playing in the background as Katherine Heigl questions her romantic choices.

It isn't easy to be negative as both were so positive, but the music is so homogenized that there isn't really anything to say beyond sweeping generalizations. That's not to say that either were bad, far from it, musically they were very competent; vocals were nice, harmonies worked, bass held the rhythm, but it was so vanilla and saccharine. There is definitely a place for these two opening bands, but I am not too sure I necessarily want to travel there.
The Walking Guys - The Walking Guys have a gimmick. They walk to each of their shows; fairly straight forward, if not a little thin. Starting in Maine, the four have made their way south and hopefully they will reach their final destination, Tennessee, with everyone intact. I only say this because their choice of wardrobe leaves a little to be desired as far as safety is concerned. Clad in black t-shirts and dark jeans, this quartet looked like a backwoods Ramones. It didn't dawn on me until much later that while the black t-shirt is a timeless staple, these were probably being worn because it is much easier to hide the stains that have no doubt accumulated while on their adventure.

As I alluded to earlier, the Walking Guys have a gimmick and there was some trepidation on my part that they would be just that, a gimmick. As the show progressed those fears were alleviated as the four guys put on a particularly enjoyable set. In between songs, they shared stories from the road; everything from being sponsored by Saucony (their 'dad' shoes) to the very real fear of being murdered by a Celtic drum aficionado. I may not be the biggest fan of the singer songwriter genre, but they certainly were not as straight forward as the genre might suggest. The quartet played in a way that was new to me; Riders. Each would perform a song of their own compostion while the other performed limited backing duties (aside from Will Stevens who backed up each on his guitar) and once finished, they passed the guitar down and the next Walking Guy would repeat. The songs, while musically typical of the genre, were lyrically enjoyable to digest (especially those that revolved around pancakes). These four were telling stories throughout; inviting the audience to join them on their walkabout, as opposed to telling them everything is going to be just fine. Each had a distinctive voice. The one weak spot was Will's first song that sounded suspiciously like Bon Jovi's 'Wanted Dead or Alive'. But considering it was the first song he ever composed, I think we can all give him a pass. All kidding aside, these four were exceptional storytellers and I wish them safe travels to their final destination.

And of course there are more area shows within walking distance (the editor's bad joke here) including a DC show at Ebeneezer's Coffeehouse, this Thursday, September 3rd.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

RECORD REVIEWS: AUGUST 2015

Ladies and Gentlemen, how do...

AIRCRAFT “7 GEMS FROM THE SPARKLING VOID”
These seven gems are seven snappy songs on this extended EP. Imagine the Black Angels trying their hand at power pop and you roughly have the sound achieved here. These are sharp little pop nuggets that may soar off into space, but only take a few quick orbits before coming back to ground. There is as much B-52s as there is Simply Saucer, which gives them a slightly unique position between the worlds of popsike and power pop genres. I love the harmonies on ‘White Light’, while it does not sacrifice on guitar sounds that vary from spacey to sharp and precise all on top of a punch up of a rhythm section base. I love the drive these songs have while the vocal delivery sends them to great heights. It takes a bit of audacity to call your songs gems, but Aircraft did not understate the precious nature of these songs. I look forward to their live show and future releases.

ANCIENT WARFARE “THE PALE HORSE”
This band occupies the space between dream pop and Americana. It is not overly dreamy, but it is deep and contemplative particularly in the deep, resonant female vocals that command attention from the outset. This is one of many albums recently where I need at least a few songs to come into the rhythm of the band and in this case, it did not take terribly long and was worth the time. By album’s end, this was an enchanting experience that I hope to repeat again soon. And their Velvet Lounge show was quite the exclamation point on this album.

Songs to start with first:

Dreamcatcher - Good twang in the guitar, subtle strings, and a deep mysterious vibe in general.

The Last Living Trial - Classic melody with a fine combination of striking and flowing instruments behind the excellent vocals.

Rolling Tides - Long and flowing more than droning, but the hypnotic effect is similar—this one’s a real favorite of mine.

ROBBIE BASHO “RAINBOW THUNDER - SONGS OF THE AMERICAN WEST”
Of all the sadly out of print music, I really don’t understand why Robbie Basho’s full catalog is not out for the masses to discover and rediscover. And he’s not just a one-off oddity, as his releases number in the teens (depending on how official you want to be), starting off on John Fahey’s Takoma Records. Thanks to Grass-Tops Recordings, a treasured part of my vinyl collection is now being reissued (and my Basho vinyl ALL sold quickly). This is one of his final releases and has a balance of his traditional and esoteric moves with a leaning to the western Americana roots as the title implies. Although not quite my favorite Basho album on the whole (I would put this in about the middle), there are brilliant songs and even the Basho albums of less interest than this, blow away most of their peers. Robbie Basho was a very special artist that was able to form a stirring voice (through vocals, guitar, and piano even) that is almost impossible to replicate, yet is easily accessible and understood. Buy this and everything else you can get your hands on. Next, go after ‘Zarthus’, one of the finest albums ever and finally reissued in 2014.

Songs to start with first:

Redwood Ramble - The instrumental opener shows off his flashy playing and creative dance moves on the fretboard.

Crashing Thunder - His unique voice adds even more layers of intensity on top of the guitar as he starts his venture west.

Rainbow Thunder - One of my favorite Basho songs with a mystical water theme. This is magic.

WILLIS EARL BEAL “NOCTURNES”
If you want to have lush electronica in 2015, then why not do what Willis Earl Beal does, and front it with some modern soul vocals? The answer is that there are not that many people with a modern imagination and vision who have the classic voice to pull this off. This is akin to some of the excursions that Scott Walker takes, but it is much more grounded and accessible, ala some of the intriguing moves David Bowie made over the years. And it succeeds today, anytime anywhere.

Songs to start with first:

Under You - Mysterious opener slowly builds a quiet platform for his careful vocals with haunting female vocal backing.

Like a Box - Interesting vocal patterns once again, gripping song.

Lust - Whistles, humming, singing, like a walk down a rainy dark alley where it all somehow feels safe.

THE CAIRO GANG “GOES MISSING”
This is an interesting but not terribly consistent pop-psyche effort from Chicago. The odd thing to me is that it seems to invoke different degrees of throwback sounds and modern touches. A couple of songs could easily have been found on a Pebbles compilation, while most others clearly sound more recent. The jangling guitar is steady throughout and the rhythm is a fraction slower than most, which makes this a little slippery at times. It is ultimately pretty interesting to digest and there is enough intrigue to invite future listening.

Songs to start with first:

Be What You Are - Yes, it is a throwback 60s popsike sound, but it has enough heft and heart to make it succeed, even among the cynical.

Sniper - Balancing jangle rock of old with jangle rock of new.

Some Other Time - This is a surprisingly odd little Scott Walker meets Daniel Johnston type song. Yeah, that makes no sense to me either.

PHIL COOK “SOUTHLAND MISSION”
There is some nice rolling piano, harmonies, varied guitar styles and sounds, but the music just moves around a few Americana variations in rather non-compelling ways. It begins with a Grateful Dead style, although it is not quite that lazy (a Deadhead I am not). There are some nice folkier cuts with some good guitar later on and an odd almost pop song even later (‘Anybody Else’). It is decent music, but it just didn’t separate itself from the pack with a cutting edge that would have had me sit up and take notice. I would recommend his prior band, Megafaun first and if you really like that, this may be worth a foray.

COPYWRITE “A HEART OF GLASS”

If you start off right at the opening passages you may be lulled into thinking you would be getting a quality and slightly updated old school rock album. It does not take long to dispel this notion and by the second song, it is not clear where exactly you can pinpoint Heart of Glass’s version of rock music. There are so many fascinating moments of heightened drama in these widely varied arrangements, that you just can not pin this music down. It is like a modern post punk Haizea, for those of you who know that brilliant Spanish psyche-folk band. Even the chilling vocals have great expression and mystery within. Oh, and there is just one more mind blowing fact about this Australian band. They recorded this album at home while they were finishing high school. That just is not right, but we recipients of this lightening bolt of an album will accept it just the same as absolutely bizarre as this is. And only 75 Facebook likes? This should be soaring into the thousands if enough people listen to this marvel.

Songs to start with first:

Break the Screen - Good enough rocker, but when they cut to bass solo, partly with drums, I dropped what I was doing to fully engage.

White Lies - From post punk to adventurous glam rock to subtle psychedlia? God knows what they are doing, but it’s pretty great.

Social Frustrations - OK, this is song four and another complete mystery is opened on how they created such an odd gem. Just listen to them all.

DELA SANTE “DELA SANTE”
It always seems like progressive music comes from bands far away. We have only on occasion had a local band that fit the bill for inclusion with the classic prog bands of old and new, but it has been a while since Little Bigheart and the Wildebeest displayed their chops. Now out of the ashes of several fine local bands comes this strong instrumental collective. Like good progressive music, there are many variants and leanings within the varied songs. Often, there are psychedelic moves, but there are interesting rhythmic shifts and plenty of fascinating synthesizer tones that keep the music mobil and fresh. I also like the flute and what is either a pinched trumpet or a kazoo. This band will keep you guessing, all the while pummeling you into submission with their driving energetic melodies. There are funky bass lines, pastoral passages, and outright heaviness. Not for the meek, but so easy to rock out with while keeping your brain moving. This is a fun release. Kudos to these guys for getting this together.

J.A.G. - The opener hits you with mysterious sounds atop a killer bassline and rollicking drums. Then the melodies set your imagination soaring.

Bienvenidos - Screaming space guitar is way, way out.

Vaulted - If I am vaulted, I think I am more in orbit than preparing for a landing.

FROG EYES “PICKPOCKET’S LOCKET”
This album is a bit of a challenge. The musical inventiveness is quite profound somehow combining indie rock with Eastern European psyche-folk (as they are from Victoria, British Colombia). There is space between violins, guitars, and an interesting rhythm section. The vocals are the issue that keeps me from elevating this to one of the finer records I have heard recently. There are many that would say that the intense phrasing is the best part of this record, so the choice is yours. Perhaps it is an acquired taste, but it is a record worth spending some time with as there is inventive quality each step of the way through these ten songs. You might get a different review from me if I had the time to give this five or ten uninterrupted listens or maybe not.

Songs to start with first:

Joe with the Jam - Fine psychedelic rock oddity with lots of fascinating undulating patters emerging.

Death’s Ship - 2/3 edgy, 1/3 playful and it somehow comes together.

Crystal Blip - A little more relaxed and fun.

GARDENS & VILLA “MUSIC FOR DOGS”
 
This could be a simple synth-pop band, but fortunately the musicians put their heads together and create some nice variety within the simple catchy format. It may be as much as a few bars of introduction music before blending in more familiar sounds. Or it is a significantly slower or faster beat. Or perhaps it is the addition and subtraction of items or densities in the arrangements. What you have throughout are catchy well written and performed pop songs that hearken back to the Beach Boys and take you through 80s synth bands up through today. They do it well.

You can catch the live set at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel this month, Thursday, September 24th.

Songs to start with first:

Maximize Results - After an synth-instrumental intro, this cut adds intense vocals and rhythm to stir things up whilst still in a poppy format.

Everybody - I like the walking rhythm and big opening sound that takes me to a happy place.

Paradise - Cool lounge guitar and beat to open up this interesting little song.

HERBCRAFT “WOT OZ”
The real craftsmanship here, is the way this band brings forward the classic Neu! styled krautrock format into some nice long driving jams.  This is mostly instrumental, but there is plenty of creative noodling that keeps these repetitive riffs flowing in a compelling fashion. There is a certain worldliness to this where fans of Goat seem like the natural fanbase for this music. I am hooked. This is music to trip by, even when you are as sober as I am, perhaps especially when you are as sober as I am.

HOOTON TENNIS CLUB “HIGHEST POINT IN CLIFF TOWN”
This Liverpool band has that loose rock’n’roll style that rocks too hard to be slacker, but is not quite as chipper as Guided By Voices, for example. They play around with guitar intensities, which helps keep the album rather fresh and allows it to finish better than it starts. When they rock it out a bit, they sound like Sebadoh (maybe that subconsciously explains their song ‘Barlow Terrace’ ). Ultimately it is a mixed bag, that works well when you are in the mood, or perhaps young enough. But they are young, this is their debut, and the highlights are worth hearing. It will probably be quite fun live as well.

Songs to start with first:

I’m Not Going Roses Again - Easy to rock back and forth with this rock melody and even handed pace.

Spokes - Smooth psychedelia with some wild guitar moves.

Fall in Luv - Another fine psyche scorcher to finish up with a smile.

THE JET AGE “DESTROY REBUILD”
This long running DC area band has always delivered quality indie rock with a dose of power pop. This album started a bit slowly for me, but whether it was taking the time to get into their style or simply that I liked some of the middle and later songs more, ultimately this album reminded me of what is really good about the Jet Age. They have fine songs with a band that knows how to pull back or push forward to make the melodies that much more attractive upon delivery. There is some fine guitar playing and sonic textures at hand as well. These guys still know how to get it done.

Songs to start with first:

It Cuts Both Ways - A lighter song actually sounds quite fresh here.

In Time All Want will Cease - Great contrasts of thick and sparse moments and fine vocal work.

I Can’t Breathe - but thankfully, he can still write songs and keep a good band together that knows how to fire.

THE JONES FAMILY SINGERS “LIVE from MT. ZION”
This is live gospel music with all of the back and forth between singers and audience, but with unrelenting music every step of they. This is really rocking with a drummer pushing everything forward. The bluesy gospel lead and backing vocal style is intense and tuneful. Certainly this is enhanced listening to it on an early Sunday afternoon, but as it plays on, it reminds me that it is still far better in a live setting. This is a pretty good capture of a fine band and I would like to enjoy them more in a church or club some time.

BRIANA MARELA “ALL AROUND US”
This is lighter fare, but with plenty of substance. Briana Marela has a cute voice and uses it for intriguing pop songs as well as dreamier fare. There is nothing terribly fancy or wildly different going on. It is more a matter of controlling the environment and effectively setting moods and pace and feeling within each song. The adjustments are minor but clear and effective for holding attention by bringing in just enough variety.

And you can see what Brian Marela does live when she opens for the outstanding Jenny Hval at the DC9 on Wednesday, September 9th.



Songs to start with first:

Take Care of Me - Sparse instrumentation, but effective mood to set up the attractive and somewhat subtle pop vocal moves.

Dani - A dreamier song than the snappier pop songs that start off the record.

Everything is New - A steady song that is deep yet easily accessible.

MARIAN McLAUGHLIN “SPIRIT HOUSE”
As long term readers know, I have been a Marian McLaughlin fan since the early days of this blog. As a psychedelic folk and progressive folk fan, I gravitate quickly to highly original folk songwriters like Marian McLaughlin. But as an extensive collector of the genre, most do not have the originality and staying power to continually resonate with me as much as Marian has over the years. She has the ability to balance creative musical moves and song ideas with comfortable settings and extraordinary arrangements. Ethan Foote has collaborated with her on the arrangements for some time now and their partnership keeps getting better and better. There are so many memorable moves with complex string arrangements at one time, and then with lighter touches at others. At no time, does anything seem extraneous and the clarity of each song shines through. Every passage has me sitting at attention in anticipation of the next phrase or musical move. It is time for the world to share the discovery.


This record is out in early September and keep your eyes here for live show recommendations.

Songs to start with first (from Side One, but all ten are great):

Even Magic Falters - The opening cut has everything: delicate inventive guitar, string arrangements, and haunting vocals all working with a fascinating song structure.

Your Bower - More complexities unfold, yet it seems so light and airy.

Calm Canary of the Arctic Sea - A spritely reminder that this genre is not all dark and simple, but rich with intrigue and imagination.

MENACE BEACH “SUPER TRANSPORTERREUM”
This Leeds band has a nice attack style on garage guitars meeting electronica psychedelic rock. Something like that, at least. This is driving catchy melodic power with some fun electronic and synthesizer bursts among the usual array of rock instruments. Not unlike Hawkwind, but more in the nature of the Count Five and the Ramones at the core. Just five songs here, but the style is steady and the hooks are decent. I will need more to fully judge how much I would want to listen, but I have heard enough to know that a live show would be loud, gutsy, and fun.

MONK PARKER “HOW THE SPARK LOVES THE TINDER”
Just eight moderately long songs here, all in a stoned out, droned out, Americana style. There have been times in my life, where this would have worked magic. Nowadays is not one of those times, but there are some fine moments within. I particularly enjoyed the Spiritualized channeling going on in ‘The Happy Hours’. There are some decent instrumental shifts with double time drumming, cheesy organs, brass, and whatnot, but the reverbed vocals are a bit too steady for me. If you like Bill Callahan, you may like this or you may just want to stick with Bill Callahan. You decide.

JASON A MULLINAX “HOME WORLD”
This is electronica with bite and motion. From the brisk pace and crisp sounds in ’Staring Daggers’ to the mysteries of ‘Hello Human!’, Jason Mullinax has created an array of well thought out songs that have plenty of surprises in addition to great melodies. There are sixteen songs and aside from a few short blasts, there is much here to digest, perhaps too much in one sitting unless you are doing other things. But the quality through much of this will draw more attention than the average (mostly) instrumental electronica music album. It is nice to hear something in a genre that I am wary of work so well. But it is not too surprising as I enjoyed this local artist's work with Pilesar.

MY CRUEL GORO “EP”
Just three songs, which is my rock bottom for me spending time on a review (depending on song length). Fortunately, there is nothing crying out for in depth analysis here. These are just fine melodic garage punk rippers. But do not underestimate them, as there are clever little sounds and songwriting shifts along the way that portends fine things ahead for this band. Glue Buzz is amazing in both its density and clarity as it sounds like punk psychedelic trip to the stars and back.

STOLEN JARS “KEPT”
Once the quirky guitars started annoyingly pulsating at odd intervals, I knew I would not like the vocals. Sure enough, I could predict the short strained vocal manner that has been done way too much in indie rock. I will blame Maps & Atlases for all of this, mostly because I really got annoyed with their sound and slight popularity (plus they are not around any more to take exception). If I want indie rock, I’ll look for something more flowing. If I want percussive style guitar, I will go to Thomas Mapfumo. It is records like these that make me run to my Ramones and Radio Birdman records, post-haste!

TEEN DAZE “MORNING WORLD”
This album veers into a big sound at different points on this album but continually pulls back into an even handed lush pop sound that works about as often as not. it is just a matter of how memorable the hook is and how interesting the vocal work is. The music is quite steady and not terribly exciting, but when the shapes and atmospheres come together, they create a moody environment that is more positive than most moody music. I found ‘Along’ rather odd in that the verses are almost carbons of Pink Floyd’s ‘Echoes’ although the finish was totally different, yet I could not shake the vibe. All in all, a fair effort that was a nice change up for much of what I listen to, but does not quite have enough yet to go into full rave mode.

You'll have to wait to hear the live show, but not too long as they hit the stage of the DC9 on Thursday, October 8th.

Songs to start with first:

Valley of Gardens - I like the opening intense build-up into a more normal song structure by the end.

Post Storm - Long moody piece is perfectly named as there is a quietness amidst nearby chaos here.

Infinity - A bit more of a rock song that may shake you up a bit late into the album.

TOTALLY MILD “DOWN TIME”
I like this brand of moody pop rock music with the way the component parts work together. The guitar and bass are often playing at different times, jabbing away in between the steady drum beats. Everything is so soft, yet jarring and the slightly detached, yet warm female vocals seem to be viewing this intriguing mix while coming up with a way to work with it. They move around a bit and lock in at times depending on the song. There is even a surprising saxophone sendoff on the tenth and final song. This is not always brilliant, but it always held my attention and occasionally had me quite interested and excited.

Songs to start with first:

Christa - The opener grabbed me, even in a quiet way.

Move On - A smoother more straight forward pop song works well on this album, too.

Nights - Sliding guitar runs with twangy rhythm creates a nice alternate setting.

WORLD OF GUITAR TRIO “PERFECT STRANGERS”
This is a pretty straightforward concept, similar to the Three Tenors. Take three virtuosos of the acoustic guitar and turn them loose on some long instrumental compositions. The one thing I wanted to hear was if three distinct guitarists playing together could have the clarity of a duo. But it appears that these three virtuosos go it alone on separate tracks. Basically, if you are a talented finger style guitarist, you already sound like two guitarists and when you play vibrant music, such as these players do, there is plenty going on. Thankfully, none of it is muddled, so instead of worrying about technicalities, it is easier to set back and let these guys work there fingers out with lightning moves and slower moves containing great expression. There are flamenco inspired bits along with a melodic folk approach that achieves quick and attractive long themes. It is all technically accomplished, but has a very direct approach that is not for the eclectic crowd. It is more for the many guitar aficionados.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers - Andrew Combs -- The Hamilton - Aug 30 2015

Andrew Combs - A Nashville singer songwriter starts of the evening with full band in tow. The keyboards are the key as they add a spritely sound to a very cliched country accompaniment. Combs has a fine voice and is aided by three backing voices at times, but the material is pretty much straight down the middle of the type of Nashville music that has never resonated with me. There was some nice country rock late in the set and I wish there was some more variety to the typical ballad structure. I have to say it was all slick and professional and performed well. The crowd took to it well enough, so it was a fair start to the evening.
Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers - The Woman in white joins the band in black to add her crisp vocals to their solid foundation of alt country rock. This is yet another case where the California brand of post Burrito Brothers music is fairly easy to spot. This band takes it even further as the musicianship and variety is top notch. There are moments of Byrdsian guitars (as much Clarence White as Roger McGuinn) as well as a Grateful Dead cover. They continue their 'northern California tour' with a cover of 'Somebody to Love', which is pretty much guaranteed to rouse a crowd. Although the crowd was with this band the whole way, as well they should be. The variety continued with an acoustic sing around one microphone, which is far better than the band going into the audience cliche, as this was fully audible and reasonably balanced. Great guitar solos and that extra snap in the vocals and music that keeps western roots music far more interesting to me than its eastern/southern varieties. This is a real band that has been together a long time and they made that quite clear to all of us tonight.

Cartoon of the Night (always appropriate for me on Saturday or Sunday night):

Friday, August 28, 2015

King Raam - Smoke Season -- Black Cat - Aug 27 2015

by John Miller

It would be nice to be as confident as the show tonight. Both acts, Smoke Season and King Raam, were deliberate and precise.

Smoke Season - Playing their first show in DC, Smoke Season opened tonight. Their modern electronic leanings are different than what you might expect from west coast acts like Washed Out or Neon Indian. While the samples, noise, and effects are there, it doesn't overpower the live stuff and sonically it sets the mood. It ends up being quite the dichotomy when paired with Gabrielle Wortman's confident voice. While I can't quite offer a comparison to something similar, their music could be best compared to a mild Spring evening drive, in and around Los Angeles. Not too thick, the darkness trying its best to put a dent in the bright lights of the city. And even though the, not necessarily disinterested but no doubt sparse crowd was somewhat unmoved as the show began, the two played with the confidence of seasoned pros. 
King Raam - I might have witnessed the shortest break ever between set end and encore tonight. I'm not sure King Raam left the stage before they turned back around and came back for an amazing closing number but more on that later.

Perhaps the most distinctive element of King Raam, like Smoke Season before, is his voice. There are bits and pieces of Nick Cave, Ian Curtis, and even some Morrisey thrown in there for good measure. Personally, I find this particular style difficult but by the end of the night King Raam's confidence was contagious and almost had me bouncing along (to get me to almost anything should be considered high praise). At times, I felt as if I was watching the live score to a spaghetti western. There's definitely some cowboy here and I swear I heard horns. If not, there is more than enough room for a Ennio Morricone like trumpet solo somewhere.

As I mentioned earlier, King Raam did not make the crowd wait long for an encore. I have been known to skip out on encores, especially if the moment feels right (Death's show from a few months ago) but I am glad I stuck around for this one. The closing number was more upbeat than the earlier pieces and had the crowd ohhing and ahhing along throughout. I didn't know it was something I wanted to see but seeing a live sing along in a different language was amazing. Fantastic show.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Della Mae - John Stickley Trio -- Jammin Java - Aug 25 2015

by John Miller

John Stickley Trio - The John Stickley Trio opens the show. The guitar and fiddle start to the fill the room and it sounds typical of what one would expect from this type of music. Then the drums kicked in and things changed. Quick beats and fills coupled with the hiccups and trips of the other two musicians, almost, and I don't know how absurd this sounds, feels progish at times. Lyndsay Pruett feels like the anchor of the trio. Her composition sometimes travels to the unexplored which makes for an interesting and unique experience and one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Nervous banter sprinkles the compositions as someone's dad fully embraces a side that doesn't come out often enough. Without the constant disapproval of his children, intermediate yells of approval spring forth from the middle aged audience. Shredding of the acoustic guitar sprinkles the loud/soft compositions as the show winds to an end. Tony Rice is mentioned as an influence but my underdeveloped ears hears music from a different decade. And then the first few bars of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' as the set comes to a close.
Della Mae - Della Mae arrives about twenty minutes later. The crowd comes alive as the mandolin player elicits quite the response when she steps up to the microphone for a solo. Their crowd work on on point; tons of audience interaction. Call back and laughs. No tripping, no hiccups, but occasionally there is a darkness before a chorus of harmonies. So while it may sound safe, it doesn't mean the path was without trial. Four songs in and finally someone in Capri pants started dancing. The guitar and mandolin work particularly well with one another. Occasionally the two dance; switching lead, following one another while a confident rhythm supports them from behind. And as the vocals die, the fiddle begins to soar. Eventually they all return home and fill those empty rooms with a lively conversation of past lives lived: stories about fellow musicians, hometowns (Boston), and the confidence of being in love.

Monday, August 24, 2015

War -- Birchmere - Aug 23rd

War - I am not sure this band was one I felt I needed to cross off my bucket list before I went to this
show, but I certainly feel that way now. I am almost embarrassed at my forgetfulness of just how much music of theirs made up the foundation of my early rock listening. But even if you somehow weren't familiar with their many hits, this band's ability and revolutionary worldliness in their approach is an amazing experience. Only Lonnie Jordan on keyboards and vocals remains from the 1969 debut, but each component part has been filled by an expert player in the same proportion of the original band: Drums, percussion, harmonica, sax/flute, guitar, and bass (along with the keys). The rhythms are amazing as ever and helps the band sound so tight yet flexible. Jordan really keeps things fun with crowd interaction and a more controlled George Clinton like ringleading of band as well as audience, who are quick to help out on vocals and not in need of a formal invitation. It is a sold out show of hardcore fans, who have loads of enthusiasm and respect for these players. My feet were moving and my body was swaying like few other shows. Of all the players, the bassist seemed the most amazing and it was no surprise that his solo drew raves from the crowd. My former supervisor, Byron, was from New Orleans and this was his favorite band, which makes perfect sense as New Orleans has a complex cultural integration going on and this band embodies that musically as well as anyone. They have still got the goods and I highly recommend them to older fans as well as younger listeners, who can pick up a lot of tricks from what these guys can do.

Quiz answer: In yesterday's post, I put out the question of where a certain page of script came from. It was nearly impossible for most, but of course it was a loaded question that a certain friend of mine picked up on instantly. It was from a little known play called 'Teacher Teacher' by Ellison Carroll. My friend used to do this cut in high school in the dramatic interpretation category. The problem was that after a few listens, I could not take it seriously and started laughing. He eventually had the same issues and found his way to far better material thereafter in his Speech and Debate career. I still laugh more at this than I do most comedy, so I am not sure if this material should remain forgotten or make a Mystery Theater 3000 type comeback. Something to ponder.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Good Life - Big Harp -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Aug 22 2015

Big Harp - I swore there was a fourth player hiding on the stage, but after a close-up examination, I find it is a classic trio up there with only a moderate amount of pedals. Yet somehow the guitarist coaxed a lot of fascinating keyboard and synthesized sounds out of his instrument. It really enlivened the sound, although I think the male and female vocal harmonies were warm and strong in their own right. The rhythm section was spot on as well and this band balanced power pop and popsike and ended up right in between with melodic rocking pop numbers that had enough of the 1960s psyche sound, without being quite as drenched by it all. Super catchy songs with plenty of personality will elevate things when you dare to combine or go between genres. Everything went well in this pleasant set, although I was mystified by a story of how they walked away from label interest in their new music when the label wanted to wait until 2016. That part made perfect sense, but then they released the music on cassette (and digital to be fair). Why not 8-track or wax cylinder? While I am not a vinyl fan, I am quite happy that the vinyl format is alive. But I personally have no use for tape whatsoever and I will be interested to see what the market has to say over the next few years.
The Good Life - Cursive's Tim Kasher's other band is back to DC after 8 years, which not at all coincidentally is the gap between albums. Their sound is more typical of that era and slightly before as they have a Weezer/Pixies sort of feeling. It could almost be too laid back for me, were it not for the fascinating guitar interplay that was far more clever than you hear from even good indie rock bands. The bass and the drums also had space to make their presence felt and the vocals were not quite as memorable, but decent enough. Stefanie Drootin is on bass for both bands tonight and brings a bit of personality to each set, which is endearing to the crowd that pretty much can't help but have a good time with this music. The music is much more heartier than cotton candy and candied apples, but you should feel at least a little of that innocent sort of fun.

Quiz of the Night: Name this brilliant work of literature for a prize. Email me your answers.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

PREVIEWS of COMING ATTRACTIONS - Late August 2015

Ah, my psychedelic youth...


Adia Victoria is promenaded through the DC9 on Thursday, August 20th.


Big Harp brings their heavenly sounds to the Rock'n'Roll Hotel this Saturday, August 22nd or head out to Arlington to see Run Boy Run perform at the Unitarian Universalist Church with Annika also on the bill.



Nikki Lane rolls into the Fillmore on Tuesday, August 25th or head over to the Jammin Java to see Della Mae if you are out in the Vienna part of the woods.



King Raam continues the royal visits this month by paying tribute to the Black Cat on Thursday, August 27th.


Nicki Bluhm is in... at the Hamilton on Sunday, August 30th. Join me.


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Ancient Warfare - Glitterlust - Hailey Wojcik -- Velvet Lounge - Aug 14 2015

Hailey Wojcik - Hailey is a guitarist/singer songwriter who has a balanced pop rock style with a raw lo-fi edge. She reminds me of Chrissie Hynde in her London SS days (don't bother looking for material from that era). The songs are not quite as profound early on, but as I stayed with the set, there were some real gems. The closer 'Wise Blood' was a fabulous cut with great melodic shifts and power. Her set was aided with the headliner's drummer (and tourmate) which helped flesh out what would have been an overly thin sound, even with the light backing employed.

Glitterlust - It took me a couple of looks as they set up, but I finally recall seeing this band 16 months back and was surprised I would forget as they are a memorable pair. The guy handles the vocals, electronics and general craziness, while the woman handles the powerful guitar moves. The set is every bit as colorful and crazy as previous, but they really reminded me tonight of how much I miss my friend Gyn Cameron of Dementia Precox. The sound is eerily similar with the vocals and dance oriented electronics coupled with the secret weapon of power guitar chords that occasionally show a bit of intricate flourish. I could close my eyes and hear the 'Huh' era of Dementia, which still sounds fresh the way these two bring it forward. You can't go wrong with these two, they will start your weekend out the right way.
Ancient Warfare - This fascinating foursome comes from Lexington, KY and sounds a lot different than the band I used to know from there, Red Interiors (who remarkably were much more like Glitterlust). This band shifted things to 'the Twilight Zone' as they stated, which was an accurate way to describe their fleshed out psychedelic folk rock sound, full of mystery and devious power. The violin is the magical ingredient adding layers to the usual guitar, bass, and drums. But don't overlook the skills of each player as the percussion is very clever, with busy little bass runs, and deep resonant guitar. There are three part female harmonies that transcend the darkness of the underlying material. They remind me of so many bands in my extensive psyche folk record collection, along with some of the droning psyche bands, but this group forms its own psychic space. Perhaps they are closest to the Trees (Mark 2 with bootleg recordings), but it isn't terribly obvious. This was quite an evening of diverse and rewarding music.

Photo grab of the Night: Two of my favorite bands!.. well, kind of.



Friday, August 14, 2015

Janel Leppin - Martin Luther King Library - Aug 14 2015

Janel Leppin (Mellow Diamond) -
This was fun, a free noontime concert in the spacious King Library, a few blocks from home with world class performers. There are several more shows planned for the King Library even through December, so if you live or work downtown, keep your eyes wide open. I have seen Janel Leppin many times with guitarist Anthony Pirog who was on hand here for much of the set with a drummer as well. Leppin had a couple of cellos, guitar, and even a mellotron for her use in addition to her vocals. Even through I see Janel and Anthony pretty regularly in various combinations, I am always left with the feeling that I should be seeing them every time they play. The music is just so classy and smart without sacrificing warmth and accessibility. She begins with a droning cello number full of Eastern moves, which sets a great tone for the remaining set. And that set is filled with double guitars, guitar and cello, and some mellotron sounds working their way into the music. The songs are all heavily atmospheric with lovely vocal work that would be perfect on any of my psychedelic folk albums, but here is a more ambient sound with teeth. The band even rocks out at times, although the mood is never altered due to the skill of the players. The looping is subtle and highly effective and a mixed crowd of fans and newcomers (a few of which had eyebrows raised in appreciation) welcomed each and every song. So you have two assignments... follow free library events as there are going to be some very good ones and keep an eye on the club scene as well, as you really should be following Janel & Anthony, two of the classiest and creative musicians in town.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Beach Slang - Title Tracks -- DC9 - Aug 10 2015

Title Tracks - It has been four years since I last saw this excellent local power trio and they did mention they have not been playing out as much lately and will be recording soon. It did not take me long to remember how good they were and still are as they take a power pop approach to further levels of power. They never lose their excellent hooks, but these guys can drive home some ferocious songs. The second cut in particular sounded like New Day Rising era Husker Du reconstructing a Zombies song with ferocious yet melodic results. There was lighter fare, but never without a deep thrust and drive starting from the rhythm section and flowing upward. Another excellent set by this powerful local band.
Beach Slang - It is fascinating to see and hear how two perfectly paired bands from the same genre can sound so different. This Philadelphia quartet works the same terrain, but with a much looser approach. If Title Tracks is channeling Husker Du and the Wipers, then Beach Slang is taking it in a Replacements and Flesheaters direction. And they do it well. Even if they never said a word, their playing style reeks of having fun and just cutting loose and letting it all hang out. But the frontman and his long suffering bandmates were hilarious in their banter. Even the Replacements-esque mistuning requiring three takes of one of their cuts was actually fun rather than frustrating. "A lesson in humility" exclaimed the singer, getting what he deserved for proclaiming that the band really had their act together before they attempted their challenging song. There was a good sized crowd for a Monday and most everyone was spirited and fully engaged with these guys. I am not sure I could handle their intense craziness every night, but they were a shot of adrenaline tonight with a benzedrine chaser.

Quote of the Night: There were many from Beach Slang, but it was hard to keep up...

"My hair when it is dry looks really good with this Andy Gibb thing going on. But when it's wet, I look like that fucking Misfits guy with the hair sticking down the front."

Friday, August 7, 2015

Ezra Furman - J Fernandez -- DC9 - Aug 6 2015

J Fernandez - We begin with the first of two keyboard and guitar bands anchored by a rhythm section. The sound is bright and strong with crisp rock, catchy pop moves, and just a hint of the garage particularly in the farsifa type organ sounds. The keyboardist varies his sound depending on the song as does the guitar, which shows off a subtle Byrdsian brand of psychedelia. The vocal quality is good and there are some harmonies, which they should probably work to employ further. There are some great deep mysterious organ sounds coupled with fiery guitars atop a powerful base to close out this set with their strongest cut. This is definitely worth further looks/listens for me, and probably quite a few people in this large crowd.
Ezra Furman - The striking opening sounds are led by twisted vocal vibrato direct from the heartland with just a wee bit of rasp to it. It's not clear how well this will play out, but ultimately the voice is intriguing and expressive with the wide variety of songs this band concocts. There are songs that bring in old time rock'n'roll but without nostalgia with a strong core evident. There is even a Bo Diddley stomper complete with that beat embedded deep within every rock fan. Furman seems an odd duck of sorts, but he knows how to rock and have fun. He is like a more pleasant under control James Chance. His backing band is called the Boyfriends for this tour and in addition to the fine sounds of the instruments mentioned in the opening set, he has a saxophonist that does not dominate the sound but instead thickens it out and only occasionally asks for any direct attention. There is another hot finish and pretty much everyone in this crowd is going home happy.

Quote of the Night: E.Furman... "Only one bra, DC?... I'm kidding, only one person has ever thrown a bra onstage and that person here is unique."


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Cayucas - Hibou -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Aug 3 2015

Hibou - Dream pop that moves. It can be done and was done here by this Seattle outfit. The key was the crisp rhythm section who kept peppy basslines moving and sharp snare shots to make this music more mobile than is usually the case. The vocals were warm and inviting throughout and the guitars extremely atmospheric. The guitars built up more strength as the set went on, which was a fine way to construct a 43 minute set. Careful rising intensity is something you feel and not only keeps you attention but builds enthusiasm as well. Fine job here tonight as this large and young Monday night crowd seems quite happy.
Cayucas - More pop rock here, from California twins on lead vocals/guitar/keyboards and bass. The live band is filled out with guitar and drums and these guys work on the atmosphere created by the previous band but move into more rhythmic variation and soulful singing. But it is the pop hooks that take firm grasp of this music no matter, which way the band turns. Their music should easily work its magic on a pretty strong fan base. The cool thing is that their brand of pop should appeal to a smarter crowd, which seems to be the vibe here tonight with the reaction being a nice balance of enthusiasm and respect. The only thing I heard that did not work for me was the steadiness of the vocals. They were very good, but a bit more variation or harmonies would help me along their path. Still, it is pretty hard to not to have at least a minimum amount of pleasure with music like this.

Video of the Night: Yes, the soccer subterfuge here is fun, but it is a good reminder to the masses to pay attention to the little things in life, because their may be some magic there. Applying that to music, you should go to a small club show featuring local bands you don't know in between the Foo Fighters arena event and the sold-out 9:30 Club show. And always see the opening band's set. What do Nirvana, Jesus Lizard, Blue Oyster Cult, Rush, and AC/DC have in common? I saw them all as opening sets (the first two bands were on the same show with headliner Dinosaur Jr.).


Saturday, August 1, 2015

RECORD REVIEWS - JULY 2015

I am listening to Jerry Vale as I create this post. I like Vale better than Sinatra, so keep that in mind as you read these reviews.

ANCIENT RIVER “ANCIENT RIVER”
This record is psychedelic all the way with elements of old and new, light and heavy, with songs and instrumental jams. It is a little on the lighter dreamier side, occasionally heading to psyche-folk more than popsike. But it is the atmospheric approach that dominates the proceedings. Works for me.

Songs to start with first:

This is the Time - It is the time to see if bands can still do cool psyche folk and the answer is yes.

Mother of Light - This band shows they know how to lay down an instrumental dreamy psyche vibe that has some heart.

Desolation - The heavy beginning wakes you up for the more delicate moments to follow, before… you guessed it.

By Kyle Schmitt

These two Florida-based darkwave bands bring their brooding sensibilities to this eight-track split cassette. Burnt Hair’s offerings are bleak and uncompromising, but beauty reveals itself in strange places within these songs. An inspired synth line accompanies a vocal recalling “your smile, reflected back at me” in “Stems”, while “Tired Fingers Slip” provokes the strange sensation of bopping your head to a dirge. The echoed chanting on “Filament” creates an unsettling atmosphere, however, and “Left to Chance” is downright punishing, as Burnt Hair unleashes a synth buzzsaw that eviscerates the overlapping vocals and relentless single drumbeat. Comparatively, Ars Phoenix sounds upbeat and poppy on their four tracks. Danceable drums temper singer Jon Glover’s gloomier tendencies in “Desiccation” (“They’re not crying for you / and they never will”) and “Beckett’s Row”, in which he warns that, “You’re as doomed as the rest of us.” The band’s standout track is “Minister Edwards”, which features a ringing guitar lick and bass grove reminiscent of Echo & the Bunnymen. Glover deliberates over whether he and his betrothed are just sinners or lovers, as the light finally gains the courage to confront the darkness.

Ars Phoenix plays The Pinch in DC (along with Sansyou and The Holy Circle) on Sunday, August 2.

BEAUTIFY JUNKYARDS “THE BEAST SHOUTED LOVE”
This is a fun little record with some bold ideas. They start off with a decent enough popsike sound, a bit on the lighter side, but quickly morph into a deeper psychedelic folk vibe. They manage some modern touches, but draw heavily on the 1970s such as the UK’s Chimera or the audacious Book of AM album.

Songs to start with first:

Pes Na Areia na Terra do Sol - They capture the femvox psyche folk sound just right here.

Lake - Double harmony female vocals in psychefolk is double the fun.

Tomorrow’s Children - Psyche folk meets lush popsike in the middle of the song and we are all happy to meet.

BEDROCKK “ULTRA VIOLET”
Dang these electronica bands, they are as hard to get rid of as bed bugs, or bedrockk in this case. This is an eight song EP, although the overall length is longer than 80% of punk rock albums. One good thing about punk rock versus electronica is that punk rock knows when the repetition is getting tiresome. These songs veer away from other things I sometimes like in electronica. There are pulsating rhythms that feel like they make my heartbeat irregular. There is a focus on beats and atmosphere over melody. And although there are vocals that have a soulful core, they are often treated too heavily and are just too airy and less substantial. But if you like to dance to soultronica, then have a go.

DATURA 4 “DEMON BLUES”
Here’s an album title that gets you pointed in the right direction. It’s not pure blues, but demon infested full band blues rock like you may have heard in the early 1970s when you were listening to Moxy, Foghat, or Steamhammer. But a careful listen shows a bit more going on than what you might first suspect. Yes, this Western Australian band understands classic rock roots, but they have a desire to push outward a bit with subtle psychedelic feeling and some shifty songwriting moves to keep the approach surprisingly fresh. Intelligent hard rock fans rejoice, this album is one you won’t have to dumb down for.

Songs to start with first:

You Ain’t No Friend of Mine - Catchy groove on this hard rock number.

Hoonsville - Trippy jam with oddball vocal meanderings, quite fun and unexpected.

Killjoy - Sounds like a psychedelic Sabbath cover, which has me in heaven.

TOM DYER “HISTORY OF NW ROCK VOL. 1”

As most followers of 1960s hard psychedelic rock know, the Pacific northwest bands were the ones that most embodied the term ’60s punk’ carving the pathways to classic 1970s punk. For the NW bands were tough, rugged, singing about wild subjects with an intensity not quite matched elsewhere, by but a few. No hippies up there, just strong minded and talented musicians who knew the value of primitive rock and roll. Tom Dyer and his band the New Pagan Gods have a good grasp on this material, bringing their own personalities into these cuts and reminding listeners of how tough and universal this music is. This is a fine rock album, gritty, with good songs and even a funky version of ‘Louie Louie’ that made that overplayed cut worth hearing again.

Songs to start with first:

The Witch - Any Sonics cover (or original) will step to the front of the line of my playlist.

Walk Don’t Run - One of the more recognizable cuts is always good for another spin around the block.

Just Like Me - Great cut by a somewhat neglected band Paul Revere & the Raiders (due to name and outfits, but a baddass band).

EZTV “CALLING OUT”
Popsike is moderately hot right now and I welcome the sound as an antidote to the plethora of Americana bands in recent years. EZTV has a bit of their roots showing, but theirs is an ethereal approach to pop music for the most part. And when this band clicks, they have the songs that will stay with you and make you feel good. They get a little less interesting as the full album passes by, but the gems are worth mining. They have a lighter approach than some of their brethren so they may have to work a little harder to pull in the masses. They just may be up to the task.

Songs to start with first:

Pretty Torn - Maybe the catchiest popsike number on this album.

Hard to Believe - Maybe the catchiest song here for me in a less pop like manner.

Dust in the Sky - A bit of jangle in the mix on this cut.

FRESH & ONLYS “EARLY YEARS ANTHOLOGY”
This SF band has only been around for about seven years, but based on their title and sound you will be forgiven if you think they are going back to the attic for tracks from 1960s. Yet these sounds have a fresh feeling and the band’s approach is not a mere homage of the Chocolate Watchband or the 13th Floor Elevators. When they nail a melody or have some clever twists and turns this is highly compelling music. It is not this way for every song, but since they are compiling tracks from various places over the years, each ‘leftover’ won’t have the same degree of freshness. But dig in just the same, you will gain some serious tasty pleasures in these fine songs.

Songs to start with first:

Tongue in Cheek - The opening cut has an even more distant Black Angels guitar sound with a highly agreeable melody.

Don’t Look Down - This is ferocious psychedelic music, fast but manageable, almost careening out of control but holding together.

Stranger in my House - Great song, pure and simple.

HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL “SCIENCE FROM AN EASY CHAIR”

I enjoyed the old television show with Richard Boone by this name, so I hoped the band would bring equal pleasure. They mostly do so and have some of the same wild west Americana meets the somewhat new city of San Francisco that the show featured. There are hearty Americana based rockers mixed in with folkier cuts and even some slightly experimental instrumental interludes. And the songs are linked into the story of an historical Antarctic expedition, which makes for an interesting full album journey. This is a solid album, not much innovation, but well executed.

Songs to start with first:

True Believers - Fierce guitar and drums, but a warm song with fine vocals and acoustic guitar moments.

Madhouse Promenade - Catchy rocker not unlike Slim Cessna’s Auto Club.

The Rescue Party - Lighter cut, with deep feelings expressed well.

HIGH TIDES “HIGH TIDES”
This is one of those lush electronic pop albums that I never know what to say about. There is quality within and I like that it doesn’t try so hard to jam dance beats down my throat. There is some atmosphere that is contemplative along with the beats. Also, the mixture of instrumental music and vocal led songs are preferable to  the instrumentalsas I can drift off more in my own direction.

JENNY HVAL “APOCALYPSE”
This music does make you think apocalypse—at the mystical imaginative side of what may be beyond. While I have enjoyed her live sets previously, this album strikes me as less interesting. There is a lush quality with slightly less edgy Kate Bush moves working atop drums and electronics. It is certainly more challenging than most electronic albums and the lyrics and singing will draw your attention. The songs all kind of weave together, so I can’t differentiate at first listen. I may have  to spend more time with this, as the creativity is enough to not give up too soon.

Check out the live show on September 9th at the DC9, but you may want to get a ticket as I know a lot of people will be there.

EMILY KING “THE SWITCH”

Lovely vocals are the key to the success of this record. There is not quite the heft in the music that I prefer with an over reliance on electronics, but at least this is some electronica that enhances the focal point or a record. Too often it is all about electronica, but there are fully engaging songs here with delicate melodies and emotionally moving passages. There is also a touch of variety, although it is subtle and you have to engage yourself to feel the tonal shifts and little flourishes that liven or thicken these songs. This is an original work and has enough heart to interest many a listener.

Songs to start with first:

Good Friend - Super catchy opener keeps the electronica in check with excellent vocals and melody.

The Switch - Smoother rhythm works better with the lead and backing vocals.

Out of the Clouds - The vibe goes from the 30s to the 60s to the present all with clarity and vision.

JEREMY LOOPS “TRADING CHANGE”
From the gospel openings to the Americana meets reggae rhythms, it is not terribly easy to pin down Jeremy Loops. And that is a refreshing commentary for any new music I get to hear—especially if there is an Americana foundation which is fair to say is at the heart of the music here. Yet there is reggae, hip hop and other mixes of the old and new here. It all comes together with clever songwriting and arrangements.

Songs to start with first:

Sinner - Great gospel chorale opening—I don’t get sounds like this too often here.

Down South - A chipper rhythm and upbeat melody make for a winner of a pop cut.

Mission - There’s real bounce in this poppy number with some subtle twang and whistling.

ALEX NAVARRO “PARDON MY EYES”

As debut albums go, this one is a fine effort although it works a rather familiar territory of folk based singer songwriter material. But if the songs command at least a little attention and you have either a fine voice or excellent guitar style, you have a chance of standing out. I think Navarro is closest on songs with an expressive voice that could use a little more flexibility. The guitar style and arrangements are pretty good for first time out. It’s more of a full band effort than a guitar showcase album. The piano takes center stage at times with little change in the overall tone. Navarro hails from Boston so hopefully we can catch some of this in a DC area club some time soon.

Songs to start with first:

Alright - Deft touch on the acoustic guitar with a few different textures before piano and voice bring it up further.

One More Time - Good electric moves and some creative songwriting twists and turns.

Pardon My Eyes - Title cut has spirited melody and thoughtful tone throughout.

JEREMY PINNELL “OH/KY”
I like the title of this album. Speaking from experience, southern Ohio could be called North Kentucky based on many a neighborhood. And the club scene in Cincinnati was on both sides of the Ohio river. That said, this album is simply way too country for my tastes. The relaxed pace coupled with steel guitar rarely works for me. Pinnell sings about darker subjects than what most country fans look for, so perhaps the outlaw fans will gravitate to this. He has an expressive voice, I just wish there was more musically for me.

PLRLS “YOUR SITUATION”
Throw together the B-52s and the Rezillos with a dash of Devo and you could easily get something like this. There is great male and female interaction like those first two bands specialized in and the same sense of fun in most songs. One of the worst things that happened to punk rock was the fragmenting of scenes within scenes narrowed an already too small field. Fun bands were separated from the serious sort and those like PLRLS that had a little of both were even further doomed, unless they could rise above it all. Today is a new day and this Baltimore band pronounced ‘plurals’ should pull in a smart audience that wants to have fun. And the best of these songs could turn a few heads from the more inattentive masses.

Songs to start with first:

Sicker Better - The opening cut will get you in the mood for more—snappy fun will do that.

Look at the Nerds - Crazy back-up vocal chants, soaring lead vocals, angular guitar moves, wild, simply wild.

I am the Lions - This reminds me of classic late 70s fun punk, when the sound and scene was still more wide open.

SILHOUETTE CITIES “NO WORSE FOR THE WEAR”
This local band is a fine continuation of the Emo-esque based harDCore of the 1980s infused with a significant dose of melodic rock. The seven songs on this long EP/short album all are bright and sparkle with strong playing throughout. ’Enough’ is a ferocious rocker with a thick guitar sound and driving bass and drumming where it takes some significant pipes to get the vocals out front. But it holds together well, as do the rest of the six songs with fine production throughout. I could use just a bit more variety in the song structures although they satisfied me well enough in the final cut ‘Derail’ with its quiet and loud contrasts. This music should attract a lot of lovers of the melodic and the heavy.

JOCK SCOT “MY PERSONAL CULLODEN”
Well, fresh off some time spent with John Cooper Clarke, I get my first poetry record to review. As should be obvious from the name, our poet is a classic Scotsman whose who references the Jacobite rebellion in his title and brings Scotland into each poem with his strong accent. Otherwise, these are personal stories that are quite universal, covering urban life and classic outsider issues. There is quite a lot of music in the background with some wild guitar such as in ‘Gay Paean to Thierry’ or cool guitar and percussion in ‘Someone’s Yearning’. “Tape Your Head’ could almost be a Nick Cave half spoken/half sung song, but it has its own dark style. There is not the pace and manic intelligence of John Cooper Clarke, but there is some of the humor as in ‘Good God’ and the music is fascinating. I found this thoroughly enjoyable, although I am not sure how many times I will gravitate toward it in future. But if he comes my way in the club scene or in a library, I’m there.

SEEZ MICS “CRUEL FUEL”
This local release is a decent hip hop album with pretty intelligent lyrics within the rhythms. There are excellent backing sounds and vocals that are tasty and create a mysterious atmosphere through many of the songs. I particularly liked the lyrics in ‘Social Insecurity’ as they hit home with me and should connect with a lot of people. There are many themes and the music keeps things interesting. Good hip hop albums are nice change ups for much of my listening and this one connected.

Check out the live show at the U Street Music Hall on Saturday, August 29th.

Songs to start with first:

M.O.M. - The opener has a fine rap and backing, but the ghostly female vocals weaving in and out really makes this work.

Becomes a Ghost - The ghostly themes continue and the mysterious sounds shrink to the shadows behind the meaty rap.

Human Farm - Cool slacker folk song is quite the change of pace, but it works.

SMALL BLUES TRAP “TIME TRICKS”
Some times I get tired of listening to new blues bands, for they may be fine players but I don’t hear much I have not heard before. I think this fine Greek outfit gets it right. These seven songs don’t scream the blues at you, but quietly and forcefully make it clear where their roots are entrenched. The vocals are gruff and are true to the blues, while the guitar work is quite clever and tasty throughout. The rhythm section keeps it steady with an almost edgy medium slow pace. ‘Jesse James’ had the vibe working that took you back to the mysterious wild west of old. That may be my favorite, but all seven songs here are worth a listen, for blues purists or rockers like me who like a good dose of smart thoughtful blues to take me to old and interesting places.

SMALL FEET “FROM FAR ENOUGH AWAY EVERYTHING SOUNDS LIKE THE OCEAN”
This is outstanding pop music. It is catchy, but there are additional depths to the songs comparable to the best indie rock singer/songwriter material out there. They invoke spacey light shoe gaze tones at various times to great effect, yet it is the vocals that cut deepest. He has a chilling vibrato that he pushes just enough to create an edginess not found too often. The guitars delicately play passages to weave around the vocals with dancing percussion and a host of other complementary sounds. The result sounds so effortless, yet there is obvious skill in planning and execution each step of the way. This is mostly a great album that may have you thinking you have heard hundreds like it, but listen carefully and you won’t find many are anywhere near this good.

Songs to start with first:

Rivers - Flowing with this band’s unique combination of outstanding and careful individual parts.

All and Everyone - Each unique component in this is a standout and it comes together wonderfully.

Bend Towards the Light - Almost a folk song in feeling, but too much of their style present to take it to new places.

SVJATA VATRA “VABADUS SVOBODA (FREEDOM)”
From Estonia comes this fun filled ethnic folk album. It never gets quite to the intensity and pace of gypsy punk, but it is spirited and will have you moving. The vocals have a lot of punch and the music is active and mobile. The instruments dance around each other well such as in ‘Zillja zelenen'ke (Green buds)’ with the usual accordion, guitar, bass, and drums and a wild whistle making everything even crazier. The combination of winds and string and a ‘airy’ keyboard is quite stirring and vibrant. There is also brass and other instrumentation that adds a lot of variety to the core sound. This is great toe tapping or energetic dancing fun that should move any fan of music, no matter what genre you prefer.

TEXAS NEVER WHISPERS “TEXAS NEVER WHISPERS”
Well, then maybe Texas should try it some time. Based on this record, Texas never shouts either. There are eleven songs that all are likable and composed and frankly, just there. There is nary a whisper or a shout to distinguish them for me, so the album just slips away into a light Americana, singer songwriter, safe radio friendly album. There are some decent moments and some that veer a bit too country for my taste, but ultimately it does not resonate. Maybe if I was at a BBQ joint…

TWIN WITHIN “HORIZONTAL LINES”
With a pop band like this—designed for intelligent adults, it is not always easy to grasp on to the concept on first listen. When this record began, I did not think it would be moving me at all. But staying with it allowed me bring down my guard and try to understand what was going on. The hooks were light and playful, but in a controlled environment that was more Victorian than hippiedom. If you have been around the block with pop and rock music for a few years or decades, you will likely enjoy or at least respect what is going on here. If you are new to the game, I would suggest trying something more beginning level first, for Twin Within will keep you brain working on this short album.

Songs to start with first:

Tunnel to the Reservoir - Enchanting Sixties style vocals, sltightly detached, carry this otherwise modern smart pop song.

Faraway Car Ride - Cue the strings and my ears perk up, especially with a rich vocal line to follow.

Night Danger - A bit of subtle heft in the instrumental area, but with more interesting vocals as I am coming to expect here.

ROGER WATERS “AMUSED TO DEATH”
So why am I reviewing an album from 1992? Well, as you may have noticed there are lot of remixed deluxe additions coming out these days, particularly of progressive bands with new 5.1 mixes. I have quietly gone wild over many of these as I always had a secret longing for quadrophonic sound when I was young. I have enjoyed many of the releases, but have gotten to the point where I need to be more selective going forward. And this album isn’t quite worthy of many future listening sessions for me. It has its moments where it sounds like latter day Pink Floyd and there are some stirring guitar and vocal passages that resonate. But there are those ham-fisted overwrought moments that brought down ‘The Wall’ for me, as I consider that album highly overrated. Of course, I am reviewing the MP3s and not any of the high fidelity versions, but this is the new mix, which apparently has a few artistic changes worked in along with the cleaner sound. It has a full rich feeling throughout, so if you liked this album at all, you may want to splurge for the newer version.

WHITE REAPER  “DOES IT AGAIN”
Good clean raunchy fun will always have a place in my listening world (much more than in my real world). This is a lot of fun, especially the loopy keyboard parts that seem to turn my head into a hyper speed metronome. The guitars are fuzzy and wild with loads of power and just the right pace. This brand of garage pop could only come after the late 1970s as it has that extra edge that early practitioners like the Buzzcocks and 999 had along with perhaps the 3 O’Clock at their heaviest.

Songs to start with first:

Make Me Wanna Die - The opening one has plenty of Ramones meets Dickies meets 999 sounds all powering forward.

Alone Tonight - Cute pop song with a heavy enough guitar for me, like a tougher Raspberries.

Don’t You Think I Know? - Two gnarly fuzzed out guitars are better than one, especially with melodic vocals.