Tuesday, March 31, 2015

RECORD REVIEWS - MARCH 2015

Whew! In case it is not obvious by now, I have trouble saying no. But my policy of reviewing everything sent in may have to change as this month saw a 50% in records beyond my record month thus far. Kyle helped me with one, and more may head his way next month. Yet while I complain about the time involved, it may be needed to uncover the many gems in this list from the DC area and well beyond. So I hope you make it to the end of this alphabetic list as one of the best is at the bottom.

ALSO “ALSO”
This is one long instrumental electronica album. And I mean looooooong, as the nine songs, such as they are, go on for over an hour. There are some interesting enough themes, but not interesting enough for me to think of how they can work into my life. It does have an edge to it and pushes the listener, so it should appeal to assertive electronica fans.

AMBROSIA PARSLEY “WEEPING CHERRY”
This is a nice little album that floats between psychedelia, pop, and modern rock music. There is even a touch of folk here is well, in the ethereal manner as opposed to the rootsier approach. The band adds a number of twists and turns to the arrangements, but the moodiness remains the most powerful presence due to the clear and controlled manner in the lead vocals. It is a bit David Lynchian, but a bit more down to earth than that.

Songs to try first:

Empire - The vocal phrasing is really smooth and sexy.

Weeping Cherry - A bit more on a classic folk singer songwriter style, yet with a delicate touch.

Skin & Bone - Man, was the early guitar sound great before the odd lounge song spewed forth (?!)

THE BLANK TAPES “GEODESIC DOME PIECE”
I started typing this review with a ludicrous typo, by calling them the ‘bland’ tapes. This was far from a Freudian slip as this music is quite vibrant and was an absolute blast to listen to. Some of the songs are quite brilliant, with others slipping back a bit, but still offering some variety into the psychedelic mix. They have more restraint than most of the psychedelic bands taking cues from poppier acts like the Beau Brummels or even like a lightier spacier Spiritualized at times. It’s an odd mix of songs, but there is a lot of imagination amidst the likable melodies that it comes together at the end of the twelve songs. It is great to see pyschedelic moves working in so many musical directions, even if every other song is about getting stoned.

Songs to try first:

Way Too Stoned - Excellent Beau Brummels styled song that is truly timeless (well at least 1960s and beyond).

BUFF - Strong psychedelic work out with a moderate piece that holds an edge.

Do You Wanna Get High - Lovely jangly pop song.

BOHANNONS “BLACK CROSS BLACK SHIELD”
Black may be the theme, but this reminds me more of Blue Cheer, although there is too much sophistication in the songs, so there is much much more. It’s as if that band took some songwriting lessons from REM and maybe tripped out in the desert with Kyuss. This band can really bring it a quietly intense sort of style into these excellent songs. I particularly enjoy the vocals and how the guitars both jangle and offer some thick undercoating. The rhythm section is old school rock and keeps it all flowing. I hear a lot of things in this music and I am already getting too cute in trying to pin them down. So I will leave with the statement that this Chattanooga band has produced some of the freshest and finest old school rock music this side of Graveyard.

Songs to try first:

Black Cross, Black Shield - The opener is a long jamming rocker that undulates as well as powers the senses.

Eyewitness Blues - Great jangle and flow.

Dias de los Muertas - Is this Crazy Horse?

KYLE CAMPBELL “SUNDAY’S BEST

This is a warm and friendly six song ep that is a good introduction to Kyle Campbell. He has a pleasant pop rock Americana style that is familiar with just enough personality and creativity to resonate afterward. That is not always easy in this field and a few of these songs sound like many before, but they all have a good pace that keeps them interesting along with good melodies. I particularly liked the closer, ‘Highway’, with its assertive rock guitar moves. I missed his recent show at the Electric Maid, but hopefully will catch the next one.

HANNAH COHEN “PLEASURE BOY”
This eight song release is a powerful pop record as opposed to a power pop record. The sound is lush, but there is intensity in the music and singing, not quite bombastic, but full, rich with imagery and thick spaces of sound. The style is flowing with a mixture of warmth and cool, so don’t let a title like ‘Queen of Ice’ fool you. You will likely be warmed by this record, and very involved if you let it work its magic. There is so much going on in terms of complimentary contrasts, that it is better to just listen to this in its entirety and see if it works for you. For me, it is a pleasure to hear newer sounds working with older themes and registering as a great album.

SAM COHEN “COOL IT”

Sam Cohen hit many of my buttons with his approach to this album. He is somewhere in between psychedelic folk and psychedelic rock in many of the same ways, stalwarts such as Dino Valente, Marcus, and MIJ were. Cohen mixes electric and acoustic guitars, while working in spacey moments to accent his fine vocal work. He sings in a trippy reverb style, but its very melodic, not unlike Sal Valentino at times. The songs are good, some quite good, but it is the overall mood and approach to the songs that really scores with me. This was a pleasure.

Songs to try first:

Let the Mountain Come to You - Hard edged psychedelic rocker with a touch of folk.

Pretty Lights - Soft edge psychedelic folder with a touch of rock.

Last Dream - Rousing rocker, but not too out of control with a sense of ‘cool’ throughout.

DICK DIVER “MELBOURNE, FLORIDA”
Clever album title from this Australian popster, who is far closer the ‘real’ Melbourne than the one that my late aunt retired to. The music is pop rock with a slight slacker or childlike innocence worked in. There is a strange array of styles, partly due to the switching between male and female vocals, but also with the varied pop approaches. It does not always connect with me, but it is quietly audacious and interesting. I would recommend a listen if you like your pop rock on the lighter side with some creative twitches embedded in that create some surprise elements.

Songs to try first:

Year in Pictures - This could be just a nice indie rock song, but the brass work is special.

Beat Me Up - Some Jonathan Richman influence in this slacker pop song perhaps?

Competition - Nice mix of smooth and jarring in the longest song on the album.

DOT DASH “EARTHQUAKES & TIDAL WAVES”
One of DC’s required listening bands is back with another gem that continues their exploration of where power pop meets assertive melodic punk music. When done well, fans of both genres will get a lot out of the music as it can be a comfortable marriage. And Dot Dash continues to be one of the best at nailing this style down pat. If anything, this album may be slightly warmer here. But fear not, the thunderous riffs and powerhouse veterans on bass and drums do their part to keep things strong and assertive. I am probably preaching to the choir by now (I sure hope so) but it is high time to check out this band if you have not already.

Songs to try first:

The Winter of Discontent - Pretty much any winter for anymore, but this poppy yet intense number will make me feel better in the cold.

Tatters - A touch of ballad within the snappy pop song here, reminding me a bit of Grant Hart.

Walls Closing In - On the more ferocious side of the band, great wall of bass and drums and sharp biting guitars.

*** Dot Dash plays the Comet Ping Pong for their official release show on Friday, April 24th.

ETIQUETTE “REMINISCE”
Even with the lovely female vocals, this electronic pop album sounds computer composed and executed. While I feel I am being quite unfair, it is just that the compositions are so smooth and melodic, that it sounds like the common denominator of all the decent electronic pop albums of recent years. Perhaps ‘Attention Seeker’ lived up to its title and I took more notice of the quality. Otherwise, this was a decent album that just went in one ear and out the other, like so many modern electronica albums do to me.

ANDY GABBARD “FLUFF”

There are some fun songs on this album. I particularly like the loose thick guitar noise and steady rhythm section pummeling along. What I don’t care for are the slacker vocals, not because they are necessarily bad, but that they are so common these days. But if you are not drowning in a sea of cute and lazy vocals as I am, you may want to indulge in this. You will certainly be rewarded with a good strong sound and some nice hooks, so you should take the time to decide for yourself. Or you can check out his regular job in the band, the Buffalo Killers.

Songs to try first:

Side B - Sounds like an A side to me.

More - Punchy rhythm and harmony vocals add to the fine guitar work here.

Dreams - Almost a Grant Hart song, well a bit short, but the spirit is there.

GROENI “HEWN”
When I think of New Zealand, it is hard to get away from Flying Nun records coming first to mind. Yet this EP fits into a much more modern brand of soultronica. Although musically, the electronic limitations are pretty much in line with many other releases, the vocal work is quite good. The voice has an amazing amount of air in it, yet is able to wrap around a melodic form, dripping with loads of emotion. I would recommend this to electronica fans who see artists like this at the U Street Music Hall. Wellington is a long way away, but perhaps Groeni will be gracing that stage with this music some day.

JOEL HARRISON “MOTHER STUMP”
This record is kind of blues, kind of rock, kind of progressive, kind of jazz, kind of experimental, and most importantly, kind of excellent. Harrison plays guitar and presents eleven instrumentals on this album to showcase his wide array of styles and his fine skills. His band is crisp and offers just enough extra push, without getting in the way. HIs guitar work is thoughtful and has the variety of moves that makes instrumental music work so well. It may even be too eclectic for some, but I welcome the variety as it makes my listening day a pleasure.

Songs to try first:

John the Revelator - The opener pretty much tells you what you need to know to experience the album.

Folk Song for Roisie - Not exactly folk, but nothing is exactly anything here, just a fine deep melody.

JIM HEALD “CHIAROSCURO”
This DC area folkie came to my attention via an album sent to my German editor in Folkworld who remailed it back to the US for me to review. I have been a fan ever since and it is great to see that this new album even exceeded my lofty expectations. Heald has a fine guitar style and technique with an excellent voice to match. He adds just enough instrumentation to fill things out but allowing plenty of space to create different atmospheric textures. He can go from psychedelic folk to rootsier folk to a more mainstream pop folk style. It never is dull and he gets it all together with his strong central presence.

Songs to try first:

Juliet’s on Fire - This is how acoustic psychedelic folk is supposed to sound, be it 2015 or 1967.

I Had a Dream Last Night - Simple enough folk song with fine lyrics and haunting backing vocals.

Takes Me Away - This reminds me of a 60s pop/folk hybrid that is radio friendly, but really cool as well.

NIC HESSLER “SOFT CONFECTIONS”
Nic Hessler reminds me a lot of the Hollies or the pre-disco Bee Gees, both bands of which don’t seem to be in play as much as they ought to be. Basically, it is a pop sound with just enough rock heft to attract a broad audience as the hooks are there to keep interest high enough for all. That is Nic Hessler at his best. This album is a bit erratic at times, but the pop gemstones he nails are quite excellent. And the variety helps make the arrangements stand out better, even if a few of the songs seem a bit disjointed. But my toe is tapping more often on this album than many others on this list, so Nic Hessler is doing a lot right.

Songs to try first:

Hearts Repeating - Nice brisk pace with ringing poptones from the guitars.

Permanent - Acoustic guitar is the core with electric coloring.

All in the Night - This sounds like some forgotten 1960s hit that you feel you know deep down.

IRON AND WINE “ARCHIVES VOL 01”
Sam Beam has dug deep into his closet, attic, or garage of tapes and has come up with early recordings that he has decided to release. This can often be a mixed blessing, although true fans always want this material. And quite often, the material is worthwhile all its own, to a surprising extent. This is one of those times as these sixteen songs sound a lot better than many a band’s careful efforts. Whereas here, Beam recorded these songs prior to his first album with a home 4-track recorder. So it is basically voice and a guitar or two in most of the arrangements, but this stark approach works just fine with the components he has at his disposal, as well as his fine songwriting skills. It’s kind of an American Nick Drake style at times, at least on the better songs (and there are enough of those here). I am a moderate fan of Iron and Wine, but lesser fans than I who appreciate deep contemplative folk music should like this every bit as much as I do.

Songs to try first:

Slow Black River - The opener will grab you with the restraint in the guitar and vocal format and the quiet intensity of the song.

Two Hungry Blackbirds - Nice slide work and a fine vocal line.

Quarters in a Pocket - Has that old time folk song feeling to it.

THE LAST 24 “STRANGER IN MY HEAD”
This four song EP from Norway is a quick hard hitting blast. The rock heft is quite nice, although I hope the band steers more towards Penetration than Pat Benetar. The catchiness is fine and thankfully, they really ratchet up the intensity to keep this moving. But when they do a long player, they hopefully will have some interesting darker moments to mix it up a bit. I will stay tuned for progress and just rock out for now.

LEGS “ALTITUD”

I hear two reasons why this works better for me than most electronic pop music. First, the music has a strength and conviction with plenty of twists and turns to hold my interest. Second, the soulful vocals are smooth and clean and have the needed emotion to carry the songs into higher planes. This Brooklyn (via Seattle) band is off to a fine start and should be able to establish themselves pretty quickly in a crowded field. The creativity in varying the sounds is some of the best I have heard in this field in quite some time.

Songs to try first:

Top of the World - Strong music, powerful melody in this opener.

Running - Punchy guitar delivered with taste and bouncing well between beats and keys.

Dream Tech - Is that a real accordion or is it Memorex? (very old reference, here)

LIFE SIZE MAPS “LIFE SIZE MAPS”
This is pop music, but it is quite powerful in its execution. The only criticism I have is that only a few of the songs are distinct. But what this lacks in variety, it makes up for in smart assertive playing that creates a feel good atmosphere while getting the blood to flow more briskly. This could be a fine record when you want something smart, but simple enough to dig right into you and stick around a while. Look for this one when it comes out next week.

Songs to try first:

Weird Luck - The opener starts with strength, before the warmer pop moves work their way in.

Abstract Speed - Interesting building of dynamic sonics behind the bouncy vocal melody.

Darkling - I love the pace and power with some of the best vocals here as well.

MEGA RAN & STORYVILLE “SOUL VEGGIES”
I do not get much rap and hip hop in for review, which is just as well as I can’t really place it contextually in any hip hop historical context. But I like to expose myself to the best of hip hop regularly as it can be quite a jolt. I am not sure where Mega Ran & Storyville stacks up historically, but for me, it is a fun and exciting album. First of all, the usual cliches that turn me off to many rappers, don’t seem to be happening here. The stories and rhymes seem fresh and original with an intelligence and a sense of humor. There is also enough quality music and creative electronics that freshen this up to high levels. So record labels and promo reps can keep the hip hop flowing this way, if it is going to be this good.

MITTENFIELDS “OPTIMISTS”
These guys have been gracing many a DC stage for some time now and It’s great to get some new music for the first time since a fine EP some time back. They still feature that huge sound that you would expect with a three-guitar band. One great thing about them has always been the ability to use three guitars effectively with a broad dynamic range of parts where it never sounds like overkill on one hand, or repetitiveness on the other. The rhythm section is rock solid and the bassist’s vocals are as big as the sound. Kudos to the recording at the Bastille of Inner Ear as everything comes through clearly and bold. In talking with the band, they don’t consider themselves shoe gaze and I mostly agree with that, although I can see why some would think that with such big guitar sounds. The band’s songs are more in between that sound and various forms of heavy rock and indie rock. There are also some pop moves throughout and each song has its own character. This is a fine release, representative of the fine scene we have here in DC.

Songs to try first:

Optimists - The opener has some crafty songwriting that you don’t want to lose sight of as you rock out.

Telepathic Windows - A real powerhouse that is now my third favorite ‘Telepathic’ song next to the Wipers and Blue Oyster Cult.

Surprise Me - It is always nice when an album closes with a song of epic proportions—job done.

*** Check out the band live at the main stage of the Black Cat on Thursday April 30th for the record release show (also featuring three other bands).

MOLEHILL “TIN GOD”
This Chicago band has an approach that takes just enough the best out of some popular genres that can be tricky in combination. They rock hard, have an earnest punk intensity, and use heavy electronic sounds in addition to the rock instruments. The resulting music comes out heavy with interesting sonic twists that are not distracting but really gel together. At their best they carve out some heavy territory in a melodic world. At their worst, they sound like they have created some nice Muse outtakes—and that isn’t exactly bad either. In fact, some may prefer that style. I hope they keep writing and exploring fascinating ways to create memorable melodies that have a gutsy delivery.They have got a decent thing going here and can easily appeal to a wide variety of music lovers.

MOON DUO “SHADOW OF THE SUN”
If you engaged in ‘newer’ psychedelic music with the Jesus and Marychain, you will probably enjoy Moon Duo. If you listen to a lot of this style and have for many decades, you may not go hog wild for this band, but you will enjoy the record. This band uses the basic keyboards, guitars, vocals, and drums to create a steady atmosphere of their own that does not vary in tone so much, although the vocals distinguish the songs at times. It is all accomplished and pleasant more than dark (in spite of the shadows), but there is not too much to stand out versus the crowd. But with a quality sound like this, I believe I would enjoy their approach live in the clubs.

PAPERHAUS “PAPERHAUS”
This is one of those rare times where I’ve seen a band a handful of times or more over several years prior to hearing their first long player. The fascinating thing about this band is that they manage to morph their style into something slightly unique each time out. They can rock hard, float into psychedelic realms, emit pop hooks that border saccharineland, All of that is here in just seven songs plus a revisit of one. Their hooks and subtle style shifts are seamless and the band can really build up the drama of their songs through their careful playing while comfortably working off each other. They have paid plenty of dues in DC and around the country and still have it together. It is nice to have a long player that makes sense of my memories of the last few years of listening to Paperhaus in DC.

Songs to try first:

Cairo - Do you know how Motorpsycho sounds with a driving pop song? No, you probably don’t but you should compare sometime.

Misery - Cool eight plus minute psyche blues exploration that I always enjoy live.

Surrender - Strong song that showcases a lot of what works well for this band (there’s even an outro revisit).

*** You can catch them next at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel at the North Country's record release show on Friday, April 17th.

RASHITA JONESES EP
This is a quick hard hitting blast of twisted garage punk. It is lo-fi and has plenty of abandon, although the band keeps it tighter than most. The vocals are the most twisted part of it all. The last of the four songs slows it down a bit and grunge it out in a manner of the Grifters. This is solid stuff and has me looking forward to a live show perhaps? Hopefully.

RAVEN TREE “RAVEN TREE”
This Baltimore crew is a hard rocking bunch. They have all the components down pretty well in an old school rock manner. Yet there is some pace at times and a super thick bottom end that pushes it out a bit. When they have that working best and have decent lyrics, these songs are quite exceptional. There are a few others that remind me more of the songs I wanted to escape from in the 1970s, which is a challenge for bands that try to capture the magic of the successful hard rock bands from days of old. The highlights here are enough to think that this band will be able to do all of this over time. And for now, there are some strong songs and probably a fun live set as well.

Songs to try first:

Save Me - Really crunchy guitars, good vocals, it all comes together nicely here.

Summer Nights - Thick slab of rock with a few interesting melodic moments as well.

The Raven - One of the tougher more metallic songs here.

RED SAMMY “LAWNCHAIR”
If you haven’t caught up with Baltimore’s Adam Trice by now, this four song ep under his Red Sammy moniker is a fine entry point. He is working with his band that he’s had for some time now, which really help expand his songs into full Americana folk rock outings. The rock is on the lighter side, but the blues and folk roots are all quite secure. He’s got a way with a song, as well, as these titles will attest to, even before you get into the lyrics. He plays Baltimore a lot and DC a little and I would definitely recommend a live show some time soon.

REPTAR “LURID GLOW”
More pop electronica here with vocals and lots of beeps and whistles (of sorts). It’s all bouncy and occasionally quite inventive like the near orchestral break in ‘Ice Black Sand’. As with most electronic based albums, I was wary of this succeeding with me. But Reptar has an energy in the music with lots of surprises (with lots of instrumentation beyond electronics). Add a strong vocal presence and you get some exciting vibrant music. It’s not quite up there with the most assertive punk/new wave hybrids of my youth, but it is a welcome sound today. And I have seen them live, where they put on an excellent set with quirky moves and full instrumentation leading to a finely toned original presence. This record grows them further outward.

*** Reptar comes to the U Street Music Hall this Thursday, April 2nd.

SLUG “RIPE”
Remember new wave? I mean, do you remember when it was not a dirty word and was fun and had some energy. Slug (two guys from Field Music) takes me back to that era, but still sounds more modern than not. They capture the fun, while working their imagination overtime to put things together in odd, yet comforting ways. Not too comforting as drums and synth stabs will keep you alert. Some of the songs are not as vibrant as the best of them, but there is some nice variety here along with plenty of balance between keys, guitar, bass, drums, and voice (so it is more than an electronic pop album).

Songs to try first:

Cockeyed Rabbit - Strong drumming works off the synth, guitar and bass and oddball vocals.

Weight of Violence - I still like a steel drum song for a real curveball.

At Least - The closer reminds of Wire in their odd pop phase.

STONE DRIVER “DESCENT”
Do you remember when music was free from irony? It has been a while, but there was a brief period in my youth where every band took the approach of Stone Driver. They just wanted to rock out with straightforward heartfelt songs. Music got a lot more complicated, and while better in some ways, we can be happy we still have bands that know how to rock. And Stone Driver does that plenty on this record, but offers a fair amount of variety within their sound. They have some psyche tones in ‘Prism’, offer acoustic moments, with different rhythms and guitar sounds throughout. They are a fairly new band on the DC scene, but they clearly have veteran players that know how to bring out the best in a song. If you want thoroughly modern slacker attitude, there are some choices on this list, but for real rock fans, check this out.

Songs to try first:

Falling - Fine vocal work and good musical dynamics anchor this song.

Steel Train - I love the tasty guitar opening and swinging rhythm here.

Tip this Back - Short acoustic folk ballads almost always work on rock albums as this did here.

SWEET INTERFERENCE “AM I MISSING SOMETHING HERE”
I miss this band. So I am happy to see that they are still out there recording music, but playing a bit less with family obligations and such. They clearly spend time working out clever arrangements and intricate melodic shifts as their brand of pop rock is quite unique. It is strong and packs a punch, but their is an underlining sweetness throughout, making their band name quite accurate. This is an excellent record that will offer fans of pop and rock many more twists than they would expect. It is a fun ride, so hop on.

Songs to try first:

Double Feature - The opener really brings the great comparisons to Peanut Butter Conspiracy to light.

Bullet in the Barrel - Excellent male and female vocal tradeoffs reminiscent of Dengue Fever.

Mouth Shut Z - Well written song with strong dramatic rock moves vocally and instrumentally.

LAURA TSAGGARIS “LIVE AT THE ATLAS”

This a full live set of songs, seventeen of them, giving us the experience of full live outing from folkie, Laura Tsaggaris. What strikes me first, is her powerful voice. She flexes it extremely well as her intensity shifts along a gentle slope as she pulls back or pushes forward. There are plenty of band moves in the backing beyond the acoustic guitar. The keyboards are especially tasty with many different styles. There is even a string quartet making its way into the mix in ‘Seized’ and a few more. Ultimately it is the strength and conviction in the lyrics and voice which will keep you attentive and interested in these songs.

*** Laura Tsaggaris comes to the Jammin Java on Thursday, April 23rd

TWIN PEAKS “WILD ONION”
These young kids from Chicago have all the enthusiasm you would expect, but sound a lot more polished than you would imagine. They have a revved up jangled down garage sound with loads of hooks dancing around in these short blasts. They are a bit like if Guided By Voices were Californians devoted to the Byrds or the Long Ryders. But bring that more up to date and you have a sound that Twin Peaks has smartly worked out. They are a kick live and are touring hard, so the future looks bright. But for now, there is plenty to enjoy among these 16 songs.

Songs to try first:

Sloop Jay D - Gnarled vocals atop playful guitars and a big beat.

Fade Away - Turn the guitars up and point yourselves straight ahead. Now, GO!

Ordinary People - Showing the world they can slow it down and stretch it out a bit (over 4 minutes!)

***Be sure to see this band when they hit the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Friday, May 1st.

VETIVER “COMPLETE STRANGERS”
I was wondering if Vetiver and I have not become ‘complete strangers’ when I heard the opening passages of this album. I had seen them three times in their early years, but it has been a while. And with this, their sixth album, there are more dreamy electronics involved with their highly personal brand of folk, Americana style. I say ‘their’ but is still Andy Cabic, his songs, and his selections for his hand picked musicians to work with. His music has always been of a quality that I have wanted to follow it, although it rarely reaches out and grabs me. It is more like grabbing the proverbial cloud, so it is better to sit back and let it create some atmosphere near-by. Nothing has changed there, although the sounds are more modern and pop oriented than that of the early albums and eps. And I find them an interesting band that I respect and enjoy listening to, although I find it hard to get in the mood to make that decision to put them on.

Songs to try first:

From Now On - Lovely lilting qualities in delivering the ethereal melody.

Confiding - Dreamy distance established in this low key style.

Loose Ends - Breezy pop song with a bit of that old jangle in the guitar — very California.

WAND “GOLEM”
by Kyle Schmitt
This album retains the deliberately paced heaviness that marked Wand’s live set during their September 2014 show at 9:30. But the band displays greater dexterity on Golem, utilizing atmospherics to add a new dimension to their music. “Cave In” boasts an almost psychedelic quality, while “Floating Head” transitions deftly from distortion to a cleaner guitar and drum sound. On the album closer “The Drift”, Wand achieves an affect akin to wandering the landscape of an strange new planet. Their best songs complement the trudging guitars with adventurous melodic accompaniment and an increased reliance on vocals.

Songs to Try First

Self Hypnosis in 3 Days - No matter how weird it gets, you can still feel the melody (even through the Martian death-ray effects).

Melted Rope - Distant vocals mesh nicely with restrained guitar and pleasant droning.

Floating Head - The guitar solo and Space-Truckin’ bass line sound reminiscent of classic Deep Purple.

WAR GAMES “HOLDING PATTERNS”
This another melodic emo alternative rocker that we have all heard many times. I am not sure there is anything new here, but there is nothing wrong with their sound or approach that should hold them back. The energy is there, the vocals and some of the instrumentation moves into better territory than some of their peers. I am not sure I have three distinct songs that stand out, so I’ll start with the appropriately named ‘Foundation’. This one has the creative chops, so if you like this, you may like the rest.

JIMMY WHISPERS “SUMMER IN PAIN”

More lo-fi quirky pop music here. I liked the third song where he warbles repeatedly that he needs a vacation. That is exactly what I was thinking as I am simply hearing too much music that sounds the same. This is a perfectly acceptable album, but the lo-fi simplistic approach is becoming quite tiresome. This is almost creating a reversal of the punk rock days where that music was an antidote to progressive excesses and the slickly produced pop and disco scenes. But now… Give me lots of notes per measure! Wild keyboard solos, operatic lead singing! No more lo-fi, try a little for a change! I don’t want to solely pick on Mr. Whispers, but he hit me at a bad time. He may be ok for many people out there, but I would rather see more substance than ironic whimsy.

WILSEN “MAGNOLIA REMIX EP”
I remember a great bit by Dennis Leary where he rants on the moviemakers who are always remaking good films of the past. He asks why they don’t they remake the failures and try to get it right this time? I can’t escape these thoughts every time I see a special remix edition of someone’s music. And when it is something by a band with recently released music, I really don’t care if you have celebrated bands doing the remix. Just make some great music of your own, use whatever production, recording, and mixing assistance you need and complete your vision. Here we have four decent enough electronic pop songs that are quite likable, but I really don’t care that four bands have remixed them, even knowing a couple of them—Wye Oak and Death Vessel. Of more interest, will be the live mix the band will choose at their upcoming DC appearance. But if you want a taste of what that may be like, maybe it is like this, or maybe not.

***You can see Wilsen this Tuesday, April 7th at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel.

WILL Z. “NEW START”
I am quite happy that this outstanding musician found me, based on some uploads of Book of AM material I did. On his last album he played with some of the musicians of that phenomenal album and the results were brilliant. It is easy to be fans of psychedelic folk music of the 1960s and 1970s, but from what I have seen, few people do it justice today. Will Z is one of those that does by creating magical musical landscapes that are melodic and mysterious. Although this music is highly meditative, it is also adventurous with an inner strength that is needed to take it to such a high level. I like how he broke up the five parts of ‘Jain Devotion’ into the front and ending songs, reminding me of one of the better Pink Floyd albums, ‘Wish You Were Here’. If there is any justice, music like this should find it’s way to Floyd fans, as long as they like Algarnas Tradgard, early Tangerine Dream, Igra Staklenih Perli, and Can am des Puig (Book of AM). And this is yet one more reason I should be living in Belgium, as the music scene there is every bit as good as the soccer these days. Oh, and as a bonus, this has Daevid Allen playing some guitar in what will be one of the last releases of his long and amazing career.

Monday, March 30, 2015

PREVIEWS of COMING ATTRACTIONS - Early April 2015

Take a listen, take a look, and see if any of these shows are worthy of your time. I plan on being at as many as I can, body and mind permitting.

You can start out the Month of April by heading to the Paperhaus this Wednesday for a big show featuring Chicago's Crown Larks, Anthony Pirog and many more.


And continue on by partaking in the Liturgy at DC9 on Thursday the second. YES, their amazing drummer has returned!


Jose Gonzalez
brings his intimate, but oh so big sound to the 9:30 Club on Tuesday, April 7th.


Mountain Goats come down from the hills to hit the 9:30 on Wednesday, April 8th.


Lady Lamb the Beekeeper comes for likely will be a popular show at the DC9 on Thursday the 9th.


Friday April 10th... to Whirr at the DC9? or to walk on the Diamond Rugs at the Black Cat? I haven't decided yet. Here's the evidence.



Rodrigo Amarante is a fascinating artist worth heading over to the 6th + I Synagogue on Sunday, April 12th.


And if you are not sick of music by now, perhaps you can find out if you are Sick of Sarah, as that band hits the Black Cat on Tuesday the 14th.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Joel Harrison + Anthony Pirog Telecaster Tribute Band -- JVs - Mar 28 2015

Joel Harrison + Anthony Pirog - Two of Cuneiform Records finest guitarists team up for a real treat tonight. Most DCers are familiar enough with Anthony Pirog by now and he is joined by Joel Harrison who returns to his native city and chose to cook up a couple of sets of songs that he grew up with long ago. They have a veteran rhythm section of Jack O'Dell and John Previti laying down the foundation for their wild guitar excursions. Because even though this has a Link Wray styled country blues rock style, the guitarists take it up and outward several notches. They are both amazing stylists and comfortably work together as if they have been touring this for years. Yet the playfulness is there and their sense of fun comes through to the large crowd at this Falls Church club.
 photo from the show courtesy of Joyce at Cuneform Records.

They even do some Link Wray as well as tackling the vocals of the Hank Williams classic, 'Your Cheatin' Heart'. It is all familiar aside from the soloing, which would have had audiences of the fifties and early sixties fleeing in terror, like they did in those radiation monster movies of the day. And like when I saw Johnny A recently, Harrison added some drama by controlling the dynamics through volume shifts, which makes familiar material all the more exciting. They added some guest singers and keyboardists (an old high school pal) to add even more layers to their sound.  Great fun tonight.

And you have one more chance to see Joel Harrison in DC as he plays two sets tonight at the Bohemian Caverns on U Street. He will be doing a bit more of his unique genre bending style that he exhibits on his latest album, 'Mother Stump'. So don't expect Link Wray, but expect to be impressed by some superior guitar work.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

DTCV -- Velvet Lounge - Mar 27th

DTCV - This band (actually a duo tonight) is pronounced Detective. They are not these guys, who were signed to Swansong when I was young.
Although one member was Michael des Barres, who was married to the more famous des Barres, Pamela, who is a groupie/writer who wrote the classic 'I'm With the Band'.

James Greer of this DTCV is also from LA and is a writer who wrote 'Guided by Voices-A Brief History' (and many more books and screenplays) about his tenure in that band. He also lived in my old musical home ground of Dayton, while in that GBV and was even engaged to Kim Deal.
So with all these interesting connections and the pleasure I had from listening to their album (reviewed last month), why was tonight such a dud? Well, we can start with the Velvet Lounge going back to their bad habits of opening the doors much later than announced (over 45 minutes tonight) keeping everyone in the dark crowded downstairs bar. Then, we run up where the band starts immediately before everyone can even get in and settle. The band is just a duo as their drummer flew back to LA to shoot a video for Health, which he is also a member of. The good news is he is flying back for the New York show on Saturday--that makes me feel better. The bassist is supposedly selling their merchandise tonight for some reason, unless that is some sly humor from the band. So that leaves just a couple guitars and vocals... and humming feedback. Some of the songs are decent at the core and they go over well enough with the crowd. But frankly, in lieu of remaining for more bands, I feel like spending more time with my cat before settling into bed with an old Dark Shadows episode, so home I went, while U Street partied on.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Swervedriver - Gateway Drugs -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Mar 25 2015

Gateway Drugs - Wow, three of the four members here are children of a member of the Knack! 'My Sharona' was drilled into our heads for about a six month period, where it seemed easier to escape life itself than that dramatic power pop hit. The kids stretch out the pop hooks here and create a stronger post punk psyche rock vibe that works quite well tonight with this large crowd. I particularly like the trade-off lead vocals between male and female voices. When they harmonize, they remind me a bit of the Raveonettes singing with a tad of Bunnymen in the music. This is quite good and a pleasure to listen to. But then they cap it off with even more fun, as they reach back before their birth to their California forebears, the Count Five, an do a great cover of 'Psychotic Reaction'. They left to a great ovation and can likely pull a lot of this crowd back again.
http://www.pennyblackmusic.co.uk/MagSitePages/Article/7832/Interview/Swervedriver-Interview
Swervedriver - It looks like these guys are back to stick around a while after their reunion tour. I had not kept up recently, but they are touring a new album with the band that has been around a few years featuring Adam Franklin, guitarist Jimmy Hartridge, long time bassist Steve George, and prolific American drummer Mikey Jones (who worked with Franklin's solo band). It is a tight powerful unit that delivers the volume and intricate moves you expect and they had it working well tonight. It did not seem quite as intense, perhaps due to the newer material or maybe even more so, the fact that I was in the back of the club as opposed to right up front last time they were here. They still have a great take on the hard rocking shoe gaze style with Adam Franklin's fine work, although tonight I found some of his vocals less interesting than on his solo albums or earlier Swervedriver material. But I will always try to be on hand for a Swervedriver show, as their brand of power is a great boost to life, that not every band can achieve merely by turning up their amplifiers.

Plug of the Night: I am highly looking forward to this, as the Damned are an interesting subject for a film, a brilliant band with a flawed career who I can listen to and talk about the whole night long. And Lemmy gets it right, the Damned were a true punk band.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Johnny A. -- Jammin Java - Mar 22 2015

Johnny A. - This is my first time encountering this veteran Boston guitar maestro. He is touring with a guitarist and rhythm section and brings his highly stylized guitar work to a long set of instrumental music. It is clearly blues based from the outset, but the style is nearly progressive with its intricacy and expansive genre bending moves. This becomes more clear as he does a Beatles tribute set of songs and works in lots of riffs and other songs, either complete like a Bee Gees cover, or partial takes on famed Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin riffs. It all works because of his great skill at interpretation and repurposing these songs into his band's approach. When you are lacking vocals, it is as important to do that as well as have the underlying talent. He and his band certainly have the talent and the fairly sizable Sunday night crowd is really digging in and enjoying the set. His humorous patter is also effective in keeping things lively, and he even uses humor in his playing like when returning to 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' for a few bars after he had worked in the whole song about a half hour earlier in the set. I particularly enjoyed his dynamic volume shifts, going 'wicked quiet' for a solo, before kicking in the monster riffs. Guitar fantatics and players will obviously enjoy his work, but with personality and style like this, he easily appeals to a wide range of blues and rock fans.
Quote of the Night: Johnny A - "This is from the 'Sometime Tuesday Morning' album. Anybody got that one?"
crowd - "Oh yeah!"
"Yeah, I got a shitload of them, too."

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Thaylobleu - Hello Dharma - Chess Club Romeos - Swell Daze -- Iota - Mar 21 2015

Swell Daze - With the first notes, I am hoping I am hearing Good Times/Bad Times instead of something ripping off that song, not that turnabout is not fair play concerning Led Zeppelin. Turns out it is the Zeppelin cover, which works ok for me. But then more covers are routinely tossed into this 42 minute set. And it was mostly bad times for me with my least favorite Pink Floyd song being played (just guess--prize for the winner) and the Beatles, who hardly ever work well unless there is a real twist. The original music was ok as this band rocks quite nicely, especially with some hot guitar. Certainly this is a fine bar band, but I will need to hear more to see if the originality is up to the playing abilities.

Chess Club Romeos - More rock music delivered thick and assertively by a local quartet who features two guitars, at least when one of them isn't on keyboards. They all sing which adds a lot of heft to the sound and pushes things forward. They also could push the pace when needed, which I enjoyed a lot. Their songwriting is the main key to their success, as there is something just a little bit unexpected, perhaps in the vocal melody. Overall their sound is a bit in between Max Webster and Moxy (actually closer to the former, from what I recall of my memories of decades, nay centuries past). Less covers here, although I would not have recommended them closing with an old rock'n'roll chestnut. Next time, they should finish with their smoking original cut that was fourth from last. But this was a fine, fine set of interesting rock music covering a lot of ground.

Hello Dharma - More strong old school rock music on hand here and this band is decent enough, but I didn't quite get the personality shining through enough to distinguish their approach. I did enjoy the twin leads, as I saw two Thin Lizzy shirts the previous night, but this was the only band of the seven to actually employ some Lizzy style. A few more covers, I think (as I can conclude there were when a band member says we might recognize the next one, even when I don't). Probably a decent band here, but four 45 minute sets for this late starting show for my second night in a row gets pretty tough for me.
Thaylobleu - Well here's my late night wake-up call. Thaylobleu me away tonight with an even finer set than the previous ones I have seen. They have their usual mix of intriguing rock songs coupled with funkier R&B numbers, yet none of them fit comfortably within each genre. It is as if this was the musical equivalent of Hugh Crain's Hill House where as one character described the house as having no perfect right angle anywhere, creating something that is a bit off yet looks so right. And with Thaylobleu's music, that is a good thing as they are fine players who can really churn out such interesting songs with a bit more flair and panache than previously. They may not make a lot of people comfortable with their unique and sometimes challenging songs, but I hope they keep pushing the envelope. And they do rock out comfortably, so you don't have think too hard on this. Suffice it to say, they are on to something good and there are a whole lot of people in DC who should be checking them out.

Quote of the Night: From the opener ... "You guys rock, are you ready to keep it going?"

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Borracho - Lo-Pan - Against the Grain -- The Pinch - Mar 20 2015

Against the Grain - From the great music city of Detroit comes this amalgamation of metallic style that gets this night out to a rousing start. They start with a loose thick monster of a song before cutting into a hardcore metal crossover approach. There are plenty of tempo shifts thereafter with the ever present underlying power keeping it all together. Major bonus points for taking few breaks and keeping the noise level highs and the songs forthcoming. Call it a bit of MC5, Valiant Thorr and Saint Vitus all dosed up on Blue Cheer (band or drug, you decide).

Lo-Pan - This is the second time I have seen this Columbus quartet and I was definitely looking forward to hearing their unique approach. Actually seeing the band live is part of the experience, as their mountain of a vocalist sets up behind the drum kit with the guitar and bass front and to the side. So he's overseeing the suite of songs by leading with his powerful vocals. This band could be from Georgia with their way of merging psyche, metal, and punk together, but it is the Ohio Columbus for them, home of very few bands worth considering (I lived there once). But these guys are worth going out of your way for as they proved it again tonight with another solid thick set.
Borracho - And if you haven't had your fill of interesting modern metal by now, there is now the local band that does it so well. This trio has a great approach with keeping it simple at the core, but stretching the intensity out at a steady pace by digging deep and letting fly. It was running a bit late for me tonight, so I can only judge the first half of their set, but they still had the same inner strength as exhibited on the album I own, as well as past shows. These guys should be on your radar if you like any sort of heavy music at all. They capture a basic primal sound and shape it into their own, which is not as easy as it sounds. Kudos to them for captaining a powerful night of music.

Quote of the Night: from someone nearby... "...but that would be legal in Romania."

Monday, March 16, 2015

Twerps - Ultimate Painting - Expert Alterations -- DC9 - Mar 15 2015

Expert Alterations - This Baltimore trio has a jangly take on post modern British psyche rock music. It is a simple and effective approach with a strong steady sound. Vocals are a bit too downer for me and perhaps that is why I am not fully feeling this music as well as I thought I would. I normally like this style a lot and these guys are close to pulling it off. Although not quite there yet, it certainly works well enough to open this fine billing tonight and the crowd did enjoy the set.

Ultimate Painting - This UK band has a strong western US influence. They have a couple of guitarists who both vocalize playing on top of a steady rhythm section, who can mix it some oddball moves. The guitar work is as quirky as the songwriting as these odd pop nuggets somehow merge well into loose psychedelic jams. This is a 180 degree reversal from the first band where I would not expect this style to work, but it somehow does. It is a full house by now and the crowd has caught the groove and was engaged for this 41 minute set. This was fun and quite original and I have had a full night already. But why stop with two bands?
Twerps - All the way from Melbourne comes this hard touring quartet. This is the first I have caught it with them and it was high time as they also have a fairly original take on pop rock music. The trick that works for them is that they balance both the quirky and the mannered within the same song somehow. The formula is not all that obvious other than they clearly understand song structures and are daring enough to move in original directions. They mix up the tempos well and alternate male/female lead vocals with some harmonies also changes things around to keep things fresh. A few songs stayed in a more expected range, but most soared into interesting terrain that was a pleasure to explore. Fun times and I am happy they are adding so many frequent flyer miles, as their music should work just about anywhere they play.

Quote of the Night: From the Twerps... "Wow, this is crazy. We played DC two years ago to six people. So thanks for coming out, on a Sunday, yet."

Sunday, March 15, 2015

PREVIEW of COMING ATTRACTIONS - Late March 2015

Shows are crowded with quite a few sell-outs across a great many clubs. People have tired of the winter and it is time to head out. Here are some choices for you and me.

Join me at the DC9 for Shannon Wright, this Wednesday, March 18th.


Chess Club Romeos play with the mighty Thaylobleu and along with two other bands, they will amp up the volume at Iota on March 21st.


or hit the record release show of Jonny Grave at the Black Cat also on Saturday the 21st. There will be a ton of blues.


The mighty Swervedriver and Gateway Drugs hit the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Wednesday, March 25th. Bring earplugs.



Or if you don't trust your earplugs take in the Carribean, who flow into the Bossa Bistro on the 25th.


Hmmm what to do on Friday the 27th? We have Big Data and Chappo at the Black Cat...or DTCV at the Velvet Lounge. I am not sure where I will be, but it will likely be at one of these (and if you know my style, you can probably see me at the Velvet Lounge).




Joel Harrison does a couple of shows on Saturday and Sunday, the 28-29th. The first is at JVs and the second is at Bohemian Caverns.


Finally, Oliver the Kid wanders into the U Street Music Hall on Monday the 30th.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

American Television - Railsplitter - Dot Dash - Curse Words -- Velvet Lounge - Mar 13 2015

Curse Words - This is the second time around for me and this local twin guitar quartet (all four bands would have this exact format on stage tonight). I don't know if it was me or them, but they seemed a tad sharper tonight. I liked them well enough last time, but they had just a bit more thrust this time. Some of the sameness remains, but I noticed a couple of really sharp songs, some interesting basslines, and the well thought out twin vocal parts were still exceptionally good. And what's more, this was a perfect bill as all four bands had a fine pop punk style with a bit of variation, but well within a fairly tight sub-genre. Great start and pretty much right on time, too.

Dot Dash - There is not much more for me to say about this band, as I have been fan for a long time and have seen them maybe eight or nine times by now. They've gone through a few lead guitarists and this is the second time I've seen them with Steve Hansgen, who is an excellent fit. Tonight, their brand of power pop meets punk style was a bit deeper and darker than usual. That had a bit to do with the sound and environment at the Velvet Lounge. But I am not complaining as it allowed for a slightly more intense time and the vocal work was still clear above the powerhouse rhythm section and twin guitars. Everyone around here should make an effort to see this band, unless you sided with the Newport group that thought Bob Dylan plugging in was a sell-out.

Railsplitter - Welcome back, twice over actually, as this band and the headliner have taken over a year off as they had to take care of some minor things around the house, like having baibies and getting their families set up. Such distractions... The vocals here remind me quite a bit of Jake Burns, and that is a good thing. Musically they veer toward power pop or melodic rock, but it is pretty heavy and born out of punk rock. They have plenty of moves to offer fans of any and all of those and their set was quite strong and they were having a great time. So was the crowd.
American Television - And another band that was clearly happy to be back on stage rocking out to a very full room of fans that treated all bands well and had much more enthusiasm than usual. Yeah, it was Friday night, but this band like the others had the energy and the songs to make for a great night. As someone who was going to punk rock shows in the 1970s, I sometimes have troubles with shows like this. But when the bands know the music and have just enough of a personal or creative take, it works for me. And American Television had it working tonight. I missed a couple of really good shows in DC tonight, but I am happy I chose this one as it delivered.

Obit of the Night: Rock music lost another great as 77 year old Daevid Allen passed away, pretty much right on cue as his cancer had returned a few months ago and this date was expected. Allen was an original member of the Soft Machine, but was more famous for founding Gong, a wild and creative force. Allen was a classic hippie type who pushed the boundaries of progressive music, few that there were, into some highly original territory. The recent Gong record he did was excellent and was a great note to end on. 


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Jukebox the Ghost - Little Daylight - Secret Someones -- 9:30 Club - Mar 10 2015

Secret Someones - This is bold assertive pop-rock and is quite pleasing to the ear. No doubt, the full band harmonies help, where even the male drummer joins the three females on bass, guitar and guitar/keyboards. The insturmental sound is gutsy with just a wee bit of variety that leans toward Americana, but never quite gets there. I liked their songs, and although their cover of Nirvana's 'Breed' only came in second best this year of the 2 cover versions I've heard, I liked the personality they infused into their version. Good job with the set and the crowd enthusiasm grew throughout. They will do well.

Little Daylight - In front of the drummer were three keyboard sets with guitars and a bass available for multiple combinations of sound. The real key to making this all work was how they seamlessly blended the lush keyboard sounds with the throbbing bass and quirky guitar sounds. Ultimately, they had some sort of post-punk pop sound with an intelligent classic pop form as well. I enjoyed their twist on Bowie's 'Let's Dance' as some of the audience did just that. The large crowd tonight dug in and had a great time with this set as well.
Jukebox the Ghost - Every city likes to see 'their own' make good, and it has fully happened here with this fine trio. In what is becoming a recurring theme tonight, the music is so smart yet enjoyable. These guys nail the pop sound about as well as you can with a loud intense approach added in. There are two lead vocalists that sound just different enough to work well together. The guitar work is strong with clever restraint used when needed. The drums are as powerful anchor as you would want and can take things up to the next level, which can keep a long set flowing. I really enjoyed the keyboards as the guy can really play. His piano work was full of moves that had me wanting more of the Emerson/Wakeman model in pop or rock music. He also knew when to show off or pull back and handled synthesizer solos as brilliantly as his piano gymnastics. This was a package tour ending tonight and the bands sounded like they truly enjoyed it (yeah, they all do, but this time it seemed a little more so). There are plenty of more tours on the horizon for this outstanding band.

Quote of the Night: From the openers... "This is the last night of the tour with Juicebox the Gh... Juicebox? Yeah we like Juicebox!"

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

El El - Avers -- Black Cat - Mar 3 2015

Avers - I thought this name was familiar. Turns out I saw this Richmond collective 10 months ago and wrote just about the same review then that I would tonight. So you can click on it and get the gist of this great band. I will add that if you like Black Mountain, Bevis Frond, and any other modern psyche band, you will easily get into Avers. They manage fine songs and extended jams with equal aplomb. Their 45 minute set had me riveted throughout.
El El - This Nashville band also has a crowded stage, but a much quieter sound, which is quite a challenge following such a strong and loud performance. Yet, they nailed it. The rhythm section is strong and there is a saxophone along with what are usually two keyboards with one guitar, but there is some switching off and on. There are a lot of vocalists and the harmonies and variety is quite nice. Is this band the urban smooth of indie rock? I just know that I wished all of electro-pop bands that I see at the U Street Music Hall would sound as good as this. The reason is simple, there are many fine musicians here who have creativity and synchronicity with their fellow players. They are having fun as is the large crowd out tonight in the backstage room of the Black Cat. And I cannot think of a time where I saw such a high percentage of actual dancing going on during a set. This is a band to watch.

Photograb of the Night: