Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Artist: The Joy Kills

Review by Jessi Roti – @JessiTaylorRO
Artist: The Joy Kills
Album: Noise + Cigarettes
Links: https://www.facebook.com/thejoykills

What does "punk" sound like in 2015? Some argue it isn't so much a specific sound as it is a state of mind or an attitude towards the wasteland that is mainstream music. A snot-nosed, I-don't-give-a-fuck-persona aside, the rush of the thrash has been sorely missed. But real punk, the no-holds-barred few who still don't mind a punch in the circle-pit, is always bubbling up from the underground.

Case in point, Atlanta-based band, The Joy Kills, and their latest EP, Noise + Cigarettes. Where there's smoke doesn't always mean there's fire, but there's fuel being heaped on to the flames here. Opening track "Might as Well" is a furious race to the finish line between slaying guitar thrash and stick-breaking drumming. The muffled drone of the vocals has a Misfits-esque creep factor to it, but packs a heavier punch.
Each track flows seamlessly into the next, like an elongated temper-tantrum. "Customs" unfolds like the most melodic, temper-tantrum at that. What's interesting about The Joy Kills is the perversion of punk at its purest form and nu-metal. The songs, "QLA" in particular, are enticing if not a bit scary. It's as if Tool was chosen to soundtrack an S&M mistress's dungeon.

That dance between a slightly more doom-and-gloom Danzig or TSOL and a largely fist-pumping, foot-stomping Black Flag show promise that The Joy Kills know what they're doing and have enough knowledge of punk history to be truly authentic. The blend of the anthemic (a memorable "no means no" chant erupts on "Johnny Straightedge") and the aggressive is familiar without coming-off contrived.

Noise + Cigarettes' live closer, "Wedding Bells" (originally featured on the band's Everybody EP) is the only attempt at universal likability. It's disguised as a love song, drenched in cynicism, then lightly dipped in doo-wop. But who said punks can't be charming?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Artist: Zephuros

Artist: Zephuros
Links: https://www.facebook.com/zephurosmusic

Kevin Meyer songs feature intimate vocals perfectly cradled by spare instrumentation, all of which has Meyer inviting favorable comparison to Sufjan Stevens. Look no further than Kickstarter-named album-opener, "Silhouette." Its acoustic guitar and xylophone support the lush vocals, "look away my darlings / I don't want you to catch / their poison" -- the lyrical "poison" beautifully rendered on repeat.
Meyer classifies his Zephuros project as nature folk, but it is one that works best outside the animal kingdom. I don't agree with The Shins that caring is necessarily creepy, but microscopic looks at the animal kingdom can be a bit off-putting. Even Joanna Newsom's 9.5-minute "Monkey and Bear" was less description-based, and might not have worked without Newsom's bouncy harp and bizarre/beloved Bjork-like vocal.

It is Zephuros' album-closer, "North Star," that is the exemplar of nature folk, and is closer akin to Laura Veirs than Newsom. The track is proof that, with the right subject matter, Meyer is a poet of considerable skill: "tall black waves rip / and toss our broken ship / swirling clouds cover our heads / like a blanket from the bed / on the ocean way out far / we rely on the north star." Perhaps Zephuros' interests are idiosyncratic, but Kevin Meyer's musical performance is all natural beauty.

*** The author of this review, Norman Marshall, plays the tamboril for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Totally Wrecked

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

The Totally Wrecked experience is like getting finger-cuffed, Chasing Amy-style, by the tailpipes of cars backing into each other. And since I ranked TW's War Cry second out of hundreds of tracks reviewed, I guess you could say I'm into that sort of thing – the blistering garage wail, not the auto[motive]-erotica. (Having said that, the ability to consistently staff and monetize such scenes for the car porn genre would be a “fucking valuable thing”).

After reviewing the EP series, Garbage Tapes, I viewed with trepidation the opportunity to go on record evaluating a TW release that averages six-minute run-times and was preceded by the proclamation, “OFFICIALLY DONE WITH PUNK MUSIC.” Contrast these song lengths with TW's inimitable “Play Dumb,” which made its point in a third of the time; and I'll admit my pop alarm did go off a time or two as I took in Heavy Petting. (Then again, it also did during Swans’ critically acclaimed The Seer, e.g. at 3:02 of “Mother of the World.”) But it begs the question, since TW recorded the whole EP live as a continuous track, would it offend them if we just chose our own adventure, editing as we please? (If so, I'll snag Potion Control's intro riff and its memorable middle section, e.g. 1:42).
It's common to learn something new about a band with each EP released, and Heavy Petting is no different. After lamenting not understanding a word out of their mouths (the heavy vocal effects noted in my Garbage Tapes review), I'm pleased to report that the lyrics of Totally Wrecked can hang with their visual marketing (more great cover art; title-appropriate too), humor (name your price on BandCamp, as long as it's over a hundred dollars), and musical output (waves of emotive noise; distinct voice; still missing a more robust low end). Specifically, the expert vocal phrasing makes hooks out of “You were the only one / On again, off again, on again, off again” and “We don't need to separate.” Even a risky pentagram reference is qualified with, “Relax, it's only magic” – which may do little to assuage the audience's concern, but at least adds nuance to the symbol's considerable cliché.

But the lyrics aren't just effective in passing. They are integral to the efficacy of Potion Control's middle section, which ranks among the very best TW has to offer. The layered vocals, subtle pausing, and melancholy melody combine to suit the weather phenomenon described: “When I pray for rain / Watch the storm, clouds, change / Gravity, pulls me down / Take these pills, put me out.” We not only hear – we understand. We see ourselves in this narrator’s need to fade away.

Maybe we're totally wrecked too.

*** The author of this review, Dale Harrison, plays the tsukeshime-daiko for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Top Shelf Lickers

Artist: Top Shelf Lickers
Links: https://www.facebook.com/topshelflickers

The Top Shelf Lickers are the complete pop punk package. Its lead guitarist shreds like NOFX's El Hefe (on "Devil Head"). Neil Turk's strong punk vocal is not unlike The Living End's -- check out 0:22 of "Off My Mind" and 2:53 of "Mr. McShakes."

TSL has a firm grasp on two things that punkers use to avoid staleness: novel instruments (here, harmonica and piano); and song parts that mess with tempo. And when TSL fucks with pace, the rhythm section not only holds it down, but also adds color to the mix.
Look no further than standout track, "No One Knows." After a mandatory guitar intro, it alternates phrases of piano-fueled doo-wop, with the straight punk "I don't know what I'd do without you"; and then double times it with ska-backed vocal harmonies, "I guess I'll have to find my way on my own." (They could have axed a chorus repeat on this nearly four-minute song; but it wouldn't be pop without repetition.)

And half a minute into "Fall For You," we get another sped-up hook that is about as punk as punk gets, and a vocal that's welcome in its Fat Mike-ness, "I wouldn't fall for you / It's not worth the heartache" -- replete with a background of "oi!"

Given most songs' subject matter, TSL could safely lay claim to the Chicago pop punk throne abdicated by Showoff. (They do go harder, as on "I Don't Remember," but its section at :53 sounds familiar to me.) Whatever path to punk perfection they pursue, be it pop or not, The Top Shelf Lickers are well on their way.

*** The author of this review, Stanley Reynolds, plays the tabla for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Thrillage

Artist: Thrillage
Links: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Thrillage/167060326641080

Thrillage's Thrill Em All opens with steady strumming of a single chord (“So Defeated”). Quite like the stadium-filling “The House that Heaven Built,” Thrillage go on to throw open the floodgates to vocal power, easily earning the Japandroids comparison. [As an aside, people get preoccupied by the origin story, and forget all about the Armageddon.]

But if the lead vocal is the star, the supporting “cast and crew” (techniques, really) spotlight it still further: backing chorus vocals (2:13 of Replay; :50 of Swift Kick to the Teeth), vocal interplay (Rosary's “I started shaking, baby / [What's in the cabinet?] / Hallucinating lately / What's in the cabinet?]”), and instruments cutting out to isolate the vocal (1:38 and 2:08 of All Torn Up; :28 of Letter Know).
So too with lyrical hooks that, given the delivery device, are thrilling indeed: “With a swift kick to the teeth / You'll remember me” (Swift Kick to the Teeth); “You are the residue / What's left of me is you” (What's New What's Next); “Can I see the replay?” (Replay); “We both know it's over” (Letter Know); “Go / Back / To the days just before we met” (Obvious); “These hands / Will never touch your skin again” (All Torn Up).

Behold also the diamonds in the rough (the lyrical gems buried outside the hooks): “Didn't mean to do it” (Replay); “If it were simple / You'd be at my door” (Swift Kick to the Teeth); “I've lost my voice / But these four walls keep making noise” (What's New What's Next); “Sweet home Chicago / No place I'd rather be / North side, first drink's on me” (All Torn Up); “You've been running all your life” ( All Torn Up); “You found [my vein] and you stabbed away” (All Torn Up); “Can it wait till / The morning after? / We can have just sex and laughter” (Obvious).

“Letter Know” finds Thrillage at their best, not only highlighting the vocal with instrumental cut-outs (e.g. :22), but also complementing the narrator's tale by juxtaposing hard synthetic rock (:30) with soft organic material (:36) that cradles the admission, “We both know it's over.” Halfway through the song (at 1:20), a new musical part gets introduced. It mimics the narrator's decision to make a last-ditch attempt at romantic repair. It seems he had another ace in the hole: sit down and write another love song to save the situation. But the fail-safe fails (“But these strings / And this guitar / Were like foreign bodies / In my arms”). Then the music comes crashing down: The standout rhythmic interplay begins at 1:44, and ends with an emotionally raw vocal that rivals those of Foo Fighters and At the Drive-In. (You can also hear a bit of At the Drive-In's “Rolodex Propaganda” lurking in Thrillage's “Swift Kick to the Teeth,” e.g. at 1:14.) Indeed, fans of those bands (not to mention Japandroids) would be well-served by Thrillage.

*** The author of this review, Danny West, plays the samphor for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Stonewave

Artist: Stonewave
Links: https://www.facebook.com/Stonewaveband

Stonewave really can be all things to all people. With Roger Lange's charismatic Josh Todd-like vocal, and the band's ability to bridge the divide between hard and alternative rock, Stonewave is Chicago's answer to Los Angeles' Buckcherry. Just as Buckcherry brought us both "Crazy Bitch" and "Sorry," Stonewave's self-titled debut album demands our attention with hard-charging Velvet Revolver-style hard rock (as on "Sign of Life"). But that's only half of Stonewave's one-two punch: They also knock us out with radio-friendly alternative rock that recalls a time when rock "ballads" could go platinum.

Whether light or dark, lead guitarist Jon Husiar provides a full complement of riffs, fills and accents, adding considerable texture to Stonewave's well-crafted rock songs. And as capable as Husiar's fine fretting: Kevin 'Bones' Cox's standout bass lines, as well as the album's overall technical production.
After the album's hard-rocking first half (e.g. "No More"), I was floored by the Stonewave ballad, "By Your Side." The song's introductory guitar-strumming is met by a well-placed drum fill that prefaces a catchy guitar riff, setting up Lange's compelling vocal. Lange's narrator is living "a beautiful morning / waking up next to you," after which he "can't wait for tonight / to hold you close for awhile." It's here, more so than on Stonewave's hard rock songs, that Husiar's melodic guitar fits in perfect combination with Lange's romantic lyricism, "I'll never leave you / I'll never make you cry / I'll always be here by your side."

Most if not all Hall of Fame-caliber hard rock bands topped the charts with an occasional ballad or two. We'd be lying if we said we didn't secretly love them for it. So too with Stonewave. Although they rock as hard as the next band, they're one of our favorites because they sing about the stuff we actually care about -- even the good stuff.

*** The author of this review, Johnny Wallace, plays the pandero for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Spider to the Fly

Artist: Spider to the Fly
Link: https://www.facebook.com/SpiderToTheFly

“The Spider and the Fly” is a centuries-old poem that has the titular arachnid trying to tempt a fly back to its lair with the promise of a pad that is visually pleasing and contains “many curious things.” So why did the spider lie to the fly? 'Cause the truth just wouldn't have worked: Come back to my place, I'll have my way with you, and you'll be worse for the wear.

Spider to the Fly is the duo of Jack Collier and Sid Blastfemmy, who pitch-shift and collaborate their way into musical anarchy. With the instrumental involvement of ROMANCE (the “A” is a delta symbol), Spider's jazzy electronica recalls Q-Tip/Tribe Called Quest on “Mad Girl's Love Song,” and the Cataracs/DEV's “Bass Down Low” on “Boys Cry.” “Boys Cry” begs the question: Can Jack and Sid be called a duo when they continuously create out of whole cloth multiple persona like Nicki Raw? Not since Kelis' "Milkshake" have we had a fem-figure whose refrain (“I make the boys cry”) brings all the boys to the yard. Among other things, Nicki and her crew prefer “sticky, icky treats from scummy nocturnal freaks” and are quick to remind: “You ain't gonna find this, take a phone pic, this is new shit / I'm fucking Nicki Raw with a chain saw.”
On “Mad Girl's Love Song,” a vocal effect set to devil [not unlike Tyler the Creator's Goblin] introduces what throughout the song serves as a welcome rhythmic hook: “Demon in the dark, demon in the bed, I think I made you up inside my head.” This is joined by an upper-register rap [reminiscent of Eazy-E] that is suitably provocative in mixing the high (“All the little boys on the playground stand out / But I'm the one that you picked out”) with the low ("Eat my heart out, get me fucking hard now / ... Bloody when we make out"). The fascinating sounds of 2:49 are only the preface to the memorable closing lines, e.g. “Six, six, six / I like his dick / Gonna take me to the coffin with his trick.”

It wouldn't be off-base to suggest that Spider to the Fly's "Spit" expounds on the art of self-pleasure: "we drop it like we're screwing," "I'm a self-inflicting whore," "with this hand I masturbate," "preacher says I'll go to hell," "spit works fine," "right hand sticky," "I'm playin'," "watch me go," "don't preach to me I'm big girl," and "I've got my big girl appetite."

Indeed, the narrators and characters are as tantalizingly aggressive as the music itself. It's not Fly to the Spider. It's Spider to the Fly. And that makes all the difference.

*** The author of this review, Sean Hamilton, plays the okedo-daiko for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Silverside

Artist: Silverside
Link: https://www.facebook.com/silversidechicago

People hate corporate rock bands. Probably because it shouldn't take a corporation to write antiseptic anthems populating Spider-Man films. We're forced to wonder: it took a trio of songwriters and a veritable supergroup of supporting musicians [from Nickelback, Saliva, Theory of a Deadman, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Our Lady Peace] to relay Chad Kroeger's statement of the obvious (“And they say that a hero can save us / I'm not gonna stand here and wait.”)? Really?

But there's a downside to the vitriolic backlash. It gives the indie press considerable license to do what they wanted to do anyway: marginalize original-but-polished rock bands. And why not? It's easier to fill 500 words writing about bands with idiosyncrasy and quirk, or at least weaknesses – anything to fill the column inches. In other words, as entertaining as it is to listen to triumphant stadium-sized rock, “it rocks” doesn't make for an interesting read. And so it goes: The duty to hype label-ready bands is relegated to the internet commenters. Meanwhile, “serious” music writers get busy pitching James Blake as the Antony Hegarty/Justin Vernon lovechild we've all been waiting for, while their readers dismiss label-ready bands as “corporate” well before they are.
Having said all that, we in the “alt-indie press” – yes, that's the alternative to the indie press – still get to turn our readers on with bands that rock. It is in the discharge of my solemn duty then, that I humbly recommend Chicago's Silverside (https://soundcloud.com/silversidechicago/sets/silverside-motions). Yes, they rock. But don't hold it against them.

And as tends to happen when professional songwriting combines with studio chops in a “label-ready” band, I could allow myself to get bogged down trying to single out all the things Silverside is doing well on a song like “Long Road Down.” So instead let me put it this way. If you find yourself happily getting lost in its “Stairway to Heaven”-infused intro, only to get your ass handed to you 20 seconds later, please know that you're not alone. There are support groups for people like you and me. We like to call ourselves: People Who Found Out The Hard Way That Silverside Knows Just What The Fuck They're Doing. (Or “fans” for short.)

*** The author of this review, Alan Hayes, plays the naqara for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Saence

Artist: Saence
Links: https://www.facebook.com/saence

Saence is great for the same reasons that Tool goes platinum and wins Grammys. It goes heavy early, retreating to allow for hushed lyricism; meanwhile, the music underlying the relatively quiet vocal delivery is unrelenting in building a stark sense of dread. And then it crashes.

Put it another way. You, the listener, start by drowning in waves of distortion. Moments later, you find yourself miraculously standing in shallow water. But mind the undertow: it's dragging you away. (It was a sand bar -- you were never close to shore.) And now you're buried beneath a mile of murky sea.

Take album-opener, "Sin A Damus." It starts with clean snake-like riffs over tribal drums that ultimately accent plodding distortion chords. But the distortion drops away; and we're left with vocal melody sharing space with minimal guitar flourish. But then the walls of distortion fall. We knew it was coming. Still we celebrate the epic arc.
Remarkable is the incredible vocal power Dean Preacher marshals as Saence overtakes calm with calamity. Whether he's crying out "alone" (at 1:36 of "Blacklights") or imploring "wait" (3:09 of "Overthrown"), Preacher's breathtaking emotion could move the most cynical listener to chills. Preceded as it is by relative quiet, Saence's dynamism recalls that of Tool. (In addition to the similarly-situated "Sober," who can forget Maynard Keenan's lilting processed "Stinkfist" vocal, "But I would not want you / Any other way," being demolished by, "Not enough / I need more / Nothing seems to satisfy.")

Also like Tool, Saence deliberately paces songs with instrumental bridges that serve to build tension. Given this song-writing proficiency, it should come as no surprise that on Secrets of The Lost and Wicked, Saence is exploring various methods for achieving its distinctly heavy sound: "Missionary Position" opens with rumbling bass joined by screaming vocals and clanging guitars reminiscent of Sonic Youth/Lydia Lunch's "Death Valley '69"; "Rearview Demon" starts in with Soundgarden-caliber grunge riffage; and "Blacklight" is snaky riffs not unlike Rolling Stones' "Paint it, Black." When you think of it, what these bands have in common -- Tool, Sonic Youth, Soundgarden and, once upon a time, the Rolling Stones -- is an undercurrent of menace. Add to that list Saence.

Saence is melodic hard rock at its heaviest -- they're a mind-bending powerhouse.

*** The author of this review, Todd Alexander, plays the maktoom for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Red Novella

Artist: Red Novella
Link: https://www.facebook.com/RedNovella

In the melodic metalcore of Red Novella, the lows set up highs, and the highs drop you off a cliff. Julie Andrews was only partly right: The hills are alive with the sound of music, provided all that hilly undulation doesn't slow the sound of squealing guitar.

The title of RN's standout album, Failure by Design, is not just taken from one of its song lyrics. It's a hint of what's to come. The thematic arc starts at self-inflicted wounds: “Your words kill like a thousand cuts / And it's you that has to live / With the consequences and the blame” (Won't Back Down); “Did this go as you planned? / To self destruct … / To break down and be something that you're not” (Pieces); “You put the noose around your neck / And wonder why it's getting hard to breathe” (Broken Down); and “We can survive / If you swallow all your pride” (Survive).
At first glance, it appears most of RN's narrators would opt to stay stuck in admittedly awful situations (e.g. Won't Back Down, Survive, and Embers Never Fade). But then something happens. Near the end of the song cycle (Ashes Fall, Broken Down), we get the feeling that RN's romantically flawed narrators are nearly fed up. And it's here where inspirational lyrics (liberally sprinkled throughout the album) play a role. Most metal/-core bands avoid such constructive observation – e.g. Won't Back Down's “It's the past that makes us who we are / And guides us along the way ... Time heals all of our broken dreams / And all the scars … I'll stand my ground / I won't back down / I'm prepared to fight for this life” – to sidestep the appearance of being soft, even when doing so can come at the expense of establishing a deeper connection with the listener. On Failure by Design however, it helps to close the loop: It clues us in that RN's composite narrator will ultimately move beyond denial/acceptance to action. (And to think: It all started with the realization that the significant other's failure was by design.)

But in melodic metalcore, all the lyrical themes in the world would be nothing without metal or melody. With Red Novella, there are multiple moments that memorably meld both vocal and musical melody: Won't Back Down's “But I'd do it again, I wouldn't change a thing” (at :52); Pieces' “Tonight I sing this song for you” (1:19); and Ashes Fall's “My stomach turns / It's filled with envy” (1:08). These typically occur when the vocal lead is coupled with harmonies to evoke yearning.

As for metal, there's a reason I call Red Novella “the riff armada” (beyond the fact Groove Armada was taken). Examples are everywhere. To observe the important role that riffs play in the dynamic development of RN songs, look no further than album-opener Won't Back Down. After two minutes of its verse/chorus song-in-chief, when other bands would think about awkwardly ending it, RN simply goes off. Just as the screaming fades (at 2:22), RN's drummer and guitarist resume hostilities, trading punches until double-bass and screamo signal yet another round/layer of knockout riffage (2:32).

Like the best bands of the genre, Red Novella is blessed with a tremendous sense of melody, dynamic song-writing, and lyrical themes emotionally suitable to the musical heartbreak.

(In other words, they kick Julie Andrews ass.)

*** The author of this review, Martin Simmons, plays the madal for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Artist: Knightlife

Artist: Knightlife
Links: https://www.facebook.com/Knightlife5150

What's in a band's name? For Knightlife, it turns out quite a bit. Because figuring prominently throughout their debut EP is the fine fretting of their titular founder, lead guitarist Bruce Mac Knight. It should come as no surprise then that the standout lead track, “Otherside,” also serves to define Knightlife right out of the gate as a guitar band, first and foremost.

Mac Knight leads with over a half-minute of muscular riffage, replete with a triumphant tone recalling the fabled “brown sound” of inveterate tone-chaser Eddie Van Halen. (Compare the introductions of Van Halen's “Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love” from 1978 with “You and Your Blues” of 2012.) From there, the chord progression of “Otherside” hearkens back to that other guitar giant, Pete Townshend, who miraculously rivaled the American chart success of his mainstay, The Who, with 1980's “Let My Love Open the Door.”
Since Knightlife is a supergroup formed from the ashes of two distinct entities, these musical compatriots immediately seized on their evident chemistry to get busy writing this accomplished release. But because they did so, we get lyrics that are a bit more “process” in nature – think, topics tending to rock 'n' roll (Kiss) rather than the relatively relatable sex (Guns N' Roses) and relationships, or drugs (Alice in Chains) and vice.

But now that Knightlife is sharing the stage with national touring acts in the promotional stage of their album cycle, their next writing confab should result in lyrics reading like spoils of war/tour. This will play to the strengths of the vocalist, who possesses the versatility of a singer like Kevin Martin (Candlebox), who can emote about those all-consuming relationships that make sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll desirable outlets in the first place. (Indeed, Knightlife's sensitive side is already on display with “Insomnia.”)

And that rhythm section. Whether it be the hard-charging RATM-like bass intro to "Breakout," down-shifting musical bridge of "Otherside" (2:52), or chill closeout to "Insomnia" (3:50), with Knightlife we get dexterous drums and bass, song-appropriate all.

Catch them during this, their live phase. Because built-in into Knightlife's rock and roll is crowd-pleasing musicality. From the rhythmic interplay of that “Otherside” introduction, to the guitar tapping of “Breakout” (at 2:20), Knightlife is a band that could end up serving as the soundtrack of your night (or life).

*** The author of this review, Russell Hughes, plays the mrdanga for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Unit Theory

Artist: Unit Theory
Links: https://www.facebook.com/unittheory2012

We're all born with a unique mix of gifts. That is, the mix is unique, but not necessarily the gifts. And what to do when someone beats you to the punch? Becomes famous for something you'll do so well years down the road? Such it is with Bryan Cooper of Epic Failure and now Unit Theory. It wasn't his fault Kurt Cobain got famous before he did. Fire up Bryan Cooper's vocal on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2vlzp5nWzQ and tell me you wouldn't have thought Cooper was the next rock god. But now, post-Kurt, we naturally hesitate before crowning Cooper king. Because that raw sneer is just too similar (though fucking amazing).

And at times, in Cooper's Epic Failure, we hear echoes of other bands who also began their 15 minutes after the sands of Nirvana's hourglass started falling. In Epic Failure's “Amount to Nothing,” we hear the distorted chug of Local H's “High-Fiving MF” (at :26 of the above-linked YouTube) and the vocal fills of Stone Temple Pilots' “Down” (1:30 of YT vid); in “Kyphophobia,” there's the pacing/progression of the Presidents of the United States of America' “Peaches” (4:39 of YT vid); in “Occupied,” the backing howl of Our Lady Peace (12:51 of YT vid); with “What's Wrong,” the singsong dynamics of Hole's “Violet” (16:14 of YT vid); on “Someday,” the lead guitar effects of Soundgarden's “Black Hole Sun” (22:52 of YT vid); in “Advantage,” the progression of 7 Year Bitch's “Knot” (24:53 of YT vid); and with “Pictured,” the prominent acoustic pacing of Soul Asylum's “Runaway Train” (28:19 of YT vid).
But Mr. Dream it is not. By way of background, Mr. Dream was a band comprised primarily of Pitchfork music reviewers. With their track “Holy Name,” they bit all over Nirvana's catalog. Cooper never fell into that trap, abandoning the valuable-but-trademarked vocal to become a post-grunge savior much the same way Dave Grohl did. We hear it all over Unit Theory's Reverb Nation page (http://www.reverbnation.com/UnitTheory2011/songs), which presents these newer tracks in various stages of completeness (rehearsal, studio, album, and live). Behold Unit Theory's jangly bit o' brightness, “Warped View,” which is closer to Foo Fighters' “Big Me” than anything Grohl ever performed with Nirvana. Cooper even rescues “Pictured” from his Epic Failure days, since it only evoked Cobain insofar as Kurt covered the alt-rocker Vaselines for Unplugged (“Pictured” at 1:32). It should be clear: Unit Theory is decidedly post-grunge.

Which is for the best. Because like Mr. Dream, who were memorably original with non-Nirvana entries like “Crime” and to a lesser extent “Croquet,” for Cooper & Co. it's these Unit Theory songs that we keep going back to. Whether it's the triumphant guitar tone of “Dream” (at :20), the subtle hook of ascending “yeahs” on “My Life” (at 1:36), the compelling guitar riff/bridge of “Safe Haven” (at 2:07), or the textured rhythm section of Jesse Rucco and Ryan Mackner (e.g. “Dream” at 1:09), Unit Theory finally reveals the silver linings that lurked beneath Epic Failure's dark clouds.

And it just goes to show. Bryan Cooper possesses the one gift Kurt may have lacked: not just the capacity, but the willingness to change.

*** The author of this review, Randy Powell, plays the kanjira for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

LIVE! Bulletproof Tongue

Artist: Bulletproof Tongue
Link: http://bulletprooftongue.tumblr.com/
Bulletproof Tongue is a three-piece with a drummer for a singer. Quite unlike Genesis though, Bulletproof Tongue sings about fucking dragons. BT boasts an experienced lineup that can rock at least two instruments (vocals included) -- with the drummer ending up on three. The bassist and drummer actually switched places without losing a step. At its best, BT brings us minimalist riffs filled in by a rumbling rhythm section. They're Jesus Lizard without the "Tight 'n' Shiny" (http://timeoutchicago.com/music-nightlife/music/65699/yow-oughta-know)... yet. That is, I wouldn't put it past the charismatic drummer/lead singer to provide equally memorable stage antics down the road. And as for the dragon-fuck: as the Bulletproof Tongue song goes, "it was alright."

*** The author of this review, Louis Coleman, plays the inyahura for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

LIVE! Joe Dairy

Artist: Joe Dairy
Link: https://www.facebook.com/joedairymusic
Joe Dairy comes complete with acoustic guitar and backing tracks, and a ski mask. Sounds unorthodox to be sure. But he excels at many of the things you'd expect from a songman dwelling comfortably at the edge of Americana. When his upper-register vocals go hoarse, he channels Soul Asylum and Unplugged-era Nirvana. More than that, over effects-laden backing, his reverb-dipped vocals can summon foreboding and even menace -- not altogether inconsistent with the ski mask. But it's also not far removed from the lonesome trainyard sound of distant cousins Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt. Regardless of reference point, Dairy's voice is strong and full of character, just like his music.

*** The author of this review, Wayne Barnes, plays the ilimba drum for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

LIVE! Lilith Velkor

Artist: Lilith Velkor
Link: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lilith-Velkor/174380796751
Lilith Velkor is the bastard offspring of Nirvana and Sonic Youth. Singer/guitarist Armando is Kurt before he lost his voice. (He could possess an even greater range.) For the most part, this rock trio bashes it out without forgetting to make the music memorable. But it was the rare instrumental that showcased what was glimpsed elsewhere in flashes: Like a broken jack-in-the-box, startling stops and starts set up a fascinating array of bizarre intonations. A fan of Sonic Youth, this would be Kurt's music had he made it out of the 90's. But Armando and Lilith Velkor are alive and kicking, perhaps the successor to spaz-rockers At the Drive-In (with whom LV shares a manic energy) and to their aforementioned kinfolk.

*** The author of this review, Adam Price, plays the gran cassa for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

LIVE! This Way

Artist: This Way
Link: https://www.facebook.com/ThisWayBand
If you still have the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack somewhere in your dusty CD collection, or find yourself turning up the radio songs of Alison Krauss and Union Station, then you'll fall in love with the bluegrass-tinged front porch pickin' of This Way. Joining the guitars and bass on stage: a fiddle, mandolin, harmonica, prominent harmony vocals, and a frontman who handles more than a few while also pedaling a bass drum and tambourine with his feet. The perfectly placed harmonica and fiddle add considerable depth to This Way's catchy originals, and both are given just enough space to stretch out without delaying each song's rewarding payoff. The reference points popping into my head were Steve Earle's "Copperhead Road" and, to a lesser extent, Clint Black's "Tuckered Out." You'll no doubt have your own when you catch this memorable Portland, Maine-based act the next time they're in New York. And you should -- this level of professional musicianship is rarely seen on the smaller stages of NYC's indie music scene.

*** The author of this review, Benjamin Brooks, plays the djembe for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Julian Rhine

Artist: Julian Rhine
Link: https://www.facebook.com/JulianRhineMusic

Julian Rhine is closer akin to El-P than Eminem. Like that other Brooklyn rapper, Julian Rhine sometimes impresses with sheer wordplay, but more often he wins us over by confidently spitting minimalist phrases of personal meaning, doing so within the friendly confines of radio-worthy hooks sung either by females or capably by himself.

Julian traffics in hooks that are instantly memorable. On album-opener, “Something to Say,” we sing along as the narrator warns his female companion: “I’ve got something to say to you / Got eyes on you like no one else / Know you better than you know yourself.” This serves as a one-two punch with “New York City”: Minimal beats and keys are just a preamble to an upbeat chorus section featuring a female singing yet another catchy hook, “the lights are on in New York City.” Rhine is eminently likeable (no, not when he’s rhyming Flatbush with fat toosh), rapping “I think you should stay the same,” then singing over himself, “I don’t want to change a thing.”
Julian’s hit-making ability is truly impressive, as Rhine skillfully blends a contemporary cocktail of dance, electronica, hip-hop and R&B. In this regard, Julian Rhine belongs on today’s Billboard charts. The Journey of Julian Rhine is filled to the brim with addictive hooks: “Stunning” (“please, baby please, baby please, baby please / Don't you bite at the hand that feeds”), “Phase it Out” (“If it don't make you shout / Phase it out, phase it out”), “Face the Music” (“uh uh oh, I’m on my new shit”), and “Dust” (“I don’t really like your attitude”).

Chris Brown or Usher would have a bidding war over “Feel Like I Do.” With its pre-chorus, chorus, post-chorus and bridge, Rhine rides a wave of synths that build then flow directly into our pleasure centers. His vocal interplay with the female lead recalls a song from his rock/rap roots, “Numb/Encore” (Jay-Z, Linkin Park).

Julian can be fun (“bitches on my dick like I’m Ellen DeGeneres”), and he’s a fan of the greats. [A few of Rhine’s lines are reminiscent of famous raps by 2Pac (Tupac’s “acting right / 'Cause both black and white are smokin' crack tonight”) and Notorious B.I.G. (Biggie’s “sicker than your average,” “smoking la in Optimos,” “breast stroke / Right stroke, left stroke was the best stroke,” and “and if you don’t know, now you know”).]

But for whatever reason, Julian takes on Jay-Z (Brooklyn) and Eminem (Caucasian), when his own fans will likely be open to both. And although Rhine is well on his way to conquering the rap game, he hasn’t done so yet, and so “Conquest” and “Crazy International” come off as overly ambitious. (And “Star, Baby” is frustratingly messy with its disparate and disjointed genres.)

But Julian is a most promising Brooklyn rapper. And Rhine is poised to make that leap. Actually, he’s next level already.

*** The author of this review, Lawrence Gray, plays the dholaki for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Tara Lynne Band

Artist: Tara Lynne Band
Links: https://www.facebook.com/taralynneband

Check the Facebook page, 'cause Tara Lynne Band has been influenced by Fleet Foxes and, um, The B-52s? How is that possible? Like the Foxes, they do build a sound all their own through artfully blended vocals (plus, Zac Gilbert's got a beard); but believe it or not, Tara Lynne Band actually has more to do with that singing, dancing party band from Athens, Georgia.
Before jumping to conclusions – that Tara Lynne Band's male-in-the-mix, Zac Gilbert, will be sing-shouting “Shake your honeybuns!” or “I'm a hot pants hot dog!” (like the inimitable Fred Schneider) – it helps to understand who the B-52s really are. Because for all their neon-lit “Love Shack[s]” and zany “Is That You Mo-Dean?” space travelogues [lyric: “Well, it had been 987 years in outer space time when I got back / Couldn't seem to find any of my friends to tell my interesting stories to”] – the B-52s just want to put lovers into nature. For example, “Dreamland” imagines a romantic setting decorated with no less than: flowered rivers, pure blue skies, perfumed wind, falling blossoms, towering trees, and green paths lined with vines and lilies. With “Topaz,” the lovers have their choice of: deep forests, moonlit sea, spinning starfishes, and singing blue dolphins.

No doubt it's this half of the B-52s' catalog that influenced Tara Lynne Band. Because there is a strong female lead (though closer to Stevie Nicks than to Kate Pierson), lush harmony vocals, lyrical romanticism, and yes the occasional oneness with nature (orchid, lily, rose, flower, tree, oak tree, ocean, river, wind, moon, shooting star, and field of willow and weed). But how Tara Lynne Band pulls it together is with chill organic instrumentation, which I could listen to all day long. And you can too.

*** The author of this review, Samuel Howard, plays the dhimay for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Monday, March 16, 2015

Artist: Poised as Giants

Artist: Poised as Giants
Links: https://www.facebook.com/poisedasgiants

Poised as Giants are the kings of riffs. Brian Collins' muscular guitar recalls not only Nirvana-favorite Meat Puppets, but also Black Sabbath, "Refugee"-era Tom Petty, and Stone Temple Pilots.

And when these guitar leads link up to Chris Olcikas' rumble bass, as on "Dead Love" and "See Me Going Down," the effect is not unlike the Morello-Commerford connection that made Rage Against the Machine so special. But Poised as Giants is not de la Rocha rap: on a song like "Not This Time" (featuring another fine riff), Collins' lead vocal is closer akin to the blues-inspired grunge of STP's Scott Weiland.
Blind Eyes' standout track is "Surrender." After a revelatory riff, we get chunky guitar notes (with great tone) that set up Collins' bluesy vocal rather perfectly. Title track "Blind Eyes" finds Poised as Giants channeling contemporary blues rock of The Black Keys vintage. In fact, the Poised as Giants' songs are so full of fine fretting that a lesser band would try to spread the riffs of "So Far Gone" across three songs.

With Poised as Giants functioning as full-fledged riff machines, they've assumed the mantle once borne by Chicago greats, Urge Overkill.

*** The author of this review, Terry Cooper, plays the towla for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Paul Coady Feat. The Edsel Bros.

Artist: Paul Coady Feat. The Edsel Bros.
Link: http://www.reverbnation.com/paulcoady/songs

With a charismatic vocal wonderfully reminiscent of legendary blues-rocker, Mick Jagger, Paul Coady provides the soundtrack to a celebration of honest-to-God rock 'n' roll that (together with supporting band,The Edsel Bros.) conjures up what it must have been like to party with The Standells.
Let it be said, only Paul Coady could have turned me onto the rational exuberance of The Long Ryders' “Looking for Lewis and Clark,” not only capturing the original's spirit, but also overtaking its lead vocal with Coady's. Indeed, with his considerable vocal chops, Coady & Co. are a force to be reckoned with when they switch things up on the album's standout track, “Horn O Plenty.” Unlike the monochrome distorted chord jangle elsewhere on Our Father's Sons, this jam is built on distortion swells that find definition in a prominent bassline recalling early-80's arcade game, Spy Hunter. On top of that, Coady's attitudinal sneer of “I feel used” (as in, “I know what you're doin', yeah, you're just killin' time / I feel used”) sets up the memorable musical hook: “I feel used one time too many / You talk of love, but I don't feel any / Lord, I feel used.”

It's no surprise that Coady and The Edsel Bros. have been known to share a bill with Chicago compatriots, Go Time! These bands' particular brand of rock 'n' roll is the type that fuels all-nighters full of drag-races and drinking on car hoods. To wit, in an interview with Chicago Indie Music Live, Coady recounted one fan's reaction to his live show with The Edsel Bros.: "That's rock-n-roll, you made me feel like I was 17." That about sums it up.

*** The author of this review, Albert Bell, plays the dohol for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Original Mechanical Mouse

Artist: Original Mechanical Mouse
Links: https://www.facebook.com/ommfan

When you hear the name of Joel Collinsworth's solo project, Original Mechanical Mouse, it's tempting to conjure the mechanical mouse from the Tom & Jerry cartoon (used by Jerry to fool Tom). But concentrate instead on original, for it's Collinsworth's uniqueness that sets OMM apart. The acoustic guitar arrangements can be haunting and spare (like John Frusciante's To Record Only Water for Ten Days) or quietly tender like Grandaddy's "Underneath The Weeping Willow."

And if I were to say that the vocals are fragile, fragility would evoke two distinct archetypes: the first, that of a pantywaste hipster, pale and gaunt from his recent conversion to veganism (not that there's anything wrong with that); and second, the vocals of old souls, all sturdy and aged, who come across as vulnerable in their art because they've lived a life (and seen some shit). It's the latter school that includes Neil Young; and it's to this class of song-writers that OMM belongs.
In addition to the memorable vocal, OMM's indie folk is notable for its poetic lyricism: "I saw the worst of it .... / But when the dope and booze finally put you down / I was not around .... / Lately I've been pouring on the dreams / Of you and me" ("Pouring On The Dreams"); "Someone to play them [love songs] / Like leaves on a pond" ("Leaves On A Pond"); and "And love is like a flower / You can hold it in your hand / It doesn't have a million dollars" ("His Better Life").

But the standout track is "The Boy Who Lived On Mars." As difficult as it is to add something of value to the space-based canon (owned by Bowie), OMM has done so here, introducing innocence to the visual quiet that is objects at a great distance, "There was a boy who lived on Mars / He practiced music with the stars .... / His light was yellow, red and blue / He sent messages along the Milky Way to you." But it's the artfully placed 'woo-hoo's that carry the lion's share of emotion.

Oh Yeah, Basement Tapes is a work of art recalling Neil Young at his most beautiful.

*** The author of this review, Roger Reed, plays the daouli for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Artist: White Radio

Artist: White Radio
Link: https://www.facebook.com/WhiteRadioBand

White Radio was formerly known as Ockam's Razor (review taken from the archives):

"Occam's/Ockham's razor" is the principle dictating that, among competing hypotheses, you select the one that makes the fewest assumptions. Sounds sensible, right? Ockam's Razor on the other hand (no "h"), is the 30-finger rock behemoth -- and it helps if you don't make assumptions.

If you did, let's say you assumed Ockam's Razor couldn't slaughter you with just three instruments, you'd be dead wrong. When in fact, Ockam's Razor devastates with expert drumming (e.g. 2:07 of "Better Luck Tomorrow"), compelling bass rumbling from gut to groin (e.g. 2:31 of "Unprepared"), and hard rock riffage that slices like a razor (a steel razor, not a "Razor" requiring a PhD in philosophy).
Album-opener, "Unprepared," unfolds like the screamo of post-hardcore band Thursday (e.g. Thursday's "I Am the Killer"): bass intro; payoff chord; bass fill; payoff chord; tense riff; payoff chord; calm emo singing over clean chord jangle, interrupted by the tense riff supporting intensifying vocals; and then, what else, the payoff chord. It's my favorite song of the EP, and it includes the memorable turns of phrase, "We sit in these houses so unprepared," "I'd save myself / But it's too late," and "Treating others like animals."

Nick Woodman's vocal melodies/deliveries are nuanced and tailored to the lyric. On "Better Luck Tomorrow," he's sensitive one moment, "We plant the flowers by your graveside," and sneering the next, "Get back!" He sounds like Richard Patrick (Filter) when exploring his upper range on "No More," and successfully exploits the vocal processing/doubling of "Inner Visions" to evoke Disturbed, Godsmack, and even Ozzy.

Woodman is also riffage incarnate. Just listen to the beginnings of "Better Luck Tomorrow" and "No More," and you'll know what you're in for. And consistent with "Occam's razor," you'll select the hypothesis that makes exactly one assumption (that the EP is as good as these intros, which it is). The hypothesis correctly selected? Ockam's Razor is a finely tuned rock trio firing on all cylinders and doing more with three than bands twice its size.

*** The author of this review, Carl Stewart, plays the dap for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Mooner

Artist: Mooner
Links: https://www.facebook.com/moonerband

Review taken from the archives:

Man, I wish this shitty band would just get off the stage already. I wish Wilco were up there. What if Wilco still played clubs like this? What if they were still approachable? They could party with us after! I bet they were pretty chill back in the day. The Wilco of old never would have kicked that dude out on the documentary. To see Wilco play a small club, party with 'em after, now that would be something.

It is something. And we get it with Chicago's Mooner: Wilco sound, approachable rock stars. Mooner formed is Portland, but moved to Chicago because that's what you do when your sound rivals that of hometown heroes -- you make that hometown your own. And then you record with Mike Hagler, who engineered Wilco's Summerteeth and Mermaid Avenue. And then you stay grounded by hanging out with fans like me after you play Quencher's March 21st. (Well, I made that part up. I mean, they do have a show, but we haven't nailed down the hanging-out particulars.)
But despite any similarities with Wilco, Mooner is a band apart. The singer sounds like Tom Petty as often as he does Jeff Tweedy; and more often than not, he sounds like himself. His is an extraordinary voice, singular in its ability to carry with ease songs that move and turn. And though Mooner certainly belongs to whatever genre Wilco does, that only narrows it down to alternative rock, indie rock, folk rock, experimental rock, and alternative country.

But Mooner is not alt-country or folk/experimental rock. Nor do they limit themselves to power-pop (a term I've read in others' descriptions). The arrangements have time and space to breathe, employing guitars that are relatively loose and distortion-free (relative to power-pop), and they utilize guitar patterns more often than riffs or power chords -- and they occasionally solo and even jam. Then there's the terrific bassist, who'd have limited space to work in power-pop. Mooner's affinity for Elvis Costello & The Attractions shows in its appreciation for the bass guitar.

"Overrated" is probably the closest to power-pop, and is a great record. But "Shapeshifter" is excellent too, and its fretting has more to do with 60's garage rock than it does to power-pop. "Shapeshifter" is musical song-craft at its most sophisticated, supporting charming lyricism like, "You are a lonely little firefly / You think that you could be my guiding light / Guide me home."

Spanning genres and surpassing all comparison, with the Unpronounceable Name EP, Mooner succeeds on its own terms. Given Mooner's skillful songwriting, and shape-shifting vocals and bass -- if Wilco never comes to Quencher's, you should at least catch Mooner there. ('Cause I'll be hanging out with them after.)

*** The author of this review, Harold Evans, plays the cuica for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Mike Mangione & the Union

Artist: Mike Mangione & the Union
Links: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mike-Mangione-The-Union/133976429984287

Mike Mangione & The Union builds lush soundscapes for tender songs full of longing. Over all manner of stringed instruments (guitars, violin/fiddle, and cello) and percussion (kit, hand), Mangione exerts impeccable control in shading and coloring his voice to suit the myriad moods of the expertly produced, Red-Winged Blackbird Man. Mangione's nuanced delivery, when considered in light of his seemingly unrestrained passion, rivals that of Ryan Adams.

Very often, a voice like Mangione's comes along only to be quashed by poor musicianship, production and/or lyrics. This couldn't be further from the truth here. The supporting musicians are studio-caliber (Tom Mangione, Patrick Hoctor, Kristina Priceman, John Collins, and Nez); the production, perfectly captured; and the lyrics, splendid on story songs like "Fields of Evermore" and "American Martyr."
Album-opener, "Fields of Evermore," stuns first with Priceman/Hoctor's strings, and then with a story befitting the best in Americana music. It follows a farmer committing ("I'm going to work the land of my father"), promising ("I'm going to make it rain somehow"), and finally resorting to appeals for mercy ("Mercy come and hold me now get behind the plow"). But particularly praiseworthy are the subtle particulars, "My cracked hands hold the rhythm / I walk the furrow with an offering / I can't wash my hands too often boys / On account of the burn and sting."

Likewise, "American Martyr" features memorable turns of phrase -- "I took the low one / 'Cause the high road was painted black / 17 when I left my home / I was running from nothing"; and "She was running from something big / And I had found a car / We'd spit out drunken dreams how she would be a star / She gave me fever / I kept her warm at night / I called her my baby"; and "But he liked her dancing / Then she forgotten me / Around a pole she makes enough to eat / Hell I didn't know she was hungry" -- always separated by an ever-catchy melody writ both large and small as the moment dictates.

Also particularly memorable: the spare bluesy vocal opening of "Cold Cold Ground 1" that the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach would envy (if not for The Union's pristine guitar flourish and percussive embellishment); the powerful vocal hook, "Nothing here / can save me now," on "Love Me Falling"; and Mangione's exuberantly ascending vocal on "Dream of Home Once Again," recalling Nate Ruess' triumphal choruses for indie pop band, "fun."

Like sunlight on soft grass, Mike Mangione & The Union and Red-Winged Blackbird Man are comfort and beauty in equal measure.

*** The author of this review, Walter Phillips, plays the quinto for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Listen, Natalia

Artist: Listen, Natalia
Links: https://www.facebook.com/listennataliaband

Listen, Natalia's Damn Sure EP marks the advent of Deathpact Bogart's visceral brand of catharsis. With production ever suiting the mood, Bogart spews vitriol in harsh missives worthy of those betraying him. This is the first time I've used the "folk-punk" descriptive: It's just the rare event that has a simple acoustic progression rendered extraneous by such attitudinal sneer.

With a voice reminiscent of Violent Femmes' Gordon Gano, Bogart is a poet first, blending streams of consciousness in rhythm with rhyme. Packing more words into internal/line-ending rhyme schemes than most rappers do, Bogart is something to behold, tying together in a single breath: "Write about the future, sutured perfect punctured heart, sealing every single ounce of my wisdom in a note, then fuckin' tear it up" ("Method Malfunction"). We get welcome variety in the form of doubled and harmony vocals -- additional orchestration would be out of place in the narrators' claustrophobic minds.
The subject matter ranges from the direct, "You're all dogs without the leashes" ("Damn Sure"), to the self-directed, "I wish I thought much clearer" ("Are You Left Out?"); and from frustration with futility, "What's the point of life, if it's just a fast road to our failures" ("Blue Prints Red"), to how we often deal with it, "A perfect sunset with a bowl, a certain true best friend...Inhale and take in every single thing....Some timeless wishlist, fucking torn up, fucking torn up" ("Living in My Chest").

On the EP's title track, our humble narrator cops to the "waterfall of sweet surrender." With this collection, Deathpact Bogart is surrendering, not to others, but to his own release. Whether the exercise is ultimately "sweet" for him, of course it comes across as anything but; still, it never ceases to amaze with the virtuosity of Bogart's wordplay and the originality of Listen, Natalia's folk-punk.

*** The author of this review, Joshua Mitchell, plays the tumbadura for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: King Tuts Tomb

Artist: King Tuts Tomb
Links: https://www.facebook.com/KingTutsTomb

It's been said that visceral emotional reactions can transform memories into trauma. So too with King Tuts Tomb. What burns them into our psyches is the coupling of ominous synth-scapes with memorable turns-of-phrase. On “Debra,” over a sensual synth progression, we get a tender baritone ruminating on his May-December romance, “Hey Debra / I just want you to know / I love ya / And even though you're so much older than me / The way I look at it / I have so much to learn from you.” Call it serious, or seriously hilarious, it's moments like these that have King Tuts Tomb following in the footsteps of true Chicago originals like Jesus Lizard, Wesley Willis and Steve Albini.
As Pissed Jeans did on its heralded “The Jogger,” King Tuts Tomb reels listeners in with mentions of contemporary calling cards, e.g. dating websites (“She Walked Away”), technical schools (“Mass Produxion”), and the VFW (“frozen in time”). On “She Walked Away,” KTT interpolates the spoken word -- “I had a job / I was a success / I made money / A big business” -- with sneering howls rivaling those of Mudhoney/Green River's Mark Arm (also on “Annihilation”).

King Tuts Tomb tops this cocktail with a singularly varied menu of garnishes: falsetto (“Bucket of Blood”), Casio samples (“Bucket of Blood”), pulsing instrumentals (“Soul Looker”), low-in-the-mix guitar leads (“Oracle”), rap (“Tombsday”), as well as Euro-industrial pronouncements akin to Atari Teenage Riot, KMFDM and My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult (“Disappear”).

“[F]rozen in time” unfolds in KTT's typically unpredictable fashion: prominent bassline; silly-yet-sophisticated keyboard notes; hand-claps; a “frozen in time” hook set off by catchy 80's keys that belong under the same banner as NIN's Pretty Hate Machine; and a trip down memory lane underscored by emotive synths.

But if I had to describe the music of King Tuts Tomb in a sentence, it would be this: It's a room-temperature, vomit-inducing milkshake.

(And that's a good thing.)

*** The author of this review, Andrew Baker, plays the uruttu chenda for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Illnoize

Artist: Illnoize
Links: https://www.facebook.com/iamILLNOIZE

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

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

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

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

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

*** The author of this review, Scott Green, plays the candombe for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Hop On Pop

Artist: Hop On Pop
Links: https://www.facebook.com/hoponpopchicago

An album review's musical allusions are meant to supply the reader with all the tools he or she needs to make the decision: to listen? or not to listen? But with Hop on Pop's Chicken on a Bicycle, they just don't help.

For instance, although Todd Leiter-Weintraub's voice is akin to that of Jay Farrar (Son Volt, Uncle Tupelo), it also brings to mind J. Mascis's (his solo/live/acoustic albums, e.g. Martin & Me) on HoP's “Sheila of the Worms”; and HoP is memorably joined by Jonathon Newby (from the band, Brazil), whose falsetto (which recalls The Strokes' Julian Casablancas) is perfectly placed on “I'm Pathetic.”
Add instrumentation to the mix, and HoP touches the soul with achingly beautiful melodies, with “Come On, Let's Go” and “Hey” rivaling the best in movie music – The Pogues' “Fairytale of New York” (Basquiat) and Mark Lanagan's “The River Rise” (Hype), respectively.

And yet, even when you think you've got HoP all figured out, there are melodic mentions of experimental punkers The Mae Shi's “Lamb and the Lion” (in HoP's “Here”) and of rapper Kanye West's “Runaway” (in HoP's “Come On, Let's Go”).

Perhaps the most convincing proof that TL-W fully commands multiple genres, is that he knows when to relax control. On “Happy Days,” his wife simply shines on vocal lead, carrying TL-W's infectiously catchy tune like no other could. With this standout track, HoP captures the spirit of the oldies without being yoked by nostalgia or chained to convention.

Also noteworthy is “Say You Will (A Reluctant Soldier's Plea),” which merits discussion for exemplifying a phenomenon that has now frustrated/delighted me exactly twice. I'll call it the Sally Shapiro Phenomenon, after her “Dying in Africa,” the record on which I first heard it. So what exactly is the Sally Shapiro Phenomenon? It's waiting till the very end of a song to introduce (then lightly touch on) a transcendent musical idea – this, diametrically opposed to destroying beauty through repetition.

For me, I typically notice the phenomenon after the fact. I'll find myself yearning to re-visit a song part – a part I'm absolutely certain is a hook – only to find out it was actually an ending. Taking into account his song-writing chops, I'd be willing to bet that TL-W knew exactly he was doing. After all, the soldier is “reluctant” to reveal his gorgeously rendered plea, “Say you will.”

HoP is a singularly gifted song-writer, who I'd trust to write full-length albums in each of the genres previewed on Chicken on a Bicycle. But since that would mean me having patience, I'll just plant this idea in TL-W's head right now: An EP. To tide us over till Chicken on a Bicycle, Volume II. (Call it: Chicken on a Unicycle.)

I'm not alone in wanting more. On the live track, "Sheila of the Worms," the thing you notice (after the excellent guitar solo), is the love. And it's going both ways.

*** The author of this review, Jeffrey King, plays the bass drum for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Artist: The Go Down

Artist: The Go Down
Link: https://www.facebook.com/thegodown88

Review taken from the archives:

The Go Down is all about Josh Spy's guitar patterns and Brittany Lee's vocals in harmony. Intricately woven guitar textures carry songs that are as influenced by Arrow-era calypso/soca as they are by Vampire Weekend-vintage world music (and even the urban folk of Tracy Chapman). But as The Go Down utilizes the entire traditional drum kit, and sets the bass lower in the mix, the rhythm section nudges The Go Down closer to The White Stripes than to other bands of the neo-tribal genre.
While I consider album-opener, "The Street," to be the opposite side of the same coin as "They'll Never Know," it's valuable currency nonetheless, replete with guitar fretting that never ceases to amaze. Need more proof? Fire up any of the nine intros ("Manifest" among them), and hear Spy transform complex guitar parts into beautiful simplicity.

Brittany Lee's vocal contributions are special throughout. Look no further than the album's song-writing standout, "Shining Light." It starts with, what else, an original guitar lick. Spy's lead vocal recalls the lighter side of John Frusciante. And a gorgeously rendered harmony vocal by Brittany Lee joins in romantic chorus, "You're my shining light / In the deep, dark night / You shine so bright / Your light / Will guide me home." The song is, well, a shining light among the sparkling gems of The Go Down -- and they're courtesy of sumptuous harmonies and guitar.

Artist: Flesh Panthers

Artist: Flesh Panthers
Links: https://www.facebook.com/fleshpanthers

One positive byproduct of the popularity of Ty Segall-fronted projects and that of their peer San Franciscans Thee Oh Sees -- other than spotlighting the mid-to-late 1960's American garage rock compilation they all bit from (1972's seminal Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era) -- is that it enables self-conscious indiedom to collectively embrace bands like Flesh Panthers. Because otherwise, panty waste hipsters with their delicate constitutions would reflexively gag at Flesh Panthers' loose and unbridled rock swagger.
Flesh Panthers' sensibilities are not all that different from fellow garage punkers, Murder City Devils -- that is, Flesh Panthers are all about staying high forever, being their own worst enemy, and triggering in others the reaction that they've lost their minds. This persona, along with Flesh Panthers' songwriting ability, have me concerned they're not long for Chicago's figurative garage. But I'm not too worried about it: Right now, Chicago's own Flesh Panthers are literally "fucking stoned" in the best city in the world.

Generally speaking, with garage rock, visibility in a hail of distortion is zero without some able-bodied production help. With Flesh Panthers, we get expert production by former Electrical Audio-phile Brian Fox. In Fox's hands, Flesh Panthers' considerable punk anthems don't get lost in the fuzz; and together, band and producer add dimension by tucking in riffs and fills and even backing vocals.

Simply put, Flesh Panthers elevate fuzz into an art form. And going back to that 1972 Nuggets compilation, its liner notes include one of the first uses of the term, "punk rock." It is in this fine tradition that Flesh Panthers are garage punk rockers of the first order. (And unlike those indie flavors of the month, Flesh Panthers don't bite the hand that feeds.)

*** The author of this review, Kevin Lee, plays the barrel drum for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8

Artist: Dylan Michael Bentley

Artist: Dylan Michael Bentley
Link: https://www.facebook.com/dylanmichaelbentley

On his most recent Rebel Without a Clue, Dylan Michael Bentley begins by running from constraints, only to find himself out-paced by people he'd rather hang onto.

The album opens upbeat, with "Rebel Without a Clue" and "Mind Over Matter" set to a steady rhythm by robust acoustic-strumming reminiscent of Arcade Fire and Mumford & Sons. When he down-shifts, Bentley's serving up nuanced guitar patterns on "Mama's Little Heartbreaker" and "A-Poundin' and A-Bouncin'," suggesting a Jeff Tweedy or Dave Pirner without aping a Wilco or Soul Asylum.
Of his many influences in folk, indie, alt-country and Americana, Bentley resembles Bright Eyes the most, conjuring intimacy through minimal instrumentation, unvarnished vocals, and relatively straight-forward accounts unencumbered by metaphor or simile. Add to this sphere of influence the blues: We get a nice flash of it on the blues-tinged "Save My Soul."

But it's the down-tempo sections of "A-Poundin' and A-Bouncin'" that feature Bentley at his finest -- in the calm, we're a captive audience for his romantic guitar flourish and charming lyrical delivery.

*** The author of this review, Edward Robinson, plays the balaban for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8