Sunday, April 26, 2015

Tei Shi - Pleasure Curses - Champagne Fever -- DC9 - Apr 25 2015

Champagne Fever - This local duo is in the electronica field, although I am pleased to see a lot of bass playing in their set. Add soulful vocals to these throbbing bass lines and you have an act that is able to create a fine live sensibility to the synth runs and drum beats. They are active on stage throughout and have some decent tunes as well. This is a quality opening set and perfect for a Saturday evening in a crowded club. You could feel the audience working up the beginnings of a fever.

Pleasure Curses - I have enjoyed this duo quite a bit in the past with their Morrisey-esque vocals delivering fine pop tunes with electronics backing that up. Tonight was a bit more subdued for some reason. The vocals were more like withdrawn-Bowie, still with a fine quality, but down a notch on the energy scale. A couple of songs later in the set picked things up and showed them at their best. So it was not a home run tonight, but they are still a band worth catching some time.
Tei Shi - The crowd quickly revved up to the fascinating music of this trio, led by Argentian born, Brooklyn residing Valerie Teicher. With full time drums and a guitarist/keyboardist backing her vocals and occasional keyboards, they combined atmosphere and strength to deliver some powerful and unique pop music. The first song was all about atmosphere as the drummer proved able to create passages that emphasized the quiet before he would punch into a bigger beat for a bouncier song. The vocals are not quite as audacious as Kate Bush, but they have some of the same effect, especially with music that is challenging whilst retaining accessibility. There is only an EP out at present, so the future looks quite bright for Tei Shi, especially as this is day one of an extensive tour. I am glad I caught her in the beginning of what could be a long career, as crowds are certainly going to get larger and ticket prices higher the next time through.

Photo of the Night: I saw a picture of an overwhelming drum kit. So here's a quiz, whose kit does this belong to?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Grand Funk Rairoad -- Maryland Live! Casino - Apr 23 2015

Grand Funk Railroad - I have never quite known how to fit this monster band of my youth into the grand scheme of my take on rock history. I recall them as arena behemoths (selling out Shea Stadium faster than the Beatles) with some radio friendly hits and some gnarlier, gritty midwestern styled brutal rockers. Having never seen them in their day, would tonight be a night of seeing some creaky, out of shape old folks hobbling in with canes trying to rock out? No, that was just the crowd. The five piece version of 2015 (which has been together unchanged since 2000) looked great, looked mean and lean and probably could have cleared out the whole sold-out room by themselves if need be. But that was hardly needed as the fans were totally into this set, as well they should have been as Grand Funk Railroad still has a surprisingly high energy set to present tonight.
The band features the original rhythm section with Don Brewer on some lead and backing vocals as well. Vocals and rhythm guitar are handled by Max Carl of 38 Special, who has been around a long time, but still sounds great. Bruce Kulick put in several years at lead guitar for Kiss, which is appropriate as that sound hearkens back to Grand Funk, and he had plenty of thick blues rock riffs and solos to lay out tonight. They have a keyboardist, Tim Cashion, who I believe has an MFA in music and he adds some vocals as well. Everyone but Mel Schacher sings, which adds even more strength to the powerful instrumental base. Mel's 'bong rattling bass', as Homer Simpson describes, is still there and with John Bonham long deceased, Don Brewer has to be the hardest hitting veteran drummer out there. His overall energy can keep this going about a year after he's dead. Amazing. And the band showcased a variety of solos in tried and true or unique ways with the part where four of them were on percussion with Carl's harmonica solo being particularly brilliant.

The set was constructed well with the five songs I could remember off the top of my head all there (well four, but I recognized a fifth quickly enough in my 'oh yeah' moment). To answer my original question, this band fits perfectly well into the strong tradition of Michigan rock music. The original band members hailed from Flint and worked with Terry Knight and Question Mark, but took that to a much heavier place, cooking up sounds that fit well in with Mitch Ryder, early Bob Seger, and even a bit of the MC5. Michigan rock might be one of the best scenes from top to bottom and Grand Funk not only is a big part of that history, but still has the fire and the ability to show you why in 2015.
I don't know if I have this set list correct, but this is what they did earlier this year and if not exact tonight, it's close...  Bottle Rocket - Rock and Roll Soul - Footstompin' Music - Shinin' On - The Loco-motion - Walk Like a Man - Second Chance - Drum solo - Lightning and Thunder - Inside Looking Out - Some Kind of Wonderful - I'm Your Captain - We're an American Band

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Marian McLaughlin -- Strathmore Mansion - Apr 22 2015

Marian McLaughlin - Often when I have seen one of my favorite DC area artists several times over most of the 6 1/2 years I have been writing about them, I am at a loss of what to add. But that is never the case with Marian McLaughlin. Even if the focus is on songs I have heard before, there is always something new to discover within her unique approach to folk in the direction of classic UK and European psychedelic folk artists of the sixties and seventies. Additionally, she continues to explore new terrain with the help of Ethan Foote who plays bass and continues to work out brilliant arrangements to an ever growing series of instuments.
Tonight was the culmination of a month long residency at the Mansion of Strathmore, which celebrates its tenth year of assisting young musicians continue to grow. It made for a fantastic environment tonight as Marian had Ethan Foote, a percussionist, a guitarist and brass players, but also had the Strathmore's recent resident artists, Invoke, a classic string quartet. The combination of sounds was magical tonight and the soundman deserves credit for making it all clear with Marian's strong vocal work and delicate picking clear. The players had a great sense of the song and used their power and restraint to enhance the already stirring drama within the song.
The continuing growth of Marian McLaughin (which will be shown in a second album later this year) is such a pleasure for the many of us that have seen her at various house shows and clubs in the DC area. And a good part of that is the collaboration with Ethan Foote, which is something I probably should have written more about in the past. It reminds me of Joe Boyd and Robert Kirby working with Vashti Bunyan and Nick Drake or Mickie Most producing early Donovan classics. Collaborations such as these can take dazzling core material and allow them to soar even further into the stratosphere.

It was also a pleasure to see a different audience tonight than the usual faces in the crowd that I can always find and almost predict in advance when I see a local band. Marian has the ability to pull in young and old music lovers, including many of those that have never heard of any of the artists that she reminds me of. She has a song she played tonight called 'Even Magic Falters' that is true enough, although her particular magic is going strong and growing to heights where people cannot help but notice and engage. Marian McLaughlin has a lot of fans in the world. Many of them don't know it yet, but they will.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Elvis Perkins - Kinsey -- Historic 6th + I Synagogue - Apr 21 2015

Kinsey - Thankfully, there were no jokes about sexuality, etc. as Nick Kinsey has probably heard all too many. So it is just a man named Kinsey playing guitar, singing and using a kick drum. But the ace up his sleeve was using Elvis Perkins' keyboardist for about half of the set. The little bit of coloring and subtle synthesizer runs really sharpened up the set. Perkins songs were decent enough by themselves and he had a strong clear voice with a gutsy rhythm cooked up on either acoustic or electric guitar. He varied the tones a bit more than the style, but it all came together rather well tonight.
 photo: Rob Gordon

Elvis Perkins - And speaking up famous names, although my first thoughts go to Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins, this is actually the son of the great actor, Anthony Perkins and nephew of Marissa Berenson (among a lot more... see Wikipedia). But all that means nothing if he doesn't have the songs or the style. It was quickly evident that he had more than enough of each and he could maintain a keen interest throughout his full set. He played guitar throughout with occasional harmonica bursts and some sort of flute solo once. He also had his ace keyboardist and a woman on bass, zither, or glockenspiel. Nick Kinsey joined on drums for many songs and even the added percussion meshed well with the careful tonal accompaniment to create mystical settings or earthly calm. This was excellent music with intriguing vocal patterns, interesting stories, and deep music that could be playful as well. He is working a terrain I have enjoyed following before, perhaps somewhere between Perry Leopold and Jeff Buckley. But his own voice is confident and powerful with many flexible twists and turns keeping things quite exciting in a quiet way. Although there was room for a few more fans tonight, it appeared he had a strong contingent of people who figured him out quicker than I did. I will be back with them the next time he is through.

Quote of the Morning...  From my Mom earlier (and these days I can't use many of her quotes, sadly):  "Someone took me to an opera on Sunday. I made it through the first two acts but sat in the hallway for the third, which I didn't mind as someone always dies in the third act anyway."

Monday, April 20, 2015

Doldrums - Moon King -- DC9 - Apr 19 2015

Moon King - This Toronto duo is showing four phases of the moon tonight as they have a drummer and guitarist/keyboardist augmenting their stark approach of two vocalists with one or two guitars going between them. It is a challenging night for them as only seven people are here marking yet another poorly attended show after so many others that exceeded my expectations. Maybe it is just a random occurrence, although the steady rain tonight may have a little something to do with it. Although the band is young, they were quite savvy in dealing with it by just plowing ahead with their music, not spending much time between songs with patter and pauses, but keeping it flowing. And that worked to the advantage of their churning psyche riffs which mixed dark post punk and lighter pop moves depending on the song. The male/female vocal combination was solid and the focal point throughout. Their sound is not quite full enough or vibrant enough yet, but they are off to a good start and could easily develop into something solid and fulfilling. The core of the music is there.
Doldrums - Oh dear, during the first song, I am wondering if this electonic outfit's name may be all too accurately named. It didn't help that there was a slow transition into the second song resulting in a restart after not getting it right. At least one of the keyboard/electronic guys went to a drum kit which always livens up the sound for me. Eventually they got it together and it wasn't half bad thereafter. In fact, it may be a good mix of electronics and soulful pop rock music. It really did not connect with me though, as I'm a hard sell for this. But like most Canadians, they seemed like really nice guys and they hopefully will find a larger audience than the dozen to 15 people here tonight. Perhaps this should be at the U Street Music Hall? Seems a better fit.

Dream of the Night: I vowed in a dream that I would explain the concept of Mensi of Angelic Upstarts using a second mic on his collar to pick up his vocals as he often sang away from the main microphone. He was doing that quite a bit as I was watching from backstage. Well, it made sense in my dream. Not having seen Angelic Upstarts, I cannot prove this didn't happen.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Howlin' Rain - Joy Classic -- Black Cat - Apr 16 2015

Joy Classic - It is a pleasure to see a twin guitar quartet actually have a fifth member on lead vocals, rather than resort to the overused strategy of having the guitarist or bassist with the least worst voice handle the vocals. The vocals are clear, dreamy and carry the songs as they should. This allows the guitars to work a clean treble area with some clever interplay. The rhythm section holds the bottom and keeps things rocking. My only criticism would be a tonal and tempo steadiness that can be a bit tedious over a 37 minute set. A few sonic jolts would be welcome, but that may come with continued writing. For now, this Baltimore band has a decent approach to showcase.
 reposted photo from Greg Gabrisch

Howlin' Rain - I have not seen Ethan Miller since a brilliant Comets on Fire set many, many years back in this same club. I have followed the albums and have enjoyed how he still had plenty of fire, but added a more west coast roots style to the core of the sound. I was a bit worried tonight as his last album was a stark outing, similar to Neil Young's 'Tonight's the Night' with light guitar and piano behind pained vocals. But from first note to last, this was more the classic wild west coast psychedelic hard rock ride with screaming guitars, bass lines, powerhouse drumming and Miller's vocal gymnastics that somehow stay on top of it all. There is great dynamic shifts and solid song structures at the core with plenty of room to jam and riff and just cut loose. I was in heaven pretty much the whole way here and I made it a point to listen to every band member who was highly skilled and locked in. I heard drumbeats that worked the snare on the expected beat and then went into extra shots that came 1 1/2 beats later, consistently every time. The bass player would hold back until the right time was there to work the entire fretboard. The guitarists just wailed away with slide moves, some subtle steel work, and thoughtful coloring to the vocals. Just great stuff and high time I caught this band. So why were only 20-35 people here? Your loss.

Quote of the Night: From the opening band's singer... "This one's about me doing drugs, but my mother is here so it's about me NOT doing drugs."

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Sick of Sarah - The Last Year -- Black Cat - Apr 14 2015

The Last Year - This Baltimore quartet is new to me and is playing several dates on this tour. They feature strong female vocals in front of a mixture of keyboards, bass, guitar, additional percussion, and drums. I was hearing a more intense Eurythmics at first, but it was more of a bombastic rock sound with powerful throbbing synthesizer and danceable beats. They had loads of energy and a hint at charisma. Still, it seemed like more high spots than deep structure to me, but I think that may be a function of age. This is great music for young energetic people looking to move and they went over pretty well with the crowd tonight in the backstage room. It is early for them with only one EP out at present, so this band may have a chance to focus their noise and make a name for themselves.
Sick of Sarah - This slightly more veteran Minneapolis band has a fine fan base here tonight. They have a Runaways look to their lineup, but their music is more interesting in more of an Alley Cats vein. They could have worked well on the Dangerhouse label with their hook oriented, driving punk sound that has enough pop to it to attract a wide range of rock fans. I liked the way they had a churning quality deep in their song, just grinding out the songs with enough subtle twists to keep me attentive. I did not care for some of the sound quality as it was a bit murky at times, although the sound man sharpened it up as the set went on. The vocals had too much reverb, which did not seem at all necessary and ended up getting lost in some songs, or even echoing off the beat in odd ways. But the energy was good and the music interesting and was worth a listen. I would like to hear more of their recordings and would give it another shot live as well.

Rimshot Quote of the Day: “I called an insurance company to get a quote. They gave me one of Oscar Wilde’s best. -- Jarod Kintz.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Here's some shows upcoming, a majority of which I will attend. Come join me or find some other cool shows. 'tis the season as touring is easier.

Howlin' Rain washes over the Black Cat on Thursday, April 16th. I FINALLY get to see this offshoot of Comets on Fire after missing them the last three times in town. Looking forward to this one.

Jann Klose is a great folkster who can really nail it on stage. Head over to Electric Maid in Takoma Park on Friday, April 17th to see for yourself.

Tal National plays the Tropicalia on Friday the 17th if you want to stick to U Street and not go to Takoma Park.

Moon King expands their reign at the DC9 on Sunday, April 19th.

Elvis Perkins... no, not Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins, comes to the Historic 6th+I Synagogue on Tuesday, April 21st.

Marian McLaughlin has long been a favorite local folkie whose songs hearken back to the strong European psyche-folk scene of old. She has expanded her sound and is finally getting just the start of the recognition she deserves. See if you agree with me at the Strathmore Mansion, on Wednesday April 22nd.

While I am off seeing Grand Funk Railroad (Don't trust anyone who likes this band over the age 50), you can see Marrow on Thursday April 23rd at the Black Cat.

Tei Shi hits the stage of the DC9 on Saturday, April 25th.

Laura Tsaggaris brings her assertive folk sound to the 6th+I Synagogue on Sunday, April 26th opening for Lowland Hum (oh she is at Jammin Java earlier on the 23rd if you would rather do that).

Local powerhouse Mittenfields celebrate their album release at the Black Cat on Thursday April 30th with some excellent support as well.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Diamond Rugs - New Madrid - Justin Collins -- Black Cat - Apr 10 2015

Justin Collins - I had a play to see so I rushed over and caught all of one minute of this trio. And that's ok, as I am thinking much more of the Dark Shadows character Justin Collins who died a few weeks ago as I'm nearing the end of a 1,245 episode viewing of this bizarre television experience. Fortunately I ran into someone who's opinion is at least as good as my own who told me the set was decent enough and described them as one of those 'tweener' bands that tend a bit toward Americana, a bit toward indie rock, and added some decent boogie moves at times. And that makes sense from a hip Nashville guy.

New Madrid - These Georgians were just here in February and it is good to see them gigging again on this tour as they are young and still can gain some valuable experience with lots of shows. The sound has not changed much from their intriguing mix of psychedelia, indie rock, and shoegaze played with different layers of intensity. I wrote about it here, and all this applies as they went over pretty well tonight as well. The sound was muddier tonight and the band was a little more loose, which was ok at times, not at others. I like these guys and they have found some tricks in freshening up psychedelic music in this century. If they keep gigging and writing, it's gonna get really good, even though it is just fine already.
Diamond Rugs - This is a second tier supergroup (maybe first tier), I suppose--depends on your meaning for 'super'. They feature three guitars and rhythm section featuring current or former members of Deer Tick, Black Lips, Dead Confederate, Six Finger Satellite, and Los Lobos. Steve Berlin of Los Lobos had to fly off and do something for his main band, but with three guitars already, it did not hurt the sound tonight. For they were loud and proud, banging out strong rock songs with enough pop hooks so they sounded familiar even for the first time. They leaned toward the garage at times, while tightening up for a more modern rock style in other songs. They varied the lead vocals and harmonized plenty as well, as they had a fun sense of just pushing things forward and letting it hang out. This was a fine show, perfect for a Friday night. If you like the bands these guys come from (and many do), you will have no problem with this set as they are not going off on a crazy tangent.

Quote of the Night: This is an overheard elevator conversation from my friend in Chicago...

“I’m thinking of hiring a psychic, but the people at the hospital don’t think that’s such a good idea…”

Friday, April 10, 2015

Lady Lamb - Rathborne -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Apr 9 2015

Rathborne - From the artist's twitter account... "Washington DC. You are the Capitol of my heart. Thank you Rock'n'Roll Hotel and Lady Lamb for haulin us around"

As for my comments on the set? I'm still riding around a several block police barricade trying to find my way into an area I can park and maybe get to the club.
Lady Lamb - From the artist's twitter account... "Thank you for singing with me at Rock'n'Roll Hotel, Washington DC"

As for me, I'm at home seeing that there are several blocks still on shut down looking for the gunman/kidnapper (and still one closed block this morning). I am glad that the show happened and there were people who somehow got there and were safe.

This is the second time a gun wielding nut prevented me from getting to a show. But it's not my complaint, as I am alive to tell the tale, unlike two people who were facing the gunmen.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Jose Gonzalez - Olof Arnalds -- 9:30 Club - Apr 7 2015

Olof Arnalds - Add the name Olof Arnalds to the ever lengthening list of Icelandic talent to find their way to the rest of the world. It is just her voice and acoustic guitar tonight, although she is an accomplished violinist as well. The guitar playing is quite good and she creates fine textures through a few different techniques. But the real star is the voice. She reminds me a lot of Jenny Sorrenti with the ability to chill and warm, nearly at the same time. It is both comforting and powerful and the songs resonate deeply. It is tough with a sold out crowd to bring just an acoustic guitar to the club, but Olof Arnalds succeeded and made a few new fans tonight, myself included.

Jose Gonzalez - Here is someone I have been following since his early solo albums, where it was fascinating to see somene from the hardcore punk scene create such fascinating and delicate folk music. He has put on several fine shows in DC as a solo artist and lately with his folky band Junip. I was not sure what we would get tonight, but was happy to see a full band comprised of a drummer, percussionist, keyboardist, and acoustic guitarist joining him. The keyboards were quite light and the percussion was smart and reserved through much of the set, leaving the two guitars to conjure up some melodic magic. There was also extensive use of three voices, which was a plus to cut through this large crowd. Although this crowd was quite attentive as they were fully into this music. And with a band that could up the tempo and acoustic guitar volume so carefully, it made for edge of the chair fascination. I can not quite say excitement, because his songs are like fragile artworks that you want to handle with care (and wonder). I think of him up there somwhere in between Jackson Frank and Nick Drake in style, and nearly in quality. It is always a pleasure to spend some time with the music of Jose Gonzalez.

The new issue of FolkWorld is online and features some reprints of folk shows I have reviewed in the area along with lots of other news from folk scenes around the world. The CD reviews are not quite up at this hour, but will be shortly.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Liturgy - Sannhet - Horse Lords -- DC9 - Apr 2 2015

Horse Lords - This powerful package tour begins tonight at the DC9 and we start with a set from a Baltimore quartet who are new to me. 28 minutes later, the strong impression they stamped on me and the rest of the sizable crowd will be embedded in my memory for some time. They are fully instrumental with bass and a guitar capable of many interesting tones (I kept looking for a keyboardist hiding in the shadows). They also began with two drummers and aside from my brain yelling 'less cowbell'!, these guys integrated well and kept things really tight. There is a mix of intricacy and churning riffs, so they fit comfortably between the droners and the Frippians. And when the one drummer rolled a saxophone, a whole new sonic blast was found. Fine music from a band who hopefully will return here soon after they get some rest from this tour.

Sannhet - This trio from Brooklyn comes on with a dark stage, backdrop film, quiet music, building tension... then -bam- a thick hard hitting riff band emerges who start with a thunderous rock approach until they add the swirling psychedelic guitar sounds that create the many subtextures that make this music easy to grab on to, but tough to hold. It is all quite good, not the be all end all of this style, but a fine approach with guys that control their sound well and have plenty of energy to sustain it throughout the set. They are fully instrumental, so the vocals of our headliner are going to be positively Sinatra-esque.

photo Ebru Yildiz

Liturgy - This is my third time for me and it is quite exciting as I was not sure it would happen again when the last time around was the last tour for one of the best drummers on the planet who was going off to do electronica. Well, thankfully he is back with the bassist and two guitarists in front and they have a new and intriguing album to display tonight. The sound is somewhere between the Swans and death metal. It is not for everybody, but if you like things heavy, Liturgy offers a very compelling approach. The drummer breaks a lot of rules in his magical creations the same way Keith Moon did--it works, but it is not clear how and not too many drummers can recreate what happens here. The axemen are linked together in one powerful roar that conjures up familiar and unfamiliar melodies bouncing off of each other in the songs. The vocals, well they are far from Sinatra, in fact they seem oddly atonal and detached, but yet they somehow fit into the logic of this band as well. If they are headed to your town, see what sense you can make of this. It is far more a challenge to put into words, then it is to just sit back and absorb these fascinating waves of intensity.

Quote of the Night: from a conversation nearby...
"...Vasco da Gama?"
" Errr, well anyway..."

Tuesday, March 31, 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.

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.

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 (?!)

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.

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?


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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.


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)

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.