Friday, February 5, 2016

The Cornel West Theory - Time is Fire - The Black Sparks -- MLK Library - Feb 4 2016

The Black Sparks - This is a free show at the library sponsored by the DCPL Punk Archive. And the best way to start this off is with a real punk band playing pretty well into the 1980s harDCore style. The sound is a little murky and the vocals are too high, but I detect some good melodic moves within the opener. Another song had a strong Faith/GI sort of feeling to it which was fun. A couple of their newer cuts did not move me nearly as much. I don't think this was as fully formed as I would have liked, but it had the energy so we are off to a good start.

Time is Fire - Third time is normally the charm, but I liked this band plenty the first and second time I saw them. Now there is a new bassist tonight who did well keeping the flow of this intriguing band. The rhythms are funky and dance-able with guitar lines that work middle eastern moves into rock forms and together create the individual approach that makes these guys special. But don't forget the energetic vocals, which powered atop the music, which was better balanced than the first set. This band is working hard and playing all around town, so check them out soon.
The Cornel West Theory - This is only the second time I have seen this fine local hip hop band and I was quite impressed the first time, which was far too long ago. The band was smoking hot tonight with their two rap vocalists, powerhouse drummer, smooth bassist, and electronics/samples guy. The music mixes power with mystery and the vocalists work off each other in perfect step increasing the drama of their quickly but clearly delivered verbiage. It is great to see these guys still delivering the goods to a sizable crowd, who thoroughly enjoyed this tight well run show. There will be a lot more music here in the King Library in weeks to come and hopefully the bills will continue to be strong, but at a price of 'free', you can have a lot less talent than we had tonight and still enjoy the night.

Quotes of the Night: From the opening set...

Band: "This is a new one"
Crowd Member 1: "Yeah!"
Crowd Member 2: "Yeah!"
Crowd Member 3: "No!"

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Young Galaxy - Dias -- Black Cat - Feb 3 2016

by John Miller

Dias - Resonance is funny thing, it can add to an already well established tone, or it can send audiences fleeing, hands covering bloody ears. Dias begins tonight leaning on significant amounts of resonance and at times it becomes overwhelming. Considering their avant garde, experimental bent it is not surprising.

Dias, DC locals, is a two piece; vocalist and everything else. There isn't much up on stage but fuck if they aren’t loud. Perhaps some volume control should be considered to give the vocalist some room. Sometimes it’s a chore picking her out behind all these layers. That's not to say that she is missing, just that some of the random noises spilling out of the rig tend to obscure the strongest element of the group.

As far as a general sound, Dias is by far one of the strangest acts I have seen and I say that with the utmost respect. It's odd in the best way; forcing off notes, strange delays, and pitchiness, but making those elements fit within the confines of the composition. And making those elements fit is not easy to do. With all the interesting design choices, I am surprised their timing is relatively safe. The Back Room has filled up nicely and as with most shows, the opening act has the difficult task of winning over what can sometimes be a hostile environment but Dias succeeds.

Young Galaxy - Young Galaxy is a far safer choice. A lot of the experimental is gone from earlier. While generalities remain (dancing, keys, layers) they are far more approachable. I was worried I was in for another chillwave snorefest, but this is far better. They are confident in both their compositions and ability. Generally I find that those, especially those subscribing to chillwave, tend to hide behind any number of random noises, mumbling their way to completion. Young Galaxy, while not particularly talkative between pieces is fun. People clap in rhythm and dance along; no contemplating the color of the cement floor while questioning how life has so royally fucked you, just a good time. I hear bits and pieces of Madonna, Kate Bush, and The Revolution. It isn't one overarching influence, just parts; melodies, vocal inflections, keys. Enough to know where they are coming from but not so much that it defines them. Those influences are decidedly eighties but the tone of the drums, the sound design and arpeggios are much more contemporary. I am reminded a little of a less obvious Javiera Mena.

This is one of those shows that would have completely flown over my head. It is somewhat out of my wheelhouse and even though they have been around for almost a decade, I had no idea that they existed; though I blame that mostly on my age. Well written, well performed show. Count me a convert.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Howie Day - Anna Rose -- The Hamilton - Jan 30 2016

Anna Rose - Joined by Adam Stoler on lead acoustic guitar and backing vocals, Anna Rose handles the lead vocals and offers rhythm guitar much of the time. They occasionally employ a bass drum beat whose unwavering rhythm surprisingly adds an anchor to show how interesting the guitar parts are. The lead guitar rarely mirrors Rose's chords, but locks into the vibe of the song well and can offer quiet sonic coloring to searing rock solos. Rose carries the songs further with a powerful voice that does not merely go into over the top blues style. Blues based rock music is far more the heart of their sound with only traces of folk or country here. They use effects well, again never overwhelming the listener. I loved their little nod to Led Zeppelin tossing in a passage from their interpretation of 'Nobody's Fault But Mine' into one of their songs. They also covered Dolly Parton and Warren Zevon, much to the pleasure of this large audience. This was an excellent set of music with the just the right balance of daring and comfort. Her music and live performance is a great match with a wide variety of styles and has the power and presence to move the front of the line.
Howie Day - This was more of a standard set featuring this Maine veteran on voice and acoustic guitar. His expressive vocals are clearly the star early on as the guitar playing is decent, but along more predictable lines. The songs are fine folk-pop numbers that are easy to latch on to and listen to his vocal work carry them further. The third song really awakened me to his potential as he looped a percussive pattern he created on his guitar body and continued looping tricky little guitar sounds and voice to create a mysterious and broad soundscape. I have seen this all before, but his nearly effortless way of creating magic showed why he gets the following he does. He has great personality on the simpler songs and they are all well and good. But I enjoyed the more original moves in this set.

Quote of the Night: Howie Day... "All right, I've just been playing sad stuff so far, so I'll just continue doing that."

Saturday, January 30, 2016

RECORD REVIEWS: JANUARY 2016

PETE ASTOR “SPILT MILK”
Pete Astor works the territory between Ray Davies and Bob Pollard, perhaps. There is songcraft with simplicity at work when the best of Astor’s songs ring forth. The lesser songs may be in that direction, but invoke a simple indie rock slacker folk vibe to it. The musicians sound relaxed, but have enough bite to their sound to keep it crisp and nimble, moving forward. This is a slippery record, lots of quality, but I won’t know its staying power until after a few more listens. It could go either way, but I would definitely recommend a listen.

Songs to start with first:

Mr Music - Sounds kinda classic, kinda fresh, spartan but complete. Song stories still work.

The Getting There - I love when a band has that certain ‘traveling beat’ for traveling songs.

Sleeping Tiger - Steady guitar chords atop a dreamy keyboard with fine bass and drums punctuation.

BEACON “ESCAPEMENTS”

Dreamy electro pop… this is becoming a higher and higher and percentage of offerings in the past couple of years. You need less people to work with compared to rock music, so it is like folk and hip hop, one or two people and you have a live act or an album. Creativity is even more exposed and in this case, there is enough present as there are some musical shifts beyond the expected. The vocals are pretty good with a heavy emphasis on the dream portion of things. Still, over eleven songs, they did not offer enough alternatives for me to recommend this to anyone beyond the fans. I would rather see Beacon over many similar acts who frequent the U Street Music Hall, so you should give these guys a listen, if this is your scene.

And you can do just that when Beacon appears live at Songbyrd, Saturday, February 13th.

Songs to start with first:

IM U - The opening cut sets the electro dream pop stage well, with plenty of dream.

Running Out - Diverse shifts in style and substance yet the song smoothly moves along, just not in a straight line.

Hollow - Some effective hollow silences in this song.

FIELD MUSIC “COMMONTIME”
If you enjoy quirky pop arranged with loads of creativity, then you should be on board for Field Music and their latest album. Unfortunately this type of music is more classroom material for me as the passion eludes me. I believe some passion is there in the music, unlike the cynical tripe in Steely Dan for instance. Don’t get me started there, as this does not send me into convulsions of annoyance. I even appreciated some of their sonic moments. But their core songs are working in a different dimensional plane for me. But there is a lot of talent within, so if this is your universe, take it all in.

Songs to start with first:

Trouble at the Lights - I can recommend this for its bold sound and darker visage.

HIGH HIGHS “CASCADES”
Does all dream pop sound the same? Well, like most genres, if you like it, then definitely not. But if you don’t care much for a genre, it all starts sounding the same. I am not a huge fan of dream pop, but it occasionally works its magic for me. Not this time as the songs just showcased their atmosphere and moved along a reasonable but predictable melodic line. The vocals are good but unrelentingly steady. This one is for the fans of the style, at best.

LOST AND PROFOUND “GOOD-BYE MINE”
This is an intriguing and occasionally slippery band. When they hit the right melodic notes and pull hard on the emotional strings, they can be quite profound. When they pull back and take it too easy, they lose me a bit. It makes me think this is Spriguns’ Mandy Morton’s granddaughter trying to recapture the old magic in a modern setting. This is not the first band to try for that and not the best, but they have me along for the ride in a big way when they nail it just right.

Songs to start with first:

Superhuman - The opener has a delectable melody line, familiar enough but effective.

Iodine - Kind of quiet in the beginning but with the instrumental build and gospel like backing vocals, this became big and bold.

Bad Sister - Great vibe here, with its classic British folk ballad style at work. Wring out that emotion.

JACOB METCALF “FJORD”
This a full bodied folk album, or a classic singer songwriter outing to put it another way. Vocals and acoustic guitar take the lead, but there are many more sounds and arrangements among these eleven songs. This one took a while before it started to work a bit of magic. The vocals are decent but predictable. The music less so and where there is some thoughtful layering or creative songwriting twists, there is some real excellence here. A mixed bag for sure, but worth a study.

Songs to start with first:

Cut Your Ties - I like the way the strings build this up late in the song.

Fjord - Icy themes and cool brass work together to establish the mood.

Traffic - Here is a song where I think the acoustic guitars shine in a well written song.

NIGHT BEATS “WHO SOLD MY GENERATION”
There have been a few generations since the brand of psychedelic music that Night Beats is closely attached first began. This has all the earmarks of early Vox amps with enough watts to pummel your eardrums and guitar pedals with reverb you will be hearing the next day. These guys have the sound but also the songs sounding almost dead in between the thick power of Black Angels and the quirkier songs of Dead Meadow. Yes, I am a total mark for this sound, but it is the songwriting here that will make me come back for more, just as it does for the bands I mentioned. And being from Seattle if you enjoyed the neglected classic album from Truly, you will likely fall in love with this one.

Songs to start with first:

Power Child - Distant guitars and in your face vocals make for a post punk psychedelic sound.

Sunday Morning - Not the great Lou Reed song, but like that one a little lower key than the rest with a killer melody.

Shangri Lah - Galloping western styled melody with some Flamin Groovies style guitar counters. Groovy.

CIAN NUGENT “NIGHT FICTION”
If there is such a thing as lounge folk rock, Cian Nugent just may be able to write the formula. But he moves beyond that or any formula with his rambling electric guitar and thoughtful singing. He even nails a nice fingerstyle instrumental with ‘Lucy’ to show he can go coffee house folk any time he would like. And he can also stretch out into a long steady rocker. This is the eclectic loner original style of folk music I like, something slightly outsider with no barriers in the approach. Nugent is carrying the classic psyche-folk tradition into modern and more unique territory. As a bonus, he is from Ireland and not related to a certain 2nd Amendment lunatic guitarist.

Songs to start with first:

First Run - Reminds me of an American take on Meic Stevens electric folk with just a hint of psyche.

Shadows - Steady bleating of brass on this eight minute epic.

Year of the Snake - Speaking of epic, this rocker clocks in at 11:40 with its Feelies meets Kurt Vile beat.

PROMISE AND THE MONSTER “FEED THE FIRE”
To answer my earlier question, NO, all dream pop does NOT sound the same. Even if the sounds may be similar, there are bands that work the form with a sense of majesty and vision that reminds you of why the genre has a strong fan base. Promise and the Monster are clearly one of the best in this arena. Their gorgeous female vocals could work in a number of places, but set them atop the atmospheric guitars, synthesizer washes, smart percussion, subtle bottom, and you have a monster of a band that exceeds even the most optimistic of promises. There is a strong gothic feel and a pounded out flexible metal style, the type of which excels in their native Sweden. Whether metal, folk, pop, or progressive, there seems to be a magic connection in Scandinavia. But even if you don’t buy that theory, I would recommend buying this and establishing your connection to this excellent music.

Songs to start with first:

Feed the Fire - Great melody will suck you in and hold you tight.

Hunter - More sumptuous sounds with the second song. I am hooked.

Hammering the Nails - Nice mysterious guitar line. Look, don’t stop with these, just listen to the whole LP.

SPACE CREAM "PTERODACTYL SKY"
There are eight songs on this LP, but this is not an album to pick and choose as the band has created a large concept album here. The storyline concerns a ’sex positive female revolutionary’ so this is a good combination of themes of Cafe Flesh and Barbarella. The great thing about this concerns the glam progressive moves the band relishes. If this type of big, bold, and brash sound is not required for concept albums, it probably should be. There is even some punk attitude within and it is nice to see the Screamers’ Paul Roessler engineering this beast. The other selling point is the amazing vocal work of Savannah Pope who can carry her tones about the din and pull back into a heart grabbing acoustic moment. Musically, this is fun, although a bit more creative flourish would help. It is there at times, but falls back into safe classic rock forms a bit too much. But that is a minor quibble, as this is a fun record for fans of ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ and even me, who thinks that is a bit overrated.

RADIATION CITY “SYNESTHETICA”
Nine songs of electronic pop are not always to my liking, but this band has plenty of bite in the welcome guitar. It is instrumentally thick, which meets with my approval as well. Add female vocals and, well, you just might make me a fan of this genre yet. The key to any genre is writing great songs. I am not sure this band is at the ‘great’ level, but they write good enough songs to keep me from even thinking about looking for the fast forward button. There were a few songs where my mind drifted, but most had some variations and thick production, which kept my focus. The songs are distinct enough, but I preferred listening to the whole album irrespective of song titles. So put it on and sit back for the fun.

See them live at DC9 on Monday, February 29th.

THE RECORD COMPANY “THE RECORD COMPANY”
Electric Blues Rock is the Genus here, with a species that moves into spare territory focusing on electric guitar, drums, just enough tasty bass and bluesy singing that has a full understanding of post British Invasion blues. But there are forays into older rock’n’roll moves that balance this between fairly new, old, older, and oldest variants of blues rock’n’roll. It is hard to argue against the style. The trick is to do it well and these guys do.

And if you want to catch them live, hurry to the Rock’n’Roll Hotel TONIGHT, Saturday Jan 30th.

Songs to start with first:

Off the Ground - The opener has a brisk mobil approach in the music that transcends the basics.

Rita Mae Young - I like the drumming and the spaces between the instrumentation and vocals.

Feels So Good - A fine rock’n’roll number here. It’s a gas.

TY SEGALL “EMOTIONAL MUGGER”
Maybe some people have been tired of the quantity of Ty Segall press in recent years, but I can not fathom getting tired of the music. Like a similar crazed song-a-holic Robert Pollard, he still has a way with a hook and manages many different ways of getting his music out there. I think he has even steadied his pace a wee bit, but if he has the energy and the songs, why not keep moving? This time around, he is combining some of the dense electronica of Nine Inch Nails to his power pop sensibilities, along with his psychedelic flair. Balancing quirky and heavy is a unique approach that only a few dare try and he has fully succeeded with that here. A true pleasure.

Songs to start with first:

Squealer - The opening cut is catchy and establishes the sonic themes for the LP.

Emotional Mugger/Leopard Priestess - A long hard hitting rocker, still with some quirky bits.

Candy Sam - This rocker is catchy with a great Ron Asheton style lead guitar intro.

SHOOTING DOWN ASTEROIDS “FINE. WELL…”

by Kyle Schmitt
This album is a solo recording project from Carlos Martin Vizcarra, who has since recruited a four-piece band to play shows under the Shooting Down Asteroids banner. Vizcarra’s vocals dominate the mix, with bright, clear production making these songs immediately accessible. The synth-driven “100 MPH” showcases the album’s combination of wistful lyrics and upbeat, poppy instrumental playing. Backing vocals help to build a restless atmosphere in “Phosphorescence”, while a simpler, straightforward accompaniment suits “Chicago” just as well. Switching gears, Vizcarra effectively channels his anger at science-denying politicians in “Drown”, warning that “our sinking ship is burning, and we’re all going to drown.” Vizcarra crafts some pleasing songs on this record, and his pop sensibilities create intrigue in how these elements would come together in a live setting.


Songs to start with first

Anything - The synth arrangement lends tension to a song about a compulsion to reunite with someone.

Fireflies - Vizcarra’s smooth vocal style blends well with the acoustic guitar backing.

Chicago - A Windy City road trip (the “baddest place I have ever been” in winter) allows Vizcarra time to muse on the state of his relationship.

SKYLINE HOTEL “SPARKS OF LIGHT”
Here is a local pop duo out with a four song EP with bright catchy songs and a varied sound. They go from big and busy in the pacy ‘Make me Sway’ to the easy going soul pop touches in ‘Winter’s Warmth’. The final song ‘A Love I Won’t Mind’ is the most accomplished to my ears, as they balance some quick rock moves with the warm pop style that is at the core of their music. If you prefer a smarter brand of pop music that is smooth at heart, but filled with rock energy, then Skyline Hotel should be on your itinerary.

SONNY SMITH “SEES ALL KNOWS ALL”
“Now I’ve never made any money… at my writing.” That is the opening line of the second song/story called ‘Broke Artist’ and I have already figured out that there was no way Sonny Smith was going to make any money at his writing, at least with these short stories set to odd backing music, sometimes lounge, sometimes country. I really hope ‘Broke Artist’ is an ironic commentary on the nature of pretentious artists seeking out a living with their rubbish that they believe moderate to mass audiences should be supporting. If so, he nailed it. There may be an audience for this, although the larger one would be for his band Sonny and the Sunsets who are also not an act that I will advocate. I am an avid reader and even if I read this as prose as I would much prefer, I would not care at all for Mr. Smith’s storytelling. It has that faux arty feel enhanced by his laid back approach. There are far more interesting observations and far more interesting observers in life.

TEDDYBEARS “ROCK ON”
This Swedish outfit looks a lot like the Residents with Bear-heads instead of Eyeball-heads. Sonically, there is something similar as well, although the Residents exploded out in their own weird direction whereas Teddybears let several forms of music implode into their black hole of a world. There is thick powerful electronica at the rocking heart of this with plenty of reggae, pop, rap, and rock forms fighting for priority. As I say so many times, this is not my area of specialty but if I were to venture more into modern electronica and hip hop, I would hope people would be as creative as this. It is an original and entertaining album at its worst.

Songs to start with first

Rock On - The opener is far from David Essex but has an innocence to it that makes you want to hear more.

TBYEH - The second cut explodes with power and rhythm and sets the tone for the album.

Marathon Man - Papa oom maw updated.

TORRES “SPRINTER”
Torres put on a magnificent show a few weeks back at the Rock’n’Roll Hotel as they were finishing their US tour in support of this album. So it is hardly a surprise that this is a brilliant work on its own. All the dynamics of the live set are evident with even more quiet moments developed in the studio. The vocals are transportive in the way of dream pop, but more the converse of that. Not exactly a nightmare, but more like a surrealistic Twilight Zone journey like the dream in Eraserhead or the dream that is Erasherhead. This is one of those albums bands should study to try to improve their creativity in arrangements and song structures. There are many other albums you can do that to, but this one will have you fully absorbed emotionally even as you try to be intellectual about it all. Proof again that Torres is one of the best bands out there.

Songs to start with first

Strange Hellos - Just another accurate title, as this opener will spook you with its quiet opening before the roar comes in.

Son, You are No Island - Thematically attached to psyche folk, but this band is it is own unique rock world.

Sprinter - The title cut is a magnificent song in a bold classical sense.

WALL OF TROPHIES “HELIOGRAPH”
I used to like a band called Lovelikefire who had a rich and thick pop music style combined with a unique charm that elevated the expected cliches into something special. Wall of Trophies has captured much of that here and it is all the more amazing as this is the band project of one of my local folk favorites, Brittany Jean, working with long time collaborator Will Copps in this new style. The sound fits comfortably within many albums that you have heard before, but when they add their personal shape to the mix and add enough variety to the songwriting, well, they’ve created an album you can come back to many times. I would like a bit more variety to make it more a classic listening experience, but I believe it should wear well for quite some time as there is not a bad note in the bunch. I think any electronica fan would be happy with the extra work here in melodic construction and singing. And it will be exciting to see this in a live context some time, hopefully.

Songs to start with first:

Everything - The opener will either pull you in or not. If so, proceed onward.

Heliograph - The title cut has a more mysterious mood to it and the vocals are quite intense and attractive.

Debt - I love the acoustic guitar introduction half way through. This is the creative flourish I crave.

VAN NORDEN with AUBREY RICHMOND “THE SPACE BETWEEN”

Vancouver’s Walter Van Norden meets Los Angeles’ Aubrey Richmond and musically the result is a western, rootsy stew of pleasant songs with a core strength and flowing arrangements. Aubrey Richmond adds some thoughtful vocals and some fine violin moves throughout the album. Although it is western in overall style, there is more of a universal time and place here. Ultimately, the songs have character and quality of varying degrees with the overall effect being strong enough to make this worth checking out. This would resonate strongly with my Folkworld readers.

Songs to start with first:

First - The folk rock vibe with a country roots feeling is the setting for an attractive song.

Tsunami - I get a feeling from folkrock’s ‘golden age’ of the late sixties here.

Nothing Less- Stay to the end, because this a heart wrencher.

WOLVERTON “THINGS LEFT ON EARTH”
I really enjoy this San Antonio collective who have the basic style of the Cowboy Junkies, but dig deeper in the psyche-folk world (while not losing their American roots). The electric guitar is mysterious and tasty, while the piano works off of it really well. Add a busy bass, female vocal harmonies and you are starting to work toward Mellow Candle. They are not that audacious—few are, but they work some of the same exciting sonic terrain. I have just one complaint. There are only four songs on this EP. But there is not one ounce of body fat on this mesmerizing music, so whether an EP or an LP, I will leave it to them to decide how much of their excellent music they wish to unveil at one time.

YOUNG GALAXY “FALSEWORK”
This is ten songs of electropop. The vocals are good, but I have heard it before with more interesting backing. The backing is bubbly and hits many of the right pop notes, but I am too old to dance. This group is from Montreal and is a good reminder of why I much prefer Toronto, when I seek out Canadian music, despite the former’s recent reputation.

If you enjoy this style, go check them out at the Black Cat this coming Wednesday, February 3rd.

Friday, January 29, 2016

PREVIEWS of COMING ATTRACTIONS - Early February 2016

We were all snowed out of some decent shows, but there are always more on the horizon. Here are a but a few on my short list.

Young Galaxy comes from a far ways away to play their electro-pop at the Black Cat on Wednesday, February 3rd.


See if Wylder is all of that at the DC9 when they play Weezer's 'Blue Album' LP in its entirety with their personal twists and turns. It happens on Saturday the 6th.


Ezra Furman was here recently, but did well enough from my point of view to warrant another quick hitter at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Tuesday, February 9th.


Renaissance still features the amazing voice of Annie Haslam and some of the most intricate music out there. Hear it for yourself at the Birchmere for the first of just four US dates before they return to Europe.


The Devil Makes Three returns to the 9:30 Club on Saturday the 13th, but if you don't have a ticket, you'll have to buy one for their second night on the 14th. And if you still want to go out on Saturday, follow the Beacon to the Songbyrdt.



Protomartyr always strokes my imagination when I enunciate their very name. Hear the sounds at the Black Cat on Sunday, February 14th.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Torres - Palehound -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Jan 19 2016

Palehound - From the fertile ground of Massachusetts comes this trio featuring bass, drums and guitar and vocals of Ellen Kempner. She leads the band in a sort of folk based rock with a deep melancholy and slight psyche vibe that is often tugs on New England musicians. The band is smart and restrained although they can ratchet up the noise and pace when the fire is stoked. And these dynamics are the key for success here. There is likely a lot deep within this music lyrically, but I would have to study the record more for that, as that is not fully evident in the live experience; especially with these delicate and sometimes overly breathy vocals. Arty and precious? No, not too much. This band has enough bite and creativity to warrant further study. And a large crowd gave them a lot more quiet attentive listening than most crowds would, so they are clearly connecting with these fine songs.
photo: Nick Helderman

Torres - It is nice to see follow up on a band I predicted great things for and to see some of the great things starting to happen. This DC9 show was about 3 years ago and I clearly felt there was something excellent happening then that had me both perplexed and enchanted. Tonight, there was even more going on as Torres has full command of the delivery of these excellent songs. There are two guitars, drums, and keyboards like before with bass notes coming from keys, although there is much more atmospheric moves from the keyboardist along with her stellar supporting vocals. The two female vocals work together to push and pull on the dreamy vocal style, but stretch it steadily into tougher territory, while not losing the emotional connection. The music is rich and sumptuous and they can even manage a creative droning style that still retains a pop melody at the core of the song. It finally hit me later in the set just how much this band reminded me of Siouxsie and the Banshees, a band I dearly loved and not too many bands can sound like. But with the tribal thump in a few of the songs, the soaring vocals and creative music that was lush but always with an underlying edge, it reminded me of just how much we needed the Banshees back in the day. But in this day and age, Torres is the band to take notice of. They filled the room tonight, so plenty of people are already on board. I will consider this band a must see every time they come to town.

Photo grab of the night: 2/3 of Red era King Crimson photographed as Robert Fripp and John Wetton meet for coffee. Get Mr. Bruford in and let the music rip.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

PREVIEWS of COMING ATTRACTIONS - Late January 2016

Still in relax mode after the intense Bowie music last Thursday, but I will be hitting the clubs again. Here are some of my choices. Join me if you can.

Torres rolls into the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Tuesday the 19th.


Bayonne was not born on the Bayou, but brings it to the Black Cat on Wednesday the 20th.


Sean McVerry makes it over to the DC9 on Thursday the 21st.


Those Darlins join the rest of us dah-lings at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Friday, January 22nd. "Indefinite hiatus" to follow for the band.


Miami Horror (is there any other kind?) brings their scary sound to the 9:30 Club on Sunday the 24th.


Wet is hopefully literally not that at the U Street Music Hall on Wednesday, January 27th.


Two choices for Saturday night the 30th include AMFMS at the DC9 or The Record Company at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel. Not sure who will win my vote, so I'll check these videos and ponder further.


Friday, January 15, 2016

Holy Holy (Woody Woodmansey, Tony Visconti, and guests) - Jessica Lee Morgan -- Birchmere - Jan 14 2016

photos courtesy of Davis White

Jessica Lee Morgan -  Opening the show is a singer on acoustic guitar and vocals with a bass player. But this is a special night, so it is not just any singer, but the daughter of Mary Hopkin and Tony Visconti. Ms. Morgan has a fine voice, a bit tougher than her mother's, whose work I quite enjoyed. The early material in the set has a folk to folk-rock appeal, with just a twang of country roots at brief intervals. She plays a decent guitar and can really rock it out acoustically when the fire builds throughout the set, and her voice can also bring it up a couple of notches to match. The bass playing is sharp and on point and Ms. Morgan adds some jingle and percussion with special attachments to her feet, which fortunately I can spot from my first row vantage point. She adds a fine cover of the song 'Under Pressure' that David Bowie wrote with Queen, two of her favorites. The crowd enjoyed this and all of her set for that matter as this was a great beginning to a very special night for all of us both on my side of the stage and for those on it.

Holy Holy - Although this was a show I was looking forward to anyway, this past Monday's news of David Bowie's passing pushed this night at the Birchmere into a spiritual odyssey of sorts. But as Woody Woodmansey and Tony Visconti pointed out before the show, although their tour has shifted into nearly unfathomable territory, the show goes on and everyone should just join in and have a great time tonight. My feelings are perplexing and jumbled throughout the night, but the easy part of this review is the music. It was brilliant.
The lineup featured the original rhythm section (and producer) of 'The Man Who Sold the World' so they played that album in its entirety to start the show. I saw a discussion (one of oh so many this week) of how this album may have been Bowie's heaviest. If I had any doubts, this band proved the point with a ferocious sound that rippled through all my fibers. Woodmansey is still a powerhouse that can anchor any strong rocking band. Visconti is a sharp player whose lines are an attempt at emulating Jack Bruce, as Mick Ronson desired back when this was recorded. On guitars tonight we have James Stevenson, which is a real treat for me as he was the original guitarist in Chelsea whose early singles were an essential part of my punk rock record collection. He offers a real sonic flair and style to the music. Paul Cuddeford, a genius studio guitarist/composer, has a ferocious gutsy attack as he plays with precious few pedals through his Blackstar amp. The tough and the attractive team up in double leads, alternate leads and bring so much life to Mick Ronson's creative ideas. Berenice Scott handles keyboards with a fine touch, and Terry Edwards plays 12-string acoustic and adds tasty saxophone as needed. Jessica Lee Morgan is here for backup vocals and also one lead. The unenviable task of lead vocals goes to former Heaven 17 singer, Glenn Gregory. He has a great voice and keeps it clean and precise, handling the nuances well. I did not see Bowie but heard his vision in the singing and certainly felt the power of Bowie's songs with this fantastic band.
They did not stop with just this album as they filled out their long set with many other Bowie songs from the Spider from Mars era such as 'Sufragette City', 'Time', 'Changes', 'Life on Mars', 'Rock'n'Roll Suicide', Five Years, and many more. 'Moonage Daydream' is perhaps my favorite from that era and while I am not sure I went into an out of body experience, I am not sure exactly where I was during this. Some songs brought out wonderful rock music feelings while others had me pondering the underlying sadness of the occasion. But Tony and Woody were right, this was a night to let it loose, join them in having fun celebrating this brilliant one of a kind music. Absolutely stunning.
Quotes of the Night: A few minutes before the show, Tony Visconti and Woody Woodmansey came out to talk about the difficult decision they had to make earlier this week to continue with the Toronto shows, the Birchmere show, and the rest of the tour...

Tony Visconti - 'Monday was the worst day of my life, for many of us... we are musicians, we can not sit and not play music. And music heals a lot of pain.

Woody Woodmansey - 'So the rule is anything goes. It helps to play it.'

AND, as a bonus, DC ROCK LIVE writer Kyle Schmitt also attended and has this to report:'

Holy Holy
Birchmere / January 14, 2016
By Kyle Schmitt

This David Bowie tribute served as a celebration just three nights after bassist Tony Visconti endured what he called possibly “the worst day of my life.” But as the long-time Bowie producer argued on-stage before the show, with Spiders from Mars drummer Woody Woodmansey standing by his side, what else were they to do as musicians but to keep playing? The two formed half the ensemble that produced 1970’s The Man Who Sold the World (Visconti said that he and Woodmansey roomed together during its recording), which Holy Holy played in its entirety. And they set a defiant tone early, with Woodmansey telling the audience that rules didn’t apply on this night. The reunited bandmates showed impressive chemistry on the should-be classic “Black Country Rock” and the epic “The Width of a Circle”, which provided a showcase for guitar talents James Stevenson and Paul Cuddeford. Singer Glenn Gregory strutted capably through the material, keeping a positive face on what could have been a maudlin experience even when delivering the homicidal fantasy “Running Gun Blues”. His charisma shone brightest on the lusty rocker “She Shook Me Cold” and the piano-driven “Time”.  Gregory was spelled halfway through the set by Jessica Lee Morgan, who performed a gorgeous rendition of “Lady Stardust”. 

Much of the fun came from watching Woodmansey perform his drum parts on songs that influenced a generation. His stickwork propelled “Changes” and “Ziggy Stardust”, and a mid-set drum solo elicited a standing ovation, to which Woodmansey responded by throwing up the sign of the horns. Holy Holy concluded its set with a joyous “Suffragette City”, which was capped off by the audience joining in to scream the “Wham! Bam! Thank you, ma’am!” kiss-off. That singalong was a fitting end to a night on which at least two groups of grown men embraced while gushing about the show they’d just seen. Though the Blackstar could not be seen, his light will never fade from view.

Skyline Hotel - Broke Royals - Lookout Gang -- DC9 - Jan 14 2016

by John Miller

Lookout Gang - It's bright, dancing, hips swaying, certainly different than what I have come accustomed to at DC9. The five piece straddles this odd line between early aught's garage pop revival, radio friendly rock, and Jon Spencer's Blues Explosion. A mix of covers and original pieces, it's a good choice to get this release party for Skyline Hotel started. The levels are exceptional too. I hate to belabor a point but I have been to so many shows with shitty levels that it does feel necessary to point out that I can hear things clearly, though DC9 seems to always be on point when it comes to levels so really it shouldn't be a surprise. It's light and easy with enough familiarity to keep everyone loose.

Broke Royals - The loose theme continues as Broke Royals take over for the second of three sets. It too is a mix of original material as well as covers (I Can't Feel My Face, The Weekend). If you are in a band and want get the crowd moving, play something by The Weekend; as everyone, especially those working the door, lost their shit. I don't mind covers but this one felt pandering; they immediately ask the crowd to participate in the following piece. I found it interesting that they played with a backing track. Consisting mostly of ethereal tones and keys, it wasn’t anything too difficult so I am surprised that they haven't found a fifth member to join them. But I digress. The crowd work is a little strange too. All of this feels formal and professional; almost scripted. The matching vests, ties, and blue jeans don't help; like a business casual Ramones. I get it: at the end of the day, as a semi-professional band some money would be nice. Promotion and a specific look certainty help solidify a band's brand (again The Ramones) and let's be honest, most of these shows are just one big commercial for whatever their newest album is but there is a fine line between selling your brand and begging for it.

That said, like Lookout Gang before them, Broke Royals does a great job of keeping things light and easy before the headliners. As you can probably imagine, it's quite crowd friendly; nothing too quick or depressing, a nice mid-tempo rock. Ultimately I found the music to be somewhat uninspired, however as I mentioned earlier, they could probably sell fart filled paper bags. Very professional.

Skyline Hotel - The room has filled out for Skyline Hotel. It nice; casual conversation, some dancing, couples at the bar, a real bar feeling. Unfortunately I only caught the end of their opening song but what I did hear was really interesting. The piece leaned on the keys, rather the keys were front and center. It was surprising considering the pieces that followed were much more guitar driven. It had hints of early nineties Nintendo compositions. Skyline Hotel is a four piece, lead by an acoustic, something I don't think I've seen in a long time, like a really long time. Musically, the themes that started the evening continue; it's a mid-tempo, easy going sound. The electric guitar work is exceptional. It doesn't over power the compositions but when they call for it, the solos are front and center. Really nice, they fit. It's rare that you hear solos composed this well from a smaller band.
I'm not quite sure what I caught at the beginning because as the night continues, the music never really comes close to what I thought I heard. Sometimes that mid-tempo slips into jam territory, before finding themselves right back where they started and perhaps that is what I caught earlier, the end of a short improvisation. And as with the electric, sometimes they too lean on that acoustic. It's nothing too surprising as the parts that do lean on that acoustic are generally quiet, a tinge of regret. Honestly I find the louder, quasi jamming stuff much more rewarding but the songs are all composed well, so even if one song leans on any one particular instrumentalist, it never leans on them so much that it is detrimental to the composition.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Metz - Bully - So Pitted -- Jan 11 2016

So Pitted - This trio has me perplexed a bit with their sound as it appears to be two guitars and drums, yet a bass sound is clearly a part of their roar. I now read that the one guitar that is clearly doing deep things is played through a bass amp, so that explains some of what this odd Sub Pop band from Seattle is doing. Their song approach is primitive punk in the style of Flipper but lacking that band's brilliant and confused creativity. The early songs are powerful and challenging but they fall off a bit when the drummer and guitarist switch roles. They switch back and it picks back up quite a bit, so I clearly have a favorite lineup here. I don't think they are quite at a high enough level for me to climb aboard their rise, but they have the right ideas at the heart of their sound and I will stay tuned.

Bully - I just saw this Nashville quartet late last year and they mention that this is in fact their third time here. They may be touring hard, but they are young and breaking out with their first album due this summer, so why not hit the road hard. It is likely paying off as they seem all the more in command of their powerful sound and delivery of their catchy music. It could be a power pop punk hybrid, but it just never quite hits the power pop buttons. Yet somehow it is very hook oriented. They always maintain plenty of sting in delivering the melody and Alicia Bognanno's vocals are quite dynamic. The guitars trade off well and they can push the envelope with the pace and power. This band is doing everything right and will no doubt catch on, we will just wait and see as to the level they reach.
Metz - And yet another high quality band from one of my favorite music cities, Toronto. And keeping in fashion, they don't sound like a Toronto band, mostly due to a lack of a 'Toronto sound'. It is more a matter of a big city with a lot of great bands pushing themselves to be as great as possible. Metz does this in the manner of Iceage with a blending of punk rock and post punk sounds and songs. They have a full table of pedals and effects placed behind the soundboard that assists the on stage effects in creating a swirling mysterious atmosphere for the three guys to work their powerful songs into. Their music sounds so familiar, but it is hard to pin down and the band varies their pace just slightly to keep me further out on the edge. I detect a Stains meets Rudimentary Peni approach with songs working in a Mission of Burma sonic world (yeah, that simple, right). There is strong and controlled abandon throughout and any heavy music fan should be aboard this fast moving train.

Quote of the Night: I will leave the quotes to others regarding David Bowie. I will share Roy Harper's post below and link the BBC's article featuring a ton of tributes such as Brian Eno and Tony Visconti (who will be in town Thursday with Woody Woodmansey at the Birchmere for what will now be a profound show).
 
Roy Harper -  When I first met David he was performing mime. In that respect he never changed. His life was one long brilliant mime. His various personas were the equal and musical equivalent of his favourite, Marcel Marceau. He mimed many of his contemporaries without really ever copying them. His particular genius was to see an attitude, feel an inspiration, delivery or emotion in someone and be able to replicate and transgress that in an often superlative way of his own, which could not only give added insight to that source, but often lend it a satyrical edge, a playful touch or an irony. Back in the day, he sold me a pair of Tibetan boots he’d got from a monk. He was more broke than me, and I gave him a ten bob note for them. He was gigging with just an ageing Grundig tape recorder at the time. The boots were really uncomfortable. The soles were made of wood and didn’t bend. They only lasted for a couple of years. Wish I still had them. Wish we both still had those gigs to do.
(Photo credit Ray Stevenson)(text from Roy Harper's Facebook page)

Monday, January 11, 2016

American Television -- DC9 - Jan 10 2016

by John Miller

I'm sure there were nerves, butterflies, what have you; considering this is their first show, American Television has every right to feel some trepidation even if they are playing to a sparsely attended DC9 tonight. However, their age and professionalism leads me to believe this isn't their first rodeo. The crowd work and asides are casual and self effacing, something that usually comes with years of practice. They start off quick with Better Living Through Chemistry, a solid pop punk piece that has all the traits of a well written genre song; thumping bass, emphasized vocals (not quite screaming but certainly not singing) and an old fashioned break down. The set feels like a throwback of sorts. Even though the style is quite different, I would compare tonight with The Ocean Blue show from last year; steeped in the past. There is definitely an early to mid-nineties skate video vibe. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially when American Television does it so well. I wonder if the Fat Records compilation LPs are still around. Many car rides were spent scanning through volume 4, Fat Music for Fat People, (No Use For A Name, Lagwagon, Mellincolin) and American Television would fit nicely among those artists.

That said, this music is definitely, rather feels as if it is for a younger crowd, however, to be honest I am not quite sure what younger folks listen to now, so who knows. Decades ago, American Television would have been in resting in my 3-disc Aiwa CD player decade always at ready; in case I needed to amp myself up before some nefarious teenager activities. There are definitely hints of nostalgia here and I wouldn't be surprised if the majority of this sparse crowd isn't feeling something quite similar. The only thing missing from tonight's performance are the pandering sing-a-longs, the soaring choruses that always have a healthy dose of ooh; though there may have been a little of that at the end there, alright there was definitely a lot of that going on at the end. Though it's not my thing, I can see some young, enthusiastic, suburban teenagers getting into it. I think tonight's audience may be a little to jaded for that.

If anything, American Television can rest easy that their brand of throwback punk sent me home early. Not because the music was awful far from it. As I said earlier, while it may not be groundbreaking, American Television can write a catchy, loud, piece. On my way to the show last evening, I neglected to prepare accordingly. After thirty minutes of pounding, my headache got the best of me and decided to skate on the remainder of the show. American Television sent this old guy retreating home to a bottle of ibuprofen.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Calm the Waters - Wander - Fadest - Celestial Low -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Jan 8 2016

Celestial Low - We have a nice little area band showcase tonight with four bands from the surrounding DC area. First up is an Annapolis entry that is new to me--well, they all are. These guys line up in classic indie rock style with a couple of guitars, bass, and drums. But though the heavy indie rock sound is somewhere from within, they are far more exploratory. Early on they even remind me a bit of Kattatonia with that sort of delicate but heavy progressive sound. Vocal lines were a bit more standard, but the guitars took more chances and occasionally worked up something special. The songs are not all there yet, but if these guys keep expanding their horizons, they could develop into something the cult music fans would dig, while the mainstream fans would also pick up on. I am intrigued.
Fadest - This Baltimore quintet follow the themes from the opening band well with some very dark chords. The vocals contrast a bit, but are firm assured and bring out an accessible melody. There is a musical roar underneath it all and the guitars do not play it safe it pivotal moments. While there is some EMO punk in here, it is more Happy Go Licky than Rites of Spring, which I find more fulfilling in this day and age. These guys have all the component parts and take just enough chances to make for an exciting set. As earlier, as the songs become more expansive and challenging, they can develop into something that you may want to go out of your way for. For now, it is still an enjoyable set that works on any moderately heavy bill. It appeared most of the crowd would gladly be back to see them again some time.

Wander - Continuing the theme of heavy is Wander, a Frederick quartet that features a couple of guitars, vocalist, drummer, and some bass and other sounds worked into the mix in some manner. There are some good things at work here, but the EMO sound is a bit more standard this time around. The drumming is exceptionally powerful and there are some nice sounds and shifts at various times, but I would like to see more exploration away from comfortable expectations. But if the energy of rock music is enough for you, check out these guys as they have plenty of that.

Calm the Waters - These old bones and muscles were not holding up well, so I had to take a pass on this band. They are from Fairfax, so there is a good chance I can catch another set.

Rehearsals for Retirement: I've more than hinted at it, but the body is sending me more signals the last two nights that retirement from the live circuit will be happening some day soon. And this photo grab portends my future.


Friday, January 8, 2016

Anthony Pirog - Boat Burning - The Caribbean -- DC9 - Jan 7 2016

The Caribbean - A night of talented and original local bands tonight begins with an intriguing trio that I have seen before. They are puzzling once again, fully by intent, as they manage contrasts with a smooth dexterity that is ultimately fascinating by set's end. They drone a bit with a distinct edge to it all. The drums steady and locked in with mysterious bass runs, dreamy vocals slightly askance, and guitar moves that are sharp but elusive at times. They all work with and around the beat in a subtle push pull manner that keeps things edgy, even when the music creates a soothing atmosphere. But you will not be lulled to a false sense of comfort as the edge underneath remains apparent. Tricky contrasts are at work as the Caribbean is like that literary novel that you kind of understand, but you are only smart enough to know there are more layers to figure out.

Boat Burning - This was more a return to form to my ears as this guitar heavy collective had a little more time in their set tonight to stretch their tunes out to their glorious natural ends. The guitars had more bite and clarity in their subtle differences--I believe there were five and sometimes six tonight. The drums hold down the fort as the music slashes across this large audience. This is always a pleasure, taking a voyage with this smart group of musicians. You can hear the same songs, but you will never hear the same nuances.
 Photo by Shervin Lainez


Anthony Pirog - Is it not time more of the world has discovered what we in DC have known about for some time? Whether it is with his partner Janelle, solo, or in all kinds of variations of bands, Anthony Pirog is an absolute master of the guitar. He is fully versatile with styles and a great composer. The trio tonight included Mark Cisneros on bass and Ian McColm on drums who added their formidable skills and experience. They started out with a droning metal sound reminiscent of Sleep before heading into Neu! territory. Then it was a jazz freakout morphing into a dreamy space rock soundscape. And that was all within the first ten minutes. I just threw out my notebook, landing right next to their rulebook, and enjoyed the rest of the set. There are multiple textures of layered guitars and thick bass runs, which they deftly strain out into spacier, airier moments. Profoundly original and powerful, this is music that rise above the 'cult status' and connect with any fans of creative music and great guitar work. Kudos of the DC9 for starting the new year not only with a great lineup of talented local acts, but also starting the first of several $8 shows. 3 bands, 45 minute sets, eight bucks? Hard to beat in any entertainment medium.

But actually you can beat that price with a free show by Anthony Pirog at the Martin Luther King Library in DC. It's today at noon, so get on over there.

Quote of the Past: A while back, Guitar Moderne was interviewing the Police's Andy Summers about all things guitar related and here was his answer when he was asked if there were any new guitarists he found exciting. Here is his answer:

There is one guy whose playing and approach I really like called Anthony Pirog. He is one of my favorites at the moment. He feels music the way I feel it: a melodicism, slightly “out,” but not so out that it is unlistenable. He is lyrical; he plays very well. I thought the record he did with the cellist was beautiful. He is bold and starts a new territory.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

BEST SHOWS of 2015

Lists... I am really tired of lists and I was not going to do one this year of my favorite ten shows of the year. But since a flat tire prevented me from doing a live show review last night, let's go to Plan B. I do have one problem--of the 138 shows DC ROCK LIVE covered, Kyle reviewed 2 and John reviewed 22 so perhaps Courtney Barnett, Jesus and Marychain, or Sinkane should be on the list. But aside from those covered by my able cohorts, I did somehow manage to cover 114 shows (in a year I was trying to cut down, ha ha). So of my 114 shows, these were MY ten favorites, as best as I can remember at least.

10. A Place to Bury Strangers, Ed Schrader's Music Beat, Multicult - Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Feb 20th:
Ed Schrader is always fun and Strangers are always intense with a killer light show. This is what live music is all about.

9. Ride, DIIV - 9:30 Club - Oct 8th:  DIIV was worth the price of admission themselves, but of course I wanted to see the band I was not sure would ever reform and they had it working.

8. Carl Palmer Band - Ram's Head - June 25th:  I finally caught up to the former ELP drummer who has spent recent years between Asia tours recreating ELP music with a guitar-bass-drums instrumental trio. They were heavy, engaging, and tight as whatnot.

7. Stiff Little Fingers, Government Issue - Black Cat - July 11th:  I missed seeing some of the early GI members, but a Stabb set is always worthwhile. And when it sets the stage for the immortal Northern Ireland band, Stiff Little Fingers, well it is going to be (and was) a great night.

6. Ancient Warfare, Glitterlust, Hailey Wojcik - Velvet Lounge - August 14th:  Glitterlust is a hilariously great local duo and Ancient Warfare a much more serious out of town band. Like often is the case, the Velvet Lounge can deliver a wildly diverse night of excellent music.

5. Follakzoid, Amos Piper - Black Cat - May 20th:  If you thought psychedelic music in South America started and ended with Os Mutantes, well you were wrong from the start as well as today as this Chilean band was as brilliant as any psyche band from any continent.

4. Marian McLaughlin - Strathmore - April 22nd:  DC/Baltimore's Marian McLaughlin made one of my lists previously as a solid opening act for Marissa Nadler. I would say that it is now just her, but her collaborators and guest musicians, some of who she met during her Strathmore residency, made this an outstanding group effort featuring Marian's brilliant originality.

3. Kurt Vile, Waxahatchee, Luke Roberts - 9:30 Club - October 8th:  I've seen Vile at least twice before, I have liked him every time out and yet I still don't own any of his music. I kept thinking that over and over that night as each great song went by. Kudos to the openers as well.


2. Mudhoney, Kid Congo Powers - Black Cat - July 7th:  Mudhoney still has the fire and being one of my favorite active bands during at least a few years of their long career, I really enjoyed this. And Kid Congo Powers was absolutely brilliant, as Mark Arm was sincerely blown away, too.



1. Death, Obnox - Black Cat - May 28th:  I would have plunked down my money and been happy seeing a lousy set by Death, as they totally deserve the chance to make up for lost decades as they missed a chance to capitalize on their brilliant and nearly lost 1970s music. But fear not, they delivered the goods and made this a special night. But cap it off with one of the absolutely finest sets of original punk rock music by Cleveland trio, Obnox, and you had a monumental occasion--one for the ages.



Thursday, December 31, 2015

ALBUM REVIEWS - DECEMBER 2015

JOEL ANSETT “THE NATURE OF US”
There was truth in advertising when I read that Joel Ansett’s sound was folk-pop-rhythm&blues. There are clearly equal parts of these styles at work. It is an interesting collection of songs, as some songs lean heavily to each style, while others combine the styles in various percentages. At times, it engages the mathematical side of my brain more than I would like. Fortunately, Ansett’s warmth in his vocals keeps reminding you of the song and what he is musically saying. He has that seemingly easy going vibe that the more pop side of folk artist Al Stewart provided. Some songs are significantly better than others, mostly due to my taste, but other times the quality difference was noted. Joel Ansett is from my old home town of Denver and I hope he can make it out this way some time.

Songs to start with first:

Covered Up - The R&B side wins out in this song with the soulful vocal transcending it beyond the usual.

Give Our Hearts some Weight - Fine folk outing here, perfect in a coffeehouse or on a larger stage.

New York - Sumptuous vocals and delicate dreamy backing make this a highly attractive song.

BELIEFS “LEAPER”
A band like this reminds me of why I am just not as big a fan of British shoegaze music as some of my friends. This band is from Toronto and they certainly have enough of their own vision in here and are not trying to merely ride the long running wave. But the music just flows like lava from a shield volcano, slow, steady and the full tally of the effort comes much later on. In my case, too late to really get involved with. But if you are a fan, there are some nice variants in a few of the songs, so have a listen.

Songs to start with first:

1992 - Good chord progression sets the tone for the melodic vocal line to sink in.

Drown - A lighter deeper more melancholic type experience here.

Swooner - A few twists in this long closing cut.

DEEP SEA DIVER “CHRISTMAS EP”
Four classics given an updated electronica and distorted guitar touch. There is some acoustic guitar and piano, but most importantly a classic female voice that has the melody in full flight. Hey, it is Christmas music that has the right amount of classicism and recognition in the rendition to make it work for me. And oh that voice… that makes me want to check out this band further.

And come celebrate Leap Day with them when they are at the DC9 on February 29th.

TOMAS DONCKER BAND “THE MESS WE MADE”
Here’s a rich slab of funky rhythm & blues that has me wanting to dig deep into my Pam Grier and Carol Speed DVD collection. This music will take you back, even with some modern touches and not quite the edginess of those days. The rhythms vary enough and the songs are distinct and attractive. This is a fun record and I just need more of this in my life and it would not hurt most listeners to increase their fix of funk.

Songs to start with first:

Some Ol Dolls - Dim the lights, curl up in a velvety booth and enjoy the low-key funky R&B moves.

Church Burning Down - Driving funk rock, this will get you roused and moving.

Don’t Let Go - Quiet easy going folkish sounds invade the album to nice effect.

HAPPY ABANDON “HEAVY LINES”
Five new songs comprise this EP from a North Carolina outfit (with local connections through singer Peter Vance) featuring a former member of the Clockwork Kids and Color Exchange. There is a strong spirit of dream pop embedded in a gutsy indie rock sound. They achieve a big sound as the production is strong as the guitars ring out steadily. It is the lead vocals that resonate profoundly, as the singer pulls and pushes his words with a dramatic flair with no shortage of grace. This is smart music, well produced, and with lots of heart. I fondly recommend it and am curious as to how it will turn out live.

And if you want to join me in that quest, you can catch the band live this Saturday, January 2nd when they play the Rock’n’Roll Hotel.

MATT KIVEL “JANUS”
This is no two-faced album, although there are two sides of the sound with lots of explorations in between, as Matt Kivel writes lovely pop rock folk songs and occasionally infuses some jarring and exciting rock moves within. The result is somewhat between Tim Buckley and Chris Isaak with traces of Jason Pierce. Those are gigantic names for me and Kivel may not be quite at that level, but this album shows it is not too far a stretch to think that he could be. He is certainly doing some exciting things with his folk based style by adding drone like qualities to the longer songs and bursts of fascinating electric moments that sound quite otherworldly. His voice also transcends this world steadily as it is a reliable flowing melodic and emotional component throughout. Fine, fine fine.

Songs to start with first:

Janus - Incredible atmosphere with a subtle droning approach to this lush folk song.

Violets -  Flowing electric pop rock song with subtle yet exciting instrumental touches behind the lovely vocals.

Prime Meridian - Brief moments of King Crimson channeling in a Jason Pierce like soulful folk song.

GARY LUCAS & JANN KLOSE “STEREOPTICON”

This is quite an exciting collaboration that makes a lot of sense. Lucas is more the veteran creative songsmith and Klose the younger, though well beyond rookie status, singer songwriter. They both understand the trippier original aspects to song structures with Lucas’ resume bordering on unbelievable as he has worked with Beefheart, Pete Hammill, and Bryan Ferry, to name but three out of the dozens of amazingly original talents. He and Klose keep to the core in these songs with just voices and acoustic guitars, aside from a saxophone once. It has the feel of some of those excellent fingerstyle guitarists of old collaborating at the common starting point of the blues and then venturing out into their own trips and excursions into other musical territory. I would follow each of these artists separately, so together, well… try it and see.

Songs to start with first:

Secret Wings - Deep beginning smooths out into a sharp little song.

Jewel Julia - Spritely guitar melodies and a fine vocal line make the magic seem so simple.

Overture - Somewhere between Roy Harper and Tim Buckley, this one sends me into orbit.

MONEY “SUICIDE SONGS”

This is Money’s second album and the first I have heard. They have a comforting style that sounds like you’ve heard it before, maybe many times before with different bands. Yet, it is not exactly lush British rock, shoegaze, or indie. Maybe checking off choice E. All of the Above is the best answer here. The real trick here is the confidence the band has to stretch out songs, twist them around, go bold and then quiet, quickly or slowly depending on the required setting. This is smart music with a nod to flamboyant entertainment. Quite possibly the only problem I had, was that the songs were slowly toppling over each other where a few more jarring short fast moments in between could work wonders. But I still wish more bands would aim this big even if you take the Icarus risk.

Songs to start with first:

I’m Not Here - Vocals move around with great extremes and contrast, while the music steadies it all out.

You Look Like a Sad Painting on Both SIdes of the Sky - Moody folk rock ballad like a twisted Radiohead.

Night Came - An epic clocking in at 8:35 and there is plenty going on even as the pace is oh so steady.

JOANNA NEWSOM “DIVERS”
I had wondered if Joanna Newsom may have enough down deep within to retain both her charm and creativity given her extensive popularity by now. Clearly it is all there as this album sounds familiar to the fans, but adventurous and exciting enough to keep everyone involved. Her voice can be a bit twee at times, but it is easy to get used to and follow her stories amid complex arrangements. She gets help from a variety of musicians and there are different combinations in each songs. I prefer the focus on Newsom’s harp and the piano playing. The overly electric moments are a bit too Steely Dan for me (that is an insult coming from me). Ultimately this succeeds with me and I see no problem with it being a welcome addition to the Joanna Newsom catalog for her many many fans.

Songs to start with first:

Anecdotes - I am apprehensive at the start of this opener, but the magic is fully woven within by it’s conclusion.

Leaving the City - If you think this is too twee, give up now, or follow the paths out of the city into the netherworlds of imaginative psyche-folk.

Waltz of the 101st Lightborne - Flute, accordion, electric moments, strange vocals and spritely sounds really ramp up the ionization in this atmosphere.

OKKERVIL RIVER “BLACK SHEEP BOY”
This 2005 release is getting a tenth anniversary re-release on Jagjaguar, which should interest Okkervil River fans plenty. Of course the original eleven songs are here along with eight more songs from the band’s follow-up EP. There are also eleven cover songs recorded in the same general time period which gives a full 30 songs in which to discover and rediscover what Okkervil River was doing a decade back. I liked it then and still do, hearing the full array of songs and styles all here in one place. The varied style from hard rock to indie rock to Americana to dream indie-rock (not quite dream pop) really keeps a listener on their toes from song to song. The EP has stronger and even more varied material and is for people who really want to hear more than the expected. The covers interest me less as they are mostly stark arrangements of country or folk cuts, although the rousing ‘Good Liquor Carry Me Down’ was fun. So this release will definitely have enough for the fans and has plenty of music for the ‘neutrals’, much of which may convert you.

Songs to start with first:

For Real - Jarring electric guitar, hearty vocals and some smart arrangement choices add up to full to the brim song.

Missing Children - Spacey song of the EP sounds like a double dose of otherworldly.

Another Fine Radio Song - Gutsy intense rocker… great to see they have it in them.

PROTOMARTYR “THE AGENT INTELLECT”
This is the third album from an interesting post punk band that has more than a nod of influence to UK punk and post punk. The New Model Army comes to mind with the deep lead vocals atop a strong but clever rock sound. I also hear an Iceage like sound with less abandon and a bit more space between instruments. The guitars are a bit more psychedelic here and the songs are well formed with enough melodic and sonic shifts to make sure the post in post punk is still there. When the guitars are not overly atmospheric, their bite reminds me of the Wipers. So basically, there are a lot of great rock sounds in here supporting some very enjoyable songs. I am hooked.

Songs to start with first:

The Devil in His Youth - The opener should pull you in. If not, you probably never would have found my blog.

Pontiac 87 - A bouncy pop song with Chris Bailey or Iceage like vocals and strong rock guitar moves.

Clandestine Time - An almost serene rock song in between the noisy bits.

SHEER AGONY “MASTERPIECE”

This band instantly grabbed me with its Syd Barrett style done in a more modern Jacco Gardner approach. There is also are jagged guitar bursts such as in Gang of Four and XTC that carve a unique musical space for this band. It is not often I discuss great popsike atmosphere with a gutsy post punk approach. Somehow they put it all together for an always interesting album. And when the songs are clever and playful, they really nail it. This is a fascinating little album that will uncover more levels with each listen, I would imagine. Masterpiece? Why not.

Songs to start with first:

Anthony Ivy - Whimsical and biting all in one short popsike song? Yes!

I Used to Be Darker - Lots of Gang of Four like space in this punchy pop song.

Literary Arts - Acoustic guitar and reverb vocals create a strong popsike atmosphere for this feel good song.

SHOOTING DOWN ASTEROIDS “FINE, WELL…”

We have a full album from a new DC band, who sound more than ready for the stages that they have started playing on in recent months. They have a crisp indie rock that has the hooks but does not quite go the power pop route. Instead, they alter the volume of the guitars, add some acoustic guitars when needed and keep things fresh as the band keeps rocking. The vocals are solid and are confident enough to be bold and out front. They are working a familiar territory, but doing it well and they occasionally pull off a mild surprise, which is a good start for a new band. Hopefully a live review will follow in the early days of 2016. Stay tuned.

Songs to start with first:

Blissful Idiot - Snappy song with a great bassline and flowing parts from the rest. Catchy with just the right amount of toughness.

Drown - Good pace and melody.

Phosphorescence - I like the jagged acoustic guitar twist before more electric sounds—great sonic surprises here.

CHRIS STORROW “THE OCEAN’S DOOR”
This somehow seems like a slick, timeless brand of pop music that I can not quite pin down. There is everything from a Dean Martin or Vicki Carr ballad on some long lost variety show mixed with modern post-Radiohead sounds. This record is not for everyone, but if you lived as long as I have, I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the way Storrow injects so much charm in his music with such timeless devotion to different eras of popular music. This is a lot more unique than meets the eye if you listen to it as a single task.

Songs to start with first:

A True Christian - The big bold sound is quickly achieved and contrasts well with the more easy going pop vocals.

It’s You They Want - Quieter music, still rich with imagery and big, big vocals for a pop explosion.

Song of the Self-Reliant - Song of the 1960s crooner having a happy little David Lynchian dream.

STRANGE FACES “STONERISM”
It is hard for me not to enjoy wildly fuzzy guitars playing assertive psychedelic rock music. Some do it better than others and Strange Faces is on their way, but not quite at arrival point just yet. These sound more like raw outtakes to a Black Angels session, with moments of excellent pop hooks within, but not too steady and assured. They certainly may get there and if they are practicing too much stonerism, then perhaps some sober songwriting would be good right after. It is one thing to explore psychedelic terrain, but it sometimes works to write about it while sober and alert, with a good memory of what transpired. And if I am wrong, do the opposite, just keep at it.

Songs to start with first:

I Saw Your Face - I like the clean guitar leads slicing through the fuzz and reverb vocals.

Still Lit - This dirty garage pop cut hits the mark.

Why - Not a Byrds cover, but a good song with a nice melodic twist at the end.

UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA “MULTI LOVE”

Sometimes I hope beyond hope that an electronica pop band will not only engage me, but create some music that will resonate for a long time. It is not quite as hard as I make out in my head, but execution is a tricky business. Unknown Mortal Orchestra hits a lot of the right buttons for me. They start with varied vocals, interesting guitar parts, and a strong rhythm section. There is plenty of electronics to carry or work off the melody making this a tasty gumbo approach. Yet after the creative flourish is broadly approached, the band pulls it in with an organized approach that is very smart while not losing the  fun exploratory feel. They move through genre boundaries but keep their character better than most, hitting rhythm and blues and pop territory most frequently.

Songs to start with first:

Multi Love - Multi layers of pop magic at work in this title track. Instantly creative and accessible.

Ur Life One Night - An oddly modernized rhythm and blues that works in a unique way.

Extreme Wealth and Casualty Cruelty - Aside from the great title, this is a flowing song that is hard to clasify.

HARLAN WELLS “WAITING FOR JUNE”

More Americana here, although I like the term Harlan Wells uses: Canadiana. It began with a highly cliched song, good, but I thought I may be in for ‘just another Americana album’, something I get a lot of these days. Fortunately Wells and his band snapped off some energized cuts that balanced a lot of instruments well and was lively and playful. The vocals do not do as much for me as they are breathy and too one dimensional. There is enough expression there so as not to be a serious drag on the proceedings, but overall there are just a few things that keep this from being an album I can recommend. If you like the genre, dig in, you will find at least a few standout songs.

Songs to start with first:

Adriana - A bouncy melody and some finely woven instrumentation with a delicate pattern (even the accordion is subtle).

Goodbye Rosie - Good rock moves and a slightly different instrumental mix.

Come on June - One more good tune.