Saturday, May 28, 2016

Kill Lincoln - Caustic Casanova - Psychic Subcreatures -- Black Cat - May 27 2016

Psychic Subcreatures - A local quartet starts us off tonight in the big room of the Black Cat with a decent enough crowd that is pushed forward, which is a good sign that there is some enthusiasm in the air. We have drums, guitar, female vocals, and a synthesizer player on stage. Yes, he handles the bass sounds and more frequently than the occasional classic synth quirkiness. The opener reminds me of 50-Foot Hose as just about any synth-mysterious female vocal song will do. But they move into more garage punk territory with a bit of that surf-reverb sound working in, such as in many LA bands. The vocals are solid, not over the top, and come somewhat in between Alice Bag and Niagara (Destroy all Monsters). There are some catchy moments in here along with plenty of power. When they nail a particularly good song, they really show off a strong ability to attract a lot of rock fans who seek both intensity and flair. Nice set, well received.

Caustic Casanova - My favorite homegrown trio is back and I am seeing them for the first time in a long, long while. Although I have missed them, it does offer an opportunity to take a more fresh view without the memories of recent reviews in my ever evaporating short term memory. All the signature moves are there: Stephanie's accurate powerhouse drumming along with increasing vocal help; Francis' vocal intensity and throbbing bass runs; and Andrew's sonic assault guitar style that keeps it psychedelic in sound but metallically powerful throughout. The one thing that strikes me is that all the touring has paid off with an even more together and confident band that has the great noisy style that Hüsker Dü used to employ by keeping transitional noise going between songs that never allowed you to catch your breath. And the songs are distinct enough to have their own character, although tonight it was more about the overall effect. As usual they had my mind wandering around to all kinds of great music from different scenes and eras as their opening riff took me back to Ted Nugent's 'Stranglehold' (?!) and their closing freak-out reminded me of the MC5 cutting into 'Black to Comm' but not quite hitting the Paik finish (which is possibly one of the best all-time). And based on the big ovation at the end, the sonic effect of the entire powerfully constructed set worked on all the enthusiastic rockers in attendance. They are off to explore the country further this summer, so if they head to your town, do yourself a favor and check them out.
Kill Lincoln - And the local showcase of strong talented band continues with a power trio that makes room for a brass trio downstage center. The guitar and bass player handle the vocals and along with the drummer cook up a loud raucous dance punk musical blend. Of course you can toss them into ska punk with this kind of lineup, but it was even more straight up rock than many of those bands. The two trombones and one saxophone were up to the pace and power of the rock band and everything came together for some great hard edged dance tunes that the people up close to the stage were taking advantage of. Even us older, cooler heads in the back were enjoying this all. I did not stick around for the full set, due to a late night plan tonight, but I highly doubt any of the energy faded throughout their set. I just didn't get to see if the one on-stage dancer/jumper did anything more than that guy for Madness did in the early days.

Facebook Grab of the Night: Happy 40th anniversary to the Damned one of my favorite and still undersung bands of all-time (and check out this great BBC Radio6 documentary). Their recent shows have gone well, but still allowed time for long-time Crystal Palace supporter Captain Sensible to take in that tough loss to ManU at Wembley with UK Subs bassist, Alvin Gibbs.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Albino Rhino - Automagik - Ménage À Garage -- Velvet Lounge - May 24 2016

Ménage À Garage - This local trois-piece band backs up its clever name with some fine ripping music that sounds straight from the garage. Although the 'garage' has changed over the decades, this group seems to favor the 70s-80s garage punk sound with a trace of power pop in the mix. The songs are good and occasionally show some real flair. They also develop a deep growl in their sound, which is quite effective for the material. Although tight, the one flaw I see or felt was that the music did not quite congeal as much as I would have liked. But that is common when it is early days for a band. It rarely happens immediately and the core sounds and songs are a great basis for this trio to continue to grow and be a fun rock band to have about town.

Automagik - From one of my old stomping grounds (Cincinnati) comes this trio that should be a quartet were it not for an injury to their lead guitarist. Fortunately their lead vocalist's guitar work is good and shows enough flair to keep a set going. The opening song confused me a bit, but then their songs found a groove that brought out an older sort of glam rock infused with occasional funky blasts. I will still have to grade this incomplete rather than try to pick apart weaker moments, but if their guitarist is named Johnny Thunders, Jr., this could be an act worth checking out again for a full review.
Albino Rhino - We finish with a four-piece that adds keyboards to the classic rock trio and a couple of the guys trade the vocal parts. But these guys bring the funk in that Isaac Hayes manner. The wah-wah was so prominent in their brisk opener, I thought I would be dreaming of it all night (turns out I slept better than usual). Wild Cherry came to mind as well as this took me back to my younger days when this was more prevalent. They had some twists in different songs and almost went progressive--further adventures there could be fun. But this is the kind of music I would want to see people dance to, well played and energetic and not that monotonous beat. It is hard to believe I miss this style as much as I do, since I certainly did not in 1975, but these guys work the style proudly and effectively.

Quote of the Night - Overheard behind me after a cut from the opener.. "I love that song--it takes me back to 2000"  ...or for me, it takes me back to my glory middle age days, that I wax nostalgically for, so often.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Twin Peaks - Ne-Hi - Jimmy Whispers -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - May 19 2016

Jimmy Whispers - The last time I saw Twin Peaks in DC, they brought another Chicago act to open called the Lemons. They were silly fun and it was a good choice. This time around we have a solo artist who isn't nearly as funny or as musical as the Lemons. Whispers just plays backing tracks that I would imagine are a mix of home-made items along with whole songs like Louis Armstrong's 'What a Wonderful World'. I really didn't write any notes as nothing really went on. The young crowd up front was far more accommodating than the more usual cynical crowd would have been, so this happened without incident. Oddly enough, I did not recall last night how much I disliked his last album when I reviewed it here last March. I really did not need that reminder.

Ne-Hi - And another Chicago act is here on this tour and we fared a bit better this time. These guys are sound enough and feature the usual twin guitar quartet rock approach. There is nothing lo-fi about Ne-Hi. They integrate thoughtful runs by all four players in a way that connects well enough and offer a lot to hone in on. They almost remind me of Savage Republic if they had taken a pop approach. At least that comes to mind on the more rocking songs with pace, where they are at their best. This almost goes post-rock, but manages to keep a pop sensibility in there, so it rests somewhat comfortably in between worlds. Not bad at all.
Twin Peaks - This is the third time I have seen this young Chicago band. They have added keyboards to the twin guitar attack since the first time I saw them, which fills out their raucous sound just a wee bit more. It also adds another vocalist as all four front men join in on several choruses and there are a few different lead singers as well. But it is the rollicking guitars and catchy songs that will grab your focus. And they still do it well with a bit more confidence and maturity now that they are a veteran road band. They hit all the right power pop and pop-punk buttons to make for a sound that will certainly attract a crowd. They did that tonight as the club was quite full and probably even better attended sense the density of young fans that crowd to the front was pretty high as opposed to the relaxed older crowds that disperse evenly throughout the club (sorry, I saw a baking show examining how to make sure a cherry cake has well dispersed fruit in the batter). Anyway, this band is solid as ever and becoming a fine reliable outfit that you can expect good things from if you want to cut loose on the evening they come to your town.

Quote of the Night: Jimmy Whispers after a failed crowd surfing moment that lasted 3/4 of a second... "You guys suck."

Funny, I was sort of thinking the same thing.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Strawbs -- AMP - May 18 2016

The Strawbs - I have seen one of my favorite bands many times in recent years as the Acoustic Strawbs where Dave Cousins, Dave Lambert, and Chas Cronk play mostly acoustic instruments in a rock fashion. But this is the first time I have seen the full 5-member electric Strawbs since 2004 (and the first time they have toured this way in the USA since 2007-8). The show I saw had the full members from the 1973-75 Strawbs, although this time the core trio are joined by long time drummer Tony Fernandez and new keyboards wiz, Dave Bainbridge (from Iona). And what a sound these guys come up with. The keyboards are magnificent with plenty of organ/mellotron type sounds that thicken the atmosphere both within the songs and as transition pieces. The drums of course push things forward and a heavier bass and an electrified Dave Lambert really make things soar. Even on acoustic guitar, Dave Lambert showed a great ability to solo and keep things rocking but now he can carry it further, yet still knows how to pull back and add lighter touch to the more delicate passages. Dave Cousins still has that incredibly resonant voice and Lambert and Cronk are there to fill in with the occasional lead vocal as well as the harmonies. The set list is heavy from that very progressive 1973-75 era with a first set having such classics as 'New World', 'Ghosts', and 'The River/Down by the Sea'.
photo: Dick Greener

After the break, they treated us with a rendition of what Rolling Stone called one of the Top 50 Progressive albums, 'Hero and Heroine' in entirety, although done 21st century style as Dave Cousins pointed out. They worked wonders with this material as it sounded fresh as ever and the pace and complexity of the title cut came through brilliantly. This finished off an excellent night where you could really obtain the full understanding of why the progressive scene was so exciting in the early seventies. Yet it is fresh as ever and extremely well played by a great band. If you think you have seen them enough as a trio, do yourself a favor and see the full band while you can.

And the sound was immaculate at my first experience at AMP, a small couple hundred or so club run by Strathmore (although a bit north of Strathmore auditorium and mansion). It is a comfortable venue that is booking well and they certainly had the PA to let a rock band shine.

Quote of the Night: Dave Cousins - "People don't understand what I'm doing, but I do." Well, not exactly the quote of tonight, but one he gave me in 2012 when during an interview which I enjoyed immensely. Read it here, much of it is still relevant.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Adia Victoria - The Grey A -- DC9 - May 17 2016

The Grey A - I thought I had seen this local quartet before, but it was actually fellow writer Kyle Schmitt who took a set in at a Those Darlings show a couple months back. He covers their approach well and I found this blues rock band to be a a fine outfit that can work on many a bill. There is not a whole lot new here, but when you play it well and vary it a bit with distinct songs, you are going to do well. And their second cut had some absolute magical guitar parts embedded within, so they are capable of transcending from the many average bar bands. Definitely worth a look and the crowd dug this set well enough.
Tiny Desk Show photo: @miraehontzphoto

Adia Victoria - I was sure I had seen Adia Victoria before and I did take her set in at a Those Darlings show one year ago. But no Those Darlings tonight, just this fellow Nashville singer songwriter guitarist who is making one of my predictions come true (infrequent as that is) by rising up into headline status and drawing a big crowd on a Tuesday evening. She has an album out now, which no doubt will do well as people discover her great take on blues rock and intense songwriting. She has an air of mystery to her approach that seems gentle, but has a razor sharp intensity cutting through her quiet songs and her loud rockers. The band adds drums, bass, and guitar to her offerings and there are also keyboards, which add just the right amount of magic in the background and in the transitions to really elevate this already strong material. She could hold a room at full attention just playing solo. But all five members are locked in tonight as they control the atmosphere with Adia Victoria's vocals left to strike out and leave a lasting memory to take home. Although she has worked her magic at the DC9 a number of times, she may have to move up a club size or two the next time through.

Photo Grab of the Day: The other Lemmy dated back to 1945.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Zombies - Bruce Sudano -- Robert E Parilla PFC - May 14 2016

Bruce Sudano - I must admit I had not heard of Mr. Sudano until now, but he has been a force as a songwriter for a long time. Oh, and he also had a very famous and talented wife, Donna Summer. Tonight he showed off some lovely original songs which he strummed on acoustic guitar along with one guitarist with him, who did an exemplary job of adding tasty acoustic leads and slide moves. Style wise it was more assertive folk than folk rock and there was some soulful blues moves in some of the songs, too. His best story was when he was writing a song, 'Starting Over Again' about his parents divorce that his wife had him add some lyrics. She then liked it so much she took it with her to perform on Johnny Carson rather than do a number from her album that she was to promote. Dolly Parton heard it, negotiated for it, and had a number one single with it. Reba McIntyre recorded it as well. Good solid set, nice songs, and the two guitar lineup had enough 'oomph' to be a solid opener for a rocking set to follow.
The Zombies - I have seen this reborn version of the Zombies many times now in clubs all over the metro area. Early on I found it remarkable how fit Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent were with all the magic still present in their vocals. But that was 12 years ago and the fact that I can still say this, is nothing less than astounding. What better way to prove it, then by opening with 'I Love You' to show off the four-man harmonies before allowing Colin to belt out 'and I don't know what to say' with all the power and finesse that we heard 50 years ago still fully intact. Rod Argent's keyboard work was amazing from early on all the way through the rocking encore. The Solomon Burke song 'Can't Nobody Love You' showed off his jazzy side, which along with his classical style, makes its way into many of the pop and rock tunes (as he described in a very fun interview I had with him a few weeks back). The father and son rhythm section has been there for years now and Rod and Jim are cousins and go back to the early days and were together in Argent. Tom Toomey fits in well on guitar with subtle backing and bold solos when required. And of course, a great set list with early singles, strong vibrant new material, sharp covers, Argent songs, and a nice song suite from the brilliant 'Odessey and Oracle' makes for a fabulous evening. I normally say try to catch these veteran acts while you can because age will take its toll. But for a band that has been around nearly 55 years now, who knows when it will end? They simply don't stop recording and tour pretty hard and far. Long may the run, as this music is some of the most inclusive and diverse in all of modern pop rock history.

Photo grab of the night: Although Rod Argent is far less reliant on synthesizers than most keyboardists, this photo of one of the earliest Moog synthesizers from 1970 may offer a good reason for it.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

PREVIEWS of COMING ATTRACTIONS - Late May 2016

Here ye, hear ye...

Young Magic works their tricks at the 9:30 Club on Monday, May 16th.


Adia Victoria works a different sort of magic at the DC9 the following night, Tuesday the 17th.


The Strawbs are in town, fully electric with rhythm section, so don't miss. They are at the AMP (Strathmore) in Bethesda on Wednesday, May 18th (and in Annapolis the day before if you can't make this one).


Twin Peaks appreciate a fine cup of coffee and a big audience and will likely get one at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Thursday, May 19th.


Rise up and venture out to see Bent Knee at Songbyrd on Friday, May 20th.


Don't call them Art or Wayne, but check out Rooney at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel.



Car Seat Headrest pulls into the Black Cat on Monday, May 23rd.


Islands and Lushlife play the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Tuesday, May 24th.



And finally RJD2 (not R2D2) plays the 9:30 Club on Sunday, May 29th.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Titus Andronicus - La Sera -- 9:30 Club May 12-13 2016

by Kyle Schmitt

La Sera - This three-piece group brought some hop to their opening songs, a necessity given the 10:30 p.m. start time. La Sera’s single “High Notes” showcased a sound marked by ringing guitar and singer/bassist Katy Goodman’s self-assured vocals. Her singing recalls Debbie Harry’s vocal style, remaining clear and controlled even during the most intense instrumental sections. La Sera’s set gradually increased in aggression, notably on “Time to Go”, as Todd Wisenbaker’s thrashing guitar brought a welcome new element to their sound. “I Need an Angel” even verged on mid-80s REM before a Wisenbaker solo segued into a breezy cover of “Whole Lotta Love”. Goodman reminisced about driving out to hang in 7/11 parking lots with Titus Andronicus frontman Patrick Stickles when they were high schoolers. La Sera’s set marked the start of a far more productive road trip for both of them. 
Titus Andronicus - Patrick Stickles made a Hulk Hogan-style stage entrance, gesturing to the crowd and cupping his ear to encourage fan approval. He welcomed everyone to the “inaugural edition” of his band’s May tour before performing a solo rendition of “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape With the Flood of Detritus”. After this stripped-down version, the full-band sounded that much heavier on tunes like “Lonely Boy”, which could have passed for a long-lost Heartbreakers song. Titus Andronicus delivered their expected uplifting set, bashing out “Fatal Flaw” and “Mr. E. Mann” to fans’ delight. Their music always feels life-affirming, whether the faithful are chanting along with “It’s alright!” or “You will always be a loser”. Stickles even paraphrased the Christ, begging for this cup to be taken from him in “Upon Viewing Brueghel’s Landscape with the Flight of Icarus”, then acquiescing gracefully with “Thy will be done.” His band continues to give their true believers much cause for rejoicing. 

Esoterica: Katy Goodman: “Todd, what are all these songs about?” Todd Wisenbaker: “Fuckin’ shit up.” … Patrick Stickles, on keeping violence out of his shows: “This is punk, and punk is about freedom for everybody, regardless of our physical stature.” … As his early show counterparts did hours earlier, Stickles asked the audience about the night’s other headlining act, and reported gratefully that Parquet Courts were good guys. His own band’s set concluded shortly after 1 a.m.

Parquet Courts - B Boys -- 9:30 Club - May 12 2016

B Boys - Brooklyn's B Boys began by bringing bright British based beats. There, alliteration aside, this trio engaged in a solid pop-punk style that had a kind of half spoken half sung detached vocal line that reminded me a lot of Howard Devoto and early Wire. I heard quite a bit of Pink Flag (and I really did as the DJ played 'Reuters' right after their set), although I hesitate comparing even a fine young opening band with one of the best albums ever. But B Boys brought... pause... they delivered fine songs that maybe just lacked some of the mystery of that classic British punk/post punk sound from bands like Wire and Magazine. This is solid material and was a fine set that went over well with the trickling in crowd at this incredibly early hour (It wasn't even 7pm when they started).
Parquet Courts - I finally catch the live show of a really hot band that has sold out smaller venues in town and did a pretty good job of filling up this big club for the first of two separate shows tonight (Titus Andronicus, La Sera after 10pm). They start with an arty innocence to their music, but add sonic skronks and blasts that are reminiscent of a more laid back Sonic Youth. Not so much art-punk, but perhaps art-post punk. Their songs varied incredibly but all sounded logical and connected. It was the dynamic shifting that stood out; fast-to-slow, melodic-to-atonal, loud-to-quiet, detached-to-intense. Quite the roller coaster ride, these guys offer. The crowd was enthusiastic with lots of movement up front, proving that intense shows can happen in the early hours. This is an excellent band, although their patter needs a bit of work, because George Carlin they are not--deconstructing their observational analogies was fairly easy. But the music was spot on and that's what we came to see.

Quote of the Night - The PC's were amusing with their thoughts on the double show night... "How many of you are double dipping--anybody sticking around for the Titus Andronicus, La Sera show after this? Yeah, quite a few of you. So they got you to pay twice for the same rock show. Smart guys in the music business..."

Thursday, May 12, 2016

INTERVIEW with ROD ARGENT

April 15 2016

It is an great honor to get to chat with such a distinguished musician that has been creating and producing lasting music for well over 50 years. He and Colin Blunstone are defying time with their incredibly active run in the Zombies along with a fine band including former Argent/Kinks bassist Jim Rodford (Rod’s cousin), Jim’s son Steve, and Tom Toomey on guitar. They have played with their original Zombies band mates for special shows as well. They sound like they have not aged a day with all the great vocal harmonies on top of their stellar pop, rock, popsike, and even progressive songs.
Their Annapolis show is already sold out, but tickets remain for Saturday’s show at the Robert E Parilla Performing Arts Center on Saturday, May 14th. They do a fabulous job and remind you how great their music is from all the decades they have worked in. Long time readers know that has been reported here numerous times.

Thanks to Melani Rogers for setting this up.

DAVID HINTZ - (After the usual introductions) I hope you will indulge me with questions on the early days. I know you have answered them forever, but I think it will be good background for everyone, if that’s ok.

ROD ARGENT - Sure.

DH - OK. I have read you were in choirs as a child, but how did the piano and keyboards come into play for you?

RA - Well, we always had a piano in the house because my Dad was with a dance band from the age of 17 to the age of 83 and he was a pianist. But he rarely played in the house actually, but he loved playing. The only time he played in the house was when people came round. My Mother really loved classical music, but it was more the Romantic lighter side of classical music and that mainly was what I heard until she got me involved in a very very good choir, actually. I have to say it was a brilliant musical education.

DH - OK.

RA - And you know, the music around was fantastic. That was my introduction to Bach and other classical music as well. But I definitely wanted to play the piano. And strangely enough I only had piano lessons for two years from the age of about 9 to the age of about 11 and I actually played the piano less at that time than any other time. But, it gave me a knowledge of where the notes were and I sort of taught myself after that really. I really got turned on to popular music for the first time when I heard Elvis sing ‘Hound Dog’. I am not alone in that.

DH - (laughs) No, your’e not.

RA - I just really wanted to hear rock’n’roll for about six months after that to my parents horror at that particular time. All this time I had already started experimenting with playing by ear and working out chords and things by myself because it actually just completely intrigues me. I actually loved sport and I used to go out and play football for my  priory school, and when I say football it is what you call soccer over there, when I was eleven years old. But I used to get caught up with the piano on long summer-six weeks holiday. My Mother used to get worried and say “shouldn’t you be outside playing” because we always went outside as there were much fewer cars in those days. So we used to play cricket and football with the kids around right in the road, which you couldn’t do now. But I would just get pulled to stay and mess around for about four hours on the piano, just plunking around and being fascinated by working out harmonies for myself and chords and everything like that. So, as I said I was self taught aside from a couple of years of lessons, but I never took an exam or anything.

DH - Umm hmmm.

RA - But I was at one with John Lennon. Years later hearing John Lennon say to me when I was growing up “Music felt like the real world” and what other people’s real world was the environs really. And that was very much how I felt at that age. But your question about the piano, really was that, the piano was there and I was endlessly fascinated working out things on it.

DH - Great, and you lead into where rock’n’roll came in because you were right there at the beginning of the Beatles era. And it’s kind of well known that the Beatles and the Beach Boys had kind of a competition to top each other’s production qualities from album to album as the technology improved. Now I think your (Zombies) singles sound great and have a lot of complexity, too. So were you listening to these other bands and following their studio advances?

RA - Oh yeah, we certainly listened to the other bands and the Beatles hit in the UK a couple of years before they hit in America. It was ’62. We started in ’61 and the Beatles came on to the scene in ’62 and we, like everybody else, were completely blown away. I think by far they were the biggest influence on popular music for any band in the UK at that time, including and particularly the Stones. It used to make me smile, I thought the Stones were great, but the Beatles would maybe come out with a single that had maybe a picked guitar like ‘I Feel Fine’ or something—I can’t remember exactly, but then the Stones would come with ‘The Last Time’ or something, if it had a picked guitar, I just used to be very aware of it. The Beatles just had  a huge influence… I’m rambling here.

DH - That is quite alright.

RA - But back to your question… our early singles were produced by a guy called Ken Jones right up to ‘Odessey and Oracle’ actually, so most of our life. Now he was an old school producer—he was a generation older than us. We thought he did a fantastic job on our very first session where we recorded ‘She’s Not There’, ‘You Make Me Feel Good’ which was the B side written by Chris (White). A song called ‘It’s Aright With Me’ which was virtually the first song I ever wrote. ‘She’s Not There’ was the second one, although there was one very Beatles like cut that I completely forgot about that turned out was actually recorded at Olympic Studios unbelievably and it is quite charming, but very derivative of very early Beatles. Oh, and ‘Summertime’ was on the first session.

DH - Oh Right.

RA - But after this session, it used to frustrate us incredibly that after that every session instead of just taking the music as it was and making the best of it, which is certainly what we did on the first session, he was always thinking what was the sound of the first record. Well, in his eyes it was Colin’s breathy vocals. Well, Colin’s vocals did have a breathy quality to them, but it was a lot more than that. It was everything involved in the recording and by concentrating on that, we sometimes used to be frustrated that sometimes the balls had been taken out of the way the records were sounding—those early four-track productions. So we were not in charge in any way of the production facilities of the singles. As I say, we thought they were great from the first session, but after that we had our reservations. And when Chris and I felt that as if the band might be splitting up in the not to distant future. We were desperate to do an album ourselves to where we could put our own ideas into play. To give Ken Jones, the original producer, his credit—he was a very autocratic producer as we were never allowed into the mixing sessions or anything.

DH - Really.

RA - But when we said we wanted to do it ourselves, he was great. He helped us and he even got us into Abbey Road. Now, we of course had listened to everything the Beatles had done along with everybody. There was a DJ on English radio called Kenny Everett and he used to do this thing where he would play a fraction of a second of a Beatles song of the first note, literally like an eighth of a second, so the sound was just there in the most minute fashion and people would weigh in on what the record was. And I always knew because of how close we paid attention to what was going on. And we loved what the Beatles and George Martin were doing in a production sense, absolutely wonderful, groundbreaking as everyone in the music world knows. And when you were talking about the Beatles and the Beach Boys competition, we were very aware of ‘Pet Sounds’. ‘Pet Sounds’ came out several months before our ‘Odessey and Oracle’ album was recorded. We were very aware of it and we loved it and it did inspire us. The Beatles competition with the Beach Boys was ’Sgt. Pepper(’s Lonely Hearts Club Band)’ and Sgt. Pepper was recorded almost minutes before we started ‘Odessey and Oracle’. They virtually walked out of Abbey Road studios maybe a week before we went in to start recording. But it was not so much of the competition between the Beach Boys and the Beatles that we were aware of, but we were very aware of their production values and what was going on. And when we went into Abbey Road to record ‘Odessey and Oracle’, because we were just about the first band (not sure how it came to us) that were allowed to record in Abbey Road Studios that were not signed to EMI.

DH - Oh?

RA - But we walked in, and because we used some of the same engineers-Pete Vince and Geoff Emerick, for the work they had just done, they were fresh from all the techniques that were going on with Sgt. Pepper and some of the technological advances the Beatles and their production team had forged. And we were able to be one of the first bands to be able to use a virtual multi-track recording that was more than four tracks. They did not do it by using a dedicated eight track machine, as there were none in the UK, but we could use some of the techniques they used to create more tracks. It was fantastic for us because for the first time we could double track harmonies, well not quite the first time, but we would overdub extra harmonies. So we could put down what we rehearsed, that was one thing. Then there would be an hour or two left in the session and we would run a harmony that was in our heads and put it on and so it gave us a real expansion of what was going on. So in some ways, we were using the same palette as the Beatles and the other thing was that Lennon had left his mellotron in there (DHlaughter). I’ve guess you heard that.

DH - Yeah I had, that is great.

RA - Yeah, it was fantastic for us. So that was about the situation.
DH - That is very interesting.  You tell great stories on stage about Odessey and Oracle (and yes it was misspelled by the printer or so the story goes), so we don’t have to go over them again on how belatedly the album ‘took’.

RA - Yeah.

DH - So anyway, moving on to a couple questions about Argent and you (the Zombies) even play a song or two from your Argent days. That was a much tougher and progressive rock’n’roll sound. Was that something you were actively seeking or was that due more to the band’s chemistry?

RA - I think it was more than anything due to the natural make-up of the band. The fact that we had a different drummer in Bob Henry, a different bass player in Jim Rodford (now a current Zombie), and at the same time along with everybody else, it always frustrated me particularly when we first went with this phase where people wouldn’t accept anything we did on stage because they would say ‘oh, you’re moving away from…’ well, look at the difference from what the Beatles were doing from their first singles to when they split up. If any band had any ounce of invention about them, they were drinking in every influence around and getting excited about cutting edge things. And we were aware of other things going on at the time. And it was just natural. We were not trying to do anything in a contrived way. We were just expressing how we were feeling at the time and trying out different avenues, really. And it was a very natural process. But I think you were right when you say it was partially due to the different people involved in the creative input as we were before and in the way a particular piece of musical material is shaped. I mean the first two Argent albums were recorded at Sound Techniques. And we were a little bit frustrated again, because we wanted the sound to be bigger, but I think they had a huge amount in common—the first two albums, they sounded like a very natural progression from where the Zombies had finished up on—the ‘Argent’ album and ‘Ring of Hands’. They are my favorite Argent albums, by the way, and they sound like they are a natural progression. We then moved, strangely enough, to Abbey Road again because we wanted slightly bigger sound. And that is when we recorded ‘Hold Your Head Up’ for the ‘All Together Now’ album. In some ways that album does not hold together as well as the material on the previous two albums for me.

DH - Huh, interesting. Hey, I gotta ask since I am a psychedelic folk record collector and a writer for Folkworld magazine, I noticed during my research that Mac MacLeod actually played bass on the first Argent demos.

RA - Yeah!

DH - So how did you meet up with him? You were all from St. Albans?

RA - Yeah, indeed. That’s where I grew up and that’s where Jim Rodford our bass player grew up and as I say on stage if you hear me there, I say that Jim was the very first guy I asked to be in the Zombies because he was a real inspiration to me because his group the Bluetones, which started out as a skiffle group then got some of the first electric instruments in the south of England. I just thought it was wonderful when I was 11 years old—he’s a bit older than me, but I just wanted to put a band together. But Mac was Jim’s contemporary and was a friend of his. I think I got to know him through Jim. There’s a funny story I can tell you about Mac.

DH - Oh, yes please.

RA - But I had no idea he was known in America! Obviously in the folk scene, he was. But in those days, there were soft drugs like cannabis or whatever, it wasn’t so prevalent—not when we started. You know, it was not a common thing to be around in those very early days. And Mac was in to that and he got caught using and prosecuted for it. And he was hauled up in front of the Judge, or the Magistrate as we call it over here in the small courts, and the Magistrate said to him “Well Mr. MacLeod, this is your first offense. I think if you can assure me that you won’t do it again, I am inclined to let you off this time.” And Mac said “No your honor, I can’t honestly say I won’t do it again.”

DH - (laughter) That’s great!

RA - (laughter) So the Magistrate actually laughed and said “Well, I have never heard that before, but I appreciate your honesty.” But you know he gave him something light—I can’t remember what he gave him.

DH - I like that. Now, he’s not extremely well known over here, but those of us really follow the British folk scene, we know him.

RA - Wow, well done.

DH - Now the business world in music has changed since you and Colin decided to restart the Zombies. How much do you appreciate the control you have over the music and the business side these days?

RA - Well, yeah, it is nicer to have a bit of particular control. Although what is nice is that when we started out with the Zombies, the whole scene was so heavily concentrated on singles to the extent in the mid-sixties that albums were a complete afterthought. You were just as good as your last single and a single came out every 12 weeks. And you expected the life of the single to be just a few months long and no one would hear it again. I was speaking to Graham Nash when he came to see us on our last American tour and he said if we had spoken together 50 years and said to each other in 50 years time we would meet again, while still creating music and feeling very energized about that, but still would be playing some of the songs we had written now, we would be crazy. And the fact that we are not tied commercially to how successful the last single was. It is a great feeling now and that side of things is great.

DH - Unh hunh.

RA - From a technical point of view, strangely enough—I’ve done a lot of production in my life as well and I’ve used most every aspect of technical production; but when we did this last album, we really wanted to get to more old fashioned way of doing things. Not in any way obscuring what’s there—use as many tracks as it takes, but really to record in the same room together in the way we used to do it because we had to do it when we started, in a way to just capture a performance rather than build something up slowly in a layered way. But to capture the magic moment of people playing together and that magic moment when it gels and all comes together. The way we did it… we had to raise more money than we had been recently doing, so we used a pledgemusic campaign which was great because it allowed us to do it and we got a great producer, Chris Potter, who had done the Verve’s ‘Urban Hymns’ and recorded the Stones and lots of people. So he was in the control room and when we played a track together, Colin would do a guide vocal, since it was important that we could relate to what he was doing and he could relate to us, as it was going down. The idea was we were going to have five days of recording, five days of overdubbing, and then a day for each mix that Chris could use. And we thought that we would lay the tracks down with minimal overdubs, but during the overdub process work on the vocals and the solos. But in fact we enjoyed it so much, that virtually with just one exception, that all the vocals were used were the live vocals Colin did as the guide.

DH - Huh.

RA - We didn’t use a click track so we could use any technical secrecy or anything or any adjusting of the time in that way. It was recorded very much as a performance and we captured it. And even the solos, we did not erase one solo. We did the solos improvised at that moment in the studio. It was fantastic and we did overdub backing harmonies—we couldn’t do those at the same time so we did those afterward, but virtually the backing harmonies, a tiny touch of percussion, and maybe a couple of other small solos and that was it. So in a way, we came full circle, we used the digital technology that was available, you know the more things are played, you will lose quality as bits of tape will come off and we used as many jacks as it takes, for if you wanted to use twenty on the drums for balance quality you did. But all of the performance element was done in the way we used to do it in the early days and it ended up with sounding like us now, but it has more relevance for me because we still have the same values when we write and record.

DH - Right, ok that’s fascinating, for as much as you have been in the studio, you can go from one extreme to the other and back from live performance to build-up and back. That’s exciting. Just a few more questions, then. I first saw you when you toured with Love, which was a dream showcase for me to see both bands at one time. Was that as fun for you or was that difficult?

RA - Well, it was great fun.

DH - Good!

RA - At the time, we could not understand that one night we would go down great and other nights not so well, and we realized half way through the tour that it was because we did not have our own sound man and Arthur (Lee) did. We realized how important that was, so that taught us that on that tour. And after that we made sure we got a sound man we really loved and now I would not go out without the current guy we have got. I mean Colin and just wouldn’t work without him because it is just so important to get your own idea of the correct way you should sound across the stage. But the actual artistic side of things, we very much enjoyed doing that. And it was lovely to meet Arthur. It is not like we had hugely close contact with Arthur, but we had a couple of chats and he was very sweet with us. It was nice.

DH - That’s good, because he could be a challenge.

RA - And his great mate, from the original band…

DH - John Echols.

RA - Yes. He was really lovely.

DH - Yeah, that was a surprise for me as I was not aware he was on the tour. It took me a while before I thought, oh my god, I think that’s John Echols!

RA - Yes, indeed and he was a really nice guy.

DH - Good, I’m glad to hear that. And since that time, at least in DC, you have played so many different clubs and you seem to really try different things. And I am also curious on how things went in Austin at the Austin Psyche Festival. How was that with its really diverse crowd.

RA - It went absolutely brilliantly. Our experiences in Texas general and Austin in particular have been fantastic, actually. And when we did South by Southwest for the first time.

DH - Oh right, you did that previously.

RA - Yeah, I was really nervous about doing it because I thought no one was going to come because it is such a big showcase for young emerging bands, although at the same time you have people like Prince dropping in. When we did our showcase gig at the first one we had Prince about 400 yards away doing a concert, so I thought no one is going to come. But they did, we had a packed hall. And I thought also that if anyone did come, we wouldn’t get noticed with so much going on, we won’t get any coverage. But we did! It really amazed me. The great thing from my point of view and Colin, was when we first toured with the Zombies… and Argent as well, we never really made a great impact in the south as I remember. And when we were back in our second incarnation—when we started touring the States again maybe in 2003 or when it was, when we played in the south, we played to just a handful of people. But now, we have a real following in the south and we seemed to have cracked it. And that is fantastic to me.
DH - Yes, it is fascinating how that works, you get hotspots in different parts of a country or different parts of the world. I would not have guessed that about the south. Here’s another question I ask everyone… Although you have a lot of musical influences, who in the Artistic world including writers or artists, is there anyone you particularly love or inspired you?

RA - Ummm, well I have always loved literature on the whole actually. I read… not as much now, but when I am on the road, it seems to be the time you read the most because you have long trips. I can never read anything very demanding when I am on the road. It has to be a… what you call it, a potboiler, something that takes you from one thing to another with cliff hangers or whatever. So I find myself reading a lot of things like John Grisham because I find it quite easy to read and I want to find out what’s on the next page. I do read a lot but I don’t seem to have time to read other than that… I am trying to think of things that have inspired me recently. I do come across books—Oh, one of my favorite books ever is by an English writer that I don’t know if he’s known in the States called Laurie Lee and he wrote a very famous book over here called ‘Cider with Rosy’ and his second in the trilogy was called ‘As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’, which I think is a very beautiful book and one of my favorites. He just left a very small country place in the 1930s in the UK and walked out with a violin as a teenager, and just walked. And he found himself just walking across Spain and Spain was a very medieval country in those days and later on he got involved in the Spanish Civil War by accident. And it is (the second) part of a trilogy and I would recommend them to anyone. I think it is really beautiful.

DH - Oh, OK. I don’t know him.

RA - Ah, what was something else I read recently. Oh there was something called ‘Red Joan’ (by Jennie Rooney) which I thought was great. It was about… God, I’m getting old, I can’t remember the writer (Jennie Rooney). It was about the time people were very idealistically excited by the emergence of communism and around the time of the 2nd World War. And some English people got involved with it in an idealogical way from the universities—Oxford and Cambridge over here and with Russia and this book ‘Red Joan’ explores that area and is really good.

DH - Huh, have not read that one either.

RA - And when I was in the States last time, I read the Harper Lee thing that was thought to be a sequel to… the famous book. God, I can’t recall the words!

DH - To Kill a Mockingbird (laughs)

RA - (laughs) To Kill a Mockingbird,yes! But that turned out to be more of a prequel to which ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ came from. That was the last thing I read that wasn’t a potboiler while I was on tour. So from a writing point of view, and I’ve always enjoyed poetry although I read much less of it now. And I have always loved Art and from a general interest artists are people like (Théodore) Gruyere I would say in some ways and a lot of art in a general interest. And other than rock’n’roll, I have always been passionate about music, even when I was most passionately a teenager in love with rock’n’roll, I still didn’t see any need to stop listening to people like Bach and Stravinsky. I didn’t see any difference, really. I now it sounds weird to say, but if something works, it comes from the same well. And in about 1958 after I had discovered Elvis, I discovered the early groups of Miles Davis with “Cannonball” Adderly and John Coltrane.

DH - Yeah.

RA - The ‘Milestones’ album… and I still listen to jazz from that period and I never stopped. Even when the Beatles came out and I was completely in love with what they were doing, it still didn’t stop me listening to Miles and the great jazz scene of that time along with the whole panoply of classical music. And now, still now one of my favorite things to do is to put my IPOD on shuffle, so you might have a bit of early Ray Charles followed by Stravinsky followed by maybe on of the few newer things I listen to like Kings of Leon occasionally or things like that might come up, maybe followed by a bit of early Cream if you know what I mean. Then perhaps Miles or Bill Evans. That whole era of music is something I am interested in and still listen to. Whether it is a very romantic, but beautiful piano concerto like Rachmaninoff. The whole thing, really.

DH - Right. That is a full answer and I am going to look up some of those books because I like to read a lot.

RA - Yeah. Do you know the Ishiguro book ‘Remains of the Day’? It became quite a big seller and a movie with Anthony Hopkins.

DH - That is on my all-time Top 10 fiction list. I love that book.

RA - Yeah, me, too. That just came to me because I can never think of this when people ask. (laughs).

DH - Right, right.

RA - It is also one of my favorite films, a bit of a desert island film as well. Just a great film

DH - Oh, yeah. And I read the book first, which I like to do when possible to separate it from the film a bit and appreciate both.

RA - Absolutely, yeah. I will tell you another thing that I read. We had some time off last summer and for Valentine’s Day, which is obviously well before summer, I went into an old book shop and bought the original 1930s edition of ‘Gone with the Wind’

DH - Oh, OK.

RA - And I couldn’t believe what a great book it was. I mean I enjoyed the film, but the book was a wonderful document laying out not only the Civil War, but what was happening before the Civil War in America. And where society was and where people came from. I mean I know it is very slanted to one point of view, that is obvious. But my wife and I ended up reading it to each other, which is something we hadn’t done for ages. You know, just sitting in the garden in the nice weather just reading it for an hour to each other. That was a lovely experience, actually.

DH - Well good, the film is so famous that I don’t think people have gone to the book that much.

RA - Ah, but the book… of course the book was amazingly famous at the time.

DH - Yes, exactly.

RA - That was why it became such a famous film. And it was read by such a huge amount of people, and yet it is written so beautifully. I couldn’t believe how well technically Margaret Mitchell wrote. Brilliant.

DH - One final question, you mentioned football earlier, do you follow a team in the Premier League or in somewhere in England?

RA - Well, years ago I used to follow it more avidly in a detailed way. But I got really turned off because of the real cultural violence that came in with the supporters. This is different than any sports event in the states and it really turned me off. I mean I still follow the International matches, but not the domestic leagues. The sport I follow most is tennis.

DH - Oh, yes.

RA - I can tell you the 16-year old girl who is making waves in a very minor way in tournaments, Katie Swan you know. I can tell you what is happening in detail on the British tennis scene. Although still last night I went to bed at 11:00 and while my wife was reading I put on the headphones and was watching a match that was on (Liverpool). I’ll watch Match of the Day in the Premier League, but I mostly watch the International matches.

DH - Yes, I follow tennis too. And England is getting better younger players in and hopefully they will be taking over Wimbledon finally.

RA - We have won Wimbledon at last.

DH - Oh of course, you have done so on the Men’s side at least, courtesy of Scotland’s Andy Murray.

RA - That was huge at the time a few years ago. And then he won in New York so he has a couple of grand slams to his name.

DH - Although Novak Djokovich is becoming a rather impenetrable wall for him.

RA - Unbelievable. He doesn’t get the esteem he deserves, really. It must be very frustrating for him as he has been absolutely extraordinary. I mean he lost this tournament in the second round and that has got to be the first time in ages that he has that early. He always is great in the Grand Slams and tournaments like Miami.

DH - He is amazing. Well I will let you go to get back into your day or evening actually.

RA - Yes, it is evening here.

DH - Well I thank you for spending some time with me and I hope we get a big crowd for you show at Montgomery College (at the Robert E Parilla Performing Arts Center on Saturday, May 14th) but I am sure you will have a big crowd like you always do. Thanks again.

RA - OK David, bye.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Ought - Priests -- Black Cat - May 10 2016

Priests - The now veteran upstarts of the local scene are up first and it has been a while. Katie Alice Greer throws a bit of a pall on the upcoming set by saying she lost her voice and the drummer takes a lot of the lead vocals in the opener. But after that Greer seems to do quite well, although stage patter is a little hoarse. But her vocals add to the mysterious music the three behind her cook up. They are at their best when they morph that early Banshees sound into something fresh and invigorating with guitar moves that have an unpredictable edge to them even as the melodies always make sense. Big crowd tonight in the backstage and they pretty much got what they wanted from this fine set.
Ought - This Montreal quartet does far more right than wrong during this fascinating set. I have heard the term art punk used and that is close enough, although I think you can kind of narrow it down to the punk and post punk pioneers that kept their krautrock records and wanted to morph into something more like that (John Lydon, Nicky Garratt, and more). There is kind of a Warsaw meets Alternative TV vibe much of the time and the band really nails in when they lock into a droning riff with keyboards that do subtle shape shifting moves and a rhythm section that keeps it nimble throughout the length of the song. At their worst, there are a couple of songs that lack that edge of your seat attention, but it probably doesn't hurt to pull it back at times. For much of the time, this is compelling music that is just unique enough and well thought out.

The loss of John Stabb - Priests dedicated the set to his passing this Saturday night and the Sunday fund raising show that became a tribute show was sold out and quite memorable for the attendees. This has been a rough 2016 for musicians and I have slight personal connections to four musicians that have had serious health problems (and now two have passed). Thurston Moore flew from his England home to play a benefit for Ivan Julian in NYC before heading down here to help out John Stabb and his wife and family. It is great to see that, but sad that you can almost do benefit show tours.

John Stabb should be remembered as one of the most galvanizing and accessible punk rockers of the DC scene. While others made their fame elsewhere, and while the Dischord scene (great as it is) always had an insularity to it, John Stabb through Government Issue was the guy that connected with people all over the world, as well as his being a fixture in the local scene. Perhaps he was the Jimmy Stewart of punk rock with his unique personality, humor, and accessibility always at the fore. He just went and did it like few others and was always a great front man to see on stage or a likable bloke to talk to off of it. I hope a lot of younger musicians got to meet him, as he offered a shining example of how to do things in this crazy musical universe. I was fortunate to have seen him play in the old days and be one of my most reviewed people at this blog.  He is missed.

And you can still help his wife and family with the extreme financial burden by contributing here.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Woods - Ultimate Painting - The Sea Life -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - May 5 2016

The Sea Life - The one local band tonight gets proceedings started. The singer guitarist seems worried that the quiet crowd is ok. Well they are, but only 20 people of what will be a large crowd are here early enough to catch this set. Thus, a problem of being the third band on a weekday bill, which usually caters to two bands. I am not sure that too many of the late arriving crowd will have felt like they missed much, as this band while creating a nice sonic racket, does not really stand out in any deeper way. But as an opener, it was still a good warm-up. There was one song with some tempo shifts that showed some promise and I hope they can continue to work up some interesting songs to go with their sound.

Ultimate Painting - If you were thinking that this might be a California band laying out some lovely easy going psychedelic indie rock, you may have been surprised by the English accents from the band. This quartet (a duo of guitarist/vocalists along with a rhythm section for the live dates) has great ability in capturing a groove with their music. And the songs are top drawer, which is what really catches my ear tonight. The hooks are there and the guitar parts work off the beat in different ways, always locking in by measure's end. These are lovely, carefully worked out songs with vocals that also show care and flair with different leads and harmonies when desired. They close out with a longer jam to remind everyone they can also extend these songs into free flowing fun. Great ovation at the end for this superb band--what a treat!
Woods - I have already had my fun, but why not stick around for an always interesting American band that has a style that works well off of Ultimate Painting's set. This quartet is now five with a keyboards/vocals/harmonica/saxophone player in addition to the twin guitar quartet. The music is liquid as ever with a strong current running deep. Their albums have shown clever variety within their overall scope and this set shows some of that as well, as the intensity and sonic strength ebbs and flows smoothly. Smooth is a key word with Woods, for as they flex their active basslines, and sharp guitar solos, the overall effect warmly flows over the well populated room. Woods once again puts on a fine show at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel and they are a band I am happy to see every time through. All the better that they have such a great touring partner. You won't beat this bargain tour.

Quote of the Night: overheard at the club (nothing exciting but I don't get accounting talk any more)... "Like Dollar Cost Average, that sort of thing?"

Cracker - Johnny Hickman -- State Theatre - May 5 2016

by John Miller

Johnny Hickman - How is one to characterize tonight's opening? Johnny Hickman begins quietly with his acoustic, a new rhythm, perhaps a waltz? Would it be wrong to call it a warm up, a shoot around, bp? Considering how long Johnny has been around, he probably has Carte Blanche at this point. As the first piece ends, he sings in rhythm with the guitar solo. Has it been done before? Probably; but the ease with which the vocals and guitar match one another is at least worth noting. Throughout the set there's this strange undercurrent; at any moment Johnny might just burst out laughing, an uncommon ease.

Cracker - And the undercurrent continues as Cracker takes the stage. Cracker walks onto stage behind ACDC’s You Shook Me All Night Long. Another first and it leads me to believe that while, officially, Cracker may be on tour to “further support their latest release”, Berkeley to Bakersfield (which came out all the way back in 2014), it may just because they wanted to get out of the house. It can be easy to forget, considering their heyday was almost twenty-five years ago, but there has always been a certain twang to their songs and tonight they really lean on that. Particularly, the addition of both keyboards and a lap guitar, tend to mellow things out.  I was curious if their country sensibilities would influence the way they arranged their radio hits and after revisiting them, those sensibilities certainly came through. But to be honest, there was always a country bent to both Teen Angst and Eurotrash Girl, I just never noticed it on account of all the flannel. The set continues to alternate between the alt rock Cracker was known for, to the country inspired tunes they have leaned on with their later releases. Hickman’s guitar work is especially inspired; there was no shortage of solos tonight. I imagine the opening set was a necessity for him to warm up. David Lowery’s low impact vocals sounded exceptional as well. Perhaps the only sign of age I noticed was during Teen Angst; it felt as if the pessimistic premise of the song had come true and Lowery finally gave up.

Lastly I’d be remiss not to mention the crowd. I would have never imagined that Cracker of all bands would bring out such a contingent of cowboy hats. I counted no fewer than sixteen.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Wild Belle - James Supercave -- Black Cat - May 1 2016

James Supercave - This is a fairly new LA band with one album (reviewed here a couple days ago) and a big tour well underway. They appear quite ready for the big stage at the Black Cat and delivered a fairly strong set. It was tough to gauge the crowd, as they were kind of quiet, but with the dance moves I saw in the back and the solid ovation at the end, they appeared to have gone over well. And with pop-rock music that exhibits plenty of dance beats, it should go over with youth. Thankfully, they have some strong rock moves that work with those of us old timers whose sciatica is an excuse for us to not show our lack of dance moves. When they announced they would slow it down, they launched into a fine rocker with a great pop hook and a powerhouse ending. In fact, from that point on, they slowly built the rest of the set to a fairly dramatic finish. Well paced, well played, and well received--good job, guys.
Wild Belle - This brother and sister act handles the vocals and adds some brass and guitar to the mix along with a fine band behind them. It seems quite straight forward and fairly faultless, although it does not always stand out terribly for me. But the female vocals have a nice resonance with the right amount of attractiveness and distance blended in. They also vary the rhythms well, which helps carry the set forward. I did not last the distance, but the sizable crowd was taking to this well, which was not at all a surprise.

Quiz Answer: In answer to my previous question of who the Suuns were channeling with their photo, the answer is the Stranglers with the cover to their LP, 'Black + White'


Sunday, May 1, 2016

RECORD REVIEWS: April 2016

ALOHA “LITTLE WINDOWS CUT RIGHT THROUGH”
This one has too much of that smooth comforting electro pop sound at the heart of it all. There is some grinding electric guitar, but it is a bit too far upstage for me. Instead, the monotonous beats and the mannered vocals steer it onto a road I would rather not follow. There will be plenty of other people following Aloha as the vocals have a certain attraction to them and the melodies are there and should catch enough pop fans who want to engage in some relaxed dancing or drifting.

JAYE BARTELL “LIGHT ENOUGH”
Although Jaye Bartell has deep voice that sounds rather dark at the outset, like a combination of Leonard Cohen and Bill Callahan, the underlying music brightens things up in a surprising manner. He manages to avoid excessive darkness, as sometimes you hear that same droll childlike innocence that was in many a Syd Barrett song. Like Syd Barrett, you may just have to be in a certain mood for this as the monotony in vocal tone will be either hypnotic or frustrating, depending on your mood. As for me, I enjoyed the original approach to a familiar form and it hit me in a good spot. Any acoustic folk fan should at least give this one careful listen, as it will likely turn in to many more.

A live show may be quite interesting and you can try it out at the Rock’n’Roll Hotel on June 23rd.

Songs to start with first:

Laundry Line - delicate song with those haunting vocals.

Into Quiet - Nice backing vocals and a mix of off kilter rhythm and dreamy sounds.

The Calling - If you are still with him late into the LP, the longest song will reward you.

ROBBIE BASHO “LIVE at FOLKSTUDIO 1982”

Grass-Tops Recordings have done us another fine service here. But I am an easy mark, as they do it every time they reissue anything by Robbie Basho. This obviously is a live recording and although there are the expected sonic limitations, it is still worth the experience for Basho fans as this show features many long extended raga songs that showcase Basho’s guitar by itself, working its usual magic (aside from the occasional haunting vocal). Folkstudio was in Rome and was likely the center of fine folk activity in Italy, if it ties in with the label Folkstudio and the band Folkstudio A, which it likely does. So I appreciate seeing the worldwide connection of key folk artists as they expanded from the 1960s through the 1980s and added so much psychedelic sounds and other progressive forms to the music. Basho had the music that inspired oh so many people. Here is further proof.

BLEACHED “WELCOME THE WORMS”
There has been plenty of bands blasting out power pop tunes with punk attitude over recent decades, but there always will be room for more. And it makes sense for older bands to do something else and let younger bands take that distinctive young attitude and run with it for a while. Bleached has it down from the strong steady drums, driving bass, vocals that are both cute and tough, and raging guitars. The guitar work is a bit more distinct than usual particularly in breaks or in subtle backing washed out moments. They play with textures, while never losing the beat and clarity in their melodies. So all in all, this LA trio has enough to bring in the old timers along with the energized young crowd.

Songs to start with first:

Trying to Lose Myself Again - Powerhouse beat and cool guitar bridges.

Wasted on You - A finely balanced song of the simple and the complex natures this band plays with.

Desolate Town - I like the downer vibe here, which helps brighten up the remaining cuts.

CAVE STATES “TRUE LIFE”
This is a straight-up singer songwriter effort from St. Louis that hits a country and western button or two before settling into its easy going Americana folk style. There is quality here, but it is a bit too relaxed for me to sense any original thrust beyond the author’s personal outlook in the songs. Quiet is good, but this is the sort of record that just won’t have me coming back to it. But there is a strong fanbase for this type of music, just not here.

Songs to start with first:

No Words - Easy going, amble down the road sensation here.

Mountain - Another easy stroll, perhaps with a little elevation this time.

Kingdom Come - A touch of rock in this cut.

CRYSTALLINE ROSES “COSMIC DRIFTWOOD”
From the musically fertile grounds of Northampton, comes this fine psychedelic folk LP. Nothing freaky or too twisted here, just a lot of reliance on Indian instruments to assist the acoustic guitar led meditative drones. There are some deep and distant vocals that do not detract from the overall ambiance the instruments establish—especially on the B side. While not nearly as bold as some of the recent Robbie Basho LPs that have been rebirthed, this offers something in that direction like Ben Chasney might try if in the mood. It may be closer to In Gowan Ring and unfortunately it shares some of the cliched lyrics that remind me of those releases. Still, the music is evocative enough and stays pleasant and warm throughout, making for a fine relaxing listening experience… provided you are a psyche-folk fan of this style. But that’s me after all.

ISKA DHAAF “THE WANTING CREATURE”
This is a two man band that when they don’t delve too much into electronica (during second song) or gimmicky sound bites, comes up with some highly mystifying songs. The vocals are dreamy and the mysterious nature of most of these songs stem from their connection with sufism. There is a tranquil quality to the music that has just enough edge and attention to vocals that will keep you alert, even as you relax. This is a beautiful record that warrants several careful listens, although it will work its way into you right at the outset.

Songs to start with first:

Invisible Cities - The opener hits you with rhythm, sharp and soft mysterious vocal contrasts. Inviting to say the least.

Laura Palmer - The very name conjures up dreamy mystery and the song lives up to it.

We Are - Lovely flowing song. Allow me to drift a bit.

DIVINE WEEKS “SEE THOSE LANDING LIGHTS”
There is a strange combination of eras clashing in my head as I listen to these ten songs by a recently reformed LA band. The vocals are big and dramatic in that early 1970s fashion, yet the guitars have a slight jangle and strong indie rock vibe from more recent times. It is never firmly in one place just as there are Americana feelings, but it never settles in there too long. The melodic rock sensibility is there throughout and there is a lot to like. This band describes itself as “Classic Alternative Rock” and that is as good a three word description as you could get. It is nice to see The Adolescents’ Steve Soto playing bass here. This is a tricky record, but unique in spite of such classic forms—worth a listen.

Songs to start with first:

Rise in Love - Good chirpy guitar keeps this cut moving.

Someday (By&By) - An easy going flow and melody driven home by the rhythm section.

The Joy and the Wonder - Fine classic rock dynamics in play here.

DOOMSQUAD “TOTAL TIME”
This electronica album offers quite a mix. There are spritely pop tunes like the opening couple of numbers. The bright active sounds then stretch out into hypnotic drones on “Collective Insanity” which is more of where I want to be (listening to the drone, not joining the Insane). After that all bets are off as they change tone, pace, and density throughout the remaining songs until the finale, ‘Russian Gaze’ which seems to morph ‘Suspiria’ into the sound (always a good thing).

Songs to start with first:

Collective Insanity - Killer drone forms out of pop songs and swings the pendulum to the point of no return.

It’s the Nail that Counts Not the Rope - Thick, powerful, steady strong rock with distant vocals.

Farmer’s Almanac - A nice dreamy more relaxed oasis amidst the noise.

JAMES SUPERCAVE “BETTER STRANGE”
Debut LP here, from this west coast band—not an individual, although that would be a cool name. They have a lot of electronica, but they push it all forward in an assertive pop manner. It touches on popsike at times and has some interesting bold melodies when they nail a song. If graded on a curve for a debut album, this gets fairly high marks. There are some things to expand on, but they establish a personal approach and vary the songs enough to keep interest up.

And quick, head over the Black Cat, because they play tonight… May 1st.

Songs to start with first:

Whatever You Want - Bold electronic bursts make for an exciting opening that I will stay with.

Body Monsters - Smooth enticing pop, unlike the title.

Get Over Yourself - Fun popsike rocker.

KAREN HAGLOF “PERSEVERANCE AND GRACE”
This is a fine example of modern indie rock flair adding rootsy western music and even leaning to country on occasion. The variety is nice, but it is the calming easy going manner that manages to retain a sharp focus is what really makes this album click. The songs are mostly quite good and have a fine rhythm within.

Songs to start with first:

Cowgirl Clothes - The opener has a warm breezy style that will ease you into the album, while tapping your toe if you are like me.

Perseverance and Grace - Undulating rhythm and guitar lines serve to let the vocals float on top.

Hair Bite - Snappy rocker, always welcome in my world.

KINJAC “BROKEN MIRRORS”
This ‘band’ is a project by Michael O’Shea and it is heavily electronic based. But I had no time to be wary of this format as he immediately struck hard with sharp edged electronics, gutsy beats, powerful drumming, and chilling, edgy vocals. This is closer to Chrome than the latest danceable electronica band. Yet there is something Savage Republic about it as well with its tight dark presence. The songs sound distinct and well thought out. And for all its darkness and original approach, it is catchy and you can dance to it, unless you need the cliched throbs of modern day dance music.

Songs to start with first:

What You Find - Bold electronics, Edgy vocals, and rhythmic bursts. This works.

Champagne - The lyrics have a more traditional power and the music is there to match it.

Broken Mirrors - Like a haunted house with a clean path leading to the light.

KEVIN MORBY “SINGING SAW”
It can be a subtle choice for a folk or folk rock approach to either go languid or into highly engaging territory. It is usually down to the songwriting or arrangement creativity as to which path is followed. Kevin Morby has both of these approaches down well and when he slows it down, you are further compelled to listen to every work and each note. The moderately paced numbers are complete with sharp percussion and lots of great choruses and instrumentation going on behind the melody. I hear elements of Leonard Cohen, Jason Pierce, and a few loner folk artists from the late 60s in Morby’s music. The songs are highly effective at establishing mood and inviting keen interest from even moderately discerning listeners. And before I write myself further into a hole, just listen.

Songs to start with first:

Cut Me Down - You hear the ‘singing saw’ here amid the fine loner folk song.

I Have Been to the Mountain - Like a folkier Spiritualized.

Singing Saw - The longest song had me losing track of the time, always good on long cuts.

MY CRUEL GORO “STUFF”
Just a five song EP here, so I will make this quick. If you are like me and need a burst of melodic rock music infused with garage punk energy, then slap this baby on and take 15 minutes to go crazy, either in your head or physically. These guys infuse Green Day, Gray Matter, and the Hellacopters into a powerful burst of pleasure. I could say fury, but things are bright and almost power pop at time, were it not for the pace and guitar attack. Good ’Stuff’ indeed.

NAADIA “HOROSHO”
Horosho (Хорошо) means ‘good’ in Russian and this electronic band is all of that here on this three song EP. Although the electronic backing seems simple enough, the breaks create unique atmospheres that are surprisingly involved even though you can sense the space between the differing melodic lines. The female vocals are bright and make for a strong personal connection. This music can get over in a lot of places to quite a variety of music lovers.

PARQUET COURTS “HUMAN PERFORMANCE”

This neo-psyche west coast outfit has really collected a strong fan base in recent years. They reveal some of their magic here on this, their third LP. They have a wide arsenal of songs and styles that they integrate into a cohesive effort where their personalities shine. It is fascinating to hear the many styles from the Velvet Underground to the Mekons or the Long Ryders to the Jam. At their worst, which is not often, they go a bit too slacker for my tastes, but even then they have gutsy blasts of distortion to not let you lose attention and settle too comfortably into your couch.

See this exciting band on Thursday, May 12th at the 9:30 Club. But get there early as this is the early show of a two separate showcase evening (featuring Titus Andronicus late).

Songs to start with first:

Dust - The opener has a relaxed drive and some noisy sonic bursts to break up your relaxation.

Human Performance - The title cut exemplifies the writing skills this band has in transcending the basic popsike scene.

Berlin Got Blurry - Catchy and managing to pull in references from many eras of great music.

PET SUN “PET SUN”
This has that ‘almost British punk’ sound going for it. Back in the punk days, there were a lot of fringe bands that had the hooks, a bit of rock energy, but didn’t quite go too over the top. Pet Sun seem to embody that at times, although they push and pull at the formula to keep me guessing as each fully formed song moves by. Just as I think it might get a little too old hat for me, they throw in some surprises. It is that kind of spirit that kept me listening and keeps me coming back for more.

Songs to start with first:

Web of Man - A good structured rock song that harkens back to different eras.

Dark Planet - A moody slow song that does the change up style right.

It’s So Sweet - Good easy going garage rocker.

RJD2 “DAME FORTUNE”
Now here’s an electronica band I can quickly and enjoyably get my head around. These guys have dramatic bursts of sound coupled with mysterious passages and roaring percussion. There are lead guitar runs and vocals, too, so there is something for everyone. Yet it is far from excessive as the parts are all crisp and on mark. There are soulful songs and crazy experimental rockers that either can soothe your mood or get you grabbing on to your chair. Although even some of the smoother soulful vocal outings have some gutsy backing.

Get your calendar out and mark down Sunday, May 29th when this band plays the 9:30 Club.

Songs to start with first:

The Roaming Hoard - Powerhouse rocker featuring everything but the kitchen sink. Wonderful.

Peace of What - Guest vocalist Jordan Brown sings ‘land of duck and cover’ - that takes me back.

A New Theory - Crisp crazy electro rock, kind of like when Ministry was trying to bridge electronica with metal, but this leaning to electronica.

BRUCE SUDANO “THE BURBANK SESSIONS”
This has kind of a lounge rock’n’roll style. Not quite lounge jazz, but not quite bar-band rock style either. There is a smooth control to the rock music and the vocals and melodies are rather fetching. There are some light keyboards and some sleazy sax (as an old friend of mine would say). There are even reggae and Americana moves in different songs, but the overall character does not change much. This does not dazzle me, but it is a thoughtful little record with some highly likable playing and singing.

Songs to start with first:

One Beautiful Life - Putting the longest song first is bold, but this is strong and establishes the sound.

Why Aren’t You Here - Rocking, with a touch of Western Americana.

Never Too Late - A good reaggae-esque beat with tasty lead guitar lines.

SUUNS “HOLD/STILL”
I rather liked this band the last time they had an album out and a tour through town. Now, I really like this band. The live show featured a more realized sound that the band had full control of. Their new album has many fresh songs that jump out at you in odd angles that unsurprisingly flowed together in the live setting. But at this juncture, this Montreal band has got it all together with a just fresh enough approach to psychedelic progressive sounds in the 21st century. I hope to be around for the next LP and tour as well.

Songs to start with first:

Fall - Crazy wild powerhouse of an opening. This is more of an ecliipse into chaos.

Resistance - After the urge to resist is pounded into me, the latter twist is lovely.

Careful - I still like a long droning Euro-synth song.

MATT TARKA “SURELY LATE”
I have seen Matt and his local folkie approach a number of times over the years, but it has been a while and during that time he has assembled a band to infuse more rock into his songs. And he has a four-song EP to show off these results. I am quite happy with his direction as he still maintains his warm approach to songwriting and has a band to bring further life to the mix. There are catchy pop runs as well as more earthy introspective moments. The pace is moderate and even brisk on occasion, such as in ‘Very Little’.  This is a solid effort and a good direction for Matt Tarka to take his music.

See what it is like like, when Matt Tarka and band play the Iota on Monday, May 2nd. I will be there.

USED CASSETTES “USED CASSETTES”
I am not sure what South Korea thinks of this immigrant Angol-band from what looks and sounds like the classic American garage, but I am guessing they dig it. This style of rock works as well in the far East as it does in the West if it is done well, and Used Cassettes have all that is needed to deliver the down and dirty goods. There a few attributes that make garage rock good such as confidence and swagger. This band appears full of confidence and has just the right amount of swagger to not go too over the top. They back it up with some smart songwriting and clever guitar arrangements. They are not all masterpieces, but all have qualities that will attract different types of fans within the broad genre. I sense that this garage is closer to Michigan than California, so that is a subtle bonus. There is some method to the madness in this band’s music, but indulging in the madness is far more fun than dissecting the methods. So join me and just have it.

Songs to start with first:

At Barcelona - Odd to have the longest cut at 6:41 starting off the album, but the shifts and drones do get things off with creative flourish.

Wasted - Short psyche punk garage rocker hits all the right notes and then some more for good measure.

Whip of the Master - I love the way the rhythm chugs along and crazy solos and desperate vocals work out their space.

VESSELS “DILATE”
This is the kind of post rock music I enjoy. It has a strong nod to the Krautrock scene, Cluster in particular from what I hear on this extremely long player. The atmosphere is smooth, but intense and mysterious. The percussion is strong and there are some vocals at various points, which of course offer a rather striking counterpart to the steady melodic instrumental shifts. There is not much else to say, except to put it on and let it flow.

VETIVER “COMPLETE STRANGERS”
I have been following this band for some time, although not as much in recent years. Of course, as fans know, this ‘band’ is pretty much Andy Cabic, his songs and singing, along with some fine accompanying musicians. They were not terribly freak folk even as they were lumped with other friendly bands in the scene. Instead they had a slightly spaced out Americana sound. That is here as well, but they start with more electronics at work as they even more otherworldly in sound, yet retaining a well rooted approach. Yet there is odd steel guitar meets reggae moves, which don’t work so well. Vetiver has always been just about there to my mind, but they have never fully swung me over to their vision. I like the creative flourish here in some of the songs, so I am still listening, but still not quite there. But if you are a fan, I see no reason not to indulge.

Check out Vetiver at the Hamilton, this Wednesday, May 4th. I’ll bet there.

Songs to start with first:

Stranger Still - The opener will wake you up to the new vistas they are exploring.

Confiding - A nice little song that balances old and new sounds.

Loose Ends - Maybe more cliched Californian jangle rock here, but I like it.

VIVID LOW SKY “II”
This is a full album of instrumental rock music. It is big and bold on occasion, but too often is just decent guitar based rock music where you are just waiting for the vocals to give it some direction. This just does not have the audacious exploratory excitement of Mogwai and other bands in this field. ‘Low Flying Planes’ is closest with its mix of punctuating moments and thick sludgy guitar sound. I warmed a bit more to this as it went on, but there still is not quite enough or a reason to go back to it. Fans of instrumental rock should have a listen.

MARLON WILLIAMS “MARLON WILLIAMS”
After a strong opening, it turned out that there was a surprise around every corner of this album as this shifted from hard country rock to rock ballad to old time crooner to folk song, etc. There is even an indie rock feel in one song to remind you of the present day, which is helpful for this rest of this is a surreal dream with a powerful acoustic finish on pretty much all of Side B. This New Zealand artist has really connected with me here and I highly recommend giving this a thorough listen.

I highly advise heading to the Lincoln Theatre on May 21st.

Songs to start with first:

Hello Miss Lonesome - This song explodes with such a fast beat, that it is just not right to call this Country & Western.

I’m Lost Without You - Sounds like a dream of a 1962 ballad.

Strange - Twisted country folk song that is quite unique.

WYLDER “RAIN AND LAURA”

This local outfit (Fredericksburg, VA) has an earthy rock approach with plenty of folk moves, even as the drums push the pace a bit beyond a walking speed. There are some big vocal moments that sound more pop rock than folk rock, but they tend to straddle this line much of the way here. Ultimately this is a slick and together sound that follows in the Fleet Foxes era of pop music from the sonic heartland. The violin is particularly helpful in giving Wylder their edge and there are moments of creative spark that stand out from the pack. They should do well with this, although it is a crowded field.

Songs to start with first:

Swells - Good rootsy punch with violin fills.

Snake in the Grass - This is heartier folk rock, a bit more acoustic even.

Bitter - Song balanced their approach well and struck deep.