THE REPTILE PALACE ORCHESTRA "Songs and Dances of Madisonia"
The Omnium label has long specialized in modern ancient world music. They have released records for this 18-year old band for much of their run, as they are a perfect fit for Omnium's 'mission'. Madisonia is apparently a mythical neighborhood in their hometown of Madison, Wisconsin that has traditional, gypsy, Macedonian, Bulgarian music filling the streets (or at least the clubs). If you like klezmer, lounge jazz, gypsy dance tunes, Arabic torch songs, or are just feeling a bit creative, you should give this record a spin. There is a fine mix of instrumentals and vocal numbers, with jazz and rock intermingled with various traditional sounds. There is a sense of fun with it all (check out Skeleton Dance) and half of the enjoyment for the band was probably arranging modern sounds from synthesizers with ouds, reeds, and strings. There is nice focus on the core themes that stay steady throughout this record, making it an easy one to put on for the full distance. You may be distracted elsewhere, but take notice of your foot tapping as this music will easily penetrate into your sense of rhythm, no matter where your brain is.
Songs to try out first:
Sev Kardesim - Emotional vocal atop a woven series of sounds with a clarinet and violin dancing around it all.
Marakebna Al Mina - Uptempo number with electric guitar and snappy near-Asian style vocals. Head bobbing and toe tapping.
Rude Oud - This is one of the more rock oriented numbers, but with a middle eastern beat and melodic pattern.
BOILED IN LEAD "The Well Below"
It was a nice surprise to get new music from one of my all-time favorite bands back in 2008 with their album, "Silver". And it is great to see they still have more songs in them. There are only four of them here, but the quantity matters little, when they still have the quality and invention that they are famous for. It's 3/4 of the classic line-up with a newer drummer and another guitarist that has been with them in recent years. But let's proceed to each song:
Wedding Dress - This is a classic folk number that I have heard from at least three different artists, and probably more. I love this version with Todd Menton's fine vocals atop good guitar work and a surprisingly distinct violin part that varies between bowing and percussive plucking. The bass and drums also create undulating currents that bring nice life to this lovely classic.
The Well Below the Valley - Todd Menton brings his Irish stylings in the vocal work on this traditional number. The band creates great droning sounds with subtle drumming punctuation. It sounds like a hurdy gurdy played through a didgeridoo, if that were possible. Another strong number in this extensive BiL catalog.
Western Borders - This is a cover of a John Van Orman song and shows the more heartland stylings of this Minnesota band.
Transylvanian Stomp - But what would a Boiled in Lead record, even a short EP, be without a nice gypsy worldbeat song. This one has the exotic flair we all come to expect from this band and leaves off with a twisted, worldly rocker.
It is always a pleasure to have new/old Boiled in Lead music. If for some reason you have not heard them, yet, these four songs effectively show off their range. But head to their back catalogue quickly.
DADDY LION "Habitat"
This band used to be a staple on the DC scene when I started blogging. They had a solid indie rock style and were an engaging band. Later on, this became a solo project for their singer/songwriter guitarist, Jeremy. You have not seen this name in a while, as he is down south going for a doctorate in philosophy, if I remember correctly. He promised to stay active in music, and this nine-song album is proof of that. I am assuming he is playing everything here and has recorded it all himself on garageband. At first listen, it sounds somewhere between homemade and studio processed, as the sound is spot on. It helps that the instruments are varied and engage in a lot of band-like interplay. It is especially nice to have real drum rolls and patterns beyond boring drum machines. Some of the material sounds a little basic, but more than half of it could easily balance out albums of highly successful indie rock bands. And there is just enough bite in the delivery, along with an engaging personality that makes this not only an easy listen, but a fun one, too. I am happy to see he is keeping the musical part of his brain open, while working with it in more formal ways as well. Hopefully we'll see a DC show some time again.
Songs to try out first:
Disconnected - A solid indie rocker that has good emotional impact. Really cool background sounds with chipper guitar moves.
The Driver - This has an English rock feeling, with a great drumbeat including fancy little fills.
Survivor's Guilt - He mentioned to me that he tried to invoke the spirit of my old pals--Husker Du in some of his songs. This one could be a Grant Hart song.
This short burst of an EP gives a quick glimpse into Gatherer's brand of post-hardcore riffage. Seven minutes and fourteen seconds after clicking on song one, the four songs have blown by and you know you are hearing a locked-in hardcore band. Actually you know it when you instantly hear "It's 5AM, Wake up and smell the disappointment!" during the opening cut, "Wedding Bells". This song has some nice jagged guitar moves and keyboards working their way in for a nice concluding passage. I would say this band is more creative than many hardcore outfits working these days, but they still have the potential of kicking it up a notch or two. I would like to see the vocals become a bit more than the one-note earnest screaming that is exhibited here. As most actors know, more intensity can often be created by pulling back and saying things more quietly. This is not a problem over four songs, but I think these five guys have the capability to further their sound. But for now, the four songs are a fun blast of thoughtful noise that would easily translate well on the live stage. Hopefully that will happen around here, some day. For the record, I thought "Brittle Bones" was the most effective song, but it certainly won't take you long to try them all and find your favorite.
YOU'RE JOVIAN "You're Jovian"
I enjoyed this trio's live set earlier this year, but felt the sound was lacking in the vocal department. Thanks to careful recording, this is not a problem at all here as the breathy vocal harmonies are clear and effective throughout these ten songs. They offset the edgy guitar notes well, and the rhythm section holds everything together. The songs are interesting and the sound is familiar enough for Swirlies and Sonic Youth fans, but this band has their own twists and turns. The album goes too much into an industrial drone and electronica toward the end as if songwriting was becoming tiresome, but I appreciate the effort to do different things. That is a good sign for things to come. For now, this is a nice listen and worthy live act as well.
Songs to try out first:
Sedimental Doubt - Nice catchy little modern rock beginning slowly hints more into the sounds to come later in the album. A good way to start an album.
And Now - I love the 60's lite-psyche vocal harmonies and the rock solid indie rock beat.
Harmonic Minor - This is a nice blend of Sonic Youth and Hush Arbors with jagged post punk crust surrounding a smooth filling.
LABASHEEDA "Castfat Shadows"
Ah, this takes me back to the early days of post-punk when we did not know what post-punk was. This band combines simple punk rhythms (with energetic drumming), edgy guitar with droning stylings, and chilling female vocals that have just a touch of snarl. There is a mixture of songs where there is some cool distance along with a few that are cozier with more pop hooks and even some violin. The vocals move from distant to immediate and are delivered in a Kim Gordon style, if she were channeling Ari Up. Although the songs vary a bit here and there, the band identity is strong and consistent. This sound is not for everybody, but for someone like me who really enjoyed the bands that tried to go in different directions yet retain their position in the 1979 punk scene, Labasheeda offers a lot to enjoy. I am quite happy to discover bands breathing life into this kind of music.
Songs to try out first:
Castfat Shadows - One guitar noodles along in the high register with another striking jagged chords. The vocals are twisted and everything meets in an psychotic middle. Intensity established.
Double Exposure - The poppiest song with nice vocal turns and some fabulous violin.
On Tippy Toes - The most punk song of the album. Great raucous music with a nervous Siouxsie Sioux vocal part (yes, you have pretend that Ms. Sioux was ever nervous).
PRESTO BANDO "EP"
There is always something interesting going on in a Presto Bando record or performance. Always. Their oddball moves do not always put them at the top of my listening list, as I feel I have to be mentally ready for them. But when I am, they are consistently one of the more interesting listens available. This 5-song effort features more immediately accessible material than I may have guessed. Still, there is the intense vocal work on top of arty guitar moves, mobil bass, and crisp drum work. The elements all work together in driving way that rocks out while maintaining a high level of arty creativity. And even though they are tough to pigeonhole, the first song conjures up clear visions of Pere Ubu in their 'Dub Housing' era. This is evident throughout the EP, although they twist the songs around in different directions. Although there are some bands that these guys (barely) sound like, there are not any around this big city. They play out regularly enough, so I invite you to experience this unique brand of music soon (that's polite-speak, for get your ass to a Presto Bando show, NOW).
WESTERN AFFAIRS "EP"
I just saw this young upcoming band put on a solid performance at the Black Cat this week. They were celebrating the release of their first six song ep. And the music is worth celebrating as they can be proud of their accomplishment. It is a solid foundation on which to build their sound. They are likely not fully where they want to be, but this has enough good dreamy pop music get local fans interested. As I mentioned previously in the live review, there are a lot of interesting bands from the Animal Collective/Caribou style working these days (not that I know many of them) and it is important to make a distinction. That may be the one area to work on for these guys. They can craft a really lovely song like "Laura" or do some interesting sonic things on "2000", but I hope they continue to take some chances with their music. I detected more edgy spontaneity at the live show than on this release, but that is often the case. With their strong vocals and a good sonic palette, I believe they can take this decent starting point and continue to work up some memorable songs. Stay tuned...
MARISSA NADLER "The Sister"
From the very beginning, Marissa Nadler was an important artist. At least to those of us looking for sincere practitioners of personal psychedelic folk music. There is only the aroma of psychedelia, as this is a folk sound that is capable of transcending into the more magical psychedelic planes. Simply put, she creates powerful heart tugging music that balances both aloof and personal, chill and warmth, along with delicacy and strength. It is not a tightrope walk, but more of a composed routine on a balance beam--Full on art in the control of a master craftsman. Nadler has presented eight songs in just over 33 minutes, which is plenty to dig in and digest. As with her live sets, the focus is on her magical voice and delicate acoustic guitar. The musical additions here are perfect choices with backing female and male voices, percussion, keyboard and synthesized touches, and a bit of strings. Ultimately her voice still is the fulcrum to it all. She reminds me of the vocalists from the Dutch band, Chimera or the Welsh band, Pererin. They have more full band sounds, but also work the same territory somewhere off in the stratosphere. The only criticism is that this album is simply too good in the beginning. The songs taper off a bit on 'Side 2'. And if that's the only thing I can come up with, you can believe this one will get steady play in this household.
Songs to try out first:
The Wrecking Ball Company - Slowly picked guitar lays foundation for her most moving vocal work.
Love Again, There is a Fire - This is the most haunting song on this album, and many more, due to the great vocals, both lead and backing. The piano is a great choice.
Christine - Nice guitar work and a superb melody.