Wednesday, August 1, 2012



I doubt there is anyone out there who uses the band MX-80 Sound as often as a reference point for comparing other band's sounds as often as I do. There is just something important about that cult band from Bloomington, Indiana, as they merged hard art with punk attitude back when there were few bands that dared or knew how (Pere Ubu, formative Devo, Tuxedomoon, etc.). So it was great pleasure to listen to an album from the MX-80 guitarist from their latter days. Moremen has played with all kinds of interesting bands including the legendary 1/2 Japanese. The playing here is retro 50s and early 60s guitar with rock'n'roll and surf sounds on display. It is a fine homage to Link Wray as much as anyone. There is simple bass and drums to hold it up and the melodies steadily roll in with the waves. There is something classic and odd that work together. Although it is hard not to think of odd with all the unique music he's played on, the classical form is still the core of these songs. This makes for engaging background music or music you can focus on and let your thoughts follow the beat.

Songs to try out first:

"Floatation Device" - A strong and catchy feel good song is the way an instrumental rock album should begin.

"Outta Here" - This one has some muscle to it

"Magic Dust" - He coaxes some of the most quiet tremolo tones you will here along with some more raucous ones.


He comes from Flint, Michigan and has a nice genre bending and combination approach that is thoroughly modern. This four song EP's only dominating hip hop cadence seems to happen in the first song, "Cobra" which is also remixed into more of a rhythmic electronica number. I enjoyed "User Manual" the most with its steady beats and sythesizer landscape offsetting a quivering, emotional vocal line. This is more soul electronica with some nice experimental elements that relate to synth bands of many different eras. "Tiger Balm" also successfully combines various styles and rocks hardest. There are strong hook-laden melodies, great vocal work, and intriguing sounds here. This is one of a series of EPs, Tunde Olaniran plans releasing and if they all sound anywhere near this good, they should all be worth a listen. This one has me intrigued.


Joe Vallina is a singer/guitarist for the area band Wiley Sonic. He has a released a seven-song mini album with only a tiny bit of help from his band's bass player on a few songs. Otherwise, this is all Joe Vallina on all the usual rock instruments. The sound varies from rock to folk with an Americana vibe through most of it all. I like the folkier material as his voice is highly expressive without being too dominating. Yet the more frequent rock songs work just fine as he manages to bring a sense of old time rock'n'roll with more classic and rock sensibilities--basically not terribly rooted to a narrowly defined style. I have not seen Wiley Sonic in a while, but I now I have the name of Joe Vallina to keep track of, if he shows up with his acoustic guitar somewhere. Give this record a spin, it is worth a listen or two or a lot more.

Songs to try out first:

"Year of the Wicked" - This one is on acoustic guitar with a light rhythm section and is as solid a light folk rock song as you would want to hear. I'll be back to this song often.

"I'm Buying a Stratocaster" - This is the steady rock song that works the best with a nice catchy melody and a great slowed down chorus. This is some crafty songwriting.

"Common Complaint" - Another of the folkier outings where his voice and guitar lock in to a lovely melodic pattern.


Brooklyn-based Ellis Ashbrook is back with their third album of intriguing, hard driving modern psychedelic rock music. I have heard the term genre-bending, and although that may apply to many Brooklyn bands, this band is bending out some acute angles here. First and foremost, this is rock music. They have psychedelic touches, progressive rock jams, funk  rhythms, and several lighter touches of many sub-genres. This is a long player, and although there are moments when my mind wanders, I am usually back quickly enough as this band always has something up its sleeve to snap me back at attention. There is some skill in the song writing, clearly, and the arrangements are big and bold.

Songs to try out first:

"Cat Song" - Some nice funk moves with spacey synth/electronica/guitar breaks ending a rather progressive jam.

"Climax" - Over six minutes of what starts off as a loungesque rocker and ends up like some gloriously bombastic Queen song with violins. Climax, indeed!

"Decelerator" - Another long song with many shifts from quiet/loud or slow/fast. Ultimately the musical storyline is well constructed.


The angel on the cover foreshadows the heavenly experience that power pop fans will have when listening to this fine record. There is a lot to take in here as it as a great sounding album with lots of material recorded from many locations, but all coming together right here at Inner Ear Studios with Don Zientara mastering the final product. The  vocals are always the key to great pop music and they are on the mark here and surprisingly varied. There is toughness, sensitivity, and many shades of style and sonic depths to the singing. The music hearkens back to the great pop music of the sixties, but is much heavier and has elements of more modern touches that one would hear in Redd Kross, Jellyfish, or Sloan. There is orchestration from Europe, loads of guitars, harmony vocals, and all the hooks necessary for great power pop music. Although this is one of the better thought-out  records I've heard from around here, the ultimate sound is simple and direct without being a music theory exercise. This band aims big and hits their mark.

Songs to try out first:

"The Better Part" - Why not start at the beginning as the band emits a perfect sample of all the great music to come.

"Summertime" - One of the more interesting songs of contrast between driving powerpop and bubble gum.

"Marisa" - Hard to go wrong writing a love song to Marisa Tomei.


Manchester's Milk Maid is back with an eleven song LP that successfully carves out some space in the psyche pop world. They reminded me a bit of the Dandy Warhols and other bands that explore this terrain, but there is a darker Manchester under current to it all. The pop moves are there it never heads off to the morose side of life, but balances things well. At times, I felt it was losing me a bit with this aloof sense about it, but ultimately there was some sly elements of songcraft that kept me mentally turning my head. The lead single is "Summertime" which is decidedly not the famed Gershwin song, but a thick swirling psyche rock workout with enough pop hooks to call it a single. Give this band a few listens. It may only be agreeable and even a bit inconsistent the first time around, but there are many highlights to pull you back. Subsequent listens begin to show the intriguing qualities they possess.

Songs to try out first:

"Do Right" - A sharp psyche-rock attack early on the album that will open a few doors.

"Drag to Find" - Nice thick rock sound with a really bouncy beat and pop vocal lines.

"Pictures of Stone" - A spacey acoustic number that reminds me a bit of Parameter's "Galactic Rumble", but with more heart in the vocals. I would swear this was 1970 here.


Philadelphia certainly has provided many great sounds to the DC area and beyond. Amanda Penecale's latest album follows this tradition nicely, although her even mannered folk numbers could be from just about anywhere. Well, at least this could come from anywhere in America as the heartland Americana approach is evident more in the singing than the interesting sparse instrumentation. The singing is clean and clear and could be a bit monotonous, were it not for the instrumental skill and the thoughts with the arrangements. So ultimately, I give credit to Erik Hischmann of the Great North Sound Society for elevating these songs into something special. I have no doubt Amanda Penecale can do just fine with an acoustic guitar in a coffee house. But for multiple listens of a new folk record, it takes this sort skill in arrangement.

Songs to try out first:

"In the Dark" - This has a full band treatment, but the delicate sounds transport the quiet lyric to a more imaginary pastoral landscape.

"Lazy Eye" - Delicate guitar pattern, droning squeeze box,dark ambient noises cropping up... all to create the textures for this 'simple' little folk song.

"Information Flood " - I particularly liked the subtle intensity in the singing on this one. Subtle is the word as things stay fairly even, vocally.


Fully mangled Americana? Indie rock hits skid row? I am not quite sure what to make of this Portland band, but I certainly hear creative rock music here. They have an artiness in the vocals and melodic hooks, but can rough it up and sink into the ooze with the best of the grunge scene or the crazed blues rockers. I also sense a more rustic version of a band grabbing at bits of Sebadoh and Mission of Burma to see how quirkiness and sonic power will work for them. Drummer Sara Lund was in the interesting and successful Unwound, so they although this is Hungry Ghost's debut, they are veterans of the rock world which is no surprise after first listen. Anyone who likes indie rock on the more intense side of the field, then this will one should satisfy you.

Songs to try out first:

"Powerman" - featuring the slide guitar from Hell, this lays out the foundation, thick and gooey as tar and perhaps just as black.

"Graham St. Massacre" - My new favorite song--sort of a crazed garage punk pop nugget with a tribal beat. Where does this sort of song come from?

"Shame" - There is a little bit of space used in this song, yet it still has a sneaky power to it. Well, nothing sneaky about the instrumental passage in the middle.


This is a four-song EP from a (yet again) Portland, Oregon duo. As they themselves say, she likes to sing, he likes to play. Her vocals carry the songs, while the arrangements are sparse and dramatic. There is a steadiness to the music, but with enough open space for some subtle dramatic tension to creep in. "Lover" had the most accessible pop feel to it, although all four songs had solid melodies. The dreampop style mostly works here, with traces of Americana as well. I will need to hear more to see what their full capabilities are and how their personal styles fully develop, but this is a nice starting point. They have hit the ground running and are headed back to the studio to record many more songs. So give this a listen and stay tuned.


This local outfit manages to carve out some personal space somewhere between indie rock, electronica, and post-punk. I guess you can more simply call this post-rock as ITunes labels it. They have abrasive metal on metal type moments, along with warmer deep bass rumblings and lush guitar passages. The vocals are direct and to the point for the most part. I was liking this well enough, but the nice psychedlic surprise that "Three Interlocking Screens" was, really made me respect this band all the more. Still, I would like to see more of this. Some of the songs started to drag me down a bit toward the end which may show the need for more imaginative songwriting or the fact that I don't really see the brilliance of a similar band like Tortoise for example. Whatever the case, there are some positive intriguing moments on this album and the band has enough skill to warrant a few additional listens to allow for further absorption. And better still, why not judge the live performance at the record release show at the Black Cat on Friday, August 17th.

Songs to try out first:

"Wound Up" - This is a really catchy song for anyone into indie, but wants a little more than the jangle.

"Let Go of Our Ego" - These are the guitars I want to hear exploding around cute pop melodies when a band writes this type of song.

"Three Interlocking Screens" - More power with a bit of that old garage pop sense built in.


This is another band featuring Nathan Robinson of the Archivists. Simply put, this band and album features the rootsier side of his songwriting and playing. I was initially thinking I prefer the Archivists, but after a full listen, I am not so sure. If I do, it is likely due to that I feel the more Americana based bands are working in an over-saturated genre. When I get beyond worrying about that and focus on the eleven songs here, there are many reasons to recommend this album. An emotionally moving song can work in any style and enough of these songs capture the interest of the toe-tapping music fan in me, as well as the guy who wants to hear the story or the poetry. I still wish there was a bit more variation in the arrangements, but what is here works extremely well. This band is well worth your time and if you want to test the live show, there are some east coast dates upcoming including one here at the DC9.

Songs to try out first:

"Diaspora" - Fast paced folk with something to say will always win me over.

 "Drunk Dreams" - The catchiest melody with some female backing vocals deep in the mix create the catchiest song here.

"Sensation" - I must be a sucker for these distant background vocals (male this time), but I found the song quite moving even if it were played with one guitar and one voice.

I really dig the fiery female vocals that sit atop this brisk rock music.They take me back early Babe Ruth or Curved Air, bands that could rock out with a vocalist that managed to stay on top. But the songs here pull back at times, only to eventually push forward again. There is a San Francisco element as well, as she moves in between Janis Joplin and Penelope Houston styles with ease (frequently staying closer to Joplin). The band has a great feel for creating atmospheric music with either jangle or power. It has a murky feel which works in a good way without that cloying 'I am trying to be sooo lo-fi' feeling that I sometimes detect. There may even be too much variety here for some listeners, as "I'll Fly Away" and of course "Me and Bobby McGee" are as Americana-country as anything you'll hear south of here. But it all works for me as everything is spirited and fun. Still, the album does lose a little steam as it continues on. But with the torrid pace it began with, this band clearly shows that they are doing things right. And more gigging and songwriting should continue to yield fine results. They are having a release party on August 10th at Eatbar in Arlington, so judge for yourself.

Songs to try out first:

"To Be Blind" - Ferocious rocker right of the gate. This is the way to start an album.

"Backslider Blues" - Killer guitar atmosphere backing the usual great vocals. This even reminds me of my beloved Ragged Bags.

"Tail of the Treed" - Even some Patti Smith scat screeching atop a garage rock worthy of the Patti Smith Band.

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