Monday, October 1, 2012

RECORD REVIEWS - September 2012

Brittany Jean has been a welcome presence on DC stages in recent years and with her second EP, she again she proves she has what it takes in the studio. As often the case, there are multiple components at work. Her singing and songwriting is top notch and is capable of holding its own when she performs solo. Her Americana folk starting point quickly transitions into full blown rocker when the band kicks in. And that is the key component here--her band is top notch and can pull back and push forward with comfort and proficiency. The five songs here clock in over 26 minutes so there is plenty of room for the music to move around into different textural realms. It is always moving and with the vocal work, always easy and a real pleasure to listen to. This music can hold up with the best singer songwriter material that exists in the indie rock/folk rock world. Hopefully enough of you will give this a listen, hit the clubs when she is playing and tell ten friends what you have heard.

New Jersey hardcore makes its way to my ears with this new six-song EP. After a spacey introductory song "Give In", they blast away in their comfort zone of melodic, fast paced, earnest and intense hardcore. Although we have heard this all before, and I am a very tough sell for this style as I have been hearing it since it was invented, I have to say these guys have added just enough crafty moves in creating hooks and fancy fills that I easily lose my skepticism. The rhythm section pops with the drummer rolling through some tricky little ear catching moves. The guitars blast away but instantly pull back into quieter moments or biting little fills. Vocals are solid as you expect for this genre, when done well. They are road veterans and have some popularity overseas. Hopefully they will make it to DC, although with the way hardcore is booked around here, maybe a trip to Baltimore will be needed.

I was worried when this band wrote me reminding me of a previous show of theirs at the old Red and the Black that I had reviewed. Fortunately, when I looked it up, I found that they were the band I enjoyed and not a rather awful Boston band who cleared the room and is likely long gone by now. Thankfully, the Dig is still around fashioning crisp modern pop music that will easily hook you in or knock you back (as in "Police Car"). Overall, this is attractive 21st century music that is played straightforward with only a wee bit of elecronotrickery here.The spirit is strong and the music stays with you. And I hope you check it out for yourself in just a few days...

The Dig plays the Red Palace on Wednesday, October 3rd. 3 bands, ten bucks--go for it!

Songs to try out first:

Black Water - Vocal line reminds me of a sixties pop song while guitar offers nice contrast before the lush chorus.

I Already Forgot Everything You Said - Quite simply, an addictive little pop melody with a touch of noisy guitar.

Help Yourself - Cool twisted electric solo and some great early Dylan/Arlo Guthrie style story telling.

Police Car - Great ringing guitars with some added rhythm section power. The vocals are up to it.


Ahhh... this takes me back to the fun days of early punk rock before things got too sub-genred. In those early days, the heavy bands shared stages with dancey or abrasive electronic bands--Suicide would play with the Ramones and Blondie, etc. Nervous Curtains could fit in perfectly in those days, but also are well established for these days where electronica is popular, but people still want the heart and guts of rock music. There is some variety to the sounds which is always a good formula. I particularly like the piano in "It's the End of Eternity" and latter songs which reminds me of some of the latter Trent Reznor material I heard a few years back. The album has an interesting flow to it where it hits the ground running full speed and drifts off more in latter songs allowing a contemplative finish. I like the theatrical style pacing in a record album and these guys have done that with good songs that are tracked in a meaningful manner. Next, let's see what they can do live.

Nervous Curtains play at Sova on Friday, October 5th with the always excellent Screen Vinyl Image. I'll be there and it is a FREE show, so get there early.

Songs to try out first:

Moody Photos - Immediately, the rhythm section and keyboards set up a dark and intriguing backdrop for the singer to show some passion and intensity.

Come Around Viral - Great vocal shifts from intense verses to an eerie chorus all atop killer beats and synthesized atmosphere.

Something Sinister - Although this title sums up much of this record, this invokes that sort of feeling... dare I say sweet?


If Ride were to reform and jam with Wooden Shjips. And then maybe they could write some songs with their kids, since this one sounds like a modern psyche record as opposed to something overly old school. There are elements of both as you would find with Crystal Antlers or maybe Oneida. "Nocturnal" even heads off into Jesus and Marychain territory with the breathy vocals and churning rhythm featuring clanging guitars. There is not any false notes on this record. Although they don't vary things too terribly far, there are distinct feelings within many of these songs and a smooth delivery throughout. No doubt this would be an excellent live show, hopefully with the appropriate spacey lighting or projections.

Songs to try out first:

I'm Way Ahead of You - Chilling guitar riff with buzzsaw second guitar over tribal thump and spooky vocals. What is not to like?

Strange Girls (Don't Cry) - This one moves.

Into the City - Too many cool things going on here with musical reference to about every decade since the sixties. Throbbingly rocked out.

IAN ANDERSON "TAAB2 - Thick as a Brick 2"
Get ready, it is a music critic writing about Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull.... Nothing has been more tiresome for me than reading the dozens of cliched critical barbs against various progressive bands especially those directed at Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson (including one just a few months back in Uncut). And now we have the sequel to the most progressive Tull album, "Thick as a Brick". Well, I will be happy to parry away the critical bricks hurled at Tull fans as I have always liked Ian Anderson's songs and Tull's music. "Thick as a Brick" was a good, but busy record musically with side long tracks telling the story of Gerald Bostock. Now it is 40 years later and Ian Anderson has some catching up to do. The story telling is fine, if not a bit predictable, but it flows well. Musically, it is fun with reference points to the original album and even some other Tull songs. None of the older or recent Tull players, so as in the live tours, Ian Anderson performs under his own name but with a very Tull-like band. These players know the Tull material and bring the same progressive spirit and skill of that of the original. The music zips around with glee and pulls back to quieter songs when desired. Skillful and a good listen, and sequels are more interesting when there are many years in between.

This is music of the flute. It is African influence jazz rock for the most part drifting between traditional songs and chants and a lighter jazz rock. This South African performer helped close out the World Cup and has toured four or five continents, although he is certainly not a household name on this one.That could change if he were to get the right shows here as the combination of worldliness and tuneful melodies could work its magic on the right crowd. And as a hack flute player myself, I always appreciate a well-played flute in nearly any genre.

Songs to try out fist:

African Hornpipes - This gets the African theme off to a great start.

Mama Tembu - This South African is done with a reggae arrangement and a fine lead vocal. Interesting crossover.

Fire Drill - Crisp jazz number featuring a rap and vocal noise while playing flute (made famous by Ian Anderson) Believe me, it's harder than it sounds.

30,000 MONKEES "Womb Eater, Wife Beater"
I have been getting quite the complement of Belgian folk and rock bands in the last several months. My viewpoint is still rather limited after only spending one day in Antwerp, but there appears to be a lot going on in this small but active country. 30,000 Monkees offers a twisted art metal post punk attack on the senses. This is more of a metallic approach to the music of Birthday Party as opposed to the crazed garage attitude. There is precision and creativity as the music grinds forward and there is a bit of the garage bluesiness in a couple of the songs ala Birthday Party or even Mudhoney. But then it is off to some combination of the Melvins and Swedish prog metal. Some of this is perhaps a bit too much in the dirge direction, but as they continue to write songs based on the highlights here, they can come up with something special. When I try to find new aggressive loud music, this is the sort of sound I hope to discover--something that rises above the cliches but keeps melodic power in there somwhere. This EP meets the test. I am definitely checking out the club scene the next time I am in Belgium.

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