Monday, September 2, 2013

RECORD REVIEWS - August 2013


This local metal band delivers seven mostly instrumental metal burners which should be of great interest to alt metal fans. They do sneak in vocals, especially in the brilliant "Malachai's Lament" which mixes on psychedelic moves with heavy hooks and ethereal vocal work. There are progressive moves that almost move into fusion territory, yet the heavy rocking base is always there to anchor these songs into a cohesive album. I am a sucker for acoustic moves on heavy albums and not only does "las arenas lobo" meet that need, it almost sounds like an unfinished them from "Forever Changes". Although the vocals work so well and would be welcome to be used even more, the instrumental creativity is high enough to last for a whole album or live set. Although they mostly keep the approach rather straight forward, if (like me) you are a fan of local acts like Caustic Casanova, Murder Troy, and Borracho, then Admiral Browning will be right in your wheelhouse and offers a lot of potential live and for future records.


I first saw Aisha Burns play in the interesting Austin collective Balmorhea. They had a lot of dense instrumentation and Ms. Burns' violin and electric guitar were an integral part of their unique sound. As is usually the case, a solo effort from such a dynamic group features more stripped down music. That is preferable here as it allows more time with her fascinating vocal range that can soar high in the treble clef or quickly drop into a husky alto reminding me a bit of Phoebe Snow or Joan Armatrading. The guitars, violins, and other light instrumentation are delicate and airy creating a mystical back drop that although has elements of her home base of Austin, can extend to the more mystical Brit-folk vistas created by the likes of Bridget St. John or Joan Mills. Yet there are some string arrangements and droning tones in "Requiem" which alter the formula while staying true to the style and theme. This is a full nine-song album and although I usually recommend individual songs, her style is most effective and mesmerizing if the album is played in full. This one has already made it through the relisten stage and is destined for many more in this household. I highly recommend you get the music of Aisha Burns into your life as well.

Powerful rock with real garage punk attitude is never unwelcome in this house, especially with female vocals that soar Pauline Murray (Penetration) like while pulling back to a low snarl as well. The guitar noise is particularly special in surrounding the voice with furious waves of semi-melodic noise. If you ever wanted to imagine what your favorite shoe gaze band sounded like if they played hardcore than this is your record. If you want to cross Joy Formidable with Ice Age you get something in the ballpark. There are only three songs here, so they will have to prove a bit more to be fully included in a grouping with those two previous bands, but this is a nice start.

Is this power pop? I suppose so as it emits a certain Husker Du/Nils/Lemonheads feeling much of the time. But like those bands, Club Scout understands punk and post-punk moves and is not afraid to stray from their catchy melodies to something interesting and daring. The music is just busy enough to offer a lot more to listeners that want more than 1-2-3-4, yet these songs are still as catchy as anything you may have heard on AM radio decades back. This band has clearly worked hard on their song craft and have not rushed into recording the first thoughts in their brain. There is evidence on nearly every song of some creative spark that you would not expect in the first draft. This flows with no loss of energy and has just enough shifts of style in a few places to prevent any monotony, if for some reason you spend hour upon hour listening to bands in this broad genre. This is an excellent band that should be due for a break out here in DC and beyond. Don't wait until the train is full.

Their CD release party is at the Velvet Lounge on Saturday, September 28th. For $10, you get three bands and Club Scout will also include a CD for you. Why would you go to another club?

Songs to try out first:

Jersey Wall - I will start with the closer. It will be tempting to play this gem first, but let the band's magic work before this epic track finishes the album.

Watch the Kids Cross the Crosswalk - They offer a fascinating alt-rock change-up here that works extremely well.

Saw You with Devon - Striking guitar chords surround edgy vocals in this stirring little rocker.

This sounds like it would be a pleasure to hear this band live. The record is another matter. They play an agreeable indie rock with spacey vocals and guitars with a mixture of fuzz and jangle. They approach shoe gaze, quirky folk, but unfortunately seem to float away from anything substantial to grab on to. I often find this style of music frustrating, although it can be quite popular. It is akin to wanting to get wild at night and laugh and raise a ruckus while your friends just want sit stoned out of their mind. They may be able to cut loose live, but they played it too safe and straight forward here.

But see for yourself as they hit the Black Cat on Tuesday, September 3rd.

Songs to try out first:

Nature's Cup - The electric guitar breaks out nicely from their comfortable rhythm and melody.

Here and There - Real outsider folk rock with this strange little song.

World Without Love - Vocals in harmony and rounds with a goofy smile instrumental side of the melody.

I have enjoyed this band's live set at the Black Cat previously and was looking forward to their third album. Their name instantly throws down the gauntlet as to declaring to use their sense of humor in their songs. They eschew jokes and keep a playful tone throughout their tunes in an Akron/Family atmosphere. They range from early 1960s space rock/pop to heavier psychedelic nuggets. They never lose their masterful hooks no matter how heavy vs. spacey or light vs. dark they choose. There is a circus feeling of some ancient time where the the world is mysterious and larger than life for the child within. It could be scary, but there are smiles and good vibes all around, so you keep moving among the light an bustle. I am completely enchanted by album's end. This is brilliant work and so much more superior to what passes as the new psychedelia these days. This album is not due out until late October, but I could not wait to give this a listen and write a review. So be patient, and in less than two months, go nuts and give this one a listen and hope they head back to a DC club soon.

And it appears that the Black Cat may open their doors again for band and fans alike on November 21st.

Songs to try out first:

Find a Love - A Twilight Zone calliope sound morphs into a playful pop psyche nugget with extreme head swaying.

Want Some - If Joe Meek had not have killed his landlady and then himself, he might be around to produce a song like this.

Looking for More - Italian Western music through a thick have of opium mist.

This band could be the Joy Formidable (and I honestly did not know they were from Cardiff when I first listened and mad this connection), had they spent a little more time in the garage and worked on a slightly less shoe gaze, but just as heavy approach. There is that same dichotomy of cute pop mixed with ferociously noisy guitars, bass, and drums. It is a very inviting style and Joanna Gruesome manages it well. There is a post-hardcore feeling at times and glimpses of psychedelia dotted about. Basically, this band has a firm grasp on a few different styles and adjusts their playing to the mood of the song. The compare and contrast nature of styles in these songs is fascinating and should hold interest for many re-listens.

Songs to try out first:

Sugarcrush - This well named song is sweet with a monster kick.

Lemonade Grrrl - I don't know which I like better, the dual vocals or the rapid fire drums (ok, I do, it's the drums)

Graveyard - This starts of as a creative rock song and all of a sudden a hardcore powerhouse emerges. Great sounds and contrasts.

After a couple of cuts, I felt we were in for a nice solid pop record where the nasal-cute vocals may turn off some, but be welcomed by others (I like them). It was the third cut, "Sun Medallion", where my jaw dropped. This was a wild foray into psychedelic pop that had was full or surprise and wonder. It reminded me of Jacco Gardner and I only wished they would have done more of this. Even without this song, this is a decent enough pop work with a bouncy step and a quick beat. They do generate a certain flair in their songs and I think it will take additional listens to fully figure out the intricacies of this simple music that is far from simple. They claim this is pure Vermont Rock and Roll record, and like staking your flag on a tiny island, they have claimed their territory, accurately from my experience. Like many of the great garage bands of the past, this album may be listened to in order to find the singles or favorite songs and add them to your playlist (apologies for the time loop).

Come out to the Black Cat for a killer show with King Tuff, Wavves, and the Jacuzzi Boys. It's Saturday, October 5th.

Songs to try out first:

Sun Medallion - The opening sounds before the vocal melody starts are amazing, and then the song stays at a high level. And I see they agree with me on this being 'the song' as they have a video of it on Rolling Stone.

Ruthie Ruthie - A noisy little rocker that is still catchy pop as well.

Kind of Guy - No surprises here, just a solid powerful psyche rocker.

This highly British-styled dream pop band has some real strength within their songs. The vocals steadily deliver floating passages somewhere between Syd Barrett and Ride. Yet the music, mices west coast jangle and modest post punk guitar above crisp percussion, much of which by Lorelei's Davis White. There are lovely electronic synth touches weaving their way into the sound that help build up a thick sonic environment that is still light enough to float away with. Actually, the best comparison I can make is to an obscure band called Folklords who had this similar sound but kept it a little lighter in the psychedelic folk style. So in all, this has some interesting melodies and sounds combined in a way to connect with the listener on some level and may just take you to some surprising places.

Come see them at the Galaxy Hut in Clarendon for a cozy show on Sunday, September 29th

Songs to try out first:

Stanley Milgram Experiment - The opener establishes the lush pop atmosphere with nice propulsion of the connective instrumentation.

8239 - This really connects on that light British rock level.

Where the Crow Flies - This has the most contrast between dream pop an jangly rock of anything I've heard.

As most of my readers know, I really worry about two-instrument bands like the guitar/drums combos that have bread like rabbits since the White Stripes. But fear not, when you get it right, I will be first in line to applaud. Scout Niblett has it down with her intense vocals that maintain a certain mystery and delicacy atop her intense and bluesy electric guitar. There are drums working there way in much of the time and some stings as well. This could be folky singer-songwriter indie rock type material if the desire was there to play it safe with comfortable sounds. This is far more sparse and even with all the sharp edges evident, there is plenty of space to relax and float into this musical environment that Scout Niblett manages to concoct.

Come see Scout Niblett at the Comet Ping Pong on September 10th. I'll be there.

Songs to try out first:

Gun - Right out of the gate, she aims her musical gun at you at let's you think a long time before the trigger is squeezed.

Can't Fool Me Now - Dreamy indie rock? That doesn't begin to describe this fascinating hybrid song.

Could this Possibly Be - If this query is on whether this is the most ferociously intense song, then it is yes.

This is the fourth album from this prolific English rock band and the first one I have listened to all the way through. This is a very solid production with intricate playing and studio work. The vocals are emotive in sort of a Bono way and the band sounds like they could be from anywhere. That can be a strength or a weakness depending on your perspective. I don't mind it here, although at times I would like to see this band do some more daring material. The material is far more intimate than U2 or any of the 'big' bands as Noah and the Whale still maintain a fairly independent approach to mainstream rock music. It is a bit clean for me at times, but I would expect this to reach a broader base of music lovers more than many of my personal favorites would. This should (and no doubt will) find the largest audience of anything I have reviewed this month.

They will no doubt sell a lot of tickets for their 9:30 Club show on Wednesday, October 16th.

Songs to try out first:

Heart of Nowhere - The title cut is a smart rock song that drips with fine production.

All Through the Night - A prolific rock song that has a grandeur to it, with the slightest trace of grit.

One More Night - Story telling lyrics are more involving than most with a melody to match.

Calling this folk rock would understate the delicate folk nature of the singing and guitar work. But there are bass and drums that keep an easy going rock beat throughout these ten songs. The folk moves are strong and this does not head off to a Californian singer songwriter style. There are some modern touches with the electronics, but this is infrequent. Vocals and guitar star in their own quiet manner. I am not sure if they really are from Beaver Island Michigan which is a tiny island west of Sheboygan and southeast of Marquette, but that quiet out of the way isolation is evident in these songs. This could make Bon Iver's cabin songs look like urban dance music. No matter the background, the music here is steady and will pull you into its world until it gently relaxes its hold with the soft piano strikes in "Gravity's Rainbow". Although there are subtle adjustments in instrumentation, I still would have liked just a bit more variety and contrast personally. Although there is enough quality to sustain a full absorbed trip with this record, I would hope the next one would do some different things. But that is getting way ahead of myself.

They are scheduled for DC at the Velvet Lounge on the 13th of October.

Songs to try out first:

The Landlord - There is simply a classic folk feeling with only the slightest rock feeling.

Greatest Living Author - The longest cut also has an intriguing journey with odd, yet simple percussion moves breaking it up.

First Flight - The nicest melody with some bouncy piano and crisp drumming.

I rarely hear good attempts to marry folk and electronics into this genre known as folktronica. I was worried that this album may head too much in that direction. Thankfully, Jonathan Rado of the fine band Foxygen and Cara Robbins quickly dispel this notion as each song takes on wildly new directions exploring a minimum of three dimensions. This is truly psychedelic music, not only with fuzzy guitars, echoey voices, and trippy songs, but also with the sheer variety of styles and wild shifts song by song. "Dance Away Your Ego" is a whacked out early sixties electronic piece placed in between two scorching fuzzy rockers. Then it is on to the outsider folk of "Faces" before it descends down the electric vortex. Maybe this will be too much for some, but I can not get enough of it. Good grief, there is even some reggae here, actually a bit on the dub side. This one is set for multiple plays in this household and if there is an ounce of daring in your DNA, then you should do the same.

Songs to try out first:

Hand in Mine - Glorious song with male/female call and response vocals in Joe Meek like song if he was still in the producer's chair.

Looking 4a Girl Like U - Tripped out vocals, psychedelic guitar and a slow and steady pace explore the space between Eraserhead's Girl in the Radiator and the space beyond.

Would You Always Be at Home - Amidst the weirdness, here's a hit single--I"m just not sure if it's a hit in 1967 or 2013.

There is some fine post-hardcore snarl here, both in the guitars and vocals. This LP follows reasonably melodic principles but has everything going 90 mph along cliff's edge. The rhythm section bubbles up with an oily goo that is both quick and thick. The vocals remind me a bit of the Proletariat, good, but are sometimes grating with their invariant upper register snarl. Still the sheer determination combined with some inventive musical twists propel this music forward and make for some engaging listening. I really enjoy how punk and hardcore have evolved in some bands' hands, and would like to see DC clubs give touring bands like this a night in town instead of the frequent Richmond to Baltimore route that seems to be connected by the hardcore highway. Hopefully this Brooklyn trio will make it down to a club near me.

Songs to try out first:

Knifeback City - This is some truly gnarly post punk guitar work.

Plastic Vampire Teeth - Kind of a classic punk rock vibe working here with catchy chorus.

Have Some - The opening guitar line won me over immediately.

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