Tuesday, March 4, 2014

RECORD REVIEWS - February 2014

With a band name that will get them at the top of the Yellow Pages listings (those of you under 40 can skip this puzzling reference) comes a very quirky indie band from Portland, Oregon. I sometimes wonder if there any other kind from Portland? At times it was almost too quirky, and then there were moments where it was not quirky enough. But thankfully much of the time, they come up with interesting songs and some even more interesting arrangements. Time well spent.

Songs to try first:

Spiritual Provisions - A catchy song is twisted, pulled, and pushed in several directions, but keeps its shape nicely.

Loveless Dreams - but, a lovely smooth instrumental melody stretched into a song.

Daylight - Lovely song with delicate vocals and careful instrumentation to offset them perfectly until the rising crescendo.

Here's a lovely modern psychedelic folk EP that does not try to be modern and overly precocious, but instead just works as a solid entry of a field started in or around 1964 and is still vibrant today. These five songs have a fine strolling rhythm with jarring moments and room for all kinds of electric guitar solos (reminding me of Caedmon) as well as welcome flute passages. The vocals have plenty of harmonies jumping in and out. They have a Black Mountain meets Akron Family style for a mostly acoustic session, or maybe Mighty Baby if you go back far enough (and you should for Mighty Baby). But if I go back aways the flute and electric guitar head in the direction of British progsters, Gravy Train.

For a straight ahead, pull no punches electronica trio, these guys do a lot of things right by me. Although they have modern technology at work, they also bring back some of the analog sounds and more importantly style of the great krautrock scene way back in the day. And they even have a name that sounds like it should be on the Pilz label. This is essentially a double album (at least) with 28 songs. And although this is an instrumental band, they do have various guest vocalist offering everything from narration, singing, and chanting. It is a nice mix and helps everything flow all the better. This is a band for those that want to cut loose and dance with plenty to offer us old guys in the back of the room who would rather lean back and be transported into various dimensions.

Bart Davenport's style may take some getting used to. If you are as old as I, it is easy to remember the lounge singers that my parents listened to and relate that to an early musical foundation more than early rock'n'roll records. Somehow Bart Davenport is trying to follow in this vein, which is a bit of a challenge. There is such a strangeness here, clothed that it is in familiar sounds. It is clearly a record that is not for everyone, but for people who have nostalgia for Kenny Loggins or Kenny Rankin or Kenny somebody had they gone a bit more lounge, this may be right up your alley. I think I'll understand it even better after the tenth listen, yet it has a certain charm after the first. I sense the sincerity is brazen to the point of being tongue in cheek, but that may be more to do to my experiences. Bart Davenport has done something quite interesting here and is a true individual.

Songs to try first:

Fuck Fame - subtitled 'but I would still like the money if offered'--no, that's my subtitle, but the lyrics do address that with a surprisingly romantic lounge flourish.

On Your Own Planet - Rhythmic thrusts and subtle vocals working off of it all.

Loop in my Head - That is a fine title to close out an album with.

This local band has a very composed style evident on this six song EP. The songs have character where lyrics and music work together and use a mid tempo pace to pull listeners in to the story and mood. I particularly enjoyed "My Little Dark Side" as it takes off from a Donovanesque folk song into a breezy light rocker. Fever Dreams also cooks smartly with sharp electric guitar leads and a hearty melody. This is a crafty little band that takes its ideas seriously, even as they infuse a sense of lightness into the material. It is always a pleasure to listen to high quality music that does not cross that pretentious edge, but instead has thought behind it all that moves it beyond the ordinary boundaries of rock music.

This record has a lot of something for everyone. As its name implies, it is dark, but instead of heading toward black metal, it takes a sinister turn toward gothic industrial ambiance. It hits hard rock tones in "Head Spirit", yet adds disco moves (of all things) in "Waka Waka". All the while, there are deep distant vocals, murky tones, various percussive patterns and that overall dark tone. They do lighten it up toward the end, while maintaining a mysterious musical flow. This is fascinating music and I am quite happy it made its way to my computer, even if it is quite challenging to describe.

Songs to try first:

Head Spirit (for our Mechanical Time) - This takes the spacey beginning and with galloping drums, transforms it into a rock song that comes from the hinterlands of inner space.

Kalaboogie - As what is often the case, the title cut has a lot of excitement within.

Eternal Return - A lovely flow to this song, not as sinister, but more contemplative.

This three-song EP provides a nice taste of the band's brand of pop music. I have enjoyed the band live as they were able to take electronic based rock music and make it sing for those of us who prefer the guitar oriented bands. Often bands like this, lean toward a leaner funkier electronic sound on record, but El Ten Eleven retains every bit of their big arena rock sound here. There is guitar and a strong rhythm section with real quality drumming to elevate this up several notches. There are electronic patterns and synthesizers and they use them in a modern (less Germanic) sort of way. Normally, I prefer the older style, but again this band knows how to create great music synthesizing various sounds in a fresh and original manner. These songs are instrumental and although Mogwai's recent album comes to mind at times, there is still more a direct accessibility here. This is one clever band that a lot of people have picked up on already and no doubt will continue to bring in more listeners to their world.


This is one way to make electronic music work for me. This band has plenty of beeps and squawks, but encases them in some solid rock songs with hip singing that is effective and not pretentious. They have hip hop moves, modern indie sound, and other musical genres mixed, mingled, and mangled in these songs, yet the songs remain. There is just enough swagger with the cool here and it made for fun energized listening.

Songs to try first:

Dark Matter of Fact - The flow of the song is excellent and hearkens back to classic pop music in the writing.

Haacksaw - This has an intense take on slacker rock, which somehow makes sense.

Shrug Lyfe Shadows - Hvy synth rock with head throbbing beat.

Like hawks and doves, there are equal parts battle and peace in this music. The peace is lovely American styled folk music and warm vocals at the heart of these songs. The battles occur when various guitar noise and electronics work there way into the mix at various strategic points to give the music some real excitement and surprise. There are some strings with help with the droning tones that stretch out some of the songs. They remind me of a more delicate Woven Hand, who works this territory with more barely controlled fury. So if you are a Woven Hand Fan and your significant other likes the Felice Brothers, you will both have a fine time with Hawk and Dove. This record is sometimes a little long for me, but since there is always something interesting going on, it is easy to stay with it.

This high quality band plays the Velvet Lounge this Wednesday, March 5th.

Songs to try first:

Send Your Blood to War - The warm vocals are intense, which is needed to keep up with the strong gnarly noisy guitar tones.

Things We Lost So Far - For over six and half minutes, they build a folkish rock tune into a special mini-epic.

Electricity - Twisted, droning song with great violin slashing around lightly picked guitar and what sounds like the doings of some former member of an NYC no wave band.

This album takes a starting point of modern Americana indie folk rock and pushes on the barriers in a few directions. There are guitar freak outs, folk steadiness, electronic touches, and all within a song structure that stays quite steady. This is a solid entry to the modern day field of hearty songwriters who want to hit the stage rocking. Douglas Keith has played with Sharon von Etten and other bands as well as worked with solo projects. Clearly, he understands many styles of music and more importantly fuses them in a coherent manner. Nice work, here.

Songs to try first:

I Will Burn for You - The band cooks up a haunting drone backdrop with snare punctuates to keep one alert to the vocals.

Pure Gold - Almost a Banshees/Joy Division instrumentation with quiet Americana vocals, prior to a great electric guitarist blazing away in the second half.

The Weather's Fucking Awful - Simply too appropriate for those of us in many parts of the country entering March.

This seven song album/EP twiner features just enough music to sink deep into the music as it carves out a little more space for guitar in the lush pop world. It is a steady album that does not quite hit enough buttons for me, but has enough charm for fans of this music. The guitar work makes it a pleasant enough of a listen with just enough bite.

This Netherlands band kicked off a US tour in DC a few weeks back and made a great impression on the Black Cat crowd who probably had not heard a note of their music. And now it is time to hear if the great sounds I heard from the stage are recreated here in the twelve songs of their debut album. Nor surprisingly, the answer is yes. As is often the case, it is not quite as loud and in your face as the live show, but has more diversity of volume, tempo, and style. Although they comfortably fit into a 'popsike' category with other favorites of mine such as Temples and Jacco Gardner, they mix in straighter pop elements, thicker grunge pop moves, and moodier pieces. The vocals are strong and the players control the mood steadily throughout these songs. And there are a few that could easily sneak onto a Nuggets album undetected as something from the 21st Century. This is an excellent band that I will definitely be following.

Songs to try first:

Bloodsucker - The loose garage rock is wonderful enough until the vocals twist it around your heart.

Seasons - This has their stylish garage rock sound, but a tricky rhythm that elevates it into I am not sure where, but it's way cool.

Gimme Some - Killer hook making this a hit in some jukebox in an alternate universe.

This is one quirky album (ok, yet another quirky album) that combines Indie rock with math rock in playful patterns that shoot for pop hooks and succeed often enough. It is a little too precious for me in some of the songs, but about half of them resonate with melodic lines that stick with me and arrangements that bounce around to keep the cranial cels on high alert. This is the type of music that made its way into the post punk world among brave people seeking intriguing angles to music with bands willing to forgo commercial success and challenge their listeners. But the Owls have just enough of a pop sensibility to make it work on a larger scale. I am not sure this album will take them there, yet, but it will draw aficionados.

Songs to try first:

Four Works of Art - There's an interesting songwriting angle, like Josh Homme was trying to ape Sebadoh.

The Lion - Great guitar crunch allows room for lovely vocals as soft and abrasive find a perfect balance.

It Collects Itself - Reminds of Swell Maps in a very good way.

Here is another fuzzy pop rocker with a nod to the 1960s. We have heard it before and I generally am willing to accept it all with open arms. I will especially do so here when the artist has strong power pop moves in the songwriting and has some modern and subtle use of electronics and distortion to fill out the sound. There are some strong highlights on this album. The lesser songs are 'merely' fun and likable. So with a starting point like that, let this album fly, cut loose and enjoy!

And enjoy Luke Rathborne even more when he hits the DC9 stage this Wednesday, March 5th sans ashes no doubt.

Songs to try first:

Soft - A strong rocker sets the tone with outstanding sound and plenty of drive.

I'm So Tired - The power pop hooks really dig into you on this one.

Low! - A nice rocker without too much in common with Bowie's 'Low' even if the preceding song here is entitled 'Eno'.

Quite simply, this is one fine album of instrumental finger style acoustic guitar. The playing is elegant as Rodriguez has a light touch and a keen sense of phrasing. But he adds some fantastic Eastern style drone work in "Ragalamas" and there are several other songs that explore more psychedelic territory with some secondary sounds along with his controlled playing. Rodriguez is from Argentina and South America has always had some fascinating takes on psychedelic music that was merged with ethnic folk songs

I am happy that September Girls is capable of playing such comfortable and easily accessible rock music without being over cliched about it all. They have a foot in the shoe gaze camp, but there is too much crisp rock attack for that. The vocals are dreamy, but the songs are too firm for straight pop music. And with all these interesting sonic textures, it is far from simple rock music here. Yet, it all sounds welcome and familiar. The band is Irish, although the music created is not terribly grounded to there or anywhere else. They definitely have the talent and style to tour the world and hopefully will be able to make it to our shores and tour this exceptionally fine debut album.

Songs to try first:

Cursing the Sea - The title cut establishes the sound with a flowing melody seems to continue after the song stops.

Heartbeats - A little extra punch in the rhythm section really makes this song pop.

Talking - Hard rocking with vocals that soar more than drift.

The female vocals and overall approach remind me of a softer Smoke Fairies. Whereas that band goes hiking into classic psyche folk ground, Snowbird opts for the dream pop trails. Yet, the female vocal harmonies lead the way in both cases and are not often heard these days. The music is nearly as fragile as the vocals and envelopes it all in a cottony haze that allows the vocals to continually float along. Often I prefer a few jolts in an album, but when the songs and vocal lines are thought out well, you don't need as much variety. Most of the time Snowbird works powerful magic. And probably the most beneficial thing I can say about their sound is that in addition to songwriter/vocalist, Stephanie Dosen, Simon Raymonde is here to provide the lush music that is reminiscent of his former band, the Cocteau Twins. And if that is still not enough to intrigue you, assisting this duo are members of Radiohead, Midlake, and Lanterns on the Lake.

Songs to try first:

I Heard the Owl Calling my Name - The opening cut sets the mood which is strong enough to keep you there for ten more songs.

All Wishes are Ghosts - The harmonies here are particularly complex and lovely.

Bears on my Trail - The lilting melody is infectious.

This is one methodical post electronica slo-gaze whatever record. It is thoroughly modern, yet has an ancient ambiance hearkening back to the 1980s dark synth wave. There are male and female harmonies that sound as if some electronic whiz took an Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan record and worked out some intensely dark arrangements (for that dreaded remix trend that is going on now). I really enjoy this album as they are highly effective in making dark brooding music compelling. LIke many albums of this particular tone and emotion, you do need to be in the right mood to receive this properly. But this album will likely having you headed back there more often as the sonic textures offer some positivity, even if the songs with titles like "Wreckage" and "Heartaches" go deep in one direction.

Songs to try first:

Hallowed Ground - The opener has a lush sound which wraps around slow vocals that fade to mumbles.

Tonight - The first notes reminded of Bowie's "Low"

Dark Light - Not significantly better than the rest, but the title is about all you need for a band descriptor.

This one is like trying to grab a cloud. It has its share of pop and rock moves, but has transcendent sound patterns and edgy post punk guitar thrusts here and there. The vocals soar and the patterns allow room for interesting bridges and musical wanderings. Yet it stays together with nimble rhythms featuring crisp snare work and fluid bass runs. There are more interesting songs than not and I think this will appeal to thoughtful modern rock fans who will appreciate the textures and creativity even if they can not quite pin down all the positive reasons this works. It should be even more fascinating to see what comes out at a live show.

And you can do just that when Yellow Ostrich plays live at the DC9 on Wednesday, April 2nd.

Songs to try first:

Neon Fists - Lovely harmonies and a smooth rock sound warms this one into my head.

You are the Stars - Sharp guitar thrusts take this to strange and intriguing places.

Any Wonder - I like the choices they made in writing this rocker.

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