Tuesday, April 1, 2014


There was a digital pile of albums coming in this month. I hope I did them justice, as I don't get to spend the time and verbiage I would like on them. But this is the digital world, so if something even slightly catches your interest, give these a listen (there are some real gems in here).

This is music that flows in a steady stream with the sounds of waves and nature both explicitly and implicitly apparent in the mix. It is quite a step for Brittany Jean, who has long been a top songstress in the area. This time, she and her long time percussionist Will Copps have taken dream pop and merged in psychedelic folk into something closer to dream folk. This music gently rocks you to a hypnotic state as if you are only just using your senses to take on the limited beauty of your surroundings. Keyboards, guitars and various droning sounds are integrated to form a cohesive unit allowing Brittany Jean's voice to stay on high. These two have known each other a long long time and have made a lot of music together. Now they are separated by the Atlantic Ocean, but have left this musical pathway to connect with for themselves and their listeners.

You can see Brittany Jean with the excellent songwriter series at the Epicure Cafe in Fairfax on  April 12th.

Songs to try first:

Beneath the Crest of the Sea - Even as the vocals soar to intense heights, they maintain a certain delicacy.

Sandbridge - This songs soars into new age territory, not a dirty word in my book, as long as you stay away from cliches, which this admirably does.

The Smoke and the Snow - Lilting and then some.

Despite the band name and album title, this is heavy on a rather stark sound of female vocals over piano. Yet the moments of full band production do show up nicely at various times and are almost a bit shocking, but powerful. The vocals got so intense at one point, it seemed like the record was stuck. And the songs are about a Finnish cult leader, which sounds like a fascinating story. There is some ambient backing that is lighter and spacier at times as well. There is plenty to like here in the classic folkrock world, and although the songs are good, they do not always stand out on their own any more than many other fine bands. Yet, those little surprises just around the corner are what makes this album such a pleasurable outing. It is always a pleasure to find such fascinating albums like this.

This is rather lovely pop music with strength of sound, but less so in pace. There is a shimmering British steel popsike, post punk root in there at times. Yet I detect west coast pop moves in here as well. The female vocals are breathy and deliberate and snakily work their way into your brain always at an angle that is tricky to fully grasp. The pop melodies prevail in the end and stay with you in all their depths of ambiance. I appreciate this music quite a bit and a few more listens will likely have it sink in even further.

Songs to try first:

Assembly - The opener has a lovely pop vibe with a psychedelic farfisa dueling some synth theremin sounds.

Elusive Youth - Ah that it is… this theme plays out less elusively as the pop hook will warm you.

Torn Tongues - There is a little more snap in this rhythm and the vocals work off it well.

Fresh off their vibrant showing at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel, I am now treated to their 20-song double LP. There is still plenty of the excitement evident here on the record. The Italian western soundtrack music meeting psychedelic pop music is even more pronounced here as they have established a fascinating duality between propulsive keyboards and scene setting guitar textures. But they move beyond this into many various other soundscapes including the wonderfully wild and creative Saisis la Corde, which conjures up vivid surrealistic dream settings. Fitting that there is a fine song called "Witchcraft" as they must be employing their own brand as they conjure up such interesting songs with fascinating rhythms under it all. Sure, twenty songs is a lot (although their may be bonus EP material here) and they are not all magic, but there is nothing overly dull anywhere. It is just a matter of how many you really enjoy. And for me, it was a good 50% of these songs from this well named album.

Songs to try first:

Amour dans le Motu - A dark undercurrent to a bright melody and brisk beat. This covers the ground this band walks quite nicely.

Sur la Planche 2013 - It's like a pop song by Simply Saucer with a French pop singer on vocals.

Saisis la Corde - Great vocal melody and circus keyboards with surreal backing sounds. Crazy good.

If I was going to bat against Doug Gillard with the bases loaded, he would have made me look like a fool as he struck me out on three pitches. Yes, I realize it was his former band mate Robert Pollard who was the talented pitcher (once tossing a no-hitter in college), but Doug Gillard threw some dazzling curveballs to start off his album before bringing the heat. The early songs offer a glimpse of sixties style pop music with just a hint psychedelic style as if it was played by a hip lounge singer viewed through a fun house mirror. Just as I was struggling to find the words to describe this surprising turn of events, Gillard then hits me with several songs of varying intensity, yet all with the same edgy pop sensibility that is more in line with what I expected. His songs remind me of Wire, when they are at their poppiest and aren't going deep into the somber areas that they often explore. This is a fascinating record, with fairly simple hooks delivered from strange angles. I have always sung the praises of Doug Gillard's ability, but he even takes it higher this time around with this excellent new record.

You can come see him open for his old band Guided by Voices at the Black Cat, May 24th, but only if you have a ticket because this sold out early. If ticketed, do not be late for Doug Gillard.

Songs to try first:

Angel X - Fabulous throw-back pop, with a touch of popsike and spiced with a lounge grace.

Upper Hand - The shortest song will have you bouncing along with its amazing hook.

Overseas - Almost into Wire-like pop territory with edgy guitar chord strummed out incessantly.

I like this band's style. Bands that operate in the indie rock idiom featuring at least a degree of Americana better have style. Oh, and of course songwriting skills are rather essential and these guys have the ability to create different tempos and textures within a songs to pull it together. That along with their warm vocals and stylish guitar tones take them to a fairly high level. Most of these songs offer up thoughtful moments showcasing both technique and feeling. Only on occasion, does this slip back into perfectly decent yet predictable moves. For the most part, Horse Thief has established a strong presence in this field.

Songs to try first:

Devil - The smoothly descending vocals wrap around you like a warm comforter.

Already Dead - Lovely acoustic guitar in this middle of the album song, which is a good change of pace.

Let it Go - The strongest rocker on the album, and thus always welcome to my ears.


If you are going to do the blues, there are a few directions that still work pretty well. Fortunately, John the Conqueror takes one of these routes. He has a loose honky tonk foot stomping style with a band that swings. The vocals are rich and road worn, but with strength and clarity. The guitars bounce around off of each other well and make for a good listen on this album. I always make time in my day for this kind of quality.

Songs to try first:

Mississippi Drinkin' - They create a true murky swampy feeling on this twanged out mid tempo rocker.

Golden Rule - Good dual guitars in the Allmans/Rolling Stones tradition.

John Doe - A slower bluesy folk styled number with a cool pipe organ behind the guitar.

More crazed music from Belgium found its way over the ocean and into my inbox. While not as fiercely rocking as some of the neighboring music, Little Trouble Kids have some intensely dark moves at work here. Simply put, I hear a goth minimalism that sort of combines Siouxsie and the Banshees with No Mercy (an odd little San Francisco outfit from way back). This is highly primitive in the beats, but sleek and modern in the architecture of the guitars, haunting vocals, and various other sounds. They are capable of moving from the desperation of the title cut through the more reflective "For as Long". I enjoyed many of the delicate songs, although I felt more bursts of Swans-like loud moments may aide the overall effect. Still, another fine little album from that lovely little country between France and the Netherlands.

If you like power pop with a slacker mentality and a Guided By Voices sense of editing, Tony Molina may have just the ticket for you with these 12 songs. But as they all add up to a grand total of 11:28 (59 seconds longer than 'The Musical Box' by Genesis), it all seems too short and incomplete, so therefore my review of this will be…

You may be a hardcore punk band, but the laws of physics are as true for you as everyone… you will age and entropy may set in. One great way to adapt and evolve and thus avoid entropy, is to reshape your sound. You don't have to reinvent yourselves or go from the Dils to Rank and File, but keep thinking and experimenting and see what you can come up with. Clearly, the Mostly Dead has done all of that as they charge forward. Their core hardcore intensity remains and their subtle post-hardcore creativity is far more in your face this time around. Most of these songs have great thought behind them and within and could easily be interpreted by bands from punk scenes to metal. I sometimes share the feelings of many of people that 'were there' for punk rock in the late seventies in wondering if there is anywhere to go with this music. Fortunately, there are many interesting paths that skillful bands can take and the Mostly Dead have clearly blazed a trail for many bands to follow with this record.

Songs to try first:

WEA - Imagine Mark Arm singing for Terminus in this powerful song with real hooks grabbing at you.

The Body - Attention hardcore-metal crossover fans, please put this band on your radar. They have something for everybody.

This is Why I Have No Friends - Just when you think they may not be able to come up with another epic blast, the closer smokes you off to the bliss of heaviness.

I guess one way of getting musically pure if you grew up in the early 1970s as I did, is to get back to basic hard as nails blues based rock music. This is the Mount Carmel way. Bluesy vocals, thick bass, steady drums, and a fuzzy electric guitar that has enough versatility to carry the day. They have all the chops down well, although I don't sense that little bit extra that carries this to the next level of vitality (such as Graveyard or anywhere even close to that). So if you really miss this style and want to see what one band does with it, feel free to have a listen. There just is not anything here to make me want to come back for more, even if I would not leave the room if they were up on stage.


This Baltimore band was a pretty big deal back in the 1990s. Everyone who was anyone seemed to think so, except the business men, so the band splintered off into many mostly successful adventures. They did a reunion show a couple years back and they are back to stay now, yet again. To celebrate, they have released this live show since they were pleased with the recording. And they should be as the sound is excellent and the energetic playing is pretty much on the mark throughout these 20 songs. Yes, there are polkas, but there are plenty of fun toe tapping rockers as well. The accordion is pivotal, of course, but the guitar playing is also excellent. The rhythms are strong and there are some traditional instrumentals in here, as well as a few covers from the likes of Taj Mahal for example. This is a sharp band that will energize about any room with a stage. Hopefully their rebirth will bring them here to DC some time. Until then, when in Baltimore, give these guys a listen.

And the big kickoff show is at the Creative Alliance in Baltimore on April 19th.

There are mismatches of two perfectly fine individuals who are incompatible together. And that often happens between band and reviewer. This is one I probably am not equipped to give an opinion on. Although School of Language's light electronic pop moves with soulful vocals should appeal to people, there is not hope for me. These sound like bad Bowie outtakes with Daryl Hall singing and not Bowie. This apparently is a solo project from a guy (David Brewis) from Fields Music, who are well regarded as pop deconstructionists. Well someone needs to reassemble this and then I'll give it further listen.


There is just a wee bit of spacey modern feeling to this highly westernized country and western rock sound that this band has concocted. There is enough twang, organ, and blues moves to keep this well beyond the cliches of any one genre. And they do the foot stomping rock thing pretty well, too. I like some of the moodier bluesy pieces with the powerful vocal work and deft instrumentation. "When the Pumps Run Dry" has this laid back feeling, yet combines it with Shooter Jennings/Hierophant styled gigantic rock moments as well. I was really expecting a likable album here. Instead, I got a powerful crossover album filled with excellent songs that refuse to bend to any one genre. They excite the senses and stay with you long after they finish playing.

They will be here at the Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival on Saturday, April 26th.

Songs to try first:

Election Year Blues - Lilting tempo is perfect for organ and guitar interchange and dual vocal work.

Lone Star Souvenir - Slow dreamy song that has a classic rock by way of big Texas barroom vibe.

When the Pumps Run Dry - A classic rocker, psychedelic at times, with great high volume guitar crunch.

I thought this was going to be just another decent ambient pop electronica effort. But Soft Spot hits just that with a delicate yet smartly rocking set of songs that do more than twist songs around whilst delivering edgy vocals. They take the pop format and add a space conscious psychedelic twist as the trail blaze their way through the old western plains and deserts… or something like that. Suffice it to say, that they are heavy on atmosphere, but create dramatic tension as they build a song from ambiance to pop rock. It is a neat trick and this album could just surprise you as it did me.

Songs to try first:

You Yours - The edginess spills over in just a few spots on this one.

Black Room Blues - The most atmospheric song here--Greg Sage like desert guitar work.

Pickup Lines - Great building drama and nicely traded male/female vocals.

This is a little overly ambient for my liking. There is too much of the real world sampled in some of the cuts. However, when they go into a dreamier psychescape that is reminiscent of Fit & Limo as in "Let the Flies In", this album comes to life. So this was interesting enough, and effective for genre fans.

If I was not double booked already, I would be curious to see what they do live when they come to the Union Arts on April 26th. 

This certainly is a session, but expect free jazz at its freest, and not Sly and Robbie laying down a hypnotic reggae beat. It is piano and drums, a wickedly percussive combination. And although there are plenty of melodic moves on the piano, it is struck as a percussion instrument throughout the session. I also like the excessive use of the damper pedal much of the time as that was the way I played (or rather attempted to play). There is also a lot of pace and intensity, so this works for jazz people that like rock and maybe more importantly, vice versa. There is nothing relaxing here and I enjoyed it, although I will be more interested in what my jazz buddies would say, as to my thoughts.

You can check them out Thursday, April 3rd at Union Arts DC.

There is some real bounce in the step of the electronic pop music that Trust comes up with here. Yet it is the vocal stylings that really have me wrapping my arms around this music. It does not sound like Bowie, but I sense some of that same stylistic vibe with command of the sound. The shifts of emotion and pace is also good with both male and female vocals working off of each other. Bands like this are a big help to me in enjoying the link between the rock music I am comfortable with and modern electronic bands.

Songs to try first:

Geryon - This is a song where you can engage in serious head bobbing and not look like an idiot.

Capitol - This has the bounce, but great style in vocals along with some interesting effects.

Four Gut - A more distant, older vibe at work on this one, with good rhythms.

If you miss the female vocal lead punk power pop sound of the Rezillos or X-Ray Spex, then tune into the Tweens. The vocals also have a bit of the Joy Formidable's Ritzi Bryan in them. Yet the guitar, bass, and drums are more out of the classic punk sound. The bass even comes close to the throatiness of the Stranglers with pummeling drums pushing it forward. The guitar chords crunch away leaving lots of room on high for the vocals. The melodies are there, delivered in pop garage punk style that is ever welcome when it as good as this. It simply all comes together here for this Cincinnati band and I will be listening to this one a lot more.

And if you make the trek to Baltimore, you can see them at the Gold Bar on April 2nd.

Songs to try first:

Bored in this City - Wonderful opening cut has the vocal spunk and glorious guitar and bass moves.

Be Mean - Another really cool song that has me bopping around.

Rattle + Rollin' - Ferocious instrumental attack and still a melody to latch on to.

This is one tough band and another exciting band from Belgium. Fortunately, they also have some interesting songs here delivered with a punk bar-room rock hybrid that sounds highly familiar, yet hard to place. It is sort of like the pub rock to punk rock change that occurred in the mid-1970s, although this has further rock moves in there as well. I could have used a bit more variety, but if you like it straight ahead, this will deliver the goods and it certainly entices me to hope to catch a club show some day soon.

Songs to try first:

The Dark Side - A tough vocal on top of a tough song, still with a pop oriented hook.

What You Want - Some real song craft in this tune, with all the requisite power.

Shakedown - a lowdown bluesy tough song fitting its title.

A few notes in to this and I was getting ready to write my standard indie rock/Americana band review. Everyone who reviews records these days should have this boiler plate ready. Fortunately, the opening cut rocked along with a brisk pace and the song itself was one of the catchiest ones I have heard in weeks. The rest of the album holds up nicely as the songs vary from smooth crisp rockers to more reflective numbers. The lyrics at times come out a little too forced, but there are enough phrases and subjects that are worth paying attention to. I would say it is more story oriented than poetic. The production is solid and the arrangements interesting which helps bring this to life as an enjoyable album. So no 'sounds like everyone else' boilerplate here, give it a listen and let it stand out for you.

Songs to try first:

Horseshoe - The opening cut had me singing along with it well after it ended, so yes it has a monster hook.

King of Hollywood - Smooth but rollicking licks carry this along.

California - a spacey pop folk vibe is a nice surprise in the middle of the album.

WOODS "With Light and With Love"

This band really nails the American version of psychedelic folk with plenty of personality and style. They comfortably move from freaky Tim Buckley moves into grin inducing pop ditties. Everything is so fresh and feel-good, you will forgiven if you lean back and not go deep into their trippy instrumental excursions. Even when they are not on full sonic exploration, they have little tonal coloring working with their scrumptious melodies. This is a class band that is fully deserving of the buzz and should get even more popular.

And you can catch Woods at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Saturday, April 26th.

Songs to try first:

With Light and With Love - At 9:08, you expect something interesting and get it. A great song AND a wild jam.

Twin Steps - Some searing electric guitar spices this one up.

Feather Man - This one takes me back to 1970 in Wyrd England with wonderful guitar sounds and folk melody all twisted out at the close.


If the band name and title don't make it obvious to you, then yes this quite psychedelic. But of course we have to explore further into what this band is going for. They are actually heavily acoustic and go for a mantra chanting brand of psychedelic folk that reminds me quite a bit of Stone Breath. Yet there is more primitivism at work here and at times heads towards a Six Organs of Admittance "Dust & Chimes" era style. I say 'they' but this is actually a rescued album from a Swedish-Canadian musician from Toronto that was recorded in 2006. There are five songs here that clock in over 40 minutes and the tempo does not vary much, although the songs exhibit a separate personality in each case. And if you need your electric fix, the last cut offers two guitars weaving a ten minute pattern with some other sounds worked in. This material rarely fails to interest me and just when I think it might not be pulling me in, I realize the song is over and time momentarily stood still. So obviously, it hooked me and has the power to pull in just about any psyche-folk fan.

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