Thursday, May 1, 2014

Album Reviews - April 2014

CHRISTOPHER BRUHN "WEEKENDS ON THE FRONTIER"

A good finger style guitarist can be therapeutic listening. Christopher Bruhn has the skills and thankfully has the creativity to convey emotional depth with his playing. Ergo, these eight songs have transported me out of my urban funk into a pasture of guitar notes welcome me in. Yet, there are also moments when there is a vibe of rural music played with the neighbors over for a spell. 'Fjords of Northern Norway' evokes an exotic locale, while 'Burial Grounds' reminds me of classic John Fahey. Even 'Arabian Writing on Plaster Walls' is more John Fahey than Davey Graham, despite the title. Bruhn has plenty of exotic moves that can work out of a comfortable melody.

DALE AND THE ZDUBS "CLEAR THE SMOKE"

This local band has always had plenty of fire in its belly. This latest album shows that well enough, but also has a fine variety of stylish songs. ZDubs is about right as they dub out reggae, rock, blues, and soul into a comfortable overall sound that seems ready made for the clubs on a Saturday night. The blasts of brass and guest female vocals add a lot of color to the clever rhythm section, power house guitar, and strong lead vocals. There is a lot going on here as they clearly thought through the arrangements to keep most of these songs fresh and invigorating. Although they are made for the stage, they continue to show that they know their way around the studio and you are sure to find some fine songs here.

They have some upcoming shows to check out. This Saturday at Looneys in College Park and June 7th at the Bayou.

Songs to try first:

Clear the Smoke - This bouncy reggae pop song finishes with a crisp rocking end.

Get Off my Case - Bluesy blast with wonderful brass and singalong vocals.

Pre-Funk - The closer has some fascinating jams and style shifts.

DEER TICK "NEGATIVITY"

John McCauley was Deer Tick as a solo folk performer. His songs were strong enough to stand alone and he could have successfully gone the solo route. However, I enjoy the full band that he has put together even more, as they create some fine textures for his nasal twanged voice, strong lyrics and interesting melodies. There is a warmth to this music, but a slight gritty touch throughout, like a down and out Tom Petty perhaps. There is a balance of genres that generally make for successful indie rock and the occasional use of brass shows that there is a real plus here. The production is thoughtful and adds a rich variety of tones in these twelve songs to help the album flow so quickly by. Yet the songs will keep you focused as that happens. They are a major player and one of their two shows at the Black Cat has already sold out.

But you can still get a ticket for the Wednesday May 21st Black Cat show. Langhorne Slim is the excellent opener.

Songs to try first:

The Rock - Soulful rocker with throbbing keyboards and brass blasts.

Mirror Walls - More fine lyrics smoothly dancing atop the melodious rock.

Thyme - The spacier backing music sets the tone for this quietly strained vocal. Intriguing mood here.

EAGULLS  "EAGULLS"

There is still interesting post-punk music being made, even though it is post-post-post punk by now. Eagulls brings out the ringing pop tones merged with aggressive music in the manner of Echo and the Bunnymen and many more. The rhythm section throbs aways as guitars go from washed out craziness to peeling pop tones. The vocals are as assertive as the music and everything has that little extra push to make it all quite memorable. If you don't like the style, you may not want to come aboard, but if you do, then Eagulls offers a fun, fresh take.

Frustratingly, I am booked elsewhere when this fine band plays the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Wednesday, May 14th.

Songs to try first:

Nerve Endings - Great classic British post-punk, psyche rock hook that sounds every bit as fresh 30 years later, the way these guys bring it.

Tough Luck - Vocals dropped down a bit as the thick sounds form a firm and even warm bed for them.

Fester Blister - This is a rousing song that extends the speed limit.

JOHN GRANT "PALE GREEN GHOSTS"

I thoroughly enjoyed John Grant's set in DC when he opened for Midlake some four years ago. I was hardly alone as the crowd definitely got into it and he went on to capture a large critical and public audience, particularly in Europe. And yes, this album is already a year old and received plenty of accolades already. But it is in my inbox to give me a chance to express a few thoughts prior to his upcoming DC appearance. John Grant is definitely someone where you go right to the lyrics, even upon first listen. His dark nature, odd humor, and way with a phrase will certainly grab you here, as it did me years ago. His voice is as warm and expressive as ever, as well. The arrangements startle me some, as electronics are used pretty heavily in the mix. I do like the variety of songs that are intense electronica to more folky band outings with only a trace of electronics. Lyrically, the story and the mood is a bit better than the poetics employed, but with his voice, he can deceive one pretty well. But this is an accessible album that showcases his unique individual approach rather well.

The is sold out, but he opens for Elbow at the 9:30 Club on Sunday, May 11th.

Songs to try first:

Pale Green Ghost - The aptly named title cut sets a colorful mysterious environment for John Grant to work his magic.

GMF - If the electronica was too scary, this folk song will let you comfortably settle in with his intensely dark lyrics.

Sensitive New Age Guy - He pushes his vocals into hip territory with a bouncy background.

HOWLIN RAIN "LIVE RAIN"

I never could quite get over the demise of Comets on Fire. There is nothing wrong with trying something else like Howlin Rain, which has been Ethan Miller's post-Comets project (OK, full fledged successful band) for the last ten years. If you never heard Comets on Fire, this would band would sound wild enough, but with far more roots than Comets ever came near. Blues and west coast soul blend in with sixties moves and wild and wooly guitar madness. Miller's vocals are still fierce and he can pull back to whatever mood he's striving for. Most of the time he and the band push the boundaries of blues rock into ozone. They do not quite hit those cosmic heights of old, but they soar faster and harder than just about any band with an ounce of Americana in them. The live recordings are strong and clear and should be as welcome to the fans as they will be to newcomers.

KAREN JONAS "OKLAHOMA LOTTERY"

This Fredericksburg Virginia singer songwriter is someone worth going out of your way for. She has the songs and style to carry them off solo, but they work even better here with a talented band that has all the Americana moves and then some. She has played shows with Brittany Jean, so if you imagine music in the that vein backed by the Highballers, you have an idea of what Karen Jonas can deliver. She varies tempos from crisp rocking to easy going folk and adjusts her vocals to interpret her lyrics with gusto and precision. I certainly plan to see this material live some day. But for now, I have a strong record with songs that are worthy of careful relistening when I want to dig into the lyrics or just a relaxed spin if I just want to let the music flow into the atmosphere. Either way, this one will get replayed.

Karen plays the Colonial Tavern in Fredericksburg on Saturday, May 10th.

Songs to try first:

Suicide Sal - The opener is brisk with delicately picked, white hot lead guitar and gutsy vocals.

Oklahoma Lottery - Fine storytelling in this easy moving song with tasty guitar punctuating the passages.

I Never Learn - Rock pace brings life to this sharp little song story.

ODONIS ODONIS "HARD BOILED SOFT BOILED"

This Toronto trio is quickly become one of my favorites. Their fierce brand of hard, hard psychedelic rock was a joy to behold live. Now the album shows me that they can succeed in bringing the same powerful invigorating excitement into their studio recordings. There are great songs that bring back recent memories of Comets on Fire when they were on fire. Other songs head off into dreamier territory which makes a nice contrast. The vocals and careful instrumentation keep it all connected so the album works as a whole. This is their second album and I hope we get a lot more from this band as they have a wonderful approach in taking psychedelia deeper into the 21st century.

Songs to try first:

Order in the Court - …and disorder in life as this song pushes hard on boundaries with some chilling melodies between the noise and intense vocals.

New Obsession - It is a challenge to have warm vocals shine through a dark noisy fierce rocker with throbbing bass. Challenge met.

Office Sluts - Dreamier swirling sounds wrap around delicate vocal line.

THE PAINS OF BEING PURE OF HEART "DAYS OF ABANDON"

This is pop music with delicate vocals and music that has dreamy qualities with just enough percussive thrust and guitar bite to push it out more than others of this ilk. It is a little too attractive for me, sounding in my mind like a modern era Hall & Oates. There are some pretty smart pop songs here which show off their song writing craft and are given fine arrangements. This could be one of those albums that will take a few listens at the right to time to fully work its magic on me. But there are plenty of pop music fans out there who will want to dig right into the romance and quality of these songs.

Check this band out at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Wednesday, May 21st.

Songs to try first:

Simple and Sure - Sweet pop with punch guitars and rhythms to get the party started.

Beautiful You - Vocal work is thoughtful and expressive in this epic.

Eurydice - Strong passage with female vocals elevates this song tremendously.

PAPERCUTS "LIFE AMONG THE SAVAGES"

Contemplative, almost downer pop music seems an odd way to describe any music, burt Papercuts plays their music just a little bit differently than most. The languid vocals have more warmth than some of the icier tones which the players produce. It is not fully downer throughout each song, but heavily contemplative throughout. It could use a little more variety in tone by side two or thereabouts, Still, I enjoy the style and this band could have a lot of Europop lovers aboard by the time this album gets passed around.

Songs to try first:

New Body - Smooth dreamy tones even as the rhythm bounces along.

Life Among the Savages - It ends a little quickly, just as it gets dramatic, but way cool by then.

Easter Morning - I like the staccato flow of the piano over the wash of other sounds.

PAWS "YOUTH CULTURE FOREVER"

This Glasgow trio put on one excellent show at the Black Cat last month. The album certainly brings back some of my favorable memories of it, although I slightly prefer the live show. That is not too unusual though, when a band has this much personality, it comes through even better live and in person. These twelve songs have all of the power pop melodies and fun loving punk rock style that made for an energizing set. The vocals have a sing along quality without descending to pub rock cliches. It is all pretty straight ahead for the most part, but there are slower cuts, one instrumental, and the astonishing "War Cry". When I saw this closing cut clocking in at 11:43, I was expecting a lot of dead air with a hidden song. Instead, these guys wrote a song reminding me of Nirvana, but stretching it out in a psychedelic jam that Kurt and the gang possibly would have tried down the road. This was brilliant and I did not list it below, because it should be tried last, a fitting end to an interesting album, perhaps not fully cohesive but with some moments of brilliance.

Songs to try first:

Someone New - Pummeling beat sets it up for a surprisingly bouncy chorus creating a rather original hook.

Give Up - A chorus that had me dancing at my desk (try not to visualize this).

Narcissist - Yet another ridiculously catchy hard driving power pop punk song.

ROOFBEAMS "TECHTONICS"

Nathan Robinson has long been a fine songwriter in the DC area who I first noted in the Archivists. His latest band is a fine full fledged group effort, who take part in the writing as well as the fine arrangements of these songs. They have the heartland Americana approach, but the key is in the hooks of the songs. They are quite gripping and enjoyable to dig into to. Just try the opener "Always" and you will want to listen to all six songs on this long EP. The opener has some effective vocal work, both lead and background, with a strong melodic flow that makes it hard to pay attention to much anything else. This band has been around a while now and has a solid place in the DC scene. Do check out their record and catch a show some time.

SILKWORM "LIBERTINE"

This is a reissue from 1994 of the first album of Missoula, Montana's Silkworm. They were beyond my radar at the time and I would like to think I would have guessed they formed in the early 1990s as that is clearly where their sound is from. That was the time Sebadoh hit their stride and there were a lot of bands headed in that direction. Yet, there is plenty of late 1980s style here as well such as from Honor Role and maybe even some early Flaming Lips as well. I can certainly see how a band like this might get lost in the shuffle (try getting anywhere from Missoula, MT and that will give you a quick idea). There are some fine cuts here and the overall approach is rich with emotional singing and atmospheric guitar jobs. Other songs drift off into what has now become a dated angst filled cliche. Still, there are more interesting songs than not. And not only do you get the eleven songs from the album, there are six more including an unreleased tracks, an alternative versions from other sessions. If you like this style or this era, this one should be included in your collection.

Songs to try first:

There is a Party in Warsaw Tonight - This nails that early nineties alt-sound just right.

Cotton Girl - A slightly thicker more steadily rocking number here, still with heart.

Wild in My Day - Wild in any day, this one combines their style with all sorts of fantastic rock moves.

SILO HALO "BLACKOUT TRANSMISSION"

This local trio is finally back with some new music. Their structure has changed as they have swapped out one axe for a live drummer, which is something I have looked forward to. The core sound remains with a rock based dreamy shoe gaze style. They stretch four songs into nearly one half hour of music, but the key is that these are songs with a strong personality and not just exercises in attractive noise. There is attractive noise, particularly on "Rosalind", but it is a pleasurable coda on top of a moving song. The title cut is particularly moving with its melding of Tuxedomoon and Sonic Youth moves. This band establishes a mood around their songs and finds intriguing ways to work their guitars and keyboards around the melodies with a solid drum beat underneath. This record shows that Silo Halo still has fine ideas and great skill and will hopefully continue to share them with DC music lovers and beyond.

SLEEPWALKERS "LOST MY MIND IN STEREO"

This brand of power pop is more classically styled than most. These guitars jangle hard and Ian Olvera's vocals have that warmth with just enough snottiness to take you back to Sunset Strip. Yet they vary tempos, guitar tones with enough style shifts to allow the twelve songs to be an adventurous listen. I found enough skill early on to like this album, but as it developed layers of complexity in the songs, it kept getting better and better. Sit down for a pleasurable listen and let this album sneak into your soul and work its magic.

Songs to try first:

It's a Good Day to Watch the World Go By - A trace of Byrdsian melody, put much sunnier sixties pop rock.

Primetime Syndication - Subtle shift into straight pop rock cleanly delivered.

Bottom of the Hill - I liked this song a lot when it began as a lovely folk tune and positively loved it when it ended with a psyche-folk freakout jam.

TOBACCO "ULTIMA II MASSAGE"

This synth act has plenty going on, which helped hold my interest, even after 17 songs. They definitely can go dark industrial at times, but also give polish to bright and shiny pop songs as well. No matter what direction they take, they keep the music thick and mobile. There are a lot of vocals, which also help differentiate the songs and personality they convey. Still, 17 songs is a bit much for me, but a fan of this genre should appreciate the skills this band has.

Check out Tobacco at the U Street Music Hall on Saturday, May 10th.

Songs to try first:

Streaker - Dark and intense, this opener will wake you up.

Eruption, Gonna Get My Hair Cut at the End of the Summer - Great pop tune with the wonderful title.

Omen Classic - Dark and twisted vocals remind me of the darkest Dementia.

TURK TRESIZE "SOUL CASINO"
Big and bluesy, soulful, ballsy an often with a delicate touch… Australian singer/songwriter Turk Tresize merges many classic styles into his songs. He could likely play with the arrangements more and still have memorable songs, since he has a way with the melody that makes you think you have heard these songs before. And that is good and bad, for obvious reasons. I also would have liked to hear him try to match the opening rocker a few more times, although he gets the blues rock cooking pretty high on "Rollin'".

Songs to try first:

Daddy Wazza Roller - After one verse and chorus you can start singing along to this addictive song structure.

Nice to Know - The delicate touch works here effectively with good keys and back-up vocals filling it out nicely.

West on a Train - Fluid bluesy rocker with good vocals and guitar work.

1 comment:

Diane Brewer said...

love Turk Tresize music