Wednesday, July 2, 2014


Although I sometimes get some new metal or progressive metal to review, rarely to I get something that takes me back to the early 1970s. Vienna, Austria's The Ash has this sound down pat when metal was actually hard rock, often with progressive elements mixed with melodious writing. Generally those that like and play this music well take the route of being a cover or tribute band. It is nice to see a band tackling the style successfully with original material. Musically, these guys have all the chops down. The vocals are clean and powerful. The rhythm section sets a strong foundation for the guitars and gives them plenty of space to shred. The leads remind of the Randy Rhoads school of post Eddie Van Halen wizardry. There are some double leads and other interesting twists as well, including some serious Kashmir styled riffs. Hard to believe that this type of music is a real alternative over the mainstream at both the big label and indie levels. This album makes for fun listening in 2014.

Songs to try first:

Burn - Although this is a Deep Purple title, I was hearing a Scorpions sound even before they sang "Here I Am" multiple times!

Global Peace - This has an Ozzy feel and a great crunching guitar over a thicker, slower pace.

Try - Lots of interesting metal shifts in this song. Complex and highly engaging.

This band reminds me a lot of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Thankfully, when I saw Avers play live, they didn't destroy my hearing. But they do blast away with plenty of shoe gaze styled guitars over heavy drums and keys. I actually prefer this record as the nuances come through more clearly. They are capable of coming up with fun pop melodies that easily slip into the popsike category. If they are not doing that, they tend to drift off into a moody slow jamming sort of song. The drumming is a great foundation here and the others know how to weave around the beat quite well.

Songs to try first:

White Horses - This has the subtleties I like in a warm popsike setting.

GirlswithHeadaches - Catchy melody with bursts of volume following the walking beat.

Mercy - I love the vocals on this one and pulling back with acoustic guitars was a masterstroke.

If you like your deep down heartland bluesy singer songwriters adding crazed punk rock and post punk guitar moves to their songs, then check out Lee Bains III and his band. This reminds me a bit of Shooter Jennings fleshing out his songs with a fierce rock band a few years. back. It is also for fans of Jon Spencer, Grinderman, and anyone who likes that distant spot on the horizon where a punk band can meet up with an Americana band and have a great time together. The songs are all pretty good here and Bains has a solid gutsy delivery on each of them. The hard drumming, throaty bass, and crazily fuzzed out shrieking electric guitars all come together to lift this well off the ground. There are some style shifts later in the album which keeps things interesting and just as lively. These guys will be a kick live, I don't see how it could not be an exciting evening with them on stage. So it is no surprise that Sup Pop picked them up as this record is worth several spins, as well.

Come see Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires at the DC9 on Monday, July 21st.

Songs to try first:

The Company Man - The opening cut screams out crazy guitar moves with a smoother but very tough vocal line.

Burnpiles Swimming Holes - Love the modified Bo Diddley beat with all the other expected components at work.

Flags - Great punk pace and power chords create another layer of fun in this album.

This appropriately named band works in the dream pop environs. Yet they have strong dynamics that they carefully employ in unique ways such as the vocals rising in intensity as the music does so belatedly on a slightly different wave length. There are tricky things going on in these arrangements yet everything is silk to the touch. Not everything is as dynamic as I would like, but it all fits comfortably together in a unified style with enough variations between songs to maintain high interest throughout. I would enjoy this band live, as well, I think.

Songs to try first:

Hideaway - I was just wondering if this band might be too steady for me, when the dynamics of this powerful song kicked in.

Portraits of Eyes - This has an old school vocal style that I can't quite place as this powerfully spreads a warmth over me.

Aurelia - As welcome sounds of strong electric guitar weave in among the percussion, the vocals soar away.


I was excited to get the news that legendary UK guitarist Mike Cooper's early records were being re-released. And most readers will likely wonder about the 'legend' label, well perhaps cult figure is better although he is a legend among those in the know in the UK land of 1960s and 1970s guitarists. He has easily included with the Grahams, Jansches, Renbournes, Wizz Jones', etc., and like them he takes a classic British folk style and puts a serious personal twist into it.

Starting with 1971's 'Trout Steel', he brings in jazz moves made obvious with the bleating brass blasts in between his bluesy folk vocals atop his acoustic guitar and bass, such as in "That's How". Just when you think he may go into a more straight forward style he tosses out an eleven minute epic "I've Got Mine" which is psyche folk jazz if there is such a thing. And if not before, then he created it here. There is also a wyrd Americana folk style reminiscent of the Holy Modal Rounders, although it is a little more focused here. Wilco fans, check out the precedents for alt country and include some of these songs. But don't get too comfortable when you realize that the seven minute plus "Pharaoh's March" is clearly an homage to Sanders and not Xerxes.

1972's 'Places I Know' has more traditional material early on, although he can't help explore intriguing jazz locales in the latter cuts including the magnificent 15-minute 'So Glad'. This was ambitious music for its time, even as that was the goal of many musicians of that day. This holds up extremely well today. I recommend this music to people who find Beefheart a bit too coarse or Gram Parsons a bit too rooted. But if you like a combination of that along with someone who understands British folk and American blues, then Mike Cooper is a must-listen.

The second of this fine series features two bands    This is a series from Hypertension Records ( which is worth checking out as there are many exciting bands along with cool vinyl editions and bonuses for subscribers. As they say… "the record industry is dead, long live the underground!"

Hessian spends eleven minutes letting rip a ferocious blast of nu-metal with deathly overtones, yet with a post punk precision. This may be somewhere between Killing Joke and Gorgoroth. Furious drums, churning guitars and dark vocals just go and go and go. This transported me into their dark world, but offered an active journey filled with subtle overtones of hope.

Primitive Man is all of that. The vocals are primitive guttural sounds that may or may not be in an actual language, but stake out territory in the death metal world as the guitars, bass, and drums bang out a steady onslaught of noisy metal. This is a little too much in the straightforward death metal dirge world for my tastes, but there is a sonic atmosphere worked up that is successful for fans of the genre.

Electropop is something that makes me uneasy when it comes time to putting down words of description or praise. It is all so easy to like, but I am not sure I pick up on all the transcendent bands out there in this large and growing field. Papertwin has come up with this six song ep that seems a bit more interesting than most, as the vocals as sonic shifts underneath offer a little more for me to grab onto. It is dreamy and laid back, but "Headlights" and "Whale" deliver some serpentine hooks that pulled me into their world. And that is generally what makes something worthy of more than one listen in my book. And if you like thi genre a lot, I would keep an ear to the ground for Booklyn's Papertwin.

Regular readers know how much I love this Baraboo band. They were off to a great start with me if only for their beginnings in Baraboo, Wisconsin, a cool place I visited when I was young, which was well before any of the band Phox was born. But even without that history, their two live shows fully captivated me with their comfortable sound and careful and intelligent approach to a unique brand of pop music. You could tell that their debut record would be excellent, as their live set managed to capture a delicacy in their sound that showed remarkable restraint as they built the drama with in the song. Monica Martin's vocals are of star quality as she takes that sultry lounge singer's voice and weaves into the creative pop melodies that this band devises. This is such comfortable music, but yet with so much subtle brilliance in the execution. All twelve songs play well together as the atmosphere is established throughout with clear divisions of songs and clarity in the execution. Strong debut and between the quality here and their hard touring of recent years, this band is ready to explode.

Come see for youself when Phox hits the Hamilton on Saturday, July 19th. I will be there, seeing them for the third time.

Songs to try first:

Calico Man - The opener is the shortest and most mysterious of the bunch, a great way to hook you into the album.

Slow Motion - A lot goes on sonically with lush atmosphere that includes open space, and thicker rock moments.

Laura - Great vocals atop a lounge piano, yet with spacey synth and string moves that build this into a rock song.

Jangly guitars, hard charging rhythm section, and desperate yet fetching vocals… Hmmm… sounds like a lot of music I listened to in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The songs are very catchy and this formula could easily slip into an oh too cozy and cute zone. Fortunately the band does not let this happen as the guitars can roar with the best metal heads and the band twists the thumbscrews of intensity at many startling points on this album. There are nice delicate passages as well, which tend to how gnarly these guitars sound in other songs. The vocals remind me of a sonic space somewhere between Pere Ubu and Devo and musically, this is not far off from the early works of either, modernized a bit. Like the early Cleveland scene, there is a lot of playful song writing merged into a decaying industrial town landscape in these songs. It is not quite the same thing as there is a touch of modern shoe gaze sneaking in at times, but it is awfully close and very welcome to these ears.

Songs to try first:

In My Mind - Why not open with the opener and see if that guitar break near the end wins you over as well.

Limestone Radio - Monster fuzzy guitar hook will lock you in with a stranglehold within seconds.

For Those Who Stay - Just when I think I figure this band out, they stretch out this song with tasty guitar jamming.

I still can not get over how some of the musical forms that were so cliche when I was young are now so startling rare these days. I am thinking of progressive bands, which outside of Europe, you just don't hear much of anymore. Hard rock bands are slightly more common, but those that have that combination of soul and funk skillfully in their sound are still on the rare side these days. So thank-you Radio Moscow for coming up with all of these familiar songs and having the skill and vision to make it all sound so fresh and invigorating (even if your real fans don't use words like 'fresh' and 'invigorating'). This is rock music, learn to love it.

Songs to try first:

So Alone - Blasting rock with plenty of soul and funk moves. Bliss.

Death of a Queen - I am a sucker for double leads, but these babies scream out like few others.

Bridges - There is devilishly clever songwriting here and crazed rock moves, this is creative hard rock.

It did not take long for me to realize that I loved this DC band's style and sound. They play classic punk era power pop songs that do not sacrifice the power of the guitar, nor the pop vocal melody lines. Although I have a few songs picked out below each of these nine songs can stand alone as a worthy cut to listen to. But I enjoyed letting them build into a powerful display of great song writing craft being fleshed out as exciting and vibrant arrangements. Every song pops out at you quickly and earnestly and each sound is well crafted and purposed. These guys are fresh on the scene as ROM, but (wisely) changed their name, so you may have seen them as Dead Women. I recommend jumping on this 'redesigned' train quickly because you will enjoy the ride and it hopefully will be a long and fun filled journey.

Come check out the live show at the DC9 on August 5th.

Songs to try first:

Jerry Princess Taste - Great combination of quirky pop and driving power pop.

Belia - There is such a strong guitar sound here, yet the vocals are lovely in classic power pop form.

Old Bull Lee - A slightly slower moody style with a surprise guest female vocal spot.

If you are like me and have not heard of this band (and if I heard this name once, I surely would have remembered such a picturesque name), then this greatest hits package is a great place to start. They remind me of California's Kaleidoscope in the exoticism department, but with songs and arrangements that are more comforting and fit into folk rock forms with ease. Circus is the appropriate word as there is so much playful music in the arrangements, yet the quality of the songs could also work in a stripped down folk environment. The production quality is a real plus here, especially considering this band's reputation for live shows. The sound is rich with the instruments filling the room while preserving clarity for each. There are three previously unreleased songs among eleven that hardened fans will already know and love. Hopefully they will make it down from their Hudson Valley haunts for a DC area show some time soon. I have some catching up to do.


This is an album of nine instrumental songs. The band has a loose psyche post rock meets jazz rock vibe to its overall sound. And if that sounds a bit confusing, sounds such as this are supposed to make you think at least a bit. There is some room for feeling, although this band does not move me as much as Mono or Mogwai, for example. Those bands are designed to be heavier and I missed that here. So if you want to explore a more easy going sonic terrain, join the Troop of Echoes for a twisted stroll through lesser trodden urban alleys.


Just seven songs here , well six with an instrumental intro, but Turn to Crime gives off a good taste of what they are about. There are a few complex flavors that combine to form some sort of lo-fi garage pop jam sound with quirky beats, lightly twisted vocals, and musical jabs and parries that combine in strange and mostly welcome ways. I am quite interested in this band as it features the work of Derek Stanton, from the defunct yet excellent band, Awesome Color. It does not always come together for me, so I am left more with an interesting appetizer that hints at the good things that may come next. I am appreciative that this is daring and a few steps beyond his previous work. I will definitely stay at this table for as long as the dishes keep coming.

The trouble with labels like 'alt country' (or anything with alternative in them) is that eventually they can become so entrenched that you may need a double 'alt' to start distinguishing bands. I am not exactly where I would put the WeatherVanes on this scale, but they have long been one of my favorites of the broader Americana genre as they always manage to keep close to the heartland, yet explore a wider array of sonic possibilities than most bands attempt. All the variety I have come to expect is on display in these thirteen songs. There are boozy honky tonk numbers, delicate folk songs, folk rockers, hearty Americana numbers, and scorching rockers surrounding a folk rock core. In other words, you should find something to like here if you are even the slightest bit open to rock music with the Americana style.

Songs to try first:

Mountain to River - The opener showcases the great combination of delicate folk music and searing rock moves that this band pulls off far better than most.

Long Way Down - The title cut is rather a classic style that could resonate with purists as well as more adventurous listeners.

Grace - This one goes down smooth with a clean rock style and wistful folk moves, quality sounds from end to end.

Normally electropop impresses me in subtle ways where I can enjoy it, but I don't tend to revisit it too frequently. I thought this band would slip into that crowded area for me, but thankfully the vocal work is outstanding and has me more transfixed than usual. There is more delicate music than intensity, but the musicians work their palette to coax out some intriguing sounds that lay a good foundation for the excellent vocals. It all comes together into a pleasurable album.

Wild Beasts will be in DC on Saturday, July 12th at the 9:30 Club.

Songs to try first:

Wanderlust - No surprise that this has a radio edit to take out a swear word, as it works some pop magic.

Nature Boy - I though the record would settle into something mild and acceptable, but this vocal work proves me wrong.

A Dogs Life - Apparently a dog's life is a lot dreamier and psychedelic than I had previously thought.

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