Wednesday, December 2, 2015


This is a five song EP which had more than enough music to put this band squarely within the confines of classic rock in style, but with just enough style in the playing to place them in this century, cognizant of more than just early 1970s music. But this is straight ahead rock with gutsy vocals and loud guitars, sometimes soloing away with piercing precision. Interesting, but not quite enough to arouse me to further interest. But I’ll keep an ear to the ground for further growth.

This Cincinnati collective features the songs and vocal stylings of Nelson Slater. Being that he was a long time friend of Lou Reed beginning in the pre-Velvet years, a Velvet Underground comparison is nearly inevitable. Especially with the crazed guitar work here. It is not exactly the same as it also reminds me of the Birthday Party and a few other crazed rock excursions. The key is that there are often wild lead guitar runs working as the rhythm guitar amidst more normal rock instruments and playful keyboard and synth bits. It is wild stuff and the songs almost seem more British in nature as I detect a style similar to that of Howard Devoto and Magazine. All in all, it is a great jolt of rock music from someone who was a small part of an extremely important formative scene.

Funny, there used to be a time when a lot of what came in was lo-fi garage punk with a nod to the sixties. But I have not heard something quite like the Brainstems in a while, well like them maybe, but not a band that gets it just right. These guys are a blast. The guitars are 60s, 70s, and lo-fi modern all in one,while the rhythm section sounds like they are from a crisp 60s garage rocker session and the vocals have a distant punk and art-punk attitude. In fact, art-punk is probably the best way to describe this as they remind me a lot of one of my favorites from the early punk days, MX-80 Sound, who never quite got the recognition they deserved. It may not be as original now, but the Brainstems are working a great terrain that people should be exploring a lot more.

Songs to start with first:

Keep it together - They prove how to combine eras and keep it together.

Simple Joys - Twin guitar lines combine for a great melody.

Untold Heights - Ferocious rocker still just arty enough to remind you it is them.

The Black Ships follow the gutsy British pop rock sound far more than the psyche rock ’Black’ American bands as in Mountain, Angels, Lips, etc. The guitars are strong and the throaty bass sound is a bit of a giveaway to the Anglo style especially as it ascends up the fretboard. The vocals are romantic and longing, like many bands from 1980 onward. The songs are catchy, although they get a little too comfortable in their one groove for the most part. It is a fine sound, but one we have heard before. Ergo, a few surprises would aid things considerably—hopefully that will come in time as confidence grows.

Songs to start with first:

Dead Empires - Can’t go wrong with a title like that and this opening cut lays out a lush but gutsy sound.

Sea of Cortez - Another strong driving rock song with warm and inviting vocals.

Kapitulation - The closer has a more mysterious beginning that I wish they would explore further next time before going too comfortable.

This is the sort of album that is easy on the ear with soft arrangements including some folk based melodies with subtle electronic washed out sounds adding atmosphere. There is plenty of room for the easy going, yet striking voice of Heather Woods Broderick. She is new to the scene as a solo artist but has backed Sharon von Etten and worked with Efterklang previously. Both of those artists are clues to the direction of this fine album. It is mannered, yet breathes at a slow and steady pace as the atmosphere puts you at ease and allows for deep thought with the pleasure of warm music enveloping the near environment. Although I often speak of enjoying the variety within an album, a fully composed dreamy atmosphere can work with little variance if it is done as well as this.

And you can see her live at the DC9 on Thursday, December 17th. I will be there.

Songs to start with first:

Up in the Pine - A strong opening, as her quietly dramatic voice will invite you in to stay a while.

Mama Shelter - You feel warm and sheltered in the environs of this song.

A Call for Distance - A nearly seven minute excursion floating into the Heather Woods Broderick atmosphere.

This collection comes from original 78rpm 10” records. These discs have been quite in vogue for collectors in recent years, although most collections focus on the early blues artists. This is a fine collection of early recordings of songs dated to and mostly relevant to the Civil War. It is a good array of 20 songs that start in Appalachia and head to the deep south. I am not exactly a fan of this era of early music, preferring much earlier and ancient musics. But this was an interesting compilation worth hearing at least once. And I really enjoyed Henry C. Gilliland and AC (Eck) Robertson’s crazy version of ‘Turkey in the Straw’, one of my favorites from my early early days on this planet. Ultimately this collection reminds me that no matter how much the present problems dominate the day, we are better off than we were.

The two daughters of Tom Chapin and nieces of Harry are by now well established singer songwriters of their own. The harmonies are unsurprisingly exquisite and the overall quality is strong throughout. What is amazing is the variety of songs present. The twangy southern California country songs interest me the least, but the pop nuggets, moody rockers and psyche-folk-rock moments are quite a surprise and quite excellent. This is a lot more challenging than I expected, but it is so very interesting and many songs are quite memorable. If their audience gives them a long enough leash, they should be quite pleased with the exciting songs the Chapin sisters come up with here. I AM impressed.

Songs to start with first:

Autumn - The opener is surprisingly sumptuous, rich with vocal imagery and a lilting melody.

Chasing the Rain - Sounds like a lost 1968 folk rock track that should not have been lost.

World is All - This song may balance their styles and thus is one to listen to if you are not sure which direction you would like to travel with this duo.

It was over 50 years ago that the Kinks’ Dave Davies punched holes in a small amp and with some extra rigging, truly embraced a fuzzy unknown. And rock’n’roll lovers everywhere wanted to know all about the fuzz. Correatown is embracing fuzz more of a metaphor as there is more a clean pop sound, bright and assertive. The female vocals are cool, but not icy as even with the careful control evident, the emotion comes through. The band is brisk with clean, assured pop structures. There are a few songs that do not quite reach the heights of the successful cuts, but this is a worthwhile listen.

Songs to start with first:

Small Hours - The spooky intro jolted me to attention and the vocals still were able to startle in this quiet slice of drama.

True North - A brighter pop song with a lovely melody brought to life through crystalline vocals.

All Horizon - Scrumptious piano and snare drum really liven this pop cut.

The bubble pop in front of a metronome on speed made me quite wary of continuing with the album. But it quickly changed course into a pop soul vocal style in front of electronica music that had more interesting sonic shifts. It still does not hit me in the right spots, but it is pretty effective and would make a successful set at the U Street Music Hall, I would think. So those of you with appropriate dance moves, have a listen because these old bones are not going to be able to describe the movements that this music can induce.

This 5-song EP features crisp and clean rock music from this fine local band. The guitars lean toward strong blues rock, while the vocals take a more Americana approach. The opening rocking songs were good, although even more fun live. I particularly thought the studio really showcased a ballad they have entitled ‘Call Me a Doctor” (Ok, you’re a doctor, rimshot!), where they reach great heights. Even with five songs you get a taste of what this band can do on stage and with good songwriting here as well, they have studio songs that should hold up to many relistening sessions.

I wondered if this was not some lost album by Free. The vocals are very Paul Rodgers-like with that mid-range blues rock precision singing. They are backed by a gutsy rock band that knows all the moves. They push harder like Free instead of languishing in the easy going pace of Bad Company. There is great wah-wah moves, fine backing vocals to the always on point lead singing. The songs are creative enough as well and that makes this a very good listening experience as opposed to some nice throwback nostalgic moment. Even the ballads sound fresh and worked well. I will go back to this record and would like to see these guys… especially since I can’t see Free.

Songs to start with first:

Looking for my Peace - Just enough pace and extra power with the drumming to put you on the front of your seat.

Accents - This has a wide array of classic rock sounds and shifts and it all comes together in an excellent song.

When I See the Light - Wah-wah and vocals, stellar rock moves with a dash of funk.

There is an edgy, narrow walk between classic rock and power pop going on here. Too often there is that rock ballad style that takes me back to REO Speedwagon, where there is some good guitar work, but the overall style and sound just seems too pretty and disconnected. The vocals are different, but this takes me back to the days of Eddie Money and Rex. Those were not the best of times, nor were they the worst of times, but they do represent just one of the reasons punk rock happened.

Songs to start with first:

Give it Up - Decent power popper here.

Blue Thing - Decent rocker here.

Fall to Bits - This song has a very agreeable melody and is tough enough as well. The hit single.

They are calling this a double EP, which I hope refers to a vinyl offing as electronically it is 12 songs which are of album length. No matter the form, these songs all fit together in a brand of sleazy garage grunge rock, kind of that loose punk way of southern punk bands and raunchy Pacific Nothwesterners. It is almost smart enough to be brilliant dumb rock, as you see a method to their madness. The vocals stay weird and warbly, while the band drifts between loose riffing and tight patterns. Yet these guys are from LA and unlike many bands I see from there, do NOT have a strong link to the great musical history there. Well, maybe a tad of the Gun Club, but it is closer to Sacramento’s Tales of Terror. They slow it down to dirty blues or loud loner folk and play around a bit to keep this quite interesting, and ultimately sounding like two EPs.

Songs to start with first:

Virginia Law - After a couple of ragged rockers, this tight little number still had desperate vocals, but they worked with a strong band effort.

Murderer of One - Twisted ballad with lots of rocking moments.

Alice - Really cool slow number with careful vocals that almost could work for Slim Cessna’s Auto Club.

This is new duo from experienced Belfast musicians who have started off with a bang on their debut four-song EP. It’s a muffled bang, as they opt for many subtle sounds weaving around together to form a strong dependable unit. The vocals are relaxed, slightly stoner, but with enough strength  to stand tall amongst the spacey but focused and linear music. This is creative enough, even in four songs, that I would be happy to hear more. Good things await, but I will know for sure with songs 5 through 16.

This local outfit delivers a  mix of sharp synth pop and experimental synth music that has plenty of bite in the music with sometimes daffy vocals that give the music even more breadth. The humor and odd vocal moves keep everything fresh and lively throughout 22 songs. I don’t find the humor or pop moves click with me each and every time, but it is to their credit that they kept me interested and smiling on occasion as this style of electro-pop often has me looking for something else to do. Electronica fans who like spacey synthesizer runs, odd vocals, humorous lyrics, and enough hooks, then give these folks a listen.

Songs to start with first:

Madonna was Once Just Like You - Yes, it is amusing and has a bouncy pop melody and oddball quirks.

Mr. Mom - Fine use of overlapping vocals and a funny little song.

Major Dad - Do they know they were redoing the Germs ‘Forming’ here? I am good with that.

Local DC’er some time back from the great Prog band, Little Bigheart, has now established himself in Massachusetts and has cooked up some strong Americana based folk rock with a full band adding the violins, banjos, and whatnot to the guitar and vocals. Although most songs have classic song themes that work well vocally, I am particularly impressed on the instrumental songs and passages, such as ‘Farewell, See Ya’ which have a great musical conversation going on. This band would have a very happy audience on the stage of Gypsy Sally’s or at Hill Country BBQ.

Here is a way to take roots oriented music and not go overly Americana with it. Instead, Gun Outfit focuses on textures and clever rock guitar interplay kept at a slower pace to add to the atmosphere. There are male and female vocals that take leads and harmonize if an effective manner to add varying strong tones to the songs. This band is surprisingly original as I carefully listen to these twelve songs. It is subtle, but they somehow manage to make the familiar unique, mysterious, and exciting to work your way through.

I am booked, but if you want to hear this excellent music live, head to the Cafe St-Ex on Monday, December 7th.

Songs to start with first:

Gotta Wanna - Mysterious male and female vocals work their magic over what I thought was going to be a roots song, but it soared instead.

Pass on Through - ‘to the other side’, well no, just take an easy journey with this light traveling song.

Worldly Way - Whoa, this is really psychedelic and flows with magnificence and mystery.

This is a powerful symphonic-electronic approach that conjures up Dead Can Dance and other lush dramatic ancient/modern hybrid bands. But few do it this well as the music is so steady and dramatic with care in the subtle backing vocals and ethereal sounds coupled with steady rhythm and striking guitar or keyboard notes. This is 4AD music with a bit more guitar bite.

Songs to start with first:

Discovery - The opening cut is quite the discovery as it shows its incredible slow building power.

Come Wander with Me - An eleven minute epic that had me there with each and every measure.

Evocation - Strong thick sludgy guitar backing sounds positively magisterial, especially with great vocals soaring above.

Here is a treat for electronic pop fans. This Finnish band has dug deep into the archives for a long two record set of songs never released. They are sparse, but fully produced and feature the extraordinary vocals of Sweden’s Johanna Kalén. At first I thought this would be just some more electronica, but then the simple, clean melodies started weaving their magic and the vocals and some arrangements brought in classic Scandinavian folk touches to really connect on a cool deep level. Check out ‘Min Lill Eld’ for some real magic. On the pop level, check out the warm counter melody working off the cool and steady structure of ‘Wind in the Willows’. Now this is electronica for all of us.

As the name of band foreshadows, this is cute power pop. There is plenty of drive behind the pop hooks and the delicate vocal work, so it certainly qualifies as power pop. Ultimately this is just a bit too cute for me. I like cute, but something just does not quite click for me to put this high up in a genre I like. I think if you are more a fan of classic pop radio, but enjoy the power pop movement, you should give this a listen as it might hit your sweetspot.

Songs to start with first:

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow - The opener has the signature rock drive and pop vocal line that you will be getting throughout.

Justine - Lots of contrasting guitar sounds atop a driving bass line.

Stabs at Happiness - A bit of a change up with a light indie sound and sharp percussion.

I was hoping for some variation of popsike from this Canadian collective. Instead it drifted away from psyche into a flatter rock-pop hybrid like the lesser songs of latter era Blue Oyster Cult (I was singing ‘Debbie Denise’ to the opening cut for all of you Cultists in the know). It continued for a bit until they ramped it up some. Then, a fine little rock band emerged with some psyche and psychtronica moves that did not overwhelm but colored their tunes nicely. It is a varied affair here, but there is heart in what they do and occasionally the fruits of their labors are quite refreshing.

Songs to start with first:

Slacker - Ironically this pacey psyche rocker is the least likeliest song to be played by slackers.

Zzyzx - This song’s name alone is worth having on your playlist, but it rocks, too.

Escape Artist - Easy going rocker, maybe this is more slacker rock than ‘Slacker’ was.

Lisa gives us five songs, which showcase her warm writing skills and feel-good full Americana band backing. It leans more heavily toward country when it slows down in ‘Somebody Someday’, but the pacier cuts were decent. No doubt her youth in Tennessee is a big influence, but she lives in DC now and recorded this with Don Zientara. The sound was excellent, but this started better than it ended for me. If you like it slower and more melancholy-country with tasty rock touches, you may like the last couple cuts best. It is hard to judge in five songs, but Lisa Said has the talent. We will await and see how it is further unveiled.

Mammatus offers us a mammoth album, a true double LP ala Topographic Ocean with four ‘sides’ of music and four ‘songs’. Actual the title cut is in two parts. Everything is instrumental, dense at times and then unfolding over time. There is progressive psychedelia with some math rock stylings. Atmosphere and drive both have their time and space to take control. It is very krautrock in nature and reminds me a lot of locals Kohoutek or a more out there, less song oriented Hawkwind, particularly when the guitars start roaring in ‘The Elkhorn’. But the real roar is saved for the closer, ‘Ornia’, which has the power and majesty of something by Mono. The only thing with this band is they don’t quite have the dynamics of the bands I have mentioned, but have a steadier level of playing even as they work from soft to loud passages and back again. I enjoyed this quite a bit and they will draw good numbers of fans who enjoy going off on heavier sonic journeys.

There are things going on in this electronic album that seem at odds with each other. There are smooth melodies fighting jarring beats and identities of various styles swimming through the mix into fore or aft. I can not quite figure out how much I like it, but I appreciate that Maribou State does not fall into the same comfortable groove of many of their contemporaries. I wish the vocals would be a bit more clarified in some of the songs, as the two spots by guest vocalist Holly Walker stand out well ahead of the rest. This is an interesting approach in a field I do not want to spend a whole lot of time with, but is a good reminder that electronica can still move in unique directions.

Songs to start with first:

Home - The opener asks more questions than it answers… soul, electronica, soultronica?

Steal - Holly Walker’s dazzliing guest vocal work is a major prize.

Midas - The second Holly Walker vocal is not quite as mesmerizing, but she is the major talent elevating this album.

Saint Jack was an excellent, yet pretty much forgotten Peter Bogdanovich movie with Ben Gazzara. I doubt the title cut touches on those cinematic themes, but there are some bold musical moves here. The band is from one of my favorite cities, Edinburgh, and was formed by former Fire Engines member Davy Henderson back in 1991. This tenth record is their first in over a decade and sounds like they never skipped a beat. It is edgy with surprising tiny real world interludes in between the songs that shoot for gut with razor sharp hooks or songs that unfold through slanting passages. Some of these 14 songs are a bit too fragmented and not quite complete enough for my liking, but the overall approach is bold and surprisingly unique in this day and age.

Songs to start with first:

Curdled Fragments - The title hints at the odd little musical segments that work together in this lovely instrumental.

Can’t Scratch Out - Sexy vocals, punchy rhythm, stretched out guitars, and noisy bits all come together in this way cool song.

Firecrackers - Quirky and sharp and with a flowing groove throughout.

This ep features a former DC’er from the band New Canada who in now living in my former home state of Colorado. He has teamed up with a fellow musician to concoct this short burst of tunes inspired by the Konami RPG series, Suikoden. That apparently is a cult favorite game of theirs, and I’ll yield to them as computer, video, and console gaming have left me light years behind. Musically, it is fitting as there are lots of squawking samples and remixed songs from the game along with garage guitar runs that quietly do their thing just behind the melody. They both share the vocals which is a good choice as Justyn has the higher garage voice, while Colin croons the slick lounge passages. This really isn’t as ‘out there’ as it could be—it’s quirky, but quite melodic and almost channels some of those lost vanity recordings of the late sixties with great fuzz guitar work. Ultimately, this is a lot of fun—give it a listen at the title link.

One of Baltimore’s more active roots rockers, blues folkie, singer songwriter, or whatever you want to call him is back with another LP. Adam Trice has nine songs here with an assortment of players assisting who in a live setting assemble to a full band called Red Sammy. The style is well established by now. Deep breathy low-key vocals deliver a sort of modern blues set of lyrics atop a rootsy blues style that achieves murky atmosphere more than showcase licks. Not that Bruce Elliott’s solos fail to show some chops, but there is a full band skill in keeping the tone and pace at just the right level to add to the mystique. This is their finest collection of songs to date for my ears, led by fine songs like ‘King of the Road’ and ‘Lawnchair’. You should definitely catch a live show as well, as he plays Baltimore a lot and DC every now and then.

This fairly new band may not be as hot as fire, but they are doing a slow burn that could result in a towering inferno. Their live show has already impressed me on a couple of occasions and they are playing regularly, displaying lots of energy with intriguing worldly sounds and rhythms. Here is a but a taste of their sound refined in the studio, but retaining some of the memorable energy from their live show. There are also the varied beats that go from reggae to rock and several points in between. The vocals are intense, while the guitar adds a bit of mystery at times, heft at other times. It is but a taste of what they can do, but it is a fine start to their studio life.

This has a real Ex Hex feel to it, and that is a good thing the way Ex Hex is taking off in the punk/power pop world. There are female vocals that walk the fine line between cute and tough with all the melodic and rhythmic instruments behind the voice doing their best to add just a little bit extra pop to the sounds so it jumps out more than most power pop bands. There is enough character and style shifts in each of these ten songs to make it a thoughtful listen, in addition to the obvious fun and adrenaline inducing pace and attitude. There is always space for albums like this in my world.

Songs to start with first:

Vertigo - A snappy opening number is always a great way to welcome an album to your ears and this has attractive vocals, melody, and chirpy guitar chords.

Perfect Love - Fierce guitar sound with a bit of post-NY Dolls sleaze.

Evil Eye - Mysterious intro morphs into a tough little rocker.

Um… any band with Magma in their title could be doomed for a comparison to one of the more innovative progressive bands in the world. As such, Ummagma is not Magma, but of course that was not their intent. Still, I was hoping for more spacey psychedelics or profound progressive passages. What is presented is lush soundscape material with deep vocals that are bit too dark and dreamy to send this anywhere near new age. ‘Galactican’ had a low-key Dead Can Dance vibe that was quite lovely. This is a five song EP with three additional remixes of ‘Lama’ by various celebrated musicians such as Robin Guthrie. I am not a fan of remixes, especially if the first one is done to everyone’s satisfaction. The exercise in instant remixing these days is a tiresome trend I hope starts fading away by the time these words hit cyberspace. Back to the record at hand—this is an adequate start, but I hope for a lot more from this band to justify all I have been hearing about them.

Martha Wainwright and sister Lucy Wainwright Roche have the pedigree as you can tell by the names (and the mother of Martha is Kate McGarrigle so it is just as big for each step-sister).  There are no less than five lullabies in these 16 songs, as well as many more that work well ‘in the dark’. But rather than simply rocking you to sleep, the vibrato of the voice and the delicate spaciness in the arrangements may induce some magical dreams. They keep the music simple and stark with plenty of acoustic guitar working off the vocals. But there are so many subtle softening sounds throughout that help make this album special. The Wainwright Sisters have managed to capture the magic of British folk with the deep Appalachian and Americana heart of darkness style and come up with a balanced and composed hybrid that should appeal to fans of either. It certainly hit my sweetspot.

Songs to start with first:

Prarie Lullaby - The opening cut is as mysterious and warm as anything on the album. Wake up and go to sleep.

Long Lankin - A great traditional is not quite Steeleye Span here, but is wonderful with the layering of voices and subtle instrumentation as each verse passes.

Our Mother the Mountain - Sound like a classic English folk tune brought to life with heavenly voices, but no it is an early Townes van Zandt song. That is pretty great, too.

I accidentally typed ‘Shite Fang’ as this record began—and although they may have heard that one before, this was merely a happy accident… or was it? White Fang sounds like a band that many people would have yelled ‘shite’ at in the mid to late seventies as they have that second tier punk rock sound of the Drones or the Plastic Idols. But second tier punk rock bands back in the day were good and a lot of fun. These guys have some of those classic rock styled hooks worked into just enough punk aggression to raise the eyebrows, if not the roof. Even ‘Chunks’ was an early punk rock LP featuring multiple SST acts. These guys twist their songs around a bit with varying tempos, oddball style shifts, basically enough twists and turns to make for a good listen. But I’ll be back for some relistens for sure.

Songs to start with first:

Wrecked - Great punk moves, but suspiciously in another dimension.

Tear it Up - This rocks.

Chairman of the Bored - Silly fun and great pogoing music.

W-X “W-X”
After a few electronica excursions, the garage rock moves that I expect from Tim Presley arrive. Presley is better known for White Fence and he’s worked with Ty Segall and Cate le Bon, so you can expect some creativity here. It’s still a bit too electronica for my tastes, but it has a more twisted Chrome-like approach at times. If there was more of that, I could really get into this even further. As it is, he does conjure up psychedelic images and fools around with beats in such odd ways, it keeps it edgy and interesting. There are some duds as there is bound to be when you put out 20 songs. That can be a problem with solo albums as there often is no producer or group dynamic to vet things through (although that can be a disaster, too).

Songs to start with first:

Steer Clear - The third cut brings in a great garage rocker that is dipped, coated and stretched out into a creative electro psyche song.

Brazliian Worm Band - The sound of a carnival organ in the center of a busy machine shop.

Clean it Glen - A good driving song, that still has strong twists and turns—Chrome covers Hawkwind.

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