Saturday, January 30, 2016


Pete Astor works the territory between Ray Davies and Bob Pollard, perhaps. There is songcraft with simplicity at work when the best of Astor’s songs ring forth. The lesser songs may be in that direction, but invoke a simple indie rock slacker folk vibe to it. The musicians sound relaxed, but have enough bite to their sound to keep it crisp and nimble, moving forward. This is a slippery record, lots of quality, but I won’t know its staying power until after a few more listens. It could go either way, but I would definitely recommend a listen.

Songs to start with first:

Mr Music - Sounds kinda classic, kinda fresh, spartan but complete. Song stories still work.

The Getting There - I love when a band has that certain ‘traveling beat’ for traveling songs.

Sleeping Tiger - Steady guitar chords atop a dreamy keyboard with fine bass and drums punctuation.


Dreamy electro pop… this is becoming a higher and higher and percentage of offerings in the past couple of years. You need less people to work with compared to rock music, so it is like folk and hip hop, one or two people and you have a live act or an album. Creativity is even more exposed and in this case, there is enough present as there are some musical shifts beyond the expected. The vocals are pretty good with a heavy emphasis on the dream portion of things. Still, over eleven songs, they did not offer enough alternatives for me to recommend this to anyone beyond the fans. I would rather see Beacon over many similar acts who frequent the U Street Music Hall, so you should give these guys a listen, if this is your scene.

And you can do just that when Beacon appears live at Songbyrd, Saturday, February 13th.

Songs to start with first:

IM U - The opening cut sets the electro dream pop stage well, with plenty of dream.

Running Out - Diverse shifts in style and substance yet the song smoothly moves along, just not in a straight line.

Hollow - Some effective hollow silences in this song.

If you enjoy quirky pop arranged with loads of creativity, then you should be on board for Field Music and their latest album. Unfortunately this type of music is more classroom material for me as the passion eludes me. I believe some passion is there in the music, unlike the cynical tripe in Steely Dan for instance. Don’t get me started there, as this does not send me into convulsions of annoyance. I even appreciated some of their sonic moments. But their core songs are working in a different dimensional plane for me. But there is a lot of talent within, so if this is your universe, take it all in.

Songs to start with first:

Trouble at the Lights - I can recommend this for its bold sound and darker visage.

Does all dream pop sound the same? Well, like most genres, if you like it, then definitely not. But if you don’t care much for a genre, it all starts sounding the same. I am not a huge fan of dream pop, but it occasionally works its magic for me. Not this time as the songs just showcased their atmosphere and moved along a reasonable but predictable melodic line. The vocals are good but unrelentingly steady. This one is for the fans of the style, at best.

This is an intriguing and occasionally slippery band. When they hit the right melodic notes and pull hard on the emotional strings, they can be quite profound. When they pull back and take it too easy, they lose me a bit. It makes me think this is Spriguns’ Mandy Morton’s granddaughter trying to recapture the old magic in a modern setting. This is not the first band to try for that and not the best, but they have me along for the ride in a big way when they nail it just right.

Songs to start with first:

Superhuman - The opener has a delectable melody line, familiar enough but effective.

Iodine - Kind of quiet in the beginning but with the instrumental build and gospel like backing vocals, this became big and bold.

Bad Sister - Great vibe here, with its classic British folk ballad style at work. Wring out that emotion.

This a full bodied folk album, or a classic singer songwriter outing to put it another way. Vocals and acoustic guitar take the lead, but there are many more sounds and arrangements among these eleven songs. This one took a while before it started to work a bit of magic. The vocals are decent but predictable. The music less so and where there is some thoughtful layering or creative songwriting twists, there is some real excellence here. A mixed bag for sure, but worth a study.

Songs to start with first:

Cut Your Ties - I like the way the strings build this up late in the song.

Fjord - Icy themes and cool brass work together to establish the mood.

Traffic - Here is a song where I think the acoustic guitars shine in a well written song.

There have been a few generations since the brand of psychedelic music that Night Beats is closely attached first began. This has all the earmarks of early Vox amps with enough watts to pummel your eardrums and guitar pedals with reverb you will be hearing the next day. These guys have the sound but also the songs sounding almost dead in between the thick power of Black Angels and the quirkier songs of Dead Meadow. Yes, I am a total mark for this sound, but it is the songwriting here that will make me come back for more, just as it does for the bands I mentioned. And being from Seattle if you enjoyed the neglected classic album from Truly, you will likely fall in love with this one.

Songs to start with first:

Power Child - Distant guitars and in your face vocals make for a post punk psychedelic sound.

Sunday Morning - Not the great Lou Reed song, but like that one a little lower key than the rest with a killer melody.

Shangri Lah - Galloping western styled melody with some Flamin Groovies style guitar counters. Groovy.

If there is such a thing as lounge folk rock, Cian Nugent just may be able to write the formula. But he moves beyond that or any formula with his rambling electric guitar and thoughtful singing. He even nails a nice fingerstyle instrumental with ‘Lucy’ to show he can go coffee house folk any time he would like. And he can also stretch out into a long steady rocker. This is the eclectic loner original style of folk music I like, something slightly outsider with no barriers in the approach. Nugent is carrying the classic psyche-folk tradition into modern and more unique territory. As a bonus, he is from Ireland and not related to a certain 2nd Amendment lunatic guitarist.

Songs to start with first:

First Run - Reminds me of an American take on Meic Stevens electric folk with just a hint of psyche.

Shadows - Steady bleating of brass on this eight minute epic.

Year of the Snake - Speaking of epic, this rocker clocks in at 11:40 with its Feelies meets Kurt Vile beat.

To answer my earlier question, NO, all dream pop does NOT sound the same. Even if the sounds may be similar, there are bands that work the form with a sense of majesty and vision that reminds you of why the genre has a strong fan base. Promise and the Monster are clearly one of the best in this arena. Their gorgeous female vocals could work in a number of places, but set them atop the atmospheric guitars, synthesizer washes, smart percussion, subtle bottom, and you have a monster of a band that exceeds even the most optimistic of promises. There is a strong gothic feel and a pounded out flexible metal style, the type of which excels in their native Sweden. Whether metal, folk, pop, or progressive, there seems to be a magic connection in Scandinavia. But even if you don’t buy that theory, I would recommend buying this and establishing your connection to this excellent music.

Songs to start with first:

Feed the Fire - Great melody will suck you in and hold you tight.

Hunter - More sumptuous sounds with the second song. I am hooked.

Hammering the Nails - Nice mysterious guitar line. Look, don’t stop with these, just listen to the whole LP.

There are eight songs on this LP, but this is not an album to pick and choose as the band has created a large concept album here. The storyline concerns a ’sex positive female revolutionary’ so this is a good combination of themes of Cafe Flesh and Barbarella. The great thing about this concerns the glam progressive moves the band relishes. If this type of big, bold, and brash sound is not required for concept albums, it probably should be. There is even some punk attitude within and it is nice to see the Screamers’ Paul Roessler engineering this beast. The other selling point is the amazing vocal work of Savannah Pope who can carry her tones about the din and pull back into a heart grabbing acoustic moment. Musically, this is fun, although a bit more creative flourish would help. It is there at times, but falls back into safe classic rock forms a bit too much. But that is a minor quibble, as this is a fun record for fans of ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ and even me, who thinks that is a bit overrated.

Nine songs of electronic pop are not always to my liking, but this band has plenty of bite in the welcome guitar. It is instrumentally thick, which meets with my approval as well. Add female vocals and, well, you just might make me a fan of this genre yet. The key to any genre is writing great songs. I am not sure this band is at the ‘great’ level, but they write good enough songs to keep me from even thinking about looking for the fast forward button. There were a few songs where my mind drifted, but most had some variations and thick production, which kept my focus. The songs are distinct enough, but I preferred listening to the whole album irrespective of song titles. So put it on and sit back for the fun.

See them live at DC9 on Monday, February 29th.

Electric Blues Rock is the Genus here, with a species that moves into spare territory focusing on electric guitar, drums, just enough tasty bass and bluesy singing that has a full understanding of post British Invasion blues. But there are forays into older rock’n’roll moves that balance this between fairly new, old, older, and oldest variants of blues rock’n’roll. It is hard to argue against the style. The trick is to do it well and these guys do.

And if you want to catch them live, hurry to the Rock’n’Roll Hotel TONIGHT, Saturday Jan 30th.

Songs to start with first:

Off the Ground - The opener has a brisk mobil approach in the music that transcends the basics.

Rita Mae Young - I like the drumming and the spaces between the instrumentation and vocals.

Feels So Good - A fine rock’n’roll number here. It’s a gas.

Maybe some people have been tired of the quantity of Ty Segall press in recent years, but I can not fathom getting tired of the music. Like a similar crazed song-a-holic Robert Pollard, he still has a way with a hook and manages many different ways of getting his music out there. I think he has even steadied his pace a wee bit, but if he has the energy and the songs, why not keep moving? This time around, he is combining some of the dense electronica of Nine Inch Nails to his power pop sensibilities, along with his psychedelic flair. Balancing quirky and heavy is a unique approach that only a few dare try and he has fully succeeded with that here. A true pleasure.

Songs to start with first:

Squealer - The opening cut is catchy and establishes the sonic themes for the LP.

Emotional Mugger/Leopard Priestess - A long hard hitting rocker, still with some quirky bits.

Candy Sam - This rocker is catchy with a great Ron Asheton style lead guitar intro.


by Kyle Schmitt
This album is a solo recording project from Carlos Martin Vizcarra, who has since recruited a four-piece band to play shows under the Shooting Down Asteroids banner. Vizcarra’s vocals dominate the mix, with bright, clear production making these songs immediately accessible. The synth-driven “100 MPH” showcases the album’s combination of wistful lyrics and upbeat, poppy instrumental playing. Backing vocals help to build a restless atmosphere in “Phosphorescence”, while a simpler, straightforward accompaniment suits “Chicago” just as well. Switching gears, Vizcarra effectively channels his anger at science-denying politicians in “Drown”, warning that “our sinking ship is burning, and we’re all going to drown.” Vizcarra crafts some pleasing songs on this record, and his pop sensibilities create intrigue in how these elements would come together in a live setting.

Songs to start with first

Anything - The synth arrangement lends tension to a song about a compulsion to reunite with someone.

Fireflies - Vizcarra’s smooth vocal style blends well with the acoustic guitar backing.

Chicago - A Windy City road trip (the “baddest place I have ever been” in winter) allows Vizcarra time to muse on the state of his relationship.

Here is a local pop duo out with a four song EP with bright catchy songs and a varied sound. They go from big and busy in the pacy ‘Make me Sway’ to the easy going soul pop touches in ‘Winter’s Warmth’. The final song ‘A Love I Won’t Mind’ is the most accomplished to my ears, as they balance some quick rock moves with the warm pop style that is at the core of their music. If you prefer a smarter brand of pop music that is smooth at heart, but filled with rock energy, then Skyline Hotel should be on your itinerary.

“Now I’ve never made any money… at my writing.” That is the opening line of the second song/story called ‘Broke Artist’ and I have already figured out that there was no way Sonny Smith was going to make any money at his writing, at least with these short stories set to odd backing music, sometimes lounge, sometimes country. I really hope ‘Broke Artist’ is an ironic commentary on the nature of pretentious artists seeking out a living with their rubbish that they believe moderate to mass audiences should be supporting. If so, he nailed it. There may be an audience for this, although the larger one would be for his band Sonny and the Sunsets who are also not an act that I will advocate. I am an avid reader and even if I read this as prose as I would much prefer, I would not care at all for Mr. Smith’s storytelling. It has that faux arty feel enhanced by his laid back approach. There are far more interesting observations and far more interesting observers in life.

This Swedish outfit looks a lot like the Residents with Bear-heads instead of Eyeball-heads. Sonically, there is something similar as well, although the Residents exploded out in their own weird direction whereas Teddybears let several forms of music implode into their black hole of a world. There is thick powerful electronica at the rocking heart of this with plenty of reggae, pop, rap, and rock forms fighting for priority. As I say so many times, this is not my area of specialty but if I were to venture more into modern electronica and hip hop, I would hope people would be as creative as this. It is an original and entertaining album at its worst.

Songs to start with first

Rock On - The opener is far from David Essex but has an innocence to it that makes you want to hear more.

TBYEH - The second cut explodes with power and rhythm and sets the tone for the album.

Marathon Man - Papa oom maw updated.

Torres put on a magnificent show a few weeks back at the Rock’n’Roll Hotel as they were finishing their US tour in support of this album. So it is hardly a surprise that this is a brilliant work on its own. All the dynamics of the live set are evident with even more quiet moments developed in the studio. The vocals are transportive in the way of dream pop, but more the converse of that. Not exactly a nightmare, but more like a surrealistic Twilight Zone journey like the dream in Eraserhead or the dream that is Erasherhead. This is one of those albums bands should study to try to improve their creativity in arrangements and song structures. There are many other albums you can do that to, but this one will have you fully absorbed emotionally even as you try to be intellectual about it all. Proof again that Torres is one of the best bands out there.

Songs to start with first

Strange Hellos - Just another accurate title, as this opener will spook you with its quiet opening before the roar comes in.

Son, You are No Island - Thematically attached to psyche folk, but this band is it is own unique rock world.

Sprinter - The title cut is a magnificent song in a bold classical sense.

I used to like a band called Lovelikefire who had a rich and thick pop music style combined with a unique charm that elevated the expected cliches into something special. Wall of Trophies has captured much of that here and it is all the more amazing as this is the band project of one of my local folk favorites, Brittany Jean, working with long time collaborator Will Copps in this new style. The sound fits comfortably within many albums that you have heard before, but when they add their personal shape to the mix and add enough variety to the songwriting, well, they’ve created an album you can come back to many times. I would like a bit more variety to make it more a classic listening experience, but I believe it should wear well for quite some time as there is not a bad note in the bunch. I think any electronica fan would be happy with the extra work here in melodic construction and singing. And it will be exciting to see this in a live context some time, hopefully.

Songs to start with first:

Everything - The opener will either pull you in or not. If so, proceed onward.

Heliograph - The title cut has a more mysterious mood to it and the vocals are quite intense and attractive.

Debt - I love the acoustic guitar introduction half way through. This is the creative flourish I crave.


Vancouver’s Walter Van Norden meets Los Angeles’ Aubrey Richmond and musically the result is a western, rootsy stew of pleasant songs with a core strength and flowing arrangements. Aubrey Richmond adds some thoughtful vocals and some fine violin moves throughout the album. Although it is western in overall style, there is more of a universal time and place here. Ultimately, the songs have character and quality of varying degrees with the overall effect being strong enough to make this worth checking out. This would resonate strongly with my Folkworld readers.

Songs to start with first:

First - The folk rock vibe with a country roots feeling is the setting for an attractive song.

Tsunami - I get a feeling from folkrock’s ‘golden age’ of the late sixties here.

Nothing Less- Stay to the end, because this a heart wrencher.

I really enjoy this San Antonio collective who have the basic style of the Cowboy Junkies, but dig deeper in the psyche-folk world (while not losing their American roots). The electric guitar is mysterious and tasty, while the piano works off of it really well. Add a busy bass, female vocal harmonies and you are starting to work toward Mellow Candle. They are not that audacious—few are, but they work some of the same exciting sonic terrain. I have just one complaint. There are only four songs on this EP. But there is not one ounce of body fat on this mesmerizing music, so whether an EP or an LP, I will leave it to them to decide how much of their excellent music they wish to unveil at one time.

This is ten songs of electropop. The vocals are good, but I have heard it before with more interesting backing. The backing is bubbly and hits many of the right pop notes, but I am too old to dance. This group is from Montreal and is a good reminder of why I much prefer Toronto, when I seek out Canadian music, despite the former’s recent reputation.

If you enjoy this style, go check them out at the Black Cat this coming Wednesday, February 3rd.

No comments: