Thursday, June 30, 2016

RECORD REVIEWS - June 2016

BLUE ORCHIDS “AWEFULL”
When Martin Bramah left the Fall after the great ‘Live at the Witch Trials’, he formed this excellent post punk band. The direction is given extra pizzazz with a cheesy psyche organ that perfectly merges the 60s with the 80s. The guitars are fierce and the rhythm section is high in the mix, so it has all the great post punk sounds that you expect. The songs are generally quite good as well and there are some demos amidst the better known songs. These songs are rarities and singles and such, but come together to form a great album.

Songs to start with:

The Flood - The opener has that modern audacious garage feeling.

Work - One of John Peel’s favorites and that is all you need to know.

Conscience - Slower, moodier, but lots of twisted counter guitar moves.

BLUE ORCHIDS “THE ONCE AND FUTURE THING”
This is the new material and although not as steady as “Awefull”, the highlights on this are well worth a listen. This takes a turn to the more slacker oddball music, which was hinted at in the solo album more than the Blue Orchids material. There are a lot of interesting moments here, it only requires an appreciation of a more laid back approach. If you have that, there are creative songs to be heard. If not, well, be sure to check out ‘Feather from the Sun’. That is a major highlight.

Songs to start with:

A Feather from the Sun - Such exciting contrasts of guitar parts, keyboards, laconic vocals… a highly original song.

Jam Today - And still jamming decades later.

Road to Perilous - Poetic beginning to an odd little dittie.

MARTIN BRAMAH “THE BATTLE OF TWISTED HEEL”
If Syd Barrett could have organized his thoughts better for his solo career, his great songs could have had this sort of treatment. Blue Orchids front man Martin Bramah released this in 2008 and this is reissued in conjunction with the Blue Orchids releases reviewed above. It was a pretty obscure limited release to begin with, but is well worth the time and trouble to put it out in the world again. It has that outsider folk feeling that is a fraction in the know (nod and a wink). That is always worth at least one listen for those of us that think we’ve just about heard everything.

Songs to start with:

Coming Forth by Day - Charming cut where the Bramah style starts making sense.

It’ll Be Night Soon - Nice electric guitar line added on to the moderately quirky folk.

Strangely Lucid - Like a folk Doors song.

RAFI BOOKSTABER “LATE SUMMER”
Here is some lo-fi psychedelic music that should interest most psychedelic fans, especially those around DC. The artist was in a DC band called Death Chants back before my blog began and I never caught them. When band members scattered, Rafi stayed active and now has this album out on Woodsist (Label of the band Woods). He may be in Philadelphia now, which has some fine psychedelic sounds around town. This one fits right in as it is trippy from first not to last, with chants, drones, and a really low key psychedelic vibe prevalent through eight long songs. There is not much discernible difference in the songs, well there is always something, but the goal is to create an atmosphere that unfolds itself in an Escherian manner. I still prefer more song oriented psychedelic music (and there is a touch of this later on), but I always leave plenty of room for good mood pieces and this one deserves some further cosmic exploration.
CERISE “SMOKE SCREEN DREAMS”
This is definitely my type of modern pop-rock. Moody vocals and thick sounds work hand in hand to deliver straight forward melodies that kept me glued to this channel. Not quite chillwave, but cool and composed throughout, this delivers a good balanced sound for cross genre interests. It is mannered with the artists in control of the pace and sound. There is plenty to like here, maybe not a lot to love and get roused up off your couch, but it was highly effective to these ears.

Songs to start with:

Shades in Shade - Maybe the thickest sound underneath the chill vocals.

St. Nick - Lovely guitar and percussion shake-up with more lovely vocal work.

Lay Low - Good fade-out with old school guitar solo amidst the relaxing tones.

CONSILIENCE “UNDER OUR BEDS 2”
The music here is decent. The vocals offer an effective thoughtful pop approach. I could easily dismiss this as an average effort, but this Edmonton band manages to connect the music with the lyrics as well as you could want. If you don’t pay attention, you will find pleasant music going in one ear and out the other. But they have a way of making you listen and their subtle but dramatic sounds are a big part of that. I likely would not have spent time with this if I just heard a few seconds or heard it described, but it was well worth my time and will be again soon. Tricky, but inviting.

Songs to start with:

Grim - A rich opener, replete with grim music and cautiously optimistic music. Quite a mood here.

Sober - A classy song where the guitars communicate as well as the vocals.

The Only Time I Choose - Dreamy, but down to earth some how.

M. CRAFT “BLOOD MOON”
So a musician exiles himself to a remote cabin to write an album. Yes, Bon Iver has been mentioned several times in conjunction of this latest LP by M. Craft, but there are of course differences. I thought Bon Iver was ok, but overhyped. Hopefully this M. Craft album will steadily find its audience, but it could grow quite large based on what I am hearing. There is a delicacy to the songs, yet a good searching vibe going on that allows the music to flow out. Even on songs that are fleshed out more with a chorus of backing vocals, sharper guitar tones, drums, and piano, everything is so mannered and comfortably paced. Although this may turn off the rock heavy crowd, if you are willing to sit back and drift in the pool, M. Craft will provide the soundtrack.

Songs to start with:

Blood Moon - Spacey foray toward the blood moon, yet a quiet, delicate journey.

Chemical Trails - Another careful, quality song.

Love is the Devil - If you like a bigger, bolder arrangement, this one has plenty to offer.

DALE and the ZDUBS “TUNA”
Local dubsters are back with another 18 song album. With maturity comes some positives, and maybe a bit of a negative too. The arrangements are more involved with a variety of rock meets reggae moves done at various intensities and volumes and plenty of pop hooks scattered throughout. I enjoy the brass and occasional carnival organ sound, both of which expand the atmosphere considerably. Lyrically and melodically it is a little bit geared to youth, which has left me by some time ago. So I am not sure whether a more refined approach would work or whether they should just continue direct their energy as they are doing. Probably best to stick with what they know and if they can still bring it on stage as they have in the past, all appears to be well in the ZDub camp.

Songs to start with:

Find a Way - Good pop tune, sung with warmth and very balanced between smart and accessible.

You Know I’m With You - The rock guitars sound wonderful here.

Never Land - Punchy cut that balances heart and heft.

DOT DASH “SEARCHLIGHTS”
It is always a treat to have these veteran DC punk rockers play their brand of punk infused power pop music, whether on one of their many regular releases or live in the clubs. Now with a lead guitarist, Steve Hansgen, well entrenched after a period of changes, they are firing on all cylinders as this album proves. And they still have that little bit of extra hard rocking guitar sound added to their power (to the third power) pop. I hope no one reading this blog is hearing the name ‘Dot Dash’ for the first time (the Wire song doesn’t count), but if you are, climb aboard, while these guys still have this amazing drive and clarity.

They play around town regularly but have a good show coming to the Black Cat on Thursday, July 14th.

Songs to start with:

Dumb Entertainment - Catchy enough opener, but with a sharp creative break shows the special nature of Dot Dash.

10,000 Days - Crunching guitars, big drums, melodic bass line, and still room for pop oriented vocals.

Summer Lights - Try this one if you think these guys have only a couple of different speeds—the old fashioned rock vibe is unique here.

KYLE FOSBURGH “TWO NIGHT”
This is not the first Kyle Fosburgh acoustic guitar record I have heard, so I expected and received something excellent. Between his fine solo albums, he also works to reissue and unearth Robbie Basho material, so he is a serious minded musician that has great taste with unique historic talents. Fosburgh has a post-Basho feel, but is more delicate in the way of a Pierre Bensusan. There are seven lovely songs here, all with fine finger style guitar work and with vocals that are carefully worked into the song, some times sparingly, but effective in their quiet clarity. I always like a good finger style folk guitarist, but Kyle Fosburgh is one that is near the top of my list, at least here in the USA.

FREE PIZZA “BERLIN, DE”
This seven song EP has that classic post modern indie rock vibe… crisp guitar bits, a bass line that roams a couple of octaves, snare popping drums, and ironic vocals. Oh, and a pop sensibility is at the heart, although the music acts like it does not want to admit it. I find this all rather cute, but hard to fully embrace in 2016. It is still a fun listen and it blasts by pretty quickly. A cut like ‘The Fall’ is something I want more of. On the right bill, this could be a lot of fun live.

THE GALAXY ELECTRIC “EVERYTHING IS LIGHT AND SOUND”
My expectations were for something psychedelic based on band name and album title. Instead, we have oddball bubbly pop music. As this goes on a ways, there is a more murky mysterious element that brings in ancient sounds from the 1960s pop and lounge scenes that make this sound other worldly and intriguing. This album is proof of the concept of finishing what you start. After three or four cuts, I was ready to move on. But staying with it, I found the songs got longer, better, and there was more of an understanding of their approach. This is not for everyone, but if you wanted to challenge the pop side of your musical brain, here is a good test.

Songs to start with:

Luminosity - Haunting vocal and guitar with dubby bassline and rimshots. Oddly interesting.

Murder in the Garden - A fine vocal and a musical mystery of sorts - my personal favorite.

Nightmares - One of the more pleasant nightmares I have experienced, but quite quirky and dreamy.

LAURA GIBSON “EMPIRE BUILDER”
This is the kind of smart album I like. There is such care in the execution with songs that are smart and penetrating. The emotions are unveiled through careful musical and vocal construction and not pushed at you like more obvious musicians. So you have something accessible where your brain stays on (but not overworked). There are musicians from Neko Case and Death Cab for Cutie here, so it is a strong cast engaging in popcraft at work. Give this a spin.

And you can see Laura Gibson at the Black Cat on Saturday, July 9th.

Songs to start with:

The Cause - Her assured vocal style is established and there is some crazy music going on in the background.

Empire Builder - Maybe it is the title, but the music also reminds me of a Paul Simon type epic story.

Caldera, Oregon - Great phrasing and contrasting sounds. Delicate and ethereal.

JAMBINAI “A HERMITAGE”
I am hearing Big Black meets Chrome meets Death Metal. But this is no young hip college band, but a South Korean collective that manages to work in traditional songs into some of the wildest and intense arrangements that are likely to come out of your speakers for some time. There are many longs songs and while heavy and startling at times, they engage in spacey drones as well. They are not the first Asian band to embrace the krautrock sounds of Ash Ra Tempel or Amon Düül, but they take it up a notch or two. And they cover all the forms that work for me in psychedelic music, drones, folk moves, hard guitar moments, and loads of creative flourish that all come together in one unique atmosphere. Monster LP, here, dive in and float skyward.

Songs to start with:

Wardrobe - Nothing like a ferocious opener to wake you from your slumber.

Echo of Creation - Another fierce rocker keeps the momentum

The Mountain - This is the climb to spiritual enlightenment.

DURAND JONES and the INDICATIONS “NOW I’M GONE”
I had to make sure I was listening to a new record when I first put this on, as the organ sound and other musical moves took me back to the soul music scene from the late sixties. Durand Jones is from Bloomington, Indiana and has clearly made an effort to bring classic soul music into the present. There are others, but not as many as there were then and it is good to hear this lovely sound. He has the expressive voice and also the band that can thicken up the mix or allow more space depending on the mood they are after. And they play around with beats and forms just enough, but the lead vocals are assured and keep the soul at the heart, so to say.

Songs to start with:

Smile - Great combination of old time soul and reggae moves.

Groovy Babe - Funky guitar, big rock sound and a great title.

Now I’m Gone - There is an interesting bounce in this beat.

FEMI KUTI “NO PLACE FOR MY DREAM”
Fela Kuti is certainly known as an African legend, as his Nigerian afrobeat set a course for many musicians around the world. One of them was his son Femi who has now been active for 30 years (where has the time gone). I am less familiar with his music, but since he first played in his father’s band, I am sure many of the core traits will be there. He clearly has a fiery lyrical approach and a high energized beat to support the vocal lines. The guitars and brass are bright and quick to the note. You have to look hard to find anything not to like here. So if not to your taste, it could easily hit you in the right mood; and I like a good blast of this style of music from time to time.

You can see Femi Kuti live at the 9:30 Club on Friday, July 29th.

Songs to start with:

Nothing to Show for it - Lively opener, which is the way that openers should go.

No Work No Job No Money - Spritely rhythm, lots of space for the strong vocals, interesting sounds.

Wy Our Money -  A snappy funky number that will get everybody moving.

LETS EAT GRANDMA “I GEMINI”
They must be slow roasting Grandma, as this music takes its time unfolding its flavor. This is moody electronic music, although there are both pop vocals and some hybrid rap moments as well. ‘Sax in the City’ is a bit noisier in spots and with some decent drumming hits some rock buttons while doing some interesting electronic things, too. There is just enough creativity to keep me listening. It is not really my style, nor am I exactly sure whose style it might be (which is cool), but it ultimately pulled me just far enough into its enchanted world.

LONESOME SHACK “THE SWITCHER”
If you like gritty lo-fi rock band blues, you may want to hang out in this lonesome shack. Be forewarned, this is raw. It is not gnarly fast paced furious blues. It is steady riff oriented chunky blues with atmospheric vocals. It is a bit like a steady slower punk rock band playing the blues, raw and feral without flash. If this sounds exciting, well it might be, but it was not for me. There are some good songs, but too many other times it is just blues riffing until they decide to stop. It is refreshing to go primitive at times and this may fit the bill for a foray back in time, but it just was not fresh enough and vibrant enough to sustain going forward with.

Songs to start with:

Lonesome Shack - Good atmosphere created here with the riff and vocal line.

Dirty Traveller - Well titled traveling song.

Blood - A little bit beyond the usual guitar riff song here offers a needed change-up, although it comes late.

MANWOMANCHILD “AWKWARD ISLAND”
Pop music is not often this creative. One wonders if ‘pop’ is the right word. It describes the feeling of association for the listener, but you just wonder if the popularity will follow. Clearly, smart music lovers will enjoy the sly simplicity of this music that is sharp as a tack, but it may not be able to quite catch the masses. Too bad, as there are great feelings to be had in these somewhat varied, but all slightly quirky songs.

Songs to start with:

I Know a Man - Kind of a Ray Davies title and a tad of the songwriting style, too.

The Retreat - Delightful pop song with some rocking moves as well as some surprise shifts.

The Telepath Returns - Has a laid back American pop style.

MIMES OF WINE “LA MAISON VERTE”
The mileage between Bologna and Los Angeles is vast and filled with many cultural influences that this trio can cull from as they claim both cities as home. The core line-up is keyboards/female vocals, stand-up bass, and drums, but there are other instrumentalists adding touches that include brass and some guitar. But that is the clinical side of the sound—the real key is the air of mystery that they provide in both the drama of their songs as well as the intriguing blend of styles. There is rock, a touch of lounge jazz, some goth folk moves, and I am not sure what else. This is original, yet very comfortable as long as you don’t waste too much time trying to analyze it. And thus, I will just sit back, or rather lean forward, and listen again to this fine album—a very nice surprise.

Songs to start with:

Below a Fire - The opener is an intriguing song both in nature and it trying to figure out this band’s direction (that is a compliment).

Jai Singh - The mystery continues with a lovely song, a low center of gravity, and brass.

Shemkel - This reminds me of a John Cale-Nico collaboration, but less scary.

PAWS “NO GRACE”
I smiled before I heard a note as I just knew that Paws brand of hook oriented punk-pop-rock would likely make me happy. This Glaswegian band has an earnest energy that they keep in check and sincere, while not afraid of rocking out with plenty of fire. There are hints of Husker Du, Guided by Voices, and Naked Raygun in here, but Paws sound like themselves—a band following a long line of catchy hard rocking bands that can rattle off the songs and excite an audience. Yes, I am happy.

Songs to start with:

No Grace - Strong opener with loads of power, but great touch in emitting a hearty melody.

N A - This one cooks with plenty of heart.

Salt Lake - They gnarled up the amps for this sound. Twisted and wonderful.

QUILT “PLAZA”
I have seen Quilt live a couple of times and have enjoyed the experience quite a bit. They are a favorite here in DC and it is nice to hear a new album by this fine Americana tinged indie rock band. They may invoke thoughts of genres long played out, but one fair listen and you can hear the particular magic that they can produce. The guitars and rhythm section have that integrated sophistication that makes so much sense, whether it be a carefully planned song or an extended jam. They do a little bit of everything that you expect on this record and it is quite the pleasure.

And they head back to the Rock’n’Roll Hotel on Thursday July 28th. I would be there in a flash were it not for the chance to catch Swans on their last tour (keep reading). But you won’t go wrong here.

Songs to start with:

Passerby - The opener features those wonderful ringing guitars, cool female vocals, and steady rhythm—as expected and desired.

Searching For - Great hooks and guitar interplay.

Eliot St. - A lovely popsike cut that floats you back to the 1960s.

THE SCENICS “IN THE SUMMER”
This band takes me back to the days where punk rock and new wave coexisted with bands straddling both genres. These guys go quirky, but with a laconic attitude punctuated by guitar bursts. The vocals are an acquired taste and frankly have not aged as well, at least in my mind. Vocally, it is a bit in the direction of David Byrne/James Chance without the overdriven intensity. The uneven rhythms and dynamics tend to throw my mind and body off unlike when I was young and music needed jolts like this. But there is plenty of creativity here if you are looking for something different. What is really funny is that when I finished this album, i looked up the details of the release and found out that these are recordings from 1977-78! I was going to give this seminal Toronto band credit for  following a nearly overgrown path that just is not taken any more. But it seems maybe the path is overgrown since the days where the Scenics were trail blazing.

SHOPPING “WHY CHOOSE”
Ah, those wonderful days of punk rock with self starting female bands with players that had somewhere between 0 and 50% experience with an instrument, but still started highly interesting and creative bands. The Raincoats and Slits worked wonders by creating rhythmic blasts of intensity wandering strange untaken musical paths. The sound continued into post punk with intriguing space between staccato guitar runs and full bass lines like Gang of Four and even the B-52s. So if you like any or all of that, you should be listening to Shopping. They seem to have a carved out a nice little niche in the musical world of the 21st century.

And Shopping comes to the Comet Ping Pong on August 9th if you want to catch them live.

Songs to start with:

Straight Lines - Love the almost Thomas Mapfumo guitar lines.

Say it Once - Tempo and melodic shifts, synthesizer effects, really cool things combine in this song.

Sinking Feeling - Actually, this takes me out of my sinking feeling.

SPAIN “CAROLINA”
I had to make sure I had band, album, and song correct when I saw Spain, Carolina, and Tennessee come up for the first song on the playlist. And of course, the band is from Los Angeles and have been around for some time, although this is the first album I have sampled. And they do sound more Californian than any of the other locales mentioned above and I believe most people would pick California in a multiple choice test between the four. This ‘band’ is primarily the work of Josh Haden, son of jazz player Charlie Haden and brother of Petra Haden (who I favorably reviewed last month). He has a laid back approach, but it is smart with plenty going on, which is kind of the tradition of the fine folk-rock artist with that western style. The vocals will melt butter slowly and are the highlight of the many fine sounds that deliver these slow thoughtful songs.

Songs to start with:

Tennessee - The opener sets the tone and is a lovely song.

The Depression - Not too depressing, but emotional.

Lorelei - A fine subtle jangle in the electric guitar and soaring vocals.

STELLA DIANE “NITOCRIS”
I read Echo and the Bunnymen when I first read about the band. I hear Echo and the Bunnymen on this first lisen as well as a lot more. There definitely is that post punk, goth, shoegaze, stylistic rock approach that will take you back to the 1980s. When they succeed for me, they are able to combine a droning style with a powerful rock undercurrent, but still more toward the British scene of the 1980s than, say the Swans. Some songs are likable, but forgettable, but they occasionally nail it and are well worth paying attention to. And sign me up for a live show, because that is where this will really work best. The band is from Italy, so we will see how far around the globe they can carry their sound.

Songs to start with:

M9 - The grinding guitars are both droning and driving, atlhough the drums a bass keep things mobile and fresh.

Psychedelic Furs - I just like naming a song after a band, odd but atmospheric.

Dedu’n - Strong opening, powerful cut. Please, more like this.

STILL PARADE “CONCRETE VISION”

This pop music is light and airy, in fact it is downright breathy in the vocals. I struggled to wrap around the music with its light melodies, overly loud bass lines and simple beats. The vocals often can pull it together, but in this case while they had a reasonable amount of expression within, they just seemed a bit too basic and by the numbers for me. Everything is fairly routine here and I really don’t see anything I have not seen a hundred times before, many done much better.

THE SWANS “THE GLOWING MAN”
Well, this it, their swan song. All humor aside (what humor?), Michael Gira and cohorts are calling it quits a second time after this LP and an extensive world tour. And this likely will be it, at least for the Swans, as I am sure there will be some fascinating offshoot projects. But this second run culminates with another fine offering. Just nine songs, a few of epic proportion, yet a long Swans song still can manage to suspend time and keep me entranced in their romantic drone far better than any normal rock band. They know how to drone with subtle layers and movements that allows the listener to think, but very slowly and carefully. If anything, this album is not as ferociously guitar on top of guitar domination and has more subtle moments. The title track goes just under 29 minutes and has some moments of guitar domination along with a host of other tones and sounds. And then they appropriately close with the lighter ‘Finally Peace’ as there finally is. I normally recommend songs but it never makes sense with the Swans—just dive in at the beginning and listen to it all as the Swans create their musical world as profoundly as anyone.

And by all means, catch them live in DC for the final time at the 9:30 Club on Thursday, July 28th.

THOSE PRETTY WRONGS “THOSE PRETTY WRONGS”
Initially this is one of those quiet albums that has enough quality that is hard to dislike, but you wonder how much you really like it. And like many of these types of albums, if you keep listening, it will carefully work its way into your system. There certainly is some background with this debut album as it comes from Big Star drummer Jody Stephens and his musical partner, Luther Russell. And the music here is a good follow up on the Big Star sound, although it is a little more relaxed and easy going with plenty of Byrds moves within. Big Star fans will definitely want to check this out—supposedly they recorded this in Memphis with some of Chris Bell’s guitars. So there is no trying to hide from the past, and that is as refreshing as these songs.

Songs to start with:

I’m For Love - I thought I was listening to a Byrds outtake when the harmonies kicked in.

Thrown - An nice shift in rhythm still retains the quiet ringing guitar for a great change up.

The Heart - A more acoustic take closes out the album in a lovely manner.

VARIOUS ARTISTS “SONGS FROM THE BLACK MEADOW”
The Black Meadow is a place of mystery located in the Yorkshire moors. A University Professor that collected folklore from that area went missing is the focal point of this release. Chris Lambert curated the artists here who contributed songs to help tell the tale of this mysterious locale (in addition to his book). It is a fine collection of psychedelic folk and goth tinged songs from several bands I know little of. I note that Mellow Candle’s Alison O’Donnell is on one track, which is a pleasure to see. This is a well done compilation, sort of a more modern Wicker Man soundtrack. It is not quite of that quality (few psyche-folk records are), but surprisingly not terribly far behind. There is just a more modern feeling that permeates some of these songs, which may or may not go over with each listener (Eastgreen’s rap moves don’t fit). But the sense of mystery and journey is present here and this a great pleasure to listen to.

WE WERE PROMISED JETPACKS “UNRAVELLING”
The minute I heard the name, I loved this band. The minute I heard their live set, I loved this band. Now after hearing a few albums, I still love this band. They have always had a great touch with a balance between powerpop, punk, post punk, and just classic pop rock. But the real kicker is that this album also has overpowering breaks and sonic blasts that are nearly cinematic in their power and reach. This is an excellent record, whether you are already a fan of this Scottish ban or whether this is the first you have heard of them. I recommend it highly and also recommend the live show.

And don’t delay. They play the Jammin Java this Saturday, July 2nd.

Songs to start with:

Peaks and Troughs - A rather tender vocal line with all the ripping power pop hooks this band is capable of.

I Keep it Composed - There are absolutely majestic passages here.

Bright Minds - …think alike and this band must be quite bright as they all lock in and bring life to a fine song.

ZIEMBA “HOPE IS NEVER”
There is a great use of space in the arrangements of these sometimes droning pop songs. It reminds me of John Cale working with Nico, although there is much more optimism and brightness in the music of Ziemba. She has a voice that can go deep into thought or more out front in bright expression. She can turn it on as well, vocally and musically as it is not all sunshine, but a more balanced world.

Songs to start with:

Phantom See - Mysterious use of space, creating an intriguing room of quiet sound.

El Paso - A steadier pop song with careful touches of music and voice.

Tiger Woman - Here’s the fire and the darker bits of life.

2 comments:

MJG196 said...

I love the Blue Orchids. You can see them backing up Nico in Cherry Red Records' "An Underground Experience," which happens to be my favorite live recording of them in action. Well, you could also head to YouTube!

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