Sunday, September 2, 2012

RECORD REVIEWS - August 2012

This pop music has a pretty high IQ.  While I sometimes have trouble choosing pop music over the heavier and deeper alternatives, it is so refreshing to listen to well executed pop music. Boston's The Grownup Noise offer up 12 solid pop-rock nuggets that flow together into an enjoyable and cohesive album.  Guitars, keyboards, and strings mix together in interesting patterns that kept me alert and involved throughout the twelve songs. The opener has a good rock beat with a solid pop melody and a light touch. "Flower" has the sort of arrangement that shows their skill in using a jangly guitar with a flowing violin and allowing the vocal and rhythm section to bind them together. This is definitely a record I will keep within reach for when I sense I am delving too deep into the darkside.

Songs to try out first:

"Anthem for Second Place" - Maybe the most dense arrangement, but a great pop melody is not lost here.

"Six Foot Solemn Oath" - Breezy 1960s stylings with male and female vocals alternating. Nice touch on the piano and a surprising shift late in the song.

"Gone is a Four Letter Word" - Another long song with a lot to say lyrically and musically. Almost more of a short story than lyric.

Eleven songs of loner folk music here. Normally it is called 'loner stoner' folk music, but there seems to be more of a sober clarity here. Only the artist knows for sure, but at any rate, there certainly is plaintive lonesome singing atop guitars, distant harmonicas, and bottleneck chords sliding off deep into the desert horizon. The vocal work is different, but I get the same general vibe that I get when I hear Baltimore's Red Sammy. The moody world created here stays in a hazy focus throughout the eleven songs. My only issue may be the steadiness of it all. It's like a long drawn out passage in a Sergio Leone film, that while may be ten times as long as comparable scenes, but lacks the uptempo change of pace at the scene's end. But I still find lots of colorful moments in this album.The album has a bit of a collage puzzle where I believe the song names are present. So I will skip the individual songs but recommend a listen for loner folk fans.

Although this is a five-song EP, it is a flowing work that works nicely in its entirety. There are enough shifts in style for song delineation amongst these instrumental pieces, but the weaving of guitars, percussion and some piano is pretty consistent. They certainly create some dynamic tension in the manner of Mogwai or Mono, but don't ever quite explode into a wild finale. Instead, the dynamics are subtle yet still within upon careful listen. There is a smooth melodic feel to the material that does not take it too far into post rock terrain. Rather, this is a grounded soundscape that is easy to dig into and ride the course with. This is just a duo producing these sounds, although live they have been joined on drums by Davis White of Lorelei, which certainly would be a sympathetic band to Sansyou. So check out this band some time soon if you enjoy Lorelei or any of the other creative post-rock bands.

These guys say they are influenced by Shellac and the Dillinger Escape Plan. So basically, the question is do they live up to those bands in the creative noise department?  The answer is yes. The bass player does lay down a thick line like that of Big Black with the guitars screeching about or laying out overpowering chords. Hardcore style vocals and gutsy drumming that allows some space rounds it all out. These guys are from Belgium and the best comparison I can make is to that of their country's footballer Marouane Fellaini. Both the band and player have an intensity and aggressive approach that threatens to dissolve into chaos at any one time, but they both have the skill to keep it all together. I will say that I like this as a five-song EP and wonder if maybe a long player might be too draining to listen to, unless they threw a curveball or two. Still, when in Belgium, I would head to the club to see these guys.


I guess if you are sitting on your front porch of some rural farm and you want to pick up some instruments and have some like those Straycat fellas or those Gogol Bordello guys. Then slow it down to relaxed speed and keep it simple on some acoustic instruments with the humor up high. Maybe this is alt bluegrass/country, oddball country, or something new? Actually it sounds like guys that used to play electric music, but want to dig in and get to their roots. No matter what the real story is, these guys have a gutsy original and authentic album here. It's not a style I listen to frequently, but it is close enough to some of the intense folk music I listen and it sounds like it would be an absolute kick to see this live. And although I'll list some of my favorites below, I did find listening to all twelve songs uninterrupted had me fully absorbed by album's end and is the best way to become a part of their world.

See the Devil Makes Three at the Hamilton on Wednesday, September 19th.

Songs to try out first:

Gracefully Facedown - Nice mandolin solo and just a perfect title with amusing lyrics that live up to it.

Johnson Family - Here's the stripped down Gogol Bordello vibe for those of you that think I'm crazy (I am, but I will say under oath that I detected the Gogol Bordello thing in their music before seeing on their site that they are opening for Gogol Bordello).

Help Yourself - Cool twisted electric solo and some great early Dylan/Arlo Guthrie style story telling.

This is my month for smart pop both in clubs and on record. This band has all of that, but adds at least an equal measure of modern rock music. The guitars are brisk when they weave around with the keyboards and rhythms for pop dance music, but also add jarring chords to give rock fans a welcome jolt. There is some light fare, some more danceable than others and the variety is appreciated here. Only a couple songs do not rise the high standards set by the majority of the cuts, due to a bit too much reliance on a simple mainstream pop rock sound. But they pull discriminating listeners right back in with a vibrant guitar solo like that in "Zeroes" or the twisted patterns in "Lonely Gun".  I did not put "Lonely Gun" on the songs to start with list, but it may be one you want to finish with. It has such a unique feel to it and promises an interesting delivery live. And perhaps I'll be reporting on that soon as...

Minus the Bear will be at the Fillmore on Tuesday, September 25th.

Songs to try first:

Lies and Eyes - Great sounds and textures abound with all kinds of pace and power underneath hooky vocal work. Challenging and fun or should I say, challenging IS fun.

Toska - Guitar reminds me of real early U2, with keys and synths drawing from other early 80s bands while still sounding fresh.

Heaven is a Ghost Town - Has the feel of a popular single with some nice instrumentation kicking in near the end.

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