Saturday, February 1, 2014

RECORD REVIEWS - January 2014

I almost thought this was going to be heavily keyboard or electronically oriented pop music, the way this album began. That was in major part to the ethereal dreamy vocals here. But the percussion and twang in the guitar takes this into exciting full band territory. The vocal work consistently establishes the atmosphere and the songs work up enough magic to keep you wanting more as the album proceeds. This is a fine band in the quieter moody areas of pop music and I would rather see them succeed over the more cliche ridden bands who keep it overly simple. The slight edginess here makes all the difference in bringing it home to the discriminating listeners.

Songs to try first:

Lost Boy - Great guitar work adds a subtle layer to this dreamy song.

Airwaves - The percussion stirs up the energy and the guitar follows nicely as the dreamy vocals pull it back a bit.

Colours - Yet another lovely song, heck they are all good, don't stop with these three.


This one starts slowly, but gets better. Maybe I've moved beyond the age of irony, but I expected more percussion out of a band called Cymbals than the drum machines here. At times, it was there, but electronic pop moves with plenty of synthesizer is more of the format here. The title of this record comes from a book by a Princeton academic regarding the paralysis caused by things being 'too complicated'. While I can empathize with that feeling, that 'throw in the towel' attitude may be partly to blame for the lack of deep energy and conviction toward something here. Instead it is an academically musical rendering of going into your shell. I am being a little harsh as there is some good music here and they likely have plenty of fans. I think their theme was too much of a stone tied around the band as they worked their way uphill (to mangle a metaphor or two).

Songs to try first:

You Are - The dreamy pop hooks start to kick in here, and I hear some cymbals.

The 5%The Fracture of Age - These connected songs cooks up a nice synth pop vibe.

Like an Animal - This songs sounds meaty enough for me to take hold of, even as it swells to nearly nine minutes.

This is more psychedelic pop music from California. Although that may cause some listeners to roll their eyes and murmur 'here we go again', I am always willing to lap this up, being dramatically far from my saturation point. Morgan Delt takes the 3 O'Clock starting point before heading through Jacco Gardner modernity and constantly plays with sound in unusual electronic bursts along with twisted classic sixties psyche guitar moves. There is a lot going on in this production and although it massages sounds I have heard many times in the past as well as in the past year, the abundance of atmosphere and the smooth contrasts in sound is such that I can live in this music for a very long time.

Songs to try first:

Beneath the Black and Purple - This could almost be from the Electric Prunes if they were produced in a modern fashion.

Mr. Carbon Copy - Dreamy popsike with Syd Barrett moves buried in there poking above the surface.

Sad Sad Trip - I don't know, I'm smiling through this song and all of this album as it all plays through splendidly.

This six song EP is pretty much a solo electronica effort. The best two songs feature the guest vocals of Natalie Beridze (TBA). She has a reflective style that matches the drama of the dreamy music. Even as you can drift away in the washes of tuneful sound weaving in and out, Beridze's vocals jolt you back to attention in a quiet sort of contrast. As for the other four songs, they are effective low key electronic mood setters with some guitar among the beats and synth washes. I did like the beats in "Afterglow" as it changed the mood smartly. There is a touch of vocals in one other cut, but I would like to hear a lot more from Natalie Beridze for this to fully work for me. Although most electronica fans should be pleased with the whole of this record.


If dreamy electronic pop is desired, Sweden's I Break Horses should be on the call list. The vocal work is dreamy and ethereal throughout and the keyboards and rhythms mix ambiance with solid melodies and steady patterns of beats. It is all effective enough, although the variety is lacking. Dreamy music is fine by itself, but it helps immensely if there is enough rising and falling tension to keep the dramatic thread going. They come close with some inventive rhythms on "Weight True Words", but hopefully they will do more next time. Electronica fans should enjoy this one, and there are some catchy songs that could resonate among the masses.

Get your taxes done and head over to the DC9 on April 15th to see this band. I'll remind you again in a few months.

Songs to try first:

You Burn - The vocals are so thick and creamy in the mix.

Berceuse - This has a sense of mystery between backing vocals and keyboards that sets the tone.

Medicine Brush - This conjures up progressive synth bands of old.

I am glad indie rock can still sound so pleasant and fresh. They do this not only through good song writing, but with an intelligent variety of arrangement shifts that include strong rockers and slower dream pop moments. There is even a touch of folk, but not much of the Americana that seeps into many an indie rock band. Instead, this is balanced rock independent of a clear geographical center. Such that the band is adventurous in exploring arrangements, makes this a real treat.

And they hit town on Tuesday February 18th at the cozy DC9.

Songs to try first:

A Curse Worth Believing - They have a delicate song and incorporate dreamy moves with a rock foundation. Well thought out arrangement.

Spatial Exploration - Strong rocker with jangly moves and some nice changes.

No Amount of Sound - No amount of sound will ever get me tired of combining loud and soft passages in a song.

This band initially takes shoe gaze style and stretches it out into folk and indie rock territory. But more often than not, the heavy sounds stay deep in the background and the piano and voice lead the way through the melody. Although the vocals are female, this reminds me quite a bit of Antony and the Johnsons. They maintain a dreamy, yet dramatic appeal throughout the album. It begins with a strong cut, pulls back and slowly builds the drama to a satisfying conclusion. Well done, I look forward to hearing more.

And that opportunity presents itself at the U Street Music Hall on Saturday night, February 8th.

Songs to try first:

Elodie - The opener showcases a strong rock sound creating a large universe for them to explore.

The Ghost that Sleeps in Me - Delicate piano led tune with otherworldly vocals.

Another Tale from an English Town - Steady drama building in the music as the chorus floats on and on and on...

If you want your pop and rock a little more on the smart side, you may want to give Novakaine a spin. They are not pretentious math rockers, but they manage to make engaging agreeable rock music with just enough power pop along with a lot of clever songwriting shifts. They proved to me they could deliver the rock on stage recently, and they do well in the studio here (although there are a few live cuts so you can hear some raw songs, too). When they really click, they have that little extra snap in the vocal delivery, drum beat, and guitar chord that you feel in your body. So with mind and body aligned, this is an area band to keep an ear to.

Songs to try first:

Come Up - The opener shows how they not only can concoct a catchy tune, but present it with creative melodic shifts.

Small Claims - Snappy rocker.

The Woodman - Live recording of a song that features some fine layering of dramatic tension.

This is fun. The live show was excellent and well attended and the debut album lives up to the excitement I saw on stage. The band churns out catchy garage power pop with a fuzzy guitar roar atop a crisp rhythm section. The vocals are laid back, but push just enough to show some emotion when desired. They remind me of a grungier Dinosaur Jr. with more garage echo and less guitar soloing (loads less). The songs are short, yet effective. This band gets to the point and establishes a sound and style that is familiar yet personal. Most important, it is fun. I know I said that, but you really should add this to your life.

Songs to try first:

The Gap - The opening cut has all the garage power pop moves with droll vocals cutting through gauze coated sound.

Black and Studs - My favorite with its crunch in guitar and pummeling hooks churning away.

Shithead - Not about Joey, but a catchy Ramones meets Naked Raygun vocal above a ripping pop rocker.

There is some sort of slacker punk - industrial thing going on in these eleven short songs. This may be somewhere between Chrome and the Monochrome Set, but I am not really sure. I do recall the early punk new wave days where synth bands could be down and dirty, without going to the extremes of Suicide, which few people would dare travel even if they could. There is a deliberate mid-tempo speed that they maintain here which really sends me back to those days when punk music was not always hyper fast or loud. There is also a Swell Maps vibe at work here, although these songs are a bit more straight forward. I really enjoyed this throw back lo-fi direct approach that Pow! manages here. Even with all the comparisons I make, it is fairly unique for this century.

Songs to try first:

Vertical Slum - Successful merger between punk and psychedelia.

Switchboard Scientist - Cheesy synthesizer sounds great here in this head bobbing pop punk ditty.

Shoes - almost as much a power pop song as the band known as Shoes, but still with Pow!'s laconic style.

When I say something is lo-fi garage rock, I usually am not trying to describe a sound this low down and dirty. There are precedents for this sound with Jon Spencer, Birthday Party, etc., but this is still fuzzier, nastier and simple--more like the punk band the Mentally Ill were trying a rougher version of the blues. These guys make the Count 5 look like Gentle Giant. 8 of the 10 songs clock in under 3 minutes, which is preferred as the 6 1/2 minute "Get Up" puts me down. Normally I pick out my favorites, but it does not matter much here. You either get in the mood to put this on or not. I do not often reach for music like this (especially when I can grab the Birthday Party or Chrome and others), but I like what the Traps are doing and would love to see it live some day. Look for me as I'll be the guy with the wide eyes and jaw dropping grin.

Here's another electronica entry with some interesting sounds and melodies, yet once again I gravitate to the songs where there is a "featuring fill-in-the-blank quality lead vocalist who lends some firm direction to the song".  At least when they feature fine singers as opposed to cliched rappers (this record balances the two). The electronica has some whimsical moments mixed in with world-wide motifs from east to west and is not bad. It goes on a bit long for 16 songs, all the better if you really enjoy this sort of thing. I enjoyed 37.5% of it and respect the effort for trying out enough different things, that everyone should like something. Your pleasure percentage may vary.

There will be plenty of fans for this band at the 9:30 Club on Sunday, February 23rd.

Songs to try first:

Temperamental - Phonte Coleman's soulful vocals atop a mysterious Eraserhead like environment.

Her Majesty's Socialist Request - Eastern modal moves atop tricky rhythms and movie soundtrack shifts into strange commercial territories.

Love and Go - Smooth singing and particularly skronky sounds make for an interesting combination.

There is a slacker element in here, but there is also an undercurrent of power rippling through the rhythm section and ringing guitars. The vocals are easy going and they achieve a presence that almost clashes with the music even as it locks in. I have heard all of these sounds before, but this band has put together something that is quite fascinating even as it is fairly easy to grasp. It's slow and heavy with occasional tempo adjustments into mid-tempo. It seems fast, but they always manage a churning clarity as the music chugs along. It is not a steady build into the creation of an exciting album, but more of a spotty affair. That said, the highlights are worth it and the approach is an interesting one. Weezer fans can let me know if this anything like they were--it might be, but I never explored that band enough to say for sure.

Songs to try first:

Keep the Ships at Bay - This reminds me of psychedelic Boris Light as it has melody and heavy riffs.

Fight the Babysitter's Boyfriend - No better than most here, but hearing this title in the chorus is worth bonus points (and then more points for 'Thighmaster').

See Right Through - This is the catchy hit single, were there still such a thing.

I am happy these European psyche and post punk bands keep finding me. I am enjoying some very cool records, often performed in styles that just don't come around to the clubs as often as I would like. The White Kites are from Poland and have spent a lot of time and creative thought crafting a psychedelic record that invokes theatrical pop rock moves as opposed to sonic science fiction exploration. This is highly reminiscent of July or Tea & Symphony and there is probably as much of a progressive feeling here as there is psychedelic. Like the latter band I mentioned, the songs are not as memorable as the overall style. As a whole, the album is quite good and the vision is such of the type that bands do not seem to strive for as much these days. I would argue that this sound is timeless and not dated, even though it feels late 60s/early 70s, but really does not belong to that time period either. The White Kites are adventurous and have successfully formed a fine album out of their thoughts and concepts.

Songs to try first:

Arrival - Wow, right at the opening you get the Sgt. Peppers/July/Tea&Symphony psychedelic production.

Stowaway Sylvie - Breezy psyche likes July tries to do the Kinks (which they did pretty well anyway).

When Will May Return - A bit of popsike here that is playful yet strong.

There are bands that seem to enjoy writing songs that grow out of a lifetime of experience listening to radio and records that cover a wide variety of rock music from many eras. These bands, like Yuck, then find their creative muse, plug in, and play. The result here is pop music that leans toward modern with its dreamy, yet thick and occasionally heavy guitar and rhythm section sounds. The vocals are strong and emotive and Smiths and post-Smiths fans should find a lot to like here. The melodies and vocal strength is something that has been a part of pop and rock music for a long time. Yet this is still a fresh take on the form as the energy and skillful delivery is above that of most bands. I am left with a relaxed feeling after listening to this album and feel like I have explored some depth of feeling rather than merely listened to some catch pop songs. This one snuck up on me due to the skills of this band.

Join me at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel to see Yuck on Thursday, February 13th.

Songs to try first:

Lose My Breath - Infectious pop that is heavy enough for rockers, somewhat in the neighborhood of Adam Franklin.

Middle Sea - These guitars have some serious heft and the song is still catchy, in the neighborhood of Husker Du.

How Does it Feel - Grand arrangement with brass and other thick sounds and the song is bold enough to make it work.

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