Friday, October 30, 2015

Elephant Revival - Nora Jane Struthers -- State Theatre - Oct 29 2015

Nora Jane Struthers - Better late than never. The show tonight started particularly late, nine o'clock to be exact. I had assumed that Elephant Revival would be playing at nine so a lot of my time tonight was spent in my car listening to talk radio. Yes this is the exciting life of a rock n roll critic.

Tonight may be a night devoted entirely to country and western, something I have no real experience  with so forgive me I sound somewhat confused.  Nora Jane Struthers and her husband Joe begin the show, their third opening for Elephant Revival. The chemistry is good but one might expect that considering they are married. Often they harmonize on the decidedly country pop pieces, though occasionally one of the two take the lead on solo pieces while the other waits underneath the soft, blue lights of the State Theater for the chorus. Songs Range from slow to fast and fun.

I can't really figure out the subtle differences between country genres but Nora Jane assures the audience that the more twangy, older songs are decidedly nineties. The only real difference I heard were they were significantly faster, and very much steeped in alcoholic imagery. While there are elements of that in the other pieces (alcohol, that typical country accent) they are softer and much more personal. As the set continues, Joe picks up a number of instruments (fiddle, guitar, and banjo) to support his wife on acoustic guitar. Nora Jane does the majority of the talking in between songs and even though she can be long winded, the majority of the asides add that homespun feeling to the show.
Elephant Revival - The first two things I notice when Elephant Revival take the stage is the instrument selection; there are two in particular that are new to me in regards to a live setting; a lap guitar and an upright electric bass. Though the two might be common for these types of shows, as I said earlier, it's new to me and I'm enjoying both as they play a significant part in the pieces thus far. Specifically the lap guitarist's tone and style is reminiscent of Dire Straights' album Brothers' in Arms. While the fiddle and guitar provide the backbone to these songs, it's these additional instrumentalists that really set Elephant Revival apart from your typical folk/country acts.

As the set progresses, the songs follow a similar structure; folk/country leanings with flourishes provided by these interesting instrumental choices. The audience clearly enjoys the set as they crowd the front of the stage dancing and moving along to these superb pieces. Even with the more typical, the musical choices are challenging. Meaning that in between what you might expect typical, there are these little flourishes of something unexpected, a minor scale or a different picking pattern.

Taking a quick look up from my phone, it looks like a mandolin has made an appearance. It seems to me that if you are interested in being part of one of these folk acts, you'll need to make sure your resume includes proficiency in multiple instruments. Like Joe, who supported Nora Jane Struthers earlier tonight, one member has picked up no fewer than three instruments. Speaking of interesting musical choices, the percussion is handled primarily by a washboard. I haven't had the opportunity to see this type of music played with any percussion, obviously it adds but another layer to the mix. From a distance it looks like she is wearing her best Michael Jackson gloves to handle all the movement; I jest as I am sure they are a necessity with all the movement. Vocals are layered as well: no fewer than four members taking lead at any given time. Clearly Elephant Revival is taking advantage of their many talents, allowing every member to shine throughout the show.

Midway through, a sixth member joins Elephant Revival on stage and takes over bass duties. More layers. They play what they call a Celtic Reggae mix with the newly anointed bassist. I don't really hear it, but my palette may not be refined enough to notice the subtleties. As the night comes continues, the songs have sped up considerably and we lost some of the mood of the earlier pieces but it looks like the crowd came to dance, so they could care less. They are definitely having a good time.

It's a mix; slow and fast. The faster songs are from an earlier time, the slower, more layered pieces are newer. So there is an evolution performing tonight as well. It's nice to hear as that usually isn't the case.

Thursday, October 29, 2015


There is just way too much on my calendar to preview it all, so keep looking in the recommendations sections. Also, as most of you know there are great resources around the internet to keep you apprised of your many options on any night of the week.

You can start your post-Halloween musical push with two scary themes. Why not try Joanna Gruesome at the Black Cat or Moon King opening for Youth Lagoon at the 9:30 Club. Both shows are on Sunday, November 1st.

Craig Finn plays the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Monday, Nov 2nd.

Strange Names brings their music, which may be strange or not, to the DC9 on Tuesday Nov 3rd.

We Were Promised Jetpacks is a strange, but great name and they have the music to match. See them on Friday the 6th at the Black Cat.

Marrow plays the DC9 on Sunday Nov 8th. Dem bones be not dry.

Hopefully winter will not come as early as Winter, who play the Black Cat on Monday Nov 9th.

Thursday the 12th has lots of great music with Natalie Prass at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel, Dilly Dally at DC9, or Rachel Yamagata at the 9:30 Club. And yes, Natalie Prass is covering Slayer here.

Fuzz plays the Black Cat on Friday the 13th. I wonder if they have a pedal board...

Angie Stone plays the Howard Theatre on Saturday the 14th, although I am debating heading up to Baltimore to see Windhand at Metro Gallery. Two great shows, one a drive, one a walk. Hmmm.

And finally, Wand weaves their musical magic at the DC9 on Sunday, Nov. 15th. See you in the clubs.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Kinsey -- 9:30 Club - Oct 25 2015

by John Miller

Kinsey - There must be some apprehension one feels before opening for a sold out show. A room that is barely full and a crowd, clearly waiting for anything else. Kinsey clearly does not share any of the apprehension I am projecting. The room is a third occupied but they are clearly up to the task of opening for the Cold War Kids even if the crowd isn’t. As the audience slowly trickles in, they play slow acoustic pieces accented by interesting secondary instruments.
It's a small three piece, they don't take up too much space and clearly very casual; an upright bass, a trumpet, and the lead, Nick Kinsey is pulling double duty; an acoustic and bass drum that he pounds away on has he strums his major chords. The trumpeter adds a wonderful accent to these pieces. He plays a significant part in keeping these songs moving and fresh. Having a competent brass section can be something difficult to pull off but Kinsey does it right; it adds to the compositions without making them sound older than they are and it certainly doesn't overpower them either; meaning that the addition doesn't necessarily cause the rest of the band to lean on it for a particular sound. It's a complement.

Nick Kinsey keeps it light in between songs, trying to keep this anxious audience engaged with in prompt to question and answer sessions; they live in Brooklyn (surprise) and are fans of Ben & Jerry's. At one point, he switches to finger picking and it reminds me briefly of Elliott Smith, but only briefly as his confident vocals are a far cry from Smith’s depressive and disassociated style. As the set comes to a close, they seem to have won over the crowd as with each song the crowd’s approval grows.

(Editor--Cold War Kids headlined, but was not reviewed)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Little May - Stranger in the Alps -- DC9 - Oct 24 2015

Stranger in the Alps - A local quartet quietly starts out this evening and being a Saturday evening could be quite the challenge. They lineup with acoustic guitar/lead vocals, bass, keyboards/backing vocals, and a guy on a notepad. I really enjoyed the atmospheric opener with its mannered backing sounds slipping in and out of the song. They went a bit more conventional thereafter with singer songwriter sounds leaning towards folk but with lots of keys, electronic effects, and electronic drumbeats punching in and out. The keyboardist added a harmonica, which I was not sure was terribly effective, but he played it well so it worked. When they went a bit more exotic with the backing, they had something that worked quite well and was original. The crowd took to them well and many were paying close attention. But, being Saturday night, whole conversations invaded my headspace and it never ceases to amaze me, how little people have to say when they talk so much.
Little May - This female trio from Sydney has a great little album out now (to be reviewed in one week's time). It was fun catching the live show to see what they can come up with. Again, the deep moods created with their music is not really suited to a raucous Saturday night crowd, but it is a large excited audience, so it's a tricky balance. They are a quintet tonight with drums and keys added to the guitars and three female voices. They have a steady pace, which lulls you into a dreamy world where they add just the slightest of flourish to the tones. I can not quite detect the alchemy in use where they can make dream pop sound so intriguing, but somehow through careful writing, they manage it well. Maybe a little too happy a crowd tonight, but I think Little May cut through to the deep core of many a mind.

Quote of the Night: While walking home on 9th Street...
Woman: "So you don't have your car."
Staggering Man: "I remember 9th Street..."

Friday, October 23, 2015

Braddock Station Garrison -- The Silverites -- Black Squirrel - Oct 22 2015

The Silverites - This Baltimore band boasts the basic twin guitar quartet lineup with the added bonus of four vocalists, although the rhythm guitarist handles most lead duties. The vocals are a little thin, which sometimes is an issue here in this small narrow Adams Morgan bar. Capacity is good as it goes back a long way with lots of seating. And it is the usual type of crowd for a free show, a mix of people here for the specific bands along with people popping in and out enjoying the sounds. The band is rocking quite well and the sound is mixed well for the instruments with the drum sound exploding off the brick walls. This band moves around between indie rock with one song sounding very much like Hüsker Dü to barroom rock to singer songwriter style and most often to power pop, where they are most fun. They covered Nick Lowe's 'Heart of the City' which is a great choice and gives an anchor to where they succeed best with their songs.
Braddock Station Garrison - This local quartet gives off the same look as the opening band and is certainly close enough in sound to be well paired tonight. Yet there are plenty of differences as well. The vocals are a bit stronger and more assured with a nice range evoked through their varied songs. The musicianship is subtle with a focus on the song and tasty arrangements designed to enhance the song as opposed to showing off excessive technique. They mention a song has a Big Star vibe and I agree, although I am also hearing some Nick Lowe-Dave Edmunds style as well (although that could be carryover on my part due to 'Heart of the City'). Their cover is a Leonard Cohen song, 'Bird on a Wire' which they rock up just a wee bit and it comes off quite cleverly in the end. Another fine Black Squirrel free show, where you can get far more than the average bar band show.

Quote of the Night: From a guy standing next to me (with actually a good question from someone who walked into a bar and got free live music)...
"Is this band playing cover songs from just one band?"
"No, I believe they are mostly originals."

Teen - Widowspeak - Ava Luna -- Comet Ping Pong - Oct 22 2015

By John Miller

Ava Luna - The crowd hushed, as Ava Luna took the stage. I haven't seen Comet Ping Pong this packed in awhile. False starts, time changes and harmonies; it's an interesting style. I'm not sure if the songs have ended or are just beginning. This is all so confusing in the best way. Even the lead guitarist seems to be second guessing himself during breaks. Not only are the time signatures all over, occasionally there are these breakdowns that would make any hardcore band jealous. It's unexpected to say the least. The slow contemplative oohs and ahhs mixed with these extremely aggressive power chords remind me of the fake assuredness of the best noise rock bands. There is a lot of this back and forth throughout the set; things that you would usually think would never be partnered. Occasionally the keys come through as they try to find room in this ever crowded space. So many people dancing along; I guess that’s a little generous, as the changes keep us all guessing where they are going next. Great stuff to begin the show tonight, reminds me a lot of The Talking Heads.

Widowspeak - Arms outstretched, faces glued to touchscreens of a performance three feet in front of these masses: Widowspeak immediately captivates them. The set is very slow. The music isn’t necessarily sad, more like a nostalgic story told with a hint of melancholy. The bass is methodical, always thumping; never too fast. The drums are steady as the guitar, occasionally manic, finds the harmonies in those empty spaces. And even though the music is decidedly different than what came earlier, the crowd still drinks it up. This whole set feels as if it is a preamble to Halloween: doom and gloom, a cold clodding journey to our eventual meeting with whatever evil awaits us next weekend. This isn't something that may happen, it will; this is a slow, steady march into the darkness with occasional jump scares in the guise of behind the back guitar solos.
Teen - If I am to frame these acts in terms of Halloween; Ava Luna, a manic, insane experience; Widowspeak, a slow, heavy walk into darkness; the last act, Teen, could be best describe as a costume party with all your friends, Monster Mash playing in the background. They kind of remind me of Grimes and there are tons of great sounds coming from this five piece, especially the keys. I can hear pitch games, arpeggios, and lots of vocoder too. I am sure there was much more going on but unfortunately my phone died and didn’t have a back up for my notes. Regardless of my unpreparedness, I do not need notes to remember that Teen, feedback issues aside, played an exceptional set. One characterized by excellent sound design that got this capacity crowd moving in a different way.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Landshapes - Tigers are Bad for Horses -- DC9 - Oct 21 2015

by John Miller

Tigers are Bad for Horses - Very quiet not too much of a crowd tonight; a keyboardist and singer. This is familiar; I feel like I have seen, rather heard Tigers are Bad for Horses before. The few people that are here slowly get up from their booths and make their way to the front as they take the stage.

The music is slow; the keys have an interesting tone. The patch reminds me of 80s produced pop a la Narada Michael Walden. Since it’s just a duo the keys are obviously a significant part of the compositions.  Instead of simply playing them to add atmosphere, the songs themselves are built around what he is playing, not the backing tracks that accompany the duo. It is unique in that the artists I am usually seeing are quite the opposite. The difference is stark and as a result it is easy to hear there is real talent behind the song writing.

While the keys are more traditional than most that's not to say there isn't atmosphere to the compositions. The backing tracks sprinkle small sonic pieces: hits and vocal samples that are eventually looped against the Sewdieian keys. I hear interesting games being played with the tones as well; saw waves and more modern flourishes as well.

Vocally, it’s confident. She does not hide behind the other pieces that make up their pieces. Whether that's due to poor producing or a lack of confidence in ability, often I find that with these smaller groups, the vocals can be washed out by everything else. Tonight that is not that case. The vocals reminds me of a recent album that we reviewed here; elle le fantôme's album, paint it blacker but in key. Granted that reference may be a little difficult for those that are not regular readers of the site. Regardless she's good and the songs remind me of College; though with less emphasis on atmosphere.
Landshapes - Another English band tonight. With all the acts I am seeing recently from across the pond it almost feels as if I should take up residence there. The very first thing I notice when walking upstairs is that it's a lot louder than what I have seen recently here at DC9. Lots of fuzz. Not that the previous acts have been sub-par, far from it, but it is a nice change of pace to the somewhat easy going acts I have grown accustomed to seeing the past month.

The fuzz is mixed; we move from fast, heavier stuff to slowed down naturalistic sounds; wind, bugs, birds chipping along. The lead guitarist sounds like she could be playing a Theremin, lots of fiddling with her peddle set up; twisting and turning, shaking her instrument as to if to will them to come to light.

The audience has grown considerably, moving with the band as they make their way through tonight's abbreviated show. My tardiness was not an issue tonight as only Landshapes and their opening act took the stage. There is this sense that in between the fuzz and effects there are these pleasant indie rock efforts that are trying to take shape. It's an interesting dichotomy.

It’s a really solid four piece and I cannot help but feel awful for them as in between songs we are told that during this, their first American tour their van was recently 'burgled'. As unfortunate as it is, I have heard many a story recounting thefts of musical equipment but to be so far away from home and have your livelihood stolen must be deflating to say the least. The fact that they are putting on such a solid show despite the pilfering of their gear is a testament to how good they are.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Ex-Cult - Sotano - Des Demonas -- Comet Ping Pong - Oct 19 2015

By Kyle Schmitt
Des Demonas - Keeping time with a tambourine or maraca, the singer announced a repeated, singular theme during each tune (e.g., “I do myself in”). His yells of “I feel alright!” midway through the set weren’t the only similarities to be drawn with the Stooges. While they impress even when playing a minimalist style of rock, Des Demonas also locks into some impressive bass and drum grooves, allowing the guitarist to provide feedback squalls over the beat. Despair and hope clashed in their final two songs. The band decried the miseries taking place in Africa, where there is “death and suffering every day”, before finishing on a hopeful note (“I want to live my life!”) on the funk-inflected “Hot Sake”. 

Sotano - This four-piece band revved up the pace with a set full of straight-ahead rock. Their performance sounded like the singular narrative of a long, adventurous highway ride. Singer/guitarist Dru Dunnaway launched the group into its pursuit, declaring “Never never gonna go home tonight”, “I wanna get to you”, and “Ain’t gonna waste no time”. His bandmates provide an energetic classic-rock vibe to their songs, lending an AC/DC swagger to the music before shifting into a bluesy stomp. Sotano gives the sense of setting out for a prize in the great wide open while enjoying every minute of the chase. Speaking of Stooges references, Dunnaway appeared to kick off their set by questioning “if you’re lonely and got the shakes” before sampling Spinal Tap twice (mentions of trouser armadillos and “Jazz Odyssey”). 

Ex-Cult - This band literally caused some head-ringing even with ear plugs. Their sound is fierce and unrelenting, especially considering that drummer Michael Peery was playing with just one cymbal while keeping time on his floor tom. He stopped mid-song near the end of the group’s set to make an adjustment to his kit, then immediately triggered a fill that led to another guitar onslaught. Singer Chris Shaw dominates the group’s stage show, drawing eyes wherever he roams. Shaw surveyed all 360 degrees of his surroundings, and it took him just half a song to find his way into the audience. The band didn’t rest their guitars against their amplifiers until two minutes after midnight, marking an excellent end to a Monday night in DC.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Mercury Rev - Elysian Fields -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Oct 16 2015

Elysian Fields - You will forgive me if when seeing a stand-up bass, a female singer, and a guitarist (albeit electric), I would some sort of Americana folk sound. Well, no, not terribly close. But even with the tremendous lounge singing, the jazz look and style of the bass, the guitar work indeed heads down more of a California coastal road. There is a bit of jangle and atmospheric rock sound and because he plays with such care, he is able to integrate this sound with that of his two bandmates. This is pretty unique and although the crowd is slow to build up to its eventual size, they are extremely rapt and attentive. This was a nice captivating set from a band who has an assured sound and really engaged a Friday night crowd through quiet drama. And they debuted two brand new songs as a special treat for the crowd.
Mercury Rev - Electronic pop is not my forte, especially when inundated with it when I am reviewing records. But I have heard this band is really good at it and carries it further than most. They are off to a good start before they even approach the stage with mysterious entrance music, back lighting and fog. It is a good look as the band sneaks its way to stage. They play with guitars, bass, drums, keyboard, and flute and have much more of an edge than I would have guessed. The rhythm section is strong with some punchy tom tom work. The bass is melodic and the guitar has some ringing dramatic yet steady runs. The pinched vocals are the real drama of these songs--it does not seem like it would work, but it really does captivate the crowd and sets the music soaring. They have the guts of an Ultravox with the vocal stylings of a Fuschia and somehow merge a pop new wave sound into something progressive, yet simple. This was a pleasant surprise and Mercury Rev just may pull in all kinds of open minded music fans with their assured approach, as long as mild skeptics like me give them the chance.

Quote of the Night: From Mercury Rev, perhaps explaining some of their magic... "That one was inspired by your hardcore scene in the early 80s".

Thursday, October 15, 2015


As Halloween costumed crazies begin to fill the clubs, there are plenty of bands to pay attention to as well. Here is but a sample of what is to come.

Mercury Rev revs it up at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel this Friday, October 16th.

Rain is not in the forecast, but we get Wet at the 9:30 Club on Saturday, October 17th.

You should be in some club on Monday, October 19th. Just a couple to consider... Tekekinesis at the Black Cat? Braids at DC9? Check my recommendations section for even more.

Thursday the 22nd has Here We Go Magic at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel among others.

The last time I saw Christian Lopez, he was playing in front of a dozen amazed listeners at the Tree House Lounge. He's back in front of many, many more listeners soon to be amazed at the Hamilton on Friday October 23rd.

Kinsey is my second favorite band beginning with Kins (Kinski winning that honor) and you can see them at the 9:30 Club on Sunday, October 25th.

Froth bubbles over at the DC9 on Monday the 26th.

Everything is Terrible is at the Black Cat on Wednesday, October 28th. Find out if this band includes themselves in this bold declaration.

Join the Elephant Revival (before they join you) at the State Theatre on Thursday the 29th.

David Bromberg is a really big name so he is bringing his big band to the big stage at the Birchmere on Friday October 30th. If you have not done big band before, do yourself a favor and savor the experience.

Keep Shelly in Athens will brave the night of ghouls on Halloween night at the U Street Music Hall.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Sean Nicholas Savage - PromiseKeeper -- Paperhaus - Oct 10 2015

By John Miller

First and foremost Saturday night’s show at the Paperhaus was phenomenal. Even though I was too late to see the first two acts, the remaining two were an interesting change of pace for the venue and the vibe that I was feeling throughout the night was completely different than I was accustomed to from previous Paperhaus shows; it was safe. That is not to say that being safe is necessarily a bad thing but the kind of lawlessness one would expect from a house show; the police could bust in at any moment, that anyone could walk through the door, the blatant disregard for personal space; it was missing on Saturday. Paperhaus has been around for some time now so perhaps folks have found different ways to spend their nights. Perhaps it isn’t the venue it once was, and perhaps it’s too well known that the lawlessness is no longer something that it can provide. If it sounds like I am criticizing Paperhaus, that isn’t my intention; they do an exceptional thing, putting on these shows for the community and each show is an experience, but tonight it felt different.

One of the reasons I was so late for Saturday’s show was, I have found from experience that they tend to start on the late side; the door may open at 8pm but it usually takes time for the show to really begin. 

Promise Keeper had already started by the time I was able to make it to the back door but luckily I was able to catch the majority of the set. The house was certainly packed and that strange smell that seems to accompany these types of shows was wafting through the space. The music that poured through the house was as one person put it, “something that should be playing in the background of Miami Vice while discussions were made over a large table of cocaine”. So yeah, a real 80s vibe so far. Promise Keeper played the part as well, looking like a cross between Boy George and Mike Score from A Flock of Seagulls; long, fully teased blond hair and what appeared to be a red silk shirt. The backing tracks were unmistakable in regards to their decade of choice but occasionally more modern flashes peak through. A guitar even made an appearance and instead of some overwrought 80s solo, the instrument provided a much slower, deliberate accent to the personal compositions. Vocally I was reminded of Depeche Mode, so much so that I questioned why I hadn’t listed to them recently. So if anything, thank you Promise Keeper for reminding me, that yes, Depeche Mode does exist. The bands at Paperhaus usually aren’t as quiet as this; I have come to expect crowds swimming in movement but tonight, shoe gazing. The crowd is clearly captivated.

As the last act begins to set up, it is clear that the house had thinned out considerably which is absolutely crazy to me; I have been here when chaos seemed to be the only constant but now am comfortably sitting on a couch. 
Sean Nicholas Savage is a prolific Montreal artist releasing something like ten albums in the past five years. Like Promise Keeper before him, Savage has an interesting setup; two keyboardists and what appears to be a drum machine. The first thing I notice, Savage, like Bowie, is a performer in every sense of the word. He leaves it all on the floor. There is something genuine about the music, more truthful, a sense that he doesn’t give a fuck what you think, that this music has to come out. Vocally I hear lisps and stutters, strange noises emanating from the speakers. Those choices don’t impede the music on any level, quite the opposite; they add to the genuineness I spoke of early. And this realness that I am feeling is exponential; there is passion and an intimacy to the performance that is rarely seen. Savage is not scared to make extended eye contact with his audience or get close and dance with them. There is even something sensual too, like a cross between Maxwell and this 80s jazz adult contemporary thing going on; completely unexpected.  Savage could play in front of thousands but somehow it would always feel as if it was you he was talking to you directly. This is intimate in the best way.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Boat Burning -- ML King Library - Oct 9 2015

Boat Burning - Not only is there a great band for the King Library's biweekly music series, but with the great weather, they are having it outdoors. A gorgeous day for this always interesting instrumental guitar heavy outfit. Five guitars, drums, and one person on keyboards and guitar with a couple of guys from the band Tone again a part of this band. There was a new cut from Geordie Grindle and plenty of the Andras Fekete songs I have heard a few times before. It's experimental to a point, but quite accessible and enjoyable. I sat toward the back as I figured that the crowd would make for fascinating viewing as the King Library has workers hanging around during lunch hour, a fair amount of homeless people, various downtowners, and some music heads here for the band. It was cool to see pretty much everyone enjoying it. You could see some people extra enthused when the band had a strong beat and a throbbing, intriguing guitar mix droning on. One guy sat down, took off his shoes, and went into a lotus position, while clapping in beat and forming a pyramid power gesture at times. There was dancing and generally a good downtown vibe on a perfect day. Still plenty of music to come in this series and catch these guys in the club some time, too.

Kurt Vile - Waxahatchee - Luke Roberts -- 9:30 Club - Oct 8 2015

Luke Roberts - One trend that seems to be in play is that a hip sold-out show is very slow in filling the arena vs. a sell-out that appeals to the younger crowd who all get there early and pack it out front to back. Roberts has got the easy going laid back attitude that looks like it could handle either, although it is clearly the former tonight. Helping him out, is a drummer and a keyboardist (thankfully not a steel guitar as I incorrectly thought from my restricted back balcony vantage point). Roberts plays acoustic guitar in a relaxed style and appears to lead the other instruments with the drums, careful to punctuate as opposed to drive. The keys are there for atmosphere and are quite effective. This is not as deep and brooding as Bill Callahan, but there is a similar control of pace and tone at work. Roberts' songs could easily work solo and he probably plays them that way often, but he has just the right presentation for the big stage. And he even gets Mr. Vile up on stage for his closer to assist him with some vocals. The crowd still has not fully arrived, but it's large enough to give him a nice ovation.

Waxahatchee - Katie Crutchfield of this quintet (at least live, they are 5) comes out with guitar and voice for the opening cut before the full band adds their unique style to Crutchfield's songs. They remind me of Warehouse era Husker Du with fine pop hooks and just enough guts underneath. Although the band plays things in a more primitive style, it is quite striking and fits well as a contrast with light and dark working well together. I am happy finally to catch up with this band as I have heard interesting things and now see that it is quite effective on stage. As much as I love technical prowess, it always helps to see bands working their way up from the gut and into your head through steady body blows. Confused metaphors aside, the band really rocked tonight in a simple, direct, and highly effective manner.

Kurt Vile - Boy do I feel stupid. I really enjoyed seeing Kurt Vile and the Violators at three small and large shows at the Black Cat from 2009-2011, but have not been paying attention since then. This set reminded me of what a gifted songwriter he is. He and the band cooked up a great concoction of woven psychedelic rock with folk touches as well. I think the best connection for me was recalling some of the excellent music that was played between sets. I heard Spirit, the Velvet Underground, Flamin' Groovies, and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. Put that altogether and you have something like Kurt Vile and the Violators. Take Lou Reed, Randy California, the Groovies rhythm section and cover some Barrett songs--Voila, magic if it all comes together. Tonight it did and I will not make the mistake of moving Kurt Vile fade into my listening back burner again.

Internet Photo of the Night:

Teen Daze - Heavenly Beat - Lance Neptune -- DC9 - Oct 8 2015

by John Miller

Lance Neptune - The first act on tonight’s bill was a one man band. With his Macintosh and mixing board he filled the room with compositions whose characteristics would be quite prominent tonight; chill. From what I little know about this type of performance, the compositions, the beats are simply preloaded onto a computer and played through amplifiers; any little adjustments being made by a mixing board. That’s not to say that this music isn’t difficult to make, far from it; I have been in many a basement and garage hovering over the shoulder of producers as they micromanage each and every sound.  That said it is difficult to really gauge what is going on behind that computer screen; as an audience we cannot see the effort and passion it takes to make these songs and it’s an interesting problem to have when the crowd is so sparse. I imagine with a larger more inebriated crowd, I would be able to really see the passion behind these pieces through the moving participants.

Like the music, the crowd was very chill and laid back tonight, the booths of DC9 filled with those taking in this very easy going music. Occasionally Lance would look towards the only corner with movement with a goofy smile, no doubt mugging for his friends as they enjoy the output and dance sparsely. Towards the end of the set the beats became more ambitious, the quiet mixed with the thumping bass. The only real issue I found with the set was it was difficult to tell when things ended; we were at the mercy of Neptune to let us know when to clap and sometimes dance.

Heavenly Beat - It feels as if this recent chillwave boom has been building for some time now. I can remember similar acts breaking through in the early 2000s. I wonder why it has taken so long for this particular genre to permeate the public’s conscience. One particular characteristic of this genre are the laidback, often quiet vocals that accompany the synth heavy pieces. Heavenly Beat is no exception; the first thing I notice are the vocals; they are not particularly strong, wispy, and often drowned out by the monstrous backing tracks that accompany this three piece. Heavenly Beat is more synth-pop than chillwave and the aforementioned backing tracks are really something to dance to, like really dance. Though the crowd has grown in size, they have yet to really move. But that isn’t to say that is the fault of the band as it may be too early in the evening for mindless movement; not enough alcohol has been consumed. The bass is thumping along with the backing piece and the occasional keyboard stabs remind me of an early Phoenix. A harmonica even made an appearance tonight and surprisingly it fit seamlessly.
Teen Daze - This band is doing it live tonight. While there may be some kind of backing somewhere (though I didn’t see any), there are keys and drums and it makes a difference right off the bat. The immediacy one has with a keyboard as opposed to backing or preloaded beats is significant. One can play games with the instrument, allowing the feel of the show to somewhat control the instrument’s output (though that could be said about any instrument). Immediately I notice games being played with cutoff and tone. The cutoff games compliment the music as the result produces long naturalistic sounds; breezes and light drizzle. Vocally these pieces are similar to Heavenly Beat; light, non-offensive and not particularly strong; though throughout the evening the vocals are layered with harmonies from several members of the band which help mask some of the weakness and ultimately they kind of remind me of Crosby Stills Nash and Young. Weird right? Who knew that a classic rock influence would make an appearance tonight with these electronic heavy bands? There is even some 70s Pink Floyd too. That’s not to say Teen Daze’s sound is steeped in this classic rock radio sound, more undercurrent than anything else. I too am reminded of early 2000 acts Zero 7 and to a lesser extent The Postal Service.  As the evening continues more and more couples arrive and make their way to the floor. This inoffensive music is easy to dance to; there isn’t anything too bombastic so one wouldn’t have to feel overtly self conscience about movement. A simple foot tap, swaying to and fro, not a lot to worry about because the chance of any uncoordinated movements rearing their ugly head is minimal at best. It’s safe, not many chances were taken tonight but who’s to say there is anything wrong with being comfortable.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Maritime - Wedding Dress -- DC9 - Oct 3 2015

Wedding Dress - This Chicago quintet has a comfortable sound, but there are some interesting choices they make. A couple of guitars, keyboards, and a rhythm section is basic enough, but I really liked the way the keyboards laid down an electronic organ sound underneath of everything with only rare forays into synth runs. There was punch in the rhythm section and guitars were ringing and strong without being too overpowering. The vocals were soft and thoughtful and brought a pop mentality as the band comfortably rocked underneath. So basically, there were three layers of sound that integrated well into a pop-rock format that kept it warm and comfortable throughout there set. When their songs had just a bit of extra push, I felt they really nailed this concept down. Nice opening set and I am happy to see a really good band result from a member of Maps & Atlases, which had the talent, but was one I never cared for.
Maritime - Right away this seems to be an excellent tour pairing, as this twin-guitar quartet takes a similar concept but pushes it forward into a more assertive and expected brand of power-pop. No keys, so the guitars are firing at more pace and volume, with more assertive vocals on top. Yet the warm pop sensibility links everything up nicely tonight. This band can take the power pop into some pretty ferocious rock with some exciting lead guitar work as well. There are touches of synthesizer from the lead guitarist on a few songs, but it is mostly straight ahead and easy to get into, which the large crowd tonight does. Fans of the Jet Age and Sloan should spend some time with this Milwaukee outfit, they won't take long at all to dig in to this.

Quotes of the Night: I was going to grab a bite at the DC9 downstairs prior to the show, but the bar was mobbed with a crazy group of mostly women in pink, as I gathered from my walk in there some sort of breast cancer awareness pub run or something. So I sat down waiting for the show to open upstairs and planned to eat up there. I had my nose in a book at a tiny booth, when one woman dancing in the aisle moved my way and was working that booty quite close to my face or book. After a bit of my poker faced reaction, a friend of hers politely asked...
'Did you notice what was going on?'
'Yes I did.'
'(laughs) and you weren't distracted?'
'Of course I was distracted. I am quite observant, I just try not show it (I also wanted to see how far she would take this).'

Later (after DC9's friendly owner rescued me and got me upstairs a little early), Maritime added... "That is quite the Breast Cancer Awareness event going on tonight... So they will have less breast cancer as a result... although more cirrhosis."

Ouch, I had the same dark thought earlier.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Dead Flowers - Fellowcraft - Western Star -- Velvet Lounge - Sep 30 2015

Packed house tonight at the Velvet Lounge; I am one of four people as the show begins, so that means I need to clap tonight as I cannot rely on others to do the legwork for me. Before I start, I would like to mention the person that does the sound at Velvet Lounge; every show I have been a part of has sounded superb (Ed: Agreed). So if you are out there sound guy, kudos to you.

Western Star is first up tonight and it started awkwardly; I’m not sure if they were comfortable playing in front of the small crowd. They were unsure, we were unsure but they quickly informed us that they were going to do this tonight, whether or not anyone showed up and they certainly did do it tonight as their set was an interesting and manic, coupled with classic rock leanings and major keys that sounded similar to Thin Lizzy. Songs were mostly up-tempo but there were quick bouts of somber and fast. The vocal duties are split between the bassist and rhythmic guitarist and are quite strong, some of the strongest I have seen yet, occasionally drifting into manic screaming. Although they aren’t necessarily unique, they are clear and match the music. And that was the theme of the set, manic. The crowd has tripled in size by this point and a few brave souls have moved uncomfortably close to the stage dancing along. Despite the crowd’s small size, it allowed the acts to be somewhat looser in regards to songs and banter. It led to some interesting moments tonight. Western Star’s banter is odd to say the least. I couldn’t tell if this was some kind of joke or if they just were not great talking with the audience. Ultimately it did not matter. The set was excellent. Unfortunately, Western Star did not have any music to purchase but they did let us know that they will be releasing a new album sometime in November so be on the look out.

Fellowcraft followed and I was unable to see the entire set as I had to move my car as I feared I may get ticketed. David reviewed them earlier this month and it is clear they did not have a chance to read his criticism as they suffered from the same issues as the ones he brought up. In between songs they spent a lot of time talking about dicks. Now I’m not one to turn my nose up at a good dick joke but the frequency in which they were made was somewhat excessive. I get it, it’s an empty show, so fuck it but there’s a limit guys.

This local three piece is more traditional rock than Western Star; radio friendly one could say. Musically everything sounds fine but it’s a little vanilla for my tastes, kind of like a mix between mid-nineties radio giants Collective soul and one-hit-wonders Candlebox. The whole set felt like a relic from a bygone era, they even had a ballad, ‘The Wedding’ that would be right at home on terrestrial ‘modern-rock’ radio. The crowd hasn’t really grown at all and is kind of stagnant by this point. The dick jokes continue and they begin a cover of Seven Mary Three’s ‘Cumbersome’ and that was my cue to go downstairs and wait this one out until the Dead Flowers.
Dead Flowers - This must be somewhat deflating for Dead Flowers as the crowd has thinned out considerably; four people and two members from Fellowcraft remain. I can imagine it must be pretty depressing to have three strangers show up to your show, one of them with their head positioned in front of their phone for the entirety of the show.

The show, like the others, is very loose; they stop to tell stories mid-song but it looks like they are still having a good time, which is nice. Dead Flowers sound similar to Western Star; classic rock leanings but not as manic. They most certainly wear the Texas Roots on their sleeves. The drums sound phenomenal for such a small room and their songs are peppered with intense guitar solos that recall past southern rock giants. We gained two people in the room. They look suspiciously like Garth, clearly drunk and bouncing off one another. Even though the crowd is minimal they seem to enjoy what Dead Flowers are doing. They do a quick cover of the Replacements and question whether or not they should do another, because fuck it. Instead they decided to do some new stuff; a song named ‘Fowl’. It begins quick then slows and reminds me of the Doors mixed with some kind of blues/jazz fusion. There are some real drastic time changes as well. Ultimately the set was good and I imagine with a fuller room, it would have been an exciting show, one to remember.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


This band plays sort of a hybrid Americana-Pop-Power pop concoction. I guess many people would call that indie rock and these sounds are warm and familiar to most of us that have been listening to new music in the last decade or more. The vocals are quite inviting with an earnest tone and a scraggly effect that gives the songs a bit of a rustic edge. The guitars have a quiet little jangle and there is some bounce in the beat. So while there is nothing earth shattering or revolutionary here, these ten songs are well done and will stick in the head for at least a little while. The band would certainly succeed on many bills as they can rock it up or pull it back just enough to fit in well with most of the rock and pop world.

Songs to start with first:

Upside - This song really has a snap to it and is quite catchy.

Nothing Really Changes - A slight alteration in the beat and the instrumental punch make for a subtle change.

Not Quite Yet - The guitar hooks are quite interesting here with room to breath (or sing).

The title of this album is a quick hot button debate topic, even for fans of Yes’s soon to be 71 year old former singer and jazz fusion prog violinist Jean Luc Ponty (one year older). Anderson’s voice is still surprisingly good, although his singing has never fully excited me, unless the material really offsets it with a certain level of power. At times that happens here, at other times not. I enjoyed ‘Listening with Me’ with its progressive flourish. But the reggae beat on ‘Time and a Word’ is misplaced and a couple of reworked Yes covers don’t exactly work. Ponty’s playing is good, of course, and occasionally offers the edge this music needs. There are a few live cuts added on at the end and the quality drop-off is minor, as the playing is still slick and professional. If you are a fan, you will enjoy this.

There is some sort of laconic vocal style at work here that contrasts with the occasional sharp edges of the music. The beat is steady with a bit of a pulse at work in the best songs. Unfortunately when the edge is lost, the music just sort of sits there in a less interesting puddle. Yet some of the songs work quite well and there is a strong personality to this band. It may be an acquired taste that may just be a bit beyond me on the whole.

Songs to start with first:

Then What - Punchy drums and edgy vocals with bursts of energy.

Last Call - Smoother music and edgier vocals make a nice contrast. Perhaps traces of Lou Reed, here?

True Love - Epic closer promises at what this band can deliver if they think big and work accordingly.

The sum of the parts do not quite add up here on this vinyl re-release. There is some lounge atmosphere created with guitar work that hints at spacey Americana moves and vocals that have an edge of mystery. Yet I don’t see much of a resolution to the mystery as the songs just sort of develop and fade off away from any sort of lasting memory. Perhaps several listens will yield more of what the goal was here when this was released in 2003. The parts are intriguing, but they might need a reshuffle and mix them with other sounds and styles. I am just not sure at all here. It was worth a bit of time and I hope they refined this approach as they show the skills needed to make something bold and interesting, I would think.

This is hardly the type of music I listen to regularly, which makes it all the more fun when an album like this pops up in my review pile. The Boxcar Boys play swing music with old time jazz and Americana. I hear all kinds of interesting sounds coming from tubas, clarinets, washtubs, jaw harp, as well as mandolins, accordions, fiddles and such. There are fourteen songs that are mostly instrumental, but there enough cuts with vocals that bring a nice surprise into the sound. The title cut is a real stand-out as they manage to integrate both the easy going undulating approach with some speedy instrumental prowess. These boys (and girls) do this music extremely well and both have the knack as well as the experience to integrate together in such a warm and flowing manner. So if you are tired of whatever genre you spend too much of your time in or even if you are not, give yourself a dose of this. You will feel energized.

Long one of my favorite DC area bands, it is great to see these three taking their sound to new heights on their new label. ‘New’ guitarist, Andrew Yonki, has now been firmly in place for some time and offers all the classic touches we used to hear along with some quick little tricks of his own. His style is almost Steve Turner-like, although the band won’t have you thinking of Mudhoney at first blush. Yet Francis’ vocals have some of that desperate edge of Mark Arm, while Stephanie’s drumming is as hard hitting as Dan Peters, even at half the size. But they are not on Sub Pop, they are on Kylesa’s label (Retro Futurist Records) which is the perfect home for them, as Kylesa is perhaps the most successful fusion of metal and psychedelia (with a dose of punk attitude), Caustic Casanova has been offering lots of creativity in this heavy psycho-world as well. These seven long songs flow even more seamlessly than the previous and more diverse LP, yet by no means does this lack for creative variety.

Songs to start with first:

Thundersnow - The opener is a ferocious start, as expected, but also showcases the clever shifts and arrangement choices, this trio is good at.

Elect My Best Friend for a Better World - The guitar is more psychedelic and the rhythm section even more rollicking.

No Sky July - Great vocal work and a mystical psyche droner with plenty of sharp uptempo moves somehow embedded here as well.

This is all a bit too mannered for me, although there is nothing wrong with a pleasant garden salad before a main course. So the relaxed pop moves with hints of indie rock, mainstream folk and lounge styled jazz has its place on my broader menu. The brass touches are especially good on many of these songs. Vocally, they alternate between male and female leads with the latter being my preferred vocals. There are some harmonies and perhaps this could be explored further in future. The style is delicate and tricky and once you get used to it, there is something you can appreciate about this band. It is easier to blast away in a garage rock style or play choppy indie rock than it is to compose songs like these. So full credit to this Toronto band, even if I may not always want to make a main course of this.

Songs to start with first:

Pillar - Catchy song with just enough heart on the sleeve emotion.

Memo - Walking pace with light drumming and lilting vocals has me drifting away.

Change - Excellent near-instrumental cut with acoustic guitars and brass moves. The light vocal has are a nice surprise.

I always start preparing my review in my head as quickly as possible. Even after two cuts, I was starting to get ready for something mediocre here. But even as I begin this process, I always listen to everything all the way through and am prepared to do a 180 degree turn at any point. And of course, that was the case here as I thought Decker was going to be too cute and lightweight, but once I got use to the vocal style and mannered electronic instrumentation mixed with the usual sounds, the songs really started to shine. It is psychedelic, but delicate, not quite psychedelic folk as I have heard, but if you are a fan of that genre, you can comfortably move in these circles. I hope people do not still need reminders why ‘long players’ still work in the digital age, but if you do….

Oh, and you can see them live at the Pinch on Saturday, October 10th.

Songs to start with first:

5 Oscillations - An instrumental cut with heart and a set up to…

Esther Mofet - The style is starting to work on this cut… the strong melodic hook helps.

Spades - Moody style continues off in more interesting directions.

This album may be slight for some, but I found it a rather refreshing after dinner mint that has maybe even a bit more flavor than you would expect. DeMarco has an easy going voice that hits the spot with arrangements that almost take a carnival approach, but in a restrained manner. Yes, that probably is as clear as mud, but he has a tricky dream mentality at work in the arrangements that is not the stuff of dream pop, but rather that surreal space where the normal has unreal edges. I may not go back to this record much, but it was a lovely little one-off that hit the mark.

Songs to start with first:

The Way You’d Love Her - The opener has some dizzying slide moves to counter the warm pop moves.

No Other Heart - Great walking pace where the band seems to be floating above the ground.

My House by the Water - Strange watery finish with a surprise invitation—great closing concept more than a song.

This seemed a bit tricky out of the gate. There were some classic pop rock moves mixed with an odd quirky style that I was not sure would ultimately be grating or fun. It was more of the latter fortunately, in part due to select quirkiness not being a core component, which can get really old, really quickly. There is an easy going style in this music, mostly in the vocals that is offset by some electric guitar bursts. This combination of subtle contrasts keeps the music interesting beyond the warm and pleasant hooks. This will not overwhelm you, for that is not the intent, but it may just strike a chord with you if you are in the mood.

See them live with the mighty Blitzen Trapper, all happening at the Black Cat on Thursday, October 15th.

Songs to start with first:

American Drag - The opener combines acoustic and electric, smooth and eclectic. If you are into this, the rest will please.

Beauty Contest - A nice dreamier contrast to the other cuts.

All the Time - A fine contrast of intense vocals and softer moments.

This album is big in ways you may not expect. This is more of the tightly muscled torso that can make smooth ballet moves as opposed to the power lifter or a sprinter’s legs. This is pop music with rock stylings and a dreamy atmosphere, but the moves are bright, big, and bold. And how great it is for me to hear electronica that enhances a strong song with great vocal work as opposed to just noodling away on its own. This British group follows a long line of interesting pop bands from their island and they are a fine entry into this field.

Songs to start with first:

No Harm - The opener will send you deep in a dream, like few others here or anywhere.

Forgiveness - Strong pop rocker with passionate vocals and rich instrumentation that can hold it all together.

Life is a Fear - More power in this smooth rocker.

Ella le Fantome’s vocal qualities save this being a rather one note electronica record. She (aka Tyler Elizabeth) has just enough texture to her spacey air filled passages, that keep the mood mysterious, yet serene. The eight songs all sound rather similar making this something to put on and let go in its entirety (it will only take about 25 1/2 minutes), where the mood should be able to work its way into your presence. In the right mood, this can be enchanting; but avoid if you are in one of those hyper-city attitudes or if you just need something substantial to dig in to. I am usually in these latter moods.

And as a bonus, here is John Miller’s take:

There is something interesting here but I am not quite sure I can pinpoint exactly what that is. Elle le Fantôme’s second album Paint it Blacker lacks passion. It meanders and stumbles to find meaning, trapped in this never-ending fog. While it sounds pleasant enough the album is missing that spark to really get me to enjoy this effort. There are some nice melodies here and there, even some spooky strings, but the drums are so simple that it makes the listening experience somewhat of a chore; very, very basic. As I mentioned earlier, there is something interesting here as with my first couple of times listening to the album, I thought something was there. The beginning of the opening track, Paint it Blacker, has this undercurrent of Cabaret Voltaire. But as it continues it loses that undercurrent as the song doesn't go anywhere; it become lost. Ultimately, this whole thing feels like a haze of antidepressants, I'm so even by the end of it that I don't care. And perhaps that’s the thesis but I am probably reading too much into it at this point.

This legendary guitarist was given some mysterious radio signals recorded underwater off the coast of Malibu. Not only were they eerie and mysterious, but they were inspirational as well, as Merrell Fankhauser heard music within and chose to write songs working off what he was hearing from these strange signals. Also fun is that he chose to work mostly in the terrain he got started in back in the early sixties—instrumental surf guitar. He does a wonderful job with these ten songs offering a variety of moods, subtle stylistic shifts, and interesting arrangements. But it his relaxed west coast sensibility that brings a calmness to these melodies, even on the nice rockers like ‘Mysto Spot’. This is a lovely little treat to fill out your Merrell Fankhauser record collection. He is still going strong and is definitely one of the most interesting musicians that all too few people have heard of, despite over 50 years in the business. It is not too late to get your ticket for your space age ride with Merrell Fankhauser.

This nicely named band starts off rather too much in a precocious pop manner. But if you stay with this, you get some more intriguing experimental moves. They don’t stray from the range of accessibility, but they do challenge convention nicely at times and add some surprise musical combinations in various songs. Yet the pop approach is the dominant style, quite spritely and bouncy throughout. You can almost see the laser lights, strobes, and mirror balls while this is on in your home. This is definitely a weekend party adventure for the youngest of you out there (at least those who think young).

Songs to start with first:

Rounder II - This cut will have you wit’em or agin’em.

Surf’s Up Nevermind - Quite the surprise that this band can effectively work in a surf element—great driving tune.

Long Tall Stranger - Long tall sounds are quite surprising here, with even a prog move or two amidst the fine pop tune.

There are five moderate to long mostly instrumental songs on this album. That usually spells psyche-jams or progressive music and there is a little of both here. There are flowing melodies with quick bass lines, steady drums and fuzzy guitar chords working around crisp brass bleats. Then there is ripping rock passages that follow transcendent mood setting intros, along with some female vocals which sound startling remote with so much instrumental prowess on display elsewhere. And why not close with an eleven minute Neu! meets Tortoise meets Can bit of craziness (complete with Susuzi-esque rants)? This is interesting always and quite riveting often. The band balances classic progressive skills with edgy modern rock flourish. Great job.
by John Miller
This is a very good album. I mean, let’s be honest, Froth isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel here but who said that every piece of music needs to be some trans-dimensional, life-affirming masterpiece?  Bleak is a quick album, just over thirty minutes and it makes for a very tight release. Professional through and through. There are hints of Black Rebel Motor Cycle Club, brit-pop and early Radiohead sprinkled throughout, but I think the most apt comparison would be a N.M.E. article that claims to have found the ‘next big thing’. Those stories that seem to pop up every year or so, extolling some band that has this new, amazing sound; their heads firmly planted in the past, one of those stories about a band that always seems to be on the precipice of popular culture. And that’s not to say this is a subpar or ultimately forgettable effort, far from it, definitely worth a listen.
And you can see Froth at the DC9 on Monday, October 26th.
Songs to start with first:

Afternoon – Reminds me of something off of Take Them On, On Your Own though while the fuzz is there, it does feel remarkably more positive.

Turn it Off – Do I hear some keys? Sometimes it can be hard to make out everything when listening through shitty headphones on an old laptop but the keys are a welcome addition to the song's design, and the dreamy solo about three minutes in is an interesting choice considering the garage tones of the song.

Sleep Alone – ‘Last songs’, usually experimental or slow; even though the track order may be trite, I am a sucker for them. I guess that was the long way of saying, that the last song on the album is a more dialed down affair. The acoustic takes the lead for the most part but the fuzz is still there. Though the song does end rather abruptly, it is interesting mix of three distinct guitar tones.


This trio might be from London, but you are going to hear is juke joint R&B mixed with other classic Americana elements. Yet there is a fresh approach to it that is hard to pinpoint. But overall it works quite well and this is a nice record that surprised me just enough. It will be interesting to see what kind of audience it finds, but it should find at least a moderate crowd.

Songs to start with first:

No Action - A smooth vocal with just a touch of sass and a funky prog sort of arrangement.

Turkish - Only a slight exotic feel on this song, but it works to add yet one more dimension to this interesting blend.

Never Get Back - The beat is sumptuous and the vocal line knows how to work off of it in a magical manner.

As much as I like variety, I am getting a fair amount of albums that showcase skill and are in search of an identity. This record has elements of that, although it settles mostly in an instrumental guitar album that sounds suspiciously like eclectronic pop at times. But the guitar is there and when it goes funk, it’s a bit startling. When it goes in a Chrome direction in ‘JR’, it has my interest, but there just aren’t enough moments like that. There are even some songs with full vocals.

This band can be just what the doctor ordered when you want to sit back and drift away to dreamy rock music with substance. The instrumentation is quite liquid as the landscapes develop and the vocals soar over the top, birdlike, searching and purposeful. There is nothing overpowering here, but there is a steady base with plenty of playful points and counterpoints. This reminds me a lighter Toronto rock/pop band, although they hail from Newcastle, the last of England to the north before Scotland unfolds. The best material is front loaded, but even by the end of these ten songs, the atmosphere is established and the quality is present throughout. This is a very enjoyable band that has hit their stride on this, their third album.

Songs to start with first:

I’ll Stall Them - Very nice building of the drama and great instrumentation, especially the eerie violin.

Faultlines - Piano punctuation over strings and things with a fine vocal line.

Through the Cellar Door - Quiet and well, not exactly loud, but dramatic shifts are handled with deft care.

Just a quick taste of Media Jeweler here with seven songs including two short ditties (one a reprise). Still, there is enough substance to see whether they are a band to dig into further. If you recall the Socket Circuits label here, this band would be a good fit. There is a lot of core trio sounds that remind me of Buildings, but they add horns, vocals, and jazzy R&B sort of riffs that carry this even further out there. It is even not unlike certain phases of the Sun City Girls. There is more than a little excessive noodling at times, but there are some sharp moments that show this band can be for real. With a bit more focus and careful songcraft, they could be a major player in this arena.

This pop album that is mostly in the dreamy terrain has a lot of smarts to it. It has a timeless quality with melody and even arrangements that take me back to the non-rock music of my youth. This is smooth fulfilling pop music that has rich textures and musicians that want to do more than set a mood. It is deep for the most part, but the finale is a rousing song with a parody of Madonna that references Romeo Void and the Fall among others. This is a fine record that should find many happy fans.

And do you want to see what they can do live? I do, so join me at the Rock’n’Roll Hotel, Friday, October 16th.

Songs to start with first:

The Queen of Swans - The opening cut’s lush soundscape has some heft in the sound, which is also snaky and beguiling.

Central Park East - A slightly melancholic pull back with vocals that remind me of Fuschia and music of 10cc.

Autumn is in the Air - The extra bit of romance in the vocals and string arrangements may not work for everyone, but was perfect for me.

These local rockers are able to deliver a heavy hard rocking set any time they hit the stage. The good news is that if you like the live show, the albums are able to capture that energy quite well. This one is no exception as the sound is strong and the playing fast and furious. The band operates in that newer style of hard rock that exists between the hard rock bands of my youth and the punk bands of my college years. They don’t ever quite go metal (aside from an occasional riff in there), but instead focus on melody with some of that EMO intensity on vocal style.

Songs to start with first:

No Damn Good - This rocker has that extra edge of ferocity that makes this band click.

Fire Away - They do.

Send and Return - The requisite slower one still has great ringing guitars.

The electropop contained here within has enough pace and sparkle to maintain my interest more than most… at least for a bit. The ten songs get a bit one-note after a while, so I am not sure I will be returning to this much, if at all. I can say it is a fine record if you like this approach with decent vocal arrangements and plenty of bounce in their musical step. So perhaps, a live experience would be of more interest than repeated listens to this for all of the non-genre fans out there.

Ah, Belgium… home of great chocolate, great waffles, cooking with beer, superb football, and some of the finest bands in Europe. Thankfully, I have been sent a steady diet of their music in recent years and it has been consistently great as well as diverse. Partisan is just one more fine Belgian band, a new band, and off to a fine start on this four-song EP. They employ a gutsy, but intricate post-punk sound that is full of melody and invention, along with a fascinating overall atmosphere. Most of the atmosphere is thick and powerful, but ‘Unhappy People’ is filled with a nimble bass run and jangly guitars. These four songs are all good, but they could go a few different ways with their sound. It will be hard to be as eclectic on a long player as it is here, but it will be fun to see what they do.

The magic is so slow in coming, I am afraid I boarded the express train home, long ago. This is one of those mostly instrumental electronica albums that I am always using as the benchmark of all the instrumental electonica albums I do not like, when I want to discuss the few that I do. I should say there are a few vocals, but they are pretty much used instrumentally here. I will also say that there is absolutely nothing I dislike more on a record than the throbbing knob turning sounds like on ‘Youth Group’ and all too many other songs here. Those sounds make me want to go into Japanese anime convulsions.

Were I a paid consultant as opposed to an unpaid writer, I would advise this band away from the worst of its independent rock cliches and really get them to focus on their best songs and not start this album with their worst. But since I’m not, I will just say that there are some nice laid back songs here. It is not exactly slacker, but more hazy quiet days of summer. And when it connects, it connects quite well. This band is in a nice place right now and it can even get better. I would suggest a bit more variety like they showed with ‘Woken by Noises’, but again, I’m not paid to give advice.

Songs to start with first:

Sweet Chris - A rolling little melody and a bit more classic in style than precocious.

The Ocean - The guitar noodling is actually quite warm and sets up the vocal line well.

Woken by Noises - Like the Gun Club playing in a lighter style. Huh?


Shoegaze/Post-rock/Psychedelic/Indie rock… Congratulations to the Virgance, they have just created the longest entry I have seen in the Itunes genre column. And with that amount of detail, there really is not much to add. Except that this all instrumental music, it is fairly heavy, and it is melodic. I find it odd that there are ‘radio edits’ on three of the eight songs even though the original songs are 5 to 7 minutes or so. Any radio station, such as they are these days, that would deign to play this music, will likely be playing the full version anyway. All in all, if you love this stuff, check out this album. For me, I love to catch the live version and only rarely is a band good enough to make want to take their long players home with me. These guys aren’t quite high enough to my tough standards there (but you will have me at your show in DC, should you come).

Mixed results here, but the skills in the vocals and the atmospheric arrangements are well worth exploring. It is just a matter of songwriting. I find half of the songs compelling with the occasional arrangement flourishing enough to boost their appeal even more. The rest are perfectly satisfactory, but too ordinary to stand out. The Tom Rapp cadence in the vocals of some songs work a bit of magic for me and should translate to people who never even heard Pearls Before Swine. Take a listen, this is worth at least one listen and you well may be back for more.

Songs to start with first:

One Good Way - This has a latter day Tom Rapp vibe, which always works for me.

Perfect - Rich and full vocals really get this cut soaring.

My Good Country - Stronger guitar here, with a snappy song and even a hooky vocal line.

The Woolen Men take me back to my younger days when punk rock was breaking in the late 1970s and I was trying to scour up every punk record I could. There were a lot fewer of them and they were harder to find and if you were very active you would end up with a lot of records that varied with a lot of different elements as punk was being ‘defined’. This band reminds me of many a band that had the pop hooks, with a punk attitude, a damaged art sensibility, and the ability to cohesively put together something really good. The Cravats, Gizmos, MX-80 Sound, and the Swell Maps are some of the bands that come to mind from those days. Portland’s Woolen Men do this style very well and the style is such that you will not ever sound quite like anybody else. Yet as individualistic as this is, the hooks are strong and will pull you along easily enough.

Songs to start with first:

Clean Dreams - An early lighter punk style like the Gizmos or the Mekons is well channeled in this (surprisingly long) opener.

Life in Hell - The second song strips it down into a garage pop punk style that will grab you and set you up the rest of the way.

The Wheel - Another of the longer cuts has good enough riffs and hooks to deserve the extended time.