Thursday, March 31, 2016


Back to steel indeed. Martin Barre’s steel stringed electric guitar has been deeply embedded in my mind for over 40 years now, most of those with the legendary Jethro Tull. He is working as hard as ever with regular album releases and extensive touring. His live show was excellent as he has recruited an outstanding band to keep things rocking with guitars, bass, drums, and vocals. The full band is here, rocking hard and true. But he also adds some mandolin at times in fun and exciting ways such as in ‘Sea of Vanity’ and the Tull song ‘Skating Away’. Barre was often overlooked as one of the guitar greats, partially due to the other flamboyant Tull players (even beyond Ian Anderson). But then and now, Martin Barre is a great rock guitar stylist who maintains a blues base, but is exploratory of other forms as well. This album shows all his skills and is just eclectic enough to be fresh and appealing to rock fans of all ages. And this is now available as an import, but will have a US release later this year. But you may be able to get it when he comes to Annapolis or a club near you.

And you can catch him at Ram’s Head in Annapolis on Monday, April 11th. See you there!

Songs to start with first:

It’s Getting Better - Has that old time rock feeling with a bit of swing and other twists and turns.

You and I - Guest vocals and a lighter touch on this warm and catchy song.

Calafel - A short instrumental, the type of which is often considered filler, but I like this one a lot and the concept in general.

Excuse me, while I take off the cloak of objectivity and revert to a child receiving sacrament at the altar. Robbie Basho is one of my all-time favorites and when I get to hear a rare (and unheard by me) reissue released 30 years after his death, I am giddy with delight. And with just a few notes of the opening cut, the magical acoustic guitar runs offset by his chilling voice meandering over under sideways down from the melody have me in heaven. There are songs I know from other LPs, but in alternate versions, still following his unique path toward musical enlightenment. There are some piano tunes as well, which is an underrated part of his music. Robbie Basho was a mystical folk artist who transcended the musical scene then and now. This is a free release due to some copyright issues, so there is no reason not to indulge.

Songs to start with first:

Just get them all and then go on to get every album he ever made.


When this LP began, I forgot what I was listening to, thinking I had some old California based Americana rock band with psyche tendencies. But then it sounded a bit too modern and I was reminded that I was instead listening to a new UK band filled with some well known veterans and sharp worldly musicians. The one member I knew best was Rob Smoughton of Hot Chip and Scritti Politti fame. He and his mates stretch the boundaries of several genres including disco and through a loose somewhat earthbound psychedelic approach pull them all together. New Orleans is referenced as well it should be, as this is a form of gumbo music of putting a lot of things into a pot, stir it up, slow cook it, spice it up and come up with a tasty stew.

Songs to start with first:

Double Top - Long flowing opener that successfully marks out their space in the atmosphere.

Chops on Tchoupitoulas - Nice instrumental and I get to type out my favorite street in New Orleans.

Below the Waves - Breezy cut with cool vocals and intricate rhythmic ebbs and flows.

They are not quite the Gun Club as they are far more in control, but they hit all the same buttons that the Gun Club did for me with this LP. They have a roots based songwriting style with some of the thickest, fuzziest guitars outside of WIndhand or Black Sabbath. The vocals are hearty and the rhythm is steady with a menacing undercurrent. This album connects from first note to last and if you like gutsy, powerful, rootsy bands as well as heavy bands of all sorts, you should be stopping right now and finding this music (just come back and read the rest of the reviews later).

Songs to start with first:

No Law in Lurgan - After the moody vocals, guitars came in so fuzzy, I thought my stereo needle was caked in mud, but oh yeah this an MP3 file. Fuzz = Good.

Arrow Pierce my Heart - Dark music, with a touch more hope in the vocals.

Eggs and Bread - An acoustic folk song is a great break in the middle of this fine album.

Well, they have found something else deep in the sonic archive of Jeff Buckley, now passed on for almost 19 years. Unlike the sprawling uncompleted mess that was ‘Sketches for My Sweetheart, the Drunk’, this album is filled with initial demos featuring eight covers and two original songs. These are raw demos of a sort with Buckley’s fine guitar and dazzling vocal work. An intensely stripped down ‘Grace’ is quite chilling and some of the cover songs work very well. A surprise is Led Zeppelin’s ‘Night Flight’ although the Buckley voice is one that can stay with that of Robert Plant. I still much prefer the works of his father, Tim Buckley, who also tragically died young. However, this is  great companion piece to the ‘Grace’ LP and is just one more reminder of what we lost, provided he regained his focus (a problem his father had, too—the parallels are downright scary).

Coves walks the line between pop and rock. That’s a big line and quite crowded, so it is a bit hard to stand out and I am not sure they do quite enough, at least in terms of the big boys that occupy a lot of the space. But the female vocals are strong with just enough vulnerability there to hit a range of emotions. The guitars are bright and just strong enough with a fuzzy bass and crisp drums, so things can rock out just enough. And after hearing the full ten songs, I think they just may have a chance if they stay true, tour hard, and just keep getting this out there. There is enough infectiousness on this UK duo's second album to take hold, it just may take some time or a break.

Songs to start with first:

Cadavalier - Worth it for the title alone, but it is a hooky rock tune.

Tripping Over Lust - Great playing on all parts and a soaring vocal brings the melody home.

See Me Love Me - How to make a song catchier, just whistle.


My favorite band from the movie ‘Dig’ has a new album out. Sadly, I have not kept up with them since that time, even though I probably would have liked to. This album confirms that they are still doing a lot of what I enjoyed then and what a lot of bands allow me to enjoy now. They still have a keen grasp on popsike, but even explore an industrial pop thing that reminds me of the very early 1980s and a band I worked with called Dementia Precox. Then they slip in some acoustic moves before heading back to sharp little electric pop nuggets. All the while, you can expect some interesting arrangements and that infectious rhythm. This is a fine album and exceeded my moderate expectations by some margin.

Songs to start with first:

Search Party - Dreamy vocals atop a crisp chunky rhythm and guitar.

Semper Fidelis - So many cool things coming together to make a warm and unique song.

Give - A bit of psyche-folk here, but still well within their style.

If you go back to the 1970s, you will remember that brief time when new wave was not a dirty word amongst punks. There were several bands that captured fun danceable music pulling in sharper minded disco fans that could tolerate driving guitars. Quickly, factions formed and treaties were broken. From Joshua Tree, California (don’t mind the French), this trio latches onto that interesting sound and pushes it even further into quirky pop songs that roar with Ramones styled strength underneath. And most of the time, it works quite well.

Songs to start with first:

Conformiste - Dancey with loads of guitar bite.

L.A. Bourn! - Wild rhythmic bursts leave way for crazed pop song with vocals warm or wild.

We Aren’t the Champions - Thick guitar and contrasting parts with contrasting vocals.

The live set I caught last month was outstanding in the way she could deliver quiet music to a noisy club. No such problems here, as she has complete control of the dynamics of her sound on these twelve songs. If I have any complaint, it is that she could push a few of them further, but no so much to lose the lovely atmosphere she maintains throughout the album. This is mannered music, but with deep emotion where intelligence and logic politely tries to stay in charge. And with a precise and lovely vocal work setting the course, the music flows gently by and makes for a very pleasant listening experience.

Songs to start with first:

Swimming Pool - Heavy atmosphere and surprising to have the opener feature a guest backing vocalist.

Algorithm - A title more for Tortoise, as Emmy gives away her secret math nerd tendencies… but it is still a love song.

Hyperlink - Great atmosphere with the echoing backing vocals and tight little guitar line.

This is an intriguing little album that occasionally gets really big. They have an easy going slightly pop, slightly shoegaze style that they push into fuzzy garage rock songs at times. While they keep it simple for some arrangements, others are somewhere out in progressive-land, in the dense part of the forest. There are almost too many moves here, but the band successfully ties them together with their control and mannered playing, keeping drama and narrative flowing. At their best, they cross Black Rebel Motorcycle Club with the Black Angels and this duo from Belfast should appeal to a pretty wide range of fans. Nothing ‘ex’ about this brand of magic.

Songs to start with first:

Kiss That Wealth Goodbye - Opener sounds like Black Angels Lite in a good way.

Place Your Bets - Rich, full accompanying sound builds this lovely song into an epic.

Job Done - Another song that wins me over with the first fuzzed out chord.

This excellent Los Angeles based singer reminds me a bit of fellow Angelinos Dengue Fever. Jessica Fichot has a Chinese-French background and infuses that into rock moves with a fine LA band. She goes even further with moves that go into older lounge and swing eras. Fichot’s voice is enchanting and the music is smart and evocative throughout. There are just seven songs here, but the diversity is clear with her vocals holding it all together in a logical manner.  This long EP did its trick like a complex appetizer, as it has me craving for more.

Clear your calendar for Friday night, April 15th, when Jessica Fichot visits the Treehouse Lounge. Get there early for good seats as the club is small and should draw a crowd for this.

Songs to start with first:

Dear Shanghai - Powerful song that melds too much together to squarely place in time and space.

Manli - A crisp Asian pop song that is reminiscent of Dengue Fever.

Daydream - A fine example of combining swingtime jazz with pop music.

If you miss that certain 1970s rock sound that has a bit more smarts to it than 90% of the bands of that era, then Good English may strike a chord that you weren’t quite sure existed outside your imagination. When this succeeds, it morphs diverse sounds into a pleasing rock format with a catchy song. When not, it is a bit muddled with rock sounds that don’t quite belong anywhere. Fortunately this is more than half successful and is ambitious even in its familiarity.

Songs to start with first:

Carolina - Garage rock that swings? This is smart but has a raw heart.

Wanderer - Strong guitar blast morphs into a spacier song.

Line of Fire - The closer is an absolute epic that sounds like a grand classic rock song infused with the heart of Jeffrey Lee Pierce.

At times this Sante Fe singer songwriter tries to combine a pretty style with a tough veneer, which is quite hard to do, although not impossible. He manages it a few times here and does it better than most. It works best, when he has a sharp little power pop melody to work off of, in a manner of the Raspberries perhaps. He also pulls things back in more introspective pop songs. Impressively, he plays everything himself (at least he is advertised as a one-man band). The guitar work is good, although the drums could use a bit more at times. All in all, there are a lot of positives here. I would prefer a bit more focus in the types of songs that seem more successful for me.

Songs to start with first:

My Own Way Out - The opener will tell you whether to continue as he has it all laid out here.

Now I’m Me from You - Snappy power pop number that I would like to hear more of.

A Ghost Too Soon - A quieter song that really connected.

Hælos produce a highly slick brand of electronic pop music. The beats are designed for dance, although the sonic moves offer more for the discerning listener, The vocals are somewhat in between a light cloying dream pop and more strange contrasts, although still in the pop world. I really did not feel this album would do much for me, but there are so many interesting layers, that this dream pop is far from cotton candy. This is main course material that offers a lot to people who enjoy electronic pop sounds. It still is a bit too steady in the overall atmosphere for me to get overly excited about. But I can see Hælos doing quite well in this field.

When you have four long songs (the equivalent of a double album) such as we have here, often a simple description is challenging. Although here, things are pretty clear, they are still quite expansive. How about progressive shoegazing Americana dreampop? The vocals and some of the violin show off some roots at the core of the songs, but the playing becomes a bit more progressive—occasionally complex, more often mannered in a dreampop droning sort of way. And then there are freaky shoegaze bursts as well. It is a good attempt to create something familiar yet unique and I think Yndi Halda has done that. I am not always fully engaged, so I think there is some room for further dynamics and deeply focused passages. This is still quite an interesting exploration and I would advise taking this journey.


I hate it when I am trying to wrap up a busy month of reviews and I see something come in at the last minute. Do I push it back to next month (where there already is a queue)? Do I delete the message and pretend I didn’t see it? Or do I just strap myself in and make the time for it? I chose the last option here and I am thrilled that I did. The Herms do just about everything right on this long album. A lot of bands combine sixties and seventies punk styles (maybe more 80s post punk here) along with power pop moves, but the Herms take all of that and push it even further into inventive, yet agreeable rock music. There are classic instrumentals here that are like some of the greats of old with infectious lines and plenty of guitar twanging interest. So basically, the Herms can play and write with a sense of history and vision. Now to get these Californians out to this coast for a tour. Until that time, this album gets multiple listenings.

Songs to start with first:

Parades - Starting the LP with a guitar sound and line reminiscent of the Animals ‘House of the Rising Sun’ is a quick way to win me over.

ReadySet ’94 - The second cut adds raucous punk and sixties garage power into a wonderfully catchy song.

Cold Residence - Gnarled guitars, cheezy keyboards, fuzzy vocals, punchy drums and bass. What is not to like?

If you like the sound of the Black Angels and don’t mind it a bit more relaxed and pop oriented, then consider riding the Holy Wave. They have a similarly strong sound with loads of reverb on guitars and voice. But that is the easy the part as the real challenge is in the songs, which is where they rise above the pack. Popsike of sorts, but a bit more droning as they stretch the melodies out and offer a few twists and turns, although most are gradual. If the songs were stronger, this could be a classic, as it is the best songs are very exciting and the rest play through smoothly and make for a comfortable and occasionally exciting listen.

Songs to start with first:

She Put a Seed in my Ear - Great sound established right off the bat in the opener as they invite you in, all doors of perception open.

Western Playland - The vocals are quite strong on this cut.

Air Wolf - I enjoy the extra strike in the guitar and the smooth drone of the band, melody intact.

Sadly, this title sums up my feeling about this album. The singer songwriter/indie rock moves are easy enough to get into. But we’ve heard them all before, so it’s easy to get over and move on. There could be a decent live set coming out of this, so I wouldn’t avoid it in the clubs. And ‘Vis Major’ had some second-rate Bob Mould moves, and that still rates pretty high in my book. But that was one or two songs, the rest was just things I have heard before and would rather avoid these days.

This is quirky pop. That may not be a genre, but it certainly is something you can grasp pretty quickly. Meilyr Jones is from the UK (you can kind of narrow that down based on his name). He used to sing for Race Horses but is now solo with this sharp little album. There is a strong yearning in the vocals that is reminiscent of Roger Chapman and the band Fuschia. Musically it is flowing with sharp and jagged bits that come together with pop hooks that twist into more experimental runs. This is pop music, but it is sneaky and progressively wild at times as well. And the more the better as the songs that are boldest work best and the rest are pretty decent as well. Audacious and personal, this is a unique album that is simply fun to try to figure out.

Songs to start with first:

Don Juan - Get my attention-start with harpsichord. Hold my attention-add a flute. Make me happy-keep the vibe up to the end.

Passionate Friend - A long song that goes through exciting changes including orchestration.

Strange Emotional - A deep under current of strong guitar with an almost syrupy island beat on top with a pop song in the middle. How does he do it?

There may be eight songs, but they add up to 57 minutes of music. And the route from beginning to end is filled with some crazed journeys. At its wildest, in the epic ‘Pink Fruit’, Leonard sounds like Sebadoh trying to cover Tim Buckley’s ‘Starsailor’ LP. There are familiar enough folk and indie rock moves within, but the twists and turns and connectors are not of convention. Kiran Leonard moves with abandon even as his voice quivers and questions. It is more a compulsive need than a fun sense of adventure, although he seems to retain control throughout. Audacious, bright, and gutsy—have a listen.

Songs to start with first:

Secret Police - Karma Police? Not that good, but it does remind me of Radiohead.

Pink Fruit - When composing a sixteen minute song, why not have warm melodies, quirky bursts, and lots of strange passages. This is clever.

Fireplace - The long closer finishes on a strange and contemplative point.

Female vocal driven power pop with a touch of sleaze garage rock and the occasional slacker rock component as well. They are best when they are tough and focused and don’t relax into slacker moves. Fortunately that is at least half of the time, so the power pushes the hooks forward. There is a touch of stylistic complacency that rubs me wrong, but most people won’t be bothered. Basically, when pushed forward, it works, when pulling back, it fades away.

Songs to start with first:

Let’s Runaway - Good little power popper gets the ball rolling.

Raise Hell - Deep bluesy rock here.

I’m Coming Onto You - Like Joy Formidable at their toughest.


I am somewhat of a sucker for that brand of power pop that has a female vocalist that has that certain cute, gutsy voice. This has got all of that, although the power pop comes from more of a bright powerful synthesizer driven melody. The rhythms are crisp and although this will likely have you dancing in the clubs, it is almost enough to get me out of the chair right here. As terrific a sound as this is, I would like a bit more on the variety side. They did throw some subtle change-ups late on, but I think they could do more. They have the sound, the style, and some pretty good songs. It is a lot to get right.

Songs to start with first:

Battles - Such a bright song, with a driving urgency at its heart.

Dangerous - More power behnid the attractive style up front.

Gone Gone Gone - Pummeling rhythms get you prepared for their most intense and still fun song.

By Kyle Schmitt
Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade, Divine Fits) takes a deep dive into synth pop with this catchy collection of danceable tracks. His vocals alternate between icy and soulful, and the overall climate ranges from the near-darkwave of “Rome” to the jagged dance-rock of “Shape of Things”. Operators sound restrained only for the first 80 seconds of “Bring Me The Head”; the rest of this record stays upbeat, even aggressive (notably with Sam Brown’s pounding drums on the relentless “Mission Creep”). Dramatic synths promise bliss on “Cold Light” as Beckoner asks, “Do ya wanna dance? Do you want to take the long way home?” Blue Wave’s mood crashes, however, as it nears conclusion. On “Nobody”, Beckoner expresses a desire to “tear it up, walk through the door to new life”, while he waxes bittersweet and dreamy on the album closer “Space Needle”. Abundant hooks and an evolving, exciting atmosphere make a strong case for catching Operators’ April 19th show at DC9.

Songs to start with first:

Control - Suitable for striding down a city street into the club in 1983 or 2016.

Cold Light - The best elements of synth-pop converge here, including some New Order-esque bass.

Nobody - A defiant anthem for walking home alone from a night out.

This band packs in quite a bit of sound within its pleasant pop melodies. I can’t fault the songs, although they are a bit too nice and mainstream to be followed up on beyond first listen. But the extra effort in the arrangements made for something I can respect more than I otherwise might. If you are a younger reader, I will highly recommend this as it has all the pop hooks you may crave and will also give you more active listening than other bands in this genre.

I am an admittted Anglophile, although my biases are more on the literary side than even music. And some of the heavy duty English musicians are tough for Americans to really connect with. Edward Rogers has the advantage of taking English music like that of Kevin Ayers and bringing that along with his long adult residence in New York City and finding a happy median. Rogers dedicated a previous album to Ayers and as much as he reminds me of Ayers, there is also plenty of Ray Davies and perhaps a bit of Bill Fay. Basically, Rogers’ songwriting skills are easily and fairly compared to these fine songwriters. He also offers a variety of styles between sparse folk and out and out rock music. And there are 19 songs here and with no filler (not surprisingly, they chose the ‘best’ out of 50 songs he had written). I always make room in my day tor thoughtful intelligent music and this goes on that list with a bullet.

Songs to start with first:

The World of Mystery - The opening cut sounds like a warm romantic Bob Dylan cut from 1969.

Olde House on the Hill - A surprising heavy rocker that is hook laden and vocally sharp as a tack.

Glass Marbles - This crazy like a fox rocker is the highlight of the album.

Rolling guitar lines, punctuating rhythm, and classic smooth pop female vocals all combine to work some real magic here. The lesser songs are all good pop rockers, while the best songs soar into profound melodies where the component parts weave around each other lifting the whole song upward throughout the song’s journey. Everything flows really where on this album and this band really has the feel of playing together and concocting excellent music. Yes, this is obviously quite a pleasure for me. And Vivian Girls fans, that is Katy Goodman on the right.

Songs to start with first:

High Notes - Great opener combines a jangly uptempo roots music with soft pop hooks.

Begins to Rain - The great songs have the great hooks, no truer on this album.

I Need an Angel - Another great melody with some great traded vocal passages between band members.

This is actually quite easy to describe or at least categorize, which is part of the problem. It is pop rock music with a touch of popsike. It is heavily laden with synthesizer riffs that have subtle ethereal qualities, but mostly are upfront and in your face. That and the mechanical beats just makes this a bit too cold and uninteresting. Even the vocals don’t add enough warmth or interesting enough power to make this something I would ever go back to.

Tir na nOg “Live at the Half Moon”
It was welcome news for these ears when I heard that this fine Irish folk duo, who had some lovely psyche-folk songs on their first three albums from the 1970s, were back decades later playing live. I have yet to catch a show, but now have this fine live album to show where they are at in the 21st century. Sonny Condell and Leo O’Kelly still sound exquisite in harmony and their guitar playing evokes all the mysteries of a foggy island morning, even more than in the past. They add some violin and percussion, which add amazing textures and punctuation. The guitars are stinging throughout and these two work are quite inventive working together. The material is split between old and new and if you were not familiar with their material, it would be difficult to tell which is which, as they have simply grown from their early days without losing their core sound and abilities to create something unique.There are a few more cool rock moves than I remembered, such as in ‘Free Ride’. This was quite a treat and I can attest that even if this were some brand new band, I would really love this record, although I am not sure a brand new band could have this many fine songs to put into a set.

The sounds are indeed united here as this band takes guitar textures, adds some electronics and a steady unobtrusive rhythm to drone out some interest psychopop. Maybe these are not truly sounds of joy (but there wasn’t much joy in Joy Division either), but this music will create a deep mood for you, most likely. Like many bands that establish slow, steady, moody pieces, you may not fully engage right away, but stay with it. This band may pull you in more quickly than most with its clever thoughtful moves. It won me over late in the second song and didn’t let go until all eight were completed.

Songs to start with first:

Dust Veil - Strong melodies and an arrangement that drones in unique ways.

Wounded Moon - This is how to stretch out a pop song and find new meaning for it.

Free to Fall - Aptly named nine minute closer lets you fall like a feather.

This is just what the doctor ordered… a four CD box set of authentic Moroccan music. You get warmed up with a 27 1/2 minute opening piece by Abdelkrim Rais and Ensemble. What better way to cleanse the musical palate of all the Americana, Electronica, and neo-psyche variants that come in for review. Further, these are historic field recordings by noted author Paul Bowles, as he criss-crossed Morocco in the latter half of 1959. Maybe there is a spiritual connection for me as well, as that was when I was born. Also, Paul Bowles ‘The Sheltering Sky’ is a brilliant novel and one of my all-time favorites. Clearly, this is not for the casual listener, but it is something you can put and get lost in. The recordings are surprisingly clear and quite varied in terms of female and male singing and chanting with instrumental differences as well. Ultimately it is the whole effect that drones into your psyche where you either adjoin yourself to the spirit of the music or not. This is not something I get a hankering for every day of the week, but is something I regularly need. And this collection is quite effective to go back to on a regular basis.

This is a well known UK shoegaze from years back when shoegaze was still somewhat unique. They are back and the shimmering guitars would not excite me too much, but for the fine soulfull vocals that take this to a newer place than most similar sounding bands. It is not quite enough to convert me over, as the music is just too steady and washed out. I would listen to the last cut, ‘And it’s You’ again and again. So if you like the classic style and have always wanted better vocals and even some interesting beats, then you should definitely check out the latest from the Veldt.

I really enjoyed Woods when they were last in DC. They had a polish and a power that elevated sweet pop moves into something stronger. It is a bit of step back here on the power front, but they compensate that with more complex rhythmic shifts. The vocals are still soft and the songs are still quite smart and interesting. This didn’t blow me away as much as the live set, but it is something I can come back to and work through the layers they provide in their catchy and slightly complex songs.

And put a note in your calendar that Woods are at the Rock’n’Roll Hotel on Thursday, May 5th.

Songs to start with first:

Sun City Creeps - The opener has fine pop moves and a bit of a reggae beat.

Can’t See at All - More funky rhythm, great organ sound, and tricky pop hooks.

I See in the Dark - This has some of the ‘drive’ that is in their live show, complete with clever melodic run.

It is a strange ride when a sitar accompanies you on a journey of the American west. At least that is how this intriguing record begins. After that, there is a mix of straight and twisted arrangements that make for a surprisingly engaging listening experience. It all seems so warm and easy going, but there is a lot of quietly challenging moments in many of these songs that is quite refreshing. This will not likely jump out at you immediately, but has enough sneaky moves to find an intriguing or intrigued audience.

Songs to start with first:

Find My Baby - The opener will open its doors wide and let you know if these seemingly incongruous sounds will attract you further.

Another She - A straight carefully crafted acoustic folk song that pulls you back into the known, but reeks with individuality.

Can’t Wake Up - An eerie sequel to the Jake Holmes song, ‘Dazed and Confused’ (yes, that is JAKE HOLMES, not Page and Plante despite how the credits read).

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


Plenty of shows to consider, no foolin'...

Saturday April 2nd is a busy night. Why not get Naked and Famous at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel, or circle over to Andy Clockwise at the Black Cat (where I will be) or maybe even catch Rufus du Sol at the U Street Music Hall. There is no wrong choice.

Eskimeaux sleds on into the DC9 on Sunday, April 3rd.

The High Highs head to the Black Cat on Thursday April 7th or watch Broadcast (opening for Mavis Staples) at the Hamilton that same evening.

Phil Cook has front burners blazing at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Friday, April 8th.

Martin Barre and his band put on their brilliant fiery show at Ram's Head in Annapolis on Monday, April 11th. And check back here on Friday, when I post my interview with the great Martin Barre.

Algiers plays live with a screening of Burn2Shine 6 featuring the really excellent Atlanta musical scene. This is all at the Black Cat on Tuesday the 12th.
BTS 6 TRAILER 4 from christoph green on Vimeo.

What to do on Wednesday the 13th... Get Bleached at the DC9? Find out how repetitive Everything Everything is at the 9:30 Club? Or look for the Looking at the Tree House Lounge.  Hmmm...

Jessica Fichot graces the stage at the Tree House Lounge on Friday, April 15th. There are lots of choices on Friday night, be she's worth going out of your way for.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Field Music - The Effects -- DC9 - Mar 24 2016

by John Miller

The Effects - There is an unmistakable feeling of shoe gaze as tonight's opener begins. Triplets with chorus tend to do that. But as everyone makes their way in, the composition becomes friendlier; less about contemplating that one time you blew your chance doing something that was ultimately unimportant and more about moving forward. The theme of change will run through both sets tonight as both bands fail to adhere to a particular genre, their compositions always twist and turn in unexpected ways.

I was surprised how long it took me to find out who it was that I was listening to; though they could be anybody really as they have yet to introduce themselves. How easily I get distracted. The Effects have yet to release a full length but that doesn't stop them from sounding polished. However, despite the polish there are still some unmistakable characteristics of a newer band finding their footing; lack of banter, long pauses in between songs to tune, etc.  It's an interesting mix of post punk that considering the city's history, you don't hear too much nowadays. The compositions are kind of all over the place but in a good way; weird time changes, pauses and some bass and guitar fills that sound excessively complicated. As they move into what must be their eighth piece, conformation is made and they finally introduce themselves. Their last piece has to be the most ambitious; moderate to soft, then into full prog rock mode as they go on for a good eight minutes just finding their way to the end. Really good show and count me disappointed The Effects don't have a proper full length to purchase yet. 

Field Music - Ava Marie opened the Field Music set tonight. It took me some time to figure that out. I was singing along in my head but couldn't place it; must have been the accordion. The guitar begins with a steady staccato, picking away, laying the foundation. It reminds me of the Ting Tings 'That's Not My Name' which in turn reminds me of Niles Rodgers. And the way the two vocalists harmonize could be best described as Kate Pierson backing up a much friendlier Morrisey. It's like a dance party for the cool kids circa 1984

This is the first time Field Music has played as a four piece. I felt like that needed to be said as the first guitarist let it be known that there may be issues. No issues whatsoever. You can usually tell how good a show is going by the amount of people dancing like no one is around. There are a few tonight; however one woman to my immediate right hasn't stopped moving since the quick picking started the show. Everyone has given her ample space to do her thing. What I wouldn't have done for someone to dance at one of my shows.

So cool kids from 1984: third song in, Field Music switch duties; guitarist is now on the drums and drummer takes over the guitar duties and the dance party changes. It's less cool kids and more pop, with occasional flourishes. It's different but it's just as good. And damn if that keyboardist isn't steady, singing harmonies too. Ultimately these changes could be quite distracting, however Field Music are so strong in regards to their song writing that those changes don't matter. As trite as it sounds, that theme of a good fucking time remains a constant throughout.

Dreamers - Arkells - Karma Killers -- Black Cat - Mar 24 2016

Karma Killers - There is a loud whoop from various spots in the large crowd when the opening band walks on to the dark stage. That raises my antennae, since this is a New Jersey band, it isn't just friends and relatives, but people excited for music. In DC, that means young people excited for music. And this quartet delivers some powerful glam rock with plenty of energy and just enough posture. They rework 'I Want Candy' which pleases the crowd, although it just reinforces how out of place I feel for this set. They lived up to their name with me, but were effective enough with the crowd, who are their target audience. Two more bands to come.

Arkells - The good thing about some younger bands connecting with their younger audience is that they can be skilled enough in the songwriting department to allow an old fogie like me into their world. The Arkells have a number of songs where I can forget about any great divides and just lose myself in their music. There are keyboards which shift from some intriguing counterpoint piano to synthesizer fills. The guitars have plenty going on. It is all quite earnest, but stops just short of syrupy. There were a few too many singalongs, which actually succeeded well enough, so I am in the minority about that issue. They get extra credit for employing true three-part harmonies, too. There was good energy and sincerity throughout the set, so this really pushed forward the powers of rock music tonight.
Dreamers - A muscular power trio is next, although the bassist adds some keyboards at times to take their thick sound even further. The melody in the vocals bring out the pop component, but the band has a great fierce, churning approach underneath it all. The drums are busy and interesting working well with the thick fuzzy bass lines that spread the sound out to every corner of the room. The guitar parts are interesting and even drone out their patterns much more than I expected. Even a song like 'It's Never Too Late to Dance' has a fierce rhythm guitar line. Again, there is plenty for young rock fans to dig here, but these guys also have the ability to take any rock fan in and give them something they can relate back to, while still sounding fresh and invigorating.

Facebook Grab of the Night: Cheap joke, I know, but I like font miscues.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Tortoise - Mind Over Mirrors -- Black Cat - Mar 19 2016

Mind Over Mirrors - A one-man electrical band starts things off. He's on the floor in the center of the large crowd between stage and soundboard, so there is not much to see. Although I am not fond of this approach, it is perfectly ok when you have one guy in front of his equipment. At least this time there appears to be a lot more analog working than computer screens and this old fashioned approach carries through to the music. There are great synthesizer melodies, sequencer moves, and a mix of ambient and rhythmic thrusts that thoughtfully meander over time. All in all, I liked the music, and although this is something that I normally prefer at home rather than in a club, there was something livelier about it than others in this field.
Tortoise - Here is another band that I prefer at home more than on stage, although a really large crowd tonight clearly disagrees with me (or just wants it all). I was not particularly moved the last time they were in town, despite the obvious talent and originality on display. But I enjoyed the latest album and wanted to try again. I am glad I did, for although they still seem more intellectually moving than emotionally connective, it was fun to watch these five guys jump around a variety of percussive instruments with the guitar and bass holding the structure of the songs down. There are vibes, two drum kits, different synth banks, and plenty of movement among the members. It was not that important to try to figure out the sound, but more fun trying to dig into the complex rhythms and see how even the guitar and bass work with these variations. I did find a bit more emotional connection this time around where the intellect does not dominate as much. That may be more me spending more time with their sound, as opposed to anything they are doing--I'll let the long term fans explain that more eloquently. So if you like a challenge that won't frustrate you and may even connect with you in a big way, Tortoise still has a lot to offer. I am close to becoming a fan, and will forever be intrigued by them.

Facebook Grab of the Day: From Aesthetic Magazine, an upcoming festival for your consideration:

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


A wicked cold has slowed down my already slow pace, but I can talk and walk again, so I will be considering several shows with an close eye on those that follow:

Tortoise slowly ambles on in to the Black Cat this Saturday, March 19th.

Dervish whirls on into Montgomery College on Monday, March 21st.

Antwon hits the U Street Music Hall on Tuesday the 22nd.

The Arkells and Dreamers come from parts unknown to the Black Cat on Thursday, March 24th. Or maybe try Field Music at the 9:30 Club that night.

The Astronauts crash land at Songbyrd on Friday the 25th.

Haelos are glowing at the U Street Music Hall on Monday the 28th or check out the always good Drew Gibson at Iota and he's got his full band with him that night.

DMAs are closing out the month at the Black Cat on Thursday, which is of course March 31st.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Those Darlins - Idle Bloom - The Grey A -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Mar 13 2016

by Kyle Schmitt

The Grey A - Grey Jacks and his four-piece band presented a clean, polished rock sound with barbed lyrics. His songs call out con men and liars, while Jacks rues that, "Everywhere I see / people happier than me." His songs impress the most when the energy increases, as it did on a rousing "love letter" to New Orleans and a cover of "Personal Jesus" that he dedicated to Those Darlins. Embracing his self-described "politipop", Jacks made time for election-year sloganeering in DC. He warned his audience that "The game is rigged", and his advice to "Vote 'em out" was the right message at the right time and place. And speaking of right time and place, Jacks later told the crowd to bring their vaporizers to his 4/20 show at Comet Ping Pong. 

Idle Bloom - This group conjures a rich, heavy sound that channels My Bloody Valentine at times. While most songs lacked a defined structure, hooks arose out of nearly every verse, and the marked dynamics got heads bopping from the first song onward. The lead guitar sounds almost synth-like and lends grandeur to the mix. Olivia Scibelli's strong singing proved a match for these domineering guitar tones, and her bandmates' backing vocals integrated well with the portentous instrumental atmosphere. Idle Bloom's strengths were highlighted on "Dust", which featured guitar that sounded like it was lighting the way for the bass to cut a path through the darkness.
Those Darlins - This set took on a valedictory feel, as it marked the first of Those Darlins' final four shows (for now, at least). It felt even more like graduation day when guitarist Nikki Kvarnes (a Rappahannock County girl) pointed out her cheerful family in the audience. Those Darlins shifted effortlessly from blues to hard rock to country, sometimes blending all genres into one blazing song. Despite the fact-based subject matter, "Hives" rang out with joy, and Kvarnes and fellow guitarist/singer Jessi Zazu teamed for a fantastic vocal performance on "That Man". Zazu is a compelling live performer, spitting twang as she stares down her audience and bounds up at the microphone like she can't wait to tell off her lyrical target. The ladies strutted through some crowd-pleasing covers, with Zazu tearing through "White Light/White Heat" and Kvarnes venturing into the audience during a smoldering "Shakin' All Over". If this was it for Those Darlins, then these women have earned rightful admittance to their eternal paradise in Guitar Heaven.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

French Admirals - Feral Consdrvatives - Black Checker -- Velvet Lounge - Mar 11 2016

Black Checker - It is power trio night tonight at the Velvet Lounge, a club I have been quite remiss in visiting in recent months as I mentioned to the doorman who said he had not seen me in a while. But they are hosting three fine local bands tonight where I need to get an update in form from many previous shows over the years. First up is the power pop power trio. Black Checker has the pace in the rhythm and the crunch in guitar along with clean vocals to always make for a fun live set. Their songs are sharp and they even had a Bowie tribute tonight with a cover of 'Queen Bitch', which invariably succeeds in just about anyone's live set. It was also great to see a big crowd tonight and an early weekend start with everyone there and raring to go. Fine start.

Feral Conservatives - Only the second time for me with this rootsy power trio, that you can't help but recognize. The rhythm section looks like any other but the lead singer straps on an electric mandolin for the entire set. She uses it so well, you wouldn't know it if you were looking right at it, but something would nag at you with their sound as there is a subtle difference. She plays solid rock rhythms and even cuts clever leads that feature more of a soft delicacy than that of most electric guitar solos. The vocals invoke a bit of bluesy roots, but fit comfortably in any rock world as well. The drums are strong and the bass runs are gutsy and help a lot in covering for the lack of a guitar. This band can be welcomed on a wide variety of bills and you will want to pay attention when they appear at your show.
French Admirals - The third power trio is more of an indie rock power trio with pop moves, a good driving rock rhythm and decent songwriting with heartfelt vocals pushing it all forward. They are struggling mightily as it appeared that the pedal box was dead for the guitarist. They finally gave up on it and pushed forward with what started as a thick muddy sound. Between the guitarist and the fine sound crew and system here, they achieved enough clarity with their raw set up. After a few songs, it was almost fun to hear a down and dirty sound, even if it didn't always fit the band's specific song of choice. But it worked just fine for their Guided By Voices cover, which was they probably don't even know has strong ties with me and my old Dayton days. I am sure I will catch them again when they are happier with their equipment and I look forward to their continual introduction of new songs as they move forward on a second album to come out later this year. Although I need to cut down on shows, it is hard to beat a really good local showcase like this at a small club with a great PA and a low door price.

More Nancy fun, this time decidedly not from Ernie Bushmiller.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Ra Ra Riot - Sun Club - PWR BTTM -- 9:30 Club - Mar 6 2016

PWR BTTM - Thanks to a slow line, I missed a song and a half. I didn't mind the half as they were doing their thing to the 'Wild Thing' riff. But I quickly settled in with the crazy fun sounds of this guitar and drums duo. They both sang leads and switched instruments, vowing to attempt to destroy their new instrument. Crazed pop songs and gutsy rock moves with quirky twists and turns kept me on edge throughout. The real success was their patter, which was some of the best ever and had the crowd laughing all through the set. Flaming weirdness here from a couple guys who list their hometown as Sodom and Gomorrah. What a great way to start the night.

Sun Club - The craziness continues with this Baltimore outfit that is also doing many dates of this tour. They invoke some sort of party with Sparks, Devo, and the Dickies, although at times they are more like Comets on Fire, with a bit more pop moves in the formula. The sounds they cook up with guitars and some keyboards are pretty wild. I swear I even hear Tommy Hall's electric jug in the mix at times. The vocals are twisted, the energy is great, and even with less patter, there is the same sense of fun and reckless abandon we had from the opener. This is already a successful show with two different sounding bands working along the same theme.
Ra Ra Riot - While not as crazy as the first couple of bands, this veteran Syracuse collective injects plenty of fun to their lively pop rock songs. They have been around for a decade now and this is the first I caught up with them since I caught an outdoor show in Denver in the first couple years of their existence. I thought they were decent then, but now have even a greater command of their sound and songwriting. They feature a cello and violin among the usual rock instruments, yet they do not dominate the sound. They rather remind me of a post punk ELO with their sound being more nimble and crackling. The strings occasionally smooth out the tough rhythms and sharper edges, but not often and it is a fun contest to watch and hear. Quite a pleasure and this band might as well accept their status as a headliner for a club this size, although I am sure they enjoyed the little club tour they did last year that included the DC9. But they are big, bold and can entertain the masses with the best of them.

Quote of the Night: From the openers... "This is the perfect place for us to make jokes about politics... but we don't know anything. I only recall what I learned in school: So hey there, how about that Louisiana Purchase?"

Thursday, March 3, 2016

SWMRS - The Frights -- Black Cat - Mar 2 2016

The Frights - Parked against the back wall with all the other knowledgeable has-beens, I am safe from all spastic young folks up front. From this distance I can safely misremember my youth and judge those that braved the unreasonably cold weather.

Now that I have successfully become a curmudgeon, I guess it's on to the music. A lot of tonight is par for the course; power chords, quick songs, and parents patiently waiting for their children. It's certainly a welcome change from last night. The Frights are touring in support of their album, You Are Going To Hate This; described as "reverb drenched riffs with 50’s rockabilly references". And they certainly lived up to that piece of PR tonight; keeping things interesting by continually referencing Nicolas Cage and National Treasure.

The Frights brand of punk comes all the way from San Diego California. It's interesting how their environment influences their music. While the tropes I spoke of earlier are present, there is a sunny disposition to these compositions; almost like a jarring doo-wop. Even without a female presence, I am reminded of Exene Cervenka. Their structure is bright; lots of major chords. They even played some Weezer for good measure; improvising the spoken word parts of The Sweater Song and tailoring them specifically for this DC crowd. That's pretty cool. Small moments like that, even if it is just a cover, show an attention to detail that is uncommon to say the least. And it's those small moments that folks will remember and talk about, so good fucking job.
SWMRS - Swmrs starts the night with a plea, "Let's fuck shit up" and they follow with something that should be a required prerequisite for any punk show; an impromptu opening that is as sloppy as it is short. God damn if tonight doesn't make me feel old as shit. These guys look impossibly young but I guess that's a good thing because there is nothing sadder than an old punk band. Vocally I am reminded of Blood Brothers; that occasional high pitched delivery that they perfected almost a decade ago, however that's where the similarities end. SWMRS aren't the chore that Blood Brothers can sometimes be. For the most part the compositions are pretty straight forward; fast, aggressive, and loud. Though that kind of describes all punk music, so that isn't much help is it? They aren't aggressive in the way that Sick Of It  All or Agnostic Front are, there is a casualness to it, fun. Nobody is here to beat the shit out of anyone; just get crazy, get fucked up, and sing along.
The crowd is getting as crazy as The Backroom allows; bouncing, swinging and being general spazzes. Now that I think of it, I don't know why more parents don't take their kids to shows like tonight. All this moving has to tire them out, like taking out a dog for a long walk so they sleep the rest of the day. It isn't particularly packed but SWMRS treats the room as such and the crowd hasn't slowed down all evening. As old as it makes me sound, it's great to see folks having a good fucking time. No shoe gazing tonight.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Lone Bellow - Escondido -- 9:30 Club - Mar 1 2016

by John Miller

Escondido - A different crowd tonight at 9:30 as the lineup features two 'alt country' acts, Escondido and The Lone Bellow. Despite unfamiliar surroundings, the audience is no less responsive. It is packed and I find myself moving from corner to corner so I can be as social awkward as possible. Escondido is touring in support of their latest release, 'Walking With A Stranger'. The term 'alt country' seems to be thrown about pretty freely nowadays. I feel like Nashville has this twang meter and if your band isn’t reaching maximum twang levels, you are automatically designated as 'alt country'. Escondido is country through and through; there isn't really anything that should designate them ‘alt’ in anyway. There is twang, melancholy, and harmonies just in measured amounts. There are some elements here that generally would not fit into the very stringent country classification; crashing cymbals, guitar solos, but that the structures are built on the familiar. As the set continues, the club seems to get warmer and warmer. It's becoming uncomfortable as the stragglers finally make their way in. I will say that Escondido is far more personable than any act I have seen at 9:30. The interaction with the occasionally rowdy chorus is light and somewhat innocent. I am surprised at how much attention they pay to the drunks yelling out nonsense. They never chastise the vocal but instead give them the time to make their point, and then continue with the promotion.  However, considering how safe the music is, it shouldn't be a surprise that they are so agreeable. This is all very safe. Like I said earlier, the structure of the compositions is built on the classics and any wavering is done so carefully. It's almost selfish in its ignorance. That sounds worse than I mean but it as if the outside world is inconsequential and all that matters are these personal songs. As far as similar acts, to be honest, they kind of reminded me of mid nineties radio giants, The Cranberries; especially the slower stuff. In fact at one point I thought they were going to play a cover of Linger.
The Lone Bellow - Like Escondido before them, The Lone Bellow is supporting a relatively new album, 'Then Came Morning'. And they too are classified as 'alt country'. The classification still confounds me as I would think they are closer to something like Dashboard Confessional; emotional and quite earnest. But tonight begins with something a little more upbeat. Looks like I need to find another corner. One of the other things that immediately stuck out was the authority with which the drums were played. It's nothing crazy, no double bass but the force behind each hit is impressive. They sound great. Much like Escondido, the structure of their compositions is built on the familiar. It's safe and every song up until this point is almost religious: meaning that there is this sense of each song building to something almost spiritual. The earlier comparison eventually makes sense, as they begin with the earnest after warming up the crowd with three up tempo numbers. And what would any 'alt country' band be without a mandolin? It has almost become a trope at this point. Regardless of my feelings on that particular instrument, the crowd continues to eat this up. I don't think I have ever heard it as loud here as it is tonight. There have been sing-alongs, abrupt applause in the middle of songs, and a desperate attempt to try and keep rhythm with The Lone Bellow by clapping to the beat.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Radiation City - Deep Sea Diver -- DC9 - Feb 29 2016

by John Miller

Deep Sea Diver - I am suspicious of tonight’s audience. The simple mention of Seattle elicits such a strong and rousing response that at one point even Deep Sea Diver questions their generosity, “Are you really from Seattle?” There is lots of flannel tonight too. I count no less than 3 people that I could reach out and touch. Everyone is showing real support for these west coast natives and I can appreciate the sentiment but I'm not too sure that I'd feel any better if I were surrounded by moderate, conservative suits somewhere far away from Washington D.C. But the effort is noted. Both, Deep Sea Diver and Radiation City are on tour supporting new albums, Secrets and Synesthetica (Deep Sea Diver and Radiation City respectively) just came out less than a month ago; so there is a certain feeling of uncertainty, anticipation, and general excitement that the two play with.

Some may be familiar with tonight's opening act, Deep Sea Diver. Jessica Dobson, one of the creative forces behind this west coast band, also moonlights as a touring member of The Shins and Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs. Do the three sound anything alike? Maybe? Any pedigree, regardless of the situation is going to help interested parties make a more informed decision. Deep Sea Diver does play with a measured ferocity that her other side gigs lack. The fuzz and feedback are closer to something from earlier Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs releases but as mentioned earlier, less frantic. Recently I have been having serious trouble making the necessary connections that music criticism demands. While simple description; fuzz, feedback, intensity, are important, it is those connections to similar acts that, honestly, really sell a band. The worst part is the way in which any similarity heard is always just out of reach. The feedback, the fuzz, the tone, it's all connected but I can't remember how. I know what Deep Sea Diver is playing is excellent but I cannot fully contextualize those feelings and I return again to Jessica Dobson’s earlier work. I am leaning on it, even though Deep Sea Diver isn’t. Regardless of my feelings of failure, they, even without the pedigree, would still sound the same, the audience (despite my suspicions of their generous nature) would still go insane at the prospect of the set ending, and Deep Sea Diver would still play an excellent show.
Radiation City - I am surprised with how quick both sets are performed tonight. Unlike last week’s show, which felt like a never ending series of breakdowns and intermissions, last night’s show was a lesson on how to do things right. There was this sense of intimacy and familiarity that Radiation City played with; the way they casually suggested to the sound guy that levels needed adjustment, often calling him by his first name or the way they would effortlessly switch leads. It would lead you to believe that they were a lot closer to home.  Generally, I pick shows based on my availability so the aforementioned pedigree had no bearing on my decision to come out tonight. To be honest the main reason I chose tonight's show was Radiation City; it's a cool name. The image of a glowing, green city got my imagination going; nuclear war, monsters, slime, you know the really cool stuff. I'm not too hard to please. Ultimately, this long winded explanation about pedigree and process is to show that usually the stuff like who knows who doesn't really matter. And in the case of Radiation City that holds true. They are interesting in that they seem to pick and choose influences as opposed to lean on one specific band or genre. You can hear the 70s in the way that the keyboardist constructs her sound design, the 60s of the steady drums and rhythmic guitar, and there is even a little 80s as some of the compositions remind me of Sade. They seem to rely less on complex song structure and more on the way the music moves, both physically and metaphorically. And those rhythms; I wouldn’t call it dance but you can certainly dance to it. Sometimes a monstrous hook will come out of nowhere and you can't help but just swing your hips.