Tuesday, May 31, 2016


This is the moniker for Annelotte de Graaf, a Dutch singer/musician with a sweet ethereal styled voice that never gets too goth and instead veers toward dream pop. Yet she still has a bit of grounding, although the strong instrumental prowess of the band has a heavy hand in that. Beats and bass are big, bold and sharp with a bit more shimmer and dreaminess coming from the guitars. There is nothing unheard here, just a bit of extra divergence among the instruments with a band that can keep it all cohesive and effective throughout. This is a steady and high quality album.

Songs to start with first:

Fading Lines - Fine pop moves and strong contrasts within instruments that meld together well.

Right Now - Great popsike moves with some sharp undercurrents.

Turning Light - Lighter touch with crisp snare work and ultra-warm vocal.

Instantly, this reminds me a lot of Fursaxa with the intense yet delicate vocal work. However, each song adds something to the vocal style, whether it is piano, electronic sounds, or some combination, this album builds on the slightest of inclines. This is certainly not for all tastes, as it is stark, dreamy, droning steadiness, but it worked perfectly for me. This type of album is never one you reach for in a passion and marvel at the songwriting, but wait for the mood to be right and let it work its magic, while your mind drifts to your own comfortable thoughts.

Be sure to come see this music live at a perfect venue for her, the 6th and I Synagogue on Wednesday, June 15th.

Songs to start with first:

St. Apollonia - The opener begins with a stark ethereal landscape of looped voices.

Beached - Prominent piano and oh so delicate vocals in the background.

Heading Home - Late on, you sense that she is indeed heading home.

I knew I would be sorry I missed Bent Knee when they played the Songbyrd the other week. But I had another commitment and now after hearing this album, I am even more curious at how these songs would be played live. For on record, the sound is bold and varied with all kinds of instrumentation weaving in and out at wildly divergent volume levels. Courtney Swain’s lead vocals are operatic lounge, were there such a classification. And between her and her bandmates, if it doesn’t exist, they invent it. The experimental components are intriguing enough that even the Zappa-Beefheart brigade will take to this. Yet the melodic sense is generally far clearer than those two and is quite amazing how it all comes together. The dynamic range that you get right on the opening song is as varied as anything I’ve heard. Rarely has quiet to loud worked so well. This hits all the right buttons for me and will for any adventurous listener.

Songs to start with first:

Counselor - Startling guitars and violins work off quieter sounds and intense vocals.

Eve - Nine minutes of surprise.

Good Girl - An intriguing nearly psychedelic folk experience.

This is a good folk rock album of sorts. It is more steeped in pop culture than Americana or classic British style, and there is a heavy Byrdsian jangle which contrasts nicely to the prominent acoustic guitar rhythm. The female vocals are laid back, but with emotion and not so detached as they may initially sound. The beats are steady and the songs are varied enough. This does not always dazzle, but has a steady quality throughout and a few highlight songs to zone in on.

And don’t delay, they open the Nada Surf show tomorrow night, June 1st, at the 9:30 Club. It will be fun.

Songs to start with first:

Dad - No doubt that is Roger McGuinn III playing a jangly 12-string Rickenbacker on this catchy cut.

Burn - A good rock song that pushes it a bit, not quite Deep Purple, but hey the motive is different.

Dad 2 - Short follow-up later in album, yes this is a fine song (or try River Monster the closer, if you want a different song).

It’s been a while since “III” and I was hoping “IV” sounded a little more inventive than the last “IV” I bought from Mahogany Rush, while in high school (actually a serviceable LP). This has all the components you expect in a Black Mountain LP:  a finely honed psychedelic vibe delivered through quivering vocals; big distorted guitar parts; interesting drums; droning bass; and quirky synthesizer bits. There is the usual variety of long droning songs, shorter made for radio songs (almost, anyway), quieter acoustic moments, and other varieties of texture and volume. The main problem I have had on past albums is that there are song clusters where they sound like the best band in the world and others where they sound ‘meh’. I know most albums have this quality, but their divergence was more than most. This time around, they seem a whole lot steadier and while I stay am waiting for that knock’em dead classic, this will do nicely ’til then.

And be sure to join me at the Black Cat on Saturday, June 25th, for the Black Mountain live experienc.

Songs to start with first:

Florian Saucer Attack - More punk style oddly enough, reminiscent of Penetration or Flying Saucer Attack (of course)

You Can Dream - Classic Black Mountain mid-tempo psyche rocker with cool vocals, heavy guitar, and bubbly synth.

Line Them All Up - A lovely little pop psyche-folk cut, similar to a solo project from the guitarist a few years back.

Fiona Brice offers ten postcards from cities around the world. Lots of great places I have been such as Paris, Antwerp, and Dallas (well good anyway). Plenty of other exotic locales are explored, but when there is Denton in addition to Dallas, I think she has a bit too much Texas especially as she is from Northampton, England. Regardless, Fiona Brice is a fine violinist and has worked up arrangements from a highly diverse group of acts from Kanye West to Boy George. The works here have a strong ambient quality to them, although their striking arrangements make me think of a bold soundtrack. And this is the soundtrack to a travelogue around the world with varied tones and imagery in each of these ten songs. I don’t really have any favorites and would just rather play this beginning to end, while deep in contemplation.

Polish chanteuse Monika Brodka has fashioned an exceptionally powerful album, full of mystery and suspense lurking around each eerie keyboard line and guitar strike. Her vocals will pull you in with an attractive lilt that can twist into a quietly intense burst of emotion. And just when you partially figure out this surreal dreamscape she has envisioned, she tosses in a fairly straight pop song and then some strange punk rock cut from Venus. Even the brass additions sound alien. This is profound and great. I list three songs, but get the whole album as this is a creative journey that anyone reading this far into a list of album reviews will want to take.

Songs to start with first:

Mirror Mirror - This is an extremely mysterious opener that has me riveted for what I am in for.

Funeral - This is in a dreamworld, not sounding like dreampop, but in a surreal musical valley that few have ventured to.

My Name is Youth - Where did this avant garde punk rock song come from?

Cohen has a style that veers toward lounge, but there is such an eerie intensity to it, there is not really a simple way to describe his songs. There is an overall easy going quality with some strong sounds underneath. His vocals are relaxed at times but stretch into a slight quivering intensity and are a challenge to get a handle on. But it is a fun challenge, at least in the early songs. Eventually things settle down, even with an edge occasionally present. Often albums rise in drama, but this one evolves into a more relaxed state of falling tension, that is until the grand finish of ‘Mother Mary’. It is an interesting approach and I appreciate the creative effort and unique tracking.

Songs to start with first:

Honeymoon - The opener mystified me and I wasn’t sure if I connected, but I could not turn away my ear.

Bloom Forever - The title cut offers much of the opening song qualities but starts making sense of it all.

Only Us - A moody piece with deep vocals and lovely piano.

I am rather surprised I still rather enjoy music like this—lively soft pop music with a muscular rhythm section. It is all nice and catchy and I thought I was well beyond this. But no, this UK band hits a few buttons that remind me of how I enjoyed the early Cure albums. The guitar work is brisk and busy and surprisingly rocking even as the vocals and overall song structure goes into straight popland. Not bad at all, and quite good if you really and truly like this. And extra credit is given for having a song called ‘Zlatan’.

Songs to start with first:

I D - Electronica beat morphs into a scrumptious melody.

The Zoo - Vocals kick in (to stay) on song two and brighten the music into a soft but gutsy pop approach.

If Things go on like This - Nice rock moves within this catchy number.

If you lean toward country, but don’t want to lose that rock’n’roll vibe, you may want to give Girls on Grass a listen. They have all the component parts of country music in their song and in the vocals. Yet the electric guitars are quite bold with a fine jangly quality throughout and some recognizable rock’n’roll moves spicing up the proceedings. This band pulls me in to their songs more than I expected. I suspect a combination of the rock moves and the deep feeling they have for their songs is what does the trick. This would be interesting to see on stage.

Songs to start with first:

Too Pretty - Country rock with plenty of Americana jangle on a classic rock’n’roll riff.

Drowning in Ego - A fine rumble and lots of snare hits highlight this nimble cut.

Pissin Down a Road - Tough bluesy rocker down at a walking pace. They can grind it out.


These are reissues  from the fine experimental violinist, Petra Haden. One of triplets (that have performed together), she has had a long and varied career working with the Foo Fighters, Mike Watt, and many more along with releasing solo records or collaborations with Bill Frisell and Woody Jackson.
“Imaginaryland” was her first LP in 1996 and features thirteen songs of mostly looped vocals. There is violin at various points and it is all quite engaging. There is more experimentation in the arrangement than the composition, as the songs all have strong melodic character. The presentation is intriguing and successful in sounding unique, but comfortable. That is not to say there is no wild experimentation as ‘Song for the Whales’ has some unique slide violin sounds.
“Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out” is from 2005 and is a faithful interpretation of the album. That is faithful in that it is complete and recognizable in the vocals. The instrumentation is composed of voice orchestration, in fact this is 100% vocals as this album title is literally correct. I would be interesting in the quantity of voices in some of these songs as percussion, basslines, guitar melodies, and vocal harmonies are all covered. This is a lot of fun, although I am not sure how much I will want to revisit this (true of most remake projects, even as audacious and unique as this). Although the faithful lead vocals make this more likely.

By Kyle Schmitt
This Toronto-based four-piece band sounds uptight and unsettled even at their most melodic. D. Alex Meeks’ drumming gives these songs an unrelenting feel (as on the bludgeoning “Dead Battery”), while vocalist Daniel Lee sounds as if he’s rushing both toward and away from something malevolent when breathlessly promising, “I’ll see you to the other side.” Any atmospheric moments are soon preempted by announcements like, “They’re calling your name, but you have no face” on “Plastic Love”. Hooded Fang sounds its best when their music gets a chance to breathe. April Aliermo’s bass provides a welcome counterpart to the group’s normally full-blast sound on “Miscast” and “Vacant Light”, which builds off a commanding rhythm-section arrangement. These tunes, along with “Glass Shadows”, showcase a band that makes you want to dance amidst the cacophony.

Songs to start with first:

Shallow - Almost trance-link despite the intense drumming and shrieking ghost harmonics.

Plastic Love - Spooky treble and Aliermo’s jumping bass line drive this song.

Glass Shadows - All the band’s best elements coalesce during the synth-heavy intro and a terrific staccato bridge.

This is a lovely psychedelic record that reminds me a bit of the Jacks, or at least what they would be doing now if they were still around. There are short snippets and stretched out songs that all feed from the same psychedelic trough at an easy going pace. Yet there are dynamics and freak out fuzz guitar excursions that add a lot of excitement to the spirited mood. Fans of Kohoutek in this town, along with fans of anything psychedelice, krautrock, or psyche-folk should give this a listen. It is a long term keeper in this household.

Songs to start with first:

Kogarahi - Absolutely addictive hook on this lovely popsike cut.

Silver Owl -  I initially thought this ten minute song might be too gentle, but then came the fuzz.

Trad - Anything but ‘trad’, unless it is psychedelic trad krautrock. Yeah, there is no such thing until now.

It is hard not to be impressed with the deep resonant voice of UK folk singer songwriter, Russell Morgan. He has the depth and resonance of Mick Softley with the breathiness of Nick Drake. There are lovely acoustic guitar passages, but some are accompanied by a piano and others are washed out in some dreamy keyboard background. There is some percussion and bass notes at times, but everything is subtle and serves an intriguing base for the rich vocals on top. This works for me.

Songs to start with first:

You Don’t Feel - Deep strong song, sets the mood for the better upcoming cuts.

Go North with You - The violin makes a fine addition to the arrangements.

I am Alive - Rocking, a bit funky, interesting vibe at work here.


This is a tricky little band that features modern sounds with a fair amount of electronica, but used in conjunction with classic instrumentation for an easy going pop folk style that somehow seems out of date, but ultimately works just fine. Pop will never go out of style and Mutual Benefit has their own style that reeks of class and precision. Yet there is nothing pompous or overbearing, so this should succeed with any thoughtful music fans and for those that like rich fulfilling melodic music. And they vary it up quite a bit as they also add some even more romantic folk moves as the album moves onward, on its steady journey.

Songs to start with first:

Skipping Stones - Deep thoughtful pop music with shimmering waters in between the vocals.

Getting Gone - A swaying hammock of a song. Just lay back and take it in.

Nocturne - More mysterious and flowing than hook oriented. A nice break half way through.

Beth Orton came on my radar when she recorded and played with the late bert Jansch many years back. While Orton is not a pure folkie, neither was Jansch when you explore his full catalog. They worked well together and Orton went on to make a big name for herself, especially in Europe. She is teeming with creativity on this record as it does not fit comfortably into any one style. At times it is quite experimental, while other times fits comfortably into a folk, lounge pop, or light indie rock vibe. It is not quite as intense as Kate Bush, but it has that audacious originality within. Even when experimental, there is a comfortable engaging quality that allows this to be easily absorbed, if not fully understood on first listen. So basically, smart music fans should be giving Beth Orton full attention and this album has many wonderful songs to indulge in.

Join me on Saturday, June 11th, when Ms. Orton along with Emmy the Great come to the U Street Music Hall in what no doubt will be a superb show.

Songs to start with first:

Snow - Heavy rhythms and interesting vocal meter will grab you right from the opening.

Petals - Haunting chorus and dazzling arrangment.

Dawnstar - Deep moody piece that flows into the longest cut on the LP, while holding attention firm and fast.

The brisk, slightly jangly guitars will quickly send you back a few years to the heights of indie rock. Yet the vocals have this unique intensity to them that give “Beacons” a lot of personality. The guitars and rhythm section are up for the challenge of taking it up a notch with some powerful breaks that will not let the listener comfortably settle in (some of it approaches shoegaze, even). And that is a positive for this style of music, especially these days. This variety is what makes this album work better than it otherwise would. I say that a lot, so more specifically it is the making of smart instrumental choices and crafty songwriting with twists and turns that is key to having someone who listens to a thousand new albums a year pay more than passing attention to you. And Oxenfree gets my attention.

Songs to start with first:

Fine Dining - A good opener establishes their sound.

Lucky - I like the powerful opening and then the pullback—keeps the intrigue working.

Everybody Knows - Female vocal turn is a good contrast as things were starting to get too vocally settled—cool arrangement, too.

This is a mix of spritely elecropop as well as dreamier light shoegaze rock. There are plenty of electronics, but some strong guitars in some of the songs. Even with the guitar bursts and interesting noises, they still sound like they have sanded the corners a bit on their sound. But they also vary the songs just enough to make for distinct moods. Ultimately this is a good album where they make it more interesting than not, although it does not quite jump out at boldly. I think by the third listen, it will be more embedded in my head.

Songs to start with first:

Evan Evan - Gutsy guitar, still smooth and a good indicator of the musical scope early on.

Feral Bloom - They really stretch their sound in fascinating shapes on this one.

Judy Garland - Darkest song on the LP as they start varying tones and textures nicely.

The Pop Group has returned with a vengeance, but of course they started with a vengeance and had several decades in between where they probably lived with a vengeance. Their recent shows excited their many fans on both sides of the Atlantic and now they offer up this slab of archival live material. It is all from 1980 at several venues in Europe with much of it coming from a show in Köln. The Pop Group was always a bit beyond post punk for me. To oversimplify, they took George Clinton and Captain Beefheart moves and brought them to a punk scene, which was about the only scene at the time that could handle their intense style. The recordings here are well enough to show some of the excitement, but still can’t quite do justice to how crazed this must have been that night. But Pop Group fans should want to grab this fascinating document of what these guys did live. And of course all the classics are here like ‘We are all Prostitutes’ and ‘Feed the Hungry’. This is a strong slice of punk rock history.

These UK psychedelic jammers kind of start slowly here on this live album with carefully layered psychedelic landscapes. It is almost too careful until ‘Notatki’ kicks in with Germanic moves and a 15 minute build to a rousing climax. Then ’Zostan na Noc’ carries the intensity right away with a throaty bass upfront and sax and guitar battling in the background as the drums march them all onward. There are some almost normal songs as the record goes on, but ultimately this is a spacey continuous sonic adventure that works well. The band features Ride’s Mark Gardener and has created an accessible, but still challenging brand of space rock.

Let’s see… Electronica set to pop? Check. Female Vocals? Check. Electro drums beats? Check. It is all here. It is all bright and likable. There were moments that stood out, maybe the vocals on ‘Tell Me’ at different points, but it all blends in to a pleasant backdrop. That is fine and well, but it just is not something that I see the need to ever go back to, especially when there will be dozens more like this coming out soon enough.

I have enjoyed this local trio many times over the years, so it is nice to get a listen to their new full length LP. It is still the same instrumental trio format that has worked so well in the past. The recordings have the luxury of overdubs, although they keep that restrained enough to where you can sense the live show feeling. They have a busy modern post rock sensibility, but they also have moves reminiscent from the days of classic progressive rock with fine melodic runs with lots of guitar notes, contrasting bass runs, and creative rhythms. The epic song suite ‘Trip to Florida’ split into four parts on Side B. It is a lot of drama to it and instrumentally manages to convey a story. Be sure to catch these guys live as well as they always manage to deliver an entertaining set. And this will be something that you can easily put on for a great listening experience. Just don’t try to multitask as it will command your attention.

I can point to many subtle rock bands that I enjoy immensely, but if push comes to shove, I would go for a big bold rock band first. Spookyland is all of that with powerful drums and bass laying down the foundation for great slashing post punk guitars that sound like they are twisting razor wire around your limbs. The vocals have a strange quality to them that may not work for all as there is a cornball vibrato slightly inherent in the high pitched approach. I think they offer a good personality to it all, but others may disagree. They definitely work on the stronger rock songs as opposed to the few that are moodier. There are some shifts with piano led songs or even a moody shoegaze number, but the rockers are the majority and it is a better album for that.

Songs to start with first:

Nowhereland - The second cut has bold slashing guitar and a laconic yet intense vocal line that weave around each other well.

Big Head - Another strong melody with big bold moves from all players.

Prophet - They engage a certain epic surreality here.

I hope I am not becoming too lazy in my reviews (sometimes guilty when deadlines are near), but every now and then I let the artists’ or their webmaster’s descriptions of their style suffice. Of course, I only use that if I like it and agree with it and this time out, the slight puzzled feeling I had after three times was relaxed when I read Sulfur City’s description of themselves as “Grunge Gospel Blues Stomp Dance Scream”. Although I also detect some soul and rap in their as well. Good effort here—a lot of fun rock sounds to digest.

Songs to start with first:

Whispers - The opener is a rousing, bluesy rocker that sounds ever so familiar… hmmmm.

Pockets - Some bold moves in this one, marrying styles from many different decades.

One Day in June - Slower blues rock, but really heavy underneath.

I have really enjoyed this DC band from their early days to their present position of being a fine regular gigging rock band. They feature some fine players as they can infuse R&B into their set that fits comfortably with their more ferocious rockers. This album is a fine representation of what they are all about. The component parts that I have heard many times on stage are all here: strong beat; nimble five string bass runs; ferocious guitars; and flexible vocals that can handle the rockers and the groovier cuts. I always recommend these guys when I can, so why not jump on board now, as they are starting to make some waves around here and maybe beyond.

And be sure to catch the album release show at the Velvet Lounge on Thursday, June 16th.

Songs to start with first:

Locked - Strong gutsy performance showing exactly how these guys rock.

Bones of Contention - Sharp songwriting with excellent arrangements and sonic shifts. Can stand with anyone.

Welcome to Anacostia - Fiery closer has pace and power and a great guitar solo.

Twin Peaks are maturing in a direction that I can’t quite figure out and it is not terribly close to where I would have guessed. Well, it is still catchy pop music and that is close to the power pop sounds they espoused when they were not quite old enough to drink. But now instead of going heavier or more psychedelic, they have embraced a more pop music approach. It is still strong and there is less of that stoner element, which I think works better as you move on (unless you embrace it in a deep psychedelic way). There are even some rootsy folk moves and what I would call psyche-gospel sounds on ‘Stain’. This album will take more than one listen to fully embrace it, but you can tell that it has the elements there to be something that can be enjoyed many times over many years. It is ultimately exciting to see a young band challenge themselves and us with this expansive writing, but I still prefer the live set.

Songs to start with first:

Wanted You - Good pop song with just a touch of psyche and nice bite to it.

Butterfly - Some of that good garage rock with lots of pop include bah-buh-bop-bahhhh’s.

Getting Better - The rollicking piano is a real surprise.

The Reverberation Appreciation Society presents this tribute, so you can kind of guess what the various bands may sound like. And with the Black Angels opening with ‘Good Vibrations’, you probably know exactly the direction this will take. They do a fine job with this classic (and the only song from that era that I truly think is a classic). There are a number of bands I don’t know (as is always the case with these) and others I know of like Holy Wave, but the best thing about this album is that all the bands follow the psychedelic reverb drenched theme and still play recognizable versions of the songs. It is also a good mix of heavier psyche and popsike, with some of the inherent pop in every song here (nothing unrecognizably reworked). This release was to coincide with the Austin festival, but bad weather forced a total shutdown. So this is all that remains for 2016. It may be blasphemy as i am not a fan of this all-time great album, but I would pop the tribute on for spin well before considering the original.

The J. Geils Band was a moderate success in the seventies when I was young. I thought they were not bad, but never excited me a whole lot. I always found it odd it had the name of the band leader who was a rather nondescript guitarist. Thinking now, perhaps this was a band that really had no stand-out players and just laid down a funky, fun rock-soul beat. And they left room for perhaps their best (and most famous) player, Peter Wolf, to sing his heart out. Wolf had a decent solo career, but I have not detected him on my radar for a long, long time, until now. His solo LP is a fine effort that still has his excellent expressive vocal tones, surprisingly intact. He sounds great and interestingly enough has shifted styles somewhat to a more Americana approach with a bit of Appalachian folk and country rock. It is an extremely smart move and works here on both the studio cuts and live songs that are intermingled. For the Geils fans, their is a version of ‘Love Stinks’ but it is played in an uptempo bluegrass style. There are some cuts that are more soulful as it is a nice mix that still fits together well. This is a fine record and a document to show his voice is alive and well and still worth hearing.

And hear it you can, if you hurry on out to the Birchmere on Wednesday, June 1st.

Songs to start with first:

Rolling On - The opener sets the tone of the well known voice as Wolf takes it in a strong folkish sound.

How Do You Know - This has that snappy, funky blues style of Wolf’s old band.

It’s Raining - Just a well written song, with heart and soul on full display

Delicate electropop is not really my thing, but this is awfully cute. The country of origin is Sweden, but this sounds about as universal as anything. There is a coolness to the music, but a warmth in the vocals, which is probably as good of a hint of Sweden that is possible here. The songs are nice, but don’t stand out enough that I prefer one over another. Instead, it makes a nice listening experience if you enjoy modern electronic pop music. Again, not my particular area or expertise or enjoyment, but I am actually liking this enough to think it is better than many more of these I review (and those I won’t even bother to listen to).

And you can hear all of this live at the DC9, on Wednesday, June 8th.

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