Thursday, June 30, 2016


When Martin Bramah left the Fall after the great ‘Live at the Witch Trials’, he formed this excellent post punk band. The direction is given extra pizzazz with a cheesy psyche organ that perfectly merges the 60s with the 80s. The guitars are fierce and the rhythm section is high in the mix, so it has all the great post punk sounds that you expect. The songs are generally quite good as well and there are some demos amidst the better known songs. These songs are rarities and singles and such, but come together to form a great album.

Songs to start with:

The Flood - The opener has that modern audacious garage feeling.

Work - One of John Peel’s favorites and that is all you need to know.

Conscience - Slower, moodier, but lots of twisted counter guitar moves.

This is the new material and although not as steady as “Awefull”, the highlights on this are well worth a listen. This takes a turn to the more slacker oddball music, which was hinted at in the solo album more than the Blue Orchids material. There are a lot of interesting moments here, it only requires an appreciation of a more laid back approach. If you have that, there are creative songs to be heard. If not, well, be sure to check out ‘Feather from the Sun’. That is a major highlight.

Songs to start with:

A Feather from the Sun - Such exciting contrasts of guitar parts, keyboards, laconic vocals… a highly original song.

Jam Today - And still jamming decades later.

Road to Perilous - Poetic beginning to an odd little dittie.

If Syd Barrett could have organized his thoughts better for his solo career, his great songs could have had this sort of treatment. Blue Orchids front man Martin Bramah released this in 2008 and this is reissued in conjunction with the Blue Orchids releases reviewed above. It was a pretty obscure limited release to begin with, but is well worth the time and trouble to put it out in the world again. It has that outsider folk feeling that is a fraction in the know (nod and a wink). That is always worth at least one listen for those of us that think we’ve just about heard everything.

Songs to start with:

Coming Forth by Day - Charming cut where the Bramah style starts making sense.

It’ll Be Night Soon - Nice electric guitar line added on to the moderately quirky folk.

Strangely Lucid - Like a folk Doors song.

Here is some lo-fi psychedelic music that should interest most psychedelic fans, especially those around DC. The artist was in a DC band called Death Chants back before my blog began and I never caught them. When band members scattered, Rafi stayed active and now has this album out on Woodsist (Label of the band Woods). He may be in Philadelphia now, which has some fine psychedelic sounds around town. This one fits right in as it is trippy from first not to last, with chants, drones, and a really low key psychedelic vibe prevalent through eight long songs. There is not much discernible difference in the songs, well there is always something, but the goal is to create an atmosphere that unfolds itself in an Escherian manner. I still prefer more song oriented psychedelic music (and there is a touch of this later on), but I always leave plenty of room for good mood pieces and this one deserves some further cosmic exploration.
This is definitely my type of modern pop-rock. Moody vocals and thick sounds work hand in hand to deliver straight forward melodies that kept me glued to this channel. Not quite chillwave, but cool and composed throughout, this delivers a good balanced sound for cross genre interests. It is mannered with the artists in control of the pace and sound. There is plenty to like here, maybe not a lot to love and get roused up off your couch, but it was highly effective to these ears.

Songs to start with:

Shades in Shade - Maybe the thickest sound underneath the chill vocals.

St. Nick - Lovely guitar and percussion shake-up with more lovely vocal work.

Lay Low - Good fade-out with old school guitar solo amidst the relaxing tones.

The music here is decent. The vocals offer an effective thoughtful pop approach. I could easily dismiss this as an average effort, but this Edmonton band manages to connect the music with the lyrics as well as you could want. If you don’t pay attention, you will find pleasant music going in one ear and out the other. But they have a way of making you listen and their subtle but dramatic sounds are a big part of that. I likely would not have spent time with this if I just heard a few seconds or heard it described, but it was well worth my time and will be again soon. Tricky, but inviting.

Songs to start with:

Grim - A rich opener, replete with grim music and cautiously optimistic music. Quite a mood here.

Sober - A classy song where the guitars communicate as well as the vocals.

The Only Time I Choose - Dreamy, but down to earth some how.

So a musician exiles himself to a remote cabin to write an album. Yes, Bon Iver has been mentioned several times in conjunction of this latest LP by M. Craft, but there are of course differences. I thought Bon Iver was ok, but overhyped. Hopefully this M. Craft album will steadily find its audience, but it could grow quite large based on what I am hearing. There is a delicacy to the songs, yet a good searching vibe going on that allows the music to flow out. Even on songs that are fleshed out more with a chorus of backing vocals, sharper guitar tones, drums, and piano, everything is so mannered and comfortably paced. Although this may turn off the rock heavy crowd, if you are willing to sit back and drift in the pool, M. Craft will provide the soundtrack.

Songs to start with:

Blood Moon - Spacey foray toward the blood moon, yet a quiet, delicate journey.

Chemical Trails - Another careful, quality song.

Love is the Devil - If you like a bigger, bolder arrangement, this one has plenty to offer.

Local dubsters are back with another 18 song album. With maturity comes some positives, and maybe a bit of a negative too. The arrangements are more involved with a variety of rock meets reggae moves done at various intensities and volumes and plenty of pop hooks scattered throughout. I enjoy the brass and occasional carnival organ sound, both of which expand the atmosphere considerably. Lyrically and melodically it is a little bit geared to youth, which has left me by some time ago. So I am not sure whether a more refined approach would work or whether they should just continue direct their energy as they are doing. Probably best to stick with what they know and if they can still bring it on stage as they have in the past, all appears to be well in the ZDub camp.

Songs to start with:

Find a Way - Good pop tune, sung with warmth and very balanced between smart and accessible.

You Know I’m With You - The rock guitars sound wonderful here.

Never Land - Punchy cut that balances heart and heft.

It is always a treat to have these veteran DC punk rockers play their brand of punk infused power pop music, whether on one of their many regular releases or live in the clubs. Now with a lead guitarist, Steve Hansgen, well entrenched after a period of changes, they are firing on all cylinders as this album proves. And they still have that little bit of extra hard rocking guitar sound added to their power (to the third power) pop. I hope no one reading this blog is hearing the name ‘Dot Dash’ for the first time (the Wire song doesn’t count), but if you are, climb aboard, while these guys still have this amazing drive and clarity.

They play around town regularly but have a good show coming to the Black Cat on Thursday, July 14th.

Songs to start with:

Dumb Entertainment - Catchy enough opener, but with a sharp creative break shows the special nature of Dot Dash.

10,000 Days - Crunching guitars, big drums, melodic bass line, and still room for pop oriented vocals.

Summer Lights - Try this one if you think these guys have only a couple of different speeds—the old fashioned rock vibe is unique here.

This is not the first Kyle Fosburgh acoustic guitar record I have heard, so I expected and received something excellent. Between his fine solo albums, he also works to reissue and unearth Robbie Basho material, so he is a serious minded musician that has great taste with unique historic talents. Fosburgh has a post-Basho feel, but is more delicate in the way of a Pierre Bensusan. There are seven lovely songs here, all with fine finger style guitar work and with vocals that are carefully worked into the song, some times sparingly, but effective in their quiet clarity. I always like a good finger style folk guitarist, but Kyle Fosburgh is one that is near the top of my list, at least here in the USA.

This seven song EP has that classic post modern indie rock vibe… crisp guitar bits, a bass line that roams a couple of octaves, snare popping drums, and ironic vocals. Oh, and a pop sensibility is at the heart, although the music acts like it does not want to admit it. I find this all rather cute, but hard to fully embrace in 2016. It is still a fun listen and it blasts by pretty quickly. A cut like ‘The Fall’ is something I want more of. On the right bill, this could be a lot of fun live.

My expectations were for something psychedelic based on band name and album title. Instead, we have oddball bubbly pop music. As this goes on a ways, there is a more murky mysterious element that brings in ancient sounds from the 1960s pop and lounge scenes that make this sound other worldly and intriguing. This album is proof of the concept of finishing what you start. After three or four cuts, I was ready to move on. But staying with it, I found the songs got longer, better, and there was more of an understanding of their approach. This is not for everyone, but if you wanted to challenge the pop side of your musical brain, here is a good test.

Songs to start with:

Luminosity - Haunting vocal and guitar with dubby bassline and rimshots. Oddly interesting.

Murder in the Garden - A fine vocal and a musical mystery of sorts - my personal favorite.

Nightmares - One of the more pleasant nightmares I have experienced, but quite quirky and dreamy.

This is the kind of smart album I like. There is such care in the execution with songs that are smart and penetrating. The emotions are unveiled through careful musical and vocal construction and not pushed at you like more obvious musicians. So you have something accessible where your brain stays on (but not overworked). There are musicians from Neko Case and Death Cab for Cutie here, so it is a strong cast engaging in popcraft at work. Give this a spin.

And you can see Laura Gibson at the Black Cat on Saturday, July 9th.

Songs to start with:

The Cause - Her assured vocal style is established and there is some crazy music going on in the background.

Empire Builder - Maybe it is the title, but the music also reminds me of a Paul Simon type epic story.

Caldera, Oregon - Great phrasing and contrasting sounds. Delicate and ethereal.

I am hearing Big Black meets Chrome meets Death Metal. But this is no young hip college band, but a South Korean collective that manages to work in traditional songs into some of the wildest and intense arrangements that are likely to come out of your speakers for some time. There are many longs songs and while heavy and startling at times, they engage in spacey drones as well. They are not the first Asian band to embrace the krautrock sounds of Ash Ra Tempel or Amon Düül, but they take it up a notch or two. And they cover all the forms that work for me in psychedelic music, drones, folk moves, hard guitar moments, and loads of creative flourish that all come together in one unique atmosphere. Monster LP, here, dive in and float skyward.

Songs to start with:

Wardrobe - Nothing like a ferocious opener to wake you from your slumber.

Echo of Creation - Another fierce rocker keeps the momentum

The Mountain - This is the climb to spiritual enlightenment.

I had to make sure I was listening to a new record when I first put this on, as the organ sound and other musical moves took me back to the soul music scene from the late sixties. Durand Jones is from Bloomington, Indiana and has clearly made an effort to bring classic soul music into the present. There are others, but not as many as there were then and it is good to hear this lovely sound. He has the expressive voice and also the band that can thicken up the mix or allow more space depending on the mood they are after. And they play around with beats and forms just enough, but the lead vocals are assured and keep the soul at the heart, so to say.

Songs to start with:

Smile - Great combination of old time soul and reggae moves.

Groovy Babe - Funky guitar, big rock sound and a great title.

Now I’m Gone - There is an interesting bounce in this beat.

Fela Kuti is certainly known as an African legend, as his Nigerian afrobeat set a course for many musicians around the world. One of them was his son Femi who has now been active for 30 years (where has the time gone). I am less familiar with his music, but since he first played in his father’s band, I am sure many of the core traits will be there. He clearly has a fiery lyrical approach and a high energized beat to support the vocal lines. The guitars and brass are bright and quick to the note. You have to look hard to find anything not to like here. So if not to your taste, it could easily hit you in the right mood; and I like a good blast of this style of music from time to time.

You can see Femi Kuti live at the 9:30 Club on Friday, July 29th.

Songs to start with:

Nothing to Show for it - Lively opener, which is the way that openers should go.

No Work No Job No Money - Spritely rhythm, lots of space for the strong vocals, interesting sounds.

Wy Our Money -  A snappy funky number that will get everybody moving.

They must be slow roasting Grandma, as this music takes its time unfolding its flavor. This is moody electronic music, although there are both pop vocals and some hybrid rap moments as well. ‘Sax in the City’ is a bit noisier in spots and with some decent drumming hits some rock buttons while doing some interesting electronic things, too. There is just enough creativity to keep me listening. It is not really my style, nor am I exactly sure whose style it might be (which is cool), but it ultimately pulled me just far enough into its enchanted world.

If you like gritty lo-fi rock band blues, you may want to hang out in this lonesome shack. Be forewarned, this is raw. It is not gnarly fast paced furious blues. It is steady riff oriented chunky blues with atmospheric vocals. It is a bit like a steady slower punk rock band playing the blues, raw and feral without flash. If this sounds exciting, well it might be, but it was not for me. There are some good songs, but too many other times it is just blues riffing until they decide to stop. It is refreshing to go primitive at times and this may fit the bill for a foray back in time, but it just was not fresh enough and vibrant enough to sustain going forward with.

Songs to start with:

Lonesome Shack - Good atmosphere created here with the riff and vocal line.

Dirty Traveller - Well titled traveling song.

Blood - A little bit beyond the usual guitar riff song here offers a needed change-up, although it comes late.

Pop music is not often this creative. One wonders if ‘pop’ is the right word. It describes the feeling of association for the listener, but you just wonder if the popularity will follow. Clearly, smart music lovers will enjoy the sly simplicity of this music that is sharp as a tack, but it may not be able to quite catch the masses. Too bad, as there are great feelings to be had in these somewhat varied, but all slightly quirky songs.

Songs to start with:

I Know a Man - Kind of a Ray Davies title and a tad of the songwriting style, too.

The Retreat - Delightful pop song with some rocking moves as well as some surprise shifts.

The Telepath Returns - Has a laid back American pop style.

The mileage between Bologna and Los Angeles is vast and filled with many cultural influences that this trio can cull from as they claim both cities as home. The core line-up is keyboards/female vocals, stand-up bass, and drums, but there are other instrumentalists adding touches that include brass and some guitar. But that is the clinical side of the sound—the real key is the air of mystery that they provide in both the drama of their songs as well as the intriguing blend of styles. There is rock, a touch of lounge jazz, some goth folk moves, and I am not sure what else. This is original, yet very comfortable as long as you don’t waste too much time trying to analyze it. And thus, I will just sit back, or rather lean forward, and listen again to this fine album—a very nice surprise.

Songs to start with:

Below a Fire - The opener is an intriguing song both in nature and it trying to figure out this band’s direction (that is a compliment).

Jai Singh - The mystery continues with a lovely song, a low center of gravity, and brass.

Shemkel - This reminds me of a John Cale-Nico collaboration, but less scary.

I smiled before I heard a note as I just knew that Paws brand of hook oriented punk-pop-rock would likely make me happy. This Glaswegian band has an earnest energy that they keep in check and sincere, while not afraid of rocking out with plenty of fire. There are hints of Husker Du, Guided by Voices, and Naked Raygun in here, but Paws sound like themselves—a band following a long line of catchy hard rocking bands that can rattle off the songs and excite an audience. Yes, I am happy.

Songs to start with:

No Grace - Strong opener with loads of power, but great touch in emitting a hearty melody.

N A - This one cooks with plenty of heart.

Salt Lake - They gnarled up the amps for this sound. Twisted and wonderful.

I have seen Quilt live a couple of times and have enjoyed the experience quite a bit. They are a favorite here in DC and it is nice to hear a new album by this fine Americana tinged indie rock band. They may invoke thoughts of genres long played out, but one fair listen and you can hear the particular magic that they can produce. The guitars and rhythm section have that integrated sophistication that makes so much sense, whether it be a carefully planned song or an extended jam. They do a little bit of everything that you expect on this record and it is quite the pleasure.

And they head back to the Rock’n’Roll Hotel on Thursday July 28th. I would be there in a flash were it not for the chance to catch Swans on their last tour (keep reading). But you won’t go wrong here.

Songs to start with:

Passerby - The opener features those wonderful ringing guitars, cool female vocals, and steady rhythm—as expected and desired.

Searching For - Great hooks and guitar interplay.

Eliot St. - A lovely popsike cut that floats you back to the 1960s.

This band takes me back to the days where punk rock and new wave coexisted with bands straddling both genres. These guys go quirky, but with a laconic attitude punctuated by guitar bursts. The vocals are an acquired taste and frankly have not aged as well, at least in my mind. Vocally, it is a bit in the direction of David Byrne/James Chance without the overdriven intensity. The uneven rhythms and dynamics tend to throw my mind and body off unlike when I was young and music needed jolts like this. But there is plenty of creativity here if you are looking for something different. What is really funny is that when I finished this album, i looked up the details of the release and found out that these are recordings from 1977-78! I was going to give this seminal Toronto band credit for  following a nearly overgrown path that just is not taken any more. But it seems maybe the path is overgrown since the days where the Scenics were trail blazing.

Ah, those wonderful days of punk rock with self starting female bands with players that had somewhere between 0 and 50% experience with an instrument, but still started highly interesting and creative bands. The Raincoats and Slits worked wonders by creating rhythmic blasts of intensity wandering strange untaken musical paths. The sound continued into post punk with intriguing space between staccato guitar runs and full bass lines like Gang of Four and even the B-52s. So if you like any or all of that, you should be listening to Shopping. They seem to have a carved out a nice little niche in the musical world of the 21st century.

And Shopping comes to the Comet Ping Pong on August 9th if you want to catch them live.

Songs to start with:

Straight Lines - Love the almost Thomas Mapfumo guitar lines.

Say it Once - Tempo and melodic shifts, synthesizer effects, really cool things combine in this song.

Sinking Feeling - Actually, this takes me out of my sinking feeling.

I had to make sure I had band, album, and song correct when I saw Spain, Carolina, and Tennessee come up for the first song on the playlist. And of course, the band is from Los Angeles and have been around for some time, although this is the first album I have sampled. And they do sound more Californian than any of the other locales mentioned above and I believe most people would pick California in a multiple choice test between the four. This ‘band’ is primarily the work of Josh Haden, son of jazz player Charlie Haden and brother of Petra Haden (who I favorably reviewed last month). He has a laid back approach, but it is smart with plenty going on, which is kind of the tradition of the fine folk-rock artist with that western style. The vocals will melt butter slowly and are the highlight of the many fine sounds that deliver these slow thoughtful songs.

Songs to start with:

Tennessee - The opener sets the tone and is a lovely song.

The Depression - Not too depressing, but emotional.

Lorelei - A fine subtle jangle in the electric guitar and soaring vocals.

I read Echo and the Bunnymen when I first read about the band. I hear Echo and the Bunnymen on this first lisen as well as a lot more. There definitely is that post punk, goth, shoegaze, stylistic rock approach that will take you back to the 1980s. When they succeed for me, they are able to combine a droning style with a powerful rock undercurrent, but still more toward the British scene of the 1980s than, say the Swans. Some songs are likable, but forgettable, but they occasionally nail it and are well worth paying attention to. And sign me up for a live show, because that is where this will really work best. The band is from Italy, so we will see how far around the globe they can carry their sound.

Songs to start with:

M9 - The grinding guitars are both droning and driving, atlhough the drums a bass keep things mobile and fresh.

Psychedelic Furs - I just like naming a song after a band, odd but atmospheric.

Dedu’n - Strong opening, powerful cut. Please, more like this.


This pop music is light and airy, in fact it is downright breathy in the vocals. I struggled to wrap around the music with its light melodies, overly loud bass lines and simple beats. The vocals often can pull it together, but in this case while they had a reasonable amount of expression within, they just seemed a bit too basic and by the numbers for me. Everything is fairly routine here and I really don’t see anything I have not seen a hundred times before, many done much better.

Well, this it, their swan song. All humor aside (what humor?), Michael Gira and cohorts are calling it quits a second time after this LP and an extensive world tour. And this likely will be it, at least for the Swans, as I am sure there will be some fascinating offshoot projects. But this second run culminates with another fine offering. Just nine songs, a few of epic proportion, yet a long Swans song still can manage to suspend time and keep me entranced in their romantic drone far better than any normal rock band. They know how to drone with subtle layers and movements that allows the listener to think, but very slowly and carefully. If anything, this album is not as ferociously guitar on top of guitar domination and has more subtle moments. The title track goes just under 29 minutes and has some moments of guitar domination along with a host of other tones and sounds. And then they appropriately close with the lighter ‘Finally Peace’ as there finally is. I normally recommend songs but it never makes sense with the Swans—just dive in at the beginning and listen to it all as the Swans create their musical world as profoundly as anyone.

And by all means, catch them live in DC for the final time at the 9:30 Club on Thursday, July 28th.

Initially this is one of those quiet albums that has enough quality that is hard to dislike, but you wonder how much you really like it. And like many of these types of albums, if you keep listening, it will carefully work its way into your system. There certainly is some background with this debut album as it comes from Big Star drummer Jody Stephens and his musical partner, Luther Russell. And the music here is a good follow up on the Big Star sound, although it is a little more relaxed and easy going with plenty of Byrds moves within. Big Star fans will definitely want to check this out—supposedly they recorded this in Memphis with some of Chris Bell’s guitars. So there is no trying to hide from the past, and that is as refreshing as these songs.

Songs to start with:

I’m For Love - I thought I was listening to a Byrds outtake when the harmonies kicked in.

Thrown - An nice shift in rhythm still retains the quiet ringing guitar for a great change up.

The Heart - A more acoustic take closes out the album in a lovely manner.

The Black Meadow is a place of mystery located in the Yorkshire moors. A University Professor that collected folklore from that area went missing is the focal point of this release. Chris Lambert curated the artists here who contributed songs to help tell the tale of this mysterious locale (in addition to his book). It is a fine collection of psychedelic folk and goth tinged songs from several bands I know little of. I note that Mellow Candle’s Alison O’Donnell is on one track, which is a pleasure to see. This is a well done compilation, sort of a more modern Wicker Man soundtrack. It is not quite of that quality (few psyche-folk records are), but surprisingly not terribly far behind. There is just a more modern feeling that permeates some of these songs, which may or may not go over with each listener (Eastgreen’s rap moves don’t fit). But the sense of mystery and journey is present here and this a great pleasure to listen to.

The minute I heard the name, I loved this band. The minute I heard their live set, I loved this band. Now after hearing a few albums, I still love this band. They have always had a great touch with a balance between powerpop, punk, post punk, and just classic pop rock. But the real kicker is that this album also has overpowering breaks and sonic blasts that are nearly cinematic in their power and reach. This is an excellent record, whether you are already a fan of this Scottish ban or whether this is the first you have heard of them. I recommend it highly and also recommend the live show.

And don’t delay. They play the Jammin Java this Saturday, July 2nd.

Songs to start with:

Peaks and Troughs - A rather tender vocal line with all the ripping power pop hooks this band is capable of.

I Keep it Composed - There are absolutely majestic passages here.

Bright Minds - …think alike and this band must be quite bright as they all lock in and bring life to a fine song.

There is a great use of space in the arrangements of these sometimes droning pop songs. It reminds me of John Cale working with Nico, although there is much more optimism and brightness in the music of Ziemba. She has a voice that can go deep into thought or more out front in bright expression. She can turn it on as well, vocally and musically as it is not all sunshine, but a more balanced world.

Songs to start with:

Phantom See - Mysterious use of space, creating an intriguing room of quiet sound.

El Paso - A steadier pop song with careful touches of music and voice.

Tiger Woman - Here’s the fire and the darker bits of life.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


The dog days of summer are here and air conditioned clubs are one place to park oneself. Here are but a few ideas...

One of Scotland's finest keeps reminding us that We Were Promised Jetpacks. Frankly, the band will do nicely until the days of the Jetsons are here. Join me at the Jammin Java on Saturday July 2nd to see this great band.

If there is nothing to do, then do Nothing. They play the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Thursday, July 7th.

Laura Gibson's album was impressive. For the live set, head over to the Black Cat on Saturday, July 9th.

Steve Gunn blazes into the Black Cat on Sunday the 10th.

You can catch local powerhouse Dot Dash with Wussy at the Black Cat on Thursday, July 14th. For Free Dot Dash music, click here. Also, if you buy their newest LP (review coming here tomorrow), you get all four albums via download files! Check this offer out!
Hey Mercedes either refers to hailing an auto or calling out to the actress voice of demonic Linda Blair in the Exorcist. Find out if either of those have anything to do with this band when they play the Black Cat on Friday, July 15th.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Broncho - Winter - Faron Young Cannibals -- DC9 - Jun 25 2016

by John Miller

Faron Young Cannibals - I am reminded immediately of one of David's recent reviews and how aggressive crowd work can sometimes have quite the negative effect as Faron Young Cannibals meanders through their first two songs. Pandering is best used on believers; you preach to the choir. Faron Young Cannibals are so far removed from any of that; laid back, much like their music. Their nonchalant attitude resonates with the crowd. Normally I might knit pick about small things; introductions, not knowing what or where the set is going, a lack of crowd work but it's as if I have somehow been infested with this even keeled demeanor through osmosis. Though there are times when it's too easy; some of the structures are obvious. Then Faron Young Cannibals begin to harmonize like The Beach Boys and those simple structures are quickly forgotten. There is twang here; they would fit well on an unofficial King of the Hill soundtrack. 
Winter - Winter begins and the floor begins to bounce in rhythm with the bass. The effect work by the guitars more than makes up for a lack of keyboards as those missing layers make their way through between the solos (to be honest they don't need them). There are elements of My Bloody Valentine though Winter reminds me more of both Moon King and Youth Lagoon; hazy, blue, and at times, surprisingly loud. The bass is exceptional; it's bright, lots of mid range. And as the bassist begins climbing about the PA like a jungle gym, it’s obvious where that energy comes from. After so many failed attempts, the bassist’s acrobatics finally elicits a response from the crowd.
Broncho - Broncho closes tonight. They have brought with them an interesting set up; full length mirrors and a smoke machine. It's like Enter the Dragon in here except without the whole kung-fu. Supporting their latest release Double Vanity, Broncho is an interesting mix previous two bands tonight; there are elements of Americana and significant effects. It's on the slower side, elements of prog; exploration. The second piece ends with the guitar working through this weird, cloudy mess and suddenly switches gears as the third piece begins; stuttering, strange and significantly faster. The vocals are something, Ryan Lindsey has this nasally, Midwest thing going on. It's as if Tom Haverford has somehow found his way from Pawnee Indiana to Washington DC by way of Broncho. I'm even hearing some Mark Knopfler too. The bass is fuzzy. It fits well with the smoke that has enveloped the front of the stage. Their compositions are duplicitous; they begin approachable but as the time passes the songs start to take shape, becoming these snake like beasts, sliding, slithering, exploring, and surprising. Even as the room goes dark, the crowd swells and the floors continue to bow.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Black Mountain - Majeure -- Black Cat - Jun 25 2016

Majeure - We begin with the drummer of Zombi, an interesting duo from Pittsburgh. He has electonica backing that is very rhythmic in composition and his drumming just pummels it deeper into powerful patterns. It is always a positive to have live drumming with electronica, although you don't often get drumming this good. Obviously it is important tonight as it is the lone focal point. The electronica is not terribly special beyond its intensity, but some of that is me as long time readers will know. But that last long song had more going on with lots of compositional dynamics. Good opening set, not too long, just a strong burst of energy to set you up for the main course.
photo - Geert Braekers

Black Mountain - It has been a while since this strong psychedelic Vancouver band has graced a DC stage with its unique presence. But it took mere seconds before they grabbed command with an incredibly loud sound with full clarity showcasing the edgy dynamics of their sound. Kudos to their soundman who took this tough room and filled it with this powerful music, leaving no room for idle conversation. But that was not going to be a problem as the hardened fans were mesmerized by this performance. It was not a full house, as they only had a few more people than their large Rock'n'Roll Hotel crowd they previously had, but that was ok with me. It left a bit of space around me, which helps as you listen to music that launches you into space exploration. And that is what these guys do with a killer rhythm section setting a steel girded framework for loud guitars and clever keyboards to direct the journey. Add male psyche-hippie vocals to chilling female vocals, and you have the complete package. The set was well thought out with highlights from all of their four albums. And there is plenty of variety of song within their arsenal of sonic textures. You get some serious songwriting rulebreaking in 'Tyrants'. which still amazes me to this day. I expected a solid set tonight, but this band pushed it much further and delivered a real gem. Hope they don't wait so long until next they return.

Photo Grab of the Night - And early Syd Barrett photo of a painting I will assume he did and inspired him in writing 'Scream thy last Scream'.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Mika Pohjola Trio - Sigmar Matthiasson's NYC Quartet -- Embassy of Finland - Jun 22 2016

Sigmar Matthiasson's NYC Quartet - Embassy events are the best for a variety of reasons and Embassy of Finland was nice enough to invite me a third time for a cultulral event as they had a private show that was part of Nordic Jazz Fest 2016. They worked with the Embassy of Iceland this year in getting this fine Icelandic bass player to open the show with his quartet featuring piano, drums, and electric guitar. Although over 8% of Iceland's entire population is in France to cheer on their amazing national football team, it is good to see a few of them here to support this fine musical act. Matthiasson has a smooth style as does his band, although I am not sure 'smooth' is the right adjective for a good jazz show. Basically the seams were not showing as they went through solos and melodic runs. They performed several of Matthiasson's songs along with some adapted Icleandic folk songs, which I really liked, including one that could have easily been reworked into a folk rock classic as these four showed a lot of teeth for this cut. I liked the structures of the songs and they had plenty of character developed by the fine touch of these four musicians. And they may have all met at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in NYC, but they are a four-continent band as they explain with members from Iceland, Tunisia, Venezuela, and Kosovo. This was a fine set that the rather large crowd quite enjoyed.
Mika Pohjola Trio - Finland's Mika Pohola is the son of a Jazz guitarist and has had a long musical education on violin, drums, and piano. All of that shows up here as he and his saxophonist, and drummer cook up a very rhythmic punchy set of songs that is a nice contrast to the first set. They had a playful quality as they worked through original songs and a version of Ornette Coleman's 'Humpty Dumpty' (in honor of his long career and recent passing). I also liked 'Kid's Song' which had that vibe of an exciting manic kid's playground backed by sharp exciting music. This set was also well received, deservedly so, and concluded a warm intimate night of music in the lovely big room at the Embassy of Finland. But now, it was back to the buffet table for a second round of the amazing culinary offerings.
photo-Vincent Gallegos

I want to thank the Embassy of Finland for their courtesy and their support of DC music blogs. I encourage everyone to visit them when you get a chance at Embassy Day or whenever you can. I have also enjoyed events at the Embassies of France, and Cote d'Ivoire. There are great things happening at embassies all over town and if you live in DC, you really should be experiencing them.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Tancred - Otis Infrastructure -- Songbyrd - Jun 15 2016

Otis Infrastructure - Hmmm... one guy on vocals and electric guitar playing under what sounds like a band name. I sense a solo outing with songs that are probably written for and usually performed as a band. And that does look to be the case, and unfortunately sounds to be the case. There is nothing wrong here as the vocals are quite good, but it just does not escape the feeling of a missing band. The guitar work is set more to rock than folk, so unless guitarists can switch to acoustic guitar and have the chops to play solo folk or folk-rock, I wish they would refrain from taking band songs and performing them solo. I am being a little harsh here, as this is not as bad as I've seen, but it is lacking and there is no escaping it (he even alludes to this by saying that Tancred will be a full band). I will say more about Otis Infrastructure when I see the full band, but these songs certainly have potential under a full arrangement.
Tancred - We start solo again with a female guitarist/vocalist and I really like the serpentine guitar lines, which help carry the song. But when the second song begins, the bass player and drummer walk on stage to join in and we now have a full band attack. And they really push things along nicely as the full sound of a strong power pop/rock band emerges. They remind me a bit of Juliana Hatfield and a bit of my old favorites, LovelikeFire. The vocals are particularly great as she jumps quickly into upper octaves and back. It is very attractive, but you never lose sight of the great music going on underneath. They have a thick sludgy sound that never loses the precision of the melody. The hooks are really fine and the best songs are incredibly memorable. This is a band that makes me want to run home and listen to their studio output. A very fine set from a band I can highly recommend to a lost of different genre fans.

And this was my first time at the Songbyrd and it was impressive. It is a downstairs room with small slightly elevated stage. It looks like you could pack 150 people in there and there is a nice wooden floor, bar to the side and some seating in the back and along the sides. A good crowd tonight was enjoying the music, as they should with a great band and a solid sound system.

Cartoon Grab of the Night:

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Beth Orton - Emmy the Great -- U Street Music Hall - Jun 11 2016

Emmy the Great - This talented performer from London via Hong Kong says she really likes DC and has backed it up with several fine performances in recent years. I saw her just this past February and enjoyed the set. This time around it was an opening gig, so it was handled solo. While I missed the trio, Emmy's music is stark with plenty of space for vocals to occupy beyond any instrumentation. She used both synth/keyboards and lightly spacey electric guitar strumming to create the atmosphere for her songs. She even included the first song she ever wrote, which had some laughs at the audacious in your face lyrical quality. She is a likable performer and a fine stylist and DC clearly likes her back.
Beth Orton - Completing the London show tonight is Beth Orton, a folktronica sort of artist that has done extremely well in Europe and commands a reasonably strong presence here in the US as well. Although not a huge crowd tonight, it is packed up front with some serious fans. Orton has two musicians that play a combination of drums, bass, and keyboards. She starts on electronic sounds and the first few songs are decent, but stray more to a mysterious pop rock sound. Her vocals are always compelling, so it is effective, but not drawing me in as much as her recent excellent album. Then she strapped on an acoustic guitar and the set became more magical. The folk element was there and the band assisted in going a bit folktronica here, a bit psychedelic there, or offering a steady folk rock foundation for Orton's dynamic lyrics and voice. She even played solo as well, so there was a lot of variety in this set. I can't complain about that, even if I have my favorite songs and styles. It was nice to finally catch a set from this talented artist.

Photo Grab of the Night: Since this is an English show, here's a photo of what an Oxfam Charity Donation Center did with the overrun of donated copies of 'Fifty Shades of Grey'.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Gang of Youths - StereoRiots -- DC9 - Jun 10 2016

StereoRiots - OK, first off, I don't need to be asked to make some noise or show some excitement twice before I have heard a note. Nor do I need two band members ask me how I am doing before I have heard a note. Finally when the music actually starts, things are better. Although not a dazzling display, the rhythm section is solid, the guitar occasionally interesting, and the keyboards offer a rich thickening agent in the sound. The vocals are a bit passive and lost in the mix, but it is a decent enough rock sound. This is a likable enough set, although I think more character needs to be developed in the songs and overall presentation. The potential is there.
photo: Jordan Munns (Knitting Factory show)

Gang of Youths - This Australian quintet has quite a personal history with members backgrounds and citizenship including America, Fiji, Samoa, and New Zealand. No matter what their cultural influences say about themselves, they all clearly bond and lock in to rock music. They start with a quiet vocal/guitar rustic song that morphs into a full fledged monster when the band kicks in. Whoa, step out of the way as these guys are tearing it up. They feature one to three guitars, keyboards and a powerhouse rhythm section that doesn't just lay down a foundation, but tears off at full speed and demands everyone keep up. They do, as these guys play some of the most blistering music I have heard since Lee Bains or even Radio Birdman. The stage patter came later, well after the crowd made a lot of noise and moved forward. But this was not all power and speed, the songs were really good, sounding like something you may have heard before, but with loads of twists--the break in the third song was a cacophonous moment of brilliance. The singer came out and interacted with the receptive crowd, including me even, and this proved again that an early show can be every bit as brilliant as the late-night shows. I was a bit jealous that a friend of mine in Tasmania got to see Radio Birdman recently, but not now, as the continent was kind enough to grant us this treat. Hopefully this band will return and with the word of mouth that will spread after performances like this, there should be quite the crowd next time around.

Quote of the Night: Gang of Youth's singer explaining how he was enjoying DC and many of the cities he was visiting in the USA except...

"Nashville - what a bunch of sanctimonious assholes.... That shithole was my place of residence for one year."

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Yumi Zouma - Color Palette -- DC9 - Jun 8 2016

by John Miller

Color Palette - It is uncommonly quiet tonight. While we all wait for technical support to solve issues that delay the beginning of the show, the whispers of the PA, barely there, keep us company. From what I remember Color Palette had more members than the three that show up tonight. My recall can be less than reliable though. From what I remember the last time they played DC9, they were putting the finishing touches on their newest effort. In the three months that have passed, that album, Vaporwave, has been completed. To be honest, I'm not too sure much as changed since I last saw them live. Though my first impression is that Color Palette are significantly more confident than previous, much of what David and I observed from earlier shows holds true; warm, familiar, etc. And those feelings are particularly apt considering the name of their newest release. There is an unmistakable sense of nostalgia

Yumi Zouma - It’s no surprise that members of Yumi Zouma are playing as if they were part of four separate ensembles. Supporting their debut album, Yoncalla, Yumi Zouma are known as much for their music as the distance that has separated them. Finding themselves collaborating over email, they have been able to remain uniquely individual. I've seen several of these international bands come through Washington recently, usually catching them early on their respective tours to bear witness to many pieces being played for the first time live. Tonight, Yumi Zouma doesn't disappoint as they premiere a couple of songs off their new album. The crowd is more than receptive; they have grown considerably. This genre, the neo-dance, vaporwave is confounding to say the least. I would be remiss not to mention that a lot of these bands wouldn’t have been of age when the music they are so obviously influenced by was popular. It’s curious that when they do lean on musically nostalgic elements, there doesn’t appear to be any physical connection. I wonder why that is? Conversely, why are we as an audience so receptive? Usually we find ourselves making comparisons as a whole but as they began to play, I noticed the individuals as opposed to the whole. The guitars reminded me of Chris Stein from Blonde, the bass was reserved yet funky, the vocals have hints of neo-dance group Electric Youth, and the keys, Phoenix. It's quite interesting and something that I don't find myself noticing too often. The results are actually quite similar to Color Palette before them; warm and familiar, leaning on the past to connect with the audience.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Nada Surf - Big Thief - Bird of Youth -- 9:30 Club - Jun 1 2016

Bird of Youth - Quirky pop rock and jangly flowing rock bob and weave with each other to find their space for this Brooklyn quintet. The band features dedicated female vocals atop a couple guitars and a rhythm section. So nothing terribly fancy here, just steady solid rock music, cleanly delivered a bit tough at times, but mostly in a warm friendly manner. And thus, they went over well with the incoming crowd. The songs vary in quality as I heard on their album that I reviewed last week. And again, their song 'Dad' (or was it 'Dad 2') was a powerhouse.

Big Thief - Sandwiched in between two more predictable and quality drenched bands, comes this intriguing quartet. Also featuring female vocals, although with guitar for most songs in keeping with the two guitar sound we would have all night tonight. Yet, the range of sound was wildly varied here. The band started with three of them watching the singer open with a quiet solo effort of voice and guitar. After that oddly quiet beginning, the band kicked in a rolling rhythm to get things moving. The second guitar was finally brought in and added some unique counterpoints. The songs went quite esoteric in an experimental pop sort of way. They could rock as well, but still threw change-ups with the male guitarist doing a brief a capella cut and then finally fading out with a similar song to the opener. Different, but mostly quite exciting and daring and it all made a lasting impression between these ears.
Nada Surf - This veteran quartet is still led by Matthew Caws on lead vocals and guitar with plenty of vocal help from long time drummer Ira Elliott and secret weapon, guitarist Doug Gillard. I have long been a fan of the ex-GBV and Death of Samantha musician and he fits in well here, with Nada Surf's strong and smooth power-pop/indie rock hybrid. The songs feature equal parts Byrds, Raspberries, and Hüsker Dü. And these are excellent songs rich in hooks and power, that can stand with the best of those bands. It is all warmly delivered, but with plenty of strength and conviction underneath. They introduced a touring bass player if I heard correctly and he locked right into this fine band. File this show under that ever increasing list of bands that I really should have seen long ago. But better late than never, as they still have all it takes to put on a great rock set.

Quote of the Night: From Mr. Caws - "I was going to make a joke about wanting to tour with the best 'B' bands. The Beatles, Byrds, Beach Boys, and Bad Brains weren't available, so we settled for the fifth and sixth best. Well, I guess I made that joke."

Good choices, but how about... Bad Company, Brownsville Station, Black Oak Arkansas, and Boy George?  Nah. Let's try Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Budgie, and the Buzzcocks.