Wednesday, August 31, 2016


This is the final month of me previewing and covering shows. What will this month provide?

Humming House makes plenty of houses hum but Friday the 2nd finds them in the Jammin Java house. Join them.

Have some Japaneses Breakfast on Porches or see both bands at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel, Sunday, September 4th.

Richard Bona comes to the Howard Theatre on Tuesday, September 6th.

A couple of hot bands from not so long ago are here to compete for your attention on Wednesday the 7th. You can hear Sleigh Bells at the U Street Music Hall or Of Montreal and Ruby the RabbitFoot at the 9:30 Club.

Valley Queen comes up to meet her loyal subjects at Gypsy Sally's on Thursday, September 8th.

LVL UP heads one level up on stage at the DC9 on Sunday, September 11th.

Blood Orange turns the Lincoln Theatre ruby red when they squeeze into town on Tuesday, September 13th.

Haley Bonar with excellent locals Luray make music at the Black Cat on Wednesday the 14th.

Angel Olsen descends from the heavens to play her music along with Alex Cameron at the 9:30 Club on Thursday, September 14th.

Pigpen Theatre Company - Morningsiders -- Jammin Java - Aug 30 2016

by John Miller

Morningsiders - Sounds great tonight, drums especially. They are loud, vibrant, and sharp. For a band that has a fiddle, the drums are quite present. Normally, this genre tends to have softer, subdued percussion. There is a sense of something improvisational as Morningsiders’ set doesn't appear concrete. Worried their audience isn't inebriated enough to truly enjoy the faster bits, they ask for suggestions. However, without much response they insist on something slower and do a cover of one of Stevie Nicks' softer songs. The pieces feel more approachable and for that matter, appropriate for the venue. I can't imagine many folks come out to Jammin’ Java to really jam. Crowd participation can be difficult, so I don't understand why lead singer Magnus continues to ask for the crowd to clap along. I can't imagine it's any easier to play with a room full of people that can't seem to find the beat. The drummer is even trying to cue us but after a moment of failure it appears we have all had enough. Though what really sticks out is the brevity of their compositions. These post-Americana bands tend to be somewhat long in the tooth but everything is quite tight tonight. I'm not sure a song has gone over four minutes. This is refreshing. In addition to the spectacular drums, far to the right of the stage there is a trumpet and occasional keys. It's not often that I hear trumpets with this genre and it is a welcome edition. I'm surprised that more bands of this ilk don't incorporate more brass as it seems to be a natural fit. In no way is it overpowering but punctuates the pieces, adding occasional soft rock flair. Lastly I would be remiss not to mention the crowd work. It was exceptional, brief and funny. For what it’s worth bands booked at Jammin’ Java are generally very good at this.

Pigpen Theatre Company - Like Morningsiders before them, these players are from New York City. Playing together for almost a decade now they have received some serious praise not only for their music but also their plays. That's right, they moonlight as playwrights. Just thought that was beyond interesting. They begin with a longer composition, punctuated by a seven man harmony. What they lack in fiddle, they more than make up for it with a banjo. Though I imagine that with the amount of people on stage it won't be long before one makes an appearance. It's difficult to keep track of all the instruments; well it's not that difficult, but in my defense there is just an abundance of stuff. A cover of Signed Sealed Delivered follows soon after the instrumental acrobatics, complete with dueling guitar and keyboard solos. The lead guitar sounds phenomenal. In fact everything sounds really good tonight. Considering the amount of musicians and variety of instruments, the sound guy did an amazing job. And keeping with their theatrical leanings, Pigpen Theatre Company breaks the forth wall so to speak. Slowly making their way off the stage they set up near the bar for a few songs. For the most part we just sat and watched but the unpredictability of such a performance is the most exciting part. It's clear that Pigpen Theatre Company are more confident but that can be said of the people that surround them. During a quick break two men ran past to use the restroom. The first two songs on the floor were accented by an accordion adding a certain melancholy to the quiet. Not to knock Morningsiders, but this is the type of audience participation that works; though I can't really fault them for our lack of rhythm. Returning to the stage, they finally give us a taste of the music they are composing for one if their plays. There is a clear difference in style. It's so much more about evoking a feeling rather than the traditional. It almost sounds if they are running through a medley; sadness, dread, nostalgia. I always second guess coming to Jammin’ Java and I am more often than not pleasantly surprised with interesting and varied performances; tonight was no exception.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Hockey Dad - Muuy Biien -- DC9 - Aug 30 2016

Muuy Biien - I am immediately struck at how the first song's bass line is that of the Stooges '1969', which was easy to catch as that song was played about four songs before this Athens Georgia quintet hit the stage. The vocalist also sounded like he owed a debt to Iggy Pop, although doesn't everybody? But the twin guitars were doing much crazier things morphing these songs into some really intense art punk. I heard elements of MX-80 Sound and the Cravats and others I dare not say as this band was heavier than most of the artier bands of the past. Perhaps more post first wave bands like Savage Republic and Drive Like Jehu are better comparisons.  The rhythm section was ferocious as the guitarists either matched the pace or snaked around it with inventive runs. The singer was up to the challenge of keeping pace and these songs were ultimately quite fresh and alive. The breaks were minimal as the music just kept coming, but never quite from the same angle. Unique, really fun, and a receptive dance floor made this opening band's set a real treat.5
Hockey Dad - From the land of Aus, comes yet another guitar-drums duo. I nearly always find this a case of needing one more cook in the kitchen and tonight is no exception. The music is simple and quite effective with powerful guitar riffs taking on pop punk melodies and a drummer that bangs away like he knows there is not a bass player of keyboard. So they do their best to fill the void with loud busy playing. And the songs are good with the guitarist handling all of the vocals. They pull it back just a bit from time to time, but the intensity and sense of fun is there throughout. The crowd is still moving and having a good time, so they clearly know how to push the envelope to create a dynamic live experience. Yet the sound was little harsh, which may be due to the lack of a bass player holding it down. But if you like this minimalist approach, these guys are the real deal.

Facebook photo grab of the Night... or watch out for those commas.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Prinze George - Higher Education -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Aug 20 2016

Higher Education - There is some irony in the band name, but I am not really in the mood to find it. These three guys are from College Park, MD and I am seeing them for the first time. They start off with the usual skapunk sound with far more ska than punk. After a few songs they switch off between bass and guitar and things liven up considerably. There is more heft and creativity in the guitar and more dynamics in the song. I would advise them to keep the 21st century hippie on bass, where he is quite good and his brother on guitar, who has a lot more to offer in fleshing out a song. Good warm up set to a very large and very young crowd.
Prinze George - From Brooklyn, but with a couple of local born and breds, comes another trio that is far from power and instead offers intelligent pop music. There are vocals, drums, and one guy to handle various keyboards and guitars as needed. I was expecting a bouncy Saturday night pop rock fest, but instead got more subtle shadings of electropop. Even the vocals showed a delicacy that commanded more attention than someone just belting out lines to dance to. The crowd was quite happy with this sound and many were fans already. But tonight, Prinze George probably converted a few more and left me more impressed than not.

Photo Grab of the Night: Just a little billboard foreshadowing where I hope to be this Thursday.

Friday, August 19, 2016

AJ Smith - Bailen - Grace Fuisz -- Jammin Java - Aug 18 2016

Grace Fuisz - This evening's entertainment starts out with the basic solo singer songwriter on vocals and guitar. It is electric, however, so that is a slight twist and the added oomph in the sound is helpful as the playing is pretty much worked around basic chords, delivered quickly. Her voice is more the star with a decent range and tone. The songs are good and a couple stand out from the pack, so all in all, it is a pretty respectable set and a good way to start off the show.

Bailen - And now the full band portion of the evening begins with a family band from New York. We have a rhythm section manned by twins with their sister on acoustic guitar and vocals. They also add harmony and occasional lead vocals, which are quite amazing. Sure the family connection may help with years of experience, but they are quite a force when together. Somehow their parents let them down in sibling quantity, so they had to recruit an unrelated keyboardist who adds some subtlety to their music. And their music is not as quiet as I first thought it may be as they take their pop forms with a touch of Americana and really push it forward into a strong folk rock sound. This musical thrust pushes the vocals even higher and they prove they are up to the task as they really cut loose. But pull back they do, especially on a solo bass song and vocals (well they lied, there is a bit of harmonica, too). The crowd really got into the set more and more as it unfolded and I can see this band doing quite well with a wide variety of supporting artists. And with good stage patter, personality, and humor, they should continue to win a lot of support along the way.
AJ Smith - Also from New York comes singer songwriter AJ Smith with a band that has the same approach as the last band instrumentally with three voices, although the harmonies are more subtle here. Not a bad thing as Smith has a set of pipes that will rattle the framework. He also has a nice fingerstyle at work on his guitar, which he showed off solo for the first half of his opening cut before the band sped on to build the sound. The songs are attractive with a strong accessibility but enough to chew on if you want to delve into them. The crowd trends young and is quite appreciative and enthusiastic and I see nothing to fault there. Again with a positive personality, good songs, exceptional skills, this is the formula for a fine night out in the clubs.

Facebook Grab of the night: Richard Thompson posted this of his good pal, Pentangle's Danny Thompson getting an honorary doctorate from the University of the West of England. Danny's comment... 'well it took me 60 years but I saved thirty thousand tuition.'

Monday, August 15, 2016


OK, I admit it. This heat has got me down and hiding out at home more than I would like. Hopefully I can venture out more in the next couple of weeks. Here are some possible destinations.

No Small Children are at the Bossa this Wednesday, the 17th. So who is? Check out the video and see.

Sneaks come to the Black Cat, quietly through the backdoor (well they all do) this Friday, August 19th. But you can try out Big Sam's Funky Nation at the Hamilton that same night. Hopefully he doesn't bring his entire funky nation.

Prinze George awaits a royal reception at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel this Saturday. OK minions, be there. Anti-monarchists are welcome to take in Vanessa Silberman that same night.

Seal soulfully takes stage at the Warner Theatre on Wednesday the 24th.

Jared & the Mill hit the Jammin Java On Sunday, August 28th. Hopefully he won't bring the whole... yeah, yeah.

Hockey Dad will not take a Bent Knee for anyone. See the former at the DC9 and the latter at the Black Cat. Both shows happen on Monday, August 29th.

Finally Pigpen Theatre will bring sty to you at the Jammin Java on Tuesday August 30th.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

X -- State Theatre - Aug 12 2016

by John Miller

X - Under the Big Black Sun was my partner; it was appreciated. Driving cross country on an ill advised trip, this along with a 80's pop compilation (purchased somewhere in Arizona) kept me distracted. On regular rotation until stolen, it was then purchased again, stolen again, and purchased once more last year, though I did so digitally. The spaces, the pauses, and writing; with each loop, something new revealed itself. Throughout the evening X would do much the same; Exene let us know early on that they would be adding a fifth member so they could try something different. Bonebrake hopped between both the drums and xylophone. It never felt like a necessity but with each trip, a compliment. Zoom, much to the delight of the very large crowd, brought out his saxophone on a few occasions. I was surprised with the response the instrument received, never figured the aging audience would be so excited for a woodwind. Though the loudest response came from Los Angeles; the call and response was the loudest I have heard sense I began writing here. And though John and Exene seemed to be less experimental; both sounded excellent. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the evening was the ease with which both Bonbrake and Zoom played. Zoom especially. Often I would find him staring out into the crowd, occasionally peaking down between significant changes as his hand would run the neck of the guitar. It was all so easy. Bonbrake on the other hand was relentless during The Hungry Wolf; everyone stepped aside as he pounded the toms.
Much to my delight, X actually ran through much of Under the Big Black Sun. I would be remiss to say that I was hoping/praying X would play Come Back to Me. The song, one of my favorites, is an amazing piece of writing, especially the third verse. “Florida souvenirs” and “the space in your steps” are these super specific details that Exene recalls of her late sister, yet are, in their own way, relatable despite their inherent specificity. About half way through, X played it. They added a fifth member and Bonebrake relinquished control of the drums to play the xylophone. An inspired choice as the instrument added to the dream-like quality of the song. Exene could have sung about the way her sister sounded as she walked across their house, but it was the literal spaces that she knew so well, the absence of sound, the nothingness. And that emptiness gets me every time. It reminds me of the way my father's shoes sounded against the wooden floors or the way he would pick up his keys and twirl them into his hand. Small, auditory, details, like fingerprints. Amazing. My only complaints from tonight are the unrelenting heat of The State Theatre and their continual feedback issues, which seem to be an issue with each show I see here.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Go Go's - Best Coast - Kaya Stewart -- Warner Theatre - Aug 5 2016

Kaya Stewart - Hmmm... blonde pigtails, skimpy outfit, energetic moves, an appropriate look for someone whose latest single is 'Sleepover'... I seem to recall that these are the types of acts that I have been managing to avoid all my life. Ergo, comparisons are invalid. But I think you get the picture. Drums, bass and backing vocals, guitar, and plenty of lush backing tracks, especially on the more ballad like numbers. It is fine for what it is. The crowd is getting warmed up.

Best Coast - This is the first time I am seeing this talented duo, augmented by three additional musicians. Clearly the best coast is the west coast as they exude well crafted California pop music, yet with a lot of energy and even some droning rock moments. Singer/Guitarist Bethany Cosantino has also worked on some fascinating musical projects on this coast, so there is plenty of skill and thought underneath this extremely catchy music. There are clearly many Best Coast fans here with the audience excitedly reacting to various songs. Although this is made for a moderate sized club, they have 2-3 guitars going at all times and the intimacy is able to reach into the balcony or the back rows of the floor. Strong set with nothing out of place, aside from the drummer's towel, and I would be happy to see Best Coast again any time.
The Go Go's - While my brother is in punk heaven, otherwise known as the Rebellion Festival in Blackpool, England with seven classic LA punk bands to choose from, among just about every working UK punk band; I get to see the original drummer for the Germs. But of course Belinda Carlisle went on along with her mates to form one of the more important bands in rock history. I have to credit the Go Go's success for allowing me in my writing to not even bother with needing to mention that 'this band has a female drummer' or 'two women of the four members', for now the success of the Go Go's as an all female band is fully entrenched into rock history and the present environment. Along with their predecessors such as Fanny and Girlschool, and the Runaways to their peers: the Raincoats, Slits, and Ama-Dots, they have established grrrrl power forever. So it is nice to see a fitting well organized farewell tour.

Tonight it is the four members we all know, lacking only their bassist who was engaging in recent legal battles now settled. They are in good spirits, look good, sound great, and take over the large stage, even if they have teeny amps that could fit in a station wagon (well aside from the standard Ampeg bass amp). The vocals are still so powerful and unique with Carlisle's strong tones taking the lead and 2-3 voices behind her offering up that signature Go-Go's harmony. Gina Schock, of course, has the beat and they bang out their many recognizable songs. They slow it down for a couple, but also liven it up by going back to their punk days from 1978-80 with a couple of cuts that feature just a bit more guitar energy and gutsy lyrics... 'before producers got a hold of them' quips Gina. If you are like me and have somehow missed them over the past 38 years, you have a few more weeks and the good news is that they can still deliver the goods.

Quote of the Night: My brother is in Blackpool as I mentioned and as he was trying to hold position up front for the UK Subs set, a pushy spiky haired punkette repleat with studded leather gear including studded gloves, elbowed her way in asking him... "do you want a face full of spikes?" An appropriate retreat means he lives for two more days of great music. He is having a great time. Here are a couple of photos of the Descendants and Discharge.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

White Lung - Greys -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Aug 2 2016

Greys - A Toronto band starts off this east/west Canadian showcase and there is a big crowd awaiting. They were so polite as the band commented, even as the band cranked out some intense 80s styled hardcore that was modified into something a bit noisier with some room to breath. That ability made this more interesting than it might have been. Equipment struggles slowed a bit of the momentum, but there were some nice highlights when the guitarists worked out some unique noisy passages that were both intense and uniquely quirky without being overly arty. Effective and interesting.

White Lung - This is my first take on this popular Vancouver quartet. I have heard comparisons to Priests, which is certainly in the ballpark here. White Lung has a unique take on hardcore punk with the standard line-up of vocals, guitar, bass, and drums. What is fascinating is how the instruments operate such a separate sonic space, yet cohere so well. The bass line is a low rumble that starts at your feet and causes full body vibration. The drums are used to deliver fast body blows non-stop and rapid pace. The guitar has that compressed higher end fuzzy sound floating around your head as it churns out riffs and lines that propel the melody, again at pace with the right balance of flair and energy. And that leaves plenty of room for Mish Way to bore into our heads with her stirring vocal style. It is a bit like Pauline Murray of Penetration with a band that somehow has a sped up post-early Banshees sound. It is fast, only moderately furious, but intense and focused. White Lung is a reminder to the old and new and anyone in between whoever liked punk rock, that there is plenty of fresh ways to bring it.

Photo Grab of the Night: Speaking of old punk rock... Linda Ramone had a tribute event for her late husband Johnny and his band the Ramones on July 24th. They were able to get most of the cast of "Rock'n'Roll High School" there for their first ever reunion! I still remember the Dayton debut at a drive-in theater--great movie. Pictured is P.J. Soles, Dey Young, (Director) Allan Arkush, (Producer) Roger Corman (he is 90 years old!), Linda Ramone, and Clint Howard. Vincent Van Patten and Mary Woronov were also there. They all looked ready to pogo.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Kickback - Cold Fronts -- DC9 - Aug 1 2016

Cold Fronts - I am getting old as I forgot I had a show scheduled tonight until after 9:30, so apologies to Skyline Hotel for missing their set--they were covered by John Miller for this site in January.  And speaking of recent coverage, I caught this Philadelphia band only last March. I was not sure I recognized them and one of the reasons was that they were down to a more respectable two guitar count in front of their rhythm section for this show. And the lead singer even sheds his guitar once so he can sing among the crowd including a brief sit at my booth. They are rocking well again tonight and I detect that same in between rock style that is just a bit too tough for power pop and a bit too refined for garage rock. So this music is thoroughly modern rock with nods to all the great offshoot genres from the past. Songs are decent and a couple really snapped me to attention. The crowd dug them and they were having fun, so it all worked out quite well tonight.
The Kickback - I am happy to finally catch this Chicago quartet who said they have played DC about four times this past year. With a local soundman originally from Chicago and even myself living there a year, it is time for some serious midwest rock. They take the rocking start to this evening and ramp it up even further with some really ferocious moves. Yet, they pull back frequently to reveal some clever songcraft as well. Of course, when they announced that the second song was going to be about overuse of steroids in Professional Wrestling, I knew I was hooked (even though it sounded like it had nothing to do with that whatsoever). The stage patter was well above average as they showed a quirky sense of humor that even at its oddest, worked very well to keep you on edge to some of their more jagged moments in their songs. It all came together smartly and powerfully and the crowd was clearly in to it on this steamy Monday evening. If you can imagine a more refined Guided by Voices, I think you can conceive of what the Kickback come up with. But try them out yourself the next time they come to town. It may not be long.

Quote of the Night: From the Kickback's lead vocalist... "This song is about my parents getting divorced. It's also our most upbeat number, so if you dance to it, it's funny for everybody."

Monday, August 1, 2016


When I reviewed this band’s previous record, I liked their cottony sound but found their overall approach rather slippery. There are certainly similar elements of this in the opening cut as the voices drift off into the ether, yet there is a profound musical thrust underneath. They play with the popsike form stretching it out, pulling it back, reexamining the purpose of a song and come up with some interesting shimmering nuggets here. There are degrees of intensity where the vocals stay clean and focused while the music twists around, grabbing on and shaking out the song. It is a unique sound and one that has some immediacy, but with room to grow while fully appreciating what is going on here.

Songs to start with:

The Golden Lion - A popsike feel with some bold breaks.

Towers Sent Her to Sheets of Sound - Sheets of tricky psychedelic music.

Tungsten 4 the Refugee - A rocking cut to close out this interesting LP

From Phil-A-Dell-Fi-Aye, comes this six song EP. It has been a while since I heard these guys and still have not caught a show, but they play the kind of electronic music that I want to hear. Long time readers know how rare that sounds coming from me, but basically they have big bold melodic thrust a bit like Goblin. They cite Gary Numan and Jane’s Addiction as influences, which are accurate enough to give you an idea of where they are headed. The vocals have a good post punk intensity to them and go off in search of space as well. Thoughtful, energetic, and well put together. This was mixed by famed producer Scott Colburn. I may be the only music writer who actually saw Colburn’s early band ‘Killing Children’, twice even.

You should be careful with album titles, at least for old timers like me who are constantly trying to get Kansas’ song ’Point of No Return’ out of my head. I am not happy it is back. Fortunately, these songs are snappier power pop numbers, so Kansas is pushed to the back of the memory… for now. When Wyatt Blair’s songs work best, he has crunchy pop moves like 999, when not it is a bit more like Loverboy. Although there are fans in both camps, I prefer the edgier pop cuts that don’t quite hit the mainstream. This does not quite work on the whole for me, but it has ambition and its own unique voice.

Songs to start with:

Trouble - Ah, a shoegaze sort of epic that reminds me of Mono—the band, not the disease.

Cruel World - Kind of like you are having a reggae dream in this one.

No Surrender - This has that British ambulance sound in the guitar. I rather like that.

This veteran Austin band is back with 64 songs based on each hexagram of the I Ching. That is a whole lot of writing and it is not going to come at us a all at once as there are eleven songs on this first installment of the project. As heady as this all sounds, this is a fine pop album that starts off with power, but gets a lot quieter as it goes onward. Ambitious? Yes. Overreaching? Perhaps, but it is a gutsy project that would take too long to study to see exactly what depths of understanding these songs have with the I Ching. And it is fun listening while we await that verdict, well down the road.

Songs to start with:

The Book of Too Late Changes - Keith Moon lives at least in these beats behind (or in front) of a cool Who-like power pop cut.

Close to the Sun - A classic indie rock sound but a song as fresh as today.

Queen of Swords - A fine piece of pastoral pop, strings, piano, and a Ray Davies feeling here.

For once I got my geographical feel for a song completely incorrect. While on the right continent at least, I heard a distinct New Orleans flavor to the music of this Canadian husband and wife duo. I actually make a lot more mistakes like this since I am willing to admit and it will only get worse as world wide communications are as wildly open as they ever have been and the history of music in the 20th century and beyond offers anyone a host of styles to emulate, combine, and incorporate. Ultimately there is a lot of blues in here amidst rock beats, reggae lines, and other R&B moves and pace. it is performed quite well.

Songs to start with:

AK 47 - Kind of psychedelic funk R&B

Clumsy Lover - Vocal line anything but clumsy and the music cleverly snakes around it all.

It Won’t be Long - They can even make a snarly vocal easy going.`

This is pop music of the mannered variety. Very steady, very assured, with nary a note out of place. As such, it does not quite engage me as much as I would like. I can see this drawing in a solid segment of the modern pop world, but the drum machine beats and soft edged pop melodies do not grab me like I would like. The vocals are also low key, but of a nice quality that sometimes turns into something that will stir up the emotions a bit. They add a little shoegaze late in the game, but it is still on the light side in keeping with the floating ethereal qualities of their shorter pop songs.

Songs to start with:

Days Upon Days - Bright and sunny and it briskly reminds me it does not last days upon days.

Aging - A relaxing guitar based cut where you can kind of feel yourself aging.

Trouble - Ah, a shoegaze sort of epic that reminds me of Mono—again… the band, not the disease.


his well named band plays modern electro pop with a bite. The sound is bold and assertive so rockers can get into this more than others in this area. But you really won’t be rocking out, as this is assertive pop music that has a thoughtful base. It is strong in execution and can hold its own on stage with the rockers. You will want to have that head bopping with a smile posture through most of this. I put this firmly in the likable camp, but if you are a fan of the style, you will probably like this a lot.

And you can catch them live this Friday, August 5th at Tropicalia on U Street.

Songs to start with:

Stars - There is some bounce in the step and a highly attractive vocal line.

You’ve Got Me Flush - Strong rhythm and undulating guitar wrapped around the vocals.

Coast - Bigger vocals to match the music.

Just five songs to sample here and although it is a tough brand of earnest punk rock, there are some indie moves here and some emo in rather long songs. It is effective enough, although not something beyond what I feel I have heard enough of in my life. If you are not oversaturated on this, then check these guys out. The best cut for my money is ‘Ownership’. That has some guitar heft and some nice style shifts here. I have to conclude that this Cambridge outfit is a lot better than others playing this style with their creative shifts they employ.

I have enjoyed Gringo Star’s live performances here in DC for many a year. They manage to capture their spirit and energy here on this record with ten songs of snappy popsike. Don’t think light, though, as these guys have some sharp rock moves and a variety of arrangements, both playful like a Fairground or in a deeply orchestral mode. I love their variety, yet the nasally vocal style keeps this unified and attractive. Gringo Star are still one of those extremely likable bands.

Songs to start with:

Still Alive - A robust drum beat and more sporadic instrumentation gives this a special edge.

Knee Deep - A nice Black Angels vibe with this droning psyche meditative piece.

It’s You - This is almost South American psyche, or perhaps psyche from the ninth continent.

This has a bit of that rural Karen Dalton feeling, but lacks the magic. It veers toward a laconic and laid-back sound with unique female vocals. Different, but not terribly interesting to these ears. And a laid back style coupled with a steel guitar is death for me. I thought the six and half minute ‘Burn Pile’ was lasting about twenty minutes. The vocals are not smooth either, which could be dramatic if the music did anything. I hear this is called weirdo country. That is about right, but it had me wanting to run to a sequin country act at the Opry. Nah, this is better than that, but I think this is destined for a very limited audience, and one I don’t want to hang with.

When you review a lot of records, it is good to mix it up between edgy primitive music and smoother beautiful styles. At least that works for me. Once in a long while you get elements of both. Heliotropes leans a bit more toward beauty, especially with the lush inviting vocals. But they have a deep intense rawer undercurrent as well. When they combine these successfully, they can really shine.

Songs to start with:

Normandy - I’m not sure if it was the guitar line or the female harmony vocals that grabbed me first, but I’m grabbed.

Over There that Way - Spacey beginning with great acoustic guitar sound and warm mysterious vocals.

Dardanelles Pts 1+2 - A fine set of songs that emphasize different band components within a unified theme.

This the strange dream that you just can’t quite shake. It is quite pleasant but it seems quit illogical unless you can figure out some of the internal logic at work. Heroes of Toolik is like this with it’s mix of laid back lounge style featuring plenty of trombone with quirky pop moves and out and out psychedelic passages. If it were not so light and fun, it would be downright eerie. In fact, it is even eerier because of that if I stay on this too long. Strange, strange band, yet they are so agreeable to the ear. This is one you should try out for yourself. You may have a different take entirely. But I plan on spinning this many more times.

Songs to start with:

Perfect - A perfect mishmash of styles blended and shaken into a smooth mix.

8 Miles - A droning light psychedelic surprise.

Say Virginia - A bouncy jazz pop thing of sorts.

There are some intriguing worldly rock songs with pop hooks and creative instrumentation all at work here. They do go for the pop jugular on a few songs, while others stretch out a bit into steady rockers with a pop approach. This is nice and one of those records that I can respect right away and suspect that I will like at more after 4-5 listens. I am liking pop music more as I age especially when there is some thought behind it.

Songs to start with:

City is Swollen - Inventive instrumentation elevates a fine song.

The Lens - Good melodic rock that you can even dance to… a bonus.

Dreamchaser - Nice acoustic guitar and electric guitar combination in this catchy cut.

Dirty nasty blues rock is usually good fun. LLC plays it well and varies speeds, intensities, and sonics to keep it fun and lively. If you grew up on Skynyrd and the many, many knockoffs, this will fit right in, but still sounds like they have heard some bands on SubPop. I’ve heard a few records but have not caught the live show, which would likely be a real kick.

Songs to start with:

Circus - The snarling edge makes this one a cut above.

G Bob - If you like down home porch stomping music, this will do nicely.

Chevrolet - The drum solo with no need for ‘more cowbell’ is a nice bit.

There is some nice spacey pop music on this album, that doesn’t quite hit the full popsike vibe unfortunately. There is just too much of a laconic pace and slacker vocal style for me. I want to be excited by the music I listen to and any sense of a band sitting on a lounge chair just does not do it for me. You can go slow or quiet and be as powerful and exciting as the Bad Brains, so it is not about pace. It is an attitude, but I need to get off the soap box and say that Magic Trick has a few songs where they can conjure up some magic. I would like to hear a lot more of that next time around.

Songs to start with:

More - The opener establishes a laconic style with an underlying toughness amidst some intriguing open space.

I Held the Ring - An atmospheric ramble along a crisp beat.

First Thought - Strong guitar solo and the long concluding passage.

Irish poptronica exists and here is the evidence. Róisín Murphy has been around electronica in bands and duos for some time. Her solo work shows plenty of things going on with sharp and versatile vocals being the main reason to listen. The elecronica is not bad either with a lot of space and odd undulating rhythms and patterns to keep it edgy, even while being smooth to the ear. Her fashion sense from the live show is something missing here, alas, which I think would make this music even that much more fun. But the sounds, electronic and otherwise (such as piano) offer a lot more than the average electronic band and work into smart melodies and subtle but pulsating rhythms. There is great touch in the execution here and this is a memorable album.

Songs to start with:

Pretty Gardens - Quirky moments and big gothic sounds all vie for time in this interesting cut.

Lip Service - Like a Brazilian pop song.

Whatever - Great edgy but intimate vocals and ethereal melody.

This local outfit has a firm hand aboard the wheel of the mainstream rock/punk rock hybrid ship. It is a beast to tame, but they manage it well—certainly better than I at keeping my metaphors on theme. I really like their tough intense sound. It never falls into the emo trap and although they sound like they could survive in an arena, they keep the music fast paced and ferocious enough for the clubs. Sometimes I like the usual ballads, although they don’t work quite as well here, even when the execution is good. Still, it is always good to pull back from pace and power at times during an album. And overall they come through well on this album, with more than a hint of what you will get from a live outing.

Songs to start with:

Losing Control - The opener sets the tone, establishes the sound and offers a great catchy melody.

No Damn Good - Actually, quite good.

Exception to the Rule - Well, no exceptions to the fine guitar work here.

Pylon was the Athens, Georgia band that befriended and influenced that other Athens, Georgia band that just a few more people heard of. Pylon was born out of the punk scene, but stayed on its artier side. The good thing for both sides is that the guitars had plenty of bite and the vocals were quite intense. So they were an easy band to like and still are as these live recordings show. In fact, they sound a lot more like Siouxsie and the Banshees crossed with the Bags than REM or Vic Chesnutt. 20 songs in all, this is a fine collection of their music. The recordings are a bit on the raw unpolished side of the ledger, but that just makes the vocals more guttural and intense. The guitar lines are intricate and alternate between snake charming runs and a proto-REM style that we all know quite well. There is that extra post punk edge there as well and at times the rhythm section even sounds a bit like Joy Division. This is the final show from their first run recorded in its entirety from 1983. File this one under “still powerful and still influential.”

Ah, now here’s an old school hard psyche rock band that could have been opening for Blue Cheer back in the day. So we have ferocious guitar riffs and fills, pummeling rhythm section, and throaty hard edged vocals. Add plenty of wah-wha pedal and you are there in the sun drenched California hills amidst the acidheads watching this SoCal band. With both these songs and the live recording, there is not of variety here. You can leave the room or house depending how loud you play this, and come back later and not feel like you missed any song in between. That can be a compliment or a problem, depending on what you are looking for. But if you want Grand Funk meets Blue Cheer meets Mountain, then give this a listen.

Rosebud… well, perhaps a more happier memory of youth here, as Snowglobe brings back the brighter side of the 1960s. There is some rock amidst the pop, but not much in the psychedelic department, which kind of cuts against the grain of what is happening these days. The vocals are male with some female flourish and the instrumentation is strong, even as they vary the arrangements quite a bit. This is bright and sunny from beginning to end and I detected no corn as the bounce in this band’s step is sincere and effective. Well done.

Songs to start with:

Easy - This sounds like some old pop classic from an American Kinks like band.

Walking with Her - The second song continues the breezy late sixties style that almost made you think flower power could work.

She’s Dying - Slower story and some fine orchestrated backing. Delicate but powerful

by Kyle Schmitt
Ash Reiter’s dreamy vocals highlight this California band’s psychedelic sound. The four-piece group’s pleasant backing complements her musings, such as, “All that you touch, you change / all that you change, it changes you.” Reiter sounds her most playful in “Eye on You”, a poppy song in which confesses attraction for someone she’s pretty sure feels the same way. The Sugar Candy Mountain rhythm section of Will Halsey (drums) and Peter Maffei (bass) sets a sturdy foundation for each song, enabling the adventurous synth and guitar work on tracks like “Being” and “Atlas”. They sound tightest on “Tired”, winding themselves around the tune as Reiter calls out the dreams that “rob me while I sleep”. Despite the occasional rough night, Sugar Candy Mountain keeps a positive, laid-back vibe rolling throughout this record.

Songs to Start With First

666 - Likely the most serene recital of the number of the beast in recording history.

Being - Halsey’s buoyant drums lend bounce as he and Reiter ask sweetly, “Have you ever seen the light?”

Eye on You - An early-60s sound reminiscent of Blondie at their most clever and personal.

This six song EP has a pretty healthy array of sounds in these songs. They feature spritely electronics and keyboards with subtle winds and brass beyond the rhythm section and light guitar. The female vocals are equidistant between ethereal and lounge to sound just airy enough while warmly enveloping the listener. There are some rhythmic exercises and variations of pop music to make this an engaging affair and far richer than most EPs of this size.