Archive for April, 2013

Enough Presents…

Posted: April 29, 2013 in New Indie Music

M-Pex & Makrox
Volukta

Enough Records, 2012

Review by Kent Manthie

 

This new release by M-Pex & Makrox, Volukta is a really special treat.  Not only is it available for free via www.archive.org, but it’s a great listen.  It’s billed as “Electronic” but there’s more to it than that:  there’s some primo acoustic guitar noodling, sexy, swinging saxophone and what seems like real drums mixed in with drum machine.  Of course, there are plenty of synths, samples of voices, found sounds and the like.  But what makes it so entrancing is not that it’s just another pretty face, it has, mixed in, with hip beats and style, Indian-tinged raga sounds that fit in nicely with the rest of the potpourri of sounds in it.

The first song, “Aldehbaran”, sets the stage for the album:  instrumental, fluid, going from Eastern, almost Sufi- style, entrancing melodies, to modern-day House music, techno-avant-garde, etc.  From there it goes on and on, later bringing in an organ to back things up and instead of a fast, whirling dervish tempo, Volukta takes a slowed-down, mellower approach that isn’t too ambient or over-texturized, but that does keep the listener into the grooves it lays down.

Volukta is a collaboration between the Portuguese “band” M-Pex and DJ Makrox, who helps out with the samples and the seamlessness and fluidity of the music.   It’s DJ Makrox that brings the “electronic” label to the project, while M-Pex bring Portuguese guitar fused with a jazzy sound and solid beats that drive the whole thing, while Makrox fills in the gaps with some hip-hop appeal as well as the aforementioned sampling, atmospherics and audio tech.

Besides the first cut, “Aldehbaran”, a few other stand-out cuts include the somewhat humorous (with the funny voices Makrox samples) “Hezper”, the spacey “Kanopus” and “Kassiopeya” as well as “Mira Kaeli”, which really shows off the acoustic guitar talents that are mesmerizing in themselves, but even more so when mixed with DJ Makrox’s box of toys.

It’s hard to pick out any particular tune on here because they’re all so great and the album is just seamless, going from one tune to the next, so it’s one that deserves to be heard as a whole, in one listen.  The mix of traditional Portuguese music with some sitar and tablas in the background and some other Eastern sounds, really blends well, making this not just another “electronica” record, but a good example of what quality “world music” should sound like.

Whichever style of music you’re coming from – whether it be “world music”, electronica”, “trance” or European hip-hop, this is a perfect mix of all of that and more.  So, enjoy it, compliments of Enough Records.  Again, you can download this for free by visiting www.archive.org and typing in “M-Pex & Makrox” in their search box.  –KM.

Mike Strain

Your Heart is Your Home Wherever You GoMike Strain Your Heart is your home back cover

Self-Released

Review by Kent Manthie

It’s been a pleasure to listen to Mike Strain’s latest self-released EP, Your Heart is Your Home Wherever You Go; a breath of fresh air, Strain has a very steady, self-assured and just great way of writing lyrics. His are words that are polished, suave and ready for the top. Looking at www.bandcamp.com, I read, on his page, where his recordings are available for purchase as well as some biographical information, et cetera, that he has two previous releases under his belt: Demos, which came out in December of last year and Lowell, which was put out last summer (July, 2012).

But it’s this latest, 4-song EP, the only one I’ve heard so far, which is the focus here. Your Heart is Your Home Wherever You Go is a finely tuned work of art; a self-aware, introspective, softly spoken album that is brutally honest and musically well-made. The four tracks on Your Heart are: 1)“Making War”, 2) “TV Set”, 3 “Negatives” and 4) “Cigarette Burns”. The opening cut, “Making War” is the shortest of the quartet of tunes on the EP, but has a great acoustic atmosphere to it. It starts out with a nice fresh air of guitar strums which precede his voice chiming in, harking back to an earlier time, back when he was just a kid when him and a friend were in the backyard “making war” and the friend trips and falls, smashing his head on a rock, then bleeding and hurt, scaring Mike to where he runs in the house for help, crying in despair. Then, the song goes on to account for this imprint having left its mark on his psyche and the irony of his own young-age situation mirroring the world-at-large, with its own negative, violent sense. The twice-as-long “TV Set” is about the ambivalence about the medium which attacks with its advertising, bland shows and propagandistic programming, but which no one, it seems, can do without; it’s cathode ray tube-as-hypnotic-sedative. We watch, watch and watch. Strain, however, manages to put his own personal spin in the mix, which gives a fresh perspective rather than another polemic against the mass hysteria and confusion that dopes us up. “Negatives” and “Cigarette Burns” are also personal songs wherein the songwriter gets to let loose his inner thoughts and memories.

Mike Strain is a transplanted Northerner – grew up in Western, Massachusetts and now lives in Atlanta. He has been working hard at shaping his thoughts and ideas into simple yet idiosyncratic tunes. Besides having a good voice and a knack for songwriting, Mike’s been playing the trumpet since he was six. It’s the trumpet, as well, which shows up throughout the songs as an almost dissonant part of the mix, which otherwise includes guitar, bass, piano and drums. I don’t mean dissonant in the sense that it disrupts the groove or clashes at all, but in a good light – it stands out, it’s like a personal signature. He’s not the first or only one to have a brass instrument -trumpet, French horn, trombone, et cetera, but it certainly isn’t a common factor nor is it expected. Where it pops up on Your Heart it gives a certain exclamation mark to the rest of the background.

The final cut, “Cigarette Burns” is a good example of a great use of the trumpet – it is used in a sparing, background way, almost percussive rather than melodic even though it does both.

While listening to this EP, I couldn’t help but be reminded of one of my favorite solo artists, also a brave, honest, intelligent songwriter, Mike Kinsella, who was in the band Cap’n Jazz some 16-17 years ago, a band which eventually morphed into what is now Joan of Arc, even though JOA has had many different line-ups throughout its existence. Mike’s brother, Tim, is its only permanent member. From Chicago, Joan of Arc has been a workhorse whose various members, including Tim, have also been in various other bands and done solo work – people such as Cale Parks, the aforementioned Owen (Mike Kinsella), Owls, American Football and many others. A good example of all the other bands and artists that have members who’ve been with Joan of Arc at one time or another is the 2010 CD, Joan of Arc Presents: Don’t Mind Control, wherein there are 18 songs by 18 different bands/artists, all with one thing in common: they’ve all been in the revolving door that is Joan of Arc. Anyway, I take this little detour because, as I wrote, I was reminded a lot of Owen’s material – he/they have come out with around 8 or 9 releases, including both EPs and full-length CDs. It was his 3rd full length, I Do Perceive which is when I first discovered Owen and fell in love with the music on that particular CD. It is not so different from what Mike Strain has accomplished with his sparse-but-full sounding atmosphere of loneliness. The other thing that made me think of Owen was the well-played music, the guitar, the trumpet, etc, on Strain’s EP and the wonderful guitar work and drumming that Kinsella does. I wouldn’t know if Mike’s heard of Mike (ha ha) but seriously, if one is a fan of Owen then one should seriously listen to Your Heart is Your Home Wherever You Go.

This whole EP, listened in its entirety, not piecemeal, is a dynamic, flash of melancholia that is soothing, meditative and let’s one drift into the subconscious. What it lacks in length it makes up for in quality. But I’m hoping that there’s a full length CD in the cards for the not-too-distant future. Give it a listen! -KM

Curiosity Killed the Cat??

Posted: April 5, 2013 in New Indie Music

Wampirewampire curiosity cover

Curiosity

Polyvinyl Records, 2013

Reviewed by Kent Manthie

 

After many years playing in their rooms and basements, then becoming darlings of the local, Portland (OR) house-party circuit, Wampire have finally come into their own. Just released is Curiosity, their first full-length CD for Polyvinyl Records.

Starting up back in 2001, in their hometown of Keizer, OR when Rocky Tinder and Eric Phipps were 14-15 years old, the two were excited enough just to have each other and something they could call a band. At first, their output consisted mainly of jamming together, just finding a groove and then rolling with it. Still, they were a long way from what they’d eventually do on there new CD, Curiosity.

It doesn’t, to one born in the early 70s, seem like a long time between 2001 and 2013, but for a kid that’s forever! And for those long adolescent years, Tinder & Phipps made a lot of racket, did stuff that pleased them. But the most important things they did was they stuck together. Theirs was a friendship that stood the test of time.

Then, around 2007, when they were about 19, the duo started making a splash as the band to have play at your house party – no doubt, they would be playing the ones that had the older, college-aged set as opposed to the teenager parties that are memorable, still, to us who were there, years later, when some kid in high school’s parents went to Europe or the Caribbean, etc. and they’d have, say, 100 people in a big, ritzy house, kegs in the garage, three floors of different stuff going on and, no doubt, the place would have several bedrooms and a study or two for “private” goings-on, etc…But, being 19, I can’t see these two regressing to teeny-bopper parties. From an interview online at stereogum.com, I found the quote that describes this period well: “At first it was just the two of us dicking around and writing songs and just like playing funny house shows where we were like, in the corner, as far back crammed as we could be,” Tinder says of their first real foray into a scene, “At that time, 2007 through 2009, the wild shitty house show was at its absolute climax[.}”During that phase, it was more about the performance aspect of the show than the actual output of the musicians. Their trick was to add some rhythm and melody to crazy sounds on tape sputtering out over a P.A. System. Eventually, however, this got a bit trite and the two decided to pack it in, go back to the drawing board and start whittling away at a genre, at something they could get in on and not be just another dive-bar cover band.

According to the way they put it, there wasn’t any arc that took them from where they were to where they arrived. Sure, like anyone else, there are always influences that, no matter how much one says they don’t have any, still exist, if even subconsciously.

What eventually developed was a bass-heavy, alt.-pop, danse macabre. Sort of “The Cure meets The Cars”, if you will; another words, dark undertones topped with slick, saccharine-free pop. Even though that might sound limiting, as a description, Wampire is more than this, of course, as is any band that gets a “XYZ meets CDE” comparison.

Wampire’s first single, which was, indeed, released as a 2-song, CD-single, was Curiosity‘s opening number, “The Hearse” b/w an otherwise unreleased (not on Curiosity) cover of the classic Kraftwerk song, “Das Modell” (or, for the Deutsche-challenged, “The Model”), which, incidentally, was also covered by Chicago legends Big Black on their Songs About Fucking LP, in 1987. The difference between the two covers is that while Steve Albini & Co. did their cover in a post-punk, snarky, sardonic attitude, Wampire’s cover is more of a dreamy, hypnagogic, updated version of the electronica classic. 

Besides “The Hearse”, other tunes on Curiosity include “Orchards”, “Spirit Forest” and “Snacks”, for starters, are, besides being “bass-heavy” are also “keyboard-heavy”, with the guitar(s) in the back at times, although their presence is usually felt. Then there’s “Giants”, a favorite of mine from the album, which starts out with a surf-rock guitar snarl that then whips up the candy-floss keyboards but the guitar keeps up with the rest of it, making for a great whiplash tune. “Outta Money” is another great one on Curiosity. It is slower, with a light touch of a melancholic blue note. It’s not a slow depressing number, it just brings the tempo down a couple notches and shows a more passionate side of Rocky and Eric.

The album winds down with “Magic Light”, an aptly titled song which is also slower than most, but rather than any “blue note”, “Magic Light” is just a dreamy, slow-motion fever-tinged tune that sounds as if it’s a plaintive (“love song” is such a loaded cliché, but…for lack of a better term(??)), calling out to new love with a cry of anxious excitement, if not outright desperation.

All in all, though, I was impressed by the “newness” of the material. Notwithstanding the comparison “The Cure meets The Cars”, Wampire has certainly spent plenty of time together and has been able to hone their craft to a unique sound that is definitely NOT derivative, that defies invitations to be the next “so-and-so”, et cetera.

Since most, if not all, chain record stores have gone out of business, your best bet is to get to any of the many indie record shops around – there’s bound to be one in your area – and one reason that these independent stores are still thriving, while the corporate junk-sellers have gone under is Amazon.com – if you’ve ever bought music or books or just about anything from Amazon, you’ll notice, when you go to pick out the particular item you’re buying, you’ll see that it’s due to be shipped from one of a large number of small independent shops around the country – even in the U.K. – when you click on the cover of the album for which you’re looking, you’ll then get a list of prices and when you pick either the used or the new price, it’ll then take you to a list of the various shops around the US that have copies of said item and you then pick which one you want, based on the price, the shape it reads it’s in and even that particular store’s satisfaction rating (usually in the high 90s). So, thank goodness for Amazon.com, for keeping independents alive and well. That is a wonderful thing to see done in this day and age of the corporate octopi that swallow up “Main Street, USA” mom & pop shops and put in Walmarts and Home Depots and Targets, etc. Besides just Amazon.com, the whole internet is a juggernaut that is redefining and re-energizing the whole idea of the DIY culture, what with “netlabels”, You Tube and Facebook, among other places, where artists can put up there stuff to offer the masses either to give away promo demos or to sell music, art, books, et cetera, to people hungry for quality, merchandise that is NOT mass-produced.

-KM