Archive for June, 2013

Get the Word Out

Posted: June 29, 2013 in New Indie Music

Sleeping States-Holopaw Split EP coverSleeping States/Holopaw Split EP

Old vs. New (SS.) & Through ‘Til the Morning (HP)

Misra Records, 2013

Review by Kent Manthie

This is a great EP on its own merits. It is a split EP, by two bands from completely different parts of the world – Sleeping States are from Bristol, England and Holopaw come out of Gainesville, Florida. But the one uniting factor is that they both represent “Gay Pride” – what with June being the traditional Pride month, ending with big, festive, creative parades/marches, etc. in an ever-growing number of urban areas around the US. Plus, a portion of the proceeds from this EP is going to a charitable cause for LGBT people. It also comes out in good timing to the recent Supreme Court ruling that struck down the absolutely horrible, bigoted, worthless (like the champions of it) “Defense of Marriage Act” or DOMA, as well as invalidating California’s awful Proposition 8, which took away the rights of gays to marry – a real shock for those who think of CA as THE progressive state, but if you look at the actual numbers, it only succeeded as an initiative because of ultra-low voter turnout – only about 7.5 million voters put it over the top – this from a state with a population of 34 million. The official wording the high court used was that it “had no standing” to be even heard, which, in reality means that, unless somehow the court is overrun with gay-hating bastards, CA is back as one of the still-minority of states that allow gays to legally marry and their decision striking down DOMA (or actually only section 3 of it, but which, effectively nullifies the meat of it) means that these legally married couples will be able to share in the federal benefits enjoyed by hetero married couples. There’s still a way to go, for equality for everyone in this country – in related, civil rights related news, just a day earlier or so, the court struck down a particular section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, one which mandates that a certain list of Southern states with particularly egregious histories of highly racist oppression in all areas of life, including doing everything they could to keep blacks from voting by enacting unfair poll taxes, “literacy tests” that, if a white person didn’t get 100% correct, would still be able to register and if a black person didn’t ace it they’d be denied their franchise. This was a very big embarrassment for the US. It’s a step backwards. So, obviously, it keeps moving on, the fight for equality for all people in this country.

The official title of the EP (although it’s often referred to as the Sleeping States/Holopaw Split EP) is Old vs. New/Through ‘Til the Morning, put out by Misra records.

This 7 song EP is filled, mostly, with quick, fast, bouncy and upbeat pop tunes by Sleeping States and the last tune, Through ‘Til the Morning is a nine-minute suite by Holopaw, which is awesome. It starts out with some experimental twists and turns and after about 2 ½ minutes finds its niche and goes with it, albeit not repetitive or overwrought with simplicity; it does find a niche, but it’s a complex one that fills its nine minutes quite nicely. In certain ways they remind me of fellow Southerners, (Athens, GA) of Montreal, there is some of the same psycho-sexual grooves that Kevin Barnes does, especially when you consider Skeletal Lamping, in my opinion, of Montreal’s peak album. As I wrote, though, even though it’s only one song that Holopaw has on here, the sparseness of material is almost made up by the length of this one tune. It mixes in a multitude of colors, a panoply of varietal microcosms.

Holopaw make a lot of use of the those nine minutes to fill a musical canvas with an expressionist painting of urbane wit and cosmopolitan charm. From New York, to L.A., to Miami and down to South America, they fill it up with a blend of great stuff. Brilliant.

Sleeping States has a slick quality to them; a little different than Holopaw, not as deep, not as textural, but what they do with the style they take on is to stamp their own imprint on it. The first cut, “Planning My Escape” starts out with a bass intro that is reminiscent of Pinback, but does not dwell there. “A Trip to NYC” is an eccentric pop tune that reminds me of Maximo Park, but with more of a carnival-esque background, a side-show sugar rush. “Liberty Feelup” is another sublime pop tune that, like all their stuff on this EP, is not “phoned in”, or a quick toss-off of uninspired numbers that depend on personality instead of standing on their own, anonymously. “Trumpet Calls”, their last number, is a real ice cream novelty tune that glistens; electrifies with the meandering, almost cacophonous but luscious guitar noodling as if it were a kind of icing on the musical cake. I really do hope to hear more from Holopaw, since they seemed to have gotten the short end of the stick here, with one tune only, but that one tune was at least a lengthy one that got a point or two across. I wouldn’t mind seeing either of these bands live. It’s always fascinating to see just how well a band can translate from the studio to the stage. Just get out here to Southern CA! -KM

Grrrr…

Posted: June 26, 2013 in New Indie Music

GRMLNS

EmpireGRMLNS cover

Carpark Records, 2013

Review by Kent Manthie

 

Something new has oozed out of the woodwork: GRMLNS. Basically, a vehicle for Japanese-born, So-Cal resident, Yoodoo Park, he recorded Empire with his brother Tae San Park, who plays bass on Empire and good pal Kei

th Frerichs on drums.

There is something that makes one move around, jump up & down and get a good

vibe from playing this new CD – especially when you turn it up LOUDLY! Songs like “Hand Pistol”, “Teenage Rhythm” and “Do You Know How it Feels” all have a sort of Superchunk vibe to them – anyone who’s seen Superchunk live can remember those guys’s penchant for being restless and doing a lot of jumping onstage themselves. You can also hear some other came-and-went bands’ sounds in here – I’ve read that some critic said they heard a bit of Jimmy Eat World in GRMLNS’s music. I don’t know – maybe. I’ve never really listened to that much of Jimmy Eat World to say either way. But at least it doesn’t have a trace of “Emo” to it. It’s a nice album to rock out to at the beach, on a road trip or even on your I-Pod on a long bus ride or train ride. Whichever way you look at Empire, it definitely can be summed up as a “Cruising” record.

The slow-dancing made “Cheer Up” has a retro vibe to it that sounds like it cou

ld’ve escaped from a time warp, out of a 1956-57 prom night dance party. It’s got a simple chord structure and some romantic lyrics – a real heartbreaker that one can imagine being used to help a guy patch up his fractured relationship with his steady girl.

Finally, “Dear Fear” is a slow, acoustic number that is totally different from the rest of the material, a musical look-back at things past and how everything changes for better or worse, but at bottom – worse: the damage that the passing of time can do – especially when you’ve put things off or failed to pursue your big dream or pass by that one relationship that would’ve worked out when instead you went off and failed with a bunch of meaningless ones that just made more time pass. This song just features an acoustic guitar and Yoodoo singing.

Speaking of Yoodoo singing, if you didn’t know anything about him and had no i

dea he’s originally from Japan, you’d think you were listening to just some other white boy from Los Angeles. He’s got that perfect laid back, Santa Monica surf-vibe.

One other surprise that Empire gives out is that, looking at the album cover it looks like you’re in for a hard-rocking, edgy, raw romp through the Bowery, but instead, Empire is a fascinating, different kind of sound. It’s not the faux-angst or the “Angry-For-No-Reason” “Nu-Metal” that was big in the late 90s and into the first decade of the 2000s. It’s got some great hooks, not all songs sound alike and it’s a pleasurable sound. The simplicity of it is not feigned either – the nine songs on here were lovingly written by Park in his own inimitable way and then, when they were ready, it was taken to Different Fur Studios in San Francisco, where it was recorded and mixed in less than a week!

Check it out and see for yourself. But as far as I’m concerned, I’d give it a chance – definitely not the typical crap that is played over and over again on the radio. -KM

Joan of Arc IS BACK!!

Posted: June 20, 2013 in New Indie Music

Joan of Arc

Testimonium Songs

JACKET

Polyvinyl Records, 2013

Review by Kent Manthie

It’s been a little over two years now since Joan of Arc’s last release, Life Like, a real masterpiece, which was one of the best, most cohesive and intense musical efforts to come out since, probably, Boo! Human. Now it’s June of 2013 and, those familiar with JOA know how often their lineup changes, Tim Kinsella, frontman, being basically, their Ian Anderson – i.e., the only member to have played on every JOA album (some people may say – “but wait a minute, Kent, I thought guitarist, Martin Barre was also on all Jethro Tull albums – well he was on all except their very different sounding debut This Was, which has more of a jazziness to it and not the medieval-tinged, poetic as well as the heaviness etched into later stuff, like Benefit, Aqualung and Thick as a Brick, to name a few). But getting back to JOA – the point is – this time, the last two albums they’ve made were done with basically the same lineup, the only difference being that on Life Like, sometime guitarist (and a member of the forerunner band, Cap’n Jazz), Victor Villarreal, who did a stellar job playing dueling guitars with Tim, was absent on this one, Testimonium Songs, otherwise, it was Tim, Theo Katsaouris (drums) and Bobby Burg (bass). Theo plays a relatively small drum kit – one bass drum, one snare, a hi-hat, two crash cymbals, two small tom-toms, mounted on top of the bass drum as well as one bigger, deeper stand-alone tom-tom. But – no matter, Theo still manages to bash the hell out of those drums and achieve a big, bombastic percussion rhythm that rivals that of any of those big, ostentatious heavy metal bands of the 80s who would have 2 bass drums, about 5-6 crash & ride cymbals, hi-hats and all kinds of little, skinny tom-toms, medium and large tom-toms, etc…To watch Theo play is a treat – he is so into it. He is so focused on pounding the hell out of the skins that he is in his own percussive world. Then Bobby Burg, the other part of the rhythm section, plays more like a jazz bassist – meaning he’s not all over the place like Jack Bruce or Chris Squire, but is more of a time-keeper, like the legendary Paul Chambers, Jimmy Garrison, etc. (I can’t really say Mingus, since, Charlie, being a band leader as well as a bassist, was a gregarious bassist, who had some slick chops). Bobby blends in just right in a lot of the JOA songs on which he plays, so much so that sometimes you can’t even really distinguish him, but, if he were to switch off his amp, you’d definitely miss it. Other times, though, he does fill in the quiet spaces, percussively as well as tonally, adding flourishes.

Every song on this, basically, EP, is a great tune, just as all songs on Life Like were fantastic. I still love every song on that album and always listen to it – as well as all my JOA albums – all in one sitting. Though Life Like only had 10 songs, it was about 50 minutes or so, whereas Testimonium Songs has six songs and is only 33 minutes long. They’re all fabulous songs, so I can’t say that this or that one is one that sticks out more than others. So, I’ll just say a word about each of the six unique, incomparable -literally: there’s nothing on here that I heard that made me think of anything by any other band or artist; Joan of Arc have their own sound and their own path that they follow. Their past may have a hodgepodge of various members that have come and left and in some cases come back again (and left again): the band is one big revolving door. So, the EP starts out with “Amelia”, a short little ditty that somehow drags you in and keeps your brain focused and intent on hearing the whole thing out. “I’d Expect Babies Should Fly, If Not at Least Float Away” is a tightly knit and very contagious tune, followed by “Mosaic of Bolts” another one that just keeps on strengthening this chain of excellent music. “Stephen’s Song” is only one minute long, so is more of a kind of connective tissue that binds the first half to the latter half. Then comes the 14 minute “The Bird’s Nest Wrapped Around the Security Camera” followed by the closer, the not-without-JOA’s-typical-dry-humor “Jury Duty”

I remember seeing them when they set out on a selective tour of venues around the country in support of Life Like. I was lucky enough to see them at the Casbah, in San Diego, CA.

Now, it’s 2013 and the same lineup that was a part of Life Like, minus guitarist Victor Villarreal, make up the Joan of Arc for Testimonium Songs,  So, though there won’t be the really cool dueling guitars of Tim & Victor, it will still be the basic building blocks that was there for the extremely unctuous Life Like.

The songs that comprise Testimonium Songs are a set of songs that are set to be performed live as part of Testimonium, a work of performance-art by legendary experimental theater ensemble, Every House Has a Door. That should, itself, be quite an interesting live show.

Alas, I’ve had a look at their upcoming tour dates and I saw that they don’t intend on making a return to San Diego this time around. I have a slight idea that this may be due to the rather lackluster turnout at the Casbah, when they played here, May 16, 2011. Unfortunately, only about 50 or 60 people showed up. Now, The Casbah isn’t that big of a club, but it can surely fit a much bigger crowd than the one that showed up at their 2011 show. I honestly felt bad for them – they are such a unique and legendary band and they deserved to have a much bigger turnout of people.  It might just be that the West Coast doesn’t contain their biggest audiences.  But even if they’re not playing here in San Diego, if I see that they make a stop in L.A., then I will make the 2 or so hour drive there just to see them.  For most other bands these days, I wouldn’t even bother, but this is the amazing, singularity known as Joan of Arc we’re talking about here.  They aren’t what I would call a “road-weary”, “gigged-out” band, so I want to take any chance I get to go catch them playing live.  I bet when they play in their hometown of Chicago, they get a lot more people showing up; it’s their home, so I’d think the real die hard, there-from-the-start, cult-following would emanate from the Windy City.  

Chicago, these days, is home to a great and ever-changing music scene. It really has been for a long time, going back to the days of John Lee Hooker and that Chicago-style of blues, which of course, differs from the Muddy Waters school of blues that emanated from the deep South: Mississippi, Georgia, etc. The same way that today’s indie scenes have different sounds from different parts of the country – you have your nihilistic Seattle sludgeworks, your hipster, downtown NYC Art-Noise-Avant-Garde scene, the Los Angeles Olio – the diverse, coming together of sounds from as far and wide as the places from where the people emigrate that make up this mixed-up batch, which, when it gels, synergizes into a new sound altogether.  That’s a good subject for someone to do a PhD thesis on.  But for now, let’s focus on the album at hand:  Testimonium Songs – it’s fabulous, it rocks, it has all the elements of the dadaist poetics that constitute the lyrics and the rhythm is just one big bombast that really glues it together.  GO OUT AND GET THIS!!!  (You could start by either going to http://www.polyvinylrecords.com or going to Amazon.com – either place would have this – and it’s out now!)  – KM

Shh! Don’t Tell Anyone!

Posted: June 14, 2013 in New Indie Music

Dennis Callaci & Simon Joyner

New Secrets

Shrimper, 2013

Review by Kent Manthie

 

These two cats are, individDennis-Callaci-Simon-Joyner-New-Secretsually, both veterans of indie, low-fi, bedroom recordings. Each one has a history of at least 13 past recordings. Callaci has worked on thirteen past albums with his band, Refrigerator and also runs Shrimper Recordings, his own indie label. Simon, more of a loner-type, has gone the solo route, doing a lot of recording in bedrooms and basements, etc. for numerous small-time labels.

New Secrets is actually the second CD that the duo has made together. The previous one was done way back in 2004; Stranger Blues was the title and that album was as low-fi as you can get. The whole thing was done in a live setting, directly to a single track of tape as well as putting the vocals and playing the music on the same microphone throughout the whole album. Very intimate, very rough and raw, but a perfect match for their folksy-blues-roots style of music.

For their brand new follow-up to Stranger Blues, Callaci & Joyner have succumbed to the demands of high-technology sound recording and for New Secrets, used some multi-tracking layers, they’ve spread the mics out a little more liberally and the result is a bit less scratchy overall, but it still maintains a good, rustic aura and has an atmosphere that shines and they still know how to skin a cat, as the saying goes.

As for some individual examples: “Old Man in the Rain” is a quiet, plaintive pretty tune that reminds me of On the Beach-era Neil Young, while “Guitar as Guitar” is an acoustic folksy number that is transcended by a sheet-metal kind of overhang, with shimmering guitars flying all over, distortion and feedback included. There’s a little Big Star in there somewhere. But even more – “Guitar as Guitar” has this really spine-tingling kick to it that, while a bit slowed down, has a lot of emotion to it and the heavy-feedback/electric guitar doodling above it really packs a punch. “The Frayed End of the Rope” is also a memorable song; a brooding, melodic tune which has witty, insightful lyrics. Like “Guitar as Guitar” and “Old Man in the Rain”, if you listen closely you can hear a violin underneath the guitars. It isn’t turned up way high, but it is definitely there. For instance, if one was to take out the violin tracks on the mixing board, you’d be able to tell the difference. “Lost Invitations” is another good one, a song with heart, one that is a balm against loneliness; a look back at great parties and social functions past and all the wonderful memories they evoke.

I’m sure that we’ve not heard the last of these two songwriters. They’ll be back in some way or another – Callaci, with his band, Refrigerators and working with his label, Shrimper and Simon Joyner, who has added quite a bit of greatness to this album is sure to be making some more great music, whether more solo stuff or otherwise. I just hope that these two do another album sometime, I just hope that we don’t have to wait another nine years for it to come out.

I also really hope they take their show on the road. I’d be excited to see them playing at some quiet little club. I’ll be keeping my eyes and ears open, just in case. All in all, New Secrets is an exciting album – something that isn’t the same old formulaic pop, but a thinking man’s album with deep and wondrous words on which to meditate. KM

BEYOND “1984”

Posted: June 14, 2013 in Forecast: Fascist Future!

Once again, an invaluable source who had lots of documents, detailing the depth of the sinister things that the US government is doing to its own citizens and the ironic thing is that all these uber-secret programs exist to “fight terrorism” and to “stop terrorist plots” and other similar excuses.

Well, I, myself, think that Edward Snowden is a HERO.  A goddamn hero who risked not only his career and reputation – i.e., by releasing this information to the UK paper, The Guardian, I’m sure he knew he was throwing away his security clearance that he had -in a lucky way – received.  But he has, by the idiotic act of identifying himself as the source of the “leak”, risking his very freedom.  But, to his thinking, it was “damn the consequences”, this information NEEDS to be disseminated to the public – Americans need to know that private companies, Verizon, as far as we know, has been willingly and without even a raised eyebrow, rushed to give the government anything they wanted.  Now, mind you, this PRIVATE information that Verizon’s customers (in this case, at least, it was made known that it was Verizon’s business customers whose telephone “metadata” was being handed over – all of it – to the NSA; every bit of contact information:  the times of the calls: what time the calls started, what time they ended, the duration of the calls, where they came from – and, contrary to what some may think, this was not about intercepting this “metadata” only between American citizens who were calling foreign telephone numbers, but a wholesale list of every single call made between Americans, initiated by Americans.  As for this thing about Verizon’s business customers being the targets this time, it was a long list of data that had to do with every single call that was made inside America, between American businesses.  This was a specific order to Verizon – to provide the US govt. with the telephone records of their Verizon Business Services clients who communicate with various other Americans – vendors, suppliers, employees, intercompany communication and the like.  It’s also no secret that this same amassing of “metadata” has been going on in a much more personal way – going through all Americans’ phone records – it may not be the exact content of the phone call, but it has the time called, time ended, duration and the phone numbers (of course) of the two parties.

Thankfully, this nefarious practice has been unearthed by the brave, heroice Edward Snowden, whose only dumb thing was to give out his name – not only that, but he is a sitting duck in Hong Kong; if he doesn’t think the Chinese will gladly hand him over to American authorities, he’s sadly mistaken.  I’d heard talk, initially, of Snowden fleeing to Iceland to ask for political asylum there – I don’t know why Iceland, but there must be a strategic reason for it – lack of extradition treaties or less bureaucratic red tape involved in seeking important asylum requests that are time-sensitive and need to be resolved before the Americans send out the black-op hit squad to silence Snowden – one way or another.  If he stays, like he said he was going to, in Hong Kong, I fear for his life.  Who’s to say that Ed won’t be walking home one day from the store or a bar or somewhere and just before he reaches the relative safety of his home, he’s shot in the back of the head – whether it’s by a phantom that quickly disappears into a black SUV and races off or some Chinese street gang hitman who rides by on a motorcycle, guns poor Edward down and speeds off into the night.  I know it sounds fantastic – like a movie or a novel, perhaps, but, as we all know, truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction.  I really hope this guy gets to a safe haven as fast as possible.

Now that the horses are stampeding out of the barn (and I hope they knock down the White House doors and upend everything in it, metaphorically speaking, of course), the congress has started to hold hearings, looking into the exact information that has been already given to the NSA, regarding our private communications,  Well, we’ve been assured by the president that “We’re not listening to your phone calls…” – and, ok, so they’re not listening to our calls – but guess what?  Now, they have a huge database that is only going to get bigger and bigger until every single communication is stored on a hard drive somewhere in their big new “data center” in rural Utah along with the myriad other sites wherein it houses these supercomputers.  So, while our phone calls are not being listened to, the parameters of those communications are being stored in supercomputers for use at a later time.  What we heard from the director of the NSA is that, now that we have all this “metadata”, if the government got wind of some nefarious “terrorist” plot to blow something up in the U.S., then all the intelligence community would have to do is to get  more secret permission from the same secret court that approved this conduct in the first place (FISA) or else a criminal search warrant from your garden-variety district court, and go into that database, use a little cross-referencing and find out what these people who are going to blow us up are communicating on and find out what their “metadata” is and then we’d be able to go and get the content of those calls.  Then we would have smug, smarmy politicians who would say “look – see, we stopped another terror plot from happening – we are keeping you, America, safe!”

When Bush (Dubya) was president and was doing the same thing – the warrantless wiretapping and all that – and then great reporters such as Dana Bash, for the Washington Post exposed this activity it caused a great furor not just in D.C. but all over the country – hell, probably globally.  But the difference in that case and the one that Snowden uncovered for us was that what Bush was doing – at the time he was doing it – was outright illegal.  There was no basis for eavesdropping, in a fishnet kind of way, that they were doing – spearheaded by the disgraced former attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, who, finally, after trying to persuade congress, the press and the American people that things like this as well as torture of suspects being interrogated, resigned – under pressure, I’m sure, from Dubya.  So, what did congress do?  They went and just changed the law and they did it retroactively, so that all the insidious crap that Gonzales and Dubya and co. were doing turned out, legally to be just barely legal.  So, now when Obama wants to do the very same things that we all hated Bush for doing – he just goes about it the way the law is set up – he followed the letter of the law (but certainly not the spirit of the mores and norms of American Society) by seeking a warrant from the super-secret FISA court and got his warrant and was therefore able to do all of this outrageous stuff LEGALLY.  So, back in 2004 or so, when Dana Bash uncovered the illegal warrantless wiretapping going on – she was hailed as a great whistleblower and a boon to our democracy.  But now that the untrustworthy congress has made it legal to spy on Americans – for no real reason – people who have no connection to even foreigners in other countries, much less even a hint of terrorist association, Snowden is reviled as a leaker and a lawbreaker and worse.  Even Dianne Feinstein called said that his actions were “treason” and a bunch of chorus girls from the GOP chimed in with similar comments.  But the thing is – what Edward Snowden did – whether you agree with it or not – cannot be called “treason” under the constitution.  Snowden did not “aid or abet any enemy of the United States”, nor did he “take up arms against the United States to overthrow the government” – those are the two criteria that must be proven to have taken place.  But also, specifically written in the “treason” section in the US Constitution, it reads that at least “TWO witnesses” must have witnessed the accused doing this alleged treason.  Now, it is obvious – anyone who isn’t a total idiot or brainwashed so badly from right-wing propaganda – that Snowden’s only motive here was to give this information to the Guardian newspaper, of the UK.  His stated purpose was that this sort kind of overreaching government intrusions and the whittling away of our fourth (and even our fifth) amendment doesn’t justify this action.  The government can babble all they want about wanting to protect Americans from “terrorists” and so on, but they still don’t have the constitutional right to impede on our 4th amendment right against illegal search and seizure.  And then there is the AP scandal, in which about 20 phones that the AP had been using to phone in stories from the road, so to speak, we’re being tapped as part of a leak investigation.  There is so much more to go on with that it’s just more and more angering as you read what you’re government is doing to you.

All I can say to those fat, happy, mindless consumers who don’t care about anything except getting the newest I-Phone, I-Pad or the latest fashions and television sets that say “What? Me Worry?” are going to wake up one day and wonder where their freedoms went.  The only thing I have, in response to all the rationalizing by the government about the heavy-handed. overreaching tactics that they’re doing – and the fact that they keep every aspect of it secret – including the fact that this kind of intrusion is even happening is this, and it’s an old saying (I think it was Thomas Jefferson who originally said it, but it is still a very apt and true adage):  “When We Give up [certain] Liberties  for ‘Security’, We Get NEITHER”.  That is the sum of it all and the way things are going now, things are only going to get worse – and guess what:  if terrorists really wanted to bomb something somewhere, they would do it.  So, just don’t get lulled into this false sense that “everything’s just fine – just trust us – now go shopping” -because it’s not “fine” – no matter how authoritarian this government gets, no matter how much privacy we lose, we’ll never be safe from a determined mindset that wants to destroy the Great Satan. -KM

Curiouser & Curiouser

Posted: June 9, 2013 in New Indie Music

These Curious Thoughts

Building Mountains From the Ground

 

Viaduct Records

Review by Kent Manthie

                                                                                                    building-mountains-from-the-ground

   The new, fifth album from These Curious Thoughts, Building Mountains from the Ground is a good effort from musical collaborators who work together via the internet and live in two separate continents, separated by the Atlantic Ocean.

   TCT got together in an unusual manner: they’re a duo made up of Sean Dunlop and Jamie Radford who started out as “pen pals”, Sean living in Detroit and Jamie living in outer London. For almost eight years now the two have been sending back and forth bits and pieces of their music and lyrics via the internet. This, I confess, is my introduction to the band, so I can’t honestly say what they sounded like in the early days, but on Building Mountains the “internet effect” does not seem to interfere at all. It all sounds so seamless. But then again, if you think about it, how much different is this compared to doing overdubs in a studio? Right. It works very well and the result is a very un-British sound to it! Building Mountains from the Ground has a musical style which is your basic rock-pop that has some rough-hewn edges, a knack for plaintive, but gracefully swept vocals.

   The two “pen pals” that comprise These Curious Thoughts have been perfecting their transatlantic musical collaborative relationship for about 10 years. They are Sean Dunlop and Jamie Radford. The latter lives in England and pens the lyrics, then sends them via email to Dunlop, based in Detroit, who then creates some great music. I’ve read that Radford writes the lyrics, emails them to Sean who then composes the music to mold around the words. I’d think that the formula would be more interchangeable, since sometimes a good melody itself can inspire lyrics and vice versa. But, I guess if this way works for them, exclusively…

   One of my favorite tunes on Building Mountains… is “Lost in Confusion”, a spiraling, frenetic, song that adds some spice to the mix; the latter half of it gels together and it then goes on about being caught in a fishbowl and the more exposure, the more confusion, a vicious circle. “John Wayne” is a cleverly penned song about hero-worship and how it doesn’t really work anymore in these days of “kill your idols”, TV shows and magazines that live to capture so-called “celebrities” in bad lights and to expose their scandals and secrets. “I’ve Got God on the Phone” is a clever tune that, just from the song title, should be evident how it makes light of holy-rolling zealot-hypocrites whose pretense is as pious sheep but behind the mask they’re just as avaricious as the next guy. “Arctic Heart Attack” is another fabulous, anthem-like sing-along, slow-but steady song; this one, I’m sure, would sound great, performed live. The whole joint would be screaming at the end of it. The album’s final two cuts, “Animals” and “Get Along” also keep bouncing along. Building Mountains… just doesn’t run out of steam – the whole thing stays fresh and interesting throughout all nine songs – and they’re not nine short, fast, pop tunes – the majority of the songs average about 4 ½ – 5 minutes, the shortest being the closing song, “Get Along”, which they whip through in just over two minutes, and end with a bang that doesn’t go on and on, but blows out – BOOM! – and it’s over.

   What I like about TCT is that, even though they live far apart and work via the internet, the songs they create turn out to be quite seamless and cohesive without being together to work things out. There must be a lot of back-and-forth between the two before the final products are put out for consumption. The music is packaged in pop-music wrapping, but as it unfolds there is a lot of high-spirited, sometimes a little jaded cleverness that doesn’t heel to any one pre-packaged, perishable flavor. It is groovy, it’s rockin’, it has great beats and cool bits of guitar riffs, hooks and solos and both Sean and Jamie contribute vocals to this. The more I listen to this the more I admire how polished the guitar playing is. It is a tribute to These Curious Thoughts that this two-man venture can have such a big sound – more so than many bands two or three times the size. Also, the fact that, since Sean and Jamie live in completely different surroundings means that there is no concrete footing that you can pin on them, they’re not a “Detroit” band, nor a “British” band; nor do they fall into any categories of the “Pacific NW Sound”, the “Downtown Manhattan Noise-Art Scene” or the “Funky L.A. Hipster Scene”.   Here’s hoping that there’ll be more to come from this uniquely poised duo, I can’t wait –KM.

Lost in the Atmoshere

Posted: June 9, 2013 in New Indie Music

Trails and Ways

Trails and Ways CD cover

Trilingual EP


Review by Kent Manthie
 Self-Released, 2013

Oakland-based indie delights Trails and Ways have just released Trilingual, an EP that this Bay Area quartet recorded on their own, with no label support, in a collective “house”-cum-studio in Oak-town, called T. Rex Manor. The four of them, two guys and two gals, Keith Brower Brown, Emma Oppen, Hannah van Loon and Ian Quirk, have just put together five tracks that appear on this brand new EP, Trilingual, an aptly titled album for a band who mix together songs with lyrics in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

This whole project of Trails and Ways started after Keith and Emma, the vocalists, had graduated from UC Berkeley and then went abroad in their separate fashions. Keith traveled to Brazil to get a first hand working knowledge of the country’s renewable energy sector by getting “hands-on” experience. This noble endeavor is not atypical of the modern college graduate; many go to Europe or Asia or other parts of the globe and either do further studies or spend a year or so roaming around, seeing the world and “finding oneself”. Well, this is how Keith spent his time.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Emma Oppen went to Spain, where she indulged in something a bit different: she immersed herself in a quest for spiritual awakening, adventure and in search of good waves for surfing.

After this time living abroad, both came back to Oakland and crafted a vision for a sound of music that was a hybrid of all they had experienced and added some original stuff to it as well; Keith brought back a mind full of ideas that included bossanova and Brazilian Jazz; Emma brought back with her a concise, tightly woven songwriting craft that the two put together. The third element that was added was the addition of more familiar but nonetheless stunning and warm but sometimes rough and raw fringes of “basement-based” dream-pop.

When they’d returned to Oakland, the two hooked up with two more mates, classically-trained musicians, Ian Quirk and Hannah von Loon, both of whom had been musical since their childhood. Ian has been an evolving,constantly practicing and learning percussionist who is now at ease with the drums, drum machines and various types of rhythm treatments. Von Loon, on the other hand, was raised as a child to play violin as well as piano – things she took up at the tender age of three. But it wasn’t until she was in high school that she really fell in love with what would become her passion: guitar. She did a great job in that area by learning the many-faceted grooves of the Beatles catalog.

The four of them have combined to create a fascinating, layered, textured, springy brand of what is indeed trilingual – their lyrics being in a fluid mix of the three aforementioned languages – the tongues of the countries the former two had been as well as their native English.

One of the tunes that stick out right away on Trilingual is “Nunca”, a comfortable layering of equatorial splendors and American club beats and a mesmerizing fluidity of vocals, shared by both Keith and Emma. The first cut, “Como Te Va” has a little of the Cocteau Twins’ sound injected into it as well as a beginning that made me think of Stereolab, but not as high up in the clouds. On “Tereza” Emma sings with a breathless energy that is both plaintive and seductive.

With the travels Keith and Emma did, far and wide as well as the extensive musical accomplishment of Ian and Hannah, this EP has a special vibe to it, one that is not derivative or a knock off of 100 other bands you hear coming and going all the time on FM radio. It’s not edgy or raw, not too ethereal, but a swimmingly pop sunbath. I sure hope that more is heard from this quartet of unique individuals soon.

KM.  

Very Big Indeed

Posted: June 7, 2013 in New Indie Music

Lemuria

Lemuria Distance is so big coverThe Distance is So Big

Bridge Nine Records, 2013

Review by Kent Manthie

Lemuria, the oh-so-cool indie-pop trio from Buffalo, NY, have come out of hiding (finally!) and just recorded their third full-length CD, The Distance is So Big, for Bridge Nine Records. This is their second LP for Bridge Nine. Their full-length debut, Get Better, was recorded for Asian Man Records, back in 2008. Their second and previous album, Pebble, came out back in 2011, which, for me, at least, seems like just a small ripple in time, two years, is actually kind of a long time to wait for a new album from a band (unless you happen to be incurable perfectionists such as Steely Dan, Peter Gabriel or Radiohead, all of whom have been known to take up to two to three years to get an album satisfactorily finished) when said band has been making a splash and whose biggest fan base, no doubt, in the Buffalo area of New York and surrounding communities, start to get impatient. So, the trio, with the help, again, of J. Robbins, went back to Robbins’s studio and recorded their third CD, the aforementioned, The Distance is So Big, which will be out in about a week or so.

This new one is full of bouncy, upbeat, pop tunes that still retain that indie “edge” to it: not saccharine, not drivel, which is, often, the case with a lot of music described as “pop” – referring here to “Top 40” style “pop”. There are some good, standout tunes on this album, including “Scienceless”, “Dream Eater” and “Public Opinion Bath” – they all have good structure to them, the rhythm, the drumming especially, is really tight and just “pop, pop, pops”. Max Gregor, the current bassist, is a talented player who does more than just hack at one bassline in a song; he’s up and down the frets. What is may lack in originality, it makes up for with catchy hooks, bridges and solos as well as well-written lyrics.

No, Lemuria aren’t that kind of pop band; they aren’t heavy-rotation, Top 40, ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ teeny-bopper crap. They are pop in the sense that they play light-hearted, laidback, catchy tunes that have at least some variety to them as well as talent that goes into the songwriting and performing of the stuff. So, they may not be playing the most original, unique music around, but they have a pleasant vibe that comes across in their music.

Guitarist/vocalist Sheena Ozzella is a high-pitched chanteuse, with a beautifully plaintive voice who gives the songs on which she sings a verve that shimmers; at other times drummer Alex Kerns sings as well and the two often sing together on some tunes. These two are also the main songwriters. Kerns provides much of the lyrics while Sheena contributes her own ideas and the music. The band has had a bit of a hard time keeping bassists around. Their first one, Adam Verrick, left the band not long after they’re inauspicious beginnings in 2004, after they had recorded a number of 7” singles a, demo and played a number of live gigs in March, 2005. Verrick’s replacement was Jason Draper, who, heroically, stepped in to fill the gap shortly thereafter. In that period, Lemuria continued their spree of recording 7” records and playing smallish club shows; they were recording their 7”-ers on Alex Kerns’s own indie label, Art of the Underground (AOTU).

Then, in 2007, the band realized that, after a heavy schedule of touring and of recording more and more seven incher singles for AOTU, they reflected how the fact that Lemuria had never recorded a full-length album but that the fact of this had a positive outcome, thus far, in that, it didn’t lock them into a specific pigeonhole that having an album or two or three might’ve done and instead had given them more time and freedom to “find our sound” and to grow, musically, as a band. This time, they went back to Watchmen Studios, where they’d been making all the singles and finally set out to record a full-length CD, which eventually emerged as Get Better and it was, instead of AOTU, released on Asian Man Records. This debut full length album churned out a series of songs that were more atmospheric and a bit darker than their previous work, in part because of the recent death of lyricist Alex Kerns’s father, the grief of which was a catalyst for some cathartic songs. At the same time, Sheena and Jason Draper were also working, themselves, on some songs as well. This collaborative effort led to a well-developed debut.

In autumn of 2009, Lemuria again lost their bassist, Jason Draper, who wanted to concentrate on his new project, Failures’ Union. This time, a guy called Kyle Paton joined up for the open slot so the band could continue on their busy touring schedule. Still writing and playing shows, Lemuria, in April of 2010 announced they had officially signed with Bridge Nine Records, with whom they are still recording today.

In July, Lemuria decided to go with J. Robbins, who produced and recorded what was to be their follow-up CD, Pebble, which came out at the beginning of 2011. Unfortunately, though, during the mixing process of Pebble, Kyle Paton, the newest bassist, being a Canadian citizen, ran into some legal hassles crossing the border from Canada back to the US and that was a problem for both he and Lemuria, who had to keep the show going. So, what did they do? They hired, straight outta Texas, Max Gregor, who, is still with Lemuria, so it looks like the 4th time was the charm as far as bassists go for these guys.

To herald Pebble, Lemuria toured extensively and worked themselves to death. Then, after a break, in December, 2012 they started work with J. Robbins again and recorded at his studio and after 5-6 months of working -writing, rehearsing, recording, mixing, et cetera, they are now back with this pearly sparkler, The Distance is So Big. Check ’em out on Facebook or their home page (www.lemuria,com) to see about upcoming tour dates to find when they’ll be in your area. I’m sure, after being so accomplished in the live playing department, they put on a good show. –KM.

Man or Astroman Defcon 5 CD coverMan or Astroman?

Defcon 5

Communicating Vessels Recordings

Review by Kent Manthie

After TWELVE long years of absence, the space-surf-punk trio, Man or Astroman? Have finally reunited – at first it was to play a few reunion gigs and soon turned into a full-fledged comeback. The new album, with the original three members, Birdstuff, Coco and Star Crunch, Defcon 5 is just out and it’s like they picked up right where they left off.

I remember back when I lived in Los Angeles for a brief time, in the first couple years of the 2000s, and, in 2001, I believe, it was (and I’ve been kicking myself ever since, for missing it), they played a show at a relatively small club around the downtown L.A. Area. It’s been awhile, but I am pretty sure that the club was The Smell, who, I recall, hosted some other great indie bands around that time and, if they’re still there, I’m sure they still do.

Just a couple weeks ago, I found out that these guys had a new album due out soon and I was so excited to hear about it that I contacted them instead of vice versa, which has been happening a lot lately (so much so that I have a big backlog)! To my delight, the manager or one of the label guys mailed me a promo, pre-release copy of Defcon 5. So, before it was even released publicly, I’d been listening to it over and over again for about two weeks (I think I got it about 3 weeks ago, actually). This is some really potent stuff. It’s almost like a concept album, albeit an irony-filled, glazed-eye concept: the album’s title: Defcon 5 (short, of course, for “Defense Condition #5”, a “national security”-type label, is part of a theme here, on the CD. The first cut is the title track; a nice, 3 minute instrumental, mind-altering opening theme that sets the tone for this mind-blowing album. It is a swirling, percussive romp with the clean guitar tone that is so well known to most as a “surf-rock” style. But this stuff goes way beyond the shore of earth. The next tune, “Antimatter Man” has the muddy, punk rock vocals, sung with like Tom Verlaine and in the attitude of one who is high on adrenaline and maybe a bit buzzed as well. The whole thing is in typical MOA fashion: a cross between Spacemen 3 (not Spiritualized, no – the original Spacemen 3 – the last time I listened to a Spiritualized CD I almost fell asleep!), the great Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet and Television.

MOA originally came out of the good ol’ South: Alabama, to be exact. But, they are part of a newer, more educated and diverse/diverging group of Southerners. Nowadays, when you think of “Southern Music” you don’t have to think of Lynyrd Skynyrd. There are plenty of bands who’ve already been around a while that have changed that paradigm a lot in the past 30+ years, especially from college town, Athens, GA, including the B-52s (which were a good band up until Ricky Wilson died), R.E.M. who were a great band when they made records for I.R.S. and went downhill fast after signing with Warner Bros. (Green was the last good album they made). Now, the new breed of Southern bands includes such unique enigmas such as of Montreal, an androgynous, experimental, neo-glam revival, led by front man and songwriter, Kevin Barnes.

Anyway, getting back to MOA and Defcon 5. As I was saying, the opening cut is also called “Defcon 5”. After that there are a few other tunes, and then song number 5 is called “Defcon 4”, then, three songs later, appears “Defcon 3”, then two more songs and “Defcon 2”, then one more tune (“New Cocoon”, followed by the final installment and finale, “Defcon 1”. That is what I meant by its quasi-concept aura: it starts out at the least “dangerous” defense condition and, gradually, moves, bit, by bit, up the ladder, until, at the end, all hell breaks loose and we reach the ultimate (nuclear war? Armageddon?): “Defcon 1”. Along the way to doomsday, though, we get taken on a hell of a ride! And some of that includes the interloping songs, such as “Antimatter Man”, “Disintegrate” “Communication Breakdown, Pt. 2” (and no, that is NOT a “sequel” to the Led Zeppelin song of the same name from their debut album -this is a completely unique “Communication Breakdown, Pt. 2” – and I haven’t heard “part one”, so I can’t compare. “Electric Arc” is also a very heady brew of a space-surf song. In fact, to put the two styles together – the edgy, space electronics and the groovy surf-guitar sounds, you could say that this is the perfect soundtrack for surfing on Mars – that is, when there was plenty of water on which to surf! Then, on “Defcon 2”, MOA do a really electronic-based but retaining that punk-edge to it – lots of pops and crackles as well as synthesizers with backing guitars and the booming bass and bombastic drumming. And, don’t forget “New Cocoon”, which is a slow, precise, technical rocker which is followed by the albums grand finale, the very surf-y “Defcon 1” – on which it sounds like the world is going to go out with a bang that is riding a slick wave of apocalypse. It is both supersonic in its intensity and the symbiosis between its surf-genre riding the wave of the electronics embedded inside.

This is a lovely ride, from start to finish and the more I listen to it, the more I love it. It’s just so great to know that these innovative workhorses have returned to give their fans as well as a new generation a taste of the great stuff they’re known for. It’s also great to know that Man or Astroman? has worked with the great Steve Albini, late, of Big Black, Shellac as well as an uber-producer who shuns all the music-media’s hosannas due to, as he said, once, in an interview, years ago, that when newer, less established bands read in magazines that Steve Albini is this “rock god” who’s making all these great and, as a result, fabulously famous albums with bands who get a lot of press and notoriety, including a few such as the Pixies, Nirvana (on In Utero), The Breeders, Joan of Arc and even the awesome, aforementioned (and MIA) Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet (Sport Fishing). Albini has shunned all these accolades and “important guy” label for the simple reason, he said, because newer, lesser known bands are the ones that he wants to work with most and if these guys read all this showering praise on him in the once-great-but-now-irrelevant SPIN Magazine or the ridiculously over Rolling Stone, they get scared off and shy away from even asking for his help and this is exactly what he doesn’t want those types of bands to do – he wants to work with and help develop new and interesting bands, not only work with established bands that guarantee record sales and profit,etc. This is something that has made me respect the man all that much more, besides his raw talent and energy and ability to tweak a few knobs here and there, add a beat here, take away a little something there and end up with a great-sounding album at the end of it all. Albini lent his help to MOA while they went to Chicago. They also worked with old pal, Daniel Farris in their home of Birmingham, AL. So far, of the albums I’ve reviewed so far this year, I’ve mentioned in at least two, that they’d make my “Best of 2013” list of CDs that came out this year and Defcon 5 is another one that I will definitely add to that list! Welcome back Man or Astroman? please! It’s been 12 years in the making, but now that the wait is over – it turns out that it’s been well-worth waiting for! -KM.