Archive for September, 2013

Frog Eyes

Carey’s Cold Spring

Self-released, 2013

Review by Kent Manthie

Carey Mercer is the driving force behind Frog Eyes. The new album, Carey’s Cold Spring, was made over the course of three years. In that time Carey fought a fierce battle with throat cancer, he lost his dad, who passed away during that time and besides those major items, a lot of ideas were running through his mind: riots, protests, fear and loathing of the right-wing forces in America that are working as hard as possible to rollback any progress that’s been made, at least socially, in the past century. Many of the so-called “Tea Party” types, who are seriously deluded about how things really work in the real world. Led by manipulative demagogues, this relatively new “movement” looks more and more like a cult, funded by far-right extremist billionaires, like those twin devils, the Koch brothers, et cetera. Also some paranoid, dystopian ideas that could, plausibly, come to fruition if the criminals in the right-wing aren’t stopped.

Carey’s Cold Spring is a gripping album. Mercer has a voice not unlike Nick Cave – a deep baritone that resonates a depth that accentuates the songs. The guitar is sweeping, melodramatic and beautiful.

Songs like “The Road is Long”, “Your Holiday Treat” and “Don’t Give Up Your Dreams” are examples of a simplicity in its form, yet full of complexities in the depth of the lyrics, which are personal, introspective, reflective and full of longing. The last song on Carey’s Cold Spring, “Claxxon’s Lament” is probably the most personal of them all. Carey first wrote it in the early part of the 2000s, letting it linger on the back burner of his consciousness. It’s a song that is about deep loss, regret, longing for more and a sort of therapeutic catharsis. The story goes something like this: “Claxxon’s Lament” was sitting on the shelf, so to speak, for some time, then when his dad started fading from life and had entered hospice care. The way Carey put it, in his father’s last days, Carey was alone in the room with his dad, trying to be there with him as much as he could and, his dad, having, himself, being quite the guitarist himself, Carey wanted to play something for his dying father, something meaningful that would linger. There just happened to be a classical guitar in the room that day, so he grabbed it and then thought “Shit, what am I going to play? None of my songs really translate to the acoustic, or at least, none that I can think of.” Then he remembered “Claxxon’s Lament”, which, as Carey put it, “…I think a good enough song to play while your dad passes out of your life”. So he sat there, at his father’s bedside and played “Claxxon’s Lament”. After the new meaning that the song took on for him after this performance of a song that had been lingering for a decade or so, he slipped it onto this album at the last moment, because he realized it really deserved to be included. The fact that it is the last track on the album may be because it was recorded for the album at the last moment or it could be that it was, continuity-wise, a great tune with which to end the album – and that is true.

“Claxxon’s Lament” is a mournful, melancholy song which also has some spark about it. It isn’t a dirge but a song, not only of loss and sadness, but of hope for what may come in the future.

Then, as was mentioned, just as the album was about to get its final mixes, Mercer was informed by his doctor that he had throat cancer. He’s lucky that the tumor was found as quickly and as early as it was, it was still just contained to his throat, hadn’t spread, etc., so he was able to get rid of the cancer and is over it and doing just fine.

All this and more going on in one’s life in such a short amount of time (within just a couple years at most) would be a heavy burden for anyone to bear. Even without the cancer scare, which was detected after the album had already been recorded, it only needed its final mixes, etc., there was a lot he had to go through.

It is a paean to Mercer’s fortitude and character that he was able to put his all into Carey’s Cold Spring. Give it a listen! -KM.

Frog Eyes CD cover

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Check In and Stay Awhile

Posted: September 21, 2013 in New Indie Music

Western Skies Motel

Reflections

Audio Gourmet Netlabel

Review by Kent Manthie

Western Skies Motel is a project that is helmed by Danish multi-instrumentalist, Rene Schelbeck. In the not-too-distant-past, Schelbeck played in a variety of Danish indie bands, most of which, have faded into obscurity. Then he took a few years off to start a family, get back to domestic life, etc. But now, Rene’s back. Now he’s back, experimenting with new sounds again. The music has just been flowing out, so, suddenly, Western Skies Motel was born.

Reflections is the result of this re-tooling. In his “comeback”, Schelbeck has matured a bit, drifted away from punk, garage and indie-type rock and downshifted to a much more mellow, reflective or introspective album. On this new album, a 3-song EP, Reflections, Western Skies Motel seems like they’re trying out some things, putting out a few “samples” for indie music fans and so forth, to see if Rene’s, indeed, heading in the right direction. The music is “ambient” in nature, but not in a stark, icy, computerized way, rather, it takes on a different kind of “ambient” direction: there is a rustic, quiet, mellow, Southwest US-area soundscape. Just perfect for trawling around the desert or weathering a dust storm from a comfortable cabin out in the low desert. As for me, I would say, “Yes!” – this is a great road to go down. I hope that more of this stuff gets put out – soon! Each piece on this EP is smooth and the acoustic guitar that ripples through makes a great substitute for myriad synthesizers, computers, etc. Sure, some of the guitar parts sound like they’ve gone through some “treatment”: there are points when an echoing part has some ringing to it. I’m speaking specifically of the second tune, “Here and There”, where, besides the beautiful guitar workings, there are some synthesizers behind there. As a whole, though, Reflections is a terrific showcase of an album, one that definitely whets my thirst to hear more. I hope to hear about a new, full-length Western Skies Motel CD coming out soon.

The music on Reflections is definitely more organic, including that acoustic guitar as well as the harmonium too(!), Rene has taken his musical vision that uses more traditional instruments interspersed with some modern tools as well. The atmospheric and interwoven textural sounds are made crystal clear with the smooth guitar, the harmonium, as well as the sonic tools that are woven into the background.

This is something that you really need to hear for yourself. Try it, you’ll definitely like it. -KMReflections CD cover

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin

Fly By Wire

Polyvinyl Records, 2013

Review by Kent Manthie

I’ve been away from these guys for quite a while. I remember back, in the previous decade, I did review their debut as well as its follow-up, both on the great Polyvinyl Records., out of Chicago, their debut was entitled, Broom and their sophomore effort, Pershing, which showed those skeptical types that sometimes bands circa now (to coin a phrase), can survive more than just being a passing fancy and avoid the fate that so many others fall victim to: after album #2, the band has not really developed much past what they were when they debuted, they are still doing the same thing, sometimes at least two years later, even though certain elements have come, gone and sometimes re-emerged in a new package, but when a band fails to really excite, enough to matter, anyway, after their debut, much less two albums, it’s usually curtains for them – that, or those purgatory of “adult contemporary” stations, venues, etc.

The band’s been together, basically, since Will Knauer and Philip Dickey met at, of all places, a Super Bowl Party! It must’ve been a really interesting conversation that obviously took place; something that would pave the way for development that got the band together and now that it’s been a few CDs later, they can say that SSLYBY has just about taken a life of its own.

“Lucky Young” is a song that really sticks with you. That haunting organ riff there, at the end is great. “Ms. Dot” is a fresh breeze. It has a good sensation and that sticks around but is eventually – and everyone should now that just about everything your listening to goes away when you are not listening to it at the time, but, of course, the better ones stay with you, they linger, they stick in your head, you hum it and so on. I thought that the opener, “Harrison Ford” was really strong, as well: a great tune with which to start the album.

SSLYBY has, however else they’ve grown and adapted over the last decade, stuck to a style, an avatar, if you will, that longtime fans can count on and for those new to the band, what you hear that is new is not so different than their debut, Broom. Hints of a love of their passion for their music: they’ve probably had a few chances here and there, to go Hollywood, but they’ve stayed loyal to the indie scene in general and to Polyvinyl Records in particular. ‘

From only taking a passing glimpse at SSLYBY, one just has a very short time for the music that one hears (SSLYBY’s) and, this is exactly the kind of sub-sub genre of rock that has a hard time with love at first sight. I can tell you that such a thing certainly does exist. That hopeful delight that one feels and the expectations that arise almost instantaneously when your talking about love between two people. But when it comes to music, it just depends on the style, the tempo and any recognition that shows that “XYZ” band sounds like this. There has actually been a handful of times where I was in a record store and some, random, new and for sure new-to-me, was playing in the store as I walked around inside, browsing, etc. and once in a while, whatever underground, DIY or otherwise indie music the guy at the counter was playing really stuck in my mind. In some instances I even asked the guy when I went to pay for what I was buying, “hey – who was that, that you were just playing?” or, if I think I recognize the band but don’t know the song or songs, I’d ask “Is that ‘so-and-so’ and if it is, what album is it?”. Either of two things will happen there: the guy will say “yeah, that is ‘so-and-so’ and it was on the ABC+DEF record, back in 1983” (or something like that) or he may, instead answer thus: “No, sorry, that’s not ‘so-and-so’ it’s actually ‘them-and-me’ and their new CD, which I’m playing now, is called Blah.” – so, there are two interesting tidbits that you can find out right then and there: whether there exists a song and maybe even an album by one of your favorite bands that you haven’t heard of yet – but, dammit, now that you know of it, that is next on your list. But, if it’s not them and it turns out to be some other band; someone whom you’ve never heard of, but they sound really great. You stick around for a while longer and listen, while you’re there anyway, to more of that album and by the time you leave, either way, you have some new musical knowledge that you can put into practical use.

But with Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – and they’re not the only ones – they don’t always go down that smoothly the very first time as others do. You have to go through this process where you, sometimes completely by serendipity, you put the album on at a completely unscheduled time and you just sit there and you listen to it, you absorb it. Most of the time you have to, sometimes on a serendipitously, unscheduled moment, just put this CD in and play it. I’ve learned that unplanned events like that work the best the very first time their done. Why? Precisely because they’re spontaneous happenings. When you try to get the same feeling that xyz gives you when you do X, it probably won’t work a second or third time. In fact, next time you, spontaneously decide to do something like this, pick a different album and you’ll, most likely, enjoy a similar feeling.

But it’s this familiarizing that makes one appreciate SSLYBY all the more. And when it hits, then you have yourself a true fan, someone who sincerely digs these guys, not just a fair-weather fan. And since they’ve been around now for about 7 or 8 years, at least, they’ve proved that they’ve found that niche, that groove where they fit just fine – their fanbase likes where they come from, they’re very pleased with being on Polyvinyl Records. If I had to put it into some sort of “box” to categorize it, I’d say it fits in with that corps of bands who’re made up of intellectuals or semi-intellectual, college-types that appreciate the smart literary, film or some other American pop culture reference as well as understand the allegories, the metaphors and similes in the songs that make them light up with slick dressing, without which, might be a little on the drab side.

I do consider it a great thing to see Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin still around, still making new albums today almost a decade since their debut, Broom, came out in about 2006. I hope they can turn their personnel into a more personal thing and they stick together and keep these great records coming out. -KMPV-SSLYBY-FBW-DigitalCover

The Microphones

The Glow, Pt. 2

Elverum Records, 2013 (originally released in 2001)

Reviewed by Kent Manthie

Over this past year – 2013, that is – Phil Elverum, main man of The Microphones – has been re-releasing the four great albums he and the Microphones put out 12-13 years ago. If you’ve been following this blog/review page, or whatever you want to call it, you’ll notice that I recently posted another review for It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water an album originally released back in 2000. These are the only two original Microphones albums I’ve received (so far, anyway). I know that there are two other studio albums with all original material on it, one entitled Mount Eerie and the other, Don’t Wake Me Up. There is also a CD out there, with a compilation of various singles, one-offs, probably some B-side type material and maybe some previously unreleased material that didn’t make the final cull for any of their four albums. This ‘singles and rarities’ collection is called Song Islands.

Of the four original CDs, this one, The Glow, Pt. 2 is unquestionably the best-known Microphones album, best-selling and most critically acclaimed album (Named “Album of the Year” by Pitchfork Media).

But, anyone who has all four albums and gets a feel for how they sound and the little intricacies, one will, sooner or later, recognize a pattern that emerges as a part of each album. Separate, though they may be, they, nonetheless, contain similar musical, emotional and poetical shapes and sounds. There is this common thread that runs throughout all of their music, but without getting repetitive, sonically. Throughout the time they recorded, they were adept at mixing things up, not seeming to be stuck in box and still able to get their metaphysical message across.

On The Glow, Pt. 2, The Microphones are all over the place, but not jaggedly so. A lot of the album is mellow, detailed and interesting to hear. A few songs that stood out to me were: “The Mansion”, “Samurai Sword” and the closer, “My Warm Blood”, a 9:28 suite that perfectly wraps things up.

Don’t expect Phil and company to be hitting the road anytime soon as a re-formed Microphones. As Elverum put it: after the release of their final CD, Mount Eerie, he took a hard look back at the work he’d done over the previous five years or so, he realized that this fourth album was the culmination of what he had set out to do, musically and otherwise. So, instead of just banging out empty-headed CD after CD, he decided that right then and there (2003) that this was the “perfect” stopping point for The Microphones and that is really an attitude that I respect a LOT. As an example: years and years ago, when Bauhaus and Tones on Tail alumni Kevin Ash was interviewed he mentioned a similar idea: he said, in response to some stupid question about whether or not Bauhaus would ever get back together, something to the effect (I don’t have the answer verbatim) of “What were doing now is where we are [so to speak] – we don’t to dredge up the past: it’s over and done with, so why not look to the future”, or some such lofty words that, I thought, were some of the best, most upstanding observation that I’d heard in a long, long time. OK. That was in the early 90s or so. Fast forward to 1999 or about then and what happened? Bauhaus got back together – and, lucky for them, it was all the original guys: Peter, David J, Kevin and Dan. But when I heard that this was going to take place I immediately lost all respect I’d had for those guys. How can you tell me that, after only about 8 or 9 years, this lofty kind of idealism where “only-for-money” reunions of rock bands are seen as desperate attempts by members who are really too old to rock like a band of twenty-somethings (or even 30-somethings). It is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to make more money. Nothing more. They can always add, though, that they’re doing this in order to give the “new” generation of fans a taste of their live shows. But no matter what, a bunch of 50-60-somethings are not going to be as exciting to see onstage as four or five younger dudes (20s-30s). There does come a point after which there really is no critical, meaningful reason to keep on with the same old thing over and over, ad infinitum. Now, if you’ve been a “rocker” for a while, then went away for a while and now are back but doing a different kind of thing, that is another thing totally – you’re not a middle-aged guy (or woman) trying to please the same young audience as you used to, no, now you’re into a new kind of music or a combination of things that you’ve picked up in your experiences.

Anyway, that is basically the way Phil Elverum’s thinking went after the final Microphones CD came out. But, for you of the younger generation: you now have a 2nd chance to hear this really good stuff. It is a sound that is in a class by itself. Of course, it’s built around that basic “rock” vein, but there are so many busy layers that make their body of work up, it is so hard to pin a label on. Look ’em up on Amazon, or just put “The Microphones” in a search engine and pick out one of the many possibilities that come up. Great band. The great thing is that the music here, even though it’s not that old, still doesn’t sound dated in any way. This is because that Phil wasn’t following any sort of “fad” or “craze” that happened to be all over the place 13 years ago. He wasn’t looking all over to see what was the hip thing to do, no he was busy, using his brain to concoct a body of work that has really stood the test of time and is being given a second life. Those that missed it the first time, don’t miss this chance to hear something that is much better than most of the new stuff that is going around right now, in 2013.

I haven’t heard of any future plans for Phil at the moment. I think, maybe anyway, he’s concentrating on this project of getting all the Microphones’ stuff re-released and then, here’s hoping he’ll let us know what’s going on in that head of his. -KMMicrophones The Glow cover

Add this to your list

Posted: September 10, 2013 in New Indie Music

Neon Lushell

modern purveyors of filth and degradation (in a time of peace and understanding)

Silber Media, 2012

Review by Kent Manthie

This album is a sonic thrill ride that reminds me a little bit of Throbbing Gristle. It explores new textures of sound, new boundaries that have heretofore been unused, thought, maybe, too outre, for example. But Neon Lushell has perfected it. I have actually had this CD sitting in my computer this whole time and I’ve, for some reason, just not gotten to it, keep passing it by and not even thinking about it when all of a sudden, one day, I was flipping through my collection of new indie music and I came across this one CD with a cover of this drawn face which was the identity of an archetype. This one was the one that embodies that silent, frowning, unhinged-seeming guy who works where you do. He’s kind of creepy and it isn’t good to be caught alone in the same small room as you.

That was the vibe I got off the face that exuded this CD. So, at the time, the state I was in, mentally, emotionally, whatever, I just, threw it all away – that is any coherent, cognitive “selection” process, I just grabbed the mouse and clicked on this album and instantly started playing it. I quickly saw that the name of what I’d just, so whimisically just grabbed out of the ether and started playing it.

The sonic intensity is one thing that grabbed me and kept my attention, other factors included a sort of hypnotic-manic freak-out. The second tune has this William S. Burroughs-like character who’s sampled voice is repeated over and over again to say “I pulled out all my teeth…and made a necklace out of them” and behind that is an electronic rumba backing this ethereal chanting going on. It’s quite a liberating trance-lose yourself thing going on here. On “Sammy’s Rap (featuring Dustplanet)”, the song is a wicked, boozy dirge that has a vocal with a Tom Waits voice and it presses up close. The next tune, “Cellar Door” has the vocal that sounds like Nick Cave. A dark, ominous baritone eerily revealing something or other. Then the album goes on like that for another 9 songs, including “Grave Bells” a haunting tune that recalls British post-punk underground heroin dens. “Everyone Died, I Survived” is a morbid tale of abandonment by death of one’s only friend and connection to the outside world and how that haunts her to a point of madness. This is a really amazing work that I really screwed up and didn’t get to sooner, it is surely something that should be more widely heard, although it’s good that it’s not, like, really huge, like Idaho or Wisconsin huge, you know? By then it’s turned into a trend, co-opted like so many once-indie artists for that big paycheck, which, of course, is tempting. It’s a hard choice to make. I don’t regret not having to make it.

I really do dig “Everybody Died, I survived”, it’s kind of a confessionary, repetitive loop or something – repeating the song title over and over again to an insane beat, then near a minute in it morphs into something different, a cacophony of melodies with a tinny-sounding voice singing under all the sound. It recalls those terrible wrecks where there are hundreds of dead crash victims, yet there seems to be a few of them that got out alive – make for some vivid memories that wouldn’t go away easily if at all. This music has the edge of that kind of manic paranoiac psychosis.

Neon Lushell is no stranger to the “experimental” world. He’s all over the netlabel scene and putting out stuff here and there. I want to do this to show any possible connections to a grapevine to put Neon Lushell on – tell your friends about him, share a tape or CD with them. Expand the fan base without any advertising or spending money to sell records (that is, unless you consider a tour a way to market the current album -which it sort of is). –KMNeon Lushell CD cover

Heaven – Coming to YOU

Posted: September 5, 2013 in New Indie Music

The Band in Heaven

Caught in a Summer Swell

Decades Records, 2013

Review by Kent Manthie

They’ve been at it for a while now, having started out as a two-piece and enlarging into a quartet, making singles, DIY-style, amassing a fan base in the land called Florida. But Caught in a Summer Swell is the first full length CD from The Band in Heaven, a West Palm Beach-based neo-psych-pop band. By putting this together they seem to have come out of their shell, so to speak. Instead of their shyness being shown by layers of guitars, reverb, white noise, etc that drown out the vocals somewhat (sort of like My Bloody Valentine), on Caught in a Summer Swell they turned up the vocal knob on the studio mixer so as to better hear their lyrics.

But, not to worry for you hardcore B.I.H. fans: they’ve not turned into a radio-friendly sell-out machine or anything, the music is lush, textural, not overly simplistic, repetitious or derivative (well, everything’s been done before, someone once said, but The Band in Heaven are of the ilk that doesn’t wear their influences on their sleeve for all to hear. Unless one’s lived under a rock for their whole life, one can’t help but be influenced in some way – whether consciously or otherwise. And, the influences don’t have to be only musical, they can come from all over – literary, cinematic, artistic (as in “fine arts”), political, et cetera.

The first track on Caught in a Summer Swell, “Dandelion Wine” starts off with a crisp guitar riff and then goes headlong into a sweet, luscious catchy tune. It also happens to be their “single”, for which they’ve made a video.

The vocals are split, back & forth and together between male & female, making for great harmonizing as well as some more depth. But the dreamy guitar, played bare, with no distortion, just a clean, slick sound, is really what catches your ear. You can’t help but be taken in by this album.

Also good is the title track (#3), “Young and Dumb”, a nearly seven minute tune that is just a lovely song – both in lyrics and in the dreamy psych-pop that grips you and doesn’t let go and “Disappear Here”. The gist of the emotive process on Caught in a Summer Swell is the loss of innocence brought on by nothing more than “growing up”, being a part of the cold, cruel world. In a similar vein, the album goes on to deal with such “adult” issues as being in debt, the crush of the environment outside, themes of family and related issues. The title is apt for the concepts they’re trying to get across – Caught in a Summer Swell is a nice way to describe what their emotive instinct is – summertime is a fantastic time – remember when you were in school and couldn’t wait for the end of the schoolyear to come and then have 3 months of summer vacation to hang out with your friends, go on trips with your family or just kick back in an air conditioned house and watch MTV all day or movies, etc. – when June came around it was absolute bliss: you had a whole season to be away from the dregs of school. But by August, as soon as you started to see “Back to School” ads popping up, it would be a depressing reminder of the fact that summer would eventually be over and then – back to school. In the way the title’s used here, you can extrapolate that theme, existentially, where “summer” represents the best years of your life, the good times, inextricably linked with the bad times, even though, for the fortunate, anyway, the good outweighs the bad and you can’t really know “good” without knowing “bad” – an example of the unity of opposites (yin/yang); but once that “summer swell” unleashes you, you get thrown right in the middle of the rat race of life. Whether this “summer swell” ends after high school or after getting a degree at the university, you still end up with much the same ends: time to get a job, pick a career, grow up in a hurry and find out that life isn’t as great as you thought it’d be when you were only 15-16 and couldn’t wait to, at least, turn 21 so you could buy liquor, get into bars, etc. but when you turn 22 the novelty starts to wear off. These are the ideas The Band in Heaven are inculcating via their shoegazing, hypnogogic sweetness and light: a multicolored spectrum of bright pastels that push the pleasure centers in the brain. -KM

band in heaven cover

Can’t Stop Won’t Stop

Posted: September 4, 2013 in New Indie Music

dBridge & Skeptical

Move Way EP

R&S Records, 2013

Review by Kent Manthie

Darren White is a busy guy. He’s been making music uncontrollably for some time now. This, the latest release by White, using a new alias (he’s also been known as “Velvit” for some of his intense techno/house jams), “dBridge” and he also teamed up with Skeptical, a like-minded partner in this venture. The two have worked together in the past so they picked up right where they left off and put together three songs that make up Move Way, the new EP out on R&S Records. The three songs consist of one, the title track, two, a wicked D&B cut, “Death of a Drum Machine” and “Plain To See”.

While the project is essentially White’s, the man called Skeptical puts his quarter’s worth in and adds a splash of bliss to the title track. As for the other two songs – “Death of a Drum Machine” and “Plain to See” he goes it alone.

The end result is a dance-trance wild ride through the jungles of drum & bass, something that may sound dated, but, to tell you the truth, I am a sucker for drum & bass. It’s never gone out of style to me. Of course, I have a huge variety of musical tastes and it’s actually been a while now since I’ve heard any D&B. But, just hitting the play button I was transfixed, taken back to those heady nights in the mid-late 1990s, when one of my favorite albums to get lost in was New Forms, the double-length masterpiece by British club fave Roni Size (w/Reprazent) the 1997 CD that I used to listen to all the time. In fact, I remember catching his act (along with a gaggle of DJs in tow and special guests) at San Francisco’s Maritime Hall, just a few blocks north of the downtown area.

Getting back to Darren White now, Move Way is a short but sweet mixture of the slick, groovy drum & bass cuts and some jungle thrown in for good measure. On the title track, the song begins with a sampled bit of speaking by a Jamaican-accented man, telling a short autobiography of sorts, which then goes straight into the crisp drumming and assorted effects – it really gets you going. A real smooth operation. The sampled talk is sampled more throughout the six minute tune, re-edited and/or using shortened splices of it. Behind it all, though, that groovy drum/cymbal rush keeps a steady backdrop.

“Death of a Drum Machine” is another roving, ecstasy jam that makes you dance. You can’t help yourself, you’re spellbound, held in sway to this wicked suite. It starts off with a sampled cut from Public Enemy (“Too black/too strong”) and with the ethereal atmosphere behind it, a non-stop drum freak-out keeps it going.

If you’re interested, check out more on R&S Records’ website, www.rsrecords.com. -KM.

dBridge Move Way cover

Adventures of a Dreamy Chanteuse

Posted: September 2, 2013 in New Indie Music

Nedelle Torisi

Nedelle Torisi

Asthmatic Kitty Records

Review by Kent Manthie

Here we come to a brand new album by chanteuse Nedelle Torisi. This is her eponymous debut solo album (first one done under her own name). Nedelle’s been making music for a time now, as a back-up, a collaborator and being one-half of Cryptacize and as a member of The Curtains and some on-and-off touring with Sufjan Stevens.

On Nedelle Torisi, she brings things back, full circle, to a stripped down, soulful album that brings a pared-down rootsy style of R&B basics; this effort strips things down a bit, going back to a simpler, yet powerful influential background.

This breakout solo album of Nedelle’s is in no small way helped by the help of her friend, “housemate” and now, producer, Kenny Gilmore (Ariel Pink), who did a lot to synchronize the knobs on the board in the studio to make the best of Torisi’s showcase debut.

Now, as far as the music, in general, on Nedelle Torisi, it’s full of shimmering, romantic, lush pop songs. But I don’t want to leave it at “pop” because that is such a broad term and a lot of times, to a lot of people, a pejorative term. Besides what one may call “pop” is heightened by great production that puts love songs, songs of introspection and plaintive calls of frustration due to the limits of depth in a saccharine society. This was done with layers of atmospheric waves, a chanteuse crooner that, when you close your eyes and lose yourself into the music, brings a picture of a dark, classy nightclub, where she’s singing with plenty of emotion and a swooning intelligence.

It’s not “pop” music in that it’s going to be big with the kids, but rather a more sophisticated tugging at one’s heartstrings. Songs like “Double Horizon” really stretches out, like a svelte body in a resting position on a chaise lounge. Then, after that there are two songs in a row that are related: “Don’t Play Dumb”, which is basically a way of gently but sternly telling her lover not to avoid responsibility for mistakes, wrongs, etc. In other words: “OWN UP” – I’m not stupid and I know you’re not, so who’s kidding whom here? “Stop pretending you don’t know what is going on here!”. The song is a very velvet, shimmering song. After “Don’t Play Dumb” finishes up, then the album seamlessly glides into “Don’t Play Dumb Afterthought”, in which Nedelle finishes her thought and places the icing on this idea to where it shouldn’t have any more ambiguity. Two other good songs worth mentioning here are “Can’t Wait” and “Fool Boy”.

It’s easy for someone like me to – and 10 years ago, who knows, I might’ve been a lot harsher on this one, but I can differentiate the lush, crooning glitter of Nedelle Torisi from the bubble gum saccharine of prick-teasing trash like Britney Spears and the like.

Torisi is a grown up woman who has talent and the help of her good friend, the talented producer, the aforementioned Kenny Gilmore. It’s excellent as far as a “make out” CD. Or, just a romantic soundtrack to a quiet dinner at home with you and your lover. -KM.

Nedelle CD cover

microphones hot we stayed in the water cover

The Microphones

It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water

P.W. Elverium & Sun, 2000

Review by Kent Manthie

Way, way back in the beginning of the 21st Century, Phil Elverium’s music experience, The Microphones, put out an iconoclastic, archetypal CD entitled It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water. Thirteen years later, Phil is re-releasing it as a special vinyl release on his own label, P.W. Elverium & Sun. “The Glow” is one of the highlights of this beautiful album. Probably one of the best albums to come out in the past 15 years that you (probably) never heard. Created in the image of the Velvet Underground and their second LP, White Light, White Heat, It Was Hot… displays a real sense of Lou Reed’s artistic sensibilities. It’s, of course, not any type of VU “sound-alike”, but one on which you can hear their influence seeping through. And then there’s the fact that there are many who entangle their thinking of the Velvets with Andy Warhol, because of the early relationship between the band and Andy, playing at Drella’s fabulous Factory parties throughout the mid-late sixties. Andy, just like Lou, was the ultimate iconoclast, especially for the times. Warhol was only a slice of the complexities of Lou Reed’s brilliance – Reed’s always been a top-notch songwriter, a musician and was destined to be groovy and great, with or without Warhol. In the years ahead, Lou and Andy maintained a “come-and-go” relationship but the one thing that stitched the two’s work together was the backdrop of New York, especially Downtown, Soho, Lower East Side, Bowery and all that but inveighed with a rough romanticism. On It Was Hot… Phil’s Microphones took pieces of Reed and Warhol visions of urban depravity made beautiful, sympathetic and very romanticized. A catastrophe of sound sweeps up and gets re-purposed for a new generation, hungry for a new and deeper sound, a smarter pop music and a re-tooling of the so-called ephemeral. Even the deadpan singing that juxtaposed the sensitive backing music, Phil really channels Reed’s laconic survivor moods, bringing to the new age a remodeled, redone banana or Campbell’s Soup Can. The Microphones music has a mind-skating that picks up the low-key anti-establishment ethos that the Velvets weren’t necessarily known for, no, that idea was there, but in its attitude, not an overt part of their act. That is hindsight for you; but for those who are hearing It Was Hot… for the first time, you’re in for a real bang-up treat, a trainwreck that splashes catalogues of images in your mind.

It’s a great treat to be able to be given a second chance to get at an album that, I, for one, missed the first time around and, I bet, so did a lot of otherwise well-intentioned people. On “Drums” you get treated to more than just a “drum solo”, but rather more like a three-minute performance of a drum corps that is collaborating with a guy behind a drum kit. It has a march cadence to it at first that, in the end, switches to a mellowing out wrap-up of cymbal crashes and drum rolls. Onward, “The Gleam” is a guitar-heavy song with heavy feedback and distorted ringing ear-splitting guitar that overwhelms the vocals a little, but not too much. But, again, I must mention the 11 minute “The Glow”, which, since we were discussing the Velvet Underground, is the one tune on here that does have that laconic, intelligent, world-weary attitude that isn’t a copy-cat or a rip-off, but a tune that is a breath of fresh air, a void filled in where apathy and isolation live. One other great tune on here is “Something”; a 4.5 minute guitar noise/feedback song that overlays some delicate female crooning. The juxtaposition is what makes it such a grabber. Also, “Between Your Ear and the Other Ear” is reminiscent of Maureen Tucker’s vocalizing on such VU classics as the closing song on their 3rd album, the eponymous, black covered album, which is released after John Cale leaves and replacement, Doug Yule comes on board, “After Hours”. While “Between Your Ear and the Other” isn’t a replication of “After Hours”, it still has a ringing similarity.

By coincidence, or not, I do have another Microphones CD to review, which will be showing up soon, another “oldie” that’s miraculously been resurrected from potential obscurity to be introduced to a new audience and see where it takes it. I look forward to sharing it with you. Until then – keep digging for that musical gold! -KM.

[ps I apologize for the bad turnout of the printing (the darkened paragraphs) – hope you can still read it all right- km]

Crisp, Clean Shirts

Posted: September 1, 2013 in New Indie Music

The Dodos

Carrier

dodos cover

Polyvinyl Records, 2013

Review by Kent Manthie

The Dodos may not be the most familiar band to the average American, but, contrary to what some people think – that fame and selling a lot of records, at least not since the early 70s/late ’60s, when even the “major labels”, which is all there was back then, for the most part, were run by music people, not greedy business people who only care about selling product. Nowadays, though, things are so different: you have to build your image and sound around some targeted demographic, i.e. “boy bands”, Britney Spears, Justin Bieber (ugh) and, well, you get the picture. Talent and solid artwork that is made, not to sell widgets to teens, but to chisel a granite sculpture that doesn’t disintegrate or oxidize but, rather, in ten years, at least, will still be remembered and not sound nostalgic. I could name several great examples of what I’m writing about here, but I think you get the picture.

That’s why qualified music critics, in fact, critics going back hundreds of years to earlier literary criticism, social critiques and so on, can be important arbiters and pathways to what, after reading a cogent argument, are fine points to argue that, to people who are hungry for more than banal, saccharine sideshows that fill one’s head with apathy and a homogeneous looped track of beats and hooks that are almost metaphors for the unoriginality and follow-the-leader attitude of much of Americans today.

It’s in this vein that I want to trot out the Dodos. These guys are part of that rare breed that make it seem easy. They put together, with a lot of finesse, poetics and straight-up musical talent, albums that transcend simple labels which are usually products of lazy, derivative pop schlock. And, in another corner, you have theatrical manques who think that artistic novelty – over-the-top shock, carnival-like circus sideshows with guitars and drums which, in maybe one in a thousand acts, turn out to be silly, goofy stuff that only works when the bright lights and floor shows are carrying the music. I’ve found that one important definition of a song that can be a timeless and unforgettable one is a tune that can be just as compelling whether it’s backed by a “full” rock band or whether it’s just done by one guy with an acoustic guitar and maybe a harmonica and perhaps a tambourine or a couple bongos.

This brings me to The Dodos. They’re new album, number five in their discography, Carrier is another in a line of wonderfully-written songs. It, necessarily, can’t stay static, style-wise, forever, which is why a lot of hardcore Dodos fans may not recognize this as being a “typical” Dodos release. But, hey, this isn’t a static world. Things change, people grow, artists, whether musical, literary, painting, sculpting, etc, don’t want to stamp out the same thing over and over and especially, after one gets to reflecting on what they’re doing, realize that you can’t just ride the wave of what you’re expected to do forever, fans are fickle – they might love what you’ve been doing so far, but what happens when a new band comes out that isn’t that different from you but tweaks a few things and then – whammo – you’re bumped back to state fairs, etc. So, a new path was taken on Carrier. This is a more focused album. The environment of Carrier is immersed in whispered, fluffy, white clouds of atmospherics and a hushed, but meaningful vocals, singing electric lyrics.

One very meaningful thing that affects this album is the fact that The Dodos most recent addition, guitarist Chris Weimer, ex-Women axe slinger, died at the very young age of 26 in 2012. He had just joined The Dodos a year earlier, in 2011. Even though he isn’t featured on Carrier, Weimer’s influence and input haunts the new album. Weimer was a Canadian – a native of Calgary, who joined forces with The Dodos who call The Bay Area (the greatest place on earth) home.

Some of what I’ve read regarding Carrier so far has a problem with the beginning of the album, for instance, the opening track, “Transformer”, which, for me, was a perfectly fitting song. Other tracks that stood out including “Substance”, “Relief”, “Family” and “Destroyer”. All oceanic movements – calm seas of textures, swaying back from crest to trough.

The two other principals of The Dodos, singer-songwriter, Meric Long and percussionist Logan Kroeber are still going strong. As the saying goes, “The show must go on…” and so it shall. We all miss you, Chris Weimer. RIP.

To be honest, I’m really not that familiar with The Dodos, except that their name and reputation precede them, but I’ve not been exposed to their older, beginning stages and I really wish I was. It would make it so much easier to compare Carrier with what they’ve done in the past. But, going by what I’ve read from others, I’ve gotten the notion that they’re a creative force – hell, they’re from the Bay Area, especially San Francisco, where the head-on collisions of cultures – whether it be gastronomic, musical, performance art, etc. It is one of the most iconoclast-friendly places around and it’s no wonder that a lot of eras blossomed there – one need look back to the 1960s, for a good example: look at all the great music that came out of that relatively geographically small city, where neighborhoods abut each other, sometimes overlapping them, like North Beach’s proximity to Chinatown.

Keep your eyes out for The Dodos to come to a town near you in the near future. I’ve always thought that the best way to really judge a band’s quality is to see how they match up on stage versus their work in the studio.

I’ve enjoyed what I’ve heard, which is making me ‘curiouser and curiouser’ and am tempted to seek out the beginnings of The Dodos. If you are not one of the main fan base, I suggest you do the same.near future. I’ve always thought that the best way to really judge a band’s quality is to see how they match up on stage versus their work in the studio.

-KM.