Archive for December, 2013

Come Back, Spot!

Posted: December 30, 2013 in New Indie Music

The Poles

The Merman/The Pest 7”

Self-Released, 2013

Review by Kent Manthie

A truly loud, fast and raw sound, The Poles, who come from Vancouver, B.C., Canada, are breaking in by busting through the front door, so to speak. This self-released seven-inch that has just been put out, 1). “The Merman 2). “The Pest”, is a good sneak-preview of what’s to come for these West-Coast of Canada rockers. Vancouver’s supposed to be a cool place to live, great weather, great people, laid-back lifestyle and pretty modern as well, that I’m surprised there’s not a bigger music scene there, at least past the local legends, etc.

Anyway, the first cut, “The Merman” starts out with a loud, “hey man, dig me!” kind of vibe. In fact, in a weird kind of way, their deconstructed methods and fierce independence reminded me a bit of early Sebadoh/Sentridoh, before, uh, Bakesale, I’d say (Lou Barlow may have been the critics’ darling and is a good musician/songwriter, etc, but it was Eric Gaffney that really gave the early stuff much more of an edge than their latter stuff, after Gaffney left the band).

“The Merman” keeps on going too; even though The Poles have a kind of hardcore dynamic, their songs aren’t all 2 minute musical manifestos. Instead, they put more into each song – strong production values abound, for one thing, I might add (not too “studio”, though; not taking away from the edgy, raw power of their sound, but just a clean background, not hissy or over-distorted. “The Merman” runs just over four minutes and “The Pest” is four minutes.

Some critics might just write this off, regarding it as angry, wired, raucous, riot-inciting neo-punk, but I think that’s too easy to do. One must, first of all, know how this stuff relates to other like-minded bands, stuff from back in the early 80s: original hardcore/punk stuff and learn to discern the quality from the quantity in the good writing abilities vs. hard, fast and lots of songs, crash & burn mentality.

I’m really quite intrigued now, to hear what’s in store for The Poles – are they working on a full-length? Have they been touring around? How wide a radius from home do they tour? (Here’s a hint: come down to Southern California!) Can’t wait to hear what a long-form CD by The Poles will be like. I just hope that sometime soon SOMEONE gets around to putting biographical stuff on the internet and get The Poles (the Vancouver Poles, not the North Carolina Poles-whom I’ve never heard of) on there so word can spread through the web community.

Well, but for right now I’m happy enough with what I’ve got – but with the expectation that mores-a-comin’. I also LOVE the DIY approach to releasing your albums on your own and having to deal w/your own distribution, etc. It’s more satisfying to be responsible for all that stuff to get your band up and running. If The Poles did get with an indie label, I’d hope it’d be with a small-time, “do-whatever-you-like” type of label.

All right, then – check The Poles out – and then, spread the word! Write things up on your blog, tell a friend, etc. For now, the only place I can direct you to for any word about The Poles is Bandcamp.com. -KM.Poles cover

INDEPENDENT REVIEW’s

BEST of 2013

Year-In-Review, by Kent Manthie

I know that every music mag has their “Best of…” issue or column, etc. at the end of each year. It’s just another tradition of the end-of-the-year holidays, like last-minute Christmas shopping, employee Christmas parties and – the best for last: after-holiday sales.

At least one of the differences mine’s going to have from, say, something like a Rolling Stone or Spin “Best of…” editions. Then there are some I’ve seen in small, locally made music press that does have some name-recognition in your city – where they go around to various underground/indie record stores, clubs/bars w/music, people who play in local bands, et cetera and get them all to write up what they’re favorite releases for that year are.

No, I’m not asking anyone’s opinion, since if any of them want to make their favorites known, they can do that!

No, this is specifically the opinions, wishes, subjectivity, etc. of INDEPENDENT REVIEW as well as Kent Manthie, who writes it (and hears it) all down.

I went through a rough draft of something like this yesterday and I tried to make it a “Top Ten” list, since, usually, that’s the nice round number people settle on to make their “rankings”. Well, I tried that, and found that, to try and make all the impeccable, impeachable, unique bands/artists that were miles above the rest who presented with a new release in 2013, I’d have to really stretch it (at least at first, if we were going down the list in order – 10 being the rear and getting to #1 meant that you were the “#1 record – at least in my opinion – for the year). Even just getting 10 of these albums that were SO fantastic that I was transfixed, blown away, had never heard anything like that or it took me back to a better time, erased all the blasé crap going on around me now, was hard – I knew that, to make a “Top Ten” I’d have to pick at least 3, maybe 4, maybe 5 that didn’t really belong there, but because I had to make a “Top Ten” this is what happened. So, I’m just going to flesh out my picks and damn the count. If there are 3, fine; 4,5,6, also fine; but I’m only going to put down what was, in all truth, the releases of 2013 that really added something good, something positive and powerful to the world-at-large.

So…here goes:

  • Lemur: Lemur

  • White Fence: Live in San Francisco

  • Joan of Arc: Testimonium Songs

  • Owen: L’Ami du Peuple

  • of Montreal: Lousy With Sylvanbriar

  • Partner Artifact: A Form Contrast

  • Their/They’re/There: Their/They’re/There

  • The Finer Points of Sadism: Volume 2

  • Heliotropes: A Constant Sea 

This is a list of nine albums that were released in 2013.  It took me a while to come up with these particular titles, they weren’t put there in some quick, slapdash way, rather careful thought went into picking them.

These all have the distinction of being unique, in that no one else was doing whatever one of these guys were doing, at least at the time. They also are tied together by all being excellent CDs by bands whose creativity is empowered and enabled by the independence they enjoy by being on the labels for whom they record.

If you’d like to read the full review of each of these CDs, you’ll find them all below, on INDEPENDENT REVIEW. Just in case you want someone to condense it as far as possible for you, I’ll say that the first three picks are the best – In Order – Lemur’s self-titled instrumental album, White Fence’s Live in San Francisco and Joan of Arc’s musical score for an indie dance company’s dance project. The album is entitled, Testimonium Songs.

Hope you get the chance to check out as many titles on this list as you can – you will be satisfied! -KM.

Screambirds

Screambirds

Self-Released, 2013

Review by Kent Manthie

This is the new, eponymous EP by the amalgamated Americana band, Screambirds. By “amalgamated”, I mean the members come from different points between the South and the Midwest.

Johnny, guitarist and vocalist, hails from Huntsville, AL. To escape the stifling isolation and ennui, Johnny picked up the guitar and began writing and singing songs at the tender age of 10. Quoting here from their bio on their website: “Moved to L.A. at age 18 to become a struggling drunken homeless musician, until ’08 when started studying classical guitar, music theory, jazz violin & piano.” Now, I’m not quite sure how the latter changes the former in that L.A. story, but, I suppose just being around more musical people was a fruitful proposition which landed him in the right place at the right time.

River, who plays bass as well as a Fender/Rhodes electric keyboard, hails from Austin, TX. He too got the musical bug at a young age and “has been singing, writing songs & playing just about every instrument since a very early age.”

Mike, the mystery man, from “somewhere in the Midwest” is the “percussion master and manager, alongside Johnny”. That is a good thing – I know if I were in a band, I would NOT have a manager. I’ve seen plenty of documentaries and films about bands to know that managers are usually nothing but hangers-on who are really just extra baggage. Now, an “agent” is a different story. A good agent can get you and your band gigs and take care of your financial needs (just as long as the agent doesn’t steer you anywhere near anything corporate-owned), but a “manager” of a rock band is not a figure I admire. I mean, if you and your band can’t get yourselves to your own gigs on time and count your own money, arrange for lodging, etc., then you must be a bunch of dummies. Other than that, though, a manager is a waste of money and a lot of them are just crooks, looking to cash in on you and your band’s success, riding the wave of the financial success while not contributing anything that creates the success – they’re blood-sucking vampires who bleed you dry, rip you off and then abandon you when you start to falter, fame-wise. Who needs that kind of headache? Anyone can be a “manager”. And if your band can get along without one, then do it!

Anyway, getting back to Screambirds. This four-cut EP has a kind of edgy blues quality to it. It’s not slow or dark or dull, but filled with jangling guitars, sincere vocals, singing a brand of rock that would not be out of place at a local tavern, a place full of drinking folks, providing a just-right soundtrack. The first song, “Trouble”, is a mellow, but passionately sung ballad-esque tune about hard times. “Fallen Down” is a catchy number, one you can imagine dancing to on the dance floor at the aforementioned pub.

Screambirds have a distinctive sound – especially Johnny’s vocal stylings. He’s got one of those memorable voices that have a certain ineffable quality – there’s a plaintive, sometimes pining quality to his singing. It’s almost as if he’s serenading someone; he’s got an earthy, aching voice that is easily recognizable.

“Searching” is a subdued, sad song which shows off his plaintive voice well, with a sweet sounding backup. Then, the final tune, “Stabbing Hearts” picks things up, it’s an upbeat, indie love song, of sorts. The only band I can think of that reminds me of these guys is a band that was active in Minneapolis in the early-mid 1990s called Run Westy Run. I believe they had one hit that went national, had a video on MTV and all, but the singer was kind of doped up and they didn’t really make it far, but there was a period when they would, on a somewhat regular basis, play gigs around the hip parts of Minneapolis – the West Bank (of the Mississippi River), near the University of MN – Minneapolis. They played a lot at this little place called The 400 Bar. I remember going there a lot of times to see a number of bands. One show I didn’t make was Weezer, not too long after their debut album came out and they were already a big hit with songs like “Undone (the Sweater Song)” and “Buddy Holly” and my favorite Weezer tune, “Say it Ain’t So”. But, for some reason, they decided to play, what was, I heard, a jam-packed crowd at this small bar with a relatively tiny stage up front. I’m not a huge Weezer fan, but, it might’ve been kind of nice to see that show.

Anyway, so if you’re tantalized, then check Screambirds out. They have a website you can visit for more information and whatnot – www.screambirds.com. Enjoy! -KM.Screambirds cover

Techno – DAZZLE

Posted: December 18, 2013 in New Indie Music

Matthew Conley

Help Yourself

Review by Kent Manthie

The latest CD from Matthew conley is just out and it is a 5-song EP entitled Help Yourself. What we got here is a flavorful instrumental electronica batch of silky, spaced-out textures. A sort of sonic spacewalk.

It’s too bad that the CD ends after only 5 songs. Just when you start digging it, it’s already over. But if you are feeling edgy or stressed out, this 20 minute escapade will do the trick, bring you to a higher dimension. It starts out with the title track, one that has a sexy, feverish slickness to it. Not a fast, bump-and-grind dance track, but a slow, mesmerizing jaunt that gets your feet wet and sets up the mood. Then “Blowback” keeps it going, with a bigger emphasis on the beats.

This is definitely DJ music, something that would be good to throw on at your favorite club, downtown. Listening to Help Yourself, I can just imagine the kind of creative remixing that a good DJ could do with it. “The Hierarchy” has this sound, this feel to it that evokes images of an urban streetscape, late at night, when there’s no one around. If you’ve ever walked around downtown L.A. after 9 or 10 PM, you’ll know what I mean. Around, say, 5th and Los Angeles Ave there are a few cars parked on the street, but the whole neighborhood is deserted. It gives one this sense of walking around an empty movie set, made up to look like a street scene. That’s what “The Hierarchy” makes me think of. It’s also a lovely tune, with sampled strings, horns and an echoing vibe that completes it. “Emerge” picks up where “The Hierarchy” leaves off and starts to bring things back to life a little. Like, when you’re walking these deserted streets and you suddenly come across a few people, on their way to or from some event. It’s got a wicked keyboard hustle to it. Funky. It’s jumping all over the place. But keeping a steady rhythm in the background with a blissed-out techno jam.

We end our little excursion with “Drone VI”, a suitable title and a fitting way to take us out. “Drone VI” slithers and shimmies; all synthesizers, it has a number of different programmed sounds that pick you up, as on an angel’s back and flies you through the night sky, dropping you off in your bed. It’s only 3 minutes, but it’s very lovely.

Like I wrote earlier, I wish there was more to Help Yourself than just five songs. Conley could’ve gone on for another hour, like this. Anyway, here’s hoping that we’ll get that opportunity when he makes his next CD. I hope this was just a sort of “trial balloon” that he floated to see what sort of reaction he’d get. Well, from here, it does seem to have life. So, yes, it was worth it and there should be more.  Matthew Conley Help Yourself Cover

Brand New Artifacts!

Posted: December 17, 2013 in New Indie Music

Partner Artifact

A Form Constant

Self-Released

Review by Kent Manthie

Remember Jacob Sackett?  How ’bout The Finer Points of Sadism? Does that ring a bell? Well, that’s another of Sackett’s projects. …Sadism is a more experimental-sounding, noise-drone outfit, where Partner Artifact is a bit more “accessible” – that is, if you’re prone to squeamishness and hate cacophonous effects.

Partner Artifact is a collaboration between Jacob and Ashley Sackett. Jacob sings, plays guitars, drums, “rhythms” and synthesizers, while Ms. Sackett provides bass, steel guitar (not just for country music anymore!!), she also has her hands on the synthesizers as well as “circuit bent items”, which, for the uninitiated, is basically where you can get some freaky, unique sounds from sources that were never meant to be utilized as such. These include taking apart things like transistor radios, boom boxes, old Casiotone keyboards; the possibilities are as wide as your imagination.

Don’t let the 10 songs on here fool you – the total time of the CD is only 27 minutes, so I don’t know whether to call it a very short LP or an EP with a lot of short songs on it (2-3 minutes). Whatever, it is, you get a taste of Jacob’s Nick Cave/Ian Curtis-like voice, a booming baritone dripping with cynicism and dark humor.

The opening and closing tracks are the longest ones on A Form Constant – #1, “Sus” is 4:17 and #10, “Fishing Spot” is 4:25. Fitting, that these two are bookended by shorter pieces like “Dental Dam Fricative”, which is a slick tune, piqued by a trippy synthesizer groove. “Chemical Cough” starts off with a stiff beat and brings in a riffing guitar; it reminds me of post-punk at its best. One of my favorites, “Epsilon”, is one that sticks in your head well after the CDs over. I say “fitting”, describing the first and last tunes because “Sus” starts the album off with a jagged, distorted guitar cut that is the departure point for A Form Constant, with the guitars going on and on underneath a sea of a sonic poisonous cloud. “Chameleon, Too”, the next tune has I higher level on the vocal track. Some of these songs sound like they could’ve been a lost Joy Division song, if it weren’t for the more modern instrumentation of the music, but the attitude is there.

On and on it goes from there, going down the list of tracks, one by one, never boring, never repetitive or aloof, but a voyage through a sea of toxic madness. Which takes us all the way down to “Fishing Spot”, the closing track, which, instead of just pile driving, is a brilliantly put together song. It has elements of Husker Du as well as Bauhaus in it. Midway through, “Fishing Spot” does a little speed up and goes berserk, then comes back down and rumbles through with some bitchin’ drumming and a sort of “encore” quality to it – as if they know that their listeners are going to be happier going out with a bomber rather a firecracker.

For those of you who like the whole circuit-bending, avant-noise thing and those long, interminable flights of fancy, you should check out the Finer Points of Sadism catalog. FPS does more of the experimental, long-form, tweakage, while Partner Artifact is a nice change up for FPS’s fans’ little brothers, etc. They are all over the internet, but don’t seem to have a website of their own; a “home page” as it were. But you can easily find their stuff on places such as thefinerpointsofsadism1.bandcamp.com/album/full-of-hooks or soundcloud.com/thefinerpointsofsadism, although the latter is more for listening purposes – you can get a lot of their stuff as free downloads via Bandcamp.com, so I’d recommend going there first. Either way, I hope you enjoy the music! -KM.Partner Artifact CD cover

…’Til You Drop

Posted: December 15, 2013 in New Indie Music

Lemur

Lemur

Enough Records, 2013

Review by Kent Manthie

The first cut on Lemur’s newly released self-titled CD, “Chuck Norris” really says it all without having to say anything, really. What I mean is that at the start of the song there is a sample of a disembodied voice asking “Hey Norris, are you really as tough as you say you are?” and then after a few seconds of a surf-punk, guitar-based interlude, you hear Chuck’s voice come in and reply “Wanna find out?”, there’s a little more back & forth between them and then the song takes off – an instrumental jam that really shines. This isn’t the typical electronica sound of today, but a true indie delight – a rock-steady jam session with guitars, bass, keyboards and drums. As a reference, they have a slight similarity to Man or Astroman? with the intense vibe that their wicked instrumentals emit.

After that comes “Tsugumi”, a rambling instrumental discourse. But it’s “Iceberg” that is a real phenom: a seven minute kick in the ass of a tune; it really grabs you by the neck and doesn’t let go. The same can be said for the 8:50 “Kataphora”: it just goes on and on, but doesn’t get boring, it just keeps building and building to an intense height.

Altogether, there are 15 cuts on this eponymous CD, that run to about 83 minutes! That is a rather lengthy CD. You definitely get a great earful from this superb rocker. Other cuts that are worth mentioning are “Spikes and Nails”, “Cell’s Cleavage” and there are two cuts: “1775” and “1775 I+II” with “(The) Dust Song” in between the two. The final song is “Widmannstatten”, coming in at a little over 10 minutes.

This is a dynamite album. It stands out among many others that have come out this year. For a “Best Of 2013” list, I see mine getting longer all the time. This is definitely one album that is head and shoulders above other releases that have come out this year – including, and especially, fluff from major labels. But that should go without saying. The final cut on the album, “Widmannstatten” is a fabulous coda. At 10:18, the song is, well, “coda” isn’t really the right word for it. The song is more like a supercharged, intense, roller coaster ride that just rocks. Towards the end and also what brings this tune back to earth is a great keyboard solo, played on, what sounds like an old electric piano from the 60s. In fact, the sound reminds me of Richard Wright’s early playing in Pink Floyd, on their debut,Piper at the Gates of Dawn and the follow-up, A Saucerful of Secrets. It’s not as full-bodied as Ray Manzarek’s keyboard with The Doors, but the tinny, but really groovy playing is just perfect for this – after a long journey into outer space, we finally begin our descent and this mellow keyboard comes in and facilitates it, bringing us to the conclusion.

When we get towards the latter part of the Lemur, the instrumentals (for example, the aforementioned “1775” and “1775 I+II” get a bit more complex; some are slowed down a bit but no less intense. What it starts to sound like, though, when it gets to this point is, as opposed to the Man or Astroman? sound, is a little more like Sonic Youth and the artsy-noise rock that they are masters of. “1775 I+II” especially, at 8:40, is a guitar-heavy, slowed down but also beat-heavy meandering sort of jam that is not unlike something you might hear on a Sonic Youth album, circa 1990-96. The music just keeps building and building up, up, up to a crescendo of insanity, but a “premeditated” insanity.

Lemur is an instrumental rock band that formed in Lisbon, Portugal ten years ago (2003). They’re made up of Joao Brandao on guitar and bass, Joao Marques who also plays guitar and bass, Vasco Furtado on drums and Pedro Rodrigues who does a yeoman’s work on both the keyboards and cello (if you listen carefully, you can hear a bit of strings on a few of the tracks).

Having the two bass guitars really adds to the intensity of their music; a lot of bands have more than one guitar player, but not too many have two bass players. It adds depth to the undercurrent of the textures of the songs. These guys have really developed into a top-notch band. Being independent, being “underground”, etc., can be a double-edged sword: on one hand, you’re not chained to some corporate leech label, who exploit you for all they can and when they’re through with you they throw you to the gutter. It’s always better to be connected to an indie label – of course, some are more famous than others, some have bigger budgets, etc and are thus able to promote their acts more, etc, but the independence still reigns and they generally do not interfere with one’s creativity in the studio or elsewhere. But, when you’re on a smaller label, you have to live with the fact that you’re not going to be super-rich “rock stars”, cruising down Sunset Blvd in stretch limos and flying around the world in Gulf Stream jets, etc. But, as tempting as all that can be, it only lasts as long as your band can make the deep pockets of the corporation funding all of this more money. Once your popularity begins to wane, you get dumped and thrown under the bus to make room for the “next big thing”. At least when you stay independent you are not only given free reign over your music, but you are left alone to experiment and do your own thing, without corporate lackeys breathing down your neck, you don’t have to worry about sloppily putting together the next album in time to avoid lawsuits because of soul-selling contracts with complex clauses that no one (not even your manager) bothers to go through (unless you’re lucky enough to get a smart lawyer to guide you through the process) that call for the band to make x amount of albums in y amount of time and if that isn’t done, the vulture lawyers come after you and try to undo what you’ve thus far accomplished. Eventually, if you go that way, you wonder why the hell you got into this whole thing in the first place. Why do you think so many “rock stars” (I really HATE the use of that term – and it’s even more disgusting since it’s become a cliché, referring to anyone or anything that has mass appeal) commit suicide or at least get out of the whole corporate merry-go-round? Anyway, the best way to keep bands such as Lemur alive is through word-of-mouth and these days, what with the ubiquity of the internet and “social media” (another term I’ve come to dislike), “word-of-mouth” can now spread far and wide via outlets like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and the myriad blogs out there that are worked on by just about anyone, since anyone has the ability to do so. Also, another way to get these guys to be noticed is by touring. The more live shows they do, the more exposure they’ll get, then, from that, you get more word-of-mouth spreading. So, remember the name – LEMUR. These guys deserve to be indie stalwarts. I hope I’ve contributed to their success at least a little bit. Now it’s up to you to get their albums, find out when they’re playing near you, go see them and give them your support! -KM.Lemur CD cover

WOW!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted: December 10, 2013 in New Indie Music

White Fence

Live in San Francisco

Castle Face Music, 2013

Review by Kent Manthie

All I could say was “OMIGOD” when I started listening to this live recording of White Fence, playing a gig (or, possibly a composite of gigs, edited into one live collection from a series of shows around SF, but, I doubt it).  I must say that I’ve not heard of White Fence before, but I feel cheated.  These guys kick ass.

Since 2010 Tim Presley, who had previously been in Strange Boys and Darker My Love, set out to create something – and that something was White Fence.  In 2010 Woodsist Records released their self-released debut album.  White Fence has always basically been the work of Presley, with his songs, his musicianship, his direction, etc.  This is a band that is so iconoclastic compared to today’s tired, cliched pop (yawn) and faux teen angst.  Tim Presley has tapped into a vein that has a very inspired sound.  The music is full of catchy musical phrasings and a psychedelic/garage-rock sound; the latter coming out of their raw, stripped down rock and roll chops. Not an electronic dance band or a crooning pop balladeer, Tim’s like a man out of time here – he’s either the messiah of a new rock and roll age or a sage, bringing back a great sound that’s been sorely missing in rock for some time.

In 2011, White Fence released their 2nd CD, entitled White Fence is Growing Faith. Tim hadn’t changed and the album had a lot of the same raw, intense spirit of the debut:  a trippy, goofball-induced tuneful template. The same year, White Fence also released their first live recording – on cassette – Live in L.A. on Teenage Teardrops Music and they put out a single, “Harness” b/w “The Pool” for Afterlife Records.  Do you see a pattern beginning to emerge here?  Tim seems to be swinging from label to label.  Anyway, Presley spent a lot of time in the studio after touring and such, since in 2012 White Fence came out with Family Perfume Vol. 1, in April, 2012 and Family Perfume, Vol. 2, in May, 2012, both released on Woodsist Records.  They also did a collaboration with fellow West Coaster, Ty Segall.  Hair came out in April of the same year on Drag City Records.

After all this, there was more to come – the next project was, at first, going to be a collection of unreleased White Fence tunes that hadn’t seen the light of day, but Tim changed his mind partway through putting it together and decided to make an album full of newly written and recorded songs, which was what Cyclops Reap became.

Although on the studio albums, Presley was a kind of one-man band, he was able to gather some collaborators and so, when they took to the stage, they were electrifying.  Unless you count the cassette-tape-only version of their Live in L.A., their first live album that was, at least, available on CD, was released in 2013, after a scorching tour, with a stop or two in the Bay Area.  They recorded a show they did in San Francisco.  I don’t know which venue they played at – but, having lived there for about five years, I’ve been to a lot of shows there – I’ve seen Sebadoh twice – once at Bimbo’s 365 Club and once at the fabulous Great American Music Hall, I’ve seen Meat Beat Manifesto three times – once at the Fillmore, once at Maritime Hall and once at, uh, I forget, actually – the Warfield, maybe?  Anyway, I saw Lou Reed at the Warfield, I saw Beck in Oakland, at the famous Paramount Theater and, I would never have gone except that a friend of mine had an extra ticket because the person who was going to go with him flaked out at the last minute, so I got talked into going to the Warfield (again) to see Marilyn Manson.  I’m not a big fan at all, Manson is the epitome of derivative.  Alice Cooper was doing that stuff back in the early 70s and doing it better.  Anyway, we went and the tix we had were in the balcony, but anyone whose been to the Warfield knows that it’s not a huge place and what was great about our seats was that our seats were in the front row of the balcony, right in the center, so our view was spectacular:  we could see the show perfectly from our vantage.  The one thing I’ll say for the Manson show, in its favor was that its theatricality was cool and done well which made for an entertaining show.  Oh Yeah – one other show I saw there – at the Warfield, was KMFDM, in December of 1997 – that was a really unforgettable show!  Well, I digress – what I’m getting at is that I wish I knew where this White Fence CD was recorded in San Francisco, because, chances are, I’ve been there.

Anyway, this is, by far, whether live or studio, one of the best albums of 2013; another one to go on my “list” of the best of the year, a list which I will put together pretty soon now, given that it is December already!  My god, the year went by fast!  Anyway, just in time for year’s end, I will go through all my reviews from this past year and take the ones that I said were one of the year’s best and whittle ’em down to a “top 10” – actually, I doubt it will take much “whittling” since I don’t think there were more than about that many in the first place!  But the thing to do will be to try and rank them in order of the #1 through the 10th best.

Like I said, this live one – Live in San Francisco to be exact, is my first exposure to White Fence.  I was absolutely blown away by it and now I’m going to have to seek out the studio albums that Tim did.  If I love this one, I’m sure I’ll dig the studio stuff too.  If you have any music lovers in your family or as a boyfriend or girlfriend, this might make a great stocking stuffer – whether they know White Fence or not.  This is the kind of thing that will definitely stick to you.  If you had to describe their sound to a friend or someone, I’d tell them that White Fence reminds one of the stripped down, raw bite of The Stooges.  As for more modern day resemblances?  Hmm…Maybe Sebadoh, circa 1990 or Dinosaur JrTim Presley pic, circa 1988.  But it is definitely worth your time and you will be thankful you listened.  Enjoy!!  -KM.

Squaring the Circles

Posted: December 10, 2013 in New Indie Music

Gruf the Druid

2 Sense Squared

Reviewed by Kent Manthie

The new CD by Winnipeg-based rapper Gruf the Druid, 2 Sense Squared is out now, available as a free download through Marathon of Dope (www.ugsmag.com).

It’s a half hour’s worth of old-school rapping: in other words, it’s not the over-stylized, overdone hip-hop, watered-down pop kind of rap, but a bustle of rhymes backed by some dope beats and inventively used samples (voices, sounds, bits of record samples, etc).

The first cut, “Sufferin’ Comfort”, which features Skratch Bastid, is not a bad start. It sets the scene for what’s to come: “The Salt and Seasoning”, “Driving Home”, etc. and then it ends with a mellow, chilled “Not o Canine” – all in all, not a bad day’s work.

Gruf started out as a member of Winnipeg’s Twisted Spirits, back in the early 1990s – so this guy’s been around a while. Twisted Spirits eventually morphed into The Frek Sho and in ’95 they had a single, “Patience”, for which they made a video that made it onto the rotation of Canada’s MuchMusic, which, it turns out, was a first for a hip-hop act. His next move was a collaboration with Pip Skid, one that worked out well, since both seemed to be into counterculture ideas and was influenced by an interest in health, of all things. The two formed a thing called Fermented Reptile, in 1999. After this, he started going his own way, releasing his solo debut in 2001, Druidry.

Gruf can best be described as an “abstract” rapper. He doesn’t have a particular message he dishes out in his lyrics or his image, he doesn’t get deep into political rants or social critiques or polemics, yet there is a bit of the individualistic in his work. Yet, one can also hear him rapping about the mundane; stuff like trees, plants and animals.

It’s been quite a while since his last CD came out – Hopeless (Peanuts and Corn) came out eight years ago. So this new album is a big thing for his fan base who’ve been waiting for something fresh to hit the streets. –KM.Gruf the druid cover

Wall-to-Wall

Posted: December 4, 2013 in New Indie Music

Meesh

Wall Carpet

Self-Released

Review by Kent Manthie

Meesh is a band hailing from Ithaca, NY, originally started by Mitch Chisholm. While Mitch put together the first couple Meesh albums, pretty soon Adam Hachey joined with Mitch and started jamming together in college, with Adam finally officially joining sometime in between 2012 and 2013. What is kind of a twist is that, after graduation, Mitch and Adam parted for a time, while Mitch did some traveling and doing the post-college thing, Adam was left to finish Wall Carpet, their latest. He did a good job of singing and guitar, with a bit of violin thrown in along with some odds and ends – Pan Flute, ukulele, some percussion as well as having his girlfriend, Jacky Munoz help out and do some great back-up vocals; she’s got a lovely voice. Wall Carpet is a mellow, acoustic, ‘not-folk’ set of quirky and inventive lyrical acrobatics set to a great, talented musical sound.

In an email, Adam mentioned that he wrote that Mitch definitely inspired the style of some of the tunes. He also arranged parts on here so that, when Mitch does return (and he is slated to come back and be on their next album) he’ll be able to sit in on these tunes without anything being changed or out of kilter.

Some songs to mention here include: “Modular”, which includes an overdub of Adam sort of singing over himself alongside Jacky; the tune works well also because of the articulate picking of the guitar that, sometimes, on the album, can be mesmerizing. “Watching Clouds Through a Window” and “Rest Easy” are other standouts. The former is kind of a journal entry of lyrics, a kind of list of things he’s doing and needs to do, among some observations. This one also has a few strains of a keyboard. The latter (“Leaf”) has a catchiness to it; the harmony that Adam and Jacky provide sounds great. They sound great harmonizing as well as taking turns; “Leaf” is a bit more of a personal thing (introspective?) But its guitar, as on the other tunes, just keeps things moving in its tricky sort of way. The violin on “Modular” adds a nice, bucolic touch to it – a normal violin-with-bow, plus pizzicato plucking of a violin dubbed together.  It all transfers together into a fantastic sound. As I mentioned – Adam is singing different lines that each kind of overlap each other – they’re all mathematic notions, thrown out there in an irreverent way. Then there’s “Heights”, where it picks up a little, that acoustic guitar has a subtle ringing to it. It’s a treat. One other one I have to mention, is “June 9th”, another example of where Adam does the overdub thing, overlapping some of his lyrics with his own, while relating a personal sort of diary-esque lyric.

But really, each song is unique in its own way. That is one way Meesh stands apart – the uniqueness of their sound. As I said, it’s acoustic and a most of the tunes seem to be in a major key, but it’s not folk. It’s not lo-fi, as far as comparisons to other bands of that label sound.

I can hear that they’d make a great act at a cozy club someplace. Not a huge venue, but an intimate setting. The thing that keeps me in suspense, now, is waiting for the return of Mitch Chisholm, who, when he returns to Meesh, will have his own personality to add – musically as well as otherwise. But the fact that they’re all friends should make it all that much easier to accommodate. I can’t wait to hear the next Meesh album, which will, I’m assuming, feature Mitch. That feature will have the effect, alone, of setting down a new and somewhat different album, not a redux of the same old same old, not that I’d expect that. For more info and to inquire about getting Wall Carpet, go to www.bandcamp.com/album/wallcarpet and you’ll be taken right to the page for the album and be able to listen to various tunes from it as well. Hope you like! -KM.Meesh cover