Archive for June, 2014

Above the Underground

Sonder

Self-Released, 2014

Review by Kent Manthie

So – this is Above the Underground, come up from the bunker down below. Hailing from Chester, England, this quartet is a mirror image of their alt-pop brethren from the states. They’ve got a little bit of emo, a little power-pop, a bit “grrr angst” in there as well. If you’re into the Jimmy Eat World, Decemberists, the various Blink 182 projects, Braid, you’ll, no doubt, dig AtU.

Made up of four lads, Will KirkmSonder pican on vocals, Nick Barlow on bass, Brandon Icely on drums and Al Kirkman on guitar, they have this quite enthusiastic vibe that one can imagine jumping around onstage and running around, kissing the babes in the audience, etc.

They’ve just come out with their debut LP, Sonder. A collection of whys and wherefores. They sure have been a busy bunch of dudes, what with all that touring. It’s enough to turn a once-naive, young lad into a jaded, craggy, maniac, living out of suitcases and posh hotels for months on end! Luckily, though, Above the Underground has not succumbed to that unfortunate state (yet??) If you go to one of the usual spots on the internet, say, www.bandcamp.com or www.lastfm.com, etc. and you check out some tunes from Sonder and come away with a penchant for more, don’t despair – they anticipated you before this happened: this may be, as I wrote, their “debut”, but as I next wrote, it’s their first FULL-length CD (that’s what ‘LP’ means – or did, back in the days of vinyl, just after the Jurassic period – stands for “Long-Playing”, as opposed to ‘EP’, which means “Extended Play”). They started recording by doing an EP they called Autumns about 18 months or so ago. So, they have some material to kick back on and, when you check ’em out at a live show, you’ll be able to hear more original jamming than, say, added cover tunes to lengthen they’re gigs. But, even as they are masochists for touring (see below), they will, no doubt, be back with another recording in a short while.

Good, old fashioned teenaged rock & roll for the kids. As for the above mentioned heavy touring, AtU have been quite rampant: they’ve, so far, played well over 200 gigs in three years’ time and that even includes tours in the UK! The most recent tour was a 60 concert, two month tour of the States.

Not only have they been playing their own shows, they’ve also been out on the road with some other “heavyweights” such as Set Your Goals, A Loss for Words, Save Your Breath and I Call Fives; bands that I have never heard of, but I take the bio’s word for it that they’re “heavyweights” (which, I hope refers to their status/quality and not their collective poundage).

In the UK, they’ve gotten some press coverage in the venerable music mag, Kerrang! as well as Rocksound. Here in the US, they’ve gotten a bit of ink as well, in Alternative Press.

One song that stands out a bit from the rest of the power pop on Sonder is “Shine”, where they slow things down and go semi-acoustic, with plaintive vocals, as if the guy is pleading with his girlfriend to come back or to not leave or to at least listen to him when he’s talking to her. “Bring Me the Sun” is a riled up rocker that starts out with a hard and fast blast, then the double-bass drumming kicks in and we’re off for a wild ride. A couple other songs worth checking out would be “Weathered” “Cheer Up” and “Lavender Town Syndrome”.

Not the most original of bands, Above the Underground does have an apt name, at least it’s not false advertising! Wandering the streets of Chester, handing out showbills for their upcoming gigs in the local clubs got them to where they are now. Now, they just pray that those finicky kids don’t go and have a change of heart and start listening to retro stuff like Nine Inch Nails or Tricky. Check ’em out, give the guys a little of your time and see if they make you jump up and down, they way Superchunk (no musical relation) did when I saw them, way back in the 90s. -KM.

ATU band pic

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Alvvays

Alvvays

Polyvinyl Records, 2014

Review by Kent Manthie         LPjacket-final

In the beginning, back in the old country (Canada), in Cape Breton, two friends were determined to make music and get out of the stifling hamlet they were in. Molly Rankin and Kerri MacLellan grew up as next door neighbors, doodling with musical tidbits as youngsters: “fiddling about” with folk music and other native music. Soon came a breakthrough: they were exposed to paisley, neo-psychedelic, “alt-pop” bands such as The Smiths, Teenage Fanclub, The Replacements, The Charlatans (UK), maybe Inspiral Carpets, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and more.

Simultaneously, on a different part of the country, Prince Edward Island, a trio of lads, Alec O’Hanley, Brian Murphy and Philip MacIsaac were on a musical mission of their own, not unlike BFFs, Molly and Kerri.

As it’s wont to do, “fate” intervened and brought this gang of multi-gendered kids with dreams of music-making and playing, onstage, to adoring crowds, together and the result was Alvvays. They met up in Toronto and ever since these wily cats have been making lovely music.

  On                     : “Tungsten-tinted pop that glitters like sea glass.” And tungsten is more than just a hard, rare metal under standard conditions when uncombined. Though its melting point is the highest of all the elements, 20 times denser than water, comparable to uranium and gold and about 1.7 higher than lead, for which it is used as a substitute in ammunition these days. Tungsten, with minor amounts of impurities, can be both brittle and hard, making it hard to work with. But, pure tungsten is quite hard, more ductile and it can be cut with a hacksaw! Tungsten’s many alloys can be seen in light bulb filaments, x-ray tubes and as electrodes in TIG welding.

Quite an accomplishment for a simple, country element. The comparison are stunning when it comes to Alvvays!

Their latest, self-titled album starts out with “Adult Diversion”, a great, lively, dancing tune. There is no pretense to Alvvays. Their jangly guitars adorn their music like shiny tinsel on an Xmas tree.

The album starts out with “Adult Diversion”, a dancehall classic, in perfect rhythm and a verve that’s hard to ignore.

The beats are perfectly suited to a rock ‘n’ roll band: bombastic, perfectly-kept-time. The rock-steady drumming keeps it all rolling along with a rhythm that is nearly irresistible, a great anchor for their fabulous high-velocity tunes. The second song, “Archie, Marry Me”, which, I figured was a love song, a paean to that king of comics, Archie, of Archie Comics. Remember the recurring dilemma, throughout the comic’s life? He was torn between two lovers: Veronica, that conniving minx, who always sought to move the other one, Betty, aside, so as to have the Arch to herself. Then there was Betty, the beautiful, blonde, innocent girl, that seemed like such a nice girl. Not to say that Veronica was all bad. She, herself, had beauty – a dark-haired, exotic flair which aroused the spontaneous, wild side of Archie.

But, for all the girls’ machinations, it was Archie, in the end, who could never quite make up his mind. For, to pick one would be consigning the other to the “rejection” pile and we all know the saw about “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned…” Usually it is just that – an old saw, a wives’ tale, a silly saying, but now and then it does have a bit of resonance and in the comics, remember, anything can happen! Good ol’ Arch, may have had a good reason for not choosing, for the indecisiveness.

The next tune, “The One Who Loves You” seems like a continuation of “Archie, Marry Me”, with a similar sentiment. “Next of Kin” the one following, is another upbeat, danceable jingle-jangle tune, with this kind of Hawaiian guitar picking sound, a kind of wooden “ker-pick”, “ker-pick”, but still retaining the jangliness of the first song. There is also a second guitar which plays a kind of surf guitar sound.

There’s something almost timeless about this. I like it a lot – it’s not a dreary, angst-filled, long suicide note. It’s no “Goodbye Cruel World”, or solipsistic rant showing dark-souled, unfulfilled losers. No, Alvvays, is an upbeat album that is harder to come by in this age of poseurs and so much phony anger and faux angst.

When you get to “Party Police”, Alvvays slows things down a bit, like a great party that’s going fine until the cops come and bust it up, forcing the partiers to have to meet up in the park or over at Steve’s house. In other words, they’re making the best out of bad situations, which is more of what “Party Police” refers to (it’s not really about a squad of buzz-killing baddies). It’s actually got deeper meanings to it than that. I interpreted it as a song about those people in one’s life who seem to live to shoot you down, or wreck your mood, shine a light on your faults and so on, but, the moral is that, in the face of such adversity, you have a party and forget about your troubles, if only for a night.

The next song, “The Agency Group” also keeps the more moody, slowed down vibe alive. I’m no psychologist, but I’m thinking, maybe Alvvays is a dichotomy of sorts, in that, the first half of the album is a bouncy, carefree romp, the second half, is a thinking-dancer’s meditation on how to not hate the world because you’re boyfriend dumped you or because you threw up in the punch bowl at the prom.

Besides being a slower part of the album, the songs are still great. And one can’t expect (or want!) any particular album, sans a concept album and even then… to be a set of 10 songs that are basically variations on the same tune. “Dives” is a ballad that has a dreamy, lush tone to it. What I’m getting at is that to be remembered and respected (more), you can’t just make albums where all the songs sound the same. That is a sure ticket to musical oblivion. You need a variety of sounds, styles and subjects. You know the old saying “Man cannot live by bread alone”, well, it’s the same with music: people can’t live by cute pop alone, they need a smart selection of well placed, intelligent songs and not just willy-nilly, rather songs which reach out to the listener and be interpretable, so that they can be heard by a particular person and he or she can listen to it and think to themselves: “Gee, that song…they’re singing about my life.” “That is my love life,” or, “that’s my boss that they’re making fun of.”

The penultimate song, “Atop a Cake”, picks things up a little, a ringing number that gets you up, dancing again and in a musical, metaphorical sort of way, tells you: “see, things aren’t as black and ominous as they seem – things go in cycles and this too will pass, you’ll see!” Then the finale, “Red Planet” is an aptly named song – a dreamy closer that, instead of leaving you hanging where you are, takes you out to space and shows you how meek and small the earth really is and how banal and meaningless your problems and other people’s problems are. It ends by leaving you atop your perch in space (also metaphorically – you can’t sit atop a perch in space, especially without a protective suit or you’d explode and your blood would waft through space like a red roller rink, amidst gruesome body parts). But seriously, “Red Planet” is a great tune to end on, after all the joy and dancing and the creative thinking you engage in, mid-way through, you get to focus on the big picture.

This is a great album, seriously. Go to http://www.polyvinylrecords.com to see more information on it! -KM.

Alvvays pic

Stagnant Pools

Geist

Polyvinyl Records, 2014

Review by Kent Manthie    Geist cover

Just out, from Bloomington, Indiana’s Stagnant Pools is Geist, the follow-up to their debut, Temporary Room, from 2012. Temporary Room won the hearts (and minds) of the intelligent but angst-ridden (not faux angst like the weirdos who listen to Korn and used to think Fred Durst was some kind of genius [ha ha ha]). But where are they now? Living back at mom’s house? Selling insurance? Doing data entry? Hmm…

When I was getting into indie stuff, the first indie genre I got into was hardcore, back in the early 80s – bands like Black Flag, Minutemen, MDC, GBH, Subhumans, Misfits (after Glenn Danzig left they should’ve just called it quits, but hey, they needed the money!) and Naked Raygun, Bad Brains, Peter & the Test Tube Babies, Minor Threat, The Exploited, CRASS, and more. These bands were “hardcore”, a subgenre of punk, unlike plain punk like The Clash (in their early days). But later on I got into a variety of “alternative” subgenres – this was not monolithic: you had The Smiths, Joy Division, Bauhaus, then, after Ian Curtis killed himself & Peter Murphy split, there was Tones on Tail – briefly, while David J was fooling around in the Jazz Butcher, until he came back and Love & Rockets was formed and after Curtis died, Stephen Morris’s girlfriend, Gillian, joined up, playing keyboards and New Order was born. Then 1991 arrived and like an atomic bomb, “Grunge” arrived and Nevermind was a huge success (to the huge dismay of Kurt Cobain). Almost literally, overnight, Nirvana was a household name. At the same time you had Pearl Jam, Soundgarden (who’s first album I happened to hear over at this guy’s house where there was a small party going on – no one had ever heard of these guys yet, so when the guy who had the big record collection there said “Hey, dude, check this band out…” and put it on I was blown away. I thought, “wow – here’s a band that nobody’s heard of and I think they kick ass!” Needless to say, within a year, they were huge. Yamamoto had left as bassist, then Ben Shepard joined and the album that got them airplay was Badmotorfinger, with classics like “Rusty Cage”, “Outshined” and my favorite from the album, “Jesus Christ Pose”. That was a good album too. Unfortunately, they, like Metallica, cut their hair(!) – but at least Soundgarden’s next album didn’t suck. Superunknown was a good album – I just didn’t really dig “Spoonman”, but I LOVED “Head Down”, a kind of Beatle-esque, trippy tune, written by Shepard.

In the midst of all this, the rock scene (sub-genres and all) changed forever – never again would people who didn’t want to, be subjected to garbage like Motley Crue, Poison, Skid Row and the likes of them – they were dumped by the wayside by the greedy corporate labels with whom they signed. Hence, after that labels like Sub Pop, Rough Trade, Touch & Go!, TAAANG, Merge, Amphetamine Reptile and others emerge to bring music that mattered to people of good taste. But one of the best indie labels who was around long before this big change – from back in the early 80s – Greg Ginn’s SST was the granddaddy of them all (Ginn being the founding member of Black Flag).

So what does all this have to do with Stagnant Pools? Well, it is following a continuum that, at its core, has remained relatively unchanged, although there are all kinds of subgenres out there that would’ve never reached anyone’s ears had it not been for the MP3 revolution. Things like Dubstep, Grindcore, Drone and noise rock, etc. are all making the rounds of people’s social networks and onto their playlists, etc.

Stagnant Pools takes me back to the aforementioned days of the great bands like Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (and his Birthday Party), My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth, etc. Why? Because just listening to Geist you can hear elements of said bands – the cacophony of swirling guitars from My Bloody Valentine to the sonorous baritone, reminiscent of Nick Cave and also a little like a more recent band, Interpol.

Stagnant Pools is the creation of two Indiana brothers: Douglass and Bryan Enas. They’ve busted out of the Hoosier mentality and gone to a better plane of existence. You can see this quality in a lot of bands that don’t always come from either NYC, L.A. or the Bay Area. This is because they aren’t surrounded by a bunch of other bands who feed off each other and end up as similar as pie and coffee.

The opening cut, “You Whir” has a nice, wind-up start to the album. “Intentions” has a kind of Sonic Youth, vibe – raw, potent, it takes its time, like a slow-speeding bullet. “His Head Was Warm” sounds like Interpol with the Melvins as the back-up band. The closing tune, “Brute”, slows down a little and drags out a melancholy vision that can be almost described as anthemic, except that I tend to dislike that term, as if a rock song is somehow a call to arms or a rallying point. That aside, I dig the line “save yourself” that he’s trying to get across. That is the way to get out of this jungle of lookalikes, fakers, liars, Janus-faced A&R men and crooked managers: Save Yourself! Not so much in a selfish way, but don’t get dragged down by faceless demons who don’t care – only you and yours should get through the maze and, once out – don’t look back, take what you’ve learned, apply it and go forward, always trying something new: new media, which means new messages, new collaborations which can cook up innovative things that, though juxtaposed, complement each other. That’s the secret of survival in this cutthroat den of the music business: and whatever you do, stay away from the guy who says he’s going to make you a star. He’s nothing but a corporate lackey whose company wants to get a hold of you, chain you up, then chew you up and spit you out when they’re done with you. Always go your own way and don’t let people like that get to you or try to get you to change a thing. If you think that something you’re doing or have done is right, it’s right. And, if you have a fan base – they will respond – they are the ones to whom you should take heed. Go to the usual sites for indie/DIY music: Lastfm.com, bandcamp.com and for Stagnant Pools – you can get more information as well as ways to get their music from http://www.polyvinylrecords.com. -KM.

Stagnant Pools live pic

Waste Not/Want Not!

Posted: June 4, 2014 in New Indie Music

Waste
Detritus
Self-released, 2014
Review by Kent Manthie

What we have here is a five-song EP by this new band, Waste. But I tried and looked all over, but could not find anything about them on the web. Trouble is, when I try to search for these guys, all I get for results is different pages that have info on some hippie band called Waste Band, not this band. So I’m going to have to do this review blindly, so to speak.
About the coolest thing on Detritus is the last tune, which is not even by Waste, but Mikroben Krieg, some German, Swiss, Belgian or maybe Austrian band, with Waste having remixed it. “Sleepwalkers” reminds me a lot of old Front 242, back when they were good, i.e., No Comment, Geography and even Front by Front. No Comment definitely is my favorite Front 242 album – it’s really obscure, there’s no catchy pop tunes or dance numbers, just a lot of “in-your-face” blasting, from that Belgian band. Unfortunately, they as well as even this band, Waste and many other bands in between have got this label of “Industrial” pinned to them, as far as genre; bands like Nine Inch Nails, KMFDM, Pigface, Chris Connelly, etc. The problem is: that music is NOT “Industrial” – far from it. Ministry frontman, Alain Jourgensen, came out with a term that encapsulates those kinds of bands and the style of music they make: he coined the term “Aggro” to define that hard-driving, almost metal sound, except that bands like Ministry & the various noms de plumes they used so they could record for Wax Trax!, the legendary Chicago-based indie label that had a lot of great bands-they had early Front 242, KMFDM, The Legendary Pink Dots and, since Ministry had been signed to Sire Records (a division of Warner Bros), Al & Paul Barker and co. used the names Revolting Cocks and 1000 Homo DJs (I feel like there’s another one I’m missing, the name of which I’m forgetting at the moment) to be able to record for Wax Trax! w/o having any contractual difficulties.
Anyway, the thing is, “Industrial” music is none of those bands or anyone who sounds like that. The originator of what “Industrial” was was Throbbing Gristle, who really set the standard for that genre. The other band I can think of who fits that description is Whitehouse. I know there are more and also, the line between stuff like “Aggro”, “Goth” and “Industrial” can sometimes be easily blurred. But make no mistake – Throbbing Gristle IS Industrial. Take a listen to The Second Annual Report of Throbbing Gristle, a very dark, noise-filled experimental thing. It’s not for the weak or anyone who lives for catchy riffs and slick hooks. Actually, though, the last two cuts on Second Annual Report are as close to being “accessible” as it gets – the penultimate track being “Zyklon B Zombie” and the last tune “United”, which really IS catchy. For someone who’s not heard Throbbing Gristle before, I would suggest they start with their third (I think) album, 20 Jazz Funk Greats (it’s a kind of humorous, ironic title, but there are only 11 songs on it. 20 Jazz Funk Greats is what you might call the “more accessible” output of their oeuvre. With wickedly perverse, dark humored songs like “Persuasion”, the obsessive, stalking vein of “Hot on the Heels of Love” or the reflective “What a Day”. For someone new to this genre, it’s easier to swallow than three versions of “Slug Bait”, four versions of “Maggot Breath”, the 20-minute “After ‘Cease to Exist’ (the Original Soundtrack of the COUM)” and, of course, the aforementioned “Zyklon B Zombie” and “United”. After Throbbing Gristle fizzled out, the core of TG morphed into Psychic TV, which carried on in a similar vein, still thrashing about in the “Industrial” vein. Like I said, I know there are probably 100s of underground bands who are “real” Industrial bands, but who you’d never hear about on the radio (unless it was a indie college-run station).
But, getting back to the review at hand…Waste – this EP, Detritus started out with the song “Debris”, which was the first thing I’d ever heard from them, so I didn’t know what to make of them. The way “Debris” went gave me a feeling that they were metal – not cheesy, 80s pseudo-metal, but the kind of speed-metal, like Cannibal Corpse, Deicide, etc. but without the growling, guttural rumbling and the machine-gun double-bass drum attack. So, that’s the impression with which I started. But I just let it continue playing and the more into it I got, the less “metal” it sounded. But I really don’t know how to categorize them, except that they’re “rock” – when it comes down to it, pretty much everything can be reduced to “rock” – everything else is a sub-genre, some things are more of a sub-sub-genre, etc, but when it’s all said & done, it’s still “rock”, you know? Besides, the music wasn’t dubstep or ambient or noise-rock/experimental.
I guess it does have a bit of “metal” in it, but thank goodness, it wasn’t that irritating growling, where the singer has half the microphone in his mouth and is making his growl sound distorted and the Yngvie Malmsteen-style speed guitar and the machine-gun double-bass drums. No, instead of all that Waste has a dark veneer, but the vocals aren’t annoying, but rather the vocals are filtered through some kind of studio effect that gives it distortion. But instead of just loud guitars, bass and drums, there’s a lot of electronic effects going on that give the music a more interesting hook than it would otherwise.
After the first two cuts, “Debris” and “Tabula Rasa”, the next two are both different remixes of a tune called “I Sing the Body Electric” and the last tune, as was mentioned, was done by Mikroben Krieg and remixed by Waste. When we get to the two remixes of “I Sing the Body Electric” and the final cut of Mikroben Krieg’s “Sleepwalkers” remixed by Waste, I think that’s the best part.
I wish I had more information about who these guys are, but for now, I guess we’ll just have to wait until they get a website or at least a Facebook page or something. If your interest has been piqued, I’d say check out the usual places – bandcamp.com, reverbnation.com, or try and search again – but don’t get these guys confused with the other band that comes up when you do a search for “Waste (band)” (I typed in “band” so I wouldn’t get a ton of totally unrelated results that only dealt with the vast topic of waste. But – watch out for this other band called Waste Band -they are not the same thing.
Hope you can find them and when you do – if you like ’em, promote them on Facebook or some social media site. -KM.

 

Burroughs with revolver