Archive for August, 2015

Owen/Into It (Split EP)    

Over It

Polyvinyl Records, 2015 

Review by Kent Manthie                                                                            

                                                                                                            Owen-Into it Split EP cover

A brand new set of tunes, emerging on this split EP, which is a joint effort between Mike Kinsella (aka Owen) and Into It. The EP is Over It, a collection of four tunes, two of which were written by Kinsella (“Poison Arrows” and “Poor Souls”). The latter two are Into It songs: “Local Language” and “Anchor”.

All four songs fit well together in one way, and that is that none of them are over three minutes long. But, beyond that, it’s quite easy to tell the difference between between the Owen songs and the Into It songs: Owen was his usual, introspective, sometimes melancholy or mournful, other times yearning, a hopeful, positive spin on what is to come in life.

Into It. Over It. is the brainchild of Evan Weiss, he of bands such as The Progress, Stay Ahead of the Game and Pet Symmetry.  For a split EP collaboration like this, these two are a great fit:  Ever since he branched out into solo territory, after being in the band that started it all, Cap’n Jazz, to Owls, American Football and appearing sporadically on some albums of his brother, Tim’s band, Joan of Arc, Mike kicked off a solo “career”, albeit one that gave him plenty of latitude in terms of when he wanted to do it and when he wanted to play with another band or artist.  Thus was born Owen, Mike’s alter ego.  Owen isn’t a band; Mike plays most, if not all the instruments and sings:  he’s got a great skill for both drums and the guitar and, knowing the guitar as well as having a sense of rhythm, playing the bass is not a hard job, either.  Anyway, since the early 2000s, Kinsella has put out a number of albums under the Owen moniker:  There was the “eponymous” (Owen) album, from 2001, then No Good For No One Now a year later.  An EP came out in 2003, The Seaside and then, in late 2004, in my opinion, anyway, Mike-as-Owen put out his best work:  I Do Perceive, a hauntingly melancholic as well as chilling, beautiful and hypnotic sort of collection of journal entries worked into songs.  Beautiful and introspective stuff like “Note to Self”, “Playing Possum for a Peek”, the confessional and also favorite of mine, “Bed Abuse”, which is just a brilliantly beautiful song.  A year or so later Owen was back with, what I think was his last really great album:  At Home With Owen, which even featured a pleasant cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale”.  After that, every year or two, Mike would come back and put another album’s worth of music out, New LeavesGhost Town and L’ami Du Peuple to name a few.  They all had some shining moments of their own, true, but and like I said, it’s just my opinion, but, after the spine-tingling brilliance of I Do Perceive, the later works, good as they were, never surpassed I Do Perceive or At Home With Owen.  Although, they all had aspects of moving forward in life, reflecting Mike’s own changing and forward-looking life; he became a father just around 2005 or so, had a wonderful, soul-mate of a wife with which he shares his life now and isn’t the same, single man, the kind who, when alone, tends to sometimes veer off the tracks, so to speak.  So, following Owen’s career is a bit like following the continuing saga of Mike Kinsella, but in a deftly written, poetic way.

As for Evan Weiss, I know somewhat less about this indie fixture in the Chicago scene.  I do know, though, from what I’ve heard, i.e., he, along with Mike Kinsella and guitarist Michael Frank, made an album under the name Their/They’re/There a couple years ago (look below for my review of their self-titled EP below).   So far, anyway (who’s to say whether they’ll get back together and make more music in the near future?), they’ve put out two EPs, both in 2013, an eponymous one as well as Analog Weekend.  I know that when I first listened to Their/They’re There’s self-titled EP, I was not instantly taken with it, a la I Do Perceive, which, incidentally, happened to be the first Owen album I reviewed, since the album came out in November, 2004, I got the CD itself in early 2005 and, it was on my second listening to I Do Perceive (I was still using a portable CD player -it would be another 8 months or so until I finally got an MP3, something which has really revolutionized the way I’m able to listen to music, at least when I’m out and about, as opposed to a big, bulky (in comparison) portable CD player or, before that, a pocket-busting, cassette playing “Walkman”-style portable stereo; I know “Walkman” is a trademark, a brand name for Sony’s version of their contribution to personal stereos: they were the first ones to come out with a “Walkman”, back in the early 80s, but, the name “Walkman”, not unlike, say, “Kleenex” or “Xerox”, has become such a ubiquitously used term and such a fitting name that after so long using the term “Walkman” to refer to portable tape players, then CD players, I just (and I imagine, many other people did too) got used to referring to any brand of “personal stereos”-which, you gotta admit, just doesn’t have the same descriptive use as the word “Walkman”has.  Anyway, so, as I was getting to: the second time I popped the CD, I Do Perceive into my CD player, during a time while I happened to be out walking, coming back from one errand I had to go to and on my way back to another, I put it on, it started off and, before the first song was over, I was just hooked.  Needless to say, the review I ended up writing gave a warm reception to the album; hell, it was almost as if I was writing an ad for free for this CD, even though, I wouldn’t have stooped to such cheapening prose.  But I did want to tell the whole world how great an album this was and, indeed, wanted to share its beauty, its graceful melancholy with anyone and everyone I could.

So, in that vein, I’ve got mixed emotions about Over It: Owen’s contribution as well as the terrific cover of “Poor Souls” that Into It did make up a great 1st half, but the 2nd half -well, two out of four songs, anyway, but, technically, that is half, nonetheless – just did not greatly impress me or “wow” me. Asked for a one-word description of Into It’s music, I would reply “adequate” – or maybe “sufficient”, not “necessary”, but indeed, sufficient. But, to be honest, I’m just glad that, even though it’s only one song -and one well-done cover of his “Poor Souls”, it’s nice to hear something “new(?)” from Owen. I just hope that, good as it was, the next full-length Owen album will be a more “driving”, or maybe “driven”, set of tunes, for instance, a few that could surpass the ones that weren’t so awesome on L’ami du Peuple”.

Anyway, do the right thing and check it out for yourselves! You’ll be enlightened. -KM.

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It’s Always Today

Posted: August 15, 2015 in Uncategorized

The Lovely Intangibles

Tomorrow is Forever

Self-Released, 2015

Review by Kent Manthie                                                                                                Lovely Intangibles tomorrow is never cover

Right off the bat I knew what I was getting into. A lush, fab, clear-but-fuzzy album that puts a spell on you. I’m referring to the new album from The Lovely Intangibles, Tomorrow is Forever. This came to me from the same guy who oversees The Lost Patrol, to whom I’m no stranger, having reviewed the past few albums of theirs. In fact, Stephen Masucci, from The Lost Patrol, is also in The Lovely Intangibles.

Anyway, Tomorrow is Forever is a dreamy, space-pop, “shoegaze” (as some call it), blissed-out album. It’s somewhat reminiscent of The Cocteau Twins and a less distorted Curve or My Bloody Valentine.

It opens up with a smooth, lush, green valley of a song: “No Amends”. It’s a shimmering, textured track that distinguishes itself right off the bat.

With the lovely voice of Mary Ognibene on vocals, Stephen Masucci doing multiple-duty on guitars, bass, keyboards and programming; plus Tony Mann on the drums and Michael Williams playing the 12-string acoustic guitar, there’s a lot to love here. “Shoegaze” is one of the more familiar labels given to this sort of stuff: it was Mary’s other-worldly, beautiful vocals which made me think of The Cocteau Twins (I guess there might be a little Elizabeth Fraser in her) first, as well as the sonic beauty that backs her up; but then, there’s a little bit of Cocteau in all of us, though, n’est-ce pas?

With Masucci on board with the L. I.s, there may be some out there who might expect this band to be close to The Lost Patrol, but while there are a couple similarities: one being that both have female lead singers, both have Stephen Masucci playing guitar and both have deep meaning behind poetic, fantastic lyrics, there is some difference: I wouldn’t, for instance, call The Lost Patrol “shoegaze”; I think of LP as more “Romantic”, soulful. Where Mary’s voice is atmospheric and ethereal, Mollie Israel is, well, maybe, a little more “throaty”(?) and, as I just mentioned about Lost Patrol as a whole, Mollie is a little bit more “soulful”, like say, the difference between Grace Slick and Marianne Faithfull (well, I don’t know, maybe that’s not a fair comparison, but it’s what came to my mind first, so I’m going with it).

Some of the songs I ought to mention on Tomorrow is Forever include, besides the opener, “The Dust Settles Down”, a down-to-earth, feathery, glitter-like consistency of colored – matter, then there’s the terrific title track, which puts a blissful feeling in your mid-section.

The whole album is just fabulous, so it’s hard to pick out a song or two that really stand out more than others. I guess, though, the more times one listens to it and the more one familiarizes oneself with it, one’s bound to get into a certain groove in which there may be a particular set of tunes – like, say, songs 4-7 or some such sequence. It’s definitely a mind-bending neopsychedelic journey – trance-missions, GO! -KM.

Haunted House Party

Posted: August 14, 2015 in New Indie Music

Exohxo

The Ghost is Clear

Self-Released, 2015

Review by Kent Manthie                                                    exohxo cover

Straight outta Seattle, Exohxo has something new to add to an already crowded scene (pop music): they’ve taken a sort of “left-hand turn” at the fork in the road between “same old stuff” and “renovated, spliced together genres” then, put them in a blender and out poured The Ghost is Clear: it is what Paul Constant described in writing: “Exohxo are a chamber-pop [italics mine] band you should know about; they’re experts at combining orchestral strings, forceful guitars and poppy melodies into something at once catchy and erudite.”

Hmm…well, now. I actually didn’t find that quote until after I’d already started listening to this very unorthodox, smart and skilled album. Being only six songs on it that add up to about 21 minutes, I suppose The Ghost is Clear would be labeled an “EP” – but what a tight-knit, smooth batch of mostly three-minute long tunes it is.

I kept mulling over that description Mr. Constant gave them: a “chamber-pop band”…I suppose the “chamber” part of it would be from the strings that are a big part of their sound and which can possibly mess with one’s mind, if they’re not ready for their pop mixed w/violins and cellos. But for those extraordinarily brave and forward-looking listeners, to whom experimentation and mixing things up for the sake of said is a quite beautiful thing, Exohxo is a force for good.

That said, let me take you through the songs on The Ghost is Clear: first, you have the opening cut, “Past Lives”, which starts off with a blissful hum of what sounds like a Hammond organ (?) -or a facsimile of one. Not only an organ, of course, but a groovy guitar that’s strumming away with a jingle-jangle and a straight-ahead groove. After the first verse the strings sneak in and, well, no, they don’t dominate it, but they do kind of take one’s ears off the guitar but they don’t clash at all or seem to interrupt; they just kind of meld into the tune. “Parting Shots” is a slowed-down, mellowly-strummed guitar hand-in-glove w/a violin (viola?) and a bit in, there’s a keyboard that first is like a piano-like sound, which later pops up in the form of that great organ again. Also, about the last 1/3 or so, into it, “Parting Shots” speeds up and works up to a great denouement, then reaches its end. “Up to Me” goes in a bit of an “Emo” direction.

Just as you’re thinking this is some sort of touchstone, though, the next tune shoves that thought over a cliff: “Same as Always”, staying with the “strings”, a detour, of sorts, like if you’re flying from, oh, maybe, Cleveland to some place west: maybe Los Angeles or Phoenix or Denver, and, since you wanted to save a few bucks, you got ticket for a flight that has a stopover in Nashville, TN. That’s a good musical metaphor for “Same as Always”: they stopover, have a few hours to kill, so they take a shower in some molasses & cider themed country music, with a side order of folk. Instead of the lush rains of string quartet-ish strings, we get a jugful of fiddle and an acoustic guitar which is happily picking up the rhythm and a slick rhythm- drummer’s using brushes on the snare. Cool.

The Penultimate cut on The Ghost is Clear is “You Can’t Know”, a somewhat melancholy, more guitar-driven (up to the last quarter of it, when just before they kick into the last verse, the violin and guitar work together to really light it up).  There’s a bit of reflection to it, maybe some introspection.  I’m only interpreting here, but, what I hear is a possibly heartbroken guy’s trying to “fake it”, like “I’m all right, nothing wrong here”, but -“hey, who does he think he’s kidding?”, the band seems to be saying.  Of course, that’s just one guy’s interpretation, so don’t quote me (well OK, you can quote me, but don’t use it against me, all right?).

Then, when we get to the last cut; the finale, “Trains that Look Like Towns” is an upbeat tune, kind of like, “We’re happy! We made it to L.A./Phoenix/Denver (Portland, OR?)” Even though the song is about Trains (that look like towns), it’s still kind of a “travel-themed” song, so there’s that angle to it…And, while getting there is “half the fun” as they say, arriving is the “other half” and, it sure feels refreshing to get off that plane -or train-in which you’ve been enclosed for the past few hours (or was it days?)

The “big picture” is that Exohxo, comprised of Danny Oleson on bass, vocals and violin; Jasen Samford, who plays guitar, sings and adds some percussion; Romi Dougherty on violin; Bill Nordwall, the keyboardist who plays piano and organ and Bob Zammit on the drums, does, indeed, have a “chamber-pop” sound. But, just calling it “pop” is short-changing their qualities, as they are far more than a mere “pop” band – strings or no. They have imagination, they’re not afraid to experiment, mix things up and do things their way and not the way that some guy(s) in a suit tell them to do it. Kudos to them for that! -KM.

Hi, Back in Brack

Posted: August 1, 2015 in Forecast: Fascist Future!

Hi all readers, bands, artists, labels, DIY-ers and other fans/review suppliers:  Sorry I’ve been kinda lagging lately.

I’ve just been away from my writing biz lately as there have been some extraordinarily big things which have consumed my time over the past 2 months.

I do feel awfully bad, though and wanted to write this little note, to let you know (hopefully you all haven’t given up on me – yet(?) – besides that, I also am trying to sort of re-invent -well, maybe that’s too strong a word- but at least, somewhat change the way I structure my reviews:  for instance, my favorite rock critic and one of the biggest legends of his time – (and he grew up in the same nowheresville town in which I currently, unfortunately, reside -that is, just for the next 2 months or so, until I move up, back to Northern CA): Lester Bangs!  He was one wild & crazy guy, though he was anything but “crazy” – he had a flair for the dramatic and a tell-it-like-he-really-felt, a take-no-prisoners attitude and who he was reviewing be damned (their record label too-especially when it was some corporate slimy major label-then, of course, back in the 70s, it wasn’t as bad w/the majors as it is today-then again, before you had the stable of indie labels you have now, there was really nowhere else to go). Anyway -there’s TWO things I’d like to change a bit about my reviewing: one is, I’d like to go back to the way I would write reviews when I was writing for other publications, where they wanted reviews that were around 300-500 words, which, was actually a good challenge for me, who loves to go on & on and then digress into other topics, tangentially related, but in being concise, I can stay focused on the album at hand; focus on the material within, introduce the band members, if need be or just mention some in passing.  That and I’d also like to be more aggressive, if I can put it that way: not be so middle-of-the-road.  Doing that, sometimes makes me feel dirty, as if I’d just tried to make a crappy album come off as being something that wasn’t “so bad”, when, in reality, it sucked!  The only thing that kept me from doing that was that I would be afraid of offending artists who’d sent me their work in hopes of getting it noticed.  If it was a new band that just needed to be given a bit of publicity, I wanted to give them a chance and just lay it out, what they did, etc.  But, if you read the older things, I never did really compromise my principles and actually “put lipstick on a pig”, so to speak.  I’d just sort of say what was there and who did it, etc as opposed to when I got a real gem of an album, Two, for example, the long-awaited follow-up to Owls, the self-titled debut by the Joan of Arc side project (Tim Kinsella, Mike Kinsella, Victor Villarreal, and, I think, Sam Zurick).  Two came out in March, 2014 and I put it on my list of “The Best Albums of 2014” -in fact, it was probably THE best album which came out that year.  Every song on there is a great song; Two is one of those albums that one has to listen to in its entirety, in one sitting -and doing so actually makes the time go by quickly, so it’s no chore.

So, there’s an example of something fabulous which I wouldn’t hesitate to foist upon you, the reader.   Unfortunately, in 2015, while there’s been some good stuff that’s come out, I can’t, the way I was able to pick out Two off the top of my head as an exemplar of that year’s best, but you can read through this year’s reviews and see what I’m talking about.

Anyway, in the next couple days I’m going to put up some new stuff – now, it may not be the long, drawn out reviews that I’ve been doing -but that won’t mean that it’s because I don’t like that album, it’ll be because I’m going for a new reviewing style: shorter and concise.  I will still, when it’s apt, deconstruct some worthwhile tracks on new albums, but am not going to go off on tangents.  That is a problem I have to stop doing.  It’s good for an essay on whatever that topic is but bad for an album review!

So – READERS:  Please be patient and don’t leave.  The best is yet to come.  I promise.

Hope your summer is going well, so far.  Where I am it’s been mostly sunny and really hot!  But inside my air conditioned place, I can work comfortably.   Anyway, I’m also going to try to get out more and go see more bands around town (San Diego area), something I haven’t done in some years, since I’m not right in the midst of a bunch of great clubs, like the Casbah, even the SD House of Blues (which, to its credit, has been hosting some great indie bands and so on) and the Irenic, the Soda Bar and whatnot.  I just need to start communicating w/various labels or the bands themselves or their “representatives” about getting review passes & photog passes, since, when I went to Joan of Arc’s SD show in May of 2012, I took some absolutely awesome pics – photos I still have & treasure for the spirit they capture.

Well, enjoy the great weather while you can – pretty soon “El Nino” is going to creep up and soak you through & through (buy an umbrella or 2)!

Thanks all you regular readers -and any new ones I’ve gotten lately!  I won’t let you down, i.e., no more will there be long periods between reviews as I won’t be overwhelmed by feeling that I have to write 1500 word essays, deconstructing each album and then relating it to some kind of social structure or other.

Peace, Out…KM.