Archive for November, 2015

Victor Villarreal

Sleep Talk

Joyful Noise Recordings, 2015

Review by Kent Manthie

The ever-busy Victor Villarreal has just put out another solo work, Sleep Talk. It’s another showcase of his own, where he can shine by himself instead of being one part of a quartet or trio. The last solo album we heard from Villarreal was Invisible Cinema also a Joyful Noise Recordings release.

Victor was present at the “creation”, so to speak: Cap’n Jazz were one of the new, the band from Chicago who, in the 1990s popped up in indie circles and made a big splash with their fuzzy charm. Victor played guitar in CJ during its relatively brief lifetime, the band which also introduced the public-at-large to the larger-than-life Tim Kinsella, his brother (aka Owen), Mike, Davey von Bohlen (who would, after Cap’n Jazz, go on to form The Promise Ring) and Sam Zurick rounded out the quartet. Their first and only real studio album, which came out in 1994 has the insanely long title,Burritos, Inspiration Point, Fork Balloon Sports, Cards in the Spokes, Automatic Biographies, Kites, Kung Fu, Trophies, Banana Peels We’ve Slipped On and Egg Shells We’ve Tippy Toed Over.

Anyway, it’s been a long, long (relatively, anyway) time since Victor Villarreal played guitar in the band which started it all (Cap’n Jazz) in a lot of ways, not only Joan of Arc and the various other Tim Kinsella-related side projects (Friend/Enemy, Make Believe and Owls, an awesome combo in which Victor played guitar, both on their 2001 eponymous debut as well as the long-awaited follow-up (Two), that came out last March (2014) and is spectacular; an absolute delight that one keeps listening to, over and over again. So, what I’m getting at, in maybe a roundabout way, is that Victor Villarreal is a really binding force in the bands he’s played in, whether it be the last two Joan of Arc albums: 2013’s Testimonium Songs, and also on the fabulous Life Like, recorded by the legendary Steve Albini (Steve hates the whole idea of “producing” -that is, a band should produce their albums. They made the music, they know how it’s supposed to sound.

Sorry, OK, back to Sleep Talk. This is a great example of Victor being Victor and not one part of what would eventually become a synergistic whole. In other words, on Sleep Talk he is strictly Victor Villarreal, great guitar player.

Sleep Talk begins with “Whoever Everyone Might Be”, a hauntingly mellow opener which sort of dusts off shutters covering a Man Ray interior inside. He is from the start, just killing one kindly on the guitar. He, so deftly maneuvers the fretboard that it’s almost like the difference between, say, witnessing a thunderstorm: you know, you’ll see the light the lightning creates, instantaneously, but the thunder, that accompanies the lightning because of that difference between the (nearly) instantaneously showing light from the bolt vs. that jet airliner-strength POW of the thunderclap – it’s the infinite invariable differentiation between the speed of light and the much, much slower speed of sound. Anyway, my analogy is getting away from me here: my point was that, you can be listening to, say, “My Halucidaydream” and letting your mind wander over the soundscapes, but, it isn’t (unless you are specifically on alert for it) hitting you right at the moment, it’ll eventually dawn on you that -hey this guy is really cooking on the guitar over there, so then, suddenly your attention becomes rapt to the crazy fingers of Victor’s – one who shows a quiet dexterity but also a quick guitar wit, if you will. A snaky, but tender, finger-picking-good, at times, but others, “Wade and Beware”, for example, which have a couple of chords which set a mood and then are shadowed by ringlets of the same key, circle around and will come back to the main groove now and again, from which to bring it onto a slightly different path.

Whether it’s the daydreaming set inside “Karoshi” or the album’s longest tune, the 7:02 “A Mad Dad Dash”, which has a title that sounds like it might be a more frenetic type of song, but really isn’t; rather it’s a slowed-down, reflective, somber, but not a dower, not too still – the ever-moving guitar-playing makes sure of that.

Basically, what we have in Sleep Talk is another chance for Victor to show off his chops as a solo artist and though we know he is a terrific guitarist, as is evidenced in his playing on the two Owls albums, over the past couple years in the most recent line-up of Joan of Arc, which, when I saw them live, in San Diego, at the Casbah, in May, 2012, was a quartet, with Tim on vocals/guitar; Bobby Burg on bass, Theo Katsaouris on drums and, last but certainly not least, Victor, who would now and then trade off with Tim for lead guitar duties, Victor really was the more dominant guitarist. And if you think that just listening to him play on Sleep Talk, it makes the guitar playing sound easy, due to the laid-back, almost effortless vibe emitted from the songs, well on stage, Villarreal does a live impression of “making it look easy”, by his mellow, unpretentious, almost shy presence, but which is belied by his wicked fierce chops that, if you’re up close enough to the stage, you can see his fingers, which seem to almost take on a life of their own, apart from his calm, cool persona, as they race up and down the fretboard, and give life to the songs the band is playing. Such is the dual persona of Victor Villarreal: nice guy, easygoing, mellow, while having this fiery intensity through which h e can really kick some ass, but without the “strut-my-stuff” antics; antics which, by now, would seem either like self-parody or insincere and Victor’s nothing, if not sincere.

Anyway, I hope Sleep Talk garner the attention it deserves. It would show once and for all that Vic’s not just a pretty face in a rock band, but a talented force to be reckoned with in his solo endeavors. -KM.victor-villarreal-sleep-talk-1024x1024

While Lichtenstein’s lovely 1964 painting, Nurse, was just auctioned at Christie’s this last week, going to a Chinese buyer for $120 million, putting it into the “over $100 million club”, along with such other greats as Picasso, Warhol, Munch, Modigliani and Francis Bacon, among others, I thought I’d give my readers a glimpse at a couple other of Roy’s groovy paintings.  One is In the Car and the other is Oh…All Right  (each one is pretty self-explanatory, so I found no need to differentiate each by title: their titles will be obvious).
One thing I’ve always loved about Lichtenstein’s work is the hard work and detail he put into these paintings, i.e., all the tiny dots that went into much of the color comic strips of which Roy did a fabulous job in capturing the essence of as well as the vivid colors that just jump out at you.  I do so hope that you will enjoy this as much as I do…-KM                                                                                                                                    roy-lichtenstein-ohhh-alright-1964roy-lichtenstein-in-the-car-c-1963

Beach Slang

The Things We Do To Find People

Polyvinyl Records, 2015

Review by Kent Manthie                                                                                   Beach-Slang-The-Things-We-Do-To-Find-People-Who-Feel-Like-Us-560x560

So, there’s this new band in town: Beach Slang. Their new album: The Things We Do To Find People has just hit the streets and news/reviews of it are popping up already, around the internet.

Anyway, the story goes that veteran Philadelphia punk-scenester, James Snyder, now in his mid-forties, has just reinvented himself with his new outfit, Beach Slang, which is a kind of new take on his proto- pop-punk band, Weston.

Snyder, being a sort of “elder statesman” of indie proto-pop-punk music, has come down from his perch, so to speak, to lead a pack of hungry new wolves, Beach Slang, who have a rocking, guitar-driven, fuzzy pop with a tinge of punk, catchy, rock grooves that, at first, well, caught me off guard. I guess, having been getting more, uh…let’s say “futuristic” or “neo-groove” indie music that was rock, for all practical purposes- hell, it’s all rock ‘n’ roll, just that there are so many subgenres- back in the early days you had this new sound of pop music which was a hybrid of old-time black-blues legends, like, say, Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, then later, greats like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Elmore James and, of course, the man, Bo Diddley – and everyone digs Bo Diddley.

With a sound that recalls the prankster-funny-young smartasses, Descendents as well as sounding like Beach Slang’s new labelmates, Japandroids and perhaps, as I read in one write-up, a bit of Springsteen (?)- I don’t know about that latter comparison, though, i.e., Springsteen, unless you’re talking about the “Boss’s” gift for erudite, Dylan-esque lyrics, as evidenced a lot on his debut, Greetings From Asbury Park, like, on the two tunes Manfred Mann covered, which were actually bigger hits for Mann, than for Bruce (i.e., “Blinded By the Light” and “Spirits in the Night”).  Then again, his debut was not altogether very well received, critically.  Eventually, The Boss did get into the hearts and minds of many fans and critics over the next few years. But, I digress.

Songs like the blistering opener, “Throwaways” has a great context: the audience: are they the “Throwaways” from the song? The ones being sung to? Inspired by it to not give up and learn to love the underground? Then there’s “Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas”, a a funky little trip that moves you, out from the box and into the sandbox. Keep listening and you’ll find out why it’s “Too Late to Die Young” or find about about how to “Ride the Wild Haze”, realize what it’s really like to be “Young & Alive” and how you’d better make the most of this stage in life, because, in 10-20 years, you’re going to have memories from this time of your life and, man, wouldn’t it be so much better to have the knowledge that you rode the dragon, so to speak, that you made the most of it? You’ll also be exposed to a “Hard Luck Kid” and someone who breaks guitars (“I Break Guitars”). And when you die, you’ll expect, if not nothingness, then at least a “Noisy Heaven”. So, go with the guy who knows, James Snyder his new band, Beach Slang. This will prove to you that, despite what you may have heard or felt over the last year or two, “indie” music is not a static, isolated style of music.

Well, so, just to make it clear: ever since psychedelia in the 60s, through punk, reggae, ska, dub, hardcore, post-punk, goth, metal, speed metal, etc and in the past 20 years or so, what’s come to be known as “indie” -meaning music made by innovative, inventive sorts who had no use for big corporate labels and their A&R jerks trying to control the music and steer it so it will sell a lot of records and make the shareholders happy – fuck the shareholders!! – “indie music”, which, is not necessarily any homogeneous style of sound; more of an attitude which says “we’re going to do our music our way and we’re not giving an ounce of control to anyone! And if you corporate pigs don’t like it – GOOD! There are lots of small, niche-driven labels that can accommodate us (and they have, they do!)”. And, so, while the whole label “pop-punk” may have negative connotations to some for its associations with awful, commercial-driven, almost hypnotized cats who wanted to get rich and famous and get lots of girls and buy fast cars -the music came second. I’m thinking of those cats who just wanted to get as much attention as they could before the inevitable blowout and the “who are they?” moments which would come sooner or later. Thinking of bands like Green Day (yuck) or Blink-182 (blecch!) (juvenile class clowns who managed to squeeze out a few catchy hooks but were never taken seriously by anyone other than the 14 year old kids whose parents bought them the CDs) or the dreck of the Good Charlottes, The Used, Rancid (yeah, they have about as much to do with punk as my grandma) and countless, forgettable others. In the indie game, of course, there are going to be those who come and go and may never get a big name or go far at all, but these things were not those kind of artists’ interest in the first place. They wanted to play music because they loved to play music. It was the catharsis, the rush of the stagelights, the screaming fans, the fact that there were scattered around the US, many “outsider” types, “misfits” or those who don’t conform to silly teenage bullshit rites.

That’s where Beach Slang comes in. An indie band, ready to continue in that fine tradition. Their full-on speed-rush music is a great tonic for the times when you, as a teen, for instance, come home from a stressful day at school, for example – other kids on your ass about “why you wanna dress that way” or teachers who keep pestering you to study more and memorize, by rote, all these figures, formulae and dates, which, without a context in which to utilize them, will quickly become meaningless. This is the reason for good history classes sometimes in better high schools – or “prep schools” or at least college, when you can put what you’re learning now together with what you can remember about the scraps of knowledge you gained in high school. I gotta say, though, that, looking back, from a wide vantage point, I realize now that I have taught myself a hell of a lot more from reading books of my own choosing or from TV shows on educational channels, etc. than what they attempted to inculcate into me in school.

Anyway, the beat goes on, as they say, and this record will, like its contemporaries, like Japandroids, for instance, move you in a way that you don’t notice, maybe the first time listening, but eventually gives you an epiphany after a few listens that grabs you by the shirt and screams – get it?? – and, what happens? You do! It’s a very pleasing situation to be in when that occurs. So – get out there and rejoice!! Stand up and take notice!!! -KM.  [To get to Polyvinyl Records from here, simply click: https://www.polyvinylrecords.com – K]

Rants on Fire

Posted: November 8, 2015 in New Indie Music
Tags: , ,

Boolean Operators

Rant Are Our Bones

Self-Released, 2015

Review by Kent Manthie                                                           Boolean Operators Rant Are our bones cover

Something new from fab indie band, Boolean Operators, is just out. It’s a 12-song album entitled Rant Are Our Bones. It’s another true indie delight: self-released, DIY, no interference with anyone anywhere – only their own imaginations and musical chops would limit them and neither seem to be handicaps for these guys.

With songs that average about two minutes apiece, Rant Are Our Bones doesn’t take up too much of your time. That is one aspect of music coming out over the past, uh…let’s say 10 years or so: as opposed to the earlier years of CDs and many bands use (or over-use) of the 75 minutes available to record, they’d take up as much time as they could so as not to “waste” any space. The result was, in many cases, albums which contained about the average vinyl album’s length of good stuff and then, after about 45-50 minutes, kept going, almost, it seemed, just to fill the space. This wasn’t true with every album, but I can recall a great number of CDs in the early 90s, for example, which just had, like, 14-16 songs, but really only had about 9-10 which were good. There were some that did make full use of all that space and made some albums which were good all the way through. But, over the past two decades, I’ve seen a lot of albums coming out that have reduced the length, back down to 40 minutes or an hour and so forth.

So it is with Boolean Operators: not too long, not too short; just right. It starts out with “Never Gonna” as its opener. A first track on an album should always have a certain something to it that grabs the listeners attention and pulls them in so they, e.g.,dig the groove and then keep on listening, waiting to hear more and more of it. “Never Gonna” is a good “hook” in that way. It reels you in and keeps you listening, wanting to hear what’s next. Like a good book that keeps you turning the pages because you always want to know what’s going to happen next, a good album can be like that too: you want to hear what’s coming next. “Never Gonna” has an upbeat, catchiness to it that is very likable and is a great example of the placement of that opening cut on an album: you really get into it.

“Tyron Woodley”, the second tune, has a jazzy feel, with a saxophone playing a crazy, post-bop freak-out with the rest of the stuff; it, too, is fast, catchy and fluid. “Poundcake” slows things down, but only a notch or two. The whole thing runs in at just under a half hour, but the quality of the tunes are such that you’ll be itching to listen to it again and again. When you’ve listened to it enough times, whether it’s twice or up to five times, its sound stays with you, some of the hooks or riffs can get stuck in your head and you might find yourself with one of them playing in your head and you won’t be satisfied until you get relief by playing the song on your iPod, PC or whatever you’re listening to it on. CD, tape, whatever.

“Rockstar” is another tune that stands out for me. When I first saw its title in the song list, I thought of the Sebadoh song, “Rock Star”, from their magnificent III, it is a killer tune. This isn’t a cover, though, it’s their own, original song and it’s great. It really grabs you (again) and after its two minute length, seamlessly goes right into “Hills”, which has a bit of noise-rock background to it, with some strange sounds going on in the background, underneath the guitar, etc. “How to Live Forever” has a beginning that almost sounds like something from the Cocteau Twins, but that quickly dissipates into something completely different and is, instead, a sunny romp through a candyland.

I could go on like this and just deconstruct every song. But, I’ll just say that if you get into the first half of it, the rest of it goes on in a similar vein and all of it is a great album. This plus the fact that they did it all on their own: no need for a producer if you’re knowledgeable enough about continuity of songs – song placement, etc. and so on, they seem to have all that down pat. And they certainly don’t have any need of some A&R jerk from some corporate label, injecting their “ideas”, trying to thrust things down their throat – not for the band’s sake, but for the idea of selling more records and making the company more money. No, that’s no way to make an album; no way to run a music label.

Oh, by the way, I’ve just got to mention another tune: “Gumming for Summing” is a real treat. It veers away from some of the other tunes, like “Hills” it has some “noise-rock” elements to it: some interesting hissing-drone sounds in the background. After that, “Self-Portrait With Horns” and the finale, “Stoned” both have a kind of Pinback (or more like, Thingy, Rob Crow’s previous project, before Pinback) sound and feel to them. A great way to end the album too.

I hope to hear some more from Boolean Operators soon too. Rant Are Our Bones is another great example why indie music is so much better than corporate crap: it’s just blissful all around; it also comes out in their music: the joy they feel in doing it their way and the satisfaction of getting their music out with no relying on any labels, big or small. Also, with the internet being a huge marketplace for music nowadays, bands of all kinds, but especially DIY bands, not hooked up with any labels, have just as good a chance to be heard as any other; a good word-of-mouth set-up helps too: playing live shows is a great way to expose your band and its music to people and have it available via the internet. Voila, no middleman needed!  Also, to get a copy of Rant Are Our Bones, you can visihttps://booleanoperators.bandcamp.com/ – hope you enjoy!   -KM.

Lou Barlow

Brace the Wave

Joyful Noise Records, 2015

Review by Kent Manthie                                                        brace the wave cover

For a longtime fan of Lou Barlow’s to be able to write a review for his new solo album, Brace the Wave, I feel kind of honored; either that or really, really lucky! I’ve been a huge Sebadoh fan ever since I first heard “Soul and Fire”, right after Bubble and Scrape came out. I also think the best Dinosaur, Jr. albums are the first three or so, especially You’re Living All Over Me, in other words, when he was still their bass player. I thought Folk Implosion was all right. Not as good as Sebadoh, but Lou and John Davis had their moments (besides seeing Sebadoh live three times, I also got a chance to see Folk Implosion play a show at the small, intimate Troubadour, in West Hollywood, on Santa Monica Blvd, right by the Whisky, the Roxy and the other famous Sunset Strip venues. As for live shows, I just missed his most recent, solo show, one that was part of a tour in support of this new album, he played in San Diego here some time within the last month or so; unfortunately for me, I couldn’t make it to the show which I really regret.

Oh well. I have here, a copy of the new Lou CD, Brace the Wave, which is a nine-song, acoustic, no-drums, album. It’s simple, but not simplistic. Its lyrics run the gamut from apathy to anger, but without being shrill or bombastic. Basically, the songs are classic Lou Barlow.

For those who are huge fans of the Sebadoh “lo-fi” sound which albums like their earliest full-lengths like The Freed Man, III, Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock and so on, Brace the Wave differs from that era in that it doesn’t have that electric/acoustic fuzziness and analogue surrealism to it, which was a different kind of surrealism than, say, Stereolab or Tortoise, more of a LSD-with-a-bottle-of-gin kind of trip: great melodies but purposefully done with that “recorded-in-a-bedroom” with only a 4-track mixer (The Freed Man, I believe, actually was recorded in the rooms where Lou and Eric were living at the time: their girlfriends’ apartment on the campus of the all-girls Smith College. Those of you who may have a hard time finding the original Freed Man can find it in a repackaged album, Weed For Sale, which combined both The Freed Man and their next effort, Weed Foresting. Instead, Lou has put out a record which combines his great songwriting skills that have been obvious since the good ol’ days in Sebadoh, with a confidence that seemed to be lacking in the earlier days, purposefully or unconsciously, and which was smeared over with the haze of the lo-fi recording buzz, but which, on Brace the Wave as with more recent work of his, is more clearly heard. But it’s also one that is all his; no Eric Gaffney or Jason Loewenstein, who, for the most part, with a song or two here and there from Bob Fay, made up a lot of the rest of the Sebadoh catalog or the collaboration he did with John Davis in Folk Implosion. On Brace the Wave it’s all Lou and he shows that, by himself, he can hold his own quite nicely, thank you very much.

It starts out with “Redeemed”, a song that, when I heard it, redeemed my faith in Lou. “Redeemed” sounds like a somewhat polished up, maybe a little matured version of an old Sebadoh tune – not any one in particular, it just has the kind of acoustic-based (and drumless! -no drums at all on this album) mix of melancholy and angst.

Brace the Wave is, all in all, a nice album to see accomplished. It shows Lou in a better light, than, say, when he shocked the hell out of me, for one, and got back together with J Mascis to do a new Dinosaur Jr. album and even do some tour dates with Dino. I thought to myself, “this is the guy, who, after J kicked him out of Dinosaur, Jr., wrote “The Freed Pig” (which is the first song on Sebadoh’s masterpiece, III) which is, basically, a big “Fuck You” to J Mascis. (Also, in my opinion, at least, I think the best Dinosaur Jr. albums were their first three or four albums, especially You’re Living All Over Me, which contains two Lou songs: “Lose” and “Poledo”). And there was also another, relatively recent Sebadoh release. But, as much as I love listening to III over and over again or The Freed Man or the Asshole EP, etc., any good band should know when it’s time to call it quits and not keep on for the sake of “keeping on”. Anyway, so what I’m saying is that, in this format, in a solo work, I think Lou has been able to be even more free than he might’ve been in the by-now-straitjacketed expectations of either Sebadoh or Dinosaur, Jr.

On songs like “Pulse” or “Nerve”, for example, Barlow can be heard to be playing music that he has written and written to please no other bandmembers or producers, etc., but to either bare his soul and lay it all out there, for all to hear and/or exorcise the demons which have been torturing his mind in the past.

“Wave” is a song that isn’t at all foreign to Sebadoh fans – or even those who are into Folk Implosion either. It’s a catchy, upbeat tune, which has, as its chorus, the title words: “brace the wave/brace the wave/brace the wave”. Though it’s “upbeat”, it’s a Lou Barlow tune, so, you know, it’s not “upbeat” in terms of being all sweetness and light! It’s a good lighthearted tune that goes with lyrics one who is familiar with Lou’s songwriting has come to expect.

So, yeah, if you’ve been longing for the Sebadoh of old -or even the best of the Folk Implosion stuff from the mid-90s, check out Brace the Wave and, well, embrace it! Also, for those interested: you can get more information on Lou’s album as well as purchasing info, and even a self-penned piece written by Lou himself. To be transported right to it, just click right here: http://www.joyfulnoiserecordings.com/products/brace-the-wave-KM.