Archive for February, 2016

 

Manatee Commune

Thistle EP

Bastard Jazz Recordings, 2016

Review by Kent Manthiemanatee commune Thistle EP cover

Out of the aether it fell, just about two weeks ago; I’m talking about this new EP from Manatee Commune, called Thistle, on the Brooklyn-based Bastard Jazz label. One look at the Bastard Jazz website, and you can tell that Bastard Jazz Recordings are less of a “Blue Note” or “Verve” type of jazz label, but more of a hip-hop, “urban” music gateway (I, personally can’t stand that tag: “Urban Music” -it’s like, “hey, wait a minute: I’ve lived in urban areas my whole life and I have been into so many types of music since I was a toddler and by now I’m really into almost- I said almost– anything, so, when someone describes something as, or tries to make a sub-genre label out of calling something “urban music”, well, it sounds just a little too phony, a little too, uh…,maybe euphemistic? As in, they really mean black-oriented, for the most part, even though more and more of hip-hop, etc. is made by people of all looks, all types). When you check out the various artists, you see that many, if not all of them are younger artists and bands who are not necessarily embedded in a strictly jazz ethos, but are nonetheless pushing musical boundaries and thinking forwardly, trying to set down something that can be seen, years hence, at least for the ones who are good and have what it takes to go the distance. So, bravo to Bastard Jazz Recordings for providing an indie context in which these guys can spread their wings, get their feet wet, whatever. It’s better than getting demo after demo sent back from some corporate label until you eventually “get it”, that they’re looking for something that’ll sell records, fill big arenas, and make money on the back end with merchandising, and so forth.

A local critics’ darling of the Pacific Northwest, Eadie piqued the interest of New York-based Bastard Jazz, having shown up with his string arrangements, synthesizers queued up and some other tricks in his bag. When the label gave him the go-ahead to jump-start what would become the Thistle EP, Eadie went ahead and put together this interesting assortment of the music that his fans up in the Seattle area had loved so much. He self-produced the album, with a good ear for the fluidity and continuity in creating his own brand of ambient/hip-hop/jazz stylings.

After the sort of somber opener, “Brick Orange”, we get an earful of a playful and loosened, kind of danceable poppish “Blueberry”, which is full of upbeat synth hooks and some cool-breeze rhythms. Then, on “Clay”, which is, incidentally, the first single from Thistle EP, Marina Price, one of the friends and cohorts Eadie asked to come down and provide their assistance. Then, two songs later, on the song, “Contain You” features another golden-voiced singer, by the name of Maiah Manser. Both singers add this sexy, chanteuse kind of vibe over the respective songs on which they appear.

Anyway, Grant has really, quite beautifully, blended an ambient sort of backdrop with this loosened up, jazzy kind of feel to it. The electronica of it is a real switch for a jazz audience. No freak-out sax solos or thumpa-thumpa-thumpa bass picking, instead, opting to use synthesizers, sequencers, some strings, and the baddest in bad ass drum machines and, no doubt, much usage of some computer music software, but, not in a way that makes you cringe, a la the eschatological, dead-eyed pop you hear on the radio; no, Grant is much more adept in a way that someone with some great chops can rarely fail to please.

It’s as if (and I don’t know this to be a fact, I’m just guessing here), Grant were just as big a fan of ambient heroes like Brian Eno, Jon Hassell, Harold Budd, Moebius, etc. as well as the continuation of the “free-jazz” style, but with one eye towards the post-post-avant-garde, something I read somewhere, in relation to something else, dubbed “apres garde” – that is a term I’d like to use more often.

Speaking of Jon Hassell, what a coincidence, because I just happened to listen to one of his albums, it’s an album with quite a long name to it, but it came out, just to be clear, circa late 90s and, my goodness – it was just beautiful! I was listening to it as a backdrop & at a couple intervals of not doing anything, I realized just how awesome this particular album was. So much so, that it got me in the mood to go through some of the other Hassell albums I have and, in a way, rediscover their beauty and more than that, the depth and the intricate, musical chiaroscuro.

Sorry, I did it again. Got away from the focus of the review. So, from what I’ve been able to glean from this album by Manatee Commune, Thistle, there is an admixture of blissful reverie made under the influence of electronic/ambient fashion as well as a mixing in of a looser jazz feel to it, one with sweet , tender melodious female vocals, a perfectly pitched, “big voice”, as opposed to one of your typical (temporarily) popular, “top 40”, “junk music”, i.e., the stuff one would hear if one listened to the radio, specifically, your average repeat-the-same-10-songs as many times as possible in any given eight hour period (especially between 7am and, say, 5pm).

One thing which makes Thistle EP so inventive, so spontaneous in its swimming from this end to that, etc. is that, besides producing this album himself, Grant Eadie’s also, besides playing so many instruments, invited as many friends and potential collaborators down to the studio as possible, to lend hands and many heeded the call, which, in turn, led to a flux of creativity which jumps all over – within some intended limitations and self-set boundaries.

I wish I knew more about Mr. Eadie and the iconoclastic, boundary shifting ambient-jazz with the vocal beauty, to be able to run down a bigger bio, but, being this is my first exposure to the guy, I’m hoping that there’ll be more occasions for me to indulge in his contemporary brand of “no-box” music.

If you’d like to get some more information on the man or on how to order his music, visit https://manateecommune.bandcamp.com/album/thistle-ep. or http://www.bastardjazz.com/artist/manatee-commune-2/ – a link to his page on the Bastard Jazz label webpage. Enjoy!! -KM.

Oh -and, P.S., his single “Clay” (the one featuring Marina Price) is also on sale and can be had at the same places you can get Thistle EP. -k

CLAY single pic

Flowers

Everybody’s Dying to Meet YouFlowers CD cover

Kanine Records (US), 2016

Review by Kent Manthie                                           

London’s Flowers have returned with their sophomore album, Everybody’s Dying to Meet You, out this month; out on Fortuna Pop! in the UK and on the Continent and on Kanine in the US. Their debut, Do What You Want to Do, It’s What You Should Do, was a subdued, shoegazers’ delight, in the vein of so many great but short-lived acts from the early-mid 90s, such as the ethereal vocals mixed with distortion-laden guitars, Lush, the “standard-by-which-so-many-later-bands-have-been-(fairly or not)-based, My Bloody Valentine (but with less ferocious, feral intensity), the angel-voiced Cocteau Twins, the blissful depression of Galaxie 500 and some other “alt-pop” bands that had 2 or 3 good albums, full of potential, but then by the second-half of the 90s, they’d disappeared. It wasn’t for a lack of ample magic coming from these bands, more of a complex dynamic, the result of an on-rush of so many extant sub-genres which, by, say, 1996, had made their way, bubbling up from the underground, so to speak, that, by 1999, you really had to have something far beyond the pale, as far as uniqueness and iconoclastic archetypal drive to be able to, musically, hit the listener in the head with a hammer – get people’s attention; no, not the friggin’ radio, ugh! I mean, the attention of the word-of-mouth clique(s) which had pockets of existence all over the US as well as it’s own differentiated version in the UK, which, eventually, made it over to “the Continent”.

Anyway, so, yeah, Flowers…Their new album, out this month, Everybody’s Dying to Meet You, a great title -it has this brash, not-necessarily inwardly-directed hook to it, but that it may, is kinda cool. But that’s really neither here nor there. The album starts off with the wistful sounding “Pull My Arm”, which has a light-hearted “tug-o-war” between that clean, ringing guitar sound and the guitar with the distortion effects at full throttle. I must confess, I like how the distortion of guitarist Sam Ayres blends so nicely with singer Rachel Kenedy (yes – Kenedy, with one “n”) and her beautiful ethereal, angelic vocal stylings.

All the songs have a nice groove to them. They can best be described, at their most elemental, as “pop”, but with several caveats. For, what, exactly, does “pop” mean? At their best, Flowers seem to seamlessly blend that “pop” je ne sais quois with a kind of “noise-rock” element; the sonic force of Ayres’s guitar work and the rhythmic sparseness which Hockley brings to the fore. Beauty stripped down, or Stripped-down Beauty? That’s a tough call. In fact, I think there has to be somewhat of a middle ground in between those two.

Flowers studio work is top-notch: the production has really brought out the raw, unspoiled natural beauty and essence of their work. What you hear on Everybody’s Dying to Meet You is a lot like what you’d hear from a stage, a live show; no hiding behind multiple over-overdubs, avoiding the temptation to polish things up to an almost impossible-to-recreate level.

For me, the part that really does it for me is the wonderful “Tammy”. “Tammy” has a great force to it. A rough, strumming, almost psychedelic brooding guitar juxtaposed with Rachel’s haloed voice, which, when she comes in, to sing verses, does so with the guitar turned down, a kind of break between the seemingly desperation of the lyrics, e.g., a call out to someone named Tammy(?) – where the guitar has this icy glare to it, with a warming rest when Rachel plaintively sings, calling out to Tammy. My other favorite on this album is the very next tune, “Russian Doll”, another song in which the soothingly grating, lovely guitar – meditate on that for a bit and you’ll understand what I mean – is enhanced or put in its place by singing so beautiful, it’s a treat to hear. The album closes out with a somewhat sad sounding piece, “Bathroom Sink”, which (the song’s title) itself can evoke multiple connotations.

Whatever happens, I really hope Flowers keep up this great give and take between Rachel’s sweet, atmospheric, angel-vocals and Sam’s writhing, manic guitar work, backed up by the powerful, but not overly bombastic drummer, Jordan Hockley, who may not stick out so much since he’s more of a time-keeper and not an “all over the place” Tony Williams or Elvin Jones-type swisher. They already have a number of tour dates scheduled for a limited number of cities – all the ones you’d expect plus maybe a few surprises. But, if you happen to be in one of these areas and/or have a way to get to any of the shows, I’d be very envious of you, since I, too, would love to see these guys play on stage, live, and I think they would pull it off quite nicely; just the three of them, with, possibly, a guest. Maybe a rhythm guitarist, to add some bottom to the sound or…? I can’t really think of anything else that could possibly be missing – except you, if you’re not in the audience!  Also: for more information and/or ordering info, check out http://kaninerecords.com/product/flowers-everybodys-dying-to-meet-you/

-KM.

Pete AstorPete Astor Spilt Milk CD cover jan 14, 2016

Spilt Milk

Sunny Side Records, 2016

Review by Kent Manthie

Pete Astor, a man, who, besides being a veteran of indie music, in bands such as Lost and Weather Prophets, has, of late, been dipping into academia by way of his post as “Senior Lecturer” at the University of Westminster, has come back (or not) to reclaim his title of indie-pop icon to, for one thing, follow-up on the fantastic solo album he did back in 2002, Submarine.

Astor a great songsmith, who writes from the heart and doesn’t get too fancified or highfalutin in his lyrics, but nonetheless really hits you there, has a new album, ready for release this month:  Spilt Milk.  For collaboration, he got his one-time student, James Hoare (Ultimate Painting, Veronica Falls) to help out on this new effort which some are saying is the highlight of Pete’s career, or at least one of his best.  Rounding out the album is Robin Christian of Male Bonding, playing drums.  

Spilt Milk is the work of a life-long musician, singer/songwriter, all-around interesting and nice guy, Pete Astor. This is a soothing, very tuneful album, chock full of nuggets; so many, in fact, that it’s hard to pick out the 2 or 3 best, without thinking that there was something you should have mentioned instead. In that vein, one almost wants to give a little write-up for each tune, just to make sure everything is covered!

For those to whom Pete Astor is already a household name, all the more power to ya! He can’t have been around lo, these many years and not touched anyone. I mean, why bother continuing making albums? I know of the idea of writing poetry or prose or recording/playing music for one’s own pleasure, but, obviously, that’s not what Pete’s doing. Anyway, for those long-time Astor fans, I hope Spilt Milk lives up to your expectations, if not surpasses them. Also, for you neophytes out there, here’s some pleasant, suave, hip, groovin’ grace that will surely get your attention, if not after the first listen, hopefully by the second or third.

One other thing, for you old hands, familiar with the music of Pete Astor, i.e., his work in Weather Prophets or Lost or his critically acclaimed solo album, Submarine, you guys may or may not get into Astor’s newer works, being so much more used to his older stuff, but then again, maybe this new album will get you re-stoked, and light a new kind of fire in your belly.  Whatever, it is, I would definitely not call it a “comeback”, even though it’s been a good 13 years since Submarine came out.  As mentioned above, Astor’s been biding his time in the past years by lurking about in academia as a “senior lecturer” at Westminster University in London.    

For those who are fascinated by the recording process, Spilt Milk was recorded in Hoare’s home studio, which adds a certain indie resonance.  The studio that one uses can sometimes, itself, become a factor in the final analysis of a particular album; say, if it was recorded in a bedroom, a shed, a church, or the typical studio that most bands use.   There’s just some sort of je ne sais quois air to it, something that may not be real or that others could understand after using the palaces that a “real” studio have to offer.  Indeed, but a lot of home studios, vs. a “pro-studio” often put the artists/bands into a more comfortable position. They’re not pushed and pulled or stressed out by time factors and are in a relaxed environment, not amidst a business, office type setting, which may not be what your typical recording studio seems like, but nonetheless, whatever it is, it’s not home, a place where you can, if you want/need to, get out of the studio space to get away, go to the upstairs/downstairs, whatever, to, say, the kitchen to rummage through the fridge, or maybe just lie down on the sofa for an hour, getting your head together, etc.  And, you don’t have the gigantic rates that a working studio charges!!

On “Really Something”, Astor starts out the album with a nice jangly-sounding poppish number. There’s a cool groove running throughout the tune. Next, “Mr. Music” sounds like an ode to one’s musical hero, or maybe one of those childhood figures, kind of hard to remember that much about, nevertheless, he had a big influence on the way you saw things, the way you interpreted certain aspects of everyday life; things that were, well, musical, in themselves, which earned him his moniker, “Mr. Music” in the first place and now that you’ve grown up, all these cool lyrics you come up with and the great hooks that flash before your eyes are remnants of the hold that old Mr. Music had over you; not a Svengali hold, but a subtle, barely consciously remembered influence and something you happened to be going through, something to do with childhood artifacts, made you think of this Mr. Music, which was the genesis of the song. Of course, that’s all just one reviewer’s imaginative musings.

I could keep going on and on, picking apart each and every tune on Spilt Milk. But, as I mentioned earlier, I’m not going to deconstruct each song on the album. I just want to share a few of what I think are the highlights of the highlights, since it’s hard to really pick out one and say “this is the best”, because five minutes later, you’ll be saying to yourself, “no, this other one – that’s definitely my favorite” and so on. Also, I want to ensure those out there whose interest have been piqued so far that there are some surprisingly fabulous songs on this album that are going to stand up on their own – with or without my building them up or trying to pick them apart to see what they’re made of. So, go now, and get a hold of Spilt Milk. It’ll be one of those “feel-good” moments you, well, since childhood, experience fewer and fewer of. In conclusion, Spilt Milk is a nice “be-here-now” kind of album, made in a certain mood that is not permanent, by any means (are any?) But it’s can be there for you, to give you that ineffable lift when you need it most. -KM.pete-astor 2016 pic

 

Kye Alfred Hillig

Great Falls Memorial Interchange, 2016

Review by Kent Manthie                                                             kyehillig_greatfalls_cover-300x300

A new year, new things to deal with, lots of resolutions made, lots of them already broken, new careers in new towns, sweater vests and dressing gowns. AND – it’s time for the next round of brand new indie music from all sorts of up-and-comers, old-timers, in-betweeners and even those obnoxious pre-teeners.

Well, today we focus in on Kye Alfred Hillig and his new album, Great Falls Memorial Interchange, which, in itself, is an interesting title. It’s evocative, to me, anyway of a drive through a kind of un-urban wilderness; maybe something you read on a sign while driving on an interstate, during a road trip to some far-off place.

Anyway, to get to the heart of things, Tacoma, Washington’s Kye Alfred Hillig is quite the versatile songsmith. His music has ranged, over the years, from punk, as a youngster, to surf-rock or possibly that surf-punk sound that is so catchy and had some great generators, one of the best I can think of is Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, but, of course, The Mermen are a great surf-y band too, although they tend more toward psychedelic-surf. Getting back to Kye, though, throughout his musical career, he’s gone from simpler stuff to more complex, poetic indie and into a sort of neo-folk-country-sheen. He started with his first band back at the ripe young age of 12. Over the years Hillig’s put out somewhere north of 20 albums.

For the past…well, coming up on 4 years (since 2012), Kye’s been going it solo. Last year saw the release of his well-received album, The Buddhist and, as of February 26 (2016), his newest album, Great Falls Memorial Interchange hits the streets. On Great Falls Hillig takes a sort of rural, scenic drive through the byways of in-between America; that is, the parts of the US that aren’t on the West or the East Coasts. In other words, Great Falls Memorial Interchange has a country feel to it that, for all its sincerity and lack of irony, still doesn’t come off as badly as the kind of stuff one hears at any given time, on one of those “new country” radio stations! Yes, when it comes to country (or “Country-Western”/”Country and Western”?) music, I have a slight affinity for the country music of an earlier time (but not too far back); singers like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings (somewhat), Buck Owens, George Jones and even a little bit of Willie Nelson isn’t that bad. But, after some point- I guess you could call it a “comeback” or maybe even (fittingly?) a revival(?) in the 90s, with the likes of Garth Brooks, LeAnn Rimes, Alan Jackson and so on, that was a bad deal. I do admit I took a small liking to Dwight Yoakam, I don’t know if it was his appearance in a few films or his countrified cover of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me”, but something about the guy made him likable and I just couldn’t help thinking he was an all right guy. As far as Kye Hillig goes, though, it’s hard to say – he doesn’t have that swagger of Johnny Cash, but nobody else did either.

As far as the songs on Great Falls go, there are some easy marks for country: the opener, “Always Leaving Early Deb Lake Tahoe”, the second one, “The Church Street Saint Leads the Marching Band for Truth”, “Almighty God Flaccid River of Sorrow” and “To Be Good”. Those would not be out of place on your average country music radio station, hell, they’d probably be better than most of the other stuff on them. One cut, “In Tandem” had more of a ring of folk to it; a soft, acoustic ballad which had a nice coffee shop vibe to it. Then there is “Whitney Houston”, which, believe it or not, is a paean to the dead pop star. One good, captivating line, around the :45 mark, caught me, a heartfelt shout out to an idol who’s gone away: “You went to the bathtub like a grave/And your poor daughter did the same”, a reference not to just the way Whitney was found when she died, but the fact that just a few years later, her 19-20 year old daughter, Bobbi Kristina died after clinging to life in a coma for some weeks. Even if you’re not one who liked Houston’s pop princess patina, Kye’s song is nevertheless a beautiful ode to this golden-voiced choirgirl-turned-pop-diva. One other song which I found quite beautiful was “Ancient Burial Ground”, a soft, quieted down tune which doesn’t have all the country trappings of the majority of Great Falls. “Ancient Burial Ground” is a slow, somewhat haunting melody that comes off as a kind of musical beacon for one, metaphorically, lost in a dark forest.

I don’t know if this is quite the thing that would be a hit with those who are really into most of the other bands reviewed here, but given the fact that Hillig’s an indie guy who’s been around a while and can do a wide variety of stuff, I’m giving the guy a break and saying “try it out”, expand your horizons a bit. -KM.