1.30.2010

Morningbell - Feb 12 @ NWB

Morningbell will be at the New World Brewery on Friday, February 12th. My band, Gentlemen Please, and photogenic St. Pete-sters The Sun Society will playing too. Should be a lovely show. Hope to see you out there. As I've said a thousand times before and will probably say as many times again: Morningbell's new album, Sincerely, Severely, is fantastic. I would encourage everyone to give it a listen.

Also, remember that Morningbell will be recording a session for Grand National Championships that same weekend, to be broadcast on February 15th.

1.27.2010

Title Tracks - It Was Easy


Expectations from works past, previously-revealed artistic intentions and all the other shadows of memory play a role in the first impressions that albums have on people. It's inevitable. So I'm glad that I went into my first listen of Title Tracks' It Was Easy with absolutely no historical context. If I had realized this was the solo project of John Davis, drummer of the defunct dancy post-whatevers Q and Not U, I might have been too thrown off by the straight-forward tunefulness of the whole affair to appreciate the sense of songwriting craft that went into it. I was never much of a QANU fan. I had a passing acquaintance with them, and heard from more than one friend that they had once felt like I did until they invested a little more time listening and became full-time devotees. In all my attempts, though, I only came across a couple of their songs that ever got added to any of my playlists.

That's why It Was Easy is such a pleasant surprise. Whatever busy nu-funk I might have expected from the man responsible for the heartbeat of Q and Not U is absent here. The first similarity that these songs call up is with Ted Leo and his numerous antecedents. In the initial five seconds of the first song "Every Little Bit Hurts", a palm muted guitar and high-register syncopated bass line sound like the perfect bed for Mr. Leo's vocal stylings. Davis' voice, though, is lower and calmer, and slides between his chest and a clean falsetto without ever displaying a strain. The most consistent parallel that can be drawn over the course of the album is with the solo work of New Pornographers' front man Carl "A.C." Newman, whose first album The Slow Wonder is a textbook of pop-rock economy. Not only do the melodies and song structure echo Newman's sensibilities, but Davis' voice evens bears a striking sonic resemblance to the red-headed Vancouverite. It never feels like mimicry, but this is music that owes a debt to many points on the rock continuum. A distinct range of vibe is displayed through It Was Easy, from the bouncier "Piles of Paper", "Steady Love" and "Hello There" to the bare and echo-laden "At Fifteen" and the medium stride of "No, Girl", which made me think of the 60s two hit wonder, The Cyrkle.

On a slight downside, "Black Bubblegum" might have a chorus that's a little too sweet to hear too many times running, but the hushed and precise harmonies of the bridge makes it easy to ride out without ever getting the urge to skip through. Also, the copy upon which I based my review was missing Davis' take on The Byrds' "She Don't Care About Time", one of two cover songs on this album. Judging by the short and delicate, but faithful, rendition of "Tougher Than the Rest" by Bruce Springsteen, though, Gene Clark's Bach-infused work is in capable hands.

1.25.2010

Snack Truck - Spacial Findings 1-7


Richmond, Virginia's Snack Truck, or Snacktruck depending on whose literature you read, have two drummers and one guitarist/keyboardist. Don't get too hung up on the instrumentation, though. That would be missing the point of this release, which is densely layered enough to have one wondering how exactly it translates in a live performance setting. They aren't strictly a noise band, but they are noisy and moreover, guided by noise to create surprisingly melodic, intricate instrumental hard-edged rock. While it's not necessarily groundbreaking — which is what music of this ilk is ostensibly striving for — the 8 tracks of Spacial Findings 1-7 contain 27 minutes full of hummable lines and uniquely stuttering passages played by guys who obviously know their gear and understand the context in which their parts operate.

Equally represented alongside the pretty bits is the kind of simultaneously glitchy & sludgy hardcore-ish experiments that you might find on a collaboration between Fennesz and Dillinger Escape Plan. The majority of this less-immediately-compelling material shows up in the last two tracks, which, at 8 and 5 minutes, are the only songs to crack the 4 minute barrier.

In similar fashion to Battles, name-checked in their press sheet, and Maryland neighbors Oxes, Snack Truck manage a much higher idea-per-minute average than most groups, which isn't to their detriment. Each motive and motif feels like it has a chance to breathe and be noticed before it's swept up into the next inevitable hairpin turn.

1.22.2010

Liars - Sisterworld


Liars are very into concepts...or stories...or themes...or something like that when it comes to describing their albums. One of them was about the Salem Witch Trials. Another told of the relationship between two characters named Drum and Mount Heart Attack. The tales that weave through their work are never apparent on the surface and, with all due respect to them as storytellers, have little to no bearing on one's understanding or enjoyment of the albums as a whole. So, I've decided not to take any notice of the universe-building that may or may not have gone into their newest record, Sisterworld, and appreciate it on a purely aesthetic level.

Liars have a few speeds in which they operate, and two volumes: mink mitten and sandpaper-coated hammer. It's strange that a band with so few gears can express such a dynamic emotional range. They easily inject a sad vulnerability into the nasty, bottom-heavy riffing of the first single, "Scissor". A song that might otherwise conjure a polka-metal vibe, albeit stripped to the bone. A lot of the width of Liars' spectrum can be attributed to Angus Andrew's vocal delivery. He would never be called the world's best singer, but the drones of his slightly out of tune multi-tracking often reward close listening. The fluctuating beat rates of voices approaching and receding from unison can give the impression of countless other ghostly pitches to a patient and unbiased ear.

The most critically acclaimed of their recordings is still Drum's Not Dead, which rarely rose above a whisper when compared to the frequent bombastic moments found in their work before or since. The texture of the instruments and the acoustic space in which they were captured were considered the keys to that collection's artistic success (along with cover art that resembles an exploding 3-D diagram of a hamburger). But, Liars are at their best when they're flexing their collective rhythmic bicep alongside the raspy mewing, and in Fibonacci fashion, they've folded the lessons of previous efforts into the product of today.

The instrumental palette has opened up a bit for the band on Sisterworld as well. There are tense, short string interludes in "Here Comes All The People" and horns in "Goodnight Everything". The orchestration is not lush, though, or even particularly focused. Like most of the melodies on the album, they circle restlessly and if they do settle, they rarely leave you far from where they found you. I'll point to the chromatic bass line on the last track "Too Much, Too Much", which is pulled almost directly from Wire's "Practice Makes Perfect ". Maybe they're making an obvious reference because they know on which side their bread is buttered. Maybe they don't know any better, or maybe they do and they don't care. They may as well have written the simple phrase, though, as it suits their constantly seeking style, trudging along on a treadmill in over-sized shoes.

1.19.2010

Spoon - Transference


Spoon's recordings are sometimes about pure studio construction, and other times about live performance energy concentrated in rudimentary parts. But, in either case, the importance of every guitar upstroke or single piano key being struck is highlighted by the stark quality of their recordings. Present on their new album, Transference, is the Beatle-esque stereo separation and spacious quality that has been a part of their sound from the beginning. Although this album is talked about as the first Spoon album to be produced completely by the band, drummer Jim Eno has been a part of the engineering and production of every one of their releases. Consequently, the band's new found "independence" hasn't changed the feel of this new batch songs markedly from their last few efforts. It's still straight rock music, driven by energy that comes more from measured placement of musical phrases than brute force.

Since 2002's Kill The Moonlight, Britt Daniel's vocal parts have become increasingly detached from their accompaniment and subject to treatment by effects and editing. The Live at Stubb's concert set that the band released last year gave a nice snapshot of his current ideology toward the atmospherics of his vocals. Even in concert, one can hear that the delay and other effects applied to Daniel's vocals are meticulously controlled and only triggered on certain key accents. On Transference, that approach is evident in a song like "Who Makes Your Money", a tune whose persistent beat may have a kindred spirit in "Don't You Evah" and "Was It You?" from albums past. The vocal refrain is sung repeatedly over the instrumental vamp, sometimes falling out of rhythm while being delayed and re-triggered. Also, both "Is Love Forever?" and "The Mystery Zone" feature abrupt edits. On the former, the vocal is cut mid-yowl as the bands plays out the last few measures, while the latter stops short all together, again in the middle of a word.

There are many tracks on this album in the classic Spoon mold, like "Trouble Comes Running", which fits the bill right down to its ramshackle production. There are muffled acoustic guitars, fuzzy drums and bass panned hard to the left and a short stack of harmony vocals pushed high in the mix. Also, the album-closer "Nobody Gets Me But You" is one of a newer style of Spoon compositions that have been cropping up since Gimme Fiction's "I Turn My Camera On" -- driven by a funky rhythm section and dusted with fluttery bits of discordant keys. The only jarring spot for me on the record is "Goodnight Laura", a lullaby that seems to feature Kermit the Frog humming a wordless melody under the chorus. It's heartfelt piano and perhaps overly-close vocal seem out of place next to the rest of an album whose songs make their mark with a firm hand rather than a feather touch.

1.18.2010

Lightning Bolt - Earthly Delights


Lightning Bolt has split most of their time between tight structure and free improvisation throughout the 5 full-length albums they've released. Their latest, Earthly Delights, is somewhat more rooted in the organized end of the spectrum. Although, within their most organized riffage is still plenty of pure random chance, coming mainly from the piercing high and bowel-shaking low feedback that's a part of all their recordings and performances. Brian Chippendale's drumming and Brian Gibson's slightly non-standard bass execute a perfectly coordinated assault during their most energetic moments.

Together as Lightning Bolt since 1994, the two Brians have always made music that sounds suitable for soundtracking brutal and depraved acts. Chippendale has said before, though, that even though he doesn't want to have rules to what they do, they avoid sounding 'mean'. He feels it allows people to categorize them too quickly, and that they strive for a vaguer quirkiness in their sound. He can call it quirky if he wants to, but if I heard this music as a young child, it would probably have given me nightmares.

This album not a huge leap forward -- even the cover art could easily be mistaken for 2005's Hypermagic Mountain -- but it does take baby steps in new directions. For instance, the main riff of "Funny Farm" is pure chicken pickin', but it doesn't feel out of character for the band. And "Colossus" starts as a slow, sludgy bass riff that builds to their typical frantic heights. Not for a long time have they seemed comfortable displaying that much patience for such a low-energy riff. It's a sign of their attempt to constantly change the dynamic range of their music, in directions that aren't always harder and faster. It's still at it's heart visceral music, made more to influnce consciousness or physically punish than inspire sing alongs. In that regard, Lightning Bolt has few equals.

1.16.2010

Morningbell - Sincerely, Severely


Morningbell is a happy band, right? They're always smiling — at least every time I've seen them they have been. I've found that happy people are easier to be around. Life is too short to waste one's time listening to bitter windbags who constantly take themselves seriously, and musicians can be the windiest bags of all. This is a band that doesn't seem to get caught up in their art to the point of vanity and pretension. Even the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure conceit of their last album, Through the Belly of the Sea, felt more silly than indulgent. And, anyone who's been witness to the "$100 light show" that they put on at their live shows knows that a self-effacing demeanor is one of the ways that Morningbell present themselves as a band that you could proudly take home to meet your mother, even if they showed up wearing very funny hats. Now, just because they're a happy bunch of people, that doesn't mean that their songs are all about anthropomorphic lollipops and children being our future. It means that the music that they make is crafted lovingly and thoughtfully.

It's that love for music that permeates Sincerely, Severely. It's the work of a group with a healthy appreciation for quality across the commonly accepted boundaries of genre, if those boundaries still exist anymore. The production is more spacious and livelier than what I'd had in my head as the Morningbell sound, and the songs cover the rock spectrum from a standpoint of instrumentation and tone. I must admit that my first listening experience was dominated by my trying to name the musical inspiration for each track, and there's plenty of inspiration, or at least similarity, to be heard. I remember mumbling "Jane's Addiction" to my empty car when the chorus kicked in on "Marching Off to War". Over the course of the album, if it had ears my backseat might have also heard me saying, "Flaming Lips", "Marvin Gaye", "Jackson Five", "Born Ruffians" and "Tom Waits”.

Although there is no denying this album as being a product of influence, how deftly they've incorporated those influences into their own Funny Hat sound is remarkable. Whether it's West-African guitar music, anthemic modern rock, soul music of both the sexy and platonic variety, or a track that could pass as a re-imagining of the theme song to The Wire, it's very obviously Morningbell, glued together by powerful, rangy vocals and a palpable desire to keep expanding their textural palette. Get this album and enjoy it. Become one of the happy people.

Morningbell will be in session for Grand National Championships, airing February 15th, 2010.

1.10.2010

Monsters


Monsters are from West Palm Beach. Their personnel is purported to be: Matt Cutler, Ben Mendelewicz, Ross Whetstone and sometimes Michael Lauden. They play aggressive and melodic instrumental music using some combination of drums, guitars and keyboards. The tune above, and other 5 songs on their latest self-titled release, call to my mind the likes of Cinemechanica, Battles, and Alarma Man.

They've recently dropped the price of their new CD, complete with handmade packaging to a paltry $6. I would encourage you to pick up a copy of this lovingly crafted keepsake.

I'm also lobbying them to come up to Tampa to play a set for us in the WMNF Live Music Studio. So, if you'd like to see that happen, drop them a line and let them know that Grand National Championships wants to be in the Diamond Army.

1.09.2010

Palantine - Vital Organ Failure


Check out the latest from Palantine. They rocked out at the New World Brewery last night with Alexander & the Grapes and Clock Hands Strangle, and should be coming round the WMNF studios for a live session on Grand National Championships sometime during February. More details to follow.