Friday, September 30, 2011

Old Stuff Friday - Good Stuff Friday: Guided by Voices Sound Checks, Then and Now

Posting these videos in celebration of the classic lineup's improbable and wonderful reunion activities. Bob is proof that the best gifts in life are the ones you wouldn't even think to ask for: in this case, 18 months of Guided by Voices lineup we had no reason to hope we'd ever see again...



REVIEW: Gardens - Gardens

Gardens is a punk/garage rock band from Detroit. They've recently released their self-titled debut album on Alive/Naturalsound and are embarking on a tour beginning October 18.

What they've got is talent and some intriguing song ideas: the opener, "Teachers", is vintage Detroit garage punk... the guitars are pretty primal, vocals snotty and the song really moves along. Here's the video:

Second song, "Ideas to Use", while still nostalgically primal and lo-fi, really slows down the tempo until it picks up about 4:00 in. The longer pieces on this record sound like Gardens has combined several song ideas into one song... a pretty sure way to hook a GbV fan like yours truly.

Download "Ideas to Use", here.

Some of the songs just move along on a true punk backbeat/bassline combination... check out "Alive in 5D" with its Stooges guitar lines (and some catchy, simple guitar solos), or this one, "Staring at a Line":

There are some goofily arty moments, like the spoken word/a capella intro to "Living American"... with echoes of some of George Clinton's proto-raps on old Parliament records. Then, after about a minute and a half of this, it turns into a garage rock raver. Here's a video of the song in live performance:

And just for a little more variety, the record closes out on a 4:14 keyboard-based bluesy number, "Morning Refresher". All in all, a very engaging debut. Not to make too much of the "retro" aspects, because there's plenty of variety in the tempos and sound levels, but the best moments on this record will definitely put you in mind of your garage/punk favorites.

Gardens Website (Record and Tour info)

The Soul Corner - "Dancing in the Streets", Martha Reeves and the Vandellas

In 1964-65, the country was being ripped apart by racial tensions and the South's bitter and violent resistance to the civil rights legislation coming from the federal level. And the young people of America were awakening to the horror of the Vietnam War.

Motown released a song that turned all that tension on its head, appealed to the best instincts of the young people in the US, and leveraged the unifying power of music.

"Dancing in the Streets" was just as important a political statement as Bob Dylan's protest songs, Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" or later more overtly political Motown songs like "What's Going On" or "War". And the song certainly set a stake in the ground for what Motown was all about. The new world order of racial integration was "a chance for folks to meet" - how wonderfully calm and understated.

"Dancing in the Streets" was co-written by a guy who knew a thing or two about soul songs and politics - Marvin Gaye.

The song essentially said -- You squares and racists have no idea how we kids feel. We aren't freaked about race like our parents and grandparents are. White kids and black kids can come together peacefully and have a great time. And our beats are so much better than any stuff you ever listened to. We're one nation under a groove where "there will be swinging, swaying and records playing."

In short, it was a clarion call for freedom.

From a musical perspective, the James Jamerson bass lines here were the total bomb, and those bass lines and the entire composition had a huge influence on the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield and pretty much any 60's musical artist that mattered. Even the Grateful Dead later covered this track.

Martha and the Vandellas' version of "Dancing in the Street" is one of 50 sound recordings preserved by the Library of Congress to the National Recording Registry. Lead vocalist Martha Reeves recently served as an elected member of the Detroit City Council.

I put this up today because Detroit is the city I was born in, and my beloved Detroit Tigers start the playoffs tonight against some team called the New York Yankees.

Can't forget the Motor City. All we need is music....

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cool Video Thursday

I'm not going to debate artistic choices for this video for "Bedroom Eyes" from Dum Dum Girls, but it is a good song off of a very good album, in my opinion. And I'm not one to complain about four minutes of looking at four good-looking women.

Do you like dogs? Jacuzzi Boys with "Automatic Jail"

Jacuzzi Boys - Automatic Jail from Hardly Art on Vimeo.

A bit of humor and a bit of murder in "Your Tomb" from Seattle's Craft Spells

CRAFT SPELLS - YOUR TOMB from aaron beckum on Vimeo.

"Twins", from Gem Club (Perhaps NSFW)

I can't really explain why I find this one captivating: "Bradley", by Ganglians

Ganglians - "Bradley" from John Hinckley on Vimeo.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Midweek Roundup: John Heart Jackie, Milk Carton Kids, Garrett Pierce

We find these things, we get these things, we'd like to share with you...

John Heart Jackie is a Portland duo which makes well-played acoustic folk with sweet vocal harmonies. Their latest album is We Are Gold Mounds (actually released in 2010), and here's a free download of the song "You've Been On My Mind" from that album.

They've released a new single and will be touring out West throughout October before going back to record for their next album:

10.06.11 - San Francisco, CA @ Viracocha
10.09.11 - Venice, CA @ The Compound (House Show)
10.10.11 - Los Angeles, CA @ Hotel Cafe
10.11.11 - San Diego, CA @ Soda Bar
10.12.11 - Tempe, AZ @ The Sail Inn
10.14.11 - Santa Fe, NM @ The Cowgirl
10.16.11 - Boulder, CO @ Laughing Goat
10.17.11 - Denver, CO @ The Walnut Room
10.18.11 - Fort Collins, CO @Everyday Joe's
10.19.11 - Provo, UT @ Velour
10.20.11 - Missoula, MT @ The Badlander
10.22.11 - Tacoma, WA @ The Warehouse
10.23.11 - Seattle, WA @ Columbia City Theater

Here's a video for "We Will Be Wild":

John Heart Jackie - We Will Be Wild from Ben Moon on Vimeo.

They've got a new single out, and you can download it here.

Milk Carton Kids are a Minneapolis-based folk duo: Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale, and they are terrific. Here's how I discovered them. We received a nice comment on our review of Joey Ryan & The Inks' new album, making reference to a song from a Nature Valley Granola commercial which plays a pretty song that someone eventually discovered was sung by a Joey Ryan. Well, what are the odds of there being two Joey Ryans who make music? Probably not that long. So, we find ourselves featuring both. Like the Tall Ships (found both in California and the UK), we don't feel the need to choose... Both are well worth hearing. But this is the guy who made the Nature Valley commercial.

In praise of the Milk Carton Kids, I couldn't write anything better than the piece Joe Henry wrote on their website:

I listen and, try as I might, forget to hear them as distinct collaborators in song and story. Instead, they move to become a single, shadowy persona within the frame of Prologue –like young twins cast to tag-team one demanding role in a terse-but-tender film by Elia Kazan, haunted and hounded across a lonely landscape in search of the love that might provide their collective character a fleeting taste of both redemption and self-recognition.

You can download their last two records, Retrospect and Prologue (both 2011 releases) on the website, and here's a video for the song "As It Must Be" from Retrospect:

They're on tour, too:


9/26 - Cleveland, OH - Beachland Tavern****
9/27 - Rochester, NY - Bug Jar****
9/28 - Buffalo, NY - The Ninth Ward****
9/30 - Ithaca, NY - Delilah's on Cayuga****
10/1 - Burlington, VT - Monkey House
10/2 - Montpelier, VT - Skinny Pancake
10/3 - Montreal, QC - Divan Orange****
10/4 - Toronto, ONT - Horseshoe Tavern****
10/5 - Syracuse, NY - The Nelson Odeon****
10/6 - Pittsburgh, PA - Club Cafe****
**** - w/ Gaby Moreno


10/12 - Nashville, TN - Music City Roots(AMA Music Festival)
10/13 - New York, NY - Rockwood Music Hall (Stage 2)****
10/14 - Boston, MA - Cafe 939****
10/15 - New Hartford, CT - Beekley Memorial Library****
10/18 - Providence, RI - The Spot Underground****
10/20 - Philadelphia, PA - World Cafe Live****
10/21 - Vienna, VA - Jammin' Java****
10/22 - Easton, MD - Night Cat****
10/23 - Carborro, NC - Casbah****
10/25 - Asheville, NC - The Grey Eagle****
10/26 - Decatur, GA - Eddie's Attic****
10/27 - Birmingham, AL - Moonlight On The Mountain****
**** - w/ Gaby Moreno
10/30 - Charleston, WV - Culture Center Theater (buy tickets)

Milk Carton Kids Website (with two free downloads!)

Finally, staying in the vein of folk music we've hit this week, here's a new single from California-based artist Garrett Pierce... "Everybody Breaks" - the title track from a new EP which is a precursor to an album, City of Sand, due out later this year:

Everybody Breaks by Riot Act

Garrett Pierce Website
Narnack Records Website

Rocksteady's Single Pick of the Week: TV Girl - Girls Like Me

I profiled TV Girl not very long ago. The San Diego group consisting of Trung Ngo and Brad Petering impressed with their impeccable pop sensibilities and shape-changing ability to deliver great tunes that sound like they were recorded by different bands. They are back in my sights again with a just released 7-inch with "Girls Like Me" and "Sarah (Meet Me in the Sauna)". The first track is a grand-scale pop tune with big drums and and backing instrumentation. The second is an engaging indie pop song. Together, they should provide you with some excellent sugary ear food for the week.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

REVIEW: We Were Promised Jetpacks - In the Pit of the Stomach

The list of bands whose second album is better than their first is small. And for Glasgow band We Were Promised Jetpacks to become one of the few to do so in was no small task, as their These Four Walls was a deservedly well received debut. However, in my view, the boys have managed to do it with In the Pit of the Stomach. While These Four Walls was a promising album with several exceptional songs, In the Pit of the Stomach is a complete package that deserves serious consideration as an album to be included among the year's better offerings. More that that, it can be taken as a statement that WWPJ is a serious band whose work should be followed.

Speculating on the reasons why this album succeeds, I think that one reason is that band didn't change direction. They took their big, proggy, post-punk version of Celtic tinged rock and tightened, refined and polished it, resisting the temptation to prove at this point that they could do more (note that they did release a good acoustic EP last year). I'd also offer that the decision to have the album recorded by Andrew Bush, their live sound engineer, is one of the reasons. This band has a big sound, guitars, drums and vocals making a statement in every song. Bush showcases that sound live, and he captures it impeccably for the recording. But we shouldn't overlook the obvious reason that a young, ambitious band should get better if they are focused on their craft, rather than just enjoying their new fame. The recorded proof speaks well for WWPJ on that score.

So, what do we get with In the Pit of the Stomach? As mentioned above, big riffs, big vocals, big sound overall. But variety comes from judicious use of changes in tempo and changes in volume, often in the same track, and echo, distortion and reverb. Compare the frenetic, spiky "Medicine" with the "Act on Impulse", and you get a sense of the variety WWPJ have provided on the album. I'm particularly fond of "Circles and Squares" (the big, opening statement track), "The Drawing Board", "Act on Impulse", "Picture of Health", and "Sore Thumb" at the moment. But quite honestly, I've listened to the album about five times today, and each time through I like it even more, but change my rating of the songs to some extent.

The recently released single, "Medicine"

"Act on Impulse"
Act On Impulse by WeWerePromisedJetpacks. Uploaded with BandPage by RootMusic

In the Pit of the Stomach is released on October 3 by Fat Cat Records. In addition to European dates, the band has scheduled an 18-city US tour from October 26 to November 15, with the last day in my home, Seattle.

Fat Cat Records

Monday, September 26, 2011

In Other News: We will continue to overdose on Pollard... happily

From the press release from GbV world HQ:

DAYTON, OH: Having finished their year-long victory lap, playing songs from the insanely fertile 1992-1996 period, there was only one thing left for the reunited Guided By Voices to do. Make a new record.

Let's Go Eat The Factory picks up where Under The Bushes, Under The Stars left off, with the classic lineup (Robert Pollard, Tobin Sprout, Greg Demos, Mitch Mitchell, and Kevin Fennell, with help from the reclusive Jimmy Pollard) writing and recording 21 songs in lo- to mid-fi splendor in bandmembers' basements and garages. The songs range from face-peeling heavy rock to delicate piano ballads and everything in between. Standouts include the demonically tuneful "Chocolate Boy," the relentless chug of "We Won't Apologize For The Human Race," and instant classic "The Unsinkable Fats Domino."

Fans of GBV's iconic release Bee Thousand will recognize the same gloriously messy aesthetic in Let's Go Eat The Factory, which benefits, too, from the development of Robert Pollard's songwriting in the intervening 15 years and the renewed camaraderie effected by the reunited band's extended tour. The new album will be released on January 1, 2012 on GBV Inc.


Circus Devils - CAPSIZED! (Click title to pre-order)

Circus Devils hits the high seas with CAPSIZED! (The exclamation point is part of the title!). Once again the Ohio trio featuring Robert Pollard defies and transcends musical genres with a strangely coherent blend of soft rock, aggressive stompers, creepy soundscapes and a radio-friendly pop single (Cyclopean Runways). CAPSIZED! is cinema for the ears, taking the listener on a dark adventure with strange cargo, sirens, shipboard ghosts and bad soup.

Circus Devils = Robert Pollard (Guided By Voices), Todd Tobias (Guided By Voices producer), Tim Tobias (ex-Guided By Voices)

TRACK LISTING: 1) To England the Tigers 2) Capsized 3) Cyclopean Runways 4) Legendary Breakfast Code 5) Nully Scully 6) Aerial Poop Show 7) Hangerman Suits 8) Leave the Knife Curtis 9) Vampire Playing a Red Piano 10) Double Vision 11) What Wallace? 12) Plate of Scales 13) Siren 14) Henry Loop 15) Stiffs on Parade 16) The Matter of Being Good 17) Gable's Ear Wax 18) End of the Swell 19) Safe on a Vegetable

And finally:

Robert Pollard - Let It Beard Demos (click title to pre-order)

Twenty-six tracks, as recorded by Bob on his guitar then shipped off to Chris to begin work on Boston Spaceships' masterpiece. This release is CD only, a Rockathon Records exclusive and is limited to 500 copies. Hand numbered by Bob himself. Only Available Online.

In case you can't make it out, Bob's shirt says "Contain Yourself" which is a lyric from the insanely catchy (how to distinguish it from the thousands of other insanely catchy Pollard songs? Your problem, not mine) "US Mustard Co." Good advice, but pretty hard to follow on the heels of news like this.

THIS JUST IN... From Bob's Facebook page:

‎"The [GBV record] after this has already been written, or at least Bob has written and recorded demos and sent them to the other bandmembers. It’s called, for now (keeping in mind that Bob Pollard titles are apt to change) Class Clown Spots A UFO. By contrast with Let’s Go Eat The Factory, Bob plans to record at in studios, likely including not just Toby’s semi-pro set-up in Michigan but Todd Tobias’ very-pro set-up in upstate Ohio, and possibly one or two spots in and around Dayton. He aims for a more polished sound than on LGETF, but I don’t think anyone should worry that Guided By Voices are going to put out a Roy Thomas Baker abum. The band is hoping for a May release."

When I wrote a short review of the GbV classic lineup show in Nashville, I threw out the hope that they might regroup and do another tour. An album seemed too much to hope for. So, of course, they're doing two!

Contain yourself... good luck!

REVIEW: Cobra Skulls -- Agitations

Reno, Nevada's Cobra Skulls have that crucial characteristic that tends to separate excellent thrash punk bands I listen to from those I roll my eyes at -- a sense of humor. On their first three records, 2005 EP Eat Your Babies, 2006 EP Draw Muhammad, and 2007 full length Sitting Army, all but 2 of the songs had the word "cobra" somewhere in the title. So with songs like "Cobra Skullifornia", "Cobra Skulls in D Minor", and "Donnie Rumsfelt My Cobra Skull Ass", you knew you were at least in store for some goofy entertainment, if nothing else. Except with Cobra Skulls there's always plenty else. Of course the music's good and loud, but the guitars are always interesting, over solid bass and drums. And Devin Peralta's vocals eschew the nasal earnestness that's become too common in today's punk music, in favor of the old fashioned snarl. There's a welcome self-confidence to their songs, and you can hear it in this short concert vid of their first non-cobra named song, "Ode to Jefferson".

They had the good sense to know the 'cobra-titled song' thing had run its course with their next album, 2009's American Rubicon, along with the good sense not to go all serious either (e.g., track 10: "I Used to Like Them When They Put 'Cobra' in the Titles"). It was their strongest effort to date, and the record, coupled with their growing reputation for incendiary live shows, had them drawing crowds across the country. Here's a video for "Rebel Fate" off that album.

The third Cobra Skulls full-length will be released on 27 September by Fat Wreck Chords. It's called Agitations, and it's tremendous. Their well-earned RIYL list -- Bad Religion, Against Me!, Social Distortion -- gets a big stretch right out of the gate on opener "Six Degrees". The song starts with a nasty riff and howl that sounds like the best song the Hellacopters never wrote. From that blistering start, they don't let up until acoustic closer "Believe" 11 tracks down the line. Here's the studio version of the second song, "Iron Lung".

There's a ton to like about this record, but the most satisfying thing for me is how the band is evolving a unique sound, moving away from the classic American punk structures of Social Distortion and Dillinger Four, and into a rootsier, grimier, scabrous noise. It's all these things without sacrificing the populism, and without sacrificing the loud. This concert clip from a show earlier this month (9/15) is a good example of what I'm trying to describe. It's the 11th track, "Running Out".

Here's another new song from the same concert called "Solastalgia", which is a neologism that describes the emotions of that Native American in the anti-littering commercial from the 1970s (but you probably already knew that). Anyway, excellent song.

Go get this terrific album when you wake up. And Cobra Skulls never stop touring. I'll be catching them in Durham in October. See them where you live:

Kansas City, MORecord Bar09/26/116:00pm
Cedar Falls, IAThe Wheelhouse09/27/116:00pm
MInneapolis, MNTriple Rock Social Club09/28/115:00pm
Madison, WIThe Frequency09/29/118:00pm
Chicago, ILBeat Kitchen09/30/118:30pm
St. Louis, MOFirebird10/01/117:30pm
Covington, KYMad Hatter10/02/118:00pm
Pittsburgh, PAGarfield Artworks10/04/116:00pm
Cleveland, OHBeachland Tavern10/05/117:30pm
Hamtrack, MISmall's10/06/118:00pm
London, ONDude Ranch10/07/118:00pm
Toronto, ONHard Luck10/08/118:00pm
Ottowa, ONCafe Dekcuf10/09/118:00pm
Quebec City, QCL'Agitee10/11/118:00pm
Montreal, QCFoufounes Electrique10/12/118:00pm
Winooski, VTMonkey House10/13/117:00pm
Cambridge, MADemocracy Center10/14/117:00pm
Ithaca, NYThe Haunt10/15/115:00pm
New York, NYWebster Hall10/16/116:30pm
Philadelphia, PAThe Fire10/18/117:00pm
Baltimore, MDOtto Bar10/19/117:00pm
Richmond, VAThe Hospital10/20/117:00pm
Durham, NCMotorco Music Hall10/21/117:00pm
Atlanta, GA52910/22/119:00pm
Birmingham, ALSpring Street Firehouse10/23/116:00pm
Charlotte, NCTremont Music Hall - The Casbah10/25/117:00pm
Wilmington, NCSoapbox Laundro-Lounge10/26/116:00pm
Gainesville, FLDouble Down LIve10/27/118:00pm
Gainesville, FLTHE FEST10/28/114:00pm
Pensacola, FLLive11/01/117:00pm
Houston, TXMango's11/02/118:30pm
San Antonio, TXTen Eleven11/03/118:30pm
TBA - Austin, TX11/04/118:00pm
Ft. Worth, TX1919 Hemphill11/05/118:00pm
Oklahoma City, OKThe Conservatory11/06/117:30pm
Albuquerque, NMAmped11/07/116:00pm
Scottsdale, AZChaser's11/08/117:00pm
Escondido, CAThe Metaphor Cafe11/09/117:00pm
Pomona, CAVHS Warehouse11/10/118:00pm
West Hollywood, CATroubador11/11/117:00pm
San Francisco, CAThee Parkside11/12/119:00pm

And here's something extra for reading this far --