Saturday, September 7, 2013

Update: MusicfestNW Day 3 - Cody Chesnutt /Jessica Hernandez

Friday night belonged to Cody Chesnutt whose Doug Fir Lounge set was certainly a high water mark for this 5 day music festival. His blend of funk, rock, blues and soul, great songwriting and positive messaging is powerful stuff. Chesnutt is backed by 4 gifted musicians who bring a highly refined musicality to the proceedings.

With their virtuoso playing and unabashed showmanship, this band could not be more out of step with the indie rock that dominates this festival. Chesnutt roams the stage, works the crowd, guides the band and is non-stop energy, every gram of it positive. What a show! And the overflow crowd ate it up, following Chesnutt's frequent exhortations to "Sing it Portland" or "Shake it Portland" or "Hey Portland come on and show me what you got!!" And you gotta love the cardigan sweater and military helmet.

Chesnutt, an Atlanta native, is a singer-songwriter at heart and a true artist. This is not a funk nostalgia act.  He draws on some foundational, ambitious '70's touch points - Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, late career Marvin Gaye - but he is just as informed by The Roots, the Beatles,  and even modern rock sounds.

But it's all Cody and his tremendous songwriting, vocals and charisma. He can quiet it down and hold the crowd as here on "Everybody's Brother" from a recent show:
Or he can tear up the funk and rock as he did on "I've Been Life":

Fantastic show, where a great artist, a first rate band, and a terrific and hyped audience all rose together. Pure magic.

On the same stage a bit earlier in the evening, WYMA recent discovery Jessica Hernandez and The Deltas (introduced here) showed why this Detroit band is creating such a buzz. Simply put, she's a star, Hernandez is a tremendous singer with charisma to burn. And her versatile band guides her effortlessly through her updated Detroit rock and soul, featuring guitars, keys and even trombone.

Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas played the same club recently, in early July, but even since then the stage show has developed, the confidence gaining from being on the road.

We here at WYMA anxiously await the release of their debut record, slated for year end.  

Here are Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas recently performing "Don't Take My Man to Idaho" which they played near end of set last night and brought down the house.  It was remarkable that even though she has no CDs out, no material that anyone would know, and few had seen or heard of her before, the crowd reaction was over the top. This train is leaving the station.

Artist web pages:

Cody Chesnutt
Jessica Hernandez Facebook page 

Tijuana Panthers, live performance

We like the Tijuana Panthers around WYMA headquarters.  In fact, the Orange County three-piece probably is our favorite kind of cat (link).  If you feel similarly, you likely will enjoy this studio performance at BTR studios in NYC, which includes a couple of songs and an interview.


Friday, September 6, 2013

NEW SONG: Cheatahs - "Cut The Grass" b/w "Kenworth" - single available now, album early 2014

We've written about London's Cheatahs before - two of us, in fact (a song, here, and their EP Extended Plays, here). Their swirling, psychedelic guitar-based wall of sound really hit a sweet spot for us at WYMA. They're kind of a fascinating story - from four different countries, they met in London: James Wignall (guitar, vocals) is English, Dean Reid (bass and vocals) is American, Marc Raue (drums) is German and Nathan Hewitt (vocals, guitar) is Canadian. Of course, you know that kids all over the world have listened to Neil Young and Crazy Horse, My Bloody Valentine and the likes, so from disparate backgrounds, they unite over a love of intoxicating guitar rock.

Here's a new track, "Cut the Grass":

It's big, loud and bright - if possible, they have improved on their formula, something along the lines of Dinosaur Jr. meets Swervedriver. They're going to have a full album out early in 2014.

Cheatahs at Wichita Recordings

New Pop/Rock Discovery: Lots of Love - From The Start

Jessica Fleischer is an LA-based singer/songwriter with a light, clear voice and a very well-developed set of pop sensibilities. She's just released her debut album, From The Start, under the name Lots of Love. She cites as influences Electric Light Orchestra and 60s girl-groups, and I concur. It's nostalgic and she's got a sweet voice, with some contemporary touches - some reverb on the vocals, and on some of the tracks, particularly on "Sitting In a Box" and "Boys Men", a bit more jangly guitar than either of those two influences she mentioned.

She had help on this record from a longtime friend, Robert Schwartzman, of the band Rooney - it was recorded at his home studio.

Asked to name the song that best represents her as an artist, she named “I Think It’s Called Love,” explaining “It gets into my personal experiences moving beyond those feelings of frustration and desire, and towards a realization that everything is okay the way it is.”

Here's the title track - this is a very nostalgic approach, bringing to mind something like '60s girl groups filtered through the musical Grease more than ELO - a charming approach:

And here's a video for "Come to Life", with a similar approach:

Stream the whole album, and learn more at her website.

Lots of Love website

Update: MusicfestNW Day 2 (Love Language; Houndstooth)

At these festivals, there's decisions decisions decisions to be made. Do I see the old favorite I've seen many times or go check out a new band?

Well I am very glad I stayed out late enough last night to see a band I'd not heard before, Love Language. I can't say enough about how great their set was. As my friend Farnum turned and said to me maybe 3 songs in: "It's great and so rare to see an indie rock band that actually, um, rocks."

And yes, Love Language from Chapel Hill, North Carolina rocked the Bunk Bar in Portland Thursday night. It would be hard to describe their sound - 2, sometimes 3 guitars; keyboards; terrific lead singer; excellent use of harmony vocals; steady and aggressive drummer; high energy and sense of urgency; strong compositions with big pop hooks but involved instrumentation. More than anything, they were a true band, a collective with a defined and individual sound. I could hear some elements that sounded like influences, but they were so all over the map that in writing they sound nearly ridiculous - My Morning Jacket, The Shirelles, New Order, The Stooges.

Of course our founder and CEO here at WYMA, John Hyland, is always a step ahead of me and reviewed Love Language's latest CD Ruby Red earlier here.

Here's "Calm Down" from their latest record:

One more, "Still Life" that shows the soaring pop they are capable of:

Expect The Love Language's new CD Ruby Red to appear in our best of 2013. And they are a tremendous live band who simply killed it last night.

Playing right before Love Language was Houndstooth from Portland by way of Austin TX. Singer Katie Bernstein has a compelling mesmerizing voice, and guitarist John Gnorski creates rich, bluesy Southern influenced, nearly Gothic sounds, reminding me at times of Mazzy Star, but harder.  They were terrific, hypnotic, addictive. I really like this track "Canary Island" audio here. Here's a video of "Beach Bummer":

Artist web pages:
The Love Language
Houndstooth Facebook page

REVIEW: Violent Soho - Hungry Ghost

On Hungry Ghost Violent Soho serves up meaty slabs of melodic, punk-inflected alternative rock with an ample layer of scuzz.  There is a bit of Smashing Pumpkins as a touchstone, but this Brisbane group is more immediate and less studied.  Perhaps a better reference are the glory days of The Pixies or Mudhoney.  And while the themes reflect anxiety about one's place in the community, what's important and other concerns of young people figuring out their world, the riffs come heavy and fuzzy, the rhythm is propulsive and the pace is aggressive.  After listening to this album a number of times, my conclusions are (1) this is the best album of this genre I have heard in a long, long time; and (2) it really is an appealingly intelligent album, musically and lyrically - don't be fooled by the grungy style.  Violent Soho deserves to go to the head of its class.

Below are the three singles from Hungry Ghost.  The first is presented via the official video.

Violent Soho is Luke Boerdam, James Tidswell, Luke Henery and Michael Richards.  Hungry Ghost is out now via I Oh You.

I Oh You (label)

"Miles, Miles, Miles" by Kevin Morby

I recently became aware that Kevin Morby of The Babies (also bassist with Woods) will be releasing a solo LP titled Harlem River via Woodsist in November.  If you are like me, you are wondering what it will sound like.  Our fist hint comes via the just released track "Miles, Miles, Miles".  My view is that if the rest of the album is up to the standard set by this track, we should all want a copy.  Americana vocals, some '60s organ and upbeat guitar picking combine to beautiful effect.


Friday Nuggets - "Jenny Take a Ride", Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels

It speaks volumes about Mitch Ryder that he would be featured here at Friday Nuggets and previously in our Soul Corner feature (Oct 2011 for his cover of "Devil With a Blue Dress On").

Ryder was from Hamtramck, the inner city suburb inside the Detroit boundaries. He, more than any artist of the 1960's, absorbed Detroit's rich soul and R&B history and its burgeoning rock'n'roll culture. And Ryder is a truly gifted singer, one of my personal all-time favorite rock vocalists.

And he was a powerhouse performer. Ryder had a very big influence on Bruce Springsteeen, Bob Seger, and John Mellencamp (who produced a Ryder album in the 1980's). It's even said that actress Winona Ryder took her stage name from one of his albums, a favorite in her Dad's collection (WYMA doesn't make this stuff up and doesn't even charge extra for this kind of valuable historical knowledge).

From a Nuggets/garage rock perspective, the great Mitch Ryder's high water mark may been this 1965 hit "Jenny Take a Ride", a turbo-charged rewrite of the 12 bar blues / 1920's standard "See See Rider":

I never get tired of the track. It's like a party in a bottle, open the top and the energy just leaps out of it. We cover a lot of current, young punk and garage bands here at WYMA but you'd be hard pressed to find something any more high octane rock than "Jenny Take a Ride".  And to think it was a top 5 radio single.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Yuck - "Age of Consent" (New Order cover) - Glow And Behold out Oct. 1

Now, this is a nice way to treat your fans as they pat their feet waiting for a new album. We've been crazy about Yuck since their first album dropped out of nowhere and delighted indie rock fans with its ethereal vocals, buzzing/chiming guitars and feedback... (WYMA review of their self-titled debut here).

The band recently shot a video at RAK Studios in London, as they prepare for a European tour in support. Apparently the 360-style video shot by Michael Lawrence will consist of four tracks, including stuff from the new album. Here's a recently-released video of "Middle Sea":

But this New Order cover is just about perfect:

They'll likely be playing that at some of these European tour dates:

17th, 18th, 19th September - Macbeth, London
21st Sept - Incubate festival, Holland
26th Sept - Lido, Berlin
28th Sept - Madrid (secret venue)
29th Sept - Paris (secret venue)
2nd Oct - Soup Kitchen, Manchester
3rd Oct - New Slang, Kingston

You can pre-order the album (and why would you not do that?) at Fat Possum.

Yuck band website
Fat Possum

Update: MusicfestNW Day One (Hiss Golden Messenger)

So here we are in beautiful Portland Oregon where the annual MusicfestNW is in full swing.  Think of it as a boutique SXSW -- 17 or so venues, 4-5 bands each per night, manageable crowds and lines.

I won't cover everything I see but will instead focus a bit on those acts that were most impressive. And Wednesday night that was certainly Hiss Golden Messenger from Durham NC. Traveling solo without his usual band lineup, Mr. Messenger, if we can call him that, made his first Portland appearance since 2006, with the challenging task of facing a large sit-down theater audience waiting to see Justin Townes Earle in the next slot. I'd been hearing good things about Hiss Golden Messenger for some time from people I trust, but was blown away by both his singing and writing.

I suppose his work falls into the realm of folk or singer-songwriter music, but it's tougher and far more soulful than that label might imply. He is a terrific and ambitious writer, and won me over immediately when he cited Wendell Berry as a hero. Aim high brother! And you could hear a pin drop in the 2-level theater from note one until the end of his set as he had the audience in the palm of his hand with his compelling tales of family, adulthood, and well, life.

Hiss Golden Messenger also referred to WYMA favorite Jason Molina as a friend and inspiration, which makes sense. Fans of Electric Magnolia Co should check this guy out. He said he wrote this song "Sufferer" before Molina's death but it always reminds him of his friend. Here's a solo clip of "Sufferer" much like I heard Wednesday night:

Amazing voice, could have listened to much more than his (Hiss, ha) tremendous 40 minute set (disadvantge of these showcase events).

The other highlight was WYMA fovorites The Baseball Project who we've covered extensively (here)in the past.  Baseball, jangle rock, wit and this kind of exuberant fun? Sign us up for more please. Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey now have an addition to their all-star lineup -- Mike Mills from R.E.M., on bass. Mills kicks up the talent level yet another notch. One particular highlight was when Mills took lead vocals on a fine new pop-punk song he wrote urging Dale Murphy's entry into the Hall of Fame.

And Linda Pitmon is our favorite drummer. Ever. From anywhere.

The band previewed various other new songs they'd just finished recording in Portland for their upcoming 3rd CD. It all sounded great, another highlight being a new one about the challenge of being Bernie Williams all alone out there in center field at Yankee Stadium amidst the monuments to some of the greatest players ever to play the game.

I will say The Baseball Project draws some  interesting fans, including one guy in a full Detroit Tigers uniform with the name  Leyland (manager Jim) on the back, and complete with fake moustache. He kept yelling for a new song about various Tigers greats - Hank Greenberg, Al Kaline etc. This was not me, I swear. Though I was happy when they played "1976". Here's a 2012 live recording:

Barbarossa - Bloodlines

Bloodlines is emotion and vulnerability, expressed with fragility and nuance and buoyed by excellent melodies and a dose of R&B rhythms.  The artist is Londoner James Mathé, who performs as Barbarossa.  Mathé's most recent past incarnation was as an acoustic performer (on Scotland's venerable Fence Collective label), which makes this stylish makeover even more remarkable.  The album suggests the culmination of several years of work in this genre, rather than a change in gears.

But Mathé was determined to show that he wasn't only a folky singer songwriter.  With the assistance of synths, keyboards and drum machines he brushes his poignant stories on a broader canvas.  The result is an artful combination of blue-eyed soul and electro-pop.  If Mathé's muse continues to lead him down this path, I foresee very good things for the young man.

Here are three streams for you, beginning with a live version of the opening track, "Bloodline" --

Bloodlines is out now via Memphis Industries.

Memphis Industries

NEW SONG: Jeremy Squires - "Open"

We recently featured a song from North Carolina singer/songwriter Jeremy Squires (WYMA post here), and are delighted to have another spare, beautiful folk ballad from him to share with you. Bit of a story with this one - he discovered the lyrics in the form of a poem by Anna-Lynne Williams, who publishes/records as Lotte Kestner, and thought they deserved to be in a song. So he wrote music and recorded it.

This reminds me a bit of Richard Buckner or Damien Jurado in that Squires, like Buckner and Jurado, somehow uses the space between sounds to amplify the effect of his vocals and fingerpicked guitar work. It's beautiful and you need to have this song. He's got an album coming out in October.

Jeremy Squires website

REVIEW: The Black Tambourines - The Black Tambourines

With the DIY ethos and lo-fi values appropriate to the scuzzy garage rock space, the surfy touches appropriate to a band near the ocean's shore, and the punk attitude ... well, because these guys have good taste, the UK's The Black Tambourines have been one of my favorite garage bands since I was introduced to them a few years ago by a blog in Edinburgh.  Until now, I've had to make do with the EPs the band offered over the internet.  But their self-titled debut LP hit the streets this week via Art Is Hard Records, so I am a happy, happy man.

The focus is adrenaline charged blasts, more like Ty Segall's early Traditional Fools recordings or the excellent Terry Malts than The Mantles or Sonny and the Sunsets.  And it isn't that The Black Tambourines can't dial it back (as evidenced by the final track, "Back There Again"), it is that they have chosen to make their case with the gas foot pressed to the floor.  Tracks such as "Ghost at a Party" have a more surf rock vibe, with lower-register guitars taking front stage.  Others have a punkier feel.  But I don't think The Black Tambourines feel the need to showcase versatility at this point; they just want us to know they have arrived.  So you can take them or leave them in their noisy glory.  For my money, it is one of the best garage rock debuts of the year.

"Ghost at a Party", "Bodies" and "Crosseyed" provide your tasting menu.  I recommend the entire meal.

Label's Bandcamp for album
Art Is Hard

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

NEW SONGS: The Never Evers - "Cheap Thrills"

Claiming influences from 70's punk (including, somewhat obviously, Blondie) to 80's drum-based New Wave, to 90's grunge, Brooklyn's The Never Evers do sound to me like heirs to the grand NYC tradition of bratty-sounding punk bands, but are incorporating both post- and pre-punk rock moves as well. They've released a 2-song 7" and here's a taste of their music:

I think there's some soul in that chicken-scratch lead guitar the song opens with. Here's an introductory video they made recently:

The Never Evers from Bedford + Bowery on Vimeo.

And here's a video of them performing Siouxsie Sioux's "Melt" in an underground cavern (not really, it's a nightclub) - but maybe a nightclub in an underground cavern - this is NYC, after all:

The band consists of Kit Vale from Toronto, Canada, Tony Sjoman from Gothenburg, Sweden, Robert Lechner from Erie, Pennsylvania and Walter Gardner from Chicago, Illinois. She's a good singer, and the band definitely has some chemistry - I like the way the drum an
d bass move things along, and there's some nice surf guitar on there, too.

Follow them, learn how to buy the music, and check out upcoming tour dates at their Facebook page.

REVIEW: Majestic - The Majestic 12 Years

Unwilling to let the summer go?  Wouldn't an excellent collection of dream pop be an ideal way of extending it?  Well, Shelflife Records, one of our finest purveyors of pop things twee, indie, dreamy and jangling, has just what you need.  The Majestic 12 Years collects the entire 1994-1998 output of Southern California's Majestic -- seven tracks from the three 7" recordings and six previously unreleased tracks.

With a layer of guitars that will remind the listener of indie pop legends Galaxie 500, elegant melodies and boy/girl vocals, this album is a great reminder of just how good west coast indie pop was in the years of Britpop and '90s alternative rock.  The initial group, known as Majestic 12, consisted of Scott Schultz (vocals/guitar), Jana Wittren Heller (vocals), Ammon Watene (vocals/guitar), Steve Berrett (bass), and Aaron Watene (drums).  Jana departed for another project in '97, and the others continued as Majestic and recorded a couple of records for Shelflife.  The songs cover a few different styles, but all of it is the sort of timeless pop that seems appropriate for any age and, despite my opening line for this post, any season.  I will give you a bit of a warning: This album is packed with ear worms.  Not only was it a pleasure to listen to it multiple times while evaluating it for review, I find myself squeezing in a few tracks every day.

Majestic 12 - Nothing on TV from RaisingHeller on Vimeo.

The Majestic 12 Years is out now on Shelflife Records.  If you order the CD, you receive an immediate MP3 download of the album.

Myspace page
Shelflife Records page for album

Reverberation Radio #77

I am two steps behind right now. I need to post another gem of a playlist from the Allah-Las before my plaint is "Gimme three steps."

When it comes to quality obscurati, a week late is better than never. Last week's selections are a pastiche of music styles; starting with early 80's Guyanese-American funk - a genre heard by very few.

Next on the list is a selection from The Godz - gonzo contemporaries of The Fugs and The Holy Modal Rounders. The genesis of this 60's group of beat refugees was described by one of the founders as: "One day Paul came over to visit them, and the three gathered in Larry's living room to smoke a joint. There were all these percussive instruments lying around and out of total frustration, I got up and started shaking a tambourine or something like that, and that's how it all started. We all started to get up and make noise like a bunch of maniacs, expressing our frustration."

The flashback continues with an early 70's psychedelic gem from Milwaukee proto-punks The Creme Soda and early 70's acid-folk from Santa Barbara's Cooley-Munson. The Savages - a 60's Bermudan tourist hotel band - show that garage rock flourished between the continents.

Jeff Harmon's Lakeside CA music has been described as having an "odd basement McCartney vibe, with some spacey keyboards and Christian/seeker overtones." Not a review which would have sent me out to buy it 40 years ago, but it is definitely worth the listen.

The Music Machine were best known for "Talk Talk":

They continued to be exemplars of of psychedelic garage rock with "Some Other Drum." The week's list closes with more acid folk from Bill Jerpe. Jerpe is an example of "loner folk," a genre which should not be listened to while one is depressed, drunk and has easy access to razor blades.

Fly your freak flag and enjoy this flashback. As it was once explained to me in a parallel universe by an acid survivor long ago, "Flashbacks are great. They're free."


1. Médico Doktor Vibes - Diska Limba Ma
2. The Godz - Radar Eyes
3. Creme Soda - Beat Song
4. Cooley & Munson - Bartarego
5. The Savages - Gone To The Moon
6. Jeff Harmon - Call On Me
7. The Music Machine - Some Other Drum
8. Bill Jerpe - Another Day Goes Down
9. Masato Minami - Tropics 71’

NEW SONG: Positive No - "Pocket Park" from Via Florum EP, out Oct. 1

A rocking rhythm section with a bit of punk backbeat, jangly/fuzzy guitars, and a charming vocal - Richmond, VA's Positive No reminds me very much of some old Southern power pop favorites like Let's Active, Oh-OK (remember them?) and The Connells. I also detect some Pixies/Breeders influence, especially Kim Deal's vocal style, but this stuff is a little lighter on the whole than the Pixies and Breeders. And catchy, did I say catchy? Listen:

This first track sets the expectations pretty high - looking forward to hearing the rest of this EP, which will be out digitally Oct. 1 and on vinyl in November. You can pre-order the vinyl at Little Black Records.

Positive No website
Little Black Records

Review: Bob Dylan, Another Self Portrait 1969-1971, The Bootleg Series Vol. 10

The trouble with writing about Bob Dylan is that his music is complex, cuts deep, and the context is always voluminous. One should write books on it, not blog pieces. So excuse me for writing briefly and in many ways merely on the surface.

But, here's my simple thesis: any Dylan fan, even a somewhat casual one, needs to own the latest in the terrific Bootleg Series, this being volume 10. The 2 CD set includes 45 songs, some unreleased and some earlier versions of songs that appeared on Self Portrait and New Morning. There is also a deluxe 4 CD set with a complete live concert and more. I'm still digesting and digging through it all, but my oh my, what a treasure trove of heartfelt, beautiful performances.

Here's a cool trailer about Another Self Portrait, setting some background:

Self Portrait was famously vilified when it was released in 1970, the rock music critics and mass public annoyed that their hero had made a disjointed record mainly of obscure covers, and containing none of the soaring rock'n'roll that had transformed the music world.

But time is a funny thing. These unreleased tracks, which extend what Dylan was doing on Self Portrait, would not have been well received in 1970 either, but right now they make perfect sense. Dylan's folk and blues roots have been on display for many parts of his storied career. So the Self Portrait retreat, if we can call it that, no longer seems bizarre, and certainly not infuriating (as many found it in 1970), but more like a smart move, a survival instinct kicking in. This is exactly the step back, the self-preservation instinct, that maybe Kurt Cobain or Janis Joplin could have used. Stoking the star maker machinery is not easy, nor is having young kids and trying to raise them in the midst of it. So if people felt let down by Self Portrait, too damn bad. It's not like it erased Blonde on Blonde;or people still couldn't go listen to any of his previous records whenever they wanted.

So the final part of my simple little thesis here is that maybe one reason we still have a vibrant, engaged Bob Dylan around in 2013, touring and creating great new music on Tempest, is that he knew how on occasion to step away from the madness and back into himself, and back into the music that restored him, fed him, inspired him, made him content. And that music was traditional folk and blues, on display in the 45 songs here. So much of this is absolutely wonderful. Let's start with just one track by way of example because it also has a terrific video, "Pretty Saro":

I love Dylan's love songs and find them generally vastly underrated and taken for granted. The singing on "Pretty Saro" is exquisite. And while many of these songs appear to be recorded casually and are unadorned, the vocals sure as hell were not tossed off. Dylan's singing is terrific throughout.

Highlights - "Thirsty Boots" (written by Eric Andersen); "Spanish is the Loving Tongue"; "These Hands"; alternate and in my view superior versions of "Went to See the Gypsy" and "Copper Kettle"; and fine early versions of two of my all time favorites "When I Paint My Masterpiece" and, speaking of great love songs, "If Not For You".

For at least awhile, you can stream the music at NPR's site: NPR First Listen. Or here at Bob Dylan's official web page (a very well constructed site if you've not visited there before).

Overall, I find Another Self Portrait a deeply rewarding glimpse into Dylan's artistry and what makes him tick, the music he makes when no one is listening. I am so happy to be able to hear this.  I am still taking it in, but want to get this up on our blog as quickly as possible so you can do yourself a favor and get to the store now. Dylan fans need to own Another Self Portrait.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

NEW SONGS: Feel Alright - "Oahu Ohio" 7"

Feel Alright is another Canadian band from Mammoth Cave Recordings (we recently featured Gold from the same label). Based on these two artists, Mammoth Cave has struck a productive lo-fi beachy, punky vein. This stuff is just instantly, completely enjoyable, with the reverb, the upbeat guitar line, and on the title cut, "Oahu Ohio", the slightly cracked falsetto vocal in the chorus.

And here's "L'esprit de l'escalier" - with a super-catchy, fast, lighter-than-air guitar line that leads into a noisy chorus and another great falsetto vocal and, finally, a crashing finish - all in 1:46.

Finally, "Dark Incantations", with a definite Beach Boys vibe, but with, as its title might suggest, a dark side that only makes sense, as these kids likely got into punk rock before they even heard the Beach Boys (I'm just guessing). I love the drumming on this one.

Well done, kids, and well done, Mammoth Cave. This thing will literally extend your summer, even if only for a few days... It's out now (vinyl released Aug. 30) and you can download for "name your price" or buy vinyl at Mammoth Cave.

Feel Alright Bandcamp
Feel Alright at Mammoth Cave Recordings

REVIEW: Andy Fitts - Smoky Wilds

Andy Fitts is a Seattle-based singer/songwriter with an already-successful career as a studio musician and collaborator with some very successful artists. However, like a lot of very creative, talented musicians, he's got music of his own to get out. And fortunately for us, on Smoky Wilds, he found a way to get it out there.

Fitts has played with David Bazan and cites him as an inspiration - and I find a lot of similarities between the two. His vocal style reminds me of Bazan's, though his voice is a little bit "sweeter", perhaps. And he undergirds his music with more electronic stuff, but all to great effect. And it's certainly not all electronic - there are some very warm acoustic moments. "Father Time" is a pretty, acoustic ballad. And the guitar over the last minute or so of "Mean is a Bone", and at the beginning of "Yarn Tale" are well-played and well-placed. The latter turns into a quiet, ambient, really beautiful song to close out the record. An understated electric guitar solo, then a sort of minor electric guitar freakout in "My Axe" are highlights, too.

But his sweet spot is using his skill with electronics to create rich soundscapes in which to place his soulful, warm, affecting vocals.

Here's "Roll My Chair" - a good example of this approach. The song is mostly populated by beats, loops and beeps. Taken individually, you would not expect those parts to add up to such a "human" sound. But with Fitts' vocal, that's what you have:

Fitts gives some background on his approach and state of mind in making the record: "These songs are ideas that help me close the gap between the life that I want and the one that I am living... Stop envying everyone else's position and assuming that it is supremely desirable. This causes you to sink. Work through the sweet and the salty and the smooth and rough. Make deposits, and carry on. Bazan's work ethic has been a tremendous inspiration, especially as many of his peers have gone on to be hugely successful. He maintains his dedication to what he can uniquely bring."

There's a fundamental honesty and self-examination to that approach that is refreshing and, I think, leads to very satisfying music. It certainly has in this case. Smoky Wilds is highly recommended if you like Fitts' label mates David Bazan and Will Johnson (Centro-matic), or some of our other alt-folk favorites, Damien Jurado, Richard Buckner and Phosphorescent. It's a charming record that stays with you.

It's out today (Sept. 3) on Undertow Records.

Andy Fitts website
Undertow Records

Monday, September 2, 2013

Royal Headache - Stand and Stare/Give it All to Me

Probably the best album of 2011 that I didn't discover until 2013 was Royal Headache's self-titled release for R.I.P. Society Records (link).  I resolved to not be so tardy on their next release, so here is Stand and Stare/Give it All to Me.  In two songs Law, Shogun, Joe and Shortty demonstrate why they are one of the best punky garage bands around.  The first track sounds to me to be a garage rock anthem, while the second is a 1:46 rush of punk excellence.  For a mere two Australian dollars, you get an immediate download, and your life will be less boring.  Consider them angels of mercy.