Spook School 2/7/18, Denver

Dates: February 7, 2018

Location: Lost Lake Lounge , Denver CO

Live at the Lost Lake Lounge, the Glasgow combo may have been the opening act, but they stole the show.


It was a major treating hearing that this young, Glasgow, Scotland band were gonna not only be touring the states but making a stop in the Mile High City (not a lot of the indie pop bands seem to stop here). Not only that they were opening for Diet Cig (who I didn’t stay for) and Great Grandpa (who I stayed for a few songs and wasn’t into). I’m all about the early nights.

I discovered the band last year on their second album, 2015’s Try To Be Hopeful, which shows a young bunch of folks with passion and fire in their bellies ….oh and great, catchy songs as well. What’s not to like?

They hit the stage at 8 PM sharp at this 16 and over show (Lost Lake is usually 21 and over but they occasionally have shows to let the young ‘uns in) and it was sold out. The dark-haired guitarist proudly proclaimed that “We’re a queer band so thank you for supporting us” (or something to that effect) and many of the topics of the bands songs relate to that subject (as well as transgender issues).

He and the female bassist were both totally low-key, but the curly-haired guitarist jumped all over the place and the drummer was absolutely hilarious! This guy, well, he didn’t make the show as the band was terrific anyway, but definitely added to it with his between song comments (before taking his shirt off , tossing out funny one-liners and professing his love for our dear city).

They opened with the opening song from their latest album (Could It Be Different? out over here on the always reliable Slumberland label) “Still Alive” with the great chorus of “Fuck you I’m still alive!” and then proceeded to crank out many of their best songs including “Keep in Touch,” “Less Than Perfect,” “Best of Intentions” “I Only Dance When I Want To,” “Speak When You’re Spoken To” and plenty more. The set was ther perfect length, a little over a half hour and it seemed like the fans there to see them were happily satisfied and they even won over some newbies as well.

Being an opening band there was no encore but the band seemed more than happy to be out on the road, meeting fans and being able to spread the word. It was great fun and if they come to your town please be front and center. You won’t regret it.


Wood Brothers 1/28/18, Philadelphia

Dates: January 28, 2018

Location: Union Transfer, Philadelphia PA

Live on a Sunday evening at Philly’s Union Transfer venue, there was a whole lotta sonic sanctification goin’ on… (Photo by Matt Rea, via the band’s Facebook page.)


The Wood Brothers have not received a lot of mainstream press coverage over the years. You’d be hard pressed to find their music on the radio. And still the band managed to pack Philly’s 1,200 seat Union Transfer on a cold Sunday in January recently. And it took just two songs from the neo-folk, blues, Americana revivalists to realize why.

The band started off the set with the stellar “The River Takes the Town,” off their just released album, One Drop of Truth (reviewed HERE), followed by “Keep Me Around” from 2013’s Muse. And that was all it took to win over the crowd that stayed with the band throughout the impressive set.

The trio, comprised of brothers Chris and Oliver Wood, along with drummer Jano Rox, played a blistering set that managed to fill the cavernous venue, despite only having three musicians up there (and two of them playing acoustic instruments). Although Oliver is technically the guy in front of the microphone, his brother Chris, deftly handling the stand-up bass, was the main focus throughout, swaying, dancing and playing his bass with both a bow and plucking at it like a rockabilly legend. You have to go back to the Stray Cats’ Lee Rocker in his mid-80s prime to find a bass player that can steal a show like Chris. Even Rox got off his stool for part of the set, picking up an acoustic guitar and playing it like a drum with open handed slaps and steel brushes.

Midway through the show, the trio huddled around an antique microphone to play through a series of solid traditional folk and blues numbers, including a remarkable take on “Midnight Special,” surrounded by members of Nashville’s Stray Birds, the show openers that night.

With little press or airplay, The Wood Brothers have managed to build a fervent fan base over the past decade thanks to little more than great songs and night after night of memorable shows. The Philly set proves that formula is still working remarkably well for the trio.

DIVA IN A YELLOW TANK – Diva In A Yellow Tank (LP)

Album: Diva In A Yellow Tank

Artist: Diva In A Yellow Tank

Label: self-released

Release Date: October 20, 2017

The Upshot: A ton of poppy fun via memorable melodies and delightful vocal harmonies.


Sunshine pop from the Sunshine State have never sounded more luminous: Hailing from South Florida, Diva In A Yellow Tank (a delightfully inscrutable monicker that may or not be the result of the members playing one of those “pick a noun… next an adjective… and then another noun…” naming games) conjures fresh images of classic New Wave acts like Elvis Costello and Squeeze as well as such Paisley Underground icons as the Three O’Clock and early Green On Red. Vocalist/keyboardist DL Mandell, guitarist Dean Anthon, bassist Marissa Mandell, and drummer Bryan David Johnson have an instinctive grasp on how to fuse earworm melodies, sweet harmonies, and kickin’ beats—and, yes, before you ask, they even have a song titled “Sunny Day,” which chugs along merrily via surging organ (Farfisa, perhaps?), la-la-la vocals, thrumming bass, and four-to-the-floor drums.

Other highlights? “Burnt Toast” is an obvious standout, rife with twisty chord changes and back-and-forth tempo shifts that bring to mind vintage XTC; “Trouble In My Mind,” swaggering and sassy, triggering the aforementioned Costello notion; the quirky, garagey psych-pop of “Lost and Found”; and “Always There,” with its sing-songy vocal motif. It would probably do a disservice to definitely peg the band as “retro,” because the quartet doesn’t seem particularly interested in songwriting via template. Rather, given how Mandell’s organ is the dominant instrument here, and the way the harmonies also behave texturally in the songs’ arrangements, it’s impossible not to think of earlier artists who rely on a similar approach. And one thing is guaranteed: These folks are surely a ton of fun in concert, capable of turning a crowded club into a smiling, bouncing-up-and-down mass.

DOWNLOAD: “Burnt Toast,” “Sunny Day,” “Lost and Found”

DEER TICK – Vol. 1 / Vol. 2

Album: Vol. 1 / Vol. 2

Artist: Deer Tick

Label: Partisan

January 01, 1970


Releasing two records simultaneously may seem like a bold move, although when it comes to strategy and logistics, it can make sense. Rather than releasing a double album and driving up the cost, it allows listeners to make a choice without committing to far more than they’re willing to entertain. Deer Tick’s methodology is especially effective, in that it divvies up the material according to tone and treatment. One volume dedicated to more mellow fare and the other leaning towards rockier realms.

In truth however, the quality is consistent throughout both records, and while Vol. 1 tends to identify with folkier fare, even the uptick in energy spawned in Vol. 2 doesn’t diminish the melodicism of the music overall. Granted, certain tracks on Vol. 1 (“Doomed from the Start,” “Rejection,” “”End of the World”) lean towards a more nocturnal ambiance courtesy of wistful sax solos and tinkling keyboards, but even so, when they turn up the tempo on Vol. 2, the divide isn’t so wide as to lead to a disconnect. The upbeat songs reflect varied influences — Springsteen (“Don’t Hurt”), Petty (“Jumpstarting,” “Look How Clean I Am”) and even the Pixies (“S.M. F.”) — but even so, there’s no hint of cacophony or chaos. Not that they don’t let loose; closing track “Mr. Nothing Cuts Worse” is primal rock ‘n’ roll fleshed out with full abandon, complete with rollicking piano, strident guitar and a sax solo befitting the best ‘50s rockers.

Those unawares of Deer Tick’s five preceding efforts ought to make every effort to catch up. Likewise, those who appreciate the band’s quality and consistency will find Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 to be a perfect pairing, as compatible as their titles imply.

DOWNLOAD: “Doomed from the Start,” “Rejection,” “Don’t Hurt”



RIBEYE BROTHERS – All Hat, No Cattle

Album: All Hat, No Cattle

Artist: Ribeye Brothers

Label: Mainman

Release Date: November 03, 2017 /

The Upshot: The Jersey devils reinvent themselves as a pure honky-tonk combo, but with a twist—they cover themselves.


Having long admired Jersey’s Ribeye Brothers, first as a roots-rockin’ offshoot of Monster Magnet, and, ultimately, as a hard-edged combo with genre subversion in mind, yours truly continues to get sucker-punched. That’s what Tim Cronin, Jon Kleiman, Joe Calandra, Brent Sisk, and Neil O’Brian aim to do—fuck up fans’ expectations—and they now deliver another masterful set steeped in rich melodies, a compellingly propulsive rhythmic attack, and of course their trademark sense of humor. But there’s a twist.

All Hat, No Cattle is the followup to 2014’s Call of the Scrapheap, a sterling slice of pure garage rock that invoked the ghosts of 13th Floor Elevators, Bo Diddley, Link Wray, and the Velvets. This time out, though, the gang lobs a huge curveball by covering themselves in country-rock fashion. Which means, for example, that the previously rollicking “Call of the Scrapheap” cranks up, instead, the banjo, brings in the pedal steel and fiddle, and twangs its little heart out. Similarly, the tune “Shit Car,” from 2013’s New Ways to Fail, had a bit of a power pop injection, but here it’s in pure honky tonk territory. And “Death or Greyhound,” when rendered in 2005 for Bar Ballads and Cautionary Tales, came across in contemporary times as a gently luminous folk-rock anthem; this time around, it’s gone full Bakersfield.

The twang ethos has always been part of the Ribeyes’ approach, don’t get me wrong. So a track like “Gunga Din” doesn’t get too radically overhauled compared to its 2014 counterpart; it simply gets its countrypolitan groove on with a bit more deliberation. So in essence, we fans get a unique spin on already familiar material, and the A-B comparison is borderline fascinating. Years ago, Southern Culture on the Skids did a cool little thing for their live shows, opening for themselves as the straight-country outfit The Pinecones, then shifting back to their signature swamp-choogle during the main set. It would be great to see the Ribeye Brothers doing likewise in concert, doing a set of garage and psych, followed by the same setlist but countrified.

Whattaya say, Tim, Jon, and gang?

DOWNLOAD: “Gunga Din,” “Swagger Turns to Stagger,” “Call of the Scrapheap”

DEAD SEA APES – Recondite

Album: Recondite

Artist: Dead Sea Apes

Label: Sunrise Ocean Bender / Cardinal Fuzz

Release Date: February 09, 2018  /

The Upshot: The future of psychedelic music is in good hands courtesy these sonically cinematic, kosmiche maestros.


Dead Sea Apes are a force to be reckoned with on their latest record Recondite. Album opener “Tentacles” sounds like a collaboration with Mark E. Smith and Lee “Scratch” Perry; it’s edgy, hypnotic, and will have you swimming in its turbulent wake. “Coronal” is a wildly different beast all together, a mercurial number that builds from a slow repetitive guitar line that swirls over itself and then blossoms into a full-on bloodletting. The vibe on this track reminds me of Tucson, Ariz., band The Myrrors . As the trance inducing gyrations became more feverish, I began to feel uncomfortable in my own skin. Then all of a sudden, my past present and future appeared in stunning clarity right before my own eyes. The feeling was devastating. I began to long for the genie to be put back in the bottle, but no such relief would be had. As the song ended it was like an LSD trip that I had to spend the next few days trying to shake off but just couldn’t.

These two tracks are worth the price of admission alone, and while they blew me away, they were merely a taster of even greater things to come. “True Believers” is edgy, brooding, and a massive crack to your cranium, giving full flight to the bands heavy psychedelic detonations. “The Recognition” is an intensely dark piece that incorporates violin into the mix and feels like the bands version of the old west. In fact, as the tension ratcheted up and began to seethe, I sensed an artistic nod to both Sixteen Horsepower’s Eugene Edwards and film director Sam Peckinpah, coursing through the veins of the song.

“Rethreads” has a spare feel and feels influenced by the Hair and Skin Trading Company album Psychedelische Musique. Here, the effects-laden guitar squalls are the equivalent of gamma bursts being spewed from a collapsed star. Disturbing and singular in vision, the track eventually devolves into orchestrated chaos where the assorted sonic emanations race by you and then morph and meld into a sonic mélange. The song grows increasingly devoid of all earthly context and pretense, and is then shaved down to its elemental core that eventually dives into the blackness of interstellar space.

Cinematic in scope and not for the faint of heart, the Dead Sea Apes have simply speaking blown me away with every measure of music on this LP. Rest assured, people: This is one of the finest bands creating psychedelic music out there. Labels like Sunrise Ocean Bender deserve high praise for putting out records like this one. That said, I see that the double gatefold LP has already sold out on the band’s website, so until the album is reissued, I guess digital will have to suffice. (I’m already on Discogs and eBay, looking for the real deal, bro. — Anti-digital/Pro-vinyl Ed.)  It seems that the future of psychedelic music is in good hands people.

DOWNLOAD: “Coronal,” “Tentacles,” “True Believers,” “Lupine Wavelength,” “Rethreads”


THE REMAINS – Live 1969 (LP)

Album: Live 1969

Artist: Remains

Label: Sundazed

Release Date: January 12, 2018

The Upshot: Legend has long held that Boston’s Remains were an incendiary live group. A good as their few studio records are, they don’t provide a lot of evidence to support that assertion. But as newly-discovered recording from the tail end of the 1960s makes the point in emphatic fashion. (Check the link at the bottom for an exclusive interview with the band.)


The Remains were one of the coolest and most promising r&b-flavored American rock bands of the 1960s. The Boston-based group scored the supreme honor of opening for the Beatles on their final U.S. Tour. And the Remains would be immortalized by inclusion on Lenny Kaye’s incalculably influential garage rock compilation, Nuggets.

What the Remains never quite did manage was to release a proper album. They were “big in Boston,” as the saying goes, but they never broke out nationally, and despite the presence of an excellent songwriter in guitarist Barry Tashian, most of what they would leave behind recording-wise were cover version (albeit very good ones).

Fast forward to present day. Tashian recently made a stunning discover in his personal archives: an excellent quality live concert recording of the Remains. No, it’s not from their opening slot for the Beatles. And in fact it’s not even a recording from the band’s original run. This tape is a document of a reunion gig at the fabled Boston Tea Party on March 16, 1969. And though original drummer Chip Damiani had left right before the ’66 Beatles tour (to be replaced by N.D. [Norman] Smart, later of Mountain and Hello People), he was back behind the drum throne for the reunion.

Perhaps disappointingly, the recording kicks off with a song rock fans have long since tired of” the McCoys’ “Hang On Sloopy.” But in fairness to the Remains, they tear into it with relish, emphasizing the rhythm and blues potential buried within the song. Their reading of “Route 66” is reminiscent of the Rolling Stones’ version (the Stones were a key influence on the band’s sound).

The band’s cover of the Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night” is quite punky, and keyboardist Bill Briggs’ electric piano is wonderfully nasty, playing the role of rhythm guitar. Tashian simply rips it up on a relatively lengthy lead guitar solo. Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” is pretty good as well, though despite the Remains’ spirited playing and singing, it’s not remarkably different form every other cover of the song you’ve heard.

But things get wild. The very best (by far) songs the Remains ever did were “Don’t Look Back” (written by a young Billy Vera) and “Why Do I Cry.” The latter is here in all its r&b fury, sounding not unlike the Stooges with an electric piano. In fact the Detroit band featuring one Iggy Pop is as good a musical guide for the aesthetic on display for this entire set: exceedingly raw, full of energy and rocking as hell.

In many ways, “Why Do I Cry” is the high point of Live 1969. The rest of the set is mostly familiar material, though it’s played with unmatched fervor. The Remains pile-drive their way through a supersonic (and delightfully ragged) reading of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” and head straight into a blues number, Muddy Waters’ “She’s Nineteen Years Old. With the pace slowed waaaay down for the blues, the energy flags a bit, but the Remains play the tune in sinister fashion, extending it to nearly six minutes.

“Tell ya what: we’ll just do something else altogether,” Tashian tells the crowd. That something else is Richie Valens’ “La Bamba” (with pretty fine Spanish vocals), sliding right into a malevolent and delightfully bum-note filled Rolling Stones cover, “Empty Heart.” The band wraps up with a track off their ill-fated album (released after they broke up, “Diddy Wah Diddy.” In the Boston group’s hands the tune sounds not a bit like Captain Beefheart’s version; instead, it – once again – calls to mind the Stooges. And what’s not to love about that?

Nobody knew this tape existed until recently. It existence proves something that was always said about the Remains, both by fans and Tashian himself: the band’s studio recording barely hinted at the Remains’ intensity. So here it is, in all its ragged glory. Fittingly enough, the album is available from the folks at Sundazed Records, on good old fashioned vinyl.

You may also enjoy: my wide-ranging interview with The Remains’ Barry Tashian, from 2010.

 DOWNLOAD:  “Why Do I Cry”


GOGO PENGUIN – A Humdrum Star

Album: A Humdrum Star

Artist: Gogo Penguin

Label: Blue Note

Release Date: February 09, 2018

The Upshot: UK outfit marries EDM to piano trio format for keyboard, bass, and drums, with striking results.


Manchester’s GoGo Penguin has always had a unique way of making music: composing its pieces as EDM, then translating those tunes into a piano trio format. The contrast between drummer Rob Turner’s athletic translations of jungle and dancefloor beats and bassist Nick Blacka’s woody double bass tones creates a distinctive and uplifting foundation for pianist Chris Illingworth’s minimalist classical melodies and chord work. A Humdrum Star, the band’s fourth album, mostly stays the course of its prior work – check out “Raven” and “Reactor” for  perfect encapsulations of its aesthetic. GGP has begun to alter its formerly all-acoustic format, however, as its electronic influences become more obvious. The organ drones that underpin “Transient State” and “Strid” and the repetitive keyboard strike throughout “Bardo” add new textures to the group’s arrangements without being obvious about it. The results come off like the soundtrack to an imaginary video game, one where environmental exploration is more important than staying on task.

DOWNLOAD: “Strid,” “Reactor,” “Transient State”



Album: Romaria

Artist: Andy Sheppard Quartet

Label: ECM

Release Date: February 16, 2018

The Upshot: Veteran UK saxman doesn’t exercise his more energetic muscles often enough, but generates enough heat to make the next album featuring this configuration something to anticipate.


Though originally from the United Kingdom, veteran saxophonist Andy Sheppard has spent a great deal of his professional life outside of his home country, accumulating influences from all over. That international feel culminates in Romaria, his second album featuring French bassist Michel Benita, Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset and British drummer Sebastian Rochford. As with the quartet’s previous LP Surrounded By Sea, the musicians luxuriate in languid atmospheres and lush melodies, with Sheppard soloing thoughtfully over the shimmering backdrops provided by his bandmates. “With Every Flower That Falls” and album bookends “And a Day…” and “Forever…” exemplify that approach, though it reaches its apex (or, depending on your perspective, nadir) on the appropriately titled “Pop.” But other tracks feature an edge not present on the last record. “Thirteen” lets Benita and Rochford out of their cage to drive the rhythm more ruthlessly, becoming downright explosive on “They Came From the North.” Aarset also steps forward on these tunes, darkening his colors and threatening to slice through the sound with his icy tone. Sheppard’s skills sit comfortably in both sides of his personality, though it seems like he doesn’t exercise his more energetic muscles often enough. Still, Romaria generates enough heat to make the next album featuring this configuration something to anticipate.

DOWNLOAD: “They Came From the North,” “Thirteen,” “Forever…”


BILLY STRINGS – Turrmoil & Tinfoil

Album: Turmoil & Tinfoil

Artist: Billy Strings

Label: self-released

Release Date: September 22, 2017


Naturally, there’s no small irony in the fact that this set of songs, with all its strumming and plucking, should be credited to an artist who refers to himself as Billy Strings. Yet with his second album, Turmoil & Tinfoil, Strings — born William Apostol — shows that he’s earned his handle convincingly. Mostly consisting of high velocity rambles, the dozen songs herein boast an edge and intent not unlike the sound proffered by Steep Canyon Rangers, Bela Fleck, Sam Bush and other purveyors of today’s so-called nu-grass sound. While the music stays true to its rustic origins, it’s served up within a contemporary context that takes it beyond the back porch and into the confines of modern Americana. This is the sound of crowd pleasing picking, a certain flash and sizzle that offers the potential to draw a more avid admirer, the kind of devotee that’s likely to flock to a festival like MerleFest or Telluride to enjoy the instrumental dexterity these gatherings guarantee. The lightning fast frenzy of songs such as “On the Line,” “While I’m Waiting Here,” “Living Like an Animal” and the agile instrumentals “Salty Sheep” and “Pyramid Country” offer both fanciful hooks and adroit execution, a twin set of skills that propels Strings and his celebrity guests (Miss Tess, Bryan Sutton, Molly Tuttle, Shad Cobb et. al.) to a purposeful plateau. An obvious example of modern bluegrass propensity, Turmoil & Tinfoil are ideal ingredients to create a genuine bluegrass bonanza.

DOWNLOAD: “On the Line,” “While I’m Waiting Here,” “Living Like an Animal”