Album: Harmlessness

Artist: The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die

Label: Epitaph

Release Date: October 02, 2015


The Upshot: A group of individuals that bleeds sound and emotions, making music that forms its own unique genre.


I first met members of The World Is A Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid To Die (World is… or TWIABP as sometimes abbreviated) when they released their debut album Whenever, If Ever and they were on tour supporting the record. They came to a local club and played to about 15 people. About 10 people sitting and watching the performance while the other 5 threw each other in to the next person. I nervously thanked them after the show and bought everything they had merch wise and then went home to soak in the new found obsession.

Fast forward to about a year later, the band returned to the same club to play a sold out venue opening for the band Into It Over It. A very much drastic change from when the last time they played the club. The crowd was very much into them. Derrick Dvorak belted out at the crowd “Where the fuck were you all when we played here last time?” Understanding him, I responded “I was!” Then we began to just have a small chat about the earlier show—in front of a sold out crowd. (If remembered correctly we were both heavily intoxicated.) Again like last time I scooped up whatever merch they had that was new and that I didn’t have and made my way home.

Forwarding on, I met Derrick and his wife (Katie Dvorak) recently at Raleigh’s Hopscotch Festival. We were both following the band What Cheer? Brigade as they played the streets of Raleigh as if they were in the streets of New Orleans. Asking them why they were here, Derrick replied with “I’m here to see The White Octave.” We immediately made the connection of the one band during the entire festival that both of us most wanted to see, he driving down from Connecticut where TWIABP is based and myself only driving 10 minutes to see a band that hasn’t played a show in 10+ years. As we hung out for most of the day chatting about the band and his record label Broken World Media—I also work in a record store—we became friends. So consider all the foregoing as just a preface to my review and how my review won’t really matter because I’m a fanboy but you could still, hopefully, take it as an enjoyable read…

Harmlessness is an album that transcends into something more than just your average record. Bringing multiple instrumentation that causes your speakers to fill with such pleasantry. Derrick and an acoustic bring the beginning of the record to an image of somebody playing into an 8 track player. Gang vocals and strings fill the air with such a rolling momentum that you expect the song will continue to get larger and larger. It does. Thus gripped, it brings you to a dropout where just guitar and vocals give way to a space-filled intro somewhat reminiscent to the group’s earlier Between Bodies EP.

“January 10th 2014” tells the tale of Diana, The Hunter of Bus Drivers, a woman vigilante who shot and killed two men after a string of sexual assaults on women in the area of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. “Are you Diana, the Hunter?” “Are you afraid of me now?” “Well, yeah. Shouldn’t I be?” are traded off with lead singer David Bello and keyboardist Katie Dvorak. Such lyrics are both powerful and tie the song’s meanings together.

From there, Harmlessness continues on with subtle hints to works that the band has done in the past. Easter eggs, really. Lyrics such as “When we get home, we won’t be empty” and “I keep holding onto, I keep begging myself.” I won’t tell you what songs these lyrics are in. You figure it out.

The album continues with punishing drums from Steven Buttery, linking together songs “Wendover” and “We Need More Skulls,” and with patterns that feel like they should be used on a free jazz album. Closing the record are two very powerful tracks “I Can Be Afraid Of Anything” and “Mount Hum” totaling almost 16 minutes of music to end the record perfectly, touching on subjects of being stressed and not being able to experience pleasure.

While the band has been labeled as “emo-revival” there is actually nothing about them suggesting they have revived emo. (I hate even mentioning those words together. Sorry, reader.) If anything, they are reviving the notion of what a solid fucking album should sound like. TWIABP is a band that forms its own genre, blending different areas of music together. Lyrics that are definitely life events merge with music that is beautifully crafted. (Incidentally, Chris Teti did engineering, mixing, and producing of the record. Chris is co-owns Silver Bullet Studios which has also done work for Hostage Calm Misery Signals, Make Do And Mend and many other bands. Chris is somebody who you should definitely watch out for his work to come. )

Harmlessness will be one of the records on my list of albums of the year. Something so well crafted by a group of individuals that bleeds music and emotions makes me thinks/hopes this is just the beginning for The World Is A Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid To Die.

DOWNLOAD: “January 10th 2014,” “The World Lisa”



Album: New Villain

Artist: Amy Bezunartea

Label: Kiam

Release Date: September 25, 2015

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The Upshot: Songs that are achingly beautiful, in the most minimal way, even the subject matter is most scathing.


Amy Bezunartea’s music is so sparely pretty that you might miss the sting. She sings in a soft, smooth murmur, not a shriek or groan or grunt anywhere, and her arrangements are similarly hushed, mostly guitar, a little drumming, some hushed harmonies and lots and lots of space. The feel is overall so serene and placid that it takes a while for the acid to burn in, but burn it does.

Consider the skeletal “It’s Disgusting,” where against a wash of tape hiss, with the barest hint of twitching beat, Bezunartea sings in gentle harmony with herself a series of lyrics so self-lacerating that you almost have to back away. It’s in the most matter of fact way that she delivers lyrics like, “all this fat, the hair and poverty/Can’t you just keep yourself clean?/god you just break everything/take a girl from the trash, but she’s still trashy.” Or on the more empowered title track where she turns her rage outward, again, the tone is eerily subdued. A slow plunk of bass guitar and naked vocals is all that’s between us and Bezunartea, as she executes a Sicilian curse of a song, “What will I do with all this air? I don’t know but you should be scared.” Scary indeed, and more so because of its narcotized setting.

Bezunartea’s songs are achingly beautiful, in the most minimal way, even the subject matter is most scathing, yet she has her loveliest turn when considering forgiveness, on the late album highlight “Friends Again.” The song has the disc’s most memorable melodic line in the effortlessly gorgeous chorus. “We can finally live, weightless and free, friends again, you and me,” she croons, as an eerie slide guitar (that’s Tim Foljahn) arcs through the darkness. It’s a soothing balm after all that negativity, but maybe wouldn’t be so lovely without the contrast.

DOWNLOAD: “New Villain,” “Friends Again”



THE BEVIS FROND – Example 22

Album: Example 22

Artist: Bevis Frond

Label: Woronzow

Release Date: October 02, 2015

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The Upshot: One hell of a scorching album from Nick Saloman & Co. (Go HERE to read our recent interview with Saloman.


Example 22 from Nick Saloman is one hell of a scorching album that brings back Outskirts of Infinity Guitarist Bari Watts on two of the tracks with stunning results. My love for Bevis Frond has burned strong for over two decades. It’s always an event in my “corner of Beijing” when they release an album. Many column inches have been dedicated to what a brilliant songwriter Nick is and on this record he sails from one high water mark to the next. The band here more than on past outings exhibit a well-lubricated tautness that gives the songs some real balls. Saloman’s guitar is superbly augmented by long time cohort Adrian Shaw (ex-Hawkwind) on bass, which provides a bedrock of support for Saloman’s songwriting and guitar flights.

Everyone has a different side of the Bevis Frond that they like. For some it’s the blistering psych movements of old, or the heavier numbers, and still for others it’s the poppier numbers. On this record you’ll find it all. Personally I happen to still love the heavy numbers that we could hear on albums like the Bevis and Twink record Magic Eye from 20 years ago. Thankfully and I’m not dismissing the other numbers on the record but the heavier stuff is what I was able to immediately gravitate towards. I was psyched to see Bari Watts on the album as he lends the two tracks he appears on the fuck yeah, heavy psych vibe that I so crave from Bevis Frond songs.

My personal tastes aside, the record displays through its almost 72 minutes the extremely well crafted songs you’ve come to expect from The Frond. Take for example the track “Longships” which would’ve been easily at home on London Stone, it’s that good of a tune. Nick and crew seem to be going through another renaissance, which is a wonderful thing for fans and new listeners alike, now if only they’d come to Beijing.

DOWNLOAD: “Longships” “I Blame The Rain” “Stand Back From The Hand” “Second Son”



Album: Weirdo

Artist: Five Eight

Label: Chicken Ranch

Release Date: July 10, 2015

Five Eight 7-10

The Upshot: Mid ‘90s release from the Athens outfit stands as the band’s creative apex, a perfect example of taking distinction into richer, more mature territories.


Five Eight is one of the great never-quites in the American underground. The Athens, Georgia trio-cum-quartet made the right kind of noise, musically and otherwise, with its first two records – 1992’s I Learned Shut Up and 1993’s The Angriest Man are both masterclasses on how to translate nervous angst into thrilling guitar rock. Those LPs set the stage for Weirdo, a mature step forward that should have been the band’s breakthrough to the proverbial bigger and better things. It didn’t happen, as these things so often don’t. The band soldiered on, as it does to this day, and Weirdo slipped out of print.

Until now. Austin-based Chicken Ranch Records resurrects Weirdo as a beautiful double LP with bonus tracks, a reworked cover and a sharp remastering job from original album producer David Barbe. All well and good, but superfluous unless the original work is worth the return trip. Unsurprisingly, it is. Not content to simply return to the same hooky well that informed the first two records, Five Eight consciously evolves here. Herky-jerky rhythms, clashing dischords and a refined attack mark tunes like “Stars,” the appropriately titled “Tense It Up” and “You Never Look in My Eyes,” which remain tuneful despite the discomfort. The yearning “Mystery James,” the bonus cut “Strings” and the tense “What They Did,” on the other hand, balance emotional instability with more accessible melodies for intense semi-singalongs. That goes triple for “Hurt You” and “Behead Myself,” which lavish some of the record’s strongest tunes on some of its most upsetting lyrics in a way few bands even attempt, let alone so successfully. The title track, performed by leader Mike Mantione alone, boils the album’s damaged heart and feeds it back to its creator, tough on the outside and tender on the inside.

By avoiding paved roads in favor of the ditch, Five Eight bends itself into new shapes while still keeping to familiar sounds. Weirdo stands as the band’s creative apex, a perfect example of taking distinction into richer, more mature territories.

 DOWNLOAD: “Behead Myself,” “Mystery James,” “Hurt You”


Album: Wild Heart

Artist: Samantha Fish

Label: Ruf

Release Date: July 10, 2015

SAm Fish 7-15

The Upshot: A true blues star emerging to international prominence.


It was hard not to take notice of Samantha Fish. A beautiful young woman in her mid-20’s on stage in a short skirt with legs that go straight up to heaven and a blues guitar sound that goes right down to hell. Often barefoot on stage with a cigar box guitar, this Kansas City native plays a dirty slide, turning a classic like “Shake ‘Em On Down” into a blues exorcism. This is slide plying you do not hear much anymore, a homage to the masters like Elmore James and Duane Allman. On her first two albums, she also showed her potential with intense vocals and excellent original songwriting.

But you had to wonder how this Kansas City girl found the devil’s music. Now on her third release, Wild Heart we get a clue. Fish has been traveling the backroads of Louisiana and Mississippi and enlisted Luther Dickinson as producer of the CD. It shows. Excellent choice. Dickinson has blues in his blood. He is a founder of the North Mississippi All Stars and son of the legendary Jim Dickinson, who is about as Memphis as Elvis.

What Samantha has been edging toward all along has found a home and perfect expression on Wild, her strongest work yet. Mississippi Hill Country Blues is like no other blues in the world, as far removed from its Delta Blues cousin as you could be. Hill Country Blues, with its emphasis on rhythm, percussion and few chord changes, was called trance music when played by the late slide masters Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside. Those masters are gone but their kin folk joined Dickinson in creating the North Mississippi All Stars.

Wild is an excellent record. It is not all Hill Country blues. There is a country blues cover of a song by Delta blues father, Charley Patton, “Jimmy Lee Blues, Pt 1” and a fine Southern ballad, “Lost Myself.” But when you hear Fish’s guitar crescendo on “Highway’s Holding Me” and the slide riff that starts “Blame it on the Moon” and the angry slide on “Turn it Up” you are hearing songs that could easily approach trance status if expanded on stage. Indeed, they might be so hot performed live that barefoot Samantha might have to protect her bare feet. It will certainly be interesting to see.

Besides, producing, Luther Dickinson plays bass, lap steel and mandolin. Other Hill country stars like Lightnin Malcolm and Sharde Thomas, a Mississippi fife drum player and granddaughter of the legendary Othar Turner, guest star.

Wild shows Samantha Fish emerging as a true blues star. This CD is worth listening to and Samantha Fish is worth following.

DOWNLOAD: “Road Runner,” “Highway’s Holding Me Now,” “Turn it Up”



HALEY SLAGLE – Liar’s Best Friend

Album: Liar's Best Friend

Artist: Haley Slagle

Label: self-released

Release Date: September 04, 2015


 Hayle Slagle 4-15

The Upshot: West Virginia songwriter offers stripped down and hauntingly beautiful set of folk/alt country songs.


Long before auto-tune, vocal dubbing and a slew of other recording studio tricks, bands actually just set up a mic or two in a room and recorded their songs live. Imagine that.

Haley Slagle, a fixture on the Morgantown, WV music scene for years, recorded Liar’s Best Friend by setting up inside a friend’s house and knocked out nine songs – with the musicians sitting around in a circle – in just two sessions. The result is a stripped down and hauntingly beautiful set of folk/alt country songs that sound timeless in their execution.

Over the years, Slagle has shared the stage with folks like Lucero, Jason Isbell and Lydia Loveless and you can hear the influence of her contemporaries, as well as folks like Patsy Cline and Kris Kristofferson, in the songs here. Stripped of flashiness and unnecessary flourishes, the vocals and lyrics take the spotlight.

DOWNLOAD: “Ghosts Don’t Care,” “Whisky” and “Wishes and Stars”


PAUL WELLER – Saturn’s Pattern

Album: Saturn's Pattern

Artist: Paul Weller

Label: Warner Bros.

Release Date: May 19, 2015


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The Upshot: As close to heavenly as Weller’s ever been.


In a very real sense, it’s a credit to his credibility that Paul Weller earned himself the nickname the “Modfather,” even though he came along a good ten years after the original Mod brigade had made its initial appearance. Nevertheless, Weller’s absolute dedication to the cause – that is, his adoration and admiration for the likes of the Small Faces, the Kinks, Traffic and other members of the English establishment — imbued him with an authority and authenticity nearly as striking as that of that of the artists that inspired him. His work with the Jam and the efforts he mounted on his own helped reinforce that notion, and while Style Council might have seemed a slight diversion, it still affirmed his industrious intent. Even so, Weller continues to convey a nagging impression that there’s better work ahead of him, and that for all his accomplishments he’s yet to make an album as good as those he offered early on, “Wild Wood, “Stanley Road,” and his self-titled debut among them.

Weller himself seems aware of this need to reassert himself, and as a result, “Saturn’s Pattern” begins with a one-two punch that’s as prominent and pronounced as any album opener in recent memory. “White Sky” and the title track establish the fact Weller’s ready to rock, and if the track that follows, “Going My Way” creates a lull, it soon amends for that with some beautiful Beach Boys-like harmonies and harmonics. Weller’s fixation with synths and effects still clouds his melodies at times, but the highlights of this album — the soaring choral sing-along of “I’m Where I Should Be” and the cooing choir of “Phoenix” — emulate the perfect pop Weller’s clearly capable of conceiving. Though only nine songs long, “Saturn’s Pattern” is as close to heavenly as Weller’s ever been.

DOWNLOAD: “White Sky,” “Saturns Pattern,” “Going My Way”


Woggles/Ugly Beats/Soulphonics 9/25/15, Austin

Dates: September 25, 2015

Location: Continental Club, Austin TX

8. The Woggles 9_25_15

The Upshot: Back to the garage, but no tuneup necessary because this machine is in high gear.


September 25 in Austin, and a whole lotta shakin’ going on at The Continental Club. Starting with rawk/folk maximum jangling of The Soulphonics….

1. Soulphonics 9_25_15

3. Soulphonics 9_25_15

2. Soulphonics 9_25_15

…followed by local Get Hip Recordings ‘60s garage/surf/powerpop/nuggets and everything related legends The Ugly Beats…

4. The Ugly Beats 9_25_15

5. The Ugly Beats 9_25_15

…then rounded off with The Professor, The Flesh Hammer, Buzz Hågstrom, and Den Elextro:  aka THE all time greatest rock ’n’ roll dance party shakin’ most fun you’ll ever have at a live show vets The Woggles (also pictured at the top)!

6. The Woggles 9_25_15

7. The Woggles 9_25_15

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Below: Steve Wynn (and Linda Pitmon, not pictured) drops in just in time to catch The Ugly Beats

10. Steve Wynn drops in

Dawes 9/25/13, Raleigh NC

Dates: September 25, 2015

Location: North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh NC

Dawes Blurt (8)

The Upshot: With the addition of Dicky Betts’ kid Duane to the lineup, the poppy roots combo expanded its sound to make material from its new album come alive onstage.


It was a wet Friday night as Dawes rolled into the NC Museum of Art on their current tour in support of their fourth album All Your Favorite Bands. Given the rain that had fallen all day, thanks to a low pressure system stalled on the coast, the outdoors crowd was smaller than it probably otherwise would have been, but the fans that were there were definitely the die-hards, singing along with all the songs old and new.

To be honest, I had only listened to the new record once, and my immediate impression was that this collection of songs about love and loss didn’t hold up as well alongside their incredibly strong first two records. Well, as with most of my favorite bands (see what I did there?), the tunes took on a new life when played live. Hearing them in concert, alongside the older material, one can hear the development of the Taylor Goldsmith and the band’s songwriting. Notably, the ballad “Now That’s It’s Too Late, Maria” sounded sweet (with Goldsmith throwing down some tasty licks in between the lines), leading perfectly into “Coming Back To A Man from Nothing Is Wrong.” Throughout the night, Taylor and his younger brother Griffin (on drums) provided great sibling harmonies that added depth to Taylor’s words.

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Dawes Blurt

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For this tour Dawes is augmenting the band with Duane Betts on second guitar, looking, and with his Goldtop Les Paul, sounding, every bit like his father’s son. I was afraid the addition would clutter the arrangements, but the younger Betts proved to be more than tasteful enough, as he added subtle touches and strong leads to the songs, adding a bit of southern style to the band’s LA sound. A standout of the evening was “Somewhere Along The Way,” with Duane taking the solo and Taylor joining in to create a very Allman Brothers-esq harmony lead, drawing applause from the North Carolina crowd.

By mid-set the rain had let up and the band treated us with “Peace in the Valley” which gave everyone, Taylor, Griffin, Duane, keyboardist Tay Strathairn and bassist Wylie Gelber time to stretch out a little. Following the new “Things Happen,” came “A Little Bit of Everything,” which gets me every time, and the celebratory “When My Time Comes.” It may be clichéd at this point to sing along with that song at a Dawes concert, but it feels good and that’s what music is all about, right?

Closing with the title track of their new record, the band put their instruments down and Taylor led the crowd in singing along, “may your brother’s El Camino run forever and may all your favorite bands stay together.” A satisfied audience singing along with Dawes—I couldn’t think of a better way to close the season at Raleigh’s unsung gem of a venue.

Dawes Blurt (7)

Dawes Blurt (6)

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Yo La Tengo 9/24/15, Glenside PA

Dates: September 24, 2015

Location: Keswick Theatre, Glenside PA


The Upshot: Playing in the Philly suburbs on a week night, the band seemed to be enjoying every minute of the set.


It’s been two decades since indie rock lifers Yo La Tengo pulled their tour bus into the Keswick Theatre parking lot. The nearly 100-year-old venue tucked away safely in the quiet Philly ‘burbs is a classic venue, but not the first one that comes to mind when you think of indie royalty.

Cleary Pope Francis didn’t both to check the band’s release schedule when booking his end of summer/last-fling vacation – a trip that has turned the streets of Philadelphia into the set of some dystopian B Movie, with parking lots and major roads off limits even days before the father could swing by Gino’s for a cheesesteak. The reason the band was relegated to the ‘burbs for the evening wasn’t lost on singer/guitarist Ira Kaplan; “Anyone going to see the Pope?” he asked between songs, which led to laughter and a few loud groans from the audience. Singer/drummer Georgia Hubley quickly added, “Ok, Pope discussion over,” before moving into the next song.

Despite playing to a half-full audience – thanks to public transportation limbo that was wreaking havoc on the city that week – the two set show was remarkable satisfying regardless. Billed as “An Acoustic Evening with Yo La Tengo,” bassist James McNew played a stand-up bass and Hubley set her stool aside for the evening, playing the drums standing up, mainly with brushes. The band even brought back Dave Schramm on guitar for this tour.

An early member of Yo La Tengo, his last full record with the band was 1990’s Fakebook – a mainly acoustic album comprising covers and five originals. With the band now touring behind Stuff Like That There, another quiet record of mostly covers, the addition of Schramm was a natural.

Regardless of the Act of God (or at least God’s emissary) factors the band faced playing the show that night, the group remained loose, even jovial, throughout the show. “This next song was written by a Muslim, so we’re going to send this one out to Ben Carson… That guy’s a nut,” he introed before moving into “Here Comes My Baby,” by Cat Steven’s. Playing a lot of material from Fakebook and the new album, there were a slew of ambitiously solid covers from The Cure, Devo, Johnny Cash, but the one that got the most approval was when the band launched into “Dreaming” by Philly adoptee Sun Ra.

“When we come to Philadelphia, we always do something by Sun Ra,” Kaplan said. “Maybe it’s not always good to the same thing…. But it’s freaking Sun Ra!” Even playing in the’ burbs on a week night, the band seemed to be enjoying every minute of the set. God knows the audience was.