SICK SAD WORLD – Fear & Lies

Album: Fear & Lies

Artist: Sick Sad World

Label: Help Yourself

Release Date: May 26, 2015

 Sick Sad 5-12


The Upshot: Infectious, joyful indie pop that belies the group’s downer of a name.


Leave to an Olympia/Seattle kid to see past the rain and gloom and put out an impossibly sunny indie pop album that sticks with you for days. Lyrically smart and witty, musically a cross between an amped up Beach Boys with nods to Power Pop bands like Material Issue and Jellyfish, Sick Sad World is clearly a misnomer.

The brainchild of skater Jake Jones, Fear & Lies is oddly at both times comfortably familiar and impressively original. From the “Hawaii Five O”-like surf guitar intro to “Alone All the Time” – an infectious sing-along about losing all of your friends (there’s the ol’ Seattle gloom we know and love) – to the perfectly scattered whoa-oh’s in a song like “Disguise,” Jones has crafted a memorable record from start to finish.

Here’s hoping Fear & Lies is just the beginning of a long career.

 DOWNLOAD: “Alone All the Time,” “Disguise” and “Skateboarding Girl”


Album: Helio Sequence

Artist: Helio Sequence

Label: Sub Pop

Release Date: May 19, 2015

Helio 5-19


The Upshot: Skipping across the decades, influence-wise, the Sub Pop darlings still manage to keep its pop smarts fresh.


“I’m looking for a new direction” sings Brandon Summers on opener “Battle Lines”, which is an atmospheric track that has its pop sensibilities informed by the ‘80s with a 2015 spin. The album cover is the biggest hint that something has changed for the band with this latest release. With the rising sun imagery, and layered pastel clouds, it’s obvious this is a new day breaking for the band.

“Red Shifting” is another song that appealed to me upon first listen, with its danceable beat with an almost semi new wave vibe.

“Inconsequential Ties” feels like an early ‘70s Steve Miller tune. I keep expecting Summer’s to sing, “keep a rocking me baby!” I must admit it’s a really cool retro tune that’s quite catchy, and who knows it may end up in Vincent Gallo’s, Brown Bunny 2.

Jesting aside, the band’s ability to incorporate retro elements and keep it feeling fresh at the same time deserves some praise.

“Phantom Shore” is my favorite song on the record and worth the price of admission alone. It starts off with some pulsating synths, and then the drums and cymbals kick in. Once those are squarely in place, the guitar comes oscillating in, which reminds me of a Reg Smithies (Chameleons) guitar lick. The Chameleons never seemed to get the recognition they so rightfully deserved when they were making brilliant records back in the 80’s. Here The Helio Sequence have coopted the guitar and bass and synth sound of “Second Skin”. The band has managed to render these elements with great aplomb forging it with their own distinctive sound and hazy production, elevating the song into a very memorable pastiche of sound. With the duo’s songwriting skills never in doubt “Phantom Shore” is a brilliant sign of even greater things to come from this band.

In the little promo flyer that accompanied the album, the promotions people mention that this time around the band took their songs to their friends and fans to help compile the album. It seems things have worked out quite well in this instance. While I may disagree with the running order the songs, they do show a band reinvigorated by the creative process. The band says, “We were working so quickly that there was a running optimism.” It’s something that permeates almost all of the tracks on this album.

Filled with some genuinely memorable moments The Helio Sequence show that if a band is open to experimentation and letting the light of the new day shine in, fascinating things can truly happen.






JULIA HÜLSMANN QUARTET W/ THEO BLECKMANN – A Clear Midnight: Kurt Weill in America

Album: A Clear Midnight: Kurt Weill in America

Artist: Julia Hülsmann Quartet W/ Theo Bleckmann

Label: ECM

Release Date: April 07, 2015

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The Upshot: Mack the Knife, and Weill in general, gets sharpened anew at the hands of a German pianist and a New York vocalist.


The music of theatrical composer Kurt Weill has long enraptured forward-thinking musicians, from jazz to rock. On A Clear Midnight: Kurt Weill in America, German pianist Julia Hülsmann is the latest acolyte, taking on the master’s work with not only her working Quartet, but also the German-born/NYC-based singer Theo Bleckmann. Hülsmann gets the elephant to leave the room immediately by beginning with “Mack the Knife,” Weill’s most famous composition due to Bobby Darin’s hit and the popularity of its theatrical origin The Threepenny Opera. But this version has little in common with either tradition or Darin – instead, Hülsmann and Bleckmann cast the song as an atmospheric ballad, with lightly brushed drums, mournful trumpet courtesy of Tom Arthurs, Bleckmann’s haunted tenor and the leader’s sedate melodicism.

Indeed, that approach serves the group well on the rest of the program. The singer, in particular, shines – his contemplative, even lonely tone keeps the bombast so many singers bring to Weill’s work at a far distance. Recasting numbers as popular as “September Song,” “Speak Low” and “Alabama Song” or as lesser-known as “Your Technique,” “This is New” and the evocatively expansive “Great Big Sky” in Hülsmann’s Eurojazz image works beautifully. The band also culls the oeuvre of poet Walt Whitman, with whom Weill felt an affinity, for a meandering, enigmatic “A Noiseless Patient Spider,” a vibrant, rhythmic “Beat! Beat! Drums” and the especially gorgeous title track. With graceful intent and a fine touch, Hülsmann, Bleckmann and company revive Weill’s work while avoiding clichés and putting their own spin on a classic songbook.

DOWNLOAD: “A Clear Midnight,” “Mack the Knife,” “Speak Low”


LOOP – Array 1

Album: Array 1

Artist: Loop

Label: ATP Recordings

Release Date: July 24, 2015

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The Upshot: The culmination of the group’s furious fusion of psychedelic crunch, ambient moan and motorik vroom.


For psych rock fans, the return of Loop in 2013 definitely got the heart rate racing. Once a triumphant U.S. tour was completed, the question then became: will the band record new music? With Array 1, the first in a series of EPs, we have the answer.

Amazingly, the quartet – still led by guitarist/vocalist Robert Hampson, otherwise featuring new players – picks up right where it left off with its last album, 1990’s A Gilded Eternity. “Precession” and “Aphelion” crank the band’s rock side, squeezing repetitive riffs and driving rhythm through pedalboards with all knobs turned up. By contrast, “Coma” floats on gently lapping waves of distortion, like a swimmer in a pool as stormclouds gather. The disk ends, quite properly, with “Radial,” a 17-minute monster that starts with “Coma”’s undulating ambience before revving up the first two tracks’ enigmatic pound, then settling into a menacing drone of metallic ghosts.

Like its celebrated, quarter-century old predecessor, Array 1 is the culmination of the group’s furious fusion of psychedelic crunch, ambient moan and motorik vroom, and a reminder of just how brilliant Loop is and always was.

DOWNLOAD: “Radial,” “Precession,” “Coma”



Album: Pathology

Artist: Trails and Ways

Label: Barsuk

Release Date: June 02, 2015


The Upshot: Percolating pop and instant gratification tunes ultimately yields to tedium.


Trails and Ways offer something of a conundrum. Although they strive to for a sound that’s clearly hip and happening, their dance-ready melodies and synthesized set-ups are liable to alienate anyone who finds their perky impulses a bit too grating. While the sound of modern music has its attractions — and distractions — those wanting music with deeper meaning will likely demand something more. Regardless, Trails and Ways risk it all on instant gratification. and indeed the percolating pop that characterizes such songs as “Skeletons,” “Jacaranda” and “Nunca” clearly boasts certain charms, mainly a chirpy effervescence that’s hard to resist.

Yet, while those irrepressible rhythms do offer momentary delight, there’s little here that demands a return listen. The exceptions come via “Terezinha,” “Vines” and “Heavy Sleeper,” thoughtful, more substantive melodies that give cause to pause and reflect. Otherwise, Pathology finds Trails and Ways providing a route that leads to momentary appeal, but at the same time, offering only scant reason for return.

DOWNLOAD: “Terezinha,” “Vines,” “Heavy Sleeper”

Danzig / Pennywise / Cancer Bats 7/19/15, Kansas City MO

Dates: July 19, 2015

Location: Midland Theater, Kansas City MO


The Upshot: All hail the evil Elvis!


There are many potential contenders for the title of rock’s Prince of Darkness. Ozzy, Marilyn Manson, the late Ronnie James Dio, Alice Cooper, King Diamond, the list goes on but for my money, the title will always belong to the “Evil Elvis” himself, the one and only Mr. Glenn Danzig.

Seeing Danzig in concert was something I had always wanted to do but had never done; this fascination began when a cousin brought me a copy of Danzig’s debut album home on a visit from California in 1989. I was hooked on the opening chords of “Twist of Cain,” a song from Danzig’s days as lead singer of Samhain, a band named for an occult holiday. From the debut self-titled, I went backwards through his career, first with original horror punks The Misfits, then taking it up a notch with Samhain and Danzig. However, before I could at last achieve the dream, I got SoCal skate punk legends Pennywise and two rather mundane thrash metal bands, one of which, for the life of me, I cannot seem to recall their name.

First up, the mundane, derivative band whose name has escaped my data banks. [Hellevate. —Metal Ed.] While the music was not necessarily shitty (their last song, a galloping stomper of a tune, was fantastic) it had all the classic thrash metal clichés. A “wailing” singer apparently inspired by Sebastian Bach of Skid Row and Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson, neither of which singer’s vocal range was even touched as a guitarist with a pension for pitch harmonics and the hair of Van Halen’s Michael Anthony played recycled riffs from the Metal Handbook circa 1987.

Next came the thrash/hardcore punk band from Toronto, The Cancer Bats. While I will give those points for energy (lead singer Liam Cormier bounces around like a mixture of Andrew WK and a wired early Sabbath Ozzy) and quality of musicianship, the songs just fell flat on the audience, me included. The one saving grace being an amazing cover of The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.”

Finally, we had made it through the fat and got into the substance that was Pennywise. It had been nearly twenty years since I had seen Pennywise at Warped Tour. Back then, they were balls of energy, climbing the stack speakers, yelling at the cops, doing what punks do. Now, 18 years later, they are still the fireball they were back then. Tearing through “Bro Hymn,” “Fight Till You Die,” Bad Religion’s “Do What You Want,” from the seminal punk record Suffer, “Something to Change,” and several others before leaving the audience wound up and ready for the Man of The Hour.

As Danzig’s band took the stage a selection from the instrumental record Black Aria loomed over the darkened crowd, all light gone minus some purple floodlights. Then the lights came on, revealing Danzig in all his wicked wonder; at 5’4” tall, Glenn may be short but vocally (mixing vocal influences Billy Idol, Johnny Cash and of course, The King) he is beyond powerful, blowing the roof off The Midland, howling out to the world some of his best loved tunes, straight from his black hearted catalog.

At 60 years old, Danzig prowls the stage like a wild animal, teeth gnashed; muscles flexed, ready to pounce on any note, ready to choke out any photographer, ready to leave fire and Hell in his wake. Though I didn’t get to hear personal favorites “Snakes of Christ” from the debut or “Tired of Being Alive” from Danzig 2: Lucifuge or “Left Hand Black” from How The Gods Kill, the setlist was solid, picking selections that he could deliver with power and fury, never missing a step.

“How The Gods Kill,” had an even more ominous tone then when I first heard it at 16, added years and experience bringing weight to the song. “Am I Demon?” “Her Black Wings,” and “Long Way Back from Hell,” the night’s closer, annihilated the crowd, whipping the already vigorous mosh pit into frenzy, before sending everyone home with sinister smiles and full ears.

Jerry Only, Glenn’s former bandmate, and his sham of a Misfits band should take a note or three from Glenn. Instead of crapping all over the solid and vastly influential legacy you built with The Misfits, walk away and do your own thing. Hell, I do not care if it’s your Christian metal band Christ the Conquer, just stop fucking up the greatness that was The Misfits.

I had waited years to see Danzig and I was not disappointed. What I saw was a man who loves what he does, whether he would admit it or not, and a man secure with his place in rock history. Danzig has seen bands come and bands go that built songs and careers on the sonic foundation that he has helped lay down, that my friends, is quite the feat. That, my friends is a legend. All Hail The Evil Elvis! All Hail Danzig!




Hammer of the Gods

Until You Call on the Dark

Am I Demon

Her Black Wings

How the Gods Kill

Let Yourself Go (Elvis Presley Cover)

Devil’s Angels (Davie Allan and the Arrows cover)

N.I.B (Black Sabbath cover)

Black Hell

Black Mass

Black Angel, White Angel

Twist of Cain


She Rides

Long Way Back From Hell


JAILL – Brain Cream

Album: Brain Cream

Artist: Jaill

Label: Burger

Release Date: June 30, 2015


Jaill art

The Upshot: Post-Sub Pop sojourn, the Wisconsinites find themselves back on Burger with a fresh, yet still primal, surf-pop sound, plus an equally fresh lineup.


Milwaukee’s Jaill has resurfaced with their fourth, and possibly best release to date. Jaill is where surf-pop meets paisley-pop, where twang meets jangle. Twangle? After a couple releases on Sub Pop, they are back where they started, recording for Burger Records once more. If you’re familiar with the typical Burger bands, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect from their sound. The closest bands I can compare them to might be Mikal Cronin or Harlem, from several years back. Brain Cream finds them at their ripest, with some truly sparkling playing, and sterling songwriting (and vocals) from head Jailler, and solo original member, Vinnie Kircher.

Kircher cherry-picked from several local bands to put together a top-notch outfit for this project, finally realized in Austin at Resonate Studios in late 2013. The new lineup includes keyboard player Mike Skorcz, formally of John The Savage; Jonathan Mayer of Surgeons In Heat on supporting vocals and in-yer-face bass, and Fatty Acids front-man Josh Evert doing a bang-up job behind the drum-kit. It’s a pretty smart lineup that plays the shit out of the material, plus adding a new polish to the overall sound. I’ve followed their progress for the last six years and I don’t think they’ve ever sounded better, and, in fact, beating Mikal Cronin at his own game in the genre. I recently chided Cronin’s latest release for being smothered in orchestration, and while some strings are utilized on Brain Cream, I’ll deem them to be just right. A song like “Symptoms” can go head-to-head with something like Cronin’s “Made My Mind Up” and hold its own easily.

Head-bobbing comes with the territory, as most songs are upbeat, sunny and catchy as Rubella. Even the occasional slowed-down numbers like the endearing “Chocolate Poison Time,” almost a lullaby with gentle strings; the stoned and dreamy “Draggin’,” “Slides And Slips,” and “Change Reaction,’ are all worthy additions to the party. Dub overtones flavor “Pickin’ My Bones,” and their “Got An F” is prominently featured by the label as being something of a Pick Hit on here. Indeed, it’s got the chops of a breezin’ down the highway on a road trip, kind of energy. “Getaway,” has a Kiwi bliss-pop vibe, bringing to mind The Clean or The Bats. Those familiar already with the band, might agree that “Look At You,” is very representative of their sound through the years, a bit quirky, angular and kicky. Bonus track, “Sweet Tooth Lovers” is also a bit Cronin-esque, by way of Nobunny, with its dash of 50’s malt shop-rock rippling through.

Kircher’s songwriting just keeps getting better with age. Here, he’s taking his freshest brain cream and, with his excellent new back-up, beat it ‘til the butter comes. These guys have their convictions and it would be criminal to overlook this album.

DOWNLOAD: “Sweet Tooth Lovers,” “Chocolate Poison Time” and “Getaway.“


Album: Gates of Dawn

Artist: Heartless Bastards

Label: Partisan

Release Date: June 16, 2015

 Heartless Bastards 6-16


The Upshot: Gritty, guitar-based garage rock meets country-infused material for a winning combination.


 With their fifth album, Cincinnati’s Heartless Bastards have lost none of the grit that got the garage rockers noticed in the first place nearly a decade ago.

 Restless Ones, coming in at just ten songs, is a tight set of songs that vacillates between the gritty, with heavily distorted guitars on the album opener “Wind Up Bird,” to the subtle, like the country-infused “Hi Line.” In between is mix of melancholy and charging ambition. Tacked on toward the end is the optimistic foot stomper “Into the Light,” a song that perfectly illustrates the bands diversity on Restless Ones. The only real weak one here is the album closer, “Tristessa” which comes off a bit droning thanks to the constant guitar loops.

 The record, produced by John Congleton (St. Vincent, Swans), was pulled together after a year spent on the road, and it shows. The band is as focused as it has ever been on a studio release.

 DOWNLOAD: “Wind Up Bird,” “Hi Line” and “Into the Light”



Album: Wider Circles

Artist: Rising Appalachia

Label: self-released

Release Date: July 17, 2015

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The Upshot: An organic chilled vibe that provides a much-needed antidote to the processed tripe found on the radio these days.


The smooth and whispery vocals of Leah and Chloe Smith lead us into the latest album from Rising Appalachia. “Novels of Acquaintance” is a really soulful summery joyful song that begins with a circular banjo line and a flourish of mandolin. The song begins to really fly when the two sisters start harmonizing with each other stretched over a rambling wagon ride of a percussive beat. “Rivermouth” is one of the surprises on the record. Crafted as a country bayou song, that harkens back to a much simpler time. It shows that the Smith sisters have done their homework.

The music evokes imagery of cattails, paint chipping off the wood on the boat, and dragonflies. The string bending adds a hazy humidity to the whole affair. “Condensation”, which is merely an interlude shows that the band also has some serious musical chops, and could be another musical direction for the sisters to widen their sound palette. “Bright Morning Stars/Botawak” gives the clearest sign yet of what makes this duo really special. With a spare bass line the sisters sing with a biblical conviction, harmonizing and summoning the intrinsic power of their expressive voices. Songs like this are a joy to hear especially given the current obsession by some artists and producers who seem hell bent in wringing the last vestiges of humanity from the music.

My only issue with Wider Circles is the energy level seems more muted than it should be on some of the songs. It’s almost as if someone said don’t sing past this level. I would like to see the band amp up the energy to a more raucous level when needed. The Smith sisters have created quite an organic chilled vibe on this record. When the songs click as many of them do they are a joy to listen to and provide the much-needed antidote to the processed tripe found on the radio these days.

DOWNLOAD: “Condensation,” “Bright Morning Stars/Botowak”

Wheels of Soul Tour: Tedeschi Trucks Band / Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings 7/18/15, Raleigh

Dates: July 18, 2015

Location: Koka Booth Amphitheater, Cary NC

TTB (Blurt)

The Upshot: Classic high-energy soul and classic blues-rock reigned over the rains on July 18 in Raleigh.


My summer of soul continued on July 18th as The Wheels of Soul tour, featuring the Tedeschi Trucks Band and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, rolled into Cary’s (suburban Raleigh) Koka Booth Amphitheater. Due to afternoon storms that passed through the area, the crowd was lined up at the gate past the time of opening as, given the music coming from the amphitheater, the soundcheck was obviously delayed. But the show started on time, and the fans filed in to the psychedelic-blues sounds of Texas guitarist Doyle Bramhall II (below) who played a short opening set that included a fine cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Angel.”

DBII (Blurt)

By the time Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings’ soul revue took the stage, it appeared everyone found their place and was ready for the show. The band opened things up with a funky instrumental groove, then guitarist/emcee Binky Griptite introduced the back-up singers Saun and Starr, who sang two songs from their Daptone Records release Look Closer. Binky then introduced the star of the show, Miss Sharon Jones. While most of the crowd was already on their feet, Sharon’s opening number got the rest of them up and kept them there for the remainder of the 75 minute set.

SJ (Blurt) (3)

SJ (Blurt)

SJ (Blurt) (1)

SJ (Blurt) (2)

This is the type of classic sounding soul music that harkens back to the best of the 1960’s, complete with a three piece horn section, back-up singers and a James Brown approved conga player. Midway through the show, Jones referenced her battle with cancer in 2013 as she introduced “Get Up and Get Out,” which I’m sure had everyone thinking of friends and loved ones who have fought that battle. The set included a number of cuts from the band’s Grammy nominated Give the People What They Want, and while they may give you what you want, they more importantly give you what you need.


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After a 30 minute break, the 12-piece Tedeschi/Trucks Band took the stage as night fell over the venue. Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi were each successful in their own right, but since they joined forces in 2010, they have gelled into arguably the best band on the road today…two drummers, a three-piece horn section, keyboards, and three back-up vocalists create a full, but not cluttered, sound over which Derek and Susan can work their magic. Opening the set with “All That I Need,” and immediately following with “Made Up Mind,” they set the pace for a high energy set from the opening note. Tedeschi’s voice is reminiscent of Bonnie Raitt, but with more of an edge that perfectly fits alongside Derek Trucks’ searing slide guitar work. In addition to their excellent original material, when they perform covers like Delany and Bonnie’s “Coming Home,” they illustrate how well this contemporary outfit fits alongside the great rock and soul bands of days gone by.

TTB (Blurt) (1)

TTB (Blurt) (2)

At the mid-point of the set, they band showed it’s blues roots with Tedeschi singing Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s “I Pity The Fool” and then the back-up singers, Mike Mattison and Mark Rivers, took the spotlight with Little Milton’s “More and More.” After closing with “The Storm,” complete with a trademark Trucks solo, Tedeschi invited Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings, and Bramhall as well, back to the stage to close the show with the Etta James classic “Tell Mama” and an extended Sly Stone medley. There were too many musicians and singers on stage to count (at least 20) but most of them seemed to take a solo spot, including all three guitarists, (Trucks, Griptite, and Bramhall) and most of the horns; at one point I even saw two drummers switch places. All and all, the bill provided an uplifting and satisfying night of music in the Triangle.