Monthly Archives: May 2013

THE CATBIRDS – Catbirds Say Yeah

Album: Catbirds Say Yeah

Artist: Catbirds

Label: Iddy Bitty

Release Date: August 21, 2012

Catbirds Say Yeah




Chandler Travis is surely the busiest working musician on Cape Cod, splitting his time between the Catbirds, the Chandler Travis Three, the Chandler Travis Philharmonic and the Incredible Casuals. That last outfit may ring some bells among older Bostonites; it has been performing around Beantown (and the Cape) since 1980. Before the Incredible Casuals, Travis performed in Steve Shook’s Shook and the Club Wow, a comedy/music duo that toured regularly with George Carlin.


So, right, grizzled veteran, one more baby boomer refusing to give up the rock ‘n roll ghost, yadda yadda yadda….


Except that Catbirds Say Yeah! is a pretty damn fine record, regardless of the vintage of its performers. It’s well worth saying “Yeah!” about, even if you hadn’t been prompted by the album title. Travis and his compadres – drummer Rikki Bates, all-purpose player Dinty Childs (guitar, mandolin, accordion, etc.), and guitarist Steve Wood – play a giddily intense, goofily hardball kind of garage rock that sounds like the Sonics crossed with early R.E.M., or maybe Big Dipper cut with first album Feelies. Catbirds Say Yeah may not be “of” the moment, but it’s totally “in” the moment, wholly committed and totally engaged to the point where the music hardly sounds retro at all.


Take “Red Red,” for instance, a blues-based banger that starts with a ragged riff and rampages on from there. It’s taut and loud and not at all self-serious, rhyming “that’s right!” and “all night!” in an exuberant shout-along call and response. It’s a bar band song taken to the nth degree, nothing fancy but excellently done. Elsewhere, the Catbirds dip into college-rock-ish psychedelia, coloring rackety anthems with tight harmonies. “Changing Names” is a hard-charging song permeated with Byrdsian euphoria, a bit of daydream tucked into its relentless propulsion.  The ballad “All I Wanna Do Is Love You” borrows the epic anthemry of Teenage Fanclub. And “Who’s Sorry Now” sounds like the dBs with Keith Moon on the kit, or hell, like a drunken off-take of “I Can See for Miles.” That drummer, by the way, is a wild card, turning careless romps (“Stoned”) into pummeling catharses. Catbirds songs are pretty nailed down, but Bates infuses a chaotic, anything-could-happen energy into the mix.


Chandler Travis wrote and recorded Catbirds Say Yeah! almost simultaneously with a Chandler Travis Three-O album called This Is What Bears Look Like Underwater, and since it’s been a few months, he’s probably got another two or three CDs in the pipeline as well. Let’s hope they’re all this intense, this full of joy, this explosively energetic. Sure, I’ll say “yeah” and also, score one for the grizzled veteran.

 DOWNLOAD: “Red Red” “All I Wanna Do Is Love You” “Who’s Sorry Now”


GRETA GAINES – Lighthouse & The Impossible Love

Album: Lighthouse & the Impossible Love

Artist: Greta Gaines

Label: Big Air

Release Date: May 14, 2013

Greta Gaines


A former law student, athlete, activist and entrepreneur, Greta Gaines has more or less followed her own muse throughout her entire career. So it’s no surprise to find that her latest album – and her fifth effort to date – finds her shifting her stance from the warm Americana embrace of her earlier outings to a sultry style befitting a seductive chanteuse. Having once purveyed the image of an all American girl next door, she now purrs and wails with a suggestive swagger.

Opening tracks “Door 2 Door,” “Good Side” and “Pining Away” set the tone, conjuring up a cross between prime period Pat Benatar and another ‘80s icon, Martha Davis of the Motels. Elsewhere she turns soulful, as exemplified by the cocksure stance of “Jaded,” the sassy strut of “Willie’s Song #3” and the amalgam of rap and hip hop approximated on “Sonny Day.” Ultimately, Lighthouse & The Impossible Love shapes up as a tangled tale of tortured love, intimate desire and unyielding remorse, and it’s a credit to Gaines’ skill and tenacity that she’s able to take those tender emotions so easily to the fore.  Her assured presence, coupled with her riveting performances, may help bring her music to an entirely new and appreciative audience.

DOWNLOAD: “Door 2 Door,” “Good Side,” “Jaded”

IO ECHO – Ministry of Love

Album: Ministry of Love

Artist: IO Echo

Label: IAmSound

Release Date: April 02, 2013

IO Echo


 Laden in moody ‘80s-synth and harnessing a Cure meets Depeche Mode and marries Siouxsie vibe, IO Echo (singer Ioanna Gika and multi-instrumentalist Leopold Ross) goes atmospherically big for their long awaited debut full length. A sonic (and visual) reinvention from EPs past, IO Echo has washed away the grungy Goth sound that was their staple, yet a heavy layer of menacing and melancholy remains on Ministry of Love. “Shanghai Girls” opens the album on a grand note as crashing cymbals and Gika’s reverbed vocals soar high and sets the lush tone of the album.

 Ministry is glazed over in reverbed, hazy guitar, loopy effects, keyboards and vocals on each song; since IO Echo does not stray from this formula only a couple of tracks are forgettable as they meld into one. However, the standout songs outweigh these moments as the upbeat “Ministry of Love”, “Shanghai Girls,” “Ecstasy Ghost” and “When the Lillies Die” induces some serious head bopping as their infectious beats cannot be ignored. Even the methodically slow paced “Stalemate” with its haunting, echoed guitar and quiet drumming entrances listeners.

 IO Echo even reincarnated an older song of theirs, 2008s “Addicted;” a great remake of an already addicting song(terrible pun horrifically intended), the droning keyboards and Gika’s barely audible background vocals and whispers gives it a composed eerie atmosphere. Ministry of Love may wax gloomy but proves to be an enjoyable album that fans of IO Echo just may happily play repeatedly.

 DOWNLOAD: “Ministry of Love,” “Ecstasy Ghost”

ENSEMBLE PEARL – Ensemble Pearl

Album: Ensemble Pearl

Artist: Ensemble Pearl

Label: Drag City

Release Date: March 19, 2013

Ensemble Pearl


 New combinations of veteran musicians (let’s not use the hoary old phrase “supergroup”) pop up all the time these days, but few sound as organic as Ensemble Pearl. Consisting of guitarist Muchio Kurihara from Ghost, drummer Atsuo from Boris, guitarist Stephen O’Malley from Sunn O))) and bassist William Herzog from Jesse Sykes’s Sweet Hereafter (not to mention, if you want to go way back, Citizens Utilities), Ensemble Pearl has enough pedigrees in both experimental music and psychedelia to create something truly weird and wonderful.

 While you might think this grouping would be so combustible that an explosive psych metal freakout is the only likely result, you’d be wrong. Ensemble Pearl consists of a half dozen tracks of seething atmosphere, driven by guitar hum and feedback, with minimal rhythm and little in the way of actual riffs. It’s as if the quartet decided to pay tribute to one of O’Malley’s chief inspirations: Earth. That sounds dull, but there’s something hypnotic about these songs, as subtle shifts in tone and mood in “Giant” and “Wray” indicate more going on than just nodding out in front of the amps. Indeed, “Painting On a Corpse” adds some rock muscle and a nearly accessible melody. The ultimate track, however, is the closing “Sexy Angle,” which over the course of nearly 20 minutes reaches the apex of Ensemble Pearl’s attempt to create a soundtrack for what sounds like the most melancholy, unsettling haunted house story ever.

 DOWNLOAD: “Painting On a Corpse,” “Sexy Angle,” “Wray”



Album: Canyoun Music

Artist: Emily Grace Berry

Label: Steadyboy

Release Date: February 19, 2013

Emily Grace Berry


For a newcomer, Emily Grace Berry sounds remarkably assured, blessed with a clear confidence that’s owed at least in part to the steady assist provided by veteran producer and Shakin’ Apostles mainstay Freddie Steady Krc.  It follows then that Krc’s responsible for the glossy sheen that gives Canyon Music its vivid allure. Yet while Berry herself may be a relative newcomer – she released an EP prior to this full-length effort –she also sounds like she draws inspiration from the ages, with a smooth country rock croon that recalls the sound of the Burrito Brothers, the Eagles and, yes, the Shakin’ Apostles as well.

Berry’s an able singer/songwriter in her own right – “Where I Belong,” “Way Back When” and “Colorado Memories” all attest to her ability to combine a poignant lyric with a catchy hook – but she and Krc also have a certain savvy when it comes to selecting outside material that serves her easy, appealing template. Her covers of “It Hurts to Be in Love” and Buddy Holly’s “Wishing” take the same tack as the originals, while her version of the Buffalo Springfield’s “Flying on the Ground is Wrong” sounds both wistful and resilient. At the same time, her take on Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Maybe Mexico” rocks relentlessly. Lessons learned; early on, Berry’s already raised the bar.

DOWNLOAD: “Flying on the Ground is Wrong,” “Where I Belong, “Way Back When”

GREG BORING – Heavy Syrup

Album: Heavy Syrup

Artist: Greg Boring

Label: Critical Heights

Release Date: February 12, 2013

Greg Boring


 Greg Boring is a Brisbane, Australia-based group of artists who may or may not be musicians. What the band’s attempting with Heavy Syrup is out of the conventional composition box enough for instrumental prowess to be more or less irrelevant.  The oddly immediate merging of digital and lo-fi beats and effects provides a backdrop; a relatively odorless refuse heap through which female/male vocals, and things sometimes resembling melodies, attempt to plow. (Perhaps it’s a recycling heap. In my neighborhood, homeless people and lifer bottle-pickers — some of whom do, I’ve learned, have homes — routinely disassemble the groupings of paper and plastic I try to keep together; hoping they’ll actually be recycled.) So it is, in a way, with Greg Boring’s debut, which was originally released by Cypress Hillsong online. The group can’t seem to choose between deterministic course plotting and narrative deconstruction, resulting in some interesting tension, and enticing audio, which are occasionally subsumed by that indecision, along with the outfit’s adherence to a casual, causal journey.

 Several reference points aid the casual/causal effort. The female vocalist’s murmurings often seem to be surfacing a league or so downstream from a spot where Julee Cruise left off. These are intriguing enough to keep one straining to hear whatever it is she’s saying; although the best approach is simply giving in to the album’s paint-without-numbers experience. Even when clarity of intention and/or melody is relatively in absentia, Greg Boring achieves a fair amount of offhand hypnosis. That magnetism’s at the base of what’s probably intended to be, and occasionally is, more than the sum of its obvious parts; a multi-layered experience likely to deepen – or at least reliably satisfy – with repeated exposure. While it’s not yet there, the band seems capable of going where Mum would if the latter were less elegant and well-constructed, perhaps also sating TFUL 282 fans who’ve hungered for more of what that defunct assemblage used to do.

 This is a promising experimental debut (yes, these artists are gifted enough to merit that elusive, rather dangerous moniker). At its freshest, Greg Boring channels the innocent fun of Tinker Toy play through a murky psychedelic filter in a way that skirts anyone-could-do-this banality – it’s almost funny.  

 For anyone familiar with Bo Hansson’s Hammond organ-based, trance-y gems, the punch line is that Heavy Syrup’s longest, most musical track, “Night Moves,” could have been on Hansson’s Music Inspired by Lord of the Rings. When it was released in 1970, his solo debut came across as unpretentiously artsy pleasure; a sort of Terry Riley Lite.

 DOWNLOAD:  “Fine Find Fined,” “Night Moves,” “Primitive Lotion”

BROTHER JT – The Sveltness of Boogietude

Album: The Sveltness of Boogietude

Artist: Brother JT

Label: Thrill Jockey

Release Date: May 14, 2013

Brother JT



John Terlesky has been making demented garage psych records for more than three decades now, first as the frontman for acid fuzzed Original Sins and, since 1990, in his own name (more or less) as Brother JT. The Sveltness of Boogietude is the latest in this cracked but excellent series, pursuing a variety of obsessions (sweatpants, muffintops, cassettes) down lysergic rabbit holes. JT wears his oddities proudly, but what separates him from more overtly outsider-ish artists (Daniel Johnston, R. Stevie Moore) is skill and a way with a hook. His “Celebrate Your Face,” which opens the disc, is a paean to unfettered eccentricity, but also a tightly wound rock ‘n soul groove in the vein of MC5. “T. Rex Blues,” a nod to the psych-rock forefather who reportedly inspired the album, is similarly odd and similarly stomping, with its obliterating riff and sing-along chorus.  


Indeed, the songs where eccentricity takes the lead are the weakest ones here. Once you’re over the joke of thrift-shop-funky “Sweatpants” (heh heh, sweatpants as erotic fetish), the song itself fades into the wallpaper, same for belly-bulge celebrating “Muffintop.”


Often, though, Brother JT gets the balance just right, as on the brilliantly specific “Things I Like” where a taut drum beat meets loopily jammed out guitars, and Terlesky enumerates his own mad, inimitable favorites (“Reese’s cups and kettle chips…Ronald Ashton’s wah wah” etc.)  It’s freaky and eccentric and one of a kind but too disciplined to be unstable.  He also takes a nice turn towards lyricism on vulnerable “Glidin’” a pretty, string-embellished love song that is spare and sincere and only slightly off-balance. “Green Curtain” is likewise fragile and gorgeous, a bit of dreamy Tyrannosaurus Rex to balance out “Slider”-ish blues vamps.  


Sixties redolent garage rock can be a straight-jacket, a rules-bounded homage to an era that celebrated freedom. Brother JT gets the wild abandon of the Nuggets era, as well as the fuzz-guitar’d sonics, celebrating his own singularity in songs that push at the boundaries of the genre.


DOWNLOAD: “Things I Like” “Green Curtain”

THE BREAKUP SOCIETY – So Much Unhappiness, So Little Time…

Album: So Much Unhappiness, So Little Time…

Artist: Breakup Society

Label: Get Hip

Release Date: December 28, 2013

Breakup Society


 Sometimes Ed Masley can be too clever for his own good. Song titles like “The Way We Weren’t,” “Another Day in the Life” and “8th Circle of Hell” give the impression of a songwriter who gets his kicks from appropriating the classics for laughs. But there’s more to him than that. A whole lot more.

 The driving force behind the Breakup Society goes for pathos more than yuks. Like his hero Ray Davies, he sketches his storylines with characters whose best days have passed them by or — in some cases — never came, a problem with which they haven’t come to terms. Just when you think you know who Masley’s singing about, the third verse wheels around and deepens the meaning of the song. “The Way We Weren’t” (co-written by John Wesley Harding, who released it on The Sound of His Own Voice last year) sounds like a relationship song until the bridge, when it’s revealed to be the tale of two bandmates, as the speaker suddenly admits that he’d take the bad times over nothing at all. It also contains the brilliantly obtuse couplet: “Sang your chorus, I won’t sing anymore/ your thesaurus, my favorite dinosaur.” “The Next Reunion” proves that the only thing more tragic than being seen as a failure in your hometown is not being remembered there at all. And there’s something humorous in the bridge when he sings bluntly, “And he’d like to go home again/ get some soup from his mother,” especially when it’s bathed in all the reverb.

 Despite all the melodrama, So Much Unhappiness… rocks hard, the way an upbeat album should. Masley’s nasal delivery gives things a youthful drive even though the narratives clearly come from a mind that’s been around the block a few times.  The arrangements draw on classic pop trimmings like Beatles 7th chords showing up at the precise moment, vocal harmonies, a trumpet blast and addition of mellotron or piano. When the band shifts into slow, garage rock overdrive for closer “She Doesn’t Cross Against the Light” (the third song in a row named with pronoun-based sentences), they add a lot of roar to what would otherwise sound like a simple riff. But by that point, it’s clear that Masley can add new life to a tried-and-true formula.

 DOWNLOAD: “The Way We Weren’t,” “Mary Shelley.”

COURTNEY JAYE – Love and Forgiveness

Album: Love and Forgiveness

Artist: Courtney Jaye

Label: 1-2-3-4-GO!

Release Date: May 07, 2013

Courtney Jaye


Courtney Jaye’s combination of radiant pop and roots regalia once suggested a style akin to the southern California sound of the early to mid ‘70s. No more though. This time around, her concession to commercial appeal is apparent, in the lavish arrangements and particularly in her sultry singing. Indeed this, her third disc to date, identifies her as something of a chanteuse, an image far removed from the down home designs preferred by her peers.

Although she surrounds herself with an Americana elite – Thad Cockrell, Mike Wrucke (Dixie Chicks, Miranda Lambert), Fred Eltringham (Dixie Chicks, The Wallflowers), bassist Sebastian Steinberg (Soul Coughing, Fiona Apple), pedal steel virtuoso Greg Leisz (Kris Kristofferson, Bruce Springsteen) and guitarists Josh Grange (The Jayhawks, Pistol Annies) and Neal Casal (Ryan Adams, Willie Nelson) — Love and Forgiveness boasts more sparkle and sheen. Whether it’s the spirited “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” the sturdy swagger and assertive authority of “One Way Conversation” and “I Thought About It,” or the sheer exuberance of “New Day” and “Ask Me To,” the general feeling is one that’s predominantly pop, effusive and engaging. It’s a bit slick, but Jaye still deserves points for her adroit execution.  

DOWNLOAD: “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” “I Thought About It,” “New Day”

BESNARD LAKES – Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO

Album: Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO

Artist: Besnard Lakes

Label: Jagjaguwar

Release Date: April 02, 2013

Besnard Lakes


 With the release of their fourth album, Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO, Montreal’s Besnard Lakes solidify their stance as prime purveyors of modern mood music. The fictional, dweeby, Gabe Lewis from television’s The Office once described his Casio-driven ditties not as songs, but as “soundscapes.” It’s likely that he had been spinning this Canadian group’s previous albums for inspiration, as Jace Lasek and crew certainly specialize in creating such lush atmospherics. So as to not sell any of the new songs short, tunes such as the rhythmically driving “People of the Sticks,” with its harmonious vocals and dreamlike vibes, create mental escapes, not mere background-ready soundscapes.

 It’s not by accident so much space on each of the album’s songs is filled with impeccable ambience. Much in the way a blue-chip High School basketball recruit is often described as a gym-rat, Lasek is most certainly a studio-rat, which makes sense, given that he owns Breakglass Studios. This is where the group has long recorded, and he skillfully engineers the swelling triumphs and the gently swaying, spaced-out slow-jams that mesh seamlessly throughout the record.

 Unlike many so-called shoegaze acts, Besnard Lakes really understand quick and catchy, even if they’re somewhat tricky in their sparing use of hooking the listener sooner than later. However, similar to many of those same bands, even when the vocals and lyrics are at their boldest, such is designed as an added instrument, not as something to get in-front of the overall composition. Until in Excess, just as the group’s fantastic last album, 2010’s The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night, managed to do, entice the listener to stretch their attention span beyond standard pop-parameters. In “46 Satires,” the betrothed vocalists lead the listener along a gauzy, melodic breeze for a couple of minutes before dramatically introducing soaring guitars that would feel at home on a Mogwai album, providing a climactic and rewarding pay-off.

 Like any groove-tastic mood-ring, there are various colors for an array of moods. The sonic version of a mellowing aura is represented here in the feathery “And Her Eyes Were Painted Gold.” The song’s ethereal flow makes a finely-crafted case for Heaven being in the journey, and not the destination. In fact, the entire album is quite the trip.

 DOWNLOAD: “People of the Sticks,” “And Her Eyes Were Painted Gold”