Monthly Archives: April 2014

THE WAR ON DRUGS 3/26/14 Denver, CO

Dates: March 26, 2014

Location: The Bluebird, Denver CO

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TEXT/PHOTOS BY GREG KELLY

The War On Drugs played a sold out show in Denver at the Bluebird. After seeing this band a week before in New York I was interested to see them again and if they would change much about their show. They came out playing “In Reverse” from their new album Lost In The Dream. Adam Granduciel’s song writing is refreshing and honest.

The atmosphere at the Bluebird was hazy but upbeat, and I don’t see this band playing in this small of a venue next time through. The set list included “I Was There” “Suffering” “Baby Missiles” and a great cover of John Lennon’s “Mind Games” just to name a few. War On Drugs is on tour for awhile and I will be looking forward to seeing them again.

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THE SPLIT SQUAD – Now Hear This…

Album: Now Hear This...

Artist: The Split Squad

Label: self-released

Release Date: April 29, 2014

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http://www.thesplitsquad.com/

BY FRED MILLS

“I got a truckload o’ soul/ Keeps me coming ‘round/ I never do what I’m told/ I’m comin’ to your town…. Now hear this!” So announces Michael Giblin, presider/majordomo/Foghorn Leghorn of garage-rock supah-group Split Squad, in the band’s titular manifesto opening track, a riotous and righteous blast of Clash, Who, Plimsouls and so many other great bands worth namechecking as it spins that you’ll be exhausted before the honor roll even has a chance to step up.

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Giblin (Parallax Project) is joined by the Fleshtones’ Keith Streng (who is, er, steppin’ up, above, caught in action during the Split Squad’s set at BLURT’s SXSW day party this past March) and the (speaking of which) Plimsouls’ Eddie Munoz on guitars, Blondie’s Clem Burke on skins and the needs-no-intro-if-you-are-a-Red Sox-fan-Josh Kantor on keys. (Kantor is also a member of the Baseball Project, which features Minus 5/R.E.M. dude Scott McCaughey, who also produced and played on Now Hear This… . Peter Buck guests on a tune, as do the Figgs’ Mike Gent and Gang of Four’s Hugo Burnham, so you could call it an “incestuous supergroup” or something like that, particularly if you factor in some of the ancillary recording credits on the project, like David Minehan, Andy Shernoff, Adam Selzer and Kurt Bloch… yeah, the record is an ‘80s college rocker’s dream date.)

The ensemble don’t waste a sec on formalities during Now Hear This…, making the most of said manifesto. Whether thumping through a bad-girl-gone-badder anthem like the Gary Glitter-esque “She Is Everything,” hoisting a torch for a girl-just-gone in the torch song “I Can’t Remember,” circling around Happy Jack-era Who in the psychedelic Giblin-McCaughey composition “Superman Says” or even reinventing the Small Faces’ (by way of Brit songwriter Kenny Lynch) classic Brit-beat anthem about a way-gone-girl “Sorry She’s Mine,” these kids are alright, particularly if you are a fan of mid ‘60s pop—with power!

Want more proof? You even get an ace/obscure Terry Reid cover (“Tinker Taylor,” (which, um, somehow got misspelled on the sleeve along lines of the similarly named Yardbirds tune “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor”), quite a raveup at that, plus a vintage soul nugget, “You’ll Never Change,” which has also been done by the Detroit Cobras and Bettye LaVette, but never quite so convincingly as now. And the hands-down, stone-classic track is Giblin’s own “Feel the Same About You,” which takes everything you ever loved about late ‘70s power pop—air guitar-worthy riffing, relentless kit thumping, a memorable and insistent melody, singalong choruses, and that timeless feeling that you should just be jumping up and down in front of the band until the girl of your dreams comes up and joins you on the dance floor—and distills it all into the perfect 2:59 “plug side” of a black wax 45.

Not a group to be trifled with, unless you have a coupla cases of beer to spare, the Split Squad is—full disclosure—in the BLURT Top Ten of Our Favorite Bands ‘cos they have absolutely slayed the attendees at our annual SXSW day party in Austin at the Ginger Man Pub for the past two years. The group’s main website and Facebook photo, in fact, was taken by superfan and ace shutterbug John Boydston at the BLURT bash last year (see below). So we are justifiably proud to call ‘em part of the home team. Boy howdy.

DOWNLOAD: “Sorry She’s Mine,” “Feel The Same About You,” “Now Hear This”

Split Squad by John Boydston

 

DAMON ALBARN – Everyday Robots

Album: Everyday Robots

Artist: Damon Albarn

Label: Warner Bros.

Release Date: April 29, 2014

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www.warnerbrosrecords.com
BY RON HART

To everyone bellyaching about Blur stonewalling the prospects of that long-awaited follow-up to 2003’s Think Tank: Do any of you honestly believe the reunited Britpop greats will emerge with anything as essential as the trilogy of titles frontman Damon Albarn has fashioned with Gorillaz?

Sure, the group could surprise us all with an epic as masterfully crafted as 1999’s 13, but it rarely turns out that way, does it? All you have to do is stream Indie Cindy by The Pixies or Soundgarden’s King Animal on Spotify for proof of that ethos. Especially when you consider that Albarn has just unveiled quite arguably the best album of his career–solo or otherwise–with Everyday Robots.

Co-produced by XL Recordings honcho Richard Russell (Albarn’s production partner on last year’s acclaimed Bobby Womack album), the 12 songs that comprise Albarn’s first proper recording under his own name serve as a quintessential cumulation of the amalgam of moods reflected in his post-Blur output—the English moodiness of The Good, The Bad and The Queen, the polyrhythmic sway of Rocket Juice and the Moon—in the form of this most intimate and illuminating collection.

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Albarn admitted to being the primary force behind Gorillaz beyond the animation (FYI, we already knew that Captain Obvious!) And if you are a fan of The Fall or quieter moments of Plastic Beach, Demon Days or the cartoon crew’s eponymous debut—where it was just Damon and his devices—you will instantly fall in love with tracks like “The Selfish Giant”, which features vocal harmonies from Natasha Khan of Bat for Lashes and the pair of cuts featuring the voice and synths of the legendary Brian Eno, “You & Me” and the album’s ocean faring singalong “Heavy Seas of Love” which closes out the record.

One should take note of how incredibly English the tone of Everyday Robots is to boot, a 21st century extension of the sentiments you can hear on John Martyn’s London Conversation or The Kinks’ Arthur within the harmonies of the jubilant “Mr. Tembo” and the haunting “Hollow Ponds”.

Indeed, it will be a joyous day when the announcement of a new Blur LP comes across the wire.

But when Damon Albarn is making music as stunning as the material he presents on Everyday Robots, you can understand why he is in no rush.

DOWNLOAD: “Mr. Tembo”, “The Selfish Giant”, “Heavy Seas of Love”

 

BOBBY BARE JR. – Undefeated

Album: Undefeated

Artist: Bobby Bare Jr.

Label: Bloodshot

Release Date: April 15, 2014

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www.bloodshotrecords.com

BY JOHN B. MOORE

On his most ambitious record to date, Bobby Bare Jr. and his band add a more liberal mix of rock to their normal punkish country brew and the result is one of their most consistently satisfying records so far (paired perfectly with 2010’s A Storm, A Tree, My Mother’s Head). That point is made pretty clear with the wall of distortion from “North of Alabama By Mornin’” that ushers in the album.

Songs like the “The Big Time,” with its honky tonk piano and its charmingly smartass lyrics, a more subdued track like “The Elegant Imposter” and the pop folk of “My Baby Took My Baby Away” go to show an impressive range here, more than they have offered on just about any of their previous records.

His vocals are delivered with such breezy casualness, you almost miss the poetry in the words. Pair that with the brilliant musicianship and it’s simply confounding that Bare and his band aren’t as big as groups like Arcade Fire and My Morning Jacket at this point.

DOWNLOAD: “The Big Time,” “My Baby Took My Baby Away” and “As Forever Became Never Again”

 

LIARS – Mess

Album: Mess

Artist: Liars

Label: Mute

Release Date: March 25, 2014

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http://www.mute.com

BY APRIL S. ENGRAM

The creative electronic, noise trio makes a triumphant return with their seventh full length, Mess. Liars continues to wade in the melancholic, electro-dance-punk waters as they amp up the noise even more. Lead singer, Angus Andrew vocals are nearly inaudible for the entire album as they are processed through sound effects but this factor adds to the multiple layers of each song and fits the dirty, gritty feel of the appropriately named Mess. From the eerie, echo-y sounds of “Perpetual Village” that conjure images of the guys recording in an anchored, rusty ship to the upbeat, charged and catchy single “Mess on a Mission,”

From the first note Liars proves fun and entertaining as the album opens to a maniacally deep, robotic voice commanding, “Take my pants off.” We already know a good time is about to begin. “Mask Maker” could prove disturbing as the voice continues with “take my face off/give me your face” but this possibly macabre translation is lost into the hypnotic effects and dance beats that build for nearly 2 minutes before Andrew begins singing. Andrew’s deep vocals complement the dark, noisy sounds he and Aaron Hemphill and Julian Gross produced together, “VOX Tuned D.E.D.,” “Can’t Hear Well,” and the menacing “Pro Anti-Anti.” In fact, all of Mess has an enjoyably menacing feel that will prove inviting to Liars fans and new listeners alike.

Simply put, Mess is a damn good album!

DOWNLOAD: “VOX Tuned D.E.D.,” “Mess On A Mission,” “Dress Walker”

JON LANGFORD & SALLY TIMMS Raleigh, NC, 4/25/14

Dates: April 24, 2014

Location: Schoolkids Records, Raleigh NC

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BY FRED MILLS

 Mekons/Waco Brothers/Skull Orchard founder Jon Langford was in Raleigh, NC, for a Contemporary Arts Museum unveiling of his paintings associated with the recently released Skull Orchard album Here Be Monsters (In De Goot Records). The same night (April 25) he was also doing a live show at CAM that featured his longtime Mekons partner-in-crime Sally Timms. Before all that, however, the duo dropped by BLURT’s sister business Schoolkids Records for a performance on the new Schoolkids stage, and a merry olde time was had by all in attendance. They played several songs from Here Be Monsters as well as a handful of old faves, with Mr. L on acoustic guitar and swapping vocals with Timms; the latter also played an unusually designed wooden musical squeeze box, the name of which unfortunately eluded me (probably because I was laughing so hard at some of Langford’s stage patter—he’s quite the raconteur). Among the more riotous highlights were “Drone Operator” and “What Did You Do In The War?,” both from the new record. [Go here to read our 2010 interview with Langford.]

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Before and after the hour-long set we all gathered at the Schoolkids bar, which had officially tapped its inaugural kegs just a few days earlier. Also on hand (and pictured below) was an old friend, Jefferson Holt, business associate with Langford and a longtime patron of the visual arts, not to well known to music fans everywhere. As Langford quaffed his IPA he marveled at the very notion of a record store serving beer. “Seems like a good fit,” he deadpanned. No kidding. He also signed plenty of record sleeves, including the oversized Schoolkids poster (see below), and when he inscribed my battered 45 for the Mekons’ “Work All Week” as “Jonny Quality,” he explained thusly: “That was my first rock name when we started the Mekons.” Truth-in-titling, eh Jonny?

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SWEET APPLE – The Golden Age of Glitter

Album: The Golden Age of Glitter

Artist: Sweet Apple

Label: Tee Pee

Release Date: April 08, 2014

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www.teepeerecords.com

 BY MICHAEL TOLAND

 Love & Desperation, the first LP by all-star rock & roll ensemble Sweet Apple, is an exciting mélange of pop, punk and ‘70s glam rock, with a particular emphasis on the latter. The Golden Age of Glitter, the four-years-in-the-making follow-up, seems to promise the same by its very title. In truth, John Petkovic (Cobra Verde, Death of Samantha), J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.), Tim Parnin (Cobra Verde) and Dave Sweetapple (Witch) dial back the glam brashness somewhat, but it’s all in service of putting the focus even more squarely on the well-developed melodies.

 “Under the Liquor Sign,” “Troubled Sleep” and “Wish I Could Stay (A Little Longer)” (a duet with Mark Lanegan) scratch the power pop itch more satisfyingly than most bands have done since the late ‘70s. “We Are Ruins” adds a heady psychedelic vibe to singalong hooks, while “Let’s Take the Same Plane” works a softer, prettier angle, aided by singer Rachel Haden. This isn’t to say the record doesn’t get plenty loud when it wants to; “I Surrender” and “Reunion” kick up the mic stand and set off the pyro, the latter with the assistance of Robert Pollard, while “Boys in Her Fanclub” rocks like a great lost Redd Kross single.

 It may not carry quite the swagger of Sweet Apple’s first album, but The Golden Age of Glitter still proves to be shiny indeed.

 DOWNLOAD: “Boys in Her Fanclub,” “Reunion,” “We Are Ruins”

ARC IRIS – Arc Iris

Album: Arc Iris

Artist: Arc iris

Label: Anti-

Release Date: April 01, 2014

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www.anti.com

BY NICK D’AMORE

Arc Iris is singer/multi-instrumentalist Jocie Adams’ fully realized vision. The band’s debut album offers a swirling journey within her mind, showcasing a deluge of ideas and creativity that were no doubt simmering during her tenure in The Low Anthem. Made up of several other skilled musicians, Arc Iris effortlessly weaves, twists, and stretches out in a myriad of styles, with Adams’ distinct and equally varied voice leading the excursions.

There is no shortage of beautiful and interesting moments on the album. At their best, Arc Iris focuses their dexterity and whimsy to create brilliantly charming and engaging music. The opening track, “Money Gnomes,” sets the stage for the trip ahead, with its bouncy verses giving way to a wonderful waltz chorus to complement Adams’ lyric, “I’ll waltz you ‘til you love me.” The record then eases into more plaintive territory with the Sufjan Stevens–esque “Lost on Me,” featuring muted brass accents and choral harmonies, and then darkens with the exquisite “Whiskey Man.” Here, Adams sings of a lover watching her broken man lose his battle with booze, if he’s even battling at all. Robin Ryczek’s cello mournfully groans throughout, accentuating the hopelessness while Ray Belli’s subtle heartbeat rhythm gently drives the tune. As the song ends, the man is once again coming to his weary lover; Adams sings, “He’s creeping up on my open doors again” in, perhaps, a knowing nod to Leonard Cohen, one of her influences, who sings about a similar dynamic between a woman and her poker-playing lover in his “Stranger Song” on his own debut album. There, Cohen narrates, “Your door is open; you can’t close your shelter.” In both songs, the relationships are bitter cycles: The Whiskey Man’s lover will let him in once more; The Stranger will find another open door to pass through.

Another ballad, “Canadian Cowboy,” follows. One of the more expansive songs on the album, it’s a pretty song, but one of the few instances where the album drags a bit. It builds gradually to its eventual climax and then exits just as slowly as it came, perhaps a few minutes later than it should have. This is quickly remedied, however, with “Singing So Sweetly,” which returns to the playful jaunt of the opening track. While both tunes feature veer and slide into various styles, “Singing So Sweetly” shows how the band can successfully harness its wealth of talent into an infinitely interesting four minutes.

The depth of Arc Iris’ ambition and creativity is best seen on “Honor of Rainbows,” a two-part song that features tension-filled interplay between Ryczek’s dramatic cello and Adam’s haunting wordless vocals in the first part. Adams follows with a wonderful melody backed by the thrilling piano of Zach Tenorio-Miller. After all the style shifts and switches, Arc Iris beautifully expresses a single theme, artfully composed and executed, in what is one of the stellar highlights of the album.

 

Arc Iris is an exciting debut. Though the band seems to have packed all of its musical interests and abilities into the album’s 11 songs, this is a most likely only a sampling of their capabilities and of the colorful ideas yet to spring from the mind of Jocie Adams.

MANCHESTER ORCHESTRA – Cope

Album: Cope

Artist: Manchester Orchestra

Label: Loma Vista/Republic

Release Date: April 01, 2014

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www.lomavistarecordings.com

 BY JOHN B. MOORE

 As there is no standard formula for a Manchester Orchestra record, those expecting Cope to sound anything like the band’s three previous records are bound to be a little confused. The songs here are stripped down quite a bit from 2011’s concept record Simple Math, less experimental and a little darker. But taken as a whole, Cope is still strongly relevant.

 Lyrically, frontman Andy Hull sticks to one-off topics and the guitars are much more straight forward and focused on this one, creating a more accessible vibe. Since their inception, the band has also straddled that fence between punk and indie rock and this latest seems to find them inching closer to the Indie Camp, with songs like the “Girl Harbor,” and “All That I Really Wanted” easily two of the best tracks the band has ever recorded.

 The album, the first with a brand new rhythm section, was recorded once and scrapped in its entirety as the band opted to start over. The result is slightly uneven, but ultimately has some fantastic songs on it.

  DOWNLOAD: “Girl Harbor,” “The Mansion” and “All That I Really Wanted”

LEIF VOLLEBEKK – North Americana

Album: North Americana

Artist: Leif Vollebekk

Label: Missing Piece

Release Date: January 28, 2014

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www.missingpiecegroup.com

 BY FRED MILLS

 While it’s not necessarily prudent to apply the “something in the water” argument to an album, it’s still tempting to ascribe at least part of North Americana’s sterling quality to its recording context—in this instance, Montreal’s storied Hotel2Tango studios, with the estimable Mr. Howard Bilarman behind the boards. The fact that  Leif Vollebekk is himself from Montreal may or may not be relevant to this notion, but suffice to say his laid-back-yet-edgy brand of jazz-tinged folk is destined to find a wide and deep audience. He won’t be limited to the “northern” territory of the Americana scene for long.

 North Americana, the followup to 2010’s Inland, even opens with a wish list for Vollebekk: “Southern United States” details a dream the songwriter had about “standing beneath the Memphis moon/ With William Blake painting and Crosby crooning,” subsequently meditating upon Lou Reed’s iconic album Berlin and a “low Texas drawl” coming through the static of a border radio broadcast. From there, it’s a traipse through his fevered imagination, heading “Off the Main Drag” into some “Cairo Blues,” visiting a “Photographer Friend” then witnessing how “A Wildfire Took Down Rosenberg,” subsequently experiencing the “Pallbearer Blues” and meditating upon how “When the Subway Comes Above the Ground.” He structures much of his material along acoustic guitar & upright bass lines, or piano/bass, not unlike the late, great Tim Buckley’s midperiod explorations (the aforementioned “Cairo Blues” is the clearest tip-off)—and, it should be made clear, and despite what a number of writers have surmised, his stylistic lineage is quite definitely, defiantly the avant/folk elder Buckley and not son Jeff, whose musical DNA traveled to an intersection of indie rock and worldbeat.

 That Vollebekk has also been frequently compared to Dylan simply confirms his ‘60s, rather than ‘90s, roots.

 As the album unfolds, Vollebekk unleashes his inner gypsy, engaging in soaring, sweeping vocal flights—notably, the breathtaking “Takk Somuleiois,” which does in fact (just to be fair to my fellow critics) find the singer hitting some impressive Jeff Buckley-esque falsettos, as well as the lengthy and elegiac “When the Subway Comes Above the Ground,” featuring Arcade Fire violin virtuoso Sarah Neufield. At those times, one begins to sense the potential this young artist holds forth. Bold and breezy, at once fun and feisty, and even occasionally carnal and canny, Leif Vollebekk is as much of a traditionalist as he is an upstart. And he’s only barely begun. Let’s hope he keeps drinking from that Montreal well…

 DOWNLOAD: “When the Subway Comes Above the Ground,” “Cairo Blues”

    Leif Vollebekk is currently on tour in the States through the middle of June. Tour dates can be found at his website.