Monthly Archives: June 2015

TELLICO – Relics and Roses

Album: Relics and Roses

Artist: Tellico

Label: self-released

Release Date: June 02, 2015

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It’s a mighty impressive band that can take a sound which is literally as old as the hills, and then repurpose it with an approach that’s vital and exciting. Yet, that’s what Tellico has done on their maiden outing, with the result that they’ve suddenly gone from zero to sixty on this initial attempt. Yes, it’s that good, evidenced by the fact that they’ve not only effectively melded bluegrass and Appalachian influences, but also taken something as markedly contemporary as a Neil Young medley “White Line/River of Pride” and repurposed it as a roughhewn ramble with nary a trace of a “Neil-ism” in sight.

The moods are mixed, from the joyful revelry of opener “Backstep Blues” to the dark narrative “Calamity” immediately following. The angry rebuke of “Lean Into It” contrasts with the mellow rapture of “Morning Haze,” while the humorous hillbilly tribute to a pair of comical TV heroes, “Hawkeye Pierce and Honeycutt Blues,” counters the driving delivery of “Can’t Go Home Again.” It’s an impressive array to say the least, and while the mix of guitar, fiddle, dobro, pedal steel, lap steel, mandolin and clawhammer banjo might otherwise suggest an archival feel, the contemporary mindset distances this set of songs from any hint of a sepia-tinted pastiche. It’s barely hit the shelves, but it already gives reason to anticipate an imagined sophomore set.

DOWNLOAD: “Calamity,” “Hawkeye Pierce and Honeycutt Blues,” “Backstep Blues”


Album: In Plain Speech

Artist: Circuit Des Yeux

Label: Thrill Jockey

Release Date: May 19, 2015

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Haley Fohr’s fifth album as Circuit Des Yeux is no less harrowing than 2011’s Portrait, but it’s a lot less lonely. For it, Fohr brought in a slew of Chicago experimental artists, her close musical confidante, Cooper Crain of Bitchin’ Bajas and Cave, plus reed player Rob Frye (also of Bitchin Bajas violist Whitney Johnson (who normally plays with Verma), Adam Luksetich of Foul Tip on bass and drums and folk-derived sonic anarchist Kathleen Baird of Spires That in the Sunset Rise for various instruments and backing vocals.

The center of the sound is still Fohr’s extraordinary voice, pitched velvety low and throbbing with vibrato, but she is surrounded by a rich, communal palette, the long revelatory “Dream of TV” ends with her wordless, not wholly human vocals, shrouded in strings, flutters of flute and delicate tracery of vocal counterpart. There’s a vast, echoing space around her, whether she croons abstractly, as on “Guitar Knife” or follows a nearly conventional rock melody through “Fantasize the Scene.”   Her sonic constructions — to call them songs over-minimizes them — seem to exist in a heightened parallel universe, the colors brighter, the shadows darker than life.

Fohr’s conflation of classically assured vocal beauty and crashing, industrial rock drama recalls Jarboe more than any other artist, though you could also make a case for Catherine Ribeiro. It’s strong, vital stuff, bursting through the confines of traditional rock, pop or even experimental drone. You hardly know what to make of it, but you can’t wait to hear what happens next. That was true, too, of her earlier work, but for this one she’s brought a whole army of sounds and marshalled them in impressive formations. Fohr may be a wild card, but she is firmly, fascinatingly in control.

DOWNLOAD: “Do the Dishes” “Dream of TV”


FAILURE – The Heart is a Monster

Album: The Heart is a Monster

Artist: Failure

Label: INgrooves

Release Date: June 30, 2015



Back in the ‘90s, there was a proliferation of alternative rock guitar bands who carefully blended hard rock hooks and heavy guitar sounds with singalong melodies and lyrics that ran the emotional gamut. That’s not news, of course – it’s a sound that was sneered at by hipsters at the time and hasn’t been looked upon fondly by their descendents, despite the influence avatars such as Bob Mould and Soundgarden continue to have. Arguably, the reason alt.rock gets ironic eyebrows and dismissive sniffs when it comes to significance is the genre’s profligacy – the major label signing frenzy resulted in SO GODDAMN MANY BANDS with that sound to be signed and LPs released it was impossible to walk through a record store or music rag’s office without accidentally kicking CDs that had fallen on the floor. (The late ‘90s “post grunge” era that gave us Creed and Nickleback didn’t help.) Some of those bands remain influential. Many of them were riding a trendy bandwagon with half-assed efforts. And some of them were sadly overlooked, even as their work has held up over time.

Failure was a good example of the latter. (And possibly a cautionary tale when it comes to more carefully naming one’s band.) The L.A. trio nailed a distinctive take on the sound on its third album, 1996’s Fantastic Planet: shimmering, perfectly recorded grunge that folded just enough psychedelic space rock into its melodic crunch to set it far apart from its peers. Despite that, a minor hit with the addiction anthem “Stuck On You” and the friendship/patronage of Tool, it wasn’t enough for the band to survive. Guitarist Ken Andrews went on to On, Year of the Rabbit and a career as a producer and engineer. Bassist Greg Edwards formed Lusk and Autolux. Drummer Kelli Scott pounded skins for a variety of acts, including Blinker the Star and Veruca Salt. The band’s catalog was fondly remembered by fans and passed over in bargain bins by everyone else.

Fortunately, that mass of diehards grew in size, old wounds healed and Failure reunited for festival performances and, at last, a new album. The Heart is a Monster picks up right where Fantastic Planet left off, maintaining the same core values of strongarm guitar sounds, pristine production and luscious melodies. “Hot Traveler,” “Come Crashing” and the skronking “Atom City Queen” bash and crash with graceful hammers, never letting the tunes drown in pummel. “Snow Angel,” “Otherwhere” and “Counterfeit Sky” shift further into the band’s psychedelic side, without loss of brute strength. “The Focus” and “Fair Light Era” play most bluntly with the dynamic shift most endemic to the style, moving easily from floating in space to crushing the puny humans below. The disk reaches its apex with “I Can See Houses,” nearly seven minutes of lava flowing into the heart of an acid star.

Andrews’ burnished singing sits comfortably atop the guitar edifice he and Edwards lay down, while Scott shifts rhythms on a dime to keep even the dreamiest tracks moving steadily. Produced with utmost clarity and letting the performances speak for themselves, The Heart is a Monster is that rare comeback record that sounds like no time has passed whatsoever. Having not lost a single step, Failure is as potent a force now as it was when its style of music was king.

DOWNLOAD: “The Focus,” “Counterfeit Sky,” “Atom City Queen”


THE MONOPHONICS—The Sound of Sinning

Album: Sound of Sinning

Artist: Monophonics

Label: Transistor Sound

Release Date: April 14, 2015

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Psychedelic soul topped the gritty grooves of classic R&B with hallucinatory shimmer, in booty-shaking, mind-altering tunes like the Temptations “Cloud Nine,” Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly” and pretty much anything by Sly and the Family Stone. The Monophonics, out of San Francisco, revisit this sound with swagger and style, in a big band configuration that balances the minimalism of funk with a front line of horns. The band had a big hit in its cover of Sonny Bono’s “Bang Bang,” a few years ago, giving the track a noire-ish surf soul bravado that crossed the Budos Band with the Ventures.

The main question is whether a half dozen white Californians can mine a genre so closely linked with civil rights protest music. They do so by stripping psychedelic soul of its political undertones, sticking mostly to done-me-wrong narratives of personal, rather than civil unrest. That works pretty fabulously in “Promises,” the album’s lead track, with its surging waves of sax and horn, its staccato, hip-shifting bass and guitar interplay. Singer Kelly Finnigan (who also plays keyboards) has a scruffy, gritty voice, capable of the deep-digging growls and soulful howls, but not the ethereal falsettos of tripped out soul. “Falling” is another strong cut, the starkness of its main ragged-with-feeling vocal, plushed out with pillowy back-up singing.

The instrumental backing on all these tracks is very good, tightly, sharply syncopated in the foreground, but with florid textures of altered guitar, strings, electronic keyboards and blaring brass to release tension. The Monophonics used to be an all-instrumental band before Finnigan joined, and you can see how it would work pretty well that way.

The Sound of Sinning is a groove all the way through, its slinky vamps and gut-rumbling riffs cresting in satisfying 1970s waves. It is almost certainly a blast in the live setting. Still there’s something safe and conservative in the way it recreates the sonics, but not the revolutionary spirit, of one of the most interesting periods in African American music. Where’s the danger here?

Download: “Promises,” “Falling”


MOTOBUNNY – Motobunny

Album: Motobunny

Artist: Motobunny

Label: Rusty Knuckles

Release Date: May 12, 2015

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There aren’t too many Iggy Pop-influenced pop/punk bands out there with a full-time keytarist and co-frontwomen, but Motobunny somehow manage to make it work.

 It would be easy to dismiss the band as a novelty if they didn’t have the songs to back it up, but as their self-titled debut proves, they’ve got about a dozen.

The band was formed backstage at an Iggy gig a few years ago, when members from The Wooly Bandits and The Love Me Knots decided to merge. Collectively, the members have shared the stages with everyone from Nirvana and The Damned to Pearl Jam and X, but their album has a much more glam-punk vibe to it. From the Joan Jett-like rocker “Shake Me” to the just what it sounds like track “My Boyfriend is a Ghost” the band is distorted guitars with plenty of synths and hooks.

There are a few weaker tracks here and there, but ultimately, the record is an experiment in glitter and grease that ends well.

 DOWNLOAD: “The Other Side,” “Shake Me” and “My Boyfriend is a Ghost”



DOLDRUMS – The Air Conditioned Nightmare

Album: The Air Conditioned Nightmare

Artist: Doldrums

Label: Sub Pop

Release Date: April 07, 2015

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You’d be forgiven if you thought the opening of this record was in fact the new Prodigy joint, that is until the vocals kick in. The opening salvo “HOTFO” is a bold blast of “invaders must die” like aggression battling for the hearts and minds of listeners from the first distorted digital beat.

This record veers to some uncomfortable places, it has a creepiness about it that wouldn’t be out of place in a Jessie Pinkman meth freak out in an episode of Breaking Bad. There are numerous musical references throughout this record and even in the space of a song, that instead of being just a cut and paste job, work well to forge a specific musical identity for the record. This is something a lot of artists fail to do.

“My Friend Simjen” is one hell of an odd track that employs some really disparate synth sounds to create a hallucinogenic uneasiness. The track with its frenetic pacing and layers of voices is a frightening excursion into paranoia that ends in a shrill yell. I was genuinely creeped out by this song. I know that given the right substances I’ll awake like Neo in Matrix to the real world that the band is trying to show us.

“Loops” is a really cool retro number that once again employs the unnerving slightly off kilter sound much like when you touch the pitch shifter on your record player. It then bounces into an 80’s dance song, and then shifts once again into these weird punctuated moments of singing, that then stab back into a groovy dance number.

I took to this album when I noticed its cover art. I mean how often in this day of digital music do we look at the art? With what looks like death looming the out of body experience is germane to what the band is trying to accomplish here. It could be a drug-addled freak out where you stare out at the abyss, and just let yourself jettison all inhibition and just jump. Or maybe you take one step back from the edge and make your way back to life through all of the ensuing chaos. Certainly this album serves up plenty of moments where things could split either way.

Jumping back into the record “Video Hostage” is a very unsettling number that employs rumbling down the train tracks like sound in the background, along with spliced angelic vocals jammed in the mix. When the rat-a-tat-tat of the drums enters there’s a major upping of the emotional ante. When we get to the end of the song you know you’ve witnessed something unnerving and possibly unmentionable.

A record much like a film should provoke as much as it entertains. Doldrums have fashioned a record that people will look at in the future as a reference to the world we were living in back in 2014 when it was recorded. It’s a dreary place that feels devoid of much hope and where an ever-increasing number of people are struggling to feel apart of anything. Doldrums have given voice to the psychology of the outsider, fashioning a work of art whose queasy, warped nature is just too hard to shake.









TREY GUNN – The Waters, They Are Rising

Album: The Waters, They Are Rising

Artist: Trey Gunn

Label: 7d Media

Release Date: April 21, 2015

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Since leaving King Crimson, touch guitarist Trey Gunn has seemingly kept a low profile, preferring a low-key solo career over high-profile guest appearances or bringing his unique playing style to another band. The Waters, They Are Rising, his latest solo slab, is unlikely to poke its head out of the underground waters, but that’s not Gunn’s goal anyway. Instead he’s interested purely in self-expression, filtering his sedate compositions through moody fingerings and atmospheric sustain.

Performed entirely solo (with one exception), Gunn eschews the aggressive riffmongering in which he indulged in Crimson and previous solo platters – “The Beautiful Umbrella,” “The First Return” and the four-part, live “Flood” favor gently taking your hand over grabbing you by the throat. “The Last Wave” and “The Seven Who Were Saved” feature grooves of sorts, but even they stay calm. Gunn kicks the disk off with its most accessible track, a lovely cover of Bob Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet” sung by Dylan Nichole Bandy, easing us into his main agenda.

Don’t look for fingerbusting riffs on The Waters, They Are Rising – instead expect masterful manipulation of mood.

DOWNLOAD: “Flood – parts 1-IV,” “The Last Wave,” “Not Dark Yet”



Album: Hot Beat Stew

Artist: Doughboys

Label: Ram

Release Date: April 14, 2015

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What began as a special surprise gathering of former childhood pals and a one-off reunion of the band they started in the sixties quickly evolved into a mostly full time preoccupation that’s already yielded four albums, ongoing gigs, and a literally life all its own. Everyone’s aged, but the thing that hasn’t changed at all is their seminal sound and style, which remains a basic infusion of garage band racket rife with early British Invasion influences. The fact that the new album should boast a version of that old chestnut “Tears of a Clown” offers a broad hint about their MO, but it’s their ability to craft songs that frequently sound like only a minimal variation of the original template is the thing that sets them apart.

Or not. If this was 1965, it would be hard to distinguish them from any band residing on the far side of the Thames. Songs such as “Shake It Loose,” “You Can’t Catch Me,” and “For Your Love” capture the sound of the ‘60s so precisely, the not so coincidental song titles scarcely even matter. Singer Myke Scavone sounds like a cross between Mick Jagger, Manfred Mann frontman Paul Jones and the Yardbirds’ Keith Relf, and even when the band refrains from their usual strut and shuffle on the “Ruby Tuesday” clone called “Soho Girl,” one would swear Mick n’ Keef were manipulating the action from behind the scenes. That’s a complement of course, assuming that the Dough Boys’ true intention is to actually sound as derivative as they do.

There’s no heady stuff here beyond the stomp and swagger, only a bombastic fusion of rock ‘n’ roll and R&B created with the same spirit and dedication as their forebears. It’s a damn good racket that ensures no heavy lifting is required.

DOWNLOAD: “Shake It Loose,” “You Can’t Catch Me,” “For Your Love”

KEITH JARRETT – Creation / Samuel Barber: Piano Concerto, op. 38 / Béla Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 3 / Keith Jarrett: Tokyo Encore

Album: Creation / Samuel Barber: Piano Concerto, op. 38 / Béla Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 3 / Keith Jarrett: Tokyo Encore

Artist: Keith Jarrett

Label: ECM

Release Date: June 12, 2015

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Pianist Keith Jarrett turned 70 earlier this year, and celebrated the best way he knew how: with new music. Creation collects material from various solo performances into a single, multi-part work. Though spawned by his onstage improvisations, the pieces lean on Jarrett’s pastoral side, marrying clusters of tuneful chords to rhythms that casually unfold purely to support the melody. This isn’t languid dicking around, mind you – Jarrett’s meandering sounds almost deliberate, at least mindful, as if he knows where he’s going and is just taking his time getting there. The result is a gorgeous outing that should please fans of his classical side as much as those who favor his jazz recordings.

Speaking of Jarrett’s classical music, he’s paired the release of Creation with a set of recordings from the folios of Samuel Barber and Béla Bartók. Recorded in 1984 with the Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Saarbrücken in Germany, Barber’s Piano Concerto, op. 38 gets a fairly straightforward run-through, with both Jarrett and conductor Dennis Russell Davies bringing extreme sensitivity to the work. Perhaps a bit too much sensitivity – the quiet almost becomes too much until “Allegro molto,” when Jarrett explodes on the keyboard while the orchestra swells and recedes behind him.

Recorded in Tokyo in 1985 with the New Japan Philharmonic, Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 3, Sz 119 is richer, fuller and more vibrant, Perhaps it’s the more vigorous performance coaxed out of the orchestra by conductor Kazuyoshi Akiyama, or perhaps it’s simply the choice of material, but the musicians bring more energy and flair to this recording, especially on the spiritually dusted “Adagio religioso” and the tumbling dice of “Allegro vivace.”

Interestingly, Jarrett ends the classical record with “Nothing But the Truth,” an improvised original used as an encore in Tokyo. Romantic and beautiful, if brief by comparison to the rest of the works, it would sound just as at home on Creation as it does here. It ties the records together, making it clear that these aren’t two sides of one personality, but a boundary-blurring musical whole.

DOWNLOAD: “Creation: Part II,” Bartók: “Adagio religioso,” “Nothing But the Truth”


Album: Pan

Artist: White Manna

Label: Cardinal Fuzz

Release Date: June 09, 2015

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There’s something terrifying about the music that White Manna creates. On their latest album Pan they ratchet up the intensity much like a solar flare being shot out into the universe. The music hits you with waves of radiation and obliterates everything in its path. The first track I put on repeat was the third track entitled “Dunes II”, this is a song that starts off with a repetitive guitar line coupled with some flanged vocals, and then slowly ratchets up the tension, until the ferocious guitars, distorted to 11 come in. This is the point where the song becomes airborne. A white-hot, hazy guitar solo morphs and teases eventually building into turbulent squalls that pummel the listener into submission. Then like some of the great psychedelic bands before them, Spacemen 3 comes to mind here, the song spins down disappearing back into the ether.

The next track “Evil” harkens back to Doremi Fasol Latido era Hawkwind. It’s also one hell of a storming tune. The vocals reside slightly above the horizon with a rhythm section that keeps things tight and hustling forward.

The song “Beta Travellers” once again shows the bands reverence for all things Hawkwind. The song starts off with a punchy drum beat over which Del Dettmar like synth quivers in and out signaling lift off!

The entire album is preparing the listener for the epic final track entitled “Eshra” which is truly the definition of building from a whisper into a scream. Dumped on a distant shore, the song begins to rev up slowly. With a cymbal crash the clouds begin to evolve slowly into a super cell thunderstorm that’s about to go crazy over a remote section of the desert. At the 2:50 mark the drums come crashing in and this song just builds and builds and builds some more. The drums here show an almost Jaki Liebezeit/Brant Bjork, metronomic sense of timing. Then the piece shift as the guitar glides over the now rumbling drums taking things down a notch. The delay washed guitar emanations that begin to fade signal that the song is coming to an end. The thing about the track “Eshra” is one listen fails to satisfy. It’s just one of those songs you wish would go on forever. I’ve read that White Manna is shit hot as a live band. I can only imagine that this is the sort of track they can easily extend to 20 minutes in front of an audience.

I’m really enjoying the fact that bands like White Manna and Wooden Shjips have reinvigorated and in many ways reinvented the psych music scene in the US.

Kudos to guitarist David Johnson who just blows everything away with his playing. I liken his playing to those films of the Manhattan project and the detonating of the Atom bomb in the desert with the scorching of the mannequins that were strategically placed to mimic what humans would supposedly endure, this is how you feel when the glow of the album finally begins to dissipate.

White Manna is as their name implies a sort of spiritual food from the heavens. With Pan the band has created an album that places them squarely amongst the pantheon of musicians they so obviously adore.

DOWNLOAD: “Dunes II,” “Eshra”