Monthly Archives: June 2018

BODEGA — Endless Scroll

Album: Endless Scroll

Artist: Bodega

Label: What's Your Rupture?

Release Date: July 06, 2018


Bodega makes smart, rattling tight post-punk rackets out of scrambling guitars, a crazy bounce of bass and drums and pop culture fragments strung together in rhythmic sprays. The Brooklyn six-piece takes its cue from singer/guitar slasher Ben Hozie, who swears he’s not a cinephile (“motherfucker!”) but nonetheless chants at length about “Jack in Titanic” and maintains an IMDB page.

Nikki Belfiglio is a worthy abettor, echoing fragments of deadpan rants, interjecting Delta 5-ish “huhs!” and “hahs!” and taking a Pylon-ish lead on “Gyrate,” a song about female pleasure with its own Harry-Met-Sally interlude. Women make up the rest of the band, too, with Madison Velding-VanDam slashing out abrupt dissonant riffs on guitar, Heather Elle bumping up from below on bass and Montana Simone tightening the screws with box-y, disciplined rhythms.

Bodega’s sound is taut and minimalist, an onslaught that stabs in with a frenzy then retreats to the margins. The emptiness between the notes feels like a thing itself, a nihilist nothing amidst hedonism. Likewise, the songs are united by an agitation over alienation. “How Did This Happen!?” views resistance demonstrations through a thick pane of glass, as disconnected from the protests as the events that inspired them. “Name Escape,” with its twitchy ESG-esque bounce, spends its whole (brief) duration trying to remember a scenester’s name.  And “Can’t Knock the Hustle” is clearly knocking the hustle, or at least abstaining from it. Relentlessly clever, disdainful, sharp, Bodega satirizes everything it sees.

Well, not quite everything. “Charlie,” the disc’s most lyrical, tuneful track, memorializes a childhood friend who died young, but who remains connected, somehow, through a shared love of music. “Remember when we had an invisible band/you played invisible bass guitar, I clutched invisible mic stand,” sings Hozie in the most straightforward and heartfelt lines of the album. Then later, “and the last time I saw you was an empty room/you showed up halfway through the set and then you left with the tune.”

It’s a weird, lovely, disquieting interval, but you’ve barely got time to digest it before Bodega is back to banging. The final cut, “Truth Is Not a Punishment,” is straight on guitar-scrabbling, kick-drum thumping, hopped up anthemry. Blistering, incisive and occasionally even surprising, Endless Scroll is anything but dull.

DOWNLOAD: “How Did This Happen!?” “Truth Is Not a Punishment” “Charlie”




Album: Well, Hell


Label: Weekday

Release Date: February 09, 2018


It takes a couple of songs into Lauren Ruth Ward’s debut full length to get rolling, but by the time you get about a minute into “Sideways,” the second track off of Well, Hell, you realize exactly why she is being praised for her strong ‘70s vibe and Jagger-like swagger.

The debut from this LA, by way of Baltimore, Blues-soaked songstress sounds unlike much of what the west coast has been churning out lately. Like an American Courtney Barnett or modern-day Chrissie Hynde, she manages to come off as remarkably self-assured, thanks to a powerfully expressive voice and earnest lyrics; all while being propped up by a solid mix of psych-blues and classic rock, crammed with power chords and sharp riffs.

Even on her slower, seemingly mellower takes, like the brilliant “Make Love to Myself” there is often that gradual swell to a more raucous ending that takes full advantage of her incredible pipes (it’s these softer to louder numbers where she seems to be excising the ghost of Janis Joplin). But above all else, it’s a song like the stop and start, distortion-laden rocker “Blue Collar Sex Kitten” where you realize just how powerful a presence Ward can be.

There is something for just about everyone on Well, Hell and if you can’t find a song you like… maybe ask yourself when you stopped liking music.

DOWNLOAD: “Sideways,” “Make Love to Myself” and “Blue Collar Sex Kitten”



Album: Absence


Label: ECM

Release Date: April 06, 2018


Born in Estonia and raised in Germany by musician parents, pianist Kristjan Randalu comes from the classical world. Absence, his third solo album and ECM debut, reflects that training without being some grotesque classical/non-classical hybrid. Randalu’s lyricism and deft ability to traverse the keyboard swiftly and smoothly clearly come from the hours of practice put in, and his melodies draw from the art world as much as outside it. But the jazz side of Randalu’s art stands shoulder-to-shoulder with his formal training. Drummer Marrku Ounaskari keeps things percolating with some swinging cymbal work, while guitarist Ben Monder fills space in the background with atmospheric howls, ringing chords and lush countermelodies. Randalu himself often colors outside of his tunes’ lines, letting his fingers find their way around the tracks back to the main melody. From the shimmering sky of “Forecast” to the burly woods of “Lumi II,” the musicians defy easy comparisons to other classical/non blends – this is not the second coming of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Absence definitively hits its mark with the two-part “Adaptation,” a busy swirl of fleet-fingered piano, enigmatic guitar and nervous drumming that encapsulates Randalu’s multifaceted artistry. Beautiful but not sappy, accessible but not pandering, Absence sets the stage for a rising young artist’s impressive career.

DOWNLOAD: “Adaptation I & II,” “Lumi II,” “Forecast”


Anna Burch / Xetas 6/16/18, Denver

Dates: June 16, 2018

Location: Larimer Lounge, Denver CO

Live at the Larimer Lounge, a triple bill for the Mile High crowd.  Above: Xetas.


I’ve really liked the two album by Austin trio Xetas (both released on the 12XU label 2015’s The Redeemer and 2017’s The Tower) but had yet to see them live. They were opening this triple bill, Speedy Ortiz headlined (who I like but have seen before and I had an early morning the next day) so I made sure to get down there early and catch ‘em.

The crowd grew during their set and the band did not disappoint. All three of them: David on guitar/vocals, Kana on bass and Jay on drums tore the place apart. The energy level was up to 11 (on a scale of 1-10 ) and they played a good bunch of cuts from their two records.  The band was completely  locked in on this night and even seemed a little possessed (always a good thing). If Xetas come to your town and you can peel yourself off the couch (and miss a Matlock rerun) then by all means do it.

Michigan native Anna Burch burst on the scene a few years ago (and co-sang for the Fred Thomas band Failed Flowers…in fact it was Thomas who hipped the Polyvinyl label to Anna’s work) and released a few random singles before inking a deal with Polyvinyl this year and releasing the solid/at times excellent  Quit the Curse. She  assembled a band together of Summer on bass, Nick on drums and Joe on guitar (with Anna singing and playing rhythm guitar) and they played most if not all, of the songs on said debut LP. The songs sounded pretty much as they do on record (which I happen to like though some folks prefer more experimentation) and the soundman did a fine job on this evening. A few of the highlights included the melodic, quirky pop of “2 Cool 2 Care,” “Asking 4 a Friend” (which Burch introduced  as “this is a song about dating your drug dealer”) and “Belle Isle. “ (with Burch giving a little history on the place prior to the song).

In between songs Burch was amiable, chatty and witty (just the kind of person you’d think would write a line like, “The stabbing hatred for you suddently felt softer,” from the almost jazzy “What I Want”) and seems genuinely happy to be out on tour. I’ll be there next time as well (whenever that may be).

E – Negative Work

Album: Negative Work

Artist: E

Label: Thrill Jockey

Release Date: May 25, 2018


E, the trio formed by singer/guitarists Thalia Zedek (Come, Live Skull) and Jason Sanford (Neptune) and drummer Gavin McCarthy (Karate), should be the toast of the alternative rock world. On Negative Work, the trio’s second LP, these veteran noise rockers come together to create something truly special. Zedek and Sanford treat their axes with a balance of irreverence and awe, sometimes intertwining lines like snakes in a nest, but just as often crashing them against each other like the antlers of fighting stags. McCarthy drives the noise forward relentlessly, occasionally pausing to set a foundation for more meditative, less frenzied fare. Zedek and Sanford mutter, seethe and howl over the controlled chaos. Out of the storm melodies emerge, catchy in their own way, but avoiding any semblance of clichéd indie rock turgidity. Elements of Television, Sonic Youth, Jawbox, the Touch & Go catalog and, of course, the participants’ previous bands float to the top, but never feel like theft – instead the work of peers and predecessors inspires E to make its own variation on classic noisecraft. “Poison Letter,” “Untie Me,” “A House Inside” and “Down She Goes” almost shatter trying to keep the balance of off-kilter tuneage, winding riffology and thrumming energy that drive them. In a time when rock music seems more stultifying every passing hour, E’s Negative Work stands like a glorious beacon in a barren field.

DOWNLOAD: “Poison Letter,” “A House Inside,” “Down She Goes”

KENNY BARRON QUINTET – Concentric Circles

Album: Concentric Circles


Label: Blue Note

Release Date: May 04, 2018


Pianist Kenny Barron’s career stretches back to 1961, when he first recorded with his older brother Bill. Since then the Philadelphia native has built not only a massive catalog of his own, but logged appearances with Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson, Jimmy Heath, Booker Ervin and the proverbial many, many more. Somehow amongst all this activity he’s also managed a career as an instructor at Rutgers University and Juilliard School of Music. In other words, Barron has more creds than most of us have had hot dinners.

Which means that, at age 75, he’s got nothing to prove. That doesn’t mean Concentric Circles, his latest album and first with his new Quintet, is a lackadaisical effort. Far from it – Barron’s writing, playing and leadership are as sharp as ever. He frequently indulges his love of Latin American sonics, covering Caetano Veloso’s “Aquele Frevo Axe” and romping through the slinky “Baile,” as well as subtly incorporating Afro-Cuban rhythms into the otherwise straight bop of “DPW.” The pianist’s sensual touch with ballads is on full display on the lush, gorgeous “A Short Journey” and the peaceful “In the Dark.” Putting the spotlight on his band, especially trumpeter Mike Rodriguez, “Blue Waters,” “Von Hangman” and Lenny White’s “L’s Bop” present timeless post-bop sounds that would be as at home in 1958 as in 2018. The Quintet also gets funky on the delightfully frisky “I’m Just Sayin’.” The group hits a remarkable peak with the title track, a melodic, atmospheric epic framing its leader’s fingerwork in the kind of tight ensemble playing that should be cited in textbooks. Barron ends the LP alone with a cover of Thelonious Monk’s “Reflections,” a nimble tribute to one of his primary inspirations.

Barron owes no one anything, instead choosing to meet his own high standards of craft and heart. Neither experimental nor even particularly boundary-pushing, Concentric Circles instead showcases a master musician still on top of his game making music purely for the love of it.

DOWNLOAD: “Concentric Circles,” “Baile,” “I’m Just Sayin’”



Album: Felix Culpa

Artist: Family and Friends

Label: self-released

Release Date: June 08, 2018


Family And Friend’s debut, Felix Culpa, may deal with some heavy topics: transition from childhood to adulthood; dealing with relationships new and old; searching for the meaning of life… but rarely have those issues sounded so beautiful and breezy while be tackled in 3-to-4-minute increments.

The Athens-based indie pop/folk band worked with producer Brad Wood on their first full length – a producer best known for louder bands like Sunny Day Real Estate and Smashing Pumpkins – and while he does add a little more energy and texture to the band’s sound, don’t expect a complete about face from their 2015 EP. Layering elements of dreamy psychedelic and even hints of prog to the music, the group has taken a big step forward from that earlier effort. The band has still not quite managed to capture the full spirit of their live sets, but this album is a solid effort nonetheless.

Despite some heavy lyrical themes, the band’s reliance on sweet melodies and the melding of their voices into strong layered harmonies, makes the angst and coming of age questioning go down easy.

DOWNLOAD: “Ouroboros,” “Peaches” and “Houndstooth”


Album: Uncharted Territories


Label: Dare2

Release Date: May 11, 2018


The roots of Uncharted Territories go back to the mid-sixties and the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, then the U.K.’s premier free jazz outfit. Bassist Dave Holland and saxophonist Evan Parker performed on the collective’s second album Karyōbin, and remained friends over the decades, even though they didn’t play together. Until now, that is, when Holland decided to reconnect musically with his old pal for another round of spontaneous composition, with keyboardist Craig Taborn (Holland’s bandmate in Prism and one of the most forward-thinking young lions in jazz) and percussionist Ches Smith (an avant-gardist with feet in both jazz and rock) joining in on the fun.

With terms like “spontaneity” and “free” thrown around, one might be misled into thinking the music on these two disks is complete chaos – indeed, all but three of the cuts don’t even have titles, just shorthand for the number of musicians involved, the day of the week it was recorded, and which take. While there’s certainly a lack of formal structure on most of these tracks, to assume they’re free-for-alls is a mistake. While well-versed in free improvisation, each musician here is equally skilled at composition, which allows them to think of these recordings as songs, not freak-outs. Thus a full-bodied performance like “QW2” flows as if it was written beforehand, an actual melody rising from the blend of dissonant piano, blowing sax, pulsing bass and clattering kit work. Other tracks range from duets between bass and percussion, saxophone and percussion or organ and vibraphone to trio takes of sax, bass and percussion or sax, piano and bass. Regardless of lineup, the cuts have an exploratory playfulness, the sound of musicians discovering something new as they divine their relationships in real time. Given the inherent musicality each player boasts, the results never fall into discordance – even at their most frenetic, the tracks still scan as purely musical.

Presumably as anchors, the band includes a trio of actual compositions: Smith’s “Thought On Earth” and “Unsteady As She Goes” and Holland’s “Q&A.” While more accessible than the improvisations, they’re still of a piece – no easy swing or traditional bop derivations here. Uncharted Territories is a challenge, but it’s an inclusive one – Holland and company aren’t interested in being forbidding, just in inviting listeners into a world that disorienting but liberating.

DOWNLOAD: “QW2,” “QT13,” “Bass – Percussion T1”


Hot Snakes + Le Butcherettes 5/18/18, Denver

Dates: May 18, 2018

Location: Oriental Theatre, Denver CO

Two killer bands destroy the Oriental Theatre.


I’d been waiting very (im)patiently for this gig since It’d been announced and while I’d already seen Drive like Jehu and Rocket from the Crypt I’d never seen Hot Snakes before so I was ready (and, as I remembered below, I had seen Hot Snakes once before…).

The packed house seemed to really love Mexico’s Le Butcherettes. The band is a trio with vocalist/guitarist Teri Gender Bender (who I’d found out is orignally from Denver) and a rhythm section that includes drummer Gabe who used to be in The Locust. Musically they’re a heady mix of souped-up garage and sauced up rock and rock and roll had the crowd swaying dancing and even flying (one guy thought he was a squirrel) with Teri leading the charge like a ringmaster from a Jodorowsky’s film (Santa Sangre?). They laid a nice mix from all of the band’s records.

Hot Snakes returned a mere four years after their scorching set at Riot Fest 2014 and they were ready. John Speedo Reis and Rick Froberg are up front on guitar (Rick sings) while Gar Wood holds down the bass and on drums they had had rapid-fire monster Jason Kourkounis (formerly of Delta ’72 among others). These four were born to play together.

They played a good mix of tunes from all their records. Their latest Jericho Sirens (on Sub Pop, like their other three) came out this year to plenty of acclaim and with good reason, it’s packed with songs are are tight and smack you around like a angered bear. Cuts like “Death Doula,” “I Need a Doctor,’ “Six Wave Hold-Down” and the title track were all shredded to bits while older songs like “Lax,” “Who Died” and “10th Planet” were the requisite glorious punch in the face.

They played a handful of encores at least two of which were non-moldy oldies like “Retrofit” and “Braintrust.”

The crowd were certainly appreciative as the packed house didn’t want the band to leave the stage but alas, shows have to end as did this one. The next time the Hot Snakes come to town we’ll roll out the red carpet (kept in the trunk of my car). Hot Snakes rule!


Wye Oak 5/23/18, Denver

Dates: May 23, 2018

Location: Bluebird Theatre, Denver CO

Jenn and Andy – plus a new bassist – leave the Bluebird Theatre spellbound. (Photo above, by Eleonora Collini, via the Wye Oak Facebook page. Tour dates available at the page as well.)


Still fresh after only being on the road for a few weeks the Baltimore duo of Jenn Wasner and drummer Andy Stack (now armed with bassist whose name I did not catch) had a more than appreciative crowd at the Bluebird on this Wednesday night. Hell, I saw this 50-something couple who I see at my gym (but who I do not know) here arm-in-arm swaying to the music. Hey, if the good-lookin gym couple is here then Wye Oak as made it!

They band is in touring in support of their new record (on Merge, just like all the others) The Louder I Call the Faster it Runs  which is a little different than he band’s other records. Still a unique, soaring mix of electronics/ rock/pop , folk and the like but the mix of Wassner’vocals (an instrument unto itself) and Stacks unique drumming (plus the solidity of adding the bassist) adds up to a band that’s still experimenting, still growing.

In between songs Wassner told stories and joked with the crowd who seemed to hang on her every word (and hey, she is a great storyteller).

From the new record we heard, “(tuning)” into “The Instrument” and right into “Lifer” and the gorgeous, should-be-a-hit “It Was Not Natural” which is 4 of the first 5 songs on that record.

They then dipped back a bit and played “Shriek” from the 2014 record of the same name as well as other older cuts like “Spirtal,” “Glory,” “Holy Holy,” “The Tower” and Civilian.”

They ended it with the title track from the new record. There were no encores, but they didn’t have to (I’m not sure if that’s their standard for them or not). Wye Oak were definitely worth leaving the house for.