Thursday, April 9, 2015
Artist: Levitation Room
Title: Minds of Our Own
Genre: Psychedelic Rock
Sounds Like: Temples
Favorite Track: Loved
Available as: Download and cassette (Burger)
I could probably make this blog entirely about the stuff Burger Records (and their DIY subsidiary Wiener Records) puts out. They're one of those labels that don't release that much bad stuff. There are certainly exceptions and they have put out things that I haven't liked, but in general their output is fantastic. While I've heard the claim that everything they put out sounds alike, and I can understand where that's coming from, their releases have enough variety to refute that stereotype.
Levitation Room is one of those bands that I really know next to nothing about. I found out about them by listening to Burger's Soundcloud feed. I don't remember what track they put up (it might have been "Loved" but I'm really not sure), but it immediately caught my ear. Amid all the lo-fi garage rock on Burger's feed, Levitation Room stands out - the EP is really well produced and clean. While I like the lo-fi aesthetic, it can sometimes serve to cover up the fact that a band doesn't really play all that well. Sometimes that's part of the fun, especially with punk rock. It can give the music a raw quality that often really fits. However, when you have songs that are as well-produced as these are, there's nowhere to hide, so bands have to be on the top of their game. In this case, they really succeed.
While I'm sure this band will probably take criticism for being a derivative of England's psych-pop superstars Temples, and there certainly are similarities in the vocals, playful melodies, and clean aesthetic, Levitation Room really is a different animal. While Temples tends to go all-out on bombastic wall-of-sound production and weird guitar effects, Levitation Room actually stays truer to their 60s psychedelic roots by eschewing electronic effects for simple fuzz and reverb. They also make direct reference to their influences in a lyrical tribute to Jimi Hendrix (their lyric "if six equals to nine" in "Visions of My Mind" is a reference to Jimi's "If 6 Was 9").
In today's neo-psychedelic scene, there's sometimes a conflict on how much weirdness is enough and when it becomes too much. It's really a matter of taste, honestly, but as far as I'm concerned, some bands go way over the top and end up making songs that just sound nasty. However, with this tape, Levitation Room enters the pantheon of fantastic modern psych, alongside Temples and Humbug-era Arctic Monkeys. I hope they release a full-length album soon - I need my fix!
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Genre: Pop Punk
Favorite Track: Impossible to decide, but my ego says Forever
Available as: Download, CD, and vinyl (Frenchkiss)
Available as: Download, CD, and vinyl (Frenchkiss)
I first encountered Tweens at Cincinnati's Midpoint Music Festival two years ago. I saw Wussy and The Breeders that day as well, but I had the best time when Tweens were playing. Their music is so fun and has so much energy that as soon as they started playing, I started paying attention (which I hadn't been doing for the first act that played). I started following them on social media, bought a digital copy of their "Live At Mohawk" EP (finally tracked down a cassette copy almost a year later), and was hugely excited when they announced their first full-length. I preordered it off of Bandcamp, in a package with not just the vinyl LP, but a demo cassette and other cool swag. But by far the most exciting thing was when they asked for volunteers to come and be in the music video for "Forever." Couldn't pass up the chance. I went down to the location, saw an awesome show, and got my 2 1/2 seconds of fame.
When the album arrived in the mail, I listened to almost nothing else for at least a week afterwards (much to the chagrin of my parents, who don't get punk music). Although the band does an awesome job on the fast and furious mosh-pit stompers like "McMicken" and "Hardcore Boy," there's variety in the writing. "Don't Wait Up," which was my favorite of the demos they put up on Bandcamp, is a fantastic mid-tempo song with a great riff, and "Want U" is a reverb-heavy and surprisingly tender ballad which couples with "Forever" (another great mid-tempo song) to make an ode to mixed-up teenage emotions, something I'm intimately familiar with. Tweens have a musicianship that not all punk bands do. Bridget Battle has an excellent and distinctive voice and a strong guitar style, and bassist Peyton Copes totally rocks it - he's definitely one of the best punk bassists around. I think that might have been one of the first things that really attracted me to the band - as a bassist myself, I enjoy listening to artists who don't relegate the instrument to the background, especially when the player is really good.
I love this album so much it's hard for me to contain myself when writing about it. When I got a new turntable, this was the first album I played on it. Tweens also has the honor of being the band I've seen live the most times. Back when I was still living in Cincinnati full-time, I'd go every time they played, and they sound just as good in person as they do on the record. Which is saying something. If someone put a knife to my throat and made me name my favorite pop punk album, I would definitely pick this. It's got a little bit of everything and all the songs are incredibly enjoyable. So happy birthday, Tweens! I can't wait to see what the next album looks like.
Friday, February 6, 2015
Artist: Bil Frisell
Album: Guitar in the Space Age
Genre: Jazz Fusion
Favorite Track: Turn, Turn, Turn
Available as: Download, CD (Okeh), and vinyl (Music on Vinyl)
I hadn't really given too much thought to this blog over the last week. I mean, I have a list of artists and albums I want to write about, and I've been adding to it, but I haven't been doing much actual writing (which is obvious, since I haven't posted anything in almost a week). Then, I decided I would take myself out for lunch. I'd been craving gyros for a while and there's a place here in Bloomington that I remembered having good ones. Long story short, my memory was mistaken and the wrap really wasn't anything special. However, while I was downtown, I decided to stick my head in a couple record stores and see what was up. I grabbed an original 1969 Moby Grape (complete with middle finger) with a ratty cover but nice vinyl, and a CD from Fred Hersch, one of my favorite jazz pianists. Now, why am I writing about this album instead of that? Because, when I was listening to Fred, I was reading the CD booklet, in which he talks about dedicating a song to Bill Frisell and calls him one of his favorite musicians. Since I'm always on the lookout for new stuff to listen to, I decided to go on Spotify and check Bill out. Almost all the top tracks were from his new album, this one, so I listened to a couple and was immediately hooked in.
I don't know too much about Bill Frisell, apart from the fact that, like many successful contemporary jazz artists, he's been playing for a long time. I know enough about him to know that this album is a bit of a departure for him. It's not so much jazz as instrumental rock: similar almost to Joe Satriani, except several degrees softer. Guitar in the Space Age is almost entirely a cover album of songs from the early-to-mid 1960s, featuring a number of surf instrumentals (it starts off with a cover of the Chantays' "Pipeline"). There are a couple originals on the album, but they're actually far less interesting than the covers are.
Bill does something with his guitar on this album that's different than any jazz guitarist I've heard before, and which probably makes jazz purists very angry. He uses effects. Wah-wah and distortion. Not on all of the songs, but on a couple. That, along with the conventional structure of the cover songs (unlike many jazz covers of pop songs, these are pretty straight ahead without too much improvisation), is what makes this almost an instrumental rock album as opposed to jazz.
Although all the covers are fantastic, my favorite song on the album by far is Bill's cover of "Turn, Turn, Turn," originally a Pete Seeger song but made famous by the masters of 60s folk rock, The Byrds. Their version of the song has long been a favorite of mine, but Bill's version is almost better. The sharp tonality of his (and his accompanist's) guitar cuts through the air like a knife. It's slightly slower than the Byrds' version, which, to me, makes it seem less like an ordinary cover and more like a reverent tribute. The sound genuinely thrilled me, which isn't really all that easy to do.
It would be very easy for a guitarist of Frisell's caliber to simply throw off a cover album as a study in baby-boomer nostalgia, but on this album, he does so much more than that. He manages to make instrumental covers of pop songs that are interesting and genuinely enjoyable, and to cross the barrier between jazz and rock that so many other artists have tried with varied success. The album is, of course, on Spotify and iTunes, and the CD, on Okeh, shouldn't be too difficult to find as a fairly new release. There is a vinyl pressing which I would love to hear, but it's from Europe's Music on Vinyl label, whose releases are notoriously hard to get ahold of in the US. Maybe someday.
Sunday, February 1, 2015
Artist: Buffalo Killers
Title: Buffalo Killers
Genre: Psychedelic rock
Sounds Like: Blue Cheer, Pearlene
Favorite Track: Something Real
Available as: Download, CD, vinyl (Alive)
Buffalo Killers is my favorite album to show to classic rock devotees who say "I hate modern music!" The wah-wah heavy psychedelic guitar blues featured here is retro, yes, but also very fresh and appealing: there's enough guitar soloing to keep classic rockers, well, rockin', but there's also a melodic sensibility and writing tight enough to entertain indie fanatics equally as much.
Buffalo Killers' unique brand of rock is very much an Ohio sound - I can only think of three bands that do this sort of thing, and they're all from Ohio, two (Buffalo Killers and Pearlene) from Cincinnati. It's based in Chicago blues of the 1950s, famously personified by Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, but also integrates a fair amount of late 60s psych as well. Vocals from the Gabbard brothers, Zachary and Andrew, remind me strongly of the bluesy yowl of Dan Auerbach's early work with the Black Keys, except an octave or so higher.
The writing on their songs is almost pure blues, using classic chord progressions and riffs accented and updated with wah-wah, distortion, and psychedelic lyrics. Unlike the current wave of neo-psychedelic pop spearheaded by bands like Temples, Buffalo Killers' music is distinctly heavy and rough, drawing well-founded comparisons to 1960s California stoners Blue Cheer, who recorded one of the best (and heaviest) versions of Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues."
Although the band has tended away from their blues roots and towards more conspicuous psychedelica and stoner rock in their more recent releases, I much prefer this, their first album, over their more recent, trippier output. The writing is fresh and unadorned, and the energy seeps through even on the slow tracks. Surprisingly enough for an album from 2006, copies of the album aren't hard to track down, even on vinyl, which I highly recommend (it's a great pressing).
Friday, January 30, 2015
Title: You're Not Going to Live Forever
Sounds Like: Vacation, Joy Division
Favorite Track: Dirty Streets
Available as: Download (Bandcamp only), cassette (Let's Pretend)
Mardou is a really interesting and versatile band which currently lives in the pantheon of "bands I regret not seeing when I had the chance." I almost went to see one of their shows once but I had some conflict or other that I decided to go to instead. After buying and listening to their cassette, I regret that.
The opening two tracks of this tape are lo-fi garage punk stompers that remind me strongly of another Cincinnati punk band, Vacation. This is probably more than a coincidence, because half of the EP was recorded by Jerome Westercamp, aka Jerri Queen, the drummer and frontman of Vacation. They're full of energy and drive, with some really good riffs. Then, on track three, "Earth," the band shifts gears into a slower, more atmospheric (but still driving) groove that reminds me strongly of Joy Division, except obviously with very different vocals. No one can imitate Ian Curtis. He's the man.
For the rest of the tape, the band alternates every two tracks between driving punk and atmospheric alternative, in slightly higher-fidelity sound on side two, due to the fact that the two sides contain songs recorded at different sessions, by different engineers. My favorite track on the album is from the second session. It's called "Dirty Streets." Although this doesn't appear on the cassette, somewhere or other I saw this track subtitled "an ode to Over-The-Rhine," a historic neighborhood in Cincinnati which is one of my favorite places to hang out when I'm in Cincinnati. Over the past 15 or so years, it's transformed from a pretty unpleasant place to a really cool, artsy neighborhood with great culture, although "Dirty Streets" is more of an ode to its remaining rough edges - "these dirty streets don't need to be cleaned!"
The cassette holds an interesting little bit of value for me, because it bridges my two hometowns. Mardou is from Cincinnati, where I grew up, but the record label that released the cassette, Let's Pretend Records, is based in Bloomington, Indiana, where I currently live. Nothing really deep or interesting here, just a personal note. The EP is available as a whole only on cassette, which can be bought through Let's Pretend Records, but all the tracks are available on Bandcamp as part of two different EPs. They're set at "name your price," aka "free unless you're rich." I highly recommend checking them out.
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Title: American Summer
Genre: Garage rock
Favorite Track: Dream About You
Available as: Download, 7" vinyl (Randy)
The Memories are a garage rock/stoner pop band, originally from Portland, that you don't need to be tokin' up to enjoy. Their lo-fi, chill atmosphere along with nice melodies, make for an incredibly enjoyable package, even in a record that's only around 8 minutes long.
They do a fair amount of genre-hopping in the six tracks on this EP, most of which are under a minute and a half long. They play reverb-heavy electric pop on a couple tracks and sweet fuzz-laden garage rock on "Creamsicle" but then switch to mostly acoustic instruments for a relaxed, folky feel to the rest of the EP. The atmosphere here is super relaxing all the way through. I think the guy on the cover looks like he's listening to the album - he's the perfect representation of the EP's chill vibe.
This is the band's first 7" release - they had done a couple of LPs and a whole bunch of cassette albums and EPs, but they'd never done a 7 before. It's put out by Chicago's Randy Records, which is run by one super nice guy out of his apartment. You can buy the digital album on Bandcamp, but it's kind of expensive. If you're going to spend the money, I recommend just buying the 7" from Randy. It's on Spotify for free listening as well. Even if you don't like it (and I'd be surprised if you didn't), it won't waste much of your time, but trust me, this is one you'll want to play over and over.
Monday, January 26, 2015
Artist: The Mozzies
Title: Kool Patrol
Genre: Garage rock
Sounds Like: Allah-Las
Favorite Track: She Left Me For A Letterman
Available as: Download, cassette (Wiener)
When I first heard about Wiener Records, a subsidiary of Burger Records which will press, promote, and sell cassettes of any recording you send them, I thought there couldn't possibly be anything good on there - that it would be the place you send your demos to when no other label will release them. Boy, was I ever wrong! I haven't delved very deeply into their catalog, but the first one of their releases I listened to was this album, and it's a real winner.
I know next to nothing about The Mozzies. I know who's in them, I know they're from California, and I know they play damn well. That's it. They play lo-fi garage rock that combines surfy guitar sounds with three-chord melodies that belie their real ability - when they shift keys or break into a guitar solo, you can tell that these guys really know their stuff. Their music has different layers of tune and rhythm that is unusual for DIY garage rock, but works very well, and in a genre that has almost completely discarded them, it's nice to hear some good guitar solos.
I expect great things from The Mozzies in the future. I'm doubtful that they'll ever break into the mainstream - this style of music is too retro to really be popular with a mainstream audience in 2015 - but I will be very surprised if they don't garner a considerable following in the next few years. I look forward to their next album. This one is on Spotify and is available from the band's Bandcamp page as a digital download or cassette, but, while their small supply lasts, it's cheaper to order the cassette directly from Wiener Records.
Sunday, January 25, 2015
Title: The Primordial Booze
Genre: Chiptune electronic
Favorite Track: Creatures Ov Deception
Available as: Download, CD (Rage Not Rave)
Available as: Download, CD (Rage Not Rave)
I haven't included the cover in this post because it's hideously ugly and I don't want it on my blog. Also, there's something on it that looks like a boob so it's probably NSFW.
The drummer of a pirate death metal band makes chiptune music. I don't think it could possibly get much weirder than this. Rainbowdragoneyes is actually Eric Brown, aka Legendary Pirate King Eric the Brown of Swashbuckle. Now, Swashbuckle's music isn't really my thing (I don't like death metal, even when it is about pirates), but Eric really has something with this chiptune thing.
Chiptune is a subgenre of electronic that uses synthesizer chips from old game systems to create new music. It, like most electronic music, isn't really my thing, but this album is a really interesting mix of chiptune and pirate metal, and I do love pirate metal. There's something about making music about pirates that just appeals to me. I think I still have quite a bit of the 7-year-old boy who's into pirates in me.
The album is driving, danceable, and often pretty funny, both in its bleepy sounds and over-the-top lyrics. Even though I don't like death growls as a matter of principle (if you're going to sing like Cookie Monster, do it out of my earshot, please and thank you), I don't mind the ones Brown includes in this album. Maybe it's the fact that they're processed with a bunch of different voice treatments so they basically just become a part of the background. Whatever it is, they're surprisingly inoffensive here.
The EP is a short 20 minutes, so there's not a whole lot to talk about here. The first track is ambient influenced and not my thing, but the rest of the songs are funny, fast, and entertaining. If you're feeling like something ridiculous, you might want to check this out. It's on Spotify (like everything else in the world) and you can buy both the digital album and CD from Rainbowdragoneyes' Bandcamp page.
Genre: Symphonic Metal
Sounds Like: Within Temptation, Olzen-era Nightwish
Favorite Track: A Day For Ghosts
Available as: Download, CD (Sensory)
I love symphonic metal! For the longest time, I thought I didn't like metal, mostly because I'd only heard metal bands that were very screamy and didn't have much in the way of melody. Then I heard about symphonic metal, heard it was very melodic, and decided to give it a try. I loved it! This wasn't the first symphonic album that I heard but it was one of the first, and it's still probably my favorite.
Delain started as a studio project to get former Within Temptation keyboardist Martjin Westerholt back on his feet after he had to leave his former band because of illness. They're a supergroup - everyone in the band had performed with other metal bands before - and were never intended to produce more than just this one album, but after the album became a success, Delain got new members who weren't tied down to other bands, and are still touring and making music. All their albums are fantastic, but this is my favorite.
The defining feature of symphonic metal is, of course, the orchestra, and Delain does a great job using the orchestra on this album. The string parts during the solo section of "Sever" are incredibly exhilarating, no matter how many times I hear them. It also does a great job in integrating synthesized instruments with the real orchestra, which isn't something all symphonic bands can pull off. There are times when I can't tell what's synthesized and what's real. Vocalist Charlotte Wessels does an excellent job, especially on the choruses of "Sleepwalker's Dream," where her operatic voice soars into the sky. Other symphonic metal stars take turns as guest vocalists, including Leaves' Eyes singer Liv Kristine (one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard), who sings the epic verse melodies of "A Day For Ghosts," countered during the choruses by a powerful, but rough, male voice.
The lyricism on this album is also fantastic. The influence of gothic metal is very prominent - the lyrics are dark enough to help vent my feelings if I'm feeling down, but they're never so dark as to fully stray into that often depressing subgenre. The songwriting is very subtle, certainly compared to most metal, but also compared to a lot of symphonic. All the instruments (except, perhaps, the bass) are given time to shine, and everyone in the band plays very well. The guitar work isn't as technical as it often is in metal, but that's just as well, because I would hate to have the songs' balance thrown off by two minutes of shredding.
I actually found my copy brand new in a brick-and-mortar record store in Cincinnati, but I don't think it's very widely sold - I haven't seen another copy since I bought mine. It's on iTunes and Spotify, and with a little bit of looking, the CD shouldn't be difficult to find on eBay or elsewhere. There isn't a vinyl edition, although if they want to press one, I'd be first in line to buy it (subtle hint, subtle hint).
Genre: Garage Rock
Favorite track: Catalina
Available as: Download, CD, cassette, vinyl (Innovative Leisure)
I figured it would be a good idea to start off this blog with a personal favorite, so here goes…
I discovered this album through the Cincinnati library's CD of the Month Club, and I can clearly remember the first time I listened to it. It was the spring of 2013. I picked it up, popped it into the CD player in my car, and went for a drive with the windows down in the cool spring air. The opening notes of "Catamaran" intrigued me: they were mysterious and ethereal, yet still catchy. By the end of the second track, "Don't You Forget It," I was hooked.
This album is incredibly atmospheric. It has an almost indescribable air of mystery that, for whatever strange reason, I associate with pictures I've seen of ancient monuments in the Middle East. Don't ask me why, because I can't tell you. But I also strongly associate music with what was happening the first time I heard it. For instance, I closely associate The Killers' album Battle Born with the summer after I got my driver's license and I drove all over town with my friends, blaring it over the car's speakers. Even in the middle of winter, Allah-Las still reminds me of the spring when I first heard it.
An interesting thing about Allah-Las is that they do instrumentals equally as well as they do vocal tracks. Normally, artists tend to do one or the other really well, but not this band. Even though they only have a few instrumental tracks on the album, they're among the most memorable, especially "Sacred Sands," one of the most atmospheric songs on the album. This trend has continued to their most recent releases, one of the best of which is a moody instrumental B-side called "No Werewolf."
The lyrics range from neo-psychedelic weirdness in "Catamaran" to standard, 60s-style love songs in "Vis-A-Vis" and "Don't You Forget It." The songwriting is heavily influenced by 60s garage rock bands, with its simple song structure and reverb-heavy production, but it manages to be more consistently interesting than many of its influences. This is not to say that I don't like 60s garage rock - I do, very much - but I've listened to enough albums to know that the genre, at the time, was oriented mostly towards making hit singles rather than well-constructed albums. Not so with Allah-Las. While they did release several singles, even before they were signed to their current label, they mastered the art of album construction with this LP. There's not a single song out of place and it flows smoothly from beginning to end.
It's a real tragedy that this band doesn't get more attention from the indie music scene. I can only remember meeting two people who know about them, one of whom is the librarian who sent me the CD in the first place, and the other is the record store clerk I bought the album from. I highly recommend that everyone check this album out. It's on iTunes, Spotify, and, for the physically-minded, is available from Innovative Leisure Records on CD, vinyl (a fantastic pressing), and cassette.