June 19, 2009

New Music in the Office

Here's what we got in the mail today:

Therefore I Am - The Sound of Human Lives”
Supervolcano – Supervolcano
The Upper Crust - Revenge For Imagined Slights
Wicked Celtics - I Don’t Wanna Hear Your Band
Dego-The Album
Brontosaur - The Dusk Is Red and Everything Else
Ladymoon-Erotic Pleasures and Tears
Christopher M. Listorti - Words that Suture Wounded Hearts
Michael Steven - Chemical Imbalances
Ernie Southern & the Deltaholics - Every Day Is a Fight!
Anthem In - The Cloudbusting EP

Kaz-Well - Fish Outta Water
Castanets - Texas Rose, The Thaw & the Beast
Alan Wilkis - Pink and Purple
Knitting By Twilight
Evening Out of Town

Providence, RI
Recorded at In A White Room in East Providence, RI | Produced by John Orsi for It’s Twilight Time | Engineered and Mixed by Karen and John Orsi | Mastered by The Mastering Lab at Discmakers

Evening Out of Town marks the fourth album and first full-length in an ongoing series from works from the music and art collective Knitting By Twilight, featuring multi-instrumentalist, composer and mastermind John Orsi and guitarists Mike Marando, Karen Orsi, Manny Silva. Evening Out of Town is jazzy and folksy, it’s minimalistic and abundant, it’s psychedelic and monochrome, it’s as equally entrancing as it is off-putting. It’s an aural trip where every percussive move has been strategically placed, every part specifically arranged, and only Orsi knows the destination. The instrumentation utilized to create this masterwork is decidedly more imaginative than your common drum kit, including roto toms, glockenspiel, keyboards, chimes, snares and all manner of idiophones. Evening Out of Town shuffles between aerie psychedelic folk, classic progressive rock and experimental new age, taking the listener on an enigmatic spiritual journey that professes emotion without having to say a single word. Though each track is really a mood and movement that’s part of a greater work, some “moods” do stand out. “Jaunt to Dreamland” is one such number, and most likely the most accessible song on the CD. “Oblivion’s Poppied Slope” is probably the most eerie, a track that descends into the darkness of space with only the occasional chime to lead you into the light before pummeling you with what must be a incoming airplane. The final result is an album that should have been the soundtrack to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, one that’ll take some on a journey, while leading others nowhere. (It’s Twilight Time Records)

-Charley Lee
Henry Gale
Other Voices

Boston, MA
Recorded and mixed by Jon Perri

Boston-based foursome Henry Gale grows on you. Their EP Other Voices makes for great driving music, especially as the long twilights of summer begin to take hold. Other Voices is atmospheric post-rock with a goofy grin on its face and not a hint of drug-induced stupor. The five songs are variations on a theme: spacey, clean guitar loops and spare, vaguely martial drums. Henry Gale’s first effort leaves you with a slightly loopy feeling, an ethereal sort of contentedness that could develop into the band’s signature sound. The band’s name would seem to be a reference to the ABC show Lost, but the original Henry Gale was Dorothy’s uncle in The Wizard of Oz, and Henry Gale’s freshman EP evokes the happy nostalgia of good times back home.

The only stumble comes in the band’s attempt to turn it up to 11 on the confused fourth track “Mouthful of Sharks.” Henry Gale’s brand of distortion does not do well under the demands of
rapid-fire rock riffs; when guitarists Alex Zaniboni and Dave Landry lay back and stick to an arpeggiated, surfy sound, they play to the strengths of their bandmates and themselves. “Mouthful of Sharks” is a confused, somewhat proggy example of poorly executed denouement that courses through at least three movements and grinds the rest of the album to a halt. Henry Gale would have done well to have made this a four-song release, because the last track, “Stay Warm,” brings the work to a enjoyable conclusion. The sensation’s something like having just eaten a home-cooked meal: contented, a little sleepy and pleasantly warm.

Other Voices offers listeners only a short glimpse of the bright spacescapes the band seems poised to explore, Henry Gale makes some very pretty music. Drummer Matt Pelaggi gives weight to a band that might otherwise fly off into space, and while bassist Jonathan Hislop gets lost in the piercing treble of the band’s guitars, he’s rock-solid at the bottom of their grooves. If you’re lucky enough to know someone who owns a convertible, this would be a great album to proffer exchange for a ride with the top down.(self-released)
-Dan Weber

June 18, 2009

What Heights?

Boston, MA
Produced by Growlers | Recorded and mixed by Steve “HB” Perski & Those Guyz at Grandma’s Studio in Astoria, NY | Rhythm tracks recorded by Erica Borkowski and Charles Anastasia at CDIA in Waltham, MA | Mastered by NickZampiello at New Alliance East in Cambridge, MA

It’s often difficult for artists to break out of their comfort zone and develop new material that “doesn’t sound like us.” Sliding back into established and successful patterns like a late-Saturday drunken booty text message can seem unavoidable. Pushing forward is tough enough, but then you have Growlers, the slamming alter-ego rock mutation of Boston’s punky-dub establishment Destroy Babylon. They don’t just stretch boundaries, they blast apart an already mighty Voltron and reform into a Death Star with their debut, What Heights?

After a boiling bass rumble from Chris Moran and a scratchy riffing assault intro that conjures a glitch-less Trent Reznor, Growlers erupts from its ripe Jamaican Babylon buds with Marc Beaudette’s Gatling-tom assault on “Lap Dance” and announces: “No more kisses/It’s just business.” The now-established theatrical vibe, all blink-less captivating direction without Hollywood cheese, persists throughout the record. “Lap Dance” flows straight into guitarist John Beaudette’s trumpet-commanded battle march “All But The Bones” as the act pushes on. Guitarist Rob Carmichael’s voice has a pureness to it that insists on empathy and breathes life into the story of the verses. While remaining stunningly solid, his gentle inflections and well-placed imperfections expose the passion underneath the power. Visions of Angel Dust–era Faith No More in all their sonic glory and bittersweet nostalgia flicker across the Growlers big screen.

The record benefits from tight production permitting effortless identification of each part, but still enables a total package that synergizes a sum greater than its parts. Tasty squelches, swoops and delay top the aural cake like pinches of sprinkles, not carelessly slathered icing.

“Crawl,” can almost be called dub with its accented hi-hat and bass undercurrent, but it patiently transforms as foglight vocals slice through haze and ambitious drums leave the pattern behind to crescendo into an avalanche of time-keeping fills. This reluctance to follow predictable patterns is a pattern that serves the band well throughout the album.

After some spacey interludes and the Spanish guitar excursion of “Blue Ribbon,” Growlers finish strong and serious with the sad, multi-voice harmonies of “Five Weeks.” “Do you ever change?” Carmichael cries and begs after climactic shredding, leading the acoustic strumming and tinkling piano-backed lament into the lap steel confessional “The Likes.” Despite the diamond-crunching pressure at the top of What Heights?, the dual-finale proves even more engaging as the line “I’ve never seen a fire burn, but not consume” testifies. (self-released)

-Nate Leskovic

Blank Dogs
Under and Under

Brooklyn, NY

Under and Under marks the third full-length album from Blank Dogs, the brainchild of Brooklynbased artist Mike Sniper. Under and Under is quite simply a dark, glitchy amalgamation of all things 1980s. This first effort from the notorious DIY-er melds postpunk, new wave, goth-rock and pop into something that sounds as if Bauhaus and Chrome got together to put out a new album, but recorded it in a closet with a four-track and a Ouija board. The listener is launched into a frenzied world of haunting rhythms and psychedelic harmonies, as distorted vocals intone sinister promises.

Sniper’s lo-fi approach to the recording adds to the rather coarse sound and gives the album a less dancier, more grittier attitude. The opener “No Compass” is one of the best tracks on the album with its jangly melody and dissonant percussion and makes a lasting impression. “Setting Fire To Your House” is another gem that’s a little more upbeat and sounds the most like a lost Joy Division song.

Though you may not be compelled to shake your groove thing, you will be compelled to enjoy this CD over and over again. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of energy on the 15-track CD, which includes a special appearance by JB Townsend of Crystal Stilts and the lovely ladies of The Vivian Girls. Overall, the minimal instrumentation, macabre arrangements and haunting vocals make Under and Under quite the effective album and definitely worth a listen. (In the Red Records)
-Charley Lee

June 17, 2009

Golden Holy
Golden Holy

Portland, OR
Record and mixed at home by Golden Holy |
Mastered by Jeff Lipton at Peerless Mastering

A lot of traveling happened to the members of Golden Holy before settling down to record this experimental and orchestral-sounding self-titled debut. The feeling of movement is felt profoundly on the material, as it never seems grounded. It sounds constantly in motion, either soaring or scurrying about with vocals both rapt and dynamic. As a whole, the album, in the end, feels like one lengthy song and story, like endless waves crashing at low tide. The album works like a mood enhancer, elevating from one sensation to the next. Think Tears for Fears as more rustic and less pop, utilizing sparse instrumentation choices like synth, accordion and the banjo. The first half is sonically verbose and grounded, sometimes sheepish and reserved. Midway through “Sons of Dreams” everything seems to coalesce and explode marvelously. Jason Fiske’s vocals are strained and engrossing, they grasp and curl, breathless in a reaching-themasses way. “A Whale’s Tooth” is its opposite, playful like a children’s song and sore like a dark, clouded, useless day. “Return to Land” echoes a maddening course as Fiske sings, “I’m shipwrecked on an iceberg/Tiny spiders crawling on me.”

The hushed vocals and soft growls recall Chin Up Chin Up and Roky Erickson, acting as a yin and yang to fiery material. It feels subdued and theatrical in delivery, large in ambition and weighted with meaning. The effect is fruitful and endearing, never self-indulgent or pretentious, as large concepts tend to be. Golden Holy is an album that sounds like chaos and mending, of fences built, broken and left to rest. The result makes for a great debut. (Magic Bullet Records)
-Brian Tucker

Chriss Sutherland
Worried Love

South Portland, ME
Recorded and mixed by Ron Harrity at New
Systems Laundry in Portland | Mastered by Jim
Begley at The Studio in Portland

Acoustic folk melodies have been a specialty for Chriss Sutherland for over a decade. His talent and passion for the genre continues to grow with the release of his second full-length album, Worried Love. With 10 intriguing tracks, Sutherland adds his personal touch to each in a unique way.

A catchy acoustic guitar tune begins the album in “Flaking the Hands.” Sutherland’s seasoned vocals harmonize peacefully with female backgrounds with agonizing passion. A slower inflection arises with the next track, “What Are We Gonna Do Now,” as a simple guitar riff mellows with deep, muffled vocal choruses.

A bit of Spanish flair surfaces with “Volando Voy,” including lyrics in Spanish with upbeat hits of the bongo and a tinge of electric guitar. These mesmerizing, yet lively foreign undertones continue with “Desde Alicante” and “El Tiempo.”

Sutherland digs deep, returning to folk roots with “My Mind Blues III,” allowing for truly sincere lyrics such as, “Insisting on a certain purity in my life.” Several mini verses end with a drawn-out emphasis on the last syllable. The track ends with a meticulous picking guitar solo.

“Without Much Time” plays the ballad role of sorts for this album. Aching vocals express a longing for love while blending of the guitar and piano encourages the pursuit. Traditional folk sounds personify Sutherland in the final track “Hey Justice,” while ending an all-inclusive album. Taking the listener from natural folk storytelling to excursions through Spain and back, this album offers a little something for everyone. (Peapod Recordings)
-Aimee Shea

June 16, 2009

Benjamin Bear


Seattle, WA

Recorded and mixed by Mychal Cohen | Produced

by Benjamin Bear | Unmastered

The relationship between Benjamin Bear’s drummer Stern and pianist/vocalist Cohen creates the atmosphere for the oddly titled Lungs in which song titles seem to inhabit the air like smog floating above a background of uncomplicated music. The voice of the narrator does not always stay on pitch, but that drives the curiosity and desire to interpret the lyrics.

To say this release grabs attention would be untrue. The record sort of pushes the listener away like a whiny girlfriend who demands too much, but if enough attention is paid the vocals mellow out and the lyrics remain to grind against the brain.

At first listen, songs like “Russ” may turn people away, but by the time the mellow “Station Rest Release” starts, a peak hits and listeners will either continue the journey or get off the ride.

Whining vocals turn into a kind of yearning feeling expressed through lines like, “All I wanted was love from you”; a simple, almost trite, supplication that has no choice but to hit home with a wide audience. The prose in the lyrics calls for the most attention if the listener delves deeper into the psyche of the songwriter.

Experience Lungs as an attempt to connect to those communicating with their inner most demons and fears, which may just be universal. The unleashing of air from lungs may connect the passion of a duo dreaming in real time. (self-released)


-Ellen Eldridge


Chris Robley & the Fear of Heights

Movie Theatre Haiku

Portland, OR 

Produced by Chris Robley and Jeff Stuart Saltzman | Recorded and engineered by Mike Coykendall at Blue Room Studios in Portland and Rob Stroup at 8 Ball Studios in Portland | Mastered by Jeff Stuart Saltzman

Chris Robley is one musician who likes to go big. The Portland singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist conducts a bona fide pop-rock orchestra on his third album, Movie Theatre Haiku, a cinematic musical experience that incorporates numerous genres and instrumental layers, theatrical vocals and lyrics, and enough hooks to prove his innate songwriting talent.

Robley melds his classically trained background with the gamut of modern genres so no two songs on the album sound alike. For starters, along with his backing band, the Fear of Heights, he weaves in just about every instrument but the kitchen sink: violas, clarinets, trumpets and theremin mingle with electric guitars, piano, bass and drums. Some tracks resurrect the pop largess of The Beatles (“User-Friendly Guide to Change”) or stunning folk-rock melodies (the standout “Baltimore Fugitives Buried in Brownsville, TX”), and still others might conjure electronic beats that sound straight out of an Atari video game (“The Late, Great Age of Paper (haiku #2)”), showing that Robley has some experimental tricks up his sleeve.

Perhaps the grandest instrument, however, is Robley’s voice, which he uses to full effect, singing out so loud and clear, as on “My Life in Film Festivals (haiku #1),” that one could easily imagine him the star of a rock opera. Paired with ambitious lyrics, such as on “Atheist’s Prayer” (“God is great/God is good/God is something I/ never understood”), Robley heightens the drama even more.

Robley is a spirited musical presence, and Movie Theatre Haiku, an ambitious work. If that isn’t convincing enough for a listen, not too many artists these days have the cojones to rock the kazoo. It’s nice to know that someone out there is actually having a little fun with music.

(Cutthroat Pop Records)

-Julia Cooper


June 15, 2009

New Music in the Office

Here's what we got in the mail today:

- Dejha Colantuono – Tea & Vodka
- Bill Ortiz- From Where I Stand
- The Unit Breed – Always Distance the Lonely
- Erick Hovey – Blues Farm
- Erick Hovey – Recycled Souls
- Split 2nd Alibi - Demo
- Compulation Volume 3: Songs from North Carolina – Pox World Empire
- The Backsliders – Thank You
- Jonesin’ – Hi, We’re Jonesin’
- Lisa B.- The Poetry of Groove
- L Shape Lot – Looks like Snow
- Forest Henderson – You’re out of the Band
- Beautiful Lies - Yeah, Finally
- Run Dan Run – 27 Coming St.
- Drew Lizon – Drew EP
- Joakim – Milky Ways
- Pterodactyl – Worldwild
- Slow Burning Car – Vol.2 – The Scattering

The Prophecy of Immortal Technique: From the Homeland to Afghanistan

by Nate Leskovic

Bono shows up to humanitarian summits here and there. Madonna “rescues” children from Malawi. Everyone plays benefit shows. Immortal Technique punches the clock in Afghanistan. Not even Iraq, which had a solid middle class and oil cash to sustain development before the U.S. began shredding it during the first Gulf War (“colonizing” may be a better term). But decimated Afghanistan, annihilated continuously for 30 years since the Soviets invaded in 1979. 

And Dick Cheney, you fuckin leech, tell them your plans/About building your pipelines through Afghanistan/And how Israeli troops trained the Taliban in Pakistan. 

The relentlessly rebellious MC has been slinging deadly political rhymes like this over the course of two records – 2001’s Revolutionary Vol. 1 and 2003’s Revolutionary Vol. 2 – and last year’s mixtape The 3rd World, but this trip takes his message to another level. While in the battle-scarred lands he helped build and launch the Amin Institute, an orphanage, school and medical facility in Kabul partnered with San Francisco’s OMEID International. Tech did stateside benefit shows and donated money from his mixtape sales to support the project. “I’m not just throwing money at the problem,” he says. 

This was no government-sponsored photo op. Tech would rather hole up in a Tora Bora cave than be embedded with a propaganda-shitting American unit. By keeping it real he got a heavy dose of reality, but realized a vision of hope. “The thing that made the most impact was the resilience of the people,” he says. “They might be down, but they weren’t out of the fight. If the world ended, these people might really survive. No matter the misery they’ve suffered from multiple invasions, including this most recent one where we are the occupier, they still have a very independent spirit.” 

Tech says he played his tracks for some of the orphans he was helping out. Though they didn’t understand the lyrics, he says they felt the virulence and told him it was “music to fight to”:

Now here’s the truth about the system that’ll fuck up your mind/They gave Al Qaeda six billion dollars in 1989 to 1992/And now the last chapters of Revelations are coming true/And I know a lot of people find it hard to swallow this/Because subliminal bigotry makes you hate my politics

Tech was born in Peru and moved to Harlem at a young age. He was never far from trouble, but was still able to get into Penn State. Multiple assault charges eventually got him locked up, though he will proudly remind you he did time instead of becoming a government snitch. 

Tech’s stint brought study and focus to his life. Once out in 1999, his rhyme skills and knowledge of the history and politics America doesn’t want you to learn turned him into the Noam Chomsky of hip-hop. But Chomsky caresses you into a comforting understanding of injustice, while Immortal Technique arms you with machetes of wisdom through his insurgency-inducing fury. If you don’t know the lyrics at most hip-hop shows, you’re left bouncing your head in the cipher cloud. At a Tech show, every word is immaculately chiseled into your dome, programmed for future use. 

Immortal Technique’s aggression is controlled like a bunker-buster laser bomb – it stealthily slips into that air vent until the target is reached. His brutal flow dances nimbly around the beat while your shirt falls to the floor – diced into a pile of shreds. The satisfaction he brings when he pops a “fuck” on the mic demands a cigarette. For those versed in leftist thought and cognizant of the great American myth, his verses are the MDMA to your serotonin. Rapid fire jabs against religion, racism and class warfare ignite. And he’s raw:

I’m obnoxious, motherfucker can’t you tell/Run through Little Havana yelling, “Viva Fidel”/Jerkin off with the sheets when I stay at hotels/Drinkin Bacardi at AA meetings, smokin a L

Tech has been pursued by major labels, but has stayed strictly independent due to pressure to tone-down his veracity and an aversion to being a corporate pawn without financial control of his destiny. His triumphant story should be a manual—call it The Art of War of unsigned hip-hop success. With much of his sales undocumented (though going straight to his pocket), Tech’s figures are illusive – but surely add up to hundreds of thousands of records. More important to him is the support he sees at shows. “It speaks much louder than some number you can wave in front of a big exec,” he says.

Tech took over the small Viper Records label in 2003. On his the track “Mistakes” from The 3rd World, he lashes out in the third person:

When I was young I got signed to a record label/The deal looked so good when it was on the table/It paid for my cable, cribs, cars and jewelry/The studios, the women, there’s nothing they wouldn’t do for me/Except stop screwing me for publishing the royalties/How the fuck are you my dawg when there’s no loyalty?

Tech hopes he can be an example to others. “It’s a blessing for me to be in the position I’m in without a major record label and someone sitting above me, dictating my career,” he says. His decision to stay independent also helps drive him. “It was part of my evolution as a businessman,” he says. “I can’t just get drunk and high with groupies after the show. Some people are a little shortsighted about what’s important in hip-hop. If you don’t map it out, you really can’t complain if it doesn’t happen to you.”

During the Vietnam era, “protest” music had its glory. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Dylan, Jimi – it was ubiquitous. Rock music was antiwar. But the vibe couldn’t sustain. From the Altamont festival disaster, to the systematic societal and governmental efforts to undermine the 1960s counter-culture movement that flipped a hopeful message of peace into a Halloween costume, the zeitgeist was lost.

Though Bruce Springsteen kept the faith in the 1980s with “Born in the USA,” too many ignorantly fist-pumped the tune as a jingoistic pickup truck commercial. Political rock music just doesn’t have the power it once commanded. Singing about peace, unfortunately, just sounds lame most of the time. Neil “Four Dead in Ohio” Young’s Living with War sounded trite and unconfident in 2006. Forget about the Dixie Chicks horror story.

But no one ever laughed at Chuck D and Public Enemy. Though Zach de la Rocha’s lyrics are scattered and unfocused, Rage Against the Machine’s message remains real and clear. Did the “protest music” torch pass to hip-hop? Tech’s “Bin Laden” single, dropped in 2004, a definitive statement that buries the so-called War on Terror, is still smoking:

All they talk about is terrorism on television /They tell you to listen, but they don’t really tell you they mission /They funded Al-Qaeda and now they blame the Muslim religion/Even though Bin Laden was a CIA tactician/They gave him billions of dollars and they funded his purpose/Fahrenheit 9-11, that’s just scratchin the surface

“Hip-hop has the ability to say so much more because there are so many ideas you can put in 16 bars of even the most basic format,” speculates Tech. “And I think we’re feeling that end of [injustice] a lot more. Look at who they want to recruit.” If Woodstock spoke for the generation drafted off to Vietnam, boom-bap should be the voice of those disillusioned by American neo-colonialism. Relatively well-off indie rockers aren’t as likely to see their friends shipped overseas. And if hip-hop can spread the message more effectively, why risk getting booed off stage for singing songs that are “too preachy”?

In a world filled with wrongs, Immortal Technique has enough ammo to blast his truth into eternity. He had a filmmaker with him during his Afghanistan trip and plans on releasing a DVD about his mission as well as his stateside campaign called Urban Warfare. His new record, The Middle Passage, is also on deck. And if anyone thinks the election of a black man as president could put Tech out of a job, they’re insane. “Just because Obama got elected doesn’t mean that racism and poverty and the political aristocracy doesn’t exist,” he says. “And he had to do certain things to become president. He had to accept the story the government gives about 9/11. He has to side with Israel in the Israeli/Palestinian dispute. He has to support Plan Columbia. And I don’t think he’s going to stop the [Iraq] war, I just think he’s going to change it.”

Immortal Technique

Read more in the Digital Format Mag