July 3, 2009

The Sleepover Disaster, The Fay Wrays | The Knockout | San Francisco, CA | June 24, 2009

For most, “turning the amps to eleven” is just a figure of speech. For these bands, it’s the Holy Grail: the ever-elusive combination of loud and heavy that makes walls shake and ears bleed. In the wrong hands – think high school buddy’s hardcore band or the greedy sap in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – volume oppresses, turning auditory nerves to mush, peeling flesh from bone (or was that a different Indiana?). In any event, crudely-raw noise troupe The Fay Wrays and their self-described “brothers in arms,” The Sleepover Disaster, have the right hands – capable of melding paint-peeling discord with honest-to-goodness hooks.

“This song’s about brotherly love, and what you believe in,” Fay Wrays lead crazy man Ben McEntee yelled at the mic, propelling drummer Eli Reyes into a cyclonic limb-storm of flailing arms and fire-squad worthy fills. A sloshed dilution of At the Drive-In, Fugazi and alcohol (hey, straight edge isn’t for everyone), the Fresno battering ram – on this night, stripped down to a potent two-piece – mowed through jagged screamo-punk tunes made more than palatable by McEntee’s possessed riffing. The guitarist put this particular Epiphone through the ringer, but it was thundering skins that gave heft to epics like the brooding soft-to-loud-to-louder “Scottish Lad.” Indeed, the rhythmic force behind both The Fay Wrays and Fresno indie outfit Rademacher, Reyes plays his kit like he’s hotwired to the Greyhound in Speed – slow to 40 mph and bad things happen. On the other hand, the duo seemed particularly in the groove with the middling tempo of Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time.”

Speaking of big time, The Sleepover Disaster might have hit as much had they emerged from the overcast grey of Dublin or Glasgow some two decades ago. Seeing as how this is the East Bay in 2009, they’ll have to deal with the not-so-sexy tag of “shoegaze revivalist.” Never mind the window dressings. Luke Giffen, Eric Peters and Vince Corsaro are hell-bent on atoning for every single one of this godforsaken genre’s sins. Remember how disappointed you were the first time you heard Loveless? Set opener “Friend,” awash in squalling shards of feedback and that oft-neglected necessity melody, single-handedly drowned out the entire misguided ethos of reverb for reverb’s sake. These distortion-glazed compositions never settled for noise as an end in itself, opting instead for hooky verse-chorus guitar squall served up at Spinal Tap-ian levels. In the truly towering anthem “Tremble,” Giffen’s soaring quaver of a voice floated on whammy bar freak-outs and knee-buckling decibels. It’s a masterful song, skyscraping in every sense. Yeah, you’ll look down at your shoes – but only to make sure your feet are still on the floor.

-Words and photos by Robbie Hilson



July 2, 2009

New music we got in the office today

Le Loup- Family
Thee Crucials- Give Me…A Keg…Of Beer
The Public Good- No. 1
MaryAnne Marino- A Little Something EP
Old Californio-Westering Again
The Lovemakers- Let’s Be Friends
Jordan Carp-Spaceman
Juanita and the Rabbit- Out of the Grave: Alive in the Fire

Noot d’Noot, Ile Tambor | The Earl | Atlanta, GA | June 20, 2009

On Saturday night, June 20, Noot d’Noot did all they could to turn the jeans, t-shirt and Converse crowd at The Earl into dancing fools with their record release show for their new 12-inch, Cash for Gold.

The night started out with their conga player’s percussion group IlĂ© Tambor. Clad in matching Miami white linen, they went all out throwing down tropical beats that should have had everyone doing a frenzied salsa. Only one woman danced. But she looked like she’d done this before – headbanging, stomping, shimmying, shaking – everyone knew they could not match her prowess. Everyone knew they had an excuse to continue standing around, just nodding their heads and shifting their weight from foot to foot.

By the time Noot d’ Noot played, it was 11:45 p.m., and the staff at The Earl was already having to mop up barf – clearly, the crowd was almost drunk enough to dance.

The show fell somewhere between shagadelic disco parody and funk-shaman religious experience. I don’t know how much I buy the funk shaman thing, but Noot d’Noot’s ability to translate 10 very different musicians into a cohesive collection of sounds is some sort of miracle.

Noot d’ Noot sounds kind of like what would happen if Austin Powers, Aphex Twin, a jazz band, an R&B producer, a Caribbean percussion ensemble and a couple of groovy chicks who dig singin’ were stranded in outer space with nothing but acid and instruments. As one would expect, they suffer a little from the whole “too many cooks in the kitchen” thing. Such a variety of sounds come through that none can make a really strong impression.

Regardless, the show was tight, the drinks were strong, and Noot d’Noot’s grooves were more than sufficient enough to convince the crowd at The Earl to put one foot in irony, one on the dance floor (which was just the regular floor + people actually dancing on it), and let Saturday night fever take hold.

-Words and photo by Kristen Fox

The Naked Hearts, Daniel Francis Doyle, Pwrfl Power, That Ghost | The Knockout, San Francisco, CA | June 16, 2009

To paraphrase the great Ferris Bueller, the question tonight was not, what are we going to see? The question was, what aren’t we going to see? Schizophrenic, one-man freakouts, hummable pop nuggets, threatened 911 calls from angry tenants – these were the elements in play, all in unique fashion, all in copious amount. And to top it all off, a modest young lad from Japan walked an aural high wire, dangerously stepping the fine line between gone-tomorrow novelty and unassuming genius. For now, let’s err to the latter side of this spectrum. Debate, in full, to come.

But first, undivided attention belongs to The Naked Hearts, a Brooklyn-based guitar ‘n drums duo who would give The Vaselines a run for their money with a little name checking from Kurt Cobain and a screeching dose of feedback. This of course is impossible – the band’s taught, melodic style allows no room for noise excursions.
With “Mass Hysteria,” guitarist Amy Louise Cooper and wingman percussionist Noah Linn Wheeler prematurely raised the bar for everything that followed, proving with a raw, minor-key rocker that not all people with three names (think Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, John Paul Jones) make pretentious music. Cooper, for her part, deftly fought off a few drunken catcalls from Knockout patrons with icy riffs, while Wheeler deadpanned a load of hooky harmonies that recalled a pertinent James Murphy quote: “New York I love you, but you’re bringing me down."

Thankfully, then, Daniel Francis Doyle brought with him to San Francisco an endearingly quirky charm to accompany his iron-willed, triathlon-ian exploits. You’ve seen Doyle before – in your wildest dreams. Possessing the strength of three men, the Austin go-it-aloner worked the drum kit and the mic, but only after constructing repetitive collages of guitar clatter via Bobby Fischer-like concentration and a loop pedal. Schizoid set opener “How Can You Work?” answered the pressing question – namely, how does this work? Step 1: build a wall of sound. Step 2: be seated at drums. Step 3: mentally synch percussion and catchy, vocal melody to repeating guitar lines. Step 4: bang and shout like hell. Step 5: wipe away sweat and do it all over again. He can probably solve a Rubik’s cube, too.

Since That Ghost’s cut-short set of lo-fi pop gems fell prey to continued violations of noise ordinance – dude, can’t wake the Mission natives at 2 a.m. – that leaves us with a discussion of the aforementioned Kaz Nomura, a.k.a. Pwrfl Powerful, who masterfully mastered a handful of glimmering, tongue-in-cheek guitar ditties. To gain an idea of the kind of music on display here, one need only know that many of Kaz’s songs
actually have “song” in their title – “Noise Song,” “Alma Song,” “Banana Song.” You get the point. The key, however, to the seemingly tossed-off silliness lies with this man’s pick-like fingers and blazing-white six-string Fender, which taken in tandem, find a middle ground somewhere between James Taylor and Jeff Buckley.

During “Nice Jacket” and the transcendent “My Coke Dealer’s Girlfriend,” Nomura plucked notes fit for King David’s harp, all while talk-singing sweet nothings about nice jackets and his coke dealer’s girlfriend. If the witty shtick doesn’t catch on here, the Seattle resident at least has his street cred intact. He is, after all, big in Japan.

Daniel Francis Doyle performing "How Can You Work" at The Knockout in San Francisco on June 16th, 2009.

-Words photos and video by Robbie Hilson

July 1, 2009

New music we got in the office today

Love In Stockholm- Too Much Love
Grand Hallway-Promenade
Deep 6- Self-titled
Minky Starshine-Unidentified Hit Record
The Lava Children
The Lava Children

Tulsa, OK
Mixed by Dustin Bowlin, Adam Siegel and Taylor Clark | Mastered by Collin Jordan at the Boiler Room

When you are in a band called The Lava Children, you better have a sound that justifies that moniker – one that is fiery, unpredictable and damages anything that gets in its path. Magically, the couple who cloak themselves in the aforementioned name – Oklahoma natives Sherri West and Taylor Clark – have the musical quirkiness to pull it off.

On their self-titled debut LP, The Lava Children mash-up an array of eclectic sounds and melodically disoriented vocals for a record that is as atmospheric as it is sultry. While songs like “Troll” provide an immaculate backdrop for mellow days spent slumming around completely at ease (and possibly wasted) with its slow-paced rhythm and spiraling chords, songs like “Firefly” provide unabashed intensity with cascading vocals that personify the trippy feeling one would get when falling down the proverbial rabbit hole.

The duo roll the dice as they let their imagination infect every inch of the album, and the result is pure capriciousness that serves as a testament to the band’s ode to individuality. In fact, on their label’s site (graveface.com), the unfortunate manufactured nature of the industry takes front and center as music is openly described as being “treated like so much invaluable garbage to be traded and tossed about freely.” Solace from such synthetic times can be found in the spacey nature of this EP, which is saturated with lush, dreamy landscapes, allowing their sound to permeate the listener in a surreal manner. It might take several run-throughs for the genius of The Lava Children to shine through, but acquired tastes are considered the pinnacle of sophistication. (Graveface Records)
-Candace McDuffie

The Televangelist and The Architect
There’s A Song InThere Somewhere
Cambridge, MA
Recorded and mixed in a basement in Cambridge, MA | Mastered by Doug Van Sloun at Focus Mastering in Omaha, NE

Often times we find ourselves stressed out after a long day, and it’s nice to just relax and allow yourself a few good moments to rest and let life rush past you as you live in the now. The Televangelist and The Architect must have had this in mind when they recorded their album There’s A Song In There Somewhere because it may as well be the soundtrack to your moment of rest and reflection.

The album opens with “...in the Blizzard” which begins with a piano intro with soft vocals, soon followed by the accompaniment of female vocals that lace the track with grace. The verses turn into a piano bridge that make it all the more satisfying to listen to, just for the sake of listening.

The next three songs all revolve around acoustic guitar, with aid from drums in the first two, and all are heartfelt as the lyrics feel as though they mean something and are coming from somewhere very special. “...by the Pond” feels especially anecdotal and personal, making it a stand-out track of the entire album.

Most of the album feels very downtrodden instrumentally. The closing title track has a very bouncy piano to it and a nostalgic feeling that takes the listener back through the entire album, almost as though they are re-living it, fading out into the distance of what is to come and what is remembered. There’s A Song In There Somewhere is an ambient album that allows you to think and truly live through the music, not feeling rushed or pushed into a certain sound but rather just feeling it naturally. (Undetected Plagiarism)
-Max Specht


June 30, 2009

Paper Scissors
Paper Scissors

Fairbanks, AK
Recorded and mixed by Pat Fitzgerald at 10th Plane Studios | Mastered by Harris Newman at Grey Market Studios

Straight out of Fairbanks comes the genre-unspecific Paper Scissors with their debut self-titled release. You can try and label them indie rock but as soon as you do, the trio of Craig Brooks, Issac Paris and Ryan Schmidt break off into a fusion of blues and rhythm. Paper Scissors echoes undeniable influence by the likes of The Smiths and David Byrne, while Brooks’ beautifully off-kilter vocals croon with Morrissey undertones.

The album is stacked with thoughtful lyrics and inventive songs, each with its own personality and air of distinction. The track “Drinkin’ in the Summer” makes you want to do just that with its Beach Boys-on-acid sound, and “Save the Last Dance” brings you back to reality with an old school electric guitar punk riff and high-pitched backup vocals. Paper Scissors keeps you on your feet throughout the entire album, switching from mellow, hollowed-out songs dripping with psychedelia to upbeat head bangers and crowd movers. It is impossible to stay still while listening to “No Business Bluegrass” and “Poor Mother,” as you might even hop in your vehicle just to create a car chase down a long highway using the tunes as your soundtrack.

Paper Scissors reeks thick of organs, synthesizers and drums, and the startling inclusion of the accordion – heavy on many of its 17 tracks. The instrument’s use in “Ballad of Tessa McClain,” “Bad Man,” and “Short Neck vs. Long Arm” create the dreamlike state of strolling through Paris or Florence in search for the perfect pasta dish with a side of magic mushrooms. The drum solo in “Dusty Cupboards” is downright crazy, and the key track “The Subdominant” is a beautiful mix of attention-demanding electric beats and crushing cymbals – with the perfect blend of water-logged synths and the colorful image-inducing chorus of “The phone is alive!”

The indie rock psychedelic scene is coming into its own and never before has it seen the likes of Paper Scissors. Original and innovative in its own right, Paper Scissors is an album for your collection.
-Lisa Perron
Vienna Noise Choir (VNC)
City/Port Liason

San Francisco, CA

No surprise that a band with noise in its name, releasing a CD called City/Port Liason, containing songs with names like “Pipe Song” and “Copper Rail” has a distinct industrial bend. What might be surprising, however, is how much other stuff VNC has going on – from plodding to lilting, from raw to intricate, from tinkling pianos to echoes of spaghetti western and surf guitar.

VNC’s 9-10 song, 43-46 minute CD is a revelation. City Port/Liason starts with the instrumental “Pipe Song,” a perfect example of VNC’s central strength: an ear for finding a hook amidst the ambient, industrial, drone and fuzzed-out noise. That continues with the second track “Fight Destroy Ambulance,” with another of the band’s signatures – distorted vocals that start well into the song.

The most vocally successful songs employ both male and female voices, David Barrett and presumably Maija Ollila. The distinctive female voice mixes with Barrett’s stylized vocal choices to fascinating end. “Copper Railway” sounds a bit like Low if someone in the band decided they’d had enough of slow core and added some driving rhythm more than three-fourths of the way through. The last track “Eventually” continues with that vibe, only with a more edgier tone. The two least successful are “Field of Dreams” and “AA ... Airport.” The former uses both voices, but in a much more straightforward noise rock vein, and the latter is more meandering experimental.

When discernable, VNC’s lyrics aren’t anything of note, but the feeling is one of using the human voice and words as just another musical tool to hammer or twist or melt down into something else entirely. Finally, it’d be easy for a band like VNC to take themselves too seriously, but VNC’s got a prankish quality. As it applies here, it’s better “heard” than explained, but here’s a hint: note the variations in the amount of songs and length of CD.
-Sherry Sly

June 29, 2009

Rising from the Sludge, Spiraling into Space: Dead Confederate
Shawn M. Haney

Be aware with watchful eyes and trained ears. The year 2009 will be a powerful one for the bands of Athens. Yet perhaps one band stands alone above the rest. It has been a welcome wakeup call for those mindful listeners who have terribly forgotten how it feels to witness genius through music that catapults the soul. Over the years, we’ve heard an over-saturated market of blanketed, commercial pop-rock that has defined most stations raiding the airwaves throughout the states.

Yet with the support of their hometown, and their touring mates The Whigs and Trances Arc, Dead Confederate is eagerly ready to storm through cities, winning over new fans and listeners with their brewing brand of grunge-rock.

It’s been quite a memorable period of nearly 18 months since Dead Confederate released their first EP in late 2007 featuring the heavily raved “The Rat,” a song of intensity and passion that carries over perfectly into live shows. It’s a perfect example of how a band can come together, grab listeners’ attention, and evolve into something of a tidal wave of amazing potential about to explode from city to city.

Dead Confederate is a five-piece group from Athens, who recently released the monster LP Wrecking Ball on ATO Records, the first artist signed by A&R legend and label founder Gary Gersh. With some support from their fans and radio stations across the U.S. in cities like Sacramento, Portland, Albany and the famed scene of Seattle, Dead Confederate garnered immediate attention, soon finding themselves playing with the likes of R.E.M. and The Black Lips at the SXSW festival in Austin.

Dead Confederate’s music on Wrecking Ball is dark, abrasive and riveting, yet the guys in the band are simple, pure and laid back, being honest and true to themselves.

Lead singer and frontman Hardy Morris, 28, feels the band is as rich as the most alluring of the world’s art. “We’re kind of like a Jackson Pollock painting,” he says.

Through absorbing their music and coming to their shows (they’re on a major tour this summer), listeners become loyal fans dissecting their music, seeing their spirit and personality leap through the amps, carried off the stage like a massive ocean wave. This “wall of sound” and emotional connection has gripped hundreds of thousands, as their songs continue to get spins on their homepage and MySpace.

Morris, bassist Brantley Senn, guitarist Walker Howle, keyboardist John Watkins and drummer Jason Scarboro are a closeknit group, letting the media and their fanbase know how much their brand of music means to them. They wish to be honest. Distinctly honest. “There isn’t some big twist or turn, it just lays it all out there,” says Morris. “Immediate, no frills, primal, emotional.”

The guys all found themselves grooving to tunes of Sabbath and Pink Floyd together in high school in Augusta. They continued to stay together, jamming throughout college between classes and on weekends Feeling they had something there, something special, they put their heads together and threw the dice, agreeing that perhaps they could pursue music full-time. They moved to Atlanta, then to Athens.

They knew they had to find a sense of responsibility, and with the frightening thought of job-searching and finances, they discovered the true meaning of hard work, perseverance and dedication that has kept them together in an amiable, success-filled way since.

Searching for themselves, searching for their trademark sound and unique identity, they got a huge boost from going all the way to the finish line, sweeping the Open Mic Madness competition at Smith’s Olde Bar in Decatur in August 2006. A chance to get their break and be heard, the support of Madness guru Josh Rifkind, manager of The Whigs and a huge promoter of the Atlanta scene, gave them a lift that created a hurricane-like response from listeners and A&R reps.

“Winning the Open Mic Madness contest really gave us a sense of confidence,” says bassist Brantley Senn. “We won studio time from that contest and that was used to record our first EP. When we won I think we realized that we were gonna be successful as long as we did things our way and did what made us happiest. We learned to follow our instincts, to do what feels right, and to never be afraid to take risks. After all, what could be a bigger risk than trying to make a career out of music?”

After meeting ATO Records’ Gersh, the band was invited to record Wrecking Ball in Austin with producer Mike McCarthy. The result was a powerful collaboration and immediate connection of sound and production, delivering a marvelous record of 10 energy-laden tracks.

Asked if they enjoyed their stay in the studio with McCarthy, Senn remembers, “Mike is kind of crazy, like all producers. I mean that in the best way possible. It takes an eccentric person to work with all the egos and opinions of the band in the studio. His style of production was a lot like Steve Albini, in that he doesn’t try to change what already works. He’s really serious about the small details. He also did everything he could to make sure we had no reason to redo a take if we got ‘the one.’ It was a slow process and very demanding, but ultimately I feel it paid off.”

It’s here you’ll find space-rock, grunge-rock and heavy epics that surge and flow like a wave, building and building, soon releasing raw fury and power at its crest. This album is creepy, in that it takes 30-somethings back to their teen days and a monumental time for rock, as band’s like Nirvana and Dinosaur Jr. flooded early 1990s radio.
How did these songs come about?

“The songs for Wrecking Ball came about naturally,” says Senn. “Each song was written about personal issues and only came about as Hardy and I felt a need to write it. None of the songs were forced. We toured on those songs for a year or so and they naturally evolved into the form you hear today.”

It’s here you’ll find gripping tunes of soft verses, leaping to the boiling point in choruses that ride like a runaway train, which find control as Morris croons, snarls and whispers through each grungy Southern rock jam.

After releasing Wrecking Ball, videos continue to spawn from their performances, both on YouTube and MTV2’s Subterranean. One standout is the distinct and stunning, “Start Me Laughing.”

Their shows prove to be unforgettable, their audience forever growing. Yet the guys just really seem to want to make a point on stage and leave the partying to the listeners. As the show ends, they celebrate with a small drink and satisfaction with their performance.

“Touring keeps getting better for us,” says Senn. “The little things matter to us, like getting a free bottle of Jack and some snacks backstage. That used to seem so out-of-reach. The fanbase has grown exponentially in the last year. Most of our shows sell out now, which still hasn’t really sunk in. It’s a huge relief to see that because this is really what we want to do with our lives. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

With these efforts, and the help of a memorable appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Wrecking Ball has climbed up the Top 200 CMJ charts in soaring fashion.

“We’re really happy with Wrecking Ball. I feel it was a perfect example of honesty,” says Senn. “There were no tricks to the recording. It was very old school and raw. It fit the honest emotions of the songs very well. I feel that we’ve reached a comfort zone now that will allow us to venture into more creative areas. I look forward to shaking things up in the next year with some experimentation and bringing the unexpected.”

Undeniable in their sound, and appealing in their catchy riffs and deep poetic lyrics, Dead Confederate’s ship won’t be sinking anytime soon. Instead, its hull will hover over the surface of magical waters.


Toronto, ON/Montreal, QC
Produced by Grahm Zilla

It is what it is and it doesn’t pretend to be anything else: straight booty-bounce party music. But can you take it seriously off the dance floor?

Combining the nonchalant intimidating flow of vocalist Isis and the slinking sleaze of Grahm Zilla’s production, Thunderheist never turns into the joke it could be bumping in the stereo of a head-thrusting Eurotrash’s Jetta. While it never quite dives into the crushing intensity of Justice, it could easily keep pace with Daft Punk’s determination – despite its relative electro simplicity.

Though the beat is the necessity here, it’s Isis that carries the Toronto duo. Her nonstop Spank Rock-like cadence has a growling “I just don’t give a fuck” menace to it that leaves you a bit nervous to turn down the volume. Her blend of clichĂ© club phrases and sexy grime makes for perfect late-night nursery rhymes. When she slides into straight club singing, epitomized on “Nothing 2 Step 2,” her bluesy cry bubbles your hands to the sky. She should belt it out more.

Despite being a territory more familiar with fear, it’s the hip-hop style tracks that show weakness. “Little Booty Girl” rips off Dead Prez’s “It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop” a little too much. But the tempo changes are a welcome respite for listeners not being pummeled by strobe lights at 3 a.m.

Thunderheist keeps you smiling in your role as the sub to Isis’ dom. She orders one overeager partier to “wipe your nose” on “Freddie” while she demands another to reveal “where the after-party at” on “The Party After.” The solemn Darren Aronofsky knew the duo’s power in choosing their “Jerk It” for a scene in his Oscar-nominated The Wrestler, and who’s going to step in the ring against that? (Big Dada)
-Nate Leskovic
Nests of Waves and Wire

San Francisco, CA
Recorded by Tim Green at The Hangar in Sacramento, CA, and Louder in San Francisco, CA | Mixed at Louder by Tim Green and Tartufi | Mastered at Golden Mastering by John Golden

Maybe brother and sister work together best. Tartufi’s Brian Gorman and Lynne Angel, as a duo, adroitly blend layer upon layer of vocals and ambitious instrumentation, frantic noise, sonic walls of guitar and drum, and soaring melodies into a combination that is awash in epic scope and lovely device. It’s as if Philip Glass went tribal, Middle Eastern and sonically over-the-top using everything in someone’s home to create new music.

Defying typical form, Tartufi craft an album that is as epic and transcendent as a dream. “Engineering” is 13 minutes long, “Hole or Space” is just under 11. The song and album length is pure salutation, moving from one emotion to the next. At eight minutes, “Church of Hanging Leaders” is most cumbersome, its first minute built on double-time drumming, which seems to double on itself while mashed against plodding guitar. Tartufi makes use of every second, filling with yells and howls, plundering guitar riffs or acoustic gentleness. Overkill has never been utilized so well. It’s a myriad of sound – confusing and pleasurable, cracked and manic. There’s soaring, wailing vocals and drum beats derived from heavy thumping on instruments or perhaps an old trash can.

Nests of Waves and Wire is a fever dream with a dynamic soundtrack, as if approximating several soundtracks together. It’s an instrumental, albeit experimental album whose vocals feel less like a singer but more like an instrument manipulated. Angel’s vocal prowess is absolutely beautiful, pained and all-encompassing. Nests is best listened to beginning to end, as pure auditory experience, even though anticlimactic from the get-go since it morphs continually. It’s one of the boldest albums in a long time and hopefully will never fully make sense to listeners who discover it, thus preserving longevity. (Southern Records)
-Brian Tucker