July 31, 2009

Bears! Bears! Bears!
What I Do In the Dark

San Jose, CA
Recorded at Popsmear Studios in San Rafael, CA and Hyde Street Studios in
San Francisco, CA | self-produced | Mixed by Scott McDowell at Hyde
Street Studios in San Francisco, CA | Mastered by Daniel Mckenzie

Bears! Bears! Bears! exists for the same reason we have Kobe beef hamburgers, Budweiser Select and the Corolla “S.” They are a value-added concept; a refined take on something simple; the familiar made better. In these most competitive of days, human rock simply doesn’t cut it, so this cunning trio of youthful gentlemen propose the logical progression: bear rock.

Like Interpol, except cheekier (and furrier), the San Jose natives excel at making dark, danceable post-punk music suitable for house parties, pre-gaming for a Cure concert, going to see a Tim Burton flick, and [insert hipster and/or goth-approved activity]. Frontman Phillip Calá takes the best chapters from an imaginary Lou Reed to Julian Casablancas: Lessons in Atonal Singing and adapts their melodic bits over skin-tight rhythms sharpened by Ricky Rios’ angular, ringing riffs. The opening power combo of “I Guess We’re Both Lonely” and the popping, coming-of-age bromance, “Julian,” particularly glow – the former because it could have sneaked onto side two of
Turn on the Bright Lights and the latter because it’s genuinely heart-warming. And, oh yeah, catchy as hell.

The refreshingly giddy whoa-oh-ohs in the chorus of “Julian” translates as follows: we get it. See, what distinguishes B!B!B! (or is it B!x3?) from their self-absorbed peers is that they’re in on their own joke. And so for all the visual shtick and song titles like “Bear Bands vs. Wolf Bands” (score one for bear bands!), you also get lines like, “Now I’m older and I understand/no matter what I do, somebody will hate me based off where I stand.” Intelligent, right? You could even say, smarter than the average band?

Wink wink, nod nod – that’s the spirit here. So, yes, they wear masks, and it does get dicey trying to reconcile the gimmicky from the genuine. But rest assured, this is a step up, a giant evolutionary leap in the right direction – not your father’s new wave band, your much cooler trail guide’s new wave band. (self-released)
-Robbie Hilson

Hands and Knees
Et Tu, Fluffy?

Boston, MA
Recorded at Ghost Town Recording | Produced and Engineered by Jed Smith | Mastered by Jed Smith at Wood Bee Music Studio

Straight out of Boston comes Hands and Knees, whose fun, indie swagger makes heads turn. The quartet’s second studio album, Et Tu, Fluffy, brings surprise after surprise with tracks that stimulate all the senses.

Throughout the 11-song album, Hands and Knees take you from a jam in your friend’s basement to a lighter-heavy encore at your favorite local music venue. The opening track, “Midnight in the Applefield” has the nostalgic quality of being the audience to your buddies’ jam session in college, and with all the clapping and tambourine you can’t help but want to go back. The radio ready “Hot Little Item,” with its infectious chorus, speaks of a wind-up toy and makes you wonder if it’s a girl, or merely a prize in the Cracker Jack box. Et Tu, Fluffy works its way through fast, catchy tunes toward mid-album, where it becomes more relaxed with “A Great Pain,” only to rev it back up with the exciting and energetic “You Got Pop, You Got Style,” where the band emphasizes, “Well, it’s a long walk to the bottom.” It’s hard to pinpoint one single influence for Hands and Knees, although on tracks like “Do You Really Need a Drummer?” and “What Happened to that Beautiful City?” the vocals echo with a hint of The Cure’s Robert Smith, which is the perfect charm needed to keep you entranced.

Hands and Knees bring an individual flavor to the indie rock scene with Et Tu, Fluffy. With heavy drums, a dash of spastic guitars, and what can only be described as the perfect amount of xylophone, Hands and Knees create the perfect recipe for an auditory masterpiece. (Midriff Records)
-Lisa Perron


July 30, 2009

New Music in the Office

Here's what we got in the office today...

Just-Truckin- Fearless
Warren Teagarden- Ugly As a Monkey
The Repeat Offenders- Strange Circumstance
The Honors- Wasted Places
Flight of the Conchords- I Told You I Was Freaky
Toni Rackard- Are You Ready For War?
The Sunsets Quick
The Sunsets Quick

Boston, MA
Mixed and mastered by Mike Bourque at Milk Lightning Studios

Ripe with creativity and head-bopping melodies, this upbeat quartet, consisting of Matt Roselli on lead vocals and guitar, Chase Livingston on lead guitar and vocals, Ashton Jones on bass guitar and vocals and Liz Maynes-Aminzade on drums, do a stellar job of pumping out instrumentation that is just as seductive as Roselli’s lyrical self-deprecation, as found on the song “Deaf Dumb”: “And if I’m running out of things to say/I guess I’m just another bill you have to pay.” Despite acknowledging his innate inconvenience, Roselli’s vocal stylings fluctuate on the track, going from 0 to 100 in about five seconds.

Comparatively speaking, to get a sense of the band’s sound, think of a stripped-down Bright Eyes singing about relationships minus the melodrama. On this self-titled debut record, The Sunsets Quick personify that all too interchangeable adjective known as rock.

While the band does a good job trying to encompass their influences into their sound (Pavement, Weezer, Built to Spill), they still manage to be a breath of fresh air. Every song on the album seems like a fail-safe, which can be a little disheartening for the more imaginative listener. It doesn’t take away from the coziness of their sound, however, which appropriately peaks on the last track, “Sorry,” which is full of melodic guitar, smooth vocals and whistling.

The Sunsets Quick is a perfect addition to any indie kid’s collection who is desperate to keep their finger on the pulse of Boston’s ever-evolving music scene.
-Candace McDuffie

Xu Xu Fang
Seven Days Now

Los Angeles, CA
Produced and engineered by Bobby Tamkin | Recorded by The Wrangler at The Sound Ranch
in Culver City, CA | Mastered by JJ Golden at Golden Mastering

It requires no less than seven members to produce the broad soundscape exhibited by Xu Xu Fang’s latest EP, Seven Days Now. The Los Angeles psychedelic septet follows their successful previous release, The Mourning Son, with five ambitious and bold tracks that define the phrase, “larger than life.” The record already ranks high on several distribution sites and even includes a song featured in the hit show, Gossip Girl.

Seven Days Now opens with a cover of The Cure’s “Fascination Street.” Xu Xu Fang’s rendition contrasts the original by providing a grittier, more electronic take on the popular song, somehow managing to make an already spacious song more ambient. The next track, “Seven Days Now,” brings the EP down to its most comfortable mellow. Soft and gentle with wispy vocals harmonizing atop one another, the song serves as a refreshing aperitivo for the darker melodies on the following tracks. That the following, “Your Way,” found airplay on Gossip Girl comes as no surprise. Xu Xu Fang’s ability to create atmospheric melodies provides their songs with plenty of soundtrack-suitable material. “Your Way” is a strong, perfectly groove-able track painting a glorious scene of clicks, chimes and beats.

The 11-minute finale, “Where Is Everybody?” may very well be the most poignant track on the EP. It opens with the sound of cars moving, feet against pavement and a haunting hum draped over a series of airy effects. Bells ring against the sound of rain and unintelligible voices can be heard in the background. There’s an element of sadness and fear implemented into the otherwise portrayed simplicity and innocence of everyday street life. The culmination of these sounds leads directly into an exotic trip-hop session with a strong Middle Eastern flavor. This grand conclusion allows Xu Xu Fang’s Seven Days Now an exit that also acts as a doorway into their more robust universe. (CSSR)
-Keane Li


July 29, 2009

The Highway | The Middle East Upstairs | Cambridge, MA | July 16, 2009

As I wander in after The Highway has already started I'm a bit pissed at myself and my deadlines, but the wafts of warm sound bubbling off the stage immediately flip my mood. The band is a trio, but not in the “power” sense – rather it's almost like they kept their numbers down to leave room for your presence among them. They're that inviting.

Hints of a drunken Dylan slither from bassist/vocalist Daniel Tortoledo's mouth, an endearing drawl that matches well with the band's rootsy rock. Guitarist Isaac Cohen's open-chord strumming fortifies this style, but he never remains locked in tradition. His Mars Volta-like sprinkling of spiraling licks and reverb keeps you on your toes and reminds that, yes, the world of Harrison and The Band is comforting, but complacency always needs shaken up. The straight-forward “Set Me Free” acknowledged this in its own way, dropping into three for a crunchy, feedback-swollen guitar solo, then back into four for the booming ending and release.

Though “Frozen Sun” wrestled with bittersweet homesickness, the partnership between Tortoledo on bass and Ted MacInnes on drums could not have been closer. MacInnes is thoughtful in accenting the low end, propelling The Highway forward and allowing Cohen plenty of room to spin some psychedelia. More upbeat tunes head in a prog direction, marching into glorious fantasy battles without the bummer of enemies or bloodshed.

The Highway's songwriting benefits from collaboration from all three members, though frontman Tortoledo's engaging vocals are clutch. Some artists beg their audience to clap along and only receive a few bars of help – Tortoledo's voice gently smiles its way into your muscles and compels.

-Nate Leskovic


New Music in the Office

Here are the new CD's we received today:

Richard Lloyd – The Jamie Neverts Story
George Usher – Yours and Not Yours
Holdcell – 7 Heavy Grins
Chet Williamson – Chromology
Patrick Beckman – Big Muddy
Hondo – Hondo Presents: Space Songs
Naree – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Umbrella Tree – The Letter C
Reinventing the Eel

San Francisco, CA
Produced, engineered and recorded by Unagi in San Francisco, CA Unagi’s

Reinventing the Eel, the DJ/producer’s eighth release since 2003, is a clinic in adapting light-hearted, laid-back, old-school grooves to a conventional context. Unagi the DJ finds some outstanding samples deep in the stacks, and he’s at his best when he’s on his own: the album’s strongest tracks are mostly instrumentals. But perhaps more promisingly, Unagi the producer deftly handles less-than-stellar MCs and keeps the album and your hips moving.

If Unagi would have trusted his own hand a bit more, this album would be a versatile, fun party mix, and to a great extent it still is. And the guest MCs aren’t all bad. Gigio’s vocals on “Come Get It” ignite the track’s funky underbelly, and Unagi’s work with Motion Man on “Grown Man Flowin” sounds a bit like Eyedea & Abilities at their best. But those exceptions aside, Reinventing the Eel’s guest MCs drag down an album laced with tight bass lines, punchy horn samples and short songs that keep you wanting to hear what’s next.

This album screams for a remix, hopefully from Unagi himself. Reinventing the Eel taps into the feeling of stepping onto a dance floor with just a little bit of a buzz. Its beats make you smile, even if there’s occasionally enough smooth jazz laid over the top to make a less-courageous DJ blush. “Herb Man Theme” seems to revel in its flute line, which almost had to have been played by a man with a mustache and a red crushedvelvet jacket sometime in the mid- to late-1970s.

But Unagi successfully navigates the tricky waters between hip-hop and jazz on the album’s first track, “Liftoff,” using a Glenn Gould-y piano melody to add texture to a stock boom-bap. In sum, a good album that could have been great. (self-released)
-Dan Weber

Thee Oh Sees

San Francisco, CA
Produced mixed and recorded by Christopher “Oats” Woodhouse at The Hangar in Sacramento, CA

If you were to use Jim DeRogatis’ overview of psychedelic music, Turn On Your Mind, as a template for you band, you’d probably sound like Thee Oh Sees. This band creates music that is based on classic, late-1960s garage-psych, but incorporates characteristics of the other great psychedelic movement, shoegaze.

Help opens with an absolute killer of a driving, thundering song called “Enemy Destruct.” The song rushes by in a quick three and a half minutes, with the rhythm section driving the song along like it’s late for a date. John Dwyer and Petey Dammit, Thee Oh Sees guitarists, get the most borderline out-of-control tones of any guitarist this side of Neil Young, and on “Enemy Destruct,” one plays a filthy, filthy wah-wah solo that sends the song into outer space. On the very next track there is a solo that sounds like “Eight Miles High” on acid. The vocals are soaked in echo, furthering the trippy ambiance.

Help is loaded with late 1960s references, lots of tambourine, 12-string guitar, a flute jam on “Meat Step Lively” and a song called “Rainbow.” With all of that thrown in, they also add washes of sound, tremolos, vibrato and rhythms that recall the more tom-tom-based tribal-ish beats of Julian Cope or My Bloody Valentine. You can hear certain similarities between them and other Bay Area volume dealers Howlin’ Rain and Comets on Fire; mainly they love big guitar freak-outs. Nothing wrong with that. (In The Red Records)
-Warren McQuiston


July 28, 2009

The Working Title
Bone Island

Charlestown, SC
Produced, engineered and mastered by Joel Hamilton and Jake Sinclair

Sometimes the best kind of indie music is the most obscure possible, and that seems to be just the case with The Working Title’s newest album Bone Island. A combination of the oddest sounds, rhythms and vocal presence makes for an eclectic listen that’s worth every second just to hear what’s going to happen next.

From the very first note of “Physical Love,” it feels as though Bone Island might be a tribute to Trent Reznor with its angry synth sound, until the chorus hits and it feels as though a marching band is parading through your speakers. A large chorus and celebratory instrumentation propel this song from a good introduction to a great one.

While some of the songs come across as abstract in concept, such as the use of a child’s music box under growling vocals in “Wolf,” The Working Title is just as able to emit soft sentiments of love overtop acoustic guitar such as in “Love Make Me Free.” For every single song that is out there and odd (“Hijackers”), there is a song that is simple and beautiful to compliment it (“Arms and Thighs”).

Although you could put this album into a list of many underappreciated indie albums, it’s safe to say this one is probably one of the better executed. Every song is timed well, strong instrumentally and solid lyrically, conjuring images of love, darkness and God throughout. The best thing about this album is that it isn’t afraid to take chances – everything is tried and nothing fails. (self-released)
-Max Specht

The Fall Trees
Yellow Sun

Redondo Beach, CA
Engineered by Brian Rutkin | Mixed by Elliot
Glass and Brian Rutkin | Mastered by Lucas Earley

While The Fall Trees’ EP, Yellow Sun, sounds lo-fi and lowbrow cool, it appears to be so less by design and more out of a desire to be authentic.

The album surges with bracing energy, yet it still plays things cool and occasionally groovy. It’s a scratchy, swirling and mostly electrified album that spits and snarls in a festive manner. With sparks popping like a loose wire and a few songs brimming with a drunken jam delivery, they unfurl as if played for the first time and in the backyard of some inner-city duplex.

Yellow Sun’s material tends to crawl out from the mid-1960s era of bands like The Standells or the slinkier Rolling Stones catalogue. “Train 821” is similar in stride to the Stones’ “The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man,” and its nasal and sugary vocals sound like Faster Pussycat’s Taime Downe. It takes its own sweet time to move along, carrying a rhythm that’s bluesy and raw. “Around the Yellow Sun” is playful and inviting, with its simple chorus and near spoken-word delivery. Elliot Glass sings, “I’ve heard this city hum/I’ve watched the sky open up/Every night, every day/World turns/But the sun stays in the same place.”

“Stop Making Me Down” grinds its riffs inward, stomping and testifying as only a hammered man can. But the album’s standout track may be “Oh My How Things Change,” which absolutely burns.

Yellow Sun is rich in lyrical imagery and texture. It gets deep in the spine and moves across the ear in a prickly and subversively funky way, like a spider on your shoulder. (self-released)
-Brian Tucker


Die Benny: Driling Through the Definition of Punk

Words by Albert Opraseuth; Photo by Die Benny

Die Benny got its moniker from an edited version of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s science fiction classic Total Recall. During one of the movie’s seminal moments — the original version — Schwarzenegger’s character drives a drill into a nemesis’ face, ridiculously screaming, “screw you!” In the edited for television version, it was changed to an equally ridiculous, “die Benny!” The original members might have named the band that just because it was funny, but it turned symbolic. With a refusal to be censored or politically correct, these men constantly turn a cold shoulder to compromising their integrity.

Nathan Streeper, Jeff Claxton, Jeff Honea, Trey Morgan and Zac Hobbs comprise this ingenious Atlanta ensemble. The current lineup has been together for the past two years, but the band has been churning out its brand of brash punk rock — which often encompasses a wide range of sub-genres — for more than six years. With songs that span from singalong pop punk to outright thrash, Die Benny is poised to carry on the spirit and intensity its genre’s founders evoked. However, even the members can’t really define their sound.

“I always just tell people we’re a punk rock band,” Claxton says. “If you try to keep naming sub-genres, things just get too convoluted and doesn’t even matter.” Hobbs adds that he considers the band to be a melting pot of punk influences. “Some of the guys listen to three chord punk rock bands; I grew up on Blink 182,” he says. “The only bands we really agree on are the Get Up Kids, early Alkaline Trio and the Foo Fighters.” Honea just says, “I’m content with calling it ‘blender’ punk.”

Streeper and Honea are all who remain of the original members. Having toiled in other local bands that weren’t into the same kind of music they were, the guys decided to form a band without restrictions. They wanted to be true to themselves and the music they grew up on, adding and losing members along the way. Morgan lived with them and naturally progressed into the role as the band’s keyboard player. After Die Benny’s old drummer decided to move and pursue other interests, Streeper invited Claxton to join the group. Hobbs came aboard when the band decided to part ways with one of its guitarists near a crucial CD release show. At the time, he was the president of the now defunct Alaska Records and fronted the cash for a split CD with Die Benny and another local band, Fox Trotsky. Instead of having the band play songs at their CD release show that weren’t on the record he was releasing, he joined the band for what was supposed to be a one-time show. Since then, two years later, the current group has released another album with two more in the works.

With vocals ranging from black metal squeals to happy chants, drum beats ranging from power pop to double-time punk, driving and thrashing guitars, slippery bass lines and catchy riffs, to say the band has an eclectic sound would be an understatement. Since the band’s inception, it’s released three records in relative obscurity outside the Atlanta area. But Die Benny are heroes in the area’s DIY scene.

The band ran a local house show venue at its old East Atlanta loft and threw legendary parties for touring bands coming through. After that, the group was part of the now closed, but still famed 141 Moreland Scene. Streeper moved next door and Die Benny played many of those illustrious shows. “Those shows were crazy,” Streeper says. “Even if I have a favorite memory, I couldn’t really tell you any one with detail; it’s just a 141 memory, and they all just blur together.” Hobbs adds, “The thing about all the bands that played is that many are so big now. We saw and played with bands like Lemuria, Young Livers, O’Pioneers, Bridge and Tunnel and others that are total “hype” bands now — in a living room half the size of my bedroom.” The band is so dedicated to playing music that many of the members actually play in more than one band. Streeper and Hobbs play in local band Benard, and Claxton and Hobbs are members of the rotating supporting cast for future-punk band Mose Giganticus, based out of Philadelphia. “I see a lot of working bands trying to get practice together once a month,” Claxton says, “and it’s amazing we can practice twice a week, plan a tour and actually execute it on a regular basis.”

Cashing in on favors from bands they’ve helped along the way, Die Benny’s 2008 nationwide tour “Clutch and Judgment” was a complete success. It was full of classic Die Benny debauchery and was amazing inasmuch as it actually happened. To complete 2009, the band has even taken on the daunting task of releasing two records. With continuing exposure, they’re sure to reach new heights.

Listen at: myspace.com/diebenny

July 27, 2009

The Arkells
Jackson Square

Hamilton, ON
Produced by Jon Drew and the Arkells | Recorded By Jon Drew | Engineered by Wayne
Cochrane, Jamie Krebs and Luke Marshall | Mastered by Noah Mintz

Sometimes the line between indie and mainstream is blurred, and it’s a very fine line to cross. Sometimes bands bounce back and forth, maintaining their “indie cred” one song, while forgoing it the next 11 tracks. The Arkells are a band that hail from a regular “steel town” and bring that influence into their album, Jackson Square, with biting guitars, smooth bass and a real-to-the-core indie influence that borders on mainstream every chance they get, credit in tow all the way along.

Opening track “Deadlines” starts with a low bass line that moves right into vocalist Max Kerman’s wail. His voice and panicked gasps make the rest of the CD incredibly enjoyable to listen to.

Songs like “Oh, The Boss Is Coming” and “Tragic Flaw” carry a fast, head-bobbing vibe that are catchy and energizing at the same time. “Oh, The Boss Is Coming” acts as their first single and for good reason, being one of the strongest tracks on the album with a delightfully energetic chorus and a climactic bridge that make it an obvious radio hit.

“Abigail” and “No Champagne Socialist” shine with their raw sound and heartfelt, nostalgic lyrics, with the latter showcasing excellent use of harmonica. “Heart of the City” showcases the drummer’s skills and the band’s ability at crafting a fast, light song. “John Lennon” shows off their dedication to charmingly obscure lyrics.

Jackson Square deserves multiple listens to dwell on its great sense of instrumentation, lyricism and timing – used to create a gem of a contemporary rock album. (Dine Alone Records)
-Max Specht

Sweating Honey
When We Were Young

Fairbanks, AK
Produced by Luke Beckel and Corwyn Wilkey | Mixed by Sweating Honey | Mastered by Mandy
Parnell at Electric Mastering in London, UK | Recorded at Dome Studios in Fairbanks, AK

When We Were Young makes a great introduction to this party-friendly funk band from Alaska’s Interior. Primary songwriter and front man, Luke Beckel, turns his love of all genres into a thrilling LP.

Though the energy is high, tempos are never rushed or frantic. You can tell these musicians are field-tested and confident. What really gets the listener moving is the percussionist, Nick Shier, and the horn section, bringing a Latin feel to many of the tracks. There are many life-affirming lyrics along the lines of “living without love is like breathing without air.” Two highlights are, “Whatcha’ Gonna Do,” a psychedelic salsa with a reggae breakdown, and “Summer Thang,” where trumpet player Corwyn Wilky puts down his horn and does some soulful lead singing.

“Man on the Moon” is a pleasant piano ballad that may remind some of Ryan Adams, and the exciting “Ezmerelda” tells a story of seduction and murder with a peppy Latin beat reminiscent of Calexico. “Drew Grass” is a peppy bluegrass number with mandolin and tight, restrained drumming.

The album concludes with a traditional tune, “Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” where Beckel shares the vocals with guitar player Drew Frick, bass player Jeremiah Bakken and Wilkey. Each vocalist takes a turn at a verse and the four of them sing in sweet harmony for the choruses. This passionately delivered final track acts as a nightcap after a swinging party; it’s just when the sun is rising and you get sentimental for your family and friends who are far away that Frick howls, “My children, they taught me how to live.”
-Isaac Paris