August 8, 2009

Dirty Projectors, Atlas Sound | The Earl | Atlanta, GA July 17, 2009

Words by Ryan Burleson; photos by Bob Butler

Bradford Cox is full of surprises, which, if you've heard of him before you read this, really should come as no surprise at all. Though his musical output-proper only sparked within this aging decade, Cox has released an astounding amount of material as collaborator (the Black Lips, Lotus Plaza), bandmate (Deerhunter) and songwriter (Atlas Sound). If he's not constantly evolving his multifarious musical identity – close to 20 releases put out by labels and freely given away online – he's somehow finding the time to make friends with Britt Daniels (Spoon), Noah Lennox (Animal Collective), Kim Deal (The Pixies, Breeders) and plenty of other indie rock institutions. Oh, and he collaborated with almost all of them, too.

When Cox took the stage as Atlas Sound on Friday night in his hometown, the audience should've seen it coming; he wouldn't be promoting the conventional wisdom fastened to his budding catalog. But, like most music fans of any particular taste, the sold-out crowd arrived primed for the familiar, wanting the best of his ambient, bedroom-pop mainstays. Standing outside the bar before the show, a friend and I listened as one fan described with acute detail the synthesized palette of electronic gadgets Cox would most certainly wield in his performance. The other Atlas Sound shows he'd seen online were like that, of course. The fan endearingly forgot the first principle of Cox's playbook – that there is no playbook.

With assistance from Herb Harris, Jason Harris and Tommy Chung of longtime Atlanta band, The Selmanaires, Cox briskly introduced the crowd to 5 new songs from his upcoming
Logos record, not one of them resembling the material on Atlas Sound's debut, Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel. The ever-evolving theme in Cox's music had already manifested itself earlier in the day, though, with the online release of Logos' "Walkabout," a shimmering, salty pop song that Noah Lennox guests on – and, perhaps unsurprisingly at this point, hardly recalls the new material Atlas Sound breezed through Friday night. Cox even played a harmonica during "Kid Climax," a track that sounded much like the others the band played that evening: straight-forward, rollicking indie rock that tastefully reminded the audience of Cox's Pavement-era influences wrapped in a warm, shoegaze vapor. The set was strong, but hardly memorable, vulnerably revealing a natural side-effect of Cox's restlessness as he charts the trajectory his music will take next.

Where Cox delivered a full, chord-based linear experience, Dave Longstreth and his Dirty Projectors presented a frenetic, note-hopping kaleidoscope of sound. Verging on being intellectually draining at times, the band more often delighted with its whimsical coaction of harmonic acrobatics and instrumental dexterity. Taking primarily from recently released and highly praised
Bitte Orca material, Longstreth and co. embodied a creative confidence rarely seen in dingy, DIY club settings, where extreme self-consciousness prominently constitutes the vast majority of stages across the country on a nightly basis. The vocal interplay between Angel Deradoorian, Haley Deckle and Amber Coffman almost deserves a separate article on its own merit, consistently leaving the devoted audience in awe of its near-flawless proficiency and uncanny ability to remain catchy, simultaneously. Having little experience with Dirty Projectors before the show, their high-flying performance Friday night readily indicated why avant-pop luminaries such as David Byrne and Björk have recently collaborated with the band.

Coyote Grace

Words, photo and video by Berta A Daniels

With toe-tapping melodies and a wry sense of humor, Coyote Grace explores themes deeply personal, yet universal to the human experience. Heads turned in rapt attention when they recently appeared in the Emerging Artist Showcase at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, and a cappella harmony rang from the stage as they lifted off with a verse from “Run Around,” the first track of their new CD, Ear to the Ground. Weaving a rich tapestry of vocal harmonies, guitar and upright bass, the musical duo of Ingrid Elizabeth and Joe Stevens have formulated a deeply textured and sometimes sparkling blend of alternative Americana.

Ingrid and Joe met in Seattle where Joe was going to school and they were both members of other bands. They began playing together, forming a band called Greenwood, but were in competition with another band of the same name. As they watched the other Greenwood’s posters get bigger and bigger, they decided to combine their stage names of Coyote Joe and Amazing Grace to become Coyote Grace. Each day they played for tips at Seattle’s Pikes Place Market to finance their first record, Boxes & Bags. Upon its completion, they moved into their 1978 Chevy RV named Harvey for a yearlong national tour. Since then, they have played countless house concerts, coffee houses, universities and festivals. Along the way, Boxes & Bags made its way into the hands of the Indigo Girls, who asked Coyote Grace to open for them at the Woodland Park Zoo during Seattle’s Gay Pride celebration, giving them a giant boost.

A unique pairing, Ingrid’s bright alto, down-home bass and vivacious style lend the perfect counterpoint to Joe’s dusky tenor and brooding acoustic guitar. Written by Joe, Boxes & Bags is an autobiographical portrait of his transition from a woman to a man, chronicling a lyrical journey of self-discovery. “It’s So Bright” opens the album with a tale of finding beauty in this world, set to a frolicking, danceable tune. Introspective and specific to Joe’s transformation, “A Guy Named Joe,” “Trainman” and “Ghost Boy” relate an intimate search for self-identity. A cathartic story of feeling isolated and misunderstood, Ghost Boy resonates with anyone who has revisited their past, especially their high school, after experiencing a life-changing event or revelation about their own identity.

Their new album, Ear to the Ground, blossoms into full color with tightly attuned vocals and infectious composition. Ingrid shares more fully in the voice of this CD, with three songs of her own, including “Girls Like Me (Summertime),” a country song with a twist about young love in a small Midwestern town, and “Runaround,” a classic Appalachian-style folk tune grounded in bluegrass and Southern rock. Joe’s craft has matured as well. Almost a lullaby, with a stylistic nod toward James Taylor, “Little Tree”tells of change, belonging and spiritual growth. When Joe’s grandmother passed away, he wrote “Zuma” to pay special tribute to a matriarch whose strong will and bright spirit continues to inspire him.

Talented and devoted musicians, Joe and Ingrid move forward into the mainstream public eye with personal integrity and a musical sound all their own. In honoring who they are, they refuse to be told who or what they should be as people. It is that candor, combined with impressive musical craftsmanship, that transcends boundaries and speaks to a wide audience.

August 7, 2009

Jonathan Tyler and The Northern Lights | Antone’s Nightclub | Austin, TX | July 23, 2009

Words and Photos by Tara Lacey

Antone’s Austin lived up to its claim-to-fame as “home of the blues” as the solid blues rock and spot-on soul sound of Jonathan Tyler and The Northern Lights steamrolled over an unsuspecting Thursday night crowd. Bob Marley had a point when he said, “the thing about music is when it hits you, you feel no pain…” Pain was far from what the crowd at Antone’s was feeling, however it was clear that the entire room had felt something: the magnetism of Jonathan Tyler and The Northern Lights.

For the duration of their set the entire ensemble exuded a vigorous energy that took the audience from a ho-hum opening band lull to a full-fledged, face-melting and completely satisfying blues rock catharsis. It was absolutely the most electrifying performance I’ve witnessed in quite some time.

Jonathan Tyler swaggers and sashays across the stage making love to his guitar, occasionally picking up a harmonica to hit home the delta blues roots of The Northern Lights’ powerhouse sound. Mo Brown’s vocals lend sultry soul to the boys’ “been there” bluesy grit. Bassist Nick Jay and guitarist Brandon Pinckard told me without hesitation that John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page are their biggest influences, which is evident especially in “Devil’s Basement,” respectfully reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks.” In it, Jay and Jordan Cain lay down steady head bobbing rhythms and “Kansas” Pinckard busts out some trippy guitar effects.

Jonathan Tyler and The Northern Lights can even throwback to the soulful, funky style of Marvin Gaye with hits like “Sunshine.” I even heard a couple of girls around the house state simply that JTNL’s music put them in the mood for some boudoir action, and Jonathan’s hip sway probably didn’t hurt that cause one bit.

Hot on the heels of the success of their record, Hot Trottin’, Jonathan Tyler and The Northern Lights are trotting the United States with some industry heavy hitters – opening for the likes of The Black Crowes, Kid Rock and Lynyrd Skynyrd – and have managed to rack up a hand-full of festival dates. They’ll be featured at Austin City Limits and rest assured, I’ll be front and center. Then they'll be squeezing in a few more shows before putting in serious studio time on their next album, which is due out early next year. Make sure to catch them while you can in a more intimate venue and throw back a couple of beers with the band.

August 6, 2009

CD's Received Today

Here's some new music we got in the office today...

Pepper Dome- Let’s Try The Otherwise
Midtown Dickens- Lanterns
Pugwash- Giddy
Dakotafish- Self-titled
Goodbye Gadget- Because, I’m Not Myself You See
James Durst- A Whaling Trilogy, Hue Manatee's Quest
Mike Dekle- Tributes
The Reclamators- Sing it, white boy!
BarNone- Never Turn Back
Sunny Day Real Estate- LP2, Diary
Mikie Lee Prasad- Jukebox Folktales Volume 1
Milktooth- Self-titled
The Terry Eckard Band- Rebel on the Highway
Jay Blagdon- Pax Americana
Into the Presence- Self-titled
Brandon Patton- Underhill Downs
Uke of Spaces Corners- Flowers in the Night
AT- Self-titled
Alec K Redfearn & the Seizures- Exterminating Angel
Jolly- Forty-Six Minutes,Twelve Seconds of Music
The Spooks- Strictly Business Gamblin’ Man
Wet Dreams- Here Come The Wet Dreams
Vice City Rockers- Death From Beyond the Grave
Junior Astronomers- I Had Plans For Us
Ben Willmott- Rich with Love
The Proselyte- …and then they walked
Patrik Tanner- Quills
Mia Kim- Who Is Sukey Rose?
Offset Needle Radius vs. Nickname: Rebel- Self-titled
SNUB- Dreams Renewed
Beantown Project- Moving at the Speed of Life
Clay Ross- Matuto
Into The Presence
Into The Presence

Los Angeles, CA
Produced by Luis Carlos Maldonado and Tim Alexander | Engineered by Tim Alexander
Recorded at Ghost Town Studio in Jerome, AZ | Mastered at SAE Mastering in Phoenix, AZ

The debut album from Into The Presence will make you quit your band. You’ll cry because you just financed all that fancy new gear and an auto-tuner for your singer, complete with T-Pain to produce. Yeah, not needed here. Rather, ITP shows that you can still rely on great songwriting, great players and above all, someone that can sing their nuts off. A conscious, and well-executed nod is given to the “heroes of old” here as the likes of Queen, Zeppelin (check out the bridge in “You and I”) and Jeff Buckley are ever present.

However, claiming that ITP does not own their sound couldn’t be further from the truth. Luis Carlos Maldonado’s guitar work is stunningly inspiring and tasteful, while Tim Alexander (Primus, A Perfect Circle) once again shows that his drumming is outstanding, without standing out. Rounding out the lineup is the Lenchantin sisters (Paz on bass, Ana on cello). Oh, and did I mention Luis can sing? “End Game,” their signature song, kicks off the album with bombing drums and dancing arpeggios, only to be further trumped by epic vocal work that would have Freddie and Jeff doing high-fives.

Much of the record focuses on Luis’s introspection, with his writing most transparent on tracks such as “Phone Call,” “You And I,” and “My Only Crime” – all tales of struggle within relationships. Whether or not one finds this topic passé, Luis’ gift for crafting epic, spiritual portraits is undeniable. If the aforementioned songs don’t get you, surely the sexy sludge of “The Garden,” unstoppable chorus of “Broken Words,” and lonely promise of “Coming Home” (my personal favorite) will. But then, I’ve listened to this album 63 times this month, so maybe I’m a tad biased. (Razor and Tie)
-Damion Sanchez
Ian Adams
Stay Up Late

Boston, MA
Recorded by Eldridge Rodriguez at Microcosm Soundworks in Allston, MA, and by Ray Jeffrey at Liberty and Union in Taunton, MA | Produced by Eldridge Rodriguez and Ray Jeffrey | Mastered by Eric Baird

With Ian Adams’ release of Stay Up Late, the best thing to do is open up and put on a pot of coffee because “you only fall in love like this once in your life” (“Stay Up Late”). A cross of Tom Petty and Thom Yorke make the vocal styles of Ian Adams worthy of careful listening. The fact that his MySpace page lists him as a “creepy crooner” shows his intention to work his yearnings into the minds of fans who may miss bands like The Cure or The Smiths.

Songs include running themes of both evening and evil, with titles such as “A Man Possessed,” “In the Dark,” “Upside Down Stars” and “Horns of the Devil.” The movements in metaphor keep a dreamy beat, which moves the mind to wonder about relationships and sunrises to come.

One of the best tracks on the album, “I Got it Bad,” opens, “She floated in / dirty little ghost filling my lungs / black curling smoke … miss Mary Anne / I got it bad / never gonna sleep again.” The twisting guitar riff repetitively reminds of dark thoughts and ending affairs.

“How can you drown what’s under your skin?” creates such a gloomy question that only the realization of its answer darkens the story line. The final track, “Precious Moment,” seems to function as both an explanation and an apology. As Adams asks for forgiveness for his misdeeds, he begs his audience for another moment of introspection. Take the time to reflect and dive into the emotions and characters in Stay Up Late. It’s worth the all-nighter. (Midriff Records)
-Ellen Eldridge

August 5, 2009

The Verbtones, The Tomorrow Men, Secret Samurai | Pink Elephant Bar | San Diego, CA | July 31, 2009

Words by My Nguyen

You couldn’t have seen a more eclectic crowd at the Pink Elephant Bar. From some man walking around with Don King hair bleached blond all the way to the tips of his spiked hair donning a white suit, to some dude wearing a kilt and biker vest, to waitresses in '50s garb, by all means, the “it” crowd Friday night was certainly up for a psychedelic ride. The Verbtones, The Tomorrow Men, and The Secret Samurai, all surf bands, were undergoing a surf war. Who will this Don King character name winner? Will any of the bands survive this galactic surf odyssey? This and much more if you stay tuned.

On front and center stage, The Verbtones all in matching jailhouse outfits, looked like miniature Elvises convalescing under the limelight. Rather than lamenting their jailhouse blues, The Verbtones’ beach vibe cadence stripped bare the conventions of surf music and proceeded to rock. At one memorable point, the lead guitarist stalked off stage and into the crowd. Like Moses parting the Red Sea, the crowd moved to accommodate this spectacle.

He returns to the stage and drops into a huge jam, an air-guitarist’s wet dream. A hypnotic tune ensues, the band dedicating it to one of the member’s mother who was a stroke victim. A definite delve from the happier grooves, this moody track had couples dancing. After a while a few girls started to snorkel, a patent move of yesteryears. To the left of the stage, one guy reenacts his surfer moves on an invisible board and wave. An impressive move nonetheless, this surfer clearly does not incorporate “wipeout” into his vocab.

After a long set up session, The Tomorrow Men, a San Francisco band, take stage, amping up their mics and equipment for the psychedelic tunes ahead and catching the next wave. Listening to their better crafted and less chaotic sounds was like riding a wave itself. You’re over and under and the exhilaration is contagious. At one point one of the guitarists was playing like a siren screeching in the dead of night, while the drummer, wearing an orange suit decked out in glow sticks, was the heartbeat to the moving tunes, an awesome climax to a very strange night.

Up next, The Secret Samurai, from San Diego, took the surf war into their hands. Their guitars sang and whittled through their competitors egos, something the Don King wannabe would have to take note of when presenting the winner. Something like being caught up in a galactic oceanic wave, these performers’ hallow cadence had an eerie lasting feel for listeners. While space and oceanic wave are clearly oxymoronic, The Secret Samurai are up for the venture. But only while holding the true surf tradition do these space rock 'n' rollers win over the crowd.

The Hard Lessons: Making More With Less

By Nic Cole-Klaes; photo by Doug Coombe

For years, The Hard Lessons have been a staple in Detroit rock- ’n’roll. Their sound combines face-melting rock with intricate vocal harmonies and unique instrumentation to create a sound that is both nostalgic and revolutionary. Keeping with their garage-rock influences, The Hard Lessons’ live show seems to epitomize the grit, the raucousness, the raunchiness and the common connection of people that make up rock. This Detroit-based husband/wife duo are currently touring in support of their latest effort,
Arms Forest, an album full of fist-pumping anthems, hook-laden melodies and playful boy/girl vocal harmonies. We had the opportunity to catch up with them for an interview at the Rothbury Music Festival in their native Michigan.

PM: Your stage performance seems very real and uncontrived. Is that something that developed over time, as you got more comfortable on the stage, or did it just come naturally?
Augie Visocchi: No. I mean I think it’s hard to develop that, you just have to have it. I grew up, we both did, watching tons of bands. So it’s natural, it’s what comes out. We had no setlist planned for today’s performance, my cord shorted out at one point, so we just played a different song. You just go for it. I love that about playing in this band, it’s totally uncontrived. It’s just the two of us and our drummer letting loose up there and seeing what happens, rolling the dice. Sometimes it backfires, but the majority of the time it’s pretty awesome, what happens, and it keeps it interesting.
PM: How did the bass on piano thing develop? It’s a really unique sound.
Korin Louise Visocchi: I played piano my whole life. I taught myself by ear, I can’t read music. I bought this old Yamaha Electone and it had a manual bass switch. I brought it into one rehearsal, the next rehearsal we fired our bass player. That was five years ago.
PM: Is that something that you had to work to develop? Watching you perform, it seems like you have really good rhythmic separation between your hands.
KV: Yeah, it is like trying to pat your head and rub your belly; then singing and hitting a pedal every now and again, so definitely
AV: I think that’s why we can sound as big as we do onstage, because we’re both doing a ton of different stuff. It’s not just a three-piece, it’s a five-piece even though there’s only three of us because were each doing multiple jobs.
PM: And it’s largely because of your different sound that you guys have been able to make it. What advice would you have for other bands, other musicians trying to break into the scene?
AV: Get out there as much as you can.
KV: If you can’t play a show, go to a show. Be out there, be a part of your community.
AV: Being a part of your music community in your town is crucial. This is advice for anybody, whether you’re in Rothbury, Mich., Detroit, Mich., or Des Moines, Iowa, get to know some like-minded people and cultivate a scene. If there’s not a scene, start one. But get people together that can support each other. That’s what helps you get off the ground – to have a supportive community around you. There wasn’t a venue in Detroit that we played that we hadn’t been to before. You have to know the scene that you’re joining. I get really turned off when a band will email us and they’ll say, “Hey, I heard you’re playing the Magic Stick in Detroit, pretty legendary venue, can we open for you there? I’ve always wanted to go to that place.” You’ve never been there? If you’ve never been there then what are you doing? Are you a music fan? If you’re a music fan then you would have been there.
KV: Sometimes we’ll also get, “Hey the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor has April 12 available. How ‘bout we open and you headline?” It’s like wait a minute ... So just be a part of the scene you want to be in.
AV: It goes back to our stage presence. You were asking how it appears so uncontrived. It’s hard to give this type of advice because you can’t fake it. I want to say go support your scene, but I think for most bands and for most music fans it comes natural. If you’re starting a band, you love music and you’re already downtown, at the venues, and it’s just going to happen naturally. So you’ll know if you’re on the right track. Just tap into what you love and follow it. Believe in it.

Atlanta, GA
Recorded and engineered by Hawks on an 8-track Tascam 1/4-inch tape machine
Produced by Josh Fauver and Gavin Fredricks

Hawks are four boys from Atlanta who play frantic noise rock that somehow gets stuck in your head despite all its cacophony and perversion. It also lends itself to high-energy, pants-optional live shows.

Listening to Hawk’s debut LP, Barnburner, is like being chased by an F4 tornado. Andrew Wiggins’ guitar riffs are like sirens. Bass player Sean Fitzgerald and drummer Shane Patrick create rhythms that are sometimes raucous and at other times deliberate and foreboding. The exasperated vocals bring a sense of futility to Barnburner and, basically, the record is your antidote to the whole hope, change and optimism trend.

Lyrically, Barnburner smirks and begs you to feel awkward. Songs like “Shitfist” and “The Thrust That Missed” are as exaggerated and vomit-inducing as they sound. While Barnburner has aptly been described as “sleazy” and “shower-inspiring,” Hawks slip a catchiness into their grimy chaos that makes showering futile in the face of tracks like “Sex on Beta.”

The track “Maritime Scarring,” however, provides a welcome break from the chaos by beginning in a psychedelic crawl. A creaky child’s voice comes in and says, “I’m not frightened. I’m not frightened.” Then the song explodes back into Barnburner’s default franticness.

The second half of the record is interspersed with fist-pumpingly epic movie quotes – dense, haunting soundbites from movies like Oldboy and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. But they’re gritty, apocalyptic and almost impossible to live up to – well-chosen, but too ambitious. Ultimately, they just distract from the music (which is saying a lot considering Hawks aptly list “Melodramatic” as one of their genres on MySpace).
Barnburner certainly succeeds in being melodramatic. It’s a fast-paced, painful and pessimistic record that’ll make you want to avoid eye-contact and get your rage on. (Army of Bad Luck/Vagina Flambe)
-Kristen Fox
Gaslight Revival

Boston, MA
Recorded and mixed by David Mansfield | Recorded at the Beauty Shop,
Randolph, MA | Mastered by David Mansfield at Hey Now Records in Boston

Virtually everything about Gaslight Revival’s debut Drift should sound familiar to anyone with any knowledge of folk-based rock music. Many of our favorite countryrock images pop up: people pass time in quiet fishing towns and on long and winding roads, waitresses just trying to get by work double shifts, men saddle up for long journeys, other men stare into coffee cups … you get the idea. Even though there’s hardly an original sound on the album, Gaslight Revival’s melancholy Americana makes for a compelling listen, proving that there’s a reason these images have stuck around. Do you like power ballads? There are 11 of them here. David Mansfield drawls with a baritone seemingly borrowed from Steve Earle and Trevor Jones does his vocal duties in a lonesome tenor, which perfectly conveys the heartache of tunes like “Crying.” Supported by Thin Lizzy-like distortion, Jones sings of an emotionally absent young woman (“She wears her emotions on her sleeve of tattoos”) who finally has a breakdown, a moment of self-realization, and an upswing of redemption. To a cynic, it sounds ready-made for CMT, but it is still a powerful song.

It’s easy to apply the alt-country tag, though the music has as much in common with mainstream country as it does with the No Depression sound. The folkrock mythology continues on the death-themed “From Behind the Stars,” in which the singer imagines a choir of angels playing electric guitars. A fiddle kicks off “I Lied,” which clips along with an up-tempo gallop straight out of an independent road movie. Guitar solos abound, including one that alludes to (of course) “Free Bird,” to the glee of inebriated concertgoers everywhere. With all of this, Gaslight Revival has the makings of a great bar band. Just don’t expect anything revolutionary, any more than you’d expect anything revolutionary from the bar itself. (Hey Now Records)
-Ryan Faughnder

August 4, 2009

Tour Diary: On the Road with Justin Shorey

Words and Photos by Kara Mears

It’s late Monday morning after a long weekend in New York City. I’ve just finished a coffee and pastry-laden breakfast in Greenwich Village with Boston singer/songwriter Justin Shorey. We stop for a few deep breaths outside the historic Cafe Wha?, the first place 19-year-old Bob Dylan played when he landed in NYC, for a little soul food. The Sky Line Radio Tour, Justin’s first, is six days underway. We climb in the car and head south out of the city.

Somewhere between Virginia Beach and South Carolina we get pulled over. The officer issues Justin a ticket. Pulling onto the highway, Justin turns to me, smirking, and with a solid hint of a Boston accent, says, “I’m thinking this ticket is a small price to pay for all that speeding I already got away with, don’t ya think?”

Fast-forward two days. Fast-forward two, eight-hour days of driving. We’ve been to Maryland, Virginia Beach, North Carolina and south. At least an hour left until we get to Winter Park, Fla., and we’ve been driving for nine. The sun is setting. It’s about 8:30 p.m.

We’re supposed to be there by now. Justin picks up his phone to call the venue. Justin is packing light this first go around on the road: lyrics in his head, satellite radio on the dash of his rental, guitar on the backseat. Blue eyes and freshly trimmed sandy hair dark rinse jeans and a black T-shirt with the Boston skyline in white, he looks neat but not exactly artsy. Then again, he doesn’t pretend to be. Unassuming as he is though, there is poetry in his simple, neat appearance and approach.

“When I booked this tour, I started with all the places east of the Mississippi where I knew somebody,” Justin says. Nineteen shows in 25 days. Just about a week into the tour and he is already feeling the distance between friends.

We pull up to Austin Coffee & Film, on Fairbanks Avenue in Winter Park, around 9:30 p.m. Justin parks in the back and I follow him along the building to the front entrance. A young woman and two guys are sitting on the patio smoking and laughing at a punchline we just missed. Looking through the large pane glass windows I see but a few patrons. After checking in, Justin heads back to the car to get his guitar and merchandise: a 12-song, self-titled LP recorded in 2007 and the three-song EP, Sky Line Radio, recorded at Emerson College’s WERS studios in 2008. He has Tshirts for sale baring a hand-drawn image of a grizzly bear and the words, “Thought it was a mountain, found out it’s a grizzly bear” – lyrics from the EP single, “Grizzly Bear.”

Justin sets up on the small stage at the front of the cafe. Turns out his friend in Florida lives two hours in the wrong direction from where we’ll be headed in the morning. I hop online to find a couple of cheap motel rooms.

The set starts slow, with sparse claps marking the end of each song. Justin pushes on with “Forsaken Soldier,” a melancholy ballad written from the point of view of a man serving his country, who has found out it was all for a lie.
“A bad moon has rose,” the chorus warns. A fresh set of hands roar. A shaggy-haired young man donning Chuck Taylors and tattoos, who came in the back, calls out, “Hey man, play 100 more songs like that one and I’ll stay here all night.” Justin and his new fan, Matt, end up rapping after the set. Matt is also a musician. His band plays local music festivals and his friend is a DJ. He buys Justin’s CDs and promises to help get him on Orlando radio and his band’s festival circuit. “You deserve to be playing for way more than four people man,” he says. “I love your sound. It’s real courageous for you to be coming out and just doing it.”

“Play, play, play. I figure if I just get in front of as many people as possible, even if I get just one fan from a show, it’s worth it,” says Justin. “And hey, you never know. Maybe that kid will really do what he says he will.”

Justin doesn’t know the people he’s playing to and they don’t know him. He started in Boston four years ago playing open mics and small venue shows. In January he sold out Cambridge’s Middle East Upstairs with Kid:Nap:Kin, The Shills and Supervolcano. Justin’s hope is this same focus and hard work will see him to equal success and more in every city in America.

I knock on Justin’s door around 9 a.m. the next morning. He lets me in. The news is on.

“Hey, I think I know why this place was so cheap.”

“Yeah. Why?” I ask.

“It was robbed last week,” he tells me.

One hour later, it’s already 90 degrees outside. We’ve packed the car and are headed north on Rt. 75 to Georgia. The only thing standing between Justin and his next gig in Columbus is more of the same: 400 miles of Interstate. A friend in Boston calls to see how the tour is going. “If you’re feeling like you need some better tour stories, give me a call back and I’ll throw a TV out a hotel room window. Make this a little more rock’n’roll,” Justin says to his friend. He continues, “Yeah man, this tour is just like being back home and working real hard, except that now I’m just working real hard and focusing on one thing.” In Boston, after a 12-hour workday building cell phone towers, Justin goes to work on his music: practicing songs, writing new ones, playing a gig or recording an album. He’s kept this pace for the last four years. Driving north on Rt. 65 to a gig in Tuscaloosa, a highway billboard warns, “GO TO CHURCH OR THE DEVIL WILL GET YOU.” I point this out and Justin chuckles. The only thing we’re strung-out on is caffeine and Southern sweet tea, which Justin orders at every opportunity.
After this tour Justin plans focusing solely on his music for the next five months. He’ll paper Boston, playing everywhere within a three-hour radius of his apartment in Everett, Mass. He anticipates his band accompanying him on a nation-wide tour this fall.

“I don’t pretend stuff. I actually do it,” Justin says. “I’m a free thinker and pretty much a free person. Nobody is making me do this. I don’t have a record deal. I’m taking my experience as a tower climber, and trading it in for something different. I haven’t burned any bridges. I’ve got nothing to lose but money. From where I stand, it’s a win-win either way.”
The Fresh & Onlys
The Fresh & Onlys

San Francisco, CA
Recorded at the Treehouse in San Francisco | Produced, mastered and
engineered by The Fresh & Onlys | Mastered by Kevin Ink

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. The heart races, feels like it’s going to bust out-of- chest. Seven hundred ninety-five seconds. This is how long it takes to fall in love.

This is also the amount of time it takes to forget all your earthly troubles and start dancing as if with a new pair of legs, which you'll do once you reach the first chorus of “Peacock and Wing” – exactly 795 seconds into The Fresh & Onlys' self-titled debut. The song is so exuberantly joyful, so jaw-droppingly perfect, it makes you wonder if other songs will fade into seclusion a la Brian Wilson after Sgt. Pepper’s.

The Fresh & Onlys have hit on something truly special with this sixth song on the record. That the other tunes don’t come off like a bunch of homeless dudes dining with the Queen speaks to the quality of the San Francisco garage band’s chops, songwriting ability and affinity for the elusive “it.”

On “Fog Machine,” head Freshy Tim Cohen musters his best Jonathan Richman kiss-off amongst driving, thump-thump percussion, zealous tambourine and Wymond Miles’ fretboardlimiting fuzz guitar – “Machine, don’t talk to me / talk to someone else!” At one with the muffled, lo-fi jangle of garage spirits past and present, one can only nod at the screwball hippie lyric and add a stoned, “Amen brother.” Similarly, “Endless Love” and “Only One I Want” feed off a 1960s psych-pop vibe, the former in its batshit reduction of Velvets and early Dead, the latter with a neurotically lovesick overhaul of the Peter Gunn theme. And then there’s the aforementioned “Peacock and Wing,” wherein the Fresh & Onlys hit full stride in a 100-meter sprint of infectious melody. In theory, it takes 38 minutes to listen to this album once through. In theory. (Castle Face)
-Robbie Hilson
Fleeting Trance

Oakland, CA
Produced by Manasseh Bernal and The Transient Society Of Dreamers and
Believers | Engineered by Alex James Muscat and Dave Tweedie | Recorded by
Alex James Muscat at West Lake Studio in Daly City, CA and Students On Meth
at Expressions Center For New Media in Emeryville, CA | Mastered by Phil Void
at West Lake Studio in Daly City, CA

The organic sound of strings, reeds and melodious harmonics lie deep within the heart of soulful Americana. Playing true to form, Oakland's Fleeting Trance adds a set of 17 fresh tracks to this timeless genre with the release of 17. Utilizing often off-kilter vocals with just the right amount of rasp, frontman Manasseh injects rootsy angst over pristine instrumentation, where guitars jangle and keys shimmer at their highs.

What is perhaps most remarkable about 17 is the fact that it never gets tiresome. Fleeting Trance succeeds in crafting an album with absolutely no filler, where more is definitely better. A particularly outstanding number is "She's Got Music." It's a lighthearted, horndriven stroll of a song, with optimistic lyrics and melodies uplifting enough to inspire any listener to find cheer – even for a second: "She's got music in her soul / When it touch me, make me lose control / Life makes no sense at all, but with some help I'm gonna watch love grow."

"Four Leaf Clover" is a poignant track that erupts with a ticking momentum of steady intervals. This is appropriate, as the lyrics are drenched with the concept of movement: "We've got rhythm, we've got rhyme / We've got nothing left but time." Vocals burst with warm and jagged qualities reminiscent of Counting Crows.

The band displays its quiet side on "Crayon," an ambient track painting a big and spacious scene despite it only containing two unique verses. It summarizes the qualities that make the band so effective: the creation of something large and meaningful with everyday situations presented with uncomplicated sounds and lyrics. It's the culmination of many simple yet effective parts that makes Fleeting Trance's 17 such a universal experience. (Last Stop Records)
-Keane Li

August 3, 2009

CD's received today

Here's some new music we got in the office:

Joe Beck & Laura Theodore – Golden Earrings
Final Spins – This is Then/That was now
Mindwalk Blvd. – Paint the Seconds
Hot Buttered Rum – Limbs Akimbo
Christopher Bell – Cover EP
Foxtails Brigade – Chat with Sivan

Wanderlust Festival Recap | Squaw Valley USA | Lake Tahoe, CA | July 24-26, 2009

For about 150 miles of low-lying desert yellow, Northern California – that stretch of asphalt, traffic, oil drums and traffic from Vallejo to Sacramento – is total wasteland. And then all of a sudden, it’s not. Lush forests spring from pavement; earth rises as if with phobia to sea level. Perhaps it’s only right, then, that the inaugural Wanderlust Festival chose the elevated shores of Lake Tahoe (Squaw Valley to be exact) to host its weekend of music and – are you ready for this one? – yoga. No kidding.

It came out of nowhere – a three-day smorgasbord of holistic healers and punk kids the likes of which, with all due respect to George Harrison, go together like Coke (the still-to-be-invented organic kind) and Pop Rocks. So, as with many first-goes experimental in nature, Wanderlust unfolded a throw-it-against-the-wall exercise in see-what-sticks: a classic showcase of The Good, The Bad and The Pretty Boy – did you know the real life Vinnie Chase has his own band? You’re learning all kinds of new things. Scroll down for Adrian Grenier jokes.

Or stay here for a highlight/lowlight-specific recap of three stages, two and a half nights. And let’s just assume Spoon nailed their late Sunday slot. They usually do. Atlanta native Kaki King is a pretty sure thing, too. Taking the main, reachable-by-gondola-only Globetrotter Stage early Saturday, Kaki made it quite clear from the acoustic exploits of her intro that she wanted to tap that… her guitar, obviously. She tapped, plucked, twiddled and strummed aching folk tunes with the kind of freakish dexterity usually reserved for Donkey Kong champions and competitive seamstresses. Plugging in, she lost none of her fluidity or what-just-happened? appeal, transitioning effortlessly into the methodical craftsmanship of multi-layered post-rock. “Mexican Teenagers” psyched the rather sparse hilltop crowd with minimalist guitar ‘n drums intricacy fleshed out with blips and beeps from some voice box from the future, but the climactic “These Are the Armies of the Tyrannized” topped even the dried up ski runs above. Strained from the same space goo that gave rise to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” the amorphous jam found direction with a back end loaded with brainy riffing and, per usual, dumbfounding finger play.

Jenny Lewis doesn’t have any tricks, just that petite little frame and an air siren of a voice. That she also plays acoustic guitar is purely audio icing – she could have mesmerized Wanderlust backed by kazoo and tuna fish can. Charging opener “See Fernando” and the skuzzy, back porch throwdown “Carpetbaggers” mercifully upped the festival’s rock quotient, stirring enough waving arms to make the ubiquitous beachball volley worthwhile. But the devoted cut the games for the show-stopping “Next Messiah.” How could they not? For the set’s (the entire festival’s?) undisputed peak, Lewis and guitarist Farmer Dave traded sensual come-ons as setup for harmonic eruption: the tiny indie princess takes the reins for herself, belting out the climactic title lyric in a manic flurry of devil-chasin’ noise.

From a pinnacle, the only direction to go is down, and when you happen to be up a freakin’ mountain, down is a long way to fall. Fittingly, The Mutaytor not only played the bottom stage, they did so with the kind of unhinged, what-is-this-world-coming-to? bravado that permanently lowers your expectations for the entire human race. Part awkward white-boy funk, part strip-tease, part circus, all hell, this collective of musicians and Barnum & Bailey castoffs engaged the too-drunk-to-say-no crowd in a shameless rave orgy starring, in one corner, Greasy Cialis Users, and in the other, Females As Objects. The actual sound component – a blurred mix of wakka-wakka guitar, Family Stone-ish bass, tribal polyrhythm – never had a chance against the likes of the belly dancer, the, um, stripper, the braless spectators-turned-stage-dancers lifted (literally, over the barrier) from the more zealous pockets of audience, and the assortment of fire jugglers, one of whom hit the sax player’s mic stand and almost took out the horn section. Guesses are this isn’t supposed to happen. Neither is it Performer’s place to wield a critical skewer. On the other hand, if I see you heading for a steaming heap of dog shit, it’s my moral obligation to see that you don’t ruin your shoes. Watch your step. (a laudatory note: Bless you Gregg Gillis for wiping clean this horrible slate with a typically cathartic set of Girl Talk mash-ups, and for showing all Mutaytor survivors how a real party looks and sounds – oddly, not unlike an energy bomb of a DJ seamlessly fusing “Say It Ain’t So” to R&B and “Thunderstruck” to hip-hop. It’s the stuff of beat-box deification and maniacal crowd-surfing. Totally wild.)

We’re almost to Grenier, but a few loose ends need first be tied up. For instance, Common, of American Gangster fame (and of gigantic rap star fame), saved Saturday night by filling in for the stricken-by-appendicitis festival headliner Michael Franti. At first, the pairing seemed an odd fit – Common, on loan for a few hours, was now the sole hip-hop act performing, not to mention at the top of the bill in the weekend’s biggest slot. Yet after just one song – the raucous “Sex 4 Sugar” – the coolest dude in attendance converted all the skeptics by mentioning he could “smell the love.” On cue, a billowing cloud wafted from the front lines. Yessir, we have a match, and it’s made in a stoners’ heaven. Common proceeded to serenade a young lady on stage after, tastefully, checking to see if she was of age. I love this guy. So did Wanderlust.

Mates of State love each other. Actually, they’re married, and with that rare, sappy devotion that every so often unfurls as quirky, guy-girl power pop. Just synthesized organ and thump thump drums, the perky duo, with four hands and two ethereal voices, powered Sunday into its final stretch (Broken Social Scene and Spoon followed). The pair came on like a trimmed down New Pornographers, melting hearts with perky new wave, vows of steel, even sturdier melodies. All their songs rank somewhere on the catchy scale, especially the disco rockers, but “My Only Offer” deserves a different label. “Infectious” you ask? Like swine flu.

Thankfully Adrian Grenier does not have swine flu (send transition sentence ideas to LastParagraph@I’ He does, though, know how to man a drum kit, anchoring his band The Honey Brothers with perfectly competent, meat ‘n potatoes time keeping. Turtle’s sidekick isn’t the punchline some expect. In fact, Grenier probably gets the first panicked call from Strokes reps should Fabrizio Moretti ever “pull a Franti.” As for the rest of the Brothers Honey, they excelled at tight, Percocet-happy sing-alongs, Jack Johnson-like soft rock and, of course, impressing swooning sorority sisters and socialites in training.

They also turned cynics into toe-tapping, head-bobbing believers. Same goes for Wanderlust as a whole. At one point, Kaki King objected to yoga chanting on the grounds of “worldview” conflict. In the same breath, she said she might make an exception – cheering, tie-dyed crowds evidently have eye-opening effects. Then again, it could have been something else. At 8,500 feet with copious amounts of potent bud, we were all on lookout for higher calling.
-Robbie Hilson
Don’t Sigh Daisy
They Call It History

Macclenny, FL
Produced, mixed and mastered by Matt Robnett
and Jake Caramanico of Play Work Productions

Ever since the dawn of the cassette, summers have been flooded with winding road trips to the beach and places beyond the horizon, with the best of friends and a mixtape of your favorite tunes to guide you along the way. It feels as though, with their new EP titled They Call It History, Don’t Sigh Daisy are looking to supply listeners with songs that would fit on anyone’s mix this year.

They Call It History opens strong with “The Atlas,” a song that hums along through beautiful melodies and thoughtful lyrics that compliment any car ride down the interstate in warm weather. This is something Don’t Sigh Daisy are all too good at: bringing about sunny rhythms with rising vocals that just feel good to listen to.

The entire EP is a very light affair, with wonderful acoustic swirls and feel-good melodies, with the exception of slowjam songs like “Sumner vs. Brooks,” that – while sounding a bit downtrodden – do feel more hopeful nearing the end.

Although it is fair to say that the music Don’t Sigh Daisy are creating has been done before by other bands or artists, they are bursting at the seams with potential. Every single track is well timed, wonderfully paced and just feels good to listen to any time of the day. If They Call It History is any evidence of where they are going with their music and the people they want to reach, then there are no limits to the success that they could gain. (self-released)
-Max Specht
Doors and Windows

Anchorage, AK
Produced by Garry West | Recorded and mixed at Compass Sound studio in
Nashville by Erick Jaskowiak | Mastered by Randy LeRoy at Final Stage
Mastering in Nashville

This album floored me with its instantly familiar sound, just as warm and sexy as their previous offering, Follow Me. The comparison to Alison Krauss is obvious. Like her music, the musicians in this band have perfect control of their voices and instruments, and like her timeless albums, this recording is enthralling throughout and contains no sour notes. Guitarist Mike Mickelson and bass player Kate Hamre dance around each other, never stepping on each others toes, and Jason Norris' mandolin paying adds another layer to the tapestry behind fiddler Odessa Jorgenson and her seductive vocals.

I do miss hearing Mickelson's voice, as it seems he has stepped back and now lets Jorgenson sing nearly all these songs. We do hear Hamre sing the lead on the humorous traditional "Single Girl," but having all the members of the band trade lead vocal duties would make them seem more like an ensemble than a rhythm section for Jorgensen. Though Annalisa Tornfelt is no longer a member of the group, they play two of her songs: "Caroline," a seemingly innocuous crush song that turns out to be about domestic abuse, and the live favorite, "Good in the Kitchen," a short and sweet tribute to the culinary arts with some double entendres. The recording is so intimate, you can almost hear the girls winking. (Compass Records)
-Isaac Paris