Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Brass Phantoms Debut An EP

There hasn't been much worldwide buzz for the lo-fi indie rock band the Brass Phantoms, but there ought to be. The band made the final round in the Hard Rock Rising competition earlier this year and might have moved on to play the Hard Rock Rome had they not had to pull out over a contractual conflict.

Playing in Rome could have helped jumpstart what has become a breakout year for the band, just a few months after playing their first gig at The Pint last year. The Pint picked the band up shortly after the foursome released their first two singles, one of which made the EP, and began climbing the Irish indie rock charts.

The Brass Phantoms are well worth a listen.

The EP opens with Tell Me What's Your Game, a poppy alternative rock track that immediately expresses how it feels to be on the fringe of things. The lyrics express a sense of disappointed awkwardness in contrast to an otherwise bouncy composition.

What makes the contrast work so well is that the instruments provide a sense of environment for the lyrical sentiment, making singer Ryan Cashell sound even more isolated from everything around him. Props to Adam McCabe too, who on drums keeps pace with cymbal-heavy work to make Tell Me What's Your Game both brisk and urgent.

Tell Me What's Your Game is followed up by the band's first single, Summer Song. The arrangement is great in that it immediately drops the band into a lower, slower gear. The real strength of the song is the steady delivery of lyrics that people can immediately relate to.

Summer Song emphasizes the problems that other people face in their lives while remaining pragmatic in seeing Cashell's own life. Simply put, Cashell gives himself permission to be hopeful after all is said and done. The album version gives the band a fuller sound, but the demo still captures the essence of it.

With Summer Song enjoying considerable playtime along with the B-side Kaleidocope, which didn't make the EP, the Brass Phantoms have been promoting the self-titled EP with Hawaii. Hawaii isn't the strongest track, but it is exceptionally accessible as it pines away on personal nostalgia.

The last track, I Fly Kites, easily qualifies as the roughest cut on the album. The roughness doesn't come from the guitar work by James Geraghty and Greg Whelan but rather Cashell who croaks out some of the lyrics much in same way he did on the Kaleidocope demo.

The breaking voice seems intentional, with the unintentional consequence of distracting from the verse. The chorus, on the other hand, is smoothed out with some reverb and modest echo. Still, the distraction doesn't disrupt the song outright. I Fly Kites has one of the best builds of the bunch, breaking a bit from some of their more even compositions.

The band traces its earliest roots to 2011, when Cashell and Geraghty decided they wanted to be in a band together while attending a concert. Shortly after, they joined a band called Under Fire before deciding they wanted more freedom in setting the creative direction. Their vision finally came to fruition last year when they settled on a name and released their first two singles.

The Brass Phantoms Self-Titled EP Hits 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

All in all, the EP sets up the Brass Phantoms as a band with a promising future. All they need is a little more playtime outside of Dublin. This too is only a matter of time. The band is already booked at the Czech Inn (Prague) and King Kong Club (Germany). Add them to your watch list.

The Brass Phantoms Self-Titled EP is available from iTunes. You can also download the album direct from bandcamp. The EP was produced by Graham Bryne at Temple Lane Studio. You can also find the band on Facebook to keep up with tour information.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Burning Of Rome Gores An Ox

The Burning Of Rome
Sonically inclined indie rockers The Burning Of Rome have taken a detour of sorts since the release of their last album, the considerabley pop-centric With Us. The decision was definitely for the better.

Replacing their previous attachment to crisply produced studio albums is a renewed interest in capturing the power of their live performances. And the San Diego-based band mostly pulls it off with the help of Paul Leary (Butthole Surfers) pushing them to capture new ground as producer.

Leary isn't the only welcome addition to The Burning Of Rome. Along with his talents as a producer, he recruited several guest drummers to lend their sticks to the project, including Josh Freese (A Perfect Circle/NIN), Dale Crover (Melvins/Nirvana) and Matt Chamberlain (Pearl Jam/Of Montreal). Their percussion licks will give newcomer Danny King plenty to do behind the drum kit.

The balance of the band is much more familiar. Joe Aguilar (guitar), Keveen Baudouin (bass), Aimee Jacobs (vocals, keyboards), and Adam Traub (singer, keys, guitar) have all honed their talents on this album. Traub, specifically, has come a long way since he started the band as a recording project in a laundry room in Oceanside, California. (The four-track tape recorder he started with is now put to rest.)

Year Of The Ox brings more rock and riffs to bare. 

There is still come considerable rock theatrics that are interesting at their best and distracting at their worst. But overall, the band has tamed themselves down to deliver more guitar riffs alongside their big assortment of accompanying instrumentals. The more focused arrangements are a win for them.

Naturally, they haven't abandoned their theatrics in entirely. Space Age Stockholm Syndrome, for example, retains the cult oddity that has defined some of the previous (and occasionally not understandable) successes. But then there are tracks like Better Than He, where the theatrics only creep into only a few seconds, which helps pin the band down as occasionally poppy space rockers.

The key to enjoying the overall offering is often tied to how it is navigated, even if none of the tracks truly stand out on their own as especially memorable. To give it all a fair shake, start with Echo Park, a sun-soaked indie rocker that conjures more images of Los Angeles over San Diego. Follow it up with Melina, which has some surf-rock infused moments that are only overshadowed by a chorus that retains Traub's insistence to never take anything too seriously.

With those two tracks setting a foundation for what's possible, jump up to Sister Francis for a moody composition that feels resurrected from the new age branch of the eighties. It's just enough to set the band apart without slipping into the weirdness experienced in Terrible Tales From Tocqueville, a campy, cross-your-fingers-for-cult-cred that blends a spaghetti Western and stage musical with eighties new age highlights. Skip it until you're ready to love it or hate it.

Instead, cut to the bonus track on the bottom of the album. Not only does it feature Dale Crover, but the composition also comes across as a punk-spiked rocker that will adequately convince any listener that The Burning Of Rome, if nothing else, is a master at producing quirky goodness.

Year Of The Ox Burns Up 3.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While it won't be album of the year by any stretch, there is something oddly riveting about The Burning Of Rome and the vision that Traub and his bandmates want to convey. The album isn't necessarily going to capture your attention and give you something to relate it to, but it will transport your head someplace else for while. If they rein it in even further, expect great things in their future.

Year Of The Ox by The Burning Of Rome is available on Amazon. You can also download the album from iTunes or order Year Of The Ox by The Burning Of Rome from Barnes & Noble. For a current touring schedule, visit them on Facebook.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Wild Crush On Archie Bronson Outfit

Archie Bronson Outfit
There isn't anything glorious about the Archie Bronson Outfit. The London-based three (now four) piece has been playing a familiar set list since they met up in Bath in the 1990s. They just improve upon it.

After their smartly promising debut, Fur, put out by Domino ten years or so ago, Sam Windett (vocals, lead guitar), Dorian Hobday (bass, guitar) and Mark Cleveland (drums) followed it up with the exceptionally appointed Derdang Derdang. Both albums earned well deserved acclaim, but never seemed to find a stateside audience that would stick with them. By the time they put out a third, it seemed like the band had started over, slowly working their way up the college playlists again.

Four more years between albums finds them in the same curious position, except without Hobday. Aside from the 7-inch I Was A Dead Duck surprise last year, it's going to take another round of rediscovery to reunite the Archie Bronson Outfit with fans on this side of the pond. And there is plenty to rediscover, including Kristian "Kapital K" Robinson (keyboard) and Duke Garwood (sax).

Wild Crush is a gritty, no-good reintroduction from old friends.

After spacing out in the West Country for a couple years, the renewed Archie Bronson Outfit has twice the experience and half the polish of previous outings. They even have a cover that Windett and Cleveland originally laid down as part The Pyramids side project a few years ago. It lives again.

Don't expect that song on the 9-track album to draw in too much attention compared to the balance. We Are Floating is the big reunion piece. It's all about moving forward and, good or bad, it doesn't really matter. You already own it anyway.

Some might even think of the song as autobiographical, given Archie Bronson Outfit isn't as experimental as much as they have settled into capitalizing on big hooks, rumbling drums, and Windett's vocals in various degrees of distortion.

The biggest vocal distortion takes place in Two Doves On A Lake, which provides a thunderous open that could have only been made more enjoyable had the vocal distortion not put Windett under water. Long-time fans will probably forgive it and settle into the psych rock instrumental.

He sounds better on In White Relief, even if the composition feels more like a psych pop expression than the garage rock the Archie Bronson Outfit can put out without notice. Just don't expect to hear any of it in Love To Pin You Down, a croaky sax-backed bluesy drifter.

Lori From The Outer Reaches hits the mark as euphoric breath before trying to build back some momentum in Cluster Up And Hover. The track relies heavily on its rawness, accidental spontaneity, and strained vocals to set a new tone. Except, the track list never capitalizes on it. Glory, Sweat and Flow underwhelms. Swapping it with the raucous runaway Hunch Your Body, Love Somebody would have better served the album all around.

The underrated closer, Country Miles, brings the album to a smooth finish. It also completes the sentiment expressed in We Are Floating. In Country Miles, the band is at the end of the album, with no reason to look back unless you're ready to listen again from the beginning.

Wild Crush By Archie Bronson Outfit Ravages 7.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The Archie Bronson Outfit may not be the most polished psych band on the planet, but its this imperfection that makes them memorable. They frequently play right up to the edge of unraveling, but somehow manage to keep everything together despite it all. And that's the point. Wild Crush is about the search for salvation and finding it only after you finally let go.

You can find Wild Crush on Amazon or download the album from iTunes. Barnes & Noble carries Wild Crush by the Archie Bronson Outfit on vinyl. For the band' upcoming tour schedule, visit them on Facebook. Most planned shows are in Europe and the United Kingdom for now.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Sullivan Shakes Up A Hollow World

When Ellis Rogers is told that his idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is terminal, he decides to try the impossible. By making a modified version of a scientific theory written by German scientist Gustaf Hoffman and published in the 1930s, Rogers hopes he can travel into the future and find a cure.

There isn't anything to keep him in the present. Other than long-time friend Warren Eckard and wife Peggy, there isn't much holding Rogers to the present. After he and his wife lost their son, a devastating loss that left him shouldering the bulk of the blame, their 35 year of marriage had become largely unsalvageable. Most of the time, he took refuge in the garage where he tinkered.

His tinkering led to the construction of a time machine out of improbable materials. The seat was salvaged from their old Aerostar minivan and nothing much more than plastic milk crates outlined the perimeter of the machine, dictating what area would find its way into the far future.

Hollow World is a wildly speculative and fantastic read. 

The future that Rogers finds is much further ahead than he ever imagined. Humankind has taken refuge underground due to the peril of an environment that become increasingly hostile and often deadly.

The trade doesn't seem terribly bothersome. The advancements of artistic holograms, atom reorganization, and portal transportation has created a world where people want for nothing.

Except, this want for nothing isn't entirely true. Along with removing disease, undesirable emotions, and gender identity, genetic alteration has left humankind with only a handful of patterns that crave an individuality they left behind hundreds of years ago. And even the little bit that is left is in jeopardy. In an effort to wipe out misunderstandings, some citizens are working on the "hive mind" project that would link everyone together, indefinitely.

Rogers weighs on both the beauty and repugnance of this fanciful world, taking most of it in stride while simultaneously thrust into an anomaly. Despite genetic safeguards that make humans mostly docile, he stumbled into an uncommon crime scene to witness an impossibly rare murder.

His host, an attributor in a future where few disputes exist, teaches Rogers about things he never imagined to discover in the future — friendship, love, and loyalty. As touching as it is nostalgic, the story is a triumph with a flair for science ficiton noir.

A couple of graphs about Michael J. Sullivan. 

Hollow World was a novel that the author never meant to write, given that Sullivan already had a solid schedule with several chronicles and series. His debut series, The Riyria Revelations, has been translated into fourteen languages.

He started Hollow World as a short story for an anthology with a couple of known authors to anchor several new writers who had been selected from contest submissions. Once finished, he knew the story he really wanted to write was a novel and not a short despite it being a genre-crossing piece that detracts from his epic fantasy cred. It was for this reason Sullivan decided to self-publish with a little help from Kickstarter. The work was so well received, he found a publisher too.

Hollow World By Michael J. Sullivan Opens 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Michael J. Sullivan has his own interesting story in that his work never found traction until the day he decided not to write for commercial success but rather his daughter. As soon as he started writing for her and a few friends rather than the market, Sullivan found his muse. It wasn't until the third book that his wife compelled him to write.

In many ways, Sullivan finds this magic again in Hollow World because it too is a labor of love rather than a book with market success in mind. You can find Hollow World on Amazon or download it for iBooks. The audio version can be found on iTunes, perfectly narrated by Jonathan Davis. You can also find Hollow World by Michael J. Sullivan at Barnes & Noble. To learn more about the author, visit him on his blog.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

There Is Always Space For A Massacre

The Brian Jonestown Massacre
Once upon a time, The Brian Jonestown Massacre was more or less thought of as the furthest fringe of indie-psych rock. Today it plays more like an institution, a band to be revered despite its ability to attract two audiences — those who know why they like them and those who think they should like them.

The difference between the clashing audience is telling, even if the why is written all over Revelation and all of the other albums the band has put out since 1993. Even after fourteen albums, the band has managed to maintain an exhausting effortlessness that is amazing to listen to while ensuring a revolving door of members and guests for the better part of two decades.

It's almost a wonder that Ricky Maymi (guitar) eventually made his way back to play with founders and permanent cast members Anton Newcombe (everything) and Matt Hollywood (guitar, vocals). Most members and guests feel comfortable paying homage in smaller installments.

Even this time, the album's opener brings in Joachim Alhund (vocals) to sing the appropriately titled Vad Hande Med Dem? He sounds perfect against the relentless riff that feels equally fresh and throwback. It's addictive, like much the 13-track brilliance showcased in this album.

Revelation effortlessly turns heads counterclockwise. 

The opener blends right into What You Isn't, a droning psychedelic rocker that the band put out earlier to well-deserved critical acclaim. Some fans even called it the best sampling from The Brian Jonestown Massacre. I wouldn't go that far, but Newcombe is welcome to prove me wrong.

The track takes a familiar slow path to earn attention and easily gets under the skin while it does. The next track, Unknown, does much the same in about a third of the time. Everything about it feels right.

This is pretty much how the rest of the album rolls. It takes less than three tracks to know that this the right lineup — Newcombe, Hollywood, Maymi, Frankie Emerson (guitar), Rob Campanella (keys), Dan Allaire (drums), and Collin Hegna (bass). They all follow Newcombe's lead in making it happen.

"I try and submerge myself in whatever I am doing, wether it's listening to music or making music so they are not related," he told the Austin Psyche Fest. "I also isolate myself from much of what's going on in the world with other people and I like it that way. I mean, I even went so far as to move to Berlin, a city in a country where I don’t speak the language or have many friends..."

Memory Cap is eerily dreamy in precisely this way. It proves once again how addictive Newcombe is as a songwriter, with a unique ability to capture the essence of a thought and stretch it out until the texture of it invites your mind to wander as it gets lost in the sound.

Some critics won't have much to say about it, but it's every bit a brilliant as any album even if it is not the most brilliant (fans know what album receives that distinct honor). In an era where many bands are lining up to try to hard, The Brian Jonestown Massacre still boils all it down into something grand.

Rather than play the entire album in order, check out Days, Weeks And Months; Xibalba; Goodbye (Butterfly); and Nightbird mixed in with the first four tracks. Then circle back to the balance that break a bit more from the overall tone and offer up a dash of desperate and dazzling experimentation (especially the underrated Second Sighting).

Revelation By The Brian Jonestown Massacre Turns Over 9.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

There are many ways to serve up The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Revelation is easily welcomed as one of the newest. Expect some people to shy away from the band because of its cult status. It's their loss as their status is clearly earned on this album.

You can find Revelation by The Brian Jonestown Massacre on Amazon or download it from iTunes. You can also order the Revelation from Barnes & Noble. If you want to know more about their schedule, head over their website and listen to the music loops for as long as you stay there.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Ryan Joseph Anderson Sweeps A Debut

Ryan Joseph Anderson
Former frontman of the Chicago-based garage rock band Go Long Mule recently relocated to Nashville to record and release and his solo debut The Weaver's Broom. What happened next surprised even him.

"I had planned to make a very stripped-back record," said Ryan Joseph Anderson. "With the help of engineer/co-producer Andrija Tokic, drummer Dave Racine, multi-instrumentalist Jon Estes, and vocalist Jen Donahue, the songs quickly took new shape in the studio."

Anderson had written all the songs over the past year on his acoustic guitar and piano. But as he worked on them with Tokic (Alabama Shakes, Clear Plastic Masks) at the Bomb Shelter studio in Nashville, it became clear that the eclectic singer-songwriter was onto something with a much bigger sound.

The Weaver's Broom is a stunning surprise debut. 

With elements of Southern rock, country, folk, and a hint of blues, Anderson has captured a harmonic mix of soul-searched music. Some people will notice the new album features the open tunings of Nick Drake and empathic broodiness of Tom Waits's quieter moments.

The richness of the compositions immediately draw you into the music while the delivery locks in your attention and waits for something to happen. Anderson rarely disappoints in doing so, creating an assortments of confessionals, contemplative Southern folk stories, and occasional boot worn ballroom track.

The first video released from the album, Fortune And Fate, is a choppy stop-motion storyline created by Anderson along with his girlfriend and artist Jen Donahue (who also sings on the album). The stop-motion artwork tells the story in a diorama-like presentation and reinforces the morbidness of the song with nothing more than massive amounts of construction paper, glue, and Popsicle sticks.

Like many of his songs on the album, Anderson wanted to get out of his comfort zone. With most members of Go Long Mule pursuing other projects, it seemed like the right time to go out alone.

Fortune And Fate only represents one thread in a much larger musical tapestry created by Anderson. Crooked Heart, which opens the album, sets a cold and considerate mood. It's a folk song at heart, but with country overtones as its soul.

Weep Caroline is a much more predictable as a slow burn country slow dance song. It coveys Anderson's unique ability to deliver up sorrow and warmth at the same time. The lyrics are powerfully sad, but he sings them with such conviction that it is easy to feel redemption for it.

Jericho has a quicker, more upbeat tempo as he breaks into some solid, albeit moody storytelling. The track carries with it a remarkable stillness that he abandons in the next track. Wandering Apparition, much like When The Bees Went Mad, attempts to bounce his natural broodiness into ballroom scoots.

Both songs work for what they are even if they never quite capture the unsettling stillness of his slower and softer pieces. Before The War, The Weaver's Broom, and Mission Bell all carry his ability to transport his audience away from wherever they are into the outback, hills, and wildness. The music is reminiscent of a rural rain shower, somewhere far off from the trappings of the city.

The Weaver's Broom Is An Anderson Sweep At 5.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

All in all, The Weaver's Broom goes a long way in establishing Anderson as a brilliant singer-songwriter with a long solo career ahead of himself.

You can find The Weaver's Broom by Ryan Joseph Andersen on Amazon or download tracks from iTunes. Most of Anderson's shows are booked throughout the Midwest into July, but there is a good chance he will  expand his schedule deep into the summer. His upcoming tour dates are posted on Facebook.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Greenleaf Plays On Trails And Passes

Former Swedish sideproject Greenleaf is back with more righteous rock and roll on their newest album Trails & Passes. The new nine-track album falls well within the band's comfort zone with its consistent heavy groove and always satisfying rumble.

Even with the addition of Arvid Jonsson (vocals) and Sebastian Olsson (drums), Dozer veterans Tommi Holappa (guitar) and Bengt B├Ącke (bass) drive the familiar formula that has preserved what started as a Dozer side project into what Holappa now considers his primary band (with Dozer becoming a side project). Greenleaf never misses a beat in establishing what this band is about.

The opener Our Mother Ash does it for them. It immediately opens with a percussion-driven beat offset by thunderous riffs. It sets the pace and tone of album, alluding to a presence that deserves to be bowed down to upon arrival. "Dreams will fall, hit on the ground."

Trails & Passes leads to some beautifully strange destinations.

The second track is even better, with its full-throttle classic rock swagger. The melody and crunchy bass work lay down the foundation for tightly formed solos. Heavy rock doesn't get much better.

At more than five minutes, it isn't hard to find dozens of natural openings for the band to break away from their pages and pound out a few jam session styled solos during any live set. As is, Ocean Deep is everything heavy rock can be, densely beautiful with measured amounts of quickly repetitive and wildly individualized intensity. It's arguably the finest track on the album and keeps good company.

Equators follows with a steady driving beat accented by some power blues, bass, and cowbell. The composition is classic: a rolling midrange punctuated by intense drum work and occasional guitar bursts. Depth Of The Sun loads up on a haunting open before a meandering odyessey-infused fable. Humans rounds out the top half of the album and provides a smoky breath before one final build.

Humans also makes for great lead into the experimental open of With Eyes Wide Open. The epic 8-minute heavy brooder drones on through much of the composition, opening up much later (maybe too late) shortly after the four-minute mark. The change in tempo is welcome, even if the band never finds any real urgency for it. The Drum comes across as a stark and welcome contrast, quickly playing itself out in just over two minutes. Get that one.

The album closes out on Bound To Be Machines and Trails & Passes. The former fills up on the Greenleaf  formula while the title track brings Trails & Passes to its natural conclusion. The vocals aren't as strong on Trails & Passes as they could be, but the instrumental work makes up for it with the band finally finding some urgency to close out the album.

Trails & Passes By Greenleaf Rocks 6.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Trails & Passes is an album with peaks and valleys, making it possible to stick with some of the highlights alone. Must-have tracks include Ocean Deep and The Drum. The balance largely depends on individual tastes, with Equators, Depth Of The Sun, and Trails & Passes likely rounding out mine.

Trails & Passes can be picked up from Amazon or downloaded from iTunes. You can also order the Trails & Passes by Greenleaf CD from Barnes & Noble. The band is currently touring in northern Europe. Their tour schedule is listed on Facebook.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Cloud Seeding Mixes Wilding And Serra

Alexa Wilding by Sonja Georgevich
Guitarist Kevin Serra has always taken the road less traveled. He helped found the gothic-ethereal band This Ascension under the early private label Tess Records in the late 1980s. He then moved to New York City to study guitar with Richard Lloyd of the NYC band Television. And then he started the indie review site Kevcino just so he could drop an occasional review in between side projects.

One of his best known projects is Cloud Seeding, a collaborative singles collection that he conceived to showcase vocalists he admires. There aren't many singles in the collection, but those he has put out since 2011 have been well received. They include Kris English, Nadine Carina, Greg Hatem, and Marissa Nadler, who just recently released her sixth solo album July (give Was It A Dream a listen).

Nadler, in fact, was the first he recorded and released. The pair had met through Kevcino when Nadler was living in Brooklyn and still going through some considerable life changes. He was always supportive of her music and she was glad to have him as a friend in an otherwise lonely city.

Mirage brings the Alexa Wilding collaboration into the fold. 

Serra was initially introduced to Alexa Wilding through her darkly visual videos Black Diamond Sky from her debut and Knife from Coral Dust. Sometimes described as a neo-Stevie Nicks, Wilding is a distinctive singer-songwriter who had recently taken a break for the birth of her twins.

When Serra asked her about working together, she was anxious to get started. In addition to the lyrics, Wilding asked her long-time engineer, Murray Trider at Ground Control Studios in South Williamburg, to mix and master it. Her bandmate, Jared Barron, also added percussion to the track.

"I was immediately drawn to Kevin's music," Wilding says, "the skeletal instrumentals he sent me reminded me of Hal Hartley's soundtracks, only grittier. They had a dark and cinematic nostalgia to them that got me writing right away."

The track, Mirage, showcases Wilding one off from her solo albums, lending something infinitely more spacious to her sound. She says it pushed her sonically, which has always been part of the project's vision.

In this case, she says it all came together as a road song of sorts, with Serra lending an atmospheric Western ramble to an otherwise sharp and airy alternative pop-rock composition. It makes an excellent stopover for the talented noir-folk singer and new mother.

Along with Mirage, Cloud Seeding has a growing singles catalog worth checking out. While the project was somewhat slow to start, a new partnership with Bleek Records promises to help Serra cut new ground. Several of the artists that have collaborated with him are signed with Bleek Records.

A couple more graphs about other Cloud Seeding releases.

A few standouts include Serra's recent work with Chicago-based Kris English to produce RaVe, the brilliantly spacey slow rocker The Light with Leeds-based Nadine Carina, and the oddly cryptic Newer Testament with Greg Hatem. He also produced two singles with Nadler, who largely seems to have been partially responsible for inspiring the project. She did her work impromptu.

Another track, although impossibly harder to find is Three, which Serra recorded with Sara Syms. According to Bleek Records, the psychedelic track (the B-side to the instrumental Tryptofin) was included on the Book One compilation released by the Otherworldly Mystics cassette label in the summer of 2013.

Mirage By Cloud Seeding Vanishes At 6.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

As one of the strongest additions to the Cloud Seeding collection, Mirage makes a compelling case to open up the back catalog and sample everything again. While the collaborations have been generally too far and few between, news that Serra has already lined up more artists seems very promising for the collection to earn some well-deserved attention.

You can find Mirage by Cloud Seeding on iTunes. Mirage (feat. Alexa Wilding) is also on Amazon. You can find project updates from time to time on the Cloud Seeding Facebook page. Several tracks have video teasers of the work. You can also hear Trytofin here (but not Three).

Friday, May 9, 2014

Morning Parade Puts Out Pure Joy

Steve Sparrow, Morning Parade
When Steve Sparrow (lead vocals, piano, guitar) and Phil Titus (bass) met at the Burnt Mill Academy in Harlow, they quickly became friends and later coworkers. But even so, the lineup of what would eventually become Morning Parade was some ways off.

It wasn't until 2003 that they met Chad Thomas (guitar) at Harlow College to form a short-lived 5-piece band called Anotherstory that broke up in 2007. For many musicians that might have been it, but Sparrow kept on producing acoustics and playing around Harlow until meeting Andy Hayes (drums) and Ben Giddings (piano/synths) to round out a new 5-piece called Morning Parade.

Despite the right lineup and growing playlist, Morning Parade seemed destined to take the long road. They rebuffed early offers by record labels until Parlophone signed them in 2010. Within a few months, they were touring with The Wombats and Smashing Pumpkins. And now?

Pure Adulterated Joy is a smashing sophomore album.

Although Morning Parade is only slowly lining up venues as part of its whirlwind U.S. tour for Pure Adulterated Joy, expect this to change as the album earns more play time. The first track from the 10-pack album has already earned high marks and an iTunes track of the week on its initial release.

The track, Alienation, is is a lyrical thunderstorm that aims at redefining life with a less hectic schedule. The value of it isn't being busy, but experiencing every little thing that adds to it.

If you have a chance, give the acoustic version a listen too. It's not on the album but the video version is easy enough to find. They released an off-album video version of Reality Dream too. On both occasions, the alternative arrangement allows the melody and lyrics to strip away the alternative rock presentation and reveal folk compositions that have become Sparrow's calling card for years.

Reality Dream is about being happy with who you are and what you have instead attempting to capture manmade measures of success. It works equally well as a synth-driven rocker or folk hero.

Culture Vulture makes a similar connection to the band's recasting life theme, this time without medication, exploration, or excessive consumption that only adds to society's ever-mounting anxiety. In some ways, it feels very much like nineties grunge but with a much more buoyant presentation.

It's an interesting twist given that many critics dismissed their debut as "too marketable." Here the band seems to be taking aim at the mass media formula (while never giving up their own ambitions to some day play stadiums). It's clear they've hit a sweet spot between relevant and radio friendly.

Other standout tracks include the straightforward opener Shake The Cage, the band showcase Car Alarms & Sleepless Nights, and underrated atmospheric anti-ballad Seasick. Meanwhile, Autoinjector and Love Thy Neighbour give up more of the band's rock and roll underbelly while adding some much needed diversity to their music.

Pure Adulterated Joy By Morning Parade Bangs Away 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

All told, Pure Adulterated Joy provides the right one-two for a band that has been around longer than its two albums suggest. They know what they are doing and have obviously stumbled on the right way to compose thoughtful songs with a big stadium-sized sound. Turn it up one or two.

Pure Adulterated Joy by Morning Parade can be found on Amazon or downloaded from iTunes. You can also order Pure Adulterated Joy from Barnes & Noble. For tour information, check Facebook. The album was produced by Ben Allen (Animal Collective).

Thursday, May 8, 2014

McHugh Measures The Weight Of Blood

Weight Of Blood
Some people who disappear near the tight-knit town of Henbane are never seen again. And some people who disappear are later found murdered, their bodies put on display for all to see as warning. Few second guess why it might happen. Nobody wants to ask uncomfortable questions.

There is a different kind of justice that plays out in the Ozark Mountains. People keep to themselves and expect everyone on the outside to respect it, except Lucy Dane. She was raised in Henbane too, but most people still saw her as an outsider like her mother who disappeared almost two decades ago.

The Weight Of Blood unravels scores of small town secrets. 

When Lucy Dane finds a necklace that belonged to her disappeared friend Cheri Stoddard, she vows to find out what happened despite neighbors warning her away from digging too deep. It's obvious to them it was an outsider. Henbane had its customs.

People who disappeared were generally fed to hogs or buried in the woods or dropped in an empty well. They weren't kept hidden away somewhere for almost a year and then set out for display. Things like that just didn't happen, not even in a town as dysfunctional as their town.

It was much more common for people to simply vanish, making it easier for everyone to imagine that they had skipped town or ran off or somehow got lost in the thick and wild woods on their own. In fact, that is what most folks thought about Dane's mother.

As the story was told, Lila had wandered into a cave with a shotgun and never returned. It was absurd, of course, but the alternatives never seemed plausible until Cheri turned up. The idea that Lucy's father or someone else in town could have killed her mother outright was almost too hard to fathom.

The story smolders along like a slow burning fuse.

The idea is not too hard to fathom for anyone reading the story. Author Laura McHugh mostly alternates the telling between Lucy and Lila, giving readers some insight into what happened.

As Lucy learns how both disappearances might be connected in the present, Lila unintentionally comes between the two Dane brothers — her employer Crete Dane and his gentler brother Carl Dane — in the past. Both brothers have an interest in her, but one of them has much darker ambitions than the other. It was the reason she was hired in the first place.

A few more graphs about author Laura McHugh. 

Laura McHugh
While the town of Henbane is fictitious, much of its surroundings are authentic. A game ranch, commune, and militia camp mentioned in the novel were all real places. The general store, although now long since gone, is drawn from the author's memory too.

Even Cheri Stoddard is based on actual kidnapping case. The real-life victim survived but endured much worse. And it is this very thought — that things so sinister and terrible can happen in plain sight where you live— that catapults the story along.

Born in Iowa before moving the the Ozarks, McHugh always dreamed of being a writer before deciding to find more stable work despite her degree in English with an emphasis in creative writing from Truman State University. She worked as a software developer until she was laid off. With encouragement from her husband, she started writing again while their two daughters were at school.

The Weight Of Blood By Laura McHugh Spooks 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

While not as brutal, McHugh joins author Daniel Woodrell in painting a stark portrait of the Missouri Ozarks, where familiarity breeds its own sense of gritty civility and country justice. The people who live there place added weight on what it means to be family or part of a community. The lifestyle may be hard, but folks tend to look after their own — even when their own have crossed criminal lines.

The Weight Of Blood by Laura McHugh can be found on Amazon or downloaded for iBooks. The Weight Of Blood can also be ordered from Barnes & Noble. The audiobook is narrated by Dorothy Dillingham Blue, Shannon McManus, and Sofia Willingham. They bring life more than bleakness to the bubonic landscape beyond the arm of the law.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Old 97s Are Most Messed Up

Old 97s
After 20 years in music, the Old 97's say they know a few things about being messed up. Enough so, it seems, that the subject matter of this experience has finally become album material. Most Messed Up is all about bad decisions, bad behavior, and not treating yourself or other people so well.

It's also their raucous, boozy best as a 20th anniversary (or so) album, with some of their sharpest songwriting from beginning to end. Most of the tracks center on shrugging off everything wrong with the world and getting drunk or getting it on instead. It's all in good fun, even if the bandmates admit there is a dark side to it.

Most Messed Up is all of that and more. 

Although mostly known as pioneers of the alternative country movement out of Dallas, the Old 97's have picked up more folk rock leanings over the last few years. Led by frontman Rhett Miller, who has simultaneously nurtured a solo country career, the band has never sounded more accessible.

"It's such a reality of life, the question of how bad is drinking and how much horrible stuff in our lives, you know, is it responsible for," said Miller. "I wanted to grapple with that question, and it's something I wonder about in my own life. I feel like I'm on the right side of the line, but maybe a lot of people that aren't on the right side of the line would say that."

Band members Murry Hammond (bass), Ken Bethea (guitar), and Philip Peeples (drums) are all inclined to agree. Tommy Stinson (Replacements) and Jon Rauhouse (Neko Case, Jakob Dylan) might too. They lent some guitar work and lap steel respectively.

The album opens with We've Been Doing This Longer Than You've Been Alive, which extolls and exposes their career as road musicians. There is a feeling of considerable wear and tear on the band members as they inch their way into middle age.

It covers the best, worst, excitement and boredom of it all. But what makes it brilliant is how apparent it is that Miller wouldn't trade any of it, not even for a minute. And he conveys that condition with one of the rawest albums ever put out by the band.

The balance of the album, including a few standouts.

All dozen tracks are well worth the download. Standouts include the unabashed directness and self-loathing alluded to in Let's Get Drunk And Get It On, the youthful exurberance of the barroom folk ditty This Is The Ballad, and the rock and roll swagger of The Ex Of All You See.

But along with those, give a listen to the brutally honest country rocker Wasted and barn burner track Nashville that opens with Miller leaving his wife and his old life for nothing more than the road. Like many of the tracks, it succeeds in sounding punk as much as alternative country rock, without too much overthinking or meticulous editing.

Even Intervention reinforces the idea that there is still some hope to be had after a lifetime of drinking and bad decisions. The fact you can chant that along with them from a barstool makes the whole of Most Messed Up all the more appealing. Somehow the Old 97's make it all sound fun and worrisome at the same time. They regret their choices but celebrate surviving them anyway.

Most Messed Up By The Old 97'S Rollicks 9.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While some fans might not like to think of this as the band's best album, there is something about it that immediately clicks as a classic best played live on the smallest stage possible. Even the track Wheels Off has a beautifully unbalanced bounce to it that fits well within an alternative rock catalog.

You can find Most Messed Up [+digital booklet] by the Old 97's on Amazon or download it from iTunes. The album, Most Messed Up by the Old 97's, is also on Barnes & Noble. The Old 97's are touring the West Coast before heading east. Check their current schedule on Facebook.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Blue Ruin Is A Darkly Entertaining Film

Blue Ruin
Blue Ruin comes across as a classic American revenge story, but the stripped-down and smartly produced script satisfies contemporary appetites. It is also one of the finest indie flicks that will be released this year, propelled by a well-told slow-burn story and several breakout performances.

The most memorable aspect of the film isn't in the revenge or the bloodshed spilled in its telling. It comes from the steady transformation of a down-and-out vagabond into an inexperienced and reluctant killer and then again into a clear-headed peacemaker who wants the senselessness to end.

Writer-director Jeremy Saulnier creates an intensely suspenseful yarn with a patient reveal of why his unassuming homeless protagonist has dropped out from society. As his portrait begins to crystalize during a series of happenstance events, so does the the outlook of the audience.

Blue Ruin is a portrait of a modern tragedy.

The film opens by establishing the protagonist. Dwight (Macon Blair) as a vagrant who breaks into homes to shower, dives for food in boardwalk Dumpsters, and sleeps in a broken down car on a beach. His existence, however, is surprisingly self-selected.

When local law enforcement informs him that Carl Cleland (Brent Werzner), a man from his past, is being released from prison, Dwight conveys a desperate urgency to leave town. After producing a hidden car battery and small stash of cash, he heads toward the prison where Cleland will be released.

After watching a reunion between Cleland and two more family members, Dwight follows them to roadhouse saloon where he hopes to even the score. What happens next sets up the rest of the film.

The Cleland family, well-known for living outside the law, attempts to turn the tables on Dwight by transforming a personal fight into a family feud where everyone with similar bloodlines is fair game. And while the more obvious mechanism is the cautionary tale that revives Gandhi's warning that "an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind," Saulnier weaves in subplots that touch on friendship, family, and how our perception and reality cannot always be so easily reconciled.

Aside from the story, the cast helps make the film feel iconic. Blair seems like an unlikely lead on the surface, but his portrayal is near perfect by creating a character who is slightly unstable, obviously intelligent, and equally out of his depth. His performance has effectively rebooted his career.

Another short but sharp outstanding performance comes from Dwight's friend Den Gaffney (Devin Ratray), who is better equipped but less enduring to do the job. And while the antagonists are generally portrayed as stereotypical rednecks, Teddy (Kevin Kolak), Carl (Brent Werzner), Hope (Stacey Rock), and William (David Thompson) all contrast perfectly with Dwight and his sister (Amy Hargreaves). Eve Plumb also deserves a nod for her surprise appearance as the Cleland matriarch.

A few more graphs about writer-director Jeremy Sauliner.

 Jeremy Sauliner
Much in the same way, Saulnier had hoped to do the same. He has worked in film for years, but the majority of his work had been stuck inside the corporate world. Even this time out, he was en route to making a corporate video in Cleveland when he learned Blue Ruin had been accepted to the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

It was the first film he had completed since his scrappy horror satire Murder Party in 2007. As such, Sauliner (and Blair) both considered this film to be a swan song — meaning: either the film would reboot their careers or they would reboot their dreams.

Blue Ruin By Jeremy Sauliner Shoots 8.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Saulnier relied on financing from his wife's retirement fund, his own American Express card, and a last-minute Kickstarter campaign. He and Blair also relied on friends and family for shooting locations to keep everything on the cheap. But you would never know it watching the film.

The esoteric film is a revenge movie in appearance, tragedy at its heart, and darkly comic in its presentation. You can rent or buy Blue Ruin from from iTunes or catch Blue Ruin [HD] on Amazon. Blue Ruin is what you want an indie film to be. The film has a Facebook page.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Erica Jong Still Has A Fear Of Flying

Fear Of Flying by Erica Jong
Originally published in 1973 by Holt, Reinhardt and Winston, Fear Of Flying by Erica Jong was the right book at the right time. It became more than the best-selling story of Isadora Wing. It became a beacon in an era struggling to find a new way of thinking about gender, sexuality, and liberty in society.

Within the context of that era, the novel becomes an iconic tale of self-discovery, liberation, and womanhood in that it dispelled old stereotypes while granting women permission to be as exuberant about their sex as they might be about their globetrotting adventures. For some, it would even help them find their own voices rather than submit to the one society had fashioned for them.

Fear Of Flying is the tale of a hilarious anti-heroine.

At the heart of it, Fear Of Flying is about a 29-year-old poet and her decision to trade away her husband for an uninhibited Laingain analyst named Adrian Goodlove. The two of them, Wing and Goodlove, originally meet at a psychology conference where Wing has trouble with her registration.

Despite working on an article for Voyeur magazine, she doesn't have the right credentials. Goodlove promises to help her out, but it's also very clear that he isn't talking exclusively about the conference. She is delighted by his advances, enough so that she (somewhat reluctantly) gives in to her desire to have brief and anonymous encounter with another man, which she concisely describes as zipless.

Except, Goodlove doesn't turn out to be the zipless encounter she had in mind. She follows him around like a pet for 28 days, making more discriminating critics wonder whether she may have had more liberty before she cast off her husband for the man she hoped could provide for her happiness.

And therein lies the real problem with the novel. While most people consider the sexual frankness to be the polarizing aspect of the book, the real culprit is that Wing wants to break with society and not her individual circumstance. The frank sexuality within the story merely masks this fact.

In many cases, you can see the split in reader reviews. Women who are less comfortable with their own sexuality tend to rate it much higher than those already liberated (and wonder why Wing doesn't provide for her own happiness). While these is nothing wrong with this, it does prove that the novel isn't nearly as timeless as it once hoped to be. The context of the era in which is was published is lost.

In more ways than one, Wing is very much a female counterpart to John Updike's Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, except Angstorm doesn't have it nearly as good. Wing is never obliged to suffer real consequences after attempting to fill an emptiness within her life with an affair.

Ironically, it is her lack of suffering enamored many people, Updike included. Wing was very likely one of the first female protagonists bold enough to explore her sexuality without the repercussion of death. Too bad the power of this uniqueness feels diminished in a world that has long since moved beyond it.

A couple more graphs about Erica Jong. 

Erica Jong
Despite its shortcomings that prevent it from being truly timeless as much as a snapshot of the times, Fear Of Flying was still a breakout debut for a young Barnard College English literate graduate. There is no doubt that she addressed the conflicts experienced by women in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

While not autobiographical, Jong also successfully blurs the lines between fiction and autobiography. She borrowed much of it from her eccentric upbringing and her own flawed marriages. Her debut and continued authenticity in talking about her life — anything and everything from her chronic fear of failure to sexual experimentation — can be heralded for her sheer tenacity if not literary talent.

Fear Of Flying By Erica Jong Takes Off 3.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Much like Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs but unlike Rabbit Run by John Updike, Fear Of Flying struggles to remain relevant when out of the era in which was it written. So while Jong broke the mold for women writers to use language typically thought unladylike, it sometimes seems that her action as a writer remains more important than the actual writing.

Fear of Flying can be found on Amazon. You can also download the novel from iBooks or order Fear Of Flying by Erica Jong by Barnes & Noble. The novel is still worth sharing with some, provided they always keep the context of the era in mind. The novel tends not to, even when its helped along by narrator Hope Davis as an audiobook.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Pink Mountaintops Get McBean Back

Stephen McBean
There have always been two sides to Stephen McBean. There is his psychedelic rock side with Black Mountain. And then there is his hypnotic lo-fi collaborative solo work with Pink Mountaintops.

The music might be different, but the consensus is the same. McBean does some dynamite stuff with sound. Get Back is an especially spirited post-punk eighties rock outing that becomes increasingly messy and addictive as it progresses.

Noisily nostalgic and classically anthemic. 

Whereas Pink Mountaintops sometimes comes across as a cast-off side project, Get Back is different. It is a formidable album, one that eclipses anything he has done in terms of electricity. It doesn't hurt that McBean has assembled an equally electric slate of guests to pull it off.

Just a handful of rotating names include J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.), Rob Barbato (The Fall), Steve Kille (Dead Meadow), Daniel Allaire (Brian Jonestown Massacre), and Gregg Foreman (Cat Power). In the studio, he recruited Randal Dunn to mix it and Howie Weinburg to master it.

The result is an off-center and cantankerous exploration, opening with the shred-heavy Ambulance City. The music feels even more unsettling while watching the video directed by Oilvia Jaffe.

Mostly, Ambulance City is a near nonsense lyrical time warp that would fit nicely in any modern reprisal of Dr. Frank-N-Furter. The video was also the second released after the lukewarm reception of the grossly underrated North Hollywood Microwaves, mostly because of the exploitive second half.

Sure, Annie Hardy belts out enough lyrical filth to make Williams S. Burroughs blush against the backdrop of saxophone dips and guitar wags. Some critics argue it would have been better served clipped. Musically, probably. Artistically, not so much. It's meant to be a wreck. Mission accomplished.

Less overt is the VHS saturated The Second Summer Of Love, where McBean wonders how he could have survived all those glorious moments as a kid growing up in the eighties. And yet, he not only misses it but also wonders whether youth today even know what they are missing.

McBean channels the music of his youth Through All The Worry, which breaks down what the album is really about. It's about realizing you can't get the years back that you lost, and the irony that no one even appreciates those golden years when they are living them right now.

And while that might be the sentiment, but McBean does bring back those years musically, even if he reimagines it through the imperfect lens of his memory. Still, in listening to the album several times, he doesn't really tell it all through the lens of a 45-year-old looking back in time. Much of the the metaphors are made with a teen-like zeal.

Other standouts to listen to include the rustic and insistent Wheels, the lazy lounge lament Sell Your Soul, and the sixties-revue-through-an-eighties-lens sound of Sixteen. Combined, McBean masters why rock is entirely impossible to define because it rolls along with the times.

Get Back By Pink Mountaintops Climbs 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Whether you consider it a second adolescence or a middle-age grab at the past, there is something immediately classic about Get Back in the way it gives a nod to nostalgia while being entirely free spirited in how those nods are made for today. At times, Get Back is frightfully familiar while obviously repurposed for today.

You can find Get Back by Pink Mountaintops on Amazon or download the album from iTunes. The LP, Get Back by Pink Mountaintops, is also available on Barnes & Noble. The band is currently touring and its schedule is listed on Facebook. Maybe what makes it all work is that McBean found inspiration when Joe Cardamone told him to sing it all like he was 21.