Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Smashing Pumpkins Return To Adore

Smashing Pumpkins
With the departure of drummer Jimmy Chamberlin in 1998, Smashing Pumpkins had an opportunity to reinvent themselves all over again. The release of Adore simultaneously did and didn't do this. The band has certainly matured, but there is no mistaking the sound of 1979 again.

Mostly, Adore was an especially hushed album that captured the interpersonal problems and musical uncertainty of the band. It was the Smashing Pumpkins as they were falling apart, which is why it will take hours to devour and decipher as a massive super deluxe reissue that expands the original 16-track album into a monster release with mono versions, demos, outtakes, bonus tracks, and live sessions. The effort is remarkably dizzying if you sit down to listen in a single sitting (maybe even more so if you don't).

The Adore reissue takes fans back and finds some new ones too. 

Adore was originally released in the late nineties as a contemporary art rock album that explored a new depth for the band. But what makes the reissue feel different is that it fits the modern calamity of what music has become even more than it did almost decades ago. Fans felt alienated by it then, never realizing that they might feel the way Billy Corgan did then the way they do today.

Lovesick and intimate, there is a duality inside the album in that Corgan wanted outgrow his audience even if most wouldn't appreciate it until they, too, were older. In retrospect, he didn't even have much choice. The death of a supporting musician, firing of a musical soul mate, bust up of a marriage, and loss of his mother was a nearly insurmountable affair. He felt grown up or, at least, wanted to open a new chapter.

Opening with To Sheila, Corgan wasted no time establishing what kind of album Adore was going to be. The acoustic-paino ballad is steeped in sadness despite not being as dark as the rest of the album. In many ways, it captures that moment after reeling from an unexpected punch but before your mind has truly caught up with the shock of it.

After the opener, the album breaks into Ava Adore and Perfect, which are two of the most fan-tred tracks on the album. Ava Adore drips with darkness. Perfect is a splash of brightness. The contrast between the two tracks is obvious, breaking between menacing near-techno and alternative indie pop.

Other standouts include the meandering vocal-focused Crestfallen, the stomp-beat Apples+Oranges, the heartfelt tribute of For Martha, and the masterful Blank Page. And while these tracks round out the original release, the reissue only gets started, recutting the entire album in mono. But the real meat after the original tracks is discoverable in several b-sides and dust ups.

Listening to the Adore reissue can be galvanizing, especially when you come to realize that tracks like My Mistake and Blissed And Gone are not merely b-side reissues but rather brilliant demo versions that trade out the piano for grunge-laiden acoustic. It makes what many consider the most intimate Smashing Pumpkins album even more personal, creating an array of living room and bedroom cuts. Later down the line, Corgan gives up some interesting string mix-ins, like a banjo.

In consideration of the various reissues — including Gish, Siamese Dream, and Mellon Collie — Adore is proving to be the most interesting in that it is being revived not as the great departure many fans took it to be, but rather a haunting moment in time told through not 17 but 107 tracks that feel like six different albums. Any of them might produce a favorite cut or something all together unique, ranging from grand live embellishments to outtakes that might have been.

The Adore Reissue Is An Amazing Trip At 8.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

All in all, what makes the Adore reissue so interesting is that it is an album made during the death throes of a band and perhaps, more directly, Corgan himself. Somehow he managed to push back against the temptation to throw in the towel and made one last push at the end of amazing ascent. And if nothing else, you will never see Adore the same way again — doubly so as Corgan has once again said he might split up Smashing Pumpkins after two planned albums in 2015.

You can find Adore (Super Deluxe) on Amazon. It is also featured as a download on iTunes. A higher-priced special edition CD/DVD of Adore by the Smashing Pumpkins is available at Barnes & Noble. For more about the Smashing Pumpkins, visit Facebook.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Tim Weaver Is Never Coming Back

Never Coming Back by Tim Weaver
For the first time since his near-death experience, David Raker succumbs to his better judgment and decides to take a case. His former girlfriend has a problem, one that brushes up against his specialty.

Her sister disappeared without a trace, along with her entire family. The door was left unlocked. Their personal effects were left behind. Dinner was still cooking, burnt, with the only thing left out of place confined to a carton of milk dropped to the floor in front of a refrigerator that stood open and running.

Raker, an investigative journalist turned private investigator, had meant to return home to recover after a near fatal stabbing. But after Emily Kane pays him an unexpected visit, he trades in recovery to investigate an odd and unexplained disappearance that occurred almost a year prior.

Never Coming Back is a dark, gritty, and stodgy crime thriller.

After Kane shares her account of discovering her sister, brother-in-law, and two nieces missing despite everything being left "in place" as opposed to out of place. Immediately after her discovery, she called the police and filed a missing persons report at the station.

The police did come out, but they didn't find anything. There was nothing to be found — not in the home or on their computers and phones. And without any leads, the police eventually filed it away.

Raker, undeterred and invigorated by the prospect of having a purpose again, begins to ask questions. He knew well enough why people usually go missing. Many don't want to be found.

Never Coming Back
Raker gets a jump on the case by rehashing it with Kane, ferrying out which officers managed the investigations, any suspects that may have been questioned, and other addresses and details. It isn't long before he discovers evidence of a sinister cover-up, decades in the making and with a long trail of bodies behind it.

Never Coming Back cuts back and forth between a somewhat fictionalized version of a fishing village in Devon, England, and Las Vegas, half a world away in the United States. It also jumps back and forth between timeframes and first-person narratives and third-person passages.

Some jumps are jarring enough that readers might be initially confused by the early emphasis Weaver places on Colm Healy, a retired officer who lives with Raker. But as time presses on, Healy drifts deeper into the background until his purpose in the story becomes secondary and unclear. Eventually it evens out, landing squarely on the primary protagonist Raker.

Although Never Coming Back is fourth in a series that provides a substantial backstory to Raker, this American debut can be read as a standalone. It's an enjoyable introduction, despite Weaver allowing Raker to miss a few clues (because he is human) and an overzealous confidence in understanding Las Vegas after only one visit (which is why I typically avoid novels set here).

A few more graphs about the promise in author Tim Weaver. 

Tim Weaver
Tim Weaver is no stranger to the written word. He originally started out as a journalist and magazine editor, writing about video games, film, television and tech. He has since written five thrillers that were very well received in the United Kingdom. All of them center on Raker.

Despite being fourth in the series, Never Coming Back was chosen as an American debut after the book was nominated for a National Book Award in the United Kingdom and was voted 2013's Best Crime Thriller by the Apple iBookstore. It was also selected by Richard and Judy, which is the UK's biggest and most prestigious book club.

Never Coming Back By Tim Weaver Lands 6.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

It's largely because of the dark, near-noir feel of the thriller that makes it easy to overlook the shortcomings and become galvanized by the methodic but imperfect investigative work of Raker. Even the cause of the primary disappearance, which one would think would be played out by now, somehow manages to escape criticism and deliver on an increasingly tense plot line.

Never Coming Back by Tim Weaver is available from Amazon. You can also find the book on iBooks from Apple or as an audiobook on iTunes. The audiobook is narrated by David Bauckham, who manages to find a voice for Raker but struggles to find a voice for the balance of the cast. Never Coming Back is also available from Barnes & Noble.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Foreign Tongues Split With Felix Culpa

The Foreign Tongues
When Cameron Moretti (vocals) and James Scuderi (guitar) started piecing together a proper five piece, they didn't mean to make all that much. The original duo had written a few songs and wanted to form a band around the work. What they got instead was Foreign Tongues, a New England indie-rock band with influences rooted (but not necessarily stuck) in the 1990s.

If anything, the band mostly plays to either side of the alternative rock scene that is conjured up by any mention of that decade. The resulting sound is something that doesn't always have the hook and groove that gave grunge a lift and alternative rock new life. But what it does have is noteworthy.

Foreign Tongues tends to play a gear above or a gear below alternative rock: punked up and punchy or somber and subdued. It's knowing this, in fact, that makes the two tracks contributed to their newest split somewhat surprising. Both tracks offer up a slower, sadder vibe.

Two tracks off are sway classics from Foreign Tongues.

The second track from Foreign Tongues, which also closes out the Split 12" with The Felix Culpa, is a beautifully morose song that shows off moodier stylings. The band recently released a video to promote the song and the split, with a little help from director Robert Evans.

Luxury is a sorrowfully felt beast of a song despite being played out in under three minutes. It's about luxurious wedding ceremonies and the momentarily high expectations they create. Impossible to live up to, they eventually come crashing down and leave everyone embattled and bruised.

For Big Drag, Foreign Tongues trades out the acoustic and clean electric for something more distorted. The concept, however, is very similar to Luxury. The song is filled with reflection and regret until the mid-point, where it becomes considerably more hopeful and upbeat.

Big Drag feels like a song about letting go, but the brilliance of it is in what happens after coming to terms with loss. The loss doesn't disappear, but the acceptance of it disrupts the numbness and creates an unexpected uplift. It's a great split song because it will leave most longing for a full length.

It's possible to satisfy some of it by retracing the band's progression, specifically looking for the band's self-titled EP debut. Envy will satisfy any curiosity about the band's potential heaviness and Jealous Children closes the gap between that and the band's direction on the split. Maps Of The Sky, on the other hand, provides a sneak at what the band looks forward to during live performances.

They also put out another five-track EP titled Glue last year, but it doesn't have nearly the same impact. It's a shame too, especially because proceeds from its sale went to One Fund, a charity to help the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. Sure, the EP lends well to the vastness that the band tries to maintain but there are better directions.

Aside from founders Moretti and Scuderi, Foreign Tongues include Andre Tamulonis (bass), Joseph Barthlette (drums), and Al Dravis (guitar). At one point they had six members.

A couple graphs about the second band on the split. 

While this review centers on Foreign Tongues, it's impossible not to give a nod to the top half of the split. The Felix Culpa, a post hardcore progressive rock band out of Beloit, Wisconsin, and Rockford Illinois (some say Chicago). The band, which has been on hiatus for about three years, is using the split to prove their relevance as a three piece with only Marky Hladish (vocals, guitar), Tristan Hammond (vocals, bass) and Joel Coan (drums).

Their contributions are a stark contrast to Foreign Tongues, making the split even more exceptional. Of the two contributions, Karma City is the stronger, hard-hitting standalone. Bloodletting Lines is equally big, but not as fluid as the opener.

Two Tracks From Foreign Tongues Licks 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

With The Felix Culpa, the split pulls slightly less for the second track despite being liked by fans. The real winners here are anyone surprised to see The Felix Culpa back and Foreign Tongues because all they need is a better following to move along to the next level.

You can find the 12" split from Foreign Tongues and The Felix Culpa on iTunes. The Split is also on Amazon. No Sleep Records is selling a limited edition, Cloudy Clear, vinyl direct. For shows, visit Facebook for a schedule.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Vicki Croke Recalls Elephant Company

The subtitle, The Inspiring Story Of An Unlikely Hero And The Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives In World War II, places a military spin on the story of Billy Williams and his elephants. But that story, which comes much later in the narrative, is only a sliver of this fascinating account.

Elephant Company is the historical narrative of J.H. "Billy" Williams and what would become his purpose in life. This is a story of friendship, loyalty, and the occasional betrayal of a man who could easily be considered an elephant whisperer (or elephant-wallah as they are called) as someone who understood these noble creatures like no one before him.

Elephant Company is a grand colonial adventure because it's true. 

Fresh from his service in the World War I, Williams did what many war veterans did during the colonial period of the British Empire. He took an adventurous job in Burma as a "forest man" for a British teak company. 

The work was impossibly hard, the environment naturally unfriendly and infectious, and the weather incredibly unforgiving. But amidst all these hardships in the early 1900s, Williams also found something else. He became mesmerized by the intelligence, character, and humor of elephants. 

Almost immediately upon taking charge of his new assignment, Williams noted the working conditions, illnesses, and injuries of the elephants used in the clearing and production of teak. And as he learned more and began to understand them, he became a champion for their humane treatment. 

This meant establishing a specialized school and hospital for elephants, whereby they would be trained with praise and rewards as opposed to the crueler methods that had been embraced by the native population. His methods proved to be a breakthrough by convincing his employer that healthier and happier elephants produce more work while creating a safer work environment. 

In some ways, it is easy to say that this is a story about how a man changed elephants. But the reverse is equally true. Williams would be the first to say that elephants, especially one tusker named Bandoola, made him a better man as they taught him the lesson of family, trust, courage, and gratitude. 

The true measure of this mutual transformation does eventually face the ultimate test as Imperial Japanese forces invade Burma in 1942. Williams would re-enlist, this time with the elite Force 136. Attached to what is known as the British dirty tricks department, Williams and his men would operate behind enemy lines to carry supplies, build bridges, and transport the sick and elderly over harsh terrain. 

Equally important to his mission, Williams would also devise a plan to smuggle elephants out of the Japanese-held territory to prevent them from doing the same under much harsher working conditions. It's this portion of the story that commands significant attention by critics and reviewers, especially as his rag tag group attempts to flee over the mountainous borders to India. 

A few graphs about author Vicki Constantine Croke.

There are times when Croke helps readers forget they are reading a historic narrative and the story begins to feel much more like a wildlife adventure than an epic war story in the last 100 pages. The only time this doesn't work is when Croke reminds readers, by citing correspondence or summarizing some events, that Elephant Company is a narrative based on research, correspondence, and books that the elephant hero had written himself. 

Still, overall, Croke demonstrates her continued talent to chronicle animal stories with tight writing and admirable prose that sticks with you long after finishing the book. In Elephant Company, Croke continues to build upon decades of experience as a writer interested not only in animals, but also in the bonds they forge with humans. 

Elephant Company By Vicki Constantine Croke Elevates 8.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Elephant Company is truly an extraordinary book in that Croke ultimately captures the love Williams felt for elephants. She does so, miraculously enough, by sharing her own love of these and other animals but without ever drawing any real attention to herself. Sure, there are times that the story feels a big bogged down by the details. But given that this is a real life account, most readers recognize this as real life.

You can find Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II by Vicki Croke on Amazon.  The book is also available for iBooks or as an audiobook on iTunes. The narrative is read by Simon Prebble, who capitalizes on Croke's ability to transport her readers across time and space. Elephant Company is also on Barnes & Noble. Elephant Bill by Billy Williams is a must-have too.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Broncho Chugs Along Enough To Be Hip

Brocho band
There aren't many bands that can claim to have cut their teeth in Norman, Oklahoma, but that is where the self-starter band Broncho transformed a few loose recording sessions into its roughneck punk sound. It was largely done on the fly, about four years ago.

Former Starlight Mints soloist Ryan Lindsey (guitar/vocals) sketched out a some ideas and the band knocked out a few demos to play for friends. A few years later, after incorporating some of those concepts, Broncho had enough material to put out a self-produced full length that landed somewhere in between the seventies punk scene and new school garage rockers. It was DIY at its very best.

Their new sophomore album plays mostly the same, but better with deeper textures, throatier vocals, and the occasional dusting of new wave and glam rock. Sure, some tracks pack in some pop sentiments like Class Historian, but the overall feel of this outing is mid-tempo heavy and headier.

Just Enough Hip To Be Woman obscures all expectations.

Inspirations like the Ramones and Stooges are still ever present, but it's the dirt and grit that gives this band its character. And if anything is going to keep Just Enough Hip To Be Woman in a playlist rotation, it's how wildly fresh and vintage the band sounds at the same time.

Given how poppy the track sounds compared to others on the album, promoting the album with an advanced video release of Class Historian is a curious choice. If anything, it opens the band up to some critiques about the abundant falsetto nonsense syllables that make up the track.

On the other hand, the track has already become a fan favorite. Its campy improvisational pop-rock flurry that is fast, fun, and oddly catchy. It's meant to stick in your head or at least convince you to dial back to it over and over, any time you need an uplift.

The first track relies on similar hooks but at a slower tempo. The track What even feels like a talkie at times in between more woots and oh oh las. It's pretty clear they know what they are doing when they rip, blend, and distill the feeling of music as much as their source material.

After the first two tracks allude to the idea that Woman is really Lips 2, the band dims the lights on Deena to create an inviting mid-tempo chill. It's in this chill that the band remains throughout most of the album. Even with surf rock undertones on Stay Loose, Brocho keeps it all easygoing.

The next disruption comes in NC-17, when the band drops their composition into a murky bassiness and Lindsey lightens his vocals to deliver a contrasting high. Somewhere in between these two extremes, they lock in a crunchy guitar solo as if it was being played in another studio.

Most of the standouts on the album are on the bottom half. Definitely check out the drifty and trippy I'm Gonna Find Out Where He's At (despite the lyrical oddness), restrained aggression of Taj Mahal, garage punk jumper It's On, and guitar work and vocal buzz of China. Kurt is a decent track too, but some of the vocal echo blend is too confused to feel coherent.

All in all, the album beats out others because Lindsey, Ben King (guitar), Johnathon Ford (bass) and Nathan Price (drums) keep things interesting. Sure, there are times when everyone wishes Broncho would show off some skills without any gimmicks. But then again, they would probably have to give up their dim light basement party atmosphere to do it.

Just Enough Hip To Be Woman By Broncho Skips 7.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While plenty of reviews are categorizing the album as all right considering the band mostly rips off its influencers, there are several times when Just Enough Hip To Be Woman is lively and worthwhile. It's this liveliness, in fact, that convinced Lena Dunham, creator of the HBO comedy series Girls, to borrow It's On to promote the show's season opener. That should tell you how to listen to the album too. Start with the strong finish.

Just Enough Hip To Be Woman by Broncho is available on Amazon. You can also download the album from iTunes. Barnes & Noble also carries Broncho vinyl and CDs. For shows, find them on Facebook. After that? Add them to your watch list. They've only just begun to hit their stride.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Death From Above 1979 Gets Physical

Death From Above 1979
The Toronto duo Death From Above 1979 released a crashing debut that made its mark on the moment. But no matter how good the sound of You're A Woman, I'm A Machine in 2004, the band's success was shockingly short lived. They broke up in 2006, well before laying down a sophomore album.

Five years after the split, Sebastien Grainger and Jesse Keeler patched up whatever differences they had and reunited on February 2011. They showcased their first new song a little more than a year later and, finally, the sophomore album that didn't happen a decade ago.

The Physical World plays exactly like the title implies. 

The highly anticipated follow up retains much of the bass riffs, synth stylings, and driving drum work from a decade ago, but it grabs onto the dance-punk moniker despite feeling refined for the times. The Physical World is nothing less than a physical album with one foot in rock, the other in punk, and pop-leaning vocals.

But that is not to say this is the same band that rolled electro-metal through an alternative pop grinder as it was once described a decade ago. This is a band trying very hard to convince the crowd that they can pick up where they left off. They might have done it too if wasn't for the reliance on polished sameness.

To be clear, The Physical World is a rousing album, but it doesn't come anywhere close to feeling as significant as You're A Woman, I'm A Machine. That doesn't mean it's bad. Much of it is stompable.

Trainwrek 1979 illustrated the division between the two decades. The song is solid, but breaks too too mainstream pop for its own good. Even where the band could create some cyclonic crunchy climaxes, they rob themselves from letting go on what would be naturally explosive moments into fade outs and synth daintiness.

Not to worry. There are meatier moments on the album. Right On, Frankenstein is much more convincing that the duo is back with all the fire, fury, and lightning that they abandoned years ago. It's also the most fitting starting place to sample the album if you want to like the resurrection.

Death From Above 1979 follows it up with Virgins, which has enough heaviness to hang with melodic metal bands. The only shortcoming to the track is in the lyrics. Grainger and Keeler manage to muscle past the junior high school summer tell all with big riffs and deep drums, ensuring it will still become a favorite at live shows.

The album does become slightly spotty toward the middle. Always On is largely forgettable despite the Cobain reference. Crystal Ball will find some fans among the mainstream rock crowd. White Is Red drifts into a full- throttle throwback pop song with a sleeper tempo. They don't really climb out of the pop rut until Government Trash, when the band loosens up enough to be a little messy.

Government Trash is a badly needed burst of what Death From Above 1979 used to sound like, with significantly more punk attitude in the writing as well as the music. The attitude is etched into Gemini too, a tune about a suicide-minded girlfriend, and on the title track that closes out the album with another furious burst of defeatism and disconnect from the physical world.

The Physical World By Death From Above 1979 Rains 4.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

If you think of You're A Woman, I'm A Machine as an 8 or 9 on a traditional scale, this album lands somewhere around 6 or 7. It's not that The Physical World misses as much as it doesn't maintain the intensity the band is capable of throughout the album. The best bet is to grab up the heavier songs even if the those poppy pieces will likely garner more attention and split the band's future following.

The Physical World [+digital booklet] by Death From Above 1979, a.k.a. DFA 1979, can be found on Amazon or downloaded from iTunes. The album, The Physical World, can also be purchased from Barnes & Noble. Expect even more from the duo during their live shows, which feel heavier than their studio work.

Friday, September 12, 2014

James Rollins Pushes A 6th Extinction

The 6th Extinction
The 6th Extinction by James Rollins opens up with a rousing start. A secret government project being conducted by the U.S. Development Test Command in the Sierra Nevada mountains is sabotaged. A Yosemite Valley park ranger spots an unmarked helicopter as it takes off from the hidden base. A mysterious fog boils out over the surrounding landscape and begins destroying all organic life in its path.

It is within these first few frantic pages park ranger Jenna Beck and her Siberian husky Nikko are sent scrambling in retreat as the unexplained toxin envelope drifts outward over the landscape, eventually finding a hilltop ghost town that remains temporarily above the lower elevations of death. But even this reprieve is short lived: The cloud is slowly creeping up the hill and the helicopter has returned.

The 6th Extinction is the tenth book of the Sigma series. 

At the heart of The 6th Extinction is the recognition that this world is on the cusp of several significant changes. The most pressing of which is tied to the extinction itself as the planet continues to suffer mass biodiversity losses that include the extinction of 320 terrestrial vertebrates since 1500 and a decrease of many surviving species by as much as 25 percent.

Rollins tackles what he calls a schism between old school conservationists and new groups of ecologists that welcome extinction, believing it will eventually usher forth new and more robust plant and animal life. Some are even prepared to help nature along with a cross between genetics and synthetic biology with an emphasis on XNA, a nucleic acid that is not naturally found in nature.

Some of the findings associated with XNA are both fascinating and startling. Namely, there exists a possibility of a future synthetic life form based purely on XNA and that XNA organisms could potentially harm RNA/DNA organisms (such as humans). This is only one of several scientific findings Rollins has woven into the story. Science is quietly marching forward and making things at a remarkably fast pace, including concepts that involve making existing organisms hardier.

Although thinner than many in the Sigma series, this is the foundation that Rollins introduces into the tenth installment before sticking the fictional division of the U.S. DARPA program, SIGMA force, between two factions of scientists — those believing they can save species and those believing the time is right to usher forth a new Eden. And both, regardless which one believes holds the higher moral ground, prove to be equally dangerous.

The 6th Extinction is one that threatens mankind's own extinction. 

James Rollins
Mass extinctions are particularly damaging to biodiversity because ecosystems are generally fragile, relaying a series of checks and balances that humankind is not always clear in understanding. In many cases, species that co-exist risk falling together like dominos.

In The 6th Extinction, Sigma Force has a much more supportive role. Members of the highly skilled military operation and expert scientists are tasked with containing the growing threat in California and unraveling the mysterious motivations of the saboteur. Like many series novels, the answer lies in a remote location and this one is no exception.

It leads to Antarctica and, even more mysterious, a subterranean world that hides beneath its frozen wind-swept mountains of rock and snow. Taking a lead role in the expedition is Painter Crowe while his fiancee Lisa Cummings works to find a way to contain and cure whatever was released from the secret base.

The 6th Extinction By James Rollins Infects 4.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Rollins once again relies on his ability to link ancient secrets and modern-day science to create a compelling intellectual connection between them, which drives the story. But while the book can easily stand alone like most Sigma series books, series readers will find some elements of The 6th Extinction seem too familiar but without the same bite for want of a more aggressive adversary.

Earlier books are the better bet for a true introduction. But even so, the novel is still an entertaining read that is backed by relevant science occurring all around us. You can find The Sixth Extinction (Sigma Force) from James Rollins on Amazon or download an electronic version for iBooks. The audiobook is narrated by Christian Baskous, who read the previous installment. The 6th Extinction is also available at Barnes & Noble. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Delta Spirit Gets Into The Wide

Delta Spirit
San Diego indie pop-rockers Delta Spirit is often on the radar, especially in reference to Mathew Vasquez when he teamed up with Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes) and John McCauley (Deer Tick) to briefly form Middle Brother. Vasquez (vocals, guitar, harmonica, piano, drums) is a versatile singer-songwriter who has consistently led the band in their measured sun-drenched indie light.

Frankly, it might have been this lightness that kept the band on the radar but out of the reviews. While their third studio album marked the band's transition from pop to more rootsy rock, there weren't enough standout songs on the self-titled album to stick. This isn't the case with Into The Wide.

Delta Spirit lays down its best studio album outside California.

According to the band, they spent a year writing the follow up to their last album in a "flood-ruined, cave-like, rat-colonized room" in Brooklyn. The result was surrendering sun-drenched poppiness in favor of a moodier, more mature indie rocker that producer Bend Allen (Deerhunter, Animal Collective) helped them breathe new life into.

There is considerably more energy, reflection, angst, and the promise of some rollicking live shows. Sure, the album does occasionally sink into a set of methodical plodders, but those moments are considerably few and far between, making for a more electric album with several near-epic songs.

Event the album opener Push It introduces Delta Spirit as a seasoned, slightly brooding rock band. In it, Vasquez showcases his increasingly grizzly but warmly welcoming voice. It is emotive, beautiful, and deliberately wrought. It invites hardship, knowing the weight of everything makes it stronger.

After getting your attention, Delta Spirit wastes no time punching up the pace with From Now On. Set on the pristine prairies of Colorado, the video directed by Andrew Bruntel captures the vulnerability and triumph that mark our relationships with people, places, and animals.

When followed by the inspiring redemption track Live On, Delta Spirit manages to make the case that Into The Wide is nothing less than their best album. Vasquez, along with Kelly Winrich (multi-instrumentalist), Jonathan Jameson (bass, drums, vocals), and Brandon Young (drums) have clearly clicked after playing together for a decade. William McLaren (guitar), who joined in 2011, truly completes the band.

It isn't until the fourth track that there is any cause to pause, mostly because Take Shelter sounds more like a holdover than anything preceding it. It happens several times toward the middle, limiting the standouts to the seep-and-sweep Hold My End Up, offset title track Into The Wide, and lively Language Of The Dead.

Toward the bottom, The Wreck makes for a solid closer and (Interlude) is a sprightly, short instrumental. But the real standout of the bunch is Patriarch, a song about a mentally fractured girl who goes looking for God in the wide open wildness of Yosemite. Although the song takes a stab at mistaken faith, it is the intimacy, urgency, and heartbreak that makes it memorable.

The same can be said about the album too. If Delta Spirit has succeeded at anything on this album, it's in their ability to create a dramatically wide open sound while still weaving in hooks to make it feel intimate and personal. And that is the way it is in the wide. Little things happen on a bigger-than-life stage.

Into The Wide By Delta Spirit Kicks Up 6.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Start with the first three tracks and then pick up with Patriarch before cherry picking tracks like Hold My End Up and Language Of The Dead. The instrumental is good bet too, especially anyone who enjoys picking up a sound bite now and again. But overall, no one is wrong to go with this album. It succeeds in accomplishing what the band hoped to do two years ago — shake off old stylistic labels.

Into the Wide by Delta Spirit can be found on Amazon or downloaded from iTunes. You can also find Into The Wide by Delta Spirit at Barnes & Noble. For upcoming tours, visit them on Facebook.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Grey Gordon Has A Revelation Summer

Grey Gordon
Fort Wayne native Grey Gordon is still riding a wave of momentum after the successful release of his Still At Home Here EP earlier this year, with the EP showcasing Gordon as a razor sharp songwriter with a lonely acoustic bent. His new full-length debut album is different.

Forget I Brought It Up moves Gordon up a notch with an electric guitar and bigger overall sound. The effort essentially shifts the troubadour into new territory. There isn't much of a trade off as Gordon makes his new material slightly more mainstream and accessible, which in and of itself is a gamble.

"Sometimes, the idea of being a professional musician seems utterly absurd," says Gordon. "Anyone who pursues that path knows this. There's a certain loss of innocence that comes with the territory, and that's what this song addresses. It's essentially me trying my best to articulate the constant question that nags at my subconscious: What the hell am I supposed to do if this doesn't work out?"

Forget I Brought It Up brings Grey Gordon into indie rock. 

Gordon might ask that question often, but he doesn't have to ask it. Although the artist has heavy emo influences, the new album delivers a much more consistent and confident indie rock punch.

Target is a bit of an exception. Although lower down on the playlist, No Sleep Records floated it in advance of the debut, catering to the artist's established fans. Some of them will miss the acoustic work, but the songwriting is as sharp as ever.

Target is a call out track, commanding a near straight edge intervention. The message is clear enough. Talk is cheap, action is invaluable. It's especially true when you are in a destructive environment, trying to belong when all it does is make you more alone.

The album opener, Barstools And Haircuts, picks up more power pop indie rock qualities but the lyrics remain faithful to what brought Gordon to this point. Even as the new direction smooths out his sound, it's blatantly clear he hasn't given up using an acoustic guitar to lay down demos.

"It's the record I've been waiting to make since I was kid," he said. "It's a big departure from mellow acoustic jams, but it's still me through and through, and I think listeners will recognize that."

The recognition comes from the composition and a DIY approach to recording. Forget I Brought It Up might be a studio album, but it was recorded on tape with Benjamin Barnett (Kind of Like Spitting) at the helm. For Gordon, the entire process was a dream come true in Sumner, Washington.

After the opener, Gordon moves into a string of tracks that underscore the album's intent. With tracks like the pointed Learned Helplessness, walkaway squall of Count Me Out, and judgmental Hardened Regards, the album's theme  extols the dangers of being directionless. Still, Gordon seems to shine even brighter on tracks that put him in the crosshairs.

Like Atlas is an exquisite driving indie rocker, with lyrics that walk around self-assessment. Revelation Summer explores the risk and self-doubt that come with reaching for your dreams. Kerouac Ending is dynamically layered. All three can be counted among the best offerings on this album before he wraps it up with the heartfelt Apologies (which also has a well- placed instrumental that closes the whole thing on a high note).

Forget I Brought It Up By Grey Gordon Growls 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Listening to Gordon progress to this point in his journey is nothing less than remarkable. Forget I Brought It Up conjures up a continuous stream of thought-provoking and emotion-evoking snapshots and questions that are collectively spun together to create a life portrait.

Forget I Brought It Up by Grey Gordon can be found on Amazon or downloaded direct from iTunes. The album, Forget I Brought It Up by Grey Gordon, is also available from Barnes & Noble. For more new and touring information, visit Grey Gordon on Facebook.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Jesse Burton Shrinks The Miniaturist

Some will say that The Miniaturist by Jesse Burton is an oddly titled book given that the character who is the miniaturist is simultaneously important and not important at the same time. She is important because of the affect she has on several characters at the same time. And yet, she is unimportant in that her physical presence, persona, and background is largely absent from the story.

But that is the point. By removing the physical presence of the miniaturist from the story, Burton relies on perspective alone — both other characters' and the readers' — to fill in the details based on nothing more than what they want to believe. For some, the miniaturist is an agent of change or a guardian angel. For others, she is malicious and manipulative. And for yet others, she is a mere annoyance on the periphery of the story, a distraction best summed up as literal trickery.

More than that, perhaps, the miniaturist provides a counterbalance to faith during a time when the church was increasingly oppressive in seventeenth century Amsterdam. And the rest is up to you.

The Miniaturist is a story about a customer, not the artist herself.  

The Miniaturist is the story about Petronella "Nella" Oortman, a very young woman who arrives in Amsterdam to begin her life as the wife of Johannes Brandt. He is an illustrious merchant trader, one of the most successful and revered in all of Amsterdam. The family is known for its reputation.

Reputation is also why this marriage was arranged. Despite the good name of the Oortman family, Nella's father had lost most of the family's fortune. Moving to an exclusive address on the Golden Bend on Amsterdam's Heren Canal is about the best she can expect in her life, given the era.

But any childish hopes of a fairytale ending for Nella quickly evaporate as an atmosphere of mystery and expectation closes in upon her. She isn't welcomed by her new husband, but rather his sharp tongued sister, Marin, who appears relentless in establishing herself as the matriarch of the household.

Even when her husband does return home, he remains kind but distant before locking himself away in his study or rushing out to his warehouse. The audacity of it leaves Nella with nothing to do in a strange but nicely appointed home and an even stranger city until she is presented with a cabinet-sized replica of their home.

To furnish it, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist, who has an uncanny ability to not only capture true-to-life miniatures of what Nella orders, but also keenly observed details into her life that she has never ordered. There are times the tiny representations seem to tease her, taunt her, provide her comfort, reveal secrets, chronicle the past, and predict the future.

While tending to her miniature home, Nella navigates through the unfamiliar daily happenings of her Amsterdam household that consist of her shrewd sister-in-law, surprisingly personal maid Cornella, and dark-skinned manservant Otto. But even as a the closed Brandt household becomes more familiar, there are some secrets that she cannot seem to uncover, including one that may lead to their destruction.

Set in the Dutch Golden Age when Amsterdam was considered one of the most important ports in the world and a leading center for finance and diamonds. The Miniaturist portrays a mostly descriptive account of life in the late 1600s (even if some of it includes some creative license) to tell a tale of mystery, hope, trust, and tragedy.

A few graphs about author Jesse Burton. 

The Miniaturist was written by Jesse Burton in a piecemeal fashion before being revised some seventeen times by the first-time author. Although inspired in part by a real Dutch woman named Petronella Oortman who really did own a miniature home in 1686, the balance of the story, however, is fiction.

Burton, a theatrical actress who studied and appeared in productions at Oxford University and the Central School of Speech and Drama, wrote the novel in secret (sometimes at work) and sold it at an 11-publisher auction at the London Book Fair. She is currently working on a second novel.

The Miniaturist By Jesse Burton Shrinks 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While some criticisms, including historical licenses and contemporary language slips, are valid, The Miniaturist is a passionate portrayal of an Amsterdam household and a vividly descriptive tragedy, with a hint of magical mystery that the author never diminishes or supports, confirms or denies. It starts predictably enough as a fish-out-of-water story before diving deeper into individual perspective and societal pressure.

You can find The Miniaturist: A Novel by Jesse Burton on Amazon or download it for iBooks from Apple. The audiobook is also available from iTunes. It is eloquently narrated by Davina Porter, who captures the wonderment of the young protagonist. Barnes & Noble also carries The Miniaturist by Jesse Burton.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Coves Strike Out For A Soft Friday

While most people missed out on the self-released studio album that Coves put out three years ago, the psychedelic garage pop duo has been steadily gaining attention with EPs and singles. All of it, including a cover of Wicked Game by Chris Isaak, has earned them enough attention to reach some sort of critical mass.

Made up of Rebekah "Beck" Wood and John Ridgard, the duo places their emphasis on creating the kind of scizz rock stomp that they liken to the kind of garage rock made by producersJoe Meek, Phil Spector, and Martin Hannett. It likely helps that A&R man James Endeacott is part of their management.

Soft Friday is a trippy bit of weekend gloom and sunshine. 

Expect listeners to break in two directions this time out. Some people have taken to the notion that dirty synths and scuzzy guitars have become a go to direction for a band that can't carry a clean sound. Others will hear something different, especially as Coves manages to turn their dirt into emotion.

Wood is the songwriter and Ridgard is the producer. And while the band is knee deep in nostalgia, their work in the basement studio of Castle Greyskull has delivered ample noteworthy moments. The vintage-edged opener Fall Out Of Love perfect fully balances bleating and sadness.

Without missing a beat, Coves dives into a distortedly atmospheric meandering of Honeybee, which slips into the darker recesses of pop and infatuation. The sound is sweetly minimalistic, but the lyrics are drearier as the band paces itself for some of the better tracks.

Beatings works much harder to establish the band with the Western twang of its guitar and abundance of sound effects. Most notable is the organ accompaniment that fills every gap to smooth out its foundation along with some beautifully harmonic and dreamy vocals from Wood.

After Beatings, Coves doubles down with the upbeat and dreamy Last Desire. The heavy baseline and drumbeat drives the song, while the spaced-out synth gives the entire piece its heady spookiness. It's all throwback, but throwback in the very best way. The same can be said about Let The Sun Go.

It's almost a shame the band stumbles with too much experimentation. The whole of it is boring. Fortunately, the band brings the album back on track with the fuzzy directness of Cast A Shadow. The bouncy, simplistic sound perfectly sets up the two brooders and album closer, Wake Up.

After ten tracks, it's pretty clear that there is a lot going on here. Wood is perfect at delivering heartfelt contemplative lyrics, especially when Ridgard sings underneath her. And even though not all of the songwriting is as developed as it could be, it's her voice along with some creative instrumental choices that adequately refresh the vintage feel the duo so desperately wanted to revive.

Soft Friday By Coves Slips In At 6.7 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

All in all, it's a sold debut with a very clear direction. Soft Friday is extremely listenable any time you have a hankering for psychedelic pop with a vintage edge. Other than one or two tracks that don't reach their true potential, the album accomplishes what it sets out to do. You can't go wrong.

Soft Friday by Coves is available from Amazon or you can download it for iTunes. Check Barnes & Noble for the vinyl release of Soft Friday by Coves. For touring information, visit Facebook. They sometimes tour with Band Of Skulls.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Aviator Has Its Head In The Clouds

After several splits, singles, and EPs since 2010, Aviator finally has a full-length debut out. The Boston-based band might cling to hardcore, melodic post-hardcore, and decades-old screamo influences, but it all comes together brilliantly on Head In The Clouds, Hands In The Dirt.

The progression is welcomed as TJ Copello (vocals), Mat Morin (guitar), Michael Russo (guitar/vocals), Mike Moschetto (bass), Aviv Marotz (drums/vocals) let go of a little heaviness in favor of emotional weight. If there is any theme to the album, suffice to say it's stagnation.

The album opens with Pipe Dreams with Copello considering a Bell Jar moment where optimism and the ability to be anything recedes into bitterness and apathy. The pain of it reinforces that idea that even if you can do anything, you can't do everything.

Head In The Clouds locks Aviator in as a post-hardcore wonder.

Not everything on Head In The Clouds, Hands In The Dirt is hopeless. There is a willingness to start over from scratch on tracks like Weathervane. Much of the verse is screamed out in anger and anguish, but the underlying longing for a disruptive opportunity is there while wailing as if it may never come.

Despite Copello and company singing (albeit roughly so) more lyrics than previous outings, their video promotion featuring There Was A Light (It Went Out) was screamed start to finish. The video was directed by Erik Rojas, who picked it as one of the most intense songs on the album.

"Between heavy riffing and some rock-god moments, this song is one of our favorites to play live,” says Marotz. “I'm really happy with the way Erik Rojas pulled out the emotion of this song, accurately displaying feelings of anxiety and stagnation."

Like There Was A Light (It Went Out), many of the tracks prod at indie rock and post-hardcore elements, bringing together some big riffs and plucked out emotive moments. The blend comes together in some interesting and occasionally surprising ways like the methodic pace of Dig Your Own Grave And Save, which comes across as a captivating anti-ballad with intensely spoken vocals. The tempo lulls the band into something that nears despair.

Forms (Les Feullies Mortes) brings the tempo back up, but it's not the instrumentals alone that are striking. Much like Like There Was Light is likely a Smiths reference, Forms feels like an answer to a French single by Yves Montand. The song is about two lovers being separated by circumstance whereas Aviator expands the disenchantment to encompass everything.

If you get the sense that Aviator spends more time with its hands in the dirt than in the clouds, you would be right. The balance of the album ticks off on permission to be pessimistic (I Hold Myself In Contempt), mental disorders (Bipolar Vortex), aimlessness (Head Noise), and hitting bottom (Fever Dream). ...But I Won't Be There is the sole song to touch on something better.

While the thrust is still centered on hardship, Copello paints a pretty clear picture that he won't be in that place forever. Sometimes all that discomfort, anguish, and hurt that people feel makes them appreciate the better times to come when you climb out of it. Mostly, trying and disappointment beats doing nothing and expecting to be happy.

This could partly be the case for Aviator too. Five years is a long time to fight for something to happen but they persevered to make a full length and land a decent touring ticket with label mates Rescuer and Felix Culpa. They ought to do good with it. There is plenty to like this time out.

Head In The Clouds, Hands In The Dirt Kicks 5.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Head In The Clouds, Hands In The Dirt by Aviator breaks new ground for the band both rhythmically and harmonically. According to the band, they've never been content limiting themselves to any one style or sound.

The album's theme might be dark, but the instrumental composition is a bright spot on the post-hardcore scene. You can find Head In The Clouds, Hands In The Dirt by Aviator or download it from iTunes. The vinyl edition of Head In The Clouds, Hands In The Dirt is up at Barnes & Noble. No Sleep Records has some limited edition pressings as well.