Thursday, March 5, 2015

Bombay Harambee On The Dotted Line

Bombay Harambee has grown to appreciate its status as post-punk underdog. The band originally began to coalesce in 2012, shortly after Alexander Jones (guitar/vocals) and David Aspesi (bass) started jamming together on a regular basis.

They didn't have much at the time — just a few tunes to toss about and a couple of venues willing to let them set up in  around Little Rock, Arkansas — two hours from Memphis and five from Nashville or Dallas. But somehow it all started to click after getting over their first false start, especially when they added Uh Huh veterans Trent Whitehead (guitar) and Jason Jones (drums).

That's not to say it all clicked perfectly well. Listing to their self-produced You Know Better EP can feel like a bit of a chore at times. And then again, listening to it also demonstrates how far the band has come in the short span of a single year. Their newest release is an enigmatic gem.

Bombay Harambee puts out a double-sided 7" vinyl debut.

Hoping to gain some momentum for their first proper LP after putting out a hodgepodge tape-only collection of remastered work, the four tracks that make up Check, Check, Checkmate/Dotted Line encapsulate some of the band's best work. While it's still nowhere near perfect, it doesn't need to be.

This double-sided release from Wiener Records opens with Check, Check, Checkmate (a fuzzier version of the track titled CCCM on the Wolfman Fellowship collection). The post-punk track immediately feels one part messy and another part throwback. It's also not the greatest showcase of vocals from Jones, who mostly rambles though the lyrics before opening it up to something bigger.

Although he has been compared to Michael Stipe before, it seems the matchup might be more convincing if it were filtered through John Darnielle first. There is a mildly cracky unpleasantness to it that is also oddly interesting and even compelling. It really sticks with you after the third pass.

Dotted Line is a bit different. Jones sounds great, slightly gravelly, with significantly more confidence, making this the one that truly catches the direction. It's the track that says to listen up.

Alongside Check, Check, Checkmate and Dotted Line, the band is playing its retitled party rocker Blue Ballon and Enjambement, a piano piece that plays out a melody over instrumental ghosts in under two minutes. The contrast is decidedly effective. It ends the single and teases the album.

Overall, Check, Check, Checkmate/Dotted Line is a convincing introduction in that it refines some of the band's past work while introducing what could be a more haunting and heady album as Dotted Line suggests. Given Dotted Line is lyrically sharper in talking about the choices we have to make and also a better match for Jones as a developing vocalist, the full length has some real promise.

Dotted Line By Bombay Harambee Signs On At 5.7 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The four piece from Little Rock is very adept at writing crunchy party rockers but it's the turn toward a headier post-punk vibe that had piqued our interest. Prior, Jones had said the band was looking to write post-punk songs with a pop songwriting sensibility so they stick in your head. Now it seems they want to do one better than getting stuck there. Some of it is starting to noodle around.

The band's upcoming LP, Goldmine, is slated to be released in the months ahead. In the interim, the band is taking its first mini-tour outside Arkansas with stops in Tennessee up though New York before returning home. The new double A sided 7" vinyl is available via bandcamp. You can also catch the self-produced You Know Better on iTunes.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

On And On Is An Emerging Artist Pick

Some time in the spring of 2012, three musicians found themselves at the tipping point — not as their band Scattered Trees — but as a new indie trio splitting their time between Chicago and Minneapolis. Nate Eiesland, Alissa Ricci, and Ryne Estwing are now charting a stronger course as On And On.

The result was something of a creative jolt with accomplished producer Dave Newfeld (Broken Social Scene, Super Furry Animals) at the helm of a new approach to writing and recording. Their previous pursuit of polished pop has been thankfully put behind them for something infinitely more listenable.

"We really wanted to get away from the sterility of our previous approach to recording," says Eiesland.

The change up plays nowhere better than the latest single, Drifting, from Roll Call Records. The track, which was recorded as part of a new album with legendary producer Joe Chiccarelli (Spoon, White Stripes, The Shins) shows something considerably more haunting than anything the band had done before.

Drifting was inspired by falling asleep behind the wheel while trying to forget unforgettable things. The band calls the song the most "naked" sound they have ever produced, pushing the sonic bar set by their debut album Give In when the band was trying to establish a new sound.

The result was something of an enigma — experimental pop compositions loaded up with synthesizers and scattershot electro beats. The guitars, bass, and drums were often included only as ambient afterthought.

One of the notable exceptions was their pace-setting single Ghosts, which de-emphasized the electronic splash of the album and pushed the instrumentals as well as Eiesland's vocals to the forefront. And if Drifting is any indication of what to expect from the sophomore album, then the evolutionary split seems to occur with Ghosts in mind.

Ghosts, much like Drifting, underpins the band's insight into coming to terms with the traps that life frequently springs upon the unsuspecting. And it's often in these themes that the band sizzles with a fresh electricity and unnerved openness.

Where Drifting and the upcoming album sets itself apart is in the year-plus of experience that the band picked up on tour and at festivals all over Europe and the United States. When they returned to Minneapolis to begin writing their new album, they knew precisely how they to expand and where they wanted grow sonically and as a band. Much of the new album features collaborative writing and experimental live tracking, and perhaps a little less reliance on filling every stitch of space.

Drifting By On And On Goes On And On At 7.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

On And On can be a little trickier to pin down than some artists. Give In was largely discovered on SoundCloud, where fan listens drove several singles to the top of the Hype Machine Popular chart. It was their success on SoundCloud that prompted music producers to invite the band to play at various festivals around the world.

Drifting is currently being offered as a free download from the band's website. An email address is required to download the track. To hear a sampling of songs from their debut album Give In, visit Roll Call Records. The band also supports a Facebook page, which lists upcoming show dates with Big Data.

The tour will likely be the first opportunity to hear the sophomore album in full. The release date is currently to be determined. The best guess is that it will land in the summer, a few months after the band makes an appearance at SXSW.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Red Rising Series Shines In Golden Son

The Red Rising Trilogy by newcomer Pierce Brown shows no sign of slowing down in its second installment. Golden Son: Book II of the Red Rising Trilogy is everything the immersive debut was and then some as the theater expands beyond the academy and spreads across the solar system.

The trilogy is the story of a miner who is part of a space faring civilization built upon a color-coded caste system that is dominated by genetically enhanced and augmented leaders called Golds. Miners, in contrast, are considered the lowest of the lowest caste of the civilization or Reds. They work as slaves beneath the surface of Mars, believing they are among the planet's first settlers when, in fact, the entire planet was terraformed several generations ago.

The tragic protagonist, Darrow, learns the truth shortly after suffering a great personal loss in the first book Red Rising and an underground insurgence called the Sons of Ares recruits him for an impossible assignment. The Sons persuade Darrow to be biologically retooled and mentally trained to blend in as the Golds he has come to loathe so he may infiltrate their ranks as part of a bigger plan.

An unpredictable thriller where loyalties are made, bought, and broken.  

Two years after successfully infiltrating the elite academy and earning his place among the Golds, Darrow is still playing war games with the various families and factions that rule the solar system. This time the games take place in space as maturing Golds aim to prove themselves as fleet commanders capable of increasing the prestige of their family.

Although Darrow is a brilliant academy commander, a single misstep causes his patron to withdraw their support and eventually strip him of his affiliation For Darrow, it is a double loss in that he not only loses his hard-won post as a peerless commander, but also his growing influence that he planned to one day wield as a weapon against the cruel, brutal and decadent society that reigns over mankind.

But just as all seems to be lost for Darrow, two major houses begin a feud that quickly erupts into a civil war, providing him an opportunity to once again earn his place as an indispensable commander. But even as he does, Darrow is forced to confront other challenges as different Golds set new agendas in motion, the Sons of Ares splinters, and Darrow forces those closest to him to pass the ultimate test of loyalty by asking them to accept and guard his greatest secret.

In a story that sometimes mirrors the unexpected alliances and betrayals that occurred during the collapse of the Roman Empire, Golden Son navigates wars being waged between families, within families, and the internal struggles people face in choosing friend or foe, kindred spirit or nemesis. Even Darrow, though steadfast in his convictions, is continually tested to choose between his head and his heart — the interests of the those who put him there or those who now surround him.

A few more graphs about Pierce Brown and his inventive world. 

From a brief stint as an NBC page to his work as an aide on a U.S. Senate campaign, Pierce Brown had just the right life experience and determination to bring his trilogy to life. The self-described science fiction nerd who used to fantasize about ruling kingdoms as he and his friends built forts and set traps as part of their own war games leaves few details untouched to create an immersive world.

The caste system in Red Rising includes fourteen different castes that were originally created to improve labor efficiencies but then were reinforced through genetic and surgical manipulation. The result was a color-coded society ranging from unskilled laborers, slaves, servants, and soldiers to the ruling class alongside businessmen, bureaucrats, and ritualistic leaders. In addition to the caste system, Golds have different houses and hierarchies, each with its own characteristics.

Golden Son By Pierce Brown Crosses 9.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While many people will no doubt look fondly on the first book, Brown has come into his own with the second book by doubling down on Darrow as a dramatically flawed hero who is just as capable of making immeasurably costly blunders as well as achieving seemingly impossible feats. And yet, it is his most pronounced flaw — an insatiable need to trust those who are untrustworthy — that also makes him an endearing character.

Golden Son: Book II of The Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown is on Amazon. You can also find Golden Son and other Brown books on Alibis. The novel is also available for iBooks and as an audiobook for iTunes. Tim Gerard Reynolds continues to narrate the book, giving Darrow a consistent flavor with which listeners can identify.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

River Whyless Get Lost With A New EP

River Whyless
After navigating the waters of the long and laborious DIY process to produce their first album in 2011, North Carolina's River Whyless elected to decamp for a single studio session in Louisville, Kentucky, this time out. Holing themselves up with Kevin Ratterman (Andrew Bird, My Morning Jacket) at La La Land Studio, the band set out to capture their new chemistry and intuitive nature.

"In an atmosphere like La La Land, you can eat, sleep and breathe the music you're working on without the distractions of everyday life. I enjoy that," says Ryan O'Keefe (guitar/vocals). "We recorded mostly live with just a few overdubs. Kevin likes to move at a good clip in order to capture that magical, synchronistic moment."

Something certainly happened in the studio. River Whyless laid down five tracks that incorporated every member's writing style in less than four days. Most of it was recorded live, with very few overdubs. The cohesiveness in this indie folk EP is evident.

River Whyless gets lost in five tracks of indie folk bliss. 

The eponymous EP immediately captures the creativity and cohesiveness of a band that been touring heavily and steadily since their debut album, A Stone, A Leaf, An Unfound Door, four years ago. Unlike the debut, it is clear the band has laid down a direction of delivering lyrically rich harmonics and relaxed, contemplative instrumentals that build beyond its four-piece foundation.

Along with O'Keefe, Halli Anderson (vocals/violin), Alex McWalters (drums), and Dan Shearin (bass, vocals) blend together their talents to form a singular sense of purpose. The album leads off with Life Crisis, a wise and wistful indie folk composition that leans heavier on its percussion and vocal echoes than this brilliantly simple and stripped back tiny desk version.

Life Crisis is followed up with Maple Sap, a self-reflective metaphoric song that conjures up images of a lonely soul contemplating life while finishing off everyday chores like tapping trees for sap and collecting firewood. The beauty of the piece comes in as the band connects the dots between nature and the human experience.

Bath Salt is decidedly different as the band showcases Anderson's vocals alongside a loping, fantastical rhythm. The near six-minute track soars through a variety of pace change-ups, pausing for Anderson to sing her story between climatic swirls and violin runaways.

TimexMiles Of Skyline takes a different approach by laying everything down on the machinery-like precision of the percussion, bringing in clock-like guitar patterns and violin rolls to company Shearin's vocals. While the track lacks the same depth felt throughout most of the album, its buoyant, celebratory nature delivers some diversity to the lineup.

It's the closer, Fine Companion that will eventually win listeners over. Although shorter and starker than anything else on the album, the weeping guitar and strident world-worn but hopeful lyrics bring the entire EP back to the beginning. The beginning is where most people will want to be on this album. Life Crisis is the most dynamic offering added to the band's extended repertoire.

A Self-Titled EP By River Whyless Soars 6.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Some people will size River Whyless up as experimental folk rock or indie folk pop, which both seem to be a catch all for anyone who can harmonize a few lines over infectious rhythms with an interesting assortment of instruments. This band is something more enigmatic as traditional folk artists with an experimental edge. The result is casual confidence eclectic listeners relate to other genres.

Where River Whyless stands out is in its ability to compose informed music, narratives that immediately connect with one's psyche. It doesn't just sound right. It feels right. You can find River Whyless on Amazon or download the new EP from iTunes. To get to know the band better, follow them on Facebook.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Bradford Morrow Inks The Forgers

The Forgers
As the character study of an unreliable narrator, The Forgers by Bradford Morrow presents a slow burn suspense that relies on unease over mystery, atmosphere over action. It opens with the murder of a reclusive rare book collector named Adam Diehl — the scene of the crime described by the narrator about four days after the fact.

Diehl was found clinging to life on the floor of his home in Montauk, surrounded by valuable books, original manuscripts, and inscribed literature. Most of it has been destroyed, but that fact isn't the most striking detail about the crime. Diehl was found without his hands. They had been cut off.

Astonishingly plausible insights into rare books and expert forgeries.

The narrator, only named Will once in the entire book, learned about the horrid incident from Diehl's sister and his girlfriend Meghan. He immediately offered to meet her at the hospital, a proposition she appreciated since the two men didn't like each other much. 

The mutual dislike between them (or more accurately mistrust) fell squarely on Will's shoulders. He had once unashamedly and triumphantly been a forger. When he was caught, everyone who had trusted him with the utmost confidence to appraise certain books (Conan Doyle especially) were now questioned for having unknowingly passed along fakes and forgeries. Diehl was one of them, sort of. 

Adding "sort of" is to suffice that he was not like many of the other victims because Diehl, like his future brother-in-law Will, was a practiced forger too. The only difference is that Diehl had never been caught until, or so it seemed, his grizzly murder. Will, on the other hand, had been caught.

Alibris: Books, Music, & MoviesAs a convicted but unrepentant literary forger, Will both struggles to come to terms with the murder and the implication that he may have been involved. And when he begins to receive threatening handwritten letters penned by long-dead authors like Henry James, he slowly discovers that he was involved in the murder indirectly, if not directly, despite his ignorance of it. Or was he ignorant? 

As a character who possesses the ability to simultaneously prove his honesty and duplicity in the same paragraph, Morrow keeps his readers teetering between his guilt or innocence. At the same time, the author takes readers into the insular world of rare books and the compulsion to forge masterworks. 

A few more graphs about author Bradford Morrow. 

Bradford Morrow
Although born in Baltimore, Bradford Morrow grew up in Denver before traveling the world. He traveled through Honduras as a medical volunteer. He attended a foreign exchange program in Cuneo, Italy. He took time off from his studies to live in Paris for a year.

It was these experiences and his graduate work at Yale that informed his early work. After working as a bookseller in Santa Barbara and founding the literary journal Conjunctions in New York City, Morrow started writing novels and joined the faculty at Bard College in 1990, where he is a professor of literature and a Bard Center Fellow.

Since, Morrow has taught creative writing at Brown, Columbia, and Princeton Universities, as well as the Naropa Institute. He is currently divides his time between New York City and upstate New York while working on his eighth novel, The Prague Sonata.

The Forgers By Bradford Morrow Fakes 6.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The writing is exceptional and the character study admirable. The real shortcoming is the story's inability to capitalize on its most thrilling moments, which is a by-product of being told through the eyes of an arrogant and manipulative protagonist who is rarely willing to admit he is not in control. In sum, it's the novel's greatest strength — an acutely over analytic protagonist — that is also the novel's biggest weakness.

You can find The Forgers by Bradford Marrow on Amazon or download the novel for iBooks. The audiobook is narrated by R.C. Bray who lends a convincing tone to the novel, delivering the story with a conviction as convincing as the prose. For more Bradford Marrow titles, visit independent bookseller Alibris.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sleater-Kinney Finds No Cities To Love

Just when everyone was growing used to the idea that Sleater-Kinney was on a permanent hiatus, leaving room for Corin Tucker;s eponymously-titled band to release 1,000 Years, the peerless and cohesiveness of Janet Weiss (drums), Carrie Brownstein (vocals/guitar), and Tucker (vocals/guitar) are back. No Cities To Love is the long-awaited triumphant return of S-K.

The whole of it includes 32 minutes of punk-tinged rock with sneers, jeers, and masterful songwriting with dramatic shifts, hairpin changeups, and a harmonic cohesiveness that defies conventional composition with its oft staccato delivery. No Cities To Love is one of those rare albums that allows listeners to discover new depths with each pass, opening the complex brevity of each track like a rare and exotic blossom.

No Cities To Love is a triumph return for a timeless favorite.

Conjuring the image of a flower, however, is not meant to suggest that No Cities To Love is delicate. It's anything but. The first outing in a decade from this acclaimed trio sets new sights for the punk’s political insight and emotional impact. The 90s riot grrrl scene that was sparked out of the Pacific Northwest suddenly sounds relevant not because this is a revival but because it is a reinvention.

"We sound possessed on these songs," says guitarist/vocalist Brownstein about the band's eighth studio album. "Willing it all — the entire weight of the band and what it means to us — back into existence."

The separation of Brownstein and Tucker has clearly brought the two artists closer together, writing songs that are more self-aware than the band's once disruptive nature. Instead the band brings together something significantly more modern, crisp, and clear.

Take a track like A New Wave that the band played on Letterman. It very clearly is a track that tugs on where the band sees itself artistically today. One of the lines even jumps out, declaring that they are "inventing their own kind of obscurity." The lyrics are very telling in that S-K no longer wails against not understanding where society is but rather they understand it all too well and realize it is sometimes better to rise above it (or be amused by it) because it's almost impossible to change it.

In some sense that is the theme of the title track, No Love For Cities, too. The song itself tackles how people identify with cities even if cities are mostly the same. Sometimes the weather or the landmarks or the people might be a bit different. But aside from those elements, they're not different at all.

Level 99 DenimPrice Tag is very much like that too. It indicts the 9-to-5 drudgery of civilization, but doesn't call for any change or disruption like they might have done in the past. Instead, they serve it up as how it is.

Following Price Tag, S-K becomes a little more complacent in its production of Fangless. While not nearly as sharp as the songwriting throughout the rest of the album, the lyrical work demonstrates a certain sophistication they strive for, alluding to the rise and fall of fatherly failure.

No Anthems attempts to ward away the mediocrity of fame, with the band recognizing that they were once trying to be something monolithic but nowadays they mostly want to avoid it. They might not be able to, but even that accomplishes their objective to cover topics without any apparent exit.

"The three of us want the same thing," says Weiss. "We want the songs to be daunting."

No Cities To Love By Sleater-Kinney Strikes Hot At 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

No Cities To Love will not disappoint anyone as there are ample standout tracks, including the dueling vocals of Bury Our Friends, brilliantly upbeat but aggressive chorus of Hey Darling, and down tempo closer Fade. The latter might lack the finesse of the rest of the album, but it succeeds in bringing in some experimentation on an album that feels more back to basics than inventive.

You can find No Cities To Love (Deluxe Edition) (Limited Edition, 2-LP, White Vinyl, Includes Download Card) on Amazon or download it from iTunes. You can also find No Cities To Love and the entire library of Sleater-Kinney on independent reseller F.Y.E. For upcoming shows and tour information, visit them on Facebook.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Another Look At Rubblebucket Brass

With the release of the Tiny Desk Concert series via NPR Music, it seems more than fitting to give Brooklyn-based Rubblebucket another listen. Those who do will not be disappointed. The Tiny Desk version of Carousel Ride provides a smart and smashing introduction to anyone unfamiliar with the quirky alternative pop exuberance and big band swoop of their music.

As off putting as that may sound to read, the party-friendly attitude of this band — made possible by as many as a half-dozen players — is surprisingly addictive as Kalima Traver sings her cleverly wrought lyrics and her founding partner Alex Toth plays the trumpet, flute, or whatever is handy.

It has been this way since 2009, when the original duo met up while attending the University of Vermont and decided to stick with the band after graduation. It wasn't long before they were joined by by Adam Dotson (trombone, euphonium, vocals), David Cole (drums) and Ian Hersey (electric guitar) to release a self-titled album.

Carousel Ride and the band's last album, looking back. 

What the Tiny Desk version of Carousel Ride does that the original release didn't explicitly capture is an unforgettable intimacy as you lean in to listen to the words rather than allow the studio cut to simply wash over any understanding. Traver's vocal delivery notwithstanding, the song becomes as painful as it is beautiful as the artist always intended internally.

Once you've listened to the concert series cut, returning to the studio version makes the entire listen different as if you are somehow informed by the artist like never before. It only makes sense to feel that way. You really are informed by her and the band.

Carousel Ride isn't the only striking song included in the concert series. The band also perform On The Ground and Sounds Of Erasing. On The Ground, which is the opener of the studio album, plays almost like a pleading prayer to higher forces that mortals are fragile things. Don't shake us too much. Most of us are already damaged goods but she delivers it with a love of life nonetheless.

The other track, Sounds Of Erasing, is a clean slate story about being human and erasing all the demons that most of us carry around with ourselves. Traver splits the difference between making it sound heady and hopeful. On the studio version, the composition is a dynamically charged rollick.

The balance of the album drift in and out of alternative pop and art noise. The band occasionally relies too heavily on the synth and sound effects, never realizing how much more powerful their sound can be stripped down and laid bare.

When they do keep it simple on tracks like Shake Me Around, Origami, and portions of My Life, they have more impact. But they might know that now. The band is giving up a free download of an acoustic version with any pre-sold concert tickets for this year's springtime tour.

All together, the album becomes sort of a heady celebration of life, made poignant by Traver's own life experiences. She is a recent cancer survivor. Right on. Not all the brass in this band are horns.

Survival Sounds By Rubblebucket Picks Up 6.7 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Survival Sounds is the third full length by the band, but their first label release. The band is well worth the investment, keeping them alive to continue producing a unique sound that touches people who are down, relates to them, and then lifts them up regardless of it all. Not many bands do that.

You can find Survival Sounds on Amazon or download it from iTunes. For more news and updates, hook up with the band on Facebook. They are currently playing the homemade acoustic version of Young And Old on their page. Like the Tiny Desk concert cuts, it opens up a whole new way to think about this band.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Decemberists Divide The World In Two

Four years seems like a long time between albums, especially for a talent like Colin Meloy and company, but The Decemberists didn't squander a minute of it. While bandmate Jenny Conlee was diagnosed with breast cancer (now in remission), Meloy explored his relationships at home and took time out to be a father.

The exploration proved to inspiring for the musician/writer. While working to provide the best possible education for their eldest child Hank, who is autistic, he wrote the bestselling Wildwood series of children's novels. His wife illustrated it.

More than that, the hiatus also provided Meloy with ample time to reflect on the last six albums and come full circle. Expect comparisons to their first album more than any other. The storytelling in the new album is more fantastical amidst a backdrop of alternative rock with Americana, British folk, and pop influences. And the return to these roots has been therapeutic in a sense, with Meloy being open about his work beginning to feel too much like a career and not enough about self-expression.

What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World. 

There is no mistaking this seventh album as more expressive as Meloy embraces the best and worst of the human experience capsulized into pop songs ranging from three to five minutes. And yet, some of it is surprisingly intimate too, with the opener an explanation for the album set to music.

"We know you grew your arms around us in the hope we wouldn't change," sings Meloy. "But we had to change some, you know, to belong to you."

The directness of it is almost off-putting in its expectedness, yet Meloy manages to deliver it with a conviction that is both sad and authentic, bold and truthful. The spell is quickly broken, however, by Cavalry Captain and Philomena. Both carry an uptempo pop punch, with the latter bringing in some elements of whimsy into the lyrics and composition.

While this whimsy may represent the beautiful side of the world that Meloy has chosen to write about, The Decemberists still seem to be a band better suited to the deeper complexities of Portland. It's tracks like Make You Better and Lake Song that provide addictive glimpses into the soul of the songwriter.

It's also on this track, Lake Song, where the album takes a turn toward the deep and intricate tones that the band is so adept at expressing through Meloy's melodies and the musicianship of Chris Funk, John Moen, Nate Query, and Conlee. Till The Water's All Gone, The Water Year, and Carolina Low all conjure up the unique musical complexities that have put the band on the map.

While there are some bleats of happiness between those and the end of the album, The Decemberists build upon their brooding seriousness, reading a crescendo with the song 12-17-12. The band captures the  horrific school shooting at Newtown, Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School with a startling but sensitive sobriety. It's one those songs you don't expect to appreciate for its subject matter, but you will anyway. The conclusion, A Beginning Song, offers an uplift and to leave on a note of recovery.

What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World Drifts 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World contains some sensational songwriting with elements that are recognizable from across their career, with an emphasis on their earlier work as it might have sounded with the experience they possess today. Although the subject matter makes the album sound uneven if played from the top down, the net sum is far greater than that one annoyance. 

Still, the variance (loved or not) is an indication that the band hasn't become a commodity. They are songwriters, composers, and masterful musicians who have something to say. The shock of it.

What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World by The Decemberists is available on Amazon. You can also download select songs or the album from iTunes. For this album and the band's entire catalog, visit independent entertainment store F.Y.E. The Decemberists will be on tour to support their album. Visit Facebook for their upcoming tour schedule.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Ty Segall Puts On A New Mr. Face

Ty Segall
Much of the buzz surrounding the four-pack EP Mr. Face dropped by Ty Segall is that it doubles as the world's first pair of playable 3-D glasses. (The album artwork can be viewed in 3-D when you press the 7-inch records to your face and peer through them.)

It's almost a shame too, but only as it undercuts one of his more intimate moments as a musician. But then again, that is part of the charm of Segall. He makes music like kids draw pictures — scribbling lines with such wild abandon that they can treat most of their creativity as cheap throwaways because they're all too busy in the business of producing more, never looking back.

Then again, there is something of the statement in giving the discs a dual purpose. It suddenly makes the physical form relevant in an age when most music is relegated to a digital download or (worse) random streaming from a collection arranged by someone else.

So perhaps the physical production does break though in that regard. Segall isn't content to be heard through headphones alone. He wants to be played with purpose in the living room, his music filling up the space around you. Mr. Face does that very well too.

Mr. Face is an intimate take on Ty Segall.

Level 99 DenimFor someone who never stands still — bouncing around various underground bands, creating some, and circling back — Mr. Face is surprising settled, anchored mostly by an acoustic guitar on the front half of the EP before it drifts more toward the rhythmic back half (when he does deliver several doses of always welcome solos). Much of it is subtle by comparison to his standard fare.

Without sacrificing any of his vitality, Segall eases into the EP with the title track and sings about how individual valuations often revolve around money. He doesn't judge it as much as he dismisses it with whispery vocals and pulse quick acoustic rhythm.

The tone of it tells you that he is still taking it slow (in comparison to the frantic pace that defined much of his early career and not slow in comparison to other artists), offering up the EP as holdover until he commits to his next album or project. Fans will most likely think of it as a step back toward the midpoint of his career when mid-tempo indie rock characterized most of his work.

Circles is something else. It carries a bit more of Segall's distort and squelch, which comes across even stronger as part of his live performances. The studio cut is considerably clearer than his live performances, but this clip captures the track nicely.

After Circles, Segall delivers the lyrically sparse and guitar solo heavy Drug Mugger, a garage glam rocker that alludes to medicated trade-offs. The main pained moment is warning people away from wondering where things come from, making the feel of it ominous and oppressive.

Segull ends the EP on The Picture, which is the most personal and meaningful. The Picture is a song about learning to say goodbye. It's sad and freeing at the same time, converting some understanding that saying goodbye can help you see those you miss in a new light.

Although rife with loss and foreboding, Mr. Face ends on a note of resolution. Things can work out in the end, even if that sometimes means finding inner peace. And somehow, it might help you settle in without settling.

Mr. Face By Ty Segall Plants 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Overall, Mr. Face showcases Segall returning to and mastering his mid tempo indie rock meanderings in between albums. At the same time, Mr. Face seems to suggest that something great will come from being more resolved with the loss he once endured. Good for him.

Mr. Face can be found on Amazon or downloaded from iTunes. The songs are striking enough to include on a playlist, even if the intent here is to hold it in your hands (and up to your eyes). The first pressing, by the way, was sold out.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Farm Toils Perception And Paranoia

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith
When Daniel first received word from his father that his mother had been hospitalized, he suddenly felt dizzy, a wave of nausea overcoming him as he dropped his grocery bag. He immediately knew something was wrong, but as his father continued to cry into the phone, hardly making sense, the details grew even darker.

His father recounted how his mother had been imagining things, terrible things, for several months until she had finally suffered a psychic break. He had no choice, he continued. For his safety and hers, she had to be committed.

A psychological stint into perception and paranoia.

The news was especially shocking to Daniel as his parents had just recently retired to a farm in Sweden. Everyone had considered the move the adventure of a lifetime, especially because his mother had been born there. She had told him so herself, sending him emails rather regularly.

She did, that is, until the last email. All it had said was "Daniel!" and nothing else. Daniel had explained it as a glitch. He had even sent her a quick response back, asking her to resend it. She never did, but he assumed she was too busy with whatever one might expect on a farm.

He was wrong. And when he had finally come to terms that he was wrong and booked his flight to join his father in Sweden, he turned out to be wrong again. His mother wasn't at the hospital, but on a flight from Sweden to London. She called to tell him and warned him not to believe his father before the call cut off.

Unsure of what else to do, he did the only thing he could do. He met her at the airport, brought het back to his apartment home, and listened to her as she began to outline a conspiracy to cover up a crime, one that his father had been complicit in and, if not, an active participant.

The initial accusation was almost more than he could believe, compounded by her insistence that he listen to her story not as a summation but in sequential order while she produced scraps of evidence and her own journal entires to corroborate not only her story, but also her sanity. Even more pressing, she needed him to listen before his father and the men who had coerced him found her again.

Spiritual Cinema CircleHer story titters back and forth between plausibility and paranoia. But even as those odd and inexplicable details give Daniel reason to doubt his mother, evidence and events provide enough proof that he is compelled to believe — much like the doctors at the hospital she had fled.

While the conclusion may leave more than one reader wondering why Tom Rob Smith would end on whimper compared to the terse and gripping tale told by an untrustworthy narrator, The Farm revives the author's gift at bringing anxiety to life. As a study into how much perception plays in the reality we make, Smith also entertains with a slow burn story that swirls between trust and disbelief.

A couple graphs about the author Tom Rob Smith. 

After his sensational breakout novel Child 44, based on a real Russian serial killer known as the Rostov Ripper as seen through the eyes of his fictional MGB officer Leo Stephanovich Demidov, Tom Rob Smith delivered two more novels that took readers deep inside Russia. While the sequels were welcome, the trilogy sometimes suffered as reviewers continued to hold each book up to Smith's smashing near-perfect debut.

Where The Farm becomes an exceptional win for the author is when it treads some new ground, shaking off the trappings of the trilogy. While some similarities remain — Smith's vividness in describing the bleak wilderness of the mind as well as the landscape — the subtlety of this Cambridge graduate's craft has grown tenfold.

The Farm By Tom Rob Smith Steals 8.7 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

As long as readers are willing to forgive the whimper of an end in advance of starting the book, they will discover that the ride can indeed be better than the destination. This is an amazing portrait of justifiable paranoia that resurrects the old saying — it's not paranoia if it's true.

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith is available from Amazon. The book can also be downloaded for iBooks or ordered as an audiobook. You can also search for The Farm at independent bookseller Alibis and take free shipping on select titles.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Growlers Play A Chinese Fountain

The laid back surf punk sound of The Growlers is seeing a renewed uptick in attention as the band takes a victory lap for the album they released last September. They will be touring for another two months, playing in 14 different venues from Los Angeles to Brooklyn in about 30 days.

So while Chinese Fountain may sound like a holdout from last year, their self-described beach goth vibe makes for an excellent way to ease into a new one. The reverb heavy post-punk anglings meander through 11 tracks of throwback gypsy folk and spaced out psychedelia.

So while the overtly consistent pacing can grow wearisome as an album, The Growlers hit half a dozen standalone tracks that sound near perfect amidst a more diversified playlist. Collectively, the album is at once a triumph in producing some of the band's strongest material in years and a disappointment in being one of least varied outings since the band came together eight years ago.

Where The Growlers make a splash on Chinese Fountain. 

Evidence of a great album starts with the increasingly familiar track Good Advice. The track smacks of everything that makes the album alluring, including the downbeat lyrical licks at life — "There's nothing as depressing as good advice," sings vocalist Brooks Nielsen.

Good advice is arguably the best track on an album that was demoed out in Topanga after two weeks, assembled at their manager's Claremont home in one week, and then recorded in less than two weeks at Sea Horse Sound Studio in Los Angeles. Nielsen said it works best that way, with him and guitarist Matt Taylor responsible for most of the writing on all of the tracks.

Chinese Fountain is the second try to record a proper studio album. The last one, attempted in 2012, was scrapped. The new one works, even if it is missing the charm of being produced on the fly.

That's not to say that the band wasn't rushed to get the job done. Manager JP Plunier jumped in to produce it when the band became hung up on their attempt to channel reggae hitting the English punk scene in the 1970s. The title track, Chinese Fountain, comes closest to capturing that concept thread before breaking into a punk funk.

Alibris: Books, Music, & MoviesThe opener, Big Toe, is more indicative of what to expect from the album. The jangle they used to be known for is understated. The relaxed surf punk vibe is always punctuated by Nielsen's pleasingly rustic and swooning twang.

Other standouts include the remorseful Dull Boy, the dusty ballad Going Gets Tough, and the sarcastic doo wop ode to love in their home own. Purgatory Drive seems to stall instrumentally as a composition, but the lyrical sharpness more than makes up for it. The track touches on someone stuck in the drive between their mediocre job and broken home. Expect shivers if you think about it.

"This is my chance to let it all out," Nielsen says of these songs. "I kind of bottle things up and don’t really get emotional. But I think if I don’t open up, I’d be a really stale person."

Chinese Fountain By The Growlers Takes Out 6.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Overall, the album features brilliant songwriting by Nielson and Taylor, and tighter playing by them and the balance of the band that includes Scott Montoya, Kyle Straka, and Anthony Perry. Even the best tracks seems to overshadow too much whimper and not enough growl as an album. See them live if you can. It's well worth it.

Chinese Fountain by The Growlers can be discovered on Amazon. You can also download the album from iTunes. You can find Chinese Fountain and more from The Growlers at Barnes & Noble too. For show listings, visit the band on Facebook. They play 150 shows a year on average.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Cathie Pelletier Beams Sonny Home

Beaming Sonny Home
"You're not going to believe what he's done now," Rita said to her mother as she frantically punched at the channel numbers on the remote. "...because what Sonny has done this time takes the cake."

Mattie Gifford dropped down on the sofa and clasped her throat. Sonny, her son, had been the cause of a great deal of throat-clasping over the years. And now, at 66 years of age, Mattie would have to wonder if she could stand the shock of it. Sonny was on television and for all the wrong reasons. 

Her boy, the only person in the world who hadn't directly added to the mountain of regret and grief that Mattie carried around with her, had robbed a bank and taken two women hostage. The three of them, and a poodle, were now held up in a trailer that belonged to Sonny's estranged wife. The police had the trailer surrounded, waiting for a statement. Mattie, her heart fluttering, waited with them. 

Beaming Sonny Home is a surprisingly poignant story about relationships. 

Despite providing the novel its pivotal piece of tension, the bank robbery and subsequent hostage taking is only a backdrop to account for the life of Mattie. While Sonny had been in trouble before, she saw him as the only one who had managed to keep their relationship intact. 

The rest of them had only caused her heartache. Her mother had committed suicide. Her husband slept with her best friend. Her three daughters are selfish busybodies who spend most of their time judging each other, arguing, and throwing jealous barbs at the one brother their mother liked best. 

The three of them had plenty of fuel to add to the fire this time. Sonny had claimed to have seen John Lennon's face in an apparition and believed that robbing the bank and taking hostages would be the best way to reconcile with his wife and get his life back on track. The mere thought of it made his sisters cackle in horrific delight as they munched pub pizzas, gulped diet soda, and chain smoked cigarettes. 

Mattie can't help but to wonder what she had done in her life to find herself here. And mostly, that is what Beaming Sonny Home is really about. While she never set out to choose this life, a series of events shaped her relationships, with her daughters taking more after their father than her. In its totality, the quick and witty read digs deep into a small town life with limited possibilities and an infinite supply of challenges that range from ubiquitous gossip to evaporating employment.

Originally published in 1996, a reissue reviews one of the best sardonic character studies contributed to literary fiction by Cathie Pelletier. Mattie is unforgettable for her blind love for an underachieving son who has been in and out of trouble with the law for the better part of 36 years. With equal parts humor and vulnerability, Pelletier brings to life a woman who still managing to hold out hope despite feeling like she has completely failed at life.

A few more graphs about Cathie Pelletier. 

Cathie Pelletier
Author Cathie Pelletier has written twelve novels, ten of which are under her own name, beginning with The Funeral Makers, published by MacMillan in 1986. She also wrote two books under the pseudonym K.C. McKinnon. Both of those novels, Dancing at the Harvest Moon and Candles on Bay Street, were made into television movies.

Pelletier's career unexpectedly began as a student who showed exceptional aptitude and was advanced two grades. At sixteen, she was accepted  to attend the University of Maine at Fort Kent. At seventeen, she was expelled for breaking curfew and pulling the fire alarm. Following her expulsion, she hitchhiked across the United States before returning to school to become a songwriter. While several of her songs have been recorded, Pelletier eventually found fiction as a creative outlet.

Beaming Sonny Home By Cathie Pelletier Hits 8.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While readers seem to both love and loathe this particular novel penned by Pelletier, Beaming Sonny Home survives the test of time. In more ways than one, it may have been written ahead of its time as today's audiences are even more likely to relate to a story of someone who measures their life by living vicariously through the people around her.

Beaming Sonny Home: A Novel by Cathie Pelletier is available on Amazon. The novel is also available for iBooks or as an audiobook on iTunes. Narrated by Erin Moon, Mattie comes across as a younger, more vibrant version of herself. Check Barnes & Nobles for other Cathie Pelletier titles.