For all those who feel that the guitar/drum duo has been done to death, I ask that you leave your pre-determined negativity at the door. Slim Wray’s new LP Sack Lunch is exactly the kind of aggressive blues rock that 2013 has been missing. This Brooklyn-based pair have given us a new reason to believe this format can work, and in the process made the best album in the genre since The White Stripes’ Elephant.
The single, “Bear,” came out a while back. I don’t remember when exactly, but as soon as I heard it I started looking forward to hearing the full album. It’s one of those songs you just want to listen to all day. Imagine Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl,” minus the obvious desire for commercial success and adulation. Howzr’s guitar solo at the midway point is incendiary and even in the short burst he shows you how talented he is.
It was actually the song that follows the single on the album, “House Of D,” that convinced me that these guys are for real. It’s got an old-timey feel, a modern campfire tale complete with harmonica train whistles. The instruments take a back seat and allow the story to unfold clearly. They paint some vivid imagery, like: “I said hey Officer I didn’t maim, rape, or steal. He said ‘Not my problem so sit very still.’ I’m eating cheese off stale bread, pass all meals I won’t use the can. When you spend a second night in a cell, you know it’s for real.”
Slim Wray almost gets into punk territory on “Strychnine.” It’s a mile-a-minute run with Chris Moran sprinting to keep time on the drums while Howzr’s guitar drives through sputters and fits of fuzzy noise and screaming wails. It’s a bit different than the rest of the album, but it doesn’t get too far out of the sonic environment they created earlier on the album. If anything it keeps the listener on their toes and doesn’t allow any level of comfortability.
It’s been a year of playing it safe and bands trying to find where they fit in the marketplace, so it’s nice to hear music that just goes balls to the wall without caring who the audience is. If you make good music, people will find it. You can find Sack Lunch on iTunes and Amazon, as well as your local record store.
Currently only three shows are listed on their website, but I’m sure more will be added after the new year. If you’re in New York City you can catch them at Mercury Lounge on December 23rd. If you’d like more info on the band, hit up their Facebook page.
Between being holed up in the hospital and the Thanksgiving break, I got more than a little behind. That’s why today I’m writing about a single that was released on November 12th by Toronto-based band Newsmen. A lot of times I’ll just let something like this slip by and just tweet something about it with a link, but I wanted to do a real post about this one because I really dig the A side of this single. I don’t really know much about the band other than two of the guys are brothers-all I really need to know is “Can they play?” and with “Grand Tracadie” they’ve answered a resounding yes.
The song kicks off with a chorus of echoing voices singing “When the old die and I understand” before launching into the first verse. It’s a perfect, attention-grabbing start that feels like it could have been recorded by some unknown late-70′s garage band strung out on the Stones and Big Star records. The lead guitar plucks along and you can feel every note in the center of your brain while the bass line swims along your ear canal like Mark Spitz going for the gold (in keeping with the 70′s theme). Towards the end of the song that guitar that had been feeling it’s way through just explodes into a fuzzy whirlwind that rises above everything else and a battle ensues as the vocalist tries to sing over the noise.
The B-side, “Covehead,” is not quite at the same level as “Grand Tracadie,” but it’s not bad. I actually think the vocal performance on this one is a bit better. The harmonies are great, and the verses are sung a bit more clear. I really like the final line of the “Covehead,” which gets repeated twice: “Explain the past, that element boiling us in our skeletons. It’s melting down my hands.” The delivery is perfect. If the whole song had been like that, it may have been even better than the A-side.
You can pick up a copy of this release on Bandcamp for the low, low price of whatever you feel like paying. While you’re there you can also pick up a copy of their EP Wild History, which came out at the beginning of the year. I don’t see any live dates listed, but I assume if you live around the Toronto area you will probably have an opportunity to see them play at some point. Check out the Newsmen’s Facebook page and Like them to get any updates about shows or upcoming releases. It sounds like they plan on keeping pretty busy in the new year, so we shouldn’t have to wait long for more music!
Gloom Balloon-You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Disaster/Fix The Sunshine Pts 1-7 (An Ode To Bill Doss)
After over a decade doing somersaults across stages as one fourth of The Poison Control Center, Patrick Tape-Fleming has taken a deeper look inward on his new project, Gloom Balloon. The loud guitars and screaming are gone (mostly), making room for a more subtle balance of musical experimentation and sincere songwriting. The album is broken into two halves-the first a crazy exploration through musical genres, the second a heartfelt tribute to Tape-Fleming’s friend and musical hero Bill Doss of The Olivia Tremor Control. Even with two wildly different approaches, the album works as a whole. And it’s one of the best records I’ve heard all year.
While Tape-Fleming is the driving force of Gloom Balloon, he’s not alone. He’s enlisted Chris Ford of Christopher The Conquered as co-producer, and H.D. Harmsen (whose album Papoose is another 2013 gem) helped with string arrangements that pop up all over both halves of the record. Together they’ve created a really interesting sonic palate that has led me to describe it to friends as Conor Oberst meets Herbie Hancock and Melvin Van Peebles.
You may have heard a little bit from Gloom Balloon earlier this year when they released a 7″ that was featured on Spin.com. That song, “She Was The One That Got Away,” does not appear on the new album. It did, however, give a good bit of insight into what Gloom Balloon’s full-length would sound like. A hip-hop beat lays the foundation, but Tape-Fleming and Ford fill the rest with horns and sweet harmonies as Patrick rap/sings the verses.
That one is backed with “The Science Of Love Minus Harry Harlow,” which features Bob Nastanovich of Pavement on drums. Nastanovich lives in Des Moines now, and he’s taken quite an interest in a lot of the local music being made there. This song is more of a funk jam. It’s got trumpets, sax, some auto-tuned synth, and short drops of spoken word. If Beck and Stevie Wonder ever made a song together, it might sound something like this.
You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Disaster kicks off with some gorgeous strings that leads into a deep bass hit followed by some very nuanced percussion work. The strings give way to a whirring synthesizer sounds before Tape-Fleming rejoins to lay claim to being “the luckiest fucking fool in this town.” It’s a totally different tone than what we got with the initial single, but it still shares a lot of sonic qualities, and works as a great intro to the rest of the album.
I love the track that shares its name with the band. “Gloom Balloon” features some of Tape-Fleming’s best songwriting to date, and the first line can almost sum up the whole first half of the album: “You don’t have to be alone to feel alone, it’s so true.” I love the blending of classical strings and horns with electronic beats, but here it works better than anywhere else on the record. And the way it blends into the title track is a great feat of editing.
The opening of the second half of the album is a dark tunnel of noise that somehow works even though it doesn’t seem like it should. Squeaking saxophones and trumpets over a synchronous live drum and electronic beat create almost too much noise for your mind to process. In the end, “Will C., You, Cut Me Like A Matisse” is a perfect set up for the even more experimental songs to come.
As much as I love all the weirdness and crazy stuff that goes on throughout the album, it’s really “Fix The Sunshine” that ties the whole thing up, and it’s a straight-ahead acoustic pop song. It’s such perfect tribute to Doss and his lasting legacy in the music world. Tape-Fleming sings, “You can leave it, all behind: your possessions, your soul, but your songs I’ll keep with mine. And even if I never, ever, ever heard one of them again, I would still have them memorized cause I considered you a friend. I’ll say it again, If I could fix the sunshine, you know I’d try. And all the children in the world are one day going to die. And so Will, You and I.”
Hopefully I haven’t spoiled much of the record for you. I’ve listened to it a bunch of times and I still find something new every time. You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Disaster/Fix The Sunshine comes out December 3rd according to Maximum Ames Records website, but you can pre-order now, which I would highly recommend. Albums like this don’t come around every day, and we need to cherish them when they do. So buy a copy for yourself and buy ten more for your friends.
The first thing that caught my attention about Heyward Howkins was his voice. A perfect balance between Antony Hegarty and Roy Orbison that gives the songs a bit of classic rock and post-modernism at the same time. My first time through the record I focused almost entirely on the vocals, unable to really pay any attention to anything else going on. They’ve done a nice job of pushing Howkins way out in front of everything else, it would have been such a waste to bury his voice underneath the other instruments.
Of course, there’s more going on that just singing on Be Frank, Furness. It’s actually a very well put-together record featuring some great drumming by Erik Schmidt (particularly on “Cut & Corral”). Most of the songs follow a kind of slow burn formula that gives the album a constant that makes it a comfortable listen. It’s something you can very easily get lost in if you allow yourself, which I do recommend doing.
This is the second full-length from Heyward Howkins, and if it’s an indicator of things to come, I definitely think you should keep your ears open for anything he does in the future. If you’re a fan of songwriters like Pete Droge or Matthew Sweet, you’ll dig what Howkins is doing. You can pick up Be Frank, Furness as a digital download for $8 or a limited edition vinyl for $12 on Bandcamp.
If you’re a fan of Blake Sennett, like I am, then 2013 has been a pretty good year. Back in the spring Rilo Kiley released Rkives, a collection of unreleased songs and alternate versions that they’ve been putting together for the past couple years. Now we’ve had the chance to check out his new musical endeavour, Night Terrors Of 1927. This is Blake and his friend Jarrod Gorbel from Honorary Title making fun electro-pop that I never would have expected. Spin had the exclusive first stream on their site, and I knew within 30 seconds of the first songs that I would love this EP.
The two have only been making music as Night Terrors Of 1927 for a little over a year, but they seem to be deeply in sync. Sennett produced Gorbel’s 2010 solo album “The Devil’s Made A New Friend,” and I think they had an obvious music connection right away. Here, it’s hard to tell if they’re winking at us with these songs or not. It seems to be both a poke at the current state of popular radio bands like fun. but you can feel a sincere joy in the music as well. I suppose it doesn’t really matter either way, as long as the music is good. It’s better than that, even.
It’s hard to pick a favorite of the five tracks on Guilty Pleas. Gun to my head I’d have to say “Fall Into You,” which oozes the same kind of sexiness as Sade’s “No Ordinary Love.” The vocals are gorgeous, and Sennett’s echo-y guitar implies a passing of time and longing that really fits the song.
The extremely Killers-esque “Smoke Signals” is another gem. I literally had to check to make sure Brandon Flowers wasn’t guesting on this one. You may not guess it from the name Night Terrors Of 1927, but this EP is full of big hooks and anthemic choruses. Blake and Jarrod have put together one of the best sounding, most fun releases of the year. And they did it without sacrificing some of the darker lyrics you usually expect from Sennett, which is a great feat in itself.
You can pick up Guilty Pleas on iTunes for a steal at $3.99. No official tour plans have been made, but the group has been playing around LA, most recently a residency at The Echo. For all other info, check out their website.
About a month ago I received an email with very little information other than a link to a Youtube video. It was Philly-based rapper Gonz doing a studio recording with The Burgeoning backing him up, and it sounded really good. I’d never heard of either, and I wasn’t really sure whether the person who sent me the link was working on behalf of the band or the rapper. Through some digging I found Gonz’s website and saw that he put out a new album called Winter Fever in May. I didn’t get a chance to check it out until now, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what I’ve heard.
Maybe it’s just because I’d been listening to that new Eminem album and my ears were thanking me for a break from the discordant pounding MMLP2 delivers, but the music on Winter Fever just nestled itself in my ears. There’s a great quality to Gonz’s voice, too. He finds a sweet balance between the nice guy vocals of Drake and the hard-living brutality of one of my favorite rappers of all time, Scarface. The mix is put together well, with the vocals all out in front so you feel like he’s right there singing next to you.
A lot of the music comes from a late 80′s/early 90′s R&B influence, which I enjoy quite a bit. Growing up on stuff like Jodeci and New Edition gives the album a familiar feel, but Gonz and whoever produced Winter Fever have done a good job of making it feel contemporary. If you’re a fan of guys like Bruno Mars or Akon, I could totally see you being into Gonz.
If you like what you heard in the video above, go check out his website. You can listen to Winter Fever in its entirety there and then go pick it up on iTunes.
2013 has been a pivotal year for the men in Fort Frances. They’ve attained goals, fulfilled lifelong dreams, and most importantly released some great music. It started back in the spring with the release of Harbor, the beautiful EP that has held strong in my Top 25 since it came out (currently #15). They toured a bit behind that, headed up to New York City for a show which led to them releasing their cover of the Ryan Adams song “New York, New York.” They hit Daytrotter and Audiotree for sessions before going a bit quiet again. When they came back it was with ferocity-they released a new 7″ single and followed that almost immediately with a cover of Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago.” And, oh yeah, they went to NYC again to play in the Outlaw Roadshow which is personally curated by Adam Duritz of Counting Crows and Ryan Spaulding. So I guess it’s been a pretty good year.
What better way to cap it off then with a hometown show at the best venue in the city, Lincoln Hall. It was well-attended for a Sunday night (I’ve been there on other Sundays when it’s pretty sparse) and there wasn’t a single jerk in the crowd, which must be some kind of record. The band seemed pretty excited and came out guns blazing with a long instrumental intro on “How To Turn Back Again.” This was the first of many little things that made the show different than any other I’ve been to, and no one appreciates that more than me.
The band wasn’t different-same three guys it’s always been-but there was something in the way they were playing that was not familiar to me. Like they had been watching tape and studying different rock moves to grab the audience. Four songs in, with “Losing You,” I half-expected David to do a power slide across the stage during his guitar solo. It was fun! There was a point where he hit a chord and kicked his echo into gear, and he looked almost shocked that it worked-he was laughing at himself and it was hilarious. He added a little vocal intro to “City By The Sea,” and there were other little variations to songs. It’s not unlike what Dylan does sometimes when he gets tired of singing what the audience expects so he just writes a new verse.
The set list covered pretty much everything you would want in a Fort Frances show. They went back to The Atlas for a few songs, played everything on Harbor and both tracks on the new single (I personally prefer “Habits,” but the live version of “Plastic Hearts” has me rethinking that). One new track was played, called “Everything Is Starting To Make Sense.” It’s still in the development stage, but definitely an indicator of good things to come on the next album. There was a surprising new cover that came not quite halfway through the 17-song set, one of the greatest songs of all time, “Nothing Compares 2 U” by The Purple One.
My biggest hope going into a show is that I’ll be surprised by something. It’s tough for bands like Fort Frances to do that because I’ve seen them so many times. Last night proved to be an exception. It wasn’t like I was watching guys I’ve known for a couple years and have a pretty good working relationship with, every song felt completely new. That in itself is an amazing feat to pull off, and the fact that they sounded great on top of feeling new is just the icing on the cake.
Fort Frances has a few more dates on the books before the end of the year. On November 14th they will be at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, the 15th at Grinnell College in Iowa, at Radio Radio in Indianapolis on the 16th, the 22nd they’re at Whole Music Club in Minneapolis and finally the 23rd they’re in Eau Claire, Wisconsin where I assume they will play “White Roses” and Justin Vernon will be crying in The Cabin. You can RSVP and get tickets for all these shows on the band’s Facebook page.