Wednesday, October 31, 2012

MONARCH -- Amber Waves of Cain

Hurricane Sandy's finally starting to make her mark here in upper Manhattan. By a stroke of serendipity, the winds have set off a car alarm that just so happens to be in the same key and tempo as MONARCH's "Keith's Heartbreak." I'll be less amused, though, when the damn thing is still going off at 2 AM.

You may be saying "Rachel, this is a Halloween post. Throw up some songs about zombies." But the fact of the matter is MONARCH's studies of hard living and hard luck should be enough to send a chill down your spine. The characters featured in this album -- and it really is one coherent story, not a collection of random songs -- are familiar to all of us. We might even see ourselves in them.

The band's rootsy rock softens most of these song's edges. Floating between country and alt-rock, MONARCH would fit comfortably (to me) with the more bombastic southern rock bands of the '70s. "Stoner Ave," "Tearing Me Down," and "Coyotes in the Canyon" have the epic scope of classic rock tunes gone by.

Whatever MONARCH borrows from the past sonically, their piercing characterizations and critiques of 21st-century America belong here in the present. These are songs that will make you stop and think, a quality that artists of any decade strive for. And it's that lyrical power that will separate Amber Waves of Cain from the chaff.

Keith's Heartbreak
Company Time
Stoner Ave

MONARCH -- Official, Spotify, Bandcamp

Friday, October 26, 2012

Bill Evans -- In Good Company

The thing I've most enjoyed about being a blogger is the opportunity to delve into subgenres that I hadn't really listened to before.

Bill Evans is a name I've heard tossed around, but didn't know to seek out. If that's true for you, too, then let me tell you: In Good Company is a gorgeous introduction to progressive folk.

To be perfectly honest, if Bill had decided to call it a day after the first track, "The Distance Between Two Points," I wouldn't have cared. Maybe it says something about me, but I love my instrumentals in fugues and rounds. And maybe it's me, but the plaintive striving in this song perfectly captures what being in love feels like. (Or at least unrequited love.)

Fortunately, Bill did not call it a day. And his pals in The Infamous Stringdusters and Joy Kills Sorrow help round out the album's sound. Comprised mostly of instrumentals -- some traditional, some original compositions, and a pretty Beatles medley -- In Good Company displays the skills of an accomplished musician at his height. You may see this album here again at the end of the year.

The Distance Between Two Points

Bill Evans -- Official, Buy In Good Company, Facebook

Thursday, October 25, 2012

NEW SINGLE: Jo Wymer's "Rearview Mirror"

Jersey girl Jo Wymer is back with the latest single from her sophomore album. It's just as kick-ass and '80s-tastic as we've come to expect.

Rearview Mirror

You can purchase the single for a cool dollar here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

John the Conqueror -- John the Conqueror

There are only two words that come to mind when I think of this album: sexual frustration. And where else does the blues come from, if not our lonely crotches?

It's dripping off of every chord, every beat, every primal moan by lead singer Pierre Moore.

To me, this is garage blues. Everything The Black Keys wished they could be, with an added layer of funk to boot.

Never has an album cover better captured the contents inside. Harkening to a '70s garage rock sound, John the Conqueror packs enough edge to remind us that we're still in the twentieth century.

Aggressive, swaggering, and stupendous amounts of fun. Next time I bring a lady friend home I will be certain to put this album on. I'm not sure if there's anything else I need to say to convince you to listen to it.

If you're not sure you want to commit to the record yet, you can download two songs for free from their Bandcamp page.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Seaway/Safe to Say -- Split

One of the cool things about working with kids is that everything is new to them. It also means that you end up feeling really freaking old.

My school has a program for at-risk students to help them not drop out of school. My kids are all sixth graders, so I'm hoping that the extra two hours of me time they get will actually have some kind of effect on them. The program itself is very ill-defined, so I've used these last couple of weeks just to hang out. After all, I'm not going to expect 12-year-olds to tell me and their peers why school is difficult for them at 8 in the morning right away.

So I started it by showing the kids some of my favorite comics, and then I showed them this blog. They thought it was cool that I get music directly from record labels. I think so, too.

I tried to introduce them to some punk. They weren't that impressed. If the lyrics were a little more age-appropriate, I'd probably hand them the Seaway/Safe To Say split, which is out today from Mutant League Records. 

Thing is, I despised pop punk in middle school -- Good Charlotte, Newfound Glory...they weren't at all authentic in my eyes. (Somehow, Sum 41 counted.) But I didn't really have the courage to dig deeper into the punk lexicon.

Seaway and Safe to Say strike a good balance between pop punk and grittier stuff. (Safe to Say describes itself as "melodic" punk, which I guess is a way to avoid questions about guyliner brands.) 

Both of these bands are comprised of babies (or really baby-faced guys.) They've got their chops down. I'm looking forward to the coming years when they'll have more to talk about than their high school crushes. But for now, I'll be singing along happily with their anthemic punk.

Speaking of my babies, my 12-year-olds would like you to know that they enjoy listening to "the classics" -- like Usher and Aaliyah. Since when did being 24 make me so old?

If you like what you hear, both bands have free music available on their Bandcamp pages.

Buy the split from Mutant League Records.

UPDATE: Content removed due to DCMA complaint.
Seaway -- Facebook, Tumblr, Bandcamp
Safe to Say -- Facebook, Bandcamp

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Local Strangers -- Left For Better

Sorry for the lack of updates, y'all. Apparently, if I don't write these things over the weekend, they just don't get written at all. To make it up to you, I'll try to write a new post for every day this week.

Today I'd like to give you a reason to look forward to November 5th, because that's when the first full-length album by Seattle's The Local Strangers will debut.

Matt Hart (formerly of Cobalt and the Hired Guns) and Aubrey Zoli are the duo who front this acoustic-inspired band. The music is very obviously Americana-inspired, though "twangy" is hardly a word that could be used to describe Left For Better. That being said, neither can "pop." Left For Better successfully navigates the waters between folk and pop without coming off as twee. Thank God.

Zoli's singing steals the show. Hands down. My favorite songs on the album, though, are those that feature both singers prominently. The lead-off single (which you can download for free from Bandcamp) is also the album's first track. Things slow down for a bit, but by track four the album has picked up steam and runs straight to the finish line.

The Local Strangers will be touring the Northeast this fall. You better make sure you go out and see them.

The Local Strangers -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Friday, October 12, 2012

Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys -- Release Your Shrouds

Sometimes, the vocalist's prowess is enough to elevate a band from the ranks of their contemporaries. But it's not just Lindsay Lou's vocals that will make Release Your Shrouds the latest addition to your music collection.

The tight-knit lyrics and infectious joy in The Flatbellys' songs will make you stop whatever you're doing and cock an ear. The band's skill is breath-taking, and it's obvious through their playing that there is nothing they'd rather do more than come together and make music.

Drawing from Americana and early twentieth-century music, Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys firmly place themselves within the continuity of American music without sounding self-conscious, as many of the bands who try to capture this sound do. No -- this is just who they are.

The group's upbeat songwriting and positive ethos towards life is refreshing in this day and age of urban twenty-somethings like myself trying (inexplicably) to compare themselves to Dustbowl farmers during the Depression. Rather than painting Americans as long-suffering and full of grit, Release Your Shrouds reminds us of the relentless optimism that is the aspect of the "American character" that we should keep close to our hearts.

You can download a free EP of the album from the band's website.

My Side of the Mountain
The Power 
The Leaves Are Changin'

Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys -- Official, Facebook, Spotify, Buy Release Your Shrouds

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Paul Sanchez and Colmen DeKay -- Nine Lives

I haven't always been  proud to be a New Yorker. It's true. Mostly because I hadn't really lived outside of New York until college. It wasn't just that I hated living in suburbia (or near a city that has an explicable lack of good pizza despite its large Italian American population) -- I just didn't realize what it meant to be a New Yorker until I was surrounded by people who weren't.

And so I always appreciate art that is invested in a specific place. James Robinson's Starman taught me what it means to be enamored of a city. Paul Sanchez's music (ca. Cowboy Mouth) taught me how to take that sense of hometown pride and show it to the world.

A consummate storyteller, it makes sense that Sanchez would turn to musical theater as an artistic outlet. But it was confusing to me to figure out how to listen to the album. The musical is based on the eponymous book by Dan Baum, which recounts the lives of nine New Orleaneans before and after Katrina. However, the musical is ultimately about New Orleans; Katrina itself is an afterthought.

For starters, I hate musicals. Like, a lot. Songs can tell stories, but when a song only functions to advance a narrative...well, if you're going to awkwardly attempt to fit some exposition to music, you might as well just throw some dialogue in instead. Some of the songs on this album fall into that trap.

So should I approach this as a Paul Sanchez album? What about co-lyricist Colman DeKay and Matt Perrine's arrangements? Or the 100+ lineup of legendary New Orleanians who participated in the album? If not, do I talk about this piece in terms of the story it tells?

Suffice to say, Sanchez's hand is easily seen in the album. His sharp-tongued lyrics and deceptively simple chord progressions are evident throughout, and he is clearly thrilled to play the part of Frank Minyard, the wealthy playboy-turned-crusading-coroner who finds himself with a tough job on his hands after Katrina strikes.

What's most interesting to me is the way each character's genre of music changes as they progress through the years. It's not an attempt to place the monologue in time. Rather, the genre shift signifies (to me) the kind of music the character is likely to be listening to at the time, which is then used as a prism for his or her emotions. The progression is most obvious with John/JoAnn Guidos, a transwoman whom we follow from her Catholic high school years to the opening of Kajun's Pub, a gay bar in the French Quarter (if I have that right.)

In short: I still hate most musicals. But this album is an artistic and emotional feat. If you care about New Orleans at all, its very musical heart is contained within this album -- in terms of style, content, and personnel. You don't want to miss out on this.

(Side Note: There are plans to bring Nine Lives to the Big Apple once the script is complete. I'm hoping that that'll be sometime real soon.) 

School Song/Fight Song [EXPLICIT]
Kajun's Pub

Paul Sanchez -- Official, Buy Nine Lives, Threadhead Records 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Michael Cormier -- Small Things

Blogging at work is totally kosher, right? Probably not, so I'll make this quick.

Michael Cormier, drummer and background singer for The Attic Stairs, is working on an album of his own in his Maine abode. An exciting and beautiful mixture of roots and jazz, this three-song EP is worth your time.

You can download the EP as a name-your-price kind of deal. But I think you should drop some cash in the tip jar.

Michael Cormier -- Bandcamp

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Pollies -- Where The Lies Begin

I'm still trying to get my ahead around what people mean when they talk about "that Muscle Shoals sound." The Pollies' debut, Where the Lies Begin, adds another layer to this ongoing project.

Although it's their first album, The Pollies are highly qualified to be Muscle Shoals' ambassadors. Comprised of members of The Alabama Shakes, Dylan LeBlanc's backing band, Belle Adair's band, and local legends the Sons of Roswell, The Pollies are poised to take over the indy roots stage.

Just as I'd do with my sixth graders, let's see if we can define "that Muscle Shoals sound" by listing the most important characteristics of The Pollies' music:

- sweeping soundscapes, courtesy of Ben Tanner's organ
- hauntingly beautiful harmonies
- Matt Green's lilting, enchanting guitar hooks 
- intensely emotional crooning. Jay Burgess's voice is ragged enough to sound like he's been a few places, but sweet enough to make your heart clench a little. He reminds me of a less morbid Frank Black.

Buy this album. Like other releases from This is American Music, the digital download is basically dirt cheap (where else are you going to get an album that's only five bucks?)

"Song For Carter" -
"Rebel Man" -
"Ashes Of Burned Out Stars" -
The Pollies -- Official, Facebook, Buy Where The Lies Begin

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Devil's Own -- Graces and Eights

At the risk of allowing things to become too mellow in here, I have brought you The Devil's Own. Two parts Uncle Tupelo and one part Two Cow Garage, this Oakland-based band is poised to storm the spotlight.

It's not for lack of trying, according to the band's rather lengthy biography. In spite of opening for Two Cow -- as well as I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House, Haha Tonka, Scott H. Biram, etc. etc. -- the lineup has only just become stable enough for the band to put out an album.

Graces & Eights is worth the wait, though. These four songs (particularly the opener, "Blues Are Comin'") pack a punch and demonstrate frontman Pissed Pissedofferson's versatility. The band's got skill and it's got enough pluck to have gotten this far. Here's hoping we hear more from them soon.

The Devil's Own -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp, Buy on CDBaby, Buy on Amazon