Monday, March 31, 2014

Martin Van Ruin -- Every Man a King

I really hope Martin Van Ruin isn't a one-offside project. Comprised of members from Chicago heavyweights like Jenny Dragon, Planetsploder, and Derek Nelson & the Musicians, there's a lot to keep the band busy. But Every Man a King is a rare gem of an album. It has a presence that few bands achieve.

From the Springsteen-esque "Someone Tried to Warn Me" to the truly epic roots rock of "Gold and Love and Gin," Martin Van Ruin knows how to create a big sound. The band never trips over itself, though. This is Important Music with Big Ideas and an earnest delivery, but it never comes off as pretentious. Every Man a King spans the range of folk music, but it hits the right note each time. This is a scarily competent band. My expectations for their next release are already high.


Martin Van Ruin -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp, iTunes, Spotify

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Ryan Smith -- Lost Dogs

Don't have plans for tomorrow night? Me neither. But if you live in or near Columbus, congrats, I've booked your Friday.

And he's bringing a cute doggy!

Lost Dogs showcases Smith's unassuming acoustic songs. But that's the thing about unassuming music...when it's really good, it suckerpunches you. Just like that little Maltese, Smith's musings on loss and mortality nibble at your ankles until you simply can no longer ignore them. There are a lot of reasons I'm jealous of people who live in Columbus (they all involve the local music scene) and I will be especially jealous on Friday night when you guys are enjoying Ryan Smith's EP release party.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Little Rock Bar
944 North Fourth Street
Columbus, OH 43201

with Dos Gravediggers

7 pm / No Cover Charge / 21+

Ryan Smith -- Official, Bandcamp

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Against Me! -- Transgender Dysphoria Blues

As soon as the last note rang out on Transgender Dysphoria Blues, I turned to Facebook and wrote "Move right the fuck over, Macklemore. It's time for some queer music by queers and for queers."

And you know what? We queers are angry.

I don't know what the fan community is saying about Against Me!'s new fans, but if I'm a poseur then so be it. Against Me! was a band that was not far from the lips of the scene kids in my high school days, which meant I was instantly suspicious of them in their credibility. Leave me with my Refreshments and Sleater-Kinney, thankyouverymuch. When I did finally check them out, I enjoyed it but didn't love it. I turn to music to nurse my emotions, and political music only keeps me so warm, yaknow?

So if my becoming interested in the band only happened when its lead singer came out as an LGBTQ human, you'll just have to do with it. Coming out trans* is by no means the same as coming out queer, but it's certainly a similar experience.

Before I go further (because I suspect this will be a longer thinkpiece), I'll divide the article into a discussion of the actual music, and then a discussion of what I think about the music. First, the music.

The Music

There's just something about this album that sets my blood on fire. You're going to need an excellent pair of headphones to understand this one. Against Me! preserved their dance-punk feel, though it's quite guitar-heavy. I can't really speak to their previous output, but I'm in love with this album. Every note, harmonization, beat, and breath is impeccably and carefully placed, though the album is raw and emotional -- never overproduced. The rhythm section (I believe that's James Bowman and Atom Willard, though I'm having a hard time finding out who's in the band's current lineup) are incredibly tight. I'm surprised that after some further digging, this is the first time the band recorded anything in its current configuration. This is rock'n'roll at its purist and most aggressive, and for that alone I'm willing to say Transgender Dysphoria Blues is going to be one of the best records of 2014. 

The Thoughtpiece

Not that this was Laura Jane Grace's intention, but TDB represents an important counterpoint to the mainstream narrative of LGBTQ rights as represented by "Same Love." Macklemore's song reminds me of Elvis's "In the Ghetto": solid songs on their own, but mostly remarkable because the performer took a "risk" in taking a stand on an issue that's "not related" to them. The entertainment world (and thus, the audience) are perfectly happy to consume an outsider's take on the issue, but where are the hit protest songs against marriage inequality, hate crimes, or abandoning gay men to HIV? I don't know what this all is about; I guess the majority of people feel they can better relate to someone who stands outside of the issue but is related to the cause. Acknowledging how an "insider" feels, and how you're complicit in that oppression, is too threatening.

"But Rachel," you say, "things are good now! Same-sex marriage is legal in a bunch of states and anti-equality laws are being overturned across the country! More and more people support same-sex marriage and look at how many queer characters there are on TV! Kids are coming out as young as middle school! It's so much safer to be queer now! Look how cute those couples are in the Macklemore video!"

Yes but did you know it's legal in most states to fire someone based on their sexual orientation? Did you know that it's legal in almost every state to fire someone based on their gender presentation? Attacking an individual based on perceived sexual orientation is not considered a hate crime in many states, to say nothing of attacks against trans* people. Don't even get me started on immigration issues.

Over 50% of LGBTQ teens report being bullied in school. I'm dealing with a student right now who refuses to sit next to an openly gay male student. 

The suicide rates of LGBQ teens are higher than the general population. The suicide rate among trans* individuals is at an epidemic level.

So even though the fear of not being able to have the family I wanted almost made me another statistic back in high school, I say fuck your marriage equality. 

There is so much more to do. The marriage equality movement is nothing more than a means to mollify gay people while we continue to be denied basic economic and physical security. It also lets straight people feel noble about how much they sympathize with/help/support the queer community by giving them a feel-good cause (awwwww look at the happy same-sex family! Just like mine!) instead of one that approaches equality on a more fundamental level.

So I get Laura Jane's fury, even if the queer experience and the trans* experience is Different But Similar. The constant work we all have to do to conform to our society's gender and sexual roles is tiring and, at times, dispiriting. (Why do you want to be a woman? Are you a fag? or, one that's often directed at me, Who's the "man" in the relationship?) 

On the other hand, there's no denying the exuberance in Laura Jane Grace's voice. I can imagine how liberating it is to be out in such a public forum, to finally sing from the heart about what's in your heart. At the end of the day, that's why Transgender Dysphoria Blues gets me so fired up: we will never give up or give in. There is no option but to be true to ourselves.

(Enjoy a very confused David Letterman.)

Against Me! -- Official, Facebook, Amazon, iTunes

Run By the Gun -- Songs From the Little Blue House

Is Rey Miranda stalking me? How did he know I wouldn't be able to resist a gorgeous comic book and garage rock?

Run By the Gun is Miranda's multi-media project, a graphic novel about a struggling rock band accompanied by the fictional band's album.

So let's start with the comic itself.  The story follows Peter Palermo, a lower-middle class manchild from Long Island struggling to make it big in New York. We begin with Peter choosing to sign a record deal or staying true to himself. Meanwhile his girlfriend, Ada, is just about ready to pop out their first kid. Can Peter get a band and his life together?

Brian Hardison's bold line work in issue 1 and Meredith McClaren's warmth give the book a cartoony feel that never strays far from realism. The style is obviously manga-inspired -- appropriate for a story with this much emotional depth -- but is rooted in the dire realities of these characters' lives. I found myself thoroughly annoyed with Peter by the end of issue 2 (hint: he does not get his life together.)

The music is just as refreshing as the art. The story is supposed to take place in late-'90s Williamsburg, when a hardcore scene still nominally existed there. I am neither old enough or cool enough to remember anything about that, but I can tell you that a band like Run By the Gun never would have made it back then. The scene kids were listening to emo and everyone else decided they liked rap. The plainspoken, heartfelt rock'n'roll of Run By the Gun would have been hopelessly lame, even if High School Rachel would have loved it. Grown Up Rachel loves it, too.

We don't know enough about the characters yet to see how all of these songs fit into the story, though, sadly, it's not tough to guess.

The Misanthrope (Available for free download here)

The Devil In My Dreams (Exclusively available for download here -- limited time!)

Run By the Gun -- Official

Monday, March 24, 2014

Vows -- 0 and vows

New Jersey power pop duo Vows are releasing two EPs this week. 0, which is available tomorrow, is a solemn affair.

"My Convictions," the lead single from 0, is an REM-esque ballad that showcases the band's boundless imagination. The music is layered and polished but never overproduced. The band's emotional commitment to the songs separates them from the rest of the hipster pack.

vows, which will be released on Thursday, seems to be heavier on the electronic least, that's what I gather from "Blackfish," the single off the second EP. Normally this wouldn't be my bag, but the Vows' conservative approach to electronic music grabs my attention. Vows are working under the radical assumption that a solid melody makes people want to listen to your music!

Vows -- Official, Bandcamp, Facebook, Purchase from Tree Machine Records

(EDIT: Vows began as a duo but are now a quintet.)

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Highballers -- The Highballers

One of the few pleasant memories I have of teaching my sixth graders last year was blasting The Highballers' first album (for some reason Spotify wasn't loading and it was the only music I had saved to my DOE-issue computer) and listen to the kids' weak protests.

Kids these days. They just don't appreciate good music.

The Highballers returned for round two with more of the same kick-ass alt-country. While the band felt more traditionally country in their first album, The Highballers is rockabilly through and through and benefits with the addition (?) of female vocals supplied by Hope Hudson. (So it turns out she's a founding member of the band but I don't remember hearing her in the previous album. I guess she just nails it on this album.)

What else is there to say about a rockabilly album with a song called "I Need My Ass Kicked?" The Highballers are a class act (no really) and bring the fun back to alt-country.

Lula's Gone

King of the Plains

I Need My Ass Kicked

The Highballers -- Official, Bandcamp, Facebook, CDBaby

(EDIT: Ms. Hudson's been with the band since its founding. She has a more prominent role on this album.)

(SECOND EDIT: The female vocalist in the band is in, fact, Victoria Patchen and she sang on both albums.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Danger Os -- 7" Single

West Chester-based The Danger Os just dropped a new single and here's why you should care: because it's fun and it's trippy postpunk.


The Danger O's --Official, Facebook, Name Your Price on Bandcamp

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Dex Romweber Duo -- Images 13

This afternoon my kids begged me to play Pandora while they worked on their writing. As I switched around the station presets, an older Black Keys song came on. They wanted to know what it is, exactly, that I listen to. They disliked it because they are heathens (today's new vocab word.)

But all I can say is Rubber Factory-era Black Keys have nothing on the Dex Romweber Duo.

I've been paying attention to Dex Romweber out of the side of my eye for some time now. I thought he was more of an alt country type of guy, but Images 13 has disabused me of that notion. Romweber and his sister are actually pretty all over the place, with the psych blues growl of "Roll On," the Doors-influenced "Long Battle Coming," or the jangle pop ballad "We'll Be Together Again." It's a tour de force of twentieth century rock'n'roll with a sinister edge. It's very much one of a kind.

Dex Romweber Duo -- Official, Facebook, Purchase from Bloodshot Records

Monday, March 17, 2014

LIVINGSTON -- Artificially Intelligent Folksongs of Canada Vol. 1

There are so many reasons to say "WTF?" to yourself when you ask strangers to email stuff to you. But the press release for LIVINGSTON's debut album is truly incomprehensible. Here it is in its entirety.

Featuring work produced by the sentient database LIVINGSTON, Artificially Intelligent Folk Songs of Canada, Vol. 1 is the culmination of years of research in both Canadian folklore and computer science. What if we had a digital machine that could access the entirety of Canadian folk music and generate new yet hyper-authentic compositions from the source data? Thanks to this exciting collaboration between Canadian song collector Dr. Henry Adam Svec (The CFL Sessions, Folk Songs of Canada Now) and Czech programmer Mirek Plíhal (Všechny Milí Lidé), there is no longer any need to wonder.
An intelligent archive is already an achievement. Yet, LIVINGSTON only produces transcriptions of words and melodies, and so our engineers also needed to put together a band. Fronted by Svec himself and featuring Misha Bower (Bruce Peninsula), Marshall Bureau (Octoberman, The Pinecones), J.J. Ipsen (Hayden, Jim Guthrie), Andrew Penner (Sunparlour Players), and more, these human musicians have breathed life into LIVINGSTON’s brilliantly cold calculations; from rough hollers and stomps to smooth-country croons, from the sparse sounds of the field to the sparkle of Andy Magoffin’s House of Miracles Studio, Artificially Intelligent Folk Songs of Canada, Vol. 1 documents the limits and possibilities of Canadian folksong—a record as wide and as varied as our land and/or the internet.
Download the music for free (or for a small contribution) via, where you can also access tour dates and the FAQ, and stay tuned for Vol. 2 (sung by Olenka Krakus) and Vol. 3 (sung by Mathias Kom). 


So is this for real? I did a little bit of research. Svec really does seem to be an honest-to-goodness folklorist. If his CV isn't some kind of elaborate performance art, he's done quite a bit of research on the relationship between folk music and digital archiving. His previous project also seems to be about compiling and preserving Canadian folk music and postconsumerism and blah blah hipster bullshit (?)

Plihal, the alleged programmer, plays some percussion on the album but I didn't otherwise find an online presence for him.

So how's the music? Computer-generated or not, there's a truly human quality that people who aren't posing as machines have a hard time creating. The title track, "I Am a Weary Immaterial Labourer in a Post-Industrial Wasteland" is immediately relatable, regardless of the seemingly pretentious title. Maybe the lyrics are a little disjointed, maybe these songs don't always make the most sense...but is that because a computer or wrote them or is it because, when you think about it, most folk music is impressionistic and a little strange? Is all of this a true distillation of folk music or is it the way we frame it because all of a sudden there might be a computer involved? Can we really believe that a computer is able to plug in a few numbers to recreate a genre that prides itself on its humanity and honesty?

The one song I have no idea what to do with is "Take It Easy but Take It To the Limit." First of all, it's a fairly straightforward cover of one of my all-time favorite songs (I know, I guess you have to stop reading this blog now). I don't hear any influences from "Take It To the Limit" at all. Furthermore, none of the Eagles are Canadian as far as I know. Is Svec saying that the song is so perfect...or inoffensive...or affable...or bland...that a computer could have written it? Or is it like monkeys with a typewriter producing Hamlet and somehow this fully formed song was reproduced?

Or whatever. This is great music regardless and I should stop with my hipster bullshit posturing.

LIVINGSTON -- Official (where you can download for free), Name your price at Bandcamp

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Paisley Fields -- Not Gonna Be Friends

This song exactly sums up how I feel right now. Bravo.

(NSFW: Hunky guys kissing in states of undress.)

Fuck this shit. I'm out.

The Paisley Fields -- Official, Facebook

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Vintage Blue -- No Going Back

Here's a pretty song and a pretty video from Chicago indie pop band Vintage Blue. Their EP (of the same title as the lead singer) is out on April 24th!

(Note: there are tasteful shots of a lady getting dressed, but work may not be the best place to watch this.)

Vintage Blue -- Official, Facebook

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Red Eye Gravy -- Dustbowl Hangover

To be perfectly honest, I haven't had a chance to listen to Dustbowl Hangover all the way through, but I didn't really need to. This is the stuff. The shit-kickin', sing-it-from-your gut stuff.

These boys from Oklahoma tear through their cowpunk ballads. I'll paint a picture for you. I was grading class work (always) alone in my room and decided to crank the album up on Spotify. The manic energy made me want to break something. Then my work bestie sent me a text to find out what I was up to. I wrote back "Well, now I'm listening to a song called 'Crackhead Lullaby.'"

Which, as it turns out, was actually a rather tender song.

Red Eye Gravy reminds me of Cross Canadian Ragweed, but only as far as their gallows humor. Where CCR was a little sad and lonely, Red Eye Gravy karate chops these feelings with thrash metal-worthy licks.

Lonely Boy

Crackhead Lullaby

Red Eye Gravy -- Official, Facebook, Purchase Dustbowl Hangover

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Miss Shevaughn and Yuma Wray -- Lean Into the Wind

Over the past few years I've struck up a rather cordial correspondence with Miss Shevaughn and Yuma Wray, in spite of the fact that I've never seen them live. (They have a knack for playing in the most remote corners of Red Hook on the most inconvenient nights.) Yuma Wray's a hilarious guy, and Miss Shevaughn is full of life. I noticed a few months ago that the couple's internet presence dropped sharply. I didn't know what they were struggling through.

The good news is that Miss Shevaughn kicked cancer's ass (for now), the pair just got hitched on the 1st and their current tour is their honeymoon (adorbs), and they've released an astronomical second album.

You'd think they'd be running a victory lap. Instead, this album is all of the nastiness and sorrow and discomfort of the past year and -- yes -- hope and determination at the end (I wouldn't love it if it wasn't at least a little redeeming.) You can listen to the two lead singles below, but I urge you to preorder the album for Seven Dead Arson Records (though the site is blocked at work. I assume you can preorder it there.) The album comes out on the 25th.

As for that concert? I'll be seeing you at the Grand Victory with Miss Shevaughn and Yuma Wray and Uncle Leon and the Alibis on April 11. I've never actually stayed after a show and partied with the band, but it looks like that Friday is going to be as good a first time as I'm gonna get.

Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray -- Official, Facebook, Twitter, Buy We're From Here, Preorder Lean Into the Wind

Monday, March 10, 2014

Naomi Wachira -- Naomi Wachira

Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii. Remember the part where I write a music blog? I forgot about that for a while. But I'm happy to be back!

And I'm really happy to introduce you to Naomi Wachira. She surrounds herself with folk musicians like Damien Jurado, but I wouldn't call her music folk per se. There's certainly good, honest songwriting on her sophomore album. There's an acoustic guitar. And it's not that the combination of those elements with a reggae bass and (West) African-influenced rhythms make it not folk. I'd say that Wachira's music pierces to the heart of things and therefore it transcends any classification.

This album speaks to me. It's about the hungers and pains and joy of youth, or as my dad liked to remind me these last two weeks (with an obnoxious smirk) the "vicissitudes of life." So maybe this isn't meant for confused twentysomethings. Maybe it's also good for confused sixtysomethings. But it's really about not settling for less. Don't shy away from Wachira's feminist and postcolonial critiques. We're all made to feel less than we are sometimes (as Wachira points out, for women of color that "sometimes" is "all the time.") Wachira reminds us never to second-guess ourselves. Life is what you make of it, so dive right in.

Naomi Wachira -- Official, Facebook, Purchase on virtually every platform on her site

PS -- CXCW 2014 has started! See the best of what the couches of Ameriva have to offer in folk, country, and who knows what else.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

M. Lockwood Porter -- Chris Bell/Secrets

M. Lockwood Porter is fresh off the heels of his debut album. He's swinging for the stands again and he's certainly connecting.

"Chris Bell" is more of the sweeping heartland rock that I loved the first time around. "Secrets" is more 70s pop-oriented than I had expected, though I guess that goes hand in hand with a song dedicated to one of the more influential power pop writers of the decade.

You can name your price for the single on Bandcamp.

M. Lockwood Porter -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Two Cow Garage -- These Are The Things

We're finally back. There's no other way to say that the past ten days have been absolutely hellacious. Time Warner telling me that I'd be out of interwebs for a week was the least of my problems (I got it back the next day, btw.) Too little too late was the motto of last week and I had to bump this here project to the side. The updates will be minimal this week as well since I'm still getting on my feet.

So I could talk about how I finally worked up the nerve to introduce myself to Micah after the Philly show, how I thanked him for speaking his truth and how I recognized the validation on his face -- after all, it's the expression I wear when my kids sincerely thank me for doing my job. I could talk about how my own maturing has mirrored that of the band (at least by the time they record the songs they roadtest), and that this new song is really no different. I'd then explain just why it's so important to me that the new song features a queer- and trans*-friendly verse. I'd also note that Shane recently wrote a song about Laura Jane Grace, and that it's cool but a little creepy that the two of them seem to live inside my brain.

But I put way too much effort into getting this video off my phone and onto the Internet, so here's your goddamn video.

And if you're at work where YouTube is blocked or prefer Quicktime, here's a link because maybe I do love you just a little bit.