Friday, July 29, 2016

Fire Hot Opera -- Test Market Fresh

If you're looking for a pick-me-up, Fire Hot Opera will cure what ails you. The neo-"Broadway Soul" of the six-piece band is truly unique. The album is meant to be played as one continuous track (though you can listen to individual songs on Bandcamp) and is an infectiously joyous response to all of the angst in our 20s and beyond.

Just because the music is happy doesn't mean it can't make us think. Test Market Fresh is more about living in the moment and reminding us to catch happiness when it's right in front of us. No matter what happens, if you've got good friends and good music, you can't stay down forever.

If you live in the Chicago area and want to catch that happiness in person, Fire Hot Opera will be playing tomorrow (July 30th) at the Down Home Festival in Springfield, IL. (See schedule here.)

Fire Hot Opera -- Facebook, Bandcamp

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Mount Moriah -- How to Dance

Mount Moriah has come a long way from its scrappy punk days, though the seeds for How to Dance were always there. How to Dance is truly monumental. It amps up that engrossing feeling the band pioneered in Miracle Temple; listening to How to Dance with even a halfway decent pair of headphones is an immersive experience. In short How to Dance is a triumph.

Mount Moriah as a band is conscious of their multiple identities: a southern rock band with a queer frontwoman. The music and lyrics are rife with nods to tradition, but the band is most interested in pushing beyond those confines. And so, we have the Jackson boys fighting over fishing holes sharing space with Chiron the centaur. I haven't finished picking my way through the lyrics of Miracle Temple yet, but I can say that How to Dance feels like an attempt to reframe the mythos and positive qualities of growing up in the rural South to include all identities. As important as anything you listen to in the album, Mount Moriah's statement on the sleeve is important to consider, both in this context and beyond:

How to Dance has cemented Mount Moriah in my rock'n'roll firmament. This is very much one of the best albums to come out this year. I look forward to successive listens.


Mount Moriah -- Official, Facebook, Purchase from Merge Records

Monday, July 25, 2016

Vamanos -- Presents...a Ten Inch at 45 RPMs

Von over at Americana Rock Mix likes to start off his (excellent) podcast with that quote from Freaks and Geeks: "Rock'n'roll don't come from your brain! It comes from your crotch!" That's very much true of blues punk duo Vamanos. Vamanos takes the riff-driven blues of the Black Keys and forces it into a blender with the Stooges and hardcore punk. This is primal stuff, perfect to get you in a lather for this current heat wave.

While Vamanos sounds like they're best seen live (lucky for me, they're from Brooklyn), these recordings capture the duo's supernatural energy. Vocalist Alex Knoche's androgynous yawp reminds me most of early Bikini Kill, while Tyler Bower's caveman drumming drives home the subconscious id that lurks in the corners of all rock'n'roll. (Unlike Bikini Kill recordings, though, you can, like, actually hear the music on Presents...) Vamanos' biggest achievement is that they bring it to the forefront: all the angst and lust and piss and blood -- but mostly the partying -- is laid out on the table. You won't listen to this album -- it'll happen to you.

Vamanos -- Facebook, Bandcamp

Friday, July 22, 2016

Bishops -- Dream Easy

What do you do when the thing you love most doesn't seem to love you back? That's the central question of Bishops' latest release, Dream Easy. The title seems to have a double meaning to me. Bishops' wall-of-sound approach to fuzz rock is easy to zone out to in the best of ways, bringing to mind early 90s acts like Bob Mould and Miracle Legion. It also feels like an ironic commentary on the distance between the goals we envision for ourselves and our lived realities.

Overall, this album is about the general impatience and disgust of folks in their twenties. Sometimes it just feels like we're spinning our wheels. This sentiment is best expressed in "Stay Young Pt II" (a continuation of a track from their first album), a 3-minute song that repeats these lyrics:

When I was young, rock and roll kept me alive
We were dumb, but I knew we would survive

I'm over it
I'm fucking over it

"Cut the Cord" explores the tension between wanting to pack it in and waiting just a little longer to see if things will work out:

Well you've got to cut the cord
You're hurt by both sides of the sword
You want to leave it all behind
It's always burning up your mind

Gave up way too soon
You threw it all away, why?
If you want to hear the truth
Then you can listen while I play guitar in my room 

Depending on what you're going through, this could be a tough album to listen to. Bishops doesn't try to answer the question -- at least not this time around. Dream Easy revels in being in the thick of it, even as it's a cathartic release of anguish.  For capturing an important moment in everyone's lives so thoroughly, Dream Easy is already one of my favorite albums of 2016.

Bishops -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Thursday, July 21, 2016

PREMIERE: Faith Evans Ruch -- "Bang Bang"

I've written plentiful praise for Faith Evans Ruch in the past. She's about to release a new, soul-inspired album. While the world of country will miss her, here's her latest single, a Nancy Sinatra cover, that leaves no doubt as to Ruch's range and virtuosity.

This cover was, in fact, several years in the making. Drummer Ryan Peel and Alex Kramer created the arrangement, which updates Nancy's original haunting guitars with a reggae-esque undertone, and approached Ruch several years ago. She felt the song fit with her upcoming album, and here we are. (Note that while the drums sound looped, Peel is actually playing them live.) You can purchase the single tonight at midnight and ever afterward on iTunes.

Faith Evans Ruch -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp, iTunes

Monday, July 18, 2016

Ben Trickey -- Choke & Croon

Three years was far too long to wait a new Ben Trickey album. His debut, Rising Waters, was one of my favorites of 2013 and continues to be a standby, even three years later. But maybe three years was the right amount of time; it goes without saying that Choke & Croon is meticulous in its execution. Trickey has side-stepped away from the distinctive, mournful Americana that defined his first album. Instead, it's probably more accurate to say that this collection of songs is informed by roots music. The songs are rife with guitar and fiddle, but feel more like set dressing than driving forces of the music. This is especially true in the six-minute epic "Monster," which brings Trickey's previous experience as an abstract installation artist to the forefront.

Trickey's lyrics anchor these songs with a certain earthiness. "529," the thoughtful follow-up to "Monster," observes amidst a swelling violin score:

We're boys and girls just getting hurt
My family born
Inside two wars
My grandpa's laughing on the porch
Nighttime bugs up from the dirt
Yeah the small-town houses and the church

The tension between the overwhelming music and Trickey's depictions of everyday disappointments makes me think of the ways we suppress our emotions -- which can threaten to overwhelm us -- in a desperate attempt to keep living life "normally," whatever that means. Trickey's music gives us a glimpse of the nearly impossible weight he carries on his shoulders, a weight that he hefts against all odds, reminding us that our burdens -- however heavy they may be at the moment -- can be shouldered as well.

Ben Trickey -- Official, Facebook, Store, iTunes

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Great Peacock -- "Society Hill"

The geniuses at Great Peacock are at again. The band will release their new single "Let You Go" tomorrow, alongside this gem, "Society Hill." The track features what makes Great Peacock so incredible: Andrew Nelson and Blount Floyd's unique vocal chemistry. Have a listen here today, and keep your eyes peeled on Great Peacock's Bandcamp page tomorrow.

Great Peacock -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Friday, July 8, 2016

Dregas -- "Skin"

This may be a dance song, but it feels appropriate on today of all days. The song addresses the inherent racial and gender tensions in an interracial relationship. Like all memorable club music, the lyrics are poignant and real, but they go down easier with an irresistible beat.

Dregas -- Official, Facebook 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Kristopher James -- Find Me

Kristopher James has returned with his sophomore release, Find Me, and it's a triumphant one. James is all-around impressive, to be sure. Find Me showcases his impressive range (particularly in "Fire and the Fuse.") Where Movement:1 caught James in a more reflective place, Find Me is rife with catchy albums that will be sure to surface in your head for months to come.

What stands out most from these songs is a sense that James has a large and indomitable spirit. "I'm Not Quite Ready" and "Fire and the Fuse" are huge anthems, while "Humming Hallelujah Silently" shows us James' reveling in a moment of peace. "Heart Shaped Grave" is a touching duet. The title track, "Find Me," concludes the album with James at his most vulnerable and defiant, wrapping a bow on a powerful EP. Find Me is a moving collection of songs that deserves to be found.

Kristopher James -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Will Bennett & The Tells -- Wichita

If you've been pining for some good old-fashioned barroom rock, look no further than Will Bennett & The Tells. I wrote about them a few weeks back and am excited to share the full album with you now. Bennett has a James Taylor-esque gentleness to his vocals that are cut by his Rhett Miller-sharp lyrics. The band captures the nihilism of alt-country but spins it into college rock confection. In other words, Will Bennett holds the key to my heart.

The recording's urgency -- sped by the need to complete the album before founding guitarist Josh Zimmerer moved to Wichita to complete his MFA -- creates an intriguing backdrop for songs about arrested development in middle America. The heartbreak, frustration, and barflies are all here, but the band's intensity gives us a fresh take on the stories we love to tell ourselves (and play out) over and over again.

Will Bennett & The Tells -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Monday, July 4, 2016

VIDEO: Round Eye -- "Billy"

Chinese punk band Round Eye has a knack for making eclectic videos. For the fourth of July, let's take a moment to celebrate American culture, in only the way a bunch of ex-pat punks can.

Round Eye -- Official, Bandcamp

Friday, July 1, 2016

Marisa Anderson -- Into the Light

Marisa Anderson's latest release is a masterwork. This is an instrumental album, but you won't feel least not in the wrong ways. Into the Light was conceived as a soundtrack for a fictional sci-fi Western movie. But if that doesn't sound awesome to you, the music itself doesn't feel trapped to the concept. (Also, do you not like awesome things?)

Into the Light drifts in and out of one's consciousness, and is very much an experience rather than something to sit down and listen to. Anderson's technical skill is dazzling in its own right, but what's truly impressive is her ability to display those flourishes without showboating. Anderson is truly in service to the music, and not her own ego. Whether it's through the desert plains of a faraway planet or the inner recesses of your own consciousness, Into the Light is a journey worth embarking on.

Marisa Anderson -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp