Here are some cd reviews I contributed to Performer Magazine. Some were published there already. More to come!
Recorded at their House in Austin Texas, Engineered by Adam Moore
Yellow Fever sing songs that resemble childhood chants to accompany playground jump rope games but sung with a dry hipster detachment? ie “My brother and me went to a show and we saw everyone we know.” In another she sings, “The cutest boy, I ever saw,” which I believe is still sung by girl scouts around campfires.
Are they inspired by the Dada aesthetic? Most songs are very sparse, with either just a guitar and a snare drum accompanying Jennifer Moore’s youthful female voice. This minimalism works in their favor on “Psychedelic” and the very catchy “Cats and Rats,” but I can’t help but feel these are 11 versions of a single plastic song rather than 11 distinctly unique songs.
Sometimes their lyrics remind me of the “dumb on purpose?” aesthetic of bands like Ladytron. Or are they the “Ernest Hemmingway” version of the Moldy Peaches? (About writing, he famously said, “take out all the good lines.”) These do not sound like songs written by children, but by adults trying to write songs in the style of children.
I suspect that they have written hundreds of songs and put those on the album that audiences seemed to like. I’d like to see 11 more in a few years, assuming they play regularly, and see how their style has changed.
Nous Non Plus (New York City)
Produced by Dan Crane, engineered and mixed by Bryan Cook, additional engineering by Jon Erickson.
For fans of Paris Combo, Os Mutantes, Brazilian Girls, The Cardigans (early recordings)
Let the organs and horns transplant you to another time, gleeful 60s gogo music sung (almost) entirely in french. The flutes and vibes (Benoit Rault and Joe Berardi) remind me of the breezy tunes The Cardigans released in the early 90s, and the zippy energy often brings to mind “Soul Bossa Nova” by Quincy Jones.
The music of Nous Non Plus urges us to enjoy ourselves. Their politics extol a gay hedonism over violence and destruction.
“When you dance you cannot fight so lets stay up and dance all night!” they sing in “Mais Maintenant il Faut Danser,” which translates as “for the moment we must dance.” I thought they were singing, “big bombs fall on literature,” but their lyric sheet tells me its “little children” which are the unfortunate victims of the explosives… oh well, fuck it. lets dance.
Jean Luc and Celine sometimes coo together, at other times they trade who has the mic which gives some tracks a slight “garage sound,” and others a sexy lounge vibe. The excellent production, apparently recorded at studios all over the world, makes it all match and compliment each other. One highlight is a Unicorns cover: “Tuff Ghost”, another is the wacky “Catastrophe.” Here is a tip for singing along, which your sure to do; in French, you don’t pronounce the “e” at the end.
I also recommend you watch their music videos online, it’s there you can see their cute faces and know comprehensively that they are not taking themselves seriously. In one, there is an atomic girl zapping people with a laser gun on a space ship, in another they are dancing in a kitchen while making a souffle.
Marco Benevento, Brooklyn, NY. Between the Needles and Nightfall
Key Track: “IIa Frost”
Recorded at Trout Recording in Brooklyn, NY. Engineer: Bryce Goggin
Mixed by Mell Dettmer, Eyvind Kang, Jesse Lauter, and Vid Cousins.
Benevento delivers another fun and lively collection of funky keyboard music.
A friendly bass riff supplied by Reed Mathis (Tea Leaf Green and the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey) is a prominent part of the title track. “Numbers” chugs along like “Benny and the Jets” but with whirling, whizzing synths and circuit bent toys by Tom Stephenson from Math Robot.
An eye-opening cover of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good,” features some extremely overdriven organ. Drummer Andrew Barr really shines here, bringing unexpected counter rhythms and colorful rim shots. Benevento said in an email interview, “that song is a future classic, it will be in every fakebook soon.”
The dreamy shuffle on “Music is Still Secret” reminds me of Kid Koala. (Maybe that’s due to mixing by Vid Cousins.) “Snow Lake” has a creepy shamisen-like chiming, these are processed bells from Scott Amendola.
There is always a certain feel to a Benevento song: a pleasant “skip in your stride” mood, that lends itself to walking with a forward lean, to going out and nailing that job interview, or finishing that 17×24 painting, or climbing that fucking mountain just because its there! “Ila Frost” is a highlight, and an ideal example of melodies that sound truly optimistic. Swirling organs provide the poetry, and Vince Guaraldi-like piano bring the philosophy, its a Jack Kerouac novel converted to pure sound.
A mellotron, an optigan, various acoustic and electric pianos, organs and a harpsichord are processed through bit shifters, delay effects and ring modulators, and join in like characters in an avant-garde opera. You are sure to hear more layers each time you indulge in this eccentric album.
recorded by Andy Koeneke and JJ Idt.
Mastered by Doug Van Sloun
Saddle Creek records
UUVVWWZ- self titled
This new band apparently got signed to a label with a great reputation very early in their career; their debut album is very fun and definitely carries its weight alongside the other heavy hitters on their label! They are from Nebraska, and I had no idea something so invented and inverted could come out of that state. I thought of many bands upon listening, but none of them were the ones listed on their promotional material. The outrageous vocals and arrangements reminded me of the Fiery Furnaces and Land of Talk. It is made up of guitars and basses and drums like all the post Pixies indie bands. I haven’t had this much fun since Be Your Own Pet. I can’t assemble these lyrics into any kind of narrative; though Teal Gardner’s vocals are exceptionally clear for what some would call punk rock. She coos, then croons, then belts it out like a banshee. It is certainly experimental, but that doesn’t mean its unintelligible noise.There are no synthesizer cliches, or feedback drones; no samples and no glaringly obvious studio tricks. I would put them in a mix alongside two other bands that are committing the iconoclastic sin of merging math rock with “pretty:” V for Vendetta and Maps and Atlases. It’s weird yes, but good weird. very good.
Marian Call, Vanilla
Recorded at Pacific Studios in Tacoma, Washington by Tony Thomas (mixing and mastering)
and by Ryan Brownell at The Garden Recording Studio in Anchorage Alaska.
Marian’s debut album “Vanilla” is warm, quirky, and fun from beginning to end. “Your Fault,” the “Volvo Song,” “Vanilla” and “Rx: Stop What You’re Doing” stand out as highlights, and are full of many lines that will bring smiles to listener’s faces. She calls her self a “square, a “geek” and a “lexiholic,” and in addition to bars and coffee shops has been playing house concerts and Science Fiction conventions. She writes songs about Firefly, yes the Joss Whedon television program, not the genus Coleoptera Lampyridae. “Dark Dark Eyes” is for River Tam. Marian reminds me of two other “library nerd” songwriters, Nellie Mckay and Casey Dienel. Others compare her to Joni Mitchell, and if you like her you should also look up the Homer songwriter Sarah C. Hanson. Inspired studio performances abound on this gem of a disc. My favorite guest appearance is David Salge on Clarinet on” Vanilla. There are other contributions, David Pew adds accordion and banjo and Paul Pew delivers sparse but soulful piano. These collaborators never distract from what should be front and center, Marian’s genuine, humorous lyrics and her soulful and friendly voice.
When We Were Young
Produced by Luke Beckel and Corwyn Wilkey | Mixed by Sweating Honey | Mastered by Mandy
Parnell at Electric Mastering in London, UK | Recorded at Dome Studios in Fairbanks, AK
When We Were Young makes a great introduction to this party-friendly funk band from Alaska’s Interior. Primary songwriter and front man, Luke Beckel, turns his love of all genres into a thrilling LP.
Though the energy is high, tempos are never rushed or frantic. You can tell these musicians are field-tested and confident. What really gets the listener moving is the percussionist, Nick Shier, and the horn section, bringing a Latin feel to many of the tracks. There are many life-affirming lyrics along the lines of “living without love is like breathing without air.” Two highlights are, “Whatcha’ Gonna Do,” a psychedelic salsa with a reggae breakdown, and “Summer Thang,” where trumpet player Corwyn Wilky puts down his horn and does some soulful lead singing.
“Man on the Moon” is a pleasant piano ballad that may remind some of Ryan Adams, and the exciting “Ezmerelda” tells a story of seduction and murder with a peppy Latin beat reminiscent of Calexico. “Drew Grass” is a peppy bluegrass number with mandolin and tight, restrained drumming.
The album concludes with a traditional tune, “Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” where Beckel shares the vocals with guitar player Drew Frick, bass player Jeremiah Bakken and Wilkey. Each vocalist takes a turn at a verse and the four of them sing in sweet harmony for the choruses. This passionately delivered final track acts as a nightcap after a swinging party; it’s just when the sun is rising and you get sentimental for your family and friends who are far away that Frick howls, “My children, they taught me how to live.”