CD Reviews

I have reviewed cds for KSUA Radio, Performer Magazine, The Fairbanks Daily News Miner and just for fun for self publish here. If you would like your cd reviewed, contact me here. I am more likely to review you if you are local to Alaska, and independent.  I am also highly interested in trading cd reviews, you review my cd, I’ll review yours? Get the picture? eh? In addition to cd reviews, i also have some interviews with musicians, to find them, scroll down or search.

Silvero (Bend, OR)
Spiritual Vamp
Recorded at Olympia, WA at Dub Narcotic.

engineered by Ephraim Nagler
mastered by Carl Saff
Nella D-vocals, James Ryan Adams-guitar, vocals. James Bigknife-drums, Annika Kat-bass

Crashing cymbals, overdriven guitars and a powerful female voice are the three primary sonic elements that punch you in the face on this debut EP from Bend, Oregon’s “Silvero.”

On the opening track, (Longhornz) there is a funky rhythm and cowbell that will make you pump your fist in the air. Perhaps a radio edit could cut the first minute of slow building intro and just rock right out the gates.
Nella D enchants with her confidence and fucked up lyrics. “Normal boys are so mundane… They can’t give me what I want.” She condemns normality and praises insanity and addiction, shouting “We’re addicted to life’s afflictions.”
“Give me what I want to hear, cuz this girl’s got a special ear.”
The first half of Terrebonne Honey; “If I die let me die in the army of the lord” hasn’t got much in the way of lyrics, but evokes mood in spades. Her voice is looped around the hook, each time she sings it, the subtle variations shine through. The second half picks up and chugs along to tremendous crescendo.

The third track is a Randy Newman Cover, “Guilty.” This band seems to own it and renew it. “Bad man” is also a cover, from the Oblivians, should I have heard of them?

“Overturf” contains some sweetness. Vem Kan Segla is a haunting lullabye sung in Swedish, Bass player Annika Kat helps out on the vocals on this hypnotic song. and the last is the heaviest, most fearsome grunge, yet its a singalong in the style of 50s rock n roll. The album ends with odd reverbed twinkling, which is just the way it began, perhaps the disc was designed so that it could be played on repeat.

Most of the tracks have lots of space, a minimalism that is refreshing. We hear every amp buzz and Jim’s careful, reserved drumming isn’t lost in a sludge of overdubs. This bare bones approach to blues is part of what made The Black Keys so exciting back in the 2000s.The listener pays more attention to the words Nina says, as she sometimes makes us wait for eternities between lyrics. The band ebbs and flows through slow dragging tempos and powerful upbeat rhythms. These songs are long, with many changes and variations. This album hits on all four cylinders. Its a gem, that accurately reflects the sound of the band playing live.

For fans of The Pack A.D. Shilpa Ray and her Happy Hookers, The Dead Weather, Janis Joplin

Kill the band (NYC)
Mock Bottom

Recorded and mixed by Jimmy Goodman at Leopard Studio
mastered by Chris Gehringer at Sterling sound.

Killy Dwyer infuses each word with inflection and melodrama. The band is consistent and competent whether they are emulating heavy rock, country, lounge, a funk – porn groove or even gospel. Like in their live performance, songs stop abruptly sometimes to have a lounge breakdown or for the band members to indulge themselves or fight.
You can certainly forget that the drum sounds are coming from someones mouth, its Nicholas Fox providing all those percussive sounds. Blair Frowner’s saxophone provides the perfect cheesy ambiance in the second and third tracks.
Fourth track “See Something say something” has that mad glee that Killy is known for. It is a twisted children’s song. The premise is absurd, throwing a cat into the river because you think its a bomb, yet the song’s protagonist must realize it is a cat, as she frequently gives hints that she knows the truth. “I had to stop that bomb from meowing down to zero!” Everyone who rides crowded subways will recognize the situation and the paradox that their catch phrase asks you to report suspicious packages, yet there is no one to report to because budget cuts have removed personnel from many of the subway stations.

On Mock Bottom she makes the joke, “On a scale of Lindsay Lohan to Mel Gibsen, I’m a Charlie Sheen.” This is another song about being a tortured, alcoholic artist, or wanting to revel in that stereotype.
The best track is Ben Kingsley, and sums up the artistic frustration minorities must feel when they are played by actors in films. “No one respects a retard, unless he’s played by Leonardo Dicaprio,” There something so wonderful about humorous, angry lyrics, sung beautifully in harmony; through the sarcasm a touching message shines through. This is a cover from a band called Bad Teenage Moustache.

My only complaint with the album is I feel there was no need to include two versions of “Girl Balls” and “Don’t Attack Me With Your Happiness.” Those are fine recordings, that could be available as downloads for fans on the internet who just can’t get enough Kill the Band. Repetition of lyrics is tricky when you are doing comedy music, it seems fine live, because some audience members will miss the joke the first time. If the band had to have two versions, the jokes should be different, the lyrics should have more variation, the variation was all in the mood, and that wasn’t different enough for me.

It is neat to hear the bonus track “I Turned You Gay.” which dates form an earlier era when Killy was always performing solo. She provides the percussion and backing music with her voice into a looping pedal.

This album is fun and weird, and captures well the band’s live set. Something about it certainly encapsulates New York City. Track 5 is a sketch about the frustrations of recording in a studio. Mike Milazzo (guitar) gets to show us his angry voice. There is some of that in “Clone U” as well, with the sound engineer chipping in that he will “fix that in the mix.” Yet, he didn’t. Its a joke, its meta- its postmodern, an album that knows it’s an album.

FCC warning 1, 5, 7,8 ,11, 12

Jeffrey Lewis (New York City)
A Turn in the Dream Songs (2011)
Rough Trade

Key song “How Can it be?” Cult Boyfriend”
Recorded at Analogue Catalogue, Manchester UK.
Engineer ?
Producer ?

Packed full with brilliant observations, the title comes from the song “To Go and Return” in which Jeff makes the charmingly insightful observation that our lives are wishes come true from previous generations, which took many years to reach the star who would grant it, and then many years to come back.
Jeff is confiding in us his secrets and imparting us with wisdom. Any adventurous spirit will find many lines that resonate, such a s this one: “I’ve got too much confidence to only do things that make sense” in Water Leaking Water Moving.
In “When You’re By Yourself”- he describes perfectly the experience of being alone at a restaurant, how you have to take your pack with you when you go to the bathroom, how you fear that the waitress will think you’re done with your food before you are and waste some of your precious calories! Songs like this one remind me of my travels and unique experiences. “How can Jeff have had the same thought?”
Throughout the album are guest musicians which lend their talents. “To Go and Return” has some saxophone noodling, and mandolin by Franic Rozycki. “Reaching ” has female vocals, and “How Can it Be” has members of Dr. Dog singing back up vocals. That song is the shortest and catchiest song on here, it seems like a part two to a previous song, “Broken Broken Heart.”

“So What If I Couldn’t Take It” has numerous laugh out loud moments. Including a scene where homeless critics rate Jeffrey’s suicide attempt, and disappointingly lower their scores when they see that he survived. He also makes a jibe at Pitchfork, the music criticism site.
The best of these songs may be “Time Trades.” This is the kind of song that may make you cry, or upon listening instantly call up an old friend or family member you love and insist they “listen to this song right now! “That’s what I did for my dad.

Compare solos in “Cult Boyfriend” or the elaborate fingerpicking on any of these tracks to his earlier work and you’ll see how far Jeff has come. His voice may take some getting used to, but we got used to Alec Ounsworth, and Bob Dylan. Any fan of They might be Giants, Todd Snyder, Kimya Dawson, or Jeff’s own inspiration The Fuggs, would do well to give this, his gentlest and most colorful album a listen.

Avery Wolves (Fairbanks, Ak)
Wreckin With the Wolves.
Recorded at Northern Lights Mortuary (not the name of a studio, an actual mortuary… don’t ask) with Nathan as the Engineer.
Mixed by Nick Forkel
Nathan Harris – Upright Bass/ Vocals
Jason Dahlke – Drums
David Keller – Guitar
Fairbanks’ Avery Wolves released their six song EP this spring and it doesn’t disappoint. The vintage art from Shawn Tickenson is fun and fits the music well.
“Harlot of the Waning Moon” features fantastic back up vocals. The bass is up front and center in these recordings, as it should be in psychobilly.
“Lady Luck” has a perky bounce to it and the morbid joke, “its all fun and games until somebody dies.” These recordings are polished and clean. There seems to be no clipping and the guitars distortion is turned down. You might expect more chaotic punk madness if you’ve seen the live show. Live, the solos are longer, the tempos are faster, and you get to watch Nathan’s goofy stage antics, climbing on his bass, playing it with his feet, tossing it around like a swing dance partner, etc. These songs aren’t contributing much new to the genre, but they are accessible, squeaky clean and all are catchy enough to make you sing along. To some, this kind of music is vintage and nostalgic, to a new generation, it means something completely different.
I asked Nathan who writes the songs. He said he writes about 40% of the lyrics, and Jason writes the other 60%. I asked what non music elements influence his songwriting and he said “violence!”!/artist/bio/artist_1487704


Essential additions to an Incredibly Strange Music Collection.

I thought I’d write an article this holiday season about some of my favorite albums in the “Space Age Bachelor Pad” genre.

Space Age Bachelor Pad music, also known as “space age pop” was generally instrumental, happy, and short. Some of this music was designed to show off the power of new stereo speakers. Wikipedia tells us- “Space age pop was inspired by the zeitgeist of those times, an optimism based on the strong post-war economy and technology boom, and excitement about mankind’s early forays into space.” Engineers and composers were pushing the limit and trying to make the home listening experience as dynamic and as exciting as they could. They were experimenting with putting microphones in cans, the difference between recording close up and far away, microphones hanging from ceilings, moving in the room while the performance was happening. Sometimes jazz standards and classical pieces would be reimagined in a peppy, optimisitc and playful way, generally cutting intros and solos to keep them tight and snappy.

Henri Mancini and Dick Hyman would utilize sounds and moods first explored in this thrilling genre to score film. Some of this music resembles music from cartoons, and Carl Stalling (who worked on both Disney’s Merry Melodies and Warner Brother’s Silly Symphonies) even reused music from the Raymond Scott catalog in his compositions for Looney Tunes.
The most familiar of these is also perhaps the most iconic space age pop tune of all, “Powerhouse.” This instantly recognizable tune was in countless cartoons at moments of confused frenzy, a confidant character strutting down the street, or scenes of construction or moving conveyor belts. When Bugs is at the whim of a little green Gremlin who repeatedly tricks and hurts him, it played. I feel I remember it during a frenzies traffic scene as well.
My favorite rendition appears on Space Age Pop Volume 1, recorded by Sid Bass, though a very interesting “free jazz” version is on Ted Kooshian’s Standard Orbit Quartet’s Underdog, and a cool percussion heavy xylophone rendition is on Space Capades from Ultra Lounge recorded by the Bobby Hammack trio.
Conductor Gert Jan Blom said that the effect of having a real orchestra play Powerhouse in front of him, with over 20 horns and percussion was “better than sex.” ( Liner notes to Raymond Scott: Chesterfield Arrangements 1937-1938)
Some lump this music together with “elevator” music and lounge. I’m just one listener, but I would disagree. I think elevator music is designed to calm and be unnoticed in the background. When I think “lounge,” I think vocals, and imagine a sultry singer leaning on a piano and crooning into a old fashioned microphone. What makes Space Age Pop what it is: NO lyrics, fun and zest in every note and element of the production, and an insistent, hummable melody that is high in the mix played on keyboards and mallet instruments.

Modern bands who are kicking ass and taking names, continuing the Space age pop tradition. Many of these discs were released in the 90s, so they aren’t exactly Modern… but I don’t care, I’m living in the past and loving it. If you like Keyboards- this is a list for you, I’m a keyboardophile and this list shows it.

Medeski, Martin and Wood
This band has fans in the Jazz world and the “jam band” scene. My favorite album is the one I consider to be the most optimistic Shack Man. “Is there Anybody who Loves my Jesus?” “Think,” “Spy Kiss,” and their iconic song, maybe what they are best known for, the bouncy, repetitive, tempo crescendo orgasm that is Bubblehouse- borrowing a formula from house music but setting it to a playful hip hop beat and sounds almost like a DJ Shadow or RJD2 tune.

Another fantastic album from them is their most avant garde and Psychedelic: The Dropper. I usually slip the first track, which is a bit too wild for me, but I love the rest of the album, Long rambling wild Miles Davis like songs, and the middle is a lovely lounge intermission “Note Blue” with the happiest organ riffs and gentle swinging guitar noodling. Many tracks also have Marc Ribot!

Vampiros Lesbos by Manfred Hübler and Siegfried Schwab
This isn’t a band name, sadly, but a soundtrack that became more famous than the film. This is crazy 70s european soft core Horror porn with fantastic fun music. Jammy organs, horns, noir electric guitars, and electric piano grooves. The tracks aren’t ruined with any dialogue or horny vampire moaning, the only track with vocals is “the Lion and the Cucumber.” Its some satanic chanting by an Troll. “There’s no Satisfaction” is pure Go-Go bliss! Dig it!
Other awesome tracks are “Dedicated to Love” and “Kama Sutra.”


The pretty cooing ladies who are swooning and saying “aaaahhh,” “hey!” or “oh yes!” in the background blend in with samples of monkeys and birdsong. Slide guitars, vibraphones, sitars and flutes make this tiki tiki album perfect for a bubble party. Uh Oh has the amazing tracks “Papaya Freeway,” Sweet Cinnamon Punch.”
Their followup, Buzzzz contains “Chop Sockey,” and “Good Little Demon.” If it were possible for this band to play live it would be a fantastic show. Perhaps they perform some semblance of the album by playing backing tracks and playing mallet instruments live along with them.

Action Figure Party.
I found that I like everything Greg Kurstin puts his hands on, including Geggy Tah, Lily Allen and this gem of an album. This has guest appearances from many musicians known for playing rock and pop, but who like to play Jazz when Greg Kurstin calls; such as Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Yuval Gabay from Soul Coughing. Miho Hatori, Sean Lennon, and Theremin Virtuoso Pamela Kurstin make contributions too.
“Pong Baby” is some crazy funk. “Gamera” has outrageously catchy keyboard riffs and a delightful drum riff. Wheres the moment is sheer delight. “George and Cindy” sounds like closing credits to a 60s TV show about teenagers in love, and “Flow” and “No Sleep” provide welcome respite with slower tempos and a chiller mood. Bonkers good record.

The Bad Plus

Not so much a jazz band, as a experimental progressive band playing music in the “jazz idiom.” They are known for eclectic rock covers such as “Smells like Teen Spirit” and “Iron Man,” and when they put their own spin on the mood and timing, such as in Bowie’s Life on Mars or Blondie’s “Heart of Glass,” the results are remarkable. These are truly covers that pay loving homage to their originals.
They can push the limits of grandiosity to the extreme such as in Queen’s “We are the Champions.” It works… for a few listens. I think they shine on original compositions like “Prehensile Dream, ” Anthem for the Earnest and “The Empire Strikes Backwards” all from their amazing album Suspicious Activity. My favorite album from them is their first: Give. “Boo Wah” is some outrageous odd time signature exploration, that might make Sun Ra scratch his head. “1972 Gold Medalist” is a simple prodding two chord adventure that I will never tire of.

Kid Koala

Tracks like “Basin Street Blues” from Some of my Best Friends are Djs combine hip hop and drunken jazz. He has a rhythm section going on one LP and then a trumpet solo on another one and he scratches and mangles it to pure ear candy. Often his use of “funny vocal samples” is hackneyed, I would prefer he leave the tracks instrumental every time. I have had the opportunity to see him live twice and each time was thrilling. I think the samples are better suited to a live show setting, and when the albums final mix goes out the tracks would be improved by removing them.
“Stomping at Le Savoi” and “Vacation Island” are two other fun tracks I recommend, but alas, also have funny samples.

Ursula 1000 is an electronica artist who makes fun dancey remixes of old songs, mixes the best from the world of “loungetronica- and samples everything, including samba, mambo and big band. I think his best tracks are definitely in the space age bachelor pad tradition. “Beatbox Cha Cha” from Kinda Kinky is one of his best, the other standouts are “Mucho Tequila,” and “Samba 1000.”
“Funky Bikini,” “Mambo 1000,” and “The Shake” are highlights from his debut The Now Sound of Ursula 1000. He has also released “mixtape” style releases with him mixing the music of others, Ursadelica and All Systems are Go Go.

I also want to mention Magma.

Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh and Kohntarkosz Anteria are the two albums I have heard from them.

This sounds nothing like space age bachelor pad music, and it was released in the 70s, but I’m going to write about it here anyway because its so incredibly wild and intense. This is French Choral Orchestral psychedelia. They sing in a made-up language that sounds Germanic. Its Crazy.

But wait there’s more. Many many more artists are exploring these fun sounds, combining them with hip hop, vocals, and acid jazz: including Stereolab, Combustible Edison, The Cardigans, Valella Valella, Belaire, Nous Non Plus, Lemon Jelly, Euphone, The Lounge Lizards, Morricone Youth, Mr. Scruff, Prefuse 73, Max Tundra, Ulu, The Avalanches, Marco Benevento and the Bird and the Bee (also a Greg Kurstin project.) if you play music that is strange and instrumental, please tell me about it!

Feeding Frenzy-

Positive Vandalism

Sunnyside Studio, Produced by Feeding Frenzy, recording engineer James Bartlett

Mastered by Frank Steiner Jr.

Fairbanks, AK

This band, now two years old, released their first full length: Positive Vandalism. Daniel Firmin, primary vocalist has a tone that is tender. He sounds like an old friend giving kind advice. On track 4, Sleep, this “Wise Uncle persona” is demonstrated to great effect. With cello and toy piano making a gentle lullaby, this is the best of the slower tracks. Ryan Bateman’s voice is thrilling to hear, it creeps along lower than Daniels, less confident but compelling. “Lay your ahead down try to get some sleep.” and the tone of what he sings about is often darker as well. The lyric, “Tell all the jokes that we already know,” is an effective way of communicating cabin fever and the darkness in Alaskan winters. Rebecca File’s vibrato weaves in and out, I have often called her tone “operatic,” her own material is impressive, though here she is often a backing vocalist. On Rambler she takes the lead, and tells a story of a troubled family. This song really has a pleasant feel, with piano, twinkling banjo and a chugging guitar that manage to never get in each other’s way. Having three vocalists fills the album with variety. Take me to the River has some creepy overtones, and a set of wood blocks sound like clopping horse hooves. Cheat and Steal has a trumpet played by guest Shane Artz. This slower, New Orleansy style is a big improvement over their version on their previous EP. Now Chad File is a bonafide member and his drumming is a welcome addition on tracks like Take Me to the River. On some tracks he backs off and plays only a little percussion. Rebecca’s melodica lines bring a pleasant counterpoint to the vocals and violin. Sometimes Ephy Wheeler can chug along confidently with her cello, other times she plays the violin like a shuddering orphan weeping in the rain.

I asked Ryan for a few details about the recording process and he said, “it was really fun working with James. He’s just a really cool all-around guy.” We discussed the recording process and he gave a few insights: “The recordings are like a time capsule of how we played the songs six months ago. It was tough to lay down tracks in April and then in July get back in that mood we had been and do overdubs. ” The album has many “just right” moments, where the banjo and voices combine in a way that is quaint, familiar and charming. Feeding Frenzy succeeds at combining Appalacian folk with pop and revealing a darker edge; they deliver ten amazing songs, full of emotion and weight.

ffo: Old Crow Medicine Show, Asylum Street Spankers, Avett Brothers, Decemberists Tom Waits, Murder By Death


Saucy Yoda

Dysfunctional Dingus Cafe

Portland, Or.

Saucy Yoda busts out of portland, playing house parties, bars, underage clubs and anywhere the masses gather. She’s there with her mp3 player in hand to crank out some party jams and elicit laughter. Her rhymes fly so fast and furious, its impossible to catch it all on one’s first listen. References to 80′s nostalgia, jokes, innuendo and unguarded observations are flung overwhelmingly at the listener: some couplets resemble yearbook scribblings, others: bathroom stall wisdom, filthy children’s hopscotch songs, and the rest, the kitchen staff’s secrets you weren’t supposed to hear. She starts the party off with a very silly rap full of puns and metaphors comparing asian food to sex. Album opener, Wanton has much less of the slick “produced sound” its got real drums and an acoustic guitar. “He’s going down to sushi town for a spicy tuna roll.”

She performs alongside indie rock bands as opposed to other female rappers…because there are no others like her! I think she might find a welcome audience alongside comedians. She’s better (and less arrogant) than Nicki Minaj and Lil’ Kim, but the radio djs don’t know yet. She shows she’s not a one trick pony, she can rap about sex, drugs, and beer! Her first cd, “Return of the Douche” had tight radio friendly beats and samples with a fast delivery and lots of vocal overdubs. The newer cd has a more organic sound, with a live bass on many tracks and much more guitar. Both albums deliver laughs and “oh shit” moments in spades. I liked the first one more, as it seemed more personal and the tempos were faster. There are no tracks here asking the deep feminist issues/social questions like, “isn’t makeup a form of a lie?” Its just a party, backing off from the social commentary and the philosophical, but still demonstrating that Saucy is smart and ridiculous.

Brandon Reid
Stuck in the City

Recorded at Kung Fu Bakery
Engineer? Mastered by?

There are some singer songwriters who write songs about being cassanovas and dandies, and they brag they haven’t worked a day in their life and you believe them. But when Brandon sings about working hard- it sounds so genuine and world weary you trust that this voice has traveled some roads and lifted some heavy things. Brandon sings with a tenderness, an authentic honesty. There is a timelessness and an integrity so I trust that when he sings of breaking his back it has come from a genuine experience.
On this, his first album, he has some fantastic musicians helping out, and some beautiful female vocals from Kelli Schaefer. He demonstrates control in the vibrato of his voice, that ads that extra touch of sympathy to his poetic observations. The last track demonstrates this as he stomps his foot on a wooden floor. This track has an interesting choice in equalization that makes the track sound like it came from a radio 80 years ago.

Somehow in his lyrics regarding relationships with women he strikes the nail on the head with lines like “golden girls can’t fall in love with anyone.” Another tear jerker is the line, “I know that many men have tried at winning you, I’ve got nothing to prove but I would lie that down and raise the stakes, cuz I ain’t got no place without you.” In his lyrics about love he sings about a man deciding he is ready to commit, and feelings of fear over being rejected. He will break your heart with lines like “take your hand in mine, (let’s) go as fast as we want it to.”

A surprisingly sweet moment comes when he voices that something important to him in a wife; one who “wouldn’t correct me whenever I had an idea in my head.” I suppose we all want that, but do we have the balls to ask for it? He sings of his unborn children, and his love for them and his plan to “teach them to work hard so the land wouldn’t starve them.” It reminds me of Jeffrey lewis’ “Back when I was Four” as he muses about his unwritten future. Other times, Brandon reminds me of David Dondero or Van Morrison.
Many of these songs are about God, the devil and a wandering soul trying to make sense of it all. On first listen, you might confuse it for a gospel album.
I talked to him about why he writes songs about god. He said ” I did feel awkward about it once. I was afraid that people would judge me, but as those songs came out I saw they just couldn’t be any other way.”
Kelli Schaefer’s vocals are a delightful frosting on the cake. Supposedly, after she played a show, Brandon approached her and told her “I like your voice- please sing on my record,” and she did!

He has toured in Australia and the states. This is his first album and it is fantastic. Listen, share it with your friends, your mom, your pastor, and everyone.

The Fastest bear
Yes Dumping
Anchorage, AK, 2011

The Fastest Bear play spastic, frenetic, chunky, sloppy, math rock, alternating between clumsy and precise. Tempo changes and odd time signatures are the norm here, and an idea never drags on so long it becomes unwelcome. Most of the guitar playing is rapid tapping through a overdriven amp.
Occasionally Justin lets loose some jazz chops, other times chugs away at the double bass pedals, emulating a staccato palm muted metal bassest. At 1:30 “Yes Dumping” even becomes melodic, if only for 15 seconds. The instruments are mixed well, the disc sounds like they are playing right in front of you.
Live, Jay puts on a show of his messiness, sometimes dropping the guitar, playing only a few notes as the minutes drag on and Justin keeps the madness going.
I have seen a few math rock bands play live, this one is among the best, even with only two members and no vocals. The delivery is fast, and there’s a certain charm to Jays lackluster delivery of his ironic song titles. “Interested in metal, here for friends” is a song name that stuck out for me, but I certainly can’t tell them apart.

This 2 song sampler gives an idea of their sound and introduces you to them; acts as a business card; and it is fine for what it is. I hope they will deliver a full length soon.

For fans of: Hella, Russian Circles

“Minimalist pop, Sci-fi electronic constructions.”

Nite Jewel

Am I Real?
Gloriette Records

Los Angeles, California
Produced and recorded by Nite Jewel and Cole M Greif-Niell // mastered by Pete Layman at Infrasonic Sound
The album begins with a kooky feel and a danceable groove, “Another Horizon” starts the adventure off with a light-hearted step. Here the “chorus” is fanciful and playful vocalizations and not “lyrics.” Some of these synthesizer pre-sets will remind listeners of the 80s. The gentle grooves and hooks will remind others of Zero 7 but the harmonies are organic, sexy and certainly justifiably unique.
“White Lies” repeats an eerie lyric informing us that the future is full of bright lights, but contains many white lies. Perhaps a comment on overconsumption and the denial those of us in the Western world must maintain in order to enjoy our opulence? Its a familiar science fiction message- but now in a cheerful, head bobbing new medium.
“Forget You and I” has some of the most gorgeous vocal performances on the disc, with an ocean of sound underneath, minimal percussion, twinkling synthesizers, and a melody that reminds me of Enya’s catchiest stuff.
In “Am I Real?” I picture a chorus of androids chanting the title, and imagine a scene that could be in novel from Phillup K. Dick. This song is the most organic and “live” sounding of the whole album, with guitar solos and an snappy electric bass performance, which would certainly let it rest comfortably in a mixtape alongside songs from Feist.

School of Seven Bells

Disconnect from Desire
New York, NY

Produced by Benjamin Curtis
Vagrant Records/Ghostly International.

Somewhere West of Eurythmics and Stereolab and East of Asobi Seksu and Blonde Redhead, there is school; a school of harmonies, angelic voices, shoe gazing, heavy beats, chiming guitars, skittery synths, and etheric moods. The School of Seven Bells brings us their sophomore album: Disconnect from Desire.
“Windstorm” is a great start, these repetitive synth howls succeed in putting the listener into a pleasant trance. Chugging guitars from Benjamin Curtis ( of Secret Machines) drive the pieces forward.
The voices of Alejandra and Claudia Deheza blend to perfection on each track. “Dust Devil'”s arpeggiated blips and cheesy drum fills allow us an 80s nostalgia moment. “You don’t have to be cool” Alejandra repeats, and eases us into her lounge, full of comfortable pillows of sound. “There are so many things I wish I could say to you in a way that you’d understand,” she sings on ILU. Her lyrics are always genuine and compassionate.
The mood is consistent throughout, this album should be listened to as a whole, there isn’t a stand out track that seems more “poppy” or accessible than the others.

photos by Sarah Sadler

NetherFreinds (Chicago, Il)
Cabin Party // Fairbanks, AK // September 17, 2010)
Shawn Rosenblatt charmed us all with a wry smile, mutton sideburns and a dozen catchy, friendly songs filled with smarmy lyrics and happy guitar riffs. He sings into a delay pedal, and does his own back up vocals through clever manipulation of a looping pedal. His compositions were grounded by an enthralling drum performance from Scott Westrick.
He kicked things off with “Really “that has a fanciful la la chorus, and fun latin rhythms. On “Stop Smoking A$$hole, Cigarettes” he cooed “I can jump out of airplanes too, but I’m not going to get you drunk and take advantage of you.”  Its a love song, though a weird one.

“Friends with Lofts” was a fun psychedelic song, “I played at my friends loft, we forgot the band’s name by the end of it all.” He criticizes and sings about the indie band cliches with lyrics that make me smile.
Shawn is on a tour where he hopes to visit each of the 50 states and record a song in each of them. When he announced that he would be playing his last song, a cheerful crowd member suggested a ‘worm pit,” and people began writhing on the floor. We just wanted to show you how we do it in Alaska, Shawn, here’s hoping a bit of your Alaskan experience ends up in your future songs. Thanks for sharing your joyful music with us.

I made these drawings when they played with a keyboard player, Chris, at Pianos in Manhattan.

Check out his blog here:

Roz Raskin and The RICE CAKES interview!

I highly recommend giving this excellent band a listen. They are based in Rhode island and have a unique sound, their primary instrument is a Rhodes piano, and the vocals are quite unique and exciting. Roz was kind enough to grant me an interview, here it is in its entirety.

Isaac- Do you listen to a lot of keyboard music? Gospel? jazz? classical?
What made you choose the Rhodes sound to be the primary rhythm instrument over say… an electric guitar???

Roz- I’m a classically trained pianist, turned jazz pianist, turned whatever I am now.  As for keyboard and piano music, I actually don’t listen to too much of it.  But what I do listen to has influenced me so much.  My favorites are Thelonious Monk, Herbie, and most importantly Chick Korea.   I was in high school when I first heard “Return to Forever” and it changed how I viewed music.  I thought to myself “What is that keyboard he’s playing, it sounds fucking sick”.  When I found out it was a Rhodes I knew I needed one, or at least a keyboard that sounded like it.
I play a Nord Electro that gets a sound almost identical to the Rhodes.  You will be happy to know that I play an actual Rhodes on “the Friend Ship”.  Matt Decosta’s brother Mike received it from his high school music teacher and let us borrow it for the recording.  Needless to say when I found out we were using it I almost peed myself.  If I have a Rhodes, why would I play an electric guitar?  You feel me right?

Isaac- How do you write your songs? Tell me a little about the process? Your delivery is very… precise. I feel  I can hear the lyrics and put together a narrative the first time I hear these songs. It seems lyrics are an important part of the songs to you.

Roz- Lyrics are super important to me.  When I listen to a song for the first time I look for good original lyrics and music that plays like it hopes I keep listening.  I enjoy music that feels like it has purpose.  I’m not interested in anyone’s filler music or ideas based in attempts to make money.  I write my lyrics hoping people want to understand and feel what I’m talking about.  Lyrics, similar to musical composition, are open to all sorts of interpretation and that’s what make’s music so incredible.

These days the song writing process is more of a group effort.  Although I write all the lyrics, the music is entirely bits of each Rice Cake.
Ever since the edition of new bassist Justin Foster the band as a whole is contributing to all song writing.  Justin was a breath of fresh air for us.  He is extremely talented, loves to experiment, and most importantly, wants to play music at every given chance.

Isaac-Do you play mostly for over 21 crowds? did you have trouble booking shows when you were under 21? ( are you even 21 now?) is it important to you that you play all ages shows?

Roz- We have never had a big problem with age limits on crowds.  I recently turned 21 as did the boys.  We play to a pretty broad audience so all ages shows are super important.  We don’t want anyone to be left out.  We have only been turned away from one club for me not being of age and our response was “Fuck it, we’ll play somewhere else”.

Isaac- How did you record these songs? If you got to do a dvd commentary for the album- what are the inside scoops you could tell us about it?

Roz- Our recording engineer was a good friend and musician Matt DeCosta who fronts the Providence based trio Formal Action.  He engineered, mixed, and mastered “The Freind Ship” himself.  In terms of production, I would say it was a group effort.  We knew what we wanted the album to sound like and Matt made that possible.  He has a good ear.
We recorded the album with Matt in his living room in beautifully scenic Narragansett, RI.  It was the dead of winter and right near the beach.  It was probably the most peaceful setting we could have asked for.  Matt’s living room was covered in 70’s wood finished walls that made the acoustics in the recording’s sound natural and raw.  In the track “The Beating” you can hear a clock ticking behind my acoustic guitar and it sounds like I’m playing the guitar right in front of you.  That’s the vibe we were going for, the real deal.  Mostly live recordings.  We want it to sound like Casey is playing drums in your room.
We pretty much laid down all the live tracks the first day of recording in Narragansett.  Johnny (our then bassist) went home for the evening for a family party but me and Casey stayed over at Matt’s trying to record but mostly chilled, drank, and dabbled in illegal substances.  By 2 am Casey passed out but I was still awake and really inspired.  Matt and I were hanging out listening to some records and I said “I think I wanna throw down another key’s part on “Sing to Me”.  “Sing to Me” was the first song I was proud of and I wrote it when I was 17 so it’s very near and dear to my heart.  Matt was down so he pressed record and I played a second backing Rhodes part.  For some reason I was so happy and inspired (and ridiculously high) that I started crying while I was playing.  I kept saying “it just sounds so beautiful!”.  I’m not a big crier in general so when I do it’s kind of a big deal.  Matt and I were laughing about it until the wee hours of the morning.  It’s too bad he was the only one there to witness it.

Isaac- Sum yourselves up in a quick little snippet for the website.

Roz-We are three kids out of Providence who love to play new and experimental music and hope to one day make a living off of it.  Until then, well there is no til then.  We’re just playing and having a fucking awesome time.

An interview with YAKUZA HEART ATTACK!

Yakuza Heart Attack is Keith Rankin: guitar/keys, Matt Emmons -on keys/Synth, Chris Mengerink on Drums  and Justin Baker on bass. They play otherworldly EPIC instrumental pop on synthesizers. They are embarking on a tour that includes Arkansas, Texas, Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois and Tennessee. Read more and hear their music at

Yakuza Heart Attack!

Squids Eye Records

Do you mind if my adjectives JUMP out at you in attempt to quantify this music? Punchy! zippy! elaborate, presenting, fanfare- tadaaa! its Yakuza Heart Attack- Exploding Fireworks of LOVE!
Dayton’s Multi-instrumentalist Kieth Rankin presents this triumphant 2nd album from Yakuza Heart Attack. (Also behind such bizarre sonic experiments as the Crane Engine and Erasers Fantasy, under his moniker “Keith Kawaii”)
One obvious highlight is the epic “Tears of the Judge,” which contains portions that are plodding and intense like metal, but there are excursions into sillyness, quick synth blips appear out of nowhere to herald a new section, as if a space ship has blasted away an opponent, only to encounter another more terrifying one.
The blissed out “Goodbye Rainbow Road” has wacky synths in conversation that remind me of Jean Jaques-Perry. “Power Surge” is pure candy joy for fans of YMCK, and sometimes sounds like the music in old Capcom games like Megaman, and other times resembles the music in Super Mario RPG. Keith uses bright and sugary tones frequently, especially on ”Hyper Fun Zone.” The bass and drums are also excellent and multiple tempo changes and unexpected diversions keep things spontaneous. The multiple layers of sound remind me of the joyous circus extravagance of Belaire, or what it would sound like if Ratatat were to expand and commit itself.
This music is great for sledding or snowboarding, or any other busy activity full of excitement!



Isaac – Did you record this yourself? as a band? or are you playing everything yourself? do you have label support?
Keith- I recorded/produced the album myself… half using an old Fostex recorder, half in Logic on a mac (and a little bit on Acid Pro on PC)
I’m obviously a fan of ‘in the red’ style recordings, where the sound is very loud and bursting. The record is unmastered, mainly because the sound files are peaking so bad that not much can be done with the dynamics. I thought mixing a more “modern, heavily distorted” aesthetic with synthesizer music would be cool. I’ve been making recordings like that for years, and now it seems like a pretty trendy thing to do (even the Flaming Lips last album was pretty blown out)!  Our label head (at Squids Eye Records) actually became gravely ill right as the YHA II album came back from press. He thought he might die. So we were left a bit stranded, with tons of CDs but no immediate plans for distribution. Most of the attention we got in 2009 came from blog posts, from me emailing places with a free download of the album and putting it up on our myspace for free.

So you released the cd for free on the net first. Then you plan to release it in stores?
That’s the plan for now… Our first album is on Amazon, Itunes, all that. The second one will hopefully be out soon. People can contact me through our myspace right now if they want to buy a CD or get a download. I think the question of how music is sold and obtained is the most important and complicated issue for musicians and the broader industry right now. I would obviously love to make a living off of music, be able to live from selling albums and touring, but you know, how many musicians in America actually do that? I read some statistic where only like 25 artists sold more than 100 thousand albums last year or something. I can’t remember the exact numbers, but the point is that our cultural view of music has changed forever, and everyone has to adapt. Kids aren’t going to magically stop downloading torrents. And it’s not up to me to decide how someone else wants to consume things. If they want the physical album, its there, if they want mp3s that’s there too. Giving the album away has helped us out, just by getting some tiny internet recognition.
I guess the big question is if people will get so accustomed to downloading that physical products fall by the wayside. Or what happens if people stop buying music altogether? Speaking for myself, if the world is a post apocalyptic wasteland, it won’t stop me from making music. Maybe we should start weeding out the money hungry opportunists masquerading as “artists” right now?
Isaac- What do you say when you are trying to convince a club or bar that you are worth their time? How do you try to make yourselves stand out? Your music is unique, but when you have to describe yourself, what words do you use?
Keith- I think it’s fairly easy to “sell” ourselves to certain areas, because a lot of elements in our music cater to niche genres that people are passionate about. All you have to say is “This shit sounds like a 70s Cop Movie Soundtrack mixed with King Crimson” and the right people will have a strong reaction. “70s synthesizer music like Wendy Carlos, early electronic stuff like Raymond Scott and Edgard Varese…” there’s just a lot of reference points that are starting to bubble up in popular indie music at the moment. So when you say, “We are heavily inspired by Clara Rockmore,” if someone is down with that, they’ll get excited, because it’s been only a minute since that style was “cool.” Analog synths alone are a big drawing point. There’s also the whole chiptune angle. I’m fine with it all. I also love that 70s music like Cluster and Neu! are becoming so canonized now. Kraftwerk is already the bible to a lot of people.

Isaac- This sounds like compositions from an orchestra, rather than jams from an indie band. Did you record all the parts and then teach it to a band? Or were these written as collaborative efforts with a rhythm section?
Keith- Most of the foundations for the songs originated on piano with me or the other key player Matt, but when we bring in bass and drums, everything changes. It’s funny, our bass player, Justin, is always getting down on himself like a depressed motherfucker because he thinks he doesn’t contribute anything original to the band, but his bass lines add an extra line of counterpoint that really brings the compositions to life. We try thinking about music horizontally rather than vertically, but it can be a challenge because so much of modern music, particularly rock, is built around jamming block chords, not stretching separate melodies overtop one another. When people hear horizontal music in a rock setting, though, it can be somewhat startling and exciting. Even if its just intense arpeggiations and nothing else, the lack of symmetrical block chords lining up musical bars can sound fresh, even though simple counterpoint is, you know, OLD.
Isaac- Is there a “nerd music” scene in  your town? I have heard of the Protomen, and the Minibosses, There’s a band in Seattle called “Press Start to Rock.” Who do you play with, who is your scene? there is a fun band called YMCK that plays gameboys.
Keith- I love YMCK. We recently played with Anamanaguchi and Starscream who seem like big parts of the chiptune scene. Their energy is awesome. Our best friends in our hometown of Dayton, Ohio is this band Astro Fang who share a certain progginess with us.  I think in general “nerd culture” is becoming less and less taboo. Who doesn’t love Mario Bros? Both the game AND the music! That theme might as well be ‘happy birthday’. It’s here to stay.
Do you have an interest in the Yakuza? Do you find them fascinating or is it just a Japanese sounding word to you?? The Yakuza are responsible for human trafficking and sexual slavery. I have a hunch that “Al-Qaeda heart attack” or “Nazi heart attack” would send a different message.
Living in the states, the Yakuza almost seem quaint. I know they have cut peoples heads off, but from what I understand they are still heavily involved with local economies and communities — they’re not just terrorists. That might all be a bullshit westernized view of the Yakuza, but I guess it’s why we went with them instead of the Third Reich. Also, apparently when the Japanese police don’t want to deal with a Yakuza related death, they just report that the victim died of a heart attack. Now I guess the name sounds like some hipster nonsense, though. We’re stuck with it!
What keyboards are you playing?
Live we rely on two Casio MT-100 keyboards, which somehow cut through everything when the music is blaring. Also there’s the Jen SX-1000 which is a really streamlined, basic synth that’s easy to drag around. The real “star” of YHA II, though, is the Roland SH-02, which we got JUST before we started overdubbing key parts. It gives all those “whoooosh” and bubble sounds, and a lot of the sound-flavors that are floating around in the background. There’s something massively appealing about being able to turn knobs to affect a sound in real time, a feeling that’s completely lost in most digital keyboards I’ve played around on.
I love sound-world albums, where noises and notes are used out of the context of a melody to elicit different reactions — different from what you feel when you hear a heavily contrapuntal piece of music. Even though our album is filled with saccharine, dark, or triumphant melodies, that method of composition can be very straightforward in its relationship to certain emotions. We’re so culturally bound to, say, minor chord changes being sad, that it’s a bit of a trap when you go ahead and use one. It’s like, “Oh, heres the sad one. Now there’s a happy one.” I think the spread of noise and pure sound as a legitimate form of composition is making ambiguity easier, and hopefully there’s a bit of that on our records. It would be wonderful to get to a point where people were registering the pure sounds more prominently than the compositional techniques behind the music, but that’s a long ways away
Isaac- Naming instrumentals is always a prickly pear, names like “Untitled #4″ and “Composition in D# for four Cellos” are unsatisfying and banal.  Many of my favorite bands are instrumental, and they often have unsatisfying song titles. The Bad Plus, Medeski Martin and Wood, Do Make Say Think, Tortoise, and Man… or Astroman?, are all fantastic at composing, but their titles bore me.
I really mean no offense, but why did you name these songs these things? The terms “monster,” and “beast” are vague. “Tears of the Judge” and “Heart Pounding Prison” are more fun titles because they force us to make an image in our mind that is unusual or contradictory. Raymond Scott had very colorful titles,  “Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals” packs a lot more narrative punch than “Hello Dance,” or “Power Surge” It seems to me that these songs are so vibrant and exciting that naming them at all brings them down a little- ties them to reality in a way that dissatisfies me. again, I hope not to offend.

THIS INTERVIEW IS OVER!! Kidding. Titling is often difficult. On the records I make by myself, I sometimes leave the song titles blank, because part of me does like the old classical system of naming things — the idea that an album is all of a piece, or that someones entire musical career is of a piece: Piano Sonata #4 Op. 58… whatever. It’s tied to a more statistical way of thinking.
YHA II obviously has song titles though. I’ll give you the pretentious explanation for it all:
 I like to think of the record like you’re entering an alien world or going through epic levels in a video game. Each title is like a new level or segment of a larger ‘journey’, so in that light you could take Beast Attack literally if you wanted. You know, it just depends on how much nerd-energy you want to invest.

Yellow Fever
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.

Recorded at Kingsize Soundlabs. Additional recording at The Hanger, Mellow Workshop, Edison Music, LoHo Studios, and in various apartments in NY, Paris, LA and Flagstaff. Mastering at SAE Mastering.

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
Lincoln Nebraska
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

Anchorage Alaska
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.

Sweating Honey
When We Were Young

Fairbanks, AK
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.”

Lawrence Arabia
Chant Darling
New Zealand
Bella union
Engineered by  James Milne, Luke Buda,  James Dansey, Nick Meul,  Jo McCaughey, Samuel Flinn Scott.
Mastered by Olly Harmer

This second album from New Zealand’s James Milne mimics many vintage styles.
Some tracks recall the Kinks, others Elliot Smith. There are hints of breezy psychedelia and humor throughout. Though it was recorded at various studios in the Sweden, the UK, and New Zealand, over a period of a year, yet it sounds as if it came from a fever of dreams in a single night.
The distorted bass line and catchy melody  of Apple Pie Bed makes it sound like a lost track from George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass.”
Dream Teacher makes a very chill beach boys mood with multilayered vocals, sparse arpeggio guitar and quite familiar melodies. There are no drums, merely some gently tussled tambourine.  Look like a Fool is a entree masterpiece, worth your time and attention.
The only dud is The Beautiful Young Crew, where its hook, which was never that great to begin with, is truly dug deep into the ground by being repeated a dozen times.
Here is a fun, retro album, full of shining happy moods and blissful 60s sounds. He may ape the sounds of other bands too much to make the album a true gem- but several of these will be awesome on your mixtapes- and you’ll love it when Apple Pie Bed  pops up on shuffle.
He has played with the Brunettes, another awesome New Zealand Band who is worth checking out. He may have been a part of the band when I saw them at a New Zealand showcase at CMJ in 2007. He has played with Okkerville River and Connan and the Mockasins as well as other New Zealand “supergroups.”  He also has been opening for Crowded House in 2010, one of the best known New Zealand bands.

Homer, Alaska.
Engineered by Matt Farnsworth and Atz Lee Kilcher.
Mastered by Tom Pfaelle.

Caressa has played in Homer for the past few years. She used to call Fairbanks her home, and before that, Los Angeles. Her friendly voices invites you into the world of her songs. This album was released in 2009, but I only recently got a copy when she came up here and played some shows with me.
There are intricate guitar picking rhythms and commendable performances from her rhythm section on this record. Her playful flirtation comes across in lyrics such as, “If you talk to me sweetly, I just might follow you home.” Illustrations of Alaska are in the poetry of her lyrics, local bars, trailer trucks, ocean waves, winter, wind and mountains are used as characters in her songs. The production is most exciting on Empty Nest, which is busy, but gives lapses in intensity and allows  the rhythm to be fluid to bring
Jazzy drums from Matt Farnsworth and banjo by Caressa herself on Wanderlust bring more fascinating textures and sonic accouterments. In Postcard from Homer, Ak, she demonstrates that she can balance tenderness and fury, “I never want to see you again, unless its all of the time.” In the last minute of this song, Caressa lets go of rhythm and plays some wild Kaki King-like guitar pyrotechnics. I hope a future album would explore these directions. I know she can play some wild stuff, and hope she doesn’t dismiss that kind of playing as “messing around.”
She has a percussive rhythm guitar style and carefully enunciates her delivery of clever lyrics, in these ways she has been compared favorably to Ani Difranco. It’s a good comparison if it helps more people listen in, but I like Caressa better.

Shawn Rosenblatt of Netherfriends (actual CD art unavailable)

Home Is Where My House Is
Chicago, Illinois
Delightful zippy indie pop!
One cant fault Shawn Rosenblatt for being happy! He has come across a wonderful formula for songwriting, so let him milk it all the way to the top!
On “Nunya (beeswax)” layers of percussion and party vocals convince the listener to celebrate and we build slowly to gleeful climax. LFO synthesizers compliment jangly guitars and constant tempo changes. Sound effects and zappers join acoustic guitars and pitch shifted delayed sounds to a whispered lullaby ending. It’s almost hard to call this a “song” but its certainly a wonderful way to start an EP.

The strongest song is “Stop Smoking A$$hold, Cigarettes” He tells us a familiar story about falling in love with unpretentious methods. ” I just want to take you out for some indian food and learn what you’re all about. Let’s listen to records while we lay on the floor. I wish falling for you didn’t hurt anymore.” Who wouldn’t want to have an affair with this guy?

“Tac Tac” is another catchy number, accordion and female vocals bring an enjoyable lightness to the composition. We hear a choir and glockenspiel pleasantly bopping along and cannot help but bob our heads. He delivers with impeccably chill lightness lines like,  “you live with your parents on their inheritance. you spell the words you cannot say to me, Y-O-U C-A-N-T S-I-N-G”
In “Cory Kennedy Sings the Blues,” Shawn gets truly philosophical and abstract.
“Fashion trends and music trends and it never ends, I’m going to stay at home and never talk shit about anyone, I’ll make some friends and I’ll lose some friends and I’ll make new friends.” He meditates on experience, is he talking about the indie DIY music scene? Cinematography or buddhist meditation? Does it matter? Its a song, its a chant, its a philosophy, its an anthem. “Its all image and sound, image and sound.”
He reminds me of Sufjan Stevens and Harlem Shakes. Others have compared him to Animal Collective, but I gotta say, he’s much more “listenable” and intimate. Keep going, Shawn! And catch him live if you can!

GOD, Austin, Luke, Ian, Quinton, Tracy. (actual cd art unavailable)

Seattle, WA.
No label.
Dancy,fancy shmancy disco punk

Seattle’s God has released their first EP, a fun and strange collection of songs they call “SIN EP.”  “No.No.No.Yes.Yes.” starts things off with frenetic disco punk rhythms, a catchy guitar and poppy vocal delivered with snotty enthusiasm by Ian Lesage.
It isn’t until 1:34 that we hear the strings come in, courtesy of cellist Tracy.
“I love love this generation, we got the best music, we got the best clothes,” Ian mocks, crocodile tears pouring from his eyes. A common theme in his music is deriding hipsters and trendy music fans.
There are moments of tenderness with only a glockenspiel and vocals, but they last only for a brief moment.
“How can we think that we are the best thing to ever come?”
“How Many Sleepers” almost sounds like a Radiohead b-side.  Demonstrating some influence from Yes or Genesis?  Is that a mellotron choir sample in there? Maybe Ian is mocking the 70s as well.
“Here’s my best shit: eat it!” ” The meaning is lost on  you all!” are some more examples of these vitrolic lyrics that Ian flings at his listener.
“Spreading at the Legs of Cancer” is my favorite, the cello is really important in the mix and plays interesting textures, the lyric hook is even pleasantly catchy!
“recycle. rinse. repeat. end.”  Is much more relaxed and spacey than the others.  Delayed drum machines and synthesizers set up a spacey mood while icy cold guitars creep in. Here Ian finally relaxes his voice and sings in a gentle whisper.”Read directions, take instructions, tear apart this broken future.
“Anti Robotics” has hints of a narrative, maybe a future cd could be a concept album with a plot and characters? The dramatic delivery and instrumentation would lend itself towards that. “She’s smarter than me, she works in a lab.” Here, multiple layers of strings and synths provide a welcome, near shoegazer sound, but the vocals are firmly in the punk tradition, they couldn’t have been delivered with anything less than a Messerschmit grimace, the vocalist about to pass out from exhaustion.
The result is an engaging album with varied moods, the lyrics can feel excessively preachy sometimes, but we all like to hate hipsters… as long as he isn’t talking about us! That is the trouble with such lyrics, how to know how the audience will interpret them… listeners may find themselves asking, “is he talking about me, or the people I dislike?” I usually prefer to hear music where the vocalist has an optimistic message, but a little sardonic humor and anhedonia have its place sometimes. If you listen to just one angry album this year, make it SIN EP from GOD.

This band is also featured in a full length movie called “5$ Cover” by Lynn Shelton.
catch it on MTV or look it up on the internet.

Lorraine Leckie and her Demons: Four Cold Angels

Lorraine Leckie and her Demons.
Four Cold Angels

New York City, NY

Lorraine has a dry delivery, encouraging the listener to crime on  “Getaway Car” seem inviting and eerie.
Rambling country guitar from Hugh Pool, and a pleasant shuffle from Paul Triff make  “Four Cold Angels” a fun ride. On “Drivin” she asks, “how good can a woman feel?” But it isn’t clear if she’s asking “how much pleasure can I experience?” or asking a potential lover, “how nice would it be to have a woman’s touch tonight?”
That kind of lyrical ambiguity, along with delightful synesthesia such as describing the taste of the Ontario sky make this a poetic album you will want to come back to repeatedly.

On “Ontario” she allows her band to kick it up a notch, delivering a truly rocking track with some of the best lyrics on the album and the most exciting guitar dexterity. We all have some nostalgia for our home towns for sculpting us into the personalities we display, she sums it up well with lyrics such as, “you learn to be humble in Ontario, you learn not to stumble  in Ontario.”
Her style, mixing country and indie brings to mind the Cowboy Junkies and Liz Phair.

Shotgun Party
Mean Old Way
Austin Texas
Co-produced by Shotgun Party and Mark Hallman
Recorded at ?
Key tracks- Paints A Yates, the Builder, Star Song, Run n Hide

This Austin three piece tours all over the states and keeps churning out hits. I wish they would come to Alaska and share their special recipe for musical thrills with us.
The catchiest track is “Paints A Yates,” “buy a smoke and bottle, get my man and go” is a great hook, and Jenny Parrot’s cheerful, friendly voice is warm and appealing. She makes you want to jump in a car with her and speed off, commitments be damned! Or should it be a horse drawn carriage?
Shotgun Party’s short pleasant pop sensibility nods to great songwriters like Patsy Cline and Sam Cooke. Stanly Smith’s clarinet on “Run n Hide” adds an impeccable class and Jenny’s delivery is confident, she is unafraid to break a note over her knee. “Y Yo” has a different feel than the others, a wistful, mournful delivery and staccato bursts of energy. Confident stand-up bass from Chris Crepps keeps energy high and the songs moving forward. “The Builder” is another stand out track, full of hooks and pleasant choir “aaahs.” “Canned Peaches” is smokin’ hot, with a few lyrics that make you ask, “did she really say that?” “now I’m making syrup on their thighs.” I’m not sure what that means, but it makes me feel a little dirty.
“Star Song” is also filled with joyful hooks, the energy of a Texas honky tonk meets the optimism of a children’s song. “I was a star, and I will be a star again.” You’ll be singing it to yourself, mark my words.
Katy Rose Cox’s violin is absolutely screaming! “Moonlight” is a familiar cover, but with the frenetic fiddle it sounds like a new song. There is a fun and unpredictable fiddle solo on every one of these songs. She plays faster than a hummingbird flaps its wings on “Draggin the Bow.” “Tanya” has some tango-like passion, and we are fortunate they decided there was room for these violin-focus tracks on the album.
The combination of Jenny’s personality, her pop sensibility and the dynamics of Katy Rose’s fiddle make this a top notch record: an improvement over their last, and a must for fans of original country and western swing. The 17 songs never seem like too many, you just want the album to go on and on.
The Fools, Lost and Found

the fools (cd art unavailable)

New York, NY
Recorded by Cliff Kaplan and Misha Volf at Hart Studios and live at the Bowery Poetry Club.
Brief, lovingly crafted, insightful songs about people and feelings.

Honesty, integrity, and a loving tone. I feel like I trust the vocalist that everything she tells me is true. Jen Tobin’s vocals and guitar are joined by lively bass from Uchenna Bright, and occasional samples such as an alarm clock and sounds of a beach.
I was surprised to hear drums, as I have heard this band several times and never seen them play with a live drummer. The drums may be mixed a little too loudly, as they overshadow Jen’s vocals on the first track.
“The Dream” is the longest song here, most fall under 2 minutes. Here the mix is perfect, a delightful gentle pop bass line fulfills the collusion between ambiance and mood- guitar and vocals have a generous touch of reverb, and the lyrical message is delivered impeccably.

“Oh Darlin”, is another great song they choose to put in the conclusion. Not the Beatles song, but an underscored poetic little ditty.

These songs are so not “in your face,” they are never intense or immature, but they are totally immediate and relevant. This is a true “alternative” music, a music that doesn’t pretend to be more than it is or try to indoctrinate or convert the listener. The songs succeed completely and on their own terms, with a charm and inventiveness that’s completely unique.

“The pillows on your bed are getting in my way, so let’s break our hearts just to do it.” Maybe this lyric encapsulates Jen’s attitude towards love, and even songwriting, maybe not. But when your lying back in a grassy field, listening to The Fools on your head phones and daydreaming about love, who can blame you for being idealistic?

The Moon Knights

One Must Die

No label
Anchorage, Alaska
More joyful cacophony from Anchorage
Spiral Song starts the album off with a bouncy drum beat and lazy vocals. “I love you so much that my skull makes weird sounds.” Lester croons unusual lyrics with a familiar melody.
As on previous albums, Julie and Lester trade duties on lead vocals, but their style has merged due to each other’s influence, and it isn’t always clear who it is who sings. Both sing through overdrive pedals, providing a trebly bullhorn effect. Drums and guitar combine in perfect smashing disharmony.
There isn’t much saxophone from Ted on here, though he is an essential part of the live show. Adrian’s drumming has improved remarkably since the band began. “Blood Box” has some beatnik appeal, with busy bass, and half spoken  vocals,  reminding me of the weirder early tracks from They Might Be Giants albums.
“Skin” is a farewell to good friend, the most tender of the album.
“Believe My Love” is my favorite track, with bending guitar chords, and coquettish vocals from Julie. She murmurs “I’m just so angry all the time.” Is she singing from the perspective of a girl at 6 years old? a pre teen? or an adult who has an axe to grind? it isn’t clear, but it also isn’t important. Nothing is important: nothing that is, except downloading the Moon Knights new album and pumping it on your car stereo in between petty acts of vandalism.

Reccommended for fans of Parenthetical Girls, Xiu Xiu, Bikini Kill, Be Your Own Pet, The Velvet Underground.

This album is available free at:

PJ Franco and the Burnouts

Rage City House City Shit

Anchorage AK

Recorded by Kurt Raymin at Surreal Studio


I don’t know if people are still going out to see 90’s era punk ska acts like Less Than Jake, although, I suspect that NOFX fans have a certain “never say die” quality. Here is an example that proves there are still kids playing this exciting , angry music and it makes others get up and circle mosh. The elements are here, upstroke ska guitar through distortion, fast ryhthms- heavy on snare, snotty vocals and lyrics about getting wasted in a dead end town.


Evan is known for his eccentric charm, as he can’t help but gleefully bounce while he sings, and shreds. The guitar is hopelessly messy of course, but it doesn’t matter because PJ brings us such intricate and relentlessly pounded drum rhythms. I struggle honestly to  tell the voices of PJ and Evan apart from each other. I think Evan is usually in lead vocal duty, he sounds as if he is smiling, no matter how mean the lyrics are. The one screaming is usually PJ.

The trombone onYoung Rizzo vs. Fat Val from Toddy is a pleasant inclusion, though it’s on few of these 16 tracks. This song is about a zombie apocalypse and “people were literally being…. eaten alive” says the disembodied talking heads from the television samples in the intro.

Burn it has some skanky guitar upstrokes, and a wide variety of tempos. “Burn down the White house with the President inside!”

The Wasteland is a tribute to a notorious house in Downtown Anchorage, It was a trashed shell of an abode but managed to keep its occupants warm and dry and most weekends could be counted on to be the site of a show or two. They give directions to the place in the lyrics to the song, though its no longer housing malcontent punks who host underage shows.

The mix suits the material well, the guitar is suitably huge, vocals are always clear and the drums are done in such a way that PJ’s frequent subtleties aren’t missed. He throws in fills, drills his snare, and more high hat hits than you would think would be possible in a brief second. At parts where the guitar is playing loud power chords, his cymbal playing is almost enough to sing along to. Sometimes I wish the bass were louder, like on track 13.


The word is that their bass player is only 17 and her mother won’t let her tour. I remember being 18 and wanting kids in my band whose parents wouldn’t let them, perhaps because they had the assumption, that everyone in bands becomes alcoholics.

If you still like this kind of music, check out another Alaskan punk band, Whiskey Tango.




Eyelid Movies

Saratoga Springs, New York



Eyelid Movies may be a rather obvious metaphor for dreams. there are many psychedelic and science fiction moods conjured in these 11 tracks. At times it reminds me of The Knife, others like School of Seven Bells and Nite Jewel.

The lead single, When I’m Small is some kind of wicked trip hop beats and rubbery guitar that sound like a rainy night in a inner city. Pleasant synth arpeggios add to the mid half way through.  Sarah Barthel sings “Am I underground or am I in-between?”  with an innocence and  creepy conviction. The vocals have a breathy intensity that recalls the best of Blond Redhead.  When the screaming double picked guitar starts at 3:20, the piece picks up and soars.

10,000 Cats has some of the chamber pop charm that My Brightest Diamond and St. Vincent have popularized.  Bloody Palms is another clincher:  this jerky riff begins immediately and doesn’t let us know where we will be getting off, Now the vocals of Josh Carter are the one’s giving us a eerie confusion and pleasant sense of dread.

The chirping baby dragon sounding synth that begins at 1:50 provides further fascinating textures.

Mouthful of Diamonds has a pleasant new wave pop progression. This album rocks from start to finish.

Destroy Nate Allen

Until my Ankle’s Better

Portland, Oregon

Mixed by Tyler Hentschel at Psychedelic Media Circus. Mastered by Gus Elg at Sky Onion.

A collection of sing along acoustic punk anthems.


On Borthwick and Failing Nate sings about simple things. Homework, taking out the garbage and making his own bed.   He admits he doesn’t like the taste of alcohol or cigarettes, but enjoys staying up too late to get to know a friend better. A frequent topic of his lyrics is his faith, and sometimes he even communicates his fear of being rejected by those in the punk scene. Tessa Allen’s voice is a welcome addition in Math I Will Defeat You and Put your head on my shoulder. Nate’s voice is pleasant and free, friendly and warm;  he isn’t screaming, but singing genuinely and passionately. Drums and keyboard and bass appear sometimes, but usually the acoustic guitar is the only instrument. The music is never complex, it never distracts for the honesty and simplicity of Nate’s tender songs.

There are some great lyrics here, among my favorite is “Well I’m pretty glad we’re kinda free. Truth is we could be a lot worse off,” in Land of Opportunity. Small Town has some simple nostalgia about American life that would make The Boss proud. There are hints about the way America is changing, such as, ” They don’t sell records there no more,” in Gasoline.

Along with the lyrics in his zine packaging are essays about his songwriting process, his relationship with touring and school, how he juggles his faith and the experience of almost losing his wife to untreated appendicitis. These certainly help to fill in the gaps of the Nate Allen biography and give the audience a more complete experience.

None of these songs on their own would get someone particularly excited- but the whole album together makes a certain pastiche- a collection of moods and observations. This is best as a souvenir from the experience of a Destory Nate Allen show. He plays without plugging in, and somehow gets the jaded crowd to gather around him, clap, sing along, and follow him around the room.  It’s always impressive, compelling  and sincere.

This artist is currently on tour in Alaska.  Here is more about him in a write up in our local paper.



Social Studies

Wind up Wooden Heart

Antenna Farm Records

San Fransisco, California

Highly enjoyable and perky female fronted indie pop

Here is a fun album, with a mix of noises pleasant and unexpected directions. Natalia Rogovin’s voice displays a genuine variety of moods.

Run with Fever is a great way to kick things off. Synths and female vocals curveball around a straightforward driving beat.  Drag a Rake brings in a string section for sweeps and pouncing pizzicato passages.

Trapdoor Spider was the first song I heard, and it  made me say, “I need more songs from that crazy band!” Things get frantic, familiar Casio sounds, combine with math rock and sweet, irresistible vocals. This one is more in the vein of Deerhoof or XXVVWWZ. Jesse Hudson joins in the vocals for a sweet duet in The Good Book. It’s a great way to end a great album.

Highly recommended for fans of Thao and the Get Down Stay Down and the Cardigans.

Jaquline Ronneklew
Stockholm, Sweden

I caught Jaquline at an open mic in Manhattan. She performed two songs from her album with her sister Emma providing backing vocals. I immediately was reminded of  Emiliana Torrini, and Hanne Hukkelberg and shuddered as she completed her first song, thinking “I may have found my new favorite singer.”
Listening to her album I hear gorgeous affected vocals that are warm and sweet as a homemade muffin from grandma.  Then I hear her voice filtered through a sexy smile and can imagine a suggestive wink as she whispers lyrics like “I am the tiger, you’re the prey.”  She plays her nylon string guitar with conviction and determination, tenderly plucking the notes.
“Of all the Voices ” is incredibly sweet. With a tender vibrato on her enchanting, “you start a revolution without violence in me.” Her advice for surviving abuse and trauma is to  “give the pain a goodbye kiss.” It’s the kind of idealism that is great to hear, even if it can be hard to believe. This song will be a perfect fit for the rolling credits to some future Academy Award nominated dramatic film.
“We Can Dance” has a full band, with a backing choir, including her sister, and a joyous crowd of hand claps, tambourine and drum set. When she sings,”Let’s intertwine,” I release all tension and slump back in my chair, thinking, “oh yes, Jaquline, let’s.” Here too she urges us to make kisses our tools, “fight back, make a peace sign your attack.” It’s only a matter of time before she is signed and playing to huge crowds.

Thought Trade
Fairbanks, AK

What is it about this town, frozen in the winter, inundated with sun in the summer, that results in a plethora of instrumental indie bands? We have lots of time, huddled up in our cabins to practice scales and write songs, and instrumental soundscapes seems an appropriate response to the forests full of snow beneath the star filled sky and the aurora borealis. I can think of a dozen, but of course, I was in two of them. Work, Thought Trade, Burn the Town Down, 4 out of 5 Doctors, Teleportation Ability, These Doors to Remain Closed During Work Hours, M Tentacles, Freight Train to Telekinesis,  Koto’s Sighting and In The Belfry (those two are actually from Anchorage… but still)
Thought Trade has been the most prolific of all, with seven releases in only five years.

Fallow begins with creeping palm-muted guitar sounds, like little critters poking their heads out of a hill.
Then… what is going on? Casey Smith begins singing, and he continues to sing the whole album through! His voice is a perfect addition to the melancholy space swells and wall of sound dynamic.
Penetrating guitars quiver and wash up in waves of tremolo; clever stops by drummer Travis Burrows make “Keep it as Straight as Possible” an intriguing journey. At 4:05 the mood abruptly changes and we introduce a melody that dances around familiarity. Double picking and tapping brings more mood and rounds out the composition.
It’s hard to tell which of the psychedelic head trip noises come from Travis’ Mandala Drum synthesizer, and which come from Aram Wool’s keyboard. “Misconception” stands out as an impassioned torch song, here, Casey’s voice, most closely resembles Tom Yorke’s, as if he is letting you in on some terrible secret, and you’ll never be able to return to a state of innocence.
“Mausoleum” brings to mind gentler songs from Radiohead’s “In Rainbows.” The drums don’t enter until 4 minutes in, the rapidly tapped guitar textures flex and fold.
Danny Opgenorth’s guitar work is intricate and exciting, sometimes precise, other times aleatoric, spastic and conversational.
This album is gratifying, even sublime with its variance in moods and stratification. The band has graduated beyond “jamming” and created rich compositions with vocals and an excellent mix.

Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers A Fish Hook An Open Eye
New York, NY
Produced by Jay Braun and Shilpa Ray
Engineered by Braun at Melody Lanes
Mastered by Warren Russell Smith at the Magic Shop

Here’s an exciting album from New York City from a band with lots of buzz and a reputation for wild shows. The drone sound is from Shilpa Ray’s harmonium (like an accordion that sits on a table). This band combines blues and European street music sounds with garage rock. They have been compared to Coco Rosie and even Janis Joplin.
The best track is “I’m not Frigid… Yet” with its throwback rockabilly sound and screaming lyrics about werewolves, shotguns and wild sex. It’s great to hear the boogie-woogie piano from Andrew Hoepfner and to hear the rhythm section drunkenly shout nonsensical back-up lyrics and howl like wolves. Meanwhile, Shilpa belts out, “If you want to take it in the rear, or do it till you disappear!” If only every track had the intensity and energy of this one, we’d have a contender for album of the year.
Jay Braun’s guitar solo on “Coward Cracked the Dawn” is spine-tingling. Another highlight is “What the Fuck Was I Thinking,” where Shilpa moans about falling in love and forgetting her family and even her children. It’s a disturbing thing to imagine, but not out of place in the genre of the blues. For a century, macho bluesmen have been bragging about committing violence from being drunk or lovelorn. Ray is claiming the blues for herself and borrowing from tradition. (Kepler Records)

Grass Widow
Past Time
San Fransisco, CA

I am easily seduced by lush female vocals, and combining that with psychedelia is a sure way to please me. This album features heavy bass and three female vocalists, sometimes changing direction, intertwining and flirting around a straight melody. One voice is wavering and childlike, another is slightly operatic, and another is baritone and very confidant. Their simple guitar riffs and vocals remind me of Vancouver’s Cub, except these three ladies went down the rabbit hole of prog rock. Maybe it would help to imagine if Mia Doi Todd had three teenage clones, or collaborated with Sonic Youth.
The organ on “Submarine” and the surfy guitars on “Uncertain Memory” are fun additions, but the best divergence from the formula is the violin and cellos on “Give Me Shapes” (provided by Melissa Collins, Jesse Detwiller and Madeline Gonzalez). They add an impassioned intensity to the atmosphere.
“11 Of Diamonds” stands out as a poppy potential single. On “Fried Egg,” some of the voices begin shouting; while others lay down a harmonious blanket of melodic cooing. My favorite moment on the disc is the conclusion of “Tuesday,” where the guitar and bass cut away to reveal the three glorious nude voices. (Kill Rock Stars)

Bridget and the Squares (New York, NY) Recorded by Elio Deluca at Soul Shop in Medford, MA

Still Life 2010
Catchy female fronted Piano pop
key tracks: Savior, iFlab, You’re so Pretty.

Laura Bridget Regan alternates between full band songs and songs where it’s just her and a piano. Her delivery is gregarious, welcoming you into her diary entries. We might blush as we realize what she is saying: ” I wasn’t ready for you to treat me like a whore, its ok. I don’t remember your name anyway.”
She can write a song full of great hooks, I love when it sounds like she’s getting away with herself.
Savior and iFlab are a quick one two punch of quirky poppy singles.
The first has howling guitars and slamming drums that remind me of the best songs from Frankenixon, then the next one has a homey county guitar riff demonstrating Eric Rylie’s flexibility.

Recommended for fans of Fiona Apple, Casey Dienel, Ben Folds, Amanda Palmer

Zee Avi 2009

Self Titled, Brushfire

One of my friends told me exactly what she wanted out of dating, to lay around sunday afternoons with her girlfriend, listening to music and making out.
I would recommend to her this artist, maybe alongside Jaymay and Thao and the Get Down Stay Down.  Stand-up bass and gently strummed guitars, gorgeous female vocals and occasional florishes from clarinets and trumpets, sounds like some excellent make out music to me!

Oh but the lyrics are sad, so very sad. “Darling you don’t deserve me, you don’t deserve my love.I had plenty to give but you shrugged it off.” In this song she tells how she is fed up with her lover’s crap and she is moving out.  “Don’t think I don’t know about the hair on the pillow. Seems like what we had was just a show.” When I write these lyrics down here, it just sounds like a jaded lover stating her reasons for leaving, but when Zee sings it, its compelling. There is a recurring element of infidelity in these short stories. It comes up again in Kantoi. “Even when you were by my side I shed tears I couldn’t dry.”
A gentle clarinet plays a simple melody along with her poetry, but then a lonely muted trumpet says what she can’t with english words.
Many of Zee’s songs come together and make a narrative of a romance falling apart.  The Story of You and Me is set to  a Wulritzer and guitar and Is This the End continues the bittersweet tale.
Honeybee doesn’t fit in the narrative, as its just a sweet song about stealing her lover away from the queen! But they can make their own honey in their own tree, so I think it will work out.
Let Me In concludes the album, with a tear wrenching piano arpeggio. Its simple but not lacking.  Her lyrics indicate maybe there is hope for this couple who has been through petty arguments, neglect, cheating, and opiate addiction: “maybe we can try to be better this time.”
First of the Gang also stands out from the narrative, for being a Morrissey cover, she utterly makes it her own. Perhaps there was some gang warfare in Zee’s home city which made this sad “Romeo and Juliet” tale appeal to her.  Turn this album on and make out to your sweetie, or watch rain fall from and sip some green tea.

Bacuntry Bruthers, (Fairbanks, AK)
The Good the Bad and the Ugly 2009

It certainly sounds as if alcohol had a influence on this record. Some songs sound great, others make you scratch your head, and ask why did they choose to include that recording? Satisfaction has perky gangly ska guitar, and fun rambling trumpet lines. The bruthers are joined by Juicy Lucy on flute, who provides counter melodies to Emmit’s horn.
Hesitation Blues has a skit in the beginning, which is a fun nod to their live show which sometimes had pauses in the songs, scripted conversation and jokes.
Emmit’s Rap starts the album, it was always a popular part of the live show but probably should have been left to a b-side collection, its more than a reference to the Beastie Boys, more like a cover with a few new lyrics.
Moonshine was always a live show highlight, we are graced with a pleasant and sweet version, with Emmit and Huck’s voices blending, joined by a couple of ukuleles and a kazoo. Here we find some of their most sexual suggestive lyrics “I can’t see you, but you look allright. I don’t care about what you’re wearing- all I think about is whats under there- pour me some moon shine under the moonlight.” The ukulele really adds a bouncy, happy go lucky feel, and give the jokes some breathing room to allow us time to laugh.
In the Pines has a very strange live mix, with the vocals too low.
Mister Mister has a great mix, with Bucktoof’s vocals joining in as well. Her drumming, pounding on a washboard, bottles, cans, and kitchen appliances is gleeful and energetic as always.
The album concludes with a tribute song to the Golden Eagle in Ester, AK. They have some drunks singing along, and the audio clips It sounds as if Huck is making the lyrics up as she goes along, sometimes she flops, but who cares?
I think this was their only real album, so it confuses me as to why they didn’t include more of their fantastic original songs when they had the chance to do some studio time. Prominently missing is Don’t Hate the Playa, Ballad of the Ex Lover, Walking in the Snow, and Nice Guy. If those had been included, and some of these weak tracks left off, they would have left behind a great legacy. Here’s hoping they reunite and release a proper album with all their best songs.
The combination of the goofy lyrics, self-aware curse-filled commentary, and cheerful banjo and guitar chords make half the tracks a fun listen. The other half… uh? What? They did name this EP: “The Good the Bad and the Ugly.” Maybe they were referring to the sound quality. Oh well, drink some godawful swill, put on a Ba’cuntry Bruthers cd and find yourself a “soulmate for the rest of the night.”

FFO: The Asylum Street Spankers, The Ditty Bops, Old Crow Medicine Show, Folk Uke.

Rebecca Menzia, Fairbanks, AK.
Baroque chamber pop, operatic vocals and intricate loops.
Key tracks Your Grace, A String of… , 5 years time

Rebecca Menzia moved up to Fairbanks a few years ago and has played as a guest in several bands, pick up leagues and founded Feeding Frenzy alongside Ephy Wheeler Ryan Bateman and Dan Firmin. Once she frequently opened for much louder acts, including Paper Scissors and Work. This cd acts as a document reminding us that her solo show was one of the best this town had seen for many years.
This album’s aesthetic is very busy-  the first track lets us know what kind of an journey we are in for, with piano arpeggiator sweeps and Menzia’s operatic voice telling us with intensity about…. something. What she’s saying is never as important as how she says it.
I have seen Rebecca recreate songs from this album with a looping pedal and its impressive.
Five Years Time is catchy and has multiple intricate banjo overdubs, sometimes they clip and result in chirping sounds. It would be great for her to rerecord this with someone experienced in recording banjo- maybe a folk or bluegrass specialty sound engineer.
A String Of has a repetitive nylon string loop that reminds me of Coco Rosie, here the overdub vocals work to excellent effect.
Silk Worms is a breath of fresh air with a much less busy mix, some gently plucked guitar and soft synthesizers swell.  We are closer to Joanna Newsom territory, Rebecca’s flexible tempo gives room for her affected voice to deliver lyrics. She sings her own backup vocals, and on this track it works to best effect, as each vocal line comes through clearly, and feels equally important.
Her control over her voice is complete, she demonstrates choral acrobatics on No Ends. The loop repeats a half dozen times, growing ever more hypnotic and entrancing, then pieces fall out.

I have heard her play Your Grace live a half dozen times, on the record it gets a loving treatment: there are impeccably placed mandolin melody strains, draped over the looped riff that is harp like and contemplative. We could waltz to this song, or drift off to a delightful kingdom of dreams.
Accordion joins the mix in Dressed, She asks what currency do you accept and offers cocoa beans, tea leaves, Opium and various other ornate collectibles. including weapons and even her body.

FFO: Coco Rosie, Emiliana Torrini

Grand Ole Party,
Humanimals 2007
San Diego, California
KeyTracks: Look Out Young Son, Nasty Habits, Gypsy March, Redrum heart
Female-fronted  70’s style freak out blues songs, but poppy and brief.

A lot of hoopla surrounded this band just because they had a chick drummer who sang, Kristin Gundred. I never got to see them live and I heard they broke up so I’ll just focus on the songs: the 70s style production (by Rilo Kiley’s Blake Sennett) the lyrics, and the riffs. The band is going for that 70s sound, and they have some songs that sounds like if Led Zepplin had a female singer and wrote short pop songs.

I hold a little resentment because I stood in line to see them in New York, when they were the opener for Longwave, I wasn’t interested in the headliner but the show was sold out…

With pomp, bravado and hubris, Kristin starts the album with quite the bang: telling the story of someone’s conception! Gyspy March has the lyrics: “I was conceived in the morning sun, spontaneous combustion! They say they felt their hearts give way when I began to take shape” (She kind of thinks she’s a big deal) “I was born in the swamp, the summer spawn of the hottest heat. My father was a rolling tramp my mother was a gypsy sweet.” Kristin seems to believe she’s the devil’s daughter and she will tell you that up front.

Redrum Heart has a ripping solo from John Paul Lablno . You can believe your listening to the radio in 1967 with dumb lyrics like, “You dug my shimmy shimmy, but you wouldn’t gimme gimme!” Her delivery is so fun as she belts out “end of this thing we call love” and the tambourine jangles and the band does quick stops emphasizing her shouting.
Roll on Down has dripping wet guitar tremolo plucks, and a much more chill mood. look at the band of travelers you’re with would you risk your life to save theirs. lookhow my legs seem to move on their own without much prompting from me

Nasty Habits is the primo example of their style, with the guitar playing a constant string of riffs that complement the vocals. At first she seems to scold like a matronly teacher, then a sympathetic hostess “What’s the matter with you that makes you settle for another point of view when yours would do better? When did you decide to please forever, and always brush aside your secret pleasures? ” The bells, (or is it a rhodes piano?) on this track accentuate her vocals and make a

“Love lust nasty habits make us who we are, love lust nasty habits take us very far underground.”
then theres a fun little break down:  “If you want to be with me, then honey just say the word: Cuz all this name calling and game playing is so god damned absurd.”  Haven’t we all thought something along those lines in the adventures of courting?

Every song is solidly grounded in the blues, but there is some rockabilly elements  in here, and a dub song too with some social commentary in the lyrics:
“I was watching TV, they called it reality; and I wondered is it really me who’s sitting here?” This album kicks ass.

FFO: The Dead Weather, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Starship, The Pack A.D. The Black Keys, Shilpa Ray and her Happy Hookers, Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Casey Dienel (New York, NY)
Wind up Canary 2008
Fun, cabaret piano pop.

Dienel’s compositions are fun and bright, her sense of melody whimsical. Her lyrics tell stories about eccentric and interesting characters. To me this album is like a long lost friend. I can imagine myself listening to this in 30 years and thinking of it fondly.
Highlights are All or Nothing, which sounds like a lost Carole King composition and the adorable,  Baby James which reminds me of the Asylum Street Spankers, (maybe its the clarinet?) Doctor Monroe, and Frankie and Annete are rich short stories set to cabaret music. The Coffee Beanery exudes cuteness and belongs on your mix tape to your secured crush!!… Stationary is the only song on guitar… and its a dreamy summer love lost song… Is she still bemoaning losing the James mentioned in track 3? “I can’t shake you off, no matter how hard I try. Can’t just pick up my pen and write about something else.” I don’t mind the cliche of a songwriter writing about writing songs when its delivered with her friendly and inviting voice. Though Dienel is the star here, there are fabulous performances on drums, bass and other back up instruments.

“Fat Old Man,” is her most Regina Spektorish song, its flowing chord progression, sentimental delivery and lyrics may make you cry.  Though she describes the death of a boy in a houseboat fire, and an impregnated woman abandoned by her lover, she seems to always be wistfully smiling. Telling us of the american landscape and the emotions felt by everyday people like a youthful Tom Waits.

Dienel reminds me most of Blossom Dearie with her optimistic delivery and bright voice. Maybe a little like Nellie McKay when she reigns in her imagination and creativity and actually writes a pop song. This album is awesome, with a wide variety of moods and imaginative lyrics that tell stories you won’t mind hearing again and again.
Mia Doi Todd, Los Angeles, CA.
Come Out of Your Mine (1999)
Creepy, Introspective math folk

There is something etherial about Mia Doi Todd’s baritone makes me think she’d fit right in at a chic art gallery or experimental film; it simultaneously makes me shudder in awe and makes me feel comforted.  Here are twelve intelligent and ascerbic lullabies, demonstrating very postmodern songwriting, and post-folk (or is it math-folk?) accompaniment.
This album is a shimmering star that proves songwriting isn’t dead, or dying. emphasizing mood and ideas over rhyme. Todd’s complicated vocal melodies are delivered with impeccable diction and poise, sounding more like a queen addressing her minions than a poet reciting to an audience.  This album was recorded it a chapel and the reverb is very organic and adds much to the mix. Her musical accompaniment is textured and minimal. sometimes approaching acoustic math rock, especially on ‘Strawberries,””Jackals, and ‘I’ve got a Gun.
Each song is remarkably different in subject, though similar enough in tone to make the collection cohesive. In Jackals, she describes a naive child discovering the world of fantasy; “Not yet understanding the proper way to read the girl interprets the words as fact.” In this song she pulls references to Alice in Wonderland, Pinocchio and Dr. Jeckell and Mr Hide, making it a kind of Joseph Campbell-esque essay with gentle strumming.
She can get quite wordy sometimes, take this lyric for instance; “Green beans in profusion long and straight burdening the vine like a weeping willow. ripe tomatoes red and sweet perched upon their furry stalk begging you to pluck.” I don’t mind the rushed feel to these lyrics as her vivid descriptions paint a picture in my mind and he diction is perfect.  She describes walking through a lush garden and then sharing a strawberry with her lover, “Alternating bite by bite until it was all gone.”
Lyrics come across as sincere and genuine, though some seem to have the freshness of a first draft, and others may be excessively labored upon. I can’t help but wonder if there could have been a more artful way to say: “Theres a man I’ve just met, he hasn’t kissed me yet, he reminds me of someone else only better.” “Save Me” seems to be the simplest and freshest of lonely love songs, without the pretentiousness or literary verbosity of the other tracks.
I can’t say every song is a resounding success, however; “Age” is a short poem delivered acapella, a sensuous meditation mourning the absence of simpler tasks such as minding sheep, and pleasant surroundings like pastures. The puns are kind of obvious and cliche; Mrs. Todd, cuteness doesn’t suit you.
I’ve Got a Gun may be the least “subtle” of these songs. Men and women commit violence to each other, or threaten to, “And then we will both be too dead to see freedom coming over the mountain.” Here, there is no grace to the delivery of her message.
The last song is the longest, describing the water cycle, a tear, the river, streams and the ocean. Its hypnotic use of repetition and grandiose arrangement make it one of the strangest folk songs your ever likely to hear.
I prefer this album to “Golden State,” that record seemed to be demonstrating competent music production and arrangement, but I prefer the stripped down compositions here. We can imagine we are in the chapel with her, and she’s playing to a small crowd, too enraptured to interrupt with applause. I’d recommend this album to anyone who likes modern folk artists like Joni Mitchell, or Greg Brown, and to the snobby indie kids who listen to the Microphones, Rufus Wainwright, Beth Gibbons, Elliot Smith, Emiliana Torrinini, and My Brightest Diamond. There may be a touch of Coco Rosie, Laurie Anderson and Bongwater in the mix as well.

The PACK A.D. Funeral Mixtape
Vancouver, Canada.
Mint Records

Key tracks: Don’t have to like you, Oh Be Joyful, Shiny Things
Ball Breaking huge BLUES RIFFS and tender optimism from a banshee of a frontman, and  a fucking TRAIN of a drummer.
Heavy guitar riffage and Beckys voice shouting is in nearly every one of these tracks. Oh be Joyful alternates between chunky riffage and soulful singing, demonstrating Becky’s style downplaying the guitar when she is singing, and then letting it rip when her vocals take a break. Cue Headbanging.
Shiny Things gives us a chance to come down, and a bottleneck slide establishes a much more relaxed mood.
She almost seems to mock male blues musicians with her lyrics “look at him drumming, little drummer boy.” She isn’t saying it with words- but her tone implies “oh you’re in a band huh? you aren’t as heavy as my band. You call yourself a band?” Dannemora Blues really reminds me of The Black Keys. This band is a real powerhouse live, catch them if you can.

Frankenixon.  Des moines, Iowa. Bloomington, Indiana?
Depth Perception/ Amorphous
Key tracks: Posers, Love this town, graceless and Unusual, Rhodes, word to confuse, Impasse, Due Process

I am a big fan of unique female voices and clever lyrics, on the other hand, I adore keyboard heavy improvisational jam band music and prog rock, what a fortunate coincidence that there would be a band out there that combines these two disparate forms! Frankenixon is one of my favorite bands, a shame that they broke up and don’t return my emails, but I have the albums that I can listen to to my hearts content. I guess they became Sword of Exactly and played at The Stone recently? Who was there?
Each album has its own strengths, and I’ll review them together in the hopes that some new people will be drawn to dark side.
Front and center in the mix is Evelyn’s voice, and she’s not afraid to be unique. Whether she is telling us personal details of her friends sex lives or reminding us that we can’t die in a dream- her tone is consistent and strange. The first three tracks are each pop masterpieces, getting more intense with each step deeper. Face to Match has an awesome jazzy piano riff.  I love when the snare starts cracking in Graceless and Unusual. It sounds like a thunderclap.
Posers slowly builds, like a Queen song, opening with a dreamy climbing piano riff,  then percussion builds, a strange alien sound that might be a guitar or a synth, then has the hugest chorus section imaginable, fuzzed out bass, and chirping moog leads and a synth whistle that resembles a tea kettle!
I’m not sure what the narrative assembles. Some kind of discussion of a past relationship “who these people are posing as us?” It teeters between found poetry and the sentimentality found in a greeting card. “though I had promised this weed to my brother, I’ll wager my greatest treasure is you.” Its not clear if she’s talking to an exboyfriend or a child, lines like, “No need to coax you away from your play,” really confuse me.
Ovaries and Testes are both aimless jams, but Interlude is an impressive Kaki King-like acoustic guitar solo piece.
The last track, Love this Town, is a ballad about growing up in a small town.  I adore the lyrics and the strange stories they hint at: “You aren’t listening so I’ll agree that Nora’s such a whore. You know she had that kid and she did so much acid. But her brother was kinda fine.” These lyrics sound like people reminiscing about high school friends over coffee at Denny’s at 3 am. The charm in the unpretentious, conversational lyrics really remind me of Tom Waits, and the jammy head banging keyboard riffs make this album a blast start to finish.
Then Amorphous is a different beast altogether, as different as sophomore albums come. The first album had many songs that could be “singles,” catchy and bouncy but never giving up unique elements. The second album is sometimes a difficult listen.
I love the way Evelyn Finch shouts “if we had good tattoos maybe time travel would be possible,”  in Word to Confuse. This is unfortunately the closest we come to “fun” on the whole album. This record is a much more textured, but dour and gloomy affair than Depth Perception.
Loathing starts with a drunken kind of shuffle, the guitar howls from Joe Kiplinger sounds similar to the last album. After some gloomy lyrics we are in an mediocre groove for awhile… then at 3:43 the song derails completely and we are left wondering why did it taper off?
At 2:20 Neurotic/Cynical #1 starts to get exciting with climbing arpeggios, the riff goes too long though. One of the Clock has a tempting math rock groove that almost makes it. Due Process hints at the pop of their first record, bass fuzz, and staccato piano chords could remind you of Ben Folds Five. It still fails to really click as a success though. I Have No Idea is an impressive guitar instrumental, kind of a lullaby. Impasse has seemingly the same riff as One of the Clock, five songs ago… hmmm… then at 1:17 it begins some epic Yes- like riffs, tempo changes, crucial, mountain climbing, torch wielding riffs. Its an impressive piece, probably the best on this second album. Though she hinted at melancholia on the first album, here Evelyn is laying down the existential ennui a tad too thick.
Then the album conclusion is Rhodes, an instrumental track with a lick that gets stuck in my head. It has some more math rock and jazz elements. Final analysis Awesome poppy first album, interesting, difficult second album.


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