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.
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)
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) http://www.myspace.com/grasswidowmusic
Bridget and the Squares (New York, NY) Recorded by Elio Deluca at Soul Shop in Medford, MA
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.