Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Moving Day! Onward to WordPress!

I've moved the blog over to WordPress. It's now HERE.

Blogger has been quite problematic as of late. The last few reviews I've posted had issues saving, uploading images, and various other issues. Given that image uploading and saving are such basic things, that is not a great thing.

So, yeah.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

REVIEW: Signals Midwest - “Light On The Lake"

“This band is maturing...” is often code for getting boring. You see it all the time, but especially with punk rock bands. It's really has become kind of a cliché. As with any accepted rule, there are exceptions. Signals Midwest are a great example of a band maturing doesn't always mean getting boring. On their third full length, the band has crafted a solid 40 minutes of enjoyable, complex punk rock songs. There are some growing pains, but it's a great record overall.

Light On The Lake is an excellent record. It showcases the maturity of the band, both musically and lyrically. It builds on the foundation of earlier records, but adds enough to keep things interesting. It would have been easy enough to remake Burn The Blueprints or Latitudes And Longitudes, but that's not an adventurous thing to do. Especially given how much of the band's lyrics frequently broach the topic of change (and, in some cases, the lack of it). This theme is all over this record. It's approached as a physical thing and a mental thing. Recognizing the fleeting nature of things is kind of an obtuse thing to write songs about, but Signals Midwest make it work.

Light On The Lake is a melodic punk album, superficially anyway. There are gruff vocals, driving guitars, and killer backing vocals are abound. There is a lot more to it than that. There are some emo and indie rock influences in here. There's also a fair amount of post-hardcore influence. This is most notable in some structural aspects of the songs. A song can begin as a straight forward punk song, but then go off into a mathy direction for a minute. Guitar leads are strong, and not generically “punk.” It's not uncommon for a song to abruptly change and go a different direction all together.

It's that tendency that is both the greatest strength and most glaring weakness on this record. On the plus side, it keeps the record interesting. On the other hand, it makes certain songs sound a little disjointed. “Lowercase” being an example of the former, “In The Pauses” an example of the latter. It's not a bad thing, I suppose. It just feels like sometimes ambition got out ahead of the band. It's by no means a deal breaker, but it can get distracting when a slow to mid-tempo song all of a sudden takes a right turn into quick punk song via an extended solo. Especially when it feels like it's happening on almost every other song.

Let's get back to the point though. Light On The Lake is a great record. It exists in a world where a punk rock record doesn't have to be a “punk rock” record. It shows that bands can grow and mature without compromising. And, ultimately, isn't that the point?

Signals Midwest
Tiny Engines
Buy It

REVIEW: Signals Midwest - "Latitudes And Logitudes"

Monday, October 21, 2013

REVIEW: Lindsey Mills (with Handmade, Amigo) – "Stonefruit"

As a solo artist, Lindsey Mills has been pretty on top of things. With countless recordings available, she is certainly no slouch. On Stonefruit, she teams up with Handmade, Amigo. The collaboration works. This is a great record. A little: bit folksy, a little bit indie, and some really catchy pop. It's tied together by a great voice. There is a lot to like. I had to go back and listen to some of her earlier thing for context. This is my first experience with her music. Most of it is just acoustic guitar and vocals. And, for the most part, it's all quite good. Stonefruit is different in that it is a full band recording, and there is quite a bit going on.

Lindsey Mills is great as a songwriter and singer. Since she has been recording a lot as a solo artist, she is able to project a lot through her voice. It shines through as rich and in control. She sounds great singing low and calm, but can also belt out without missing a beat. Her songwriting is also great. She can write strong, personal song like “Hot Spot” or “Mango.” She is also able to write humorous parts to. Like how “Georgia” plays as a love song, but is clearly about a cat. Lyrically she can paint a picture.

Handmade, Amigo bring a lot to the record. As a full time band on their own, they obviously work well together. They feature guys who play multiple instruments. It adds a lot to the overall feel and landscape of the songs. There are glockenspiel, accordions, saxophone, and harmonica spread throughout the record. They also come in with some great harmonies. It really make the record sound big. Their addition really helps build Stonefruit as a folksy, Americana sounding record. There does remain edge though, and that is a great thing.

This is worth checking out. It's a wonderful indie/folk type record. Everything about it is strong. The songwriting, the vocals, the music, and the production make it the total package. Make sure you don't pass this up.

Monday, October 14, 2013

REVIEW: U137 - "Dreamer On The Run"

Post-rock is an interesting thing to tackle. The bands have to keep the rules of standard rock music in mind, while also trying to avoid sticking to them. It's in that eschewing normal genre rules that allows for cinematic qualities, it helps create songs that can be sweeping in scope. U137 is a duo made up of Adam Tornblad and Oscar Gulbrandsen. These two are no strangers to this type of music, having three releases with Moonlit Sailor under their belts. To see them adding to the stable of wonderful post-rock that Deep Elm currently has makes perfect sense.

It's hard to review this stuff as a collection of songs. The genre doesn't lend itself well to picking out favorite songs, or fragmenting things down to "well, this part is cool." In that regard, Dreamer On The Run is no different. The band made cohesive, engulfing record from front to back. U137 is made that work, plus they fit some great traditional indie rock flourishes in as well. The album works well as an entire piece.

Those indie rock moments are what makes this such an accessible record. You can be a total novice about this type of music and still get it. It never gets into the weirdness that some bands can. It remains very grounded, while still managing to shine. As an instrumental band, everything seems to serve double duty. Each instrument can provide the background colors, but can also carry the song in a traditional way. That said, this isn't riffing indie rock.

I don't want to sound like one of those nerd who talks about swirling music and sonic landscapes, but I kind of have to. "Dreamer On The Run" has a whole lot to like. It's calm and ambient in places, it's driving in others. Everything works, everything shines. Check it out.

Deep Elm
Buy It

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

REVIEW: The Slow Death - "No Heaven"

The Slow Death look like a super-group (or whatever) on paper. While they certainly have the pedigree of such, it's not quite the case. Coming out of the death of Pretty Boy Thorson, this band has always seemed like more of an extension than a new project. As such, the line up on the bands new (and second) LP varies slightly from what appeared on their first. No Heaven is exactly what you'd expect from a band featuring members of Pretty Boy Thorson, Dillinger Four, The Soviettes, and The Turkletons. It's gruff, Midwestern pop punk.

As far as specifics, it's a pretty solid mix of Pretty Boy Thorson and Dillinger Four. While not having the country influences, it's heavy on the former. Jesse Thorson really knocks this stuff out of the park. His vocals, while not anything uncommon for the genre, are solid. Yeah, he sounds like a singer in a Midwestern punk band. But, you know, of course he does. Either way, here it is. No Heaven stays pretty on point with what the band did on Born Ugly, Got Worse. The songs are forceful and catchy. The riffs are simple enough for the general pop punk fan, but not total Ramones aping. All the bases are covered, including the genre standard booze song ("I Need A Drink").

Long story short, this is a great record. It's not reinventing the wheel. You're not going to be blown away by it's ambition. Nothing is getting revolutionized. It's a quality pop punk record for people who like that kind of thing. It is what it is, and what it is is a great example of pop punk done Midwestern style. This is such a no-brainer. You won't be disappointed.

The Slow Death
Rad Girlfriend Records (Facebook)
Buy It

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Misfits Of Ska

Sorry I missed a review this last week. I have one coming up in the next few days. To make up for that, here is a thing I wrote about Skankin' Pickle over on my Tumblr:

One year in high school I ended up having two art classes and a math class with this cute girl who listened to great music. I tried so hard to be cool in front of her. Which was difficult for a fat dude in a Rancid t-shirt. We’d talk about The Brady Bunch, starting a cult, how creepy Patrick Duffy (not the actor) was. Obviously we would also talk about music. Like how great Operation Ivy was, or how Pinkerton was the best Weezer album. I was still a little shit, but I knew about enough punk and ska bands to hold my own.

I think we were talking about the Suicide Machines or something. Somehow we got on the topic of Skankin’ Pickle. She asked if I’d heard of them. I totally hadn’t. But, not wanting to look like a total dummy, I said “oh yeah of course.” I totally lied, but had gotten away with it.

A few weeks later I was on my way to school. My car wasn’t working, I missed the bus, it was winter, and I was running late. It was a classic four alarm clusterfuck. About 10 minutes into a half hour walk to school a car pulls over. It was the girl from my classes. I get in the car and “Skatanic” by Reel Big Fish had just finished playing. Then I hear a guy talking briefly about whether they got “Degrassi Junior High” in Petaluma. The band then goes into the beginning “O Canada,” and then it then tore into this quick ska-punk song.

It’s so damn catchy. I ask who it was. She just kind of looks at me and said “Skankin’ Pickle,” like I had just asked the dumbest question ever. Here I was, after saying I knew who that band was (and how much I liked them), asking who sings one of their MOST WELL KNOW SONGS. What a dummy. The song was “I’m In Love With A Girl Named Spike.” The record was Misfits Of Ska.

That day I learned to never pretend to know about bands that you really don’t. You just end up looking like a dummy. This situation also birthed my undying love of all things Asian Man Records and bands featuring Mike Park.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

REVIEW: Sunday Guts - "Leave It Go"

Hey, let's take a break for a minute. I've been talking about so many emo records recently. I need to cleanse my palate. That said, let's talk about Sunday Guts. They're back with a new EP called Leave It Go. It is some really good guitar pop, and I feel like we could all use some of that.
Leave It Go is the follow up to last year's Grey Tipi (which I looked at last September). Like it's predecessor, it is four songs of hooky guitar pop. While "guitar pop" sounds like an easy enough classification, Sunday Guts seem to draw from various parts of the genres long history. There's some Guided By Voices and Sebadoh in there. But there is also some British Invasion era stuff too (to my ears anyway). To the latter, I hear a fair amount of The Zombies and The Hollies.

Musically, the guitar is the star of the show. The riffs are catchy as all get out, but aren't exclusively basic chord progressions. The songs keep your attention. The vocals are also noteworthy. The lead has some effects happening. They have a bit of fuzz and distortion. It sounds good. The backing vocals shine. Overall, it is kind of a lo-fi affair. Everything is clear, but remains far from over produced. It's shiny without being slick.

As a two man band, Billy Kilgannon (Vocals/Guitar/Programming) and Victor Berger IV (Bass/Vocals/Keyboard) have produced some great work here. It is a natural progression from their prior EP. It is really great release, and really worth a listen

BandCamp (digital and physical)