Monday, June 3, 2013

P.L.X.T.X. Rising

During their time together, Female Demand rode high on a wave of growing appreciation for power-duo bands like Lightning Bolt (who have seemingly reached the apex of their mainstream popularity with their inclusion on the star-studded Flaming Lips’ album Heady Fwends). Bradley Muñoz and Jonathan Perez took the drum and bass thrasher concept to its limits, beyond its minimalist noise roots, to an acid-drenched, space-rock climax, on their only full-length album, “Outside the Universe.” They turned heads with their intensity, in life, but broke up rather quietly, with Bradley’s Facebook status about selling his bass as the only public indication.

Given the spastic movements of Bradley’s body, and John’s machine gun nest of percussive contributions, there are few bands in Houston, which matched the pure violence of Female Demand, when playing live. So it should not be all that surprising that Bradley’s departure only led to something more chaotic, more frenzied and more unrestrained. He calls it P.L.X.T.X., but pronounces it Pluto, (like the planet).

The music itself contains the energy of punk, but without the usual instruments or trappings. Muñoz’s vocals are shouted over a variety of ear-wrenching, electro-gunfire-volleys, that make his admirers want to headbang, but cause some, inevitably, to run and hide. In a fusion of the guerilla-gig, floor-circle tradition of Female Demand, and the simple boombox-cabinet stage of B L A C K I E, Muñoz’ setup includes the stark setup of speakers, a mic and himself, on the floor. The result has all the intensity of a dozen Suicide performances, an air-raid and an inescapable, never-ending fire drill all rolled into one. While fascinating to watch, it’s a bit like enduring a heart attack.

The rebirth of Muñoz as a new artist, one distinct from his bass-hero persona, was immediately visible, in an uncanny way. He bleached his hair a blinding white (like the blanching of the reborn Gandalf) and, when on stage, inserted a pair of macabre black contacts which made him look like either like a soulless wraith or some unfriendly alien species. If you haven’t gotten to witness the contacts though, don’t count on seeing them for a while. Apparently they don’t feel as awesome as they look. Muñoz said he stopped using those in April. “These contacts are very uncomfortable and irritating, plus the process of inserting them into your eyes is a challenge,” Munõz complained, “I may bring them back later, but for right now I’m leaving them at home.”

Unfortunately, according to Bradley, the now one man band has bled popularity, when compared to audiences of Female Demand. “It’s not rock and roll. It’s not a ‘band’ performing. It’s one guy and a couple of gadgets working together,” said Muñoz, “But I haven’t tapped into that market, or group of people, who enjoy aggressive electronic music. I’m [P.L.X.T.X.] only a year old.”

But the lack of commercial appeal doesn’t seem to worry Muñoz at this point, given that the project’s debut album “Selective Mutism” includes a blank CD-R, with instructions urging listeners to make free copies. It’s an extreme measure for someone who fronted a band that enjoyed massive local popularity and was possibly on track to join the ranks of Lightning Bolt or Japandroids, with time. “This path I’m taking is expensive. My paycheck goes to this and I don’t see a dime in return — but for the love of creating and challenging listeners, it’s worth it,” Muñoz said.

P.L.X.T.X. is a timely rebuttal to the overly-populist uses of electronic sounds, by so many new and mainstream artists. Carefully marketed dub$tep and electro-pop acts have hi-jacked the instrumentation of innovative artists like Aphex Twin and Squarepusher and made them tame: Almost too approachable. With the waning but for now still-formidable influence of the Night Culture crowd, there is a huge gap in the market of glitchy, experimental, electronic music, and Muñoz is a good contender. As technology continues to push all live performances toward the less-live (more electronic) side of the spectrum, there’s a desperate need for live electronic acts that bend and break rules, rather than just twist and turn knobs.

This summer has afforded P.L.X.T.X. a unique opportunity to make a footprint outside of Houston, in a place few local bands ever get to tour. Muñoz will take his one-man show on the road, to Japan, touring alongside Houston math-rock wizards, Giant Battle Monster. For Bradley, and Giant Battle Monster as well, the tour seems more than appropriate. Given the distance (and the expense) the average person might ask, “Why the hell Japan?!” but, musically, when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. From Merzbow to Melt Banana, the Japanese have a taste for the musical extreme that, is unmatched in the U.S., on a large scale. The tour so far includes multiple dates in Osaka and Tokyo.

In the music industry, there’s a phenomenon known as “big in a Japan.” It describes a western band or musician whose music does poorly or marginally in their home country, but somehow, for some reason, resonates particularly well in Japan. And apparently, there are more examples of this than you might think, including one-hit wonder Mr. Big: writers of acoustic rock cheese-fest “Be with You.” Of course, historically, these acts have been on the campier side, but maybe with enough elbow grease and gumption, P.L.X.T.X. can achieve this distinction while abroad.

Fans of noise, glitch and just generally extreme live performances, can see these two bands off at their June 29th tour kickoff at Notsuoh.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

SHOmework - Peter Murphy 4/26

Houston has been very lucky, over the past few years, to be a frequent tour stop for ex-Bauhaus front-man, Peter Murphy. He played Numbers in 2011, HoB in 2012 and will be returning to Numbers again on the 26th.  This is a special tour though, for a couple reasons, not the least of which is that fact that it almost did not happen.

Murphy vs. Smokey

In late March, Murphy got hauled in by the LAPD for allegedly driving under the influence and having a baggy of meth in his possession. No – let me be more specific – the LAPD said they found the bag in the back of a cruiser used to transport Murphy. If that doesn’t sound fishy enough, Murphy’s legal counsel claims that his client blew .01 on his breath test, which is the lowest amount of blood alcohol the test can even register. The legal limit in most states, including California, is .08.

But fishy or not, the timing was also tragic for fans, given that Murphy’s North American leg starts April 20th. Then there was also the added annoyance that a judge set Murphy’s bail at some ridiculous sum, over concerns that Murphy would try to flee the country. Somehow, and it probably has something to do with the fact that the charges were shaky to begin with, Murphy has been given the go-ahead to tour as planned. He’ll still have to attend a hearing in May, but given the evidence, Murphy seems pretty safe.

Mr. Moonlight

The second most exciting aspect of this tour, besides the fact that Murphy is still actually performing instead of sitting in jail, is the set list. In the past, Murphy’s setlists have relied heavily on solo material, some of which succeeds and some of which is painful to behold. The point being that set lists that give preference to solo material fly in the face of why most people attend shows. Yes, “Cuts You Up” is a decent solo song and I wouldn’t mind seeing it live, but that’s absolutely not the reason people come. People come mostly for the 2-3 Bauhaus songs he might perform (last tour Murphy did “Silent Hedges”, “Stigmata Martyr” and “Too Much 21st Century”).

The Mr. Moonlight tour will be a celebration of 35 years of Bauhaus. The set list will be all Bauhaus, all night. If there is a time to see Murphy, it is now. Even though a full Bauhaus reunion would be the best scenario, it ain’t gonna happen. When they reunited in 2006 to record “Go Away White,” they couldn’t even stay together long enough to do a full supporting tour. For the rest of eternity, it’s going to be Peter Murphy one night and Love and Rockets another night.

For those of you who have Spotify, click here for what is, in my estimation, a likely set list for Murphy next Friday.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

SHOW REVIEW: Jandek, Houston, 3/10

Sunday night's show should have just been billed as "Maze of the Phantom, class of 2012 reunion". If you haven't listened to the 2012 Jandek studio album of the same name, this will mean very little to you. However, if you, like me, purchased a copy of "Maze. . .", you will be able to recollect the very specific type of music played. For those of you who need to play some catchup (or think you know Jandek), click on the link above for a chunk of the Maze.

Sterling gathered all of the musians that patricipated in this album, under one beautiful roof (St. Paul's Methodist Church, in downtown Houston), and led a series of ad hoc pieces that could all have easily been alternate takes for Maze, albiet with the added treat of the church's cavernous reverberation. It was not a recital of Maze, but rather another stab at spontaneous collaboration, using all the mostly the same intstruments and all the same musicians. The only true difference between the original album and this live reinterpretation, was the fact that the representative from Corwood was propped up by a grand piano, rather than synth keyboard. 

The music of each player was a visual and sonic treat. Percussion was provided by James Metcalf, who was stationed behind an unconventional drum kit composed of various bells, woodblocks and more. Isabelle Ganz provided heavenly operatic vocalizations mixed with some entertainingly unusual, not-so-operatic vocalizations. Eric Avinger played flute and an electric guitar filtered, through, among many other effects, a volume pedal (think of some delicate Steve Howe work here) and some modulation pedals. The billing listed Eric's slot as "space guitar", which sounds odd, but, while it's hard to explain, if you listened Sunday night, it would not seem appropriate to list his contributions as merely "guitar." May Deyer played cello and sporadic harp accompaniment was supplied by an unnamed woman, who was not announced on the bill.

It was a magical collaboration that, while, to the vanilla ear, probably bordered on bizarre at times, was surprisingly melodic and majestic. Sterling did not leap to the fore too often but he had his moments. His work on the piano was far more subdued and melodic than what most people are probably used to hearing when guitar-hero Jandek (as I like to describe this persona) shows up.

Even though I love to hear Sterling sing, chant, -do spoken word stuff- and wish he had chipped in a few pieces of wisdom, this show was mindblowing and will sound great once pressed by Corwood. Judging by the normal rate of Jandek's live album output, it will be available for purchase in about 2018.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Jandek quitely announces 6 pm Sunday gig

I only found out about this two days ago via an unceremonious email from Sugar Hill studios' Andy Bradely. But, really, finding out this way, as opposed to the usual Facebook notification or listing on Space City Rock, seems more appropriate, given the cryptic nature of the enigma that is Jandek.

Mr. Bradley kindly gave me the following information:


Erich Avinger-Space guitar and bansuri flutes
Max Dyer-cello
Isabelle Ganz-vocals
Mary Radspinner-harp
James Metcalfe-percussion" 

When I asked how much it would be to attend, he wrote me, "ten bucks." I hope to see some of you there.

PS If anyone has any idea what a "space guitar" is, would you be so kind to send me an answer by email? It sounds intriguing.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

New Bibio more rocky than I remember

I've missed Bibio almost as much as I've missed Caribou, for my fix of lo-fi, looped psychedelia. But this track definitely tides me over a bit. In fact, it's satisfying my Beta Band cravings too. 

The new track is surprising in that it features prominent vocals and less of a patched-together sound. The song is less of Bibio's usual experimentation with textures and spaciness and more of a cohesive rock/songwriting experience. 

Maybe Bibio's upcoming album (projected for May) will consist of more tracks like this: rock songs as assembled by a very non-rock artist. I guess we will know in May.

Listen here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

SHOW REVIEW: Tame Impala, Houston, 2/25

Tame Impala played for a sold-out room at Fitzgerald's last night and certainly met my high expectations. They were psychedelic and professional, at the same time. From what I witnessed, they definitely had any tendencies toward silly excesses or uncomfortable, 10+ minute, meandering, jam breakdowns beaten out of them, by heavy touring and their recent success. I say this because those problems are always a consideration when watching psych bands (new or old), live. Leave the 20 minute drum solos and flaming teeth riffs to people who are already dead. You are not breaking any new ground- thanks. ANYWAY- their playing was tight but breezy, accurately capturing the dreaminess of their music, in-studio.

I only caught a little bit of openers, The Growl, but I liked what I heard. They sounded to me like what Led Zeppelin might have become if, in addition to all the old Delta greats, they had somehow been influenced by modern music, like Jack White or punk rock.The front-man played better harmonica than anyone I've ever seen live (except for maybe Stevie Wonder) and absolutely crushed Son House's "John the Revelator".

Enter Tame Impala. A lot of the material played came off of "Lonerism", which delighted me because it was the album I was familiar with. Being the shallow music snob I am, it took seeing the 9.0 score in Pitchfork (which only happened in October) for me to take them more seriously than I had, in the past. So I was not all that familiar with anything off their first LP.

Luckily, the sound was incredible, last night. Given that we were at Fitzgerald's, I wasn't surprised, but all the levels were such that I could hear everything, from the impressively articulate bass playing to Kevin Parker's angelic, heavily phased vocals. This is key, given that on their albums, Parker's sunny, John Lennon, Brian Wilson-y cantation has just as much to do with how psychedelic the music feels as the space-rock guitars or warm, mock-analog synthesizers. Lighting was also phenomenal.

Some of the music I heard seemed to be piped-in, at least during the less integral parts (like the perpetual drum loop on "Be Above It). However, there were times when it seemed back-tracking or triggered sounds were used when the keyboard player could have probably done it live. And yeah, it did disappoint me just a little bit that that the aforementioned drum loop was not live. Yet, my complaints here aren't directed at any of the musicians' abilities. It was plain to see that they all knew what they were doing up there.

"Be Above It" and "Apocalypse Dreams" were the show's highlights. And even though the somewhat cheesy and ill-fitting hard-rock tune "Elephant" got repetitive really quickly, the bridge of the song, framed by possibly live, possibly back-tracked organ, was one of the nights coolest moments. It was neat to see one of the most dramatic parts of "Lonerism" acted out, in front of me, by some very promising young musicians. Seeing that this show sold out weeks ago, it is very possible that Tame Impala may never play another venue this size, again, for future Houston dates. I'm happy I was there.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Maria Minerva - "Bless" EP

It's a rare treat when a dance artist actually puts out more than one track at a time. The most compelling, club-ready dance music seems to only come out in trickles of singles (or EPs that are, themselves, nothing more than one track and 3 or 4 remixes). But Estonian electronic artist Maria Minerva has bucked that trend, with this EP. It contains 4 original tracks and they are all solidly listenable.

"Black Magick" is easily the EP's standout track. Its forward machine-gun snare and steadily pumping synth line make it obvious dance floor fodder. Minerva's vocals are hypnotic. Ladytron fans (like me) will drool. A dark, magical theme pervades her lyrics as she quips, "you cut me in half and you put me together again".
"Space 4 U" would be just as robust as dance material, if it weren't as down-tempo and experimental. But that being said, it's still a pleasure to listen to. I don't know what she's saying, but it's very sexy, mysterious and maybe even profound. But I can't say for sure because all I can get other than "make a wish, boy" is something about "super trooper". Hopefully not this kind.

"Symbol Of My Pleasure" is pleasantly old-school, with its Liquid Liquid cowbells. Minerva's lyrics are hard to make out as they are shrouded behind a curtain of delay.

"Soul Searchin' "'s chrous of "too much, is never enough", when combined with bongos, is pleasantly reminiscent of LCD Soundsystem, albeit, with her sleepy vocals, it's more like LCD Soundsystem on Quaaludes, after a week of staying awake. Once again, Minerva's vocals are hypnotizing (but they also sound like they're being uttered while under the influence hypnotic trance). The vocals are intercut with a slowed-down rendition George Carlin's now-famous "Modern Man" monologue. 

Entertaining stuff.

Friday, February 15, 2013

LOCAL INTERVIEW: Scott Ayers' musical career lives on in new band, Dead Links

Scott Ayers is, to say the least, an important figure in Houston rock history. In the late 80s and early 90s, Ayers was the driving creative force behind experimental rock act Pain Teens. The band combined the sultry singing of female vocalist Bliss Blood with Ayers' scorching math-rock guitar riffs (and his handmade tape loops). The noisy echoes of Ayers' influence are easy to hear in many contemporary local bands, like Indian Jewelry and Balaclavas.

In November, the band played their first reunion show in years -presumably their first official date since the Pain Teens' 1995 breakup. They headlined the first half of a two-night Axiom reunion extravaganza, joined by the likes of Houston veterans Toto Ehio, Poor Dumb Bastards and The Anarchitex (of which Ayers is also founding member). They followed this performance up with another date in Austin, playing with former Trance Syndicate label-mates, Ed Hall and Crust; and fortunately, there have been a few dates added, since, and it looks like there are more to come.

I met Scott at Antidote, few weeks ago, to discuss his legacy, what he's working on now and what the future holds for the Pain Teens and his other musical endeavors.

Really it was see all The Dead Links shows on Space City Rock that inspired me to interview you and ask you what you've been doing lately. Can you talk about The Dead Links a little?

It's just something that started off with me and this singer. Basically I'm making all these demos, with no vocals. Some of them are rock songs, some of them are ambient, some of them are noise- or whatever. But I met this guy - my ex-wife's roommate - and he had been on a major label a few years back with this band called Twenty Mondays. So I gave him some tracks and he picked the ones he liked and wrote words for some of them.

You've only played about two shows so far, according to Space City Rock. Where do you see it going?

I don't know exactly where it's going to go. We've been wanting to put this album out and it's really..refined. It's different than what I've done before. There's singing and harmonies and it's something that sounds kind of like Pink Floyd or something.

That's good because last time you guys played, at the Axiom reunion show, I feel like not enough people knew about it. A lot of people I spoke to said they had no idea. Do you see yourselves doing more reunion shows or is this more of a one off thing that just happened a second time?

Well, I would like to do a few shows a year, if people can come through with the money.

Yeah, because Bliss lives in another part of the country now.

Yeah, she has to fly in from New York and that's an extra 500 bucks.

What is it about Houston that makes it a fertile place for bands like Balaclavas and Indian Jewlery and Pain Teens with all the darkness. And Pain Teens wasn't all doom and gloom but there was definitely that dark depth to it. Do you think it's something about the city?

For us, it was more of a rebellion against any kind of sing-songy pop. And then later we were doing some self-parody and stuff but yeah, it was a rebellion against the “alternative” band where everything was all singer/songwriter. We were very independent-minded.

You did some pretty progressive stuff during Pain Teens, as far as tape manipulation and loops, without, I would imagine, a lot of computers or digital equipment. Was that a lot of work to get it to sound that way -compared to what it would be like now?

Yeah maybe, but tape is kind of forgiving in a way. We definitely didn't do anything according to any rules. Stuff would get recorded badly, like really badly but we'd make it work.

Some of the tape stuff you did kind of reminded me of that guy from Mission of Burma, you know, Marvin Swope, with the tape effects. They came to Fitzgerald's a few months ago and they were good but that guy wasn't there and that was a little disappointing.

Yeah, I mean I would even tape sections of tape together to create a loop. The part where they met you can hear it slip.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Vicky Cryer - "The Synthetic Love of Emotional Engineering"

Jason Hill's Louis XIV is a band that never got a fair shake. Some of the material was immature and AMateurish, but there was definitely some sex-drenched rock genius sprinkled into the band's first three records. And, again, sure, they sold some albums and got a little bit of attention but mostly, they were under-appreciated. Pitchfork gave their debut full-length (2005's "The Best Little Secrets Are Kept") a 1.2. As far as online music journalism goes, this is not only really really bad - it's fucking LEGENDARY. While Pitchfork is notoriously rough, as far as ratings go, they normally relegate stuff they don't like to 3s and 4s. And even 3s are mercifully rare. If you score a 5 or higher, chances are, your music is probably commercially viable and at least fairly creative. 

Anyway- even though I've always had a knack for the idea of Louis XIV and what they could potentially realize musically, they sort of faded off into the background after 2007's underrated and under-reviewed "The Distances from Everyone to You" EP. 

Vicky Cryer is the more-sophisticated, more grown-up vehicle that I've been looking for, to enjoy Jason Hill's raunchy artistry. The backdrop for Vicky Cryer is funkier and more soulful than anything that the constituent members have tried before. The lineup includes members from The Killers, Muse, The Mars Volta and even some sax playing from the New York Dolls' David Johansen. None of these bands scream funk but when they get together, it sounds like Roxy Music meets Rare Earth meets Beck. The funkiness is funky (as in weird, that is), but the collaborators still have all the necessarily skills to lay down some unbelievable grooves. 

The first song ("Smut") hits like a shotgun blast to the chest. A distorted, pitch-shifted guitar hook starts off the track, accompanied by nothing else, and by the time it has the chance to repeat, it's joined by an abrupt explosion of thundering bass and mechanical percussion which sounds more like a rhythmic slamming of car doors than any drum kit. Not even a minute into the record, Hill starts with his hallmark sexual innuendo, "Baby, you're like a ten-speed. Because, baby you were born to ride." The funky, molasses-slow, rhythm section allows suggestive Hill's vocals to hang in the air.

"Girls" will inevitably be re-mixed by every dance artist and DJ who can get their hands on it. Aside from two short bridges, the song is basically a perpetual chorus of "girls just want to make the boys cry". But the disco rhythm section spins these simple words into pure gold, and a worthy dance-floor anthem nobody ever saw crass rocker Jason Hill being involved with. This song is already bouncing around on Youtube. We get more disco genius on track "Krokodil Tears".

Fancy Animal records plans to release the album in April

Monday, February 4, 2013

BEST NEW/OLD MUSIC Mozart's Sister - "Dear Fear" EP

  Let's face it, EPs tend to be leftovers. Either that, or they're made up of one or two good songs packaged with 3-4 not-so-good songs to give the illusion of a uniform effort, even when the artist knows otherwise. Yet, there are those rare EPs with momentum better than some full lengths, and Canadian project Mozart's Sister has succeeded in producing something of this caliber.

The opening track, "Mozart's Sister", has a magnetic, dance-floor pull to it that sets the pace for the whole EP. The track opens with a chorus of Dirty Projector-like oohs and ahhs, and with a sudden pop, launches into a very simple but satisfying synth melody. Lyrics seem like they're about Maria Ann Mozart, Wolfgang's talented but far less recognized older sibling. Hannant laments how she's been pushed aside but does so to some exceedingly sunny-sounding music - and it works.

Hannant waxes soulful in "Don't Leave It To Me" which bares a pleasant resemblance to the music of Swedish electro-pop group Little Dragon. This track is a little more elaborate, as far as layers and instrumentation go. It's probably the best standalone track. Hannant shows off incredible vocal talent and masterful vibrato while belting out "Can I get on ya? can I get on yaAHH", during the chorus.

"Single Status", the EP's shortest song, starts out sounding very much like a dance track but then takes a turn for the emotional. Its twinkling synths sound like they belong on Passion Pit's debut EP, "Chunk of Change".

The airy, tropical guitar (think Vampire Weekend/Fool's Gold) on "Contentedness" will surprise listeners who have been treated, so far, to a mostly electronic performance. Hannant greets listeners during the chorus with a deep, sultry, tomboy "Hey- Hey man", throwing off her singing voice for just a moment, to add a sexy, personal touch. The song also contains some of the EP's best lyrics: "Contentedness, you can come on in but I wouldn't take my shoes off."

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tegan & Sara - "Heartthrob"

Six whole years ago, Tegan and Sara released their sixth studio effort "Sainthood". This album had an updated sound, compared to their previous records. There was slightly less guitar, the edges were softer ad there were more blips and bloops of electronic intervention. The course of their discography from "If it was you" to "Sainthood" is actually a good example of how over the past 5 or so years modern rock has embraced more experimentation, more electronic textures and has broken away from guitar-oriented rock purism. "Heartthrob" takes Tegan and Sara from rockers dabbling in electronics to electro-pop princesses dabbling in rock.  

The songs have a huge, fleshed-out, radio friendly sound to them. Like Canadian band STARS the songs have rock rhythms with dancefloor hooks and pumping synth tones. While technically, the riot grrrl angstiness (from their first 3 albums) is gone, the popification of their music has not cheapened the emotional content one bit. Even a quick glance at the track list reveals that, at least as far as titles go, "Heartthrob" looks like the most melancholy, vulnerable record they've done, to date. 

[for those of you who don't have the album in front of you or on your screen:]
1. Closer
2. Goodbye, Goodbye
3. I Was A Fool
4. I'm Not Your Hero
5. Drove Me Wild <(past tense there)
6. How Come You Don't Want Me
7. I Couldn't Be Your Friend
8. Love They Say
9. Now I'm All Messed Up
10.  Shock To Your System

"I Was A Fool" is the best song on this entire album, hands down. Runner up is "Drove Me Wild". This album succeeds despite going "pop", something fans normally resent. Even longtime fans should appreciate the songwriting, despite the lack of guitar action and the normal tough-girl aesthetic.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Umberto - "Confrontations"

The targeted audience for Umberto's music is a bit hard to imagine. It's too dark and moody to be dance music but it's too structured and hooky to be a soundtrack or mere ambiance. (But, I guess it's simplistic to think of music just in marketing terms (like audience)) Pitchfork compares the music to Italian prog rockers Goblin and other than assorted 80s, horror movie soundtracks (like The Fog), that might be the only easily identifiable influence. As far as contemporaries go, Umberto bears a passing resemblance to Com Truise but other than that, it's hard to compare.

When it hits its sweet spots, "Confrontations" drags the listener into deep, ethereal, gothic soundscapes but at other times, when the synths sound clunkier and the whole product feels a little less organic, it has the feel of a low budget video game soundtrack. "Dead Silent Morning" and "Invasion" come across as amateurish, in comparison to the rest of the album. 

"Night Fantasy" is clearly the album's only real killer track. The song's quiet sine intro is cut to shreds by a bold snare at the one minute mark and from then on, every new beat that appears is compelling, thematic and oh-so catchy. At times, the title track, "Confrontation" returns the listener to the steady driving rush of "Night Fantasy" but at no other time on the record is that original feeling recaptured. The other songs drag too much. There is too much dramatic buildup and not enough release justify that initial buildup. They would make for an ok original soundtrack but as individual specimens, they lack luster. 

"Confrontations" is definitely worth a listen but Umberto needs to try harder to churn out more anthemic material. Tracks "Night Fantasy" and "Confrontations" prove that he is capable.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Western Medication - "Painted World"

As Mulder used to say, "I want to believe". But it's just hard, sometimes. The more contemporary post-punk music we have, the better. Yet, there are a lot of imposters out there who take from post-punk the concepts of danceable tempos and good bass lines but produce music that sounds very trapped in today's shallow indie-rock trends. A good example of this would be Editors: at their best they embody a slight revival of gothic post-punk but at their worst, they're a contrived, over-emotional indie-rock band trying to relive an era before their births. 

Western Medication is more promising and even-keeled than bands like Editors, but this EP has its issues. First of all, why is there an interlude on a five song release? That screams filler, even though filler itself is not always a problem. The perfect example is Black Sabbath's "Paranoid". Penned in a matter of an hour or two, the song went over so beautifully that it fulfilled the need for extra material on the record AND contributed to its success. However, as far as Black Sabbath filler goes, "Interlude" is more like "FX": a clearly superfluous track on Volume 4, that consists of coked up members of the band fooling around with delay effects with no real purpose in mind.

"Big City" is just super-contrived sounding. It sounds like anyone could have recorded it. Really, minus the accents, it sounds like it could have been a Black Lips song. It just doesn't fit that well. And most records include at least one track that doesn't belong as well as the others but on an EP, artists need to be pickier. When it's only five songs, as opposed to ten or twelve, the average quality should be higher. "Big City" makes the whole effort feel a little bit rushed (the same can be said about "Interlude").

Also, in the introduction of "Painted World", (which is my favorite song on here, by far) the kick drum sounds ever-so-slightly off time. It resolves itself during the rest of the song, but in the beginning, it's a bit unnerving.

Overall though, those flaws aside, the EP is indicative of a bright future. Technically, it will take the release of a full LP before anyone can say how promising the band is, but the noisy guitars, back-of-the-mix vocals and thrilling basslines are heartening.  

[Also, post-recording of this EP, they've added a keyboard player. This will only make the future more interesting.]

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

PREVIEW: Heyerdahl - "ØEN"

Heyerdahl's debut kicks off with a crawling bass line that sounds almost like Joy Division's "Dead Souls" before the high, boyish vocals start. "Know one knows what happened to the man who built our homes", muses the vocalist, mysteriously. These lyrics tell a story that we are only partially able to understand, arriving midway through the plot (in media res, as Virgil would say). The track sets the tone for the entire album in the sense that the players and vocals never go above a dull roar, for more than a moment. Even during the song's climax, every note is totally controlled and deliberate. Even though the drum and bass do almost all of the heavy lifting, rhythmically, there is still a steady rocking feel. Heyerdahl is saying a lot with little, here.

The rest of the album is carried out with the same spartan simplicity and melancholy slowness: the antithesis to the typical naive, sunshine-and-daisies-garbage so many other indie-pop styled bands seem to put out. Track "Blood" is written in the same style but with the addition of some synths and vibraphone. But even with the different layers, it all sounds so cohesive and essential to the overall product. No deadwood to be cut out, sonically.

The sombre mood, quiet volume and loping tempo (and hell, even the vibraphone) bring to mind Danish rockers Kashmir: a band that never achieved great commercial success outside of their home country. Hopefully, Heyerdahl will be able to bring the same musical ideas and feelings to the world in a way Kashmir never could. Given the success of similar bands (in a similar region) like Miike Snow and Peter Bjorn and John, the US is ready for Heyerdahl and the focused, restrained songwriting they employ.

"Mirage" is the only single currently available for listening. The full album will drop on January 28th.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Kashmir is one of my all-time-favorite modern bands. I didn't want to distract by saying so in the body of the review, but if you've never listened to Kashmir, they're some of the best music from the mid 90s to early 2000s.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Major Tom returns to Earth

It's pointless for me to repeat the news that I'm sure you already heard from a million different sources, yesterday, but I shall anyway. Yes, it's true, David Bowie is back. Well, at least he's kind of back. Bowie released a brand new song/video called "Where Are We Now?". The true news here is that the song is a single off of an upcoming album, expected to drop in March. Bowie's latest track is a calm, serene piano number complete with a cool, detached, pop-standard delivery. His voice sounds decent and I can't say he looks terribly happy in the video, but he's singing and there's an album. I can work through everything else, given that wonderful news.

The burning question that I have, though, is, whether or not there will be a supporting tour. He suffered a heart-attack in 2003, in the midst of touring, so I certainly won't hold it against him if he decides not to, but just think, he might TOUR again. There are no other living artists I can think of that I would rather cross off my bucket list, than David Bowie.

We need to cross our collective fingers and pray to the glam gods and hope that Mr. Bowie, health permitting, of course, decides to tour again. I have a 9-5 job now, and that includes personal days. I will fly wherever, to see this man perform. This needs to happen.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Triple Hex - "E.P."

What do Prince, Elvis and Ke$ha all have in common? Their music positively oozes sex. The suggestion of sex is a powerful one. It can take a normal musician and make them legendary. It can take a mediocre vocalist and turn her into an international pop-star. But sometimes sex in music is not sexy, sometimes it's just plain perverted. 

The front-man of Triple Hex, Dave Hex, has an unsettling vocal style that makes him sound as if he's snaking his hand slowly down his pants, as he records. Hex's lyrics are delivered with a low baritone register, so low that it sounds as if he is about falter. The result is a sultry delivery half Nick Cave, half Lux Interior

Hex also plays a mean guitar. Like the vocals, the lead playing is also split into two tendencies: either a sauntering, bluesy funk or a droning, doomy punk. Despite the darkness, the record, on the whole, has a vintage, first-wave garage rock feel to it that is only enhanced by the warbling organ. Track one, "Winter", also contains a plunked, repeated, guitar note that sounds suspiciously similar to the single-note piano riff played by John Cale on the Stooges' garage/proto-punk classic, "I Wanna Be Your Dog". 

"Love Song" is extremely entertaining in its crassness. When Hex rumbles, "I don't wanna love song- I just wanna fuck" it kind of sums up the mood of the whole EP: pure ego and sleaze. "Viking Funeral" does this too, as the dead viking in question summarizes his picaresque life and how much of a badass he once was.  

Hex's latest is stylish, catchy and really dirty. It's hard to believe they've been around since 2006 with such little recognition. The EP was released on January 1st.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Heathered Pearls - "Loyal"

"Toe-tapping" and "ambient" are descriptions that rarely go together. The word ambient evokes images of calm and nature while toe-tapping does essentially the opposite. However, the beautifully serene ambient music on "Loyal" actually does both. If another artist threw in a simple kick/snare beat, this would be dance music. It might even be excellent dance music. Hipster-Runoff would call it post-nu-gaze-crunk, or something idiotic like that. 

But there is no kick or snare. There is no backbeat to demarcate one part from another. The music on "Loyal" has more of an ebb/flow binary to it than the usual, unambiguous up beat/down beat we are all used to in most rock and pop music.

Some of the textures are looped while others are "live" (or at least non-repeating). Sometimes the repeating and non-repeating patterns go together to form a recurring but not identical cycle, similar to breaking waves: the general pattern reoccurs but there are definitely variations. "Left Climber" and "Steady Veil" use these techniques, heavily.

"Loyal", taking most of its instrumentation from airy synths, is spacey and alien-sounding but not eerie or uncomfortable. Heathered Pearls' debut bravely straddles the line between rhythmic and arrhythmic while still sounding musical enough: a joy for seasoned experimental-music-lovers and a safe starting point for novices.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Dan Trolley - "Electric Hours"

Channeling Blank Dogs, The Fall and even a little Jesus and Mary Chain, Dan Trolley's Bandcamp debut is dark, moody, and eclectic. It's just a one man affair but sounds no worse for it. A careful arranging of cold synths and brittle guitars makes it sound like Martin Hannett is at the producing helm. But don't let all the allusions I just used fool you: Trolley's music is very much his own.

While the entire album is set to the beat of a drum-machine, it's never distracting. Dan croons from what sounds like the back of a basketball court, perhaps an infernal basketball court. The lyrics often get lost but the pathos remains intact. Still, it would be helpful to have some liner notes to decode some of the less audible lyrics.

Guitar playing is simple and economical. Instead of solos and spotlight-stealing lead playing, Trolley is far more concerned with songwriting craft. The lo-fi rock is truly worthy of being described as DIY. Because, after all, what is more DIY than making rock/punk/post-punk music without a rock/punk/post-punk band? 

Hopefully, there's more to come, and if it does come, may there be a label smart enough to sign Mr. Trolley.

1. Don't feel down
2. Slow reaction
3. Your ways