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Narc Out The Reds “…Are On The Run” Review

The second album (or EP in this case) in my “Reviews that I should have gotten to a while ago” series is Narc Out The Reds “…Are On The Run” EP. Released last year on the Good Time Gang label, the lineup featured here is Chris Baratono (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Ben Southwell (guitar, backing vocals), John Miller (drums, backing vocals) and Terry Pearson (bass). Also featured are “Men Behind the Curtain” is Isaac VanderSchuur (guitars, backing vocals), Dave Brunger (bass, slide guitar) and Scott Bozack (drums).

Having seen this band live (and recorded a live set by them) as well as continually listened to this EP for the past few days or so, a few conclusions come to mind. First, this band rocks. Hard. Second, the rocking is done in such a way that not only do their monster riffs shine but everything else (vocals, drums, etc) shines equally as bright.

Baratono’s guitar riffs are steady, catchy and pull the songs along just as well as the rest of the band. I do enjoy the little interludes between verses in “…As Hipsters Do” (the band seems to have a thing for ellipses). They add a little diversity and keep you on your toes. I also love the vocal here. At points, I could swear Muse singer Matt Bellamy took over Baratono’s vocal cords. Clocking in at a little over three minutes, it’s something not too far removed from radio-ready rock and roll like Foo Fighters.

“One Dolor Embrace” is my favorite track on this whole offering. It’s rocking riffs and great breakdowns are so chillingly good. Baratono sings “I’ve got a plan/I’ve got a way/I’ve got a plan/You should’ve stayed” as the drums beat away frantically and the guitars squeal. I also love the sneaking bits of acoustic guitars and synth. They add texture and a light-heartedness to it. Around the 1:48 mark in the song, is my favorite moment of the whole record. It just kicks the song in the ass and makes you rock out. Epic.

Acoustic guitars tiptoeing in and out of the rock and roll wreckage seems to happen a lot here. “I Was Evil That Year” is no exception. The synths are more prominent. Baratano can really sing, belting out “I won’t tell if you don’t” with a swagger and seductiveness (given the first verse includes him “taking her home”) that is just great. Again, the chorus is big and heavy. The production here is outstanding. Around the 3:20 mark, the drums are thrust into lo-fi mode and space is emphasized, which seems to indicate (at least to me) a post-punk influence where space is utilized as much as any instrument.

“Trebledust” is a fun song. Danceable and catchy. The backbeat of the drums gets me moving. “The reason I can’t stop/has got nothing to do with love” is crooned out via the backing vocal. Definitely a KISS influence there. At points the guitars have a Tom Morello-esque quirky punch to them. At others points, the Pixies come to mind. The instruments have room to breathe and at exactly three minutes, nothing is wasted.

“Last Shard Of Drama” feels a little like the previous song. The guitars, again, have a Tom Morello-esque quirk to them. Synth is also a good component. It is not directly obvious but it adds depth where some of the previous parts might seem a little stale. I like the passionate harmonies and vocal here, but not necessarily the lyrics. I feel like they were written by a trite, drama obsessed teenager. “I picked you up at eleven-thirty/I got us some drugs and we went to a party again”, Baratono sings.

This is EP is a great way to be introduced to Narc Out The Reds. If you like rocking, heavy riffs with the vocal stamina and bravato of bands like Muse, check this out.

Rants by Ryan Horky: Lenin/McCarthy “Art” EP Review

Here again, is Ryan Horky with a review of Michigan “supergroup” Lenin/McCarthy’s “Art” EP.

Lenin/McCarthy is a “supergroup” of sorts consisting of Rick Johnson and Nathan Cohn (bass and drums for Mustard Plug) and Mario Bourzac. (Drummer for sadly underrated/not rated at all MI group Hell or Highwater and former touring drummer for Off With Their Heads. Guess he knew when to get away from that sinking ship, huh?) They sound a little like NomeansNo, if someone who listened to a lot of Steve Vai was playing guitar. I don’t really like Steve Vai, but believe me, the combination works here. Rick and Nate really lock in as a rhythm section and Mario gets to do his thing on top of that. Even though there are ten songs here, the band is still marketing this release as an EP, because it’s only 20 minutes long. Most of the tunes are actually sub two minutes, which suits my attention span just fine. Each one is almost perfect-short, funny, and to the point. If you’re balking a little due to their ska/pop-punk pasts, you shouldn’t. This is some killer post-punk played by great musicians. Highly recommended.

Rants by Ryan Horky: Cheap Girls/Lemuria Split 7″ Review

Courtesy of Frank Earnest drummer Ryan Horky, here is a review of the recently released Cheap Girls/Lemuria Split 7″.

Man, four years ago I’da been shittin’myself over this thing. There was a time when you couldn’t pry Lemuria’s split with Kind of Like Spitting (Your Living Room’s All Over Me) off of my turntable. Around the same time I was going all gaga for a three song demo the Cheap Girls had recorded and (guitarist Adam) Aymor had slipped me all nervous-like one day when I was working at a record store. Anybody within earshot was gonna hear how these guys were the next big thing. Most people ignored me, and this was logical. I don’t have the best track record when predicting the next big thing. (American Idol? “Nobody’s gonna watch that,”said I. Social Networking? “This’ll never catch on…”) But lo and behold, the Cheap Girls are the biggest deal to come outta the capital since Small Brown Bike, and Lemuria ain’t doing too bad themselves. Normally I’m happy to see friends (or people I met once at Ian Graham’s house, in Lemuria’s case) doing well, but in this case I’m not so sure. This is one boring-ass record. Cheap Girls turn in a largely unmemorable song call “Pure Hate.” It’s not really that bad a tune, it just has “B SIDE” written all over it. (And hey, I guess it is…) Not exactly the sort of thing I’m gonna drop the needle on again and again the way I did with their first record. They’re capable of much catchier material than this. But boy, I’d rather hear Pure Hate ten times in a row than flip the damn thing over. We’ll start with “Lemons,” which is actually the second track on the Lemuria side. It’s boring. Honestly, not really much else to say about it. A totally unmemorable track that won’t stick in your head no matter how much you hear it, which I unfortunately had to do several times in the interest of turning in a half-decent review. And then there’s the giant turd that is “Single Mother Lover,” the lead track on this thing. Good. Lord. I have never heard such stupid lyrics in my entire life. (Outside of a Red Hot Chili Peppers album anyway…) The tagline for this pile is “I’m a single mother lover” sung over and over, sometimes by Alex, sometimes be Sheena, sometimes by both. I’m guessing Alex is banging some single mom and he’s all nervous about it. I’m sure it’s difficult to connect with a kid that ain’t yours, but writing a lame-ass song about it isn’t the answer. Someday this kid’s gonna grow up and kick his ass for involving him in such a sad excuse for rock and roll music. Unfortunately, the song’s catchy as hell, catchier than anything on the (to my mind) incredibly over-rated Pebble, meaning it’s been stuck in my head all damned day. (Catchy in a bad way, I mean, like some stupid theme song to a kid’s show.) I’m gonna go dig out Living Room and remind myself why I ever liked this band in the first place.

The Hat Madder “Rogue Notes and Phones” Review

The first album in my “Reviews that I should have gotten to a while ago” series is…The Hat Madder’s “Rogue Notes and Phones”.

The Hat Madder (featured on the record) is Isaac Richmond Vander Schuur (vocals, guitars, bass, keys, percussion and found sound), Ricky Leinhart (drums and percussion), Erik Baio (Bass), Mjark Jagmin (Drums, Percussion), Doobie (keys, synths, manipulations, piano, organ, theremin), Aaron Pangborn (bass) and D.B. Higgins (bass).

However, the current lineup (as of 2010) is Isaac Richmond Vander Schuur (vocals, guitars, keyboards, found sound), Christian Urrabazo (drums, percussion, vocals) and Nick Merz (bass, vocals, euphonium, bowed upright bass).

Initially recorded in 2004 (hence the long credits above), Rogue Notes and Phones is a great blend of poppy vocals, bits of noise and drone and epic rock-out songs, usually all three occurring in the course of the same song. The quick opener, “This Shady Little Neighborhood”, draws on Sonic Youth-esque guitar tones. They are fuzzy and crunchy. Even the clean guitar tones have a dissonance maybe heard on Sonic Youth classics like “Theresa’s Sound World” from SY’s 1992 album Dirty.

The first proper song, “The Streets Don’t Lie”, starts with a great rocking riff and lyrics like “You’re the main attraction/In the main event”. The drums and guitars are tight and, as the song progresses, it only gets more and more epic. The chorus is catchy, driving and the hook is phenomenal. The silence break toward the middle, however, is a little jaunting (I sometimes think the song is over) but then the song kicks into Sonic Youth-dissonance mode with the guitar solo. Bits of shrieking distortion leak through the choppy notes.

“Let the Good Times Last” is more of a standard pop-rock song. The guitars are restrained, the vocals are super catchy and Vander Schuur has a great, multi-range vocal palette. The backing vocal harmonies are a nice touch as well. “Everything I should have done is didn’t do for you” Vander Schuur belts out. This song, along with the previous, show the noisy and poppy sides of bands that are on the Good Time Gang Recordings roster. Hooks are key but sweltering noise also plays a key role.

Another short instrumental, “Ampersand”, is an electronic piece. I love the melodic synth line in this little piece. I wish they would have expanded on that piece and turned it into a full song. “Let You Down” showcases more of the hooks and poppiness of The Hat Madder. The drums, at points, have a surf rock swagger to them. I love the use of synth here. It adds to the texture of the song. More than half-way through the album, the pieces that make up The Hat Madder are firmly established. The hooks are epic and catchy, the guitars crunchy and sparsely dissonant and the synths add a layer of spaciousness. Oh and the drums are top notch as well. I, however, have to saythat (although these are all great things) the formula is a little repetitive. Granted, I love the formula the band employs. I just thought that after the electronic “Ampersand”, the album might take a more overt electronic turn.

Regardless of my reservations about the lack of a trip down electronica lane (or maybe synth-lead avenue), this album is a great slab of rock and roll with all the dissonant bits any fan of Sonic Youth (or generally late 80s alternative) would eat up. If you’re not into that kind of thing, then the so-poppy-it-hurts hooks are great and get caught in your head and if that’s not your bag then the few electronic pieces might be able to hold your attention. No matter your taste, this album holds many styles together with ease.

Pick this up here: http://www.biggigproductions.com/store.php# and check them out on Facebook.

Roll Over Radio “Glass Feet: A Roll Over Radio Production” Review

Roll Over Radio, fronted by Elliot Street Lunatic drummer CJ Kjolhede, released “Glass Feet: A Roll Over Radio Production” in Summer of 2009. The lineup featured here is Kjolhede, Jason Marr (bass/backup vocals), Bobby Halick (drums/ back up vocals) and Adam Whitt (trumpet). Second guitarist Jon Mickelson joined the band after these recordings.

First, if you are familiar with Elliot Street Lunatic’s material then you might be in for quite the surprise. Most obviously,  frontman CJ Kjolhede’s voice is totally different than Marr’s frontman voice in Elliot Street Lunatic. Kjolhede’s is warbly and dissonant yet soulful and bluesy. His voice adds a lot to the atmospheric qualities of songs like “Smile to Yourself”. Although I can’t really pick a standout vocal performance on the album, I really like his voice and think it adds to the distinctiveness of the band.

Speaking of distinctiveness, the production (by bassist Marr) is spectacular. One of the standout techniques used is turning parts backward, like the acoustic guitars on Colorado Mushroom Company. The trumpet and drums sound warm and add texture to the songs. Halick’s drumming is spot on and has a pulsating, driving and colorful mystique about it. Marr’s production on the electric guitars adds an almost indie-punk choppiness to them; dissonant and off putting at times such as on “Antibiotic”.

Lyrically, Kjolhede sings with an assured, and almost (at times) depressed, demeanor lines like “Everything is red/I’ve not panicked” from Smile To Yourself. Following these lines is an impassioned harmonica bit. No doubt, the blues is definitely an influence here. The following song, Roll Over Radio Part 1, invokes the bands namesake. “I feel like shit but they don’t understand/Tomorrow I’m a new man/Roll Over Radio”. Contrasted with the happier chords and warm trumpets, the lyrics have a complex  meaning. Although, I’m not really sure what the phrase “Roll Over Radio” means in the context of the lyrics and album as a whole. Maybe it means something and maybe it doesn’t. (I bet I would figure it would after a few more listens…)

If you want to check out a band that, in my opinion, is one of the underrated gems in Lansing please visit http://rolloverradio.bandcamp.com/

Lansing Devo cover band, Re-Evolution, live audio

Finally, the mutated ones and Lansing’s own, Re-Evolution, have free live music for you. Lansingmusic.TV recorded their set from back in December. There are a few select cuts including “Jocko Homo” and “Turn Around”. Enjoy!

Sleeping Timmy “What World?” Review

The first full length release by Timmy Rodriguez AKA Sleeping Timmy, entitled “What World?” has a lot going for it and a lot of mishaps too. The musicianship here is outstanding. Rodriguez plays every instrument (minus programmed drums), including acoustic guitar, electric guitar, keyboards, bass guitar and even mandolin. Incorporating this many elements himself and making them all work in the songs, and not be overwhelming, is a good sign.

How he used said instruments, although they work in the songs, feels a little stale about half way through the album. An acoustic guitar in nearly every song takes away from the originality of the songs themselves when nearly every song has one. Electric guitar parts here and there spice it up a bit but they also feel limp and weak. No real punch to them. Even the programmed drum patterns feel repetitive and boring after a while. A little diversity in the arrangements would be nice.

Lyrically, this album is a concept album. According to this Q and A with Rodriguez, “This whole album is from the male characters perspective. He is faced with constant obstacles (Her moving away from Philadelphia, the both of them moving in different directions emotionally, him thinking he has feelings for someone else, their first experience with intimacy). It’s pretty much anything you would see on TGIF from 1993-2000.” Rodriguez has a template for his concept, sure. But I don’t think Boy Meets World: The Album makes for very good lyrics. From the song Self in Doubt, “Self in doubt, I was wrong to think of you that way. Self in doubt, now I’m lost in my hallways”.

Apart from his lyrics, his singing is good at times, not great in other areas. I like the use of harmony vocals throughout the album, like on the first song “Sandbox”. Shows the influence of the Beatles on his music. But even some of the harmonies a little scratchy. At points where harmonies are absent, it feels a little dry. There is not one harmony that I got stuck in my head.

Overall, this album is a shaky start for Sleeping Timmy. I like the fact that Rodriguez is branching out into solo material and self-producing his own material. That shows he is staying active musically and experimenting. That’s what this album is, I think. An experiment. Something he wanted to do and put out there. I’m sure whatever he puts out next under the Sleeping Timmy name will be better.

Sleeping Timmy Q and A

Fresh off the release of his first full length, “What World?”, Timmy Rodriguez AKA Sleeping Timmy conducted a Q and A with me about how Sleeping Timmy came about, the recording process of “What World?” and what he will do next.

Q: Can you talk about the genesis for the Sleeping Timmy project?

A: The Sleeping Timmy project was created this past summer. I had always written songs that didn’t end up in any project I was involved in. Most of my music became Break-Ups songs, but once I moved to Grand Rapids and became more involved in my school and just hanging around in the Grand Rapids area more often, I didn’t have as much time to collaborate with The Break-Ups. Every time that I would write a song it I would write it in the mindset that The Break-Ups would be the release of it. Once I was able not to do that as much, I started to look for other creative outlets. I’ve always been the kind of musician who loves collaborating and I’ve been blessed to have made music with the people I have, but I never really did something on my own. So I decided to create this “Sleeping Timmy” name. The name is simply me paying tribute to my favorite band of all time and probably the biggest influence as far as my music goes, The Beatles. It’s derived from the song “I’m Only Sleeping”.

Q: How is this project different from your other bands The Break Ups and/or Drinking Mercury? Musically, Lyrically? How are they similar?

A:Well, in all honesty, musically, a lot of these songs could be Break-Ups songs. Lyrically, this album is a concept album and is way different than anything I have ever done. I have never written songs that had to do with one major theme. I started writing this album last summer. I was exhausted from school, but I still wasn’t able to travel to Lansing to practice as much as I would have liked. So I started writing songs having to do with two teenagers who are in love and are faced with certain problems. This whole album is from the male characters perspective. He is faced with constant obstacles (Her moving away from Philadelphia, the both of them moving in different directions emotionally, him thinking he has feelings for someone else, their first experience with intimacy). It’s pretty much anything you would see on TGIF from 1993-2000. But, it is different in that essence from my other bands, I write strictly autobiographical so this was a change for me. Even though, I may have one or two autobiographical songs on here.

Q: You played everything (minus programmed drums) on the record. It is a true solo record in that regard. Did you always want to do something that didn’t have others attached to it to?

A: No, this is simply my utilizing the resources I had at my disposal. I wrote a lot of songs and most of them get recorded on my computer. If I had every resource available to me, I would have utilized it completely. I would have done it like Johnny Cash’s “American IV: The Man Comes Around”. I would have a lot of people guest star on it. Like I said before, I was blessed to have worked with the people I have been in bands/musical projects with. If I could live in Lansing and have The Break-Ups and Drinking Mercury both at my disposal, I guarantee this project wouldn’t have been created.

> Q: The “Blue Sky” EP focuses more on lo-fi recordings while the “Lucky Charms with Soy Milk” EP leans toward playing with beats and electronics. I think the “What World?” album melds both of those tendencies together. Thoughts? Was that your intent with “What World?”? If not, what was your intent with this, if there was any to begin with?

A: “Blue Sky” is was old recordings, “Soy Milk” was a mixture of old and new recordings. I don’t have a drummer, I don’t have the time nor resources to have a drummer learn all these songs and record them. “What World?” was me just trying to use what I had. I know when I started writing the album I was listening to a lot of Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea”. I remember loving how “King of The Carrot Flowers” opened up the album. So I took the blueprint of that album and created the first draft, I would say, of this album. “Sandbox” is completely inspired by “King of The Carrot Flowers”, and vocally, I was listening to a lot the “Let It Be” album. But as time passed, more artists starting influencing the re-writing of songs and structure. “The Hazards of Love” by The Decemberists plays a huge influence on this record. A couple of my vocal takes were inspired by Eric Merckling’s vocals on his KISS cover “Beth”. I was also listening to a lot of Violent Femmes towards the end of it.

This album was a lot of experimentation for me. When I recorded piano and organ on the keyboard (Thanks to Jay Eldridge), I would sit there for hours trying to figure out the chords and then I would play the chord progressions over and over until I got it down. I taught myself the mandolin for this project (Thanks to my cousin, Cayla). I went into the creation of this album with the idea of trying to write a concept album. And I will openly say, this idea for this album was result of a conversation I had with Tommy McCord on the way back from an Infinity Shores concert in 2005. I don’t know if he remembers it, but I do. So I have to give Tommy his credit.

Q: What will Sleeping Timmy work on next? What kind of styles will you focus on for new material? Will this “What World?” style (ie acoustic guitars and programmed drums) be a mainstay in your future recordings? How might any new material be different from “What World?”?

A: I have no idea what I am going to be doing next. I’ve written a lot of songs that are the direct result of listening to Mumford and Sons. But I have had a Pixies revival as of late, so they are having a big influence on my song writing. I want to go back and play with beats again. That was fun. I have hours of material that I have recorded since 2008 on this computer. I would like to release some eventually, but I may just re-record what I release. I plan on writing a sequel to “What World?” called “This World” but this album took me six months to record and actually be satisfied with it. So “This World” will probably be on the back burner for a while.

Frank and Earnest and Narc Out the Reds Live MP3s

Live sets by Frank and Earnest and Narc Out The Reds from Thursday January 27, 2011 at Mac’s Bar are now available for FREE download at purevolume.com/lansingmusictv

Frank and Earnest’s set

Narc Out The Reds set

Enjoy!

Here’s A Review: “Words” EP by Drinking Mercury

Drinking Mercury, a side project of GTG cohorts Tommy McCord (guitar/vocals), Michael Boyes (vocals/guitar/ukulele), Timmy Rodriguez (bass/vocals) and Kevin Adams (drums/percussion/vocals), will release their new EP entitled “Words” on Saturday January 22nd at Mac’s Bar.

Here’s a Review.

Having existed since 2000, I’ve been missing out on this excellent band for quite some time. The first Drinking Mercury track I ever heard was their cover of Devo’s “Beautiful World” for “Explosions: Lansing Salutes Devo”. It was full of spacey electric guitars, folky acoustic guitars and Micheal Boyes’ one-of-a-kind warbly voice.

“Words”, at first listen, with the opener Hey, Hey Sally, feels like it draws from Modest Mouse-esque alternative rock. Boyes’ voice is due in part to this, although his voice is more melodic than say MM singer Issac Brock. His opening jangly drone of “Hey, Hey” is instantly ingrained in my head as one of those get-chills type moments. The guitars are strummed along for the most part. Toward the end of the song, the overdrive kicks in and finishes the song off nicely.

Grateful Day, the EP’s second track, shows the versatility of these musicians. Percussion is the star here. Bongos, shakers and claves are all present. They give the song a “walking through a rained out forest”-type vibe. Guitars are low in the mix and minimal. Boyes’ voice is also a great choice for lead vocals (as three of the four members sing). I also like the ending, where an almost 8-bit synth or guitar plays the songs motif.

The 8th, is Drinking Mercury in overdrive mode (literally). Distortion, wah and feedback patrol the sound here. Bits of dissonance drip here and there. McCord takes the lead vocal spot here. His vocal is perfect for the song but I felt that it seemed a little lacking in the inspiration department. It was a decent take that maybe seems more like it would fit in with his other project, The Plurals.

Remmy, following The 8th, seems a little out of place in the tracklisting as is. All the momentum from the previous song is pulled out from under the listener with a slow ballad. That complaint aside, I love the song. McCord again takes the lead vocal, singing lines like “Lay my pen onto paper/thinkin bout you again/I walk my mind through this cliche/every single night”. Great lyrics that paint a picture of a person in love (or is it post-breakup? I’m no good at analyzing lyrics). Space and ambiance play a large roll in the feel of the song. The instruments are spaced apart yet cohesive. The distorted, rocking ending plays up their alternative rock roots.

Noisemaker is another foray into distorted alternative pop. It is basically the same formula as The 8th. There are some differences though. A fingerpicked electric guitar intro is showcased here. After that, a big distortion kick pops up. Bassist Timmy Rodriguez takes the lead vocal here (his first lead DM vocal). His voice is refreshing to hear since I have heard McCord’s voice countless times and Boyes’ voice is distinct enough as it is. Beyond these differences, it is similar in style to The 8th, which is not a bad thing. It helps to showcase what the band can do well.

The closing track, The Day Before, has Boyes back at the vocal helm. The song’s overall tone is similar to Grateful Day or Hey, Hey Sally (although it is less rocking and more balladry). I love the backing vocal here. It has a gospel-like quality to it; very soothing. The first half of the song can be described as such. The second half of the song picks up speed a bit but still has the great backing vocal. I actually can imagine this song as the soundtrack to the whale jump scene in Free Willy (maybe it’s just me).

Overall, this EP has some great songs and some OK songs. Songs in the former category include Hey, Hey Sally and Grateful Day. Mainly due to Boyes’ vocal takes. They are infectious and instantly recognizable. I also love the music in those songs. The guitars and drums/percussion make the songs get stuck in my head.

Songs like The 8th are in the latter category. I just find them to be underestimated and a little boring. Believe me, that is hard for me to type, especially since Tommy McCord is a great songwriter, guitarist and vocalist. He is one of my all-time favorite songwriters so it’s hard for me to call one of his songs “lacking” or even “boring”. I feel that this style has been done a thousand times, regardless of who writes the song. I’m just not particularly fond of it is all.

Drinking Mercury have been around for a long time so they must be doing something right. Check out their release show for the “Words” EP at Mac’s Bar this coming Saturday with Mason’s Case, Elliot Street Lunatic and The Playback. Tickets are $8, is 18+ and the show starts at 8pm.

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