Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

The Plurals “The Plurals today, The Plurals tomorrow: A Futrospective” review

Lansing’s favorite bunch of hoodlums with hearts of gold, The Plurals, have released a new album entitled “The Plurals today, The Plurals tomorrow: A Futrospective”. Here’s a review.

I have a few contrasting opinions on this record. On one hand, the poppy and noisy blend the band is known for is in full force here. To some, it may be more of the same from the band and to others it may be a breath of fresh air in the midwest alternative/punk scene. I find myself struggling with what side of the fence I’m on. Maybe it’s a little bit of both.

“La la la” is a great opener. As drummer/vocalist Hattie Danby starts off with a roll across the drum kit, the song kicks into full gear. The guitars slice through the song like a laser beam. Vocalist/guitarist Tommy McCord croons out the chorus of “la la la, let it out” with a sense of relief, which would fit the lyric perfectly. Vocalist/bassist Nicholas Richard pulsates the bass lines just enough to get you to notice them. Everything about the song makes you want to keep listening to the rest of the album.

“Life’s a Mess”, fronted by Richard, who grunts out “you only wanna talk about problems” as the guitars chop along with quick power chords. I really love the chorus here. Richard sings “the questions I’m asking myself when no one’s around/how much do you think is true?” as Danby and McCord supply the backing vocal. Really great contrast with the sharp instrumentation and soft vocals.

Probably one of my favorite songs from this album is “Crush”. Sung by McCord, I love the (again) contrast in heavy, noisy guitars and great vocal melodies. “You make my crush/I blush/but blame it on the sun” sings McCord. You can’t help but sing along. The drums keep the tempo and the bass is doing its job here. The “do-do-do-do” vocables by McCord add to the pop factor. This is just a great alt-pop song.

“Alma Mater” is the album’s quick, noisy cacophony. “Just enough is all you are” is the vocal here. It takes on about 5 different personas, from the early melodic take by McCord to the screaming of Richard and the crooning of Danby. I love that the band is able to morph their vocal takes via each member’s take within a given song. It adds to the spontaneity of the band’s songs and overall creativity.

Just as the vocal is the star here, the guitars are the star on “Run”. The opening features the Plurals trademark run-up-the-guitar noise and screeching. The main guitar line reminds me of Sebadoh’s “Ride the Darker Wave” from Sebadoh 3. A great lick. As Danby takes over vocals about half way through the song, she is supported by guitar feedback. Other times, power chords. Shows the cohesiveness of the band as a unit.

I think I found the answer to my conundrum at the beginning of the review.  There seems to be the complete balance of noise and pop the band has been looking for. Their formula works wonders here, so I say, keep sticking to it. At the first couple listens, I was feeling jaded because I had heard this sound over and over again from the band. But I realize that this is what they do best. Politicians are good at selling their ideas to people. Baseball players are good at swinging bats and hitting balls. The Plurals are good at punk rock.

 

 

 

Dastardly “May You Never” review

Chicago Americana band Dastardly are coming to Lansing this Saturday to play Scene Metrospace with Hana Malhas and Steven Leaf. Here’s a review of their album “May You Never”.

I’m not really sure if I can honestly say that I’ve heard a take on Americana so different than what I hear on “May You Never”. I love the musical territory covered here. “Exercises in Self-Loathing” is the standout track on this record. The whole song has the feel of a hoedown breakdown where the energy is in full swing but in this case, the energy is in full swing throughout the entire song. Vocalist and guitarist Gabe Liebowitz reminds me of Josh Caterer of fellow Chicagoans, The Smoking Popes. The song just has that powerpop kick to it. The stand-up bass is thumping and the drums make you move. The backing vocals courtesy of Sarah Morgan are a nice, soothing touch. The spacey, canned electric guitar solo during the breakdown is something that I didn’t expect but (along with the banjo coming from the right channel) makes it all the more interesting.

Things take a turn for the bizarre on “Creepy”. These lyrics like “I’m Creepy/I’m in the doorway/I listen closely to every sentence/And they don’t know that I’m even alive” is just as the title of the song suggests: creepy. Along with the slowly strummed banjo, acoustic guitar and the tremolo, noisy electric guitar this song makes me very uncomfortable. I’m sure that was the band’s goal; you don’t name a song “Creepy” without trying to make the listener feel, well, creeped out. The chorus of vocables in the middle is a nice, yet ironic touch to the song. It tries to make you relate to the musical landscape with a soothing breakdown, but it just makes everything else all the more disturbing.

“Crystalized” has the same driving feel as “Exercise..” with the pumping kick drum (a la Little Lion Man by Mumford and Sons). I found a particular moment at 1:34 in the song to be very jarring and misplaced. As vocals by Sarah Morgan soar anthemically, the drums kick in and Liebowitz’s vocals pop up. It just was a little out of place. Not a bad song, just a little jarring in the arrangement.

If you’re a fan of the new wave of indie folk like Mumford and Sons or Frontier Ruckus, you will love this band. If you’re discovering this band for the first time, I recommend only checking out a few of their songs in particular “Exercise in Self-Loathing” and “Villian”. Check these guys out on Saturday at Scene Metrospace.

Rants by Ryan Horky: Small Brown Bike “Fell and Found”

After a three month hiatus, Ryan Horky is back with another Rant. This time it’s Small Brown Bike‘s newest album (after a lengthy hiatus) in Fell and Found. Catch Small Brown Bike with The Casket Lottery and Lansing’s Cheap Girls at The Subterranean (buy tixs here) in Chicago, IL this Saturday.

Small Brown Bike

Fell and Found

(No Idea)

Rating: 7.5

Some of the absolute best shows I’ve ever seen have been Small Brown Bike shows. I’ve probably seen them more times than any other band living or dead, more due to geography (I live where they live) than raging fandom. (Although I do own all of their releases and have piles of demos, and if that ain’t raging fandom, what is?) So it with a heaping hunk of trepidation that I approach this new LP. After years of disappointment, Ive come to embrace the maxim that REUNION RECORDS SUCK. Sure, there are always exceptions. In the end though, most bands should probably stay broken up. After seeing the too slow, no-energy show that SBB played at Mac’s Bar last winter I figured they might be edging into this category as well. It’s always a bummer when a once-great band makes the slow slide into mediocrity and/or general suckiness. The two 7”s they released prior to Fell and Found didn’t do much for me either. (They weren’t bad, necessarily, but not the high quality I’ve come to expect from the Bike.) But hold on a minute—this record ain’t so bad! Folks that hated The River Bed or expected a return to Our Own Wars/Dead Reckoning aren’t going to dig it, but those of us who enjoyed seeing the band progress and change will find a lot to enjoy on Fell and Found. The sounds on the record are a little like the band themselves these days—a little more relaxed, not as much tension, but still pretty solid and enjoyable. If you’re a fan of the Bike you should pick it up. I probably won’t reach for Fell and Found in the future when I need an SBB fix, but it’s a generally enjoyable record with some decent tunes. I know this seems like I’m damning it with faint praise, but I really expected to hate this. Remember-reunion records suck. In my book, being just generally solid is a victory here.

 

Chris Bathgate “Salt Year” Review

Ann Arbor based indie folk singer Chris Bathgate is releasing a new album entitled “Salt Year” soon with a string of shows across Michigan. Find out where you can see Chris and his full live band on his official website.

Here’s a review of “Salt Year”.

Brimming with the same bottled up, lyrically driven but musically dynamic ethos as other Michigan bands Frontier Ruckus and Nathan K., Bathgate’s approach to folk music is a breath of fresh air. He concentrates on the musical side of his songs as much as the lyrical side. On the opener “Eliza (hue)”, he sings “Was it sacred? Did you scream out?” as pianos drip and coalesce into a emotional landscape filled with warbling strings and steady drums. The flourishes of electric guitar are nice to hear as well.

This record is very different than many of Bathgate’s contemporaries. Instead of just relying on the same set of instruments that tend to make up the Michigan indie folk scene (ie banjo, acoustic guitar, saw, etc), Bathgate takes it a step further. He includes those instruments, sure, but he uses them in ways that separate him from his peers. On “No Silver”, a cranking, clock-esque sound pushes along which brings to mind images of the Midwest working class towns of Michigan. “I ain’t got no silver/I ain’t got no gold” he sings.

Experimentation continues with “Levee”. As an electric guitar hum builds, the floor toms are pounded with an almost African rhythm. The drums jump from the left channel to the right and back. This gives the song a push and a feel of intensity amongst the quiet acoustic guitar and drums back in the distance. The use of electric guitar on this album makes it stand out. More often than not do bands try to go for an “authentic” feel by only using acoustic instruments. Bathgate embraces electric guitar as a weapon in his songwriting arsenal. On “Borders” the electric guitars’ textures and bits of distortion are something that I’m glad he put on the song. It gives the song a spontaneity and cleverness.

The production on this album is also something that I really love. As I mentioned before, the mixing is very distinct. Drums float in the background, like a kit is drifting at sea while it’s being recorded. The acoustic guitar and banjo are quiet yet powerful. The use of the electric guitar is my favorite part of this album. It’s very refreshing and its use is very different and nice to hear in a scene dominated by acoustic guitars. I recommend this album.

Year 200X “We Are Error” Review

Year 200X, who are playing Lansing anime convention Shuto Con this Saturday (see Shuto Con’s website for details), are one of the most unique bands to come around in a while. Formed in 2006, the band plays metal-style renditions of Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) video games tunes from games like Mega Man 3, Ghosts and Goblins, Zelda II and Contra. Year 200x is Tim Lydon (Guitar), Rance Tatroe (Guitar), Tony Oliver (Guitar), Ian Whiters (Bass) and Jake Bryan (Drums).

Onto the review…

I will first say that I have never heard any of the original video game tunes the band is covering. I will judge the music by its own merits. Now, that said, here are the my main points. I love the uniqueness of this concept. Covering some of the classic video game tunes in a metal style is a great and inventive way to not only show your love of metal but your love of video games. The band certainly does both very well. But sometimes concept and the concept’s execution don’t transition well.

The playing itself on the individual instruments is fantastic. The harmony guitars, the killer breakdown, blast beats and the overall epicness are things I really love about this album. There are countless examples of these techniques on this album. The guitar tones on the album are surprisingly diverse on some of the songs. Metal-ified wah a la Kirk Hammett is heard on “Ducktales (The Moon)” and a bluesy and jazzy introduction on “Ninja Gaiden II (Intro)” is excellent. It reminds me of “End Credits” by Opeth. Then there’s the classic, death metal riffage on “Life Force (Level 1 – Level 6 – Boss – Level 3)”. It beats you over the head; really intense. The drumming is also top notch here. Blast beats and lightning quick hits only add to the intensity of some of the takes. The bass, however, is hardly audible (at least to me).

Given that I praised the instrumental performances here, that leads me to my only complaint. I understand that this is a video game tunes cover album, which is why there are no vocals. But having listened to metal with vocals all of my life, I’ve become accustomed to that element always being there. This is not a huge complaint by any means. The instrumental music more than makes up for it. It just bugs me and it takes a little getting used to.

Overall, this album is a unique adventure of 8 bit nostalgia covered in a metallic layer of face-melting  goodness. Pieces like “Mega Man 3 (Title Theme)” and “Ninja Gaiden II (Intro)” are well played, musically creative and show sides of the band that are hard to come by given the content. If you are a video game fan and have played these games, you should definitely check this out. If you like metal, definitely check this out and if you like both metal and video games you must own this.

Bicycle Sunday/Park Jefferson Split 7″ Review

Although I had only heard about this within the last hour, I am going to write up a quick review of this split 7″ from Lansing emo bands Bicycle Sunday (formerly Boleyn) and Park Jefferson. The bands are both working toward funding a physical release of the split. Find out more about that here and while you’re at it, download the tracks (for free, at the bands’ insistence) here: http://www.mediafire.com/?cnt9put8unww97p

Onto the review…

The first song here, Bicycle Sunday’s “Do you remember the time you gave me a spoon?”, starts out with some almost post-rock textured guitars that add an almost somber quality to the proceeding lyrics. Singer/guitarist Joe McAndrew sings with a bleak quality, “It started with a smile and ended with your head/On my chest”. I really like the slowed down cymbal crashes and overall drum beat because along with the guitars, they add a sonic embrace of the eerie and the honest when the lyrics are thrown on top of it all. The bass plays a minimalist role here; sneaking along quietly. “My heart/It beats for you” are the closing lines here and the buildup of the song only makes the lyrics all the more appropriate.

Bicycle Sunday’s second offering here, “Nothing was the matter, except me” draws on the same textural elements as the previous song but is a little bit different. Again, the guitars shine but for a different reason. Arpeggios and single note trills revolve like a carousel as McAndrew sings “History repeats/That’s what you taught me/In your bed those nights”. How fitting. The belting, aching vocal is also similar to the previous effort but it’s got a pull to it that makes you ache right along with him. The instrumental breakdown toward the end of the song showcases the band’s cohesiveness. A great effort here.

I have never heard of Park Jefferson, but after taking a couple of listens to their side of this split, it’s pretty obvious that they draw from the same musical gene pool as Bicycle Sunday. That said, their takes are very different from Bicycle Sunday. “One for the road” starts to feel like the multi-layered guitarism of Bicycle Sunday at first, but then morphs into something totally different. At about 45 seconds in, the song changes into a pop-core cocktail of quick and fast hardcore-esque drumming and shouted vocals. I actually think the shouted, gang vocals toward the middle of the song add a surprise element that is very welcome. Throughout these shouted sections, the guitar and bass play minimalist roles, letting the shouts envelope your ear canals.

The second Park Jefferson offering, “Dude, it’s a Saturday” amps up the hardcore intensity. The drums pound away as guitars (that should be overdriven but aren’t) give the song an almost revealing and stripped down quality. I also like the quick pull-off guitar licks; they add to the barrage created by the drums. Shouted vocals are shown here again in full force. The single guitar/voice interlude is a nice touch. Adds the aforementioned stripped down quality.

If there are two bands that deserve a helping hand from you, the caring fans, it’s Bicycle Sunday and Park Jefferson. Do yourself a favor and help them with much needed donations here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/282406512/put-out-the-bicycle-sunday-park-jefferson-split-7

And check out the songs on the split here: http://www.mediafire.com/?cnt9put8unww97p

Rants by Ryan Horky: So Adult “Rookie” Review

Ryan Horky is back. Here is a review of So Adult‘s “Rookie”, out of Bellingham, WA (via Cale Sauter’s consistent Lansing press and affiliation with this Washington band I will let this one slide..it’s like a friend-of a friend-of a friend scenario).

I might be stretching LMTV’s “gotta be locally connected” review rule a bit on this one. These dudes are from Bellingham, WA, which is about as far away as you can go from Lansing and still be in the contiguous US of A. However, Cale Sauter’s Raptor’s Delight PR company has taken it upon themselves to get these guys some press, and RDPR is local, so that’s good enough for me. Hopefully it will be for LMTV. (If not, you won’t be reading this anyway, so what do you care?) Anyway….So Adult has some serious Replacements-worship going on. The singer sounds very much like a young Paul Westerberg and the songs come across like a much less-talented songwriter’s attempt at apeing P. Westie’s style. (If you see the video for the song “Suburbia” you can see that the lead singer hopped in Doc Brown’s Delorean in about 1992, gunned it to 88 MPH, and ended up in the year 2011. Even his haircut looks like Johnny Reznik in the days before the Goo Goo Dolls left Metal Blade and got a stylist. I have no problem with this. If you’re gonna be in a tribute band, hell, look the part at least.)

Now, you might read these words and think that I didn’t like this tape, but you would be wrong. The songs are generally catchy and well-played. What words I can understand, though occasionally clichéd, are at least not annoying. (I’ll take what I can get these days. We have a real shortage of inspiring lyricists!) It’s a short release that whets my appetite for more instead of boring me with too much. When I say that the dude writing the songs is “much less talented” than Paul Westerberg I’m simply stating a fact that is true for 90% of songwriters ever. It’s not an insult, just a fact. While I would generally prefer bands be original, if someone is doing a good version of something I love I can at least hang with that. (I love those first couple Goo Goo Dolls records where they were basically Replacements Jr.) Worth tracking down for sure.

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.

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