Johnny Unicorn “Sweet Edith Manton” review

OK, so I had intended to review this a long time ago but I could never fully put into words my thoughts on the album. Now, almost a year since I obtained the album from Johnny Unicorn during this interview, I feel like I can review it now…finally. So here we go.

The opener, Lady Drives, within the first 30 seconds sets you up for what you’re in for with a Johnny Unicorn album. As synths pulsate and the glockenspiel  rings, a sudden burst of drums and saxaphone leave their mark. Then it returns to the synth/glockenspiel motif. Throughout the song, swaths of calming spacey noises engulf your ears. But this doesn’t last long. Unicorn sings “lady drives her car into a ditch” as harmonic guitar lines string along, drums kick and Unicorn’s vocals take you on a ride.

“A ride” is a good and simple way of describing a Johnny Unicorn album (it might be an understatement). On Date Movie Fever, he belts out “date movie fever/I’m running in the wrong direction” while guitars rock out then all of a sudden a breakdown with the synth comes into play as Unicorn then utilizes his falsetto vocal range. Many musical movements and ideas are key to understanding Johnny Unicorn as a musician. Growing up on Frank Zappa and, later on, listening to They Might Be Giants, quirkiness is a great quality that Unicorn possesses and it shines on this album.

Science is my favorite track on the album. Drums kickstart the song like a heartbeat as Unicorn sings “We can travel in machines that take us to where we need to be”. As the chorus comes in, Unicorn has autotuned his voice which gives a robotic tinge perfect for the song. It’s geek rock personified. The music seethes with a quirkiness and twitch that fans of They Might Be Giants would love.

A close second for favorite track is 50 Times. The drums have a swing feel to them. They are my favorite part of the song. Their commanding high-hat/snare combo is so infectious. Unicorn sings “the moon is out of orbit” as guitar chords dryly wring themselves out. As the chorus comes in, synths march along and the guitar tremolos a quick line. Quick, dancy and to the point.

If you’re a fan of bands like They Might Be Giants or musicians like Weird Al, you will definitely love Johnny Unicorn.

Dizzy Dearest “All These Flowers EP” Review

Dizzy Dearest, a Lansing area indie/psych pop band, have released an EP entitled “All These Flowers”, which you can download for free at this link.

Here’s a review.

Amongst electronic beats and swaths of distortion, blips and blotches of quirky noises and (not to mention) the harmony vocals, Dizzy Dearest (synth player Jarod Emison, vocalist Maggie Emison and guitarist Nick Fox) make something pretty incredible here. On “Vacation (Flowers)”, a slow bassy drum beat pulsates among a sea of vocal harmonies, guitar bits and synth fluctuations. I almost have a hard time following everything going on all at once, which actually suits the band’s name and aesthetic quite well. The music leaves you in a blissfully bizarre state of mind. It’s almost best to concentrate on one piece at a time and come back later, and after multiple listens, everything will come full circle.

A favorite of mine from this offering is “Bell Oak Rd.” I absolutely love the blasts of guitar noise that occupy the breaks in this song. It adds an element of spontaneity to the band’s sound and allows them a bit of musical freedom to let loose from the confines of a beat (if only for about 16 bars). Maggie Emison’s harmonies through the noise add a beauty unheard as of yet on this offering. Her (as well as Jarod Emison’s) abilities to harmonize with pure noise is a great way to latch onto what little pop sensibilities that noise provide on its own. By adding that little bit of harmony, it makes it listenable and not overbearing.

The electronic beats found on this EP are creative and work well with the rest of the music. In an almost hip-hop fashion, the beats are just another part of the sonic collage that they’re creating (a la New Jersey experimental hip hop group Dalek). This is evident on “Light Pollution”. As a guitar strums along calm chords, the off-time beat is high on the snare adding a well-deserved punch.

“Capture Me” defines the band’s sound as they are looking to show it to the world. Full of almost 8-bit sonic entanglements in the intro and as guitars-like-clockwork stream along, Maggie Emison sings her way through the sonic jungle (although there’s too much reverb on them for me to intelligibly understand the lyrics). She sings “So capture me/behind the lens of a camera/I wanna see every little thing”. In the way that cameras capture a moment in time, Dizzy Dearest capture a lot of their emotions via sonic collages of noise, beats and harmonies on this EP.

Check this out. It’s worth it.

 

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.

 

Weird Science Q and A

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Above) The flyer for the most recent Weird Science show at mac’s bar.

Walter Lucken and AJ Glaub, founders of the Weird Science concert series, talked with me about the series origin, what they hope to accomplish and the diversity of the lineups. The next Weird Science show will be May 5th, 2011 at Basement 414. More details will follow soon.

Q: How did you come up with the concept for Weird Science? How did the
name Weird Science come about?

Aj: Me and walt had a baby, walt gave it a name.

wl: Yeah the concept for the shows pretty much came out of the fact
that I wasn’t really getting a lot of shows and neither were a lot of
acts I knew, and I thought the problem may have been that there just
wasn’t an outlet for music outside the margins of what people in
Lansing are used to, or maybe there was an audience there already but
nobody was filling that void of the intersection between rap,
electronic, and experimental music. So we gave it a shot and it worked
out way better than I expected, at least.

Q: Who else helped develop the concept? Did you have any input from the
musicians you were booking? Or did you already have a clear idea of
what the show would be about?

Aj: The og concept was developed strictly by walt and I as a way to
promote our solo sets with the potential for packed shows with diverse
audiences/line-ups. Jesus Crisis is our personal savior, #1 collaborator an allstar Weird Sci guy.

wl: Yeah, we have input from pretty much everyone who we book on the
show, a lot of people have said they wanted to perform at the next
Weird Science because they were into the concept, which pretty much
confirmed what I thought about a lot of music not having an outlet.
Originally like AJ says it was pretty much just the both of us booking
people who do stuff we like in our respective genres which ended up
kind of putting those two groups together which was great. A lot of
people are supporting the shows and giving us constructive feedback,
for example we’ve made mistakes and been instructed on how to correct
them so it’s not just AJ and I, a lot of people are involved.

Q: The first Weird Science show was last month and since then, there have
been 3 WS events so far featuring artists like yourself (Big Walt),
Jesus Crisis, Loop Goat and more.

What were some of the goals you have from a booking standpoint for the
shows? Do you want to have a consciously diverse lineup or did it
evolve naturally over time as you were booking the artists? How do you
find the musicians that you book for the shows?

Aj: Yes, the mixing of genres is the most important part. It is also
evolving, we are looking to feature more live bands, but rap +
electronics in all their forms is our top interest.

wl: Yeah, for me at least the most important thing is not that we
present music that sounds at all similar but rather music that’s made
with a certain mindset, and that we cultivate a following that listens
to music the same way. So we can put experimental or even more
traditional hip hop in front of people who like noise music and vice
versa and people end up appreciating things they otherwise wouldn’t
have paid much attention to. That’s my focus really, just getting
people to give music outside their comfort zone a chance. To answer
your questions about finding artists it’s mostly people that we’ve
known forever but we definitely look out for people in the area or
even beyond it that would fit, Jesus Crisis helps us out with that a
lot.

Q: From a show standpoint, what were your expectations for the first
show? Did you meet them? Did you surpass them? How have those
expectations changed in the short time WS have been active?

Aj: What I didn’t expect, which is so great, is that everybody’s
always really happy with the diversity and new faces. It feels like
going to a show out of town. As far as expectations changing, WS is
always going to be changing.

wl: We had had a show at Basement 414 which was mostly just all of our
friends hanging out, that was a really great time so the first Weird
Science, which was at Mac’s, mostly had me expecting another smaller
but positive and relaxed kind of thing, but way more people came than
I expected and it was actually pretty hype which was a really big
surprise to me. I would say that my expectations have changed in that
I probably have slightly more positive expectations now than I did in
the beginning because we’ve had such a great reception.

Q: How do you think the audience reacts to shows with diverse lineups
such as WS? Are they intrigued and interested in the show as a result
of the diversity? Or are they kind of perplexed as to its diversity? I
personally think it’s really cool that the lineups are so diverse.

Aj: The best is seeing experimental acts with rowdy crowds, or touring
favorites who normally play for the same people getting a great
audience. No complaints yet.

wl: There’s definitely an open minded contingent of people who pretty
much check out whatever is on, some people come to see one particular
act and go outside to smoke a cig or whatever but as long as they
physically witness the other performances even if they aren’t up front
going nuts I think it’s a step in the right direction. So to answer
your question, definitely both. We try to make the lineups diverse
like I said to get people to consider stuff outside of their comfort
zone.

Q: Do you see WS becoming a staple in Lansing as a showcase of the city’s
musical diversity and artists in general? What do you hope to
accomplish with WS?

Aj: I want all these amazing bedroom musicians and real deal intense
artists to be the NEW HYPE SHIT!!! eastside lansing 4ever baby shout
out to tape woooolff!

wl: I sure hope so, my goals are to scout out more talented people and
also raise the profile of the event so we can attract larger acts
which of course translates into more exposure for the smaller but
talented acts that we look for. I guess to sum up how I feel about
Weird Science I’ve been doing music for a while and a lot of times the
atmosphere is really negative, people are self centered, and the whole
thing just seems really intimidating and hostile. So to me Weird
Science is mostly just a vehicle to help people out and give them an
outlet for their creativity. We’re all friends you know, it’s not that
serious.

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.

Coolest Dude In Sunday School Song #7 “Sometimes”

P.H.I.L.T.H.Y is back with his newest “Coolest Dude..” leak with “Sometimes”.

“Sometimes ” is the seventh installment of P.H.I.L.T.H.Y. and KuroiOto’s “Coolest Dude In Sunday School” fan appreciation leak series. The song “Sometimes” is a message to all of us to fight through the dark days and low times we go through, by appreciating the simple things in life. This will not only make us happier but help us in continuing to take strides towards always fulfilling our purpose.

Download here or here or listen below

 

Coolest Dude In Sunday School Song #6 “P.H.I.L.T.H.Y”

In the latest edition for their fan appreciation leak series “Coolest Dude In Sunday School,” P.H.I.L.T.H.Y. eschews elaborate concepts to drop a solid display of verbal gymnastics over a dark banger by KuroiOto. Here are a few words that P.H.I.L.T.H.Y. had to say about the leak.

“While we are on this journey called life, sometimes we forget who we are or what we’re moving towards . This weeks leak covers a lot of the thoughts that run through my mind as I chase my dreams and try to fulfill my purpose. I hope you all enjoy this song, and I hope you all enjoy your Journey.”

Download Here or listen below

 
 

Year 200x – “Life Force Theme” [Metal Cover] at ShutoCon 2011

Here’s another Year 200x video from ShutoCon 2011. Here they cover the NES game Life Force.

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