The new Birdy Bardot album released by the Redwoods Music, Birdy Bardot II, brings an equal amount of swagger as its self-titled predecessor, but this time around there is an even more biting edge and diversity to the music. As mentioned openly by the band, this second album was a collaborative effort built around Birdy’s wide range and abilities, and the result is a sweeping tour of styles and moods. Giving each member a chance to truly infuse the group with their own unique creative touches effectively unleashed fresh energy into each track.
The common denominator remains Birdy’s sultry smooth vocals that turn in a flash to razor sharp, biting roars, and the group has found even more opportunities to showcase this moving effect. “Wake Me up with Fire” is one that will have you hitting replay just to hear her reach the maxed out vocal levels as her belting of “fire” will test the threshold of your car speakers or earbuds (tempting you to preorder the vinyl to really see what the recording is made of).
Equally cohesive and important is the masterfully penned lyrics of Alfred Howard (resident Redwoods lyricist, percussionist, and founding father). His musings and offerings move from empowering oneself in the face of an ambiguous future, voicing the scorned and wounded, celebrating personal awakenings, to wandering through the isolation and anxieties of lost time and purpose.
Of course the featured single “Fortune” is a great representation of the increased power behind the Birdy Bardot sound, but it is really only a single piece of the intricate emotional journey that is the album. The first 3 tracks burst out of the gate with unbridled confidence, but tracks like “Slowly Know Me”, “Take This All Away” and “Through the Dark” are haunting contributions that take you back into the recesses of your own latent desires and quandaries. Thankfully, “Right Back” closes the experience with melodic and thematic comfort to wrap us up in resignation with who we ultimately are and with all that we have dared to let ourselves experience.
Having tested out the album for several weeks now, we definitely advise taking it in from start to finish, as mining the collaborative efforts for the naturally unifying threads is an enjoyable process, and each track features a unique blend of composition and performance that relies on rotating talents and abilities. Let’s hope this creative process serves as a model for more aspiring artists seeking the right formula for collaboration to be lifted up as well as lift up their bandmates.
After a wave of releases by Blonde Redhead that were loathe to move me like their early work, a new EP emerges with great promise. There are not as many angular, noisy surprises but there is a plethora of crafty chord changes and subtle textures. An exercise in beauty and restraint. Worth a listen!
The debut video for the 3 O’Clock EP was masterfully done using interesting lighting techniques and no post-production effects. Really a gorgeous effort.
From their press release:
It would be deceptive to describe Mats Gustafsson’s Piano Mating simply as a piece of music, when the listening experience more resembles the construction of a tapestry made of electric threads in a constant flux of motion and color; If you squint your mind’s eye, you can make out that the image Gustafsson has presented is some kind of extraterrestrial baptism, where a ritualistic drone is mingled with a tense wonder of the unfamiliar.
At the prompting of Blue Tapes and X-Ray Records to create an album with an instrument he had never recorded with, Gustafsson uncovered a Dubreq Piano Mate, one of the more obscure devices in the synthesizer family, to create this two-track, 35 minute work.
The tones fade into perspective slowly, squirming microtonally around eachother to create modulations that range from a friendly pulsation to an almost seasick grinding. As each new pitch is introduced, it punctures the previous layer and then folds itself back in to create a new dimension in the fabric of sound until fairly quickly they become a nebula of sound slowly climbing in timbre and pitch. Side A travels between whirling tensions and gratifying harmony before the layers begin to drop out abruptly and expose individual elements. Side B is a churning ocean of low harmonic richness, where through repetition the throbbing drones almost begin to disappear to reveal the vast and desolate space created by the slow build of the synthesizer sound mass.
I suppose like any extraterrestrial baptismal tapestry (don’t act like it’s your first), Piano Mating provides a pseudo-spiritual psychedelia with a distinctive coarseness that make the album a find as rare and exciting as the Dubreq Piano Mate itself.
In a culture obsessed with content, saturation, and continual exposure, it’s rare to find artists who prefer to lurk outside of the public eye. Thomas Pynchon is perhaps the most notable contemporary recluse—a virtually faceless figure who occasionally creeps out of hiding to offer up an elaborate novel steeped in history and warped by imagination—but for the crate digging audiophiles, guitar mystics, and third-eye visionaries, Sweden’s enigmatic rock outfit GOAT may qualify as the greatest modern pop-culture mystery. Who are these masked musicians? Are they truly members of a remote tribe in the Arctic community of Korpilombolo? Are their songs actually a part of their communal heritage, passed down through generations in their isolated homeland? Their third studio full-length,Requiem, offers more questions than answers, but much like any of Pynchon’s knotty yarns, the reward is not in the untangling but in the journey through the labyrinth.
Western exports may have dominated the consciousness of international rock fans for the entirety of the 20th century, but our increasing global awareness has unearthed a treasure trove of transcendental grooves and spellbinding riffage from exotic and remote corners of the planet. GOAT’s previous albums World Music and Commune were perfect testaments to this heightened awareness, with Silk Road psychedelia, desert blues, and Third World pop all serving as governing forces within the band’s sound. But GOAT’s strange amalgam isn’t some cheap game of cultural appropriation—it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint the exact origins of the elusive group’s sound. Whether or not the enigmatic collective truly claims Korpilombolo as their home, the fact that they pledge allegiance to a spot on the periphery of our maps—a spot so distant and off the grid that it feels fictitious—bolsters the nomadic quality of their sonic explorations. With Requiem, GOAT continues to rock and write to a beat beholden to no nation, no state.
GOAT’s only outright declaration for Requiem is that it is their “folk” album. For the initiated, such a proclamation seems almost unnecessary—GOAT has always vacillated between electrified exuberance and unplugged tribalist hymns. But Requiem does find GOAT focusing more on their subdued bucolic ritualism than on the psilocybin freakouts. Opening tracks “Djorolen/Union of Sun and Moon” and “I Sing in Silence” both set the stage for GOAT’s rustic approach, with the guitars laying down simple chord progressions and pan flute providing the primary hooks. From those very first notes, the piper leads us down a path where GOAT relies less on acidic guitar lines and more on sun-bleached psych-pop. “Trouble in the Streets” carries all the jubilance of classic African highlife. “Try My Robe” bares the group’s signature ceremonial hip-shaking rhythms, but eschews guitar for a mandolin line that would make John Paul Jones proud. But GOAT hasn’t completely foregone their fiery charms—tracks like “All-Seeing Eye” and “Goatfuzz” conjure the sultry heathen pulsations that ensnared us on their previous albums.
Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of Requiem comes with the closing track “Ubuntu”. The song is little more than a melodic delay-driven electric piano line until we hear the refrain from “Diarabi”—the first song on their first album—sneak into the mix. It creates a kind of musical ouroboros—an infinite cycle of reflection and rejuvenation, death and rebirth. Much like fellow recluse Pynchon, GOAT doesn’t offer up any explanations for their strange trajectories. But like Pynchon, they have managed to create a world of their own where the line between truth and fiction is so obscured that all you can do is bask in their cryptic genius.
So I’ve been thinking hard about Kyle Craft’s new record. It was on infinite repeat today in my woodshed as I worked all day on some projects. I had listened to it casually a few times but then decided to really dig in and see if I could hear what was behind the voice and the songs. To be honest, I don’t know a thing about this young gentleman. I felt like it would be good to garner an opinion based solely on what I was hearing. Sub Pop kindly submitted a press kit with bio information and quotes and reviews for me to orient myself. Usually this is super helpful but in this case I’m prepared to go from the gut, and as a result, may or may not be wrong. But I suppose, when you go from the gut there really is no wrong. So here it is. Here is my psychoanalysis of Mr. Kyle Craft.
There is a depth to these songs. My sniffer is so tuned to the stench of bullshit that I have a slight anxiety listening to the new tunes that arrive at my inbox. Dolls of Highland, the new album by Kyle Craft, feels legitimate to me. The songs are good and the band’s arrangement has a classic quality to it without being some kitschy retro outfit. I sense the predilection towards the music of previous generations, but I hold no grudge. In fact, I want to party with Kyle Craft. I’d suppose enjoying a few cocktails and perusing what is likely to be in his stellar record collection would be a good way to spend an evening.
The album is filled with different presentations of these solid tunes. Some songs feel centered around the vocal and guitar, while others have a quaint upright piano and tasty Fleetwood Mac-esque thuddy drums. There are a few ways that the tunes are filled out but it never gets away from the songs and Kyle Craft’s voice. I feel influences of T Rex, Bob Dylan, Elton John, and others, but in general, I can’t put my finger on anything that this is directly lifting from. Of course this is a huge bonus! I also wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. Craft was a fan of the theater and show tunes. There are some heavy duty stories being told and the theater tradition knows how to tell a story, that’s for sure! Young musicians have a tendency to grab onto something cool from the past and merely recreate it. In my book this is total bullshit. Kyle Craft does better by making something of his own, without the regurgitated cliches and trappings that so many others copy in their quest for the shortcut to cool. Kudos to Kyle Craft. I for one have enjoyed the hell out of this record.
I recently caught the first night of tour for Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds. They have a new album that was just released on April 22 on the great In the Red Records. It is fantastic! I had the songs stuck in my head for days after hearing these tunes. Deliciously warped yet pleasing to the ears. Kid Congo is a legend in his own right (The Cramps, The Gun Club, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) but to make his sound even better Kid has surrounded himself with a band that whips serious ass. Amazing musicianship, yet still rough around the edges in just the right ways. Drummer Ron Miller has recorded their albums in his crazy school gymnasium studio out in Kansas. He gets some seriously great sounds. The vibe of their live performance is playful and rocking but still feels a little dangerous. I’ve caught them a couple times and it’s always a good time. Great music and great people. Catch them if you can on their current tour across the US, or on their overseas dates.
As announced from the Swami Records website: “Metz & Swami John Reis 7” April 16
When Metz found themselves on tour in San Diego with a couple of hours to spare, Swami John Reis immediately booked some studio time with the hopes of capturing the glorious noise of their collaboration. The four of them came up with 2 songs and now they are friends for life. The sound is reminiscent of an army of sea gulls inside a burning Benihana Of Tokyo.”
With all of John Reis’s various band projects of past and present, his sound and musical style has been distilled over the years. The very “Hot Snakes-esque” sound meld perfectly with the noisy abandon and power of Toronto’s Metz. This is a great representation of current music that harkens to the raw, bombastic sounds of the early 90s, a la Amphetamine Reptile records but with a band of musicians that are of the highest caliber of musicianship. A glorious capturing of these songs was accomplished by local San Diego engineer hero Ben Moore. The sounds are big and powerful and his engineering production style matches this project perfectly. Snag one of these 7″s if you can find a copy. Both songs with thrash your ears in the best way possible.
Nothing uniquely amazing is being done here, except the final result. The parts upon initial inspection are basic and even highly reminiscent but somehow the care and attention to the collective package leaves you with a sharply satisfying listening experience. Joon Moon has you hitting the like button on your preferred streaming platform, an instantaneous recognition once a song has ended that you will want to have that in the background again.
With the coming release of their April 1 Call Me EP, Joon Moon is building upon the still sparse but well polished catalog, a 2015 Chess EP, also released on Kwaidan Records out of Paris, France. The latest release is only one new track, “Call Me”, with a couple remixes and a cover of Radiohead’s “I Might Be Wrong”. Each track sucks you in, just as each track and edit on the Chess EP does.
Joon Moon is a result of a Montmarte, Paris friendly collaboration and experimentation between Julien Decoret, Raphael Chassin, Sébastien Trouvé, and Krystle Warren. Warren, providing the mystical vocals, is a recent Kansas City expat. The are just off a couple of SXSW shows and are starting to build a buzz, that we hope inspires more work in the studio. Check out the new EP, especially the Chamberlain Remix of “Call Me”, which has been a sound I’ve been craving since the end of The Books.
Enjoy what you can for now from Joon Moon and keep your eye out for more. Also, they are currently posting sporadic “Songs of they Day” on their Facebook page.
Just for fun – check out two of these amazing tracks mentioned above.
I’ve been digging the new Lettuce album Crush. The history of the band begins in 1992 as some kids first met on their arrival to Berklee College of Music in Boston. With like minded interests, such as Herbie Hancock, Tower of Power and Earth Wind and Fire, they started brewing up their own potions in that vein. As each of the members finished their studies at Berklee they, as so many other graduates do, headed to the big city to make a name for themselves. Working as sidemen in New York City for some of the biggest names in hip hop, funk, and pop music, the continued to nurture and develop Lettuce’s sound. The latest offering, Crush, is a blend of the gritty old school production with a modern twist. The influences are there certainly, but the band has put their own stamp on it. Although I personally am not an avid funk listener, I can’t seem to turn this record off. Listen at your own risk.
I became aware of Chicago’s Phantom Works a couple years ago and ended up going on tour with them up the West Coast. Super great people and a great band. A lot of fun to travel with, and that’s saying a lot when you cram two bands in a single van together for 15 days. Even staying tight with the best of friends can be challenged under those circumstances. The timing of this tour coincided with the release of their first full-length, self-titled LP, which followed a couple 7-inch single releases.
Originally Phantom Works began as a trio of two guitars and drums (Kris Poulin and Matt Seifert sharing guitar and vocal duties with Jim Duffy on drums), very recently adding bass (Reg Shrader) to the mix on their latest release “Stunrise”. The sound is very reminiscent of the heroes of Chicago, namely Shellac, Jesus Lizard and Tar. Super aggressive guitars and pounding, roomy drums. Each instrument demands and earns its sonic space. Even though the first LP is strong as hell, I have to say I absolutely love the new LP “Stunrise”. Follow ups can always be tricky and these fellows nailed it. The addition of bass was a good move too. A full sound got even thicker. One notable aesthetic choice is the minimal use of cymbals. I had thought long and hard on this topic being a drummer and an engineer myself. I broached this topic with the band…
MF: You mentioned that your songs intentionally lack many cymbals. Can you discuss the impetus for this?
Kris: The original rule – more of a guideline – was that Jim should “almost never” hit the cymbals and, when he did (such as on “This Sleazebag Rant”), it was to be for ridiculous effect. On the newer songs, we’ve lightened up on that regulation, but it still stands as a general rule. The impetus for this is rooted in our original plan for the band to include a more powerful, rolling approach to the drums, å la The Monks.
Reg: Cymbals eat guitars. Guitars must be free to roam.
Kris: I’m sure that was part of the thought process, but I don’t think it was a reason why we chose that route, more that my experience recording bands told me that this approach would work for us. Until recently, we had no bass player, which opened up all that low frequency range, where the bass and low end of guitars would have been, to be filled by massive drums and bigger guitars. In general, we love a natural & roomy drum sound, and that sound can get eaten alive when a drummer is bashing away on cymbals. In short, more power on all fronts.
MF: Since you’ve relocated to San Diego, how has the process of writing played out with Matt and Jim still residing in Chicago?
Kris: Matt & I come up with stuff at our respective homes, sharing these demos via a cloud-based DAW called Ohm. I write a part in my garage in San Diego, record it in Ohm, and it shows up in Matt’s session file in Chicago. We keep building & arranging demos in that program until we all get together in the same room and work it out further in person.
Reg: Means that crushing new ideas has to take place in the limited times when we’re all in the same room. Being in the same room w/amps & drums on is still the best way to get the thing to come to life.
Matt: We’ve had to come up with some creative solutions to songwriting, and fortunately there are some cool tools out there now like Ohm that can make things a lot easier. Of course, when you live in Chicago, winter writing trips to San Diego are great excuse to get out of the cold.
MF: Phantom Works feels very “Chicago” to me. Can you discuss some things that make up an identifiable Chicago-esque sound?
Reg: A willingness to play around w/songwriting & forms w/out getting too precious. Robust respect for volume. Big drums.
Kris: With all the great and varied bands from Chicago, it’s clear there’s not a singular Chicago sound, but I know what you’re getting at and Reg pretty much covered that. I would add that what we’re talking about here is a certain abrasiveness and heaviness without being metal.
Matt: There is just something deeply appealing about jangly, reverb-less guitars and lots of harmonics.
MF: Some of the new album was recorded at Electrical. What is that place like to record in? It seems like a mythical place, although I know you’ve recorded there a good deal of times.
Kris: It’s definitely up there in my favorite few studios I’ve ever been in. It really has more than anyone would need to make a great recording, from a wide variety of rooms that all sound great in different ways to hundreds of great mics and loads of other top gear to get the sounds to tape. And everything works – always. The staff is totally on top of all things related to running a studio, too. I’ve never had a question go unanswered correctly and quickly. I don’t really drink coffee, but I’ve heard that the particular type of “fluffy coffee” that all Electrical Audio interns are trained to make is amazing. From the reviews, that alone might be reason enough to book time at Electrical.
Matt: Recording at Electrical is absolutely one of the finest privileges I’ve gotten to experience. It is mythical, with the hand-made adobe brick walls, beyond excellent equipment, and a really wonderful staff.
MF: Are there plans to tour with Phantom Works at all in the coming year?
Kris: Maybe. We hope so. Is there a petition to add more hours to the day or more days to a year? I’ll sign it.
Matt: A full on tour might be difficult, but we are working on some shows both on the west coast and in the midwest.
MF: You’ve pressed these great, beautiful vinyl LPs. Do you think that vinyl will always be around? It seems like CDs are perhaps not really desirable for people these days. Any thoughts on that?
Reg: I think there’s a core of people that will always want the vinyl object, whether big or small. Sound issues aside, CDs all seem kind of the same when you jam the artwork into a little plastic box. Vinyl seems more intrinsically individual, somehow. You can’t wrap your hands around an MP3.
Matt: Records have such a physicality, it’s hard to imagine them disappearing completely
MF: To wrap up, here’s one last question. I know you are very sensitive to MP3 encoding. Does it surprise you that youngsters seem to not mind horrible quality audio / delivery systems?
Kris: It doesn’t surprise me that people prefer the most convenient and, often, cost-free method of getting something. Also, it really seems like the vast majority of people just don’t hear the difference between a lossy, compressed MP3 and a CD. Or maybe the difference in sound quality doesn’t justify the cost to these people.
MF: Thanks for the scoop!
Here are some places one can track down the various physical and digital releases from Phantom Works…
Both 7-inches and the new record are available here, as is first LP digitally:
First LP vinyl here:
Live EP (digital only) here:
Collaborative EP with Cool Devices (digital only) here: