New Bums first full-length album, Voices in A Rented Room, is a slow pan through a gloomy neighborhood in any town America, taking snapshots of life both gritty and beautiful at the same time. The double barrel acoustic offering from Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance) and Donovan Quinn (Skygreen Leopards) cuts right to the darkest corners but shoots occasional rays of light to illuminate the slim paths to salvation for the indulgent sinners, the unapologetic rock and rollers.
The strumming guitar is the backbone of each track, moving the steady train through each vignette. Yet the scenes build, adding textured details with pleasing fills (guitar, harmonica, cello, harmonium) enjoyed as individual snowflakes floating to the front of a blanketing storm. The mood is familiar, the images are unique, and the result is effective.
The tone and artistic attempt of the album appears to be successfully crafted and consequently clearly received. As I do with all new music to be reviewed, I made sure not to read anything about the album or the New Bums before listening and penning down my reaction to the music. Interestingly, my initial guttural reception was directly in line with other reviews and especially close to their own write up. Their media one sheet perhaps encapsulates the vision of the album best, a fun and recommended read that hits on the feel of the album more precisely than any review.
The music is humble accompaniment for the visual anecdotes that focus on the moments where the wind is taken out of your sails and you find yourself set down for brief repose. The album serves as exactly that, a brief repose. It works equally well in the background for a solitary afternoon at home or a car ride through the city, yet I imagine the New Bums live performance instills a healthy desire to share a few drinks and unveil a few snippets from your own haunting corners.
Most of the songs feature characters with one foot out of this world already. This can be a satisfying perspective – looking in from outside being better than being lost within. A great album for finding a song each time you pass through it, or even a lyric that will stick out and stick with you, the collaboration between Chasny and Quinn is seamless and keeps the music shifting just enough to create tension and surprise around each bend.
The album leaves you wanting more, which inspires worthwhile searches into their past projects (see links above). It also leaves you wondering what comes next after the bottom is reached and the clouds clear. We look forward to seeing what the future holds for these New Bums.
Live in a Broken Down House
A few years ago I was watching my friend’s band play a local music showcase deal at the House of Blues in downtown San Diego. The last band on the bill was Transfer. I’d never heard of them but decided to watch a song before I headed off for the long drive home. I ended up watching the whole set and was instantly a fan. I’ve seen them play often over the years and it’s always a fun time. Hypnotic and heavy at times but their music also has a very earthy quality to it.
In the band’s early days Matt and Jason resided in Chico, CA and played under a different name. During the early 90’s Mother Hips ruled the Chico music scene and it’s hard to not hear some of their song craft and style influence in what eventually became Transfer. There’s a heavy dose of 70’s rock, country and soul with great songwriting and sweet harmonies. Along with Matt’s strong singing, the contrast of Matt and Jason’s guitars for me really distinguishes the band’s sound from what so many others are doing. There’s a darkness and eerie quality the really appeals to my musical sensibilities. Now that they’ve played for a number of years in San Diego and gone through various lineup changes, Transfer has established themselves as one of San Diego’s local music heavyweights. As any band draws their sound and inspiration from something they grew up with, Transfer is now helping to shape the sound of San Diego’s musical landscape.
Transfer had a very busy couple years with extensive international touring and also recording their fabulous new album Shadow Aspect (a beautifully packaged vinyl pre-release available now). With the official release just around the corner, I tracked down Jason Cardenas and asked him to spill the beans.
JC: Absolutely. For example, on the last Black Rebel tour, it was a perfect situation for us to try out some of the newer tracks that would later be on the record. It’s actually a great litmus test for us to gauge where we’re at as a band, playing in front of a completely foreign audience who is taking in your music for the very first time. It was just a bitch having to put up the chicken wire in front of the stage every night!
MF: Your guitar sound is so cavernous at times. What is your current set up? Is there a specific inspiration for your sound or have there been any favorite albums that caused you to go this direction?
JC: I think I’ve always been way more into the sounds I can create, rather than the notes. I realized at a young age I would never be Yngwie Malmsteen or Eddie Van Halen, so instead I decided to be Nigel Tufnel…with more pedals. Most of my pedals are cheap and old, mainly because I’m broke and hate change! The go-to pedals in most of our music is the old Boss DD5 delay and the Holy Grail reverb, both pedals I’ve had for over a decade. I’ve always been a big fan of dark and somewhat unsettling ambient noise underneath straightforward music, sort of like the sound of impending doom creeping into a pop song. Wilco does this very well.
JC: My favorite tour highlight is always Shaun playing boggle on a pillow in his lap…for hours. Or watching him eat a whole pan of cornbread before a long drive in the van. Actually, both a tour and a professional highlight for me would be being accused of stealing by Sir Paul McCartney at Abbey Road Studios in London. We were there recording a live performance for the show Live From Abbey Road, which in itself was completely mind-blowing. I remember walking around the studio beforehand thinking, “Man, it would be cool if George Martin popped in. Ringo, even!” – never thinking there would be a chance in hell Paul would stop by. So after the performance filming, they had us seated under this huge flood light for the interview portion of the show. Sir Paul pops his head in and says, “Look at this dubious lineup!” Of course we’re completely shitting ourselves; I think Matt saluted him for some goddamn reason! He introduces himself, shakes our hands and says, “Quite a suspicious looking bunch under this interrogation light…. especially this one!” and points at me, to which Andy quickly responds, “Well…he IS mexican.” What a tit. Meanwhile, while everyone has a good laugh at my expense, in my backpack next to me is a butt-load of stolen coffee mugs and granola bars from our green room. All over your face, Paul!
MF: There have been a few lineup changes since the beginning. Seems like as the success of the band grew you had the opportunity to get some of the top players in town. With Andy on drums this time around I was really surprised how restrained his playing was. Obviously he has serious chops so it was great to hear the songs played with such taste. What sort of differences are there playing with the current line up for you?
JC: Tasteful restraint is Andy’s nickname. I think what makes Andy such a phenomenal drummer – and musician in general – is his ability to see the big picture and always serve the song perfectly. He’s also a very emotional player, which made for some very powerful and intense moments in the studio. After every take, we’d check to see if Andy was happy with the drums, and sure enough – he’d be weeping like a wee babe. Bawling, sometimes. Such an emotional player. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a little draining from time to time.
Also, anyone who knows Andy Ridley realizes this is complete bullshit. In all seriousness, the guy is an amazing fucking player and a solid human being to boot… we’re pretty lucky he puts up with our slop in this band!
JC: I don’t think there was necessarily a preconceived goal, but we were very aware that this would be an important album for us. It was a long process – writing and recording when we could find time between touring and whatnot – so we decided that rushing anything would completely defeat the purpose of this record. Since our writing style tends to lean towards “paralysis by analysis”, we thought it was important to have some of the songs develop in the studio. Songs like “Pace of Youth” and “So Long Old Song” were bare-bones ideas that really took shape in the studio, and I think there’s a very unique, creative sound to those songs that reflects that. Others were songs that we had been playing for years, but just needed to have the right sound coaxed out of them…or rewrite, in some cases! A true labor of love at times, but we couldn’t be happier with the results
MF: I know that Shaun Cornell is bringing a lot to the table with his abilities on bass/keys/guitars/vocals as well as his recording engineering skills. I was surprised to see that he didn’t record the new album. How was it working with Mike Butler and Mario Quintero? Were their approaches very different from one another?
JC: Shaun is extremely gifted in the engineering/producing arena, and has done some amazing work for the band and within the band in the past. I think Future Selves is a giant testament to that. It was definitely a deliberate move for us to work with different engineers/producers for this album, which was a decision that in no way reflects upon Shaun’s prowess in the studio. It was more a decision necessary to keep our sanity! We all felt the need to bring in an outside ear and perspective to help keep the recording process flowing. Again, the paralysis by analysis comes into play – it’s hard enough for us to come to a consensus just writing a setlist, let alone finishing an album!
Working with Mike Butler at Lost Ark was an amazing experience; he’s a very gifted musician with a great ear for songwriting. Even though it was the first time recording with Mike, we really felt that he understood the music and what we were trying to achieve. A lot of the more experimental tracks were recorded there… and I mean “experimental” in a very literal sense! Mike was going by Home Depot on the way to the studio to pick up vacuum hoses, various trashcan lids, surgical tubing, etc., to create these elaborate “mouse trap” recording contraptions. Mike definitely has a touch of mad scientist in his approach, which I admire!
Mario, on the other hand, is someone we’ve known since nearly the beginning of the band. We rehearsed and recorded at Black Box Studios back in the day, so he’s someone who has seen the band change and evolve over the years. Mario was actually on the road with us during the Black Rebel tour, so he became very familiar with the new material and pretty much knew what we were looking for on the new album. Mario is always great to work with – very intuitive, he understands what each song needs and exactly how to push the band into getting the right result. Working with him at Big Fish Studios came at a very necessary time for us, as we were trying to finalize the last batch of songs that just weren’t quite there yet. His expertise and understanding was, without question, a vital part of completing this record.
MF: One of the things I’m really interested in is the sacrifice of doing a band. It seems like you have been going non stop and the tours Transfer has been doing are amazing. Like the tours with the Killers, BRMC, as well as the Abbey Road sessions. While all of this is going on you have to balance family and home life and making a living etc. What sort of challenges have you faced while enjoying your success?
JC: We’re very fortunate to have such supportive wives and families who are willing and able to handle things at home for us while we’re away. For us, touring is truly like the old Army slogan: the toughest job you’ll ever love. We’ve tour managed ourselves on the last few tours overseas, so that entails A LOT of planning and budgeting, not to mention being completely self-sufficient once we’re over there (UK and EU). Since we foot the bill ourselves, let’s just say we’ve done our fair share of travelling in less-than-dependable vans, with many over-night drives and “urban camping” situations. Luckily, we have a guy like Andy in the band, who has excellent business sense and refuses to let anyone else drive. This makes it easy for dipshits like Matt and myself to sit in the back of the van and get day-drunk.
The fascinating story of the music and the man ultimately hits a dead end at every turn. Now, however, the story of the mystery and the search for answers is gaining ground by the day. After decades of resting quietly in a marginalized corner amongst Nigeria’s 70’s Afro-Beat scene, William Onyeabor is emerging as a light years ahead of his time synth and funk pioneer. Thanks to the tireless efforts over the past four years of Yale Evelev and Eric Welles Nyström at the world music label Luaka Bop, we can see that Onyeabor’s music deserves a category completely its own. The heavily layered, pulsating epic productions of soul, funk, and electro fusion are once again accessible through a beautifully arranged and packaged reissue collection. Just as enjoyable and infectious as the music has been the unraveling of the rare and limited bits of information about Onyeabor (time in Russia, starting his own film company, somehow building a pricey and remarkably advanced studio in the middle of a tiny rural piece of war decimated Nigeria, becoming the High Priest of Enugu) and his absolute refusal to talk about his music or past.
Here is a man and a story that is currently in no need of extra hype, yet this post is worthwhile just to give further credence to a movement whose merit is evidenced by the years of dedication to get this music out. The Luaka Bop crew and others who have sought to unearth Onyeabor over the years have been determined to spread the Onyeabor word and have done a fine job doing so. For the best telling of this unique story, a wonderful short-documentary collaboration has just been released, Fantastic Man (embeded below as well). Also, a recent feature article on David Byrne’s new website from Eric Welles Nyström adds a few pieces to the puzzle.
The genesis for Monofesto is even wrapped up in the Onyeabor story. In a summer BBQ conversation with my co-founder, Mr. Prescott, a rolling stream-of-consciousness purge of recently discovered music, he mentioned something about an “Atomic Bomb”. Weeks later, after a few more of these conversations, we started talking about reviving our own past music blogging desires with the purest intentions of sharing music that was so good it needed to be passed along. While kicking around the idea of starting the site, I started looking for artists who were sharing music they loved in the most direct and pretense-less way. Coincidently, it was on my birthday that I came across David Byrne’s radio playlist archives and found a posting on Africa Pop that featured Onyeabor and led off with none other than “Atomic Bomb”. I hadn’t thought about “Atomic Bomb” since the BBQ, but seeing it here triggered the recommendation. A quick YouTube search yielded a poor vinyl re-recording, but I could tell I had been led to something great and knew then that there was still room in the blogosphere to set off more bombs of interest in quality art and music. Monofesto was born a few days later with a commitment to simply sharing music we love regardless of genre, time, personality, or buzz.
There is no doubt that Luaka Bop’s Who is William Onyeabor? is building quite a buzz, but the story of tracking down Onyeabor that is so surely captivating followers derived from seeking permission to share the music with the world once again. This dedication to sharing something so genuinely, passionately, and enthusiastically inspires equal effort.
Even after each hunt for Onyeabor returns mostly fruitless, we are still left with the music, and the music is as fun as it is intriguing. Working my way through the vinyl edition of the collection, it was when the needle dropped on “When the Going Gets Smooth and Good” that I experienced the magnetism of what Onyeabor created in those isolated studio days in Enugu. The track had all the members of my family bobbing and flailing (as my kids are still young enough to pass off bobbing and flailing as dancing, yet I don’t have the same luxury) joyfully in the living room on a Sunday afternoon.
By leaving it all in the music, this is the vacuum that allows for the music alone to tell the story. How easily the man has detached himself from his creation also speaks to how the creation can be isolated from the creator. It is a moment in time and space captured through a vessel, the artist. Onyeabor’s music seems conscious of its role as a gift of the moment, full of offerings of proverbial wisdom and celebratory hooks. Whether he lived the values instilled in the music is unknown, but Onyeabor’s detachment from the creations actually increases the effect.
In a world where all is seemingly discoverable and deconstruct-able with only a few mouse clicks, the lack of information behind this shockingly good music has sent the music community into a mini tail-spin. Attaching a personality or figure to our music is a highly valued part of the appreciation process, so now we are forced out of our comfort zones to undergo the act of unraveling the mystery from within the music alone. In this case, a truly enjoyable task.
Get yourself and your friends and family smiling and dancing (or bobbing and flailing) as well.
The Notwist’s new full-length effort, Close to the Glass, quickly generates its own landscape, and the subsequent world is an elastic one with undulating floors, wavering walls and stretching ceilings. The rest of the album operates within this realm, where recognizable elements appear long enough only to be warped and tweaked. Everything shifts rapidly here; track to track, even minute to minute involves a drastic change in direction and perception.
Thankfully, once you gain a little equilibrium you can find the vehicles the clever craftsmen of The Notwist have subtly embedded within each scene to drive you through it all, and once you accept the ride, any disorientation quickly turns to an enjoyable view from the backseat watching the strange countryside that is our lives in these times of exponential change. The gift of Close to the Glass then becomes not only providing a lens to view the new landscape but to help accept the pace and way in which we are passing through it.
It is refreshing to find The Notwist still so enthusiastically committed to these grand endeavors. The boys from Weilheim, a small piece of Germany, have spent the greater part of 6 years perfecting and curating Close to the Glass, and it looks as if they have found a fitting American home, working with Sub Pop for the first time. The band of brothers and long-time friends (Markus and Michael Acher, Martin Gretschmann, and Andi Haberl) have put together an album that may initially look like a collection of songs; however, the intentional weaving of styles and pop/classical homages is quickly apparent, evidencing the labor and ingenuity poured into the album.
Close to the Glass marks 25 years of The Notwist making music on a road that has been one of many tacks and turns. It seems only fitting that they take us along for part of their own strange ride. We are ever appreciative of bands willing to change and reflect back upon that change comfortably. The Notwist appear to have set themselves free to enjoy the ride as well.
As part of our On the Horizon series we feature upcoming, highly anticipated albums about to make a splash upon the scene. Word has it that Privet’s new album is a few bells and whistles away from completion, and this is good news indeed for all those thirsty for more of their enchantingly textured creations. Ever elusive in categorization, Privet both encapsulates and transcends the ambient alternative sound of North County San Diego from which they derive. Once again impressively handling the entirety of the production themselves, Privet’s core duo of William Hagen and Sean Walsh remain dedicated to their “grassroots” approach to recording (as discussed in a feature in the SD Reader).
Monofesto will surely be covering the album release and hopefully sit down with the gentlemen of Privet for an accompanying interview, but the purpose of this feature is to provide a chance to discover or reacquaint yourself with their previous offerings. Thanks to Privet’s generous bandcamp uploads, you can conveniently check out their back catalog below.
Although it has been almost three years since their last full album, their self-titled debut, they have been consistently writing and recording. The Duo EP and their most recent soundtrack work for the award winning short documentary Sweet, Sexy Ocean have teased at the exciting progression of their work as a band. Sharply orchestrated and layered with vocals and lyrical stories that appropriately sync with the emotive effectiveness of the music, Privet is self-proclaimed as haunting, but rather than torturously reflective they are stirring in a heart swelling, mindfully expansive way. We fully recommend their music as a listening experience. Can’t wait till they get back out to the local venues soon.
So, there’s not too much to guess with this one. This show ruled. Rocket from the Crypt has started playing a bit more locally after a year of international festival dates. What seems to have started with a few random festival appearances in 2013 has turned into a whirlwind of dates all over. I, for one, am so glad to get to see these guys again. When RFTC stopped in 2005 it left a void but on some level it made sense for them to stop. Their albums continued to be strong through to the last release but there seemed to be an overall feeling that they would be around, and we all took it for granted on some level. Now, after an 8 year hiatus, there’s a bristling of excitement around the band and their shows have reportedly been selling out in record times. This night, for example, was said to sell out in a single minute! I think all in attendance knew they were lucky to be able to see this great show and partake in the final night of the Casbah’s 25th Anniversary month-long celebration.
The Downs Family opened the show and were solid. This is a band that I had seen over the years and it was a nostalgic addition to the night’s mood. They play a blend of traditional Irish music and punk rock. The Downs Family have their own sound that can’t be attributed directly to similar artists such as Flogging Molly. Holding the middle spot were the omnipresent Styletones. This is a big band. Hammond organ, guitar, bass, drums, a full horn section and lead vocalist round out the group. The Casbah stage was jam packed for sure. The Styletones play a soul-fueled, rocking big band funk sound that was clearly a well oiled machine. These guys play a lot locally around town and it shows. It’s hard to keep a large band like this tight and the Styletones met the challenge.
Rocket took their time getting to the stage as the crowd jockeyed for a sightline. We struggled with some drunks at the side of the stage and eventually made our way back towards the sound board. The band hit the stage in their most recent uniform, matching black shirts with white floral embroidery. Overall, the set had a chronological feel to it. They blazed through most of Circa Now and included some rare older seven-inch tracks such as Cut It Loose and Pigeon Eater. Following this RFTC moved though the mainstays of Scream Dracula Scream, the highlights being the powerful blasts of Middle/Born in 69. Jason and Paul of the horn section were spot on. Luckily, they were able to cut through the wall of screamingly loud guitar. From this point they skipped all tracks from the RFTC album and headed into the future material where Mario Rubalcaba had joined the band. Somehow his drumming grew stronger and wilder as the 90-minute set progressed. This guy is a beast for certain.
The overall mood was very festive. John Reis called Tim Mays to the stage a couple times and sarcastically thanked him profusely for the support that he gave them over the years as the only thing that really mattered to him in life. John went on describing how Tim Mays had confided in him that he never liked any of the other local bands and that RFTC was more important to Tim than his own family. All of this was of course taken in jest by the crowd. There was quite a lot of stage banter throughout the show, possibly fueled by a couple strategically imbibed tequilas. John once told me that the best scenario for a show was when he was drunk but the rest of the band was sober. I can’t say whether this was the case this evening but the band played well and John was as charismatic as ever.
During the set-closer Come See, Come Saw, Andy and John had a free-wheeling, improvised guitar duel while Pete held the repetitive groove. We walked away from the show with ears ringing and grins on our faces. Like many of those in attendance, we’d pay dearly for the late night out but it was SO worth it. Catch these guys while you can. You never know when the next hiatus may come next.
Thanks to Mark Waters for the great photos!
Theo Katsaounis was kind enough to chat about his perspective on making art and the struggles of the road. I had the pleasure of seeing Joan of Arc play on a recent tour and was immediately struck by Theo’s unique and creative style. Joan of Arc plays in an extremely varied manner that ranges from bombastic math-rock to avant-garde to sparse unaccompanied vocal performances. I was also struck by they way they would weave songs together into seamless movements of music throughout their set. After spending a few days on the road with the Joan of Arcs I was inspired to ask some questions and get a sense of where these guys are coming from. Here is a glimpse of their inner-workings and real-world atmosphere of their life in the band.
MF: Can you describe the differences between some of your current and previous band situations?
TK: Most bands I’ve been in over the years have felt like a family and even more so now with Joan of Arc. Whether it being at practice writing new material or on tour, we have our own language that I may or may not have had with previous bands. It’s a family affair.
MF: What’s a typical writing process for Joan of Arc from the initial idea to what gets performed?
TK: JOA has been a band since 1996. There have been many members in and out of the band over the years. So Tim has been the sole member from the beginning and has been the main songwriter the majority of the bands existence. Only in the last few years has it become more of a collaborative effort. Tim, bobby and I have been the core of the band and have developed a JOA language; At least for this chapter. A lot of times Tim will have a song written out and bobby and I will add our parts to what’s already been written. Even then we’ll give each other suggestions to play our instruments more like a caveman or play against what another person is playing. We’re definitely not afraid to experiment and play everything wrong in order to make the song right. Even after a song has been recorded and released, it’s not uncommon for a song to have a completely different life when we play it live. Which may piss people off because they want to hear a familiar thing that they can relate to, but have to deal with a curve ball for the next three to ten minutes. It makes things exciting for us and keeps it fresh.
MF: Are there areas that are open to improvisation or are things tightly structured at all times?
TK: Usually everything we play is tightly structured. Very rarely will we improvise but it is not uncommon for Tim to yell out to us in the middle of a song to just keep riding out that part until he cues us for the change. That could last for a long time. Sometimes he’ll cue us in our out of a song early even though we might have a few bars left because he may have a spur of the moment idea for that song. We will occasionally do improvised swells in between songs as well.
MF: There seems to be a theatrical element, especially with Melina’s unaccompanied vocal songs. What things have influenced your group to make this sort of presentation?
TK: Melina never grew up playing music, so she has no musical language or background to it besides just being a fan. A couple of years ago she had an urge to sing and wanted help with arrangements, so she asked Tim for some advice and guidance. They got together and she was instantly a natural. Tim loved it so much he wanted to start a new project with her that included bobby and me. The music that they were writing was so cool and we already had a band, we knew right away that this was a no brainer. She became an official JOA.
As for the theatrical element, the three of us minus Melina, have been collaborating with a performance art group called ‘every house has a door’ on a piece called ‘Testimonium’ for the last two years. It’s wild, weird, exhilarating, and thought provoking. I think that has influenced our live set recently. We’ve also included some music from that on tour and it works really well in the set.
MF: Do you make art of any kind outside of music?
TK: Yes, I draw, make collages, and oil paintings. I have no real goals for the work though. It’s just another creative outlet that’s fun to do every now and again. It’s nice to step away from music and flex my creative muscles with a different medium. I have no formal training, so I technically have no idea what the hell I am doing, but that’s the beauty of it. Once you’re given rules and boundaries, you limit yourself from a potential avalanche of ideas. But it also can be challenging to work with limits too. That can be a fun way to be creative because you’re almost forced to exercise your brain within a tiny frame. I guess there is no right or wrong in art!
MF: What do you think are the similarities between making music and other art forms?
TK: People have creative ideas and what better way to share them with the world, than through art. Music is art, just like writing, visual arts, multimedia, cooking, shaving, and running a marathon. Folks have different ways of approaching it, but if I’m stimulated, inspired, and challenged then the artist is doing something right.
MF: I’ve always felt that touring is both sacrifice and an opportunity. Can you elaborate on this idea of how touring with a band has highlights and low points?
TK: I’m writing to you in the middle of a ten hour drive in the middle of a rain/snow storm in Montana. It totally sucks, but there is a big payoff for the life I choose. Making music with my friends and traveling around the world to share it with people that get something out of it is very fulfilling and gratifying. It’s a labor of love, but would rather drive long hours to play music to people who care than work the service industry to those who don’t. I am single, have no children, and am not in debt so I really don’t have many sacrifices back home. I feel I luck out in that sense with the lifestyle I have chosen. As long as I am balanced and not burned out with making music and touring, I’ll be keeping this routine for many years to come.
Here’s a video from their Fall 2013 tour.