Freshly Pressed: The Notwist – Close to the Glass

Close to the Glass – Sub Pop – Feb. 25, 2014

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.

On the Horizon: Privet

Privet’s William Hagen (left) and Sean Walsh as featured in a SD Reader photo and article.

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.

Rocket from the Crypt @ The Casbah, San Diego – Jan 31, 2014

RFTC Casbah 1So, 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.

RFTC Blue BlurThe 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.

John and Tim MaysRocket 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!

RFTC Knees


RFTC Red light

black 2


Theo Katsaounis from Joan of Arc Discusses the Familial JOA Language

00591_JoanOfArc_practice-spaceTheo 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.

Deathfix @ The Casbah, San Diego – Jan 14, 2014

Deathfix at the Casbah“I wish I was Salvador Dali’s house,” is the low-register croon coming from the scarlet-cast stage, but the infectious pulsations circling about the room make it clear that the rhythmically coalescing crowd isn’t wishing to be anything but the Casbah this evening.

After popping directly into 5th gear to cold open an encore night of music in San Diego, Deathfix’s “Dali’s House” provided the final hook of confirmation, confirmation that the audience had moved beyond appreciation and was having a demonstrably verifiable good time. The amalgamation of Dischord and D.C. scene veterans quickly transformed a Tuesday evening with a looming early morning of work ahead into a celebration of both the moment and years of quality musical offerings, a fitting task for their role supporting Pinback in back-to-back nights as part of the Casbah’s month-long 25th anniversary festivities.

Many having previously played the now hallowed San Diego space under various monikers, the members of Deathfix took comfortably to the stage, infusing the tracks from their 2013 self-titled debut with a pretense-less swagger. With a live command of the material, they displayed their nostalgically groove worthy yet edged sound with a confidence reflective of their collective experience.

The progeny of Brendan Canty (Fugazi) and Rich Morel’s (Morel, Blowoff) studio collaboration, Deathfix is now rounded out with the additions of Mark Cisneros (Medications, Make-Up) on bass and Jerry Busher (French ToastFugazi) ) on drums.

Adding to the infectious nature of the show is each members apparent enthusiasm to be holding down their respective sections. A collective of multi-instrumentalists, Deathfix is an opportunity for each to perform in differing roles from past projects. Canty appears happily set free, moving out from behind the drum set to fire out soaring riffs and also deftly share vocal roles with Morel, whose poised demeanor and ownership of the keys sets the assuredly badass yet inviting tone that makes the band and their sound so attractive. Busher’s impressively perfect posture fits his intensely precise accompaniment, while Cisneros moves his large frame to guide the group and audience in the driving beats that keep the music and performance compellingly danceable.

During the aforementioned “Dali’s House”, Morel lays-out a laundry list of intriguing and fascinating cultural icons and artists whose presence alone is an experience. The song finally crescendos by granting the same sublime status on the audience, imparting, “But most of all, most of all, I wish I was YOUR house.” This gesture caps an authentic offering of vibe heavy music and cements a reciprocal desire to spend an evening chilling with any of the versatile members of Deathfix. Anyone who appreciates the arduous and winding path that is a life-long career in music would most likely enjoy exploring their record collections, hearing their stories from the road, or just gleaning the respect and passion they bring to crafting and sharing music.

Deathfix by Martina Fornace

Photo by Martina Fornace (from the following night at El Rey in Los Angeles…)

Low – C’mon

Low Band PhotoA couple years back I was traveling in Europe and our band played a couple shows with Low.  I honestly didn’t know anything about them. A few friends of mine over the years had been huge fans and would drive great distances to see them.  When they described them to me, it honestly didn’t seem that cool: A husband and wife duo who were notoriously Mormon and lived in the small town of Duluth, Minnesota. They were said to have played so quietly that they used tiny amps and and a partial drum set. On loading in to the venue I wasn’t expecting much but was looking forward to meeting them and checking them out for myself.

As we loaded our gear and set up back stage of this beautiful 2000 seat theater in Brussels we heard their sound check and I was immediately drawn in to what they were doing. The songs were so simple and beautiful. The repetition in the songs had an enduring hypnotic quality. Their confident and relaxed musical delivery lulls you into blissful contentment. The band was a three-piece, consisting of singer / guitarist Alan Sparhawk, singer / drummer Mimi Parker and bassist / pianist Steve Garrington. Immediately after their soundcheck we hung out with Alan and chatted a bit. Nice guy!

When the show finally happened that evening we watched along with the sold out crowd and really took in the full beauty of what Low was doing.  Our whole entourage was really blown away.  On arriving home the following week their then new album C’mon was on constant rotation in our house.  I played that sucker over and over.  In my mind it was the best thing I had heard all year. And to this day is one of my all time favorite albums.  

Their album following C’Mon, entitled The Invisible Way, also is worthy of a hundred listens and I have grown very fond of it as well. Look for a review of that soon…

Here are some clips below to check out a bit of what Low does so well.

Is David Egger’s Totalitarian Nightmare of a Music Industry Already Realized?

What if Google monopolized everything, including the music industry? That is the basic idea of Egger’s The Circle. This fictionalized amalgam of Google, Facebook, and Twitter has managed to force all online information to travel through its filters and gates, laying out a dystopian path towards fascist implosion.  Racing to keep up with current headlines, Mr. Egger’s most recent offering is not mind blowing by any means but a worthwhile read nevertheless (full literary review); however the focus of this post is to look at the projected role of the music industry within this questionably fictional landscape.

The creators of the Circle have implemented “a unified operating system, which combined all users’ needs and tools into one TruYou account — e-mail, social networking, banking, and purchasing. TruYou changed the Internet, in toto, within a year,” writes Eggers.  The cautionary tale keys in on how our “likes”, “thumbs up”, “and retweets” may eventually be commodified, and at that point all creative content is helpless to any monopolizing distribution outlet. The following passage highlights the algorithm based system already circulating today. It seems silly to fight against a tool that brings you music your friends like, but something dangerous and ineffective is waiting when the Circle stretches into all aspects of your tastes and curatorial relationships. Since the Circle campus sets all trends for online users, the power of ranking systems is all powerful.

Oh, and over here’s your playlist. If you listen to music while you work, the feed automatically sends that playlist out to everyone else, and it goes into the collective playlist, which ranks the most-played songs in any given day, week, month. It has the top one hundred songs campus wide, but you can also slice it a thousand ways—top-played hip-hop, indie, country, anything. You’ll get recommendations based on what you play, and what others with similar taste play—it’s all cross-pollinating while you’re working.

Sounds like Spotify or  Seems harmless, but ask yourself if it really helps you find deep connections with new music, or does it just keep you addicted to finding more and the next artist? Can a database this large be trusted? Some of the industries biggest figures don’t believe so. 

Like we have railed against in Monofesto’s own manifesto, once the efficiency of calculating the stats wins out over authentic connections, the artist is stripped completely of his or her power, cast into poverty or groveling slavery to that which controls the distribution.  At that point all of the promise of the freedom of the internet will be lost.  Cheery stuff, right?

The most striking example of the book’s truly damned future for performance artists is the appearances of even past megastars playing the cafeteria of the Circle in a last ditch effort to get enough “likes” by these influential gatekeepers.  Mae, Egger’s young protagonist, is required to…

highlight the new musicians’ residences on campus—twenty-two fully equipped apartments where musicians, especially those who couldn’t count on making a living through sales of their music, could live for free and play regularly for the Circlers.

As long as there are enough people living outside the virtual realm, I don’t think the situation can ever get this bad. Let’s just hope people continue to spend enough time off a screen to get to a stage.

Quotations courtesy of Dave Eggers – The Circle – Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Manhattan Murder Mystery – Women House

The moniker is no misnomer, as finding MMM is perhaps the mystery.  Abandoned web and social media sites, rare and random appearances, and a cloudy, Woody Allen subterfuged online bio all add to the challenge of tracking down Manhattan Murder Mystery. For years I had to rely on a free burned CD picked up from a show, and even now still have to wait months and sometimes years before a google hunt returns another piece of the puzzle.

Perhaps you are not meant to track them down but rather stumble across them (Here is your chance to stumble across them) That is exactly how they came into my life towards the end of a living in Los Angeles stint in my mid-twenties. Having lost faith in the LA music scene, stuck in a string of  -less gigs (soulless, motionless, emotionless), MMM reignited faith in bands that are still willing to leave everything out on the stage and are not afraid to get messy, really messy in the process.  MMM’s lead, whose name remains elusive, seems to regularly sport a military helmet for equal parts persona construction and protection from his stage destruction. When your equipment takes a deep, deep second place to the emotive rawness of the music, smashing things up a bit doesn’t seem to matter.

The music, both shows and available recordings, are bare bones and lo-fi by necessity most likely rather than by choice. Nevertheless, they seem to find a wonderful balance of raw edge with toe-tappiness to sustain a penetrating trance through the earbuds and a trance to spontaneous bodily eruption effect from the stage.

If you are lucky enough to stumble across them, you too can join in the hunt for MMM. I often dream up soundtracks to unwritten movies and always return to MMM to overlay scenes of dejected wandering only to suddenly finding you are in that moment exactly where you are supposed to be. That was my MMM story and serendipitous seems to be the story of Manhattan Murder Mystery.