Assorted Declarations from Editor Tom Graham
The Sun Rises
An Autumn Sunrise, the solo project from musician Bryan Brophy, celebrates the arrival of its latest record, Look Toward Tomorrow, with a release show in Scranton. The show takes place Friday, July 25 at The Vintage Theater with doors at 7 p.m. and showtime at 8 p.m. The all ages show also features performances by Reverend Red and Standoff! Tickets are $10 which includes a free album download card.
For more information, visit anautumnsunrise.com.
The Rob Stoneback Big Band is jumpin’, jivin’ and wailin’ into the Scranton Cultural Center at the Masonic Temple in Scranton on July 26 for a night of live music and dancing. The party starts at 7:30 p.m. with live music, cocktails and swing. Tickets for event are $20.
For the past three decades, Rob Stoneback and his band have worked with some of the biggest names in music, including Aretha Franklin, Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, The Temptations and The Four Tops, as well as personalities such as Joan Rivers, Bob Newhart and Sid Caesar.
Robert Hunter, best known for his lyrical work with the Grateful Dead, visits the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday, July 30 at 7:30 p.m.
Although he played bass and mandolin and sang vocals, Hunter always considered himself a writer. A few years after meeting the Dead’s Jerry Garcia, Hunter volunteered to be a test subject in government experiments with LSD and later wrote songs while under the drug’s influence. In 1967, Hunter officially joined the Dead chiefly as a lyricist and quickly penned the classic “Dark Star.” Hunter’s songs and influence were so strong that over the years, Garcia often referred to him as the member of the band who never appeared on stage.
The songwriting collaboration gave birth to such songs as “Friend of the Devil,” “Truckin’,” “Ripple” and “Sugar Magnolia,” all in 1970. He is also responsible for the lyrics of 1987’s “Touch of Grey,” the Dead’s comeback song and one-and-only commercial hit.
Hunter was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 with the Grateful Dead, becoming the only non-performing artist to receive such an honor.
Tickets can be purchased at the Kirby Center box office, online at kirbycenter.org or by phone at (570) 826-1100. Tickets range from $31 to $67.
The Fuzz 92.1 Private Artist Showcase continues to rock the 570 with a performance by Bleachers this Monday, July 28 at the Fuzz 92.1 Radio Theater, 5th floor of the Times-Tribune Building, 149 Penn Ave., Scranton. Sign up for this free all-ages show at fuzz921.com/all-access-club or text “Bleachers” to 88474.
A founding member of the Grammy award- winning band fun. and singer/songwriter of New Jersey band Steel Train, Jack Antonoff wrote and co-produced Bleachers debut single “I Wanna Get Better”alongside producer John Hill (MIA, Jay Z, Empire of the Sun).
In addition to being a multi-talented musician, Jack is a critically acclaimed songwriter and producer. His achievements include co-writing fun.’s Grammy award-winning song “We Are Young” and Grammy-nominated album Some Nights, and he received a Golden Globe nomination for his collaboration with Taylor Swift for her song “Sweeter Than Fiction.” Jack has also worked with Sara Bareilles, co-writing her Grammy-nominated song “Brave” and Canadian indie stars Tegan and Sara.
Here’s what’s in my headphones this week: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists Tell Balgeary, Balgury Is Dead (Lookout! Records) 2003
A HAPHAZARD NIGHT OUT
DAMON ALBARN — Everyday Robots
THE GOOD: Blur and Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn releases his first proper solo effort.
THE BAD: Flat? A little bit.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Blur was one of the 90s finest British bands. Albums like Parklife (1994) and Great Escape (1995) were catchy eclectic slices of European life, completely accessible yet adventurous. Then Albarn became a key player in electronic collective Gorillaz whose trailblazing albums blurred the lines between rock, rap, world and dub.
Everyday Robots brings in elements from both of those dissimilar catalogs, but things get lost in translation. It never quite reaches the melodic and satirical highs of Blur or the bass-heavy rhythmic lows of Gorillaz. More compelling moments include the happy-go-lucky stomper “Mr. Tembo” and the eerie introspective “Hollow Ponds.” But too much of Robots feels like a shallow pairing of acoustic elements with modern soul, recalling yet another past Albarn project — The Good, the Bad and the Queen (2006). But even that original album felt more fleshed out.
BUY IT?: Your call.
CHERUB — Year of the Caprese
THE GOOD: Nashville R&B/electro-pop duo Cherub gives us their major label debut.
THE BAD: Plenty.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The guys have a legitimate hit on their hands with lead single “Doses and Mimosas,” a two-year-old track that went viral and is currently being reworked by Columbia (the major) to modern rock radio. It’s a funky jam, equal parts fresh soul and electronic mayhem. Too bad it’s also Caprese’s best moment.
I was hoping the cut would prepare us for better things. Nope. Caprese ends up being a sophomoric study in sex, drugs and sweating all night at the club. There’s nothing wrong with that, but a collection of this sort shouldn’t be … dull. Cherub can come off like a misguided Justin Timberlake pleading for indie-cred. And by the time we reach a laughable ode to exotic dancers called “Strip to This,” it’s difficult to take these guys seriously.
BUY IT?: Why would you? Besides, Calvin Harris and Chromeo are still much better at this sort of thing.
TOM VEK — Luck
THE GOOD: British multi-instrumentalist and all-around studio geek Tom Vek gives us his third.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: It took six years for Vek to complete his second album, but only three to make Luck. I get the feeling he’s a guy that holes up in his studio and just experiments, working slowly and seeing where the songs take him. New records only happen when there are enough satisfactory “mistakes” to warrant an album.
Despite the unpredictability of it all (or maybe because of it), the end results rarely disappoint. Vek makes electronic-based indie pop tunes with strong rhythms, quirky keyboard arrangements and just the slightest post-punk attitude to toughen up the proceedings. He isn’t blessed with the best singing voice or range, but those shortcomings only add to the divine grittiness of the entire mess.
Tracks such as “Ton of Bricks” and “You’ll Stay” plod along with a buried but effective funk and melodies slick enough to get the job done.
BUY IT?: Sure.
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
Coffee stout isn’t exactly new at this point. Generally delicious, these dark brews pair the flavor of roasted coffee beans with roasted malt. It’s a hearty flavor that is complementary to their thick bodies and sticky mouth feel. Sometimes this combines with a tinge of sweetness as well, to create a wonderful sweet/savory combination. They’re a great end-of-the-day treat.
Wait, did I say end of the day? Founders brewery, out of Grand Rapids, Michigan, has other ideas with its Breakfast Stout. It isn’t just any stout, however. It is a double chocolate coffee oatmeal stout. If that doesn’t sound like a breakfast beer, I don’t know what does.
Being as it’s labeled as a breakfast stout, one would assume it must be low in alcohol, right? Nope. They’re doing breakfast right with an 8.3 percent ABV. If that doesn’t get you out of bed, I don’t know what will. Oddly enough, it will keep you out of bed as well.
Why is that you ask? While all coffee stouts I know of are brewed with actual coffee, this one really goes the distance. Its a mix of Kona and Sumatra coffee, caffeine included. Unless you’re the type that can drink a cup of coffee and fall asleep, I’d suggest staying away from this one at the end of the night.
Armed with all that information, I did the only reasonable thing. After I poured my morning bowl of cereal, I cracked a bottle open. I’m generally more of a green tea guy, but I thought I’d make an exception — it was a breakfast stout, after all. I’d be doing it a disservice to have it at any other time.
The pour was dark and flat. There was a very thin layer of cinnamon colored head but it did not last long. The brew did leave a good amount of lacing down the side of the glass, however.
It smelled mostly of sweet chocolate and malts followed by a barrage of roasted goodness. Each of these things was quite abundant. There was no subtlety here. While it didn’t exactly smell like a fresh brewed pot, there was no mistaking that there was coffee lurking in this beast.
As far as taste goes, it was like every stout I ever had was having a party in my mouth. First there was sweet full-bodied chocolate. This was followed by a bit of bitterness which cut through the initial sweetness nicely. After that was a barrage of roast and coffee flavors — though it all was the alcohol. Though it’s not quite strong enough to classify as an imperial stout, it’s close. All the strong flavors in the brew do little to hide that fact.
If the high alcohol wasn’t enough, there was certainly a healthy dose of caffeine in there. I felt the effects of that long before the alcohol. It certainly woke me up. The idea of a breakfast stout suddenly made more sense.
I’m not sure that drinking a stout for breakfast is the best idea. I’m also not certain that it is the worst. I’ll leave that decision up to you. I will say that I’ve never drank another beer like this before, both in taste and effect. Give it a try sometime if you’re feeling brave. It’ll certainly give you a lot of get up and go.
KEEPING IT SIMPLE IS NOT SO STUPID
OLD 97’S — Most Messed Up
THE GOOD: Dallas alt-country indie rockers Old 97’s celebrate two decades together with a blistering tenth studio effort.
THE BAD: Nothing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Any album from their catalog provides a hearty dose of heartbreak, irony, blood, sweat and beer. The earlier records may lean more toward the traditional side, but Old 97’s have always found that perfect boozy blend of country and power pop — songs with a homegrown vibe, but just enough rock bite to give them a necessary roughness.
Most Messed Up continues the tried and true tradition. It’s a ragged collection celebrating one night stands in honky-tonks and hotel rooms, too much whiskey and the dirty dusty glory of the open road. “Longer than You’ve Been Alive” is the coolest and most vivid song about touring in decades. “Let’s Get Drunk and Get It On” is just as rambunctious as you want it to be. “Wasted” reminds us the guys still have heart.
BUY IT?: Yep. This one’s damn near perfect.
CONOR OBERST — Upside Down Mountain
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter and ex-Bright Eyes leader Conor Oberst is back with another solo turn.
THE BAD: No complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Mountain is the guy’s first record since the end of Bright Eyes, with previous efforts released around that other outfit’s schedule. It’s also the 34-year-old’s first complete set after becoming a settled down married man, so his attitudes and outlook have shifted. He probably couldn’t have written a song like the totally endearing “You Are Your Mother’s Child” a decade ago.
Overall though, Mountain isn’t that different musically from the man’s past work. He still cranks out ringing folk-tinged rockers like “Zigzagging toward the Light” and “Kick,” painting each tune with either a bit of pathos or good humor depending upon the situation. More intimate moments such as “Lonely at the Top” and the aforementioned “Mother’s Child” further display the power and charm of his quivering vocals, with his unique personality sometimes found in his singing as opposed to his lyrics.
BUY IT?: Sure.
THE BLACK KEYS — Turn Blue
THE GOOD: Guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney bring on a moody eighth.
THE BAD: Prepare for a change in tone. Not necessarily “bad.”
THE NITTY GRITTY: 2014 is slowly becoming the year of the “personal break-up album.” Not unlike recent turns by Coldplay and Lykke Li that found inspiration in lovers splitting up, Blue was partially influenced by Auerbach’s tumultuous divorce proceedings. The new album is also the Keys’ attempt at expanding their tried-and-true blues-rock formula and making a psychedelic headphones record.
On both fronts, Blue doesn’t fail, but don’t go in expecting a dozen new tracks like “Girl Is on My Mind” or “Lonely Boy.” Expansive, slow-building and spacey opening cut “Weight of Love” feels more like an Air song before the guitars begin to take over. “It’s Up To You Now” starts out riding a Bo Diddley shuffle before exploding into a cosmic jam. “In Our Prime” is more reflective than most anything the boys have done before.
BUY IT?: Still…absolutely.
Assorted Declarations from Editor Tom Graham
Zappa on Zappa
Two years after making his Wilkes-Barre debut, Dweezil Zappa will return to the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, July 11 at 8 p.m.
As a composer, singer-songwriter, electric guitarist, record producer and film director, Frank Zappa’s incredible career spanned more than 30 years and more than 60 albums. In 1993, Zappa succumbed to cancer at the young age of 52.
I spoke with Dweezil Zappa a while back about Zappa Plays Zappa and here are some of my favorite moments of our talk.
On his approach to the show:
“I wanted people to see the band and appreciate the music for what it is. We perform it the way it is on record and the way he did it in live arrangements. We don’t try to modernize it or do anything to it other than present it the way he did, because ultimately that’s the way he wanted it to be heard. So people ask: ‘Why wouldn’t you try to modernize it or make it appealing to a new generation?’ It’s because his music was already ahead of its time.”
On how his father’s music affected him as a musician:
“I had to change my approach to guitar completely on every level. Technically, I was already very proficient with certain kinds of things that are fundamentally required to play challenging parts. I had the ability to play fast things, the ability to play some tricky rhythms, but what I needed to work on was even more of that ability to have a better understanding, but also have a better vocabulary harmonically.”
On how playing his father’s music affected him on a personal level:
“It’s been bittersweet. On some level it affords me the opportunity to have a continuing relationship with him. Even the audience gets to do that.”
On what audiences can expect to see at Zappa Plays Zappa:
“The show tries to give audience members a chance to hear as many different textures and flavors within my father’s compositions as possible. I try to choose music that reflects every style he performed in and things that are well-known to the fan base and really obscure things as well. The people that know the music really well will get some surprises. It’s a good combination of rock stuff, special instrumentals and improvisational things that will happen. That’s really what seeing Frank’s show was all about. Seeing a lot of different music all in one night and seeing things that were intended only for that point in time and that audience.”
Tickets for Zappa Plays Zappa can be purchased at the Kirby Center Box Office, online at kirbycenter.org or charge by phone at (570) 826-1100. Tickets Prices range from $31 to $77 plus applicable fees.
Here’s what’s in my headphones this week: Strand of Oaks Heal (Dead Oceans) 2014
IT’S LOUD IN HERE
CLOUD NOTHINGS — Here and Nowhere Else
THE GOOD: Cleveland indie rockers Cloud Nothings improve on their fourth.
THE BAD: No.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Dylan Baldi and his crew further distance themselves from the humble beginnings of what was essentially Baldi’s bedroom/MySpace project. If there were any past doubts that Cloud Nothings were a real band, Nowhere Else should put those concerns to rest.
Solid melodies are spread all over this thing, but what’s more important is that the three guys are coming into their own, playing together and complementing each other. Still, the new album isn’t exactly a tight affair — far from it.
These songs are packed with nervous energy and a sense that things can go awry at any second. Tunes like “Just See Fear” and rollicking closer “I’m Not Part of Me” (the best is saved for last) cast shadows over that fine line between punk abandon and progressive indie rock. What we have is a brilliant study in controlled chaos.
BUY IT?: Yep.
THE PIXIES — Indie Cindy
THE GOOD: Indie legends the Pixies return with their first full-length in 23 years.
THE BAD: This reunion record cannot be expected to live up to the band’s enormous legacy.
THE NITTY GRITTY: You had to be there. The Pixies shook up a rock world dominated by aging dinosaurs and hair metal, circa 1987. Before their first split in 1992, the group released one EP and four LPs that are still considered one of the few near-perfect catalogues in rock.
Indie Cindy is an excellent indie rock record, but it’s not an excellent Pixies record. There’s a distinction. First of all, Kim Deal picked up her bass and left. She’s not here and Deal was an extremely integral part of the original equation. Second, Black Francis seems afraid to leave his comfort zone. The Pixies used to make dangerous records, game changers that shattered everyone’s expectations. Perhaps time has simply made everyone’s expectations too damn high. It’s a tough call.
BUY IT?: Your choice.
THE HORRORS — Luminous
THE GOOD: British indie rock chameleons the Horrors return with their fourth.
THE BAD: No real problems.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The Horrors are that rare band capable of radically changing their style without sounding desperate. The metamorphosis is a natural progression, a step in the right direction. Play the gothic garage noise on 2007’s Strange House and then the new record and you won’t think it’s the same group. Luminous is the first time The Horrors haven’t radically changed their sound since the last outing (it’s somewhat close to 2011’s Skying), but the new set still pushes forward.
This is their “spaced out rhythmic rock” album; songs filled with guitar flourishes and swirling keyboards and grooves that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Madchester classic circa 1990. “Chasing Shadows” kicks us off with a slow build before launching into a chugging churning Stone Roses-infused indie anthem. Then it’s all hooks, grooves and colorful neo-psychedelic textures. Not a bad way to spend the better part of an hour.
BUY IT?: Sure.
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
Victory Brewing Company has been one of my favorite breweries almost as long as I’ve been drinking. Located about 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia, this 100,000 square foot brewery is best known for their Hop Devil, a delightfully spicy and incredibly well hopped IPA. They are on my top three list of Pennsylvania breweries — the other two being Yuengling and Weyerbacher. As for which one is first, it really depends on when you ask me.
I can certainly say I’ve loved every Victory beer I’ve ever had. Their golden monkey is an almost mystical alcoholic experience with an ABV of 9.5 percent. Their storm king stout, thick and delicious, isn’t that far off with its ABV of 9.1 percent. Not all of their beers are quite so strong; their lager clocks in at 4.8 percent and rivals Yuenglings for the role of my favorite.
As the name of their flagship brew suggests, they take their hops seriously. Most breweries use pelletized hops — which look a bit like the food you would give to a rabbit. Hops are generally cheaper pelletized, as they can be transported easier and last a lot longer. Its a great way to store the plant. Victory, however, uses whole flower hops. They’re not processed into the little pellets. They pretty much look just like they do when their plucked from the vine. It certainly shows through in the taste of their beers.
The hops definitely came through in this week’s brew, Summer Love. Summer Love is an American Blonde ale. The style usually entails a good deal of malt, creating a sweet, toasty, and fruity brew. While Victory has created a beer that still captures the essence of a Blonde, it has also managed to take it a bit of a different direction at the same time. The result is something that is familiar to the Blonde lover, but imbued with more depth and variety.
Summer Love poured a golden straw like color. The head was nice and thick with copious amounts of bubbles rising through the brew. It left delicate lacing all down the sides of the glass. It certainly looked like a summer beer. With one look it became apparent why the style is named American Blonde.
The sweet pale malt was certainly present in the smell but so were the hops. There was also notes of citrus and a bit of a grassy scent, most likely also attributed to the hops. Those same flowers were also probably responsible for the black pepper and spicy scents as well. It was a simple but attractive smell.
The taste was quite refreshing. When the liquid first hits the tongue, the sweet malt and citrus is very apparent. This only lasts a moment before the bitter hops come into play. The hops are quite prevalent yet not overly strong. Its almost like a light IPA with an enhanced malt character. This creates a very drinkable beer that is not short on taste.
The body of the brew was nice and light. This was combined with it’s bountiful carbonation to provide an incredibly crisp beverage that was really easy to drink. It was nicely refreshing , yet still decently hopped. Summer Love was an apt title for the brew, as it tasted like it was full of both.
Assorted declarations from editor tom graham
Bret Alexander and Paul Smith, former members of The Badlees, are joining forces with some other well-known local musicians in a new musical project. Alexander and Smith join violinist Nyke Van Wyk, drummer Ron Simasek and former Breaking Benjamin guitarist Aaron Fink in the new band Gentleman East, who are set to make their debut this Friday, June 27, at The Other Side (Burt & Urby’s) in Wilkes Barre. The show starts at 9:30 p.m. Miners Blues featuring Anthony Halchak, Bret Alexander and Ed Randazzo open the show.
“I am very proud of the work we did with The Badlees over the years. There was lots of great music and memories,” Alexander said. “But I’m really looking forward to an extremely prolific period coming up, both in the studio and on stage. I’ve already started putting new music together, it’s going to be great.”
The band is currently writing and rehearsing new material for an upcoming release.
For more information, visit facebook.com/GentlemanEast.
Award Voting in Steamtown
The Electric City Music Conference takes place over Columbus Day Weekend, October 10 to 12, highlighting local talent and bringing national focus to the musicians of northeastern Pennsylvania. The event kicks off October 10 with the Steamtown Music Awards. The purpose of the awards is to honor the region’s top musicians, strengthen the local music community and provide a night where local musicians can appreciate other local musicians.
Both the public and a committee of local music professionals will vote to determine the award winners. Fans can nominate their favorite bands for awards at electriccitymusicconference.com/awards until voting closes on July 20. Bands must be based out of northeastern Pennsylvania. Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Hazelton, Bloomsburg, the Poconos and all surrounding areas are acceptable.
Hosts, presenters, performers and a lifetime achievement award winner will be announced soon. For more information, visit electriccitymusicconference.com.
Here’s what’s in my headphones this week: Andrew Bird Things are Really Great Here, Sort Of… (Wegawam Music Co.) 2014
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
I generally have a ritual when I sit down to write about beer. After all my other projects for the day are complete, I crack open a bottle and pour it down the inside of my glass. I watch the head form and fade away, then hold it up to the light to marvel at the color. Next, I take a nice long swallow and think about what I just drank. When all of that is complete, I move onto the most important step — screwing around on Facebook.
Yes, I’m easily distracted, but it also leaves me with time to drink a bit of the brew and develop some thoughts and opinions. It’s usually about a five minute process, unless I get stuck staring at pictures of cats or watching videos of wheelchair bound goats. After the little intermission, I get to work and pound the keys, all the while drinking more as I go.
Tonight, I did the same things I always do. When I finally got around to writing, however, I noticed the majority of my beer was already gone. Somewhere in that five minute window of Facebooking, I must have started drinking pretty steadily. Another swallow or two and I was sure of it. This beer goes down so well and is so satisfying, it was just about gone by the time I started to write about it.
The brew in question is Ithaca’s Apricot Wheat. It’s beautiful, tasty and it goes down incredibly well. I generally save these types of judgements for the end of the article, but this is worth cutting to the chase for. It’s one of the best summer beers I’ve ever had, hands down.
Lets get to the details. While there wasn’t much of a head when I poured. The brew was a beautiful translucent golden color. It was reminiscent of sunshine and wheat fields. There were plenty of bubbles which rose through it due to its great carbonation. It smelled of summer fruit, grain and citrus. The apricot was heavy in the nose, but didn’t smell artificial. It was incredibly pleasing.
The taste was a great mix of savory wheat and sweet apricot. It wasn’t cloying in anyway, nor was the wheat aspect too heavy. It finished with just a little bit of sour that helped to cleanse the palate. There was the slightest amount of bitter somewhere in the middle that helped to balance it all out. It was a bit like having understated jam on a biscuit or cracker.
The carbonation and dry finish lent the brew a great crispness. It was in no way heavy, making it incredibly drinkable. The brew really provides the classic beer experience. It doesn’t provide a lot of complexity, but it also doesn’t need to. Ithaca fulfills the role it set out to fulfill with this beer quite well.
Ithaca’s Apricot Wheat is a great session brew. It goes down really well and leaves you wanting more after each swallow. The apricot is not over pronounced, which can be a problem in fruit beers. Instead of tasting like alcoholic Kool-Aid, it tastes a bit like mid-summer. It comforts and soothes, doing everything a beer should do. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go grab a second one. I’ve run out and there is still more Facebook to check.
LADY SURVIVORS — PART ONE
LA SERA — Hour of the Dawn
THE GOOD: Ex-Vivian Girl Katy Goodman gets happier on her third outing as La Sera.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Hooks and harmonies. That’s all Hour of the Dawn is … and it’s glorious. Goodman said she wanted the record to sound like “Lesley Gore fronting Black Flag” and, to a certain extent, it does. Produced by the band’s new guitarist, Todd Wisenbaker, this is textbook power pop with bite.
Tracks like “Losing in the Dark” and the title cut are blatantly catchy and direct — pristine melodies combining with generous portions of guitar noise. “Summer of Love” is a pre-Beatle throwback. “Fall in Place” is coated with a shiny layer of jangle pop. “Storm’s End” closes the album with some spooky surf.
For the first time, La Sera feels like an actual band, as opposed to a side project or solo record released under some mysterious moniker. Goodman is moving forward at a break-neck pace and her future looks bright.
BUY IT?: Definitely.
SHARON VAN ETTEN — Are We There
THE GOOD: Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter Sharon Van Etten returns with a rich, honest and confident fourth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: This time Etten is fully in charge — There being self-produced with some assistance from veteran studio guy Stewart Lerman (Antony and the Johnsons, Marshall Crenshaw). Here she explores both the emotionally rich and the mundane and does it all with great dramatic flair — the woman an expert at turning little everyday experiences into something quite memorable.
Musically, Etten brings in the soul of Joan Osborne, PJ Harvey’s abrasiveness and a touch of modern folk, not unlike that of fellow contemporary indie singer Marissa Nadler. The songs are multi-layered and each spins off in a different direction. “Taking Chances” rides a tight groove, while “Your Love Is Killing Me” builds in frustration until the jagged guitars take over. “I Love You But I’m Lost” and “Break Me” wander about (affairs of the heart are unpredictable) yet still sound self-assured.
BUY IT?: Yep.
TORI AMOS — Unrepentant Geraldines
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter/pianist Tori Amos gets back to doing what she does best.
THE BAD: No big surprises. If you already dislike her stuff, the new record won’t win you over.
THE NITTY GRITTY: After 17 very prolific years and 10 proper studio albums, Amos was hitting the point where standard efforts were being outnumbered by live albums, holiday offerings and bold flirtations with other (mostly classical) genres. Geraldines is the singer’s first straight-up indie rock disc since 2009’s Abnormally Attracted to Sin.
As the artist enters her 50s, she’s mellowing ever so slightly. Amos can still be critical of religion and politics and still explore a woman’s sexuality, but a lot of her “angst” is dissipating. She’s in a happier place these days. Geraldines is exciting, but not nearly as confrontational as the woman’s earlier work.
Be warned. Some passion has been replaced by more pleasant sounds, but the record is solid and varied enough to show off Amos’ talents without ever dragging.
BUY IT?: Sure.
COLDPLAY — Ghost Stories
THE GOOD: England’s current favorite sons are back with their sixth.
THE BAD: Ghost Stories is possibly their weakest yet.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The boys have called this their “breakup album;” the record essentially about a relationship (not the band) coming to an end. Since frontman Chris Martin recently split with wife Gwyneth Paltrow, I guess it was bound to happen. Ghost Stories is kind of a downer; the songs are soft and murky, mid-tempo and somber.
That’s not to say there aren’t some decent tunes along the way. Tracks like “Ink” and “Another’s Arms” have a definite melodic pull. You can almost see a stadium full of swaying people, their cell phones lit up and raised high over their heads. But the closest we get to a genuine Coldplay anthem is the hopping “A Sky Full of Stars.” Other than that, the guys keep it stripped down and intimate.
BUY IT?: Your call. Ghost Stories is probably only for the rabid fans.
BLONDIE — Ghosts of Download
THE GOOD: Alt/punk/indie pop legends Blondie are back with their tenth.
THE BAD: Ghosts is a very mixed bag.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The record comes with a bonus “Greatest Hits” disc. But these tracks are re-recorded, awful and, since the band’s entire catalog is still in print, completely pointless. So don’t bother with Deluxe Redux.
As far as the “new” album goes, Ghosts feels very pre-programmed and uninspired. And by the time the wretched cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” shows up, you may wonder “what’s the point of all this?”
At age 69, Debbie Harry’s voice is thinning out, so there’s quite a bit of “enhancement.” Clem Burke remains a fierce drummer, but he’s drowned out quite a few times by electronic beats. Chris Stein still writes a catchy song, but nothing here reaches the level of “Dreaming” or “Sunday Girl.” We end up with a mediocre record that only hints at the greatness that was once ever-present.
BUY IT?: I wouldn’t.
YOUNG MAGIC — Breathing Statues
THE GOOD: Brooklyn-based duo Young Magic brings on their second.
THE BAD: Statues is all flash and very little substance.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Australian producer Isaac Emmanuel and Indonesian-born singer Melati Malay became yet another faceless electronic duo (Still Corners, Purity Ring, Niki & the Dove, etc.) when they released their debut, Melt, two years ago. That album’s title was appropriate as its tracks possessed the power of blending together, forcing the listener to focus on the record’s overall atmosphere as opposed to the individual parts.
Statues continues in the same vein. Emmanuel is extremely accomplished at creating a vibrant, hypnotic and vivid setting. The electronic bangs and squiggles move forward while reaching back to the formative days of trip-hop and ambient techno. Malay’s glistening vocals add a touch of the slightly seductive.
Strip away all the layers and studio polish though and the songs themselves ring hollow. Breathing Statues ends up a multi-colored backdrop as opposed to a commanding presence.
BUY IT?: Your choice.
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
The satisfaction that a beer on a hot day can bring can’t be overstated. I don’t know if anything has ever tasted better than a nice crisp brew on a warm evening. There is a miraculous sense of well-being, like everything is okay in the universe. Each gulp fills the soul with a bit of peace and allows the brain to dream it’s little summer dreams.
Of course, not every beer can satisfy in this way. As much as I love my dark brews, drinking a stout in the sun reminds me of drinking a lot of milk before a race. It’s kind of gross. IPAs can work at times — it depends on the individual brew. Anything with “dark” or “black” in the name can probably be avoided for that matter. They are best saved for cooler temperatures.
Though there are many styles that are appropriate to the season, Witbiers being one of my favorite. They’re generally crisp and deliciously spiced, providing a brew that is simultaneously drinkable and complex. The best known would be Hoegaarden, still brewed in its native Belgium. Many other breweries have developed their own version of the style, making it more widespread as of late. If you’ve yet to sample one, now is certainly a good time.
This week, I’m drinking Weyerbacher’s White Son Wit. This is a bit of a departure from my favorite Weyerbacher brews. It’s ABV clocks in at 4.6 percent, which is a little unremarkable from a brewery who is well-known for its high gravity beers. It is important that Witbiers be drinkable, however. They should be easy to swallow, a prime candidate for a session brew.
The pour was unremarkable. The liquid was a very murky yellow full of miniscule particulate. Little light passed through the glass. There was hardly any head and it left no lacing on the glass. This isn’t necessarily a bad quality of a Witbier, as they all tend to be a bit murky, but it was worth noting.
The scent was pleasantly complex. There were notes of fruit balanced with yeast and spice. It certainly did not smell like juice, but it did promise a bit of sweetness. There was a good amount of citrus in the nose as well. While it didn’t offer any big surprises, it smelled incredibly inviting and delicious.
The taste followed suit. The first thing I noticed was the sweetness I had caught in the nose. It wasn’t overly so, but the taste was prominent. It was beautifully balanced by the amount of sour that accompanied it. That tartness played well into the yeasty and funky notes. It all ended in just a little bit of bittering hops. All the flavors were there in perfect amounts, each playing nicely with the others. The subdued funk cut the stronger sweetness with the hops providing a great palate cleanser.
White Son Wit was incredibly clean with enough carbonation to give it a great crisp finish. Each swallow made you want another. It was smooth and incredibly drinkable. I do not say this lightly, but I would dare say it was one of the better whites I’ve had. As with everything else they’ve done, Weyerbacher did this one right.
SNAP! CRACKLE! INCREDIBLE POP!
THE COLOURIST — The Colourist
THE GOOD: California indie poppers the Colourist blast out a very enjoyable debut.
THE BAD: Hardly innovative, but who cares?
THE NITTY GRITTY: Solid backbeats, slick riffs, big hooks, tight harmonies — over and over again. That’s all this album is and all it needs to be. Fronted by the fun flirtatious male-female vocal interplay of Adam and Castilla and Maya Tuttle (also of Paper Thin Walls), The Colourist churns out one infectious ditty after another — 10 rockers and one ballad that lodge themselves in your grey matter after just one spin.
Tracks like “Wishing Wells” and “Yes Yes” are seamless slabs of ear candy not unlike the music of Canada’s Stars and fellow Californians Echosmith. The feel-good vibe emanating from this set is off the charts. “Little Games,” already hijacked by AT&T for a Nokia Lumia 1020 commercial, may be the album’s FIRST single but just about EVERY cut is a potential single. The Colourist is that tight and well executed.
BUY IT?: Yep.
ST. VINCENT — St. Vincent
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter/guitarist Annie Clark (stage name St. Vincent) returns with an amazing fourth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Clark comes from the worlds of jazz, progressive rock and the Polyphonic Spree (an early gig). But you wouldn’t automatically get that if you listened to any of her solo albums. Then again, you hear some of those influences upon listening a second or third time. That’s the beauty (and angst) of a St. Vincent album — both the sheer unpredictability and undeniable high level of quality of the music.
The new record is rife with alien electronic squiggles, unique yet understated guitar work and Clark’s vivid (and slightly disturbed) lyrical paintings. No two tracks sound alike, yet they all possess a few key elements. The rhythms grab hold and never let go, even when slightly buried in the mix. Clark’s arrangements are complex yet never inaccessible. The woman’s sense of melody is impeccable.
BUY IT?: Yes. And then grab the rest of her accomplished catalog.
THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART — Days of Abandon
THE GOOD: New York indie pop outfit Pains of Being Pure at Heart deliver a slick third.
THE BAD: Nothing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Singer/songwriter/guitarist Kip Berman and his crew have never hid their influences and have always done “retro” well. The first two albums have the 80’s underground pop scene spray-painted all over them in various shades of black.
Days of Abandon continues that tradition, yet it comes from an era right before Nirvana’s Nevermind changed the “alternative” landscape forever. From 1988 thru the summer of 1991, British bands dominated our indie consciousness. New Order and Depeche Mode ruled the day. Lesser acts like Mighty Lemon Drops and Inspiral Carpets added more guitars to the mix yet still wallowed in English melancholy.
Abandon would have fit right into that whole scene seamlessly. The songs simmer with steady beats, whirring synths, jangly guitars and soaring melodies — rock with a hint of the electronic to blur the lines among genres.
BUY IT?: Oh yes.
QUITE A PARTY!
KAISER CHIEFS — Education Education Education and War
THE GOOD: British indie rockers Kaiser Chiefs get more determined on their fifth.
THE BAD: No KC album is perfect, but Education is one of their more consistently good sets.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Whether the lads are exploring the plight of the working masses circa 1925 (“The Factory Gates”) or the futility of war today and beyond (“Cannons”), they always manage to do it with solid backbeats, churning guitars, moody keyboards and stirring melodies. Education is a somewhat cinematic record; just about every cut telling a story or at least setting a vivid scene.
Produced by Ben H. Allen III (Deerhunter, Animal Collective) and recorded in Atlanta, Georgia (odd for Britpop dudes), the album finds the guys bursting with bold, new outlooks in unfamiliar surroundings. If that’s what they were going for, it certainly worked. Some experiments feel overly ambitious (a brief dramatic reading from actor Bill Nighy?) but, thankfully, what works heavily outweighs what doesn’t.
BUY IT?: Surely.
THE WHIGS — Modern Creation
THE GOOD: Georgia garage rockers the Whigs come back with a driven dusty fifth.
THE BAD: Depends upon your cravings. Innovation? Not here. But Modern Creation is a damn good straight forward rock album.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Creation isn’t as polished as past Whigs releases and that’s exactly what the doctor ordered. There’s a well-defined spontaneity to the proceedings. The songs feeling like they were all committed to tape over a frenetic three-day weekend. Actually, the liner notes inside the CD read, “Recorded like real men in a rock band in a warehouse through an old Neve console.” I believe it.
Cuts like rolling lead single “Hit Me,” country-tinged “Too Much in the Morning” and the heavily swaying “I Couldn’t Lie” grab us without frills or studio trickery, just good old-fashioned riffs and hooks. Creation is a study in the basics that never becomes boring. That’s due to the songs themselves. Some are better than others but there isn’t a true clunker in the bunch.
BUY IT?: Yep.
THE GREAT PARTY — New Laws
THE GOOD: Scranton natives the Great Party get serious on their debut full-length.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: I remember reviewing their 2012 self-titled EP and thinking “intelligent party music” — comparisons to the likes of the B-52’s and Architecture in Helsinki were inevitable. Now, the band offers us New Laws and a change in attitude.
The tunes are more focused, more sedate. The vocal trade-offs between Michael and Rosaleen Eastman feel like a smoother version of Matt and Kim, and when Rosaleen’s keyboard flourishes take off, you can’t help but recall early Mates of State. One can detect distant echoes of Magnapop on the more abrasive moments (“Don’t Be Silly”) and contemporaries like !!! once the funky bits fully kick in (“Family”).
Every track has its own personality. You never know what’s coming next, whether it’s the flirtatious vibes coating “She’s Unbelievable” or the melodic heartbreak covering “Marionettes.” We’ve gone from frat party to hipster cocktail party and it’s still GREAT.
BUY IT?: Definitely.
Assorted declarations from Editor Tom Graham
Let’s get Wild
Wild Cub makes a stop in the 570 to perform at The Fuzz 92.1 Private Artist Showcase at the Fuzz 92.1 Radio Theater, 5th floor of the Times-Tribune Building, 149 Penn Ave., Scranton on Friday, May 23 at 6 p.m. The show is all ages. Sign up for free tickets at the570.com or by texting “Wild” to 88474. Tickets are first come, first served.
Wild Cub is Keegan DeWitt (vocals/guitar), Jeremy Bullock (guitar/synths), Dabney Morris (drums), Harry West (bass) and Eric Wilson (keys/synth).
DeWitt and Bullock stripped down a small Nashville row house, built their own custom studio and recorded their debut album,Youth. Initially shared digitally, the album was recently released through Mom+Pop Music. The album has enjoyed great success due to the hit single, “Thunder Clatter.”
The band completed its first two U.S. tours and hit festivals like SXSW (playing eight shows), Hangout Fest and Lollapalooza (including a sold-out afterparty with UK stand-outs Palma Violets). In addition to fall festival dates that include a stop at Austin City Limits, Wild Cub will travel to the UK for two debut London shows.
Greats at the Jazz Cafe
Oteil Burbridge, Keith Carlock and Oz Noy hit the stage at the River Street Jazz Cafe, Plains, on May 22 at 9 p.m. Tickets rage from $12 to $18. This show is 21 and older.
Two-time Grammy winning bassist Burbridge has been in the music business touring and recording for more than three decades, most notably with The Allman Brothers Band. Since 1997, his work with the band has earned him two Grammy nominations and in 2012, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for his 15-year contribution to the Allman Brothers Band as the longest running bassist in the band’s history. Burbridge has shared the stage with Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, Levon Helm, Taj Mahal, Buddy Guy, Billy Gibbons, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow and Trey Anastasio.
Carlock is a professional drummer currently residing in New York City and Nashville, Tennessee. He has recorded and/or toured with John Mayer, Sting, Steely Dan, James Taylor, Donald Fagen, Diana Ross and Faith Hill.
Virtuoso guitarist Noy describes his musical style as a blend of jazz, funk, rock, blues and R&B. Born in Israel, Noy started his professional career at the age of 13 and by age 24, he was one of the most established studio guitar players in the country. Since his arrival in New York in 1996, Noy has performed, toured and recorded with Gavin DeGraw, Cyndi Lauper, Nile Rogers, Warren Hayes, Gov’t Mule, The Allman Brothers, Don Was, Matisyahu, Josh Groban, Allison Krauss and more.
Here’s what’s in my headphones this week: Damon Albarn Everyday Robots (Warner Bros.) 2014