BIG BEATS AND GLORIOUS CLUTTER
SLEIGH BELLS —
THE GOOD: Brooklyn noise pop duo Sleigh Bells (vocalist Alexis Krauss and multi-instrumentalist Derek Miller) comes back with its fourth.
THE BAD: Sleigh Bells still hasn’t topped or even matched
its blistering debut (2010’s “Treats”). “Jessica Rabbit” is at least the CLOSEST it’s come to doing just that.
THE NITTY GRITTY: While the new album isn’t quite the jack-hammer to the brain that “Treats” was (and still is), the new songs surpass many of the offerings from “Reign of Terror” (2012) and the rushed “Bitter Rivals” (2013). The two spent a couple years working on these new sounds. The song-craft is more confident, especially in its willingness to expand Bells’ musical palette; the pair is adept at flirting with prog rock and R&B.
“Rabbit” ebbs and flows with great agility, exploring different moods and levels of abrasiveness without hesitation. Plus, many of these songs have the added bonus of great melodies at their core (dig “I Can’t Stand You Anymore” or “Baptism by Fire”).
BUY IT?: Yep
EMPIRE OF THE SUN — “Two Vines”
THE GOOD: Australian super-duo Empire of the Sun (Luke Steele of the Sleepy Jackson and Nick Littlemore of Pnau) regroups for its third.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Look at the cover art across the pair’s three albums, and the images resemble the posters of some flamboyant, big-budget fantasy film trilogy. Perhaps that’s meant to represent the sound of Empire — big, rich, flashy, otherworldly, soaring and evocative of a happy outcome.
“Two Vines” is a divine collection built with multi-layered harmonies, buzzing synths and steady, seamless rhythms. It’s a set where pretty much any cut could be a single, from the bouncy, feel-good vibes spread across tracks such as “Friends” and “Zzz” to the more delicate, heartfelt sways of “There’s No Need” and “First Crush.”
While the guys never stray too far from the styles of their other bands, the “melding” that occurs on every Empire album brings about something fresh and addictive. So prepare to be carried away.
BUY IT?: Yes.
WHITE LIES — “Friends”
THE GOOD: British indie
rock group White Lies gives us its fourth.
THE BAD: The band has yet to make a “great” album. However, “Friends” is a step in the right direction.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The new record certainly is more accomplished than 2013’s tepid “Big TV.” Yet, White Lies’ biggest problem remains its identity crisis. The boys always remind you of SOME OTHER BAND. Whether it’s the dark, urban nightlife escaping from a decade-old Interpol record; the rock-based pulsations that carried a Killers set; or a bold melody resembling some past Editors hit, White Lies constantly recalls the best bits from the outside work of others.
So no points for originality. “Friends” does score points for some pretty solid (and soaring) songs, however. Tracks such as “Take It Out on Me” and “Swing” boast memorable hooks galloping over thick, rich backing tracks. And the new set contains far more songs worthy of repeating as opposed to forgettable duds (unlike the aforementioned “Big TV”).
BUY IT?: Why not?
Toothless didn’t take its name from the main character of “How To Train Your Dragon,” but the band rolls with the link.
After connecting through Luzerne County Community College’s music recording technology program, the five-piece metalcore band from Shavertown found its groove to play in and around Northeast Pennsylvania.
Toothless gained local fame through its reach across subgenres of metal, pulling influences from various hardcore and mathcore national acts. And despite its name, the band put some serious bite in its music, proven by its Steamtown Music Award win for Metal Act of the Year in 2016.
Now the quintet — made up of Travis Antoniello on vocals, Eric Novroski on guitar and vocals, Brian Zannetti on guitar, Scott Wood on bass and James Slattery on drums — expands its shows to reach past NEPA to Philadelphia and Maryland.
Q: How did you each get involved in music?
James Slattery: My dad bribed me to take drum lessons with “Star Wars” toys when I was 4. I hated it at first but eventually grew to love it.
Scott Wood: Musical family.
Brian Zannetti: My dad had guitars around the house, and I started bugging him for guitar lessons when I was 10.
Eric Novroski: I started playing drums when I was 6 and picked up guitar when I was 13. My dad is a guitar collector, so it was easy to pick up a guitar when I wanted.
Travis Antoniello: I picked up my dad’s bass when I was around 9. He started teaching me some chords, and I eventually got my own, little, mini acoustic.
Q: What do you remember about the first time you performed together?
TA: Our first show was at the Otherside in Wilkes-Barre. James bled everywhere, Eric was wearing short shorts, Scott was wearing Daisy Dukes and knee-high socks, I was wearing an ugly Christmas sweater (not for long), and Brian hadn’t joined yet.
Q: What is the process for writing music?
SW: Eric and James yelling at each other.
EN: It is a lot of back and forth. We like to work together as a team to have all of our creative minds come together in a song.
Q: How have you changed as a musician?
TA: Being involved in concert and marching band throughout high school helped me learn a lot of music theory and things I otherwise would’ve been oblivious to. Being able to apply all of those skills has been extremely helpful.
Q: What are some of your favorite memories?
EN: It’s hard to narrow it down. There are so many good memories I have from this band. At one of our shows, James ended up wearing a gigantic Trump mask, and we had a Trump “wall of death.”
TA: One of our fans hand-hammered a steel battle shield with our “T” logo on it. It’s awesome.
SW: Playing Halloween shows, collectively dressed as Lt. Dangle from “Reno 911.”
BZ: During a show, I tripped over a cable and almost fell into Eric’s rig.
Q: How has the NEPA music scene changed?
JS: Over the past 10 or so years, it seems like there are just less and less bands popping up or sticking around. It wasn’t uncommon 10 years ago to go to a local show and consistently see 50 to 100 kids coming out. It seems as time goes on, there is just less and less interest in the local scene in the area, both with forming bands and coming out to shows, which I think has a lot to do with the constantly decreasing number of venues that support original, local music. With that being said, there still are some awesome bands popping up and a solid group of people dedicated to keeping the scene alive, at least in this genre of music.
Q: What are your future goals for the band?
TA: We are striving to make this our career. Being on the road and playing shows as much as we possibly can, seeing the world doing what we love to do, meeting new people and experiencing new things.
— charlotte l. jacobson
Founded: December 2015
Based out of: Shavertown
Members: Travis Antoniello, vocals; Eric Novroski, guitar and vocals; Brian Zannetti, guitar; Scott Wood, bass; and James Slattery, drums.
For fans of: Norma Jean, Every Time I Die and the Dillinger Escape Plan
Genre: Metalcore, with hardcore and mathcore influences
Online: toothlessbandpa.com, toothlessbandpa.bandcamp.com, Toothless Band PA on Facebook, @toothlessbandpa on Instagram and Twitter
DAWES — “We’re All Gonna Die”
THE GOOD: Los-Angeles folk-rockers Dawes release their fifth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: This might be their best album yet. That claim is highly subjective, but I don’t ever remember a Dawes set sounding this focused. The melodies are bolder and brighter, and the arrangements are airtight. On more than one occasion, the lyrics spin compelling tales of everyday challenges along with human triumphs and tragedies. Tracks like “Less Than Five Miles Away” and “For No Good Reason” boast tiny, vivid vignettes starring lovers, criminals, the lonely, the forgotten and a host of other interesting players.
The only gripe long-time fans may have with “Die” is that the rock elements dominate the acoustic sounds this time. “One of Us” possesses genuine guitar bite. Swirling reggae organs add color to “Picture of a Man.” A pre-Beatle R&B swing lurks beneath the beat of “As If by Design.” Yet Dawes makes these slight alterations work extremely well within the already strong compositions.
BUY IT?: Definitely.
LEWIS DEL MAR — “Lewis Del Mar”
THE GOOD: Lewis Del Mar is a band, not a guy. Or more specifically, it’s a duo consisting of co-writers/producers/multi-instrumentalists Danny Miller and Max Harwood. This self-titled effort is their slightly flawed debut.
THE BAD: “Lewis” is a good start, but these guys are still carving out their own distinct style.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Conceived and recorded in and around the pair’s Rockaway Beach, New York, bungalow, the record is a multi-layered mix of lo-fi drums and beat-box loops, electric and acoustic guitars and “found sounds” (subways, ambient noise, random conversations, etc.) grabbed up around the five boroughs.
The tunes fall somewhere between indie rock and modern roots music. I’m detecting echoes of Red Hot Chili Peppers within the vocals and the slap-dash blues of G. Love and Special Sauce spread across the backing swagger. There’s a cool attitude running through these tracks (even the more angst-riddled ones such as “Loudy”) — just another day of jamming and kicking it in the sunshine.
BUY IT?: Your choice.
BON IVER — “22, a Million”
THE GOOD: Indie folk outfit Bon Iver (still the brainchild of singer/songwriter Justin Vernon) finally follows up its Grammy Award-winning sophomore effort, “Bon Iver, Bon Iver” (2011).
THE BAD: Nothing, but keep an open mind.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The band’s music has come full circle. Bon Iver was an acoustic act musicians from other genres wholly embraced. Kanye West even sampled and gave its track “Woods” an almost complete makeover. So now, “22, a Million” finds Vernon and his crew using the electronic. The album is filled with unexpected samples, loops and icy affected voices (and saxophones).
The overall effect isn’t so much “Dylan goes electric” but rather a guitar-based band smashing all expectations and embracing dissonant sounds. Many reviewers are calling this record Bon Iver’s “Kid A,” and that’s not too far off the mark. It’s also a starkly personal set. Underneath all the studio reverberations, Vernon’s songs speak of conflict resolution, tragedies and opaque predictions — not exactly “switched-on fluff.”
BUY IT?: You must.
SUPER AWESOME ’90s DANCE PARTY
A TRIBE CALLED QUEST — “We Got It from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service”
THE GOOD: 1990s hip-hop
legend A Tribe Called Quest regroups against all odds and makes one of the finest albums of the group’s career.
THE BAD: Phife Dawg died last year, so “We Got It” isn’t the beginning of the group’s next set of fantastic albums. It is the end.
THE NITTY GRITTY: But what a way to go out. Here we have a group refusing to rest on its laurels. Musically, this is hip-hop straight out of the golden age. It’s a sample-heavy turntable record boasting snippets of everyone from Elton John to Musical Youth to Willy Wonka. Lyrically, the work is firmly grounded in the present, politically charged and very intelligent.
Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and even Phife Dawg (most of the record was completed before his death) all sound re-energized, each vocalist delivering compelling verses before effortlessly passing the mic. And there isn’t a wasted second here — no superfluous links or skits. ATCQ means business.
BUY IT?: Yes.
THE ORB — “COW/Chill Out World”
THE GOOD: British electronic legend the Orb plugs in for its 14th album.
THE BAD: No complaints. Just realize that “COW” is very “chill” indeed.
THE NITTY GRITTY: 1990 — The KLF releases “Chill Out,” one of the finest ambient records of all time. 1991 — The Orb, headed by one-time KLF collaborator Alex Paterson, creates genre-defining, ambient house album “The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld.” Both sets become seminal electronic works.
If those two records came together and produced an inspired offspring, it would be “COW/Chill Out World.” Paterson had a hand in all this stuff, so why not? Meant to be taken as a whole, this new Orb album is a happy medium between tranquil environmental settings and more direct, beat-heavy music.
It’s a serene collection comprised of found sounds, offbeat spoken samples (an Orb tradition) and the occasional delicate yet powerful groove brought in to ensure that we don’t totally drift off (although falling asleep to this mix is divine).
BUY IT?: Yes.
ENIGMA — “The Fall of a Rebel Angel”
THE GOOD: German electronic outfit Enigma returns with its eighth outing (and first in eight years).
THE BAD: Same vibe. Different decade.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Back in the early 1990s, Enigma rode the “new age” wave straight up the pop charts with its Gregorian chant-filled sex romp “Sadeness (Part 1).” That sultry record helped open the floodgates for acts such as Deep Forest and Robert Miles, not to mention the mainstream acceptance of new-age superstar Enya.
Twenty-five years later, producer/composer/musician Michael Cretu remains the mastermind behind the Enigma project. And he’s still up to his tried-and-true techniques. Chants; throaty, purring female vocalists; delicate yet grinding backbeats; soft, cascading synths — all that fluff is here.
And on “Angel,” it’s still soothing, agreeable and even slightly hypnotic. But it’s also horribly dated. So if you want to hook up with your old high school girlfriend and relive that steamy night in your parents’ basement, this is the album for you.
BUY IT?: Your call. We’ve already been here.
Charles Havira and his collaborators hope fans “turn the volume up quite loud” to listen to his recently released album, “Actual.”
The new work came together over the past few years, mostly because of coordinating the schedules of the other musicians who appear on the folk, rock and roots artist’s album.
“I hope they enjoy it and stop and really listen,” said Havira, an Archbald resident. “I hope it strikes them in some way and makes them think. … Stops them and kind of catches them off-guard.”
Artists Havira collaborated with on “Actual” include guitarist Justin Mazer and drummer Al Smith from varied-genre group Tom Hamilton’s American Babies and bassist Dylan Skursky from bluegrass band Cabinet. Hariva not only admires their talent but also said their dedication to the songs on the album makes him want to collaborate with them more.
The musicians also accompanied Havira during his most recent performances. He enjoys the moments when everything and everyone come together on stage.
“Sometimes, it feels like you’re playing the guitar, and it seems like a challenge,” he said. “Sometimes it feels effortless. … That makes me very happy — definitely fulfilled.”
Fans can catch Havira on Saturday when he and guitarist Jon Nova open the show at a benefit for Standing Rock Indian Reservation beginning at 4 p.m. at Sandy Valley Campground, White Haven. Havira also takes the stage Sunday, Feb. 5, at 7 p.m. at Turkey Hill Brewing Co., Bloomsburg.
“Actual” is available for purchase at Joe Nardone’s Gallery of Sound, Wilkes-Barre. For online availability, visit charleshavira.com or his artist Facebook page.
Meanwhile, folk rock musician Timothy Underberry, known to NEPA folks as Tom “T.L.” Lavelle from the Green Ridge section of Scranton, recently released his third album, “Nantucket Sound.” Now a Boston resident, Lavelle said the album was two years in the making. It follows a similar style to his previous albums, “Ketty’s Kitchen: A Tale in 12 Songs” and “The Moviegoer,” in that he first wrote the songs then enlisted musicians and vocalists to play and sing on the tracks. He hopes fans are ready for this new batch of songs, all sung by “American Idol” contestant Jesse McCullagh.
“It’s better for the listener, because singing is not my strong suit,” Lavelle joked. “I’m a ‘behind-the-scenes guy.’”
Lavelle said he wanted a more homegrown, raw tone on “Nantucket Sound,” available on iTunes, Spotify and his website, timothyunderberry.com. Fans also can find physical copies at Joe Nardone’s Gallery of Sound locations.
Listeners hear acoustic and electric guitars, cellos, accordion and fiddle on the album as well as something else that might be particularly special to locals. He wrote the song “A Scranton Girl” for his wife, Pat, but the playful, nostalgic song that mentions Green Ridge, South Side and Marywood University is devoted to the “loveliest, funniest and most genuine women” he has ever known who hail from NEPA.
“Being from Scranton is the gift that keeps on giving,” Lavelle said.
— gia mazur
Some Dance. Some Don’t.
THE NAKED AND FAMOUS — “Simple Forms”
THE GOOD: New Zealand indie pop outfit Naked and Famous comes back with a seamless third.
THE BAD: It’s hardly a great album, but there are many satisfying moments.
THE NITTY GRITTY: “Simple Forms” finds the band playing it safe (the title really describes the record), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Female/male front team Alisa Xayalith and Thom Powers are rather adept at leading their crew through a series of direct, no-nonsense, catchy pop songs in which the guitars and synths come together harmoniously over smooth beats.
Tracks such as ringing lead single “Higher” and the rolling “The Runners” are instantly fetching, reeling us in with soaring melodies and punchy rhythms. There’s nothing here you haven’t heard before, but not every album has to be a game-changer. Naked and Famous knows its capabilities and thrives within these comfortable surroundings. You’ll come back to “Simple Forms” after that first spin, even if it’s just for the next jog around the park. Feel-good stuff indeed.
BUY IT?: Sure.
THE ALBUM LEAF — “Between Waves”
THE GOOD: Multi-instrumentalist and producer Jimmy LaValle goes the “band” route on Album Leaf’s sixth outing.
THE BAD: No complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Album Leaf always has been LaValle either working alone or with an ever-changing roster of musicians. “Between Waves” finds him sharing the spotlight with a more established group of people, and the record definitely has a more collaborative vibe because of it.
The band takes us through a mostly ambient affair (only three of the eight tracks have vocals). However, it’s not “ambient” in the strict electronic sense, but rather in a cool cascading non-intrusive manner. The rhythms are seamless, the melodies delicate. Beats combine with both keyboards and reserved guitars. Distant trumpets even add a little jazz to the mix.
It all adds up to a pulsating, slick affair, one that’s gentle but never outright weak. And when LaValle adds lyrics, we get a handful of very accomplished indie pop gems riding foamy waves of forward momentum.
BUY IT?: I would.
BANKS — “The Altar”
THE GOOD: California singer/songwriter Jillian Rose Banks (stage name simply Banks) comes back with her second.
THE BAD: There’s no sophomore slump here, but “Altar” is still not much of an improvement over 2014’s tepid “Goddess.”
THE NITTY GRITTY: Banks’ music falls somewhere between indie pop and R&B, with its dark, churning beats firmly grounded in the urban mainstream. Yet, both the synths on top and her singing style fit nicely alongside any modern rock outfit. In the past, Banks toured with the Weekend AND hit the alternative charts, so she’s definitely blurring genres.
Too bad her records contain only fantastic highlights set against uninspired filler. She has yet to make a great ALBUM. “The Altar” continues in this mediocre vein. For every slamming, bouncing “Trainwreck” or “This Is Not About Us,” there’s a dull-edged “Mother Earth.” And after a while, a sort of sameness falls over the proceedings as songs melt together. Perhaps she needs more exciting material?
BUY IT?: Your call.
The guys in four-piece rock outfit E57 grew from highly musical backgrounds, from families full of musicians to “stealing” their parents’ cassette tapes. So ending up with instruments in hand, writing their own music, never seemed like a stretch of the imagination.
Now the quartet — made up of Johsua Zurek on vocals and guitar, Michael “Duds” McDonald on lead guitar, Chris Sheerin on bass and A.J. Lanieski on drums — performs all over the region and released an EP, “Ep57.” The record is a mix of upbeat, happy songs with funky tunes and some “straight-up rock” the group performed over the years. It is available on iTunes, Spotify and Amazon Music.
Q: Where did your band name come from?
Joshua Zurek: Well, Duds and I were hanging out one time… My old car had a display above the rear-view mirror that read what direction the car was facing and what the temperature was outside. I remember asking him, “Well, we’re never going to come up with a name, so do you just want to use that?” as I pointed to the display reading ‘E57.’
Q: Tell me about “Ep57.” How long have
you guys been working on it? And what is the sound like?
Chris Sheerin: “Ep57” is a compilation of songs new and old that we’ve been playing during our time as a band. Songs like “Pinch Better” and “Angels” are older songs Josh and Duds wrote before I joined the band. Then we have newer songs like “Say My Name” and “Tomorrow’s Too Late.”
A.J. Lanieski: For the time I’ve been with them, it’s been energetic, and they’re all dedicated to the music. The sound is a nice blend of Josh’s catchy vocals and rhythm mixed with Mike’s awesome leads and solos, topped off with great bass lines rolled out by Chris. Everybody works well together, and it shows in the music.
Q: How have you changed as a musician over the years?
JZ: I like to believe I’ve become more open-minded to music I listen to and music we write. Back in high school, I listened strictly to heavier music and tried to force myself to write heavier stuff myself. Now, I don’t try to force myself to listen to anything or to write a certain way. I listen to whatever I’m in the mood for and play whatever I’m having fun with.
Michael “Duds” McDonald: I started out just learning classic rock tunes and playing for family. When I started playing original music, I naturally went for a fast solos, shred vibe. Playing with E57, I’ve learned to not go overboard and really write what fits better musically, and adds to the song, rather than what sounds fancy.
AL: I started out with classic rock, grunge, thrash metal and punk. Music of that nature. As time went on, I branched into a slower style… E57 brings a lot of energy and makes it a lot of fun to play, allowing me to mix all the styles I’ve enjoyed and be creative and wild as possible.
Q: What are some of your favorite memories as a part of this band?
JZ: There are a lot of favorite memories I have from this band. We were nominated for best local alternative act in the Scranton Music Awards this past summer, which was surreal.
MM: Seeing the growth of the band has been really exciting. From jamming in a bedroom to opening up for the Ataris at the Leonard (Theater) — it’s a great feeling to see our progression.
CS: Recording the EP at JL Studios was definitely a highlight, especially with how well it came out. Getting to play the FuzzFest Battle of the Bands this year was another great memory. We didn’t win, but we got to play with all these great local bands like Black Tie Stereo and Jung Bergo for a chance to open for Weezer.
AL: Hanging out and laughing at stupid stuff is a great time aside from playing. Opening at the Leonard Theatre for the Ataris was a wild experience. And the following gigs introduced me to some awesome bands and people.
Q: How has the Northeast Pennsylvania music scene changed over the years?
MM: I’ve only been a part of the scene for about two years, but the talent is endless. The support for local musicians is growing.
CS: I think it’s gotten bigger and better in a lot of ways. When I was growing up, the local scene was much smaller, and the vast majority of bands were either pop punk bands or screamo/hardcore bands, but now there are so many different bands and genres. I would only say there’s one downside to the local music scene, and that is that the shows and venues aren’t as big as they used to be. There used to be a lot more all-age venues and places for bands to play, which helped bring a larger, more diverse crowd.
Q: What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a musician?
JZ: Back in the summer, I started wondering if I should give up music. I won’t get much more into it, but it was definitely one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make. I’m glad I didn’t give it up; that would have been a huge mistake.
MM: Believing in my abilities.
CS: Just keeping up with it. Balancing my work life, social life and band life is a challenge.
AL: Balancing life, fighting existential dread. It’s not easy to make your own way.
Q: What are your future goals for the band?
JZ: Some of our goals are to definitely get more shows, get bigger shows and to do our best to expand our music out and get it heard.
CS: Releasing our EP was a big goal of mine that I’m happy we accomplished. Next big goal would be to record and release a full-length album.
— charlotte l. jacobson
Meet the band
Based out of: Scranton
Members: Joshua Zurek, vocals and rhythm guitar; Michael “Duds” McDonald, lead guitar; Chris Sheerin, bass guitar; and A.J. Lanieski, drums.
For fans of: A Day To Remember, Say Anything, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blink-182
reverbnation.com/e57 and @E57Music on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat
LOCAL NATIVES —
THE GOOD: California indie pop outfit Local Natives gets “sparkly” on its third.
THE BAD: For some, the band’s sound already shifted in the wrong direction, away from the early modern, folk-influenced stuff into more mainstream territories with synths and layered rhythms. “Sunlit Youth” continues that trend. Whether that’s “bad” or not depends upon
THE NITTY GRITTY: Singer/guitarist Taylor Rice leads his crew through a set of solid poppers. Brightly colored, rolling pieces such as “Past Lives” and “Masters” tumble across our ears on big world beats and jangly guitars. “Coins” is a stab at blue-eyed soul. The bittersweet “Dark Days” finds the boys sharing the spotlight with Cardigans frontwoman Nina Persson. “Sea of Years” is the big, bold closer that could serve as the perfect swaying climax to any Local Natives show.
It all adds up to an enjoyable, albeit somewhat predictable, album. You’ve heard the bulk of “Youth” in other places before. Still, good pop ain’t bad.
BUY IT?: Your choice.
ELEPHANT STONE — “Ship of Fools”
THE GOOD: Canadian psychedelic indie rockers Elephant Stone come back with their fourth.
THE BAD: No real complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Still fronted by vocalist/bassist/sitar player Rishi Dhir, Elephant Stone turned down the psychedelics (just a smidge) and turned up the pop sensibilities on “Ship.” No worries, though; the record doesn’t play it completely straight as the sonic soundscapes remain. The new album, however, is a little less Kula Shaker and a little more Oasis or even World Party (hey — it had a “Ship of Fools,” too).
More than a few tunes latch onto a seamless groove (“Where I’m Going”) or a huge melody (“Photograph”) and prove what we’ve suspected all along — that Dhir has just as much respect for classic pop as he does for the sounds of India. And when he combines the two, the end result can be hypnotic. “Ship” simply makes the music more accessible without taking it into dull or predictable territories.
BUY IT?: Surely.
JAMIE LIDELL — “Building a Beginning”
THE GOOD: British modern soul singer/songwriter Jamie Lidell comes back with his seventh.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Falling somewhere between the funky safe zone that was “Jim” (2008) and the noisy experimentation spread across “Compass” (2010), the smart, soulful “Beginning” is indeed just that. It’s Lidell’s first release since leaving indie electronic powerhouse Warp Records and his first work written and recorded after the birth of his son, Julian, the namesake of one of the set’s most jubilant, catchy tracks.
From the reggae-flavored “How Did I Live Before Your Love” to the gospel-tinged “Motionless,” the album is packed with both pure (and rather positive) emotion and honest performances. Lidell makes the electronic enhancements of past albums take a back seat to more stripped-down instrumentation. “Beginning” gives off a more spontaneous vibe.
This new (or classic?) attitude works extremely well for both the singer and the material, and everything comes together to make a big, beautiful noise.
BUY IT?: Yes.
UP CLOSE & PERSONAL
WITH ALAN K. STOUT
Aaron Fink is a professional musician who will release his third solo album, “Galaxies,” on Jan. 20. Fink is a native of Rochester, New York, but grew up in Selinsgrove and has lived in the Wyoming Valley/Luzerne County area for the past 18 years. He studied music at Duquesne University and received a degree in music engineering from Full Sail University. Before launching his solo career, he was lead guitarist for Breaking Benjamin and a member of Lifer, both national recording artists. In addition to his solo work, he plays with the band Gentleman East. He has a son, Gavin, 15. He lives in Dallas.
Meet Aaron Fink …
“Galaxies” is your third solo album in just three years, and you continue to be very prolific as an artist. I can’t think of any other regional songwriter who has released more music in recent years. What do you attribute that to?
I’m just writing a lot. I started writing, like it’s my job, six or seven years ago, so I’ve cataloged quite a number of songs. There’s a song on “Galaxies” that’s 12 years old. Some were songs that were just laying around and I dusted off. I chip away at it. And I also overwrite. For every song that I release out into the wild, I may have written 10.
But still, even though you’ve taken a workman-like approach to writing, you need to be inspired. What’s your muse these days when it comes to songwriting?
Life. It’s as simple as that. And, a) I think I’m an old soul, and b) I had all of this crazy (stuff) happen to me before I was 25 years old. By the time I was 25, I was a father, I was on my second record deal, I owned a house, and then all of this other stuff happened beyond that. I certainly haven’t had a boring life. It’s been quite eventful, and sometimes with extreme highs and extreme lows, so I feel like I have a lot to draw from. I guess everybody does, but I guess I just figured out a way to channel that into lyrics and melodies and something that fits around some chords on a guitar. Some stuff is personal, and some is more relatable to everybody. I think all great songs may start personally, but they’re open-ended enough that someone could say, “That means something to me,” and you could put yourself in it.
You’re not only a guitarist but also a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist. You even play drums, and you’re a producer and a songwriter. What do you consider yourself the most?
On a good day, I think I’m a good guitar player. Although if I practiced more, I’d probably be better. And I think I’m blossoming into a good songwriter. I use the guitar as a tool, but the thing I care about the most is good songs. I like good songs. I think everybody does. And that helps me as a producer or playing other instruments, because I’m not just focused on the guitar.
“Galaxies” was recorded at S.I. Studios in Old Forge, and you’ve now recorded three solo albums at three studios. Why have you chosen to keep moving around?
Mostly just to mix it up and keep it fresh. And maybe just to get some different sounds and meet some different people that might push me in a way I haven’t been pushed. To me, I equate making a record to making a movie, and you wouldn’t make the same movie in the same location over and over.
Your time with Breaking Benjamin was remarkable, in that you were a part of several gold and platinum albums. And yet your departure from the band was fairly turbulent. How does it feel to you today when you hear one of those songs on the radio?
I have mixed emotions. I guess it depends on the song and what was going on at that time. But that’s a good problem to have. I’m pretty OK with all of that at this juncture. It’s been quite a few years, and I’m moving on with different stuff. I feel comfortable with what I’m doing now and comfortable with my past. It was a good band, and the songs I was a part of were good songs.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
First and foremost, for me, is being a dad and being the best father I can be. Other than that, I guess I’m a bit of a movie buff. I don’t go to the theaters as much as I used to, but I digest a lot at home on Netflix.
Who are some of your all-time favorite musical artists?
I like a lot of oddball stuff, but I always come back to the same stuff that everyone else likes: the Beatles, Tom Petty, Zeppelin, Floyd … I really like Dave Matthews and Pearl Jam and a lot of that early ’90s stuff. Chili Peppers, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. And I like old-school hip-hop, like Run-D.M.C. and Ice-T. I like a little bit of it all.
Do you follow sports?
I like nerdy sports, like golf and tennis, but If I had to pick a city I associate with the most, it’s Pittsburgh. The Steelers, Pirates and Penguins.
Do you remember your first car?
Yes, unfortunately. It was a 1983 maroon Nissan Sentra station wagon with a hole on the driver’s side floor. When it rained, it would fill up an inch or two, and I’d have to let it air out. Pretty rugged. But you’ve got to start somewhere.
Either sushi of good Mexican.
You’ve toured the entire country several times. What’s your favorite city?
The ones that I’ve always liked were northern and kind of mountainous and had some water going on. That’s Seattle. That’s Pittsburgh; Portland, Oregon; and Portland, Maine. And San Francisco is great. But if I had to pick one, Seattle.
Favorite thing about Northeast Pennsylvania?
Probably the people. I’ve garnered quite a few really good, lifelong friends here. And this city has been very generous to me in terms of my career, which I’m thankful for.
All-time favorite movie?
I like all of the Kubrick stuff — “The Shining” and “A Clockwork Orange.” I also like “Dazed and Confused” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”
Favorite TV show?
“Breaking Bad.” And I was a huge fan of Miami Vice.”
Favorite book or author?
My favorite author is Jim Harrison, who just passed away last year. He’s best known for “Legends of the Fall,” which was made into a movie, but he’s got a great repertoire of awesome stuff.
My best friend, Lola. She’s a Weimaraner.
Have you had a moment in your life, or a time in your life, that has helped define you and make you the person you are today?
Becoming a father. It keeps me grounded. It keeps me responsible. It keeps me working. It keeps me behaving. It keeps me focused on things that matter. Especially being a professional musician, I think I could have gotten really lost without that. When I came home from the road, being a dad was the thing I could always hang my hat on. It just makes me a better man.
UP CLOSE & PERSONAL with ALAN K. STOUT is a regular feature in electric city, profiling people from all walks of life throughout NEPA. Reach Alan at email@example.com.
PHOTOS BY EMMA BLACK
Chris James and C.J. Krukowski laughed as they described being in a band as like being in a marriage.
They might not share a Netflix queue or fight over picking drapes, but bandmates do spend a lot of time together, eat together and travel together.
“You really get to know each other,” said James, who performs in Threatpoint with Krukowski, Alex Olivetti and Matt Van Fleet.
When the connection really works, it benefits the song—creation process.
“The other person already knows where they’re going with it,” James said.
Krukowski said getting into that groove can take some time.
“The more you play, the more shows you get, the more you write,” he said. “It’s more serious. You chalk it down as experience.”
The band started in 2012 after bands the founding members belonged to — James with Dropveil and Krukowski and Olivetti with Temptation Denied — both folded. When the trio got together, they knew they had something, as each member brought different musical tastes. James grew up listening to the Doors, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, while Krukowski had a taste for Metallica. Olivetti, meanwhile, grew up liking bands such as Pantera and Sevendust.
Together they released the albums “Dead To Rise” and “Careful What You Wish For” in 2013 and 2014, respectively. The group switched up its lineup in late 2015 when it added Van Fleet, who didn’t get his start in music until after serving as a Marine (he performed with Cause of Affliction for a couple of years before that band split up).
With this lineup, the “marriage” seems to be working. The groove metal band was in sync as it put together its third album, “R.I.P.,” released in October.
“You get a knack for what works and what doesn’t,” Krukowski said. “Some songs come easier.”
The album took a year to make, he said, and the group hopes it expands its fan base. The CD is available for $10 on the group’s website, www.threatpointofficial.com, and iTunes.
“We’re happy it’s released,” Krukowski said.
— patrick abdalla
Members: Chris James, vocals; Alex Olivetti, guitar; C.J. Krukowski, drums; and Matt Van Fleet, bass
Based out of: Scranton
Genre: Groove metal
For fans of: Black Label Society, Devil Driver, Avenged Sevenfold
Online: Threatpointofficial.com, facebook.com/threatpoint
Drums native Kira Krakovesky builds fanbase with voice, social media
Kira Krakovesky’s Instagram profile keeps it simple: “I sing and play with hair.” Those two hobbies leave her busy.
The Drums native spends time in New York City and Northeast Pennsylvania, styling and coloring hair, modeling and singing at different venues. As part of the duo Kira + Brooke with Brooke Gerhart, she performs locally at places such as the bars inside Mohegan Sun Pocono.
She belts out the vocals on covers of “What’s Up,” “Creep” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” and she and Gerhart even earned a slot opening for Foreigner at the Pavilion on Montage Mountain a few years ago.
Krakovesky recently took time out of her
schedule to discuss her music career.
Q: How did you get involved in music?
A: I got involved in music from a young age. I always really enjoyed singing and entertaining people. I eventually picked up piano and took lessons, and it just inspired me to be able to accompany myself and write.
Q: What do you remember about the first time you performed in public?
A: I was about 12. It made me feel alive and like I could really express myself.
Q: How have you changed as a musician over the years?
A: I changed throughout the years in the sense of what genres I enjoy and the different directions I’ve chosen to follow career-wise as a musician.
Q: How did you end up teaming with Brooke?
A: Brooke and I have been friends for nearly 10 years. … Music actually brought us together back in the days of Myspace, and from there we’ve played shows together on and off in our own separate musical endeavors. We’ve remained friends throughout the years and just ended up doing acoustic duo stuff within the past year. We work so well together because we are musically compatible (and) flow harmoniously together while also adding our individuality and just simply have fun playing. Our personalities mesh so well together that music just becomes an extension of that.
Q: Who has influenced you over the years?
A: I’ve had a lot of huge influences over my life. … I grew up with a lot of classic rock. I would have to say Stevie Nicks has played a huge role in inspiring me, not just as a writer but also having stamina and holding her own as an independent female artist in this industry.
Q: How have you developed a fan base over the years?
A: Social media. I think social media has been a great influence in connecting with people and just reaching out or keeping them involved in different events.
Q: What is the most challenging part of being a musician?
A: The most challenging part of being a musician is keeping your head up and keeping your passion strong throughout the downfalls and flaws of what the music industry has become. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone is constantly trying to change you. I would have to say the biggest challenge is staying true to yourself.
— patrick abdalla
CYMBALS EAT GUITARS — “Pretty Years”
THE GOOD: Long Island indie rockers Cymbals Eat Guitars come back with a more grounded (and maybe hopeful?) fourth record.
THE BAD: No complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: With the
jittery wail of singer/guitarist Joseph D’Agostino way out in front, the band crashes and burns through tracks both focused and upbeat (“Have a Heart”) and more down-tempo and emotionally
frenetic (murky closer “Shrine”). And in order to keep things intensely interesting, “Pretty Years” covers all points in between these two extremes.
The overall style remains what we’ve come to expect, a brash and crunchy combination of ’80s post-punk (“Close” resembles an early Cure outtake), ’90s indie (Pavement vibes continue to run rampant) and a hint of the spaced-out and quirky (noisy bits a la Flaming Lips).
Lyrically, “Years” is less pessimistic than “Lose” was two years ago. However, D’Agostino remains cautious. We’re not out of the deep, dark forest just yet. So I guess that makes “Pretty Years” a damn fine transitional record.
BUY IT?: Yes.
THEE OH SEES — “A Weird Exits”
THE GOOD: San Francisco indie garage outfit Thee Oh Sees regroups (now boasting TWO drummers) and gives us a cosmic 12th.
THE BAD: Nope. Just be prepared for a not-so-predictable time. Keep a wide-open mind.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist and band founder John Dwyer leads his crew through an eclectic eight-song set featuring everything from simple stomping rockers (“Dead Man’s Gun”) to noise-infused drones (“Ticklish Warrior”) to fuzzy, psychedelic dreamscapes (“Crawl Out into the Fallout”). “Jammed Entrance” is a funk-infused instrumental (having two drummers is rather advantageous). Hazy, organ-soaked closer “The Axis” recalls the stoned splendor of Pink Floyd’s “A Saucerful of Secrets.”
“A Weird Exits” is that rare case in which a band decides to spread out musically and then actually pulls off nearly every experiment with flying colors. One is hard-pressed to find any huge missteps, and the album truly makes us hopeful for more wild sessions in the near future.
BUY IT?: Oh yeah.
WARPAINT — “Head’s Up”
THE GOOD: Female Los Angeles indie rockers Warpaint unleash their third.
THE BAD: Lead single “New Song” may have scared off some longtime fans. It’s a glossy, rhythmic tune that resembles HAIM as opposed to the group’s past progressive tendencies. But fear not — while there are some beat-heavy and/or “pop” moments on the new album, it’s mostly just Warpaint being themselves.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Songs such as “So Good” and “Above Control” bring back the non-traditional song structures, spaced-out settings, layered guitar work and fizzy psychedelics. In many instances, the ladies seem to latch onto bolder and tighter melodies. But they do that without sacrificing the half-dreamy, half-complex uniqueness that put them on the indie map almost a decade ago.
One could argue the band is doing a damn fine job of not falling into the trappings of delivering the same album over and over again. And “Head’s Up” is intriguing and accomplished enough to make us thoroughly optimistic for the NEXT set.
BUY IT?: OK.
A look at the year ahead in local entertainment
Some of Broadway’s most beloved shows drop into Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple, 420 N. Washington Ave., in 2017, starting with Tony-winning musical “Jersey Boys.” Broadway Theatre League of Northeastern Pennsylvania presents the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons from Jan. 17 to 22. Then follows “Cinderella,” which features a new book by Northeast Pennsylvania native Douglas Carter Beane, from March 17 to 19; “The Illusionists” magic show April 22 only; and “Pippin” from May 5 to 7.
Among community theater troupes, Actors Circle presents “Terra Nova” from Feb. 2 to 5 and 9 to 12, “The Women” from March 23 to 26 and March 30 to April 2, and “The Uninvited” from May 25 to 28 and June 1 to 4 at Providence Playhouse, 1256 Providence Road, Scranton.
Diva Theater, 126 W. Market St., Scranton, presents its fourth annual program of original one-act plays, featuring 10 shows from five directors, from Jan. 26 to 29.
At the Dietrich Theater, 60 E. Tioga St., Tunkhannock, the After School Players present “Third Class” on March 4 followed by a community production of “George Washington Slept Here” from April 28 to 30.
F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts, Wilkes-Barre, hosts four major theatrical performances this year, starting with the ABBA musical “Mamma Mia!” on Sunday. Neil Simon’s “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” takes the stage Feb. 17, presented by Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theater. Iconic musical “Annie” visits Feb. 23 followed by the quintessential backstage musical comedy, “42nd Street,” on March 29.
— caitlin heaney west and charlotte l. jacobson
Leesa Bailey, 17, of Binghamton, N.Y., is surrounded in a sea of people as she watches Scranton band Motionless in White perform on Monday during the Vans Warped Tour 16 held at Montage Mountain in Scranton. Butch Comegys / Staff Photographer
The concert calendar already is filling up with a range of genres at venues across the region.
Scranton native rockers the Menzingers celebrate their newest album, “After the Party,” with a free, all-ages release show and meet-and-greet Feb. 4 at Gallery of Sound, 186 Mundy St., Wilkes-Barre.
Soul singer and Broadway veteran Morgan James shares songs from her full-length debut album, “Hunter,” during a March 31 show at Peoples Security Bank Theater at Lackawanna College, 501 Vine St., Scranton.
F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts in Wilkes-Barre ushers in a year of robust talent, starting with a trio of tribute acts: Elvis Lives on Feb. 1, in honor of the King; God Save the Queen on Feb. 3, paying homage to Queen; and “Rain: A Tribute To the Beatles” on March 26.
The Kirby also welcomes country superstar Martina McBride on March 11 and bagpipe-playing rock band Red Hot Chilli Pipers on March 25. Blues group Alexis P. Suter Ministers of Sound celebrates the release of a live album with a performance March 31, while Brian Wilson of Beach Boys fame brings his “Pet Sounds: The Final Performances” tour May 2.
The NEPA Philharmonic’s chamber concerts include “The Enchanting Harp” on Jan. 19; “Meet Laura Gilbert,” March 2; and “Unbuttoned Dvorak,” April 20, all at Sordoni Theater at WVIA, Pittston. The Pops series continues with “A Night at the Oscars” on Feb. 4, and “The Piano Men” on April 1, both in Keystone Grand Ballroom at Mohegan Sun Pocono, Plains Twp. The Masterworks concerts resume with “Orchestra Spotlight: Passion” at Lackawanna College on March 4 and wrap up with “Season’s Grand Finale: Heroes. Passion. Inspiration.” on May 5 at the Kirby.
Grammy-winning country star Dwight Yoakam supports the recent release of his first bluegrass album with a show on Feb. 3 in Keystone Grand Ballroom at Mohegan Sun Pocono. The country craze continues with Brad Paisley on Feb. 16 and Thomas Rhett on March 9 at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza, Wilkes-Barre Twp.
Cove Haven Resort, Lakeville, also offers a year of diverse musical talent, starting with Ja Rule and Dru Hill on March 5. Summer welcomes country singer and “The Voice” champion Cassadee Pope on June 25, while Grammy-winning band Blues Traveler arrives Sept. 3.
Vans Warped Tour plays Scranton again July 10, according to its website, although a venue was not announced.
— charlotte l. jacobson and patrice wilding
After a year that left many feeling pretty down, locals could use a few good laughs. The region serves up some big names and variety with comedy shows in 2017.
Superstars Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy are ready to get ’er done at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza, Wilkes-Barre Twp., on Friday, Jan. 20, at 7:30 p.m. as part of their “We’ve Been Thinking” tour.
Comedy legend John Cleese engages his audience in a Q&A after a screening of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” at F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts, Wilkes-Barre, on Saturday, Jan. 28, at 7:30 p.m.
The next night, Jan. 29, catch “America’s Got Talent” judge and “Bobby’s World” creator Howie Mandel at Cove Haven Resort, Lakeville.
Just for Laughs’ Stand-Up Comedian of 2016, Sebastian Maniscalco, stops by F.M. Kirby Center on Feb. 11 at 7 and 9:30 p.m.
Stand-up comic Kathleen Madigan takes her “Bothering Jesus” tour to Peoples Security Bank Theater at Lackawanna College, 501 Vine St., Scranton, on Friday, March 10, at 8 p.m. as part of the Community Concerts series.
Wisecrackers, meanwhile, continues to host comedians on Friday and Saturday nights at Mohegan Sun Pocono, Plains Twp.
— patrice wilding and charlotte l. jacobson
Whether for food or fun, a number of festivals take place around the region each year.
Enjoy the wonders of the Lackawanna River during Shiverfest on Jan. 14, then head to Dietrich Theater, 60 E. Tioga St., Tunkhannock, for two film festivals featuring foreign, independent and art films. Winter Fest runs Feb. 17 through March 2, and the Spring Film Festival then takes place April 7 through 27 with special activities on each opening night and free post-festival discussions March 3 and April 28.
Clarks Summit hosts the Annual Festival of Ice from Feb. 17 to 20. Join one of the biggest events in downtown Wilkes-Barre, the annual Fine Arts Fiesta on Public Square, from May 18 to 21. On May 27, celebrate a Midvalley tradition, St. Ubaldo Day and Race of the Saints, in Jessup over Memorial Day weekend.
The region celebrates its love of food with the fourth annual Edwardsville Pierogi Festival, June 9 and 10; the Pittston Tomato Festival, Aug. 17 to 20; and Plymouth’s annual Kielbasa Festival, the second weekend of August.
Labor Day weekend offers the chance to commemorate the area’s rich locomotive history during Railfest at Steamtown National Historic Site and its Italian heritage at La Festa Italiana on Lackawanna County Courthouse Square.
— charlotte l. jacobson and gia mazur
Families have a wide selection of events in the area this year, from parades to children’s theater, sports events and circus acts.
At Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza, Wilkes-Barre Twp., events include “Disney on Ice: Passport To Adventure,” Jan. 12 to 16; “Monster Jam,” Feb. 24 to 26; and the Harlem Globetrotters, March 12.
F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts on Public Square, meanwhile, hosts several free children’s events, including “Doktor Kaboom Live Wire! The Electricity Tour” on Jan. 12; Bill Blagg’s “Science of Magic,” Feb. 13; “Story Pirates” interactive stage show, April 7; and “Elephant and Piggie’s We Are in a Play,” May 16.
In addition to the free shows, family-friendly productions coming to the Kirby Center include Cirque du Soleil-type show “Cirque Zuma Zuma,” Feb. 16; percussion sensation “Stomp,” March 15 and 16; “Odd Squad Live,” March 24; Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, April 1; and rhythmic circus “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now,” April 30.
Back in Scranton, families can get into the Irish spirit with the city’s 56th annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, set for March 11.
At Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple, 420 N. Washington Ave., see a favorite TV shows come to life with “Paw Patrol Live! Race To the Rescue” today at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. and “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood Live!” on March 22 at 2 and 5:30 p.m.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins play at the arena through April, with the next home game occurring Friday against the Hershey Bears, and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders hold their home opener April 10 against Lehigh Valley at PNC Field, Moosic.
— charlotte l. jacobson and caitlin heaney west
THE BEST OF 2016
As 2017 inches ever so closer, it’s time to look back and count down the 20 albums that mattered most over the past 12 months.
20. THE LONDON SUEDE — “Night Thoughts” (January)
The Britpop legends continued the comeback that started with 2013’s “Bloodsports” by releasing a record that was even more intriguing and ambitious. “Night Thoughts” ended up being one of the finest albums of a career we thought was over a decade ago.
19. PETER BJORN AND JOHN — “Breaking Point” (June)
The Swedish indie pop band recovered with an album that was its most accomplished since what many consider the group’s career peak, 2006’s “Writer’s Block.” “Breaking Point” found the boys rejuvenated. The songs were their best in quite a while.
18. SCHOOL OF SEVEN BELLS — “SVIIB” (February)
The most bittersweet entry on the list, “SVIIB” would be this indie duo’s final release. The album was completed shortly before multi-instrumentalist/producer Benjamin Curtis’ sudden death because of lymphoma. The record did, however, find the band going out on a very high note.
17. THERMALS — “We Disappear” (March)
The Oregon indie rockers continued to keep things short and sweet, delivering another loud, punchy and, most importantly, catchy collection of terse tunes and fiery deliveries. And even though the band didn’t necessarily break new ground on “Disappear,” it captivated us all by doing what it does best.
16. DAWES — “We’re All Gonna Die” (September)
California folk/rock outfit Dawes always made honest albums, blending indie rock with elements of roots music and modern country effortlessly. “Die” just happened to be its most satisfying and tightest roster of songs so far this decade.
15. CRYSTAL CASTLES — “Amnesty” (August)
Canadian electronic duo Crystal Castles almost imploded shortly after the release of 2012’s “III.” Vocalist Alice Glass split with producer Ethan Kath over the usual pesky “creative differences.” Kath later found vocalist Edith Frances, and the end result was the wickedly compelling “Amnesty.”
14. PORCHES — “Pool” (February)
New York synth-pop outfit Porches dodged the sophomore slump with an album recorded in leader Aaron Maine’s apartment. More “intimate” than most electronic albums, “Pool” was a tidy affair with acoustic tendencies placed within switched-on settings. This juxtaposition of sensibilities simply clicked.
13. MARISSA NADLER — “Strangers” (May)
New England modern folkie Marissa Nadler continued to dazzle us with her stunning voice and candid songwriting. “Strangers” held very few surprises but further displayed the woman’s genuine talents, giving us stark performances without an ounce of gloss in the process.
12. BLEACHED — “Welcome the Worms” (April)
Another dodge of the sophomore slump, this time with the California Clavin sisters and crew giving us an album equally aggressive and infectious. The melodies might have forced you to call this concoction “pop punk,” but that assessment would have been unfair.
11. SANTIGOLD — “99 Cents”
Musically, this record was all over the map. Santigold co-wrote the entire album herself, and “99 Cents” embraced everything from pure pop to electronic to hip-hop to R&B. A highly unpredictable undertaking, the set was worth far more than its title implied.
Uh-oh. Out of room. Come back next week (and next year) and we’ll go over the top ten.
Cabinet takes Kirby main stage with Holiday Show
Cabinet grabs a bigger spotlight than usual when it returns to Northeast Pennsylvania for its annual Holiday Show.
The Scranton-based roots, folk and bluegrass band booked Wilkes-Barre’s F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts for the show the past three years, but this time the group graduates from the Chandelier Lobby to take over the main stage. The concert, which also includes a performance by pianist Holly Bowling, starts at 8 p.m. Friday, and tickets are $20 in advance and $25 the day of the show, plus fees.
“It’s fantastic,” singer and mandolin player J.P. Biondo said of moving to the main stage. “I’ve gone to see many a show at the Kirby, and I just love it. We’re super excited and proud and honored.”
For the past decade, Cabinet has played across the country in venues of all sizes, even at large music festivals. It developed its sound locally, though. After high school, Biondo began playing with friends at open mics as the rest of the band began to fill in. Through writing songs on guitar and mandolin — not fully understanding the genre of music they were creating — and performing semi-regularly at River Street Jazz Cafe in Plains Twp., Cabinet turned out to be a unique, Americana-blended group.
And the landscape of Northeast Pennsylvania seemed to influence the group when it came to writing its multi-genre music.
“When we first started writing, we were writing based on experience in our lives around this area,” Biondo said. “The landscape, more so than anything. Some would be relationship-based, but mostly the landscape really inspired us. It wasn’t really like any other music from around here, but just the lay of the land created us. How it’s just home.”
So it only makes sense that the septet returns each year for the ongoing tradition of performing back home. Biondo credited the region’s fans for boosting their popularity and embracing the group, claiming it “wouldn’t have been possible” without them.
“I always feel very lucky to be playing with this band with the guys, I do,” he added. “Beyond that, I think our fan base really drives this part of it home — we’re good people, too. We just like to have a good time and share some smiles, hang out with friends. At the end of the day, we’re just regular dudes, and that point gets across to our fans. They hold onto that pretty strongly. … They know that when they come out and see a Cabinet show, they are going to be having a good time with friends and like-minded people.”
In addition to Biondo, the band consists of Mickey Coviello, guitar and vocals; Patrick “Pappy” Biondo, banjo and vocals; Dylan Skursky, bass; Todd Kopec, fiddles and vocals; and Jami Novak and Josh Karis, drums and percussion.
While the group works to create a fun atmosphere at its concerts, writing new music on tour is difficult. But for now, J.P. Biondo said, the group is focused on enjoying its upcoming shows, both
at the Kirby Center and its New Year’s Eve concert at the Theatre of Living Arts, Philadelphia.
“We have the greatest job in the world,” he said. “Once you’re on that stage, there’s nothing else like it. You get to express your art and yourself, and do it with your friends. We play some fun awesome music and get paid for it. For me, that’s not even part of the job; getting in the van and driving for eight hours is the job. Playing on stage is all gravy.”
— charlotte l. jacobson
If you go
What: Cabinet Holiday Show, featuring Holly Bowling
When: Friday, 8 p.m.
Where: F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts, 71 Public Square, Wilkes-Barre
Details: Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 the day of the show, available at the box office, 570-826-1100 and kirbycenter.org.