LILY ALLEN — ‘No Shame’
THE GOOD: British singer/songwriter Lily Allen gets
serious on her fourth.
THE BAD: Plenty.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Allen’s first two albums (“Alright Still” and “It’s Not Me, It’s You”) were built upon brilliant, infectious doses of indie pop — upbeat tunes grounded in electro, reggae and dancehall, and lyrics brimming with a cheeky wit and English references galore. Then came 2014’s “Sheezus.” Perhaps that record wasn’t a direct bid for the American mainstream, but it sure sounded like one.
I was hoping Allen would get back to her bubbly roots on “No Shame.” Oh well, maybe next time. Despite the lyrics being emotionally charged and deeply personal, this set lacks any kind of musical spark. Maybe she’s maturing. Maybe she wants to be Adele. Who knows? “No Shame” contains both far too many ballads and a detrimental lack of rich, driving rhythms. Even the upbeat stuff falls flat. This is the first time Allen has given us a record that’s DULL.
BUY IT?: Skip it. You won’t be missing much.
NEKO CASE — ‘Hell On’
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter (and sometimes New Pornographer) Neko Case paints broad strokes on her seventh.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Co-produced by Bjorn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John and featuring a myriad of guests (Mark Lanegan, Eric Bachmann, K.D. Lang), “Hell On” is a lush, multi-colored, genre-smashing work that finds beauty amidst the chaos.
Despite all the collaborators, this is Case’s show. Her always stunning vocals remain the focus, with those golden tones tackling everything from the usual bits of alt-country to progressive rock with all of its quirky chord progressions and tempo changes. “Hell On” is easily the woman’s biggest album to date. Somehow though, Case manages to keep a sense of both urgency and intimacy intact. What we’ve always loved is still here, only in more multifaceted settings.
Whether it’s the dark, girl-group pop of “Bad Luck”; the ragged, back-and-forth running throughout “Sleep All Summer”; or the majestic complexities decorating “Pitch or Honey,” Case sounds inspired again and again.
BUY IT?: Yes.
FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE — ‘High as Hope’
THE GOOD: British indie outfit FATM give us a stripped-down fourth.
THE BAD: Meh…
THE NITTY GRITTY: Even if it’s SUPPOSED to be more intimate and personal, a FATM album should be more exciting than this. Far too much of “High as Hope” is doused in a routine “sameness.” Florence Welch’s vocals are as captivating as ever. The woman knows how to make a melody soar above the clouds in a flash of blinding white light; she’s truly a commanding presence. None of the songs are BAD, yet their settings lack any sort of flash. The rhythmic quirks, bold arrangements and left-of-center darker bits that made past releases not-so-routine are sadly lacking.
Welch and company collaborated with producer Emile Haynie (Lana Del Rey, Bruno Mars, Eminem), so maybe all those lush pianos, choirs and orchestrations were his doing. Not sure. In the end, expect some exceptional songs (as usual) but a lackluster delivery. Here’s hoping the next one is far more adventurous.
BUY IT?: Your call.
By: Clare Collins
Until Sunrise aims to get people onto the dance floor by performing covers of Top 40 songs and 90’s hits.
The members of the group, previously dubbed That 90’s Band, include Scott Wasik on lead vocals and guitar; Gerard Demarco, lead vocals and piano; Carl Hesser, bass guitar; Allen Van Wert, lead guitar; and Randy Elmy, drums. They recently went On the Record to discuss the band’s sound, struggles and goals.
Q: How did Until Sunrise get started?
Wasik: When we were initially That 90’s Band, we thought it was a great idea, being that there were no ’90s cover bands and we all grew up during that decade.
Q: Why did you change your name from That 90’s Band?
Wasik: With the talent each member has and an endless possibility of songs to be learned, we realized we were really limiting ourselves. Over the past two years or so, a lot of the songs we learned weren’t from the ’90s, so it became misleading with the name.
Q: How did you get involved in music?
Hesser: My parents got me into music early on. Back in the ’80s, my dad had a big stereo system and lots of vinyl records. When my sister and I were young, we would always put on records to sing and dance to them. I’ve been into music ever since.
Q: What does it mean for you to play in NEPA? How has NEPA affected your music?
Hesser: It means a ton for me to play in NEPA. Back when I was 21, I would go out and see all these super talented bands killing it at all the big venues in NEPA. I always wanted to be in bands like that. It took many, many years, but I think I did it with this one. NEPA has affected me musically because there is so much talent here. I felt if I wanted to be anybody in the NEPA music scene, I’d better put the work in and make myself the best I can be. Also, the people of NEPA who go out to see bands are very music-savvy. They know talent and know music and won’t settle for sub-par entertainment, so I doubly had to make sure I put on the best show I can.
Q: What do you hope audiences experience at your shows?
Hesser: I hope at every show at least one person goes home thinking, “This was the most fun I have ever had.”
Q: Who are your biggest musical inspirations?
Hesser: In high school, watching Metallica’s James Hetfield and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, I learned that when you’re on stage, you’re not just a guy in a band, you’re a performer to be watched, so put on a performance. Also, many bands from the nu-metal phase in the early 2000s showed me how to let myself go and let the energy of a song be demonstrated through my movements on stage. Lastly, observing Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and his interaction with fans at his performances has taught me that a crowd isn’t just a nebulous “thing”; it’s people. Make eye contact with them. Smile at them. Sing along with them. Point at them so they know you’re singing along with them and that you’re sharing a moment with them. Give them something they can’t get from just listening to a song on the radio.
Q: What is your favorite part about being a musician?
Hesser: Seeing people in the crowd having a blast and knowing you’re helping them have the night of their lives. You can’t beat that.
Q: What do you remember about your first time playing together?
Hesser: My thought was “Wow, these are the most talented group of guys I have ever jammed with. I’d better make sure I know my stuff.”
Q: What does a typical show look and sound like?
Wasik: At this point, we are fortunate enough to draw really well, so we typically have a great crowd and great fans. We invite people up on stage and encourage lots of dancing. As for the sound, we play everything from Bon Jovi to Bruno Mars, and we strive to make it sound as close to the album as possible.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish in the near future?
Wasik: The sky is the limit with this group. Always playing new places in new cities and meeting new people and growing is our main goal.
As a child in Louisiana, Kenny Wayne Shepherd grew up surrounded by music.
With the influence of a radio DJ for a father, the blues musician picked up his first toy guitar around 4 years old, and his first real guitar at 7 after seeing Stevie Ray Vaughn perform live.
“Seeing (Vaughn) was really when I was like, ‘I want a real guitar so I can do this,’” Shepherd said. “I spent several years just sitting around, playing guitar and learning, practicing. By the time I was 13, I was on stage. I didn’t really realize that I wanted to do this for a living at the time, but I loved music.”
Now audiences can hear that love for themselves when the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band and the Beth Hart Band perform Thursday, Aug. 2, at F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts, 71 Public Square, Wilkes-Barre.
More than two decades into a recording career, Shepherd built a powerful reputation as an extremely talented blues guitarist and a riveting live performer. Eight of his 10 studio albums hit No. 1 on the Billboard blues charts, and the band holds the record for the longest-running album on those charts with his sophomore release, “Trouble Is…”
Over the years, the artist received five Grammy Award nominations and two Billboard Music Awards.
About a year ago, the group released its most recent record, “Lay It Down,” which debut at No. 1 on the Billboard blues chart. The band’s 10th studio album explores various genres spanning from blues and rock ‘n’ roll to R&B.
“The material is different,” Shepherd noted. “I don’t want to repeat myself. I like to try different things on different albums. I never wanted my fans to feel like they’re going to know what the record sounds like before they’ve even heard it.”
Shepherd wrote all of the songs on the record, with a variety of co-writers. His favorite tune on it is “Diamonds and Gold” because of the sheer enjoyment he gets out of playing it live for his fans.
“I think that for us, we’re a live performance-based band,” Shepherd explained. “We go and make records, but the albums we make are the vehicle for us to get out on the road and get the music to the people. We’ve built a reputation over the last 25 years that the essence of what we do is live on stage every night. We try to improvise, we jam on some things — it’s a loose situation. We do something different on any given night.”
Although the artist finds it hard to choose just one highlight that sticks out in his career, he finds that the relationships he builds with other musicians became the most valuable aspect of his journey.
“Being on the road for 25 years and playing every night, I think that’s really what helps you to master your craft and help you refine who you are as an artist and what you like to do,” he said. “Over the years, there’s more substance in my music. I’ve become a better entertainer, a guitar player and a better singer. … I’ve just grown as an artist and an individual.”
LAZER GUIDED MELODIES THE VOIDZ — ‘Virtue’
THE GOOD: Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas releases his third album outside the core band and his second with the Voidz.
THE BAD: “Virtue” gets messy in spots and could use a good trim.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The Strokes are an odd lot these days. Their best records are behind the band, and when it DOES release something new, it’s never quite as stimulating as the side stuff put out by Casablancas or Strokes partner Albert Hammond Jr.
“Virtue” is definitely FLAWED, even frustrating in spots, but it’s rarely BORING. At times, Casablancas shows off his pop chops, bringing together big melodies and tight, electric grooves. Tracks such as “Permanent High School” and “Aliennation” are catchy, goofy and at times funky.
Somewhere across its second half, though, “Virtue” morphs into this weird B-sides collection where some ideas don’t quite gel. Whether it’s the lazy noise of “Black Hole” or the droning downer “Pointlessness,” you begin to think the guys should have quit while they were ahead.
BUY IT?: Your call.
BLACK MOTH SUPER RAINBOW — ‘Panic Blooms’
THE GOOD: Pittsburgh-based wacko indie synth project BMSR comes back with its sixth.
THE BAD: Prepare yourself for a freaky mind-meld that won’t make much sense through the first couple of spins. “Panic” isn’t for everybody.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Fronted by Tobacco (the guy), BMSR is all about dark, murky synth pop that’s most definitely better if you’re stoned. “Panic” is the perfect lo-fi “come down” record after a raucous night of unhinged debauchery. Choose your vices carefully, then put this one on and chill.
Swirly bits such as “New Breeze” and “Bottomless Face” ride rhythms, clicks and claps while Tobacco’s vocoder-heavy singing ducks in and out of synthetic squiggles and melodic bloops and bleeps. It’s trippy. It’s spooky. It’s other-worldly.
BMSR is the dark forest just before dawn; a beautiful yet sinister place that’s strangely calming and wildly unpredictable at the same time. Not every experiment works, but the ones that do are endlessly fascinating. Indulge. You know you want to.
BUY IT?: Sure.
CHVRCHES — ‘Love Is Dead’
THE GOOD: Scottish synth-pop band Chvrches keeps the forward momentum going on its third.
THE BAD: Nope. However…
THE NITTY GRITTY: Chvrches brought in an outside producer for the first time, heavy-hitter Greg Kurstin (Sia, Beck, Adele). Kurstin gets co-writing credits on half the songs as well. Some may see this as a bid for the American mainstream. But while “Love Is Dead” is the most straight-forward Chvrches album yet, the band hasn’t lost its deft atmospheric touches or layered cascading walls of sound. Lauren Mayberry also remains one of the most captivating female voices fronting synthetic backdrops today. This time, the woman sings less of introspection and more of the tumultuous world around her.
Chvrches also received some indie help from legendary Eurythmic Dave Stewart and the National’s Matt Berninger. So even though the music is more “high profile,” the melodies are just as dreamy and inviting as ever. Long-time fans will notice the progressions, but none should feel alienated by the outside meddling.
BUY IT?: Definitely.
F.M. Kirby Center, Wilkes-Barre
Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band and Beth Hart Band, Thursday, Aug. 2
Foghat and Savoy Brown, Saturday, Sept. 1
Sebastian Maniscalco, Friday, Sept. 14
Danny Gokey, Saturday, Sept. 29
Dwight Yoakam, Friday, Oct. 5
Wanda Sykes, Thursday, Nov. 1
Stayin’ Alive: One Night of the Bee Gees, Friday, Nov. 2
Joe Nardone Presents: The Command Performance of Chubby Checker and the Platters, Saturday, Nov. 3
Tommy James and the Shondells, Saturday, Nov. 10
Jo Koy, Sunday, Nov. 11
Mount Airy Casino Resort, Mount Pocono
Jay Sean, Saturday, Aug. 4 (Wet Nightclub)
MADEINTYO, Saturday, Aug. 18 (Wet Nightclub)
Michael McDonald, Friday, Aug. 24 (Outdoor Summer Pavilion)
DJ Pauly D, Saturday, Aug. 25 (Wet Nightclub)
Phillip Phillips and Gavin DeGraw, Thursday, Aug. 30 (Outdoor Summer Pavilion)
The Isley Brothers, Saturday, Sept. 1 (Outdoor Summer Pavilion)
Alanis Morissette, Saturday, Sept. 8 (Outdoor Summer Stage)
Leann Rimes, Friday, Sept. 21 (Gypsies Lounge)
Drake White, Saturday, Sept. 22 (Gypsies Lounge)
Tony Orlando, Saturday, Oct. 3
Radisson at Lackawanna Station hotel, Scranton
Scranton Jazz Festival, Friday, Aug. 3, through Sunday, Aug. 5
River Street Jazz Cafe, Plains Twp.
Elephants Dancing, Young Lion and Black Tie Stereo, Friday, Aug. 3
Jordan Ramirez & the Tribe featuring Doghouse Charlie, Saturday, Aug. 4
Galatic Cowboy Orchestra, Thursday, Aug. 16
An Evening with the Quebe Sisters, Friday, Aug. 17
Jam Stampede, Friday, Aug. 24
Mike Dougherty Band, Friday, Aug. 31
Crowded Streets, Friday, Sept. 14
Big D and the Kids Table, Pietasters and Hub City Stompers, Saturday, Sept. 15
Young n Dead, featuring Young at Heart doing Neil Young & Strawberry Jam & Village Idiots doing Grateful Dead, Saturday, Sept. 22
Kung Fu, Thursday, Sept. 27
Penn’s Peak, Jim Thorpe
Guster, Thursday, Aug. 2
Another Day Dawns, Friday, Aug. 3
Nightwind, Saturday, Aug. 4
Becky & the Beasts, Thursday, Aug. 9
Chris Isaak, Thursday, Aug. 16
Fuel & Soul Asylum with Adelitas Way, Friday, Aug. 17
Dave Mason and Steve Cropper, Saturday, Aug. 18
Band of Brothers, Thursday, Aug. 25
Diamond Rio, Friday, Aug. 24
Craig Thatcher Band, Thursday, Aug. 30
Sherman Theater, Stroudsburg
The Bacon Brothers, Thursday, Aug. 2
Saint Slumber, Saturday, Aug. 4
Black Label Society with Corrosion of
Conformity, Thursday, Aug. 9
Acoustic Pursuit EP release show, Friday, Aug. 17
Stereo Jo, Saturday, Aug. 18
Bloom and Bleacher Days, Tuesday, Aug. 21
Michael McDonald, Friday, Aug. 24
Philip Phillips and Gavin DeGraw, Thursday, Aug. 30
The Isley Brothers, Saturday, Sept. 1
Vic DiBitetto, Thursday, Sept. 6
Trombone Shorty’s Voodoo Threauxdown Tour, Thursday, Aug. 2
Styx and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Friday, Aug. 3
Daughtry, Saturday, Aug. 4
Jim Gaffigan, Sunday, Aug. 5
Dierks Bentley, Monday, Aug. 6
Kesha, Tuesday, Aug. 7
Gary Clark Jr., Wednesday, Aug. 8
Grouplove, Thursday, Aug. 9
Brantley Gilbert, Friday, Aug. 10
The Summer Ever After Tour featuring All Time Low and Dashboard Confessional, Saturday, Aug. 11
The Fillmore, Philadelphia
Rico Nasty, Thursday, Aug. 2
Birdtalker, Friday, Aug. 3
Forever in Your Mind, Saturday, Aug. 4
Lydia, Friday, Aug. 10
Niki and Gabi, Sunday, Aug. 12
Playboi Carti, Tuesday, Aug. 14
No Place Like Home, Saturday, Aug. 18
DK the Drummer and Sucre, Sunday, Aug. 18
Descendents, Thursday, Aug. 23
Dirty South Joe X Working on Dying Present: Tear Drop, Thursday, Aug. 23
Electric Factory, Philadelphia
Beres Hammond, Saturday, Aug. 8
Alkaline Trio, Sunday, Aug. 19
Seether, Saturday, Sept. 15
Zhu, Tuesday, Sept. 25
Social Distortion, Friday, Sept. 28
Lost ’80s Live, Saturday, Sept. 29
Trice, Saturday, Oct. 6
Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the
Conspirators, Wednesday, Oct. 10
Ja Rule, Friday, Oct. 12
Trivium, Saturday, Oct. 13
Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
Radiohead, Wednesday, Aug. 1
Super Freestyle Explosion 15th Anniversary Concert, Saturday, Aug. 18
Jeff Lynne’s ELO, Friday, Aug. 24
Elton John, Tuesday, Sept. 11, and
Wednesday, Sept. 12
Sebastian Maniscalco, Thursday, Sept. 13
Drake with Migos, Saturday, Sept. 15
Childish Gambino, Tuesday, Sept. 18
Bruno Mars, Thursday, Sept. 19, and Friday, Sept. 20
Andre Rieu, Friday, Sept. 21
Game of Thrones, Tuesday, Oct. 2
Madison Square Garden, New York City
Rod Stewart with Cyndi Lauper, Tuesday, Aug. 7
Shakira, Friday, Aug. 10
Jason Aldean, Saturday, Aug. 11
Jeff Lynne’s ELO, Tuesday, Aug. 21, and Wednesday, Aug. 22
Drake and Migos, Friday, Aug. 24, through Tuesday, Aug. 28
Dierks Bentley, Saturday, Sept. 8
Childish Gambino, Friday, Sept. 14
Paul Simon, Thursday, Sept. 20, and Friday, Sept. 21
Ozuna, Saturday, Sept. 22
Philip Kirkorov, Sunday, Sept. 23
Beacon Theatre, New York City
Alice Cooper, Thursday, Sept. 6
Eddie B. Teachers Only Comedy Tour, Saturday, Sept. 8
Ian Anderson presents Jethro Tull 50th
Anniversary Tour, Tuesday, Sept. 11
Amos Lee, Friday, Sept. 14
The The, Monday, Sept. 17
James Bay, Tuesday, Sept. 18, and Wednesday, Sept. 19
Hozier, Monday, Sept. 24, through Wednesday, Sept. 26
The Gipsy Kings, Friday, Sept. 28
Celtic Thunder, Saturday, Sept. 29
Mandisa’s Girls Night Live, Sunday, Sept. 30
By: Clare Collins
From kickstarting his music career with his brother Liam to now flying solo, Mickey Spain continues to perform his take on Irish folk music throughout the area.
Spain recently went On the Record to discuss his sound, inspirations and musical challenges.
Q: What is your musical background?
A: Although I grew up in a house steeped in music and having a father that was a folk singer and songwriter, I did not play an instrument or sing a note until I was 26 years old. At 26, I was in a car accident and laid up with back injuries. My father gave me a guitar and a Pete Seeger song book, and it literally changed my life. I taught myself how to play. I never took a lesson (some wouldn’t find that too hard to believe), and I can’t read or write music. I play by ear. I work constantly at my guitar playing, and I am always trying to learn something new.
Q: What does a typical show sound and look like?
A: A typical show for me now is a lot different than it used to be. The format is the same, I suppose, but the content is different. When I was part of the band, we created a show; it had stories, jokes, poems. Highs and lows. It was crafted, and the songs flowed and transitioned seamlessly into one another. And although the show was choreographed, there was always an element of spontaneity that would occur and take on a life of its own as well as instigate banter between ourselves as well as with the audience that made each show special. I still try to stick to the formula, and the spontaneity and banter continues, but now, there’s no one else to rely on to keep it going. It’s just me and the audience, and I don’t mind that. … I like the challenge. I don’t like dead air, so to speak, so I strive to keep the audience engaged. It makes for a better time for them and me. Additionally, now that I’m solo, I can add songs and sing songs that I enjoy singing.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish over the next year?
A: Right now, I am in the process of writing songs for two CDs. Although I’ve recorded seven CDs and two DVDs with (the Makem and Spain Brothers) and (the Spain Brothers), this will be my first as a solo artist. The CD will contain songs about events in the history of Pennsylvania mining. The second recording will be my second CD of original children’s songs. I released my first one in 2003 or so. The hope is to get them out by the spring.
Q: How has living in Northeast Pennsylvania affected your music?
A: I’ve been in NEPA about two and a half years, and I really enjoy it. I like the music scene. While so many venues are doing away with live music, it’s nice to see some that support it and give performers a chance to showcase their talent. Also, since I’ve moved here, I’ve taken a great interest in the mining history of the state, which has led to the idea for my CD.
Q: Has your sound changed over the years?
A: It’s funny, my sound has changed but has also remained the same since I started performing. The genre of music has stayed the same, but the way I deliver a song has more meaning and thought behind it than when I first started performing. I think as I started growing as a performer, listening to and playing with other artists and writing my own stuff, I have developed a style that is my own. It’s not a replica of one artist or inspiration but an amalgamation of all singers and songwriters that have influenced me over the years.
OVER UNDER SIDEWAYS DOWN INSECURE MEN — ‘Insecure Men’
THE GOOD: Insecure Men release a weird and (mostly) wonderful debut record.
THE BAD: Some ideas feel half-baked, with the album more about a particular vibe than individual songs.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Singers/songwriters/multi-instrumentalists Saul Adamczewski and Ben Romans-Hopcraft make up the core of Insecure Men, although these two get copious amounts of help from a variety of players, including producer Sean Lennon. Saul and Sean previously worked together on last year’s Moonlandingz album.
However, Insecure Men hails from a completely different place. Synths are much more prominent, either in a pop setting (“Teenage Toy”) or in a cheeky recollection of vintage exotica (“Heathrow”). Guitars, live drums, and other random instrumentation, however, keep “Insecure Men” from becoming a straight-up electronic record.
Some moments are downright focused and catchy (“I Don’t Wanna Dance”), while others drift along through the hypnotic abyss (“Buried in the Bleak”). Both extremes work, but the upbeat stuff leaves a longer-lasting impression. Time will tell if this is a one-off project or not.
BUY IT?: Your choice.
DR. DOG — ‘Critical Equation’
THE GOOD: Philadelphia indie rock outfit Dr. Dog comes back with a varied 10th.
THE BAD: No complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: At times, Dr. Dog tries to be all things to most people, an indie band not afraid to wear ’60s influences on its sleeve (Beach Boy harmonies, vintage folk rock and the occasional stoner jam) while flirting with straightforward pop songs and/or more intricate, progressive arrangements. It makes ANY Dog set an unpredictable listening experience, and most of its albums work extremely well as uninterrupted, cohesive works.
“Equation” is no exception. Whether it’s the eerie blue hues coloring “Listening In”; the bright, infectious “True Love”; or the moody burn permeating “Buzzing in the Light,” each track is unique and well executed. The band often finds that sweet spot between the calculated and the spontaneous. The songs aren’t sloppy, but their energy isn’t stifled, either. One could say the records are slightly interchangeable, but that loose vibe works time and again.
BUY IT?: Sure.
ACID DAD — ‘Acid Dad’
THE GOOD: New York indie psychedelic rockers Acid Dad shines on its full-length debut.
THE BAD: Nah.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The boys channel early Charlatans UK and Ride, bringing us back to late 1990, the golden age of shoegaze, and the heady days of Madchester right before the American Nirvana explosion. I’m not sure that was their intention, but that’s what THIS old man hears.
About half the record cranks and crackles with energy, with guitar-driven, danceable bits such as “Mr. Major” and “2Ci.” Then you get the down-tempo, spaced-out drones such as “Child” and the pedal steel-colored “Dissin.” Between those two extremes, one finds cool, even-paced, swirly freak-outs such as the wispy and jangly “Mow My Lawn” and “No Answer.”
“Acid Dad” the album settles within that happy medium between the hyper and the hypnotic. You can drift to this stuff without falling asleep. The sheer volume and sharp changes of pace will make sure of that.
BUY IT?: YES. A smart debut indeed.
Since bursting onto the local music scene two decades ago, Slapjaw has become an indelible fixture in the heavy metal/hardcore pantheon of Northeast Pennsylvania.
As the Scranton band gears up for a headlining show to mark its 20th anniversary, guitarist/bassist Jerry Kamora took a few moments to go On the Record about what’s changed over the years and what’s stayed the same with Slapjaw — namely, a dedication to presenting high-energy music that showcases strong tunes and even stronger friendships.
Q: Tell me a little about what you have planned for the upcoming 20th anniversary show.
A: Everyone does an anniversary show, but we aren’t everyone, so we’re having a birthday party. It’ll have giveaways plus performances by Alpha Audio, Victim, Earthmouth and Terrorize This.
Q: What’s the biggest difference among the band since you first entered the scene 20 years ago?
A: We’ve had many members come and go throughout the years (three singers and nine bassists). Our musical style has fluctuated slightly with the loss and addition of new members, but we’ve always remained true to our sound regardless of those changes or what has been the trend. Holding on to our core values of friendship, love for what we do and unwillingness to follow trends has allowed us to continue all these years.
Q: Describe your music and stage presence.
A: Our music is heavy, driven and loud. We take much pride in our stage performances. You won’t catch us standing on stage playing songs. We are in the crowd. We are rolling around on the floor. We can definitely be described as highly energetic and unorthodox. People often complement us on our stage presence. Many say that they have never seen such antics before nor have they seen our level of energy from another band in a long time.
Q: What do you hope audiences take away from a Slapjaw show?
A: We hope that everyone has as good a time as we do, no matter how young or old. If they like our sound, great. If they like our stage performance, great. If they like both, even better. We love what we do first and foremost beyond everything else. If one person appreciates any component of what we do, we are grateful for it. We realize that not everyone will like us, but if one thing we do at a show allows them to have fun, that is meaningful to us. We’d like everyone to walk out of that venue satisfied that their night was not spent in vain.
Q: How does it feel to hit this milestone?
A: It’s surreal in a sense. Starting out, we really had no idea how long this endeavor would last. At about 10 years in, we started to realize that this thing can potentially go on until it can’t anymore. The beauty of it all is the friendships that are created amongst ourselves. You really become a family when you’ve been together for this long. All of the disagreements and potential attitudes surrounding the music disappear, and you become an efficient unit. We certainly can’t leave out the many friendships we created and continue to create with fans and other musicians. These are friendships we cherish. Another fascinating part of being around this long is mentoring. We often don’t realize how much of an impact we may have made on fellow musicians, or kids who later become musicians, throughout the years until meeting them later in life and hearing them say things like, “It is because of you guys that I play an instrument,” or “Thank you for complimenting us on our band; you have no idea what it means to us coming from you guys.” We take much pride in that. It’s very humbling.
BAD ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENTS MIMICKING BIRDS – ‘Layers of Us’
THE GOOD: Northwest indie rockers Mimicking Birds come back with a placid third.
THE BAD: Not really.
THE NITTY GRITTY: What started out as a solo outlet for singer/guitarist Nate Lacy has become a proper band for a couple of records now. “Layers” continues the trio’s logical progression; a spacey work made of fragile melodies and pastoral settings that still manages to let a bit of genuine rock sneak into the mix.
On the surface, the songs are seamless, ebbing and flowing on waves so gentle they’re damn near hypnotic. What keeps the album from becoming straight up “dream pop” though is the backdrops. Punchy rhythms and electric guitars constantly remind you that this IS a rock album (and not only in spirit).
Warm and cozy tracks like “Sunlight Daze” and “Belongings” are blessed with Lacy’s tender vocals and just enough echo to take the edge off any jagged riffs. However, these songs carry the forward momentum necessary to keep us from completely drifting off into the ether.
BUY IT?: Sure.
THE VACCINES – ‘Combat Sports’
THE GOOD: British indie rockers the Vaccines regroup and release its fourth.
THE BAD: Changes…some good, some dull.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The band’s line-up shuffled (a pair of touring musicians are now full-fledged members), the Vaccines continue to refine its sound. Keyboards are more prominent and the guys have smoothed over some of the rough edges. But is that a good thing?
Those big bold hooks remain intact. It’s tough to ignore the slamming melodies carrying songs like “Put It on a T-Shirt” and “Maybe (Luck of the Draw).” Still, the Vaccines’ most exciting work is spread across its first two more visceral records – 2011’s “What Did You Expect” and 2012’s “Come of Age.”
If they continue in this direction, the band risks losing all that made them distinct in the first place (can you say Wombats?). “Combat Sports” hasn’t gone THAT far yet, but it should make long-time fans cautious about the future. Hopefully, the fifth album gets a shot of pure adrenaline.
BUY IT?: Your choice.
MATT AND KIM – ‘Almost Everyday’
THE GOOD: Brooklyn indie duo Matt and Kim come back with a brief wandering sixth.
THE BAD: Some songs work. Others feel incomplete.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The record was written and recorded while Kim Schifino recovered from a serious knee injury. That could have influenced the creation of more introspective pieces and less party anthems. Tracks such as “Like I Used to Be” and “Happy If You’re Happy” hail from a mellower place than usual. But you still get thumping forceful bangers such as the frustrated “Forever” and the slick “Glad I Tried.”
Yet, other cuts feel like unfinished throwaways. There’s a germ of an idea running through “All in My Head” that goes nowhere. Multi-chapter closer “Where Do We Go from Here” is TOO open-ended; a beginning with no logical conclusion. Plus there are a lot of GUESTS (Blink 182, Walk the Moon, Santigold, etc.) whose contributions feel wholly unnecessary (and in many cases are barely noticeable).
BUY IT?: Your call.
COMEBACKS AND KICK-OFFS BELLY — ‘Dove’
THE GOOD: New England alt-rockers Belly reforms and releases its third album (and first in over two decades).
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: With Tanya Donelly still in front of
the band’s most prominent lineup, Belly picks up right where it left off in 1996. The group reformed for a handful of concerts two years ago and realized there was still NEW music in it. “Dove” is the result of some rather prolific sessions.
What’s great about the record is that the tunes are truly timeless. Belly didn’t radically overhaul or update its sound, and at the same time, the songs don’t sound stuck in the era of “Seinfeld” and Bill Clinton. “Dove” is simply guitar-driven indie rock; Donelly’s female vocals still captivate and hold their own against the delicate thunder below. Tracks such as “Human Child” and “Suffer the Fools” are that perfect combination of grace and power, with swaying melodies riding a fair amount of sheer volume. This reunion feels totally natural. Embrace it.
BUY IT?: Yes.
WE ARE SCIENTISTS — ‘Megaplex’
THE GOOD: New York indie pop duo We Are Scientists gives us its sixth.
THE BAD: Mixed emotions.
THE NITTY GRITTY: There’s good and bad on “Megaplex.” While the writing is focused and the songs are strong, a lot of the band’s quirky indie and new wave elements are toned down. It’s as if “Megaplex” is a bid for the pop market. I’m not saying that’s the case, but the record sounds dull and predictable in spots.
We still get the delicate sway of “KIT” and the melodic punchy closer “Properties of Perception.” Technically, there are NO duds here. However, there’s a certain “sameness,” not just amongst individual tracks but also the group’s catalog in general. These guys aren’t progressing enough from release to release. “Megaplex” is an enjoyable, guitar-based rock/pop record, but it barely leaves any lasting impression. It’s also interchangeable with their previous two or three albums.
BUY IT?: Your choice. Newbies may actually get more out of “Megaplex” than long-time fans craving something fresh.
MIDDLE KIDS — ‘Lost Friends’
THE GOOD: Australian indie trio Middle Kids releases a confident first full-length album.
THE BAD: “Lost Friends” loses momentum across its second half, but not enough to damage the overall work.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The group teased us with a self-titled EP last year. Now, the main attraction is here (and with only two “repeats” from 2017’s mini jam). “Lost Friends” is a driven, catchy set recalling a lot of female-fronted ’90s faves (Belly, Cranberries, Sleeper) and more recent friends (Joy Formidable, Naked and Famous, Metric). There’s nothing starkly original here, but the songs are damn good, and Hannah Joy’s entrancing vocals are their perfect method of delivery.
The album immediately draws us in with the one-two punch of full-bodied openers “Bought It” and “Mistake.” From there, the record rarely stumbles. By the time we reach the set’s second half though, songs begin to blend together. Still, this band is just getting started. “Lost Friends” accomplishes much, leaving us hopeful for the group’s future.
BUY IT?: I would.
WOMEN OF INDEPENDENCE COURTNEY BARNETT — ‘Tell Me How You Really Feel’
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter/guitarist Courtney Barnett obliterates the sophomore slump.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: It was wise to release a collaborative effort with Kurt Vile (“Lotta Sea Lice”) instead of directly following up 2015’s triumph “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit.” Barnett was placed on such a high pedestal in the indie rock community that ANY follow-up could be considered a let-down. “Sea Lice” gave listeners a simple, unaffected set to savor — a nice warm-up before the main event.
Now, “Tell Me” is finally here. It’s a record that doesn’t try to match “Sit and Think” and is all the better for it. The new album is slightly smaller in scope, with Barnett allowing us to get closer and peek inside her psyche. Tracks are both loose (the rambling “Hopefulessness”) and airtight (the razor-sharp “Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence”). Barnett embraces her mood swings and grows as a songwriter. The next one should be brilliant, too.
BUY IT?: YES!
BEACH HOUSE — ‘7’
THE GOOD: Baltimore dream pop duo Beach House (vocalist/keyboardist Victoria Legrand and multi-instrumentalist Alex Scally) comes back with an appropriately titled seventh.
THE BAD: Nothing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The band embraces a new creative process with “7.” Long-time producer Chris Coady has been replaced by NO official producer at all. Indie legend Sonic Boom acts as an on-again, off-again consultant of sorts. Instead of recording the album in a singular burst of creativity, the pair took its time at various sessions spread out over a year, letting the songs form more naturally.
“7” also is more intense than past efforts. The dreamy elements remain intact. However, they’re further enhanced by more live drums than usual, droning fits of distortion and echoes of vintage shoegaze. Sonic Boom’s presence certainly is felt within the distant rumblings of classic “My Bloody Valentine,” “Lush” or even his own “Spacemen 3.”
“7” is hardly a “noise-fest” though. You can still slip on a pair of headphones, close your eyes and drift away.
BUY IT?: Surely.
HOP ALONG — ‘Bark Your Head Off, Dog’
THE GOOD: Philadelphia indie rocker Hop Along comes back with a multi-textured third.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Three albums into their career, Frances Quinlan and her crew already have covered a lot of territory. They’re one of those groups that are difficult to pigeonhole (never bad), rolling and crashing like thunder one moment and delicately weeping the next.
Musically, they recall amazing, female-fronted indie legends such as Bettie Serveert, Madder Rose and Throwing Muses while embracing the more progressive-leaning elements of contemporaries, such as Warpaint. Lyrically, Quinlan tells wondrous stories both concrete and abstract.
On “Dog,” tempos vary, moods swing and the guitars often take a backseat to delicate, intimate string arrangements. Quinlan’s emotional vocals always are the main focus, whether it’s the exhausted strains of “The Fox in Motion” or the breathy waltz bringing “Not Abel” to life. It’s impossible to discover all the subtle nuances of “Dog” in just one sitting. The album is further enhanced with each subsequent spin.
BUY IT?: Yes.
— By Brigid Lynett
Nothing Yet leaves nothing yet to be desired in Northeast Pennsylvania’s music scene.
Although the band is fairly new, the members — Brandon Rodriguez on lead guitar, Evan Collins on bass, Justin Kucharski on rhythm guitar and backup vocals, Martin Monahan on drums and backup vocals and Nicolo Manzo on lead vocals — created the band’s concept years ago during middle school.
Nothing Yet began playing strictly modern rock but has evolved to classic rock songs and even some pop music. Despite the formidable struggle that comes from juggling band members’ schedules, Nothing Yet continues to change, grow and thrive. The Midvalley-based band recently went On the Record to discuss its sound, struggles and goals.
Q: How did Nothing Yet get its start?
Monahan: The idea of the band started in 2011 when we wanted to play a middle-school talent show, and our current lineup started playing together in 2013.
Q: Tell us about the first time you performed.
Manzo: We were excited and kind of nervous, but the crowd was energized by hearing a full band. It was a surreal experience.
Q: Do you write your own songs? What is your creative process like?
Rodriguez: We’re in the early stages of writing our first song. It’s a collaborative effort. Anyone who has an idea is encouraged to bring it forward, and we work from there.
Q: How has NEPA affected your music?
Kucharski: The area has a vibrant music scene, and we’ve been given many opportunities. Each gig teaches us what music people enjoy and want to hear. As we got older, we learned that every opportunity is something to take seriously, as a way to prove ourselves. We were growing up as the music scene changed in NEPA, and we’re relatively new to the scene but have found it to be very exciting.
Q: How did you each get involved in music?
Manzo: My family is bonded together by music. Going back to my dad’s father, he was a singer, and everyone in my house is a singer or plays some instruments. It keeps us together, and we all share the love for it.
Collins: I was surrounded by friends who played music and was just looking for another thing to challenge myself with, which led to playing the bass.
Kucharski: My grandfather and my father played in a band, and I felt inspired and wanted to play the guitar. I started in 2010 and haven’t stopped since.
Monahan: I joined concert band and chorus in elementary school and, in middle school, I was encouraged to play the drums in school jazz band. Soon after that, I felt inspired to start the band with Justin and Nicolo.
Rodriguez: I got into music by accident. My cousin was telling me how much fun it was to play in a band. I picked up saxophone, and after a couple years, I tried guitar to play the music I liked, and it stemmed from there.
Q: Who has been your biggest influence?
Collins: Our families have been our biggest supporters throughout the years, and we wouldn’t be where we are without them.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a band?
Monahan: Our ages slowed our growth early as a band. We tried to play everywhere we could, but only certain places accepted us because we were too young. Presently, we’re all working or in college, so it’s tough to make schedules line up to practice and write.
Q: Has your sound changed over the years?
Collins: Our sound has definitely expanded over the years. We’ve moved from strictly modern rock to both classic rock and some pop. We’ve learned from the many different types of crowds we’ve had and what they want to hear. Our taste in music has also evolved, and we’ve learned to play with more maturity and to be better as a group.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish this year?
Monahan: Our goal this year is to play more regularly and to write some original songs. These goals contribute to our major mission — to not let the rock die out.
INTERSTELLAR OVERDRIVE MGMT — ‘Little Dark Age’
THE GOOD: New England indie duo MGMT (vocalists and multi-instrumentalists Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser) come back with a focused fourth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: It’s been over a decade since these guys scored with the synth-tinged rock set “Oracular Spectacular,” a tight Dave Fridmann-produced playlist that had massive crossover appeal. After that, the guys rallied against mainstream expectations on two follow-ups — the particularly weird “Congratulations” (2010) and the spacey “MGMT” (2013). Both had their moments while being “difficult” in places.
VanWyngarden and Goldwasser now bring back the hooks and approachable vibes. “Little Dark Age” is the most accessible the pair has been since its debut. Sell outs? I would bet not. The guys are simply playing to their strengths. MGMT are damn good at conjuring up catchy, synth-heavy indie pop. So it was time to do that all over again. My guess is all the band’s strange days AREN’T behind it. For now though, just revel in the bliss that is “Little Dark Age.”
BUY IT?: Yep.
OF MONTREAL — ‘White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood’
THE GOOD: Georgia indie rockers Of Montreal (mastermind Kevin Barnes and whomever he’s playing with) give us their 15th.
THE BAD: Not really.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Of Montreal is a rarity in that it’s VERY prolific (a new album comes out almost every year) AND willing to change direction often. Despite being released in quick succession, records often vary greatly from one other.
A few albums back, Barnes was all about the “band” aesthetic. A set such as 2013’s “Lousy with Sylvianbriar” was raw and spontaneous; Barnes created the din with a gaggle of other players. Since then, electronic elements have crept back into the mix, and more so on each subsequent outing.
“White Is Relic” finds the synths and dance grooves taking over; the record is even sequenced more like a collection of extended remixes than a proper LP. But this is all new material, inspired by current American paranoia and ’80s 12-inch singles. So get scared, get down and get crazy. That’s what Kevin wants.
BUY IT?: Yeah.
YOUNG GALAXY — ‘Down Time’
THE GOOD: Canadian electronic duo Young Galaxy goes completely independent on its sixth.
THE BAD: No complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Since husband-and-wife team Stephen Ramsay and Catherine McCandless no longer suffer from record label restraints and expectations, the pair did whatever it felt like on “Down Time.” We reap the benefits of that freedom.
While the duo hasn’t abandoned its pop sensibilities (tight melodic tracks such as “Show You the Valley” and “Frontier” are proof of that), there’s a “chill” vibe running throughout the songs; the entire affair is much more ethereal and otherworldly than past efforts. McCandless’ rich vocals are out front most of the time, but the music doesn’t lose any clout when she’s not around; the swirling backing tracks are just as enthralling.
There’s an ebb and flow to “Down Time” that’s hypnotic. Rhythmic, ambient pieces such as “River” give way to focused bits such as “Stay for Real.” The record pulls you out of unconsciousness with a pronounced beat or hook. Mood swings work beautifully.
BUY IT?: I would.
NOT-SO-QUAINT FOLK WYE OAK — ‘The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs’
THE GOOD: Maryland indie duo Wye Oak comes back with a buzzing, crackling sixth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: What began as a modern, folk-tinged project has slowly morphed into something completely dissimilar over the past three albums. Rather than play it safe, guitarist/vocalist Jenn Wasner and drummer/keyboardist Andy Stack have left much of their acoustic leanings behind in favor of more electric guitars, tougher rhythms and more dominant synthesizers (some abrasive at times).
Harsher? Perhaps, but the music still emotionally resonates. Here, songs such as the delicately flowing “Lifer,” the melodic and dreamy “Over and Over” and the punchy title track resemble the early stuff in composition. However, their execution is radically different. Skip from 2009’s “The Knot” immediately to this new release, and you’d swear this was an electronic-leaning rock act trying to BE Wye Oak as opposed to the genuine article. However, the pair continues to make this ongoing sweeping transition run smoothly.
BUY IT?: Yes.
OKKERVIL RIVER — ‘In the Rainbow Rain’
THE GOOD: Modern folk/rock outfit Okkervil River comes back with its ninth.
THE BAD: Every album has its highs and lows, inspired moments and bits that drag. “Rain” follows this pattern.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Okkervil River has always been a proper band, but the only permanent member is singer/songwriter Will Sheff. Every record finds the man telling stories and getting introspective about his past. “Rain” kicks off with the clever “Famous Tracheotomies,” a track recalling Sheff’s own life-threatening surgery that occurred when he was just an infant. As the song plays on, we hear of other famous people who underwent similar procedures, Motown’s Mary Wells and Kinks frontman Ray Davies among them.
From there, moods shift from the top-heavy pop of “Pulled up the Ribbon” to the somber “Human Being Song.” Some tracks immediately click; others are slow burns. No DUDS though. Sheff covers emotional territories that are immediately relatable, and his songs are just distinct enough to not melt into one another.
BUY IT?: Sure.
S. CAREY — ‘Hundred Acres’
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter and Bon Iver drummer Sean Carey releases his third solo full-length.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Carey’s profile has risen during the past decade. He’s no longer “that dude from Bon Iver who occasionally goes solo.” Now, he’s S. Carey, “the man who still plays with Bon Iver even though a solo career wouldn’t be out of the question.”
“Hundred Acres” feels like a genuine effort to maybe go in that very direction. The album is the most accessible of his career, with Carey abandoning some weird percussive habits in exchange for lush melodies, cozy harmonies and warm strings. Lyrically, the man keeps matters close to home; relatable relationships and simple pleasures are not uncommon.
Carey also realizes “less is more.” “Hundred Acres” sticks around just long enough (10 tunes in 38 minutes) to avoid the trappings of tedium. Moods and tempos rarely change, but the momentum never dissipates. There’s nothing wrong with a pleasant visit now and then.
BUY IT?: Sure.
A 40-pound head might sound strange to some, but for the past 22 years, it has been the namesake of a Luzerne County band.
The four-piece group, which describes its genre as “the other music,” came together in 1996 first as a cover band and then moved into writing its own music. Although sometimes the group performs as a two-piece unit known as 20lb Head or as a trio dubbed 30lb Head, it primarily plays as a quartet under its main moniker, performing both covers and original music.
The quartet is comprised of Jason Egenski on vocals, Steven Egenski on guitars and vocals, Gary Mikulski or bass and vocals and Mike Zubritski on percussion. Jason Egenski recently went On the Record to discuss the band’s past, present and future as a staple in Northeast Pennsylvania.
Q: Where did the name 40lb Head come from? How did the band form?
A: The long but abridged story behind the name is best laid out this way: One head equals eight pounds; five heads (yes, five) equals 40 pounds. Five heads together equals one big “40lb Head.” We never ended up with that fifth member, so we just upped the weight of one head to 10 pounds since 32lb Head doesn’t roll off your tongue quite as nice. Makes sense, right?
Q: What is a 40lb Head live show like? How would you describe the experience from the stage and for the fans?
A: Well, the best way to enjoy us is to grab a beer and watch a couple of your friends get together and have some fun. It’s like playing frisbee or corn hole with friends. Sometimes the bag is falling in the hole every other toss. Sometimes you miss a catch or the frisbee curves because you held onto it too long. Sometimes it’s the wind. Mostly winning though but never taking score.
Q: What are some of the biggest influences (musical or non-musical) to your sound?
A: We all have similar tastes in music. But when you start “taking exits off the highway and a couple turns and end up on a dirt road, the rabbit holes get deep.” Ya know what I mean?
Q: Do you perform covers or write original songs?
A: We started in 1996 as a cover band. It was tricky picking songs everyone enjoyed, but we broke out the abacus and found our lowest common denominator. In just a couple years, we were diving into writing original music. We put three albums out years ago — “Savior Self” in 1998, “Hills and Valleys” in 2000 and “Third Shift” in 2002. We were young then, and full of piss and vinegar. No careers yet, no families — plenty of extra time. Those were the days. Now, some 20 years later, we’re still having a blast throwing an original in there now and again along with “playing frisbee” with our cover songs.
Q: What do you enjoy about performing in and around NEPA? Has the music scene here affected the band’s sound?
A: There’s no place like home. I see a lot of complaining going on on Facebook about this area, but I love Northeastern Pennsylvania. Our roots are deep here. As far as I see it, our canoe is perfectly positioned in the river to “go with the flow” so to speak. It has been a relatively smooth sailing and enjoyable operation, and we are all very fortunate and grateful for that.