Sounds – November 9, 2017

Sounds – November 9, 2017

PORTUGAL THE MAN — ‘Woodstock’ 
THE GOOD: Portland indie rockers Portugal the Man shake things up again on their eighth.
THE BAD: The bouncy “Feel It Still” is a genuine hit. Long-time enthusiasts are crying “sell out.” That’s a matter of opinion. I say, “You should have seen this coming.”
THE NITTY GRITTY: After all, the band signed to a major label, Atlantic, a couple of records ago. And last time around, on “Evil Friends,” the guys recruited Danger Mouse to handle production duties. So why not go all the way on “Woodstock?”
Originally, the band was making an album called “Gloomin’ and Doomin’” with former Beastie Boy Mike D. Most of that project was scrapped in favor of “Woodstock’s” party vibe. So now we get a breezy (albeit somewhat topical) mix of drum loops, snappy sing-alongs and a hint of the psychedelics from past records. Still, what may be disagreeable to some is NOT a bad collection. Frontman John Gourley and company give us enough good vibrations to make us want more.
BUY IT?: Sure.

JEFF TWEEDY — ‘Together at Last’
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter and Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy finally gives us a proper solo album (sort of).
THE BAD: Could “Together” only be for Tweedy “completists?”
THE NITTY GRITTY: After making music with Uncle Tupelo and Wilco and a bevy of side projects for almost three decades, Tweedy is at the point in his career where he’s taking time to look back and revisit. “Together” is supposedly the first in a series of intimate acoustic offerings exploring past hits and deep tracks.
Most of this album comes from the Wilco catalog. Tweedy leans in close, his gentle voice accompanied by little more than his acoustic six-string. It’s during these treatments that the songs have to stand completely on their own merits with no full arrangements (rock, pop or county) to hide behind. Whether it’s the gray-colored misgivings spread over “Ashes of American Flags” or the hopeful musings chugging throughout “Dawned on Me,” the material shines.
BUY IT?: Your choice. Personally, I still prefer the full-band versions.

SHOUT OUT LOUDS — ‘Ease My Mind’ 
THE GOOD: Swedish indie pop/rock outfit Shout Out Louds is back with its fifth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: If anything, this band is reliable. The formula doesn’t change much from record to record. You know exactly what you’re going to get. And in this case, that’s perfectly acceptable.
SOLs always comes through with bright, splashy, intelligent pop songs. Check out “Paola” and tell me the tune doesn’t immediately suck you in with its jangly guitars, bouncy rhythm and big melodies. You can’t help but love this stuff.
And while EVERY track might not be immediately memorable, there are enough sparkling bits on “Mind” to make plenty of return trips inevitable. From the male-female interplay between frontman Adam Olenius and keyboardist Bebban Stenborg on “Porcelain” and “White Suzuki” to Stenborg’s semi-smoldering lead on the title track to Olenius handling the soaring chorus of “Angel,” it all works flawlessly.
If the group feels the need to offer a smart collection every few years, we’ll gladly accept.
BUY IT?: Surely.

Sounds – November 2, 2017

Sounds – November 2, 2017

GIRL POWER DIET CIG — ‘Swear I’m Good at This’
THE GOOD: The New Paltz, New York, indie pop/punk duo Diet Cig (female vocalist/guitarist Alex Luciano and drummer Noah Bowman) gives us a blistering full-length debut.
THE BAD: Sometimes the record feels like a collection of demos. A few tracks are little more than one verse, clocking in at about 70 seconds. You want the story to reach a logical resolution. That doesn’t always happen.
THE NITTY GRITTY: When everything falls into place though, Diet Cig can create powerful, angst-riddled music. Tracks such as building opener “Sixteen” and frustrated yet infectious closer “Tummy Ache” focus on young-adult concerns without trivializing them. If Luciano has a bad day, she can turn that turmoil into fist-pumping anthems built upon Bowman’s tight, crashing rhythms; searing, slashing guitars; and melodies that are half blazing hooks and half not-so-quiet desperation.
So while “Good at This” is certainly flawed, it remains a worthy first try that leaves us hopeful for an even brighter future.
BUY IT?: Your choice.

HAIM — ‘Something To Tell You’
THE GOOD: California indie pop/rockers Haim obliterate the sophomore slump on their follow-up to 2013’s bubbly debut “Days Are Gone.”
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The ladies bring back those airtight harmonies and solid grooves that made us all take notice four years ago. Flawlessly blending everything from ’70s soft rock to ’90s R&B to modern indie rock, the Haim sisters offer up a mix equaling appealing to a 55-year-old Fleetwood Mac enthusiast and a jaded college freshman. They also sound completely relaxed and confident while doing it. That’s not easy.
“Something” is another accomplished collection showing off Haim’s singing and songwriting chops. Is it slick? Hell yeah. But you won’t mind the gloss. The studio polish only enhances catchy gems such as “Little of Your Love” and “Found It in Silence.” Each song carries its own vibrant personality and soulful strut; the music is custom-made for a glorious, sunny day. Even the somber closer “Night So Long” isn’t a complete downer.
BUY IT?: Surely.

TORI AMOS — ‘Native Invader’
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter/pianist Tori Amos comes back with a varied and topical 15th.
THE BAD: Pretty much every Amos record is an epic. Prepare to invest over an hour of your time. It’s only “bad” for the casual fans out there.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Yet, Amos also has a knack for keeping her lengthy works from slipping into repetitive ruts. She always brings on a variety of emotions, tempos and instrumentation. Every record becomes a mixed bag. “Invader” is no exception.
Just like everyone else in 2017, Amos gets political and environmentally conscious here. However, even when the messages aren’t so subtle, the subtext rarely overshadows the power of Amos’ melodies and arrangements. And there are some whoppers here. From the intensity building throughout “Cloud Riders” to the heavy sway carrying “Bang,” the drama never ends.
“Chocolate Song” gets clunky, and “Russia” is about as subtle as a smack in the teeth, but no Amos collection is perfect. Thankfully, “Invader” remains powerful and compelling from start to finish.
BUY IT?: Yeah.

Sounds – October 26, 2017

Sounds – October 26, 2017

ALT-J — ‘Relaxer’ 
THE GOOD: British indie rock outfit Alt-J releases its third. I guess that’s “good” for established fans.
THE BAD: I nodded off there for a second.
THE NITTY GRITTY: That’s this band’s biggest problem. For all its banging rhythms, multi-layered atmospherics, vocal twitches courtesy of frontman Joe Newman and wild mood swings, Alt-J can’t seem to make music that’s inherently INTERESTING. The lyrics are forgettable, the melodies lackadaisical. And these regrettable conditions don’t seem to change much from record to record.
“Relaxer” is simply another gloomy collection that drifts out of focus and seeps into the wallpaper. This time, the lads added some subtle string arrangements and female guest vocals courtesy of Wolf Alice’s Ellie Roswell. These touches make tracks like “3WW” and “Pleader” kind of sweet; you almost want to revisit them. But when the band attempts injecting some much-needed life into the party, we get the proto-punk stupidity of “Hit Me Like That Snare.” You can’t win with these guys.
BUY IT?: Meh…probably another Alt-J worth skipping.

PHOENIX — ‘Ti Amo’
THE GOOD: French indie pop/rockers Phoenix come back with a colorful, multi-lingual sixth.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Recorded in the band’s native country during a time of terrorism and social unrest, “Ti Amo” feels like one big, warm, fuzzy safe space. And that’s not a bad thing. While many indie rockers are confronting issues head-on, Phoenix chose instead to hit the dance floor while taking us on a whirlwind trip across Europe. It also creates a set that’s distinctly Phoenix while not strictly repeating any past work — a logical, refreshing progression.
Tracks such as “Tuttifrutti” and “Goodbye Soleil” are built on irresistible galloping grooves and overstuffed pink, fluffy melodies. More delicate bits, such as “Fior Di Latte” and “Via Veneto,” are swaying, synth-based swatches of new wave that are both hypnotic and painfully romantic.
“Ti Amo” makes it OK to simply feel good again. Close your eyes. Become lost in the streamlined flow of it all. Dance. Smile. It’s a beautiful day.
BUY IT?: Yes.

BLEACHERS — ‘Gone Now’ 
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter Jack Antonoff releases his second effort as Bleachers.
THE BAD: No complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The first Bleachers record, 2014’s “Strange Desire,” sounded different from Antonoff’s work with Fun; we heard a bit LESS pop and a little MORE rock. “Gone Now” sees some of Fun’s bubblier elements creeping back into the mix. The beats are more important, the guitars less so. Keyboards and horns are more prevalent. And those bold singalongs for which the guy is known play a bigger role this time. Throw in a few random spoken-word samples and “Gone Now” becomes a lot of fun (pun intended).
At the same time, though, it’s an album with recurring musical themes and reprises, making for a bold and complex structure. Antonoff wants us to smile and clap our hands (the rhythms and melodies sweep you away), but he’s also hoping we’ll think a little too. The trip is so vibrant though, you won’t mind putting in the extra effort.
BUY IT?: Yes.

Sounds – October 19, 2017

Sounds – October 19, 2017

RANCID — ‘Troublemaker’ 
THE GOOD: Bay area punk legends Rancid remain loud and livid on their ninth.
THE BAD: Tim Armstrong and crew aren’t angry young men anymore, Rancid being a cohesive unit for over a quarter century now. But they’re now pissed-off middle-aged dudes. That has to be legit enough for you.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Thankfully, the guys aren’t aging gracefully. Rancid is one of a handful of punk bands that remain both relevant and potent decades into their careers. Bad Religion (another strong punk mainstay) guitarist Brett Gurewitz produces “Troublemaker,” a loud, melodic mix of blue-collar and political anthems played either fast and hard (“All American Neighborhood”) or straight down a rock ‘n’ roll middle ground (“Bovver Rock ‘n’ Roll”). Of course, we get a few pumping ska-flavored cuts (“Where I’m Going”) as well.
Sure “Troublemaker” may be a little predictable. However, Rancid does what it does so well (and often better than its younger peers), so the guys don’t need to re-invent themselves. We wouldn’t want that anyway.
BUY IT?: Yep.

311 — ‘Mosaic’
THE GOOD: Nebraska alt-rockers 311 return with their 12th.
THE BAD: It might as well be their sixth, 10th or 20th.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Sorry, I’m a “casual fan.” Every album seems to have two cuts for which I go absolutely bonkers, along with a dozen other tracks that sound like pale imitations of those two awesome songs. C’mon, 311 enthusiasts, admit it. These guys have made slight variations on the same album for over two decades now.
You get that infectious mix of hard rock, reggae, ska and funk — party music filled with declarations of good vibes and daily affirmations. This time, the best songs are right up front: smooth, swirling single “Too Much To Think” followed by the more progressive, classical-tinged “Wildfire.”
Too bad “Mosaic” feels stuck on repeat about 10 songs in (and you still have another seven tracks to go). Definitely flawed and predictable, “Mosaic” could have used a slight trim. Maybe take this one in small doses.
BUY IT?: Your call.

FAMILY ANIMALS — ‘Don’t Expect a Climax’
THE GOOD: Scranton indie rockers Family Animals come back with an unpredictable third full-length album.
THE BAD: It’s not bad, but expect a record that’s all over the proverbial musical map.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Brothers Anthony and Jesse Viola and their buddy Frank DeSando bookend “Climax” with a pair of extended prog-rock pieces recalling ’70s outfits such as Nektar, Klaatu and Lighthouse (if they fired the horn section). Tight harmonies, swirling bits of organ, varying tempos, violent mood swings — it’s heavy, man. Yet the guys pull it off without sounding pretentious. After “Category 5 Sexplosion” closes, you WANT to move forward.
That’s when you’re greeted with the ska-tinged frolic of “Fun Loving Song,” the rollicking “Face Off” and a host of other tracks digging up sounds as disparate as early Red Hot Chili Peppers to prime Screaming Trees. Yet Family Animals continues to blaze new trails (as opposed to just soaking up grooves from the past 45 years).
The boys refuse to be pigeonholed. “Climax” is a trippy experiment that rarely falters.
BUY IT? Yep.

Scranton-based Family Animals gallops on with new album

Scranton-based Family Animals gallops on with new album

Frank DeSando, Anthony Viola and Jesse Viola used many names for their band since picking up their instruments in 2000.
After playing around with several monikers, the trio won a battle of the bands show at Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple as Family Animals.
“There was a good crowd and the show went well, so we decided to keep the name,” guitarist Jesse Viola said.

Since that show in 2008, the group has performed live, written music and recorded albums in and around Northeast Pennsylvania. Its newest album, “Don’t Expect a Climax,” debuted Sept. 30 and is available for purchase on all major streaming platforms, at shows and online at familyanimals.bandcamp.com. The musicians recently went On the Record to discuss their time playing together in the region.

Q: How did you all meet?
Jesse Viola: Anthony and I are brothers. We met Frankie when we were just youngsters, too young to recall the moment exactly, but we grew up two doors away. So we’ve basically known each other our whole lives.

Q: How did you each get involved in music?
Anthony Viola: We all in some way or another have a life-long passion for music. Growing up, we all always loved it.
JV: My brother and I started taking guitar lessons together when I was 9 and he was 12, while Frankie took bass lessons at 11, all at Gallucci Music in Scranton. We all started together and all knew we wanted to play in a band together.

Q: What do you remember about the first time you performed in public together?
AV: The first time we ever played in public was actually about six months after we all started, and it was Jesse’s fifth-grade dance. I remember some kids were scared, and as soon as we finished, the DJ came out and started blasting “Who Let the Dogs Out” and all the 11-year-old kids went crazy.

Q: What was the process like for writing your new album?
JV: We are always writing new material and probably have more unreleased songs than released ones. So for “Don’t Expect a Climax,” it was more a matter of picking the right compilation of songs to record. Once that was decided, we recorded and mixed the songs ourselves with our own equipment. The whole process took a little more than a year. Then we really lucked out with Eric Ritter at Windmill Agency generously offering to master the album. We cannot thank him enough.

Q: How have you changed as musicians over the years?
Frank DeSando: We’ve always kind of made it a point to not limit ourselves musically and play what we enjoy, whether or not it stays true to a particular genre. I think, because of that, we’ve always ventured into trying to play different styles of our respective instruments, even pulling in new instruments we aren’t too familiar with to achieve a sound we want. I feel like we are still growing and learning as musicians to this day, and (I) don’t feel like that will ever change. There will always be something new to discover. I think that’s part of why we love it so much.

Q: What are some of your favorite memories as a part of this band?
AV: I just love being able to do what I love with my best friends. I feel like we are always hanging out anyway, and the friendships kind of just blend into the music somehow. It’s hard to remember specific times when it feels like a constant adventure. Some things that come to mind though are being flashed, meeting some bands I really love to listen to and just that feeling when the night comes together perfect, where we all feel on and the place is packed and the roar of a couple hundred people just feels amazing.

Q: How has the NEPA music scene changed over the years?
FD: It seems to me, in recent years, the NEPA scene as a whole has really come together more as some kind of crazy family. Everyone seems to know everyone on some level and has each other’s backs, from the musicians, artists, photographers, filmmakers, journalists and even the bar owners. I don’t know if social media can be credited for that or what, but it’s pretty cool.

Q: Have you faced any major challenges as a rising band?
JV: Being an independent band, it’s a challenge having to learn the business aspect of the music industry. Anthony does most of the promotion and booking, which can be an overwhelming task, but we’ve all been trying to help out in that area.
AV: Also, I feel like we grew up in a weird time; we picked up our instruments in 2000, and when we were playing in high school, it was still an age of hanging flyers and calling bars. I didn’t have a cell phone until I was 19, and it was a flip phone. So, adapting to this new marketplace that is social media has been a challenge in itself. I don’t really want to be on Facebook and Instagram all the time, but as a band we have to keep up on stuff like that. It’s just a different time where people can access so much material and so much art, and the bar is always being raised for entertainment and what’s entertaining.

Q: What are your future goals for the band?
AV: I have so many goals for the band. I’d really love to tour a lot more and go further and further. I want our ad mats, flyers, artwork, everything to always get better and portray the band’s vibe better. I want to release albums quicker than every two years, and most of all I want this to be my job one day. Not because I see it as a good money-making prospect but more because I love doing it. It’s what we do for fun, and I can’t imagine the happiness that comes with making a living through what you’re passionate about.

Sounds – October 12, 2017

Sounds – October 12, 2017

SWEET CRUDE — ‘Creatures’
THE GOOD: Indie pop collective Sweet Crude offers a bright, bouncy and multi-cultural debut.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Based in Southern Louisiana, this group of young men and women embrace their heritage, bringing Cajun flavors into a vibrant, modern, pop setting. “Creatures” is a half-English, half-French brew combining real Southern charm with rhythmic urban settings. Imagine a zydeco band hijacking Passion Pit and then some classic Poi Dog Pondering sprinkled on top for spice.
Multi-layered tribal beats stomp behind swirling synths, live strings and stings of electric guitar. The male-female vocal interplay adds a playful element, one that’s flirtatious and always spirited. Tracks such as the effervescent “La Cheminee” and the forceful yet fun “Weather the Waves” are simply irresistible; a lively, organic dance groove gets together with bold, addictive melodies.
But “Creatures” benefits from a few delicate tunes as well. Songs such as the dreamy “Mon Esprit” and the reflective “Ancient Maps” bring balance, ensuring the album doesn’t become TOO boisterous.
BUY IT?: Yes.

HOOPS — ‘Routines’ 
THE GOOD: Indiana indie pop outfit Hoops gives us a melodic, well-crafted debut.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Just like other somewhat retro contemporaries such as Surfer Blood or the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, the music of Hoops throws back to the alternative, guitar-based pop/rock prevalent during the mid ’80s. Groups such as Psychedelic Furs, Modern English and Echo & the Bunnymen immediately come to mind when drinking in the calculated sounds of “Routines.” The slightly lo-fi quality of the record even recalls a cassette blasting from a boombox with the Dolby noise reduction button pushed in.
What started out as a solo electronic bedroom project of frontman Drew Auscherman has blossomed into a full band with your standard guitar/bass/drums/keyboard lineup. During that process, the songs have become more focused and the vibe ever-so-wistful and melancholy. One becomes lost in the jangly guitars, airy harmonies and dreamy melodies blending perfectly throughout cool, collected tracks such as “On Top” and “Management.”
BUY IT?: Oh yeah.

CHARLY BLISS — ‘Guppy’
THE GOOD: After a bunch of self-released singles and an EP, Brooklyn indie pop band Charly Bliss finally unleashes its first proper album.
THE BAD: If you invested in those singles, there are a couple of “repeats” here. Newbies, however, get an all-new fistful of ear candy.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Upon listening to “Guppy,” I was immediately smacked with two sources — Letters To Cleo and early Weezer (or maybe even the Rentals). This record would have been HUGE in 1996. Twenty years later, though, the songs haven’t lost any of their gooey, loud appeal.
Eva Hendricks is the angry pixie out in front, while the boys in the band crank out a sometimes mid-tempo/sometimes stomping even keel built upon solid backbeats, fuzzy guitars and whirring keyboards. The sing-song hooks are massive. Hendricks’ singing style is flirtatious but tough. Tracks such as the banging “DQ” and the melancholy “Ruby” are irresistible. Yeah, there isn’t a bad cut here. Charly Bliss has a blast pushing melodic ’90s rock forward.
BUY IT?: Yes.

Sounds – October 5, 2017

Sounds – October 5, 2017

LIL YACHTY — ‘Teenage Emotions’ 
THE GOOD: After releasing a few EPs and a couple of mixtapes, hip-hop artist Miles Parks McCollum (stage name Lil Yachty) cranks out a sprawling debut album.
THE BAD: “Emotions” is a hit-and-miss affair across 21 songs. However, the banging tracks outnumber the bland ones.
THE NITTY GRITTY: My son introduced me to this guy about a year ago when I interrupted an X-Box session in our basement by shouting “Who the hell is that?” My first impression was Biz Markie is back and he’s singing falsetto. The music was just so off-key and “goofy,” but I couldn’t stop listening.
Now we have the dude’s first proper album, helmed by a bevy of high-level producers (Free School, Diplo, the Stereotypes, etc.). The new stuff isn’t quite as “messy” as the early tracks; Yachty finds his voice and further develops his songwriting skills. Yet “Emotions” remains a guilty pleasure that’s all clunky lyrics, sing-song melodies and rudimentary beats, so rude and simplistic in spots you can’t help but giggle.
BUY IT?: Sure.

PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING — ‘Every Valley’
THE GOOD: Instrumental British indie project Public Service Broadcasting comes back with a sobering third.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: After exploring the “Race for Space,” J. Willgoose and J.F. Abraham turn their attention to a concept much more down to earth — the history of Welsh coal mining. I know that sounds like the driest of PBS documentaries, but the album is actually quite fascinating.
Once again, the guys combine pulsating instrumental pieces with sound bites from vintage industrial films, news footage and even recent interviews. Members of Welsh bands such as Manic Street Preachers and Camera Obscura also add vocal bits.
As the album tells the story of the rise and fall of industrialism in Wales, the mood changes. We go from what could be a slick, beat-driven PSA to a guitar-laced edition of the nightly news, with praises for the industry crashing head-first into memories of the mid-’80s nationwide miners’ strike. We end on a somber note as a prosperous era comes to a close.
BUY IT?: Yes.

UNKLE — ‘The Road — Part 1’ 
THE GOOD: British electronic collective UNKLE returns with its fifth album and first in seven years.
THE BAD: No real issues.
THE NITTY GRITTY: James Lavelle is the only original and/or long-time member of UNKLE left, so he now calls ALL the shots. “The Road” sounds like his moody “driving across the desert late at night” record, a collection that feels more American than British. Not sure if that was the intention, but the music conjures up pictures of bright stars dancing over desolate landscapes; it’s more tranquil than threatening but still has a sense of dread deep within the dramatic mix.
Guest vocalists include Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees), Elliott Power and Leila Moss (the Duke Spirit). The sturdy “Looking for the Rain” and epic, surging “Sunrise (Always Comes Around)” bring on the big beats. However, much of “The Road” relies more heavily on orchestral arrangements and rock elements than straight-forward electronic pulsations. Perhaps that’s where the whole “Americanization” comes into play. Whatever. The vibe works.
BUY IT?: Yes.

Sounds – September 28, 2017

Sounds – September 28, 2017

THE BLACK LIPS — ‘Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art’
THE GOOD: Atlanta-based indie rock slackers Black Lips shake up their lineup and return with a sprawling eighth.
THE BAD: Nah!
THE NITTY GRITTY: Vocalist/guitarist Cole Alexander and vocalist/bassist Jared Swilley are the only original members left. And since recent albums helmed by high-profile producers Mark Ronson and Patrick Carney failed to tip the band ever so closer to the mainstream, the guys decided to get back to their ugly roots and churn out the noisy, cluttered and spontaneous “Satan’s Graffiti,” easily the band’s most unpolished effort since 2009’s “200 Million Thousand.”
Sean Lennon handles production duties this time, helping the guys bring together a mix of garage rock, psychedelic freak-outs, a touch of surf, the occasional bout of country blues and even a random Beatles cover (the crew muddying up early track “It Won’t Be Long”). It all sounds like a sloppy gig at a run-down, smoky roadhouse situated on the edge of a Florida swamp circa 1969. Groovy!
BUY IT?: Yeah, baby.

ROYAL BLOOD — ‘How Did We Get So Dark’ 
THE GOOD: British rockers Royal Blood dodge the sophomore slump.
THE BAD: Don’t expect innovation, but…
THE NITTY GRITTY: …there’s something to be said for “All killer, no filler.” See? Rock clichés can be fun. They also can be loud and satisfying. Royal Blood cranks out a standard guitar-bass-drums mix that’s all big hooks, chunky riffs and plenty of swagger. Of course, they do this WITHOUT an actual guitar; bassist/vocalist Mike Kerr uses different pedals and amplification effects to get a genuine guitar sound from his bass. Along with drummer Ben Thatcher, there are only two guys making all that racket.
You’ve been down this road many times before. And while the dudes may not unleash the Hammer of the Gods like the mighty Zep did all those years ago, they’re certainly more authentic than say … last decade’s Jet. OK, that might not sound like much of a complement, but “Get So Dark” DOES rock. And that’s more than enough.
BUY IT?: Yes.

DAN AUERBACH — ‘Waiting on a Song’
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter/producer Dan Auerbach (half of the Black Keys) delivers his second proper solo album.
THE BAD: Nothing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: 2009’s blues-drenched “Keep It Hid” sounded like a direct extension of Auerbach’s work with the Keys (especially the raw swampy stuff put out during those pre-crossover days). “Waiting” is (almost) the exact opposite, with the man embracing his “pop” side. The melodies are direct and irresistible, and the occasional flowing string or bright horn section enhances the rich arrangements.
Auerbach recorded the album at his own Nashville studio and recruited some heavy-hitters to help bring his snappy, polished vision to fruition. Legends such as John Prine, Duane Eddy and Mark Knopfler all lend a guitar or backing vocal to the feel-good proceedings. Dig the breezy, country-flavored title cut; the sweet shuffle carrying “Livin’ in Sin”; the groovy, stomping “Stand By My Girl”; or the blue-eyed soul shading “King of a One Horse Town.” There isn’t a dud in the bunch.
BUY IT?: Definitely.

Wilkes-Barre based Stay Loud bonds over shared interests

Wilkes-Barre based Stay Loud bonds over shared interests

The love of Green Day brought the final member of Stay Loud to the band, but the musicians’ shared passion for creating good music solidified the quartet.
Lead guitarist Gerald Tulao, bassist C.J. Davenport and drummer Justin Ratowski spent several months writing music without a singer before coming across Chris Cashmere, who happened to be looking for a band.
“We both met during the Phoenix Performing Arts Centre production of ‘American Idiot.’ … I knew he’d be perfect,” Tualo said.
From that moment on, the group worked toward recording music and playing live shows in and around Northeast Pennsylvania. The members recently went On the Record to discuss their last year as a pop-punk troupe and what the future has in store for Stay Loud.

Q: Where did your band name come from?
Gerald Tulao: One night after a band practice, we went out to eat and we discussed potential names. We all had the homework assignment to make up a list of 10 names. Chris’ list had the name Stay Loud, and after many discussions, we knew that would be our name.

Q: How did you each get involved in music?
Chris Cashmere: Well I got into music after listening to Green Day’s “American Idiot” for the first time. It changed my life, and ever since then that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.
GT: When I was younger, I started listening to a lot of music, and I wanted to play an instrument. Most of my friends were playing sports, and I knew I wanted to do something that was different and stood out. I originally wanted to play drums, but there was no room in the house for a set. So I settled on guitar and loved it since.
Justin Ratowski: I got involved through Northwest High school’s concert band. I just kind of came home one day and was like, “Mom, Dad … I play the drums now. I hope that’s fine, OK? OK.”
C.J. Davenport: Boredom, mostly.

Q: What do you remember about the first time you performed in public together?
CC: A little nervous but excited because it was the beginning to all the great shows we have come to do.
GT: I was very eager to get on that stage. I counted down the days to our first show. Sure, I was nervous because it was our first gig and a new band for me, but I knew if we messed up, let’s face it, no one would notice.

Q: What is your process for writing music?
GT: Sometimes Chris is at home and writes something cool on his acoustic guitar and sends us a rough demo of his idea. Sometimes we’re all practicing, and after a jam session, some ideas would come out of that. Sometimes C.J. or myself would be playing around with a guitar riff we’ve made up, and it would catch Chris’ attention and end up becoming a song. The process is endless, and we have a lot to work with.

Q: How have you changed over the years?
GT: We’ve only been a band for a year, and even then during that short amount of time we can say there was some growth in us as a band. We’ve definitely gotten more used to communicating with each other as we write music. We all know each other’s strengths and weaknesses at this point. We use this to our advantage to write music that we’ll be happy with. 

Q: What are some favorite memories?
CC: Definitely recording. It was such a good time, as well as the time we played NOISE (music festival) and playing my birthday show. It was an amazing night at the Irish Wolf Pub.
GT: Releasing the EP to me was a big achievement. When I was younger, I always dreamed of having my own album or EP released. That was an amazing moment, letting people hear what we wrote. When we performed at the Ground Floor in Williamsport and the many times we’ve played the Irish Wolf Pub in Scranton, I’ve had a blast. But the one show I can say that we played that I feel was our best was when we played at the music festival NOISE at (Luzerne County Community College) back in August.

Q: How has the NEPA music scene changed over the years?
CC: There used to be so many more venues in the area and so many more opportunities.
GT: Due to the lack of venues, it’s definitely hard for bands like us to find a place to play. The great thing about this music scene on the other hand is the fact that all these bands have each other’s backs. We’re all battling the same struggles for success. This is a cool scene with many talented bands that deserve the best.

Q: Have you faced any major challenges as a rising band?
GT: Being that all the members of this band all have day and night jobs, it’s a bit of a hassle trying to find time to get together to write and practice. When we do get together, we make sure to get stuff done. Now, sure, we mess around a lot and spend a lot of time looking at memes, but in the end we always accomplish something after a band practice. Another challenge is the fact that there’s not many places in the area to perform at. We’d have to play a show that’s a two-hour drive away, but in the end it’s worth it.

Q: What are your future goals for the band?
GT: We are currently writing songs for our debut album. We look forward to going into the studio to record these tunes and release them. This coming summer, we also plan on going out on our first tour.

Sounds – September 21, 2017

Sounds – September 21, 2017

COOL MOVES SAID THE WHALE — ‘As Long as Your Eyes Are Wide’
THE GOOD: Canadian indie pop/rockers Said the Whale come back with their fifth.
THE BAD: Nothing “bad” but…
THE NITTY GRITTY: …nothing extremely “glowing” either. “Eyes Are Wide” is typical STW — semi-formulaic indie pop in which the guitars and keyboards melt together, the backbeats are that modern Foster the People/Passion Pit dance/rock hybrid, the vocals soar across big melodies, and everything fits oh-so-neatly into place. It’s not exactly musical wallpaper, but it’s dangerously close to being forgotten almost immediately.
In other words, we’ve been here many times before. Then again, tunes such as the spirited “I Will Follow You” or the majestic “Emily Rose” are filled with enough little infectious touches (some not so subtle) to catch us off guard while tickling our ears. The band does know its way around an effective hook or dedicated groove. Still, Said the Whale should consider changing the formula at least a little next time around. No one likes being stuck in a rut.
BUY IT?: Your call.

SYLVAN ESSO — ‘What Now’
THE GOOD: North Carolina electronic indie pop duo Sylvan Esso dodges the sophomore slump with a grand colorful second effort.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: So far, Sylvan Esso’s forward trajectory has been totally unexpected when you consider that vocalist Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn hail from what are essentially modern FOLK outfits (Mountain Man and Megafun, respectively).
Looking at these more rustic musical backgrounds, you might think the duo’s attempts at underground dance pop would be laughable at best. While the two aren’t above satirical lyrics and taking sarcastic jabs at various facets of mainstream society, Meath and Sanborn are always in on the joke. And no one is laughing at the pair’s backing grooves and beats.
Pretty much all these songs are instantly fetching to both the body and the mind. They’re intelligent stuff to which you can’t help but move. “What Now” never loses momentum and ends up a varied collection that crackles, bangs and pops with the best of ’em.
BUY IT?: Yes.

LANA DEL REY — ‘Lust for Life’
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter Lana Del Rey gives us an epic fourth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: “Lust” comes complete with guest vocalists (ASAP Rocky, Sean Lennon, Stevie Nicks), subtle nods to hip-hop (atmospheric beats banging far away in the distance) and not-so-subtle nods to the uncertainty of our times (“When the World Was at War We Kept Dancing”).
At its core though, “Lust” remains yet another divine if not traditional Del Rey set. She’s still obsessed with strictly American images, such as coffee shops and white Mustangs; the unglamorous underbelly of the West Coast; and delivering her brooding tunes as if they were all steamy torch songs, even if the subject matter isn’t the least bit romantic. And you can tell she means every single syllable passing her lips.
“Lust’s” greatest strength though is the songs. The material remains compelling throughout, never dragging even though the entire record barely rises above a mid-tempo roar during its 72-minute playing time.
BUY IT?: Yes.

 

 

Music Appreciation – University of Scranton slates free concerts starring students and national acts

Music Appreciation – University of Scranton slates free concerts starring students and national acts

School is back in session, and for University of Scranton student musicians and singers, their upcoming performances make for teachable moments with the greater community.
The fall schedule features a variety of U of S ensembles, bands and choirs teamed up with nationally renowned music professionals for a slate of free concerts open to the public.
Cheryl Boga, conductor and director of performance music at the university, said she strives to bring in not just great guest performers but also artist-teachers who can impart wisdom to the young soloists and players.

Cheryl Y. Boga

“One of the things I do is look over the long term — not just a season, but over the four years my students will be here,” Boga said. “My philosophy for the program is really one of (acknowledging that) these are the students that are going to make sure live music is supported in communities, our schools and our country, so how do we give them a background of real understanding and appreciation of great music and what it takes to make it?”
In addition to the student recitals, the season’s highlights include concerts that cover a variety of musical genres and bring in talented music professionals, one of whom — trumpet soloist and sideman Jumaane Smith — has a “long and storied history” with U of S, Boga said.
Smith was a member of the bands for crooners Michael Bublé and Harry Connick Jr. and also performed with pop stars including Stevie Wonder, Justin Bieber, Natalie Cole and Alicia Keys. Locally, Smith gave his talents to the U of S as a composer for its concert band and mixed choir, a teacher for brass seminars, conductor and soloist.
“It’s so delightful to see the amazing professional he has become,” Boga said. “His contributions here at Scranton have been unending at every stage of his career.”
Later in the season, guest soloist Kenny Rampton, a member of Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the trumpet voice on “Sesame Street,” will join the U of S Jazz Band for a concert and offer a free master class to students plus amateur and professional musicians 16 and older. With touring credits that include the Ray Charles Orchestra and Matchbox Twenty, Rampton’s expertise spans multiple styles.
Sherrie Maricle and the all-female DIVA Jazz Orchestra also will offer a public master class in addition to a performance that showcases their history as one of the longest-existing professional big bands in the country.
“Sherrie is just wonderful, and she’s led clinics on rhythm for Scranton brass,” Boga said. “She is a gifted and committed teacher, a spectacular drummer and runs a hell of a band. For us to be part of their 25th anniversary tour, coming off amazing venues like the Kennedy Center and Lincoln Center, I still kind of can’t believe we’re going to present them.”

U of S also will mark the 50th year for its annual Noel Night concert, which invites alumni to return and rehearse to be part of the show, Boga said.
“It’s kind of the kick-off for Christmas season for us, musically,” she explained. “It has always been University of Scranton’s gift to the community. We open the doors well over an hour early for seats and have started prelude music for a full hour before the concert even starts because of all the people sitting there.”
Noel Night focuses exclusively on sacred music and also includes remarks from university leaders and readings of the nativity narrative, which students have dubbed the “Peanuts” speech since Linus made it famous in the animated classic “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Providing a well-curated concert season that also is presented free is crucial not only to musical students but to the public, Boga noted.
“The arts are our nation, our world. It’s both a mirror and a window,” she said. “They’re a way to reflect back who we are and who we want to be on every level, from a small community to a wider circle. Music is important to understanding and expressing, acts as a catalyst and spurs communication. Everybody is part of this process.”

 

Singer brings Irish music to Scranton on first American tour

Singer brings Irish music to Scranton on first American tour

Nathan Carter wants to spread his music across the globe.
Raised in an Irish family in Liverpool, England, the country singer already has a large fanbase in Ireland and now is on his first tour of the United States and Canada, which includes a stop in Scranton. Carter will take the stage Thursday, Sept. 21, at 7:30 p.m. at Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple, 420 N. Washington Ave.
“I’m just going to be introducing myself and my music to anyone who have never seen me before,” he said during a recent phone interview from Ireland.
Tickets are $45 to $75 and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 570-344-1111 or online at scrantonculturalcenter.org. With Carter’s six-piece band — including fiddles, whistles, accordion, drums, bass and guitar — music fans can expect to hear old Irish songs, folk songs and traditional Irish music. The set also includes ballads and some popular music, such as Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and a tribute to the late Glen Campbell.
“It’s a mix of Irish songs and current songs that people can sing along to,” Carter said.
Joining him on tour is Chloë Agnew, who became one of the original members of Irish music group Celtic Woman at age 14 and launched a solo career in 2013. She will perform big ballads and classics as well.
“She’s been doing her own thing for a while, and we’re excited to have her on the tour,” Carter said, adding he and Agnew will perform some duets.
Carter started his journey to the stage young, learning to play the accordion and sing as a child. After many performances for family, friends and anyone who would listen, Carter began to compete. By 12, he had won All Ireland medals for singing and playing the accordion. Soon after, he joined the Liverpool Ceili band, playing accordion and piano. Solo performances soon followed in Liverpool and Ireland.
Carter became the first country act to hit No. 1 on the Irish charts after Garth Brooks — several of Carter’s singles reached that spot — and his videos garnered more than 1 million hits on YouTube. He’s appeared on Irish television shows and hosts his own talk show, “The Nathan Carter Show.”
While he’s busy overseas, his tour serves as a way to gain a following with new fans in a new place. Starting over can be daunting, but Carter is just doing what he loves.
“I’m just looking forward to giving the audience a great show and entertaining them,” he said. “I don’t call what I do a ‘job,’ because it’s not a job to me. I love what I do, and I’m really blessed.”

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

If you go
What: Singer Nathan Carter
When: Thursday, Sept. 21, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple, 420 N. Washington Ave.
Details: Tickets are $45 to $75 and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 570-344-1111 or online at scrantonculturalcenter.org.

Sounds – September 14, 2017

Sounds – September 14, 2017

WHERE WERE YOU IN ’92?

SAINT ETIENNE — ‘Home Counties’ 
THE GOOD: English indie pop outfit Saint Etienne enters a second quarter-century together with its ninth.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: “Home Counties” is a loose concept album (aren’t they all?) focusing on stories and characters from the suburbs directly surrounding London. Here the inhabitants have a love-hate relationship with their environment — comfortable, yes, but also mundane. The songs reflect feelings of both familiarity and frustration. (I would imagine suburban life in the United Kingdom is pretty much like it is here except the houses sit closer together.)
Musically though, “Counties” is your typical breezy Saint Etienne album, the backdrops switching effortlessly between club beats and vintage pop circa 1970. The crackling basslines of “Unopened Fan Mail,” the semi-Baroque strains running across “Take It All In,” the funky thrust of “Out of My Mind” — all of it paints such vivid settings. Frontwoman Sarah Cracknell remains the most charming of narrators through it all with her wispy vocals still divine yet unassuming.
BUY IT?: Yes.

CHARLATANS UK — ‘Different Days’
THE GOOD: England’s Charlatans survives the passing of its long-time drummer Jon Brookes and regroups for a strong 13th album.
THE BAD: One could accuse the band of being stuck in “almost” the same place since its breakthrough debut, “Some Friendly,” way back in 1990. The formula remains intact, yet the tunes still satisfy.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Some high-profile fellow Brits make appearances here, including living legends Johnny Marr and Paul Weller. New Order’s Stephen Morris and the Verve’s Pete Salisbury handle drumming duties. Yet “Days” remains typical Charlatans (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Frontman Tim Burgess leans in for his cool, hazy lead vocals while the band churns out killer grooves that blur the lines between ’60s psychedelia and ’90s underground house. Better moments include the murky, haunting “Solutions”; the forward motion of “Not Forgotten” (a funky throwback to the band’s late ’90s heyday); and the delicately swaying, highly infectious “There Will Be Chances.” It all works; the band still is relevant in its comfortable surroundings.
BUY IT?: Sure.

RIDE — ‘Weather Diaries’
THE GOOD: Britpop/shoegaze act Ride comes back with its fourth album overall and first in 21 years.
THE BAD: Adjust your expectations. “Weather” is NOT a game changer or some massive, redefining comeback for the band. However, it IS a very good album that finds the boys succeeding at most everything attempted.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Ride’s varied ’90s catalog saw the group experimenting with everything that was happening almost three decades ago. 1990’s “Nowhere” was one of shoegaze’s genre-defining records. “Going Blank Again” (1992) found more traditional rock elements sneaking into the mix. “Carnival of Light” (1994) was a psychedelic/Britpop hybrid. 1996’s “Tarantula” was the forgotten gem released after the band’s initial break-up and then deleted almost immediately.
Now “Weather Diaries” revisits what made each past album great while updating those styles. The trippy “Lannoy Point” comes together over a swirling groove. “Home Is a Feeling” finds a lilting melody combining with brash guitars. “White Sands” takes its time running across multi-layered changes in mood and tempo. All is fine.
BUY IT?: Yep.

Sounds – September 7, 2017

Sounds – September 7, 2017

K. FLAY — ‘Every Where Is Some Where’
THE GOOD: Illinois singer/rapper K. Flay (born Kristine Meredith Flaherty) dodges the sophomore slump with a genre-bending winner.
THE BAD: Nope. 
THE NITTY GRITTY: After a failed start with RCA and independently releasing a critically acclaimed debut, K. Flay now finds herself at Interscope. However, “Every Where” is hardly a major-label bid for the mainstream.
Lyrically, Flay likes her sex, drugs and other nocturnal pastimes. Musically, we’re smacked upside the head with a cool mix of streamlined dance pop, grisly guitar-driven alt-rock and seedy, hip-grinding hip-hop. Flay flanks it all with a not-so-pretty, bad-ass rock ‘n’ roll attitude. It’s a razor-sharp combination that never lets up.
From the flirtatious “High Enough” to the aggressive “Black Wave” (“Don’t test me!”), Flay doesn’t let her vulnerability completely rise to the surface. And she doesn’t exactly sound susceptible while singing “The President Has a Sex Tape.” Treat her right or you’ll live to regret it. Ignore this album and you’ll regret that too.
BUY IT?: Yeah.

BONOBO — ‘Migration’
THE GOOD: Electronic artist Simon Green (aka Bonobo) comes back with an accomplished sixth.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: On the surface, “Migration” might seem like just another down-tempo or ambient techno album — a mostly instrumental set with a handful of guest vocalists showing up on a few tracks to add a little electro-pop flavor.
And yet, “Migration” works extremely well as a cohesive work while not falling into the more common trappings of its genre. First of all, while the songs with vocals are refreshing, they’re not the stand-out tracks here. Green’s twisting-and-turning instrumental bits are just as compelling. The steady synths across “Outlier” wash over you. The majestic vocal samples on “Figures” are divine.
Second, the record never wears out its welcome. Despite being over an hour long, there’s a cool ebb and flow to the whole affair. Just when matters get all-too-dreamy, Green snaps us back to attention with a sharp-focused rhythm. And yet we never completely leave this “otherworld” until the music’s over.
BUY IT?: Yes.

NITE JEWEL — ‘Real High’
THE GOOD: California singer/songwriter Ramona Gonzalez (stage name Nite Jewel) embraces your best night out circa 1995 on her fourth full-length album.
THE BAD: Sequencing? The second half of the record kind of crawls. However, that could be the late-night “come down” after some heavy partying. 
THE NITTY GRITTY: “Real High” plays like the perfect cross between early ’90s new jack swing and Todd Terry-remixed Everything but the Girl. The R&B influences hail from the mainstream, but the record is still innovative enough for the underground. Add a few Euro-flavored echoes deep within these mixes, and the tracks become even more exotic.
From the breezy shuffle carrying “Had To Let Me Go” to the modern poppy bounce lifting “The Answer,” both the record’s grooves and melodies are highly infectious. The songs take hold, and once you’re locked in their rhythm, there’s no escape. Gonzalez also possesses the perfect voice for her own material; it’s slightly flirtatious but always commanding. She’s strong yet fun — the perfect date.
BUY IT?: Surely.

Sounds – August 31, 2017

Sounds – August 31, 2017

THE MOONLANDINGZ — ‘Interplanetary Class Classics’
THE GOOD: British “band” the Moonlandingz delivers a totally trashy and completely danceable debut. 
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The music is damn near undefinable, but so is the group itself. A melding of art collective the Eccentric Research Council, band members from Fat White Family and producer/musician Sean Lennon, Moonlandingz gives us a record combining Gothic pop, psychedelic disco, noisy garage rock and androgynous glam. It’s outrageous music to accompany the group’s equally outrageous stage shows.
Strange collaborations include Yoko Ono wailing away with the Human League’s Philip Oakey on the corrupt dance-floor anthem “This Cities Undone.” Randy Jones, the Village People’s original cowboy, guests on the sleazy “Glory Hole.” Slow Club’s Rebecca Taylor adds haunting vocals to the disturbingly beautiful “The Strangle of Anna.”
Add occasional blasts of switched-on techno or surf guitar, and these multi-layered soundscapes get even weirder. Time will tell if this is the beginning of a long-term cunning collaboration or a one-off oddity. I’m hoping for the former, not the latter.
BUY IT?: Yes.

!!! — ‘Shake the Shudder’
THE GOOD: California dance-punks !!! crank out their seventh full-length album.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Frontman Nic Offer and his crew continue to revel in their world of decadent funk, groove-heavy rock and steamy, sweaty disco. One song here sums up the band’s attitude since its 2001 inception — “Dancing Is the Best Revenge.” Doesn’t matter what authority, politicians or the world at large throws at you. Boogie your ass off and all will be fine. “Shake the Shudder” is simply the latest bunch of songs in an ever-expanding, pounding playlist that cracks and booms long into the night.
The beats never stop, and their tempos don’t change all that much. However, the slick stuff spread across the top keeps the record from getting stuck in “repeat” mode. So whether it’s the childish electronics on “What R U Up 2day” or the reserved melodic thrust carrying “Imaginary Interviews,” these slabs of pure depravity should keep you moving for a long time to come.
BUY IT?: Yeah.

THE CHAIN GANG OF 1974 — ‘Felt’
THE GOOD: Indie pop singer/songwriter Kamtin Mohager (stage name CGof1974) gives us his fourth.
THE BAD: Too formulaic.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Mohager was never exactly blazing new trails on any past records; each collection is a throwback to alternative synth-heavy rock circa ’84 (as opposed to the ’74 moniker). The guy proved himself very adept at dishing out memorable hooks atop airtight backdrops where guitars and keyboards meshed harmoniously over solid backbeats. Agreeable snappy stuff.Produced by the Naked and Famous’ Thom Powers, “Felt” is more of the same. However, the new album leans in a more dedicated pop direction, so some of the music’s uniqueness is now sorely lacking. Mohager still churns out decent songs though. Personal favorites include steadily flowing goodies such as “Wallflowers” and “Looking for Love.” However, “Felt” slips into mediocrity pretty quickly. Maybe the next collection will be better.
BUY IT?: Meh…Spotify will do. Besides, there’s no CD on this release. You have to make the great leap from download to vinyl if you want a physical copy.