Solo projects, collective have much to offer
Phosphenes — ‘Find Us Where We’re Hiding’
THE GOOD: German collective Phosphenes (primarily producer Harry Starbuck and vocalist Julee Bee) gives us an otherworldly debut.
THE BAD: Pull apart the individual pieces, and you might think the record doesn’t have much to offer. However…
THE NITTY GRITTY: Take in “Find Us” as a whole, and the work is mesmerizing. Upbeat, frothy single “Girls Trip” almost feels out of place, since the remainder of the album sounds much more ambient and “chill.” Close your eyes, drift, and you won’t know where one track ends and another begins. The record is split between songs with traditional structures (sung in English, not German) and more placid, mysterious, instrumental bits.
The mix harkens back to late-period Cocteau Twins and many of those electronic male/female ’90s duos that were all the rage during the latter half of that decade (Olive, Hooverphonic, Mono, etc.). One also detects M83 during the wordless moments. Yet, “Find Us” feels fresh and contemporary, and the band leaves space in which to branch out in the future.
BUY IT?: Surely.
Lykke Li — ‘So Sad So Sexy’
THE GOOD: Swedish singer/songwriter and electronic artist Lykke Li comes back with her fourth.
THE BAD: It’s a definite shift that may alienate some longtime fans. “So Sad” is a far cry from her first couple of gloriously quirky records, particularly 2008’s “Youth Novels.”
THE NITTY GRITTY: Yes, every artist SHOULD progress. Li, however, gives us a trap-influenced album, much of it co-written by collaborator Ilsey Juber (Shawn Mendes, Beyonce, Drake). Not exactly “edgy,” is it?
Cry “sell out” all you want, but the end results aren’t THAT dull. “So Sad” boasts 10 tightly focused tracks exploring relationships, heartbreak and perhaps a new beginning or two. Li’s conversion to this new style doesn’t feel forced; her voice still thrives in a more hip-hop/R&B-influenced setting. And she hasn’t gone full pop, at least not yet.
Li comfortably but carefully walks that fine line between the underground and the mainstream, giving those on both sides of the fence something to embrace.
BUY IT?: Your call.
Mitski — ‘Be the Cowboy’
THE GOOD: Japanese-American indie rocker Mitski comes back with a larger-than-life fifth.
THE BAD: Nothing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Mitski possesses more than a few mad skills. First, she makes a point rather succinctly and economically. The majority of the songs on “Cowboy” hover around the 2-minute mark (14 tracks fly by in about 33 minutes). But she packs a lot of emotion in those brief moments.
Second, she’s not afraid to turn pop structures and rock arrangements inside out and upside down. You never know when a track is going to suddenly switch directions, get claustrophobic or burst wide open.
Third, she’s the consummate singer/songwriter. Not only are her songs good, but Mitski’s voice also is distinct — lovely in spots, unforgiving in others. Whatever the song needs, she brings. It could be the delicate sing-song of “Old Friend”; the cool funk carrying “Nobody”; the banging, synth-heavy “Washing Machine Heart”; or the stark intimacy painting “Two Slow Dancers.” The woman immediately rises to the occasion within any setting.
BUY IT?: Yes.
Chromeo – ‘Head Over Heels’
THE GOOD: Canadian electro-funk duo Chromeo comes back with a slick, star-studded fifth.
THE BAD: Progression? Hardly. Reliability? Hell yes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: These guys have a formula and stick to it. Chromeo has always been big into synth-heavy retro funk — ’80s throwbacks recalling Prince’s Minneapolis heyday, Rick James and a dash of Michael Jackson for the mall crowd. (Remember when kids hung out at the mall?)
But is it all genuine? Does that matter? Once the beats, basslines and goofy lyrics grab you, it’s all about switching off the brain, shutting up and dancing. Sure, tracks such as “Bad Decision” and “Room Service” may be shallow, but they’re also a lot of fun. And this time, the guys have vocalists including French Montana, the Dream and DRAM join the party. Legendary producers Raphael Saadiq (’80s) and Rodney Jenkins (’90s) also lend a hand or, should I say, groove.
Don’t over-think these jams, and “Head Over Heels” totally works. Totally.
BUY IT?: Sure.
Mobley — ‘Fresh Lies, Volume 1’
THE GOOD: Austin, Texas singer/songwriter/producer Mobley unleashes an ambitious project via “Fresh Lies, Volume 1.”
THE BAD: Not really.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Notice the “Volume 1” in the title. Mobley describes the work NOT as an album but as part of an ongoing “song cycle.” “Fresh Lies” will continue for an indefinite amount of time as the man continues to explore the central theme of his relationship (and the relationship of his ancestors and family) with our country at large.
On “Volume 1,” Mobley uses romantic/relationship tropes to describe the bigger picture. Musically, it’s a tight mix of soul and the electronic, with cool, catchy jams riding seamless beats and basslines while synths and harmonies fill in the gaps above. All of it creates a rich tapestry of indie pop/rock.
Mobley walks that fine line between the mainstream and the underground while never sounding contrived. Recalling everything from Gnarls Barkley to Mark Ronson to TV on the Radio, the music pushes forward and leaves us craving future volumes.
BUY IT?: Why not?
Gruff Rhys — ‘Babelsberg’
THE GOOD: Welsh singer/songwriter and former Super Furry Animals (has the group actually broken up?) frontman Gruff Rhys returns with an incendiary fifth solo effort.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The man has flirted with everything from straight indie rock to synth pop, his accomplished and fetching melodies shining through it all. “Babelsberg” continues that tradition, placing Rhys’ tunes in traditional pop/rock arrangements from circa 1969. There’s plenty of sweeping strings and regal horns amongst the tasteful guitars and steady, mid-tempo backbeats. Female back-up vocals add a graceful touch now and then, and opening cut “Frontier Man” even boasts a bit of Nashville country polish.
It all balances nicely against Rhys’ politically charged lyrics. The loose concept of “Babelsberg” is the man’s observations of a divided United States. Rhys peers from the outside and sees our “Drones in the City” and “Negative Vibes.” The messages sneak up from behind amid all the usual pleasantries. A cartoon Donald Trump even blends into the back cover artwork.
BUY IT?: I would.
SIREN SONGS FRANKIE COSMOS — ‘Vessel’
THE GOOD: Indie singer/songwriter and former Porches bassist Greta Kline (daughter of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates) releases her third album as Frankie Cosmos.
THE BAD: “Vessel” feels a bit scattershot in spots; Kline is a better poet than pop singer. You get 18 tracks in about 34 minutes, some no longer than a single verse. Just go with it.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Kline can make the mundane deeply emotional and intriguing. Her voice, not often rising above a sort of purring coo, also gives the record a sense of intimacy. We peek at her innermost feelings even when the band is bashing away in the background. Her words also hail from urban settings, so that tiny voice probably can cut through the sounds of a speeding subway, too.
The woman can either be playful or deadly serious but never off-putting. “Vessel” often feels like you’re just hanging out at Kline’s apartment as she tells you about her day. That’s the charm of it all.
BUY IT?: Yes.
DEAR ROUGE — ‘Phases’
THE GOOD: Canadian electronic duo Dear Rouge (husband-and-wife team Drew and Danielle McTaggart) dodges the sophomore slump on “Phases.”
THE BAD: Enjoyable? Yes. But also “nothing NEW to see here.”
THE NITTY GRITTY: “Phases” is pretty formulaic. We get 10 slices of electronic-leaning indie pop with just enough guitar muscle to satisfy the “rock” people. Danielle McTaggart’s vocals guide the soaring hooks above the even-paced din below. Most of the record is “up” with a couple of token slower bits. Tracks such as “Live through the Night” and “Stolen Days” are catchy and driven enough to liven up your morning run or the side stage at whatever random music festival you choose.
It’s hard to find fault with this stuff other than the fact we’ve been down this road many times before, and yeah, we’ll go down it many more times in the future. Probably on the NEXT Dear Rouge album. Simply adjust your expectations accordingly and enjoy the ride.
BUY IT?: Your call.
MELODY’S ECHO CHAMBER — ‘Bon Voyage’
THE GOOD: French musician Melody Prochet finally releases her second album as Melody’s Echo Chamber.
THE BAD: Not really.
THE NITTY GRITTY: It’s been six long years since MEC’s self-titled debut (produced by Prochet’s boyfriend at the time, Kevin Parker of Tame Impala). Since then, the pair broke up, and Prochet suffered a near-fatal accident that pushed back the release of “Bon Voyage” for over a year.
Under those circumstances, you think the woman would play it safe musically. NOPE. The new album is wildly experimental, difficult to categorize and densely packed with a myriad of varying sounds. Singing in multiple languages and embracing more than a few eras, “Bon Voyage” attempts ALL things dreamy, flirtatious and infectious, and more often than not, it succeeds.
Bouncing amongst Deerhoof’s noisy melodic tendencies, Blonde Redhead’s multi-cultural peculiarities, and the classic charms of Charlotte Gainsbourg, Prochet touches upon everything from sunshine pop to garage rock to psychedelic freak-outs (often within the same song). You’ll uncover something new every time you play this record.
BUY IT?: Yes.
ARCTIC MONKEYS — ‘Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino’
THE GOOD: English indie rock mainstay Arctic Monkeys makes a radical shift on its sixth.
THE BAD: Nothing bad, but “Tranquility Base” is sure to be polarizing among long-time fans.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Musically, the record is closer to frontman Alex Turner’s side project, Last Shadow Puppets, than any previous Arctic Monkeys set. Comparisons to both David Bowie and Serge Gainsbourg are warranted, with the album a heady mix of psychedelic rock, glam, lounge, jazz and chilly dance beats. Guitars aren’t nearly as important this time; the rhythms, switched-on keyboards and piano dominate the proceedings.
Lyrically, Turner goes the sci-fi route, creating a fictional world of recreation and escapism on either our own moon or some distant planet. The guy suffered a period of writer’s block and had to do SOMETHING different. Sending us off planet Earth was the inspired choice. Combine these fits of fancy with the bold new musical direction and Arctic Monkeys challenge us at every turn. Shockingly, they pull it off.
BUY IT?: Yes.
JOHNNY MARR — ‘Call the Comet’
THE GOOD: Ex-Smiths guitarist (not to mention former member of Electronic, The The, Modest Mouse and the Pretenders) Johnny Marr offers his third solo record.
THE BAD: Not really.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Marr is not the strongest frontman, but having played alongside Morrissey, Bernard Sumner and Chrissie Hynde, he never had to be. However, he’s now a SOLO act. One would think the man’s understated vocals would be detrimental, but that hasn’t been the case. The breath and scope of “Comet” also proves Marr is gaining confidence in his role out front and center.
The record’s loose concept asks the question, “What would life be like in a place where everyone is kinder and more forward-thinking?” Like those of his contemporaries, Marr’s lyrics reflect the crazy political climate here in the United States and his native United Kingdom. Musically, we’re given a healthy dose of Marr’s magnificent melodies alongside his powerful, but never flashy, playing. At this point, the man could easily rest on his laurels. He refuses.
BUY IT?: Sure.
STEPHEN MALKMUS AND THE JICKS — ‘Sparkle Hard’
THE GOOD: Indie rock legend and ex-Pavement mastermind Stephen Malkmus gives us his seventh with current band the Jicks.
THE BAD: No.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Pavement was such an influential force throughout the ’90s, Malkmus probably will never fully escape that band’s shadow, even despite the fact that the Jicks has made music for twice as long. Thankfully, that doesn’t prevent the man from giving us a good reason to show up. He still has something relevant to offer two decades after the last Pavement record.
“Sparkle Hard” is lyrically timely, with Malkmus getting downright confrontational with some current events. Musically, it’s a mixed bag covering everything from raging guitar jams (“Bike Lane”) to ragged power pop (“Shiggy”). “Refute” swings by a smoky honky-tonk where Malkmus does a loose duet with fellow indie icon Kim Gordon. “Difficulties/Let Them Eat Vowels” closes the session with some weird prog vibes. Malkmus surprises us around every turn, his music never falling into long-term complacency or malaise.
BUY IT?: Surely.
Local musician and self-described broke, gleeful outsider Tom Flannery doesn’t sound like anyone else.
Flannery has made music since he was a teenager, when he wanted nothing more than to sound like the rockstars he looked up to. But the only person he has ever been able to sound like was Tom Flannery. It was upon this realization that he decided to write his own songs.
More than 10 albums later, Flannery continues to create his own unique music that strives to imitate no one. The Archbald resident recently went On the Record to discuss his recently released CD, which he created with fellow local musican, Bret Alexander.
Q: Did you always know you wanted to work in the music industry?
A: I always knew I wanted to write and record and perform my own songs. Making money at it is, thankfully, secondary.
Q: How has living in this area affected your music?
A: The ground you walk on becomes the building blocks for what you write. Woody Guthrie once said, “All you can write is what you see.” So it’s impossible for your own roots to not drive your own music.
Q: How would you describe your new CD?
A: “Tales from PA 6” is a series of vignettes, really. Little four-minute movies acted out with guitars and mandolins … with legal pads and pens. We plotted out a course from A to B, but that didn’t mean it had to be a straight line. There were loads of back roads, but we eventually got where we wanted to go. It was a true collaboration.
Q: Is this CD a divergence from your usual sound?
A: I think my sound has been pretty consistent over 10-plus records. Driven by acoustic instruments mainly. Mostly quiet noises but the occasional boom.
Q: What was it like working with Bret Alexander?
A: His talent is intimidating, but he isn’t. We’ve become friends and share much in common: The same world view, the same thoughts on work and family, the same thoughts on what constitutes good and what constitutes evil. We don’t disagree on much.
Q: Was it your first time working with him?
A: It’s our second release together. We recorded “Dupont Back Porches” in 2016. The response was very positive, and we thought, “Maybe it’s worth trying this again…”
Q: What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as an artist?
A: The good and the bad nuzzle up against each other nowadays. Technology is such that just about anybody with rudimentary technical skills can make a great-sounding record. It used to be it cost thousands upon thousands of dollars. Now you can make a record in your bedroom on your laptop for the cost of software and a good microphone. As a result, there’s TONS of music out there, and it’s all fighting against each other to be heard. So sometimes making new music is like climbing a mountain to punch an echo. But for me, and for Bret too, it’s not just what we do, it’s who we are. I couldn’t stop writing songs any more than I could stop blinking my eyes.
Q: Who are your biggest musical influences?
A: Pete Townshend and Woody Guthrie.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish in the next year?
A: To remain vertical, employable and word-hungry.
LET’S EAT GRANDMA — ‘I’m All Ears’
THE GOOD: British female teenage synth pop duo Let’s Eat Grandma dodges the sophomore slump on the sweeping “I’m All Ears.”
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth have been friends since nursery school. And at the age most teenagers are thinking about acquiring that all-precious driver’s license, the pair were releasing their first critically acclaimed album, 2016’s “I, Gemini.”
One could say “I’m All Ears” is more mature, but that might do the record a disservice. Change happens quickly during those late teenage years. So now that the ladies are 19, they can’t help but have a more grown-up outlook. Check out the harried swagger carrying “Snakes and Ladders.”
On the whole though, “Ears” remains a stirring, synth-heavy album, moving from pulsating poppers such as “Falling into Me” to more ambitious anthems, such as “Cool & Collected,” seamlessly. It’s all very driven, catchy and, most importantly, English. LEG remain kids too cool to crossover, the American mainstream be damned!
BUY IT?: Yes.
THIEVERY CORPORATION — ‘Treasures from the Temple’
THE GOOD: Washington, D.C., electronic duo Thievery Corporation scratches out a cool companion piece to last year’s “The Temple of I & I.”
THE BAD: ALL of the material isn’t necessarily NEW, but that’s OK.
THE NITTY GRITTY: “Treasures” is a heady combination of remixes, leftovers from the “I & I” sessions and new tracks. The collection leans heavy in reggae and dub, but there are a few bits of Europop and hip-hop, too. It all ends up an unpredictable mix tape capable of standing completely on its own merits, despite being connected to a prior release. This is NOT just a cash grab or disposable “lesser” album.
Guest vocalists include the in-your-face Racquel Jones, nuanced yet commanding Notch, and sultry and smooth-as-butter Lou Lou Ghelichakhani. Political in spots, dreamy in others, “Treasures” goes through more than a few hip-shaking mood swings before its conclusion. But ALL these jams are energetic and powerful in their own specific way. “Treasures” cooks.
BUY IT?: Yep.
STRANGE NAMES — ‘Data’
THE GOOD: Brooklyn electro-rockers Strange Names avoids the sophomore slump with “Data.”
THE BAD: Nah.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The self-produced album is an upbeat throwback to the skinny-tie sporting early ’80s. The guys hit that sweet spot where funky electric guitars and switched-on synthesizers co-exist in perfect neon harmony. And of course, everything rides a big, frothy backbeat. Place the band alongside contemporaries such as Yeasayer or vintage Aztec Camera, and neither comparison would be off the mark.
Tracks such as the seamlessly pulsating “People to Go,” the endlessly catchy “Circles” and the delicate, slightly melancholy “Head First” draw us in immediately. “Data” even revolves around a loose concept, the songs written from the perspective of aliens observing us from afar and collecting “data” about our planet. Play close attention, you’ll catch it. But the tunes still work if you ignore their framework.
BUY IT?: Surely. There’s barely an ounce of fat on this record, with 10 would-be singles leaving a feel-good impression in 35 minutes flat.
Hometown pride means a lot to Nanticoke-based band Send Request.
Images of parks, ice cream shops, diners and schools from across the Luzerne County town appear in the band’s most recent music video, “Falling to Pieces.”
“We wanted this video to showcase the places and people who made us who we are today,” the band wrote on its Facebook page. “This is where we call home.”
The pop-punk outfit comprised of Andrew Blank, vocals and guitar; Derek Holminski, guitar and vocals; bassist Aron Wood and drummer Jonathon Labenski, recently signed to SharpTone Records, which produces popular bands such as We Came As Romans and Miss May I.
The quartet recently went On the Record to discuss how the band came to fruition and its new album, “Perspectives,” which hits record stores Friday, Aug. 24.
Q: How did you choose your band name, Send Request?
Holminski: I was on Internet Explorer downloading Google Chrome, and in the bottom left corner it said “sending request.” I just dropped the “ing.” We ended up using the name by all of us writing five band names and mixing them up in a salad bowl. We drew each name and pinned them against each other tournament style, until Send Request won.
Q: What was the path that lead to the creation of Send Request, and how long have you been working together as a group?
Blank: We all went to the same high school. I was 16 and doing this cover band with Jon at the time but also sharing an interest with Derek about writing songs and touring. Ultimately, the cover band came to an end, and Send Request was created not long after that. Derek got in touch with Aron, and I got back in touch with Jon, and five years later here we are still riding the same wave. I can solidly say we have no plans to stop. Music is our passion.
Q: Do you perform outside of NEPA? If so, where have you toured, and how often?
Labenski: We make our way out of the Northeast occasionally. We have done a few shows in the Philadelphia area and the Allentown area. We have also had the pleasure of building a fan base in the Williamsport area. Throughout the years, we have also done shows in New Jersey and New York.
Q: Describe a Send Request live show. What do you hope for your audiences to experience while seeing you perform?
Wood: A Send Request live show in its purest form is best described as hitting up all your friends and just hanging out and having the best time you possibly can. As a band, we try to connect with our fans both on and offstage and are happy to say that we are friends with all of our fans new and old. Connecting through music is what we live for, and being able to meet all the amazing people we have through it makes it that much better.
Q: What do you enjoy about performing in and around NEPA? Has the music scene here affected your sound as a band?
Holminski: I mean, it’s always awesome to play in our home. Getting to see all the friends we have made over the years jam out with us is something extremely special. There isn’t much pop-punk in the area, so that is something we are definitely trying to change.
Q: Your album, “Perspectives” is coming out this month. What was the songwriting process like for this record? Do you have a favorite song on the album?
Blank: “Perspectives” is a conglomerate of different emotions all bundled into 10 tracks. Each song lyrically has a story that comes from personal experience, so the record almost feels like a diary to me. The songwriting process was slow, but I wanted everything to feel as natural and as relatable as it could be, and I’ve learned things like that take time, so I was patient and really let the songs write themselves in a way. I can honestly say I’m really happy with the album as a whole, so I can’t pick favorites when the whole thing is just that good.
Q: Has being signed with SharpTone Records affected your outlook for the future of the band?
Blank: If anything, it’s made us buckle down more. We want to be the best we can be, so we’ll just keep grinding.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add that you think people should know about Send Request or your upcoming record release?
Labenski: This new record is gonna hit really hard. All of it is emotionally driven, and that is definitely a different speed for this band. It is this band’s best work to date.
Find Send Request on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and www.sendrequestband.com
NAKED GIANTS — ‘Sluff’
THE GOOD: Seattle indie rock trio Naked Giants goes big on its debut.
THE BAD: “Sluff” is accomplished but flawed.
THE NITTY GRITTY: When these guys are focused, the end result is airtight, with brash, guitar-based rockers such as “We’re Alone” and the plucky title track. The songs break wide open with a nervous energy and copious amounts of volume. There’s a sense of fun permeating a number of cuts and a hidden sophistication lurking just beneath the surface — a classic rock/punk mish-mash that actually works.
Too bad the band occasionally goes off on tangents. “TV” is messy prog rock; “Slow Dance 2” offers an unnecessary bout of the blues. “Shredded Again” feels like extended acoustic wanking. It would be cool if these different sounds brought on more than just a change of pace. But all too often, they end up as missteps outside the comfort zone of a developing young band. Although, “Sluff” still leaves you with the impression that things will only improve on future records.
BUY IT?: Maybe.
NIHILIST CHEERLEADER — ‘Riot, Right?’
THE GOOD: Athens, Georgia, girl punks Nihilist Cheerleader bash out a ripping debut.
THE BAD: Nah.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Back in high school, I used to try to sneak out of mandatory pep rallies, but those teachers guarding the gymnasium doors were tough. “You’re gonna show your school spirit whether you like it or not!” Oh well. Whatever. Nevermind.
So I can definitely get behind the name Nihilist Cheerleader, although these women scream about more significant political and social issues as opposed to the “Friday Night Lights” nonsense I tried to escape in the late 1980s.
Musically, they offer a blistering mix of garage punk noise (“I’m Fine,” “Bleach Boy”) and slightly subdued and melodic indie rock (“Drenched In,” “& She Takes It”). Frontwoman Flynne Collins and her crew are equally adept at both extremes. The album is always fuzzed-out and noisy but never stuck on any particular mood for long. Get angry or thrash about for fun. It’s all good.
BUY IT?: Yeah.
WAX IDOLS — ‘Happy Ending’
THE GOOD: California goth rockers Wax Idols confront mortality while moving forward on their fourth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Go all the way back to Siouxsie and the Banshees and you’ll find that goth bands usually progress slowly across albums, beginning in strident dark caves and eventually embracing at least SOME light. Their music tends to get bigger, more melodic and accessible in a good way. Wax Idols is following this very trajectory.
Thus far, “Happy Ending,” an album focusing on impending death and what comes after, is its most confident work. Frontwoman Hether Fortune is further developing as a commanding vocalist. The guitar work is bolder, the rhythm section more forceful. The record also displays the band’s ability to write compelling songs where dark overtones are only bolstered by the big pop melodies guiding them through the abyss. One hears echoes of everything from shoegaze to ’90s Britpop to post-punk. Dying rarely sounds this cool.
BUY IT?: Surely. And go for the limited-edition vinyl.
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.