ARE WE HAVING FUN YET?
NoNoNo — We Are Only What We Feel
THE GOOD: Swedish trio NoNoNo delivers a bouncy debut full-length.
THE BAD: Feel is catchy, but incredibly hollow.
THE NITTY GRITTY: We essentially have two producers and a female vocalist conjuring up modern indie pop in the sing-song folksy half-acoustic, half-electric tradition of contemporaries like Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. This is the stuff wholly embraced by editors who cut movie trailers for teen flicks, ad men pitching ideas to cell phone companies and modern rock radio programmers who like to keep it dull and not too “edgy.”
You get by-the-numbers feel-good fluffy music that sets your toes-a-tapping and turns your brain to mush. The trio actually scored a genuine hit last fall with the joyfully whistling “Pumping Blood” (included here). Feel is nine more tracks cut from the same cloth — infectious little stompers that bleed into one another after about 15 minutes. Nothing disagreeable, but nothing very memorable either.
BUY IT?: Whatever.
BISHOP ALLEN — Lights Out
THE GOOD: Brooklyn indie rockers Bishop Allen return with their first proper record in five years.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Lights Out works on different levels. On the surface, it’s a damn infectious indie pop record. Songs like bright opener “Start Again” and the slightly melancholy “Good Talk” are built with decent beats and better melodies.
Listen again and complexities begin to bubble to the surface. Lights Out is much more varied than you initially thought. Amongst all the sheer pop bombast are tunes like “Black Hole” and “Shadow;” gentler emotional moments made even more distinct by Darbie Nowatka’s female vocals. Tracks such as “Hammer and Nail” and “Bread Crumbs” dial up the album’s quirky elements; nothing wrong with these off-center rhythms and weird lyrical images.
It all adds up to a mostly upbeat collection that can enhance your next intimate get together, Sunday morning lay-about or headphones session. Lights Out is worthy of your undivided attention yet doesn’t demand it.
BUY IT?: Definitely.
PHOX — Phox
THE GOOD: Wisconsin indie pop outfit Phox releases a decent debut.
THE BAD: The set loses momentum around its middle and never fully recovers. This is definitely a record of highs and lows.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Led by the low-key yet charming Monica Martin, Phox could cozy up to other modern folk-influenced acts like Lumineers and Mumford and Sons. They certainly use enough acoustic guitars and banjos to warrant the comparison. But Phox also injects a healthy dose of twee into their sound, recalling European female-fronted acts like the Concretes and Camera Obscura.
Intentional or not, this band defies simple categorization and that keeps things interesting. While floating through this eponymous debut, one experiences many flavors, from the gently rolling “1936” to the intensely melancholy “Laura” to the more monumental “Raspberry Seed.”
BUY IT?: Give Phox a shot. Though not flawless, the record finds the band establishing an almost “international” style and laying the groundwork for even better releases further down the road.
LANA DEL REY — Ultraviolence
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter Elizabeth Grant (stage persona Lana Del Rey) gives us a dramatic third album.
THE BAD: In essence, Ultraviolence is a “downer.” But there’s no denying the album’s overall quality and uniqueness.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Del Rey is a woman on a downward spiral, obsessed with bad relationships, the seedy underbelly of urban living, drugs and ultimately death. Most tracks are slow to mid-tempo explorations of these “indulgences” sung in Del Rey’s unaffected contralto.
Mostly produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, Ultraviolence plays like a modern blues collection filtered through a thin layer of Hollywood gloss, not completely authentic but still gritty and grainy. One could compare the record to Cat Power’s more haunted works or the stripped-down bits of a Bat for Lashes collection.
Tracks like the title cut and “West Coast” keep things good and gloomy even when the tempos shift slightly upward. The retro fitted “Brooklyn Baby” is strictly for the East Coast hipster in all of us.
BUY IT?: Still … definitely.
ROYKSOPP AND ROBYN — Do It Again
THE GOOD: Swedish indie pop queen Robyn teams up with Norwegian electronic duo Royksopp (again) and the end results are nothing short of hypnotizing.
THE BAD: Do It Again falls into that “feels like a side project” trap. But it’s a damn accomplished side project.
THE NITTY GRITTY: These two not-so-disparate acts worked together before on each other’s albums so they were already past the awkward “getting acquainted” phase. But since those past collaborations were always limited to a cut or two, Do It Again really allowed all involved to stretch their collective creativity.
Tight cuts like the thumping title track and the more flirtatious (OK, robotic and sex-crazed) “Sayit” are textbook examples of pristine electronic pop. Longer pieces such as “Monument” and “Inside the Idle Hour Club” are more serious, introspective and seductive in a different way — the works fragile and dreamlike.
BUY IT?: Yes! A full album would have been better, but this 35-minute EP is a pairing that should be savored.
LA ROUX — Trouble In Paradise
THE GOOD: British electronic duo (now solo act) La Roux is back with their (her) sophomore record.
THE BAD: That’s right. Producer Ben Langmaid has left the building, leaving songwriter/vocalist Elly Jackson to go it alone — not that it makes much difference. The new music on Paradise is still slick, catchy and danceable. But was it worth a five-year wait?
THE NITTY GRITTY: That could be Paradise’s biggest problem. So much stuff has happened musically since “Bulletproof” was a hit, you sort of forgot about La Roux. Your inner critic may feel somewhat shortchanged by the new record after the long gap since Jackson’s debut.
In the end, Paradise is just a modern synth-pop record. Good? Yes. Amazingly innovative? Hardly. Tracks like “Cruel Sexuality” and “Silent Partner” are seamless and solid, built with airtight rhythms and big melodies. No bad cuts here, but no great ones either. One will want to visit Paradise without staying too long.
BUY IT?: Your choice.
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve noticed I’m on a bit of an Abbey Ale kick. In the last edition of Liquid, I drank Althea. It was a delicious Dubel from Weyerbacher breweries that had flavors of plum and spice. This week, I’m trying out the Beerhive Tripel from New Belgium Brewing. If a Dubel is good, a Tripel must be three times as good, right? I’m not sure how beer math works, but it makes sense to me.
In all seriousness, the name refers to the amount of malt. A Dubel has twice the amount as a regular Abbey brewed Pale Ale. Thus, a Tripel has three times the malt. Not only does this affect the flavor, but it also affects the amount of alcohol in the brew. More malt means more sugar, which means more food for the yeast to turn into boozy goodness. They weigh in anywhere from 8 percent to 12 percent ABV, which is certainly respectable.
There were more apparent differences as soon as the brew was poured. Where Althea was a ruby red color, Beerhive was a dark golden, almost brown color. The lacing was not as prevalent either. The brew produced a very slight amount of head and appeared generally thicker.
The scent was pleasing and complex. At first, I mostly noticed the alcohol and malt. It was a bit like sniffing an alcoholic biscuit. After that initial barrage came ginger and spice backed by sweet honey. It reminded me a bit of pumpkin pie, as there was some clove coming through. It was certainly inviting.
The taste did not disappoint. There was a great deal of sweetness, but not so much that it made it cloying or gross. This was placed upon a deep and delicious backbone of cereal like malt. The biscuit that was in the scent certainly followed through in the taste as well. There were flavors of ginger and clove, but they were subtle and well blended. They added to the whole of the brew, rather than being a distraction. There were hints of dried fruit, such as raisins throughout each swallow.
The carbonation kept this one from getting too heavy. The mouthfeel was somewhat similar to that of Althea — a bit syrupy, but not sticky or unpleasant. It’s semi-thick body has enough carbonation to pass if off as a summer or winter brew. It’s dense enough to be comforting, yet it goes down smoothly enough to be easy drinking. That is a beautiful combination.
It should be noted that this is quite the unique take on a Tripel. That being said, this was a contrast to Weyerbacher’s Althea. Althea was somewhat delicate, all the flavors being light yet interesting. Beerhive, however, was a bit heavier with very strong malt characteristics giving it a much hardier feel to it. At 8.8 percent ABV, its only slightly more alcoholic than Althea, which clocked in at 7.7 percent. Its extra presence was felt, however. While I’m certainly not saying it was a better brew, it was more robust.
Ultimately, I really liked this beer. There are two things I like in excessive quantities — malt and hops. This certainly had a great amount of the latter. Thus far, my Abbey Ale experience has been varied and rewarding. Next stop, the wondrous realm of the mysterious Quadruppel.
In the last Liquid, I wrote about Abbey Ales. I covered many thrilling topics, such as beer as grain preservation. I assure you — every moment was riveting.
Enough of the theory. Lets get to the practice. Its time to get down to the grueling work of drinking some of the Abbey-style ales. There are plenty on the shelves — some being from real Abbeys and others that are awesome imitations. I start with one of these secular brews this week. It comes from none other than Weyerbacher Brewery.
Weyerbacher certainly isn’t an Abbey. Sure, they have a brew called Merry Monks. They also have beers with such names such as Old Heathen, Heresy and Blasphemy. On occasion, after tasting their brews, I theorize that they may have made some deals with some darker entities to be able to make beer that is as good as it is. They’ve produced a lot of big, robust ales that aren’t afraid to leave a mark.
Nowadays, classifying a beer as an Abbey Ale depends more on how its brewed than where, however. For instance, a Dubbel is a type of Abbey Ale. They are characteristically quite malty. They taste a bit like alcoholic cereal in the best possible way. This is usually accompanied by some pronounced fruitiness, a bit of sweetness (at times accentuated by candied sugar) and a mild application of hops. They are moderately alcoholic, ranging from 6.5 percent on the low end to a very respectable 9 percent on the high end. This is a result of the large amount of malt they use to brew. More malt means more sugars, which means more food for the yeast to turn into alcohol.
This week, I’m drinking Weyerbacher’s Althea, a Belgian style Dubbel brewed with plums. This particular brew has been hanging out in my pantry since last October. This is worth noting as aging a beer tends to mild its flavors. Weyerbacher has not re-released this brew as of yet. If you find one, chances are it’s going to share similar characteristics to mine.
The pour was a beautiful Ruby Red color. It was topped with an inch or so worth of head that left a good amount of lacing as it dissipated. The smelll was quite pleasing, the scent of plums and raisins leading the way. This was backed by notes of molasses and brown sugar which lingered only slightly before giving way to black pepper spiciness and earthy yeast. There was a good deal of complexity in the nose.
The taste followed suit. At first, all I could taste was the sweetness from the plums and the malt. It was not at all displeasing, but it did mask the more subtle tastes that lingered within. As I drank more of the brew, my tongue began to acclimate. The black pepper spiciness and yeast became apparent. There was also an herbal quality to it that I believe could be from the hops. There was a bit of clove flavor lurking in there as well, which is common in many Belgian brews. It finishes up with a nice amount of carbonation, making it rather refreshing and a good summer drink.
This was a fun take on a Dubbel. It might be a little hard to find at the moment, but fear not. Weyerbacher plans to release Althea again. For a brewery that produces a few blasphemous beers, they do right by this Abbey Ale.
JACK WHITE — Lazaretto
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter/guitarist Jack White returns with his second solo outing.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: All throughout his days with the White Stripes, Raconteurs and Dead Weather (those latter two bands are still together in some form), White has always done so much with just the basics. Blues with a definite rock slant is at the heart of the man’s work; White is an accomplished guitarist who keeps his playing pure as opposed to flashy.
Lazaretto is the guy’s first record without a succinct direction, but he manages to hold the set together and make it work. Instead of just focusing on the thunderous garage rock of the Stripes, or the raw male-female vocal interplay from the Weather, or even the folk and country flirtations that seep in on many occasions, Lazaretto combines all of these sounds to become a varied collection that rarely stumbles. The music seems to guide White this time, as opposed to the other way around.
BUY IT?: Yes.
FIRST AID KIT — Stay Gold
THE GOOD: Swedish duo (and sisters) First Aid Kit sign to a major label (Columbia), unleash their sparkling third album and offer up their most ambitious stuff yet.
THE BAD: Nothing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: It’s funny (or sad when thinking about the pathetic state of mainstream country these days), but one of the most authentic and American sounding records this year will be Stay Gold — written and recorded by two young ladies from Sweden and produced by indie rock workhorse Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley, Tilly and the Wall, etc).
Once again, the sisters bring on their airtight and lilting harmonies over a steadily chugging backdrop of acoustic guitars, weeping pedal steels and glistening autoharp. The arrangements are fuller this time out, occasional orchestral elements adding color, but the basic aesthetic is still the same. First Aid Kit remains two girls singing about love, heartbreak, family and home; the music pure and relatable. And it’s all oh so good!
BUY IT?: You must.
THE ANTLERS — Familiars
THE GOOD: The Brooklyn indie rockers are back with a subdued fifth.
THE BAD: Be warned. Familiars is all about mood and texture; a low resonating album that builds oh-so-slowly.
THE NITTY GRITTY: But that moodiness is also the record’s greatest strength. While frontman Peter Silberman’s songs are good, they’re par for the course in the indie rock world. What sets them apart is the presentation. Familiars ends up being one of the most hauntingly striking records that’s come about in quite some time.
Smoky guitars and foggy piano combine with the most integral solo trumpet found in a rock band since the heyday of Cake. The rhythms are tight but never intrusive. Silberman’s vocals blend with the backdrops while not fading completely into them. It’s a noteworthy effect; all parts perfectly equal.
Familiars doesn’t have any weak moments, but the album peaks in the middle. Tracks like the mildly churning “Intruders” and the always escalating “Revisited” find the band at their most inspired.
BUY IT?: Yes.
TUNE-YARDS — Nikki Nack
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/performance artist Merrill Garbus brings her quirky brand of indie pop to a third full-length.
THE BAD: Expect the unexpected. Not “bad,” just a warning to those who can’t look outside traditional song structures or instrumentation.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Armed with a ukulele and a liberal agenda, Garbus creates rousing stomping sing-a-longs, children’s songs with a savage satirical wit and introspective bits where indie rock and tribal rhythms merge.
This time, Garbus went to Haiti for inspiration and came back with an underground version of Paul Simon’s the Rhythm of the Saints. The record feels that ambitious — certainly the most determined Tune-Yards set so far. One easily becomes wrapped up in the unrestrained shouts punctuating the infectious “Water Fountain” or the jingle-jangle pop embedded deep within the banging “Left Behind.” An odd moment like “Why Do We Dine on the Tots” adds even more flair to an already flamboyant collection.
BUY IT?: Be adventurous. Go for it!
CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH — Only Run
THE GOOD: Philly indie rockers CYHSY return with a haphazard fourth.
THE BAD: Only Run is a record of extreme highs and lows.
THE NITTY GRITTY: After some drastic line-up changes, founding member and frontman Alec Ounsworth seems to be the last man standing. That’s probably fine with him. The guy’s now free to move in any whimsical direction he chooses.
That freedom is both a blessing and a curse on Only Run. On the one hand, we get an eclectic unpredictable set boasting some good music. On the other hand, the lack of direction makes a few moments feel half-baked or ill conceived.
Ounsworth also seems to be suffering an identity crisis. He could be a new Radiohead (“Beyond Illusion”). With producer Dave Fridmann behind the mixing board, our boy can’t help but echo MGMT (the title cut). When Matt Berninger of the National shows up, Ounsworth seems to be channeling … well … The National.
BUY IT?: Your call. Run is good, but far from flawless.
THE DONKEYS — Ride the Black Wave
THE GOOD: San Diego indie rockers the Donkeys embrace the sun and surf on their fourth.
THE BAD: Wave isn’t a tight affair; the record more about mood than tight songwriting. It also practically demands you simply “go with the flow.”
THE NITTY GRITTY: Laid-back and steady opener “Sunny Daze” sets the tone. Here the central character contemplates a life change, but you can tell he’s perfectly content to stay sun-baked, buzzed and right where he is. From there we move onto the honky-tonk tinged “I Heart Alabama,” sitar-laced instrumental “Imperial Beach,” and darker yet melodically appealing title cut.
There are times when these guys come off as the ultimate cross between slightly noisy indie aesthetics and the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty. Wave possesses an almost hypnotic ebb and flow, with the individual parts creating a greater whole capable of transporting you far away — but without that dippy Jack Johnson aftertaste.
BUY IT?: Sure. Summer will be over soon, but maybe it doesn’t have to be.
assorted declarations from editor tom graham
Vote for Your Favorites
Voting has begun for the inaugural Steamtown Music Awards, taking place Friday, Oct. 10 at the V Spot ( 906 Providence Road, Scranton) and will serve as the kickoff event for the 2014 Electric City Music Conference’s weekend of activities. The purpose of the awards event is to honor the region’s musicians and provide a night where local musicians can appreciate each other and network. The event will feature a red carpet walk, pictures, performances, awards and an after party set by Heavy Blonde.
A six-person committee has been assembled and will cast their votes for each category. The public can also vote now online at electriccitymusicconference.com. The public votes total will be equal to one vote from the committee. The committee consists of Jesse Vipond (formerly of The Can’t Help Its), Brad Beneski (former drummer of Pull the Pin), Mike Lello (Highway 81 Revisited), Jenn Sekelsky (The Keys), Mark Dennebaum (25/8 Productions) and Joe Caviston (Electric City Music Conference).
The award ceremony is free to all nominees and $5 for the public.
Blow Me a Kiss
Rock and Roll Hall of famers — and my least favorite band in the world— KISS “rock and roll all nite” at The Pavilion at Montage Mountain this Saturday, Aug. 9 at 7 p.m. British rock legends Def Leppard are also on the bill.
Formed in 1973, KISS is best known for their wild stage show theatrics, spitting blood, pyrotechnics and plenty of make-up. The band, with only founding members Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons remaining, are sure to deliver their classic rock hits such as “Detroit Rock City,” “Hard Luck Woman,” “I Was Made for Lovin’ You,” “Rock and Roll All Nite” and “Shout It Out Loud (live ‘96).” The band last played the area in 2012 with Motley Crue.
Tickets are $50.85 to $208, available at the box office, online and at Ticketmaster outlets, or by calling 800-745-3000.
The Great Blues Sky
Mountain Sky, 63 Stillmeadow Ln., Jermyn, hosts Clarence Spady’s second annual Blues Festival this weekend, Aug. 8 and 9. Friday’s bands include Joe Kopicki Band, The Merchants Of Groove, Bushmaster Featuring Gary Brown and Preach Freedom & Connect. Saturday’s performers are Friends Of The Family, James Dalton, The Cinder Brothers, Phyllis Hopkins Band, Clarence Spady Band and Moodswing featuring Rahboo Sabb. Tickets are $35 dollars in advance, $45 day of the show. All tickets include free onsite camping. Kids under the age of 12 are free, and pets are welcome. There will also be a community fire pit and food and craft vendors. For more information, visit mountainsky.net.
Here’s what’s in my headphones this week: Ray LaMontagne Supernova (RCA) 2014
RESPECT YOUR ELDERS
ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN — Meteorites
THE GOOD: British indie legends Echo and the Bunnymen remain enchanting after 35 years of on-again, off-again music making.
THE BAD: Their twelfth proper album Meteorites is good, but it further proves the band’s best days are behind them.
THE NITTY GRITTY: For awhile now, the group has been down to just its two core members — primary songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Ian McCulloch and lead guitarist Will Sergeant. There hasn’t been a permanent rhythm section for years. These guys are like the alternative version of The Who, being a proper band in name only.
Meteorites ends up a pleasant collection. Driven tunes like “Explosions” and “Lovers on the Run” recall the more accessible moments from the band’s mid-80’s heyday, but never quite match the memorable strains of a “Killing Moon” or “Lips Like Sugar.” At least they’re giving it a respectable effort.
BUY IT?: Your choice. Long-time fans will be satisfied. Newbies should seek out the classics.
BOB MOULD — Beauty and Ruin
THE GOOD: Ex-Husker Du and Sugar frontman Bob Mould continues his blistering solo career with another indie powerhouse.
THE BAD: Not much progression, but Mould’s tried-and-true formula hasn’t worn out its welcome.
THE NITTY GRITTY: This is Mould’s second consecutive album with his current rhythm section, bassist Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster. The last time the man was part of an indie trio this strong, it was the aforementioned Sugar. That’s probably why 2012’s Silver Age and this new record come gloriously close to the melodic intensity of the original pair of Sugar albums from two decades ago.
Beauty and Rain finds the guys turning up the distortion, punching up the rhythms and spreading some infectious tunes over the top of songs that would still work if only backed by acoustic guitar. Once again, that’s why the collection works so well. The songs are that good. We’re glad the works are loud and crunchy, but they don’t need to be.
BUY IT?: Yes.
MORRISSEY — World Peace Is None of Your Business
THE GOOD: British singer/songwriter and ex-Smith Morrissey gives us his tenth proper solo disc and first in half a decade.
THE BAD: It’s a Morrissey album, plain and simple. You either embrace his genius or find his world outlook too damn morose.
THE NITTY GRITTY: World Peace is solid. It’s not the man’s best, but a very good chapter in the expansive catalog. Produced by Joe Chiccarelli (My Morning Jacket, the Shins), the record finds Morrissey delivering his usual brand of dramatic melodic indie pop, all while painting vivid, sarcastic and often critical pictures with his lyrics.
This time he takes on those who cause animal suffering (“The Bullfighter Dies”), politicians (the title cut), family traditionalists (“Kick the Bride Down the Aisle”) and a host of other usual targets. We’ve been here before so we should know what to expect. Thankfully, World Peace is so finely crafted, you don’t mind being dragged into this guy’s pit of despair yet again.
BUY IT?: Sure.
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
If you’ve drunk enough beer, you’ve likely noticed the religious connection of some Belgian and Belgian-style brews. There is a broad category known as Abbey Ales that cover the vast majority of them. When you think about religion, you generally don’t think about beer at the same time. Unless, that is, you’re thinking about one of the area church bazaars, but I digress.
So what’s up with all these Abbey Ales? It all started in the middle ages in the Cistercian monastery in La Trappe, France. Reacting to a perceived liberal bent to the Cistercian order, the Abbot of La Trappe imposed many strict new rules, one of which being that monasteries should be self-supporting. While this certainly meant growing their own food, it also meant brewing their own beer.
While this might seem like it should be secondary to other endeavors in modern day, its important to look at brewing beer as something other than a means to an end of intoxication. Fundamentally, brewing is a manner of preserving, just like drying or canning is. Brewing beer takes sprouted barley, which is higher in nutrition than non sprouted barley and ferments it. What this means is that a bunch of yeast eats all the sugar in there. This has a few side effects.
The first and most obvious are the ones we all know and enjoy today. The yeast produces alcohol and carbonation. We all know what those do. They also provide another important function, however. Safe yeast colonize a brew, leaving no room for other, disease-carrying organisms to enter in. The alcohol in a beer also acts just like rubbing alcohol does in regard to these dangerous microorganisms. The booze basically sterilizes itself, keeping it safe to consume much longer than grain alone would keep.
In effect, the monks brewing these beers were just preserving valuable food and nutrients. Aside from the nutritional contents, beer consumed in moderation has a number of other health benefits, ranging from a decrease risk of kidney stones and an increase in good cholesterol. With all this in mind, it makes perfect sense that an organization striving for self sufficiency would brew their own beer. I’m sure the entertainment factor did not hurt, either.
The term Abbey Ale can include a lot of things. Some breweries have used the term to refer to any beer brewed in the style of a Belgian monastery. Other breweries have named individual beers simply “Abbey Ale”, creating a style almost unto itself. For our purposes, however, we’re going to use Abbey Ale to refer to brews made by real Trappist Monasteries and the breweries that seek to emulate them.
This all being said, the next few Liquids are going to have a strong focus on some Abbey-style ales, namely the Dubbel, Tripel and perhaps even a Quadrupel if I end up feeling frisky. There are certainly some variations of these styles, especially by American breweries, that I’ll explore. Some of the originals will have to be sampled as well, of course.
August seems like a great time to get drunk with class. Abbey Ales are a great way to do that. I’ll start with Pennsylvania’s own Weyerbacher and its Althea, a Dubbel brewed with plums. It promises to be delicious. See you in two weeks for some Belgian fun.
Brian Langan and Conor McGuigan, the dynamic and dancing duo behind the Panked! dance parties, are ready get the dance floor full of booty shaking and sandy mischief. ShipWRECKED Panked! happens Thursday, July 31, at The Bog, 341 Adams Ave., Scranton. Attendees are encouraged to be creative with their costume skills and come ready to sweat up the remote barroom island as dancers try to survive the challenging elements, like deep vinyl cuts and chugging tropical rum. As usual, there will be unique prizes and drink specials. For more information, visit facebook.com/panked.danceparty.
Two Rock Shows
Enjoy a solid double bill of music with SUZE and Dustin Drevitch & the Electric Gentleman on Aug. 2 at the River Street Jazz Cafe. The 21 and older show starts at 10 p.m. with a $5 to $8 cover. Originally formed out of Kingston in the summer of 2007, SUZE is a five-piece line-up that consists of Adam McKinley (lead vocals/guitar), Brandin Shaffern (bass), Kevin Gallagher (drums), Adam Gabriel (lead guitar) and Angelo Miraglia (keys). The band released their debut original album, When the World is Not Enough, in 2012 and Sounds From Thursday Evening earlier this year. For more information, visit facebook.com/SuzeMusic.
A week of music
If you’re out looking for live music in the 570 this week, look no further. Here are some top picks:
Check out the one-man wrecking-machine Zach Deputy at the River Street Jazz Cafe.
How about bopping in to see Katie Kelly and the Charming Beards at The Factroy: Underground or A Social State, Red Hands and Young At Heart at The Other Side, both in Wilkes-Barre.
Sunday is a good day to relax with some outside music (hit a patio or a deck and jam away the day), but make sure you’re ready to go for late night shenanigans at The V Spot for another week of V Spot Idol.
Next Wednesday, Aug. 6, you can see a live performance by Whiskey Tango at Hillside Park, located at the intersection of Grove Street and Winola Road in South Abington Twp. The show starts at 6 p.m. Future performances at the park include Lightweight, with special guest Senator John Blake and Friendson Aug. 13, The Fab Three on Aug. 20 and Hitchin’ Chicket on Aug. 27. For more information, visit hillsidepark.net.
Weird Stuff, I tell ya
Weird Al Yankovic did it. He finally reached No. 1 with the release of his new album, Mandatory Fun, beating out the likes of Jason Mraz and — get this — Beyonce. The last comedy album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 before Mandatory Fun was Allan Sherman’s 1963 release My Son, The Nut. Cheech and Chong and Steve Martin each reached No. 2 in the 1970s.
Yankovic released several online videos in support of the new record. Of the eight videos, the most viewed was his take on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” (“Word Crimes”), followed by his spins on Pharrell’s “Happy” (“Tacky”), Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” (“Handy”) and Lorde’s “Royals” (“Foil”).
The California-born, accordian-playing Yankovic got his break creating parody songs for the syndicated comedy show run by Dr. Demento. He first earned national attention for his take on The Knack’s 1979 hit, “My Sharona” (renamed “My Bologna”). He sure has come along way from witty songs about cold cuts.
Cheers to the wonderful potpourri that is music — from the scantily clad pop lip-synchers who fill the airwaves to the nerdy, sharp-tonged accordionist who now rules the charts — you can’t beat it.
Here’s what’s in my headphones this week: Rilo Kiley Take Offs and Landings (Barsuk Records) 2001
MOVE TO THIS
CHROMEO — White Women
THE GOOD: Funky Canadian duo Chromeo returns with their fourth and best yet.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The overall vibe of Chromeo’s records may have shifted since the 2004 debut She’s In Control, but there have been constants, too. A great beat always rules over (or under) their music and there’s always an infectious sense of fun running through their songs. As the band has moved forward, those songs have only gotten better.
White Girls really comes together as an awesome party disc, whether you’re in the middle of a raging bash or not. The songs ride airtight dance and disco beats, chugging rhythm guitars, the occasional sweeping string section and badass funk-infused basslines. Yet the compositions are so accomplished both lyrically and melodically, they transcend being just “retro kitsch.” Chromeo doesn’t shy away from bringing back the flavors and colors of the 70s and 80s, but their music remains thoroughly modern at the same time.
BUY IT?: Definitely.
HUNDRED WATERS — The Moon Rang Like a Bell
THE GOOD: Florida electronic outfit Hundred Waters dodges the sophomore slump.
THE BAD: Bell is a slow burn; give it a fair chance to grow on you.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Upon the first spin, you may be wondering exactly what this outfit is doing. Bell is extremely textural and a little too tranquil in spots. Remove the more pronounced beats and one could imagine this record echoing through the hallways of a day spa.
On the surface, the band seems all about the mood as opposed to individual songs. Tracks melt into one another, not one more distinct than the next. Listen a couple more times though and the pieces begin to truly sink in with the set redeeming itself. Cuts like “Innocent” and “Xtalk” end up delectable slices of electronics-infused indie pop — the vibe of Sigur Ros melding with the distinct vocals of frontwoman Nicole Miglis, traces of M83 and Bjork clanging deep within the mix.
BUY IT?: Sure.
LUST FOR YOUTH — International
THE GOOD: Swedish electronic artist Hannes Norrvide (stage moniker Lust for Youth) is back with his third and most accessible yet.
THE BAD: Nothing (unless you dislike more accomplished melodies and unmistakable flirtations with vintage synthpop).
THE NITTY GRITTY: Norrvide isn’t ready to progress beyond 1988 just yet. Here, the man steps into the light and fully embraces stuff that didn’t feel too out of place on the dance floor all those years ago. This record is more willing to lighten up, if only slightly.
One hears echoes of early Human League mixing with shades of Music for the Masses-era Depeche Mode. Norrvide doesn’t shy away from traditional song structures and, while the man may not possess the strongest singing presence, his vocal shortcomings are all part of the somewhat gloomy charm.
Tracks such as “Illume” and “New Boys” come complete with engaging melodies and well-defined multi-layered rhythms. The spoken word piece “Lungomare” is more delicate, even hypnotic — a nice throwback to OMD’s formative years.
BUY IT?: Surely.
Assorted Declarations from Editor Tom Graham
The Sun Rises
An Autumn Sunrise, the solo project from musician Bryan Brophy, celebrates the arrival of its latest record, Look Toward Tomorrow, with a release show in Scranton. The show takes place Friday, July 25 at The Vintage Theater with doors at 7 p.m. and showtime at 8 p.m. The all ages show also features performances by Reverend Red and Standoff! Tickets are $10 which includes a free album download card.
For more information, visit anautumnsunrise.com.
The Rob Stoneback Big Band is jumpin’, jivin’ and wailin’ into the Scranton Cultural Center at the Masonic Temple in Scranton on July 26 for a night of live music and dancing. The party starts at 7:30 p.m. with live music, cocktails and swing. Tickets for event are $20.
For the past three decades, Rob Stoneback and his band have worked with some of the biggest names in music, including Aretha Franklin, Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, The Temptations and The Four Tops, as well as personalities such as Joan Rivers, Bob Newhart and Sid Caesar.
Robert Hunter, best known for his lyrical work with the Grateful Dead, visits the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday, July 30 at 7:30 p.m.
Although he played bass and mandolin and sang vocals, Hunter always considered himself a writer. A few years after meeting the Dead’s Jerry Garcia, Hunter volunteered to be a test subject in government experiments with LSD and later wrote songs while under the drug’s influence. In 1967, Hunter officially joined the Dead chiefly as a lyricist and quickly penned the classic “Dark Star.” Hunter’s songs and influence were so strong that over the years, Garcia often referred to him as the member of the band who never appeared on stage.
The songwriting collaboration gave birth to such songs as “Friend of the Devil,” “Truckin’,” “Ripple” and “Sugar Magnolia,” all in 1970. He is also responsible for the lyrics of 1987’s “Touch of Grey,” the Dead’s comeback song and one-and-only commercial hit.
Hunter was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 with the Grateful Dead, becoming the only non-performing artist to receive such an honor.
Tickets can be purchased at the Kirby Center box office, online at kirbycenter.org or by phone at (570) 826-1100. Tickets range from $31 to $67.
The Fuzz 92.1 Private Artist Showcase continues to rock the 570 with a performance by Bleachers this Monday, July 28 at the Fuzz 92.1 Radio Theater, 5th floor of the Times-Tribune Building, 149 Penn Ave., Scranton. Sign up for this free all-ages show at fuzz921.com/all-access-club or text “Bleachers” to 88474.
A founding member of the Grammy award- winning band fun. and singer/songwriter of New Jersey band Steel Train, Jack Antonoff wrote and co-produced Bleachers debut single “I Wanna Get Better”alongside producer John Hill (MIA, Jay Z, Empire of the Sun).
In addition to being a multi-talented musician, Jack is a critically acclaimed songwriter and producer. His achievements include co-writing fun.’s Grammy award-winning song “We Are Young” and Grammy-nominated album Some Nights, and he received a Golden Globe nomination for his collaboration with Taylor Swift for her song “Sweeter Than Fiction.” Jack has also worked with Sara Bareilles, co-writing her Grammy-nominated song “Brave” and Canadian indie stars Tegan and Sara.
Here’s what’s in my headphones this week: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists Tell Balgeary, Balgury Is Dead (Lookout! Records) 2003
A HAPHAZARD NIGHT OUT
DAMON ALBARN — Everyday Robots
THE GOOD: Blur and Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn releases his first proper solo effort.
THE BAD: Flat? A little bit.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Blur was one of the 90s finest British bands. Albums like Parklife (1994) and Great Escape (1995) were catchy eclectic slices of European life, completely accessible yet adventurous. Then Albarn became a key player in electronic collective Gorillaz whose trailblazing albums blurred the lines between rock, rap, world and dub.
Everyday Robots brings in elements from both of those dissimilar catalogs, but things get lost in translation. It never quite reaches the melodic and satirical highs of Blur or the bass-heavy rhythmic lows of Gorillaz. More compelling moments include the happy-go-lucky stomper “Mr. Tembo” and the eerie introspective “Hollow Ponds.” But too much of Robots feels like a shallow pairing of acoustic elements with modern soul, recalling yet another past Albarn project — The Good, the Bad and the Queen (2006). But even that original album felt more fleshed out.
BUY IT?: Your call.
CHERUB — Year of the Caprese
THE GOOD: Nashville R&B/electro-pop duo Cherub gives us their major label debut.
THE BAD: Plenty.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The guys have a legitimate hit on their hands with lead single “Doses and Mimosas,” a two-year-old track that went viral and is currently being reworked by Columbia (the major) to modern rock radio. It’s a funky jam, equal parts fresh soul and electronic mayhem. Too bad it’s also Caprese’s best moment.
I was hoping the cut would prepare us for better things. Nope. Caprese ends up being a sophomoric study in sex, drugs and sweating all night at the club. There’s nothing wrong with that, but a collection of this sort shouldn’t be … dull. Cherub can come off like a misguided Justin Timberlake pleading for indie-cred. And by the time we reach a laughable ode to exotic dancers called “Strip to This,” it’s difficult to take these guys seriously.
BUY IT?: Why would you? Besides, Calvin Harris and Chromeo are still much better at this sort of thing.
TOM VEK — Luck
THE GOOD: British multi-instrumentalist and all-around studio geek Tom Vek gives us his third.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: It took six years for Vek to complete his second album, but only three to make Luck. I get the feeling he’s a guy that holes up in his studio and just experiments, working slowly and seeing where the songs take him. New records only happen when there are enough satisfactory “mistakes” to warrant an album.
Despite the unpredictability of it all (or maybe because of it), the end results rarely disappoint. Vek makes electronic-based indie pop tunes with strong rhythms, quirky keyboard arrangements and just the slightest post-punk attitude to toughen up the proceedings. He isn’t blessed with the best singing voice or range, but those shortcomings only add to the divine grittiness of the entire mess.
Tracks such as “Ton of Bricks” and “You’ll Stay” plod along with a buried but effective funk and melodies slick enough to get the job done.
BUY IT?: Sure.
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
Coffee stout isn’t exactly new at this point. Generally delicious, these dark brews pair the flavor of roasted coffee beans with roasted malt. It’s a hearty flavor that is complementary to their thick bodies and sticky mouth feel. Sometimes this combines with a tinge of sweetness as well, to create a wonderful sweet/savory combination. They’re a great end-of-the-day treat.
Wait, did I say end of the day? Founders brewery, out of Grand Rapids, Michigan, has other ideas with its Breakfast Stout. It isn’t just any stout, however. It is a double chocolate coffee oatmeal stout. If that doesn’t sound like a breakfast beer, I don’t know what does.
Being as it’s labeled as a breakfast stout, one would assume it must be low in alcohol, right? Nope. They’re doing breakfast right with an 8.3 percent ABV. If that doesn’t get you out of bed, I don’t know what will. Oddly enough, it will keep you out of bed as well.
Why is that you ask? While all coffee stouts I know of are brewed with actual coffee, this one really goes the distance. Its a mix of Kona and Sumatra coffee, caffeine included. Unless you’re the type that can drink a cup of coffee and fall asleep, I’d suggest staying away from this one at the end of the night.
Armed with all that information, I did the only reasonable thing. After I poured my morning bowl of cereal, I cracked a bottle open. I’m generally more of a green tea guy, but I thought I’d make an exception — it was a breakfast stout, after all. I’d be doing it a disservice to have it at any other time.
The pour was dark and flat. There was a very thin layer of cinnamon colored head but it did not last long. The brew did leave a good amount of lacing down the side of the glass, however.
It smelled mostly of sweet chocolate and malts followed by a barrage of roasted goodness. Each of these things was quite abundant. There was no subtlety here. While it didn’t exactly smell like a fresh brewed pot, there was no mistaking that there was coffee lurking in this beast.
As far as taste goes, it was like every stout I ever had was having a party in my mouth. First there was sweet full-bodied chocolate. This was followed by a bit of bitterness which cut through the initial sweetness nicely. After that was a barrage of roast and coffee flavors — though it all was the alcohol. Though it’s not quite strong enough to classify as an imperial stout, it’s close. All the strong flavors in the brew do little to hide that fact.
If the high alcohol wasn’t enough, there was certainly a healthy dose of caffeine in there. I felt the effects of that long before the alcohol. It certainly woke me up. The idea of a breakfast stout suddenly made more sense.
I’m not sure that drinking a stout for breakfast is the best idea. I’m also not certain that it is the worst. I’ll leave that decision up to you. I will say that I’ve never drank another beer like this before, both in taste and effect. Give it a try sometime if you’re feeling brave. It’ll certainly give you a lot of get up and go.
KEEPING IT SIMPLE IS NOT SO STUPID
OLD 97’S — Most Messed Up
THE GOOD: Dallas alt-country indie rockers Old 97’s celebrate two decades together with a blistering tenth studio effort.
THE BAD: Nothing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Any album from their catalog provides a hearty dose of heartbreak, irony, blood, sweat and beer. The earlier records may lean more toward the traditional side, but Old 97’s have always found that perfect boozy blend of country and power pop — songs with a homegrown vibe, but just enough rock bite to give them a necessary roughness.
Most Messed Up continues the tried and true tradition. It’s a ragged collection celebrating one night stands in honky-tonks and hotel rooms, too much whiskey and the dirty dusty glory of the open road. “Longer than You’ve Been Alive” is the coolest and most vivid song about touring in decades. “Let’s Get Drunk and Get It On” is just as rambunctious as you want it to be. “Wasted” reminds us the guys still have heart.
BUY IT?: Yep. This one’s damn near perfect.
CONOR OBERST — Upside Down Mountain
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter and ex-Bright Eyes leader Conor Oberst is back with another solo turn.
THE BAD: No complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Mountain is the guy’s first record since the end of Bright Eyes, with previous efforts released around that other outfit’s schedule. It’s also the 34-year-old’s first complete set after becoming a settled down married man, so his attitudes and outlook have shifted. He probably couldn’t have written a song like the totally endearing “You Are Your Mother’s Child” a decade ago.
Overall though, Mountain isn’t that different musically from the man’s past work. He still cranks out ringing folk-tinged rockers like “Zigzagging toward the Light” and “Kick,” painting each tune with either a bit of pathos or good humor depending upon the situation. More intimate moments such as “Lonely at the Top” and the aforementioned “Mother’s Child” further display the power and charm of his quivering vocals, with his unique personality sometimes found in his singing as opposed to his lyrics.
BUY IT?: Sure.
THE BLACK KEYS — Turn Blue
THE GOOD: Guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney bring on a moody eighth.
THE BAD: Prepare for a change in tone. Not necessarily “bad.”
THE NITTY GRITTY: 2014 is slowly becoming the year of the “personal break-up album.” Not unlike recent turns by Coldplay and Lykke Li that found inspiration in lovers splitting up, Blue was partially influenced by Auerbach’s tumultuous divorce proceedings. The new album is also the Keys’ attempt at expanding their tried-and-true blues-rock formula and making a psychedelic headphones record.
On both fronts, Blue doesn’t fail, but don’t go in expecting a dozen new tracks like “Girl Is on My Mind” or “Lonely Boy.” Expansive, slow-building and spacey opening cut “Weight of Love” feels more like an Air song before the guitars begin to take over. “It’s Up To You Now” starts out riding a Bo Diddley shuffle before exploding into a cosmic jam. “In Our Prime” is more reflective than most anything the boys have done before.
BUY IT?: Still…absolutely.