29 June, 2008

Corndog-O-Rama 2008

Summer festival season finally hit Atlanta with the second installment of Corndog-O-Rama at Lenny's. The event ran for four days and included many of Atlanta's most promising and popular indie rock bands. Inside Lenny's Bar there were performances on the main stage and on a side stage which consisted of nothing more than designated floor space to the right of the permanent stage. Outside there was a more traditional festival stage erected in the parking lot, and a smaller DJ booth with surrounding beach sand stowed away in a corner of the asphalt expanse. And of course there were food vendors selling everything from fish tacos to funnel cakes (and of course corndogs).

If you remember how great the locals only stage was at the now defunct Music Midtown, multiply that by ten and you have an idea of what Corndog-O-Rama is all about. The festival replaces MM as the city's premier rock music festival, but it stands alone in its focus on providing local musicians with a chance to play for larger audiences than would normally be available to them. And the festival picked up a lot of steam this year in both its promotional efforts and attendance. We in the local music scene can only hope with all our might that this event continues to go on annually and keep providing us with the chance to see our favourites get their due and discover those developing or under-the-radar talents that have fallen through the cracks.

Nerd Parade was the first group that really caught my attention. The five-piece played the main stage at about 4:00 to a small but appreciative crowd. The band blends punk, reggae, and a dash of classic rock flair into their live shows. Their studio work thus far however relies much more heavily on electronic elements. Led by charismatic female vocalist Abby Wren and guitarist Randy Garcia, the band delivered a fun set that left me for one wanting to see more. Their next show will be at Vinyl on July 10th followed by two sets at The Five Spot on July 18th and August 10th. They also have an album out titled A Delicate Bashing which is available from the usual digital download sources. To hear some tracks for yourself, go to http://www.myspace.com/thenerdparade.

Thy Mighty Contract was next on the main stage. The band sports a post-punk sound with palpable metal undercurrents countered by the sometimes sweet, sometimes angry musings of their diminutive female lead singer. The sound mix for their set was on the poor side, but the band was able to still get their point across: to bob your head while simultaneously shattering your eardrums. I don't want to call this band a side project for the five members, but many of them do have other active bands from whence they came, including The Orphins and Fagstatic. Sample tracks may be heard at http://www.myspace.com/thymightycontract .

The first eye-opening surprise band of the day was Handsome Jack. It is much too unfortunate that the band is not local, but after playing not just one or two but three days of Corndog-O-Rama to uproarious applause and commendation, maybe they will reconsider. The Buffalo-based band are straight ahead rockers in the classic sense. Obvious influences include the more bluesy Led Zeppelin stuff, Jimi Hendrix, and a little Guns 'n Roses. The band currently has an album out titled Heat Seeker, which is very good at capturing the raucous nature of their live performances. For links to where you can buy it and to hear the band for yourself, go to http://www.myspace.com/handsomejack. And if you ever notice their name on a show calendar, I recommend you cancel any other plans you may have and go see them.

Young Antiques were the first outdoor stage performance I caught. I think it's fair to say that the stage was much too big in size for the group. The three-piece grungish punk band aren't the most mobile of performers, and the layout of the stage had the members set up too far from one another to visually hold your attention. Their set was pretty good regardless, and I do recommend their more intimate venue shows if you're into '90s nostalgia.

Five Eight followed on the outdoor stage. I never miss a chance to see these guys anymore. They may be aging and they may not have any fresh material, but they always deliver a quality show full of quirky humour and wonderfully performed music. And with nearly 20 years of material already in the hopper, each show is unique in its own right. This set was probably the best mix of old and new that I have witnessed containing mostly material from their critcally-acclaimed mid '90s album Weirdo and 2004's commercially successful self-titled release. And in addition to his hilarious nonsensical rantings, lead singer and guitarist Mike Mantione has the best guitar faces in the state (see photo at top).

Sleep Therapy performed on the main stage and delivered one of their better sets I've ever seen. The band incorporates ambient guitar rock with expansive keyboards. This set was a bit more straight ahead with the rock though, which turns out to be more natural for them live and increased the appeal of their show. This band has also gotten progressively better each time I've seen them, which is always a delightful compliment to pay any band.

Next up on the main stage was Grinder Nova. Equal parts ska and bossa nova style jazz, the group put on one of the more fun shows of the day. With the exception of the dapperly clad lead singer, the entire band wore matching red jumpsuits with a mural of the Virgin Mary on the back. In addition to the guitar, bass, and drumkit, the band also has two saxophonists and an auxillary multi-percussionist who managed to find a way to whip out a washboard for one song in addition to his bongos, woodblock, and chimes. Definitely a novelty act, the band injects a lot of fun into any lineup of which they may be a part. A special trip to see them, on the other hand, probably isn't the best of ideas. A better idea is to sample their sounds at http://www.myspace.com/grindernova and catch them by happenstance.

English darlings The Hiss were also on hand. Based in Atlanta for a number of years now, the band continues to fail to connect with a large local audience for reasons that escape me. They always deliver a quality, high-energy set, and this one was no exception. And if it's name recognition the local whordes are looking for, I can't imagine how sharing a stage with the likes of Cheap Trick, The Raveonettes, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and The White Stripes doesn't catch your attention. Anyway, the band has two albums out titled Panic Movement and Chocolate Hearts. The latter may be purchased in digital download directly from the band by visiting http://www.myspace.com/thehiss. They will also present one of the better ways to spend your July 4th evening with their show at Star Bar with The Booze and Club Awesome.

Whilst almost everyone else was outside having their ears assaulted by repetitive sonic droners Snowden, a few sensible revelers were treated to a fantastic performance by Asheville's The Poles. Flanked by a virtual wall of amps, the band shared their brand of intelligently melodic minimalist rock injected with grungy breakouts and a ton of emotion. They currently have a five-song EP titled As Above, So Below available on iTunes and are set to begin work on a full-length album later this year. To sample a few of their songs, go to http://www.myspace.com/thepoleslive.

With the outdoor shows concluded for the evening, Lenny's was all at once packed for the last few shows of the evening. Dropsonic did not disappoint those returning to the air conditioning. The band put on a very loud and satisfying cathartic set. They have a funky approach to their Southern influenced post-punk style and put every ounce of energy they have into the performance. Drummer Brian Hunter delivered the best performance of the day behind the tubs and was amply accompanied by the formidable guitar talent of Dan Dixon. The band's three albums are all available on iTunes. And if you haven't heard them yet, go to http://www.myspace.com/dropsonic.

I will give full marks to Adam of the Have You Heard? blog and podcast for urging me to hang around for The Howlies. They might just be my new favourite Atlanta band. Fun doesn't even begin to describe their set on the side stage. And whoever decided to put them on the side stage should have his head examined. The band is full of raw powerpop potential and energy. And might I add that if you are going to cover a song, especially at a festival showcase such as this, you had better make it count. That's exactly what The Howlies did with their cover of R. Kelly's "Not Guilty". The swarm of people crowding around the side stage who saw it will be talking about it for weeks to come. Their original songs were even better though. Before I give you the link to their MySpace page, I must warn you that the demos you will hear on there do this band absolutely no justice whatsoever, and you should pay no attention to them. With that said, to see where they are playing (you absolutely must see them), go to http://www.myspace.com/howlies. I'll go ahead and say that their July 25th show with The Selmanaires at Lenny's will be one of the best local lineup shows this year.

So that's my recap of Saturday's events. Overall, it was an awesome day and experience. In my opinion, Corndog-O-Rama is the best thing to happen to Atlanta since Ted Turner. And I'm sure that if I had more funds and time to attend all four days I would be raving about even more of the bands who performed. As is stands, much love to Lenny's for putting on this event so well. May it live long and prosper. Viva la Corndog-O-Rama!

A quick side note: I know I promised pictures on a regular basis. I will, don't worry, but a new lens is definitely needed for most indoor shows. What I have now is crap and will be replaced as soon as possible. Until then you'll have to put up with whatever I can get (which for this particular event was almost nothing). I'm a writer first anyway, so at least there's that.

26 June, 2008

Album Review - Wolf Parade's "At Mount Zoomer"

Release Date: June 17, 2008
No. of Tracks: 9
Label: Sub-Pop Records

There must be something in the water of our dear neighbours to the north, especially in Quebec. While Wolf Parade are originally from Victoria, British Columbia, the band packed up their gear and aspirations a few years ago to join the exploding indie rock scene of Montreal. And the influences of this multi-cultural city are beginning to be heard in what the band does. On their first album Apologies to the Queen Mary, the band was obviously under the heavy influence of their benefactor Isaac Brock. Isaac discovered the band in a dive somewhere in the Northwest and decided to take the group under his wing for a bit to show them the ropes. That included not only tons of advice from the longtime indie rock staple, but a record deal with legendary Seattle-based Sub-Pop Records. The band was obviously taking good notes.

With the release of their new record At Mount Zoomer, the band shows that they are maturing nicely. The music is more complete with a fuller and more polished sound than found on their previous material. The band relies less on Spencer Krug's warbling voice as an instrument in itself and more on the dynamic mixture of Hadji Bakara's synthesizer and the twin guitar play of Dan Boeckner and Dante DeCaro (formerly of Hot Hot Heat). The result is a cross between post-punk, prog rock, and ambient rock. As you might imagine with a band building on instrumental chemistry, the song compositions are longer than in the past; the nine songs comprising the album clock in at 47 minutes.

The album kicks off with "Soldier's Grin", a rolicking journey of atmospheric synth and alternately choppy and soaring guiatrs. There's even a bit of one-liner philosophy ("What you know can only mean one thing"). "Call It a Ritual" is a slightly morose song featuring piano keys and a nice distortion-heavy guitar shred before the song concludes with a more conventional rhythm guitar structure. "Language City" is the first extended composition with multiple tempo changes that manage to completely change the mood of the song from one to another. "California Dreamer" furthers this trend and evokes a spooky Native American landscape with the guitars, bass, and piano/synth keys. The song does so in the most experimental of ways though, and it challenges the listener to keep up and absorb the multiple elements at once. For those interested in more mainstream, upbeat songs, "The Grey Estates" functions well. The synthesizer, heretofore looming in the background, jumps to the fore and stands out as the crucial element to the track. "Fine Young Cannibals" is the most simplistic of the compositions, but still manages to end greater than the sum of its parts. By the time you get to this song, if you haven't already noticed, you realize that 80% of the guitars are exclusively post-punk in nature. Although it is not the last track, the song plays like one and leaves you wanting to jump right in to the second listen of the record. Ah, but if you did you would miss the actual final track, "Kissing the Beehive". The song is nearly 11 minutes long, but don't let that discourage you. Not a single second is wasted as the song slowly builds towards its impressive crescendo with a few false starts thrown in beforehand to keep the listener thoroughly engaged in anticipation. And just so you know that I'm not blowing smoke, this was originally the title track of the album until it was changed to instead pay homage to the studio in which it was recorded.

Overall this is a great second offering from a very promising band. The record manages to firmly grip the elements of the past while vastly expanding the range of the group's style. You get the feeling the band can literally go anywhere they want from here. Before they do though, you can still catch them at least one more time at a semi-intimate venue as the band embarks on a tour across the continent beginning July 7th. They will be visiting Atlanta's Variety Playhouse on July 28th. As with this album, that show is definitely recommended for your listening enjoyment.

Essential Tracks: "Call It a Ritual", "Language City", "California Dreamer", "Fine Young Cannibals", and "Kissing the Beehive"

Overall album rating (out of 5): 4.3

24 June, 2008

AthFest 2008

Last weekend, Athens hosted its annual celebration of the college town's vibrant local music and arts scenes. As in years past, there was a main outdoor stage on Washington Street fronted by a vast array of merchant booths and tents selling everything from beads to wood carvings to Verizon plans. There was also a small side stage under a tent for more intimate, shorter performances. Evening brought the most popular element of the festival: The Club Crawl. A $15 wristband got you unlimited access to Athens' finest and a few of the less than adequate music venues. And might I add that good beer in Athens is still only $3.50 a pop! As you might have guessed, it was fun time in the little city.

It is worth mentioning that I only caught the events that occurred on Saturday after 4PM. A few notable bands that performed on Friday included Electa Villain on the side stage, Five Eight on the outdoor stage, Snowden at The 40 Watt, and Elf Power at The Georgia Theatre. Dubconscious headlined Sunday's portion and culminated the activities.

So, picking up at 4PM, the first band up was Wilx. There is no denying that Wilx are from the South. They are a southern rock and blues band and can be favourably compared to North Mississippi Allstars. Keeping with that same comparison, they leave you with a hint of a jam band flavour, at least in performance. The lead guitarist and vocalist definitely outshines his bandmates in ability, but that isn't to say the other members aren't adequate. He just has a good voice, a good working knowledge of blues guitar, and even a good look. The band has a new album coming out in the fall. To get a taste of the band for yourself, go to http://www.myspace.com/thewilxband.

Ponderosa performed on the main stage at 6PM with a raucous set of good old Southern-flavoured rock and roll. It was at this time that the fledgling crowd began to swell incrementally for the next few hours. Ponderosa probably had a lot to do with that. Their set was fun, well executed, and packed a punch. The band is composed of rhythm guitarist and vocalist Kalen Nash, bassist and vocalist Jonathan Hall, lead guitarist Kris Sampson, drummer Jon Wayne Cole, and keyboardist John Dance. Each and every one of them play a vital role in the finished product. Their performance also marked the end of a tour across the Southeast and Mid Atlantic. They will be back in Atlanta on September 18th as part of the Atlantis Music Conference. To hear a few of their songs and keep tabs on when they are playing, visit http://www.myspace.com/ponderosamusic.

A quick walk to the side stage yielded a delightful performance by King of Prussia. This was my first time seeing this band, and it will unfortunately be my last as the band's lead singer is leaving the country to pursue bigger and better things. He will also be keeping the band name and continue to perform overseas as King of Prussia. The rest of the band will continue on as a new incarnation. The band's sound conjures 60's era British rock and other modern day uber indie bands (i.e. New Pornographers, The Decemberists) that draw inspiration from the same source. The ensemble consisted of two guitars, a bass (being played on right), drums, violin, a designated backing female vocalist, and keyboards. To hear a bit of what the band was, visit http://www.myspace.com/wearekingofprussia. If you like what you hear, the band's studio album Save the Scene is available on iTunes and Amazon.

Back on the main stage, Spring Tigers performed a set of high energy post-punk revival tunes (guitarist pictured at top). This band definitely has a knack for catchy melodies and infectious hooks. The five-piece is fun to watch onstage too; they exude a youthful jovialness which is fitting as they all appear to be barely 20 if that. The crowd responded well to them as well with a few no-doubt fans up front singing along. The band is comprised of drummer Chase Prince, guitarist and vocalist Kris Barratt, bassist and vocalist Eli Barnard, guitarist Shane Davis, and keyboardist Stephen James. To sample a few songs and demos, go to http://www.myspace.com/springtigers. After hearing this band, I can't wait for some recorded material from them.

At just before 9PM, a large crowd suddenly appeared in front of the main stage in anticipation of Modern Skirts. While the band's recorded material is mostly pop rock, the band doesn't shy away from the occassional let-it-all-hang-out moment when performing. The band added humour whenever possible to the performance, evidenced most by the appearance of a giant bunny on stage for a few songs. They even gave a shout-out to the mother of the lead singer before playing her favourite song of theirs (awww). The hometown crowd of course loved it and gave the band a fitting send off as they head over to England for a few weeks of pub shows and festivals across the pond. If you aren't already familiar with the band, you can hear some of their songs at http://www.myspace.com/modernskirts. The band has one album out entitled Catalogue of Generous Men and an EP, Four More Years. A new full length album is also expected by the end of the year.

With the outdoor festivities over for the evening, it was time to head inside for the Club Crawl. Outdoor stage bands and performers are chosen due to their less controversial and more family friendly appeal. While that's great, I hadn't had an opportunity to have my face rocked off yet. So what better remedy to that problem than a metal band? Colossus at the Caledonia Lounge met the requirements admirably. Hailing from Raleigh, this six member sonic attack performed a set of loud, fast, and fun metal tunes. Three guitarists trading galloping guitar riffs, a bassist, a drummer, and a Rob Halford-channeling vocalist give you an idea of the scene. Drawing heavily from the very early years of Metallica, the band and the crowd took themselves with a grain of salt and simply enjoyed the music for the fun venture it undoubtedly is. To see where you may be able to see them yourself and check out some songs, go to http://www.myspace.com/thecolossuswillcrushyou.

With ears ringing and a smile on the face, it was time to visit fellow Atlantans Trances Arc at Tasty World. The four member group performed another fine set of emotional indie pop. The band's low-key sound includes intricate guitar compositions with keyboard accents. Lead singer, guitarist, and keyboardist Eric Toledo has fine voice that captures the passion behind the songwriting. Lead guitarist and backup vocalist Michael Dorio (pictured on right) has a great stage presence to go along with his work on guitar. Bassist Daniel Silvestri and drummer Brad Hagen round out the lineup. The band has two EPs, Buona Fortuna and Save the World, and a full length album entitled XOXO. To sample some of their tunes before buying, go to http://www.myspace.com/trancesarc.

There were plans to see We Vs. the Shark and Cinemechanica at The 40 Watt to conclude the evening, but I grossly underestimated the draw of these bands. Along with The Georgia Theatre, The 40 Watt is Athens largest music venue. It was absolutely packed with a fairly large crowd waiting outside hoping to get in by the time I made my way over at about midnight. Needless to say, admission was not secured. I do recommend familiarizing yourself with these bands however and checking out one of their shows. Their MySpace pages are http://www.myspace.com/weversustheshark and http://www.myspace.com/cinemechanica. Both are heavily experiemental rock bands drawing inspiration from the likes of Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, and At the Drive-In.

And if you haven't noticed by now, The Atlanta Rock Blog now has original photo content. This will be a regular addition to the blog from now on. If you would like to see more pictures of these bands and a few more, visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/27906473@N03/sets/72157605756266304/.
Overall, AthFest is a wonderful event. It affords just about everyone something to do, and it highlights a slew of great bands that might not have received their due as of yet. If you haven't had the opportunity to enjoy it for yourself, it is highly recommended. AthFest takes place every year in June, so make your plans to attend next year's festival now. You'll not only have a great weekend, but you'll walk away with some new bands from your backyard about which you can be excited.

10 June, 2008

Album Review - The Fratellis' "Here We Stand"

Release Date: June 10, 2008
Label: Interscope Records
No. of Tracks: 12

I'm sure everyone remembers the iTunes commercial from last year with the female sillhouette dancing about to the rock song with the "ba-da-da-dah-ba-da-da-dah" chorus. The song was so damn catchy you can't help but remember it. Well, that song was "Flathead", and the band performing it was The Fratellis. I must admit that it was that commercial that introduced me to and got me interested in this band. Their 2006 release Costello Music was a fantastically fun and roiling compilation of funky guitar chords and powerful sing-a-long pub choruses. The little band that could from Glasgow, Scotland enjoyed immense success in the UK after being named the best new band in Britain by NME. Their success in the US, of course, was a bit of a disappointment, but what else is new.

Now the band has recorded and released their follow-up album, Here We Stand. It's hard to say that this album is much poppier than Costello Music given the mainstream appeal that album had, but it is the simple truth. What is even more mind-boggling is that the band actually recorded and produced this record themselves. Music critics usually love to point fingers at the producer for turning a band away from what they do best, but there isn't one in this case. Don't get me wrong, the sing-a-long pub songs are plentiful on this new release, and it is even louder in many ways than Costello Music. But the band seems to have turned their back on the "spontaneous" fun contained in the actual music. The guitar chords are nothing you haven't heard a million times before, the lyrics have departed from the funny but insightful social realism of the past for more standard pop subject matters, and the record actually sounds over-produced most of the time. And a HUGE missing element is the omission of soccer-style backing chants.

The album opens well enough with "My Friend John". The opening percussion piece is pretty good, but it gives way much too soon to a hard rock guitar riff backed by fairly simple timekeeping. "A Heady Tale" follows and shows that the boys have found a piano player. But don't get too excited; the piano does little to add another dimension to the music. It only serves the fun quotient. "Straggler's Moon", the fifth track, is the first good, but not great, song. The high-pitched, distorted guitar riff is a nice touch, and the track closes with a ghostly Arabic style guitar piece that recalls Led Zeppelin and Arctic Monkeys equally. "Mistress Mabel" is the first single from the album. This song also features a fast-paced and fun piano accompaniment, and the funkiness is injected back into the band briefly with a quirky electronic blip and several quick tempo changes in a row at the mid point. "Babydoll" is this album's attempt at an acoustic-style ballad but lacks any sense of emotional punch to match its country-influenced feel. "Acid Jazz Singer" is the closest offering to what was heard on Costello Music. The vocals have an excellent rhythm to them, but the guitar is still too loud and there are no interesting tempo changes present. "Lupe Brown" would have to be my favourite track on the album. The music is still pretty standard stuff, but there are enough transitions to hide the flaws. This is also the most heartfelt song in vocal delivery, and you can tell the band put a little extra effort into this one. "Milk and Money" is a jazzy, largely piano-driven closing track that ends with a two-minute sonic assault that doesn't seem to serve any real purpose other than trying to make up for what has come before it.

Overall, this is a disappointing second album. I've always detested the term "sophomore slump", but this album would definitely qualify for that label. It is still catchy and has moments of infectious fun, but it doesn't leave a lasting impression the same way Costello Music did. It isn't an extremely drastic departure in sound, but it is obvious that the band tried with all their might to make something different. I'd like to think that they were just trying too hard instead of trying to make something so mainstream it couldn't help but sell in a global market. Then again, in these days of dying record companies and plummeting music sales, you never know.

Overall Album Rating (out of 5): 2.0

08 June, 2008

Plexi 3, Feeling of Love, The Strange Boys, The Coathangers @ The Drunken Unicorn

Atlanta's favourite room with a stage, The Drunken Unicorn, welcomed four similar bands from four very different places Saturday night. The show was a send-off of sorts for The Coathangers as they embark on a month long voyage across the country beginning June 9th in Nashville. As is the norm for the Unicorn, doors opened when they felt like it (which turned out to be just before 10pm). Still, this is my personal favourite venue in Atlanta. It's very intimate, kind of a dive, has cheap drinks, and you never know what's going to happen until events unfold.

The first band of the evening was Plexi 3 (pictured above), an indie punk outift from Milwaukee. The band doesn't know how to write a song over three minutes long, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Composed of guitarist and lead vocalist Wendy Norton, bassist and backing vocalist Adam Widener, and drummer Ryan King, the band blistered through a set of raw powerpop anthems. Wendy possesses a good stage presence, and the band has a tight-knit and playful overall chemistry. Due to the unforeseen circumstance of their tour van breaking down a couple of blocks away, Ryan was forced to use The Coathangers' drum kit, a small nuisance he handled well with only a few anchoring problems with the kick drum (thank you random concrete block conveniently placed onstage). Standout songs performed included "Calculated Romance", "Perfect Stranger", "We Know Better", and "Stabbing Fantasies". Overall, the band put on a very fun show that I recommend to any fan of well-executed punk. To hear for yourself and find out where they are playing in a city near you, go to their MySpace page at http://www.myspace.com/plexi3. Here's hoping they make it out of Atlanta in one piece to continue spreading the love.

Plexi 3 Overall Performance Rating (out of 5): 3.5

Next up were Feeling of Love. Hailing from Metz, France, the three-piece sports a very loud and dissonant brand of punk with a dose of blues injected for good measure. The group plays without a bass, relying on guitar, drums, and keys to carry the load. Whilst freely swilling Wild Turkey, their set began well enough. An interesting added dimension was provided by the drummer and keyboardist's use of maracas that somehow withstood the punishment dealt out during the performance. Speaking of destruction, Feeling of Love also made use of The Coathangers' kick drum, and to say that the piece was in jeopardy of annihilation is an understatement. As their set progressed, songs tended to drag out and all sound the same at a certain point though. One explanation for the weirdness could be that, like most continental European rock bands, they translate their songs into English for a wider appeal. And to be French in Atlanta without good conversational English n'est pas une bonne chose.

Feeling of Love Overall Performance Rating: 1.5

Austin, Texas band The Strange Boys took the stage at just before midnight. Worshippers of both roots rock legends like Bo Diddley (R.I.P.) and Buddy Holly as well as early Britpop pioneers The Kinks, the band puts on a captivating show. Head Strange Boy Ryan Sambol has a lazy but effective muttering vocal style to match his perpetually sleep-deprived look and a propensity for the occassional guitar shredding moment. Lead guitarist Greg Enlow, bassist Phillip Sambol, and drummer Matt Hammer round out the lineup. While the band's sound is a bit of a throwback to old-fashioned rhythm & blues, it manages to simultaneously be ultra-modern in its punkish exuberance. Songs of note included in their set were "This Girl Taught Me a Dance", "Probation Blues", "Art for Art's Sake", and two new songs "Woe Is You and Me" and "Baby Please Don't Go". While not the headliners, The Strange Boys managed to steal the show and engaged the entire crowd throughout their performance, including The Coathangers with whom they are good friends and touring buddies. To hear some tunes for yourself, see where you can catch them in person, and buy their Nothing EP, visit http://www.myspace.com/thestrangeboys.

The Strange Boys Overall Performance Rating: 4.0

The Coathangers (pictured on right) wrapped up the night with a set that failed to do them justice. Better to do it in front of friends I suppose before hitting the road. Not taking the stage until almost 1AM, "Rusty Coathanger", the band's drummer and part-time vocalist, managed to be sufficiently inebriated by performance time. Things were made more difficult for her by the setlist that highlighted many songs in which she is the primary vocalist. She did manage to make it through the set, but was visibly laboured and not even close to full strength. The rest of the band managed to pick up as much of the slack as possible and lessen the load. The show was still pretty fun though, and of course the girls traded instruments several times, a trademark of theirs. The band also likes to use crowd props, and this show was no exception as they passed out "Happy New Year's" party hats and paper whistles (no real explanation, just go with it). Some of the surfy electro-punk offerings for the night included "Tonya Harding", "Wreckless Boy", a now common alternate version of "Nestle in My Boobies" reworked as "Dancing With My Cutie", a new song "Killdozer", and the traditional set-closer "Don't Touch My Shit". The band does normally put on a very fun, engaging, and exhaustive show that pleases the crowd, so if you get a chance I do recommend checking them out for yourself. Their current tour will take them to exotic places like Hot Springs, Arkansas, Wichita, Kansas, and Lafayette, Indiana, as well as Los Angeles, Seattle, and Chicago before returning to Georgia to play the Athens PopFest in August.

The Coathangers Overall Performance Rating: 2.5

07 June, 2008

Album Review - The Booze's "Straight, No Chaser!"

Digital Release Date: April 13, 2008
CD Release Date: May 24, 2008
Label: 3 Kings
No. of Tracks: 12

Some indie rock bands push the envelope of music, and some are just trying to recreate the sounds of a long gone era of feel good tunes and simple melodies. Atlanta's The Booze fall into the latter category. Sporting a sound very similar to but much more melodic than fellow Atlantans The Black Lips, the band has crafted a nice blend of soul, blues, country, and '60s-era pop rock. Borrowing heavily from influences ranging from the Stones to Howlin' Wolf to The Temptations, the band does manage to reamin modern and relevant in this growing trend of bands who look to the past for direct inspiration as the title of their 2007 debut album, Easy Beats in Modern Time, indicates.

Straight, No Chaser finds the band still driving a Ford Fairlane in second gear down a dusty country road. There are handclaps, sha-la-la backing vocals, and bursts of high-pitched organ a plenty to go along with the lazy beats and surfy blues guitar. The album's production takes full advantage of every trick there is to take a modern recording and transport it back to 1963. The vocals are overamplified with little effort made to restore clarity to the vocals. The guitars are underamplified with most of the treble taken away, and the bass is barely noticeable in most songs. In other words, the album plays like a vinyl record in both digital form and on CD.

The songs have a tendency to blend together as the album unfolds. The focus is clearly more on making fun music than an engaging album that keeps the listener filled with anticipation from one track to another. But it is very fun and effective as a period contemplation. In step with the music, the lyrical content lacks depth and follows a formulaic pop progression with a blues twist. All songs light-heartedly deal with unrequited love, stalking the object of a crush, or pleading with a girl to stay. To my ears, there isn't much sincerity behind what the band does. What this band does do is focus on making sure that at least the music is clean and well structured. To get a good idea of what I mean, visit their MySpace page at http://www.myspace.com/thebooze and listen to "Hey Amy (I Haven't Got the Blues Today)" and "Callin' Out To You". If you like those tunes, then you can look forward to hearing "Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)", "Trouble in Paradise", and "Can't Stand Losing You" on the record.

This album is a fine compliment to any summer soundtrack for barbecues and pool parties. But if you're looking for an intriguing headphones record, this is far from what you are desiring. I have not been able to see this band perform yet, but I imagine their live set is a fun time for all. If you are interested in seeing them in person, the band is currently on a coast-to-coast tour until June 27th. They will be returning to Atlanta to play a Fourth of July set at The Star Community Bar in Little Five Points.

Overall Album Rating: 2.0

04 June, 2008

Album Review - The Dresden Dolls' "No, Virginia..."

Release Date: May 20, 2008
Label: Roadrunner Records
No. of Tracks: 11

Since their 2003 self-titled debut, The Dresden Dolls have been rock's most unique band. Composed of two extraordinarily talented members, pianist and vocalist Amanda Palmer and drummer Brian Viglione, this Boston-based group has been the spearhead and only commercially legitimate act of the dark cabaret movement. The band themselves narrow their style as being Brechtian punk cabaret. It never ceases to amaze me how complete their sound is despite only having two instruments. Of course, Amanda's outstanding husky voice has a lot to do with that. So do the very smart, insightful, and often disturbing lyrics. The final ingredient is the karmic connection that seems to exist between these two. I was introduced to them when they opened for Nine Inch Nails at the Tabernacle here in Atlanta in 2005, and they absolutely blew me and everyone around me away. Even with Trent and Co. waiting to come on stage, the crowd was futilely cheering for an encore.

No, Virginia... is the band's third studio album. It is composed of mostly B-sides that didn't make the cut for the two previous releases, but also contains a few new songs the band "feels very strongly about." The album is a bit brighter in its sound than the previous two as is clearly illustrated by their decision to record and include a cover of the Psychedelic Furs song "Pretty in Pink". OK, so lyrically the song fits with the band, and Amanda's delivery of it is somewhat sarcastic. But it is refreshing to hear that the band did conceive of songs like these even while they were releasing material of a comprehensively dark nature.

The release begins with the song "Dear Jenny", a "ballad" about a drug and sex abusing girl who has suffered the ultimate consequences of her vices and finds herself relegated to living at home under the watchful eye of her now protective father. "Night Reconnaissance" is the first single from the album and could easily fit into a Broadway show. "The Mouse and the Model" is simply outstanding in its opus-like quality. Clocking in at six minutes, the song features a guitar, a first for the group. A memorable line in both its meaning and delivery is "It's dark here on the flip side of reason/The teaser could be something easy like they did it in a book/You're a crook, you're a fake, you committed/If you did it say you did it/If you didn't suck it up and say you did." "Ultima Esperanza" follows and is also a beautifully upbeat musical offering. The lyrics about a limbless beauty queen are another story, but that is the dichotomy of this group. "Lonesome Organist Rapes Page-Turner", besides winning the award for best song title of the year, is a much more familiar Dresden Dolls offering. The song details the obviously disturbing relationship between a pupil and teacher. It is on songs like these that Amanda really shines on vocals, capturing melody, emotion, and psychosis all at once. This is also the most challenging song as it does have brief moments of humour, believe it or not. You feel guilty for laughing, but it is what it is. "The Kill" is a thunderingly emotional love song rife with double entendres and powerful hooks. The album closes with a genuine tearjerker titled "Boston". The song is about two notoriously promiscuous and uncommitted people who have fallen into a year long relationship that was always scheduled to end at a set point. The setting is that final night together. I think the final line sums it all up pretty well: "There is nothing in the world that we can count on/Even that we will wake up is an assumption/But I know for a fact that I loved someone/And for about a year he lived in Boston."

I cannot end before showing some love for Brian Viglione. There are good drummers, and then there are drum god extraordinaires. Mr. Viglione deserves a spot on the latter list list right after Danny Carey of Tool and alongside Matt Tong of Bloc Party. He even has a very well-defined philisophy behind his art that he details in a radio interview with WHRB in Boston. If you are interested in listening, go to http://www.dresdendolls.com/downloads_n_lyrics/index.htm and scroll down to the section titled "Brian Viglione Drum Workshop Interview on WHRB". Sections include "The Potential of the Drum Kit", "Paying Attention to the Moment", and "Playing Beyond Your Perceived Limits".

While this may be a B-sides collection rather than a traditional studio album, it is still a worthy selection for listening and even threatens to top it's A-side sister album. And I will again repeat that both musicians are masters of their crafts. If you can't listen to and appreciate The Dresden Dolls, you probably shouldn't be listening to inde rock period. This album especially captures the most important tenants of what indie rock has come to mean: an art form rather than entertainment, poetic lyrics, empowerment out of despair, and a willingness to radically experiment with what rock music can be.

Essential Tracks: "The Mouse and the Model", "Ultima Esperanza", "Lonesome Organist Rapes Page-Turner", "The Kill", "Boston"

Overall Album Rating (out of 5): 4.0