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

02 June, 2008

Album Review - The Last Shadow Puppets' "The Age of the Understatement"

US Release Date: May 6, 2008
Label: Domino Recording Co., Ltd.
No. of Tracks: 12

I'm not sure if the world was in need of the next Damon Albarn yet, but lo and behold, we have him already. Alex Turner and his band Arctic Monkeys have been a revelation in the post-punk revival world. Hailing from the dingy industrial town of Sheffield, England, they stormed to fame via rabid MySpace support in 2005 with their aggresively melodic sound and precociously observant lyrics. Now, Alex has teamed up with his friend Miles Kane of the Liverpool-based band The Rascals to form a new project called The Last Shadow Puppets. If you are expecting to hear something similar to Arctic Monkeys, you are in for quite a shock upon your first listen to this record.

The Last Shadow Puppets defy categorization at almost every turn, so I will lump them into the very broad and loosely defined genre of chamber rock. What the heck is chamber rock? Well, that's a good question, but the best definition is a sub-genre of alternative rock in which bands and artists incorporate classical instruments in addition to the standard guitar, bass, and drums of rock music. Some other artists who have been tagged with this style include Arcade Fire, Stars, The Dears, Sufjan Stevens, and Feist. But neither Alex nor Miles play any classical instruments, you say? True, they don't. But the 22-piece London Metropolitan Orchestra does, and they lend their considerable talents to the recording with a violin section, viola, cello, stand-up bass, trumpet, and various percussive flares. Owen Pallett, a Toronto-based violinist who also has worked with Arcade Fire in the past, was brought in to arrange the music for and conduct the orchestra. James Ford, who produced much of the Arctic Monkeys' 2007 release Favourite Worst Nightmare and the Klaxons' Myths of the Near Future, produced the album and also plays drums for the group. Alex and Miles, both guitarists, are considerably subdued in comparison with their other groups, but still manage to bring the whole thing together with very well-conceived albeit simple chord progressions and well-placed guitar effects that add a massive helping of etherealism underneath the lively strings. The end result to all of these twists and turns is simply breathtaking.

The record kicks off with the title track. The song is introduced by a brief squealing from the violin section before the entire orchestra explodes with utter joy while a galloping drum beat propels the music forward. Alex repeatedly holds out his distorted notes while Miles plays rhythm. The lyrical content, like many of the songs contained within the album, is a cautionary tale about an irresistable though conniving woman as evidenced by the line "And she would throw a feather boa in the road/If she thought that it would set the scene/Unfittingly dipped into your companions/Enlighten them to make you see." "Standing Next To Me" follows and manages to remind the listener of early Neil Diamond and Tom Jones songs of all things. "Calm Like You" omits the string section, but brings in a full compliment of horns including trumpet and tuba. It is also during this song one realizes that Alex Turner's songwriting is getting markedly better and even deeper than that heard so far with Arctic Monkeys. One notable stanza sung is "Summertime made promises it knew it couldn't keep/The fairytale was climbing up a mountain far too steep/Colouring the pictures with your loyal hand/Now I am craving heartbreak while you're making your demands." "Separate and Ever Deadly" is a startling song about the narrator's torment as he encounters his ex with another man. "Only the Truth" sees the orchestra incorporate every element found within the record on one song with strings, brass, and percussion dancing around the biting guitar distortions and shifting tempos before the horns and drums take complete control to whisk away the song. "My Mistakes Were Made For You" is in my opinion la chanson la plus belle of the record. I can't quite place why, but it has something to do with the spacey surf-rock guitar chords, the cadence of the lyrical delivery, and the swelling violin arrangements. The outro for the song has a touch of muted jazz trumpet, jazz drums, and a distorted country-western guitar that brings to mind early-Portishead guitar stylings. "I Don't Like You Anymore" is kind of creepy honestly despite being the most aggressive song included and the only one that omits the orchestra altogether. Alex's voice is also distorted ala Favourite Worst Nightmare, which only adds to the poltergeisty (ghostly doesn't quite capture it) quality of the song. "In My Room" is the only track on which the orchestral arrangements completely steal the show and will no doubt be considered the musical masterpiece of the album to many. Alex and Miles also trade lines throughout the song to the point where you can no longer tell who is who as the strings grow in strength and numbers. "The Time Has Come Again" sends the record out on a very sombre note with a lone acoustic guitar slowly carrying the song until dreamy strings join in to accompany Alex's tender vocals reflecting on lost childhood love.

This is without a doubt the most engrossing album I have heard so far this year, and it serves as yet another reminder that Britain is light years ahead of America when it comes to musical knowledge and ability. The album also debuted at #1 on the UK music charts upon its release, a testament to how important a role the listening public plays in encouraging and nurturing quality musicians. The tension created between the melancholy lyrics and uplifting strings keeps you listening intently as your heart is pushed into the depths and slowly pulled back to the surface. If you are already a fan of Arctic Monkeys, you absolutely must listen to this record as Alex will no doubt take what he has learned during this process back with him to Sheffield. If you aren't, you should still listen simply for the musical voyage.

The band plans to start touring in support of the record in October after Miles is done with The Rascals tour in support of their debut album due out later this month. The plans at the moment are to have a 12-piece orchestra in tow. While no dates have been confirmed as of yet, it is rumoured that there will be a few select North American dates. That most likely means Atlanta will be excluded, but we can still hope for the moment. To listen to a few of the tracks from the album (and a very good cover of David Bowie's "In the Heat of the Morning" not on the album), visit the group's MySpace page at http://www.myspace.com/thelastshadowpuppets.

Essential Tracks: "The Age of the Understatement", "Calm Like You", "Separate and Ever Deadly", "Only the Truth", "My Mistakes Were Made For You", "In My Room"

Overall Album Rating (out of 5): 4.7

01 June, 2008

Electa Villain, Ours to Alibi, Today the Moon Tomorrow the Sun @ Vinyl

Last night at Vinyl, Atlanta celebrated the release of Today the Moon, Tomorrow the Sun's first EP Hurry Up & Wait. The six-song release should serve as a wake up call to local bands, local music fans, and the local music industry. As you've previously read here, the band largely recorded this fantastic record themselves, ushering into Atlanta the growing trend of both established and new bands taking complete control of their music. But it's the passion behind these songs that really serves notice to the local scene. Atlanta has a lot of great fun bands, but outside of Manchester Orchestra there have heretofore been few bands who emotionally invest themselves in their music so intensely and work so dilligently to back up that passion with well-crafted melodies that don't get bogged down in the process of experimentation for the sake of being different. What TTM,TTS have realized is that by simply being who they are their music reaps the benefits of sounding both unique and entirely authentic. In short, this band's experimentation is not just for the hell of it, but instead a genuine outpouring of heart and soul.

The crowd at Vinyl filed in very slowly over a span of two hours, but the numbers eventually grew to about 200 people by the time TTM,TTS hit the stage. As with most record release shows, the vast majority of those in attendance were friends and family of the band, established fans, and a smattering of helpers who in one way or another had something to do with the release of the recording. The show was filmed for posterity, and while there are no plans to do so yet, it could eventually be released to the public. It is also worth noting that the merchandise table was swarmed in a way rarely seen with people wanting a copy of the EP after TTM,TTS's performance.

Electa Villain opened the evening, taking the stage sometime after 9:30. While originally an Athens-based group, the three-member band seems to be embracing what is happening here in Atlanta and putting foward an effort to associate themselves more closely with the city. In my opinion, that is an excellent call on their part as Atlanta's diversity much more accurately reflects the band's music. Frontman Justin Allmett possesses an evocatively mellow voice. He also alternates between guitar and keys from song to song. When Justin plays guitar, the band has a more aggressive sound as one would imagine. But the real shining moments are when he is seated behind the keyboard and the rest of the band is allowed to much more adequately fill the full sonic experience without having to battle for position with the guitar. CK Koch plays a very nice distortion bass style that melds perfectly with Justin's voice and gentle piano keys. CK and Justin in fact create the illusion of an ambient guitar with Justin playing what seem to be standard guitar chords on the piano and CK filling the lower end and adding a slight distortion kick. Jay Murphy completes the lineup on drums. Jay's style focuses more on the creative use of cymbals and tempo changes rather than raw power or plodding timekeeping. The end result is a very pleasant ambient sound that avoids the prolonged simplistic repetitions to which many bands in the same genre fall victim. The band will be performing June 20th at AthFest on the outdoor stage at 6:30. To hear some of their tracks and read a bit about the band, visit their MySpace page at http://www.myspace.com/electavillain.

Electa Villain performance rating (out of 5): 3.5

Ours to Alibi were up next. A four-piece Atlanta band, the group also delves into the world of ambient guitar rock, albeit more in the vein of Explosions in the Sky. While the band does many things by the book for their genre, they do unfortunately get caught up in long repeating phrases that drag out what could be good two-and-a-half or three minute songs far too long. Therefore, most of the songs come across as meanderings with no real destination in sight despite their intricate beauty. With that said, the band is still listenable to a point, and the songs are obviously painstakingly crafted. It is also worth noting that the band's studio recordings translate much better than their live show, and I would recommend giving any of their three studio albums a shot. In a final defense of the band, ambient guitar rock is a very tough thing to reproduce outside of a studio and usually takes years of working within a tight-knit group to get just right. While the band is not yet capable of doing themselves justice on stage, their attention to detail and collaborative mix should get them over that hurdle within the next few years. To make up your own mind on this band, visit their MySpace page at http://www.myspace.com/ourstoalibi.

Ours to Alibi performance rating (out of 5): 2.0

To end the evening, there was of course Today the Moon, Tomorrow the Sun. It is so rare to find a band that just gets better and better with every single show they perform. Most bands would reach a point where one show worked, and that show becomes the template for every show to follow until it eventually gets a negative response and the process is repeated. Well, TTM,TTS performed their first certifiably awesome show at the end of last year but have continued to refine their transitions, stage bravado, and brief experimental departures making show after show exponentially better than the last. This one was no exception. The band started the set with a new song before launching into the tracklist of the EP. While all of the songs are excellent, the real standouts are "Fleets & Beats", the well-polished and witty "Never.Always.Good", and hard rocking guitar freak-out "Arpeggiator" featuring Cregg on vocals. The most welcome tweaking of the performance was the addition of several extra drums played by Lauren and Micah along with Jeremy at the end of "Fake Sleeper". The band judiciously used the alpha and omega theory to close the show with an alternate version of "Terrain", the first song the band wrote together. The song was divided into two parts with the band fully exhibiting their electronic and more experimental side in the first half before once again grabbing the guitars for the second half to make one final indelible stamp on the minds and ears of the crowd. As is customary for record release shows, especially those in support of an EP, the set was somewhat shorter than normal, but I don't think anyone in attendance would complain they didn't get their fill of this incredibly gifted upstart band. It hurts my head to think of anything else they could pull out to make future shows even better, but if there is anything to be added, this band will most certainly find it.

Today the Moon, Tomorrow the Sun performance rating (out of 5): 4.8

Once again, to get your own copy of the EP, Hurry Up & Wait is available on iTunes, Rhapsody, Napster, and EMusic. Better still is the option of getting the full experience by attending one of their shows and purchasing a physical copy directly from the band. There are also alternate versions of several songs available for free on the Have You Heard? podcast blog at http://www.haveyouheard.net/have-you-heard-sessions/.

25 May, 2008

In Their Own Words: Today the Moon, Tomorrow the Sun - Part Two

Now that you have been exposed to who Today the Moon, Tomorrow the Sun are from Part One of the interview, it's time to move on to the crux of the matter: their upcoming EP Hurry Up & Wait. Cregg, Lauren, Micah, and Jeremy discussed just that, as well as a bit about the Atlanta rock scene and answered a few more personal questions. If you haven't visited their MySpace page to listen to the songs posted there yet, go to http://www.myspace.com/todaythemoontomorrowthesun now! You can also purchase tickets for their EP release show on May 31st for $6 by visiting http://www.ticketalternative.com/ and typing the band's name into the search box.

The Atlanta Rock Blog: The name of the new record is Hurry Up & Wait. Is that a tongue-in-cheek statement to your fans, or something else?
Micah: Not towards the fans. I think it's just about things in general. Somebody at work was being rushed to get prepared for something that hadn't even arrived yet, and then after they prepared they ended up just waiting and getting really frustrated. So they just said, "Hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait! That's all it ever is," and that stuck with me. I mentioned it to all of them thinking it would be a stupid name for a record, but it ended up making a lot of sense.
Cregg: It's the music industry. I mean, when you talk to people and they're interested and they see you live, all they want to do is push you with things like, "I need some more recordings, I need this, I need that." It really gives you a false sense of hope and the thought that they really love you and you are the only thing in the world that matters. So you go and kill yourself to prepare this wonderful thing, and then they don't have the courtesy to call you back. And you just sit there and you wait and you wait and you wait and when they needed it, it was then, there, and now. In the end, you are left sitting there waiting on a phone call or an e-mail, and it's just a never ending cycle. So we thought that it would be awesome if we called this record Hurry Up & Wait.
Lauren: I think it is a little tongue in cheek to the fans too though, because we're always telling them "We're working on a song, we're working on a song" and then we have to say, "Well, just wait a minute, because it's not ready yet."

TARB: You recorded the album yourselves in your home studio. Is that something any of you have done before?
TARB: So how did this process make the experience better?
Cregg: Just total control. The freedom to just go downstairs and record and take your time. I mean, you want to get it done as fast as you can, but there's not the pressure of someone saying, "You've got this much time left in the studio. You're going to burn through your money. You guys only have 20 more minutes." It's great to just have total control and sit back and try something over and over again and walk away that night and maybe have recorded only one thing out of a hundred, but that one part is perfect.
Jeremy: Even if you do [hand]claps for three nights, because it's your claps and you experimented in 15 different rooms to get those claps right. In the end, you are happy with that, because you did it.

TARB: Cregg, did you also mix and master the album?
Cregg: No, I did not. I gave it a shot, but...
Jeremy: He basically recorded it.
Micah: He did a really good job with the [recording] mixes too. But no, we were under time constraints and the pressure to "Hurry up, hurry up," so we outsourced and reached out for help mixing it.
Jeremy: Kris Sampson at Nickle & Dime Studios did the mixing, and he is an absolute delight to watch work. He's phenomenal.
Cregg: I engineered most of it, but no I did not mix it or, did you say master too? Yeah, we go to Rodney Mills [for mastering]. He is genius.
Jeremy: The mastering king.
Micah: The king of masters!
Lauren: We all thought that Cregg was doing a great job, but we also reached a point where we wanted someone else's ears to hear it. I mean after you've recorded all of that, you're kind of like "Well, I don't know what sounds good anymore"
Cregg: Yeah, you'll do something where you say "Yes!" and everyone else is like "No!" And you try to explain, "Well, I wanted to do this...Oh, forget it."

TARB: What song proved to be the most difficult to get recorded in the studio?
: I think they all went pretty smoothly.
Lauren: I think the claps, well they weren't all that bad, just time consuming. I think in general the songs for us were pretty easy. The vocals were the hardest part because we don't have a real studio set up. The acoustics aren't right, and we don't have a vocal booth. And we had never recorded something like that before. We had one vocal mic that we got that was in our budget on someone's recommendation. So we had to continually experiment with different rooms, being in different corners, being on different sides, do we need to use the pop-block, do we leave it in its dynamic holder or do we take it out and put it on a regular mic stand. That was just really difficult to capture an instrument that actually comes out of somebody, not actually played.
Micah: I know it was really hard for her putting all of that emotion into every single take and then it not be right or just not gel and then have to do it over again. So I can only imagine it took a lot emotionally out of her.
Cregg: Once we got one piece of equipment, everything went a lot smoother.
Lauren: Yeah we just needed a...
Cregg: A compressor.
Lauren: Yeah, just a really nice levelling amplifier is what we got, and it worked.
Jeremy: It has to be said that we went in to record one song. We didn't go in thinking about recording an EP.
TARB: What one song were you going to record?
Jeremy: We were going to just do "Beats & Fleets" at Nickle & Dime. We were going to get the drum tracks done and all. Kris Sampson engineered the drums and got everything set up in about 45 minutes and it sounded phenomenal, so...
Lauren: He said, "Well, you guys have a home studio right? Why don't we get the drums done and maybe see how much bass we can get done, and whatever we don't finish here you can finish up at home." And we said, "Well, yeah, that's a great idea!"
Jeremy: Yeah, we went in for the one song, and I ended up recording six that night.
Cregg: Kris's famous line was "Well let's record a record!"

TARB: Which song from the record do you enjoy performing most?
: We pretty much love them all.
Jeremy: I have some I don't like to play, but we won't go into that. I mean, not that I don't like the songs, it's just that live they don't transition well for me.

TARB: How do you hope people will interpret the new record?
Jeremy: I hope they like it.
Lauren: Yeah, I hope they like our debut album. And if they like it and it's the first time they've heard us, then they can know that there are only more good things that can come.
Micah: I think a goal of ours on this album was to represent how we sound live, and I think we did a good job with that. I hope people will find the connection between our live show and the recording.
Jeremy: To be electronic and stuff, it's very raw. I mean the drums on it don't sound very [polished], it's indie raw. It's nasty.
Micah: We don't do anything on the album that we don't do live. That's something we're very proud of. We didn't want to do anything that would make it sound too structured.

TARB: What is your take on the local music scene?
Cregg: We know nothing about it.
Micah: I don't know if we're just out of the loop, or just don't know where to find the music.
Cregg: I think with our old bands we just got so tired of going out to shows to get other bands to come to our shows. And then at your show half the audience would be other bands, [so] we weren't building a fan base. I guess it was good for the scene, but we're really focusing a lot now on having a fan base instead of having 50-60% of the crowd being other bands who came just because you went to their show. So I think that kind of keeps us out of the loop. We're just more focused on the people and not just the bands. But we will still go support the bands we really like.
Lauren: I mean, we're really happy for the bands who have had some success: The Selmanaires, Deerhunter, The Black Lips, people who are doing well for themselves. But I don't know how well we fit into that, and we're definitely out of the loop.
Micah: I think there are a lot of really amazing musicians in this town, but I don't know where to find them.
Cregg: Especially in our genre. I call us indie-electronic-fuzz rock, so there's not really anybody else that can fit into that. So it's almost like we don't really fit into the scene so much as standing on our own two feet and saying listen to what we have. I think I can honestly say that we're not apart of any scene, we're just a band in a town that's trying to make our own way. But I will to some extent agree with some of the bands who have paved the way in that you have to play outside of Atlanta before you can be an Atlanta band. We are definitely finding that to be true.
Lauren: We're not really necessarily a music town.
Cregg: It's just so spread out. So we're looking forward to touring outside of here to...
Lauren: To get the attention of people who live here.
TARB: Is there another scene of which you would like to be a part or in which you feel you would be better received?
Micah: Any European city. Actually, not even European, just non-American city.
Lauren: We seem to get the best response from Europeans. Canadians, Japanese, and Europeans are usually the most appreciative.
Micah: In addition to that, minors as well. You know, younger kids who are into the music for the music. We seem to attract a lot of younger fans.
Jeremy: We have a lot of college kids come out [to our shows].
Micah: We've noticed that when we have the opportunity play a show that's not just 21+, we seem to have a good general vibe going on and we are able to feed off the crowd a lot. I'm not sure why that is.
Lauren: I think it's because younger kids aren't scared to show their appreciation. I think you get to a certain age where you think you should behave a certain way, and you get a little too cool for school.
Cregg: I think kids now have a much more open mind than they did when I was in my teens. I was still kind of a straight and narrow kind of person, but kids now are more likely to say, "I like this band, and I don't care what anyone says." That's how it all begins. They are very open minded.

TARB: What is your favourite local music venue to play?
Lauren: The EARL.
Micah and Jeremy: Star Bar
Cregg: Yeah, I would say Star Bar too. The last two times we've played that place, it's almost been people out the door. And I really like it because [the crowd] is kind of in your face. It's great when the fans are right there, because we're definitely a band that feeds off the crowd. It allows us to show our emotions. You know, the more the merrier. I guess The EARL first and then Star Bar.
Micah: And Vinyl too. It's great that it can be an 18+ venue. I feel like there aren't enough of those.
Jeremy: And it is our CD release spot. I mean, we chose it for a reason. It's big and the management there is awesome, really nice guys.

TARB: Lauren, you used to work for 99X. Do you miss the station?
Lauren: I miss the station for what it was. The way it was when I first got there was incredible. It was starting to make a big turn around and starting to take chances on the bands they would play. I mean, yeah, we still had to play the stuff that people wanted to hear because their ears had been trained to like that, but it gave us a chance to play stuff people thought we would never play. We would get calls from people saying, "I was listening, I just happened to forget my CDs today, and I heard you play Arcade Fire and I couldn't believe it. I will listen to you guys from now on." And that was really cool, especially when I got to do [Sunday School] with Jay [Herron], or when he would be sick and I would get to play all the new stuff that was coming out. Just to share stuff that people had never heard was really cool. But in general, it's a business where people make assumptions and will have preconceived notions about you. That part of it I didn't really like, because people would either hate or love you. And I mean HATE or LOVE you and not even know you. That was pretty weird. But it was fun. It was sort of the more theatrical side of me. I got to be out there and active. I don't really know how to describe it. But I do miss the station the way it used to be.
TARB: So the things they did for the local music scene, do you think there is a big void now?
Micah: Heck yeah.
Cregg: You mentioned "Zombie". It wouldn't have been anything if they didn't have the "Cover of the Day" with whoever did that.
Lauren: It was Steve [Craig] who did that, I think.
Cregg: I remember one day the guys calling me and telling me, "Dude, they just played 'Zombie' on 99X!" And so many people called in to request it that he ended up playing it another two or three times later on that week or the next week. That's powerful, very powerful. And we don't have that anymore.
Micah: I don't want to ignore the Project 9-6-1 Homegrown show for rock bands and what they do to put [more traditional] rock bands out there, but there's not an indie outlet.
Jeremy: And the [concerts] they did, I mean 99X was putting local musicians on these huge bills. Big or small, they were putting them on bills that they could have a connection with and possibly mature as a band. And you just don't have that now.
Micah: It's crazy that Atlanta, one of the biggest cities in the US, doesn't have an alternative station. But thank god they got an oldies station like six months ago.
Lauren: Yeah, it's all-over-the-place oldies too. It's really good.
Micah: It's just so weird. You go down to a place like Orlando, and they have this awesome alternative station.
Jeremy: And Birmingham. They have like three.
Cregg: But, on the flip side, this podcast, I think it's WTR, yeah Walk to Run Radio, has "Never.Always.Good." a track from our CD on it. Podcast is becoming the new radio. So with death comes life, but it still sucks to not be able to be heard on a home radio station. You know, when you're in your car, unless you've already download the podcast, you can't just pick that up.

TARB: If you couldn't be musicians, what other artistic pursuit might you like to try?
Lauren: I've always enjoyed acting. I actually majored in theatre and music business as well. I would really like to continue that, and by the end of [my courses] I really got into directing a lot. Yeah, probably that.
Jeremy: I'd like to be an interior designer.
Lauren: Who are you?!
Jeremy: I mean, I think I could do that and enjoy it.
Micah: It's funny you say that. I was thinking something like a landscape designer. I don't know, maybe I watch too much HDTV, but lately I've had a fondness for plants and botanical landscapes.
Cregg: I have three things.
Jeremy: Well, Cregg's already a hairstylist. I mean, he's probably one of the best in the Southeast.
Cregg: I don't know about that, but I'm already doing that. This all fictional right? I would probably want to be a tattoo artist or something like that. That would fit me. I'd also like to make [guitar effect] pedals, get some schematics down. I guess that's music-related though. The other thing would be work in a studio, but that's music as well.
Micah: Yeah, I was going to say elementary music teacher, but that's musical.
Cregg: So yeah, tattoo artist. That would be awesome.

TARB: What was the "eureka" moment for all of you when you decided you wanted to pursue a career in music?
Micah: Meeting Lauren.
Jeremy: Man, I have a good one. The "eureka" moment for me, well playing any large show is always phenomenal. I played big shows with Linger, and I played one with Avenge Vegas. But I was in marching band [in high school], and we played one of these huge battle of the bands festivals at Auburn University. I was fifteen years old, and I'm coming out of the tunnel [at Jordan-Hare Stadium] and it was just huge and it was packed out. And when you're on a football field, it's not like you would think. It looks like you're in a box, and it just goes straight up and there's people everywhere. And I walked out on that field and got butterflies and I thought, "Man, I've gotta play this drum part." After that moment, I've never gotten butterflies again. And you talk about a "eureka" moment, that was probably it for me as far as music.
Micah: Like I said, the moment for me was the first time I made music with Lauren, and when I just saw that connection. That was the best feeling in the world.
Lauren: You know growing up, music is very important to some people, and it was very, very important to me. I always had my daydreams about playing in a band, but I think as a girl you just weren't supposed to do that. And as a kid there were very few females in bands. So you think "Well, maybe that's a silly idea." You would talk to your parents about getting a guitar, and they would also think that's just silly. So I met Cregg and I had done a lot of work with Linger. I had booked a lot of their shows, and I sat in and was their extra opinion if they ever needed one or needed someone else's thoughts. I kind of roadied for them a little bit too as a designated guitar tech and cymbal picker-upper. And that's when [Micah] and her friend Brandy had seen me and they thought, "We have to meet this girl; maybe she's a musician." So I told them, "Yeah, I play guitar, but I've never really played with anyone else before." So Micah and I got together, and we met with a few other girls, but there was just something between us that we knew would eventually lead to us playing music together.
Cregg: I have to say if I thought back to any moment, it would have to be in the early days of Linger, like before we had even played our first show. It was just me, a guitarist, no bass player, and a drummer. I couldn't even play a guitar back then, I had never played. And that was way before Jeremy came along, but we wrote our first song altogether. The drummer, guitarist, and I wrote all the lyrics and we had this song. The chords were there, the melody was there and everything just melded and I thought, "Oh my god, I can do this." I mean, the song just came together. And when you have closeness like that with people, I mean it's one thing to sit down and have a drink with somebody, but when you write a song together, it's special, it's powerful. I think that's when [music] really had me hook-in-mouth and I was ready to go forward with it.


Once again, Today the Moon, Tomorrow the Sun will be playing on May 31st at their EP release party at The Vinyl Lounge in the CW Midtown Music Complex on the corner of W. Peachtree Street and 17th Street in Midtown Atlanta. Tickets are only $6 in advance (see the link above to buy). If you are interested in going, get your tickets now. Vinyl only holds a maximum of 300 people, and word is travelling fast around the city that this is the show to see that weekend. As I have mentioned before, this is one of the best live acts in Atlanta and the Southeast for that matter. Copies of their EP will be available at the show as well as t-shirts and other goodies. If you absolutely can't make the show (acceptable reasons include "I live in Poland" or "The warden won't let me out that night"), you can download Hurry Up & Wait from iTunes, Rhapsody, EMusic, or Napster beginning May 31st as well. Otherwise, you will have to catch one of their shows to purchase a copy of the CD.

21 May, 2008

Album Review - Death Cab for Cutie's "Narrow Stairs"

Release Date: May 13, 2008
Label: Atlantic Records
No. of Tracks: 11

While Death Cab for Cutie are the very definition of an indie pop band in sound, very few people don't know who they are anymore. Their 2005 platinum-selling release Plans assured the band of that with its undeniable beauty and poignant songwriting. Even sales of the band's 2003 album Transatlanticism soared that year, and interest rose in the group's four other previous albums and LPs. They have had numerous songs featured in TV commercials, TV shows, and movies as well in recent years.

Now, frontman Ben Gibbard and crew have released Narrow Stairs after months of speculation and anticipation. While this is still a pop album in almost every sense of the word, the band has further expanded on their musical prowess and experimentation. Though the songwriting on this album doesn't delve to the same depths as that of Plans, it is still acceptable and has a tendency to stick in your head more due to its much simpler nature. Ben Gibbard's voice has always been the driving force behind previous Death Cab songs, but this album mutes that quality as the other band members really step it up in painting a lusher landscape around the lyrics.

The album opens with the track "Bixby Canyon Bridge". The song begins with Ben's voice and a spacey guitar effect before jumping headlong into a rock jam that highlights guitarist Chris Walla's most extreme musical experimentation on the record with louder guitars and a nice distortion-pedal squeal. The nearly nine-minute "I Will Possess Your Heart" follows and is the first single from the record. The song contains a long introduction featuring a wicked repeating bassline, piano, and a slow-building ambient guitar. Ben finally begins singing his appeal to a girl to just give him a chance to prove how great a partner he could be at the five-minute mark, and the guitars and piano are used to punctuate his lines as the bass continues to plod along underneath it all. "No Sunlight" is fairly standard within the context of this album, but it is still a pretty little ditty. "Cath..." is one of the brighter offerings about a girl with a fear of commitment who ultimately makes the wrong decision in that regard, an interesting spin on the well-worn female songwriter indictment of the opposite sex. "Talking Bird" is a slow contemplative piece dealing with that friend we all have who just can't realize the opportunites open to them right in front of their noses. "You Can Do Better Than Me" is yet another Ben Gibbard offering of a feeling of inadequacy within a relationship. "Grapevine Fires" is a first-hand account of the recent widspread California wildfires. The lyrics paint an accurate portrait of the scene ("The sky looked like the end of days"), the emotions of those caught in the midst ("I bought some wine and paper cups/Near your daughter's school when we picked her up/And drove to the cemetary on a hill"), and Ben's personal insight and hopes that the destruction can bring something better ("I couldn't think of anywhere I'd have rather been/To watch it all burn away"). "Your New Twin Sized Bed" is a witty tale of a guy who has given up on having the other side of a larger bed ever being occupied by the person on which he has been waiting. "Long Division" is a beautifully conceived break-up song that manages to not be depressing in the least. This song also displays a much louder and aggressive side of the band musically and does wonders for the flow of the album as it picks up the previous four song's gradually falling pace. The album closes with the song "The Ice Is Getting Thinner". The song slowly unfolds like a letter to a lover with whom the narrator has been with much too long. The song's content assumes closure from the words spoken, but never actually delivers a blow of finality. However, due to the music's gentle lilting quality, it still serves as an adequate closing track for the listener.

This is an overall fantastic album that will no doubt be very high on many music critic's top albums of the year lists in December. The band delicately walks the line between sticking to what got them to this point and expanding their style and changing certain elements for the sake of diversity and progression. Only time will tell how the general public accepts this balancing act. I can safely say that it is not of the same quality as Plans, but few band's can even hope to create such an intensely emotional yet unpretentious album, much less recreate it. However, this album should in my opinion cement Death Cab's place as one of the best and most important bands in the rock world today. I would say the future of this band is very bright, but it's better to simply enjoy the present and be thankful for what we already have.

Essential Tracks: "I Will Possess Your Heart", "Cath...", "Grapevine Fires", "Long Division"

Overall album rating (out of 5): 4.2

19 May, 2008

Album Review - Nine Inch Nails' Halo 27 "The Slip"

Release Date: May 5, 2008
Label: [none]
Distribution: Digital Download from theslip.nin.com
Price: FREE!
No. of Tracks: 10

Ahhh. It's good the have the old Trent Reznor back. In Nine Inch Nails' most recent releases (With Teeth, Year Zero, Ghosts I-IV), we saw a side of Trent that almost no one ever imagined that we would. The music was extroverted, funkier, and dare I say almost happy. Sure, there were still the undercurrents of angst and rebellion, especially on Year Zero with its largely political theme. Even the distribution method of Ghosts I-IV could be construed as compassionate towards the fans with its multiple-format $5 digital download of the collection and even free download of the first installment of Ghosts. Even this album is available 100% free by visiting http://theslip.nin.com/.

That's where the happy train stops. The Slip is a return for Trent and NIN to the days of Pretty Hate Machine and Downward Spiral-type anger and disgust peppered with the same quiet sonic experimentation that made The Fragile such a disturbingly beautiful album. When present, the guitars are once again loud, fuzzy, and brutal. The drums are back to their old fast-all-the-time pace and thundering force in most offerings. Trent is even snarling from time to time in his lyrical delivery, and he avoids the temptation to overtly wax poetic. The production also focuses less on the late NIN trend of melody and more on the dissonant, Industrial sonic explosion and quiet evolution.

The album begins with a short instrumental lead-in titled "999,999". The best I can do to describe it is a cross between a bass playing the part of sonar or a radio transmission frequency hum, light repeating keyboard contractions, and a scuba diver breathing underwater. This transitions into the violent "1,000,000" that reminds the listener of songs like "March of the Pigs". "1,000,000", like many of the tracks on the album, address Trent dealing with his falling out with the record industry as a whole. He paints a very clear image of the situation with his line "Put the gun/In my mouth/Close your eyes/Blow my fucking brains out/Pretty patterns/On the floor/It's enough for you/But I still need more." He also "Don't feel anything at all." "Letting You" is another politically charged song, but much more direct than anything on Year Zero. In fact, subtleties and hidden meanings are completely absent from this recording, which is something new for Trent especially following the hidden mystery hullabaloo surrounding Year Zero. "Discipline", the first single from the release, is the most mainstream of the tracks with a funky melody, slightly more subdued guitars, and piano. In this song, Trent openly deals with his feelings of whether he is actually losing his edge and even relevance. He reasons that he needs the same discipline that his long-time fans have shown over the past 20 years and even their help in digging his way out of the mire. "Echoplex", the second single, is a statement to the record industry in general. He snarls and whispers "You chip away the old version of you/You'd be surprised what you can do/I'm safe in here/irrelevant/Just like they said/My voice just echoes off these walls." He closes the song by taunting "You will never get to me in here." "Lights in the Sky" is this album's attempt to recreate "The Fragile", only this song is exclusively vocals and piano. It does indeed deal with the same theme of undying loyalty no matter what the consequences to the girl du-jour in Trent's head. "Corona Radiata" and "The Four of Us Are Dying" are two The Fragile-like instrumentals that flow together in a 12-minute meandering voyage through quiet sonic landscapes that ebb and flow with sorrow. The album closes with the fitting song "Demon Seed" in which Trent discloses that he is nearing the end of his long battle with the "other self", stating "Now I know exactly what I am" as the music swells to embrace his proclamation.

If you were in a bind to share with someone exactly what NIN was in the first 10 years (just pretend that person exists, OK?) and didn't have time to make a representative playlist from those albums, The Slip would be a highly effective alternative. For me, it plays like a nostalgic trip through the teenage years. But despite the obvious attempts to not be so damn hopeful this time around, there is a confidence behind what Trent is doing now that translates as a sort of hope. He has not lost his relevance, and he has not lost his direction. What he has found though is acceptance with both himself and his surroundings. He's still pissed off about what he sees, but the ability to finally understand makes all the difference.

Essential Tracks: "1,000,000", "Echoplex", "Head Down", "Demon Seed"

Overall album rating (out of 5): 3.8