Running From the Past
The first three tracks on this collection are excellent. “Come to the Fore,” like a great many of these songs, is a certified throwback, sounding precisely like it came off of a Pebbles anthology; it’s a sharp-edged rocker with a snappy melodic line and jittery, jagged guitar. The title track is very much in a pounding surf mode, with jungled-up percussion, jangly and angular guitar lines, and sad, almost sobbing lyrics – plus, natch, the obligatory wild guitar solo. “Julie (You’re So Sweet)” evokes “Going All the Way” by the Squires combined with Merseybeat – and, true to form, even ends on a fade-out. “Between Us” has some slightly off-kilter double-tracked (?) vocal refrains; the song is redeemed largely by its sheer momentum. “Beyond the Laughing Sky” has an early Zombies feel, with its piano stylings and somewhat fey vocals – plus, some pretty cheesy effects with echo. “I Only Want the Best for You” sounds like a very early Kinks out-take yoked to some rather incongruous double-tracked vocal effects. “Words For Me” is an oddball entry; dreamy double-tracked male/female folk vocals are mated with a recurrent clipped guitar riff and a psychedelic surf-influenced middle-eight. “Separate Ways,” in its overall distant feel, is almost evocative of “Bull of the Woods” era 13th Floor Elevators, albeit with more of that chipper Merseybeat vocalizing. “Waves” is a somewhat trippy Merseybeat number with Pebbles-style “heartfelt” vocals punctuated by insistent electric piano. “What’s On Your Mind” is a disorganized and somewhat more straightforward rock tune. The haunting “Somewhere in Time” is a deliberately off-center and discordant song with sing-songy vocals and an almost carnivalesque feel. “How I Feel About You” has a Byrdsy guitar feel with a decidedly poppy vocal line. “Love Is a Lesson” is a wistful, subdued ballad in a folk mode. “Alone With Someone New” is a blues-influenced Merseybeat raver out of The Swinging Blue Jeans which finishes with a staggering, stuttering punchiness ala Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. The Forz are unrepentant revivalists, and listening to Running From the Past makes one think that this is what would have resulted if time has somehow stopped in 1965. (Francis DiMenno)
WILLIE ALEXANDER & THE FISHTONES
Ill Be Good
Willie Alexander stretches music boundaries. Like it or leave it – he creates music on his own terms. I picture him as a 21st century Picasso. Willie Alexander will evolve ’til he’s no longer on the physical plain… then we’ll all wonder why we didn’t pay more attention. It’s not too late… pay attention now. Willie Alexander – Ill Be Good… he’s not lying.
Ill Be Good starts with what sounds like the Dr. Who theme song minus the extreme echoed melody. Willie states it’s a 6/8 rhythm in his song notes — and this is his forth run at the jogging rhythm. Russ Gershon supplies a strange modal saxophone solo followed by a pair of clarinets that climb the wall slowly. Willie rumbles the vocals with the rhythmic chant “All things go… underground with Lee.” The next one, “I Can Hear Louise,” starts with a straight read poem. Well, as straight as things go in Willie’s world. Then it trips into a flim flam drum excursion with decadent disconnected vocals and piano that eventually flaunts child’s play. “Song For Mike,” my favorite on the disc, gets big in its presence with a looped, ominous one-chord warning while Willie rants about his neighbor Mike Hanifin. It’s a sad tale of how Mike screwed up his life. Everyone laughs and it’s back to the chorus…“I walk the streets. I don’t know shit. I don’t remember nothin’.” The song finally excretes a warped street corner doo-wop plunge. “I’ll Be Good” is the closest Willie will ever come to a ballgame song… a little funkified with some contorted doo-wops to keep us on our toes. Russ Gershon re-enters to modally saxify the track. “No More Tony” flaunts a toy piano rhythm the likes of “96 Tears” with Willie’s riffing about a street basketball-playin’ kid – but I don’t get the feeling that the kid is the cigar-smokin’ Tony. Where did Tony go? He’s probably out buying this record. (T Max)
Boston’s Gamma Pope is blowing my mind. Triptych starts quietly. The first song is like a Bauhaus ballad caressing your ears. Things get crazy from there. All of a sudden you wake up in a nightmare and find yourself in a Virgin Prunes or Suicide album that was never written. By the end of the record it’s turned into more of a Butthole Surfers or Swans heavy noisy jubilee, with traces of Sleep Chamber and Psychic TV. This is definitely a candidate for album of the year, pick this up and expand your consciousness. (Eric Baylies)
This Year’s Storm
My first impression of this 2015 entry is that it is thinking-man’s rock; the kind that stays sharp clear down to the bottom of the glass. “We’re Never Going Back” is like some dream combination of Green On Ted and The Outlets, with a soupcon of Neil Young’s musings on “Cortez the Killer.” Subsequent tracks seem to work some fairly generic indie rock tropes. “Sing Alone” bears at least a faint whiff of the epic grandiosity of Dinosaur Jr., with maybe a whiff of the Dambuilders dynamism thrown in. “Backpack” is a staccato number full of a restrained tension as evoked by the bass and guitar. The excellent “Mental Schenectady” is an upbeat musical statement with a downbeat message of reminiscence and regret. This is one of the more wrenching lyrics about small-town life that I have ever heard. This seems to be one of those rare bands whose lyrics repay close scrutiny. For all its pretty tinkling, “A Little Joy for the Rest”is redeemed by an awesome, skull-crushing coda. “First Night in the West” chugs along with chunky supercharged chording, supple drone, and some up-front percussion by David Mohs, and nears its end with an excellently conceived, life-affirming interlude. “There’s a Science to Everything” is another song of reminiscence and regret, with dreamlike instrumentals and heartfelt vocals, all punctuated by mind-manifesting guitar. The title track is another swoony declamation with a staccato vocal line and rhythm guitar. “The Uninvited Guest” is a balls-out rocker; “Greatest Hits” is a straightforward mid-tempo staccato number: “You Can Tell” a chugging, quasi-bolero fragment. Several of the songs on This Year’s Stormshow an impressive degree of accomplishment, full of compelling melodicism and provided with thoughtful lyrics. (Francis DiMenno)
Dover, New Hampshire’s Greed Island is a group that mixes elements of post punk like Unwound and Fugazi with hooks of Cheap Trick or Urge Overkill to create something pretty new. I could see kids starting up a slam dance pit to this, or a middle aged guy blasting it from his stereo in his Corvette on his way to the office. This is damn good record with cross generational appeal, even if this young band is not aware of it. I’ve been playing Hamper so much my neighbors know all the words, and I think the cops are next. Greed is good when its Greed Island. They are worth a trip up to New Hampshire this winter for sure. If Greed Island keeps spitting out the hits, they’ll be able to buy their own island soon, like Doctor Doom or Dr. Dre. (Eric Baylies)
JAKE McKELVIE & THE COUNTERTOPS
Solid Chunks of Energy
Jake Mckelvie & the Countertops write and play pop music. Is that a dirty , dirty word these days? They have hooks but in a Sebadoh, Weezer, or Beck kinda way. These guys sound young, even younger than me, which might put them in junior high school. These kids and their rock ’n’ roll! I wish they would let loose sometimes, but maybe they are saving that for next time. Really cool stuff, for the kids by the kids. Viva la rock, baby! My pick for a hit: “Wristwatch,” taking the best of They Might Be Giants and The Outfield and crafting a pop hit. (Terry Boulder)
The mode here is mostly heartening anthemic rock, as on the opening track “The Fool.” “Sinking, Flying” is an intentionally heavy, almost lumbering recitative with an old-fashioned ’70s-style gnarly guitar solo. “Only Roses” is another recitative, one which is over-brimming with grimy guitar interspersed with some chuck-a-luck strumming. “Deleria” is a brash and more melodic heavy rocker enhanced by Ms. Johnson’s almost sing-songy vocals. “Fuel Heart” is a springy punk-pop confection with vocals evocative of desperation, replete with a cheesy Queen-style guitar solo in the coda. “All We Thought” is a brisk, hook-laden, almost avant-punk fragment with descending vocals vying with dynamically ascending guitar. “Seven” is another surprisingly hooky punk-pop construction; an anti-love song with contrastingly chipper vocals and instrumentals. “Wound” is a more standard-issue mechanistic rock number with an ingenious false ending which leads back into the catchy refrain. “These Are the Best Days” is a vigorous riff and percussion toe-tapper with an almost deterministic feel. “Yesterday’s Ghost” is the album standout; a lively, dynamic number is which the vocals feel fully integrated with the instrumentals and harmony vocals, replete with a radio-ready hook. “Better From Here” ends the album with a more melodic, folksy number. Overall, the production values on Only Roses leave Ms. Johnson’s formidable voice sounding somewhat buried. This is a flaw which mars an otherwise entertaining collection. (Francis DiMenno)
A Full Bird’s Wing
From the first chords of A Full Bird’s Wing streaming through the ear buds, into my ears, registering within my brain, and finally settling comfortably, easily, within my soul, the music washing over me, like a warm, buzz, I knew that Audio Jane and I were going to be good friends. Love at first listen is something that rarely happens for me, but this is one of those instances. I love this band and their CD! It hits the mark on every level, in every way. It feels and sounds like a welcome visitation of a beloved ghost from the music of the ’90s, only in many ways, even better.
The first track, “White Lies,” begins and I am taken away to a time fondly remembered. I am blown away by the sound of Sarah Pech, whose voice is sweet, soft and clear as crystal. If I must compare her voice to another’s, Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star comes to mind. Not the same sound per se, but still, it’s Impossible not to go there. Being an avid fan of the latter, this is definitely very much, a positive thing. There is the same dreamy, lilting, floating, feeling to the music here and there throughout, but at the same time, delivering an awesome, solid alt/indie rock sound foundation. When the metal kicks in via Mike Goldberg’s guitar, the pairing with Pech’s voice is like velvet meeting steel and it’s a beautiful musical marrying of contrasts, feeling seamless and natural. It’s positively mesmerizing.
The second track, “Baby I Know,” with its elements of acoustic guitar playing like a breeze along with Sarah Pech’s voice, is another killer song. Spectral, melancholy and lovely. The third track, “Radiohead,” delivers some more of that great guitar, being wildly unleashed in all of the right places at exactly the right times. Placement is everything. Spacy and well placed keys, again, courtesy of Mike Goldberg, induce a sense of shooting stars descending from somewhere within the cosmos. Jesse Perkins on bass, a finely played one at that, contributes a depth that literally resonates with this music, and along with a strong, primal drum presence by Mark Cote, the two combined provide the strength and depth and yes, a bit of darkness that Audio Jane’s music seems to call for.
“Bring Down,” delivers the same haunting quality that I am loving in all of this. Dark and atmospheric, but seductively welcoming you to sway rhythmically. Nice! A Full Bird’s Wing concludes with “Aliens,” and yes, I love this one for many of the same reasons that I have sited above. I have already played this CD consecutively enough times to have lost count. I do have one major problem with it and that is that five songs of this caliber are simply not enough. This is going to set me on an excavation to see what else I can dig up by them, all the while, hoping that their next release will not take too long. I want more! When do I want it? Ah, well… you know the rest. I look forward to more, but until that happens, I remain deeply grateful to have this much. (R.J. Ouellette)
Sad Eyes sound like Blondie doing only the slow songs, which as everyone knows are the best Blondie songs. Picture Debbie Harry singing in the bar in the middle of nowhere in Twin Peaks with Slowdive or some other shoegaze kind of band gently backing her in the breeze. This is not nearly as psyche as it was described to me, but it is still way cool. Play this at the prom for nerds and let the tears flow down your cheeks. Mini Dresses’ Sad Eyes is a wonderfully happy and sad record. (Terry Boulder)
Skinny Pigeons are a Boston based rock ’n’ roll band, or as they like to say, an avian invasion with a loud rock persuasion. They can get funky in the way that Frank Zappa’s bands could, or get a little weird like Faith No More. I’m not sure if these songs are really about birds or not, but that’s fine with me. They sing about girls kidnapping your mind and such, so I guess every species can relate on some level. They talk about taking a hook out, and I’m thinking maybe they are talking about fishes, but maybe it’s on some deep level beyond my comprehension. Well, whatever the heck is going on here, Flu is cool record by a fun band. They’ve been around for at least three years, and it’s my first listen, but certainly not my last. (Eric Baylies)
Purpose & Privilege
“Misplaced Misanthropy” is a stumbling punk manifesto with lyrical sentiments out of an erudite version of the Crass and hardcore stylings out of early Husker Du. “Theologian’s Waltz” is a grandiose instrumental which is almost like prog rock as filtered through showboating heavy metal instrumentation and sensibility, replete with flashy guitar runs. “Another Song About Human Capital” is a chugging hardcore number with a somewhat ambivalent feminist message. Not bad of its kind, though at this early stage they smack more of a far-left garage group instead of a full-fledged band. (Francis DiMenno)
Boston’s Pucker Up is led by multi instrumentalists Nathan Ventura. Buttercup isn’t just a record, it’s a musical journey into a post punk apocalypse. It is a reflection into the gene pool of great underground music of the past 30 years, like Men’s Recovery Project, Residents, Pere Ubu, and La Machine. It is like a psychedelic aural amusement park, sliding on slippery slopes of off kilter rhythms down a rabbit hole of illusions. What I guess I’m trying to say is, this a trip! Pucker Up even harkens back to the trippier side of Alice Cooper’s early recordings on some tunes. Buttercup is an amazing record that everyone in Boston needs to check out. (Eric Baylies)
James Kallestad, a musician hailing from Cloquet, MN, is now based in the Boston area. He is an acoustic folk artist, and the CD, River Songs, was inspired by his travels up and down the Mississippi River. It is easily heard within his songs. The music itself is of the bare bones variety – no frills, no thrills, no special effects. Kallestad keeps it simple. His voice, well suited for the genre, his guitar, the weathered sound of his harmonica, some keys to fill things in, and the stories within the songs are what he brings to the table.
As I am listening to this on a chilly autumn night while cozy indoors, sipping apple cider, mellow lighting, a candle burning, the atmosphere of the season fills the room and is given its own soundtrack tune as “Paper Town” begins to play. I think to myself how often it is that music reflects different seasons. River Songs is perfect for autumn and winter. It is mellow and soothing. This is the sort of music that one would imagine being played within the walls of a rustic brick-walled coffeehouse. There is that certain warmth to the music which lulls you into a sense of comfort.
When I refer to this as “road music,” what I mean is that it makes one grateful to be home. The stories conveyed in these tracks invoke the feeling of both being on the road, in eager anticipation of arriving at one’s destination, as well as the longing to once again return home. Yes, the music of Jamie Kallestad’s River Songs is very simple. I just listen, feel and let him take care of the rest. He does that well. And sometimes, this is all that anyone needs. (R.J. Ouellette)
Wrecked But Right
Wrecked But Right is a little bit different for me. I don’t normally go for country or alternative Americana etc. but this is pretty different and out there stuff. It is mostly Craig on guitar and vocals, with a little bit of drums thrown in. It kind of reminds me of Johnny Cash as produced by Rick Rubin, but much hipper and more current, but in a timeless kinda way. He has a weird finger picking guitar style that I just don’t hear much. The tune “The Devil’s Phone” tells a pretty interesting story that could be made into a movie or a cartoon. It’s hard to believe Wrecked But Right was made in Providence and not Arkansas or somewhere like that. I don’t know if Craig is the son of a preacher man or not, but he sure sounds like one here. (Terry Boulder)
Boston’s Bat House is a young band with great technical ability and chops. Don’t be scared by the math rock tag, there is some singing in here and real songs. They are not just showing off, although they certainly have practiced once or twice together. When I stumbled across Ghosts I thought it was another release by the late, lamented Boston band Battle House, with similar cover art, but it’s just a happy coincidence. The track “Woods” takes us to that place where Yes live side by side with Tool and make beautiful music together. I’m glad I accidentally listened to this, it’s like the past of Boston music has somehow brought us together with the future, and make no mistake, this band is THE future of Boston. (Eric Baylies)
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