Friday, April 12, 2013

The Black Angels - Indigo Meadow (2013)

Contrary to what many believe about modern psychedelic music, the genre isn't all about peace, love, and dancing hippies. From the very beginning, The Black Angels have challenged these notions with a darker, more sinister edge. Since 2008, I've seen the band play a number of times and each show has been a memorable experience. One year, during a performance at SXSW, the crowd broke into a violent mosh pit. While at the CD release show for their 2nd album, there was an incredible light show and strange film footage displayed while the band played. For a moment, the visual effects mixed with their trance-like rhythms made me feel as though someone had slipped me some acid. And at a third concert, I was almost certain that they played a Joy Division cover, only to discover it was an original called "Manipulation". With that being said, The Black Angels are not your typical flower power psych-rock band. Their sound walks a blurry line between retro and otherworldly; steeped in blues, yet drenched in reverb and studio experimentation, with simple yet extremely effective tribal rhythms that send you into orbit.

Indigo Meadow marks the band's fourth studio album of their career and the first new record in 2 and 1/2 years. Despite the wait, the band stayed busy with a hefty amount of touring, and various side projects. (Guitarist - Christian Bland formed another psych-rock band with The Revelators. While lead singer - Alex Maas, did some recording with the lead singer of the Heartless Bastards - Erika Wennerstrom, in a group called Sweet Tea.) Also notable is that The Black Angels recorded Indigo Meadow as a four piece rather than a 5-6 piece band for the first time in their career. In 2012, original member/guitarist/bassist - Nate Ryan quit to pursue other projects.

Writing for Indigo Meadow took place in Austin between January and June of 2012. In that time, thirty songs were written in total. According to interviews with both Alex Maas and Christian Bland, this was the first album that they actually sat down and "crafted" the songs together before going into the studio. Whereas before, most of their new material was developed from jamming at soundchecks, and in the studio. As a result, the songs on Indigo Meadow are much more concise than on past efforts. Following the writing of the album, the band went to Sonic Ranch Studios in the West Texas border town of Tornilla. There, they geared their time more towards experimenting and getting the weirdest sounds possible out of their instruments. The sessions ended in three weeks, resulting in 16 finished songs.

Like every Black Angels album, Indigo Meadow sounds best when played LOUD! It features a fair amount of the groovy buzz-saw guitar riffage, thunderous bass lines, ghostly vocals, and tribal 4/4 drum patterns that fans have come to know and love; as well as a monstrous mixed bag of noises that often left me scratching my head at times. Backwards tape loops, multi-layered vocals - processed to sound like organs, and a ton of sounds that just left me clueless as to how they were made, were just a few of the minor details that I started noticing after several listens. There is no question that this is an album that gets more interesting with repeat listens, and that the band are obviously progressing musically. But often these added textures mixed with the concise 60's influenced songwriting come off sounding cluttered, and as though there is too much happening at once. As a result some of the better songs ("Twisted Light") suffer for it, while other not-so-great songs ("The Day") seem to hide behind the shield of unnecessary noise.

Still there is a solid chunk of songs you'll probably love on this album. The aptly titled - "Evil Things" and the last two minutes of closing song "Black is Black" feature explosions of fuzzy guitar lines, banshee howls, and deep bassy groove that recall their first album - Passover. On other numbers like the creepy and hypnotic - "Holland"; the haunting first single - "Don't Play with Guns", and "I Hear Colors" (which ranks as one of their most "psychedelic" songs to date); the band seems to have stuck their head into a whole new realm musically. Similar to their last album - Phosphene Dream, The Black Angels have continued to draw from 60's garage rock, early Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd, The Zombies, The Doors, and of course The 13th Floor Elevators. Prime examples include "You're Mine" (a catchy little cannibalistic love song set to a time-travel palette of rhythm) and "Love Me Forever" (which features ringing Rickenbacker guitars and an interesting break that sounds like something that could have been on Pet Sounds).

Indigo Meadow, although currently my least favorite album by The Black Angels, is still an interesting listen with several must hear songs. This could end up being an album that reveals itself more and more over the coming years, the way that their 2nd album Directions to See a Ghost did for me. Still, it'll be interesting to see where the band goes from here. And as always their amazing live shows are a must see!

 out of 5

For all the latest Black Angels info, check out:

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Wilco Saved My Life One Night.

I was a little late getting into the music of Wilco. It wasn't until 2002 and the release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot that I slowly began to take notice. In the following year, I ended up buying and obsessing over the rest of the group's catalogue - Summerteeth, Being There, and their first album - the sadly underlooked alt-country classic - A.M. Around this time I considered myself a serious songwriter, spending hours each day preparing for gigs, and working on new material to try out with the band I was playing in. A.M. was on constant rotation and a huge inspiration to my writing at this time. But little did I know, A.M. (notably "Passenger Side") may have also saved my life one night.

While living in Boston, I'd occasionally travel home to the Eastern Shore of Maryland to visit my family. Depending on traffic, the trip took anywhere from 7 to 13 hours. So to save time, I'd usually leave at midnight on a Thursday or Friday and arrive in the early morning hours of the following day. Some thought I was a little nuts to do these drives on my own, but I really enjoyed them. It gave me a chance to clear my head, and catch up on a ton of new music. One early morning, I started drifting off at the wheel and heading straight into a steep ditch. As I was hitting the grass, I woke up to the sound of Jeff Tweedy singing the opening lines to "Passenger Side, making it back on the highway just in time.

Hey wake up!/ Your eyes weren't open wide
For the last couple of miles/ You've been swerving from side to side
You're gonna make me spill my beer if you don't learn how to steer

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

David Bowie - The Next Day (2013)

A couple years ago, The Flaming Lips released a single begging the question - "Is David Bowie Dying?". Despite plenty of reports and photos proving otherwise, you couldn't help but wonder just what had happened to the Thin White Duke. One of the all-time forces in music for the last 40+ years  hadn't released a new studio album since 2003's Reality, and hadn't toured since collapsing onstage around the same time. Was David Bowie really dying? A closer look showed that he was still very active and a man about town in New York City, but that Flaming Lips song title kept popping up in my brain.

Then, just when I thought 2013's list of new music releases couldn't get any better, David Bowie made the announcement that fans had been waiting for. On his 66th birthday (January 8th), he posted a new music video, and the first single from his upcoming album - The Next Day. Life was good again!

Recording the album as though it were a top secret mission, David Bowie had everyone involved sign non-disclosure agreements, stating that - not a word would be mentioned to anyone regarding what was going on in the studio (including their own children!). Co-producer - Tony Visconti (who produced The Next Day as well as several of Bowie's finest albums), said that recording started with a week long session in late 2010, resulting in a dozen instrumental backing tracks. Bowie would then take the songs with him and spend a few months at home laboring over melodies and lyrics, and then reconvene sessions with the band. These 2-3 week recording spurts went on for about two years. 

So what does the 27th studio album from David Bowie sound like?

Like everything you've ever loved about his music (minus his techno and metal phases) all rolled up into one compact 14 song collection. Where his last batch of albums were a hodge-podge mixed with tired sounding arrangements that screamed "skip to the next track"; along with a small batch of memorable tunes per album; The Next Day is full of tighly-wound pop hookery and experimentation that remains a memorable listen from start to finish.

On The Next Day, Bowie is joined by a host of familiar faces whom he has worked with in the past - including guitarist - Earl Slick, drummer - Sterling Campbell, bassist - Gail Ann Dorsey, guitarist - Gerry Leonard, and most notably multi-instrumentalist and producer - Tony Visconti. Visconti has always been a master of capturing that mixture of dirtied-up glam rock with a sexy swagger; and he manages to bring these elements out remarkably well on The Next Day. The entire album sounds surprisingly fresh, yet every now and then, you catch a whiff of different periods of David Bowie's career. From the Ziggy Stardust glam rock era, just listen to Earl Slick's Mick Ronson-like, scuzzy guitar solos on the blistering rocker "Set the World on Fire"; while on "Dancing Out in Space" the band transforms into The Spiders from Mars as they sing androgynous doo-wop background vocals. You can go even further back to the 60's with the catchiest song on the album -"Valentines Day"-  a track that could have easily been stripped down to sound like something off of Bowie's bubblegum-pop debut.

And finally there is the influence of Heroes, the classic 70's album from the beloved Berlin trilogy, that combined epic balladry and freewheeling experimentation. Besides featuring an altered cover from the album, a few numbers from The Next Day wouldn't sound out of place on Heroes. The complex and frenzied "If You Can See Me" sides with the more experimental side A of Heroes, and showcases these ace musicians constantly jumping time signatures and keys in perfect unity. The result is almost panic-attack inducing! Perhaps the strongest song on the album is the tear jerking melancholy first single - "Where Are We Now?". On the ballad, Bowie sings of a "man lost in time", and name drops several of the places where he would hang out in Berlin . (see music video below)

There are plenty of other highlights on the album. Bowie's voice sounds as strong as ever on the continuously building epic - "You Feel So Lonely You Could Die" and the trippy "I'd Rather Be High"; in which he sings from the perspective of a soldier in World War II. The Next Day closes with the progressive-rock leanings of "Heat", which manages to walk a tightrope between claustrophobic and an ocean of bliss.

This is without question David Bowie's best album since 1995's Outside, and possibly his best since  Let's Dance from 1983. Still, I wouldn't call The Next Day a classic Bowie album, but it's definitely among his stronger releases - a rewarding piece of pop excellence that only gets better with repeated listens.

Side Notes:
According to Tony Visconti, it may not be too long before another album is released. In one interview, he stated that the band recorded 29 songs for The Next Day, and there are tentative plans to start working again later this year........... Also, make sure to get the deluxe version of The Next Day! The bonus tracks are essential, most notably the driving rocker - "I'll Take You There", which could have been a single.

 out of 5

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sean Rowe at Laurie's Planet of Sound, Chicago - 3/20/13

Sean Rowe's The Salesman and the Shark finished at #6 on my list of favorite albums of 2012. His blend of heart wrenching ballads sung in his unique bass-y vocal style, was just what I needed to listen to during a year that seemed heavy on electronic-music, garage-revival bands, and "too-cool-for-school" hipster rock. Sean Rowe fits in with the group of timeless and classic singer-songwriters, with a sound not far off from the early works of Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, and other giants.

Both of his albums are excellent and worth owning, although I definitely prefer The Salesman and the Shark. Each go perfect with a tall glass of scotch, and a sexy blonde by your side who's ready to break your heart at any second. The Salesman and the Shark is full of slower, almost crooner-like tunes but also features a few rave-ups that wouldn't be too far off from Tom Waits Rain Dogs phase.

Sean Rowe came to town the other day to play a show at Lincoln Hall with a couple other songwriters. But beforehand, he stopped by Laurie's Planet of Sound in Chicago to perform a short acoustic set. I was thrilled to hear about this, especially since this great record store is only a short 10 minute walk from my apartment! When I showed up, I was expecting a packed audience, but was amazed to find out that I was the only one there!! One more person showed up, and Sean delivered a beautiful 5 song acoustic set, which included a taste of new music he's currently working on, a killer cover of Willie Dixon's classic - "Spoonful", and two more from his amazing last album.

Anyway, I filmed the whole set (which you can view below). Make sure to check out the first video for a very zen-like moment! During the performance of "Signs" (one of my favorites), Sean sings one of his pivotal lines:

I heard a train go by and I thought of you

Just as he sings this line, you can hear the subway train go overhead of the store. Really beautiful stuff!

New Song


New Song ("Razor of Love")

Bring Back the Night
Spoonful (Dixon)

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Latest Guided By Voices Singles - Ranked

A Quick Backstory

It took me until 2009 to finally "get" Guided By Voices. After reading about the band's breakthrough album - Bee Thousand in several music magazines and seeing it listed as one of the greatest indie rock albums ever, I bought the CD in 2002. After several listens, there were a few songs that stood out to me (most memorably "Echos Myron"), but the rest sounded like fluff. I stored the CD away and wouldn't return to it again until several years later. Flash forward to 2005-  I decided to give it another chance, and this time around a few more tracks starting standing out but it was still very strange to me. My brain and ears just weren't ready yet. I almost sold it back to a used CD store for a measly buck or two, but then decided to return to it another day, just in case. A couple more years passed and I woke up one morning with a strange song in my head. It was one of the greatest songs I'd ever heard and quickly dug through all the music I'd listened to in the past month or so, but nothing was coming to mind. This beautiful chorus kept repeating through my hungover and hazy brain:

She runs through the night as if nobody cares
She screams and she cries and ignores all the stares
She wants me to go but I'm never going there
The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory

Did aliens from another planet implant this melody in my mind so I could record it with my own band? Was I going insane? It didn't make any sense! Weeks later I randomly put Bee Thousand back on my stereo for the first time in a couple years, and there it was..... Eureka! Somehow this song which I hadn't paid much attention to before, jumped back into my life. From that point on, Bee Thousand began making complete sense to me. I scoured through every Robert Pollard and GBV release I could find and they have been one of my favorite bands ever since.

The Rankings

Since reuniting the band's "classic" lineup in 2010, they put out not one but three really great albums in 2012 - Let's Go Eat the FactoryClass Clown Spots a UFO (my favorite of the year), and Bears for Lunch. This year, they are planning to release two new albums beginning with English Little League on April 30th. To lead up to its release, they are putting out a new single every 2 weeks until it comes out. These singles which are available on 7" as well as for download have convinced me that English Little League just might top about everything they released last year! Here are my rankings of the new singles with some brief notes.

Flunky Minnows (Pollard) b/w Jellypop Smiles (Pollard)
(Available for Download on 2/19)
5 out of 5

"Flunky Minnows" is a GBV classic and by far the best song found across these singles! This power pop gem immediately needs repeated listens. Despite a great title, "Jellypop Smiles" is a lo-fi dud featuring a reverb drenched recorder, but does offer a nice gloomy contrast to the peppy flip-side.

Xeno Pariah (Pollard) b/w Little Jimmy the Giant (Pollard)
(Available for Download on 4/2)
5 out of 5

"Xeno Pariah" is an instantly catchy power pop nugget and the opener to English Little League. The song sounds like a brighter and poppier cousin of "She Lives in Airports" from last years Bears for Lunch album. While "Little Jimmy the Giant" is a rockin' little number that was recorded in 1983. The song was originally released as a solo acoustic demo on the Suitcase box set, but here features electric guitars and a full band. 

Islands (She Talks in Rainbows) (Sprout) b/w She Wore Blue and Green (Sprout)/Full Framed Luberon (Pollard)
(Available for Download on 3/5)
4 and 1/2 out of 5

If you love Tobin Sprout as much as I do, this is the single for you!  "Islands", which marks the first A-side written solely by Sprout is a harmony-laden, dreamy track that is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. While "She Wore Blue and Green" is a sing-your-kids to sleep folk song. Pollard's - "Full Framed Luberon" is one of his numerous deranged experimental messes filled with grating guitars, and        
exhausting reverb heavy shouting.

Trash Can Full of Nails (Pollard) b/w Build a Bigger Iceberg (Sprout)
(Available for Download on 3/19)
4 out of 5

Although the A-side is my least favorite of these five singles, it could be one that makes absolute sense when heard in contrast with the rest of the new album. This tune leans heavy the prog-rock side with its' irregular battle march beat. The Tobin Sprout penned "Build a Bigger Iceberg" is an excellent psych-pop tune that features a breezy sing-along chorus.

Noble Insect (Pollard/Sprout) b/w Waves of Gray (Sprout)/See You Soon (Pollard)
(Available for Download on 4/16)
4 out of 5

"Noble Insect" captures a return of the side project - Airport 5, featuring Tobin Sprout providing all of the instrumental parts while Pollard sings the main melody. The second side showcase Sprout and Pollard trading off a pair of songs on the piano; with "Waves of Gray" being a short and jumpy number, while "See You Soon" mixes Pollard's raw pop brilliance with experimental weirdness.

Download the songs at

Monday, March 18, 2013

Veronica Falls at The Empty Bottle, Chicago - 3/14/13

Sometimes it takes seeing a band in concert to decide what level of fandom to gravitate towards. As someone who can't live without music, I literally love hundreds of bands and artists in all different genres. Between LPs, CDs, cassettes, and downloads; I feel the need to keep thousands of albums in my possession. Some of which are sadly only listened to a few times while others I've been obsessed with for more than a decade. Still with others, I'll go years without listening to, and then suddenly fall in love all over again. The bands and artists that span my collection range from: groups I like but have no desire to see in concert; groups I enjoy but would think twice before before picking up that third album; and then there are the ones that reach a peak in my musical obsession where they can do no wrong. Sure, some of their music is better than others, but you learn to love all their albums equally, as though they were a brother or sister. In cases like this, I don't feel the need to listen to music samples on iTunes before pre-ordering a new release; and I take every opportunity I get to see these artists in concert (Guided By Voices, Ryan Adams, The Black Angels, Wilco, and David Bowie all come to mind). 

Veronica Falls were a borderline band for me: I was one step towards becoming a fan for life, and one step towards being happy with the occasional new release. After falling in love with their debut single in 2010 ("Found Love in a Graveyard"), and everything else they've put out since, I finally got the chance to see them in concert. This time I made sure to get my tickets early, after just barely missing them at South By Southwest a few years back. I'm still fairly new to Chicago, so it was a pleasure to not only catch the band but also to see them at The Empty Bottle. With an excellent beer selection (including $3 Lonestar) and decent prices, a photo booth, arcade games, pool tables, great sound, this intimate rock club might be my favorite venue ever! The crowd was largely comprised of young and skinny, fashion conscious hipsters, so I didn't quite fit in, but who cares.

A local indie duo known as Love of Everything opened up the show. Led by the soft vocaled frontman - Bobby Burg, he looper layers upon layers of noisy guitar which only got more and more intense as their 30 minute set went on. At one point, he used an old flash camera next to the pickup of his guitar to add some interesting spacey effects. This was my first time witnessing these guys but won't be my last.

Cold Showers were next up and could have been an excellent headliner on their own. Their dark brooding goth tunes were a perfect soundtrack to a vampire party. With echoes of The National, The Cure, and The Smiths, the band sound was full of big pounding drums and cold bass lines, deep baritone vocals, and a guitarist that seemed to be a big fan of Johnny Marr. I was also unfamiliar with this band but really enjoyed their set. 

Veronica Falls closed the show and from the moment they walked on stage, they were
everything I hoped they would be and more! While watching the gig, I came to the 
conclusion that if I were to form any band I wanted starting tomorrow, it wouldn't be too far
off from this group. Two girls, two guys; a nice concoction of dark subject matter with light
and shimmery musicianship; vocal harmonies that were so spot-on you'd think they were lip
syncing; the Velvet Underground influenced chugging guitar rhythms of James Hoare; even the look and movement of the band onstage was all too perfect for words. Compared with the
more polished studio renditions of their songs, there was very little difference (other than the
guitars being slightly out of tune on a song). However hearing these songs live with more
prominent rhythms, louder guitar playing, and seeing the vocals all falling into sync, it really
wasn't an issue. A couple of the songs that they played which were some of my least favorite
on their respective LPs ("Wedding Day" and "Buried Alive") finally clicked with me after
hearing them in context with the rest of the set. As far as the other songs played, with only
two albums under their belt, it already felt like a greatest hits set.

After witnessing this UK band in concert, they have cemented my feelings of being one of my favorite new bands of the last 10 years..... And I will blindly buy everything they put in front of me!

The Set List

Tell Me
My Heart Beats
Beachy Head
Broken Toy
Waiting for Something to Happen
Bad Feeling
Found Love in a Graveyard
If You Still Want Me
Buried Alive
Wedding Day
Come on Over

Right Side of My Brain

Check out these bands at the following links:
Love of Everything -
Cold Showers -
Veronica Falls -

Monday, March 11, 2013

Eels at The Vic Theater, Chicago - 2/23/13

I'll start this review off by admitting I've been a little out of the loop with Eels over the past seven years. The trilogy of releases in 2009 and 2010 didn't connect with me like with many fans. And the latest - Wonderful, Glorious although a welcome return still didn't floor me like 2005's amazing - Blinking Lights and Other Revelations. Still I really love Mark Oliver Everett (aka: E) and the gang and continue to see them in concert and check out every bit of new music I can find.

On Saturday night, the Eels took the stage in some of the niftiest stage costumes I've seen in a long time - Blue Striped Adidas Tracksuits straight out of the 80's, and Aviator Sunglasses! Band members - E, The Chet, P Boo, Kool G Murder, and Knuckles were not to be messed with as they walked on stage one by one; opening the show with an impending wall of feedback, and bombastic drums that led into the first track off the new album - "Bombs Away". With E playing the rain stick, "Bombs Away" sounded every bit as energetic and fun as the studio version; as was the case on almost all of the songs from Wonderful Glorious.

What I love about the Eels live show is the band's ability to rearrange old songs with every tour. They don't simply play the same songs every night, performing them note for note like the studio renditions. Instead old songs are re-imagined to sound like they were just written last week. Tonight, "Dirty Girl" was played slower with E stretching the syllables out of every note. "Fresh Feeling" was given a more jangly, feel good, summertime vibe. While "Trouble with Dreams" wasn't as punchy but took on a jammier noise rock theme between verses. 

Not only were these new renditions surprising but so were the choice of cover songs. The band showcased their instrumental prowess and delved into Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well" which featured P-Boo and The Chet trading off bluesy guitar solos and E singing in his perfect raspy growl; and "Itchykoo Park" by the Small Faces which is 60's pop at its' finest and sadly somewhat unknown in America. Between songs, Everett took the time to congratulate each members of the band for a job well done, yelling "Good Job!" into the mic, and sprinting off "the singer's riser" to give celebratory bear hugs.

The Eels put on a great show but also never took themselves too seriously. During band introductions, Everett talked about receiving an "electronic mail" the other day from guitarist - The Chet. In it, The Chet announced that it was the tenth year that the two of them had been playing music together. To mark the occasion, E and The Chet renewed their vows onstage, while drummer - Knuckles performed a romantic impromptu performance of "Wind Beneath My Wings". The gig ended with not one, but three encores including one with the house lights on, and half the audience cleared out of the venue. 

Set List

Bombs Away
Kinda Fuzzy
Dog Faced Boy
Oh Well
Tremendous Dynamite
In My Dreams
On the Ropes
Dirty Girl
Climbing to the Moon
Peach Blossom
Trouble with Dreams
The Turnaround
New Alphabet
Fresh Feeling
The Sound of Fear
Wind Beneath My Wings -->Go Knuckles
Itchykoo Park
Souljacker Part 1
Wonderful Glorious

Encore 1 
Brave Little Soldier
My Beloved Monster/Mr. E's Beautiful Blues

Encore 2 
Fresh Blood

Encore 3 
Stick Together
Go Eels