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Month: April 2020

Sen3’s live album is the sound of inventiveness stretching its muscles

Sen3‘s Live shows off the electric guitar/electric bass/drums trio in their natural habitat. Their funk/jazz/post-rock work feels like it should be spread across the relatively unconfined spaces of a live setting, as it has an expansive, heady feel to it. There’s a lot of ambition to go around, and they pay it all off in these six cuts. Tracks like opener “The Drop” perform a magic trick: there’s nothing but the three instruments (no keys, tracks, or background stuff, just the trio) and yet the music sounds much bigger and fuller than a three-person outfit should.

They’re not missing anything in their efforts, and this is due in large part to their incredibly smart and powerful bass work from Dan Gulino. When guitarist Max O’Donnell goes for lead lines or flights of experimental fancy, Gulino’s bass keeps the song going through inventive register changes (sounds like going high up on the neck?) or picking patterns. The drums also help with this sort of role, as Saleem Raman puts down complex, yes-to-everything beats that seem like they’d quickly give you more muscles on your arms. (See album art.) Gulino and Raman give the O’Donnell’s guitar plenty of room to roam, and that’s to the listener’s benefit.

The aforementioned “The Drop” is a perfect opener statement, as it establishes the funk, jazz, and post-rock bonafides of the outfit in seven and a half wide-ranging minutes. Follow-on “Night Pay” delves into their post-rock ideas, experimenting with a nervy, spacious, atmospheric, minor-key mood. “The Rinse” is a full-on jazz workout, which each of the three players going flat-out on their efforts to create the speedy piece. The wah-guitar and thumb-flickin’ bass of “Benson Dealer” are totally funktacular.

It’s “Plate Vice” that really stands out, though. It’s a funky jam with a torrential post-rock piece layered on top of it–and then a wild guitar solo thrown on top of that. It’s the sort of song where it seems like the big conclusion is here and they’re only five and half minutes in to an eight-minute adventure. After the big apex, it drops back down into some exploratory jazz stuff for a two-minute coda. It’s also got a lot more tricks than on the other tracks; there are more guitar effects and loops than in other pieces. They make it go, though, so maybe they should try out some more tricks soon.

Live is the sound of an inventive band stretching their muscles. I’ve been listening to this album for weeks and just keep coming back to it for the pure joy of it. You can analyze it as you wish; they’ve got the chops to keep you in words. But ultimately this is just joyful, fascinating music. Highly recommended.

1201_Alarm throws the kitchen sink at their debut

Ostensibly a jazz record, 1201_Alarm makes their debut Hello_World into a farflung, ambitious pastiche of bright colors, clever ideas, high concepts, and appealing payoffs. (I expect no less from a band that is named after an obscure but amazing aspect of the first Moon landing.) “Toastwife” starts off with the sound of email sending before launching into a slow-groove jazz concept underpinned by chopped up phone dial tones and staccato arpeggiator runs. The use of email and phone sounds is definitely saying something. The name of the band is saying something. Everything is saying something, here.

“Qbit” starts off with glitchy computer noise and hip-hop inspired vocal sampling before morphing into a split-identity tune that layers an ominous, grumbling bass under a dreamy, reverbed melody (an upbeat hip-hop kit beat keeps time). Instead of going jazz, it amps up the drama and goes for high sci-fi cyber-punk electronica. Anyone who likes the Daft Punk Tron soundtrack (or its remixes) will love it. It’s wild but also very satisfying. How does this connect to a jazz record? Follow-up “Stuxnet” is a full-on, Skrillex-style dubstep sci-fi electro track with a biiiiig wub drop and a bangin’ horn line throughout. (“Bubbles” makes a similar move but with less wub.)

“Hello_World” opens with the sound of a dial-up connection getting going, introduces distorted guitars and big rock drums, then drops into big band jazz mentality (with a rock bass line and drum line still going). “Flim Flam” is a trip-hop tune. “Pripyat” is an ambient tune? With hang drum? And sax solo? And it works? It takes until “Skylife” (track 10) before there’s a clip that’s almost/mostly entirely a jazz cut. And it’s a good jazz cut, a bit of a palette cleanser after their aggressive mashing of influences together.

Not every moment of the record works; there are some moments (even some mentioned above) that feel too far afield from the main thrust of the record to land–your mileage may vary on how many of these there are. But the ambition is fully there, and the chops are there, and the rest is up to you. If you want adventurous listening that mashes jazz, electronica, and rock, you’ve got a new thing to listen to here in Hello_World.

Whiskey Myers helps us all out with some gritty greatness

Times are weird. None of us argues that fact. May I say, then: thank God for the likes of Whiskey Myers. Releasing the self-produced, self-titled Whiskey Myers is just what the reality-starved might crave.

Here at Independent Clauses, Stephen Carradini immerses himself in classical and electronic music while I embrace more “traditional” sounds of folk, Americana, jazz, and blues. Whiskey Myers is none of these, releasing this genre-twisting country-rock through the band’s Wiggy Thump Records in partnership with Nashville’s Thirty Tigers. 

Authentic grit rising from Cody Cannon’s lead vocals can overshadow the fact he’s on guitar as well. Cody Tate handles the lead guitar, vocals, and rhythm guitar, but the songs are a group effort. John Jeffers shares lead guitar, slide guitar, lap steel, and vocals, creating a massive guitarmaggedon sound. Jeff Hogg’s drums and Jamey Gleaves’ bass work drill down the backline, illuminated by Tony Kent on keys, percussion, and cowbell.

They make magic. These twelve tracks are old school country-rock with an aura of Gregg Allman’s ghost. “Glitter Ain’t Gold” opens the album, setting a defiant tone. It’s musically tame but holding back with palpable tension. Music like this is not normally my thing, but Whiskey Myers defies normalcy. 

“Hammer” is a stunner in the traditional blues-rock style, built around the soaring female vocals that weave throughout the lyrics from one of the McCrary Sisters. Her voice is stunning, her aching emotions intertwined with an eerie dark Nashville vibe. “Bury My Bones” as a follow up is an emotional wringer, evoking the empty streets of everywhere in the world we see right now in our new reality. Wow.

Though this album dropped in the fall of 2019, the newly-relevant “Little More Money” roars into this moment like a freight train. Probably the most sonically country of the efforts here, each lyric speaks to the insanity of this time we are in globally. Its upbeat tempo cannot hide the fact there is nowhere to run, right? Thematically consistent, “California to Caroline” hits the escape button again, an anthem to empty hook-ups. Feeling seeps out as each mile passes in this road song.

Soaring with “Die Rockin” seems like a natural progression, shifting gears into a genreless space that outlets like Rolling Stone have praised. Battle cry or celebratory rebellion, there’s a southern revival grind grooving under these marching orders. This is the first cut where lead guitars really stand out, shredding this barn-burning rocker. Achingly sweet, “Bad Weather” is stark in its “after the storm” imagery of love’s lost hopes and dreams. Ghosts lurk on this record, and Randy Scruggs seems to drift here, with songwriting that brings to mind John Paul White. One of the best of the album, even from a non-fan of country music. 

Sequencing is a palpable part of this record, and sticking the rock gospel single “Gasoline” in the heart of the record makes sense. There are no preconceived ideas of what this album is supposed to be, since it is self-produced. Redefining the band’s identity somewhat, “Bitch” sits in that same space, strutting with an almost Def Leppard rock feel. Country? Nah, this is a masterclass in musicianship by six men who know themselves intimately and don’t seem to care what anyone thinks. Does “Running” mean that acceptance of this fact has settled in? Gang vocals and a skipping tempo feels to me like they might not care what others think. 

Times are strange, and we all know that “Kentucky Gold” is getting a lot of folks through this crazy time we are in. (The Whiskey Myers tour in support of the album included distilleries!) Closer “Mona Lisa” speaks to connection on a spiritual level, and in a sense speaks to the times. Despite the March tour dates being canceled due to our current state of affairs, Whiskey Myers will be hitting the road soon, it appears. Stay tuned, stay irreverent, and immerse in the vibe of Whiskey Myers. —Lisa Whealy

Quick Hits: Austin Boogie Crew / Nimrawd / JOYFULTALK

Five Years of Modern FunkAustin Boogie Crew Records. This is right what it says on the tin: five years’ worth of new funk. It’s mostly instrumental work, but there’s some tracks with smooth vocals. Funk is always a bass-player’s delight, and this collection delivers on that front. The vibes are strong, and the groove is long. Good job, everyone!

The Gamins – Nimrawd. This is electronica that doesn’t sound all that much like contemporary electronica. It’s not quite Fatboy Slim-style Big Beat, but it’s got some resonances there. It’s got live bass to give the tunes texture, and the synths are more up-front and punchy than atmospheric. The hip-hop influences are all there, but the maximalist, jam-packed feel gives it a different take than an instrumental hip-hop album. Opener and first single “How Much Homework” is well-picked, as it makes a big statement about what the rest of the record is going to be like, covering almost all the territory I mentioned above.

The minor key tunes like “Ocean Song” and “My Game” are weirdly ominous; much too big and bold to be traditionally eerie, but still off-kilter in a satisfyingly odd way. Closer “Fast Break” is the biggest and beat-est of the tracks, streamlining the project down to hammering percussion and tag-teaming big fat synths. It’s a lot of fun, just like the whole record. Not a whole lot of projects right now making ’em like Nimrawd does.

A Separation of Being – JOYFULTALK. JOYFULTALK’s influences are all things I’ve never heard ( x, y, z), and so as a result this music sounds like almost nothing I’ve ever heard. The only points of reference for me are very long and repetitive mid-century modern pieces like “Canto Ostinato”, marimba, and beat driven techno.

The three pieces that form the thirty-three minute whole of this record are long, highly structured pieces that interweave electronic beats, marimba, strings, synths and gentle percussion in long, interlocking loops. All of the instruments play only short notes in patterns; there are almost no chords to be spoken of and no single note is held beyond two or three beats. The music is all major-key and sounds impressively organic, making this sound like a semi-classical zen rave or the world’s most beautiful sonic popcorn.

My increasingly strange explanations belie the excellence of this record: it’s one of my favorites of the year so far, and my best way to do it justice is to just implore you to go listen to it. Highly recommended.

Garcia Peoples go for it

I feel like I’m infringing on Lisa’s territory here, but the 49-minute version of “One Step Behind” that comprises all but 8:27 of Garcia Peoples10​-​10​-​2019 Nublu, NYC release is so brain-bendingly good that I had to step briefly into the jam band territory. Jam is equally about vibe and interplay, and if you can nail both, then you’ve got gold. Garcia Peoples not only nail both, but they do it with a guest saxophonist (renowned jazz hand–and guitarist Tom Malach’s father–Bob Malach). It is an incredibly high level of difficulty: a massively blown-out version of a track with a guest. And yet they just have a total, full-on blast with it. That enthusiasm translates to the recording seamlessly.

Part of the great thing of this mega-track is that they truly do jam on it. They don’t just guitar-solo forever; they explore it. After introducing the themes, they strip it down to the almost-silent studs at 13:13, creating a mysterious jazz moment. It gets really funky, with a heavy psychedelic groove around 20:00, before snapping to attention in an almost major-key indie-rock format for a few minutes to deliver the vocals of the song around 23:00. A full-on, driving, wide-open jam session led by searing organ comes in around 34 minutes, which is really the core of this version–the elder Malach just goes bonkers on the sax and sells the whole work. So fantastic.

There’s also an 8:27 version of “Show Your Troubles Out,” which is impressive in its own right; a nearly 9-minute jam would be the centerpiece of a lot of records. But not here. If you’re in for some good vibes, incredibly tight interplay, and wide-ranging ideas on a single theme, you’ve gotta check out this live recording. It’s impressive.

Singles: Friends and Fambly

I’m spending a lot more time in the neo-classical, electronic, jazz, and world genres right now, but I still love the artists that I’ve covered before. Here’s a collection of tracks from some of our old friends (and some friends who feel like family).

1. “In the Calm of the Day” – Chaperone Picks. CP is a prolific one-person project that just keeps cranking out high-quality lo-fi indie-pop work. This latest track that caught my ear (from new album Topped) is a guitar-and-voice tune that is almost akin to a ballad (at least as far as the oeuvre of Chaperone Picks is concerned). It’s an honest track about reconciling an argument when it would have been easier to not do it, anchored by a nice guitar riff and signature strongly memorable vocal melodies.

2. “What Does It Take?” – Brother Moses. BroMo’s slick indie-pop has become more polished and more fractured at the same time: the production is tight and clean, giving space to everything to make its weird way forward; the individual lines and instrumental elements are held together basically by sheer force of will, as things go zinging and wailing (that sax) all over the place. Instruments come in and drop out and come in and morph and then there’s gang vocals to wrap it all up. If you like Beck but think it’s just not weird enough sometimes, you’ll be in for a treat here.

3. “Burn It Down” – Andrew Judah. This punchy indie-rock track leads the album Impossible Staircase, an album about a close friend’s addiction. (The impossible staircase is an impossible object that on paper tricks the mind into thinking it is always going up despite being the same closed loop over and over; the connections to addiction jump off the page.) Judah’s vocal performance is urgent, leading the charge over a pounding, pulsing, minor-key indie-rock backdrop.

4. “Fake Girlfriend” – Grace Joyner. I imagine that Joyner wrote this moody, introspective indie track and thought, “Man, there’s just a lot of these, what can we do this?” And someone was like, “I’VE GOT IT: FUNK BASSLINE.” And another person (perhaps the same person) said “ALSO ’80s MELODRAMA SYNTH!” And then someone else was like, “Well, okay, if we’re going that way, then let’s put some real tight percussion on it to keep all that together.” And voila! “Fake Girlfriend.” Also Joyner’s vocal tone is both beautiful and biting here, I would hate to be the person she’s singing to/about.