I’ve been listening to M. Lockwood Porter‘s bands since 2005. In that time, he’s been in an early 2000s emo band, an energetic post-rock band that held my personal “favorite band ever” title for a good five years, and a San Fran indie-pop band. Now he’s stepping out on his own with a solo record called Judah’s Gone. And although it’s been almost a decade since he’s lived in Oklahoma, the record is largely about that place which Lockwood and I share as a home state.
Neither of us live there anymore, but apparently an Oklahoma flag hangs in the background of both our minds. The three highlight tracks from the record (“Judah’s Gone,” “Now My Time Has Come,” and “Osage County”) all reference the state specifically and neatly lay out the narrative of the album. Opener “Judah’s Gone” tells the story of Lockwood’s childhood and parentage in the state (spoiler: it doesn’t go so well), which leads to him fleeing the state as soon as he graduated high school (“Now My Time Has Come”). A bunch of relationships and regrets occur in his forays on both coasts (all the other songs on the record), before he looks back longingly at Oklahoma in a complicated, attached sort of way (“Osage County”). It’s the story of many, many Oklahomans, this one included. If there’s an ex-pat Oklahoman Facebook group somewhere, Lockwood should be promoting this there. It would sell like dry-rub chicken barbecue.
The fact that Judah’s Gone sounds largely like a lost Neil Young record would help the sales pitch as well. The arrangements are twangy, but in that laid-back, Southern sort of way that Neil Young virtually patented. Lockwood’s voice breaks and bends over notes (a la Neil), but largely stays in a recognizably “correct” range. Porter is a lot less nasally than Young, which is also great. The album only has one rockish tune: the fast-paced “Tonight,” which barely gets over 2:00. Porter puts some distortion on his voice for the tune, and it fits nicely. It’s nowhere near an art-rock tune from his previous ventures, but you can tell that Porter has a rock background. Otherwise, this is a folky alt-country record the whole way.
The few quibbles that could be lobbed at the record have to do with this being his debut in the genre: tunes like “Darkside” and “Higher Home” fit perfectly into the proscribed narratives of what folky alt-country should sound like, both in sound and word. The tunes sound fine, but they don’t show off Porter’s skills as a storyteller or melodist very well because of their adherence to tried-and-true formulas. Porter shows on tracks like “Stephen” (not about me) that he can bend the formulas to his skill set: the track is a mid-tempo song about the guy with vast promise who never left home. The tune is memorable because of the melodic chorus and the detailed care with which the lyrics are composed. So even if some tracks are a bit less shiny than the rest, it’s not something that a few more albums of songwriting can’t polish up.
M. Lockwood Porter has established himself as a talent to watch on Judah’s Gone. Tracks like the title track and “Osage County” show a melodic and lyrical talent with range and depth. It will be interesting to see where Porter goes from here as he gets familiar with the genre. I’ll be listening attentively to whatever it is. (Especially if there’s more Oklahoma angst.)
Norman, Okla., is pretty baller. It has a great music scene, unique businesses, and an artsy culture that you wouldn’t expect from Oklahoma. I’m proud to have called it home for five years.
The Pizza Thieves also call it home. The two-piece garage/surf/indie duo just released their first single “Real American Boy,” and it sounds like grunge kids crashing a surf party. When it really gets going at the end, it sounds (unsurprisingly, given the description I just gave) like The Pixies. This should be nothing but exciting to you.
Some bands get lost in their genre, but this release has a “song first” mentality that, if continued, could take The Pizza Thieves far. Here’s to hoping their upcoming album “Hippopotamus” is as awesome as this tune is.
Dennis Coyne, singer and guitarist of Stardeath and the White Dwarfs, describes the group’s live shows as having “a lot of lights, a lot of loud music, and a lot of fog.”
“It’s absolutely psychedelic,” Coyne says.
The group’s musical style fits with these aspects of their live performances.
“It’s loud and bright in every sense of the word – loud and bright in sound and in color,” Coyne says of the band’s sound.
Stardeath and the White Dwarfs formed about four years ago, and its members hail from Oklahoma City and Norman. Coyne says he got started playing music by being around it a lot as a kid – he’s Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips’ nephew!
“I grew up around music my whole life, and by being close with the Lips,” Coyne says. “Growing up, it was always around, so that really had to give me some interest in it.”
Coyne says that Wayne helps the group “in a way that any good uncle would,” but that he also helps and influences Stardeath and the White Dwarfs musically.
“It’s awesome,” Coyne says of having Wayne as an uncle. “There’s nothing to complain about except that he’s hard to keep up with because he’s such a hard worker.”
As a band coming out of Oklahoma, Coyne says that he has always liked the Oklahoma City and Norman music scenes. And, in addition to this, he says that it’s nice having just enough bands in the area without having an overload of competition. Oklahoma’s low cost of living is also a benefit.
“Being a band from Oklahoma is great because everything is cheap,” adds Coyne.
About seven months ago, Stardeath and the White Dwarfs was signed to Warner Bros. Records, but when they first found out, the group was working as a road crew for the Flaming Lips. They were so busy that Coyne says the group didn’t have a lot of time to consider the news.
“It was weird because we didn’t have time to digest anything,” Coyne says. “We didn’t get the news until we had arrived in England and were setting up for the Lips.”
The band recently finished their full-length album with Warner Bros., and it will be released in May. Also for the label, Stardeath and the White Dwarfs collaborated with the Flaming Lips on a cover of Madonna’s “Borderline.” The song is included on a compilation of Warner Bros. Records covers, released for the company’s 50th anniversary. Coyne says that “Borderline” was chosen carefully.
“Well, you wanna do something absurd, but not too absurd, but also not so serious that it’s boring,” he says.
The recording was completed long-distance – at the time, Stardeath and the White Dwarfs were recording in Oklahoma, and the Flaming Lips were working on Christmas on Mars in New York. They worked on the track in their two separate studios, emailing pieces back and forth, and working out issues by talking on the phone.
Currently, Stardeath and the White Dwarfs are running a very busy tour, playing a show in a different state almost every night.
“The schedule sounds brutal, but once you get rolling, it goes by so fast,” Coyne says. “There’s no sleep, and you’re driving a lot, but doing a lot in a little period is better because it keeps you on track.”
The band stops in Tulsa, in their home state, this Monday, March 16. The show is scheduled for 9 p.m. at Bob’s, inside Cain’s Ballroom. Be sure to check out Stardeath and the White Dwarfs for an energetic, psychedelic spectacle, and to support an Oklahoma-bred group!
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.