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Author: Nate Williams

The Psycho Nubs fall short

Once in a while, something comes across my desk and I just don’t know what to make of it. That was definitely the case with Alley of the Ignots by The Psycho Nubs.

This duo from Richmond, IN,  made up of Brandon Owens and Nich Shadle, is simply bizarre. The music is a mix of garage punk with a sort of high-voiced bubblegum pop that I found to be completely inscrutable. I’ve listened to the album several times, trying to determine what it is that I find so off-putting about this album.

First, I tried looking at the music. Instrumentally, the band is very solid. They follow a tried-and-true pop-punk formula that, while not entirely original, definitely works well. It’s hard to critique Owens’s or Shadle’s individual musicianship, since they both play guitar, bass and drums and sing for this album. They both show competence in this regard.

Then, the I realized the vocals were grating on my nerves. The band sticks with a high-pitched, wavering style somewhat reminiscent of Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes (a band that I really don’t like). That, combined with lyrics that seem to be trying to be witty and funny without quite pulling it off, make for music that I simply found annoying. Not all the songs are that bad, but many of them are.

I will admit, I really did like the song “PBR Me.” It’s catchy and it’s about one of my favorite social beers, but it wasn’t enough to keep me engaged.

All in all, I simply couldn’t get into Alley of the Ignots. I’m sure fans of Of Montreal and other bubblegum pop bands might find stuff to enjoy in here. It wasn’t for me, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not for you.

Odd genre names aside, For.The.Win. is brief but effective

Upon reading the press release that accompanied The Black & The Blue, the debut full-length from San Jose, CA, band For.The.Win., I saw that they called themselves “Bay Area Posi-Core.” I’m going to be perfectly honest with you folks, I don’t have the slightest idea what “Posi-Core” means. Nevertheless, I trudged forth and listened to this brief eleven song CD, trying to determine what this “Posi-Core” of which they spoke was.

And really, I still don’t know. However, what I did hear sounded to me much more like the “gruff punk” sounds of bands like American Steel or Red City Radio. Maybe “Posi-Core” and “gruff punk” are similar genres, I don’t know. But I liked what I heard from For.The.Win.

The band seems to draw off punk and hardcore for a snarling, melodic and yet simple style of music. It’s not exactly anything I’ve never heard before, but these guys pull it off effectively. The opening track, “Let It Begin,” is very effective at grabbing the listeners attention with its catchy chorus refrain of “Let the revolution begin/I hope it never ends.” At two minutes, the song is almost tragically short, because it’s enough fun that I found myself wishing there were more verses.

From there, some of the songs become a little less memorable. This is most likely due to the fact that most of these songs are incredibly short. Only six of the eleven tracks on the CD are longer than two minutes, and only two of those six are over three minutes. The album is simply too brief. There’s some obvious songwriting talent, but it’s hard for any of the songs to really stick with you because the album is so short at less than twenty-two minutes total.

Stand outs in the album are definitely the opener and closer, “Let It Begin,” and “Die Young,” as well as “I’m An Outsider,” which sits near the middle of the album. With The Black & The Blue, For.The.Win. displays some strong song writing abilities and musicianship, but they don’t show as much of it as they could because the album is over as soon as it begins.

Tom Brosseau will live well with Posthumous Success

Listening to  Tom Brosseau‘s Posthumous Success was definitely something of a surprise for me. A singer-songwriter folk artist hailing from North Dakota, Brosseau has been releasing albums since 2002, this one being his eighth. What surprised me is how someone with such talent has flown under the radar for so long.

Posthumous Success is a winding odyssey of an album, with music that sounds like it should be accompanying road trips or, as it was for me the first time I listened to it, gloriously long walks on a pleasant evening. Brosseau’s sound is best described like a mix of Pete Yorn, Bright Eyes’ Connor Oberst and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. However, the music just feels hard to nail down and describe. It comes at you with a sort of joyful sorrow, as the songs can sound both ecstatic and melancholy at the same time.

While the album sticks very much in a folk/indie-rock style, there’s a remarkable amount of diversity with variances in instrumentation and mood. From the opening, “My Favorite Color Blue” with its simple vocals and acoustic guitar, to the distortion and synth of  “You Don’t Know My Friends,” Brosseau avoids the monotony that can often overtake artists that perform in a similar genre. These songs are all individually noticeable and manage to avoid blending together, a failing that regular readers will know that I particularly dislike.

Brosseau’s voice can take a little getting used to, and some might be turned off from it. His voice is full of tremolo and wavering, as if he could just stop and cry at any moment. The best comparison I can think of to this is Connor Oberst.

Musically, Brosseau shows off his talents well, as he is an accomplished guitarist. The acoustic work on “My Favorite Color Blue” is excellent, and I never felt that the song could use more instrumentation. Likewise, “Youth Decay,” an instrumental track that features only one electric guitar, is oddly moving in its use of minor chords.  Brosseau also smartly uses instrumental tracks like “Youth Decay” and “Miss Lucy” to transition one song from another, using similar instrumentation to make them flow better into one another. “Miss Lucy,” in fact, sounds like an extended outro for “Give Me A Drumroll,” yet doesn’t sound out of place right before “Axe & Stump.”

Anyone who appreciates smart songwriting or indie-folk would probably enjoy Posthumous Success greatly. Brosseau has a great amount of talent and the album displays it well. Standouts include “My Favorite Color Blue,” “Give Me a Drumroll,” “Axe & Stump,” and “Wishbone Medallion.” The track “Been True” is actually available right now via iTunes’ Facebook page in its “Indie Spotlight Sampler.” I’d recommend checking it out.

Jamming with kangaroos and such

The first thing one must consider when listening to Genus Thylacinus by MarsupiaL (with a capital L), is that this is a bona fide jam band. Out of Asheville, NC, MarsupiaL’s sound mixes progressive rock with southern rock and a taste of jazz. What results is a very winding and mellow type of music, like the rock equivalent of a babbling brook. This quartet’s sound is just plain laid-back and unobtrusive. They’re not flashy, but that doesn’t mean there’s not talent here. Quite the contrary, there is a strongly prevalent degree of musicianship at work that is sometimes hard to find in a band, even with several releases under their belts (let’s face it: some bands just aren’t that good at what they do).

The eight song album goes by relatively fast, even when all but two of the songs clock in at over four minutes. Track one is just shy of nine minutes, while track three comes close to ten minutes, which goes to show that the band likes to meander about in the songs that they play. I actually thought that track one, “Lead On,” was two different songs until it reprised into its chorus at the end.

This is an album perfect for sitting around with friends on a summer night while kicking back a few beers. I’m not saying that it’s only good as background music, but it’s just very “chill,” so to speak. It has a sort of Frank Zappa-ish vibe to it, and feels very much like one of the classic rock jam bands of years gone by. This kind of music simply isn’t seen as much any more, and that’s a shame, because these guys have a lot of talent.

While this isn’t something I would play religiously, I would definitely recommend this to anyone who likes a good jam band. The first track, “Lead On,” is especially fun, with some great guitar solos. The southern rock feel of “The Man Who Knows Things” makes it stand out well from the rest of the album. I definitely wouldn’t mind listening to some more MarsupiaL.

The Future Needs Personality or It Really Will Be History

With their first full-length release from 2007, Our Future Is History, Long Island alternative band Black Suit Youth places themselves into a place that lies somewhere between Rise Against and Foo Fighters. The Rise Against comparison comes from the band’s songwriting style, which sticks with fairly heavy guitar riffs (but not so heavy that it goes into hardcore or metal) and rapid, driving drums and bass. Singer Bryan Maher’s voice is a deep and rich baritone and as he belts out his notes, it is reminiscent of Foo Fighters’ singer Dave Grohl, hence that comparison.

All this, unfortunately, leaves the band feeling derivative but still enjoyable. The simple fact here is that, while the band has some good lyrics and some hefty guitar work, there’s not really a terribly strong sense of personality here. The main impression one gets is that Black Suit Youth, formerly known as The New York Dynamite, still hasn’t quite found themselves – despite the name change. Sure, the music is catchy and without a doubt marketable to alternative radio stations all over the country, but it just doesn’t say “We’re Black Suit Youth, this is our song.” There’s no sense of identity – the band tries very hard to stand out, but at the end of the day, Black Suit Youth’s music won’t leave enough of an impression for the band to stick in the listener’s mind. I’ve listened to the album three times today for this review and, still, none of the songs stick out in my mind.

One pitfall that many bands fall into is thankfully avoided in Our Future Is History – the tendency to write songs that sound too similar. There is a fine amount of variety here. While there may not be any genre-bending between songs to make them really stand apart, they differentiate mainly through diversity of rhythm. However, the band is so hellbent on rocking out that they never take the time to slow down, save for a few select sections. Maybe it’s cliché, but how about a ballad? Maher’s got the vocal cords for it, and writing a ballad doesn’t make anyone a pansy.

This is one band that could benefit from an experimental stage – playing around with different sounds and styles could provide a gateway to finding a real sense of identity. While they could easily get on the radio now, it seems unlikely that anyone serious about music would take them seriously.

P.S. – The album art has to be about the most bizarre I’ve ever seen. It features a slightly pudgy, tattooed dude in black pants, a studded belt and a tucked-in wife beater, with cheetah’s heads for his man boobs that are spitting lightning while his face is blurred and some kind of cherub dances on his shoulder while he’s standing in a field at sunset. Yeah, weird.

Anchoring Down on Solid Rock

It might be bad to say that I’m immediately reminded of several other bands by the Steel to Dust EP from Portland band Anchor Down.
First of all, and bearing no weight on the quality of the music, the band’s name is reminiscent of a band that I’ve reviewed here on IC – Anchors For Arms – which subsequently reminds me of the now defunct local OKC band, Arms For Arsenal. So initially it was difficult to identify the band separately from these bands in my mind.

Upon listening comes the second set of bands I’m reminded of. Anchor Down favors the same sort of melodic, Midwestern-flavored punk rock that one might hear from the likes of the Gaslight Anthem (one of my favorite bands, so that’s a good thing for this reviewer), American Steel and my good friends from OKC, Red City Radio. The sound is strong and definitely feels like the sort of anthem one needs for a long car drive with the windows down on a summer afternoon with fists pumping. It’s energetic and has a lot of spirit to it.

The guitars are relatively simple but highly effective, with driving power chords and subdued riffs that never come off as flashy. The bass and drums on these six songs are both solid and show a degree of skill from Matt Brown and Sean Cisneros, but Brown’s bass definitely takes a backseat to Cisneros’ drumming and is by far the least noticeable part of the band’s sound. Cisneros especially shows his skill in the intro to “Crass-A-Nova.” The vocals from guitarists Alex Hudjohn and Lucas Andrews compliment the music quite well, but fail to really stand out over the instrumentation, since both rarely show more variation or range that a gruff baritone. This slight monotony tends to make the vocals less attention-grabbing, which is a shame because the lyrics are quite well written. Fortunately, this isn’t a problem for “World War 1,” the EP’s definite stand-out track, or for “Never Was A Lesson Learned (Remember Me),” which I would say is runner up to the title.

I think Steel to Dust shows a great amount of promise from this group, and I very much look forward to future releases to see how they refine their sound. I will be quite content to let the songs play whenever they pop up on my iTunes, but I can’t say I’ll be listening to this EP over and over again. If you enjoy bands like Gaslight Anthem or Dillinger Four, or just like good, solid rock music, I would definitely recommend checking out Anchor Down.

Black Bone Child have got the blues(-rock) down.

Black Bone Child of Austin, TX, the self-proclaimed “Music Capital of the World,” have crafted an extremely fine piece of pure, unwavering blues-rock with their self-titled and self-released album.

To sum it up, Black Bone Child sounds like the Black Keys amped into a testosterone-fueled rage and channeling it into an acoustic/electric blend that evokes the classic blues style of greats like Muddy Waters and B.B. King, while presenting a hard rock edge that gives the band a genuinely unique sound.

The album is solely the work of the two key members of Black Bone Child: Donny James on guitars and vocals, and Kenneth M. on bass, drums, and harmonica. These two men are extremely talented, from songwriting to performance. James’ guitar riffs play like a fusion of blues, metal, and alt rock all melted into one. There’s not a single song on the album that the guitars don’t come off as impressive at least. Even though guitar, bass, drums and harmonica are the only instruments used in the album, the sound is incredibly rich and tightly composed. No use of instrumentation, from the background licks of acoustic guitar in some tracks to the constant chug of (what sounds to me like) the distorted acoustic bass, sounds superfluous in any way, and none of it falls flat.

The best way to describe the music is adrenaline pumping. I dare anyone who listens to this album to not start tapping his/her toes, bobbing his/her head or to simply start dancing. I found the album to be a particularly good companion to my workout this morning. This is just pure sonic fun.

There is a slight problem in the brevity of the songs, and the similar styles and similar lyrics in some of them can make the album sort of run together. However, this doesn’t really distract from the album, because it’s only at selected points, like the tracks “Light Up the Sky” and “Watch It Burn,” which may have been meant to flow into one another anyway. But since this is the only real complaint I could find in eleven tracks, I’d go ahead and say it doesn’t really matter all that much.

Now, I can only say that I hope Black Bone Child find their way up to Oklahoma at some point, because this album has definitely made me want to see them live. Well, I can also say that you should listen to this album.

Them Dirty Roads are rather nice.

It’s twice in a row now that Adam Hill has delivered. If another one of his discs winds up on my desk, he’s going to have to work hard to outdo himself again.

When examining Hill’s work, he starts to seem less like a folk musician and more like a folk composer. This album is not the work of a group that took the name of its leader. Hill, in fact, plays every instrument on Them Dirty Roads (except for the fiddle) and provides all the vocals (aside from some of the backups). Hill is in control of every aspect of the album and compiles it into a sort of an operatic Americana symphony.

Whereas his previous album, Four Shades of Green, was more subdued in tone, Them Dirty Roads comes off as restless and in need of wandering. Guitars, pianos, walking bass lines, and an almost total lack of percussion, along with Hill’s twangy vocals (which often come with some echoing reverb) provide an atmosphere akin to the wide open spaces that make up the album’s cover art.

Hill’s sound takes a more indie-minded turn in Them Dirty Roads, especially with the insertion of piano ballads like “Fool’s Gold” and his cover of Dave Carter’s “The River, Where She Sleeps.” The cover is especially wonderful with Hill’s choice to stick with piano and what sounds like wine glasses being played with spoons for the accompaniment to his vocals. The song exudes a sense of joy that will prove infectious to anyone.

In a sense, Hill also takes a turn toward classical music in the arrangement of the album. Similar to the way he put four versions of the song “Down In The Valley” in Four Shades of Green to provide cohesiveness to the album, Hill inserts transitional and framing tracks, “Prelude,” “Intermezzo I,” “Intermezzo II,” and “Coda” in Them Dirty Roads. These tracks are generally just a collection of sound effects, though “Prelude” includes a Bach arrangement played on trumpet over the sound of radio static. While normally I might write tracks like this off as superfluous to an album, when taken within the whole album, these tracks give Them Dirty Roads unity and cohesiveness.

Tracks of note are “Fueled Up,” which is very reminiscent of the later work of Johnny Cash, and the aforementioned “The River, Where She Sleeps,” as well as “State of Grace” and “Ribbons and Curls.”

Anyone who appreciates folk, bluegrass, or country should find something to love about Them Dirty Roads. And those who don’t should definitely give it a try as well.

Hopes and Dreams dashed on the rocks

In a world full of Fall Out Boys, emo bands and imitators, the first several measures of Faster Faster’s Hopes and Dreams show that this band has done next to nothing to change that world.

Faster Faster brings nothing new or interesting to the table of bubble gum pop rock. This is everything you would expect – high-toned vocals that try to sound happy when the lyrics are about immature teenage love with song titles that try too hard to be clever. If you’ve ever listened to Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco, Armor For Sleep or any of the other number of bands with similar sounds, you know what to expect.

The musicianship at work is good. The group is obviously more than capable of playing their instruments well. Randall Dowling and Christian Mosely are both obviously adept guitarists, able to fill the gaps between vocals with compelling hooks. The bass and drums tend to take a backseat, the bass more so than the drums. Vocalist Kyle Davis is a mixed bag. He obviously has a strong set of pipes, but his style ends up sounding like an odd fusion of Panic! At The Disco’s Brendon Urie and Thursday’s Geoff Rickly and it doesn’t come off well. It just sounds derivative.

The main problem with Hopes and Dreams is that it just doesn’t seem to show any originality. It’s not that these guys are necessarily a bad group of musicians, it’s just that they’re sticking too much to their influences. Faster Faster simply comes off sounding like a good cover band than a band in its own right, which is simply unfortunate.

Fear of the Cat-Girl

Blag’ard – Bobcat

I have to admit something. In the stack of CDs Stephen gave me to review over the last several weeks, I put Bobcat by Blag’ard toward the bottom of the stack. Why? Because the girl in the cat-ish costume on the front and back gave me the heebie-jeebies.

That being said, I finally gave the disc a spin and not just so that I could remove the creepy cat-girl from my desk. It’s a good release, though ultimately not particularly understanding.

Blag’ard is a duo made up of Joe Taylor on guitar and Adam Brinson on drums. Perhaps I’m biased because I started out playing bass, but I’ve always found guitar/drum duos to be precarious and hard to pull off. The White Stripes and The Black Keys manage it, but without that low-end provided by the bass, a guitar/drum duo can often feel very incomplete. Unfortunately, Blag’ard falls victim to that in several places.

Luckily, Taylor’s guitar work is compelling enough the majority of the time to propel the music and make it sound more complete. He hits the mark much better on some songs than he does on others. In the second and third tracks, “Shame” and “REM Show,” Taylor plays the higher frets frequently, and the two songs even have similar riffs. With “Shame” clocking in at nearly five minutes and “REM Show” at just shy of three minutes, it makes for a painfully exhausting series of guitar wailing and high vocals.

From there, though, the balance is found again and persists well throughout the album. But, from here Blag’ard falls victim to a common problem: the songs all start to blend together. Even after repeat listens, there isn’t a single song that really stood out from the others. It becomes hard to tell where one song ends and another begins and ultimately it’s hard to really get into the album.

There’s some strong musicianship here, but the songwriting needs a little less monotony.