The Bellfuries‘ Workingman’s Bellfuries is a sonic upgrade on retro styles. The 11 tunes of this record apply hi-fi, modern production techniques to the sounds of Roy Orbison pop (“Beaumont Blues”) and early ’60s British Invasion rock–complete with a cover of a 1964 Beatles B-side (“She’s a Woman”). It avoids the retro-rock tribute trap through an assured grasp of the elements necessary in this type of songwriting, impressive arrangements, and immediately catchy melodies.
By the end of the first time that my wife and I heard “Why Do You Haunt Me,” we were both singing along almost unconsciously–the song’s structure is so natural, so deeply dedicated to the ’50s-rock palette that it passed the credibility threshold almost instantaneously. Joey Simeone’s wide singing range makes the vocals a central point in the sound: they’re passionate but still carefully controlled, dramatic without being sloppy. The fact that he can pull off the difficult vocal jumps iconic in this sound goes one more step toward showing why The Bellfuries are more than copycats or fetishists–these are musicians who’ve adopted a style and are pushing it forward. Their polished, structured, rewarding arrangements seal the deal. If you’re looking for some distinctly unique pop/rock, try out Workingman’s Bellfuries.
On the opposite side of the rock spectrum, Kyle & the Pity Party play early ’00s emo-rock on their EP Everything’s Bad. However, they’re just as dedicated as The Bellfuries to their genre proposition: they namecheck iconic emo band Brand New in “Young.” It’s an important reference, as a namecheck to Taking Back Sunday or Thursday would belie a different set of sonic principles. Kyle McDonough and co. play rock that has matured out of some punk brashness–while these minor key songs can get noisy, they have an atmospheric gravitas imported by the melodic commitment, the dense arrangements and the Doors-esque vocals.
McDonough’s vocals aren’t quite as low as Morrison’s, but the same sort of “brooding persona presiding over the rock proceedings” vibe prevails. His performances are attention-grabbing in the best sort of way. It’s a tribute to the vocal quality that he overshadows the instrumentals to a degree: the band’s careful attention to maintaining energy while sticking in a mid-tempo emo-rock style results in strong songwriting. From the piano that grounds opener “Spill It All” to the bass-heavy rock of “He Was / She Was” to the casio-led closer “He’ll Never Love You,” the band keeps things diverse but recognizably consistent on the six-song EP.
It’s their decision to keep melody central to their guitars and vocals (no screaming here) that sets them apart from their noisier brethren, but they haven’t gotten so quiet as to move into twinkly post-emo. Instead, they throw down their tunes in a melodic indie-rock sort of vein that probably wouldn’t get lumped in with the emo revival as a tag (although they could easily tour with bands like Football, Etc. or others). If you still listen to Deja Entendu, you should check out Kyle and the Pity Party.
The Forty Nineteens from Temecula, California, create a bathing suitable (though cut off blue jeans) backdrop for a straight-up, rocked-about, garage-door-up chill out. Spin It is an album at the heart of maximizing summertime, utilizing nighttime, taking all bets before ring time. They’ve made a classic-sounding album: a whiskey sour made with The Makers and Copper Blue Sugar. Like a classic album offering, they even cover a song, The Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers.”
What strikes me is that Spin It is so ridiculously similar to one of my favorite albums, the self-titled Durocs record. The Durocs in 1979 covered Gene Pitney’s “It Hurts To Be In Love” on their consummately sequenced, rock/soul throwback. Both bands are from California. The Durocs’ hit “Lie To Me” : The 4019s’ hit (this reviewer’s pick) “Can’t Let You Go” :: squeezing oranges : making orange juice. There is no second Durocs album, but there is a first Forty Nineteens album, which I went feverishly searching for as soon as I heard Spin It.
Three sentences on a true ache: Jenny’s at her figure drawing class, but she wants to be at the smoked-out, punk-band-stickered, freshly bleached, checkpoint-tiled Toilet Club. The Forty Nineteens are playing with Old 97’s and The Delta 72. There are going to be a lot of good numbers.
Chris Pope spits his stories in your ear, laughs at you – a creep at the wet willie weary. Your eyes refocus. “Are you ten years old?” On his third EP, High Times, with his group Blonde Summer, he continues to lay down his prize prose in a distinct voice. This is what has set indie-rock apart since it was a thing. We know Lou Barlow’s lovelorn; we know Ted Leo’s aware. We want to be a part of these tales and feel that there’s a leader.
Blonde Summer jumps out of the storybook page so abruptly they take the fish bowl and doily down, too. I remember Scott Yoder bruised my brain on The Pharmacy’s “Choose Yr. Own Adventure.” I remember Ray Weiss rearranged my reason on Le Rug’s “Sex Reduction Flower.” I think Chris Pope has a similar spark for matching words with music and for taking the listener into his world without having to say “Pay attention,” “Look,” or “Listen.”
It’s like a day’s worth of bad advice bundled up, tucked, and waxed into a single Zuma Beach morning. The water is frigid and frightening. It takes the breath right out of you. It’s just a doorless Jeep ride home. You sit under covers for two hours, shivering… making no sudden movements. It’s a recovery. It’s like no cop is going to suspect the food delivery man who’s also a drug dealer. So, the plastic-bag cradled meal looks innocuous, and costs $10 more. But, it’s in there. Let’s get baked and shovel Lo Mein.
Three sentences on true ache: Jenny’s all caught up at her volunteer deal, covering turkey hands on a December bulletin board, when she really wants to be – ear buds in – subwaying home. She clicks on the Pre-X-Mas MegaMix, all warm songs: Pavement’s “Summer Babe,” Blonde Summer’s “Jim,” The Beach Boys’ “Surf’s Up,” The Apples In Stereo’s “Sun Is Out,” and on and on…. The guide lights careen by, accenting the spaces between on a trip usually only highlighted by the stop announcements.
Wreaths are Asbury Park, New Jersey’s new drone-dance space-out shoe-gaze outer-space chill-pill. These madman drummers have a sense of the history of this type of music: The Cure, My Bloody Valentine, The Warlocks. The band has a great grasp of how to deliver a song without succumbing to the urge to drown… in pools of big delayed guitars and tremolo bar dives. Their self-titled album is solid… no bummers. Feeling kind of older, I don’t want a rehash of records I’ve already put away. I want to have a crush on a band. I want to turn up the band.
The band loops and disintegrates through brimstone baritone – guitars and keys rushing and pushing. They build and build and let the calliope crash to the ground. Feather-headed gargoyles painted neon orange, bright bent whistles, and ornate cylindrical steel shrouds are strewn. No one picks up a single piece. The Designing Women of Asbury Park scoff and get back to it, struggling to muster just what flare will flip another non-ocean-facing condo, while the band members are watching the young girls dance.
At points conjuring Jim Morrison, Wreaths chant, “I Love Me, Dark Wizard.” At other points, Wreaths are just humming a lunar tune. They mid-song break… with fuzz guitar sludge, sloughing off to grow stronger roots. It can get dark with this type of music. The music on Wreaths is more hopeful. This band is currently sold out of their discs. Something is happening here.
Three sentences on true ache: She left the house this morning in pitch dark – Wreaths stuck on repeat… stuck in her iPod-docking wave machine… stuck in her head. Jenny has a brief lunch break… the kind one spends just rubbing temples. Powerhouse sandwich in mouth, she throws open the double doors, and she is blinded by the light.–Gary Lee Barrett
Out of all the releases in Phratry Week, the most surprising one is Mad Anthony‘s …I Spent All My Money on Speed Metal, which is actually not speed metal. That would have been somewhat inside Phratry’s considerably varied oeuvre, but instead they throw listeners a loop and release an album by a four-on-the-floor garage rock outfit.
Honestly, the most outsidery thing on the album is the demonic picture on the cover, which is another reason I thought it might actually be Slayer-inspired. Nope. This is every rock band you like. Jim Morrison, Danzig, Toadies, Misfits, Fugazi, Electric Six, The Clash, The Police, new wave, lo-fi, and garage rock all get shout-outs in the press quotes. I have no idea what half of these people are hearing, but that’s the beauty of Mad Anthony (and of rock in general): people hear different parts.
I mostly hear the connections to early 2000s garage rock revivalism, as “Naugahyde” is pretty much a song by The Vines (man, what happened to them?). “Uphill Both Ways” has early Strokes connections, while “Soul” and “Strangest Dream” have a First Impressions of Earth-era sound going on. The roaring, low vocals are chock full of attitude, which only lends credibility to the sound.
These songs are fist-pounding, headbanging rock’n’roll. The melodies are great, the band is tight, and the overall cool is top-notch. Each of these songs stand on their own, but “Beautiful Daughter” and “The Solution to the Indian Problem” rank high in my book. Mad Anthony’s …I Spent All My Money on Speed Metal does have one thing in common with the rest of the Phratry releases: it’s written by guys who did their homework and are subsequently on top of their game.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.