Monday, February 21, 2011

New Stuff 2011 - Pt. 4

As usual, music purchases were made at Long in the Tooth

 The Disciplines - Virgins of Menace (Spark & Shine CD) Second full-length from this Scandinavian band fronted by Ken Stringfellow (Posies). Much more assured and aggressive than their wishy-washy debut. Sure, it's garage-y at times, but it also recalls everything from AC/DC to T-Rex in it's monster size riffs.  And Stringfellow's voice is powerful and clean and just balls-out the entire time. A huge improvement and very pleasant surprise.   

 Lifeguards - Waving at Astronauts (Ernest Jenning Record Co. CD)  Bob Pollard in Arena Rock mode, and that's just how I like my Pollard, thank you very much.  Nothing lo-fi about the music or instrumentation (courtesy of Doug Gillard) or recording.  Maybe my fave Pollard project since GBV's demise.

 The Measure (SA) - Notes (No Idea CD) The last release from this soon-to-be-no-more Jersey punk band and arguably their best. Towards the end it gets a little too generic pop-punk, but it is front-loaded with great tunes and some pleasantly assured vocals from Lauren Measure. 

 Mind Spiders - S/T (Dirtnap LP)  Marked Men side project not dissimilar in it's mixture of rapid tempos and brittle hooks.  Perhaps a little more experimental in its instrumentation and arrangements, but fans of MM will dig it much. Brainy, forward looking punk teetering on the edge of new-wave.  

 The Parting Gifts - Strychnine Dandelion (In th Red LP)  Another side project, this time Greg Cartwright (Reigning Sound) and Coco Hames (The Ettes) fashion an album of solid '60s girl-group influenced rock'n'roll. Nothing radically different from either artists respective catalogs, but a heck of a lot more fun than the last Reigning Sound record.  All comes down to the tunes and this one has 'em in spades.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Kings Go Forth : Live at Johnny Brenda's

Initially Published Here


Given the preponderance of auto-tuned cyborgs passing themselves off as pop stars at the top of the R&B charts (Black Eyed Peas, I am looking in your general direction) , it may be hard to remember there was a time when heavyweight funk and soul acts were capable of delivering the goods live. It’s as if they’ve forfeited the visceral power of great live music in favor of distracting theatrics and an over the top carnival-esque atmosphere.

No, if you want to see great live funk and soul you’ve got to search somewhat off-the-grid. Like Johnny Brenda’s where Milwaukee’s Kings Go Forth brought their powerhouse live show to Philadelphia for the first time. We’re talking about nine pieces crammed onto JB’s tiny stage - guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, two horn players, a percussionist and two singers pumping out a well-oiled set of classic-sounding soul. The twist is that these guys operate at an intensity level to rival the best rock show you’ve ever seen. Bass player/band leader Andy Noble isn’t joking when he says his band’s live show is closer to The Who than ______ (fill in your favorite “Neo-Soul Revival” act). Their were moments during an extended “Don’t Take My Shadow” with guitarist Dan Flynn hunched over his effects pedals and drummer Jeremy Kuzniar exploding behind his kit when the band achieved a kind of lift-off very few bands ever achieve, rock, soul or otherwise.

And floating on top of this righteous noise are the sweet harmonies of Black Wolf and Dan Fernandez. They are a perfectly matched team -- Dan providing a smooth base for Mr. Wolf to soar over. But Kings Go Forth are not a ‘vocal band’ by any stretch. There is serious muscle to their sound that is only going to get stronger as they continue to tour (touring has been sporadic since their debut, The Outsiders Are Back was released last spring). Let’s hope we get to see them here in Philly again soon.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Telekinesis : 12 Desperate Straight Lines

When Telekinesis’ debut hit the scene in the spring of 2009 it made nary a ripple in the indie-rock blog pond. Too close to power pop for a scene enamored with wispy folk music, it was also too grown up in its concerns to be of much interest to pop-punkers who at least still like their hooks hard and shiny. 

Two years later I am happy to say that the band (well, not really -- on record Telekinesis is a one-man operation) has not succumbed to any real or imagined pressures to redefine their sound to suit popular tastes. What Michael Benjamin Lerner has done is effectively streamlined his songwriting and sonics. The hooks here are more immediate, the melodies stronger. There’s a run of 3 songs in the middle of this record (Car Cash/Palm of Your Hand/Got You) that is as ridiculously catchy as anything you’re likely to hear all year. Does this mean Merge is gonna do any better selling 12 Desperate Straight Lines than their eponymous debut? Probably not, but that’s what Grammy-award winning bands do - enable their labels to put our great little records like this one.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Interview : Kings Go Forth

Initially Published Here

Milwaukee’s Kings Go Forth are a 10-piece funk and soul revue with a live show to rival the most intense rock band you’ve ever seen. Led by singer/writer Black Wolf, the vocals may be sweet but there is considerable muscle behind bass player/band leader Andy Noble’s arrangements. The band’s debut full-length, The Outsiders are Back (Luaka Bop Records), came out in the spring of 2010 and the band is making their first stop in Philly at Johnny Brenda’s on February 18th. I had the opportunity to talk with Andy about the ins and outs of taking such a mighty (and mighty big) band out on the road.

Andy, I had the chance to see you guys play a record store in Austin at the last South by Southwest conference and I was completely blown away and...

Oh, we’ve gotten ten million times better since then! I feel like right now is the first time I can really recommend us -- like, “You need to see this show.” And it’s because of Europe. We actually went on a real tour where it was just eat, drink, sleep, play a show, all the time. We’d never done that before. We did two weeks of shows and the feeling instantly was yeah, that’s how you do it.

When you talk about the logistics of touring with a 10-piece don’t go to Europe and pick up a horn section or pick up a percussionist do you?

No. The logistics of bringing my guys everywhere are hard, but the logistics of doing that are even harder. Not to mention that I’m really particular. We’re trying all the time to get better and better and that wouldn’t happen if we were changing out members. That’s too much like a ‘show band’. If you were in The Clash you wouldn’t have a guy who plays bass in the US and another guy in Australia! No one would accept that and that’s how I think about our group. I don’t think about us as being like Sharon Jones, I think about us as being like The Who.

In a perfect world would you like to see Kings Go Forth on the road all the time?

I don’t think so, but things change. A year ago I would have said no, I just want to work in the basement on drum sounds. But after touring Europe I just wanted to go right back. I am addicted to the point that when I eat now I kinda mimic hospitality rider food. You know, you get hummus but no pita bread, so you scoop it up with a baby carrot (laughs). Just a vain attempt to keep on tour in my head while it’s a Tuesday afternoon in Milwaukee.

But motivations change and life changes. And this band sorta ruined a serious relationship... but, without going into too many details --, a year ago that was the most important thing in my life and I wasn’t looking to go on the road and now I just wanna go on the road all the time. But the thing that greases the wheels is money. I mean, we all need it and we’re not even close to “getting rich” money, I’m just talking about sustenance. If I take these guys on the road, I’ve got to be able to at least cover what they would have been making at home.

And you’re not crashing on people’s floors with 10 people.

Yes, but there’s a more practical explanation for trying to maintain some sort of lifestyle on the road. The show is so physical that I need to baby the group. I’ve got to make sure that the singers can sing the next night. And the drummer and conga player are basically running a marathon at every show and they’ve gotta be able to do it the next night. I can’t tell those guys to go crash on someone’s floor. Or hey, there’s no more floor space available but there’s a chair over there!

I’m curious how you feel about Kings Go Forth being included in what’s called the ‘Soul Revival’, whether it’s Sharon Jones or the Budos Band or...

Well, obviously a lot of that is business and marketing. People have to figure out how to sell your band.

But is this something you try to distance your band from or something you embrace?

I fall somewhere in between. Obviously I want people to hear about our band but also recognize that we come from a different place. It’s a double edge sword. If I was working for the marketing firm I’d probably be doing it even more, but in America there is no precedent of ‘Northern Soul’ -- these club scenes based on black American music like you have in Europe or Japan that have existed for decades.

In America our label cares so much about something like Pitchfork, which would seem on the surface to have very little in common with what we do, but the only people who buy CD’s in mass anymore are people who buy indie-rock. So our label has to think about that -- “Okay, is this the soul group that we can get indie-rockers to buy?” My business is just to make records that I like. I know there are other people who have different jobs to do. But the way they sell our band in America vs. the rest of the world is very different. But hey, when I see on someone’s Facebook page that they like Kings Go Forth and the next band is...I dunno, Radiohead, hey that’s cool (laughs). People need more variety. I like when people take their musical inspiration wherever they can get it.

Kings Go Forth bring their amazing live show to Philly for the first time at Johnny Brenda's (1201 Frankford Ave.) on Friday, February 18th. Show starts at 9pm and tickets are $12.

Friday, February 11, 2011

New Stuff 2011 - Pt. 3

Dirtbombs - Party Store CD (In the Red Records) :  Grungy garage rockers put out an album of techno covers as a shout-out to their home town of Detroit (where was their Chrysler commercial during the Super Bowl?).  Did not know what to expect going in, but it turns our that garage + techno = something damn close to Kraut Rock.  Hypnotic, repetitious, groovy.  Perfect late night driving music.
The Go! Team - Rolling Blackouts CD (Memphis Industries) : I've got a soft spot for these guys and gals after getting caught unawares by the giddy fun of their live show at SXSW a few years ago.  And they're a regular fixture in our house thanks to their presence on the Little Big Planet soundtrack.  Full length #3 doesn't stray far from their trademark good time sound -- goofy samples, cheerleader chants, kitchen sink production.  Exhausting over time but most excellent in small doses.
The Green Hornet - Directed by Michel Gondry (A Columbia Pictures release) : More in line with the jokey wink-wink action of the Iron Man series as opposed to silly solemnity typical of the Dark Knight series.  But Seth Green is no Robert Downey Jr. and the film goes on for at least 20 minutes too long.  Another by-committee film where a little of everything is thrown in in an attempt to appeal to everyone.  Instead you walk out wondering what anyone involved was thinking.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Initially Published Here

Over a decade after making his bones with El Mariachi (and eight years since he remade the film for Hollywood as Desperado) director Robert Rodriguez returned once again to his guitar slinging assasin in 2003 for, presumably, the final installment of the series. The action pieces and special effects are less threadbare than before but the story is still bare bones -- something about military coups and drug cartels and everyone is double-crossing everyone else. It amounts to an excuse to revel in some serious B-movie bravado. People fall balletically from balconies, bodies are propelled by unseen springboards as fireballs explode and a street fair is always a sign that a shootout is soon to follow.

Antonio Banderas plays things a little too straight here. He exhibits precious little of the lunk-headed charm he brings to his best roles. But the rest of the cast (Mickey Rourke, Willem Dafoe, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo) all seem to having fun. This goes double for Johnny Depp who really seems to get off on trying to keep a straight face while parading through the film in an array of increasingly ugly T-shirts. His utter lack of seriousness perfectly compliments Rodriguez's grindhouse sensibilities.

This new Blu-ray edition looks and sounds terrific and features a slew of extras -- some wholly expected (deleted scenes, commentary track) but some fun surpises as well. Rodriguez narrates a little tutorial on how he managed to make the film on the cheap and on the fly and, in my favorite bit, spends some time in the kitchen showing you how to make his favorite pork dish. He could have a second career as a Food TV host.