Friday, September 28, 2018

Jack & The Bear - Gruesome Gruesome

The only thing I might love more than Halloween are the folks who love Halloween more than I already do......The freaky, fun-loving folks who preternaturally channel the spirit of the season, the theatricality of this end-of-harvest-holiday, the slimy-grimy kitsch, the eerie-foggy growls, the yowling-howling, cool-rambunctious, stylishly flamboyant essence of it all...

To tell you the truth, I knew Jack & The Bear could make a killer Halloween record long before they decided, this month, to indulge this specific thematic pageant. And before I share anything more, let's go ahead and listen to the first song from their Halloween EP, Gruesome Gruesome. 

Jack & The Bear are so possessed by Halloween on these five songs that it's hard not to get a contact-trance. But the reason they wear the mummy-bandages and vampire-capes so naturally is that it's almost akin to sliding down a hallway to an adjacent room for them...stylistically speaking. Their first two albums have been distinctly heavy on character, ambiance, and implicitly folklore-ish feeling tones--both instrumentally and lyrically. It sort of felt you were always a song or two away from a Halloween party, already.

Imagine Deer Tick, Tom Waits, Beirut, Nick Cave and The Cramps falling into a cauldron together and bring it to a boil and Jack & The Bear will be the stew that it simmers down into...Baroque-feeling arrangements that combine stand-up bass with pianos, trombones, banjos and factor in positively overactive imaginations (inside the heads of the two brothers leading the writing and recording process)--imaginations already inclined toward a sort of Edward Gorey-esque aesthetic of the surreal and the twee and the eerie and the eccentric--and you've got a band that's refreshingly game, by design, for being adventurous in their music and taking the risk to be...dramatic and different! Differently dramatic! Dramatically different! 

Now, that's my ear's summation of Jack & The Bear in a nutshell--but it's to prove my point that their donning of Halloween costumes is effortlessly natural. Yes, they do tap into some of the classic tropes of ghostly moans and other ambient sounds from bubbling laboratories, as well as layering on all the candied reverb that was signature to the boom-days of novelty Halloween records from '58-'63--but the majority of each song feels like another chapter in Jack & The Bear's inherently whimsical journey. It's whimsical, but also perilous..., it makes a stop near a haunted house or has to scurry past a graveyard, but the soul of these songs still feels like the J& B you've come to know on previous records...  

We'll all wear costumes this year--but Halloween is always in the heart of Jack & The Bear. And I love that. 

Monday, September 24, 2018

Black Irish - Maybe...Tomorrow

There are still souls out there devoted to the might and magnificence of rock. Black Irish are a six-piece local outfit with some quintessentially fiery guitar flourishes and impassioned vocals, hard-hitting drums rhythms and a certain swagger that comes along with inherently lively fusions of a southern-tinged rock and post-grunge blues. They weave melodic and tuneful verses with rich arrangements of keys, tambourines, effusive guitars and soulful vocals into cathartic crescendos where the fire roils up and each instrument accentuates its own expressive phrase--particularly the guitar!

I've been following this band for nearly 10 years, and its gone through some changes--but its dedication to the blues, and a blend of a rock/gospel/Americana vibe has continued to be honed. They had a debut EP out several years back but have been on a bit of a sabbatical recently. Suffice it to say - they're back, voluminously-so! Their new album Maybe...Tomorrow comes out Sept 28 (with a party at the Magic Bag). Longtime members Paul Barning (vocals) and Elliott Moses (lead guitar/vocals) are joined by Matt LaPinta on bass/keyboards, Matt Hamann on guitar, Steve Nowicki on percussion and Dylan McCarty (who also produced the new record) on drums.

Joining their release party at the Magic Bag (9/28) are The Black Drops and DUDE. Doors are at 8--click here for more info.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Gold Crayon - 'Please Make Out'

photo by Tim Meeks

Gold Crayon color in the perfectly balanced shades of psychedelia, glam-rock and power-pop on their debut album Please Make Out. The Detroit-based outfit have dropped a handful of singles over the last three years, as well as made sporadic appearances at well-known festivals and the regular rock clubs, but now we have a proper full length out online (and eventually coming on vinyl).

Gold Crayon make the kind of aerodynamic rock tunes that are so sleek, unruffled and collected that you just wanna step out of the way and not muss it up with overly intellectualized adjectives or hyperbole. While their primary influence-stew would ladle you an ultraviolet-glowing dish of T. Rex, The Strokes, and garnishes of Ty Segall and Aladdin-Sane-era Bowie, I'm inclined to liken them to bands like Spoon, Yo La Tengo, or Guided By Voices (have I dropped enough names, here, sheesh...), in that there's something consistent, undeniable, instantaneous, compelling, fowrad-thinking-yet-classic-feeling...about what they do!

The drums can be as big as arena rock, the vocals can be as ethereal as the spaceist-space-ballad, the bass gets to explore some interesting and funky phrases, and the keys/guitars interweave their dazzling jet streams in pretty melodic trajectories. You're picked up with a Krautrock-esque motorik beat on "Green Eyes" and it evokes a sense of ascension/propulsion. "Part of the Scene" brings it down to a foot-stomper of a blues/punk riff for the growly verses only to expand and blossom for a flourishing chorus that lets those vaguely 70's sounding tone from the keys as they curl you through to a bridge; by the time the song ends, it's a full on sludgy rock ballad.

The rhythms go post-punk on "You're A Ghost," with flexed drums fills and the bass kinda pulling everything with it as the guitar knows just where to put the right amount of riffy embellishment and when it should pull back for something more ambient, while the vocals literally sound like they're emanating from someone mid-descent down a swirly slide. (Oh, but I guess they could be mimicking a ghostly wail too...but my simile's a testament to the kinetic nature of their arrangements.)

I know I've been riffing on how they're a "consistent" band that fits into a few quadrants of the rock realm, but they're a refreshing amount of variety on here. "Please Make Out" is a post-rock nocturne with ethereal buzzy bursts from the bass and the drums spreading things out through the verses only to explode on the cymbals through the chorus. It has an ominous feeling that wouldn't have been out of place on Bowie's Blackstar, but that's the last time I'll drop a name. Things brighten up immediately with the "I Need You's" wavy-scaled guitar line supported by yet another intricate tempo formation from the bass and drums. "The Drone" is a perfect closer because it feels intent on getting every last ounce of energy out before a show ends, before a door closes, before a sunsets--there's classic rock 'n' roll everything-or-nothing urgency here. But it's a perfect place to end on the vocals - which, at that point, have proven an ability to just soar with grace and theatricality over each track with dynamic control to wail or whisper, draw taut or tenderly unfurl.

Follow on Facebook for updates on their next show. The album you're hearing was recorded and mixed at Rustbelt Studios by Steve Lehane and mastered by Eric Hoegemeyer at Tree Laboratory (in Brooklyn). Gold Crayon are: Greg Beyer, Michael Krygier, Steve Lehane, Steve Stetson, and Taylor Pierson.

Friday, September 14, 2018

P8TIENCE - Good Karma

Good Karma is packed with hard-earned epiphanies. Detroit rapper P8TIENCE consistently lives up to that name with raps wrung with honest proclamations, sobering realizations and resolute declarations of intention. P8TIENCE pours out the puzzle pieces of his life and puts it all back together 16 bars at a time, distinctly determined to define his own bigger picture and defy any input or influence that could be misleading. Far from being the typical braggadocio that barbs the rhymes of some rappers, P8TIENCE is creating a memoir of achieving poise within a life where peril's always near. What you hear in these affirming and honest lyrics of faith through struggle boils down to fortitude. How else will you earn Good Karma...

It's worth noting that the two lions that sit as statues in front of the New York Public Library have names. One lion is named "Patience." The fortitude. What I hear on this record is fortitude--fortitude and bravery and boldness and bluntness and a resisting of bellicosity or bitterness. His vocal performance and overall passion/energy basically surges off of the recording here, but's all of a piece with a drive to break through any kind of obstacle. That said, there's also a variety to the production, cinematic sounding gospel ballads ("God Forgives"), to bass-heavy club jams ("Wave"), to slower-grooved arrangements swooning with synths, chimes and pianos over cascading basslines ("I Am").

P8TIENCE was signed to Black Market Entertainment by Shady Records alumni Obie Trice in 2012. From there, he got his fotting in the music biz with national and international tours, garnering attention from the press and attuning himself to the work ethic required to build a career in the music industry. He's toured and performed internationally at this point, including trips to Australia, Canada, and then through Europe (with Obie Trice). He's released two beat-jacking mixtapes as well as two proper albums over the last two years. "8-Ball" was released previously but it's appearing here with a collection of comparably harrowing stories on Good Karma. 

Good Karma
Release Party - Sept 21
Bullfrog Bar & Grill
with Miz Korona
Gold Crown JB
Chavis Chandler
& Pilotlife Ros

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Betsy Soukup - This Disquiet

Betsy Soukup - This Disquiet - Release Party, Sept 20

Betsy Soukup's music is not immediate. It's something that blossoms and rewards those who can submit themselves to otherwise-unconventional percussive arrangements. What will be instantaneous is the mild bit of bemusement you'll feel when her ethereal voice bends and swoons into high arcing minor keys only to waft down with a suddenness into lower throaty baritones. Her bass can growl, purr, or become a drum. Her tremolos have profound emotional heft. A certain motif might hook your ear, and yet you'll realize you had to dig through two other instrumental layers to fully absorb that distinctive groove. Or, you might come under the spell of a song that's built out of a loop of four notes, craftily threaded into a minimalist melody, to support her enchanting vocals that seem to be addressing you, yes you, with the level of intimacy and intensity palpable in that voice.

You're entering a world, basically, made by someone seeking less-trodden roads of experimentation with musical form. Soukup is a visionary singer, instrumentalist, composer spreading her wings beyond the bounds of freeform jazz, contemporary classical and experimental balladry. Her charms would be opaque, at first, to any ears typically attuned to traditional forms of pop, rock, or jazz - but what's particularly captivating about her new album, This Disquiet, is how much she's able to unleash with alternating patterns on the bass, creating a sense of fullness with rhythms that can be frantic, urgent, languid or waltzing.

Soukup pairs this blend of unique bowing and expressive pizzicato with lyrics of longing, existential contemplation, dream-like diary entries and vulnerable confessions, coiled into poetic phrases billowing into alluring and ethereal melodies. It's an album that rewards the close-listen, those who surrender their otherwise preoccupied minds over to a music that can be literally and figuratively offbeat. There's something as precious and as powerful as an opera pulsating within the measures of this  music--as tranquil and as startling as a dream--and like the autumn--both stark and sublime.

Betsy Soukup
The Disquiet
Album Release Party
Sept 20
with Molly Jones
& Witchpucker

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Peace to Mateo - Some Strange Reason

...the dream of peace seemed more distant than ever... 

We crave peace of mind. Sure, we'd all want world peace. But peace of mind requires mental gymnastics. But it can be attained at any time, in almost any location (provided the proper headphones), with Some Strange Reason. This is the fourth album by producer/lyricist/composer Matt Black, a.k.a. Peace To Mateo. And while opener "Dream of Peace" may emit a few samples from ghostly-sounding recordings that might suggest world peace..., I'm responding to the calm, or sense of calm, that's brought to me through immersion into arrangements of bass, chimes, subtle beats and saxophones. I believe that Peace To Mateo's blend of trip-hop, cinematic electronica and ambient hip-hop, achieves a higher degree of cerebral harmony than a majority of comparable composers inclined towards manifesting something that sounds "chill..."

These eight songs, especially the enveloping nature of the builds and bridges of "Splash Damage,"evoke both a sense of transport and of tranquility--these songs pull you into amorphous places and ignite active the imagination. And while I mentioned "samples" in the opening track, this album's noteworthy because it's the first batch of wholly-original compositions by Black, written and produced over the course of the last two years, diverting away from the predominantly sample-based assemblages of his previous three releases.

There's audible precision in the production, finding a uniform vibe in the warm, syrupy tones of the bass, guitar and synth elements, as well as the adorning saxophones. The percussive arrangements coolly convey you through the unfurling curtains of sounds, a composite of expressive phrases from each instrument dance in and out, like the steady transition of one thought to the next...And that fosters that quiet contemplation that I was getting at... This music has the power to influence an unflexing of your anxiety muscles--that everyday tension that each of our busy brains seem addicted to, like we can't let ourselves relax.

You could say that to "dream" is to attain a sort of "peace..." But the "dream of peace" is nearer than you could imagine when you give yourself over to music like Some Strange Reason. Peace To Mateo's measured, instrumental pieces contain rhythmic hooks that could suggest the subtlest of dance moves, but for the most part it's a subtle music that encourages activity--not any activity akin to singing along to catchy anthemic choruses or losing your shit to a sick beat... The activity, for me, is all in my mind--through the power of sonic suggestion. It simultaneously stimulates and stills the mind... You could say that instrumental trip-hop doesn't have as much to say as a folk song or a punk song or a rap song--but the conversation that's set off by it is, by design, in the mind of the listener.

More info: Young Heavy Souls