Monday, February 13, 2017

Artist watch: Philly shoegazer's The Virgouts

At Sunday night’s benefit show for the American Civil Liberties Union at Northern Liberties’ Ortlieb’s, Francisville-turned-Fishtown shoegazers The Virgouts finally found their match, opening for fellow Philly-gazers Starterjacket. Formed in Spring of 2016, The Virgouts, up until this point, were more or less an outlier on their bills, having shared the stage with a disparate variety of acts including switchboard electronica at The Fire, and their placement on Saturday night’s skatepunk showcase at south Philly spot The Pharmacy.

Consisting of guitarist/vocalist Rashad Rastam, bassist Nick Schon, and drummer Ryan Lohbauer, The Virgouts combine a rather unworn list of ingredients to set their brand of shoegaze apart. For one, Rastams’ethereal guitar washes are starkly contrasted by Schon’s surging, fingerpicked basslines that employ no effects. On Schon’s contributions, which display a slick, jazzy influence uncommon in shoegaze at large, Rastam assessed that, “I’m pretty sure that like if it wasn’t for like the basslines we’d be fucked.” Lohbauer also showed awareness for the whole being greater than the sum of the parts, recalling that “[The Virgouts have sometimes] been practicing [when] Nick’s not around, and it’s like ‘what is this?'” Adding to the sense that no cookie-cutters were used in the making of this music are the vocals, as Rastam opts for a raw, punk-seasoned delivery that helps one imagine what it would be like if Sick of It All were not so sick of it all. On stage, the sound-synergy becomes immediately evident, with set opener “Oversized” likely to induce closed eye visuals of a cyberpunk thriller’s obligatory, deleted snowboarding scene.

Still, although their stage act is power-packed, for the time being The Virgouts are among the countless artists whose available recordings leave the energy of their live show substantially uncaptured, making it imperative to see them live for the full effect. Fortunately, this should soon be remedied, as two new releases are on the way for 2017, including their Deaded EP and a yet to be titled full length album. Regarding Deaded, Rastam shares, “it’s gonna’ be a six song EP for sure. The songs that [we played] tonight are going to be on the EP. We recorded it last year, then I moved to Queens so it got a little tied up, but we’re gonna’ put it out this year for sure.” Though it will be directly preceding the album, the EP is slated to contain entirely separate material from the full-length, adding value for listeners. “Our new record’s like gonna’ be 10 to 12 songs. It’s 50% done. We wanna’ put out the EP first though”, elaborated Rastam on the forthcoming releases.

Having just found their way into the Philly’s thriving shoegaze scene, the trio has yet to gain much of a following, but 2017 looks promising with all that is in store, and showgoers owe it to themselves to see The Virgouts while they can still get to the front with ease.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

New York's Flower Shows-Off Bouquet of Fresh Tracks at Union Pool

Flower 2/10/17 at Union Pool, Brooklyn, NY (L-R: Ian James, Ed Baluyut, Richard Baluyut)
When bands take the stage after decades of absence, they tend to face a spectrum of polarized opinions. On the open-minded end, loyal fans who simply want to press rewind often crave authenticity in the form of an original lineup and familiar material. Opposite that are the hardliners who will eschew nostalgic retreads to the point that they would rather stand on the roof of the carwash playing washtub bass than attend any comeback show. Fortunately for those who arrived fashionably early to Brooklyn’s Union Pool on Friday night, New York college-rock gems Flower proved that both sides can be met in the middle while still staying far away from the middle of the road.

Flower’s appearance preceded that of The Jason LowensteinBand, whose leader has also performed with Sebadoh and The Fiery Furnaces, and +/- (Plus/Minus) ,who, like Flower, have a noticeable lineup overlap with the more widely recognized Versus. Such billing made it all the more easy for showgoers to mistake themselves for contestants on Guess Who’s Coming to Chickfactor, as within the audience also stood a veritable Who’s Who from the golden age of indie-rock, including Simple MachinesRecords/Tsunami co-founders Jenny Toomey and Kristin Thompson, as well as illustrator Tae Won Yu, formerly of the New York duo Kicking Giant.

For this show, Flower’s original lineup of Ian James (bass, vocals), brothers Richard (guitar, vocals) and Ed Baluyut (guitar), and Andrew Borwdin (drums) played a rather unconventional reunion set, consisting almost entirely of new tracks from their forthcoming album. In fact, the sole representative of their back catalog, Memorial Day (from 1990’s Hologram Sky LP),  came only as something of a favor to a superfan. R. Baluyut explained, “[Lowenstein] was a huge Flower fan as a kid, but he never got to see us ‘cause he was too young. We played with him before, like Versus, but [Flower] wanted to play with him, because I knew he was a fan. Sadly, I forgot that , oh, we should probably play some old songs that he knows, so we did one at the end, Memorial Day, just for him.”

"I think a show is when you’re always moving forward."
-Richard Baluyut

Still, even with 45 minutes of principally unfamiliar material, the Union Pool crowd was in for a pleasant surprise, as the new tracks avoided the pitfalls of most artists entering their second act . “We just recorded them and most of them don’t have words yet, so I wrote words this week, but everyone knows them by the number. We played 6, 2, 8, 9, 14, 17, 5, 20, its all like that”, elaborated R. Baluyut on the fresh songs that evince a natural continuity from where they left off 27 years ago, without the staleness or seemingly forced updating so prevalent in long standing artists’ new work. “It’s  just a project that was kinda’ like a what if: what would happen if we sat in the same room and tried to write new songs, cause it’s like we had this thing years ago but let’s see if we still have it, and we discovered that we do, and then all of these new songs appeared, kinda’ out of thin air”, reflected Borwdin.

Concerning the new record, patience is still very much a virtue, as vocals and other overdubs have yet to be completed, but a true sense of renewal has taken the members of Flower since reforming and, as far as they’re concerned, this is just the beginning. As Bordwin put it, “ we played a few kind of like reunion shows. We played at the Knitting Factory, we played at the Bell House, and we played at the Cake Shop, and that was just kinda’ like looking backwards, and this is all about looking forwards. We wanna’ play more shows, and we wanna’ find a home for this record at some point. We gotta’ finish it first, but it’s kinda’ about rediscovering something, and you know, it’s kind of an experiment, and everybody’s along for the ride.”

From The Archive: Former Magnetic Fields Singer Susan Anway Readies New Tunes (2010)

This article originally appeared in the April 2010 edition of The Raven Review, published by Prescott College in Prescott, AZ.

Correction: History Detectives featured scores composed by Jack Andrews, not Borris Black.

Update: Diskarnate's full-length debut album "Greed" was released on April 11, 2013, and can be purchased on bandcamp and CD Baby.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Miracle Legion Comes Back Quietly Through the Side Door

Summer 2011 sparked one of the most unlikely comebacks in college rock history. Miracle Legion's beloved off-shoot Polaris performed live for the first time ever* at a fan event for the Nickelodeon classic The Adventures of Pete and Pete in LA. Sticking mostly to the actual soundtrack from the show, many at the time assumed this was a one-off event, but the response propeled them to mount a series of well-received tours. In addition to the expected soundtrack songs, every show mixed in some extra treats for the more in-the-know fans. Seeing as how the band comprised 3/4 of the (1990-96) Miracle Legion lineup, classics like Madison Park, Storyteller, and Closer To The Wall were also put into the rotation. One would think after the years it took Mark Mulcahy, Dave McCaffery, and Scott Boutier to finally return the stage in the form of Polaris, that would be as far as it would ever go. Looking at their label, Mezzotint's, website (as of this writing), the only hint of any activity is the change of "Miracle Legion was" to "Miracle Legion is/was" in their bio, but over the past week a few blips have slipped out through social media.

The band's Facebook profile picture changed to newly enhanced cover art for 1996's long out-of-print Portrait of a Damaged Family, which is making its vinyl debut for this year's Record Store Day. This reissue comes 20 years after the original/only CD pressing, and no less than 12 years after this first was teased by Mezzotint's defunct As Far As We Know e-mail newsletter. Containing a strong, if not disparate, collage of tunes that would have fit right in on WART Radio (Madison Park) and re-recorded outtakes dating back to 1987 (Please), legitimate copies of this swan-song record have long eluded fans. This is due in part to the strange Science Sleuths style cases used being discontinued by the early 2000s, necessitating a redesign of the packaging, and in part to the decline in CD sales causing Mulcahy to question "how many people would actually buy a Miracle Legion CD". No further details of this reissue have developed, but one can expect it will remain readily available like every prior Mezzotint RSD release.

Now that Miracle Legion vinyl completeists will finally be able to exist, that leaves the matter of reunion shows. When I first saw Polaris live in 2014, I pretty much accepted the three of them, along with ace sideman Henning Ohlenbusch more or less filling in for Mr. Ray Neal, being the closest simulation of a Miracle Legion show to ever expect, but without much fanfare (or a single news outlet reporting), three UK dates were announced for Summer 2016. Days after, a lone US show was quietly posted (in Iowa of all places). Now, while I'm not above going all the way to the Midwest for a big-deal show by one of my favorite bands, I'm keeping my fingers crossed the next two weeks bring news of a full US tour. 

Miracle Legion have returned to the party quietly through the side door; here's hoping they make a stop in every room.

*Scott and Dave backed Mark at the 2005 Daffodil Festival in Merriden, CT but that doesn't count!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Rock Dentistry Densetsu

I vaguely recall a school lesson about bread in ancient Egypt. By vaguely I mean the only part I recall is something about how they would make bread with rocks in it. I asked the teacher why they would do such a thing and she responded “poor dental hygiene”. You could imagine, if you had learned in school that bread was originally to include rocks in the dough, what a talking to that baker would get, for dentistry still had to occur before such reckless experimentation could be fiddled with. As such, one could make an argument that the conservative objections to rock and roll of the 1950s could have less root in pious moral panic, and more in concerns over the dentist bill.

To understand this first let us consider the experience of a trip to the beach. Walking past a boardwalk  t-shirt stand, you may see several teen idol licenses you are not familiar with and assume their names are just strange sayings. In the same fashion that I originally assumed One Direction was some kind of motivational fad buzz-phrase, some preacher or school principle must have first been horrified at the idea of “all the teens in town getting on the road to the Hell that is the pre-masticated buffet”. The zeal must have been enough to prevent the sheepish audience from understanding the intended figurative use of the word Hell as a caution against the inability to eat solid foods.

What was meant to discourage tooth loss inducing bread-dumbness had instilled a religious vendetta in 1950's America against the kind of rock and roll that doesn’t necessitate dentures out of the box. That being said, the establishment would gradually accept rock and roll music and an observable turning point came when Brian Wilson declared he was “making real good bread” in The Beach Boys' 1964 hit “I Get Around”. This point of fact attests to the complete mis-attribution of his impact on rock and roll to that Pet Sounds/Smile hub-bub. It was indeed his straight talk to the self-deputized tooth cautioners that got us out of the days of grievances over “devil’s music” and in to the frontiers that would be the days of grievances over the youth being “just a bunch dopers that are allergic to haircuts”.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

311 Rocks On with Universal Pulse!

I had mixed expectations for 311's new record, Universal Pulse, after four years anticipation produced Uplifter in 2009, an album with some magnificent moments within a substate of reggae and hard-rocking instrumentals with the poppiest lyrics ever heard from the band. The most confusing factor was Get Down, a widely available bonus track that left me, a longtime fan who needs a second set of hands to count the shows I've seen, unsure as to if they could follow up with an album that would be nearly as good as that song alone. Universal Pulse proves 311 can.

Reuniting with Uplifter producer Bob Rock, 311 brings us their most concise studio effort since the 1992 cassette Hydroponic. Clocking in at 29:01, Universal Pulse wastes no time kicking into high gear. "Time Bomb" opens the record by saluting their "excitable crew" of fans. Following is "Wild Nights", which quickly dispenses a sharp rap attack from vocalist S.A. Martinez. The writing generally takes a more serious, story-telling tone than the predecessor. Bassist P-Nut makes his debut contributing lyrics on the opener and the first single, "Sunset In July", a funky reggae jam describing the joy experienced by the band on their Unity Tour dates every summer. "Rock On", a confrontation against self-destructive behavior reminiscent of the esoteric "Firewater", goes out with the closest thing to a straight heavy metal guitar break heard since Tim Mahoney joined the band.

 The official video visual for "Sunset In July"

One thing 311 has been consistent with since 2003's Evolver is roller-coaster finales. Universal Pulse closes with the imagery rich epic "And a Ways to Go". Nick Hexum and Martinez weave a depiction of the pursuit of higher comprehension with lines like, "they led me at last to a beautiful fire and it deepened in a way that I forgot I admired." Preparing for exit, P-Nut goes off on a wah saturated bass solo before the listener is bid farwell with the singers optimistic offering "come on yeah, it'll be alright and we're gonna take a ride; I don't know if we'll come back."

Digital collage artist Sonny Kay designed the cover, which I must say, is easily the trippiest art yet to grace a 311 disc. Kay has gained notoriety in the post-rock/math-rock scene as a designer for many bands, including The Mars Volta and Red Sparrowes, as well as former head of the now defunct Gold Standard Laboratories label.

The debut release from 311's eponymous label (licensed to ATO Records), Universal Pulse hits stores on CD and vinyl on Tuesday, July 19 but some retailers have already put it on shelves. Select independent stores will offer a lenticular (hologram) print of the cover art backed with a download code for an exclusive remix. Make the most of your summer and pick up Universal Pulse!

311 is currently on the road with their eighth annual Unity Tour, supported by Sublime with Rome. The tour climaxes with the first ever 311 Pow Wow Festival, a three day music festival in Live Oak, Florida where they will play four sets, including the premier live performance of their magnum opus, 1997's Transistor, in its entirety. Below are the remaing dates:

Lifestyles Community Pavilion
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

7/19 OMAHA, NE
Red Sky Festival
TD Ameritrade Park
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

PNC Bank Art Center
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

Nikon at Jones Beach Amphitheatre
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

7/23 BOSTON, MA (Mansfield, MA)
Comcast Center
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

Bethel Woods Center for the Arts
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

Farm Bureau Live at VA Beach Amphitheatre
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

7/29 WASHINGTON, DC (Bristow, VA)
Jiffy Lube Live (Nissan Pavilion)
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

Time Warner Music Pavilion at Walnut Creek
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak, N. Florida
see festival site for complete information

L’Auberge Du Lac Casino
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

GEXA Energy Pavilion
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

The Backyard
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

8/16 DENVER, CO (Morrison, CO)
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

Usana Amphitheatre
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

Santa Barbara Bowl
311, Sublime w/Rome, Del Mar
Shoreline Amphitheatre at Mountain View
311, Sublime w/Rome, Del Mar

Cuthbert Amphitheater
311, Sublime w/Rome, Del Mar

Marymoor Amphitheatre
311, Sublime w/Rome, Del Mar

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Get the Party Started With Gak Deficiency!

This is the trippiest spoken word album you are likely to ever hear.

It was a Friday night, much like any other Friday night, when Gak Deficiency unveiled Socially Conscious Party Music, their debut full-length, on the world. Recorded over the course of two years in central Arizona and southeast Pennsylvania, Socially Conscious Party Music blends the calming ambiance of a hike through the forest with the chaotic riff-raff of a raging college party. This is the trippiest spoken word album you are likely to ever hear!

Upon displaying a physical copy of the disc I was asked if it was really party music. Well, it's real party combined with real music. Yes, in fact almost every track contains recordings from actual parties! Topics throughout the album include weighty issues such as the meaning of 2012 and the effects of overpopulation, as well as lighter subject matter such as where the best country to eat at an IHOP is and how irritating some people find Poke'mon. A massive collaboration of over 20 friends, Socially Conscious Party Music is ideal for when you don't know where the party's at! With sounds ranging from drum circles to distorted kalimba, this album is recommended for fans of Animal Collective's "Sung Tongs", Neutral Milk Hotel's embryonic collage "Invent Yourself A Shortcake", as well as anyone who remembers what it's like to go to college.

Gak Deficiency's core is made up of Ryan Burns and Tom Faix (tube dwellers), Jake Gioffrey (lawyer), Ryan Gillespie (yesman), Ethan Newmann (honorary caddy), and Colton Coburn-Wood (image to throw gak at). Burns and Faix previously performed together at a special appearance of the baseball/comedy group Chestnut Hill Renegers. Socially Conscious Party Music is Burns' first released recording. Faix self-released an exploratory EP, Postal Telegraph, last year to moderate success and has recently reissued it in digital form. Coburn-Wood is a dubstep DJ (performing under the moniker Colt 45) based in Boston.

Socially Conscious Party Music can be downloaded for free here.