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.