14 July 2015
You know, I don't recommend enough rap on here. I'm good at finding obscure bands and artists from most other genres, but for some reason I really struggle to find a good hip hop album. Thankfully, our friends at Datura Records have delivered this debut EP from Lincoln Marshall, Weight. Lincoln Marshall is a project between one of my favorite LFK rappers, Approach, and one that I'm admittedly new to, MilkDrop. When you combine these two great rappers with some great production and beats, you get one of the better independent rap releases I've heard this year. I think it's pretty solid.
My gripes with Weight are pretty minimal. I do wish some tracks where a bit longer and were maybe a bit more focused. When you have a nine track EP that clocks in at just under 17 minutes, you'd hope that each track really goes all out. But it's more like 5-6 tracks with a lot of focus on them, and then a few tracks that I wish were more developed. The two under-a-minute instrumentals "The Keys" and "O.K...." sounds great, but I just wish they were longer and more developed. The raps and beats on the opener "Level One" sound great too, but considering it's just over a minute, I just wish it gave me a bit more. But, that's about all I have in the way of complaints. Each track definitely has something good to offer. Tracks like "Dirt" and "To The Life" are really awesome. The beats and the verses from both rappers sound great, and they're just damn fun to listen to. "Hey Now" shares those characteristics, but it also has a great thick bassline. The lyrics on this one in particular sound great. The guest verse from Louiz Rip also is pretty sweet. The tracks "Waterloo" and "Weight" feel like slightly darker or heavier takes on Lincoln Marshall's usual style. The beats feel a bit more bleak, and I don't mind it. "Waterloo" specifically has some great strummed guitar sounds over the raps that give it a noticeably different tone. "Weight" serves as a good display of MilkDrop's rapping on it's own, as well.
While I do wish that it was a bit more focused and consistent, I do really like Lincoln Marshall's debut EP. At just under 17 minutes, it really doesn't stop and it's just fun to listen to. The beats from Aikido Bray (and a guest beat from the fantastic DJ G Train) are minimal, but always sound great. The rhymes from Approach and MilkDrop are consistently awesome, and I like how the two rappers work together, but also each get a solo track or two. It's a good mix between the two personalities. Weight is a solid first release, and I can't wait to hear Lincoln Marshall's next one. Check it out!
13 July 2015
Holy Hands is a 3-piece post-punk band from Coro, Venezuela. They released their debut album last year, Manifiesto, and have released several free EP's since then. This is their 3rd EP, El Mar del Amo (which translates to The Sea Of Love). And I'm really quite pleased with it, it's definitely their best work so far. The production on this EP sounds vastly improved from their previous releases, and it makes for some great reverb-drenched post-punk/shoegaze tracks. On all of Holy Hands previous recordings, the mixing of the layers and use of reverb didn't add up as well as it does on El Mar del Amor. I'm not sure what the band did to improve their production, but it sounds a lot better on this new EP. But enough technical babble, let's dig into the songs now. The EP starts appropriately with "Hola", a slow building but atmospheric track that is pretty dense with its sound. The guitars are very out-there and are filled with distortion and reverb, and the vocals have this great effect on them that makes it sound like they're going through a telephone speaker that make them sound really unique. The lead singer Moisés Amaya has a very plain, atonal way of singing, that is really benefited by the odd effect put on his vocals here. I just love how it sounds. Next is "Santos", a short track that goes a bit harder and faster than the first track, with some really blood-pumping drums, and shots of feedback coming in through the reverb every once and a while. The reverb on this track is really thick, making the guitars almost incomprehensible, but still enjoyable. "En el Mar" is a fun post-punk jam that reminds me a bit of an early Dirty Beaches track. I could see this track and "Santos" being really fun and loud to see in person. "Duele" is probably the most atmospheric track on the album, with some very thick octave-up guitar sounds surrounding the rest of the instrumentation. It's definitely my favorite track on the EP. It feels developed and emotive in all the right ways. It feels kind of like a Joy Division track, in my opinion. The closing track is appropriately called "El Final", and it's a nice reverb heavy drone without much else to it. It's definitely not bad, I just wish Holy Hands would've done a bit more with it.
While I do think the band still could use some improvements to their production and mixing of their sound, as well as maybe some quality control, I'm glad I found these guys, and I'll be looking out for what they do in the future. Holy Hands definitely has some potential, and I think they're worth checking out.
12 July 2015
(Photo by Rachel Meyers)
If you want to know a thing or two about music in Lawrence and Kansas City, a man who's almost impossible escape is Cameron Hawk. Probably best well known for being the co guitarist/vocalist for The Dead Girls, he's also played in Stiff Middle Fingers, Podstar, Hidden Pictures, [my personal favorite] Many Moods Of Dad, and probably quite a few others I either don't know about. In addition to his numerous groups, he's also the founder of the incredible annual celebration of local music, Lawrence Field Day Fest. He has an impressive resume to say the least. However, after spending 15 years working tirelessly in his local scene, Hawk left earlier this year to work abroad in China as an English teacher. While Cameron's presence in the local scene will be very missed, he didn't leave us with nothing. After a fairly active late 2014 (releasing new albums from The Dead Girls and Stiff Middle Fingers, and releasing the Many Moods Of Dad record on vinyl), Hawk has left us with a particularly generous parting gift: his first solo album, Dream You Forgot. In all honesty, it's probably one of my favorite of his releases.
For the most part, Hawk uses this record to take his usual rock/pop stylings and make them into emotive singer/songwriter tracks that feature Cameron's voice multi-tracked, acoustic guitar, lead electric guitars, and some occasional light rhythms. I really like the first two tracks, "(What I'd Do) If I Were You" and "Fire Again". "(What I'd Do)...." features very somber acoustic guitars accompanied by mildly distorted electric leads, and Cameron's harmonizing sounds great. His lyrics sound passionate and heartfelt, and they really work with his voice. "Fire Again" has some almost funky hand-snaps, and the acoustic guitars on this song really interact with the rhythm, plus Hawk's lyrics about relationships are both interesting and relatable. "Ariel Vue" is a really charming tune; Cameron's lovely harmonized vocals combined with the slow acoustic rhythm guitar makes for an wonderfully emotive track. The record features two instrumental cuts, "Nervousness" and "Black and Blue Bird". "Nervousness" is pretty sweet, featuring some fast finger picking and very twangy acoustic guitars. "Black And Blue Bird" features some nice interaction between reverb-tinged and distorted electric guitars between acoustic guitars, and with a bit of shaker added in, it all adds up to a wonderful sounding little track. "Lame Dream Apology" is a great acoustic ballad that has a fantastic emotional build, incorporating electric guitars and tambourine as it progresses that seem to get louder and denser despite only being a few layers of instrumentation. "All On You" is also a pretty heavy emotional track, featuring some great vocals and lyrics, accompanied by some amazing melodies. "Messy Days" follows a pretty similar pattern, but with a bit more speed and volume, and some really awesome "oooh's" towards the end. Not all the tracks on here are quite acoustic tracks though. "Dropped On The Rocks" feels like a more indie-rock tinged Dead Girls track. It's filled with plenty of energy and volume, and it sounds great. It's a reminder that Hawk is a man of many talents; he can write soft, emotional singer/songwriter tracks, but he can also bust out some great rock tunes (something he's shown consistently with his other bands in his career). "Walk Around The Block At Dusk" is a pretty candid and honest song lyrically, and I would consider it to be a rock powerhouse. The album's last track is entitled "Running Off", and I think it ends the album quite well. It's incredibly punchy and energetic, it sounds like something Many Moods Of Dad could play. It's just a joy to listen to, and it's filled with all the elements that have made me love Cameron's music from the first time I heard it; great guitar playing, fantastic vocals, interesting and introspective lyrics, and tons of energy. This track just cranks it up to 11 and leaves your blood pumping before it slowly burns out. I think it's a great closer to Dream You Forgot.
While I do think there are several other albums that rank above it, I think that Cameron's solo effort is among his best records. It's got a good mix of emotional acoustic tracks and some great rock tunes as well. Hawk's vocals and lyrics are all top notch, and the guitar playing sounds great. Whether he's doing more candid and unplugged tracks or loud and heavy songs, Cameron blends them and does each style flawlessly. I really loved listening to Dream You Forgot, and I think you should check it out as soon as possible. It's fantastic. I'm not sure when Cameron's next musical release will be coming out, but I think this will tide me over for quite a while.
(Totally unbiased opinion: I hope the next release is a new MMOD record)
11 July 2015
Good Willsmith is an improved-based drone/ambient/noise trio from Chicago, featuring TALsounds' Natalie Chami and the founders of the Chicago label Hausu Mountain, Max Allison and Doug Kaplan. I really fell in love with this band last year after they released their [technical] debut record The Honeymoon Workbook on the Mexican label Umor Rex, and got distributed by experimental music giants Thrill Jockey. And if you looked at my end of the year list for 2014, you know that that album was pretty high up on the list. I really loved that record, and the band's aesthetic. I loved how they seemed to be a no-nonsense sort of band; recording albums in one take with no overdubs, which gives it a real sense of urgency and immediacy not often felt in ambient music. You really feel like you're listening in on something that has been meticulously crafted and multi-tracked tens or hundred of times, not being played live. The density of the instrumentation was incredible; you could definitely feel each member contributing tons of different sounds and each one worked to further the sonic massiveness (is that a word? absolutely). What comes out are very emotive, dense, longform soundscapes that
Now, while the band has released only one full album, they've also released multiple tapes of material, and this is their latest, Snake Person Generation. It's definitely the most mixed bag release from Good Willsmith; it features one 17 minute cut from the pre-Honeymoon Workbook days, and 4 separate, shorter tracks. While I do wish the tape was in the style of GWS's previous efforts (all in one take) and wish it was bit more consistent, I still do find enjoyment in it. I really love the first track "Real Wet Feet Get Real Wet". It's a long and full drone that features some very low end synths, some great vocals Chami, and a massive layer of samples from children's records that really cut through the bass. It feels like a shortened, less-dense version of something from The Honeymoon Workbook, which I don't mind at all. The next 3 tracks sees Good Willsmith working on a more noise oriented sound. My favorite take on this approach is definitely "5MEO-FBI", which feels like some sort of weird club on acid. As someone who doesn't take drugs, this song is what I'd imagine music to sound like after going to a nightclub and taking a hallucinogen. I mean that in a good way. The tracks "Letter Of Snake" and "22 Dogs All Tuckered Out After A Walk" aren't my favorite GWS songs, but I do enjoy what they have to offer. Particularly "22 Dogs..", which shows how out there the band's use of samples can get. It's also is the first time I've ever heard the infamous Korg Miku pedal used on a song, and also the first time I've heard it used in an actually creative light. I'm not sure if I was supposed to notice it or not, but I did. The album ends with my favorite of all these shorter tracks, "High Level Vintage Magic". It mixes the density of the last three tracks, but combines it with the more emotive synth sounds of the first track and their other tapes. It's the sound that made me fall in love with the group in the first place, but strangely wasn't featured very much on this tape. I do appreciate though that the band tried to take their sound in different directions on this tape. It's not perfect, but I feel like it's all a good service for fans while we wait for their sophomore album.
If you're just hearing about them for the first time, I'd say listen to The Honeymoon Workbook, then their other tapes, than come back and listen to this. If you find that you like the band, this is a pretty good fan service. If you'd like a new improv ambient/drone/noise group to check out, give this and Good Willsmith's other releases a listen. They're definitely one of the most interesting and unique bands out there right now, and this is a decent addition to their discography. Enjoy!
10 July 2015
This is a fun little piece of history. While most people know the legendary Kliph Scurlock as the ex-drummer for The Flaming Lips, he's also known for drumming in tons of punk and hardcore bands back in the 90's and early 2000's (check here for a sort-of-not-really complete list). One such band was Contortion Horse, who released a five-track EP 20 years ago called Atheism & Taxidermy. Also for those not totally familiar with Scurlock's non-Lips career, he's also a pretty great engineer. He's mastered a lot of pretty awesome records as of late, including the sophomore Skating Polly record and the latest Be/Non record. So, for the Contortion Horse EP's 20th anniversary, it only seemed fitting that Kliph would re-master it, exactly 20 years (to the day) of its original mastering by Ed Rose. And I gotta say, it's really great to hear these brutal punk songs put back together so well. Each track sounds nice and loud, but also clear and crisp. It all sounds great. The drums are hard-hitting, the guitars are blown up and scream with feedback, the bass is super crunchy and distorted, and the vocals are brutal. Although I'm pretty late to the party on actually hearing this EP, but better late than never. And I'm really glad I'm getting to hear Kliph's remastered take on it, because it sounds fantastic. I'd check this out if you want to hear a pretty great collection of noisy hardcore punk songs, and a nice piece of Lawrence history. Enjoy!
09 July 2015
Olympia's Arrington de Dionyso is a favorite of Riot In My Brain. Whether he's working in noisy trance-punk, throatsinging improv, or bass-clarinet free jazz, he's generally one of the most fearless and most interesting musicians around right now. And the nice thing, for fans, is that he is pretty damn prolific. Whether it's brand new music or re-releasing old favorites, there's always seems to be something for us to chew on. His latest release is Sound is the Medicine, which features two 30+ minute improv tracks recorded directly to magnetic tape. The first track, "Lalove Circular Breathing", features the Lalove instrument, which is a Indonesian bamboo-flute with a really interesting sound (unfortunately I can't look it up, because whenever I google it, all I get is videos of "L.A. Love" by Fergie). While the improv does go for a bit too long, it's still an entrancing piece from Dionyso that I can't say ever feels boring. The sound of the Lalove is always changing, and the speed, timbre, and tune of each note seems to constantly change throughout the track. The second piece on here is "Khomuz Medicine", which features some of Arrington's vocals and several differnt Khomuz, or a Siberian Jewish harp. All of the sounds of this track are really fascinating, especially considering they're all from an acoustic instrument or Arrington himself. The sounds feel very synthetic in rhythm, especially in the beginning. It feels like something being filtered through a modular synth, much less something being played with absolutely no digital processing at all (keep in mind that these pieces of improv where done straight to tape). And that's what I really like about this track in particular, it just has some incredibly unique and fascinating sounds on it, and I really love listening to it. All in all, Sound is the Medicine is a pretty solid release from Dionyso, all though it's definitely not going to be easy to sit through for some. If you're a fan of his more minimal improv pieces and like avant-garde music, I'd recommend giving this record a listen.
Also, for fun, here's the best video on the planet.
08 July 2015
Rock and Roll doesn't get much better than the LFK guitar-and-drums duo The Sluts. The band is coming up on their 4th year of being together, but in that time they've made massive waves in the Lawrence scene and have earned a legion of moshing fans (check the video from our friends at I Heart Local Music below if you don't believe me). This is their long-awaited [technical] self-titled album, which features the 4 songs from their The Loser EP and 7 brand new ones. Thankfully, the band has continued to use producer Joel Nanos on this album, who helped bring a much grungier and distorted sound to capture the energy of their last two EPs flawlessly. I can't tell if the songs from The Loser have had any sort of changes done to them, but they still sound great here. I absolutely love the songs "Loser" and "Linger; singer and guitarist Ryan Wise's performances are fantastic on these two tracks in particular, and drummer Kristoffer Dover just bangs the living hell out of his drums and it sounds fantastic. Both these songs are absolutely blood-pumping, and they're great displays of the energy that have made The Sluts so popular. Also, the "woo's" on "Loser" sound incredible. Plenty of points on the album get pretty sludgy as well, like "Summer Song" and "Used To Do It". While I think these tracks lack the heavy breakdowns that make a lot of Sluts tracks so much fun, I do respect the more emotional direction these tracks go for. Speaking of emotional: the closer to this album, called "Simple Song", is probably the most emotional and candid I've ever heard from a Sluts song. I really love it. The guitars are still distorted and grimy, but the whole song has a unique and upfront delivery that sounds great and different amongst the other tracks on this album. "There You Were" also has a similar emotive sound to it, but it fits with the other louder tracks on the rest of the record. But for the most part, this album is full of energy and loud rock performances. I think it's far from perfect, though; I wish some tracks where a bit more developed and went a bit harder, and I do feel like there's nothing particular new in the way of chords or rhythms being played here. But it's still a loud and blood-pumping rock record that I enjoyed quite a bit, and it even adds some extra emotive moments to their usual rock formula. If that sounds like something you'd enjoy, I'd check it out and blast it on your speakers, then mosh as hard as you can.
07 July 2015
I really enjoy when non-traditional composers or bands get assigned to make a film score. The result isn't always perfect, but I usually end up really enjoying it. Whether it's Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross scoring David Fincher's films or Daft Punk's fantastic score to the so-so TRON: Legacy, I find that when a director decides to use a slightly different source for the music in a movie, it tends to have some interesting results at the very least. From that standpoint, I really enjoyed this scoring effort from one of my favorite indie pop/electronica bands, Austin, TX's The Octopus Project. They scored the 2014 Sundance flick Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter from director and fellow Texan, David Zellner (which came out this year in limited release). This is the second one of Zellner's films that The Octopus Project scored, the other being 2012's Kid-Thing. The score won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Musical Score at Sundance, so I thought it would be worth doing a review on.
While The Octopus Project's Kumiko OST suffers from similar issues that other OST's suffer from that I'll get into in a bit, there are some really great moments that I love on here. The opening track "Into The Cave/Main Theme" starts with a very low hanging drone, then transitions into a lovely composition of what sounds like a mellotron and an acoustic guitar or a synthetic string sound. Regardless of what it technically is, I love how emotional this short piece is. "Library" is a very quiet synthetic organ piece; and while not particularly original in its chording, it still sounds pretty nice. "Bunzo" is a slow, pounding, dramatic song that is pretty minimal, but very punchy and vintage-sounding. I really like the vibe it has. Speaking of vintage, the 40-second "Michi" has a really awesome synth tone on it. "Airport" has an incredible atmosphere; the track features just 3 main layers, but does an incredible job at making each one as interesting and as full as it can be. The opening drone has an odd and bright vocal quality to it, while the melody being played on a very warbly synth sounds like something directly off an old electronic tape, and the short hits of bass help tie it all together perfectly. "Diner Walk" is one of the noiser and louder tracks to be sound on this soundtrack, featuring some distorted synths and guitars that sound pretty sweet."Hotel Cloak" has a very dramatic, almost spaghetti western feel to it, with it's tight but trebly guitars and slowly developing synths. "Wrong Idea" is a very atmospheric but short ambient piece, filled with low filtered arpeggiating synth sounds and gentle swells of outside synths or guitars, I'm not sure which. "Forest Morning" is filled with some lovely glockenspiel and background synthesizers, making for a nice little emotive composition. Speaking of emotive, the very loud track "A Discovery" feels almost euphoric with it's warm blast of buzzing synth drones layered on top of eachother. It sounds pretty incredible. And then the soundtrack ends off with a reprise of the main theme from the beginning, and that's also really nice to listen to. There's not much to distinguish it from the first version we've already heard, but it's a nice ending.
Now, here are my issues with the OST. Like most scores, there's some pieces that are clearly would work better in the context of the movie as opposed to listening to it by itself. And that's not something I'm saying The Octopus Project did badly. The tracks where this sort of thing happens are much more experimental or drone based, and they definitely don't sound too bad. But there are just a bit too many on here, and it makes the soundtrack feel a bit disjointed, and not as easy to listen to. And like I said, I don't fault the band on this at all. This is a film score, it's meant to go a long side the film and enhance the emotions on screen. And quite a few times, it also translates into interesting and beautiful songs, but sometimes it gets a little hard to listen to when you know it would work better being along side the film. That being said, I do find this to be a lot more complete and easier to listen to than a lot of OST's are. I do like it quite a bit, and I think it's worth a listen. And if you'd like a physical copy, our buddies over at Illuminated Paths released a limited run cassette edition of it that also includes a live record from the band playing back in 2007 (the embedded Bandcamp album is from Illuminated Paths, and you can buy a copy of the tape from there. Or, you can just go to this link here).
06 July 2015
There used to be a really cool marketing technique in the 60's and 70's where music companies would put out records to display the features of their products, called Demonstration Records. You can find stuff from Maestro, Yamaha, and even the legendary electronics's company Moog Music did this quite a bit back when it was a popular tactic. If you go to a record store, ask if they have an "oddball" or "genreless" section; there's a fair chance there will be a few records demonstrating the power of the early Moog Synthesizers. Some records, like Dick Hyman's MOOG: The Electric Eclectics of Dick Hyman and Wendy Carlos' Switched On Bach, are less of advertisements, but actual albums that demonstrate the instruments. These records are honestly really entertaining to listen to. Now however, in the days of gear demo videos on YouTube, this fun way of marketing has gone by the way side. But thanks to Moog and synth master M. Geddes Gengras, we have his 3 Impressions EP, a free EP made entirely with Moog gear. I think Gengras is one of the more talented synth artists working today, and I really love hearing him working with more ambient sounds. While usually focusing more on modular synthesis, the Moog devices seem to be fantastic creative tools for him on this EP, and it's really a joy to listen to.
On "I", the first thing we hear is a massive filtered synth bass note, which turns into the main melody as more and more layers of gooey synth introduce themselves underneath. It's an 8-minute ambient trip with a lot of incredible textures, each one being thicker and more filtered than the last. It's really a beautiful scape of sound that Gengras creates. "II" starts with a very slow but emotive bass sound, then these popping synth filters introduce themselves, creating some really fascinating textures that sound like something between a demented pan flute and rain drops. I'm assuming Gengras is using the patterns of the MIDI Murf for that, and it's a unique and creative sound for sure. Like the first track, "II" is a very full and rich synth track that is lovely on the ears, and is constantly developing and changing. Speaking of the MIDI Murf, the first sound we hear on "III" is a stereo tracked synth zapping back and forth between both ears, creating one of the most interesting effects I've heard in a while. This 12 minute monster is probably the one that develops the most as it goes. The sounds on this track are particularly well arranged. I like how the time and tempo seems to change at random, and there's a very tight but subtle bass sound that is always keeping things together in the background. The beats coming from the MIDI Murf sound absolutely fantastic as well. Like the other tracks, the synth textures sound sound really incredible, and I love the progression on this track in particular.
For a beginner to M. Geddes' electronic pieces, I think this is a great starting point. Not only are the ambient sounds pretty accessible, they're really quite beautiful as well. I really would recommend checking this one out. While I do realize that ultimately this EP is just an advertisement for Moog products, similar to The Lego Movie, it's the best and most creative commercial I've ever seen (or heard, in this case).