New Artist Week continues with the sixth of seven new groups you should have your radar before 2011 ends.
Knowing absolutely nothing about Birmingham, Alabama’s 13ghosts, it took just the 10 songs of Garland of Bottle Flies (released November 8 on Skybucket) to make us think we’d stumbled across a genuine classic hiding in the American South. Swinging at circumstance, beautiful in their grappling and none too careful about who gets whacked in the tussle, 13ghosts oozes hard-nosed intention and punkish intensity, bandleader-singer-songwriter Brad Armstrong driving everything with a whip hand until they drop soaked and tired at one’s feet. When so many groups offer restraint and calculated coolness it’s a fucking joy to encounter a band who’s so obviously all in, grabbing rock by the neck and wringing out everything it can, and if their hands get a little bloody, well, that’s the price of truth in storytelling.
So many great touchstones rear their heads on Garland of Bottle Flies, but rejiggered in distinctive ways – there’s simply no mistaking 13ghosts for another band – where one picks up on the energy of primo Warren Zevon fronting Mission of Burma one minute and Archers of Loaf or the ugly side of Drive-By Truckers the next, but each helmed and informed by a mad amalgamation of Clem Snide’s Eef Barzelay, Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull and Leonard Cohen. Armstrong is poetic and calloused, a tale spinner of the highest order with a fantastic rusty hacksaw voice who picks at our wounds so we might see what’s going on under the skin, lamenting, “All these children that come from my crop grow up to hate me/ And all of my women pour me like salt into their genes.” Wow. And the wrangling energies never subside on Garland, which seethes and slow burns and boils over with roughhewn eloquence from top to tail.
New Artist Week continues with the fifth of seven new groups you should have your radar before 2011 ends.
Two Dark Birds by Charlie Gross
Great rock is timeless, hitting our ear sweet and savory whether we discover it today or 50 years from now, but one can’t manufacture this hourglass deflecting vibe – it’s either right there, apparent as a sunrise or slow falling tear, or it isn’t. Songs For The New (released October 4 on Riot Bear), the second album from Catskills, NY-based Two Dark Birds , is great rock. Spend a little time with these instantly winning tunes and the real weight and craftsmanship of them hits home. The pleasing timbre of the vocals and the subtle arrangements further fuel the softly joyful feeling captured on tape, reaching out “fine filament fingers” through our collective communication breakdown, aiming high and starry-eyed in ways that make one want to take their hand and join them in their march towards newness and reality beveled hope.
Anchored by the songs and singing of Steve Koester, who also plays in 70s AM radio revivalists Maplewood, Two Dark Birds is filled with graceful handfuls of rock’s past 40 years, where one minute they might invoke the controlled loft and beauty of Zeppelin’s “The Rain Song” (Closer to Water) and the next offer up what could be a Thom Yorke b-side (Start All Over Again). It’s not to say Koester and his mates haven’t picked up a thing or two from early Bread and Poco but it’s really the feel of their music that resonates with good stuff past – a warmth and engagement that’s easy to like AND worthy of deeper investigation.
New Artist Week continues with the fourth of seven new groups you should have your radar before 2011 ends.
Tea Leaf Green
The download of Radio Tragedy! is currently on sale for just $5 at Amazon. Snag it here!
While not a new group by any stretch, San Francisco’s Tea Leaf Green pulled off one of the reinventions of the year with Radio Tragedy! (released June 7 on Greenhouse Records), which lunges at one with the hungry-for-blood urgency and creative electricity of a band fresh on the scene – a thoroughly modern slab that bubbles over with sonic curiosity and world weary sensibilities. In ways, this set is a new Ground Zero for TLG, a marker between their jam-rooted beginnings and what comes next.
More than once in 2011, I’ve sat folks down with preconceptions about this band and made them listen to key parts of Radio Tragedy! and never once had them walk away holding onto their old notions. This album reveals a band living up to their potential and ready to begin jettisoning anything that doesn’t serve the music in their heads. While seven albums and more than a dozen years in may seem a strange time to upend one’s sound, it speaks to the group’s increasing distance from their grooving, good time early work and the increased songwriting and musicianship firepower they’re armed with today, particularly noticeable in the thickened low end courtesy of fifth and newest member percussionist Cochrane McMillan.
New Artist Week continues with the third of seven new groups you should have your radar before 2011 ends.
The Duke & The King
The Duke & The King is so unabashedly and sincerely 60s/70s rooted that they’ll send you scrambling to throw on your It’s A Beautiful Day and early Joni Mitchell records. Actually, this Upstate New York Catskill Mountains-based aggregate possesses a disarming swerve that suggests a kinder, gentler Sly & The Family Stone if they’d moved out of S.F. and forged their sound in Topanga Canyon instead with say Fleetwood Mac’s Danny Kirwan and Graham Nash sitting in. Co-founders Simone Felice (ex-Felice Brothers) and Robert Bird Burke are joined by exceedingly charming songbird Simi Stone and Nowell” Reverend Loveday” Haskin on their self-titled sophomore album (released August 16 on So Recordings), which hums with the kind of bittersweet vibe Creedence Clearwater Revival and Crosby, Stills and Nash brought to life during wartime, mixing up dark-edged-but-earnest love songs, paeans to nature and fame, and sly soldier’s laments (“Baghdad, she’s a mean old town/ I get the feeling she don’t want me around no more/ And I started seeing things in my bunk at night”). Everything is done so gracefully and gently that it’s easy to miss how good this is from the bones on up, lovely voices dancing like birds in the air, singing romantically but also warning us, “Love is a coke dealer’s daughter/ Love is a ship lost at sea/ Love is a wheel made of sawdust” as we board the Devil’s Ferris wheel to watch all his pretty ones dancing in the fire.
While their debut release, the mostly Felice/Burke affair Nothing Gold Can Stay (2009), felt a little half-formed, this second time at bat is all line drives and bleacher smackers, a thing intrinsically American at a time when it’s getting harder to find intrinsically American things to be pleased and proud about. Contemporaries These United States and Jonathan Wilson are working similar veins but the estrogen injection Simi Stone (not to mention her ace violin accents) brings and the way The Duke & The King trade around lead vocals gives them an even stronger line back to the golden days of pastoral pop-rock. What these youngsters bring that’s expressly modern is a black wit and healthy cynicism that neatly dispels any retro hackery. Teetering on high heels and shaking that country ass, The Duke & The King remind us in mood and attitude that “just as long as we’ve got rock ‘n’ roll everything will be alright.” They seem so certain of this notion that one feels compelled to go with their flow, all the better for believing in healing when so many in the world spend their energies on destruction and dissembling.
New Artist Week continues with the second of seven new groups you should have your radar before 2011 ends.
Zechs Marquise by Heriberto Ibarra
Getting Paid (released September 27) is a work best enjoyed dressed in a velvet suit whilst sucking down whippets on a round sofa as monkey butlers peel grapes and mix cocktails. At least that’s the sort of strange scenes from the gold mine that shake loose inside one’s mind while the second album from Zechs Marquise spins. This beatifically bug-fuck album dips into early 70s Miles Davis and the darker corners of King Crimson, largely instrumental music with serious shading and palpable menace, funk-touched mad jazz rockin’ with sprinklings of contemporary blip culture. Think Magical Mystery Tour stripped of (most) vocals and then shot in the ass with Superfly sauce and you’re moving into Zechs Marquise’s neighborhood.
The group currently boasts three siblings of Mars Volta mastermind Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, which has garnered Zechs Marquise some attention. But in musical terms, this band bears little resemblance to what Omar is laying down. Zechs Marquise is more graciously melodic, eager to seduce even as they tickle strange synapses and skip around bumptious rough terrain just off the smooth highways that zigzag through their music. In only two albums, they’ve begun to establish a distinct identity in the hard-to-stand-out-in field of instrumental rock. A couple cuts on Getting Paid dabble in vocals, effectively adding an element many instrumental peers fail miserably at and pointing at new directions they might explore, but mainly they get across a unique voice without having to speak a word, developing rapidly and offering folks already into say Lotus or STS9 a chewy new Scooby Snack to chop on, as well as an energizing flavor for more traditional prog and fusion fans.
Zechs Marquise splashes color around, creating music that stirs an almost lysergic awareness in the listener, where sound takes on substance and the air thickens in ways that make one’s nostrils flair. This steadily mutating ensemble is picking up seemingly disparate echoes – the dubby bounce of Sly Stone’s Fresh, the animalized electric growl of Adrian Belew, Jon Hassell’s breathy rumble, Check Your Head Beastie Boys, vintage Fania Records jams, to name but a few – and sending these alluring tidbits rebounding into space, and then mixing it all together with what the universe sends back. A lot of touchstones referenced in a small space but Zechs Marquise inspires such big-handed grasping. They possess the potential to stride wide like these giants.
As 2011 winds down, DI presents New Artist Week, where we’ll turn you on to seven new artists you really need to wrap your ears around. Our first suggestion comes from that other city by the Bay…
Oakland’s Hottub brachiates wildly through music’s monkey bars, scooping up delightful bits of beat smart weirdo art and flinging it with speedball zoom and deadly accuracy. Self-billed as “disco rap,” CoCo Machete, Jaysonik, Ambreezy, Funky Finger Mark and Lolipop are the ADD children of Paul’s Boutique Beasties, The Slits, LCD Soundsystem and the East Bay bedroom electronics scene. The noise they make is crucially funky, irrepressibly fun, and assembled with more care than their buckwildin’ persona would indicate – a sleight of hand that lets them play the fool only to be revealed groove music’s jesters in the end.
Bubbling under for the past few years, Hottub is set to release their long-awaited full-length debut next spring, but thankfully they’ve unleashed another EP this month entitled 3 The Hard Way (available on cassette and digitally directly from the band – email ‘em at HOTTUB.OAKLAND@GMAIL.COM), which gathers up two backfield instigators – “Shoot The Lights Out” and “Four Loko’s Only” – witnessed in videos this year and adds a blood warm instrumental that stretches the band’s borders pleasantly. The three female MCs throw down like wordsmiths possessed, squeezing nuts and making folks guffaw with their bouncing flow and clever, ballsy verses, and the music is lean yet enveloping, thick but well lubricated and ribbed for one’s pleasure. The EP references both a very tough dice throw and a classic blaxploitation flick, and both work as touchstones for Hottub, who eagerly devour pop culture and spit it back flecked with vivid new colors.
If you’re feeling what K.Flay, Spank Rock or Major Lazer is throwing down, or simply like dirty, ass slappin’ music to move to you need to explore this Oaktown winner. Hottub plays December 30th at the inaugural SnowGlobe Music Festival, and here’s a photo gallery from the band’s 2009 tour supporting The Ting Tings courtesy of San Francisco photographer Myleen Hollero, who hones in on Hottub’s unfettered spirit and bounteous joie de vivre. These shots tell you as much as any of the above words about who this band is and why you should be stripping down and buying them shots at their next show. However, boys should wear a cup, and girls should be prepared to feel like someone poured Pop Rocks into their estrogen stream.
Instantly absorbing and lush as a Thom Yorke daydream, the debut EP from Brooklyn’s The Darklights is thick stuff – thickly melodic, thickly rhythmic, thickly lovely – yet rendered with such organic dexterity that it seems the duo of Joe Hundertmark (vocals, guitars, bass, piano, synthesizer, programming) and Sean Hutchinson (drums, percussion, synthesizer, programming, folding chair) have snatched this music from the ether, cupped in their hands ready for us to take a drink. There are undeniable echoes of Radiohead and fellow Brooklynites Grizzly Bear but it’s just that The Darklights undulate on a similar wavelength, though frankly, they’re more forthright and accessible. Digging deep into dorky record store clerk name-checking, I’d say they have more in common with cult faves David Sylvian circa Gone To Earth and The Blue Nile’s fabulous debut A Walk Across The Rooftops – music of irrefutably modern character with a pronounced penchant for beauty.
This self-titled EP slips in through “the cracks between your dreams, the slide between the seams,” a strangely warming fog cut by Hundertmark’s clean, high flying vocals and Hutchinson’s heartbeat pulse. “Night Is Falling” further ups the romantic quotient and thankfully without any New Wave, post-modern whiff – this one yearns with sincerity and pleasant solemnity – and “Until Then” would have been the ideal soundtrack for seducing Sean Young in Blade Runner. The standout here is “Nobody Knows,” the boldly etched closer that begins with strummed acoustic guitar, fleeting piano and a compulsive beat and grows more layered and entrancing by the minute, ending on a hushed refrain of “nobody knows” as haunting as Yorke’s infamous “Just because you feel it doesn’t mean it’s there.” With just five tracks, this is a handshake but a warming, sure one that harbingers great music to come.
The EP Release Party takes place in Manhattan at Rockwood Music Hall on Monday, July 25th featuring an expanded lineup with Austin Donohue (guitar, vox), Mitchell Yoshida (keys, synth) and Chris Morrissey (bass) joining Hundertmark and Hutchinson.
Hope and beauty, north stars we chase, eager to lay our gifts at their feet so they might shine upon us. Capturing this chase and fleeting catch is both one of the most pervasive inspirations in music and one of its most elusive prizes. Yet somehow Vandaveer nails both raw beauty and honest hope on the opening title cut of Dig Down Deep (released April 26 on Supply & Demand), and it’s not the last time they ensnare both on this bohemian hymnal for hurting hearts.
Dig down deep, don’t fold
For the faintest wind might blow you off your mark,
Off your game and soil your old man’s name
Hoist your head. Don’t weep
Or a terrible storm might sweep you out to sea
That big black sea will lay you down to sleep
As this verse makes clear, this ain’t rainbows & candy style hope. There’s carnage and bruises on the pathway to hope in Vandeveer’s music, but they’ve got the eyes to see the beauty – fleeting as it may be – in our lives measured out with coffee spoons, where the small slights and daily disappointments add up to a slow bleed that steals the strength from our steps. Dig Down Deep hums on a human wavelength, the one where our quiet, inner voices chatter, dark thoughts finding voice in a stream of doubts and delusion. Vandaveer walks in, rusty guns at the ready to take down these thoughts, never diminishing our “flipped over, inside out” feelings yet ready to scatter the ashes once we put them to rest.