GRIDFAILURE: FURTHER LAYERS OF SOCIETAL COLLAPSE

(THE COMPOUND RECORDS; 2016)

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I like noise! Noise is good. Particularly the conflagration of noise manifested by David Brenner, recording as the dark ambient project, Gridfailure. Five months after the release of the bone-jarring debut, ENSURING THE BLOODLINE ENDS HERE, Brenner is back with FURTHER LAYERS OF SOCIETAL COLLAPSE, an EP that is full of the best kinds of noise, utilizing field recordings, as well as heavily processed rock and pop instrumentation, lending the entire proceeding the air of a landscape decimated by industrial collapse. In less than thirty minutes, David (who is co-founder of the influential extreme music public relations firm, Earsplit) takes the listener on a trip that is – alternately – serene and pastoral, frightening and apocalyptic. In short, this is a sound pastiche for the thinking man. The seven-tracks, released on October 31 as a free download (name your own price) at Gridfailure’s Bandcamp page, is scheduled for a limited edition cassette release in the near future. In the meantime, feel free to listen below.

Gridfailure (David Brenner) (uncredited manipulated photo)

Gridfailure (David Brenner) (uncredited manipulated photo)

If you’re familiar with paranormal investigative shows like GHOST HUNTERS or GHOST ADVENTURES or the “found footage” of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, you will recognize the underlying vibe of “A Severing of Ties.” The entire thing plays like an EVP (electronic voice phenomena) session conducted deep in a haunted forest, with weird, disembodied voices buried in a sea of white noise. Toward the end of the track, some tribal percussion (courtesy of Full Scale Riot’s BJ Allen) peeks out of the miasma. “Digital Crush” maintains the thematic thread of the first piece, as the drums resurface briefly at the beginning, before more found sounds and other-worldly voices are introduced into the mix; what appears to be a ghostly single-note piano coda intrudes on the whole affair, while crickets, cicadas and other woodland noises filter in and out to great affect. On “Android Infusion,” the EVP detector has been replaced by a transistor radio tuned to a weak-signal free-form Jazz station transmitting from somewhere within a war zone. “Get Fucked Dance” sounds like a residual (looped) haunting at the site of a horrible train wreck, relaying images of doom, destruction, pain and… a Native American wind instrument?

With “Broken Systems,” the skittering and buzzing of insects reacting to the wildly fluctuating radio waves and apocryphal voices seem to announce the opening of the Gates of Hell. The sounds of forest creatures is slowly replaced by a fever dream of industrial cacophony on “Indian Point Direct Proximity Warning Tester.” This calm before the atomic fallout is, quite naturally, played out over the incessant drone of a warning siren. “Woodlands of Self-Impalement,” though the final track, is the pivotal centerpiece of this dystopian soundscape, encompassing nearly one third of the total time. Thunder in the distance heralds the heavy winds and the storm is upon us; the creatures – natural, spiritual, demonic – cease their chirping and moaning and laughing… the dream, the inner turmoil gains momentum as the white noise of despair overtakes all thought, leading to silence and the sweet release of…


LISA SAID: FIRST TIME, LONG TIME

(SELF-RELEASED EP; 2015)

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Lisa Said kinda exemplifies what I love about this country. She is the embodiment of the classic melting pot: Egyptian and American heritage, living on the outskirts of Washington DC, raised in the Tennessee hills listening to Pop, Soul, Country, Folk, Oldies and Arabic music. FIRST TIME, LONG TIME is her debut EP and it features a delightful mish-mash of all of those musical styles and more; with all of those elements coming to bear, generally all vying for attention within the framework of each of the five tracks, this is the epitome of Americana music. Lisa’s Bandcamp page describes the recording process of these songs (some of which are as old as ten years) as “fueled by pistachios and bourbon,” trying to find “the sweet spot between early ’70s Folk Rock and North African percussion.” The first track, “Been Around,” begins with some cool Middle Eastern percussion courtesy of Andrew Toy before morphing into a nifty little 1950s rock and roll tune with a kind of strolling piano from Jon Carroll and Lisa’s acoustic guitar and some subtle sitar from Seth Kauffman. The vocals come off as sort of a breathy Country Soul thing. “For Today” is well on its way to being a weird mix of Uncle Tupelo style Americana and “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’”-era Nancy Sinatra. Carroll adds a solid organ part that somehow would not have sounded out of place on a record by the Band.

Lisa Said (publicity photo)

Lisa Said (publicity photo)

There are more comparisons on the record’s centerpiece (literally and figuratively), the raucous, countrified old time rock and roll of “Hard To Brake,” as Said’s melody line puts me in mind of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” – in particular, the “See Me, Feel Me” section – from the Who’s TOMMY. There’s a Rockabilly urgency in Toy’s percussion and Justin Harbin’s bass; Carroll’s piano tinkles along, while Al Sevilla virtually mimics it on the mandolin. “Somebody Someday” is a real-deal Country number with that vague honky-tonk feel from the piano. The only thing missing is the drawl and the twang. Kauffman’s bass highlights the song, while Sevilla’s playing is so understated that you may need a few listens to pick it out of a line-up. One of those moody alternative singer/songwriter thingys closes out the EP. Lisa’s vocals have an Aimee Mann-cum-Sheryl Crow vibe happening on “One Too Many,” with Kauffman adding some echoey Hawaiian sounding guitar in the breaks, as well as some nice solos. The whole song is rather dichotomous, with a stripped-down sound that still manages to evoke Phil Spector’s famous Wall of Sound. While the production tends to be a tad muddy in parts, FIRST TIME, LONG TIME is a fine debut. Lisa is already in the studio working on a follow-up full-length, scheduled for a mid-to-late 2016 release.


LOCAL H/BATTLEME/FUMER

(April 30,2015; FIREBIRD, Saint Louis MO)

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The intimate, unassuming Firebird is nestled in an office building, with a law firm and other concerns on either side, and… HOLY CRAP! Is the place hard to find! I mean, there’s a sign and everything but, it’s sort of obscured by a couple of trees plus, once you get there, the place really isn’t the place… it’s the back door; the front door is around back, where everybody else’s back door is found. So, anyway, enough complaining about location and entrances and such… once I figured out where I was going, manager Ryan Sears and the entire staff made me feel right at home. The club’s layout puts me in mind of such Saint Louis venues as Cicero’s and the Demo, as well as long-gone places like the Galaxy and the original Creepy Crawl; the sound is top notch, though there tends to be a certain amount of bleed and distortion, especially on the vocals, when you’re standing right in front of the stage and are hearing more monitor than house speakers. A minor complaint (I’ll get into one more a bit later in this review) that in no measurable way detracted from the show. And, what a show it was!

Fumer (Jennifer Tilly) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Fumer (Jennifer Tilly) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The opening band, Fumer, are Saint Louis originals. They’re kind of a hybrid beast – a classic rock mentality with a thrash metal stoner sheen; sorta like Led Zeppelin hooking up with Nirvana for a dust-up with Exciter. Guitarist and vocalist Joan Cusack sort of sneaks up on you, keeping the lead work tight, then shredding an ear-piercing solo that would make that one guy from that one band hang up his Gibson and retire; Rosie Perez (wait… is it just me, or do these names look vaguely familiar?) lays down an impossibly heavy groove, considering the size of his kit; Rosie’s partner in crime, Jennifer Tilly (hmmm… guess I was wrong about the names, huh? I mean, Jennifer Tilly isn’t a real thing, is it?), approaches his bass work in a suitably subtle fashion… akin to the subtle ax work utilized by Lizzy Borden on her parents. Tilly’s use of distortion to further enhance his already deep, rafter-shaking notes is, indeed, a thing of beauty. Unfortunately, Joan’s vocals were all but lost in the mix but, there was enough angst and emotion in his delivery to carry the set. The band’s latest release is called WE ALONE ARE DEATH ENOUGH and, the couple of songs I’ve been able to identify – “Water Song” and “Salesman” – come from there; it is available as a “name your own price” download on the trio’s Bandcamp page, as are their other two releases. Fumer were quite a surprise and a great way to kick off the evening. This just in: That one guy from that one band has announced his official retirement after listening to Fumer’s new record, issuing a prepared statement that said, “Though Joan Cusack doesn’t appear to have aged particularly well, he can still shred a ring around me. I quit!”

Battleme (JJ Eliot; Matt Dee) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Battleme (JJ Eliot; Matt Dee) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Eventually locating the entrance to the venue, the first people I ran into were the direct support (that’s the one that goes on right before the headliner), the Portland group Battleme. In one of my patented bonehead moves, I approached the guy who looked very much like Local H’s Scott Lucas (especially wearing sunglasses, as he was) and told him it was great to see him again after too long a time; in an odd coincidence that could only happen to me, the confusion was exacerbated when he said, “Hey… I’m Scott. But, I’ve never met you before.” Once I realized my mistake and they (hopefully) figured out that I was relatively harmless, I learned a bit about the guys and was even more psyched about this show. Battleme did not disappoint!

Battleme (Scott Noben; Chad Savage) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Battleme (Scott Noben; Chad Savage) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

The Not-Local-H Scott (Noben) lays down an impressive beat, matched by his brother-in-rhythm, bassist Chad Savage, a Philthy Animal Taylor look-alike and possessor of the biggest hair in rock since the Melvins’ King Buzzo or the early (pre-Steve Perry) Journey version of Neil Schon; the duo is powerful – occasionally brutal – without ever losing their groove. About midway through the set, Noben did the unthinkable for a band like Battleme: He did a drum solo; even more unthinkable, the crowd went nuts as he pounded away. Guitarists JJ Eliot and Matt Dee (Drenik) slip some very tasty lead work and soloing in amidst the feedback and general noisy effects that permeates the band’s live sound. Matt’s frenetic stage machinations, understated modified folky vocal delivery and scraggly Pete-Townshend-on-a-bender looks is worth the price of admission alone. At one point, Drenik experienced some type of malfunction with his guitar (something other than a string breaking); in true “the show must go on” fashion, rather than stopping mid-song, he unplugged and simply danced (looking kinda like a spastic bull in a very small china shop) to the side of the stage during an Eliot solo before returning – guitarless – to the mic to finish the song. As the boys blasted through their set of supercharged tunes, highlighting the freshly-minted HABITUAL EP, it became quite obvious that they are the perfect lead in to the volatile Local H. Battleme aren’t interested in projecting an image; this is a band that is all about the show and the music. When you can catch the people on stage laughing at (and with) each other during a song, you cannot help but be drawn to them and feel a connection – a closeness – that you usually don’t sense from a band. Even though many in the audience were unfamiliar with Battleme’s music, by the end of their set, we all felt that kinship… a kinship that virtually guarantees a packed house the next time the quartet rolls into town.

Local H (Scott Lucas) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Local H (Scott Lucas) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

If Fumer were the arsonists, setting a blaze from the stage, and Battleme came along, pouring fuel onto the slow smoldering embers, stoking the flames to the point they became out of control, then Local H were the resultant explosion that takes out an entire city block. The Not-Battleme-Scott would have seemed to be in a surly mood to anyone not familiar with his odd sense of humor (of which, more later); his feigned impatience at the sound guy and newish drummer, Ryan Harding, was more a product of nervous energy, as this was the first night of the duo’s HEY KILLER tour. The new album is well-represented in the new set, with eight of the eleven tunes being featured, including the record’s first track and the opening song of the live show, “The Last Picture Show In Zion,” a sprawling slab of guitar pyrotechnics and squall, forced to the edge of endurance by the manic drumming from Harding. From there, Lucas and Harding tore through a ninety-minute set that included such fan favorites as “All the Kids Are Right,” “Fritz’s Corner,” “Hand On the Bible” and “California Songs,” alongside “Gig Bag Road,” “Leon and the Game of Skin,” “John the Baptist Blues,” the self-depricating humor of “Mansplainer” and more new stuff from HEY KILLER. Of course, as generally happens at a Local H show, there were more than a few shouted requests for “High-Fiving Motherfucker” and “Eddie Vedder.” One particularly vociferous gentleman actually managed to get Scott’s attention, as he responded by telling him, “Well, now you’re never going to hear it. You’ve blown it for everybody… we’re not going to play it!” And, when they left the stage, the song remained unplayed. Here, too, is where I would like to mention another complaint… this one directed at the two louts – it’s this type of Neandethals that “High-Fiving… ” is written about – who decided they wanted to start a little pit action. That’s okay… no problem with that; what I do have a problem with is the fact that they decided that EVERYONE else should be involved in their frivolity. As I was at the front of the stage, shooting photos, my back was to the action; I was punched in the back of the head and pushed hard in the back, as were others – including a couple of young ladies – who just wanted to enjoy the show (I’m used to the general errant jostling that goes on in a pit, but for someone to directly target people who obviously wish to remain on the periphery is definitely not cool).

Local H (Ryan Harding) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Local H (Ryan Harding) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

As things began to cool down on the floor, the band returned for an encore, though Scott spent more than 15 minutes proclaiming that the show was over, due in part to a lady near the front of the stage who was more interested in texting her friends than watching the show (before you get upset, the woman in question is an acquaintance of the band and Scott’s diatribe merely a send-up), as well as telling the crowd how great it felt to be back on the road, opening the tour at one of his favorite venues. Eventually, he did pick up his guitar and the duo ripped into the final HEY KILLER offering, “The Misanthrope.” With “Bound For the Floor,” the pit once again roiled behind us, but… we front row minions were hardly touched, as a group of very large gentlemen had formed a protective barrier, taking the brunt of the abuse. After a wicked “That’s What They All Say,” Lucas called a “troublemaker” up from the floor and told him to put his phone down and stand at the back of the stage until he was called upon (though the guy could hardly contain himself and tended to wander); with that, Scott and Ryan broke into a raging “High-Fiving Motherfucker.” I have a feeling that if he hadn’t been completely sick of hearing requests for “Eddie Vedder,” both songs would have remained unplayed. After Scott sang the first verse and chorus, he turned the microphone over to Mike (for that was his name) to finish the song; obviously nervous, Mike nevertheless acquitted himself quite well, actually and, now, has a story to tell his grandkids, when Scott Lucas and whatever drummer he’s playing with in thirty years show up for yet another gig at the Firebird.

Local H (Scott Lucas) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Local H (Scott Lucas) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

It had been probably ten years since I last saw Local H (with the mighty Brian Saint Clair on drums… our thoughts and prayers are with you, buddy) and Scott and the new guy definitely held up their end of things. The show (even with the overly aggressive clowns in the pit – and, let me reiterate, it wasn’t the entire group… just two mooks who seriously need a crash course in pit etiquette) was a cut above; one might even say, “Epic.” The newer batch of songs nestled in nicely with fan favorites and radio hits and, while Scott’s voice sometimes sounds a bit hoarse, there are – thankfully – no apparent ill-effects from the injuries suffered in the 2013 mugging. If you haven’t seen them on this tour yet (or if you haven’t seen them in a while), make plans and get your tickets now; with Battleme along for the ride and Local H rejuvinated and tearing up the stage every night, you owe it to yourself.


HERE COME THE MUMMIES/SUPERFUN YEAH YEAH ROCKETSHIP

(April 10, 2015; THE PAGEANT, Saint Louis MO)

Here Come the Mummies (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Here Come the Mummies (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Not exactly knowing what to expect from a band called Here Come the Mummies, I packed up the ol’ sarcophagus and lumbered across the mighty Mississippi (our very own version of the Nile) to see what the archaeologists had dug up down in Nashville (that is in Egypt, isn’t it?). I found myself rather surprised that the Mummies’ acolytes were a more… mature crowd than I had anticipated for a group with such a moniker. That didn’t mean that they were any less vociferous than the youngsters… I mean, there was rump-bumpin’ aplenty and the audience participation was unparallelled in the annals of the ancients. But… I proceed myself; let’s back things up to the beginning (of the show… not Genesis; just wanna be clear on that), shall we?

Superfun Yeah Yeah Rocketship (Correy Goodman; Christopher Eilers) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Superfun Yeah Yeah Rocketship (Correy Goodman; Christopher Eilers) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The comedic duo of Corey Goodman and Christopher Eilers – better known as Superfun Yeah Yeah Rocketship – took the stage, flanked by cardboard cut-outs of Fabio and a herd of hot dogs (a fourth wiener, Franklin, is missing and – though there have been no ransom demands – presumed to be held hostage) and, thus, a totally improbable evening of rock, pop, disco, ska and, yes, the funk of five thousand years was upon us. Between their familial in-joke bantering, local boys Corey and Christopher delivered some truly danceable and utterly outlandish doses of rock and roll, including “Throwin’ Up,” “Randy Savage,” and a stunningly obtuse cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now.” Eilers delivered sheets of metallic riffing as Goodman’s apoplectic shenanigans and not-so-sly wink-and-a-nod lyrics virtually bulldozed the crowd into joining the frenzied frolic of the Rocketship’s forty minute flight… as if they weren’t already hyped in the extreme for what was yet to come. Superfun Yeah Yeah Rocketship proudly wave their influential flags high: Comic books (“Magneato,” “I Like Marvel, You Like DC”), professional wrestling (“Randy Savage,” “The Undertaker Joins the Avengers”), cheesy ’80s teen movies (“Totally Awesome,” “Throwin’ Up”). Yeah, they may an acquired taste but, like your Mom used to say when she wanted you to eat your Brussels sprouts, “How do you know you don’t like ‘em if you don’t try ‘em?” You can take Superfun Yeah Yeah Rocketship out for a test drive at their Bandcamp page, but… you gotta be quick, as their furious dance moves and hard-rocking tune-age may soon be swept up in an undercover vice raid!

Here Come the Mummies (Java) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Here Come the Mummies (Java) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

After a surprisingly short intermission, the houselights dimmed and a martial drum coda permeated the electric crowd. This being my introduction to live Mummies (yes… I realize the dichotomy of that phrase), I assumed it was a recorded intro before the band took the stage; shortly, however, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye, as the group entered from the back of the venue like the percussion section of a marching band. The crowd erupted as the eight rotting players took to the boards, stage right, before ripping into one of the coolest intro tunes ever, “Carnal Carnival,” a funky New Orleans celebration of lust and death. Percussionist and head instigator Java, playing the demented ringmaster, stalked the stage, leering like a serial killer on a bloody bender. All I could think was, “This is even better than I thought it would be! Play that funky music, dead boy!” For the next 90 minutes, Here Come the Mummies had the Saint Louis faithful roiling and stewing in their own libidinous juices, with crowd favorites like the Mexican banda vibe of “Ra Ra Ra,” the hard rocking funk of “Single Double Triple,” the lonely-loin lament of “Everything But,” the barely disguised double entendre groove of “Booty” and “Attack of the Wiener Man,” and, of course, the Mummies’ mission statement and national anthem, “Freak Flag.”

Here Come the Mummies (Mummy Cass) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Here Come the Mummies (Mummy Cass) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The music of Here Come the Mummies, like that of His Purple Majesty, is littered with sexual innuendo and sweaty crotch-thrusting that borders on the misogynistic. If I had to describe them in one sentence, I would say, “Imagine George Clinton and James Brown had a bunch of 5,000 year old funky dead babies.” While the music is awesome, it takes a back seat to the stage show, with its manic pace and Motown-on-crack choreography coupled with a brilliant use of lighting and smoke effects. Guitarist and primary vocalist, Mummy Cass, gets the funk out with Princely rhythm work and, while he may not be the reincarnation of Eddie Hazel, he definitely embodies the equally late and great Gary Shider. In other words, the ol’ carcass can PLAY! The horn section (BB Queen on trumpet, The Flu handling the baritone sax and Mummy Rah blowing tenor sax and shaking that trunk-fulla-junk that Mama Mummy gave him) is loose and funky at times, tight as a military corner at others; the soloing is soulful, highlighting the individual player’s creativity and obvious (if unstated) musical pedigree. And… did we mention the dance moves? Most mummies I know can’t move like that!

Here Come the Mummies (BB Queen, The Flu, Spaz, Mummy Rah) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Here Come the Mummies (BB Queen, The Flu, Spaz, Mummy Rah) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The rhythm section displayed some pretty nice moves themselves. We already introduced you to vocalist, percussionist and maker-of-mischief, Java; when he’s not out front, inciting the crowd, or leading his fellow Mummies in another syncopated dance routine, he handles a variety of percussion instruments that aren’t part of a standard drum kit, including – naturally – the cowbell; at one point, he strapped a mallet and cowbell to his waist, showing his… uh… musical acumen via a series of pelvic thrusts. Eddie Mummy is the powerhouse that keeps time, never missing a back-beat or a vocal part; Eddie’s drumming is the epitome of jazzy precision and funky hard rock fills. The Pole, whose deep-in-the-pocket groove is in monstrous lockstep with Eddie, stalks the stage, letting his sonorous Bootsy-like bass “trombipulation” do his talking for him. Keyboard player Spaz fills every conceivable sonic void with everything from a classic piano or organ sound to varying blips and bloops and synthesizer noodles; he earns bonus points for not looking like a Jonathan Cain-type idjit when he joins the others at the front of the stage with keytar in hand.

Here Come the Mummies (The Pole) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Here Come the Mummies (The Pole) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Obviously, this is a group who, while having honed their craft to a razor’s edge, don’t take anything too seriously. Except the funk and grind and, of course, delivering a butt-shakin’ good time every time they take the stage. As I mentioned in the intro, this is my first Here Come the Mummies experience… it will not be my last!

Here Come the Mummies (Eddie Mummy) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Here Come the Mummies (Eddie Mummy) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)


THE GREAT CRUSADES/PLANEAUSTERS: SPLIT

(BOXING CLEVER RECORDS 7” single; 2014)

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Way back in the previous century, the Great Crusades released one of my favorite albums, 1997’s THE FIRST SPILLED DRINK OF THE EVENING. The record was filled with songs that were equal parts sloppy Rolling Stones rock ‘n’ roll, snotty Replacements punk, moody Americana and drunken Celtic reels, with Brian Krumm’s smokey Leonard Cohen cum Kris Kristofferson baritone delivering his own Dylanesque lyrics. Seventeen years later, the band still sounds wonderfully ragged on “Sometimes On Sundays, Too,” a love song that wouldn’t be out of place on something coming from Dylan himself. During the ensuing years following that first release, Krumm has continued to gargle with broken glass, giving him a voice that is a huskier (and more melodic) approximation of Rod McKuen. When he rasps the chorus, “There were parties every Saturday/At the house on Illinois Street/And sometimes on Sundays, too,” you may find yourself clearing your throat in sympathy. The music is a jangly, acoustic blast of what has been dubbed “rock-noir,” featuring a very hymn-like arrangement and orchestration. In short, “Sometimes On Sundays, Too” is every bit as sublime as anything from that first Great Crusades album.

The Great Crusades (Christian Moder, Brian Leach, Brian Krumm, Brian Hunt) (uncredited photo)

The Great Crusades (Christian Moder, Brian Leach, Brian Krumm, Brian Hunt) (uncredited photo)

The B-side of this special split single features frequent tour-mates and kindred spirits of the Great Crusades, Germany’s Planeausters. In fact, Crusader Brian Leach is listed as producer; he adds a nice bit of piano to the track, as well. “Wouldn’t Say It’s Over, But It’s Gone” also acts as the flip-side of the new-love tale of “Sometimes On Sundays, Too.” The tune has to be one of the most horribly effective break-up songs of all time. Musically, the track is a sleepy, languorous bit of shoegazing with some nice guitar work from Michael Moravek and an impossibly slow drum track from Per Ceurremans, one that sounds like it was played back at half-speed while the song was being mixed. “Wouldn’t Say… ” is my introduction to Planeausters, but I gotta say, if this cut is what this band is all about… gimme more. As the magnificent Boxing Clever Records branches out past the release of these exquisite split singles, moving into the realm of full-length albums, maybe a deal can be struck for the release of the latest Planeausters record. Make it happen, Jim!

Planeausters (Michael Moravek, Per Ceurremans, William Kollmar) (uncredited photo)

Planeausters (Michael Moravek, Per Ceurremans, William Kollmar) (uncredited photo)

The Great Crusades’ latest full-length is THIEVES OF CHICAGO, available at their Bandcamp page. As with all singles from Boxing Clever Records, this release is available directly from the label’s web-site; also available from the fine folk at Boxing Clever is a limited edition skate deck featuring the record’s cover art. Tell ‘em the Mule sent you!


LOOT ROCK GANG: THAT’S WHY I’VE GOT TO SING

(BIG MUDDY RECORDS; 2014)

Loot Rock Gang album cover

Germination of a record review: The reviewer, with time to kill, visits a legendary Saint Louis record shop; of course, while there, the reviewer is on the look-out for new and interesting releases – especially from local artists – to write about… sometimes, it’s just an interesting cover. Imagine the above cover staring back at you as a glorious 12” by 12” album sleeve… a real live slab of vinyl. I was mesmerized… I had to hear this music! So, what’s the next step? Contacting the record label (or the artist) to request a copy for review. Then, it was just a matter of playing the waiting game, counting the days until that special package arrived at my doorstep. Naturally, there’s always the off-chance that the cover belies the musical talents of the artist and… well… the music sucks to high Heaven (believe me, boys and girls, I’ve been burned by a great cover many times playing this game). Thankfully, though the musical style was really something totally unexpected, I can tell you that in this instance, cover and material mesh perfectly. So, here’s the skinny on THAT’S WHY I’VE GOT TO SING:

Loot Rock Gang (Mat Wilson, Little Rachel, Kellie Everett, Stephen Inman) (uncredited photo)

Loot Rock Gang (Mat Wilson, Little Rachel, Kellie Everett, Stephen Inman) (uncredited photo)

The music of Loot Rock Gang, written by vocalist Mat Wilson (who adds acoustic resonator guitar to his LRG resume), encompasses a wide range of styles, all rooted in the deep heritage of the Blues and Americana. Likewise, the group’s instrumental configuration – Wilson is joined by his wife, Little Rachel on harmony and backing vocals, Stephen Inman on upright bass and, taking most leads and solos, Kellie Everett on the baritone sax (with help from Ryan Koenig on percussion, mandolin and harmonica) – hearkens back to a bygone era in American musical history. “Loot Rock Boogie,” a theme song of sorts for the band, gets the record off to a rip-roaring start. It’s kind of a dirty throwback to those great B-grade teen exploitation movies from the ’50s and early ’60s. The ancient rock ‘n’ jive continues on “Road To Burn,” a stompin’ good time boogie with a great baritone sax solo from Everett. The titular song, a Western swing kinda thing, features the Gang’s mission statement: “Just can’t help it/That’s why I’ve got to sing.” Next up is “Full Moon Cataluna,” a drowsy ballad with some nice pickin’ from Wilson and beautiful harmony vocals from Rachel. “Happy Boy To Be Your Man” is kind of a small band version of Squirrel Nut Zippers’ updated take on the Hot Jazz scene of the 1930s. The call and response duet vocals and upright piano (supplied by guest artist Chris Baracevic) add a distinctive flair. “Bank Despair” is a slow cookin’ hillbilly boogie-woogie number, the kind of tune that coulda ended up as a production number in a ’30s or ’40s comedy.

Loot Rock Gang (Kellie Everett, Little Rachel, Mat Wilson, Stephen Inman, Ryan Koenig) (uncredited photo)

Loot Rock Gang (Kellie Everett, Little Rachel, Mat Wilson, Stephen Inman, Ryan Koenig) (uncredited photo)

As dichotomous as the assertion sounds, “Better ‘Bout You” is a howling harmonica honk with a down-home Southern Gospel feel. “Won’t Get Lost” has a classic rock vibe but, the traditional swing instrumentation turns it into something uniquely Loot Rock Gang. The ’50s style rocker “My Gal Friday” channels a ’30s Western jump vibe. A skittering guitar leads the strolling waltz of “The Wrong Kind,” a number highlighted by particularly effective vocals. “Love For My City” is the sound of a small jazz combo performing a country stomp in honor of their hometown, the StL. The song “It’s You That I Do Enjoy” features a rather odd vocal and comes off as a weird homage to the original AMERICAN BANDSTAND theme song. “Trinidad,” as the name implies, has a wistful Caribbean vibe with a beautiful guitar intro and outro. Various Gang members have played and toured with kindred spirit Pokey LaFarge, honing their already razor-sharp talents to the pinpoint brilliance displayed on THAT’S WHY I’VE GOT TO SING, a debut that definitely bodes well for the future of the diverse Saint Louis music scene in general and Loot Rock Gang in particular. I, for one, cannot wait for the next chapter in this band’s story. I’m sure it’ll be a blast! For now, though, you can listen to and purchase THAT’S WHY… in your choice of CD, vinyl or digital formats at the group’s Bandcamp page.


JOE DENINZON AND STRATOSPHEERIUS: GUILTY OF INNOCENCE

(SELF RELEASED DIGITAL SINGLE; 2015)

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Mad genius Joe Deninzon fiddles while Stratospheerius burns.” That could be the ad copy tagline for this new single from one of the most eclectic groups around today. Stratospheerius plays a wicked Zappa-like fusion of rock and funk, peppered with a jazzy metallic seasoning. If you think that’s as beautifully chaotic as it sounds, you would be correct. “Guilty of Innocence” is the second of four single releases coming this year, leading up to full-length album in 2016.

Joe Deninzon and Stratospheerius (Lucianna Padmore, Aurelien Budynek, Joe Deninzon, Jamie Bishop) (publicity photo)

Joe Deninzon and Stratospheerius (Lucianna Padmore, Aurelien Budynek, Joe Deninzon, Jamie Bishop) (publicity photo)

According to Joe, the track was “inspired by my 2012 stint in jury duty and deals with crime and punishment. I was presiding on a rape trial and the guy who I thought was guilty got off practically scot-free.” The rhythm section of bassist Jamie Bishop and drummer Lucianna Padmore lays down a powerful, funky groove as Deninzon’s spastic violin leads and Aurelien Budynek’s muscular metal riffs drive the tune. If you’re a fan of the previously mentioned Frank Zappa or Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, but are unfamiliar with Stratospheerius, “Guilty of Innocence” is a great jumping on place; it’s available at CD Baby, Amazon and all of the other “usual places” and, of course, at the group’s Bandcamp page (along with the previous single, “Behind the Curtain.”)


THE ADORING HEIRS/THE MICRODANCE: SPLIT

(BOXING CLEVER RECORDS 7” single; 2014)

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There is truly something majestic about this “Deep Red” thing from the Adoring Heirs. It could just be the fact that the incomparable “Sir” Ian Baird sits atop the drum throne. But, let’s not discount the virtual tsunami of vibrant activity from guitars (supplied by Brian Merry and Joe Metcalf) and bass (that would be Rob Wagoner) and vocals (Wagoner again) that fight and strain to remain just above the surface of the sonic waves. The music of the Adoring Heirs has been called “arena rock for dive bars” and likened to the magnificently noisy Kansas City band, Shiner, and the working man’s supergroup, Bad Company… and, if that ain’t enough to convince you to consume, did I mention that the band’s drummer is Ian Baird? You remember when the Saint Louis music scene was relevant? No, I’m not talking about Miles Davis or Johnnie Johnson… I’m talking about the late ’90s, when major labels were ripping off (oops… I mean, signing) a band or two from the Lou every week? This band has that same sound… a Saint Louis rock and roll sound, with great vocals, powerful drums and, above all else, a funky bass sound that immediately identifies a group as a product of Saint Louis. The Adoring Heirs are a major reason why the Saint Louis music scene is suddenly relevant again and, we can all use a little relevancy in our lives. Right?

The Adoring Heirs, doing that which they do best, circa 2013 (Joe Metcalf, Ian Baird, Rob Wagoner, Brian Merry) (uncredited photo)

The Adoring Heirs, doing that which they do best, circa 2013 (Joe Metcalf, Ian Baird, Rob Wagoner, Brian Merry) (uncredited photo)

Hailing from London (which, as far as I can ascertain, is in some foreign country… California maybe), the Microdance encapsulate everything that has rocked and/or rolled since people have been keeping records of such stuff. Just when you think you’ve got their style pegged, they go and slip you a proverbial musical mickey, leaving you bleary eyed and dizzy; they deftly move from dreamy shoegazing to the heaviest of metals, wrapping it all in a psychedelic haze… all, by the way, in the same song. The oddly titled “Moopy Moop” is a stunning cacophony of noises, with muted drums and swirling guitars behind vocals that can best be described as whispered screams from frontman and chief songwriter, Alex Keevill, and Shona MacMillan’s haunting and alluring counter-balancing voice. I’ve always heard that there’s a strangely calming effect that overcomes a drowning person and, to me, that kinda sums up the wispy introspection of this track; “Moopy Moop” is almost ambient-sounding in its… I wanna call it “raging minimalism,” as dichotomous as that sounds. Call the music of the Microdance what you will, but just one listen will find you hooked.

The Microdance (Cheryl Pinero, Gavin Mata Hari, Tomas Garcia, Alex Keevill) (photo credit: The Microdance)

The Microdance (Cheryl Pinero, Gavin Mata Hari, Tomas Garcia, Alex Keevill) (photo credit: The Microdance)

The Adoring Heirs recently released a full-length called BEGINNING OF THE END OF DAYS, available at their Bandcamp page. The Microdance is nearing completion of their upcoming full-length, as well, featuring the latest iteration of the band, as shown above. This beautifully packaged limited edition split single is available directly from Boxing Clever Records and comes in two flavors, yellow and yellow/white, which is, indeed, the rarest egg; also available from the fine folk at Boxing Clever is a limited edition skate deck featuring the record’s cover art. Tell ‘em the Mule sent you!


RACHEL TAYLOR BROWN: FALIMY

(PENURY POP RECORDS; 2014)

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I remember when I first heard Rachel Taylor Brown, a Portland singer/songwriter, about seven years ago. I was delighted to discover that she seemed to be a genuine weirdo, not following any kind of formula or expectations, but really sounding committed to her eccentric, piano-laden art songs and darkly comical worldview. Sometimes it’s harder for a woman to pull that off than a man, at least in the US. The music marketplace here still puts unfair expectations on female artists. The fact that Brown’s latest album FALIMY is not available on Amazon, and is in fact, a Bandcamp offering, may have some implications. Whatever. Brown is still doing her unconventional thing, and it kind of whacks you around as a listener. Opening track “Let’s Have A,” the title itself an open-ended joke, begins as a jaunty little pop song, with Brown declaring with feminine sweetness that “The world is so frightening, there’s never enough/The world is so frightening for me and my love.” But then the apparent wistfulness is demolished when a loud, aggressive chorus commences: “Let’s make a family…let’s make a baby,” the kind of routine decision that causes more and more problems these days for many. It’s possible, I suppose, that Brown is being sincere, but I think she’s being bitterly sarcastic, and that makes this tune really funny, although Brown repeats the chorus with an increasingly repetitive shrillness that eventually wears thin. Still funny, though, in its dashing of expectations. Elsewhere, you get the spritely rocker “Mount Athos,” which uses its jingly keyboards to nice effect but chooses to serve up the utterly timely theme of serious problems with religious conviction these days. “Trying to get to heaven, but there’s a woman in the way/There’s a woman in the way/Of men on their way” is a lyric I dug immensely, and will likely find myself quoting to friends. And I love how the song just ENDS, sharply, as though there’s an implicit acknowledgment that you can never get to the end of this issue; it divides and leaves people hanging all the time.

Rachel Taylor Brown (uncredited photo)

Rachel Taylor Brown (uncredited photo)

In “Little Fucker,” a real attention getter, Brown sings “Little fucker/You go around fucking people over/Little fucker/You’re on the town fucking people over/You got a lot to go around.” This is more than a little reminiscent of Liz Phair’s brash sentiments on the groundbreaking EXILE IN GUYVILLE and arguably just as musically compelling, but Brown won’t get that sort of attention, not in this day and age. She exercises a lot of restraint here; this is essentially a plaintive piano ballad, as are tracks like “Robin,” “Trade” and the emotive “Men in War.” That one is a song that does about what you think it should do lyrically. Brown is rarely all that sentimental; she’s a bit too original for standard tear-jerking, but this song serves it up and then, ends suddenly again, which is nice. “Me Hurting You” is a showier, more typical Brown composition, featuring somewhat dissonant descending piano chords while an insistent slashing guitar chord helps steer a path through a clearly angsty piece. Brown is good at creating musical stress to accompany lyrics that deal with stress themselves. “Litany of the Family” is my favorite, though, a wickedly detached narrative serving up line after line about an apparently ideal family’s behavior when out together, with only Brown’s impersonal delivery and a single sparse tonal undercurrent providing sonic direction. It’s very much the kind of thing Laurie Anderson was once known for. “Family taking a walk outside… Attractive family of four…. Family at the lake… Family looking at the water…. Happy family…. Mother playing with her baby… Couple with their daughter…. Father holding son…. New mother kissing baby’s forehead… Closeup of a beautiful happy family together…” You get the idea. As the wordiness of the song increases halfway through, the effect is both comical and kind of authentically ghastly, and it sure makes you think about this whole “family unit” thing that we so treasure in modern society. The track is actually one of the most compelling things I’ve heard in a while, a real showstopper.

Rachel Taylor Brown (photo credit: RULA VAN DER BERGEN)

Rachel Taylor Brown (photo credit: RULA VAN DER BERGEN)

FALIMY is a spartan affair overall; a couple of the songs are very slight, and Brown has a truly curious knack for NOT mincing words or varying the arrangements much. “All I need is one brave soul” is about the only lyric in the last song, and there’s a curiously long pause after that which, if you keep listening, ends with Brown merely saying “thanks” quietly. It’s personal, it’s disarming and it’s unexpected. Which kind of sums up this Oregonian’s aesthetic in a way. She is one to watch, and if not the most beautifully voiced or sophisticated gal making music out there, she sure has ideas, and the panache to deliver them with, confidently. A few moments on this record will definitely stay with me, and I’ll look forward to Brown’s future efforts.