Galaxie 500, Xiu Xiu, The Chromatics and even Radiohead. It was used in an iconic scene of Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film "Marie Antoinette" and has been extensively analyzed by critical rags including The Onion AV Club. And so "Ceremony" has become a populist anthem of sorts for a certain alternative set. Using just minimal rock elements, the song unlocks a mystical alchemy that transcends a somewhat awkward performance and elevates the recording to something epic and monumental – a magnificent Doric marble column, wearily standing in the name of both the disappointment and optimism of youth.
Since then -- and underscoring the aforementioned song's alterna-populist appeal -- Ceremony has become the name of a bunch of bands, and likely the most punk among these operates out of Rohnert Park, Calif. The outfit emerged as a "brutal" hardcore unit that released three albums and several EPs on Bridge 9 Records. It began incorporating subtle garage and indie rock influences into its sound by the time of their 2012 Matador Records debut Zoo, and its latest and fifth album The L-Shaped Man continues to cleverly subvert Ceremony's punk foundation –- likely to the chagrin of some longtime fans -– while at the same time offering a fresh leaf and the fulfillment of a prophecy. Over the course of its 11 tracks, the band explores and inhabits the intricacies of its namesake and celebrates that tune's heavy emotional and historical grandeur. The music on The L-Shaped Man also deftly integrates elements of style from acts including Section 25, The Names and Siouxsie and The Banshees), while never seeming to directly rip off specific compositional touches.
Ceremony's approach -- clean and spindly guitar notes, thick and simple bass, steady, martial drums -- is tried and true within post-punk, but the group's economical, punk chops empower it to forge a collection of uncharacteristically honest songs. Brief opener "Hibernation" holds a steady pattern of four piano notes, which create an icy, barren atmosphere from which the ensuing, uptempo numbers are launched. The tune is a bold declaration that this is not the same band of even Zoo. Fourth track "Your Life In France" is the album's first true stunner; its back-and-forth guitar lines echo New Order guitarist Bernard Sumner's beautiful six-string showcase in the middle of "Ceremony," all quick simplicity and the occasional sour note that dance around the bass guitar.
More importantly, Ceremony wisely puts its best song square in the middle of the half-hour record, creating a wonderful centerpiece that ties myriad subtle ideas together. "The Separation" weds the catchy, double-tracked guitar lines of "Your Life In France" to anthemic piano and the band's best chorus -- bringing to mind that narrow, magical window where punk first transitioned into romantic New Wave melodicism. "Can you measure it? / Can you measure the loss?," fronter Ross Farrar -- whose desperate monotone sounds very much like that of Ian Curtis -- pleads again and again as the slow-burning intensity of the instruments figuratively huddle around him. Perhaps some credit should go to John Reis (of Drive Like Jehu, Rocket from the Crypt and Hot Snakes), whose production lends the collection a very present, live and upfront feel, in part through emphasis on the rougher edges of the vocals, which reveal the album as something a little more lived in. The L-Shaped Man arrived last week on CD, seafoam green vinyl and as a digital download courtesy of Matador, and you can order the striking set right here. Ceremony will be on the road for much of the summer, and the tour dates as we presently understand them are listed below the unnecessarily long Spotify embed below. -- Edward Charlton
Ceremony: Facebook | Internerds
06.12 -- Cellar Door -- Visalia, CA
06.13 -- Legend Records -- San Diego, CA
06.14 -- The Rebel Lounge -- Phoenix, AZ
06.15 -- Club Congress -- Tucson, AZ
06.16 -- Tricky Falls -- El Paso, TX
06.17 -- Red 7 -- Austin, TX
06.18 -- Sons of Hermann -- Dallas, TX
06.19 -- Walters -- Houston, TX
06.20 -- One Eyed Jacks -- New Orleans, LA
06.21 -- The Atlantic -- Gainsville, FL
06.22 -- Epic Problem -- Tampa, FL
06.23 -- The Social -- Orlando, FL
06.24 -- Drunken Unicorn -- Atlanta, GA
06.25 -- Kings -- Raleigh, NC
06.26 -- Rock & Roll Hotel -- Washington, D.C.
06.27 -- Union Transfer -- Philadelphia, PA
06.28 -- Cuisine en Locale -- Somerville, MA
06.29 -- The Space -- Hamden, CT
07.01 -- Bowery Ballroom -- New York, NY
07.03 -- La Sala Rossa -- Montreal QC, Canada
07.04 -- The Garrison -- Toronto ON, Canada
07.05 -- Mohawk Place -- Buffalo, NY
07.06 -- Now That's Class -- Cleveland, OH
07.07 -- Marble -- Detroit, MI
07.08 -- Lincoln Hall -- Chicago, IL
07.09 -- The Frequency -- Madison, WI
07.10 -- 7th Street Entry -- Minneapolis, MN
07.11 -- Sweatshop Gallery -- Omaha, NE
07.12 -- Moon Room -- Denver, CO
07.13 -- Kilby Court -- Salt Lake City, UT
07.14 -- The Shredder -- Boise, ID
07.15 -- Neumo's -- Seattle, WA
07.16 -- Analog Café -- Portland, OR
08.08 -- Visions Festival -- London, UK
May 28, 2015
May 22, 2015
That Was The Show That Was: Courtney Barnett with Chastity Belt, Darren Hanlon | The Sinclair | 18 May
[PHOTO: Dillon Riley] As with the very best of rockers pegged with the descriptor "slacker," charming Australian singer/songwriter Courtney Barnett excels at quantifying the mundane. It's in Ms. Barnett's unaffected, down-under drawl, her unhurried guitar heroism, hell, it's even in her album title: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. It's unsurprising, then, that a songwriter so adept at capturing everyday nothingness in song would be so frank about jetlag on the first night of what's undoubtedly one of the biggest tours of her career.
About halfway through her set Monday night at The Sinclair in Cambridge, Mass., Barnett took to the mic in a daze and mumbled this gem in response to some fan requests: "Don't confuse me, I don't know where I am or what day it is." Fortunately her mild disorientation did not affect her performance in the least. There were few errant notes beyond the infrequent, artful clam dropped in the way only a crack live band that's logged miles and miles on the road playing the same songs night after night can pull off. And that's what struck us most about the evening: The Courtney Barnett Three -- as they were introduced -- are truly professional and road-hardened, pros despite the "slacker" designation. Barnett possesses a singular talent to be sure, but what makes the Three such a compelling live act, and what really seems to push Sometimes ahead of her previous efforts, is the band's apparent chemistry, particularly among the rhythm section.
Along with fiery takes on Sometimes standouts like the lowered-expectations lament "Pedestrian At Best" and "Elevator Operator," Barnett and co. Monday offered up geographically appropriate covers in The Breeders' "Cannonball" and Lemonheads' "Being Around." The former played up Barnett's likeness to Kim Deal, in that each woman's best songs possess a casual brilliance, whose hooks tumble from their heads like little Athenas, perfect miracles and brilliant little pop moments. "Being Around" by Lemonheads was a supreme choice given that modern-day fronter Evan Dando was a known quantity around and frequent habitué of Australia decades ago; the song also complemented well Barnett's own plainspoken lyrical style.
Garagey Seattle upstarts Chastity Belt and Australia's own Darren Hanlon -- most famous around Clicky Clicky HQ for this amazing 2010 pop confection -- opened the gig and each played to a nearly full room, which we think says plenty of good things about the Boston show-going community. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is available right here now via Mom + Pop Music. Stream some selected cuts from the record, a live session, and some Chastity Belt tunes via the various embeds below. -- Dillon Riley
Courtney Barnett: Facebook | Internerds | Soundcloud | tumblahhhhh
Chastity Belt: Bandcamp | Facebook | Internerds
Darren Hanlon: Facebook | Internerds
May 15, 2015
United We Win: Hard Left On Class Struggle, Challenging Consensus, And Fighting The Most Important Fight
[PHOTO: Gina Clyne Photography] Oakland hard mod quartet Hard Left have surely released one of the best punk records of the year, and its neatest feat is being Really Fun and Actually Meaningful at one and the same time. The combo is comprised of veteran musicians whose collective credits include work with the legendary acts Black Tambourine, Boyracer and Lunchbox. Its cracking full-length debut We Are Hard Left came out earlier this week on Hard Left's own Future Perfect imprint, and it is propelled by big guitars and bigger guitar hooks, growled exhortations and ganged choruses. Even before we got our hands on the record back in March, we were struck by the entirely refreshing way Hard Left foregrounded its politics in early singles; if anything, the full-length doubles down on doling out messages of unity and informed dissent in vibrant, fist-pounding anthems like "Kicking It Off" and "Hard Left Rules OK," to name but two. As we found out, that is no accident. After chewing over the place of big-picture politics in contemporary indie rock in a chat window with fronter and co-founder Comrade Mike, we decided to throw open our conversation into a more in-depth interview. Comrade Tim, guitarist and singer for Hard Left, joined in on the fun, and the results are below. As much as we are grateful to Mike and Tim for the time they gave to this discussion, we are even more grateful for the forthright political message in their music. We think the guys would agree that the world doesn't need just another punk record; we would submit that what it needs is THIS punk record -- and more like it. Recent album release shows for We Are Hard Left have been described as "total chaos," and it is heartening that the audience is out there, ready for this music and its message. But, as we all know from consuming "news" "reports" every day, there is a lot more work to be done. Hard Left gave its record away one song a week ahead of its release, but if you have not yet heard it (and even if you have), jump to the bottom of the piece, click play on the Bandcamp embed, and then hop back up here and dig in.
Clicky Clicky: There is something very optimistic about We Are Hard Left -- it's right there in the opening lyrics of the record, innit? Just the fact that the record exists is a reassurance that there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful. Was that something the band felt was important to express?We Are Hard Left is available now as a 45RPM LP or digital download via the act's Bandcamp page right here. The LP comes packaged with a lyric insert and sticker, and its vivid cover art is our favorite of the year so far. A special bundle includes an iron-on patch bearing the slogan "All Power To The Imagination." Hard Left is contemplating a run of East Coast dates for mid-August, so keep an eye out for possible news on that front. Hard Left rules, OK? OK.
Tim: Definitely. We are into the concept of uplift, and try to inspire a sense of common purpose and utopian possibility.
Mike: Absolutely correct. Given the challenges we all face right now it's so easy to be negative, preachy and finger-pointy. We want to avoid that vibe at all cost.
CC: There is a lightness to the record that comes from the tempos, the energy, the big guitars. It sounds like it was a lot of fun to make. I think all of you have known each other for some time. When you decided there was going to be this thing called Hard Left, was the idea of the band espousing a political message something that was right there from the beginning? Or were you guys excited just to have the opportunity to play together?
Tim: Well, Mike and I always tell the story of how we hatched this idea. We were hanging out at SLR headquarters, and I randomly said "I'm thinking about trying to join an Oi band," and Mike looked right at me and said "Let's form an Oi band!" A couple of weeks later, we were at the Rain Parade show in San Francisco, and I said, "you know, if we're going to do this band, it needs to be explicitly left;" and Mike said "yeah, HARD Left." And there it was. So the political message was central, always, but it kind of came about with the musical idea simultaneously. But in terms of lightness, yeah, I think we have a similar vision of a band that is serious in its politics, but doesn't take itself too seriously, and is vibrant in aesthetic terms, and is fun. We do get into a bit of pageantry and self-stylization, and we think that that adds to, rather than detracts from, the political message.
Mike: And you're right, the record was a lot of fun to make, and kind of easy as well. Donna, Tim and I worked on the songs a bit at home, went to AZ and ran through them a few times with Stew, then we hit record. All of the arrangement ideas and the excitement seem to come very naturally. So it is crazy fun.
CC: Something the blog has harped on at irregular intervals over the years has been the lack of political engagement by bands in the late 20th and early 21st century. The last song that got me really excited about the power of dissent and the potential for change was Report Suspicious Activity's "Subtle," and looking at the archives now I see that was 10 years ago. Vic Bondi is of a certain age, and I don't think there is a person involved in this interview whose age doesn't start with a 4. Recognizing that none of us is a sociologist, why do you think younger musicians aren't driven to tackle the important, macro issues now? The reaction to the Reagan/Thatcher era felt so electrifying, so strong, even from the safe suburban enclave in which I was raised. The reaction to the Bush era... well, at this point I can't even tell if there was one.
Mike: I do think that there is a lot of engagement in issues of personal and identity politics right now, and that's great. There is a lot of talk about with those issues too, but we want to push people a bit to look at the bigger picture too.
CC: I wonder if it is not something to do with the fact that today there aren't as many chronologically proximal role models, meaning musicians championing progressive politics or dissenting politics, for bands today as there were for bands in the '80s. Even Hard Left looks to the '70s for inspiration, not just musically, but also politically, yeah?
Tim: Hard Left looks back as far back as 1789, but we also look to stuff in the present.
Mike: That might have something to do with it. But I do think that there's also a sense of hopelessness right now, the idea that what's wrong is just too big and too entrenched that there's no point in fighting back. As Tim states, any "reasonable person" accepts the neo-liberal consensus, when in fact it is that very ideological orthodoxy that's led us to this very dangerous point in history, politically, economically and ecologically.
CC: Say what you will about baby boomers and boomer nostalgia, but at least the legacy of '60s social protest echoed in some of the music of the '80s. But that echo didn't in turn echo with bands in the oughts. Was there anything happening in music a decade ago that relates to the progressive ideals that Hard Left is trying to promote?
Tim: Hmmm, dunno. I am tempted to say that there is no authentic youth culture any more, in the sense that youth subcultures used to at least nominally have some kind of political resistance attached to them. I think the commodification of everything has pretty much won. The very idea of the "hipster" illustrates this. The original "hipster" of the 1950s and '60s was someone who enacted a deep break with bourgeois culture, possibly in a political sense, but certainly in a more broadly cultural and spiritual sense (the Beats and so on). It's hard to see anything in modern so-called hipster culture that is dangerous, subversive, anti-conformist, or in any way breaks with the reign of commodification as first principle of bourgeois society. The problem with boomers and nostalgia for the 1960s is that it leaves out what was really going on in the 1960s. Pretty much the annoying part is all that is remembered -- tie dye or whatever. The multi-generational cross-class anti-authoritarian uprising against state violence (in Vietnam and at home) etc. etc. etc. is largely forgotten. Whose interests does that forgetting serve? The past always comes back as caricature. I'm old enough to remember, for example, that when punk started, it wasn't about mohawks. No one had a fucking mohawk or whatever. It was freaks plus "normal" people. And it was similar to the earlier revolt of the Beat generation. Smart, ironic, NOT buying in. No more heroes.
Mike: Just in terms of making and disseminating music, I might have expected the technological revolution of the late '90s/early '00s (home recording, cheap production, almost-free online distribution) might have had a more progressive resonance on the ideas behind the music as well. But it seems like a lot of the energy behind Internet-enabled arts production seems to head in a libertarian direction rather than one that seeks collective solutions to common problems.
CC: The real travesty is there is now little disagreement among the arts class, the music class, the creator class, whatever you want to call it, that the political system is broken, and that issues like income inequality and climate change must be addressed. One thing we talked about briefly a few weeks ago is that there is a willingness in indie and punk rock to pursue and promote identity politics or personal politics, but not to engage with macro political issues. Looking back, can you pinpoint where this turn away from macro issues toward identify politics could have happened?
capital at all. At THIS moment, I think class struggle needs to be in the foreground. What do I mean by class struggle? Let me be clear that I do NOT mean a too-easy demonization by each of the person just above them on the socioeconomic ladder. And I do not mean some kind of Old Left focus on "the workers" in the sense of factory workers. I DO mean a focus on who is doing the work and who is taking the profit produced by that work. Hard Left stands for a society in which the people who DO the work make the decisions about how the work is to be done, and reap the benefits of the work. Hard Left is about the "we" instead of the "I". A society in which each feels he or she is in a personal war with others for scarce resources is a not a society worth living in. I would add, however, that issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc., HAVE to go together with the class struggle. There can't be any separation between them, because they aren't separate in reality.
Mike: I'm reminded of a bit in the DC installment of the Foo Fighters' "Sonic Highways" show, where Rick Rubin talks about US kids not being able to relate to punk because it was too much about class politics, and when US HC started talking about personal politics that it then became something that American kids could relate to. And I think that you can see that shift in emphasis throughout the 80s and 90s. As Tim points out, identity issues do go hand-in-hand and interact with class issues, but I guess one might say that it's easy to get caught up in the trees and lose sight of the forest.
CC: I've got my own theory, and it is spelled g-r-u-n-g-e. I love everything Kurt Cobain did, but I feel like he is standing at a fork in the road. My favorite Youth Of Today song is "Disengage," but thinking about it in this context -- and knowing what we know about where Ray Cappo's head was at at the time -- I almost wish he was more specific: disengage with popular culture, disengage with consumer culture, but please, please, please fight like hell out in the streets against injustice. But instead, the message 20 to 25 years ago wasn't even the '60s' "turn on, tune in, drop out" -- it was just "drop out." Whether or not you agree that underground rock and roll got us into this, can underground rock and roll get us out?
Mike: I hope so!
CC: Comrade Mike, purely from a practical perspective, it seems like singing these songs must be pretty physically demanding, at least on your throat?
Mike: It is, but I suppose I'm getting more and more used to it and it bothers me a bit less. What's kind of odd is that I wasn't really sure what was going to come out when I opened up my mouth to yell. That gravelly yell wasn't intentional, it just sort of happened and has now become part of the our style.
CC: You've been giving away one song a week from the new record, and will have given away the whole thing by the time of the official release. Hard Left's music is definitely for the proletariat, and it feels right to make it directly available to the people. But, of course, that's no way to sell a bunch of records. Or is it? Was the decision to give the music away a reflection of the band's politics, or an acknowledgement of the problems the music industry has found itself in since the turn of the century?
Mike: Both, really. We don't look at that band as any sort of money-earner, and really the goal is to get people to listen to the music. If they want to and can afford to buy an LP, that's great too, and we made the LP to be as high-quality and as affordable as possible so that people who do buy it get something nice for their money. I don't have any problem with people being compensated for their artistic work and so I don't have the opinion that all music should be free, or that downloads are necessarily inherently worthless, it just felt right to us. Giving away the download removes a lot of friction from getting the music out there, and once we decided to do that, then I just wanted to think of a way to get the most value out of it for the band. The song-a-week thing seemed like a nice way to get people excited about the record and loop-in as many blogs and music sites as possible, in hopes of spreading the music as widely as possible.
Hard Left: Bandcamp | Facebook | Soundcloud
May 12, 2015
>> London-based Audio Antihero has made a cottage industry of identifying smart, singular talent on both sides of the Atlantic for the past five years, and while the label claims to be shuffling toward a planned obsolescence, it also seems to autonomously keep doing its thing like a mis-programmed robot in spite of label head Jamie Volcano's efforts to wind things down. And so at the end of the month Audio Antihero gives us the sparkling and weird debut full-length from Queens, New York-based lo-fi duo Frog. The act is comprised of guitarist/singer Dan Bateman and drummer Tom White, but if you are imagining something garagey a la White Stripes, you're well wide of the mark. Unless, that is, you stop that last sentence at the word "imagining," because the pair's bottomlessly wistful record, which is really actually titled Kind Of Blah, often feels as if only Messrs. Bateman and White's collective effort thinking about all things Frog keeps its ethereal and other-worldly music from popping like a speech balloon in a comic strip and dissipating like a fever dream. Kind Of Blah presents a very personal, sepia-toned collection of songs. Layers of clean guitars, humming synth chords, polite drumming, and murmured vocals pile up just high enough to offer a perch from which to peek through a smeared window at an innocent and imaginary New York.
The band's list of influences name-checks Hank Williams, Silver Jews and The Meat Puppets, and its songs boast ready hooks and a trebly sound that recall the AM Gold of the '60s and '70s, but even all of that only partially accounts for the strange wonders of Kind Of Blah. The entire set feels like it exists outside of time; the title of "Wish Upon A Bar" seems more appropriate for a Garth Brooks record, but the reality is the tune's pastoral drone feels like a constant, noisy dawn. "Knocking On The Door" sounds like Tinariwen's concurrent approximations of Traffic's "Can't Find My Way Home" and Supertramp's "Goodbye Stranger." Yes, we really did just type that sentence. The most sonically dense and emotionally potent point on the record is the crashing crescendo of the relatively rocking "Photograph." Astute readers will discern that we've yet to even mention any of the preview singles for this record, which we reckon is a testament to the inherent breadth and depth of Kind Of Blah as an album. The collection was recorded in a derelict bowling alley under a cafe in Queens and it will be released by Audio Antihero on LP and as a digital download May 25. The record is already available for pre-order right here and the three preview singles -- "All Dogs Go To Heaven;" "King Kong;" "Judy Garland" -- are available for streaming below; Frog previously released a self-titled EP on the Monkfish label in 2013. The duo's next live engagement is tomorrow night at Palisades in Brooklyn, and full event details are right here.
>> Discovering a band just as they are on the cusp of breaking up is a disappointing story that plays out with some frequency for the avid music fan, and that's where Clicky Clicky found itself a couple years back when The Weaks' Evan Bernard turned us on to Dangerous Ponies. At the time, the Philly-based indie punk act fronted by Chrissy Tashjian was in the process of releasing its terrific Tenderheart EP; then it went out on tour, it came back, and it broke up. Sad face for the music blogger. But we are pleased to note here in these electronic pages that Ms. Tashjian now fronts the steadfastly rocking foursome Thin Lips, and her rock combo just last week issued a jarringly brilliant debut EP titled Divorce Year. The vital collection is more tense than Dangerous Ponies' swan song, likely due to the darker subject matter and not the personnel, as Thin Lips is comprised mostly of former members of DP. But while there is a bit less sunshine on Divorce Year, its four bracing songs are smartly composed and pack an emotional wallop. The syncopated, gripping opener "Nothing Weird" opens big with wiry guitar melodies and a stuttering rhythm, above which Tashjian offers insight into an unsteady romance with her very affecting drawl: "you're leaving today, and I'm staying put, I'd follow you there but I'd just shadow you into a rut..." Seagreen Records released Divorce Year last week in a limited edition of 100 cassettes, supply of which we expect is dwindling rapidly, as Thin Lips recently wrapped a tour with the amazing Hop Along and probably encountered a very receptive audience that likely included some kids who own tape decks. Two of the tunes on Divorce Year were previously issued in rawer form as a demo way back in 2013, a digital release that somehow eluded our attention, so all you completists might want to hit this link to get your ears on early versions of the rockers "Gemini Moon" and "Non-Monogamy Nightmare." Stream all of Divorce Year via the embed below, and click through the obtain the digital download on a paywhutchalike basis. Highly recommended.
>> When there are so many rock and roll balls in the air all at once, it can be a bit too easy to take your eye off one for a good long while. Which helps explain why it's been five years since we last checked in on San Francisco power-pop unit Propeller. Readers with photographic memories (or a willingness to use the search box at upper left) will recall that the act is built around songwriters Greg Randall and Will Anderson, who at least around here are best known as members of the original, left-coast iteration of our dearly departed Varsity Drag (that band played its last show April 30). Since we last checked in on Propeller, it has issued a second full-length and two digital singles, and its most recent offering is the cracking pair "Wish I Had Her Picture" b/w "Can't Feel These Things." The sparkling strummers (songs 26 and 27 in the band's oeuvre, apparently) carry the characteristically sunny melodies and sing-alongable choruses we remember from Propeller's earlier work, and it is still easy to hear the influence of Scottish hitmakers Teenage Fanclub (and maybe a touch of Fresno's The Miss Alans) in these latest two tunes. "Wish I Had Her Picture" presents three minutes of delightful jangle and tight vocal harmonies, and the free, fuzzy vibe continues into "Can't Feel These Things," the virtual B side. The two songs were released to the wilds of the Internerds via Bandcamp April 3, and you can stream them via the Bandcamp embed below. The band plays what we presume is a very rare east coast show May 29 at Leftfield in Manhattan, so if you are in "the city" that day, we would direct your attention to that there gig. One last notable fact: Messrs. Randall and Anderson recently marked 25 years of playing in bands together, which is a remarkable feat no matter how you slice it. Stream "Wish I Had Her Picture" and "Can't Feel These Things" via the Bandcamp embed below. You will be pleased that you did.
May 9, 2015
>> The music of French label Beko Disques, best known as a purveyor of tasteful, weekly digital releases, has already graced these electronic pages a number of times, as evidenced by these pieces about The Bilinda Butchers and Mooncreatures, among others. The label shows no signs of slowing down, and in 2015 continues to conduct quality research into the dreamier neighborhoods of post-punk, largely at the intersections of faraway ambient and relatively immediate pop sounds. Which is also an apt description of the newest release from New Zealand's mysterious Lowlands. Coming in the wake of other shorter releases on Beko, the new, self-titled set presents a pastiche of Korg synths, acoustic guitars, and even a "Tibetan singing bowl." That alone should be enough to indicate that Lowlands -- which, according to its Bandcamp page, paradoxically makes its music "on a hill across from a city" -- takes its sound very seriously. Opener "Rift Valley" commences with an eerie, delayed clamor (could be that singing bowl?) before layers of crisp and spacey guitars mingle with cool spoke-sung vocals, affecting a sonic posture not unlike that of '90s legends Flying Saucer Attack. The succeeding tune, album highlight "Winter 1_Space Beyond Space," is proof positive that Lowlands can slyly insert a great traditional pop song within the warp and weft of its ambient drone. The song's sunny, bouncy bass guitar, whooshing digital synth waves and a boyish, upbeat vocal echoes the pep of The Shins, which is hardly the first singing touchstone one associates with ambient fare, thus making it a pleasant surprise. "You Are The One" immerses slinky '80s heartland rock vibes in endless reverb, and underscores that Lowlands is just as interested in experimenting with genre as they are with its apparently endless arsenal of electro-gadgetry. Finally, just in case the listener got too comfortable within the album's placid sound forest, Lowlands launch into "Today’s Revelation," a relatively clean slice of new-wavey pop replete with brittle post-punk guitars; the tune sound like something that could have been found on Minks' excellent, rainy Captured Tracks debut By The Hedge. In sum, Lowlands' record represents another Beko homerun, and strengthens our belief that there is actually a wealth of diversity within the world of ambient dream-pop, and plenty of unique ideas yet to be mined. A cassette version of the release sold out in mere weeks, but the record is still available as a digital download for any price via the Bandcamp embed below. -- Edward Charlton
>> The world lost a powerful force in aggressive dream-pop when Boston's Soccer Mom called it quits last year. That band's singular pairing of contemporary, house-show bombast and clean-toned, forward-thinking shoegaze (a la Swirlies circa They Spent Their Wild Youthful Days in the Glittering World of the Salons -- another Boston landmark, of course) filled this reviewer with both pride and awe. Imagine, then, our joy at identifying another act chasing a similar, noble aesthetic. We speak of New Jersey quartet Melt, whose recent powerful, glistening demo "Change" dazzles with its quiet urgency and rich melodicism. On the tune, the quartet – about which we presently know little besides the fact that the band has played shows in Boston and Brooklyn – alternate between a spectral, jangling verse and a post-hardcore half-time stomp during the chorus. That verse of "Change" stuns as well, doubling the watery guitar lines by the second measure, and creating a real six-string tango that crisscrosses over the sighing male vocals like shoelaces. The Swirlies connection (which we admit is nebulous, it's all just really just great music, right?) manifests in the root notes of the bass in that section. Here, starting with a B-flat major chord, the foursome elevates to a C minor before the bass unexpectedly drops to an A natural major during the third root. A restless bump halfway through is delightfully disorienting, and the odd nature of the chord choice leads the listener to reconsider their own melodic logic, which is a fun takeaway. Moreover, it makes the case that Melt can be counted among outfits such as Swirlies that aren’t afraid to nurture a subtly exploratory compositional spirit while still bringing the straight up rawk. If this already well-mixed recording is what Melt considers a demo, we sincerely hope that their first official material will remind listeners of why expansive bands like these are so important in the first place. Snag "Change” for a buck via the Bandcamp embed below, which of course you should also stream the tune early and often. Speaking of Soccer Mom, the band reunites for one last cacaphonous hurrah at the end of the month: it says goodbye May 29 at Great Scott in Boston. The night also includes sets from Infinity Girl, Chandos and Coaches, and complete deets and a ticket link are available for viewing right here. Swirlies, of course, have also just announced a series of summer dates with a very compelling line-up, and those tour dates can be inspected right here. Now if only Melt good get an opening slot or two on some of those east coast dates... -- Edward Charlton
May 5, 2015
Going Hard In The Paint: The Young Leaves On Playing The Greatest Show Ever (So Far) And What Comes Next
[PHOTO CREDITS: Joshua Pickering, Legend] Only a week ago the dudes in The Young Leaves woke up and probably wondered if it had all been a dream. The indie punk heroes, the pride of Holliston, Mass., opened the prior night's already legendary, shoe-brand sponsored rock show at The Sinclair in Cambridge, Mass., which -- in case you are just waking up from a coma -- was headlined by The Replacements and also featured Dinosaur Jr. A more fabled night of music we cannot think of, at least not without raising the dead. Calling it a dream bill is a ridiculous understatement, and it is likely no one appreciates that more than The Young Leaves' guitarist and primary songwriter Christopher Chaisson, which may very well be why his trio was tapped to open the night for two-thirteenths of the bands featured in Azzerad's absolutely essential "Our Band Could Be Your Life."
The Young Leaves, of course, bring a lot to the table, and totally earned that opening slot; the band's three full-lengths and various singles bristle with undeniable hooks (Exh. A is this five-star rager) and TYL tours as much as their finances allow. We were painting some shelves this past weekend like a boss and listening through the band's catalog, and got to thinking, well, godddamn, what must it have been like to play that show? So we asked, and you can read the results below. Mr. Chaisson super graciously gave of his time and attention to answer our questions about what playing the show was like, what the status is of The Young Leaves hotly anticipated next LP, and whether the band will tour as extensively as it did last year. We thank Christopher for agreeing to the interview, and invite you to hit play on one of the Bandcamp embeds below and read through our interview.
Clicky Clicky: We saw that Facebook post in early March about getting to open for bands you could only dream of. But, goddamn, last week's show was way beyond what we had envisioned at the time. When you think about the guy you were, in the place you were, just starting out with the band in 2006, we assume this show is way outside the envelop of what your hopes and dreams were at the time. Was it hard to keep the show on the downlow for so long?The Young Leaves' next area show is at O'Brien's in Allston Rock City at the end of the month, and, luckily for you, you don't need to win a ticket to get in. The night includes sets from Born Without Bones, Sundials and Notches, and you can grab tickets right here. Hit the embeds below to hear the last two TYL long-players.
Christopher Chaisson: It's really funny because when we were first approached by Converse to play, I almost immediately thought about how I would have reacted when I first started this band. I remember seeing Dinosaur Jr. on their first reunion tour back in 2005. I showed up with a handwritten letter and a demo CD hoping that I could just throw it at J and he'd somehow find my gesture to be adorable and not want to punch me. I don't know if it was naivety or my longstanding self-confidence, but I honestly believed that he would be into it! What's great about starting a band at such a young age (I was 17 when I began this whole thing) is that you have those big dreams and you haven't been shut down and beaten up enough times to realize that most of them aren't going to happen. There's still that sense of hope that can't be replicated after you've experienced defeat or failure on multiple levels. So I think that 17-year old Christopher would have been extremely excited to play the show, but also think somewhat along the lines of, "Yeah, that's what's supposed to happen!"
Keeping the show a secret was insanely difficult because we knew that everyone was going to lose their minds. For me, I knew that all of my close family and friends were going to be freaking out because they are aware of my obsession with Dinosaur Jr. and how important it was to my development, so to them it was like I was playing in the NBA Finals or something. But to the majority of my friends, and the general public in Boston, I knew that the announcement of not only Dinosaur Jr. but also The Replacements was going to cause some serious noise. I mean, Dinosaur is a big enough band as-is to play whatever show they'd like in the city and have no difficultly packing the place on a very regular basis. The Replacements, though? That's an entirely different story! They could announce one show in the middle of nowhere and the entire country would be fighting for tickets. I was so shocked when I first got the offer from Converse that I actually e-mailed them back three times simply to double-check that the show was indeed both Dinosaur Jr. AND The Replacements and that my little band was somehow part of the gig. It was beyond reality to me.
CC: We didn't win tickets and couldn't go, which burns of course, especially as too many of our friends are calling it a quote lifetime highlight show unquote. Twenty years from now, what will you and the other guys remember about that night? Does it feel weird to be back kicking it in Holliston after all that?
Christopher Chaisson: Well, we all had different reasons for being excited for the show in the first place. Matt is a humongous Replacements fan and it was basically his dream come true to not only play with them, but to see them at such an intimate venue. He had seen them earlier in the year and told me it was the greatest performance he'd seen next to Bruce Springsteen (which, to be fair, he is obsessed with to the point that nothing could compare anyway.) Rico had never seen Dinosaur before and he also knows how important their influence has been to our band, so I think most of his excitement was geared toward seeing them live for the first time. And I was really more focused on the entire concept. To think that I grew up listening to these two bands in a way that was so instrumental in my growth as a person and songwriter, it was a trip for me to share a stage with them. In 20 years from now though, I'm hoping that our band has more moments like this so that I can recall this show as being something great in it's own right, but not career-defining or the peak of my life as a songwriter.
CC: Did you have any funny interactions with the Mats guys or Dinosaur guys? I'm guessing you guys hadn't ever met any of The Replacements before, but what about J, Lou and Murph?
Christopher Chaisson: None of us had ever met anybody from either band before, so being backstage with them was a totally new experience for us. I actually had this one teacher in high school who had been roommates with either J or Lou back in their college days, and he used to tell me stories about how they would show up at parties and sit against the wall and not saying anything for hours at a time. So I went into the situation without much expectation regarding becoming buddies with anybody or anything like that. We were supposed to do a meet-and-greet with both bands but The Replacements didn't seem to want to participate and their manager came out to talk to us like it was our idea or something. Dinosaur was down to do it I guess, but it was just a one-minute photo-shoot where we literally stood behind them, they took one picture of us, and sent us on our way.
I think the interactions we had with both bands were kind of inherently funny. My band is very energetic; we love talking and, although we know we're going nowhere, we still have that youthful sort-of-hopeful attitude about music and life. And then there are these two other bands who had been in our shoes at one point in time, but then took off and had all sorts of success and experiences that we could only dream of having. In a way, we couldn't really relate to either band on any level, other than the fact that we have some sonic similarities in our work. That's where the 17-year-old me would have been crushed; I wouldn't have understood how to react to my "idols" not sharing anything in common with me. But the 27-year old me totally got it. Just because we all play basketball at the YMCA every Thursday night doesn't mean we hang out off the court.
CC: Your remark on stage about ripping off Dinosaur and The Replacements was reported in a bunch of the initial coverage of the night. I've always considered The Young Leaves more on Team Husker Du than Team Mats. Still, as a songwriter, it's pretty hard not to be influenced by Westerberg, right? (Or, at least as a GOOD songwriter, LOL)
As far as The Replacements vs. Husker Du, I'm definitely more of Husker Du fan and that's something that, I think you're right, comes across in my own songwriting. The Replacements really spoke to me as a kid because of the all-inclusive nature of Westerberg's lyrics. His songs were anthemic and the lyrics were usually written in the context of "we." I have always interpreted The Replacements as a band that spoke to people to try and initiate a conversation, which is most likely why so many individuals have such a strong personal connection with their material. As I grew older though, I started realizing that I wasn't part of the "we" demographic. My band wasn't going to make it, I was bound to work a regular job, and my dreams weren't going to come true (to that extent), and that's where Bob Mould comes in. Mould has always put his heart out there as his own. Every word he's ever written has been from his perspective and based on his experience. And for one reason or another, I guess I can relate to that more at this stage in my life. Also, Bob Mould is one amazing guitar player and people sometimes forget that.
CC: Your last full length came out in late 2013 and, at least according to Bandcamp, is completely sold out in its various physical formats. And we think you guys have been writing for a new full-length, but all we know is that "Whatever U" might be on it. What else can you tell us about it? Do you think there will be new music for fans to hear and/or buy this year?
Christopher Chaisson: Since late 2013, I've written about 22 to 27 songs that I have intended to use for a full-length, but we simply haven't had the time to commit to getting that done. I'm a full-time graduate student and both Matt and Rico have jobs, so this [band] unfortunately acts as a secondary part of our lives. With that said, we have a 7" single coming out at some point later this year on Jump Start Records. It features the session that we did at Q Division courtesy of Converse. The A-side is a song called "Unreal" that I wrote a couple years ago and the B-side is a re-recording of a song off our first full-length from 2007. As far as a full-length, all I can say is that it's written, the song you mentioned "Whatever U" is absolutely a part of it, but its release and recording are all up in the air. We try to do the best we can with the limited time and resources we have. Hopefully we can get that done sooner rather than later because having these songs live in my head for so long drives me crazy!
CC: You went out on a month-long tour last year. Are you planning a similarly ambitious jaunt this year, or will you be waiting to have a new release out there? Do you feel like the Rubber Tracks show will open some more doors for you from a touring standpoint?
Christopher Chaisson: 2014 was a busy year for us and although we had a terrific experience touring for so long, playing new places, and meeting all sorts of people, it was truly a once in a lifetime situation. Music can't sustain itself and bands can't succeed in this industry. It's impossible to get to a level in which you're touring the country and not accruing life-ruining debt and eating one meal a day. I think one of the things that I learned from playing a show of this caliber is how different our lives are from musicians who've "made it" to some degree. We have never been afforded any of the luxuries that came with playing that show and it was such an eye-opener and amazing feeling to be able to get a taste of that for once. To see a crew of people come to our broken down minivan and move our gear for us was mind-blowing! It was an event that I'll certainly remember forever, but it's not indicative of any expectations that anyone should have about playing in a band in 2015.
Our current touring situation is contingent on whether or not we can leave behind our lives and, essentially, not die in one way or another. If someone believes in us and comes up with a gameplan for us to tour, put out records, and not live in a sewer in our downtime from playing out, I'd be all for it and I'm sure that Matt and Rico would be too. But at this stage in our lives, we're operating conservatively to ensure that we're all living happy normal lives while maintaining some of that love and passion we have for going hard in the paint (aka, playing music.) I have no idea if the Rubber Tracks show or the session they provided us with will lead to anything, but I do know that I am forever appreciative for all that it has already done for us. It's been a great thing and I couldn't be more thankful.
Either way, I'm going to continue writing great songs whether or not anybody hears them.
CC: Well, we're super stoked The Young Leaves were able to play the Rubber Tracks show. One thing that strikes us about what we've talked about is that you sound like an upbeat, optimistic dude making art in a field, so-to-speak, about which there's a lot of reason for pessimism, from a "making a living" standpoint. We want to end on a positive note, so, tell us, what is it about music that drives you, and what is the best thing about being in The Young Leaves?
Christopher Chaisson: I started this band with the hopes of taking the songs from my head and getting them out into the world. It didn't matter how many people listened, and it certainly didn't matter if I were generating any money at the time either.
That being said, even though my situation has changed and I have different priorities, my perspective on why I play in this band has remained the same. I just want to write music and put out records. The best part about being in this band is that I can do whatever I want with it. In the past that's meant kicking out members, taking the occasional temporary hiatus, or recording in my parents' basement with two microphones, but now that means doing things at my own pace and having as much fun as possible. I love Rico and Matt and we have the best time playing together. That's positive, right?
CC: Absolutely. Thanks for the chat, Christopher. Keep up the rock.
Christopher Chaisson: Thank YOU!
The Young Leaves: Bandcamp | Facebook | Soundcloud
May 4, 2015
Attentive readers will recall Clicky Clicky turned on to Melbourne shoegaze four Hideous Towns late last year, around the time it released its haunting and textured self-titled EP. We've been revisiting the EP a fair amount lately, and thought it is high time we checked in with the band to learn more about what they do and where they do it as part of our long-suffering Show Us Yours feature, which provides a window into the practice spaces of the hitmakers of the day. This is Show Us Yours' first figurative jaunt to Australia, so we're feeling particularly international right now, yeah. We couldn't resist asking about Hideous Towns' name, as it is -- as noted previously here in these electronic pages -- the title of a tune from The Sundays' titanic full-length debut Reading, Writing & Arithmetic. It turns out Hidous Towns aren't rabidly obsessed with the legendary British act, but guitarist Chris MacLean was hipped to them by his dad and has assumed ownership of his dad's copy of that debut LP. Mr. MacLean and the band were very gracious with their time telling us about their practice spot and answering our questions about the state of shoegaze in Australia and this upcoming weekend's Roogaze festival. MacLean also told us that Hideous Towns has new music in the works and aims to work more quickly to get new music out there, which, as a fan, we were obviously pleased to hear. Click play on the Soundcloud embed of the foursome's eponymous EP at the foot of this piece, set your clocks a breathtaking *14* hours ahead to get on local time, and then settle in to our Q+A below.
Clicky Clicky: So why do you use this practice space? What makes it the best space for Hideous Towns right now?As noted above, Hideous Towns play this coming weekend's Roogaze festival, and if you have the very good fortune of actually being in Australia (which this writer has keenly wanted to visit for the better part of two decades), hit this link for all the details about the festival.
Chris MacLean: For proper practices we play at [drummer] Ashley's parents' place, which is about 45 minutes out of the city. We figure we have to go to a "Hideous Town" to write songs ; ). Up until recently he still lived there. It's a "granny flat"-type thing in the backyard which is decked out with gear and soundproofing stuff. He now lives near us but, thankfully, [but] it's still "his room," so we go there whenever we like, play until whenever we like, at whatever volume we like for free, with great hospitality from his awesome family. Those are the main reasons that it's the best space! It feels like the perfect place, I suppose, because it's where we first played with Ash, and first played as a full band also, many of our songs were written there or completed there. Also, for most shows we only need to bring a snare and cymbals so Ashley's drum kit lives there.
CC: Is there an idiosyncrasy or quirk to the space that has affected the sound of one of your songs, or even the overall sound?
CM: It strikes us as funny that we love playing there so much despite it being in a town/region that none of us can stand, a really dull urban growth area with shopping centres and fast food as the main features. But if anything I think it has shaped our sound in the way that it's quite a small room and we play very loudly, even with pretty, gentle songs. This has come to be a must for all of us, I think, we don't want to be a quiet band. Although it's quite a drive to get there, it's always good bonding time where we just chat and listen to music on the way. I can't think of any way that the song arrangements themselves are indebted to the space, though, a lot of the ideas come to us at home near the city, anyway.
CC: You walk into your rehearsal space. What's the first thing that you smell?
CM: The first smell is probably Ashley's clothing or just "his" smell, haha. Everyone has one, I think, that just becomes part of whatever room they happen to inhabit. Luckily it isn't so bad, he's a pretty hygienic lad. Actually, quite often his father is barbecuing something in the back yard right on our way to his room so that's probably still lingering in the nostrils as we walk in, yum.
CC: It's been 18 years since the last Sundays record, and we imagine you guys are all younger than Clicky Clicky's executive editor by a good fair stretch. What's a relatively new and young band out of Melbourne doing naming themselves after a song from a sorta-unsung but incredible British band from two decades past?
CM: Most likely yeah, Alana is oldest at 25 (Chris 24, Ryan 23, Ashley 22). That's a hard question to answer, I guess, we really didn't have a name for a long time while we were writing songs and it came at the last minute with a vote. My father had introduced me to The Sundays (I still have his Reading, Writing & Arithmetic LP at our place) and the track "Hideous Towns" had a bass line which I thought was (unintentionally) similar to one Ryan had just written. I thought it was a coolish name and brought it to the vote and it just scraped through really, not all of us are heavily into The Sundays, by any means. I think we share somewhat of a begrudging feeling in some way to our respective hometowns, more so to some of the people than anything else, and I like to think our collective migration to the inner city to see and play music gives the name a deeper meaning than just being obsessed with The Sundays.
CC: There's definitely a bit of the Gavurin/Wheeler feel to your terrific songs "Undone" and "Pets." But Hideous Towns' sound offers more, and we expect you guys are about much more than just being Sundays fans. What's an influence on the band that might surprise people?
CM: One aspect of The Sundays music that we do all respect is their songwriting, so thanks! I think our sound is more diverse, just due to our inherent inability to write songs that sound too similar. Ashley is pretty big on Snoop Dogg at times, haha, and Alana's singing inspirations are more rooted in soul singers of the '60s. We also really like The Drums.
CC: We read with interest the DKFM piece about Roogaze, the Melbourne shoegaze and dream-pop festival that is rapidly approaching and which Hideous Towns will play. Is there any act you are particularly excited to see at Roogaze? We are familiar with Kigo, but the rest of the acts are new names to us.
CM: I'm really excited to see Kigo and the other interstate bands that I haven't seen before (Miners and Blush Response), though Day Ravies are always great to see too. We've played with all the other groups before and are friends with them, but never in one show, so it should be an awesome day! I'm a little surprised you've heard of Kigo but not Lowtide, they are the most well known and established in the list, but every band is really great so you should check them all out! The best part for me is that each band has shoegaze elements, in different amounts, but all the groups sound different and have different songwriting styles so it's pretty exciting to be involved.
CC: So what do the next six months look like for Hideous Towns? What can you tell us about progress on new material, or even new recordings?
CM: We have a song called "Heart Attack" which we [have just finished mixing] and we're going to release it as a single and try to really push it to new ears. We're very proud of it and think it has more instant appeal than the EP tracks. We recorded it with our great friend and genius Matthew Hosking (who also did the whole EP, he has a band called VHS Dream who are incredible, so keep an ear out for them, gorgeous song and video coming soon!). We're aiming to get a 7" pressed, make a video and do some shows with bands we really like to promote it, including some interstate shows most likely. Apart from that, we have a stupid amount of new songs, some of which we've started playing live that would be good to record as soon as possible -- so hopefully this year. I've recently been sold on the idea of putting out more recorded stuff, or as much as possible, because that's what really lasts and reaches like-minded people around the world (like legends in Boston!). So if we have the money and time, I think we'll be recording more fairly soon.
CC: Thanks for doing this, Chris and everyone!
CM: No, thank you, Jay! Your kind words have sincerely meant a lot to us. We can't believe someone rad from such a far away place has taken an interest to this extent, so cheers to you man :).
Hideous Towns: Bandcamp | Facebook | Soundcloud
Previous Show Us Yours episodes:
Shapes And Sizes | Dirty On Purpose | Relay | Mobius Band | Frightened Rabbit | Assembly Now | Meneguar | Okay Paddy | Charmparticles | Calories | Sun Airway | It Hugs Back | Lubec | A Giant Dog | Bent Shapes | Krill | Golden Gurls | Earthquake Party! | Hallelujah The Hills | Seeds Of Doubt | The Cherry Wave | Coaches | Night Mechanic | Kindling | Julius Earthling
May 1, 2015
Maybe you weren't expecting your next indie pop savior to be a teenager from South Jersey. Yet straight out of Magnolia comes 19-year-old Kevin Rogers, who has built up a band around a charming collection that streets tomorrow on rising micro-indie Como Tapes. The act is called Kickstand Boyfriend, and the arresting record is called Christ's Night Out, and if you like the lilting wistfulness of The Coctails and Archer Prewitt's solo work, or even the chiaroscuro catharsis of contemporary Boston hitmakers Kal Marks, then Kickstand Boyfriend is the band for you. Christ's Night Out presents a window into the youthful ennui and disillusionment of post-lapsarian life in small-town Jersey; in press materials Rogers speaks of losing friends to addiction, of, in effect, innocence reduced to cinders. The ominous bass line and mildly venomous vocal on "Born To Be Destroyed," and the increasingly forceful drumming of "Journey Home High Priest," darken the mid-section of the collection. But elsewhere breezy guitar chords, clean leads and Rogers' resigned tenor win the day, and limn the proceedings with an (albeit moody) lightness that is Kickstand Boyfriend's most appealing quality. The wonderfully realized "House Rules Waltz" is a highlight of the set, as is "Lying In A Coffin," a surprisingly bright and nearly cheerful number in spite of the lyrics "I'm just lying in a coffin... and all my best friends are already dead / they're in my head." Situated at opposite ends of the record, "The Pines" and its freeing instrumental foil "The Pines Part II" sparkle with something like optimism.
Attentive readers will recall that Como Tapes in March issued a solid, posthumous collection from the Oberlin-bred indie act Diocese, which we wrote about here. The label releases Christ's Night Out tomnorrow, but it is available for purchase now via Kickstand Boyfriend's Bandcamp yert on "nightclub pink" cassette and digital download. Christ's Night Out is being fêted with a release show tomorrow at The Fire in the great city of Philadelphia, with support from Choice Blanket (members of which back Rogers in Kickstand Boyfriend), The Noises That Sounds Make and Gregory Michael Jordan; all the details about the show are right here. The record was recorded at Gradwell House with former Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start [this!] guy Dave Downham overseeing mixing and mastering. Kickstand Boyfriend previously released a demo EP via Bandcamp early this year; the set was called Chocolate & Pornography, but it has already been deleted from the Interzizzles. Other "demos and throw away songs" from last summer met a similar fate. But what you can listen to right now, dear rock fans, is all of Christ's Night Out via the Soundcloud embed below. And if you are in Philly tomorrow (it looks like it is an early show?), you know where to be.
Kickstand Boyfriend: Bandcamp | Facebook