The Weakenders is a four-piece rock band (75% of which hails from the great state of Indiana) who are now based in Nashville. Though they’re a relatively new band, they play together with a tightness that would imply a longer tenure together; it bodes well for their forthcoming full length record, which should be out later this spring. The EP they released in October, Everything and Nothing, shouldn’t be overlooked, though; this is a band that is already making worthwhile music, and I’m dying to hear what’s next.
If you fumble around on their Bandcamp, it’s obvious they’ve always had a knack for melody. Even the early stuff– titled Rough Drafts– is pretty good. But by the time they put this EP together– which was recorded over six days, mixed over six more, and mastered in one– they’d found that band-magic that makes songs memorable.
“I Get Down” has shades of early Foo Fighters in it, though admittedly a lot more southern rock. The guitar breakdown towards the end of the song is so strong it’s almost as if the guitar itself were singing: it’s twangy, but it’s aggressive. I’m fascinated by this song. Hands down, though, my favorite part of the song is the vocals on “I get down.” The way that last syllable is stretched is so pretty; and that’s really the best part of this EP. The lyrics are good, the guitar is killer, but overall the melodies and harmonies are really pretty. I love a record that can be good background music OR good primary music, and Everything and Nothing is exactly that.
My favorite song is “Leave a Light On,” which stands out to me because of how good the keys are. There are moments where the music feels very Black Crowes-y, but the vocals aren’t quite
Leave a light on
So I can see
I want to watch your form
Crash over me
I want to fall apart
In front of you
I’ll only get you high
If you ask me to
Bathed in 60 watts of afterlife
Won’t you be my baby tonight?
Overall, this record feels like a throwback: there’s a warmth in the vocals and guitar that makes the music accessible, but there’s also an edge to it. Looking forward to hearing what’s next.
CATCH THE WEAKENDERS ONLINE:
Esa Linna, who has been a bassist and vocalist for several bands (in several genres) since the early 90′s, has released a compelling new EP, She’s Not a Human Being. The title track is a wonderful power-pop song, and thematically, has shades of one of my all-time favorite songs, “Murder (or a Heart Attack)”– the song, which musically sounds like a love song, is actually about his cat. (The song actually name drops Jeff Lynne, which… you really can’t beat that.)
However, the first song that got my attention was the folky “Piece of Me.” It’s a beautiful song that seems, at first, as if it’s going to be unbearably dark; however, the chord progression is so interesting and hopeful that it’s easy to be sucked in quickly. Of the song itself, Linna says:
The song itself was going to be somewhat filler for my EP, but somehow it turned out very good. I recorded & mixed (and of course wrote, sang, and played) it by myself in my home and the percussion you hear are actually a plastic box (as bassdrum) and plastic mug played with my hand or steel guitar tube!
The lyrics are very personal. Basically about myself not being too eager to tell everything about my personal life to people, although there are no skeletons in the closet. But there have been tragedies (deaths of 2 of my brothers, 1 sister) in my family in the past. I can talk about these things very openly, but won’t usually bring’em up unless someone asks (although some of my songs deal with these issues very frankly/directly, like “20 000 Days” from the EP). Hopefully people find different meanings from these lyrics, though!
Even cooler, Linna himself understands that people might be interested in the technical aspects of the song (I always am), and he’s posted a pretty interesting essay on how it was recorded (software, instruments, etc.): CHECK OUT LINNA TALKING SHOP HERE.
There are shades of Elliott Smith in this song (and of artists like Robyn Hitchcock in “She’s Not a Human Being”), but I think that comes as much from the fact that Linna was on a similar trajectory from grunge to folk. It’s just got this ghost-like quality that I absolutely love.
The EP will be released in the US later this month and will include an 11-track demo disk, as well. He’ll also have a full length record out by the end of the year.
VISIT ESA LINNA ON THE WEB:
I’m really excited to introduce you guys to Briar Rabbit (led by songwriter Phillip-Michael Scales). The first song of Briar Rabbit’s that I heard was “The Great Routine,” and I immediately knew I was in for something special– and something different. I love pop music, but suffer from the same thing most people do when it comes to music they love; I get in ruts. Briar Rabbit jerked me out of one. This is new, exciting music, and I’m happy to be able to introduce Scales & the rest of the band before posting a review of the music tomorrow.
First of all, tell me a little about Briar Rabbit. How long have you been performing under that name? And what made you coin the phrase “thought pop”?
I started performing under the name Briar Rabbit in February of 2010 but really kicked off the project the following year. I coined the term “thought pop” because I had been desperately trying to get away from the term “pop” for a while. This wasn’t because I hated the genre or didn’t think I was pop but because of the way people said “this is poppy” it makes you feel like your writing is the equivalent of macaroni art. So I decided to use the term “thought-pop” as a way of saying well thought out lyrics with infectious melodies.
What music would you say inspires you to write?
I would say it’s not really just music that inspires me to write so much as it is everything creative. I just re-watched Radiant Child (the Basquiat documentary) the other night and got extremely inspired. The latest release the great routine was inspired by learning about minstrel shows. I am a songwriter and so to me that’s just the medium that I express and learn about myself in. So far as influences, I would say a lot of music influences me and it all just seeps in by osmosis. Recent favorites are: Fats Waller, Frightened Rabbit, and Regina Spektor’s Far.
Your most recent project, a 4-song concept album called The Great Routine, is based in the history of minstrel shows. Obviously, this is a story that doesn’t get told often– largely because of people’s discomfort with it. Instead of buckling to that, you tell the story with a lot of honesty, which is very compelling. What was it like to write these songs?
It’s interesting because at the time I was writing and showing the songs to my old band. My best friend who played guitar was super into them we kept writing off of each other. Due to time, money, and disbanding I shaved the record down to its four song core. I had a few band members who expressed that it made them uncomfortable but I had to keep writing. Since they didn’t try to understand, their opinions carried no weight with me. The best advice I received was when my dad said “If you’re a little uncomfortable you’re probably doing the right thing.” What kept me going was that I was telling a story that was fueled by emotions and that’s what people connect to. These weren’t political/racial stances thinly masked in music, this was a story that’s setting fueled the emotions.
To see Briar Rabbit explain the project further, check out this video.
In your video, you mention “Coon” by name specifically; what made you decide to write that song?
“Coon” is the set up for the entire record and it addresses the most important question: How do you even choose to play a character so degrading? That was the question that was on my mind, whenever I thought about minstrels and this song is an attempt to add some humanity to that conversation. The character of the Coon is actually a very specific term for the character being played. It also doubles as a slur for the time. I was very cognizant of what I was doing when I wrote the song and chose to juxtapose the term with the sweetness of the music. It grabs a listener’s attention and almost forces you to pay attention. You don’t really get the payoff till the bridge which illustrates the self-awareness of the character.
I know technically it’s a 4-song EP, but it actually starts and ends with a haunting, distorted version of “Old Folks at Home”– what made you choose to begin and end your record by using a song that was actually sung by minstrel performers?
I chose “Old Folks at Home” because it was such a piece of that time and so familiar to everyone now. It sets the stage and places you into that time period so there’s no real misunderstanding. I thought it was important for people to understand this record in its own context.
Your debut record, Briar Rabbit & the Company You Keep, has some ridiculously cool musical parts. What really shines here is the arrangement– for example, in “Numbers,” the electric guitar feels like modern blues, but the backup vocals seem like a throwback. How do you decide what to put where? What instruments do you play?
Thank you! When I arrange a tune, I try to blatantly disregard genre’s because genres have clichés that anyone can play and go “Yup, this is punk, that’s jazz, that’s blues, that’s bluegrass”—and that’s good for the genre. The secret of music is everyone uses the same 12 notes in western music so why not throw different feels and clichés into the song? I think it comes from just listening to so much different stuff and bringing in musicians who listen to a whole bunch of different music so that in the end you get something that’s uniquely mixed. That is my process.
The thing that marks The Company You Keep more than anything else is a gentleness; the lyrics can be very blunt (“Sometimes a house has to burn before anyone learns/ Sometimes the best teacher is pain/ And you’ve just got to look away”) but your voice seems steady and calm. That opens the record up to a lot of different kinds of sounds. Do you like being able to write a lot of different kinds of songs? Or do you prefer either full-band or acoustic singer/songwriter?
I love having lots of instruments because you have more to work add and take away and that makes an emotional impact on the listener. Music was once described as “Tension and Release” and there’s a bunch of expectations when people listen to music which is something as a writer you pay attention to. Certain chords are supposed to go here and when they don’t we go “OOOOH!” I’m that dude at a show who makes noises when I hear something I like! So for me I love having a full band and some acoustic songs so the bigs can be BIG and the smalls can be small. For instance the song “Putch” wouldn’t seem so blue to me if it didn’t have the bowed upright bass and brushed drums to make it swim. I hope that makes sense.
What’s next for Briar Rabbit? What are your goals? When are you playing live? Are you recording again?
I actually just got off the phone with Josh Moshier, who agreed to produce the next record. We will for sure be putting out another record possibly a full length but more specifically it’s just gonna be as long as it needs to be. The goal this year is to convert the bus over to veggie oil so we can tour more, make more fans/friends, write better songs, and expand further. We’re looking to make the transition into a career. You can catch Briar Rabbit at Schuba’s on April 17th!
YOU CAN DOWNLOAD THE ENTIRETY OF “THE GREAT ROUTINE” BY DONATING A TWEET OR FACEBOOK POST HERE
Venice Beach-based band-and-collective, This is the Now have outdone themselves on their first single. With all of the pomp and glam of “Suffragette City” and a healthy dose of cynicism about the current state of American entertainment, their debut single, “Famous For Nothing,” is a pretty clever take-down of what a lot of music and art boils down to these days. It’s easy to see Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton in these lyrics, but it’s equally easy to recognize your neighbor or your college roommate– a pretty harrowing statement about what fame and infamy have become.
But mostly, it’s a cool song. It’s upbeat, it’s put together well, and it’s got enough Lou Reed or Malkmus in it to stay captivating after the initial joke wears off.
I hadn’t heard any Trombone Shorty until this song on Conan the other night– it’s shockingly good. Ryan White of The Oregonian told me that, as good as this video is– it’s not as good as their energy live. This is mindblowing to me. If you want to hear a song that sounds different than everything else you’re listening to and see a performance that will knock your socks off, you need to press ‘play’ below.
The record, For True, will be out September 13th.
You can also stream the studio version of “Do To Me”, which features Jeff Beck
The 70′s rock revival has been discussed pretty frequently on this blog, especially in bands like Dawes that are bringing back the Laurel Canyon sound. It’s almost impossible to listen to the new Parson Red Heads record, Yearling, without thinking of CSNY, the Byrds– and even some of the better Peter, Paul, & Mary. The vocal layering– the jangly guitar– it’s all instantly evocative of a time that seems a bit like a golden era in retrospect.
And that’s one of the biggest strengths of this disk: it evokes golden era without defining golden era; it feels like a retrospective, but it’s new. Songs like “Hazy Dream” feel as familiar as if Roger McGuinn is actually singing them. The level of musicianship is strong– the melodies are tightly woven and specific without feeling overwrought. But the real stand-out on this disk is the vocal performance.
The Parson Red Heads created the harmonized, layered sound by having a five-person band, all of whom can sing. Lead writer/singer Evan Way has a distinctive personality to his voice; it’s warm and it’s open, and it’s evocative of more than a little loneliness. But in a sea of male voices, his wife, Brett Marie Way, stands out with her sweet voice, as well. It’s always a welcome diversion when her voice soars in, like in “Burning Up the Sky.” They’ve opened for Blitzen Trapper and KDR favorite Dolorean, and they have a pretty solid West coast following. With songs like this, it’s not surprising. Yearling is a record about the struggles of growing up, and while there are moments that are bittersweet, there’s a lot of triumph here.
“Unemotional” is an instant stand-out; the way the vocals in the first chorus have a call-and-response with the music is really stellar. While Way sings, “Oh, how things have changed, ohhh, there you are, alone and beautiful, I become unemotional,” and the guitars play back at him. By the second chorus, though, there’s a breakdown there, and that’s just as powerful. The way the music seems to change and mature, even throughout a song, is really impressive; once an effect has been used to its full effect, it’s dropped for something else. The lyrics to this song are beautiful, and they perfectly capture the bittersweetness of growth.
I’m also stunned by the slow, acoustic beauty in “Time is Running Out.” I can’t overemphasize the fact that if you like CSNY, this record is for you; it’s like some kind of a gift from the past. With lyrics like,
Finish the love that you have
All of the time that we spend giving up
Could be spent on the things that we have
Could be spent on the things that we have
Try waking up with the sun
Forget the past, it is done
Think of the man that you used to be
He is less than the one you’ve become
He is less than the one you’ve become
it’s easy to hear how they could have actually be written forty years ago. They are affirmative, forward-moving, thoughtful lyrics; and sung in beautiful harmony.
DOWNLOAD “BURNING UP THE SKY”
The record starts with “Burning Up the Sky” with the line, “We are living, living in the new age, kicking up the dust… we are burning up the sky.” It’s indicative of the things to come, both in feeling and literally; this record is full of huge, expansive images like burning the sky, and it’s layered in such a way that it feels like a woven blanket. All of the voices and instruments come together naturally and tightly. The biggest problem I’m having talking about this record is trying not to sound like I’m using the same language and phrases that the lyrics do; it’s hard to listen to this and not feel more open and more optimistic. And there’s a little bit of a hippie vibe to it that I just can’t kick, no matter how hard I try. I love this track, but it’s almost a let down compared to the rest of the record. It just keeps getting better as it goes.
I can already tell that I’ll be listening to Yearling for years– maybe for the rest of my life. It’s got that instant staying power that so many records come close to having, but don’t pull off. There’s a permanence in the subject matter and in the music; there’s a timelessness that I’ve been finding in so many different places this summer. The Parson Red Heads record fits in great with Dawes, Dolorean– all of the things I can’t stop listening to. I’d recommend this record to anyone who listens to 70′s folk and rock.
CATCH THE PARSON RED HEADS ON TOUR
Sept 25 – Philadelphia Film and Music Festival – Philadelphia, PA *
Sept 26 – Great Scott – Allston, MA *
Sept 27 – Mercury Lounge – NY, NY *
Sept 28 – The Rock Shop – Brooklyn, NY *
Sept 29 – Black Cat – Washington, DC *
Sept 30 – Local 506 – Chapel Hill, NC *
Oct 1 – The Earl – Atlanta, GA *
Oct 3 – The Mohawk – Austin, TX *
Oct 5 – Rhythm Room – Phoenix, AZ *
Oct 6 – The Casbah – San Diego, CA *
Oct 7 – Satellite – Los Angeles, CA *
Jack White and Chris Robinson like this band, which should be enough for you– but in case it’s not, I also like them, haha. They’re rock ‘n roll, R&B, and more than a little bit loud. They’ve got the energy and keys of a Jerry Lee Lewis or a Little Richard, and have already been hailed as one of the best live acts touring right now. The Jim Jones Revue’s new record, Burning Your House Down, comes out next Tuesday, August 16th. Download the single, “High Horse,” here! You can also stream the full album at Brooklyn Vegan, which I recommend you do; it starts off with the killer “Dishonest John,” and just gets more awesome from there.
9/1/2011 – Vancouver, BC – The Biltmore Cabaret
9/3/2011 – Portland, OR – Doug Fir Lounge
9/4/2011 – Seattle, WA – Bumbershoot Festival
9/7/2011 – San Francisco, CA – Independent
9/8/2011 – Los Angeles, CA – Echo
9/10/2011 – Brooklyn, NY – Music Hall of Williamsburg
9/11/2011 – Allston, MA – Brighton Music Hall
9/12/2011 – Montreal, QC – Casa del Popolo
9/13/2011 – Toronto, ON – Horseshoe Tavern
9/14/2011 – Chicago, IL – Schuba’s Tavern
9/16/2011 – Philadelphia, PA – The Blockley Pourhouse
9/17/2011 – Washington D.C. – Black Cat
9/18/2011 – Hoboken, NJ – Maxwell’s
Every once in a while, I’ll get a record from a band that I feel like I should already know. As I’ve talked about (probably more than once?) I’m originally from Dallas, Texas, and I’m really proud of that fact. I’ll probably never move back to Texas, but being Texan is a huge part of my identity. Which is why when a band from around that area, especially one who broadcasts their geography, sneaks by my radar, I get a little suspicious.
The Von Ehrics are from Denton, which is really close– and they’ve got the same punk shuffle that helps make the Old 97′s so irresistible to me. I’m a huge fan of country music played with loud guitars, which is what usually comes out of that area– but I wouldn’t say the Von Ehrics are a country band at all. In fact, they remind me of a lot of the rock music I was listening to in the late 90′s– minus the soaring, screaming guitar riffs, which feel almost purely metal to me. The Von Ehrics are a complete departure from the rest of what I’ve been listening to, which is why Two Foot Stomp has flummoxed me; it’s different. It’s loud. And I really like it.
Taking their name from a ill-fated family of Texan wrestlers, The Von Ehrics combine a bunch of elements that shouldn’t work together; for example, in “Lord, I Pray,” they’ve got a gospel choir backing the lead vocalist, Robert Jason Vandygriff. Vandygriff has an uncharacteristically flawless and beautiful voice for punk– my husband said he thought it sounded like if Chris Robinson had a punk band. I think he’s even more polished than that. Which is part of why the band sounds so good; with a vocalist of his caliber, it’s easy to jump on board.
But the real standout, to me, is guitarist Clayton Mills, who seems to be able to pull over late-80s hair metal riffs without sounding in any way cliche. The riffs on this record are ridiculously strong; they’re interesting, they’re driven, and they’re intricate, all things which speak to the musical talent of the band.
In songs like “Rock ‘N Roll,” Vandygriff acknowledges the country musicians– largely Texan– that he respects and listens to, but says it’s “his radio, his choice,” and says he wants to listen to Black Flag or ZZ Top. There’s something attractive about the complete denial of the country influence– especially since it’s hard to listen to The Von Ehrics without hearing it. By taking the country and gospel song shells and speeding them up, they’ve created the illusion of rebellion that a punk band needs– all while making good music within the constructs of “Texas” music. It’s a complicated thing to pull off, but after more than ten years as a band, The Von Ehrics seem to have found their stride.
I think my favorite song on the record is “Goodbye/The Ride,” which starts with the slowest, most different track on the record. The “goodbye”– a kiss-off to a disloyal girlfriend–
It’s the same thing you see on daytime TV
Se’s been running around making a fool of me
Things are changing, tonight I’m going to hit that highway and ride
– is powerful in of itself because it feels like the first moment on the CD where Vandygriff is being absolutely sincere. That makes it even cooler when the music drops out and comes in double-time for the “ride” section of the song. In songs like this, you can really see how the band seems to be integrating all of their influences while managing to have a very distinct sound.
I also love the first track, “Last of the Working Slobs”, which has my favorite guitar riff on the record, and maybe my favorite musical moment, too, which is in the first chorus where the drums come to the forefront and slow the song down so Vandygriff can sing “Vi-et-nam!”.
The only issue with Two Foot Stomp is that by ten tracks in, I’m exhausted. The songs maintain a standard of quality and are all interesting and well-written– but by the time I get to the end, it’s a little much. I can’t imagine the kind of energy this band would have in concert, but they seem to be whiskey-soaked attention deficit disorder. In fact, the last song on the record, “Texas (When I Die)” features a familiar Texan bravado, but incorporates a bar-full of people singing along with the chorus–
When I die, I may not go to heaven,
I don’t know if they let cowboys in
If they don’t, just let me go to Texas,
Texas is as close as I’ve been
– however,apparently the bar manager where they were recording bought two bottles of whiskey to make sure all of the participants got a shot. I feel like that says everything about The Von Ehrics; they’re hard workers, but they’re hard players, and that comes across in every track.
On a side note: I’ve often said that my favorite rhyme of all time was Elliott Smith in “New Monkey” when he rhymes “junkie” with “monkey.” I’m easy to please; that’s all it takes to hook me in a song. In the “Subterranean Homesick Blues”-without-the-social-responsibility throwback “Down The Road Tonight,” there’s a lot of shout-singing and rhyming– where “junkie” and “monkey” are rhymed again. Thanks, The Von Ehrics– made my afternoon.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy is joining multi-instrumentalist Dominic Cipolla of Phantom Family Halo for the Mindeater EP and the PFH tour this fall. Weaving together elaborate, folksy music with a hushed, ethereal vocal from Billy, the title track is everything you’d expect from musicians who met through musician friends: the combination of artistry and experimentation. Since their initial meeting playing a song with Roky Erikson in PFH’s hometown of Louisville, they’ve combined forces to write three songs for the new EP and to work on a psychedelic version of The Everly Brothers’ classic, “I Wonder If I Care As Much.”
STREAM “MINDEATER” BELOW
9/27 – Nelsonville, OH – Stuart’s Opera House
9/28 – York, PA – Capitol Theater
10/2 – Alexandria, VA – The Birchmere
10/4 – Knoxville, TN – Bijou Theatre
10/5 – Marshall, NC – Marshall High Studios
10/6 – Wilmington, NC – The Soapbox
10/9 – Louisville, KY – The Clifton Center
So much good music these days is being made in EP format; three or four songs at a time, new songwriters get a foothold on what they want their sound to be. Britain’s Michael Kiwanuka is no different. At just 23 years old, he’s already overcome the hesitation to sing and play his own music, and he’s begun crafting songs that have a timeless feel to them. His first EP, Tell Me A Tale, captures his loose, smoky vocals and thought-provoking lyrics. With the release of the first song from his forthcoming EP (out September 18th), Kiwanuka proves that the first songs were not a misfire, but were proof of what a talented musician and singer he is.
Above is the forthcoming “I’m Getting Ready,” which is gorgeous. It’s hard to pick a favorite from his songs, though, so I’m including my favorite off of his previous EP, “I Need Your Company,” below. It’s got sort of a mid-70′s vibe to it, and it’s awesome to get that feeling from contemporary music. (You can also hear “Tell Me A Tale” below.)
Keep an ear out for this guy– he’s got a voice that has a place in the up-and-coming discussion.