Wednesday, August 20, 2014

REVIEW: The Holy Ghost Electric Show - The Great American Holy Ghost Electric Show

The Holy Ghost Electric Show have one of those sounds.  The kind of sound that if you hear it while walking through the grounds of a music festival, you stop at their stage and listen until they are done.  The kind of sound that makes you stay on a radio station when spinning the dial.  The kind of sound that makes you click "like" on an online curated playlist from Songza and then open a browser to find out more about the band.  The kind of sound that when it comes on the speakers in a party you realize that you gradually have stopped listening to the conversation and are paying attention to the songs.

The band is from Corinth in the Mississippi hill country.  The members are Cody Rogers (songwriter, lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Jake Rogers (guitar and banjo), Will Shirley (guitar), Conner Wroten (bass), Austin Wheeler (drums) and Jesse James (trombone and keys).  The Rogers brothers, sons of a southern preacher, and their mates assembled the band in the college town of Oxford, Mississippi, and created a musical collage from rock, folk, country, soul and California pop influences.  The band performs with professional competence and flair, but often just on the edge of the raggedy, ramshackle territory that reminds you of musician friends deciding to go to their car in the parking lot, bring in their instruments and jam until closing in the local tavern.  But there is something more as well  -- a current of almost unsettling emotion, a nearly desperate need to touch the listener.  While musically satisfying, this ain't good time background music.

The boys have packaged twelve tracks of their southern Gothic brew in The Great American Holy Ghost Electric Show, which is out now via Atlanta label This Is American Music.  As hard as it is to choose tracks (or more precisely, to eliminate tracks) to use to illustrate the album, the first three tracks and the seventh will provide an excellent snapshot of the range and power of The Holy Ghost Electric Show.  But you don't have to live just with my choices.  The Website link below will allow you to stream the entire album.  Put on your earphones and listen tonight under the stars.  If not sooner, by the time you hit "Kerosene Heater Blues" and "Elizabeth", you will be hauled in hook, line and sinker.

This Is American Music

"There's A Girl In The Corner" from The Twilight Sad

If I were to propose making three statements about Scotland's The Twilight Sad and challenge you to to determine which of the statements was false, could you do it?  The statements are (1) The band will release a new album in October, (2) the band will tour the UK and North America this fall with We Were Promised Jetpacks, and (3) The Twilight Sad have decided to make frivolous, happy music.  Do you have an answer in mind?

Statement number one is correct, as Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave will be released on FatCat Records on October 29.  That means either two or three is incorrect.  Your hint can be found in the following titles from the upcoming album: "I Could Give You All That You Don't Want", "Drown So I Can Watch", and "Pills I Swallow".  Those sad titles mean, happily, that number two is correct.  Moreover, they will cover North America pretty extensively.  And the good news is that when it comes to sad songs, The Twilight Sad does them very, very well, with rich sound textures and palpable emotion.  And to remind you of all that, here is the first song from the album, "There's A Girl In The Corner".

Fat Cat Records

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

REVIEW: Dan Michaelson and the Coastguards - Distance

With his gravelly baritone, Dan Michaelson may remind a listeners of Leonard Cohen or, perhaps, Calvin Johnson of Beat Happening.  It is a commanding instrument, but also, I think, a dangerous one.  A voice like that can become monotonous over the course of an album if the delivery isn't right and the songs don't have enough innate sparkle.  Fortunately, on Distance, both Dan and the songs are more than up to the task.

For this album, crafted in the aftermath of his divorce, Dan is exploring loss, heartache and related issues of physical and emotional distance.  There are emotional pleas such as "come on home I want you, come on home I need you" in "Bones", swathed in minor keys.  But hope, resilience and, most refreshingly, an absence of self-pity ultimately make this album a triumph of the spirit rather than a funereal dirge.  And while Dan and the Coastguards (I love that name) are in fine form musically, the real stars are Dan's unaffected delivery and the quality of his lyrics.  Happily, the production allows both to shine.  In eight tracks over thirty minutes, the first glance could suggest that this album is quiet and slight.  But my take is that Distance is proof that the true measure of a set of songs isn't in the decibels or running time, but rather in the power of the words and the conviction of the performance.

Here is the more upbeat showcase track "Burning Hearts" --

In addition to Dan, Dan Michaelson and the Coastguards are Laurie Earle, Horse, Henry Spenner, Gabriel Stebbing, Romeo Stodart and Johnny Flynn.  Distance is out now via London label The State51 Conspiracy.

The State51 Conspiracy

Monday, August 18, 2014

"Dream Happening" from Sea Pinks

Belfast's Sea Pinks doesn't put a wrong foot forward, in my opinion, so I regard it as very good news that they will be releasing an album on September 29 via CF Records.  Regular readers here know what I'm talking about, as I've featured the band a few times.  Those of you who missed it can enter the band's name in this site's search box, or simply check out the Bandcamp link below.  But before you do that, enjoy "Dream Happening", which is the first song to be released from the album Dreaming Tracks.

Sea Pinks is Neil Brogan, who also has been drummer for Belfast's Girls Names.  His Girls Names mates have helped with previous Sea Pinks releases, but I don't know whether they are involved in this album.

CF Records

Sunday, August 17, 2014

REVIEW: Toco - Memoria

Tomaz di Cunto performs under the name Toco, which could be a diminutive or short form of his full name, but is also Portuguese for ‘"play’". He is a vocalist, guitarist and composer of breathtaking talent and has a rare ability to combine the best parts of two great genres - Brazilian samba and European jazz. Toco has been making records in Milan for the Italian Schema label but hails from Brazil. Working with the Milanese acid jazz producer Stefano Tirone, (aka S-Tone), Toco'’s reputation has been steadily building. If you watched the film Silver Linings Playbook, you heard “Guarapiranga”, a track from one of his previous albums.

The title of the album, Memoria, refers specifically to the regions of Minas Gerais and the Brazilian northeast, its hot climate, the religiousness of the people and its faith in miracles, calling to mind images of mysterious and surreal popular tales, where time flows slowly in an intimate dimension.

“Minas”, a poetic homage to Minas Gerais, opens the album:

In his youth, Toco met Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, and that influence shows in the more "bossa" numbers, such as "Manè":

Toco's collaborators include Brazilian artists such as Robert and Eduardo Taufic, Mauro Martins, Edu Hebling, Marquinho Baboo, Ligiana Costa and Selton. Nina Miranda, already known to the public for her collaboration with Smoke City and Da Lata, joined this cast of amazing artists.

This is the third album that Toco and Tirone have produced together. The previous collaborations were “Instalaçao Do Samba” (Schema, 2004) and “Outro Lugar” (Schema, 2007). Their collaboration results in some absolutely breathtaking music - bearing out some obviously ambitious artistic concepts, certainly... but free-flowing and full of the joy of life. This is a beautiful record - one of the best I have heard so far this year.

Memoria is available now via Schema Records.

Friday, August 15, 2014

REVIEW: Cosines - Oscillations

Cosines are a guitar and synth pop band from London, named after Carole King's doo wop group from the '60s and making quite a name for themselves at festivals and shows this year.  And based on their debut LP Oscillations, the buzz is well-deserved.  The songs are very engaging, with affecting emotion in the (mostly female) vocals, hummable melodies, hooks, and a very adept feel for dynamic changes over the course of the songs.  There are elements of the sweetness and fuzzy guitars of a straight indie pop group, but also clear currents of more forward-looking pop as well, as may be expected from a group that considers themselves 'math pop'.   Thematically, the album charts the chaos of young relationships, and I think it is about as good a soundtrack for that subject as I've heard in a while.  A few tracks below demonstrate the band's range and quality, but if you only have time for one, get lost in the wonder of "Our Ghosts".

Cosines are Alice Hubley, Daniel Chapman, Simon Nelson, The Late Jonny Drums (yes, that's what it says), and Kajsa Tretow.  Oscillations is out now via Fika Recordings.

Cosines - Commuter Love from Fika Recordings on Vimeo.

Fika Recordings page for album

"Go Back" from Chase City

We here at WYMA look far and wide for ways to improve your weekend.  Today's guaranteed jump-start is Chase City, a quartet from Hobart, Tasmania.  Tarik Stoneman (vocals), Michael Snape (drums), Peter Snape (guitar) and Jed Appleton (bass) craft music that is irrepressibly bouncy and energetic.  Their latest effort is "Go Back", which features a multitude of hooks that grab you  for a 2:41 ride that makes you feel young and happy.  You'll likely play it many times, so get comfortable.


Rolling Stones Friday: Street Fighting Man

Perhaps the only positive thing that can be said about the Vietnam War was that the outrage and chaos around it created some great music. Mick Jagger was inspired to write "Street Fighting Man" in 1968 after witnessing a huge and intense anti-war protest in Grosvenor Square in London, where 86 were injured and 200 arrested.

"Street Fighting Man' is for good reason considered one of the Rolling Stones greatest achievements, a stunning and powerful piece of music that was the centerpiece of the great Beggars Banquet LP. Among its many strengths is its ambiguity, completing avoiding the trap of most political songs that leave nothing to the imagination. It seems to start as a call to action, the darker more violent cousin to Martha and the Vandellas "Dancing in the Streets": "Everywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy / Cause summer's here and the time is right for fighting in the streets, boy".  But just a few lines later, resignation sets in, or is withdrawal, or pacificism, or cowardice?: "Well now what can a poor boy do, Except to sing for a rock & roll band? /  Cause in sleepy London Town there's just no place for a street fighting man, no."

The music is just as striking, the song just leaping out of the speakers, raw and powerful, despite the complete absence of any electric instruments except the bass. Keith Richards created the distorted guitar sound by recording layers of acoustic guitars through a mono cassette recorder. Meanwhile Charlie Watts is playing deliberately off-kilter rhythms on a very small, antique drum kit that came up in a suitcase, set up on top of the cassette recorder and miked up to sound extra loud. Add Brian Jones' sitar, Nicky Hopkin's piano (sounds especially cool in the outro) and Dave Mason playing Shehnai, an Indian double reed oboe, and you have one jarringly unique sound on par with the urgency taking place in the streets of most major cities in the Western world in 1968.

Okay enough of my yacking. "Get down":

The song is a staple of the Stones' live shows. And wow, are there are a great many live versions to chose from. But this one from 1972 is strong:

The song is greatly admired. Bruce Springsteen likes to cover it in his concerts and once said: "That one line, 'What can a poor boy do but sing in a rock and roll band?' is one of the greatest rock and roll lines of all time. ... [The song] has that edge-of-the-cliff thing when you hit it. And it's funny; it's got humor to it." But the best cover I came upon was by the Stones' little brothers, Oasis, audio version only, terrific:

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Introducing: Palms On Fire

Palms On Fire is a pop group from Russia.  Attempting to capture your hearts, or at least your ears, they are offering their self-titled EP at "name your price at their Bandcamp page.  It contains four bright tracks with female vocals and major chord melodies to brighten your day.


Free Time - Esoteric Tizz 7"

Next week Dion Nania's Australian-American project Free Time will release its first new music since last year's excellent self-titled debut (review here).  We featured the second track, "Guess Work", a few weeks ago, but we now can share both tracks.  The title track is an upbeat, hooky guitar pop song with some guitar-god flourishes.  It makes me want to hang on to summer a bit longer.  "Guess Work" is a charming, laid-back romantic tune that balances "Esoteric Tizz" perfectly.

The Esoteric Tizz 7" will be released on August 19, but label Underwater Peoples is taking pre-orders now.

For the 7", Free Time was Dion Nania (guitar/vocals), Jonah Maurer (guitar), Mike Mimoun (drums), and Adrienne Humblet (bass).  Going forward, Eric Harm will be playing bass.

Underwater Peoples' pre-order page

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

REVIEW: Peter Rowan - Dharma Blues

Peter Rowan is a roots music giant - as lead singer of Old And In The Way, his warm, straight country vocal approach was perhaps the single best thing about a group that also included Jerry Garcia on banjo, Vassar Clemens on fiddle and the transcendent David Grisman on mandolin. All that said, Rowan's singing was what always distinguished their versions of "Wild Horses" and the like. And Rowan originals like "Midnight Moonlight" and "Panama Red" were so right, they just seemed like songs cowboys must have brought home from the range. He always seemed wise, mature and mellow. And of course, so he is. On his latest album, Dharma Blues, Rowan is dusting off all his musical and creative tools and putting them to work in service of an album that is really, like the best of Rowan's work, unforgettable.

From the opening track, so much about this album just feels right. That a capella opening - just right. The transition into a full, rocking country band with a gracious pedal steel played by Dave Easley - just right. And Gillian Welch's vocals on several tracks here - absolutely just right.

Here is Welch accompanying Rowan on "Raven", a spiritual meditation based in part on Poe's poem. Rowan's been playing this live for years, but for this recording, his harmonies with Welch add a wonderful touch:

Throughout the album, Rowan deftly combines Eastern themes (both musical and spiritual) with his time-honored bluegrass and country chops and a California country-rock sound you'd expect from a teaming of Rowan and Jack Casady, whose work with Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna bring almost as much gravitas to this project as Rowan's history. Recorded in Los Angeles and New Orleans as well as Rowan's home base of Sausalito, Dharma Blues features twelve new Rowan songs. In addition to Casady, Welch and Easley's contributions, Jody Stetcher (David Bromberg, Jerry Jeff Walker) played banjo and tamboura. The tamboura is a key ingredient of the title track, and several others here.

The best thing about the record is that, far from being weighted with expectations and history, it soars with a pleasure and joy that's hard to describe, but easy to feel on the very first listen. In Rowan's words: “The doubts and resolutions of the spiritual journey are what drive Dharma Blues. May this music bring joy to all.” It is out now (released in June) on Omnivore Recordings.

Peter Rowan website
Dharma Blues at Omnivore Records

"High Tide Low Tide" from The Vaselines

The release date for the second LP from Glasgow's The Vaselines since Frances and Eugene resurrected the band a few years ago is still over a month in the future.  But they have unveiled the second track to keep fans from rioting in the streets while waiting for V For Vaselines.  Enjoy it here and look for the album, and our review of the album, in late September.  The duo were assisted by members of Belle & Sebastian, Teenage Fanclub and Sons & Daughters, among others, and we expect songs that are engaging, wryly humorous, irreverent and probably at times naughty.  We like all of that in songs.