Mother Of Fire: “Feral Children” Review
A few months back I saw Heart of the Beast Theater’s performance of Stromboli’s Medicine Show, which featured a live soundtrack from local trio Mother of Fire. And if the action onstage got a little goofy at times, there was no denying that the band’s accompanying instrumentals set a genuinely frightening mood. And while I am not certain, I believe that several of the songs played that evening were sketches of the tunes that went on to make up Mother of Fire’s newest record Feral Children. And if they weren’t, they certainly shared an aesthetic similarity: utter primal terror.
I am not sure if I have heard anything quite as effectively horrifying and at the same time exhilarating, as Feral Children. Out of three musician’s minds has come a musical document that has the power to drain the light from any room and turn it into a wild, scary place. Taking cues from psychedelic drone, eastern exotica and even metal, Feral Children sounds as if it was crafted out of ancient Babylonian texts, druidic incantations, and arcane witchery in some deep, dark subterranean cavern.
Throughout the album, Andie Mazorol and Jason Misik’s propulsive drum and bass rhythm’s provide a minimal canvas for vocalist/violinist Naomi Joy to construct vividly surreal nightmares of beauty and violence, joy and pain. There is something so primordial, so unfiltered about their constructions that they seem as if they could hail from any era. While Joy’s lyricism does ground the record in the present day somewhat, the human desire to distill the violence and savagery of nature into music is as old as time itself. An in this elemental goal, fewer bands are as successful in deriving such raw, naked displays of untempered emotion. There is very little in the way of hooks, choruses, traditional pop structure. Feral Children is more like a long scream that exists in varying wavelengths but in unmitigated intensity.
If your idea of good music is something that you can sing along to in the shower, Feral Children probably won’t be your cup of tea (unless perhaps you shower in blood). If you like challenging music though that pushes boundaries and has the potential to even terrify, then by all means, give Feral Children a try. Just don’t be surprised to find yourself shivering in the fetal position and praying for the sun to rise.
— Jon Behm
The release show for Feral Children will take place this Friday (4/20) at “the warehouse off of Harmon Place behind Joe’s Garage” with Paul Metzger and the Blind Shake.
A. Wolf And Her Claws: “A. Wolf And Her Claws” Review
Few local artists have changed as dramatically over the course of a few years as local singer/songwriter Aby Wolf. In the space of the time between her 2009 debut Sweet Prudence and her self-titled follow up, A. Wolf and Her Claws, Wolf has undergone both a name change and a band recruitment (adding vibraphonist Joey Van Phillips, keyboardist/vocalist Linnea Mohn, and synthesist/programmer Jesse Whitney). She has also transitioned from a homespun folktronic artist to a fully-fledged practitioner of electronic pop. Even Wolf’s look has changed – seeing her now with an ultra-modern haircut and prominent tattoos it’s hard to even recall the acoustic-toting rural Illinois gal of just a few years back.
Still, while much has changed about Wolf’s look and sound certain things do remain constant. On her new record the singer’s pipes are as pristine as ever. While she doesn’t spend much time looping and mixing her vocal tracks (which for a while looked like the direction she was headed) Wolf leads each tune with the limitless confidence of someone with a flawless singing voice. On vox Wolf is also ably backed by the talented Linnea Mohn, a scene veteran who also currently sings in Rogue Valley.
Lyrically speaking Wolf is still an intimately personal songwriter. When she details the everyday struggles of life, she casts herself as protagonist and inflects each song with uplifting and empowering themes. Whether she’s wrestling with her own metaphorical artistic demons or moving on from a failed romance, Wolf’s words are like a mantra for anti-defeatism. Even in her most fragile moments, which here seems to be lovely piano-inflected tune “Disassembled,” Wolf sounds far more interested in growing and learning than she is in feeling sorry for herself.
A. Wolf and Her Claws contains a full, pop-oriented sound that skews electronic but also incorporates slight elements of dub/reggae and hip hop. While Wolf doesn’t rap per se, she does occasionally take on vocal cadences that aren’t too far off of the fact. Occasionally one can’t help but hear some similarities to local rapper Dessa, who Wolf frequently performs with and who has in fact, made a recent vocal transition of her own (in her case from hip hop to R&B). The dub/reggae footprint is pretty small, but on tracks like “Zero to 60” and “All This Time” the synths definitely take on a flavor that is distinctly Caribbean. And while those particular tunes lend the album a poppy, dance feel – the tone is balanced out overall by the addition of a healthy dose of slower, heavier songs.
— Jon Behm
A. Wolf and Her Claws – Zero to 60
The album release show for A. Wolf And Her Claws will take place at the Cedar Cultural Center on 4/21. The band will also be performing an in-store show at the Eletric Fetus this evening (4/17).
Shins: Port of Morrow Review (Three Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are Three reactions, Three impressions, Three Takes on Port of Morrow by The Shins.
Ali Elabbady (Background Noise Crew, Egypto Knuckles)
Since Wincing The Night Away, we didn’t think we’d ever see a Shins reunion per se – but we certainly didn’t expect a whole new group appearing alongside lead singer James Mercer. Since his bout with experimentation along with Danger Mouse as Broken Bells, most folks expected a Shins reunion to be just that, but one must ask how Port of Morrow sounds in that context. In that question, it’s technically like the Shins have never left, and if anything, it shows that in some reunions or comebacks so to speak, one person bringing back that certain nostalgia is just as powerful, take a listen to such tunes as “Simple Song,” or “Fall of ’82” and while Port of Morrow is certainly a more subdued affair, its material hasn’t affected the potency that Mercer has as a force to be reckoned with in the indie singer/songwriter realm.
If you had asked me two months ago, I would have told you that The Shins have probably hung it up for good. And well, actually all of them have, except James Mercer. He has assembled four new musicians, called them “The Shins” and recorded this album. (Apparently, “The Shins” is just a stage name for Mercer and whomever he happens to be playing with at the time). It’s been five years and a very successful “side project,” Broken Bells, since the Shins’ last LP – Wincing the Night Away. It’s been eight years since Zach Braff asked Natalie Portman what she was listening to, and she replied, “The Shins. . . .You gotta hear this song. It will change your life. I swear,” as the opening bars of “New Slang” rose to a slow-motion close-up of Portman’s smiling face, introducing most of America to this band. That moment lead to the Grammy – not for The Shins; they’ve never won one – for Zach Braff. (Did you know that you can get a Grammy for what is essentially producing a mix-tape? They call it “Best Compilation Soundtrack”). But I digress.
Mercer may be a bit of a self-regarding solipsist, but no one denies that he has some serious songwriting chops, at least when it comes to the melodies (the lyrics are another matter). He has the ability to craft beautiful tunes that meld folk and jangle-pop, and when delivered by his paper-thin voice with ethereal backing harmonies, it can add up to something quite singular. Some of that old beauty comes through on Port of Morrow. “September” and “Simple Song” stand out. Even the weaker moments on this album are mildly pleasant, if a bit bland. Yet, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is an album from a band whose moment has come and gone. If you’re looking for a few nice songs to listen to, or if you’re looking to rekindle some mid-90’s nostalgia, this might be your album. If you’re looking for today’s “Best New Music,” you should look elsewhere.
I actually liked the Shins at one point. Somewhere along the way something changed, and listening to their latest release Port of Morrow, I really feel like it wasn’t me. Yes, I like weirder crap now than I used to, but especially for a band I had a genuine affinity for at one point, I have not gone so far that I wouldn’t be able to acknowledge if the album was decent. After the solid opener “Simple Song,” I had a hard to giving the rest of the record a chance after the awful dud that is “It’s Only Life.” Sounding like a terrible mix of Our Lady Peace (are they still a band?) and a christian rock group, the song is as trite and lifeless as a song can be. James Mercer doesn’t bother with creative melodies, lyrics or arrangements. There are moments of equally poor judgements sprinkled throughout (like the weird falsetto of the title track) and scant few times where Mercer seems capable of the soft rock ditties he once spun out effortlessly. It isn’t the lack of energy on the LP that makes the album so weak as the band never won over listeners with volume or intensity, but simply the lack of discernible songs. If you aren’t creating atmosphere or getting the listener moving with a groove, you damn well better write good songs. The Shins (basically James Mercer and mercenaries) did that in spades on their first two albums, lost some of the sparkle on their last LP Wincing the Night Away, and competently dropped the ball on Port of Morrow.
Is/Is: III Review
If the new Is/Is record III sounds somewhat familiar to you when you hear it for the first time this week, it may be because many of the tunes have already been made widely available for early listening. We have been enjoying “Hate Smile,” “Lie Awake,” and “Bomb Me” for much of this spring already. III’s release is still a welcome development though, since not only does it offer an additional grip of tunes, it also coheres them into a singular format – which for me anyway is always the preferred method of listening.
And while the pre-released singles are undoubtedly some of III’s best, the rest of the record has a great deal to offer as well. “Loose Skin” features the trio about as upbeat (and hook-friendly) as we have seen them, though lyrically they are still pretty dark (“you can’t pretend forever / this double in the mirror / has got to tell you the truth”). Stylistically the band stays pretty true to its core sound, which is informed heavily by both post punk and grunge (i.e. lots of guitar distortion, disaffected vocal delivery, et al) though “Untitled One” and “Untitled Two” take the record in an unexpected ambient drone direction. The final two tracks, “Sun Tsunami” and “Save Your Savior” also notably take on a bit of druggy, psychedelic flavor that shows the bands’ influences go much further back than the 80’s and 90’s.
By experimenting with a variety of styles, Sarah Rose (guitar, vox), Sarah Nienaber (bass) and Annie May (drums) have crafted III into and excellently cohesive statement as well as an interesting listen. With a terrific single like “Hate Smile” to follow up on (which was the first single available from III) the band had a high set of expectations to live up to with their follow up material. The rest of III may not be breakout singles every one, but great albums rarely are. The album is strong all the way through and that is far better than something that burn’s bright only briefly and then quietly fades into mediocrity.
— Jon Behm
III will be released tonight at the Turf Club. In addition to Is/Is the show will also feature Heavy Deeds, Acid Baby Jesus (Greece) Fire in the Northern Firs, and Zoo Animal.
The record will also be available via Guilt Ridden Pop (website not updated since 2009 – try a local store like the Electric Fetus, Treehouse or Hymie’s).
Magic Castles: Magic Castles Review
While Minneapolis’s Magic Castles have been around for long enough to release three full length albums, their eponymous fourth record (a collection of previously released tunes) has made quite a stir due to the fact that psych legend Anton Newcombe (Brian Jonestown Massacre) decided to release it through his imprint. And while that association will likely bring the band a wider level of recognition, they are still easily accessible through their frequent local shows (in addition to their album release show this Saturday they’ll be doing an in-store at Yeti Records on 4/21).
Magic Castles is an epic druggy journey that in many ways feels like the consummate psychedelic rock record, or at least what most people connote with that term. It’s got the woozy, out-there reverb, meandering guitar noodling, and Farfisa organ drone. It’s got Zeppelin-esque stories laden with fantastical images and far-out symbolism. It’s got music that sounds as if it was meant to be played in silent ancient forests and its got guitar riffs that were doubtlessly made for a towering stage. Its got all the trappings of the textbook psych rock definition, and yet the band also carves out their own niche that you couldn’t call the consummate anything except for of course the Magic Castles’ sound.
The band’s uniqueness comes through in the personality they infuse into their songs – The carefree melancholy swing of “Imaginary Friends,” or the desperate sadness of “Death Dreams.” Where the Magic Castles originality shines through the brightest is in the stunningly beautiful pagan chant “Ballad of the Golden Bird” which features a melody slightly reminiscent of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown,” though the band captures in it a magical strangeness that is far from derivative. And though “Golden Bird” easily runs away with the album’s highest accolades, the rest of Magic Castles is full of consistent excellence as well. In fact “10, 100” may be the dark horse candidate for the record’s best tune.
You can find out precisely what the new Magic Castle’s material sounds like by coming out to their album release show this Saturday night (4/14) at the Kitty Cat Klub and if you aren’t local then look forward to catching the Magic Castles on tour this Spring with the Brian Jonestown Massacre.
– Jon Behm
Magic Castles is available here
Cervical cancer symptoms
Woods & Amps for Christ: Woods & Amps for Christ Review
In the case of split LP’s, I always think that the bigger bands contribution, in addition to the music, is an endorsement of the lesser known band. In the case of this release, I wasn’t familiar with Amps for Christ, but anything that the band Woods stamp their name on I am going to at least give it a spin. Considering Woods are not only a stellar psych-folk band but also proprietors of the consistently great Woodsist Record Label, it should be no surprise that they picked fine company for their latest release.
We will get to Woods portion of this release in a bit, but first a few words about their partners in crime, California based band Amps in Christ, the new project of music veteran Henry Barnes. Not surprisingly, the tunes from Amps in Christ don’t fall too far from the approach taken by Woods, but the band are a little bit more frazzled and unwieldy. From the distant, damaged folk of “When” and “Lord Bateman (Child #53)” to the mystical far east jam “Roto Koto in C Major,” Amps in Christ will sound familiar and agreeable to fans of the material Woods have been creating over the last few years, even at times stretching out to a more wide eyed sound.
The main feature of the split (for me at least) was hearing new material from Woods. The band didn’t disappoint on the gentle acid folk of “Brothers” and “Wind was the Wine,” both of which could have fit in nicely on their influential LP’s Sun and Shade, At Echo Lake and Songs of Shame. They expand on their noisy side a bit more on “September Saturn” and “From Oatmeal to Buttermilk,” which is the only song on the release to feature both of the bands. The only slip up from Woods is the mundane “Sleep,” which skews a little to closely to Blind Melon esqe pop for my taste and loses out on the formula that makes the band so great.
Ultimately, most people will probably be like myself and give this split a chance based on their knowledge of the great stuff Woods have done in the past. Luckily Woods (namely Jeremy Earl, their front man and the head honcho of Woodsist) do not let fans down in regards to picking a partner in crime who can hold their own. While I came in (and left) a big fan of Woods brand of pysch fried folk, I left with a new band to keep up with as Amps with Christ showed clearly why they were a band that Woods were willing to share some wax with.
The Parlour Suite: “Everyone’s Looking” Review
With the demise of Roma Di Luna last year, there is a noticeable gap in the market for husband and wife roots/folk duos. The perfect opportunity, you might think, for Joel and Inga Roberts (The Parlour Suite) to step up and fill the void. The Roberts, however, don’t seem to be interested In fulfilling any legacies – the further along the get the further they seemingly move away from their folk/blues beginnings.
The couple’s newest record, Everyone’s Looking, is a collection of throwback pop songs that would sound more appropriate at a fifties beach party than some folky coffeehouse. Joel still shows off bluesy chops in his guitar playing, however the band’s sound is dominated by Inga’s irrepressible vocals which bounce and bop along in a perpetual state of bliss (one notable exception is “I’m Fred Astaire” in which Joel leads in his strikingly Randy Newman-esque baritone). The sound is reminiscent of a time when irresistibly cheerful pop dominated the airwaves (think 1964: early Beach Boys, Martha and the Vandellas, etc). Occasionally it seems as if the Robertses exist in a perpetual state of summer where the most pressing engagements are the next opportunities to dance and most problems can be sorted with a smile. Judging by your outlook on life, the effect can either be charming or gratingly upbeat.
Consider me mostly charmed. Inga and Joel have a talent for melody and also an unabashed earnestness that makes their music hard to dislike. Everyone’s Looking is full of pleasantly toe-tappable melodies – most notably the slack-key inspired title track as well as clear-eyed romance tune “Two Window Shoppers.” Once the heat is truly back and the summer is at its sweetest, you will be hard pressed to find a better soundtrack to enjoying blue skies and lapping waves. Just don’t listen to it if you are in the mood for something somber and serious.
— Jon Behm
The album release and tour kickoff show for Everyone’s Looking will take place on April 13th at Cause
Choir Of Young Believers: “Rhine Gold” Review
I always felt that if Danish band Choir of Young Believers should have started out just a few years earlier, during the halcyon days of Scandinavian pop exports But to lump them along with the likes of Peter Bjorn and John or Sondre Lerche wouldn’t really be fair to COYB either. While COYB share some similarities to the pop of their regional forbearers (i.e. clean production, pitch-perfect vocals, pained earnestness) they are also dissimilar in many ways.
The band’s sophomore record Rhine Gold is darker and, in many ways, more ambitious than both the typical Scandi-pop record as well as their own debut, This is for the Whites in your Eyes. Throug nine tunes, it touches on gothy post punk, orientalist psychedelia, and sumptuous string-infused chamber folk—not to mention bevy of carefully calibrated lesser influences. It does maintain a glossy pop veneer throughout many of its stylistic twists and turns, however it really starts to get interesting when it edges away from that safe zone. For instance the guitar and vocal distortions on “Paralyzed” bring much-needed weirdness to the song’s White Album-esque psych-pop.
Lead singer Jannis Noya Makrigiannis once again accompanies every tune with his flawless baritone—one stylistic point that puts him squarely in tune with the regional sound. He sounds pained, he sounds earnest, but overall, he sounds like he’s been working with a vocal coach for years to iron out any blemishes his singing voice may have once had. He sounds great—but again, the lush perfection of his vocals can begin to sound a bit too uniform. Lyrically Makrigiannis isn’t crafting poetry. Any album that contains lyrics like those to “Paint New Horrors” could benefit from a some pre-production criticism. (Lyric example: The song’s chorus repeats the eye rolling phrase “Girl, I wanna give it to you.”)
Weaknesses aside, Choir of Young Believers have crafted a fairly good pop record that is definitely deserves a listen. Makrigiannis and company make an attempt to break out of pop’s habitual monotony with welcome stylistic departures. As it stands, Rhine Gold still plays it a bit too safe.
Rhine Gold is officially out now on Ghostly International
Stream the album here
The Men: Open Your Heart (Three Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are Three reactions, Three impressions, Three Takes on Open Your Heart by The Men.
Generally the evolution of a band is a good thing—unless, of course, it means that a band you like evolves into one that you don’t. The Men’s Leave Home was one of my favorite albums of 2011. It was a brutal yet skillfully dynamic marriage of punk, metal and art rock. This year the band released their follow up, Open Your Heart. It might be a little over-dramatic to say that they have completely lost me with their new material, but I can’t say that I am really all that enthusiastic about the direction they are headed either. Open Your Heart is marked by an unfortunate tendency towards sincere alt-rock. There are still healthy doses of punk energy here and there, but the band also sounds a bit like they are self-consciously trying to sound a bit more “grown up.” In their vocabulary, grown up seems to mean Springsteen-esque lyrics and more stylistically reserved guitars. I do like the rambling, psych-country tinge of “Country Song” and the instrumental parts of “Oscillation,” not to mention the primal savagery of “Cube.” Where the band loses me is in (what sounds to me like) the generic rock fare of “Turn It Around,” “Please Don’t Go Away,” and especially “Open Your Heart,” which sounds to me like an R.E.M. practice session. Like I said, there are still aspects of the record I like (generally the guys are still fully adept at crafting unique, nimble instrumental twists and turns), but overall Open Your Heart just has me reaching for last year’s Leave Home.
Chris Besinger (STNNNG)
The new record by The Men, Open Your Heart, kicks down the doors with an opening blast called “Turn It Around”, a hard-charging near-anthem. And right away we come to the problem I have with this record: It rages and it bangs away, but it doesn’t ever actually rock, which is a strange trait for a rock record. Not that this record is bad, exactly. It is overlong in spots (why is “Oscillation” more than seven minutes? And while we’re at it why is “Country Song” even on the record?) and oddly fixated on instrumentals. If you half-heard this at a party or maybe between bands at club, bits might tug at your ear, make you wonder “what was that?” but none of the music here really sticks. Sometimes it feels like it pounds and surges toward a celebratory ecstasy, but it never really achieves it. Some tunes, like the Buffalo Tom-esque title song, are a bit more successful. But mostly the album lacks a distinguished voice. I mean, trying sound like the Replacements isn’t exactly a “voice”, though honestly that “Candy” song isn’t too bad.
Again, there’s the problem. none of these tunes are terrible, but at the same time none of them are very good or memorable. Everything about this album is set strongly to “medium.” Lord help me, I don’t think I can live in a world where I have to read think pieces written by dudes who cut their teeth on the Strokes calling this stuff “the return of rock.”
When bands venture towards the soft middle after roping me in, it pisses me off. For whatever reason, The Men’s much more refined sophomore LP Open Your Heart is guilty of just such a crime, but doesn’t get my blood boiling. It’s actually kind of fun. The variety and dissonance from their excellent debut LP Leave Home gave way tow a more twangy, classic rock sound on Open Your Heart—culminating in Rolling Stones-tinged country circa 1971 of “Candy.” A good chunk of the record is pretty straightforward guitar rock, with fat, easy-to-digest riffs methodically shoved down your throat. The title track and “Turn it Around” sound like boiler plate “indie” rock from any number of bands over the past 25 years, and even the most “out there” track, the seven-plus-minute jam “Oscillation,” doesn’t really test the listener too much. While the record doesn’t top their inventive debut record, it should bring them new fans. Softer edges are slightly disappointing for those who were really drawn in by their debut, but for me it wasn’t too hard to get over that and find things I liked about the record. Open Your Heart is a fun, guitar-heavy affair that is meant more for summer BBQs and road trips than art school mix tapes—another reason the LP has a chance to get the band in front of much bigger audiences in the near future.