WaterWays, Sons of Alpha Centauri, Hotel Wrecking City Traders Split LP: An Intercontinental Tapestry of Tone

Posted in Reviews on October 8th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

A three-way split released in gorgeous 180 gram LP (limited to 500), with each of its participants represented in a different primary color – red for Californian desert rockers WaterWays, blue for UK prog instrumentalists Sons of Alpha Centauri and yellow for Australian brotherly noise rock duo Hotel Wrecking City Traders – the latest Bro Fidelity Records is every bit as intricate and lush in its psychedelia as its Alexander von Wieding artwork. The three bands display distinct personalities between them and as WaterWays come first with side A all to themselves and twice as much material as either Sons of Alpha Centauri or Hotel Wrecking City Traders, they’re obviously meant as a focal point. No wonder, given the band’s lineup. WaterWays boasts in its ranks guitarist Gary Arce of Yawning Man, bassist/vocalist Mario Lalli and drummer Tony Tornay (both of Fatso Jetson) and vocalist Abby Travis, who in the past has collaborated with the likes of Masters of Reality and Eagles of Death Metal, so if they come first of the three acts represented here, at least they earned it via pedigree. It’s also not the first time Hotel Wrecking City Traders – who also run Bro Fidelity Records – have sought to highlight Gary Arce’s work. The band collaborated with Arce on a 2011 collaborative 12” (review here). And as WaterWays’ first release was a late-2010 split with Yawning Sons, which is Arce’s pan-oceanic collaboration with Sons of Alpha Centauri, he would seem to be the figure tying everything together on this split, particularly as his influence has bled into the work of Ben and Toby Matthews of Hotel Wrecking City Traders on their contribution here, the 9:37 closer “Pulmo Victus.” Before them, on side B, Sons of Alpha Centauri dig deep into their archives to unearth the 8:48 track “27,” from an early recording session, and of course on side A, WaterWays take their time unfolding four songs of textured dune-minded psych, Lalli and Tornay’s well-honed chemistry underscoring Arce’s expansive tone and Travis’ sweetly melodic vocals.

Travis is joined vocally — presumably by Lalli — by low-register rhythmic singing on opener “Piece of You,” playing up a progressive feel early into the split. “Piece of You,” “Queen,” “The Blacksmith” and “WaterWays” are all relatively short, none touching five minutes, and they play out with more structure to them than one is necessarily used to in the often jam-minded context of Arce’s work. The guitarist in no small part defines any band he touches. His tone is inimitable and unmistakable, and for the most part, though it’s not what Yawning Man usually traffics in, he does well with the material, which still feels and sounds open despite having set verses and choruses. He’s hardly caged here – there’s still plenty of room in these songs for him to wander as he will, and even Yawning Man’s freest material doesn’t linger time-wise – but it’s Travis’ vocals that wind up characterizing much of what separates WaterWays from the slew of other Arce projects. She’s got just enough quirk in her voice to make “Piece of You” stand alongside the Palm Desert tradition of weird explorations while still injecting a soulful breathiness into “Queen,” somewhat ironically jarring the listener back to the sandy ground with the punctuated line, “You’re fucking high.” “Queen” has a Western march in its snare from Tornay and Lalli has no problem keeping up and setting the melody on bass while Arce emits echoes of what seems like an eternal lead. It would be the highlight of WaterWays’ section of the split but for “The Blacksmith,” which has “hey-ya, hey-ya” backing vocals behind Travis reminiscent of but not caricaturing Native American chants and the band’s most engaging chorus here. By contrast, the eponymous “WaterWays” offers “lalala”s and an introductory progression that reminds strikingly of Geto Boys’ “Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangsta,” which left an impression as a featured track in the movie Office Space. Sonic coincidence most likely, and the song moves away to a drum-led section with Tornay setting the course on his toms, but the vocals here seem like an afterthought added once the instrumental progression was set, and the repeated line, “Go the waterways,” falls short of the lullaby it seems to be reaching to be, its pacing just a little too quick to soothe in its four-minute course. Crash cymbals toward the end and layered vocals don’t exactly help in that regard either, though the song remains undeniably infectious.

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Lord Fowl, Moon Queen: Hundred Years, Hundred More

Posted in Reviews on August 29th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

You know what they say about the ladies in orbit. They really get around.

In the opening title-track of New Haven, Connecticut, foursome Lord Fowl’s Small Stone debut, Moon Queen, there appears the line, “I’m in love with a satellite lady.” Read that again: “I’m in love with a satellite lady.” If you’re wondering perhaps what the hell that could possibly mean, then you’ve taken the wrong approach to Moon Queen, and like a choose-your-adventure book, you need to turn around and start over. The dually-fronted outfit is comprised of guitarist/vocalists Vechel Jaynes and Mike Pellegrino, bassist/engineer Jon Conine and drummer Don Freeman, and like the line “I’m in love with a satellite lady,” there’s a lot about the record (their second overall behind the impressive 2008 release, Endless Dynamite) that doesn’t seem to make sense at first but ultimately requires being approached on its own level. You have to be willing to go along with it, and when you do, you’ll find the trip more than justified in that Moon Queen works in several thematic. Movement is one of them. Space is another. Issues of love, sex, masculinity all crop up throughout the 12 tracks/47 minutes of the album, and very often, one song bleeds directly into the next, as “Moon Queen” does into “Touch Your Groove,” the lyrics to which contain a clear reference to the titular character described in the opener. Because this progression continues throughout the lyrics to most of the songs – including the Iron and Wine cover “Woman King,” which starts the second half – the temptation is to think of Lord Fowl working in some kind of narrative arc, but if that’s so with the lyrics, the songs themselves and the music those lyrics rest over don’t immediately seem to have the same kind of feel. That is, when things make the turn from “Quicksand”’s relationship-as-paingiver lyric to the defiance against that in “SOS,” the music remains consistent behind it without the kind of changes in mood that would connote Moon Queen having been composed entirely as a concept record in the traditional narrative sense. Still, Jaynes and Pellegrino mention flying, breaking free, driving, running, moving and going – so motion in general, transience, is a prevalent, persistent theme. In that, the music does follow suit, because if Moon Queen does anything at all, it moves.

Shades of KISS and Mötley Crüe make themselves known in songs like “Moon Queen” and “Split,” but at its heart, Moon Queen is an American-style heavy rock record. Put to tape by Conine and mixed in the Small Stone tradition by Benny Grotto at Mad Oak Studios in Allston, MA, it’s right in line with the label’s growing next-gen roster, sharing some classic soul influence with Gozu and a laid back grooving thickness with Wo Fat without losing hold either of its own identity or the personality of Lord Fowl themselves, which doesn’t shy away either from ‘70s rock suggestiveness (“Touch Your Groove,” “Hollow Horn”) or a bygone element of craft in the songwriting. Their methods are retro and their presentation is modern, in other words. Moon Queen touches on psychedelia – it would almost have to – in closer “Pluto,” which revives the space theme of the opener and thus rounds out the album nicely, but that’s a far cry from the ‘80s speed anthem “Streets of Evermore,” which might be as close as Lord Fowl get to metal in its intro but holds both to the band’s penchant for melody and has a hook too strong to be anything but accessible. Songs are well within radio range if radio was in the range of them, and despite the emphasis on tying their individual pieces together lyrically, there’s nothing pretentious in the band’s approach whatsoever, “Moon Queen” starting off introducing upbeat, fuzzed-out heavy rock with engaging riffs and a start-stop chorus highlighting both vocalists. Conine’s bass is an asset, and in both “Moon Queen” and “Touch Your Groove,” Freeman’s drums fill muted space nicely – never showy, always in service to the song, adding a little stomp to the bridge and verse of “Touch Your Groove” than only enhances its already formidable swagger. Because you can’t write a song about sex without low end, Conine’s basslines toward the halfway point also provide ample potency, while the lines, “Don’t you come too soon/She’s the queen of the moon,” leave little to the imagination as to the topic of discussion.

And if I’m focusing heavily on lyrics throughout this review, let that be a testament to the impression left from Pellegrino and Jaynes’ vocals, which are confident both on their own and all the more effective when used in combination, as on “Touch Your Groove.” The handclap-ready snare beats of “Split” lead to a faster rush in the riffing of the chorus, but again, both singers prove essential in conveying the song’s atmosphere, which is both intricate, Conine joining Freeman in the verse and bridge where the guitars cut in and out, and righteous on the surface – much like the album itself. One fuzz guitar, then two begin “Mutate” before the vocals kick in, and it’s an immediate cut in tempo from the song preceding, but already with Moon Queen, Lord Fowl have shown they can pull off such changes, and so the more open feel in the guitars and echoing vocals are far from out of place. But for the opener, “Mutate” is the shortest track on the album, but there’s still room for a reverbed Southern rock solo under which Freeman tosses in some choice fills, and for the lyrics to turn the “gotta fly” from “Split” into the “float away” as they are here before flight is once again taken on “Streets of Evermore.” It’s hard to pick a single of the record’s many hooks to reign as the defining one, but “Streets of Evermore” makes an excellent case, an infectious chorus topping lead guitar and releasing the tension built during the verse near perfectly as the song keeps hold of the “riding,” “driving” ideas that play both into the sex of “Touch Your Groove” and the overarching ideas of movement all across the record. Whether it’s superlative will depend on the listener, but the song has an energy all its own and is a definite standout, meandering a bit in its ending section before finally coming apart altogether, crashing into amp noise to lead into the police dispatch transmission sampled at the beginning of “Dirty Driving.” The song, which has the lines “If you’d like to call a spade a spade/Then you better understand that a pig is a pig,” closes out side A with Moon Queen’s only overt treatment of race – it’s hard to hear through the hits at the beginning, but I’m pretty sure that cop is dropping slurs while talking about shotguns in Watts – but even that is put into the context of driving, of moving, perhaps an answer to “Ridin’ Dirty” as filtered through soulful classic rock. The falsetto backing vocals in the chorus make it, and the dual guitar lead in the song’s second half ties it together with “Streets of Evermore” and the more Thin Lizzy-style bop of “The Queen is Not Impressed” still to come.

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Superchief and Red Desert: Midwestern Shows Set for Late August

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 3rd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Burly Iowan five-piece Superchief and Minneapolis fuzz contenders Red Desert have teamed up for five gigs together in the Midwest. Superchief’s ultra-dudely Corporate Dynamite came out last year (review here) and Red Desert will have in tow their new one, Damned by Fate, which is their first outing since 2008′s 18 Wheels. Here’s what the PR wire has to say about it, raw copy-style:

Superchief and Red Desert Announce 2012 Midwest Tour Dates

The two Midwestern powerhouse bands join forces in August 2012 for Summer Tour! Red Desert and Superchief team up for 5 dates in August 2012 for a regional, Midwestern tour.

Dates are:
August 21st – Iowa City IA (Blue Moose Tap)
August 22nd – Indianapolis, IN (Indy’s Jukebox)
August 23rd – Chicago, IL (Quenchers Saloon)
August 24th – Madison, WI (The Wisco)
August 25th – Racine, WI (Bar 525)

Red Desert loads up the van in support of their brand new release, Damned by Fate. The album is a nine-song, fuzz-infused masterpiece of the highest order. Red Desert is determined to get the music out in front of new listeners across the Midwest. Damned by Fate is currently available for purchase on Bandcamp.com and Red Desert will have physical copies available on the tour.

Brolester Records recording artists, Superchief, have been relentlessly touring their current release Corporate Dynamite for the past year and a half. After a successful stint at SxSW in 2012, Superchief has been itching to get back out on the road. The band is excited to be heading into new territories on this tour, as well as returning to old favorite locations. Building a fan base takes work and consistency and Superchief has this in abundance.

Both bands, having played several times together in Iowa and Minnesota, felt it was their duty to bring their brands of rock n roll to the masses. Musical brothers-in-arms traversing the back roads of the Midwest together, with instruments in one hand and a cold beer in the other; both Red Desert and Superchief would not have it any other way. Through solidarity and perseverance they will convert those that are unaware, and solidify those that are; that rock n roll is not dead.

http://www.reverbnation.com/superchief

http://www.reverbnation.com/reddesert

http://brolesterrecords.com/

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Devil to Pay Sign with Ripple Music

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 18th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Congratulations and respect to Indianapolis doom rockers Devil to Pay. Ripple Music announced this morning that it had signed on to release the fourth album from the four-piece, which will follow 2009′s Heavily Ever After. The band will be coming east to take part in this year’s Stoner Hands of Doom fest in Connecticut over Labor Day weekend (more info here), and I look forward to hearing some new material.

Until then, here’s the news:

Ripple Music is proud to announce the signing of acclaimed, hard-hitting American doom rockers, Devil to Pay to their ever-expanding roster!

The band’s fourth, as of yet untitled, album is set for worldwide release on Ripple Music in the coming months and the band will subsequently tour to knock the crowds out of their skulls, including appearances in all the major heavy rock/doom festivals.

Devil to Pay commented yesterday upon the new alliance; “We are stoked to be a part of the Ripple family and to work with one of the most genuine heavy rock labels in the world! Having released our first three albums independently, it’s clear that these guys don’t compromise in terms of putting out creative music and are the true believers of heavy rock. The variety of bands and the sheer quality of music they’ve released speaks for itself. We are very much honored that our music earned its place among their ranks!”

Devil to Pay was formed in the beginning of the millennia as a doom rock band with metal/stoner and rock tangents, effortlessly crushing skulls while simultaneously coaxing them to sing along. The band hails the almighty riff, but unlike many of their contemporaries, the song is still king. That is what separates the great bands from the shoulda/coulda bands. Now celebrating their 10 year anniversary, Devil to Pay has aged like Kentucky bourbon, distilling a culmination of years of sweat, highway miles, cigarette smoke and hangovers into crushing compositions and bone-jarring, heavy musical moments.

With a catalog of underground releases, Devil to Pay gained accolades, awards and a hard earned cult-like status. They have established themselves as the go-to band for those searching out more than just a few killer riffs; a foundation of heavy that will flourish under the Ripple banner.

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Live Review: Droids Attack in Brooklyn, 07.13.12

Posted in Reviews on July 16th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

I’d been feeling pretty good about what the prospects for the evening of Friday the 13th of July held. Basically, they held a Droids Attack show, and I remembered from the last time the Madison, Wisconsin, rockers came through Brooklyn that they were right on the proverbial money. I had to work the next morning, but Friday night after a long week, I was ready to enjoy myself and let loose at the Saint Vitus Bar at a show that I knew would be laid back and not at all trying in the way Brooklyn gigs sometimes are these days. If Droids Attack are anything, they’re unpretentious.

Unbeknownst to me, it was a four-band bill. All prior indicators were for three — The Giraffes, who I assumed would play last and who did, Droids Attack and Cinema Cinema — but a fourth was added which meant that I was early when I arrived at about 9PM. No one would be going on for some time, and the prospect of work the next day meant I probably wouldn’t be staying the whole show. I’d been looking forward to seeing The Giraffes, who may or may not have had vocalist Aaron Lazar with them, but so it goes. And so I went. To the bar. First at the Saint Vitus Bar itself, and then, in an attempt to find someplace with the Yankee game on, down the street a block or two to a punkier kind of dive/local joint. They had the Mets. I had the feeling it was as close as I was going to get.

My spirit undiminished, I drank down a quick two dirty-line Brooklyn Lagers before heading back over to the Saint Vitus Bar in time to watch the first act go on before Cinema Cinema. It seemed to be a one-man show. A guy sat in a rocking chair and sang soulfully from underneath a throw blanket — something I might support theoretically, but there comes a time where you have to stop and realize, “I just paid money to watch this,” and walk out of the room to get another drink. Back out front I went, and by the time I dared venture through the curtain that separates the bar from the back room where bands play, the duo Cinema Cinema were well into their set of bombastic post-punk.

They mentioned twice in the couple songs I saw them play that they were about to go on tour (apparently for not the first time) with Greg Ginn — which is fair; I’m pretty sure if Greg Ginn asked me to do a couple shows I’d get a face tattoo that advertised same — and they covered “School” by Nirvana. I guess after 20 years, that stuff is probably fair game nowadays. Fine. They had their shit together and were tight, and despite their not really being my thing, they got their point across. Great drums, which are almost always welcome to my ringing ears.

A goodly portion of my fourth beer was dumped down my front before Droids Attack went on by their drummer, Tony Brungraber — obviously an accident — but even that wasn’t enough to quell my excitement at seeing the band again. The trio set up quickly after Cinema Cinema finish. Brungraber and guitarist/vocalist Brad Van had introduced me to bassist Dennis Ponozzo by saying he was, “the man,” so I looked forward to hearing him as they got started, and neither he nor either of the other two disappointed. Droids Attack were precisely as I remembered them from their prior East Coast run: good times.

Something else about them: Droids Attack come by their heavy rock as honestly as any band I’ve ever heard. Watching them play and listening to their set, you could see their punk-type roots had grown up, and they made no bones about who they were, what they wanted to sound like or from where they took influence. It was as refreshing as I’d hoped it would be, and Van tore into a few choice solos as Ponozzo and Brungraber made complex rhythms seem easy. Think prog boogie.

Their set was comprised almost entirely of new material, but for the finale, which was the title-track from 2010′s Must Destroy – pretty sure that’s what it was — and Ponozzo kept mostly to the riff on his bass, picking along in time to Van and not really veering too much this way or that for fills or changes. Brungraber executed a varied range of fills in response to the often surprising turns in Van‘s rhythm lines and reinforced the idea that though you can usually have a decent idea of where the band are headed musically, the avenue they take to get there is filled with all kinds of unexpected nuances and detours. It made the newer material I’d never heard before that much more exciting to witness live for the first time.

When they were done, I looked at my watch and it read 11:59PM. For a self-imposed midnight split time, I surmised my evening was over, said a couple quick goodbyes and split out of the Saint Vitus Bar, walking through the bar which had filled up considerably since the last time I’d been out to it — The Giraffes bringing out a hometown crowd, I guessed. Not for me this time. I’ve been doing catchy-song penance ever since with their excellent Dave Catching-produced 2008 outing, Prime Motivator, but back through the Queens Midtown Tunnel, across Manhattan and out to Jersey I went, spitting fury and flavorless chewing gum onto the highway, still feeling like I’d had the quality evening I’d hoped for.

Extra pics after the jump.

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Tim Catz’ 70 RPMs

Posted in Columns on July 11th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

In his third column for the site, Roadsaw bassist Tim Catz takes a look at a few of the “Evil Women” from classic rock’s days of yore. From ELO to Black Sabbath, there never seems to be a shortage of witchy ladies to serve as muse. Please enjoy:

Been a while.Tim Catz’ 70 RPMs
“Evil Women”

It is a premise so old and familiar it’s hardly worth mentioning. But for the purposes of this article I’ll explain: The idea is women are evil. They have been since the dawn of time. And the badder they are, the more inspiring they are those who honor them in song, story and art. Just ask Adam about Eve. Shakespeare had Macbeth. Greek mythology had Pandora. And rock ‘n’ roll in the ‘70s had scores of hit records about them.

Probably the most popular was Electric Light Orchestra‘s “Evil Woman.” Taken from their 1975 album Face the Music, it was the band’s first Top 10 hit on both sides of the Atlantic. With its sing-song chorus and crazy phasor string breaks, “Evil Woman” very succinctly packed every ELO pop-rock trademark neatly into a four-minute spoonful of pure FM sugar that still gets ample play to this day on “classic hits” radio.

Crow‘s “Evil Woman (Don’t Play Your Games with Me)” may have shared the same name, but not the same music, nor the same popularity. Driven by a muscular bluesy rhythm section, the Minneapolis quartet was quite surprised to find an “enhanced” version of their original “Evil Woman” on their Columbia Records debut. Whether against their wishes or even unbeknownst to Crow members, label bigwigs conspired with the studio engineer and overdubbed a full horn section over the song in an effort to cash in on the wildly popular Chicago/Blood Sweat and Tears sound of the day. And it worked. Crow‘s “Evil Woman” was a Top 20 hit, peaking at #19.

My personal favorite is Spooky Tooth‘s version. Deep on side one of Spooky Two, their nine-minute version of Larry Weiss‘ much covered original finds frontman Gary Wright in prime form, with his ragged voice switching between a pleading growl to high-pitched accusations, all while smashing on organ keys. The entire record resonates with a loose rough ‘n’ ready sound, which is nowhere more evident than on this track. Of course Gary Wright would soon leave the Tooth of Spook and smooth out much of his rough edge in a bid for the Pop charts. “Dream Weaver” and “My Love Is Alive” are evidence of such.

Whether its “Witchy Woman” by The Eagles or “Devil Woman” by Cliff Richards, one thing remains certain even to this day: Bad girls are good for rock ‘n’ roll.

Also:

* Black Sabbath recorded a version of Crow‘s “Evil Woman” and released it as their first single. Though it didn’t appear on their Warner Bros. debut in the US, it was on the UK version.

* Before everyone sends terse emails my way, yes, I know both Spooky Tooth and Crow released their versions in 1969. That’s close enough for me…

 

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