Tag Archives: psychedelic

Top Ten Albums of 2010 – #5

You have to have brass balls to release a double album in an era when the record industry is imploding upon itself. But psych-garage popsters The Grip Weeds decided to go all in with Strange Change Machine, and from the critical and popular response, it’s clear that they made the right decision.

Blessed with multiple singers and songwriters, the Grip Weeds have enjoyed a long career at the forefront of the modern pop movement. The sound from brothers Kurt and Rick Reil (on drums and guitar) with bassist Kristen Pinell and guitarist Michael Kelly is exponential thanks to all of the band members being multi-instrumentalists, but I must single out Kurt’s powerhouse drumming – he should be mentioned alongside Clem Burke and other greats. Many bands are just individuals orbiting each other; The Grip Weeds are truly a four-headed organism.

Based upon the title alone it should come as no surprise that several of the tracks on Strange Change Machine will teleport you to groovier times. “Coming and Going” and “Twister” are Sgt. Pepper-ish while “Don’t You Believe It” and “Truth Is Hard To Take” deserve to be pumping full blast out of jukeboxes and radios. “Close To The Sun” (my favorite) features harmonies that lift you up within the song, while “Be Here Now” is delicate and mesmerizingly melodic.

Although this is not a derivative effort, an artist whose name did pop into my head was Todd Rundgren, mostly for the overall feel and the complexity of the arrangements (“Speed Of Life” and the title track could be slid into a Utopia mix with good results). Ironically the album includes a straight-ahead cover of “Hello It’s Me”, which although well performed seemed an odd choice for mid-album placement. It broke the mood for me; perhaps it would have been better as a hidden bonus track?

Video: “Speed Of Life

I was fortunate enough to see them play two months ago at Pat DiNizio’s annual Halloween Bash; their set was heavily laced with the new cuts. I am pleased to report that these songs are just as dynamic in a live setting, reinforcing my decision that this is one of the best albums of the year and probably their most consistent effort. At twenty-four tracks long it’s not perfect, but the hits vastly outweigh the misses. And for great music contained on one album, the ranking should answer your question.

The album is deep, and repeated listenings only bring out more nuances. This is also one of the best engineered and produced albums I have heard in a long time – the clarity and presence is in audio Technicolor on everything from a car stereo to a full system. I recommend setting aside 80 minutes with a good pair of headphones for maximum bliss…and then repeat as necessary.

Listen to clips on Amazon

The Grip Weeds on MySpace

Outstanding in their field.

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New Album! Jet Black Berries

When I moved from Syracuse to Rochester in the early 80s, I still made several trips back down the Thruway to catch some of the great bands toiling away in that urban wasteland. In retrospect, I’m sure a lot of towns had their own burgeoning scene that was being ignored while A&R people tripped all over each other to mine places like Athens and Seattle.

And like many cities, there were shitty cover bands pulling big crowds while the true artists creating their own path struggled to fill the other clubs. At least some of those underappreciated artists broke out and made careers; the cover bands either faded away or are still playing Journey and Van Halen covers for gas money on weekends.

In Rochester, it wasn’t much different, and the coolest band haunting the boards was New Math. Their dark, swirling mix of psychedelia and punk sprang from influences like the Velvet Underground (whose didn’t?) and they issued a couple of singles and shared bills and tours with some of the hippest bands of the era. But after struggling through a few years, they changed their sound, renamed themselves the Jet Black Berries and in 1984 wound up getting signed by Enigma Records and releasing three albums. Breaking up in 1988, the core of the band continued on through regional projects; original lead singer Kevin Patrick ironically became an A&R man.

The current lineup features drummer Roy Stein, bassist Gary Trainer, guitarist Chris Yockel, singer Johnny Cummings and keyboardist Mark Schwartz. Pulled together for a reunion in 2008, they floored the audience – and themselves – and decided to give it another whirl. Now a new album, their first in twenty-two years, is available: Postmodern Ghosts.

Yeah, there’s some reanimation – “They Walk Among You”, “Ominous”, “American Survival”, “Pipes of Pan”…so what? Neither New Math nor the Jet Black Berries were household names; those of us familiar with the earlier versions will enjoy the songs as much as new listeners. Apparently the first single, “God With a Gun”, is already making waves despite the lack of a cohesive corporate promotion.

More proof that sometimes good stuff just resonates.

Jet Black Berries on MySpace

Listen to samples of Postmodern Ghosts.

New Math’s Wake The Dead.

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Under The Radar: Pseudonym

A rose by any other name is…well, whatever that other name is.

Paul Desjarlais understands the “sounds like” game, it’s a necessary tool to try to describe an aural experience with the written word. He describes his sound as a mix of Elvis Costello, David Bowie, XTC, Beatles, Big Star, Pixies, Matthew Sweet, Flaming Lips, mid-60’s top 40, late-60’s psychedelia, early 70’s pop, late-70’s punk rock…and Billy Joel.

I don’t know if it’s that widely accessible, but it is worth a listen. Here’s an old review…

Maybe Paul Desjarlais got tired of people butchering his last name, or maybe he’s a closet PIL fan. Regardless, Pseudonym’s Pig Tail World is an intriguing record full of certified indie pop and obtuse lyrics. “Accident Prone” won me over immediately with layers of great vocals and a huge hook; it wasn’t until I paid closer attention to the lyrics that I realized what a dark song it really is. Ditto “Kill Me In The Rain” (although John Gage wrote the words here, you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart from Paul’s lyrics).

Although he sometimes gets close to what one might consider a mainstream pop song, the lyrics usually give it away. Consider “Ray Gun”, which could fit easily on any Lets Active record, and even features one of the few guitar solos on the album. “Ice And Snow” is presented as sparse but bouncy pop, and later, as the hidden track, in a fuller, more Brian Wilson-ish version. “Crashing” is one of my favorites; I enjoy the way he slaps the words against the grain of the melody to challenge the song’s pulse, yet effortlessly draws it all together in the chorus before unfurling it again.

And he does play with you a little; “Half Eyes” is a seventy-nine second track recorded backwards, and “Broccoli Blues” cannot be taken seriously when “tennis shoes” and the song’s title anchor the rhyme of a verse. Recorded “in a living room, an attic and a basement“, Pig Tail World may not be for every casual listener but will bring great pleasure with those for a taste for something a little different.

Hear some clips from Pig Tail World at CD BABY

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Under The Radar – The Third Men

With so many albums out there, we rely on the “sounds like” marketing approach, whether we’re reviewers trying to describe a band’s sound or the band itself trying to attract attention. Tell me you sound like Shannon Hoon singing Styx songs to a marimba beat and I’m moving along faster than a booster rocket. Drop names like Cheap Trick, Big Star and Todd Rundgren and I’m going to stop by and give your disc a listen.

Granted, I know that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to have the songwriting chops that Todd has, the mercurial vocals of Robin Zander or the soulful essence of Alex Chilton and company. I get that. But I’m figuring that if these are the sounds that influence you, some of that is going to bleed through into your music. And what you do with that osmosis is what counts.

It was just such a list of influences that led me to The Third Men, a Nebraska band that plays “hook laden songs at high volume” and were raised on raised on “equal parts 70s FM radio and 80s underground psychedelia“. Most bands with multiple vocalists and songwriters is going to have a diverse sound, especially when those members are veterans of other bands. I’m not familiar with Sons Of…, which featured Mike Tulis and Matt Rutledge, but I was a big fan of Patrick White‘s former groups The Dangtrippers and The Bent Scepters. Dana Rouch and Mike Loftus complete the versatile quintet.

The songs on Boost range from crunchy powerpop to garage bubblegum, flooded with ringing guitars and a snappy backbeat with a flood of keyboard sounds that color the songs vividly. But there’s energy here – lots of Elvis Costello-ish Farfisa moments, many dBs and Lets Active sounding songs with clever arrangements. “The Hangover” mixes Big Star chord progressions with drum fills from The Book Of Ringo; “G.A.S.” is reminiscent of the early Beach Boys/Jan and Dean singles. I also heard some Byrds and Jayhawks moments sprinkled in, and even a KISS/REO Speedwagon moment that caught me off guard.

Drawbacks? Occasionally nasal or reedy vocals; none of the singers is particularly strong but the harmonies are solid. Another is the thin production; given the material I imagine this would be a whole different record if it was punched up a bit more. But within the bouncy music are occasionally dark and humorous lyrics, and while there aren’t any instant classics on Boost, most the songs are head-bobbingly appealing.

For me, a pleasant surprise and a band I’ll keep my eye (and ear) on. If any of those musical references above tickle your fancy, give this one a proper spin or two and let it grow on you.

Listen to clips from Boost at CDBaby

The Third Men website

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New Album! Mondo Topless

Named after the 1966 Russ Meyer film, Mondo Topless has released five albums of garage punk surf music over the past eighteen years. Influences range from such primal American bands as The Sonics, Paul Revere and the Raiders and The Stooges to the British Invasion flash of The Animals and The Kinks.

Freaking Out is their first album in four years; a twelve-track collection of psychedelic chestnuts primed for the dance floor. Featuring the ever-present Vox organ and fuzz guitar riding the lockstep snap of bass and drums, it’s impossible not to get your frug on. Gotta love their sense of humor; credits say “All songs by Mondo Topless except…” and then list all twelve tracks on the album.

Yep, this time around the band decided to go the all-cover route. The most recognizable track is probably Cream’s “SWLABR”, which gets a superior workout here. But Freaking Out rocks from start to finish; standouts being the Who-like  “Left In The Dark” and “Mystery Girl”, which sounds like a grittier version of The Smithereens. Even the closing “Little Clown” radiates the same simplicity and essence that great bands slip onto a b-side of a cool single.

Much like fellow tastemakers The Detroit Cobras, when they cover other people’s songs, they truly put the their own stamp on them. It’s a tribute to the band that they can forge an identity through such widespread material, but they’ve been living and breathing garage soul for a long time. Although they went through band members like tissue paper in the early days, the current lineup is stable, with drummer Steve Thrash the newest addition. Lead singer and Voxmaster Sam Steinig has been on board for the entire ride while guitarist Kris Alutius and bassist  Scott Rodgers have logged over a decade apiece.

If you’re a fab of bands like The Lyres, The Cynics, The Love Me Nots…you should be all over this. Grab a copy and play it loud.

Mondo Topless on MySpace

Get Hip Records

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Under The Radar: UHF

A Winner!

Before it became easy to plop entire digital albums on your website, long before Facebook and MySpace were staples of every band’s toolbox, there were a few MP3 sites floating around that were less than organized. Few sites beyond CD Baby provided a local band the platform they needed to get their music heard.

As a lifelong tune troller, I thought it would be a good idea to write a column spotlighting five bands I came across on late night tangents. So with a thumbs up from the Editor at the late great Cosmik Debris magazine, The MP3 Files was born. One of the first groups I highlighted was a Portland Oregon band called UHF. Here’s my review of their second album Lottery from 2001…

Wow! Not only a band who obviously find their roots in classic British bands like The Pretty Things, Kinks and The Who, but a concept album to boot! That was a tough enough chore to attempt when they were in fashion, but to slip out a record like this in the days of preening teenybopper wedge dancers and pretentious wank rockers takes big balls.

The Everyman storyline in Lotterygrowing up in innocence and struggling as “money changes everything” – is right out of Ray Davies’ scrapbook. But UHF put in a lot of hard work to create something original in the spirit of the above-mentioned artists. (And if they just wanted to mimic the past, they could have – I’ve heard their cover of a Pretty Things track and it’s massive!)

And let’s not punish the quality of the individual songs by insinuating that they only work within the concept. Although Jeremy and Jordan Leff’s vocals on “Best Friends” sound eerily like Daltrey and Townshend melting together at the microphone during Tommy, it’s a great song regardless. Ditto the majestic “Whatever The Weather,” whose lyrics could fit in anywhere from Village Green Preservation Society to Soap Opera.

What impressed me most was the diverse instrumentation and song structure throughout the record; slap on the headphones and savor the sonic touches that embellish almost every track. With Jeff Nelson (guitars and bass) and drummer Matt Johnson, the Leff brothers have nailed a very ambitious target. I can’t wait to hear what they try next.

***

Well, it looks like I have some catching up to do.

Not only did I miss two later releases, but as fate would have it they have a brand new one coming out called Here Come The Ghosts. The clips sound great! Excerpt from their press release below:

It’s been four years since Portland, Oregon’s psychpop quartet UHF has released an album, but they’ve more than made up for it with Here Come The Ghosts, a genre-bending journey of 21 tracks on both double vinyl and double CD. From driving psychpop mood pieces to intimate and melancholy character sketches, it’s an album full of devious lyrical turns, subtle sonic shifts, and solid psychpop songcraft. Ghosts has UHF stretching themselves like never before.

Straying from the psychedelic soundscapes of their previous (and critically acclaimed) releases, Ghosts is more stark, more relaxed, more live (much of the album was recorded live in the studio) than any of UHF’s previous studio records. Thematically, the album is about relationships: past, present, living, dead… and undead. The journey is at times disturbing, uplifting, humorous, desperate, romantic, angry, confused, and reckless but always infused with an emotional honesty and musicality that evokes bands like Secret Machines, The The and Stone Roses, while venturing side trips into territory reminiscent of early 70’s AM radio.

UHF website  and MySpace site – now go check ’em out!

(Damn, I miss Cosmik Debris.  D.J., if you’re out there, send up a flare!)

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T.G.I.F. – Ten from Rainbow Quartz

Rainbow Quartz is one of my favorite labels, because they had a vision and have been both aggressive and consistent in fulfilling it. They were determined to create the best guitar pop roster on the market and some might say they have. Their target artists are pop bands with strong writers that combine a bit of jangle and a bit of psychedelia; true outgrowths of their classic roots rather than simpler melodic Beatle imitations.

There’s an interview with label founder Jim McGarry from 2001 (conducted with esteemed pop writer and International Pop Overthrow honcho David Bash) where Jim breaks down the evolution of rock into distinct phases. Now any of us who have been around for a while can certainly draw lines of demarcation in the sands of time, but I was struck by the fact that when I interviewed Little Steven a few years back he passionately discussed a very similar scenario (albeit with different dates). The constant is that both men felt strongly enough that an era of rock has gotten short shrift that they were determined to do something about it.

So here are ten links to some of my favorite Rainbow Quartz bands. By no means is this an exclusive list; there are many more for you to explore at their site and elsewhere. Each link will take you to the appropriate band page with bio, discography, reviews, links and audio clips; more than enough to read and hear to make up your own mind.

Also enjoy their SXSW promo page audio files

As the weather here in the north-eastern US starts to warm up a bit, so does the call for music like this to be wafting through the air. Enjoy!

 

* The Broadfield Marchers – link

* The Contrast – link

* Deleted Waveform Gatherings – link

 VIDEO: “Ride Pillion” by Deleted Waveform Gatherings

* The Grip Weeds – link

* The Lackloves – link

* The Orchid Highway – link

VIDEO: “Sofa Surfer Girl” by The Orchid Highway

* Outrageous Cherry – link

* The Rhinos – link

* The Summer Wardrobe – link

* The Three-4-Tens – link

VIDEO: “Everyday” by The Three-4-Tens

 

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