Deep in the Water is an LP from The Gary Douglas band, slated for release next month. It features 11 distinct tracks and is packed with some of the best Americana rock n’roll you’ll ever hear. The album roars right out of the gates with the opening song, River Road, a fast paced, full sounding and passionately performed track that stylistically could be comparable to some of Bruce Springsteen’s classic songs like Thunder Road. Yes, it’s that good, too. Not all the songs on Deep in the Water have the same feel though. There’s quite a bit of versatility here. Devil in Her Soul and Nothing Ever Goes as Planned both have much more of a Southern, soulful vibe. Actually, a good description of this band’s sound is that it combines the best of Southern rock with rust belt / working class rock n’ roll.
Devil in Her Soul in particular has a very haunting tone and is put together expertly. Every detail is nailed down. Musically, I think it might be the most impressive on the album. It’s tough to say though because from a technical perspective these guys are clearly pros. I admit I’ve never heard of The Gary Douglas Band, but this is a major label quality album release (which may not mean as much anymore given the state of pop music.) Normally I don’t like to give someone “too good” of a music review because it comes off kind of phony. However, this recording is pretty much flawless and doesn’t leave any room for nitpicking. It succeeds at what it’s trying to be and even surpasses it.
I first learned of Wayne Butane back around 1995-1995 when he was listed in the Arizona section of the “Book Your to own F*ckin Life” indie music / DIY directory. I really got my money’s worth out of that booklet, having used it to locate all sorts of unsuspecting small time labels and zines to send my cassettes to (and occasionally receive hate mail in return.) I would scan through the cities for anything that didn’t seem like it was some cliche vegan / soc justice / anarchist label or mag. “Book Your to own F*ckin Life” also provided what seemed like endless toilet reading material.
Anyhow, the name Wayne Butane always stood out to me. I remembered that he made sound collages or something. A few years ago I was curious about him, and it’s great to see that he’s still around. He has a really great music podcast, called Jukebox Jihad. One of Wayne’s old releases from the 90′s is Dead Monkey Arcade. It’s basically a sound collage of a lot of different audio recordings: everything from obscure radio commercials to tv show sound bites to random clips of music. He puts it together very cleverly though, constructing a very entertaining and strangely musically enjoyable recording. This sort of thing would have been much more labor intensive to make back then, using analog gear like 4 tracks, record players and cassettes. Computer programs like Audacity which allow you to cut, paste and rearrange thousands of samples were not really available back then (or if they were I certainly didn’t know anyone who had them.) Dead Monkey Arcade is an absolute classic. This “song” is always stuck in my head, and I have annoyed my girlfriend quite a few times by repeatedly reciting quotations from this record. “We care about you, and that’s the reason for this recording, because we care about you.”
Ben Rebel already made a splash on the scene when he was younger as a member of the 90′s group, “Lost Children.” I’m told that some of the original members may be reuniting for an upcoming release this November. Betta Dayz marks the first official solo effort for Ben and is being released on Diac Immortal Records. I’ve reviewed artists from this label before, and it suffices to say that this outfit is quickly assembling quite a nice little catalog.
Betta Dayz is categorized as “deep house.” It’s fast paced dance music all right, but rather than coming across aggressive or overly testosterone fueled, this strikes me as cool, laid back and contemplative. This is dance music for intellectuals. The opening track is hypnotic and could probably put the listener in a trance if one allowed him/herself to be totally focused on listening to the music. Lyrics are few and far between as Ben wisely doesn’t make these songs all about him, opting instead to let the music do the talking (and it represents him just fine.) Sporadically some vocals can be heard faintly in the mix, but these merely accentuate and help frame the song’s messaging. The song makes several transitions, continuing to incorporate new musical elements and revitalize itself.
The second track, ReleaseTHAPRESSURE continues in much the same vein. It’s mellow and casually futuristic, but the song retains enough dynamic components and surprises to keep people moving and shaking on the dance floor. Instead of merely building toward a climactic point near the ending of the song, what each of these tracks do is kind of ease in and out of different sound segments, zig-zagging from one groovy hook to the next and back again like a game of Brickout.
I’ve never met Ben Rebel or seen any videos of him, but one gets the sense this guy has to be one of the most chilled out dudes on the planet. These songs are smooooth. No abrasiveness, no attitude…just like the title of the song, this guy has found a way to release the pressure. Production wise, everything here is pretty solid. Everything is where it needs to be in the mix, and effects and EQ are used sparingly and effectively.
If you’re looking to get a hold of these jams, they’re not available quite yet. This EP is scheduled for release on 10/26/18, so you’ll have to wait until then to snag a copy, but it will be worth it.
Pittsburgh based rapper Chuckie Bonner began rapping at age 14. He claims to have been “going hard with his music” until some unexpected family tragedies led him to step away from music for a while. I’m not sure what he used to rap about as a young teenager before the death of his mother and cousin (and an aunt and another cousin,) but he’s done well here in channeling his emotions into his latest songs. Dealing with personal hardship and loss through one’s art is a great way to work through issues, and in doing so something much more meaningful and substantive is created artistically.
His hard hitting track The Intro opens with an inspirational quote from Rocky Balboa (Rocky VI) aboud taking what life throws at you and moving forward. Chuckie puts it out there right away about his family members that have passed, stoically viewing the tragic string of events as a series of tests that God has asked him to pass. He begins to wonder whether God is just messing with him. Then the song proceeds to really go into high gear, with Bonner rapping at an impressively frantic pace (this dude has some real skills) covering a plethora of topics, too numerous to
mention. He really just unloads and lays it all out there for the listener.
Musically The Intro is very engaging and keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. It features an orchestral almost opera-like hip hop backdrop which emphasizes the mood of high drama and high stakes. This guy just put everything into this song, and it turned out solid. I’m only left wondering why he’s rocking a Kansas City Chiefs hat when he’s from Pittsburgh, home of the iconic Steelers. Anyway this is looking like the Chiefs’ year, and Chuckie Bonner might finally be catching his break as well.
one small stEP is an EP from Boston based band, “Major Moment.” The band is heavily influenced by groups like Linkin Park (the album is even dedicated to the late Chester Bennington,) Nine Inch Nails and 30 Seconds to Mars. The intro is a pleasant surprise, a brief and eerily cerebral instrumental number that sounds like it could have been on the Poltergeist soundtrack. Before it’s Too Late is the first full length song. It features a lot of musically dynamic elements, some solid vocals (the verses are particularly good) and a memorably killer Iron Maiden tier guitar bridge near the end. The songs on here tend to start out mellow, with tepid intros and slowly build until they kick in with heavy, saturating choruses. You can just feel the energy when the song kicks in, like you’re near a mage unleashing a spell at full force. The Release is the softest tune on here. Instrumental in nature, it features delicate piano and captures a quiet, haunting ambiance.
Vocalist/guitarist Andrey Borzykin (whom I never would have guessed is from Russia) has a great, unassuming voice. It has an early 2000s emo quality but without sounding whiny. It’s very soothing and is complemented by (fellow Russian?) Alexandra ‘Sasha’ Razumova. The band plays very well together. They’re all on the same wavelength throughout this album. Lead guitarist Gabriel De Mattia continues in the tradition of excellent guitar players from Brazil (why are there so many?) Drummer Adam Soucy does what drummers do and holds the framework of the songs together. These are not the easiest songs to drum to I would imagine. There are a lot of changes to keep up with.
One impressive thing about one small stEP is the diversity of sound within songs. There is a lot of variety in the pacing, tone and the way in which synths are utilized. They really do cram a lot of creativity into each song. There is not a lot of repetition here, and no corners are cut (no copy and pasting, looping etc.) Unlike with many bands that sound nothing like their claimed influences, the music of Major Moment actually does bear an uncanny resemblance to Linkin Park, although it doesn’t contain the “rapcore” elements many associate with classic Linkin Park songs. This EP is worthy as an homage, but clearly the band has their own distinct sound, which has proven to be able to stand on its own.
How to Polish Your Longhorns is a new full length album from Jay Kipps Band. I would describe the sound as almost a “psychedelic country.” The band classifies their style as “Roots Americana” which explains the eclectic influences. The guitars remind me of the music from old Clint Eastwood westerns of the 60′s. This was my first impression anyway upon listening to the first track, Colt 45. Rotten Apple Blues settles into a more familiar and contemporary country/Americana sound. Featuring a catchy title and chorus, it’s one of those songs that strikes me as an instant country classic. Country/Americana artists seem to be very good at coming up with clever titles and concepts for songs (such Mel Tillis’ Coca Cola Cowboy etc.) What seems like a rather predictable track, Big Old Engine surprises by taking on 60′s rock n’ roll qualities, particularly with respect to the backup vocals on the chorus, which wouldn’t have seemed out of place on a Velvet Underground track. Besides Rotten Apple Blues my other favorite song on this album is Harp Bomb which sounds like music which would appear in a vintage video game RPG. It just has this bright, be-boppin’ feel to it. I don’t know…you just have to listen. This album is genius and demonstrates that Americana artists are far more imaginative than many people give them credit for.
“When a man says he’s a dreamer, there’s nothing on this Earth that keeps him happy.” And just like that I was drawn in by the resonating lyrics of Last Night, the opening track on Trio of Awesuhm’s album Cowboys&Aliens. Trio of Awesuhm (the name for the NY based folk rock band) is only false advertising in the sense that there appears to be more than 3 members of the group. The music is awesome by any standard. I really have to hand it to “lead vocalist, lyricist and composer” Monica Uhm. While everyone plays their part well, her vocals just really carry these songs to another level. The fact that she is a powerful creative force and more than just a voice that sings or a figurehead gives an authenticity to her charisma and credibility to her brand of what she calls “philoso-folk.” She has such a wonderfully pleasant voice to listen to that when the song is over you wonder if you’ve just been hypnotized and been subliminally programmed to carry out some nefarious orders.
There are hints of Americana sound here, and with a few twists, turns and twangs this music could easily make it into country western territory. It doesn’t quite go there though. A better way to describe this album’s sound is that it is like a less cheesy, more folk version of ABBA. The production here is excellent. Kudos to Joe DiGiorgi of Headline Studios, who apparently recorded and co-produced it. The album achieves better than (contemporary) major label production quality without sacrificing its indie folk soul. Cowboys&Aliens is contemplative and mellow, yet still keeps you moving with its consistent energy.
Ben Arzate is something of an enigmatic figure in that he is fairly prominent within edgy alternative political and literary circles but almost never expresses opinions on anything other than his analysis of people’s books. What does he actually believe? Who knows. If we are to follow the clues in his own books, we come no closer to unraveling the mystery except to infer that he might believe that nothing really matters, and one is better served in these turbulent times by taking refuge in the world of transgressive fiction, quietly amusing ourselves with the everyday horrors of contemporary life.
A while back I reviewed Ben Arzate’s brief poetry chapbook, which I found to be rather promising. So I was excited to read his new book of short stories, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saying Goodbye (published by NihilismRevised, 2018) because I knew it would be longer and have more meat to it (insert that’s what SHE said joke here.) What he excels at brilliantly in this book is in creating characters which behave and communicate realistically within the ridiculously absurd, exaggerated and often sci-fi situations they are placed in. He subtly shatters our idealistic and romantic notions by revealing just how mundane, unremarkable and pathetic our lives really are…in any context.
A prime example of this is the story, The Arranged Marriage. In recent years, arranged marriages have gained a resurgence of support and idealization among fringe reactionaries of the “trad” variety, which view them as a solution to “the incel problem” among many other so-called societal ills. Yet in Arzate’s The Arranged Marriage he depicts what I believe a contemporary arranged marriage would actually be like. Lisa and Michael are forced into an arranged marriage by their respective enthusiastic parents. The young couple agree to go along with it without much in the way of protest or enthusiasm. The couple’s conversations are filled with apathetic, intentionally uninspired strings of dialog such as the following:
“Are you looking forward to going to the
carnival?” I asked Lisa.
“I guess,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said.
This is the way people in forced relationships really do talk to one another, regardless of whether the “forced” relationship itself is literally due to familial setup or it’s just two people that happen to be dating but aren’t emotionally invested in one another. They’re just going through the motions.
A relatable story for me is The Country Musician, which relays a tale of a struggling country music artist named Hank in rather realistic, unromantic and less than heroic terms. This isn’t That Thing Called Love.
Hank put the five songs on the Internet.
After a year, each has less than 300 plays. None of
them have gotten any plays in the past month.
This is what being a contemporary indie music artist is actually like. You release an album. A handful of people buy it, but ultimately no one cares except for maybe a few weirdos and lonely e-girls that have crushes on you. You put songs on Soundcloud and sort of promote them in a half-assed way, but they barely get any plays. You mail copies out to important people and record companies, and occasionally someone is interested but nothing happens. At some point someone important will express some interest in your music and offer you something, but only on the condition that you radically change it in ways which are incompatible with who you are and antithetical to your artistic vision. In Hank’s case, a record executive offers him a record deal but wants Hank to record a reggae album instead of country:
The executive tells Hank that he liked his
demo, but country is out. He says that reggae is
the next big thing.
Hank tells the executive that he likes
reggae, but he does not play reggae. He plays
country. He also says he is not black and not
The executive tells him that it does not
matter that he is not black. There are white
Jamaicans. In a voice that sounds like Santa
Claus, he says that Hank just has to do a fake
Almost all of the stories are written in this style of dry, deadpan prose. It’s clearly by design and emphasizes our drab, mechanical, stop-motion animated lives in clownworld. Most of the stories in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saying Goodbye have a weird horror/scifi component to them. The story with the same name as the book’s title concerns a house that physically gets cancer. Admittedly, this was one of the more horrifying and grotesque stories for a hypochondriac like me to read. The best way I could describe the stories in this book is that they remind me of the vignettes in 80s-90′s shows like Tales From the Darkside and Monsters, minus any preachy moralizing, important life lessons or poetic justice. I chose those shows to compare the book to specifically rather The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, which were often trying to lecture or teach us something about how to make the world a better place. Shows like Monsters only did that to a lesser extent and mostly just aimed to creep out the viewer.
Despite their intentionally uninspiring form and low-charisma characters, these short stories are surprisingly engaging. I didn’t find any of them to be boring or lackluster. The objects and “living” physical backgrounds often take up the slack themselves morphing into lively characterizations. There is plenty of imagination here and some stories may have a life outside this book. The Arranged Marriage in particular I feel has the potential to be developed into a novella or short film. The stories in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saying Goodbye often end abruptly and without a satisfactory resolution, much like our lives usually do: A man makes a plate of chips and salsa. He sits down on the couch to watch the football game. The game is a blowout, and the team he is cheering for is losing. He is not enjoying the game. During the third quarter, he suffers a heart attack and dies. There are a few chips left on the plate, but most of the salsa got on his shirt. A neighbor finds the man’s body the next day and calls the morgue to tell them there’s a dead body. While he is waiting for someone to arrive, he sees the plate of chips and decides they might not be too stale, so he eats one. (This is not an actual story in the book. I just made it up by the way.)
That’s how our lives actually are though and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saying Goodbye both horrifies and entertains by briefly taking us out of our depraved world of delusions so that we may cringe and laugh at ourselves and everything around us.
Don’t be fooled by the title of Bye Bye Banshee’s new EP, Deathfolk Magic. There’s nothing horrifying about this recording. It’s actually quite beautiful and cerebral. It’s pleasant pacing and calm demeanor are accentuated by the sparse yet enchanting vocals of songwriter, Jezebel Jones. These peacefully poignant songs approach the subject of death abstractly with a kind of minimalist, meditative mindfulness. My favorite song on this release is Skull Rattles which contains the artists premonitionary declaration upon death that “graymatter don’t matter no more” and was simply “a temporary condition.” Intellectually I find this album to be pretty engaging, and musically I found myself entranced by it. This is neo-folk music at its finest.
The Ladder The Climb The Fall is the latest album from InCrest, a Danish grunge-rock trio. With a sound that takes it’s influence from the early 90′s golden age of alternative rock, the album manages to capture that essence completely, while still leaving enough room for the band to have a distinct musical identity. One might not expect that a Danish band could emulate the Seattle sound so convincingly, but InCrest has done just that. The Ladder The Climb The Fall often alternates between grunge and hard rock, sometimes blending the two. The opening track, No Second Chance has a peppy kind of “speed grunge” feel to it, in contrast to some of the dreary, dragging pace and whiny tone that’s often associated with lighter alternative music. The faster pace songs on this release remind me a bit of stuff from groups like Rollins Band. It’s cynicism and commentary but with balls. After the opening song, the album settles into a more conventionally paced heavy grunge style with Nightcrawler, (a song which boasts an excellent, attention grabbing guitar intro.) This is actually my favorite track of this release and from a quality standpoint ranks right up there with the top hits of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam (though it’s probably not going to get the same level of exposure and recognition.)
One criticism that’s often (usually unfairly) leveled at grunge bands is that they’re less skilled at playing their instruments, and that this is masked by the heavy distortion. That’s certainly not the case with InCrest. On this album they give a polished performance, displaying a lot of artful musical detail and precision timing. Even the vocals are right on point. The final song on the album, Neversleep is a good example of the softer, delightfully detailed musicality the band is capable of. One final note is the production quality on this album is major label tier. This is not some lo-fi, Sebadoh styled kind of obscure, indie art project (although I love that stuff.) In the right place and at the right time, this music would be on the radio and the band would be giving jaded performances in stadiums.