Friday, September 9, 2016

Sophie Ellis Bextor - Familia - Album Review

It has been more than two and a half years between albums for iconic British singer Sophie Ellis Bextor. That wait has been rectified with the release of her sixth studio album “Familia.” Returning to the creative team that helped bring life to previous Top Ten charting record “Wanderlust,” the latest album once again reflects a unique and fruitful collaboration with producer Ed Harcourt. Sophie and Ed have taken their abundant talents to another level here with these eleven songs, exploring new wide-open vistas for the singer to branch out and shine on.

Along with Harcourt providing piano, synths, samples and various keys, Richard Jones of veteran British pop band The Feeling (and Sophie’s husband) played all the bass guitar (figuring prominently on many tracks), with Seton Daunt on guitar and Phil Wilkinson on percussion.  Also back making significant contributions are the Dirty Pretty Strings (Violins: Gita and Rose Langley, Viola: Amy Stanford and Cello: Amy Langley).  The album was recorded at State of the Ark Studios in London, mixed at Decoy Studios and mastered at the famed Abbey Road. Released via her own EBGB label, worldwide marketing is being handled by Red/Essential. All album photography and initial video work coming by way of the masterful Sophie Muller.

A swirling synthesized reedy flute pattern kicks off opening track “Wild Forever” against metronomic clock-click percussion. Clear acoustic piano chords cut through and establish deeper bass textures as Sophie begins her vocals. “There’s a look in your eye – that says you want to be carefree tonight – just like in days gone by – when we were wild.”

The click-time rhythm and synths give way to full band dance groove on a bridge build-up where Sophie proclaims  “Why be so ordinary? Why just conform? Let’s rip the night in half and forget it all. So keep the engine running, under the stars. I feel release is coming, tonight it’s ours!”

 Chorus: Three sharp descending notes: “We shouldn’t fight the way we feel “ Three more notes, but move in a slightly altered direction “when it comes from somewhere real.”  Background vocals mirror the three accent notes  ("run-ning wild”) with an emerging bass guitar driven pulse.  Sophie goes falsetto  on the line “a garden always in full bloom” before returning to middle-toned voice “That’s how I think of me and you” (Background “running wild”) “but if escape is what we need – when it comes to you and me” -  “we should just surrender” (punctuated by defined drum shots and stately piano chords) – to the ultimate defining line - “stay wild forever.”

Briefly returning to the intro, the second verse finds the piano playing a more active, descending progression beginning with the lyrics “it’s like a secret we hold.”

At almost four-and-a-half minutes in length (which turns out to be the average length of nearly all the songs on this album) there are more than a few wonderfully unexpected moments.  Like the joyously repeated chant of "we just have to surrender" while mad synth twiddles over it all.  Sophie is heard in one of the “making of the record” videos put out before it’s release describing the music on this record as “bonkers psychedelic pop.” Wild Forever delightfully fits that description.

A deeper drum pattern and distinctly plucked guitar notes introduce “Death Of Love” as buzzy synths shimmer underneath. “Streets of SoHo where - we escaped to - take a moment - in slow motion” Sophie proclaims. “Sit beside me and - let them hurry – the city waits for no one” she continues, but then the vocals double and ceremonious guitar chords strum as she sings “but in my mind we’re king and queen – you make the best of everything – and in our fragile kingdom – we’re always singing – an endless melody (with the end note held out on the deeeeee)

Leading in to a gorgeous chorus that goes “Every sunrise leads to a sunset – fruit must fall from branches, and they’ll be centuries for other lovers – but not for us.” The beauty of this section (besides the glorious overview of life lyrics) is how it’s powered along by the deep thumping drums and upward pulsating synth textures.

 “But what we created – it cannot be undone. You know it lives on” To the songs highest point (both vocally and emotionally) – “It’s not – it’s not the death of love” (repeated twice) enhanced by additional double-time cymbal percussion.

 “So you walk through the crowded chaos” Sophie continues as chunky guitar figures enter the mix. “There’s a comfort, waiting for us."   Sophie has stated in interviews that this song is about how the love you create lives on after you've gone.  Therein lies the comfort.

 The magical chorus returns, this time with background vocal enhancements sounding like the trumpet herald of angels. An unexpected drop back in instruments leaves Sophie’s voice out front in ethereal layers over cymbals and drums. Chunky guitar figures return before leading it all back to the lush chorus once more.

Three distinct piano chords establish the essential structure of “Crystallise” as Sophie delivers opening lines “waiting for a lifetime.” As ‘ticking clock’ percussion marks out time, she continues “Like you're carved from the mountain.” One – Two – Three – go the piano chords – “sometimes I stand like a statue – waiting to surprise you”- which immediately leads to the bridge: “and when it comes - and what it does” (with bass guitar taking over as this seconds driving instrument) “is nail you down, you cannot swerve – you’re not the last, you’re not the first to sometimes lose your nerve.”

 To the big chorus: “You don’t need to try – hard. You don’t need to wise – up” The arrival of Sophie and Ed’s go-to string section adds deeper hues to the proceedings.  Specifically the emotionally-charged Cello work by Amy Langley.  “It all becomes clear as day,” she continues. “So Crystallise – love.”  Sweet guitar and piano textures coalesce as Sophie continues “it’s been sleeping since day one – trapped in your subconscious.  Scheming for the moment [sung in higher register and with more force] – when you stop feeling cautious” once again leading immediately into the bridge.

 Doubled vocals this time on the lines “you’re not the last, you’re not the first to sometimes lose your nerve.” In addition to the lush string section, there is now a rising gentle piano figure put in motion. A surprising Pink Floyd-ian extended-note guitar form briefly floats in space before the final chorus. That final pass through finds Sophie layering in alternating background vocals with dramatic tambourine/sleigh-bell shakes. The final seconds have all the instruments dropping away still only the live-in-the-studio drums remain.

The introduction of Nick Etwell’s trumpet on “Hush Little Voices” is significant in creating a cinematic Ennio Morricone/Sergio LeoneSpaghetti Western” vision of the mythical west.  Tambourine jingles feature prominently amid the familiar instrumentation of bass, piano, guitar and occasional “bonkers/psych” synths.   Sophie’s clearly enunciated vocals have less to do with South-Of-The-Border conflicts but rather the bothersome thoughts that keep you awake.  The chorus appears to serve a dual purpose as part lullaby to needlessly worried children, while subtly revisiting deeper subject matter first explored in the song “Party In My Head” from 2003’s “Shoot From The Hip.”  In interviews Sophie has stated this could also be the witch from "Love Is A Camera" on Wanderlust who souls were taken via images held in a tomblike monument (“centograph”), who has now been driven mad by all the souls she's captured.

Making extensive use of the Dirty Pretty Strings on “Here Comes The Rapture,” Sophie creates a chamber music atmosphere comparable to Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting” (from her From her No. 1 1985 album Hounds Of Love). However, there is no attempt to add any layers of percussion here as the string section provides the only musical accompaniment. In that regard, The Beatles “Eleanor Rigby” serves as a more accurate resemblance.

 Poetic, sweetly sung lyrics describes that moment first encountering the one you were meant to be with. Using metaphors of “towers” on “borders” and surrender (“give ourselves up”) puts a castle siege twist on affairs of the heart. Reaching the angelic chorus, the double edged meaning of “rapture” signifies both ecstatic delight and being transformed to another sphere of existence. With subsequent lyrics making further comparisons to “rernaissance” and “art,” it is the bridge once again that hooks you in. This time “mountains” replace those border towers as “bells are ringing out your name.”

- - -

First single “Come With Us” is placed at the halfway point through the album. The straightforward snare and bass drum stomp pattern is quickly joined by funky guitar licks. Touted as a “return to disco,” the feel seems closer to late 70’s rock bands that specialized in funk (like The Average White Band) or occasionally dabbled in it (The Rolling Stones). While Sophie sings what at first appears to be a call to “come with” her “no matter who you are or *what you see*  (though lyric sheet says “where you’re from” – possibly changed during recording because it sounded better?) a more wary meaning is soon revealed.

 The chorus makes no doubt about the clarion call intentions stating “if you give us all your money we’ll give you your dreams.” How it’s an illusion of “soft focus” imploring you to “release control” and become “lost in a fantasy – ‘til your soul is lost.” That is some pretty damning commentary on advertising and the profit-driven promises offered.  Like many good songs, “Come With Us” can be interpreted on a number of levels. If you want to be seduced by a “welcome to the family” greeting – presented with believable charm by Sophie in both voice and video imagery - that daydream is there. However, one would be foolish not to be suspicious of lyrics “in a hazy frame of mind you’ll believe this stuff.” Sophie has been quoted as saying this song is “about the lure of a cult,” whether that be Jim Jones impoverished Kool-Aid drinkers or the wealthy followers of Scientology.

Instrumental interludes, guitar solos and breakdown with Sophie delivering signature “ooh, ooh, aie ya’s” over “Groovejet” style deep tom-tom percussion and funky guitar riffs lead back to the promised-land chorus. The cultish lure of “living a fantasy under electric stars” ultimately becomes a choice of what (or whom) to follow.

- - -

A basic straight-forward drum beat is juxtaposed against mechanical hand-claps and extended note synths before deep bass guitar establishes the progression on "Cassandra."  Sophie turns to Greek Mythology for her lyrical inspiration here, channeling Cassandra princesses of Troy.  The “snakes in your red hair” allow her to listen to the future, but that gift from the God Apollo becomes a curse.  As a result of her spurning his love, no one believes her predictions.  It’s a classic story that Sophie puts her own spin on.  With the lyrics “putting the blame on the girl,” “I believe in you,” they think it’s a lie you told (but why would you need to)” and “if I could just sit with you, we two could conspire,” and “make them listen,” there’s a sense of a modern female solidarity.  The final minute features rising celestial vocals, rain-tinkling piano and thundering tom toms that build to a dramatic crescendo.

Returning to the “bonkers pop with a bit of psychedelia” approach, “My Puppet Heart” delights as one of the albums most lively tracks.  Over sound effects evoking factory machinery gone slightly awry, the vocals start almost immediately.  Clacketty-stick percussion, oddball foghorn and piano runs counter to Sophie’s first verse vocals, while the bass guitar faithfully mirrors her melody.  All suddenly changes on the next hooky bridge section where vocals starting with “you lift me up and I’m enlightened” are propelled by military-style snare drum rolls, with each line punctuated by deeper voiced chorus of “hoooh!”  The dreamily repeated “When I’m with you” line leads into a big chorus depicting how the puppet masters “hand” has “synchronized” control of her heart.  There is a delightful joy in how the instruments drive it all along, rising to accent “hold – ing tight” until giving way to a somber cello-led string section.  Further sonic surprises come on the third section change where she sings “it’s so beautiful to just free-fall.”  Fittingly the tracks final moments are squiggly sounds of indeterminate origins that imply a tape reel spun out of control.

- - -

A heartbeat-like singular bass drum thump with dueling electric keyboard and guitar figures usher in the ballad “Unrequited.” The pensive tale of yearning love not returned by another ultimately points to the question “Now ain’t that the craziest thing?” The overall mood is like a balladeer singing her heart out in some 19th Century Old West Cantina.

Once again the Dirty Pretty Strings feature prominently behind the vocals, providing a level of pathos unattainable by traditional rock instruments.  The big surprise is a vocal turn from Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws, who arrives after the songs midpoint, providing counterpoint and possible solution (“dance on your own in the light”). The final chorus is sung as a duet, and their voices blend well together.

An oddly jagged synth pulse provides the initial impetus for “The Saddest Happiness.”  Majestic strummed guitar chords accentuate ethereal “ooooh, ooooh, ooooh” background vocals.   Subtleties like the emergence of full trap set drumming halfway through the first verse’s third line (“it’s hard to feel the highs”) shows nuanced attention to detail.   The first change moves from mechanized synth-bass to bright ride cymbals and ceremonious piano accompaniment. Sophie’s lyrical content and vocal performance are sweetly tinged with a plaintive air.     Bass guitar and chamber orchestra strings provide the driving musical force behind Sophie’s vocals on a chorus where “the saddest happiness” is a “friend” that is like “the needle to the groove.”  The emergence of double-time vocal cadence (“rich is the man with a love to treasure”) and mysterious Spanish spoken word segment indicate the freeform possibilities within a self-directed recording environment.

Muted acoustic guitar chords, deep cajon drum and shaker percussion under prominent handclaps furnish the sonic foundation for the albums final track “Don’t Shy Away.”  Perhaps the most purely cinematic track on the album, a southwestern feel emerges once again in both sound design and lyrical content.  There are “mountains,” “birds overhead,” needing to “cross the valley” and “walk in the blazing sun.” With Flamenco-style guitar moving to the forefront and the lyrics “he’s waiting there for me, this runaway bride,” the doomed wedding scene in Tarrantino’s “Kill Bill” makes an excellent visual comparison.  Although Sophie has also stated in interviews that this poetic "runaway bride" is a poetic return to the one in Wanderlust's "Cry To The Beat Of The Band."

The chorus and subsequent musical intervals reinforce the damsel “yearning” for “all that we dared to dream” in a world of new frontiers.  An unanticipated post-chorus halt slowly builds tension around the repeated line “Won’t look back again.”  As that repeated mantra rises with conviction on each pass through, a mournful harmonica wail echoes through this big sky landscape. The majestic sonic coda – evoking pioneers riding out into the sunset (punctuated by stuttering drum fills) serves as a more than fitting end to this album.

* * * * *

Get Familia: - iTunes

- Signed CD / vinyl

Follow Sophie:

* * * * *

Previous features on this site about Sophie:

* * * * *

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Music Reviews: Thee Koukouvaya, Drina, Charlie Nieland, Squirrel Records

Independent music provides the life blood necessary to expand creative boundaries commercial enterprises place on this art form.   Drawing inspiration from sources meaningful to them, the purity in the work produced makes it all more interesting.   An artist unshackled by restrictions to conform is then free to create whatever they can imagine.   Although creators ultimately benefit from favorable audiences (which in turn provide an economic platform to continue), art is always better served when approached from a transparent, non-commercial approach.

This feature focuses on music created by independent artists operating in varying degrees outside of the mainstream.

On August 22nd, 2016‪, Fiercely Independent Records released "Ancient Race of Techno-Voyagers," the new album from electronic musicians Thee Koukouvaya, in vinyl and digital formats. It is the second full-length album from collaborators John O’Hara and Brian Wenckebach, following their debut LP “This is the Mythology of Modern Death” (Saint Marie Records) and their ambient EP Witches’ Jelly (soundinsilence).

The slightly muffled tom tom pattern first heard setting the pace in featured track “Limbic Crisis For Sparkle And Foam” is soon joined by deep buzzing bass tones and higher end modulation. This establishes a frenetic feeling, as if running through a forest at night. Crisp higher pitched sounds surface and buzz intermittently, like fireflies over summer fields.  Blips and bleeps abound as passages undulate and morph into other shapes.  There’s enough unanticipated dropouts and re-starts to keep clear of predictability, holding on to your interest.  Although one might point to 2006’s breakthrough artists The Knife and their “Silent Shout” as muse for this style of composition, all electronic approximations of hypnotic jungle drumming owe a certain amount of debt to Brian Eno’s “In Dark Trees.” It’s pretty much common knowledge that the 1975 album “Another Green World” still serves as the basic blueprint for all ambient electronic music that followed.  That’s not to say that O’Hara and Wenckebach don’t add anything new to this genre, for they surely do.  Many of their textures are new to my ears and as such, a delight to come in contact with.

Listen here:

Other tracks lean closer to pure film soundtrack material. The opening cut “We Walked Out of Mexico Loaded” is a tension-laced backdrop you’d hear in the buildup towards a pivotal scene in a Science Fiction thriller.

 The brilliantly titled “Suspicion Breeds Confidence” comes on at a more methodical pace. There is a central drone buildup that ratchets tension levels up, until a plateau is reached. Distant, muted voices can be heard periodically throughout, as if astronaut space technicians can be heard working on a new colony.

“The Modern Beige” approximates movements one might imagine a large pumping device would make. The track is actually in two parts, as the second half picks up the tempo, seemingly swapping out the pump for a whooshing surface sweeper.  Also, points for the title's clever play on an oft-used expression.

“Planetary Archive” undulates with a joyously dancey feel as processed voices provide a comforting humanoid backdrop. There’s a delightful sweetness to this track that sets it apart from all the others.

“Nauplia” provides the sonic equivalent of the sheer awe and wonder of staring into a magical sea of stars. Beat-less and without any real shape at all, it still envelops you in a warm bath of sine waves.

Mechanical clapping percussion creates an underlying polyrhythm on “Pluto Heart.” Softer sound waves move at a more deliberate pace, ultimately giving way to an abrupt liftoff.

“Margaritas By The Pool” may have the requisite prestige of a vocoder performance by electronic music innovator Ulrich Schnauss to draw attention to it. However, even without that respected contribution, the track stands out as an uplifting composition. The final (and another cleverly titled) track

“Aged Into Conformity” benefits from marimba and bell like tones. As those patterns loop, other textures rise up from underneath, creating the sensory equivalent of deep mysterious caverns.

- - -

Recording artists looking for a studio run by the capable hands that produced this record, follow this link here.

* * * * *

A revived collaboration comes by way of Berlin, Germany and Brooklyn, New York. Drina is the band’s name, and if certain elements sound somewhat familiar, that is due to these two artists previous affiliation (featured multiple times here on this site) as Sparxx.

Drina has just released a new track called “Adore Me” which you can hear right now:

Familiar ears will notice an immediate difference in approach. Where much of Heather and Justin’s work with Sparxx was quick and dancey, “Adore Me” is more deliberate. There are far more open spaces that allow for soulful vocals. For the first :20 seconds alone there is no musical accompaniment other that a minimal bass pulse. Slowly, trip-hop percussion emerges as a tale of needed devotion unfolds. Initial lyrics “Show me - Say you can't live without me - Wrap your heart inside a box - Give it to me” speak to universal themes of monogamous co-existence. Questions arise with the lines “Are you afraid - To give me your world? - And I'll flee - With your diamonds and your pearls?” underscoring the ever present concern over material aspects.

Keyboard synths provide rich atmospherics and motion to the quicker recited vocal bridge “This is when it all comes down -This is when you stick around- This is when it all falls down - Unless you wanna stick around.” Leading up to the stylized vocal phrasing “Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah-Adore Me.”

The second verse returns to the sparse instrumentation of the tracks opening, where all focus is on the voice, stating “I get what I want and I never stop till I'm done- - Hand it all over to me if you are my one.”

From the 2:00 minute mark on, the floating upward keyboards and layered vocals dovetail together giving the track a dreamy/chill vibe. A surprising brief piano chord outro add a drifting away touch to the whole proceedings.

Keep up with Drina by following them over on their Facebook Page.

* * * * *

Musician/producer and multi-instrumentalist Charlie Nieland has created an array of picturesque music over the years. Writing and recording impressive dream pop with his band Her Vanished Grace, Charlie recently released his first set of solo material titled ICE AGE - now available on Bandcamp.  Reviewed here are the six songs included on that expansive set of acoustic guitar based songs.

The title track “Ice Age” opens with heavily reverberated sonics giving the impression a Pink Floyd style journey may be underway. That sense quickly shifts as bright acoustic guitar takes the forefront and softly sung vocals begin. Though the noisy undercurrent continues, sparse piano notes enter the mix along with the half-spoken/half-sung storytelling. “She will cry, I’m falling” catches the ear as an early bridge/hook. Percussion emerges in the form of light touch snare drum and cymbals on the second pass through. “She alone can melt all the ice away” creates a poetic resolution to any questions regarding thematic imagery. The early albums of Nick Drake, Syd Barrett and David Bowie all come to mind as the spiritual antecedents to this sound.

“All I’ve Ever Wanted” continues with the brightly strummed acoustic guitar textures and lush synth background atmospherics. Touching on the positive universal theme of self-recognition and seeking “the perfect moment.”

There is a bigger overall feel to the track “Lighthouse.”  Vocals are sung out more passionately against celestial chiming guitars, giving it all a Cocteau Twins feel – but with Robin and not Liz singing. Poetic phrases like “the color of your dreams” hint at the beacon’s purpose.

“Automatic” impresses with its lush, romantic chorus and an overall floating upward sensation. Reminiscent of 90’s era Projekt recording artists Love Spirals Downwards, Soul Whirling Somewhere and Black Tape For A Blue Girl.

Distinctive melody notes sit atop the acoustic chord structure of “Water” while a dreamy electric guitar haze carries on underneath. Feeling more Slowdive than Cocteau here, those distinctions may be subtle, but important to those in the know nevertheless.

“Falling” stands out with its piano chords as primary structural instrumental base. Strings create a dramatic backdrop for an emotional lyrical recitation. Voice takes the central focus, leaning on the sentimental while incorporating unexpected minor chord changes.

Find out more about Charlie Nieland and his music here on his Bandcamp page.

* * * * *
Longtime friends of this site Squirrel Records has recently released Nuts and Vaults! - a two CD, 50 track compilation of carefully curated tunes from their vast catalog. Mixed in with those tracks are never before released cuts from a number of bands who have been on the label over the years - as well as a handful of bands who just wanted to contribute to this compilation.

Presented as the labels final major release, there is no shortage of great songs to be heard. Here are a selection of tracks that garnered review attention.

End It (Part One) - AILSA CRAIG

 Hyperactive, percolating percussion and a sturdy descending bassline serve as the driving entry for “End It (Part 1)” ‘Leaving so fast, you don’t know what you’re getting,” sings Caroline.  Matt Robson is credited with something referred to as “lead sample guitar” and evidence of it can be heard throughout the song. Of note is a particularly hooky chorus sung by Caroline that goes “I can’t go on like this – you must end it” A surprising and delightful rapid sequenced keyboard line emerges, which leads into Paul Elam’s powerful fuzzy guitarwork.

Down From Here - INSECT GUIDE

“Down From Here” is driving, catchy pop at its best, while the lyrics point towards something a bit more sinister. “There’s no further down from here,” can only imply you’ve reached rock bottom. So – the only way out is back up? With a single guitar line hook that references both The Cure (in tone) and The Jesus and Mary Chain (in construction) fans of those bands will surely love this.


“Hit it!” is a noise-fueled shorty that encompasses the rawness of The Ramones, with a “do, do, do do” vocal passage that’s pure JAMC. Guitar and bass trample the avenues of chaos and sludge, offering up total disregard for any rules of decorum.



Distorted feedback intros a Mo Tucker-meets-Bobby Gillespie backbeat on The Sunday Reeds “Handgun To My Heart.” The deep and sultry vocals of Romana Ashton explain that when your “love was doomed from the start,” this is the best way to consummate it.

“Drop Dead Cool” is both harder and trashier. The snare drum has that deep echo on it that appeals on a number of levels. Powerful guitar riffs snake throughout as Romana deadpans lines like “hey kid you’ve got no blues – hey kid you got nuthin’ to lose” – but – it’s “drop dead cool.” Well alright!


“Made Out Of Perspex.” A quicker, bass guitar and synth hook driven pop groove, the catchy lyrics “I won’t care about you, I’m an instant automaton,” get stuck in your head.



A previously never before released rave-up, “Kubanskaya” finds Manhattan Love Suicides alumni Adam fronting his own project here. With a vocal performance reminiscent of David J’s work with both Love and Rockets and solo, the track is quite impressive. A female voice joins Adam on significant passages, as the bass guitar driven rhythm powers it all along.

One Track Mind - HOROWITZ

Capturing the spirit of Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers classic anthem to nihilism, a near note and beat perfect rendition is executed here.  Jerry Nolan beats,  Johnny's and Walter Lure's guitar riffs - it's all there.  Those boys would be proud of this one.



A quickly recorded Roky Erickson cover that has never been released anywhere else, “Nothing In Return” is a faithful rendition that gets to the heart of what the MLS were all about. The spirit of original Texas rock and roll and the psych-rock that it spawned (like viruses spreading in a biological horror movie) flows through this track. Special props go to Caroline for her impassioned vocals.


Getting Faster - THE BLANCHE HUDSON WEEKEND A surprising 60’s keyboard/organ part steps out as the primary melodic accompaniment on “Getting Faster.” Underscoring how Darren and Caroline’s post Manhattan Love Suicides project expanded from the stripped down fuzzy guitar, bass, drums and voice only formula. Those other elements are still there in full force however.


With an intro guitar tone reminiscent of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Some Candy Talking,” vocalist Su Sutton alternates between a sweet and sandpaper quality on this track. Spinning a tale of “wasting another night with you,” bright tambourine (meticulously placed) accentuate key moments as Stan Howells guitar layers add power and clarity to it all. “I go through charcoal grey – I go through black,” Sutton laments. “I go through charcoal grey – I’m not coming back,” she concludes.


Suzy Blu takes on the Texas legend that is Buddy Holly in a truly inspired way.  Building their entire song around a single word sound sample of Holly's trademark "Well" - provides the necessary sonic gravitas for Suzy's own creative flow. After Buddy's initial "appearance," the track takes on a forceful minimalism of driving tom tom percussion accompanying storyteller vocals. Guitars emerge into the mix and serve to create an appealing level of tension throughout. The bigger move, however is a jacked up chorus featuring buzzaw guitar chords, matched throbbing bass, electronic handclap percussion and floating outerspace sounds. It's all pulled back together with the return of Buddy's "Well." The cycle repeats with enough incidental sonic variations to hold the listeners interest. The story being told focuses on the eternal search for love - or at the very least a compatible partner. While one may "find it easy to lie in the dark" the other challenges them to "play your part." "Do you want to sink or swim? Show me how thick's your skin!" If only Buddy were around to hear this.

This wonderful compilation can be ordered here.

- - - 

Additionally, Squirrel Records has a recent 7" vinyl release that is a pretty cool collectors item as well.

The seventh, and final single release from the mysterious collective Girl One And The Grease Guns

Here they bring you "The Shatterproof Man" b/w "A Steel Cat In A Glass Jar."  The disc comes pressed on clear vinyl in a transparent sleeve. 

The a-side is a vigorous slice of electronic pop, while the flipside takes you on "a 6 minute experimental journey into a creepy, Eraserhead inspired world filled with the sounds of factory machinery, and a feeling of dread."

That single can be ordered here.

Previous Squirrel Records features on this site can be found via these links:

True Independent Music Labels

Pop Threat / Dirt N' Dust 1999-2003 Album Review

The Insect Guide - Dark Days and Nights

The Blanche Hudson Weekend

ailsa craig - a silent no : 19-10-09

The Manhattan Love Suicides - Singles

The Manhattan Love Suicides - Burnt out Landscapes

* * * * *

Thursday, August 11, 2016

More Summer Live: Patti Smith in Damrosch Park, Dinosaur Jr. at Rough Trade, Wall + Surfbort at Union Pool, Dahl Haus + Samantha at Cake Shop

The opportunity to attend a high level presentation celebrating the music and literary work of a true living icon in those fields should never be missed. The fact that Lincoln Center’s Out of Doors Festival kicked off their annual free summer concert series on July 20, 2016 with the legendary Patti Smith was almost too good to be true.

Billed as “A Night of Words and Music with Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye and Tony Shanahan – an evening of poetry, prose and acoustic music with one of our city’s greatest living artists.”

While initial planning may have envisioned that simpler, more stripped down description above (and that did in fact occur) – what followed was a full blown, full Patti Smith Group rock show.

The show did open in the originally described sparser format.  However, the participants were Patti's daughter Jesse on piano (a regular fixture in her touring band), Tony Shanahan on bass and Patti.

The first thing Patti does is implore the group of people directly in front of her who still haven't settled into their seats to "stop milling around like a herd of turtles" because of the limited amount of time allotted for the entire evenings performance.

Holding a copy of her National Book Award winning memoirs “Just Kids,” she explains that she wants to read some select passages from it.

Noting however (as mentioned above) initially she was supposed to do a lot of reading, but that she “doesn’t always do what I’m supposed to do” – which elicited the first of many amused responses from the audience.

She then read two excerpts from that book (with the song "Wings" in-between.)  Having already read the book (and re-reading at times for inspiration) highlighted throughout this feature here are favorite passages.

"Everyone coexisted within the continuous drone of verbal diatribes, bongos, and barking dogs."

"Take their picture," said the woman to her bemused husband, "I think they're artists."  "Oh, go on," he shrugged.  "They're just kids."

"beguiled by her enthusiasm"

On first seeing Jim Morrison perform with The Doors:  "I observed his every move in a state of cold hyper awareness.  He exuded a mixture of beauty and self-loathing, and mystic pain, like a West Coast Saint Sebastian."

"In the war of magic and religion, is magic ultimately the victor?  Perhaps priest and magician were once one, but the priest, learning humility in the face of God, discarded the spell for the prayer."

"he sought to see what others did not."

After the reading portion was over, Patti brought out Lenny Kaye and the rest of her band.

Which naturally included long-time drummer Jay Dee Daugherty

Patti continued to speak to the audience frequently throughout the performance.  Often as a prelude to the next song played.

Here she tells a charming story about how the moon - and her "thank you" to it - for its continued guidance.  Introducing the song "Southern Cross"

"I lived in my own world, dreaming about the dead and their vanished centuries."

"I had spent hours copying the elegant script forming the words of the Declaration of Independence."

"I could not identify with political movements.  In trying to join them I felt overwhelmed by yet another form of bureaucracy."

"What matters is the work.  A perfect balance of faith and execution.  From this state of mind comes a light, life-charged."

"Creating a diary of internal evolution."

Dedicating her passages to “our youth – the hope of the world”

The benefit of taking a long view at events like these is to experience the full effect of dramatic stage lighting.

With rich hues morphing through the color spectrum, bathing the stage to create a magical feel.

Lead guitarist Jack Petruzzelli provided one brilliant musical passage after another throughout the show.

Also taking turns on keyboards when Tony or Jesse moved off of them.

Gorgeous view from further back on a beautiful July evening.

All around the open air venue, beautiful colored lights enhanced the ambiance.

Deep purples, pinks and greens.

Exploding star bursts projected behind the band added one more element of visual stimulation.

Along with glowing, pulsating orbs.

For the final song/medley, Patti took off her jacket (as surely the warm night had finally gotten her to this point).

Morphing from a rollicking version of The Who's "My Generation" into the "noise-rock" segment which has become a staple of her live shows, near the end of the night.

As was recorded here during her December 27, 2013 Space At Westbury show, and the "outside of society" chant.

Another highlight of that night from two and a half years ago was this version of "Cash" (off of her album "Trampin")

The July 20, 2016 Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center show can be seen and heard in its entirely via this recording below.

Here is a direct link to that on YouTube

A beautiful show on a glorious night.




Opening the night's festivities was the band Mariachi Flor de Toloache


* * * * * 

Another influential band experiencing a resurgence in their career over the last decade is the legendary Dinosaur Jr.


Since reforming the original lineup in 2005 with Murph on drums and Lou Barlow on bass, J Mascis continues to write, record and play out live as much as possible.

This particular occasion saw the band playing an intimate show on August 5th at Brooklyn's Rough Trade in celebration of their latest record release Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not

Two years ago, Dinosaur Jr dazzled the audiences of New York with a brilliant headline show at The 4Knots Fest.

Read the full review of that show here - including the definitive statement as to why J Mascis and Djr's music matters so much.

As for this current show, J appeared to have his full arena level amp rig with him, in what is a decidedly smaller, more intimate space.
Three full stacks of Marshall amps - but despite all that firepower - the actual volume level never really crossed over into the pain threshold.  A good pair of earplugs are essential - but it seems they have mastered tailoring their volume output to the respective venues.

Murph and Lou are a phenomenal rhythm section.

From that new album is an amazing track called "Tiny" (which you can listen to right here) that encompasses everything that has been great about this band since they began - all in a just-over three minute song.

What so many of today's reviewers don't seem to "get" is how great J's lyrics are.  Yes, the guitar solos are the "orgasm" - but embedded in the lyrical content is the human emotion.  The heartbreak - and comfort.

Tiny's universal "calling out" to everyone.  Centered on the hook "I wanna know" - to the ultimate offer - "call me back, I'll get on track I swear."

The lyrics conversational style has always been one of the most relatable aspects of his writing.  "Do you know if you're against the deal?  Well - wait and see!"

 "No accounting for the hours I spent"

"Wanna tell you that I miss you but I'm pissed you blew me off"

"Hold out for me, 'cause bailing at this point is really low"

It was quite noticeable this time around how much Barlow plays the bass like an actual guitar.  He strums chords as frequently as playing more traditional single note bass patterns.


Besides playing like a thundering monster, Murph seemed to be really enjoying himself.


The main set list, minus the encores.


For those encores they opened with "The Wagon" (from 1991's Green Mind) - and then they played "Out There" (from '93's Where You Been) - a song a bunch of us up front had been shouting out for most of the night.  It was a beautiful experience with new found like-minded in-the-moment friends.

When the show was finally over and we were all milling around the front of the stage (trying to get set lists and checking things out) none other than Fred Armisen rolled up between us (with two blonde women in tow) and took this capture of J's pedal configuration.  We had a brief chat - he was pleasant - and then whisked his way backstage (well, he IS friends with the band).

An amazing night!

* * * * * 

A few weeks earlier, a few of us decided to check out a couple of up and coming bands at another cool, free, summertime concert event - The Summer Thunder series at conveniently located Union Pool.

Although usually held outdoors in the open air courtyard, a mid-day rainstorm convinced everyone involved to have the bands play their sets on the indoor stage this time around.

Up first was a band covered previously here on this blog at the 2015 4Knots Fest - Surfbort.

Although their show was entertaining on that day, there was a loose, chaotic feel to it all.

For this Summer Thunder show the band seemed much more focused with their set tightened up considerably from that initial experience.

While the two front women are the same (lead guitar and lead vocals) the drummer and rhythm guitarist are different (they have no bassist).

The addition of those two new members certainly should be given credit for pulling the sound into a more precise focus, as the drummer had experienced chops and the rhythm guitarist masterfully recreated the Johnny Ramone speed down-stroke.

That's not to say their still wasn't a biting element to the music they presented.

In particular, the lyrical element to nearly all the songs played exhibited a savage sarcastic element, making frequent references to the lies and deceit that surrounds us on a daily basis.


The return of former show running mate Rob/Drid was a welcome return to familiar patterns.  Good to catch up as always.

* * * * *

Afternoon headliners WALL were up next.

Another new band recently featured here on this site, they've quickly established themselves as an act garnering a lot of interest from a number of noteworthy areas.

That prior show could also be deemed as something of a looser affair (coming after attendance at Brian Wilson's magnificent performance in McCarren Park) on a multi-band Sunday night showcase.

This late afternoon Summer Thunder performance however, was a headline spot for the band, and they made the most of their opportunity.

The captivating presence of lead vocalist Samantha York provides an essential visual centerpiece from which the songs can emerge.


Samantha and bassist Elizabeth

Although originally intended as an outdoor "patio" show, there's something about the indoor stage lighting that fits this band rather well.

Guitarist Vince lets rip with sinewy licks while Sam makes her point.

- -

Drummer Vanessa keeps time with Tommy Ramone-like diligence.

Follow the band at their Instagram account here.

Which includes this video of them performing here at Union Pool.

* * * * *

With that show concluded, the precisely planned out afternoon-into-evening gig calendar had this intrepid reporter heading over to Manhattan's LES and an event called "Frosting Fest" at Ludlow Streets venerable Cake Shop

Of specific interest on that bill were the bands Dahl Haus (which includes members of associated act Dialogue From A Silent Film) and Samantha (which can be found online as samanthanoise).

Opening the night was the immensely talented Blaise Dahl, fronting her band Dahl Haus

Lead guitarist Daniel Kasshu adds texture to Blaise Dahl's songwriting, and her solo creative vision that is Dahl Haus.

These two musicians (who are usually joined by a much in-demand drummer who was needed elsewhere on this evening) appear to be made for each other, as their love for a particular guitar-based wall-of-gaze sound and stylistic imagery sync up perfectly.

Blaise exhibits a powerful, resonant voice that soars over her lyrically intelligent, well-crafted songs.

There is a wealth of audio tracks here on her SoundCloud that fully displays this creativity and powerful voice.  Even though some of the tracks are "raw demos," the inventive songwriting and voice shines through.  The fact that they standout even without studio polish is a true testament to the songs overall quality.

In addition to providing his own "sailor sparkle" to Dahl Haus, guitarist Daniel creates his own extended dreamscapes in a band he calls Dialogue From A Silent Film.   

Listen to his song "Wax Tadpole"

Lush, ambient soundscape bathed in waves of romantic melancholy.

Exemplary image

Brother and Sister Glam-Gaze

Electric guitars and FX pedals make for such a beautiful noise.

The frosting fully on the cake (shop)

Every picture tells a story (don't it?)

If it's on Twitter, it has to be true!

Instagram completes the holy trinity.

Both Dahl Haus and Dialogue From A Silent Film play next at Don Pedro's in Brooklyn on Sunday August 21.

* * * * *

Also appearing on the night of Cake Shop's "Frosting Fest" was Mike Borchardt's hard charging power trio Samantha (Samanthanoise)

These three musicians showed accomplished skill on their respective instruments, impressing with their tightly coiled songs.

On their track "Stitches" - we can hear the spirit of Westerberg and Stinson's Replacements shot through it.

At other times echoes of Green Day and Jimmy Eat World flashed across the minds eye (and ear) during their show.

While other times they rocked so hard you felt the ferocity of heavier bands like Ministry.


The bottom line is, they put on a helluva entertaining, hard rocking show.

Your next opportunity to catch Samantha live will be a summer blowout party on August 31st at Beach Bar in Asbury Park, New Jersey.

* * * * *