Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Depreciation Guild - 10.03.2009 - Webster Hall :: NYC

Dave Cromwell gets insightful while covering the Brooklyn based Depreciation Guild. With blaring guitars and a wall of sound the band are captivating audiences with a thump to the chest. After the performance the ensemble's ringleader Kurt Feldman sat down for a few minutes to talk recording, free music, vinyl and life on the open road.

When multiple sources you've come to respect urge you to give something a listen, because they are sure you will like it, it would be foolish to put it off. Trusting their advice, I soon found The Depreciation Guild's debut album "In Her Gentle Jaws" to be one of the most satisfying music experiences I've encountered this year.

When multiple sources you've come to respect urge you to give something a listen, because they are sure you will like it, it would be foolish to put it off. Trusting their advice, I soon found The Depreciation Guild's debut album "In Her Gentle Jaws" to be one of the most satisfying music experiences I've encountered this year.

Having caught one of their live shows in a small club setting a month earlier, I was most excited to see how their show would play on the big stage at Webster Hall on October 3rd, touring in support of this years break-out act The Pains of Being Pure at Heart.

Opening the show with "Sky Ghosts," the mood was immediately set. Looking most impressive on that huge stage, the massive crowd packed in tight at the front, and spilled all the way to the back bar. "Sky Ghosts" contains elements from more than a few sources and influences. The so-called "shoegaze" style is obvious, but underneath there is a soulfulness to the rhythm, chord changes and textures that bring to mind late 60's songs by urban groups like The Delphonics.

Following with the magnificent "Darklooming" the band was now fully in its stride. As their signature 8-bit Famicom provided a programmed digital undercurrent, the three musicians developed the sound even more confidently over top of it all. Drummer Anton Hochheim in particular sounded loose, organic and downright "jammy" throughout. Kurt Feldman (principal songwriter, guitarist and vocalist) and Christoph Hochheim's (Anton's twin brother) guitars pounded downward on the bridge section with controlled force. Kurt's gently sung vocals again evoked a certain soulfulness. At times the guitars sound slightly warped and twisted, - as if they had been developed in Kevin Shield's recording studio during the "Loveless" sessions.

The lighting at Webster Hall is always impressive, and on this night the slick, big concert level professionalism was in full effect. With the three band members spread out across the huge stage, Christoph was bathed in a yellow spotlight to the far left, Anton dead center up on a drum riser and Kurt to the far right, in a shimmering amber hue.

The band proceeded to work their way through the set, playing "Crucify You," "Blue Lily," and "Trace" - all perfectly executed under a variety of lighting enhancements. In addition to the more traditional concert lighting, the band brings their own unique imagery that is projected on the big screen behind them. A 9 panel display whereby colors change and textures pulse, this video game bit-theme is reflected in their t-shirt designs as well.

Up next was the incredible "Butterfly Kisses" which is a standout track on the debut album. Here the Famicom is prominently featured, as it creates a magical, percolating undercurrent for what the band does on top. A speedy song that always makes me think of running through the woods as fast as you can (or perhaps navigating some video game underworld) the boys run roughshod over top with a dual guitar assault and throttling live drums. Kurt's breathy vocals only add to its appeal as the verses build to the chorus. And what a chorus it is. A chill inducing, blissed-out highpoint that showcases the best this band has to offer.

They then played a new song called "November" that will be on their next album, and it was a most convincing jam where you could see the interplay between the three musicians evolving. For their finale, they played the magnificent "Dream About Me."

Frontman Feldman was talkative after the show, providing some insights into where they've just been, and what's in store for the immediate future.

"In the beginning of August I did a West Coast tour playing in The Pains of Being Pure at Heart." (Kurt has the unique situation of being that bands drummer, while at the same time fronting his own band as it's principal songwriter and guitarist) "We toured with a band called Girls which was really awesome. Then in the last month we started this tour combining The Pains, Depreciation Guild and Cymbals Eats Guitars," Kurt stated.

"We recorded most of our first album at the end of 2006, and released it in December of 2007," said Kurt. "It actually started out as a bedroom project for myself in 2005. I wrote a bunch of songs which I recorded myself with help from my friend Eric. We were all absolute beginners at that point. I had been in a number of bands before that, but had never really done anything with electronics. Eric had never really recorded any bands, but he was going to NYU in the engineering program. So we were both really inexperienced with the whole thing and did it flying by the seat of our pants," he stated.

"I attempted to mix the full length by myself at one point. What ended up happening was when we got our manager, John - he heard the songs and thought they were good, but realized the mix could be improved. So he pitched the project to an electronic artist that he really loved who hadn't previously heard of us. A great guy named Josh Eustis who himself plays in a band called Telefon Tel Aviv. So he remixed the whole thing and then the album was released a year after we recorded it."

"'In Her Gentle Jaws' came out just this month on vinyl. Prior to that we had made it available as a free download for nearly 2 years. Everything has now been remastered for the vinyl and it definitely sounds richer and fuller. Less high end. It works way better as a vinyl record, than we had anticipated. We had gotten used to hearing it one way, and this new version is breathing new life into it.

"We finished recording the new album and it's about halfway mixed at this point. We did the record entirely with Josh Eustis. He engineered and co-produced it with us at his studio in Chicago this past August. Half recorded at Josh's house, and half at Hefty Studio's, which is John Hughes Jr.'s recording studio. The son of the filmmaker has a label called Hefty. They have top notch mic's and amps there, and it's where we tracked the drums. This record has more of an organic feel. Our signature digital sound is still there, but now there are more synths, and more live bass, more acoustic drums in addition to the drum machines. We didn't actually stray from our initial sound, but just that our live sound is now more fully represented."

The Depreciation Guild are currently on tour supporting The School of Seven Bells, and will return to New York for a number of CMJ showcase shows, later on this month.

Addtional photos and videos are included here.

Christoph, Anton and Kurt playing to a packed Webster Hall
"Blue Lily"


Christoph and Anton drive the rhythm and textures
"Butterfly Kisses"
"Dream About Me"

Photos from September 3, 2009 show at Bowery Electric, NYC
Kurt gets gazey

Blue lights for a Blue Lily

The hand is quicker than the shutter
"Dream About Me" at Bowery Electric

Significant links:

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Sleepy Sun live at Music Hall of Williamsburg 9.15.09

Wading through the numerous email promotions touting the "next great band" is not always an easy task. However, doing your best to at the very least give each a listen can often pay dividends. Such is the case with San Francisco's Sleepy Sun. Their debut album Embrace was an instant hit with me, and so it was off to The Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn on September 15, to see if the much ballyhooed live show would be as impressive. I'm happy to report that is was a resounding yes on all accounts.

Spread out across the unusually wide stage, the band's two guitarists took the outermost points, with Evan Reiss bookened all the way left and Matt Holliman all the way to the right. Filling in from left to right, then was bassist Jack Allen, lead vocalist (and harmonica) Bret Costantino, drummer Brian Tice and female vocalist Rachael Williams. Their songs are sprawling and epic. Early in the set, one over-five-minute ramble began with Bret whistling like a Spaghetti-western theme out of a Clint Eastwood movie.

The band quickly set the groove as Bret then proceeded to sing in the more traditional sense. But soon tempos changed and slowed down, as Rachael sang her vocal part (in tandem with Bret), as a new rhythm emerged - dark and heavy - guitarists Matt & Evan making their presence felt with Black Sabbath-style riffs - slow, weighty and lumbering. Only to drop out for more dual singing from the bands two vocalists. This back-and-forth play went on for a bit - then more heavy rifffing, to stopping while the vocalists were featured. Soon enough it was back to the full band driving rhythm. Of note was Rachael's bright and clearly noticeable tambourine playing. Brian's drumming was all tom-tom thunder and cymbal crashes. Bret makes guttural sounds and bird chirping noises. It's jammy - but not the light Grateful Dead style jamming - it's heavy, lead-boots sonic forays. Only to be halted as the vocalists sing in harmony against a more gentle background.

Listen to this performance here:

"New Age" has a thumping drum, beep beep percussive motion and distant vocal sighs that all contribute to lay the bed for Bret's echo-y vocals. Guitars rip off sophisticated lines with 60's-style Jefferson Airplane reverb on them. Here the bassline finds it's place of prominence amongst the instrumentation. The undercurrent of cymbal-less tom tom thuds and snare drum punctuation keeps the rhythm in a steady forward motion. "The new age of silence" (big pause) "comes with the sound," Bret sings. More layers of guitars provide a fully distorted wash underneath as additional fluid guitar lines riff over top. It concludes with the sort of guitar chaos that Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth are noted for. It is suffice to say that one Sleepy Sun song goes to many different places.

However, it is the bands epic centerpiece to their set and the show - the brilliant "White Dove" that truly underscores what Sleepy Sun does best. A nearly nine and a half minute piece on their record, which in and of itself is astounding in this day and age of quick sound bytes and fast moving information overload. Sleepy Sun is unconcerned with any of that though, as they stretch out and sprawl all over the sonic landscape. Another heavy Sabbath-esque groove is laid about by the bands two guitarists, as the dual vocalists sing in a tandem where Bret whispers his lines while Rachael wails like a Siren. Picking out bits of lyrics here and there, it seems that "soon, you'll fly alone - soon, you'll die alone" is one repeated phrase.

The guitar solos are fluid and quick, as Brian throttles the drum kit for maximum effect. The whole piece goes off on a near Sonic Youth-like breakdown - then all musicians drop out as Bret and Rachael make echo-y, sighing sounds. The lights are completely dark and it is quite a "spooky" minute. The band launches back in and even more guitar solos are fired off. Then back to the heavy descending hook. It gets quiet again and then there is almost a western-style passage delivered. Lovely harmonies between Bret and Rachael, followed by a lonesome harmonica break played by Bret (who's also playing an acoustic guitar). Surprisingly, it ends there. But then again, maybe not so - I mean they have to end it somewhere - right? It's grandiose - berserk - and altogether fantastic.

Rachael cuts a dashing figure with maraca
while Matt adds percussive enhancements

Vocalist Bret sighs, whistles and sings

as well as generating sounds from mysterious sources

Listen to this night's performance of "White Dove" here:

They even have a song with the clever title of "Sleepy Son." The band gives "birth" to this child in a slow, dreamy, casual moving way. Lots of distorted wah-wah guitar textures and lonesome traveler harmonica. The lyrics are delivered by Bret and Rachael in a similarly slow and dreamlike way. "Good by blue skies," they sing. Soon the heavy slams you in the form of classic, lumbering metal God riffs.

This is the unique hook of Sleepy Sun - the seemingly effortless way they can morph at a moments notice from gentle, quiet pastoral moods to bombastic guitar-hero riffs. There are even bits of prog-rock descending lines - only to be then replaced by blues monster harmonica.

The band also played an extended jam version of the Fleetwood Mac classic "The Chain" on this particular night. One amusing aspect of their live show was the additional percussionist who came out on stage disguised as a "Wizard". Looking like a cross between Santa Claus and the "elder" that Jimmy Page morphed into in their seminal film "The Song Remains The Same," he provided a comedic sideshow during his time onstage. Standing closest to vocalist Rachael, she could hardly contain her laughter throughout his appearances.

Rachael delights at her wizard percussionist

I caught up with both guitarists sitting at the bar after the show to check their state of mind. The flashier of the two - Matt Holliman, was also the more talkative. Having read their press release, I noticed references to them having honed their craft in an occult influenced creative community. I asked Matt directly about this, or if they actually engaged in occult practices.

"I don't think so, in the literal sense," said Matt. "We don't crack open a book and start following directions in some sort of spirit. But we do pull influences from various occult practices and religious things, I suppose. We put it together for whatever fits our needs at the time."

Their steady touring has put them together with other artists they've come to know and respect. "Earth was very inspiring," Holliman continued. "I've been a huge fan of Earth for a while. When we played with them they were on their newest record at the time which was "The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull," and we were all aware and influenced by the older Earth material. But we'd throw on "Bees" when we're driving through Texas and all of those states, and we'd get a western feel of this wonderful guitar-play and rhythm of the Red Rocks and cactus - and it was wonderful."

Sleepy Sun are in the midst of a massive tour, playing nearly every night right through till the end of the year.
Check them out if you get the opportunity.
Find all their tour dates here: