August 27, 2009

Review: The Hush Now | Constellations [MP3]

Spoiler Alert: As one inevitably approaches his fortieth or fiftieth listen to the opening cut on The Hush Now's sophomore set -- because it is that good -- the revelation strikes that the pulsing flow of the lyrics to "Contrails" suggests Chuck D's in the greatest hip-hop song of all time, "Don't Believe The Hype" ("they can't come on and play me in prime time..."). That tangent aside, vocals and keyboard tower over the other elements of "Contrails," and we wish someone had depressed the "Superchunk Guitars" button during the mixing session for that track. We can't help but wonder if The Hush Now's songwriter and guitarist Noel Kelly pondered hard over the decision and chose the lighter (and probably more radio-friendly) touch as part of an effort to spread the band's musical wings more broadly on Constellations, The Hush Now's wonderfully realized new collection. Its 10 songs are rife with arrangement and production surprises that increase the dimensions of the band's already formidable amalgamation of British(-style) guitar pop inflected with '70s AM Gold harmonies.

Not the least of these surprises is the stirring bridge in "Contrails," featuring -- E.L.O.-style, and we believe from the mouth of Mr. Kelly's brother -- an operatic vocal solo almost mystically summoning a final giant chorus. Said chorus is further punctuated by a bright trumpet line that charts the front end of a nice contrast to the darker, more bouncing title track that follows. "Constellations" noticeably percolates with similar energy to "Traditions," a highlight of the band's first long-player [live clip of the former track here]. There's a surprisingly soulful horn solo in "Thorns," as well, floating above a spray of delayed guitar that recalls The Cure's Disintegration or The Kitchens Of Distinction's finer moments. The album's first rough edges don't appear until the crackling opening of "All You've Said And Done," although here again the vocals tamp down the big guitars once the lyrics kick in. Later, that song dissolves into 90 beautiful seconds of strings and feedback and accordion that is among the most impressive things to spring from the mind of Mr. Kelly so far. Then "Fireflies" opens with banjo. Such production flairs could easily present as kitschy, pile up and cloud the underlying music, but Kelly and his cohort ably massage them into Constellations so that nothing sounds tacked on at whim. Such remarkable facility with arrangement and production may be the band's biggest surprise of all.

Beyond the broader palette, the new collection isn't that different a beast from The Hush Now's solid self-titled debut (both created with the production assistance of The Mighty Lemon Drops' David Newton). And so Kelly's five-year plan, first detailed here, pushes on. The first single from Constellations, "Hoping And Waiting," is already scratching certain radio charts. The Hush Now's biggest challenge at the moment may be securing a lead guitarist to promote the record this fall, as its most recent six-string-slinger left the fold earlier this month as live commitments are starting to fall into place. However, for a band whose history encompasses a car crash and a flood, fans know it is unwise to count out The Hush Now. Constellations will be self-released by the band Oct. 13.

The Hush Now -- "Hoping And Waiting" -- Constellations
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[buy Hush Now music right here]

The Hush Now: Internerds | MySpace | YouTube | Flickr

Previous Hush Now Coverage:

YouTube Rodeo: The Hush Now's "Constellations"
Today's Hotness: The Hush Now
Back To Now: The Hush Now Interview With Noel Kelly
In The Studio With... The Hush Now
Review: The Hush Now -- The Hush Now

August 22, 2009

Review: The Beatings | Late Season Kids [MP3]

The title to Boston-slash-New York rockers The Beatings' sixth full-length evokes the surging success of a pro sports franchise making all the right moves perhaps when least expected. Nearly a decade into the band's career (and well into certain members' thirties, marriages and parenthood) is an unlikely time to have created its best, most confident record -- and yet here it is. Late Season Kids is a triumph crafted by a quintet whose tenure is longer than many -- if not most -- big-leaguers and rock acts alike.

Although The Beatings continue to calculate the musical mean of noisy indie rock a la Superchunk and Mission of Burma, the band hasn't been coasting. It recently added the latest in a series of fifth members: Greg Lyon, who fronts and plays guitar for Beatings label mates Pending Disappointment, has been officially dubbed (drubbed?) a Beating. As far as the music is concerned, the band purports to have embraced a more pop direction on this latest collection. This we can confirm, but don't expect Barry Manilow here. Instead, The Beatings furnish a ready supply of its familiar fist-pumping anthems, such as the four-on-the-floor "Youth Crimes," with the fivesome's typical noise quotient dialed back somewhat in certain places. The subdued and downright spooky "Ways And Means," sung by bassist Erin Dalbec, is a taut, but calming deep breath later in the album. The Tony Skalicky-sung closer "Dreams Of The Waking" both recalls Versus'/The Godrays' "Crazy" and sounds like the cover closing on a book.

But not everything is toned down. The redemptive caterwaul of co-fronter E.R. drives the album highlight "All The Things You've Been Missing" repeatedly into a chorus built on a scalding baptism of blaring, reverbed guitars. At the break-down he spits lines that recall Lloyd Dobbler dialogue, before spinning the song on its side like a bottle cap into a jabbing, acerbic coda. The following track, the thriller "Parts-Per Notation," leads with the almost comically understated line "I think I'm going to explode" (reinforcing the earlier sentiment "it takes all of my patience not to lose control" from "Youth Crimes").

On Late Season Kids the band swings for the fences and connects like batters in their prime. The propulsive energy captured within the set -- but to a lesser extent in the respective side projects fronted by E.R. and Mr. Skalicky -- suggests that The Beatings' secret weapon is the all-business but unflagging rhythm section comprised of Dennis Grabowski and Ms. Dalbec. The Beatings released its prior set Holding On To Hand Grenades on Midriff in 2006. The band celebrates the release of Late Season Kids with a record release show at Boston's Great Scott Sept. 12 (with support from label mates Hands And Knees and rising indie pop superlatives The Hush Now). The official release date is Sept. 15.

The Beatings -- "Bury You" -- Late Season Kids
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[buy Beatings records from Midriff right here]

The Beatings: Internerds | MySpace | YouTube | Flickr

Previous Beatings Coverage:

That Was The Show That Was: The Beatings | TT The Bear's
Year-End Wrap Party: Eight Records You Should Have Heard In 2006
The Beatings' Holding On To Hand Grenades review

August 18, 2009

YouTube Rodeo: The Hush Now's "Constellations"

Title track to superlative Boston-based indie pop act's forthcoming sophomore full-length. This clip was recorded live at O'Brien's earlier this summer. Try to ignore the nice ladies chatting over the final moments. The Hush Now's Constellations is out Oct. 13, and its lead single "Hoping And Waiting" [available for free on the Internerds] is already making its mark on the CMJ charts, we're told. The quintet plays Great Scott in Boston Sept. 12 as part of the record release show for The Beatings' thoroughly wonderful sixth set Late Season Kids.

August 17, 2009

YouTube Rodeo: Calories' "Forests of Varg"

We just recalled that when we last checked in with Calories, a/k/a the *other* awesome Birmingham, England-based power trio, there was some mention of the band recording its sophomore set and embarking on a series of vinyl-only EPs by the end of the summer. So we did a little poking around and found a MySpace post from the band from a few weeks ago indicating that, yes, in fact it has nearly finished recording the set. We know little about it, except that the song "Drink The Potion" may be on it. Anyway, the same MySpace post reported that former Antlers bandmate Steve Ingram -- who is apparently responsible for much of Calories' art -- had recently completed a video for the album cut "Forests of Varg," which you may recall was among the last third of Calories' excellent debut Adventuring, which came out earlier this year. We've posted the video above. We think you'll agree the tune is a rocker. We reviewed Adventuring here in February; a few weeks prior to that the band hosted our intermittent but awesome feature Show Us Yours here, which we should really endeavor to resuscitate.

August 13, 2009

Be Prepared: Fleeting Joys | Occult Radiance | Aug. 27, 2009

Behold the art for the breath-taking and triumphant sophomore full-length from Northern California-based shoegaze goliaths Fleeting Joys. Gorgeous melodies, crushing waves of electric guitar, and some very nice ambient moments as well. The U.S. release has two songs and a different mix than the previously released Japanese version issued by Thomason Sounds. Pre-order the set here. The band is offering the outtake "Golden Now" for free download, so have at it. We've been listening to Occult Radiance for days and highly recommend it.

Fleeting Joys -- "Golden Now"
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[buy Fleeting Joys music here]

August 7, 2009

Be Prepared: The Beatings | Late Season Kids | Sept. 15, 2009


Review to follow. Tour begins next week.

08/12 -- Brooklyn, NY -- Death By Audio
08/13 -- Wilmington, DE -- Mojo 13
08/14 -- Morgantown, WV -- 123 Pleasant Street
08/16 -- Chapel Hill, NC -- Nightlight Bar
08/18 -- Raleigh, NC -- Pour House
08/19 -- Athens, GA -- Calendonia Lounge
08/20 -- Knoxville, TN -- The Pilot Light
08/21 -- Lexington, KY -- Green Lantern Bar
09/12 -- Boston, MA –- Great Scott (Record Release Show)

August 5, 2009

Rock Over Boston: O Positive returns!

[Above: Memorabilia from the author's own embarrassing archive.]

O Positive, who are playing a reunion benefit this Friday night, August 7th, at the Paradise, were the biggest band in Boston in an era where that really meant something. It meant headlining two sold-out shows in one night at the Paradise every six weeks or so, while filling the rest of the time playing every other club in the region. Even the ‘burbs supported live original music – can you imagine seeing your Hallelujah the Hillses, your Luxurys, your Taxpayers and what have yous regularly headlining bars in Billerica or Beverly? Edible Rex and Grovers were there for your local rocking needs.

They packed ‘em in at every show then (as they will Friday – get your tix now!) thanks to the local ubiquity of their best-remembered tracks from the pair of EPs that were their first releases: “With You” with its complex drum patterns and “smoke a cigarette/think it’ll get you through it” refrain from 1985’s Only Breathing (on the venerable Throbbing Lobster label), and “Talk About Love” and its delay-effected lead guitars over beds of urgently strummed acoustic guitars from 1987‘s Cloud Factory (Link) both got heavy airplay on WFNX and the recently (semi-) departed WBCN (these EPs were later collected on one CD on Link, and you should be able to find that or the original vinyl pressings fairly easily locally, or for a surprising $100 at an Ebay retailer).

The success of those EPs on the national college radio charts (not to mention the “With You" video’s plays on MTV) made O Positive, along with contemporaries Tribe and Big Dipper, part of a run of Boston bands signed by major labels at just about the same (and, apparently, wrong) time. Their effort for Epic, 1990’s Toyboattoyboattoyboat, may have some production values that seem questionable to today’s ears (though I’d still take all of them over the plague of Auto-Tune), but the songs themselves still hold up well.

The self-released Home Sweet Head (Smashing Records, 1993) rounded out their run and renounced Toyboat’s production trickery in favor of a stripped down sound that was more like the band sounded on stage. In retrospect, though, it almost seems if there was a bow to the generational shift happening at that time, and they called it quits the following year.

I was a huge fan and saw them dozens of times. So not only is this Friday’s show incredibly exciting, but its also a reminder of just how much has changed in the almost 22 years since I first saw them In O+’s time, we mainly relied on a few excellent local rock zines – the late great Boston Rock, The Beat, the still-going-strong Noise, plus great local rock coverage in both daily papers as well as the Phoenix. And the postcards - OH! the postcards. Amassing a snail mailing list and printing and cutting and posting postcards was a staple/bane of rock band life. The internerds and whatnots have made it so much easier for more bands to spread the word so much more easily than back then, but the info glut makes it tougher for those bands to break through the noise to a wider committed audience.

Dave Herlihy, O Positive’s lead vocalist and guitarist, agrees: “you still have to have a good idea,” he says. Still, “audiences are so fragmented, you wonder if when bands like U2 retire if places like Great Woods [that is, the Comcast Center in Mansfield] will be like the [Roman] Coliseum.”

It already seems trite to belabor the point, but it makes it no less true that, as Herlihy says, “people can do all kinds of things that don’t involve going to a club.” Ironically, members of O Positive contemporaries Tribe may be partially to blame, as they are the creators of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. I mentioned to Herlihy that I just learned that the recently reissued Big Dipper, will be on Rock Band 2, he said, “I should call those guys.”

As with the handful of previous reunions the band has done, the occasion for this is a benefit, this time for band friend, early band house neighbor, and guitarist Al Pettiti’s sister-in-law, Paula Persechini-Petitti, received a serious brain injury in a car accident in June and faces a long and difficult rehabilitation. Paula is the director of the Black River Project, an organization that organizes, collects, and distributes medicines and medical supplies and equipment to impoverished communities around the world. I hope she gets the chance to get back to that amazing work soon.

In the meantime, we can all help with the staggering costs associated by buying a ticket and buying the live recording that will be made available after the show (MP3, Flac, CD) or just by making a donation.

Anyway, if Herlihy manages to get O Positive into the next version of Rock Band, that may actually make me buy one, until then, we have another chance to hear these songs as nature intended: by the band, at the Paradise, as always.

-Michael Piantigini

O Positive - "With You" - Only Breathing
O Positive - "Talk About Love" - Cloud Factory

O Positive: Internerds | Facebook | Tickets
Dave Herlihy: Internerds
Paula Persechini-Petitti: Internerds | Twitter | Blogspot
Black River Project: Internerds
Tribe: Internerds | Myspace | Facebook
Big Dipper: Myspace | on Merge

August 2, 2009

Remarks: Destroyer, Iran, Wooden Wand

All of Friday night clicked together very neatly for us when Iran fronter Aaron Aites mentioned that he had written the song "I Already Know You're Wrong," a highlight of the Brooklyn-based quartet's supporting set, with Peter Hoffman. This name might not mean that much to you unless, like us, you are a very big fan of the late, lamented The Mendoza Line, which in its heyday was fronted by Mr. Hoffman, Timothy Bracy and Shannon McArdle. According to Wikipedia, which we all know to be completely infallible, apparently Hoffman was once a full-fledged member of Iran, as was TV On The Radio's Kyp Malone. This latter fact, Mr. Malone's membership, was the only thing we knew about Iran before we took in the set Friday night; he was not with the band Friday night.

After Mr. Aites mentioned Hoffman, he tossed off a casual comment about Hoffman having played with Mendoza Line, and that Mendoza Line's Tim Bracy had been playing with opening act Wooden Wand. This was complete news to us, and we certainly would have detached ourselves from the bar at the front of the building to see Wooden Wand had we known there was a possibility Bracy was performing. So we're almost lacing this together -- the final salient fact is that Mr. Bracy was/is a partner in Misra Records, which released some earlier Destroyer records. See how it all ties together? It would seem that the bill last night was all strung together through that Misra connection, even though Iran's records are released on Narnack, Destroyer is now on Merge and Wooden Wand is, we think, on Young God.

So the show... our only familiarity with Iran was a promo track that circulated the Internerds sometime last year, and frankly we weren't that crazy about it. So when we wandered in to catch the Iran set it was mostly to see whether Mr. Malone was still with the combo and whether any of Iran's other material grabbed us. The answer to the former question, as we already stated, was no. But Iran's other material definitely did grab us, even more so than the recorded stuff, which we've since purchased from EMusic. The musicianship was admirable as well: the rhythm section was dynamic and punchy, and Mr. Aites presentation and delivery made us think of Steve Earle a little bit. He just stands there and sings, a bit like Joe Cocker, sans animation, but Aites' voice is heavy like lead. Good stuff. We found Iran's guitarist's handlebar mustache amusing, but were on the wrong side of the hall to really see what he was up to.

As we noted supra, Destroyer's Dan Bejar -- worshiped a little too much by the self-consciously loquacious younger fans standing around us, we thought -- came out under the spots sporting only a red Guild acoustic, his voice, a couple Stella Artois bottles and what might have been a heavily poured dram of liquor in a plastic cup. Or it could have been tea with honey. That wouldn't surprise us. Anyway, despite the completely minimal set-up, Bejar was arresting to watch and listen to. We've read one or two interviews where Bejar talks about how it is not just the turns of phrase, but how he turns those phrases with his mouth, that interests him. The combination of the two is what he's built his career on, and we certainly admire both. There are honestly few lyrical geniuses, and Bejar is one of them, and the fact that he's matched them to gripping songs is all the more amazing. We were very pleased with the solemn iteration of "Foam Hands," and Destroyer offered numerous other hits for the cardigan set, including "European Oils," "Painter In Your Pocket," "Watercolours Into The Ocean," "Farrar, Strauss & Giroux" and "This Night."

Destroyer -- "Foam Hands" -- Trouble In Dreams
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buy Destroyer records from Newbury Comics right here

The Mendoza Line -- "What Ever Happened To You?" -- Sent Down To AA
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buy Mendoza Line records from Newbury Comics right here