May 19, 2012

Today's Hotness: Age Rings, Manorlady, Tungs/Heavy Midgets

Age Rings -- AM/PM EP

>> Boston institution Midriff Records will release next week Age Rings' AM/PM EP, a companion piece to last year's best-of-2011 long-player Black Honey. The EP is comprised of songs resected from the Boston-based indie rockers' original, two-disc version of the acclaimed long-player it issued to Kickstarter backers a year ago. Midriff's release of AM/PM is no surprise, as it had been the label's plan since releasing its one-disc iteration of Black Honey last November [review] to release the songs it had excised at a later date. And that later date is May 25, when Age Rings plays a release show for the EP on the occasion of this month's installment of the very successful Midriff Records residency at Radio in Somerville, MA -- but more about that early next week. In a sense, AM/PM is a bin of spare arms and legs. But while the EP doesn't explicitly illuminate any heretofore unrevealed aspect of Black Honey (or vice versa), that perhaps speaks to the deftness of Midriff's curation of the portfolio of songs comprising the original, double-disc Black Honey such that the releases are self-contained collections complete in and of themselves. Indeed, the EP is populated with understated but brilliant rock songs showcasing Age Rings fronter Ted Billings' reedy tenor and wry outlook. Standout cuts include the noisier, heavier fist-pumper "Dreaming Forever" and the characteristically uptempo-but-down-in-the-mouth shuffler "Think Myself Sick." It's hard to know what to make of last week's news that Mr. Billings has converted the ongoing sessions for Age Rings' follow-up to Black Honey into sessions for a solo record Billings characterizes as "a bit of a departure from AR." After all, we like Age Rings a lot. But time will tell. In the mean time, rest assured in the knowledge that AM/PM is a known quantity, six tracks of lean, rootsy indie rock.

>> We were feeling a bit of a darkwave trend coming on when we last heard from Charlottesville, VA's Manorlady. We're not sure that has been borne out, particularly due to the apparent dissolution of the Lehigh Valley's best calling card in years, Soars, whose wonderful self-titled set seemed like another important focal point for the misperceived trendlet. But Manorlady soldiers on, thrives even, and the trio's latest collection Ego Oppressor will be self-released by the band June 18. Ego Oppressor will be issued as a CD/DVD combination; the DVD features an album-length, beat-synched video track to accompany the music on the CD. We don't think this will surprise anyone, but according to Manorlady fronter Aaron Baily, "[i]t's really, really, really trippy." The album remains true to the mid-fi and dark recordings from the band's last record, but the intensity level has increased. More aggressive tunes like the first preview track "Lines In The Corner Of Your Face" rock a little harder, while the dreamier, more subdued songs such as the pensive and nearly still "Sea Beast" -- check the Soundcloud embed below -- are more tightly focused. "Sea Beast," in particular, is exceptionally well-composed and the trio's skillful layering of guitar and synth (and even vocal parts) here hints at wide-open songwriting territory the band will find very fertile. Ego Oppressor will eventually be for sale right here, so keep checking back. We reviewed the trio's prior full-length Home a year ago here.

>> We think it is interesting that the term lo-fi has its heaviest associations bound to Guided By Voices' and Sebadoh's respective brands, while things like early Black Flag and Bad Brains recordings don't get discussed the same way (or at least not anymore). From a production standpoint, Richmond-based quartet Tungs has more in common with the Spot school of audio fidelity, at least based on the band's cracking new split release with scenemates Heavy Midgets, Sisters. There is something like a perfect balance to the overdriven productions contained therein; the split was released on vinyl and cassette by Bad Grrrl Records May 13. The music is boxy-sounding, post-punk that bleeds sizzling cymbals, high-hat and red-lined bass fuzz. The recordings practically throw off sparks due to the barely contained energy of the performances, and the rough edges don't detract from the experience; indeed the gritty power of the music on Sisters is the perfect antidote to the hyperclean, antiseptic recordings from the current crop of popular, smooth-pop guitar bands gracing the pages of a lot of music rags these days. But it's not just the everyman production values that make Tungs and Heavy Midgets stand apart: it's that the bands propound songs with character and imagination. Tungs' "Yossarian's Blues" warrants kudos for its vibrant, bristling take on Joy Division-derived punk. But that song seems almost conventional in comparison to "NewDiety," which touts ghostly, under-fi horns and Alice In Chains-indebted vocal yowling, or the pleasantly dubby wandering of "Bad Information." For its part, Heavy Midgets strike gold with its yearning ballad "Oh Susanna," which ends strong with a vast, feedback-flaring guitar lead, and the stuttering pop of anti-anthem "Come Get Me High," each strong enough to anchor a single in their own rights. Buy Sisters from Bad Grrrl right here or buy the digital version right here. Try before you buy via the Bandcamp embeds below.

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