There has been sort of an “Incense and Peppermints” roots revival of 60′s psychedelic guitar rock. Bands like The Brian Jonestown Massacre have been doing it all along but more recently, outfits like Tame Impala, The Love Dimension, and even Smashing Pumpkins are busting out albums characterized by pop melodies drenched in guitar effects and reverb, harkening that hazy Hendrix meets Blue Cheer on the corner of Haight and Ashbury sound. Unknown Mortal Orchestra is capitalizing on the same vibe. This trio is out of Portland although the singer is from New Zealand. UMO can be pretty eclectic, but fuzzed out retro guitar rock is the constant theme. This is a live performance of “Little Blu House” from 4Eyes TV.
Finally! A band named after a technology I could totally use! Modest Mouse frontman, Isaac Brock, discovered some serious talent in Portland via Kentucky’s Morning Teleportation and signed them to his new Glacial Pace record label. Brock also took production duties on the band’s debut album Expanding Anyway. Their sound is frantic and eclectic. They sometimes even sound like Modest Mouse with a dash 70′s guitar rock and a large intravenous dose of methamphetamine.
The tunes are frenetic, changing tone, tempo, and style on a dime. Large rock choruses give way to folk undertones then charge straight into psychedelic math rock. The descriptions are schizophrenic, but the bipolar shifts in the music are always held together with creativity and strong songwriting. The album is varied, but never seems to make a misstep. There are grinding, off-kilter guitar progressions, fiery guitar solos. samples, bits of synth, banjos, horns, and lots more sprinkled throughout the Expanding‘s solid rock core. Singer, Tiger Merritt’s voice shifts from indie rock to folks-y balladeer to a howling, angry Frank Black – often in the same song. It is hard to pick a track that sums up all their sound. The title track, “Expanding Anyway,” “Snow Frog vs. Motor Cobra,” and the epic, 9-minute “Wholehearted Drifting Sense of Inertia” (sounds like it could be a Modest Mouse album title) are great examples, but the slightly shorter “Just a Figment” may be easier to digest on first listen:
Local punk music is not usually something I get into. I mean, I love the music and the fact that it’s out there; it means people’s heads are in the right place and music isn’t completely losing its balls, but local punk acts are generally too numerous to sift through for the gems. Local punk bands become local rock bands once they develop some dynamics and grow more adept at crafting melody. Rarely do purists polish their sound to be a true, solid punk act. But, now the current socio-political climate is begging for punk music to rip through and amp up awareness and angst.
My desire for antiestablishmentarianism led me to Grave Return. This band is a culmination of years of local circuit experience. Members have been in bands like Racin’ for Pinks and The F Pipes to The Shaking Hands and Shyster. It’s not that Grave Return is highly political or anything, but their sound is steeped in classic SoCal spirit. They cite Adolescents, Descendants, and Agent Orange among others as influences and the first-wave California punk shines through on songs where Guitarist / Vocalist, Matt whiting takes the lead:
Most of the buzz is around Grave’s SoCal leanings, but I also hear dashes of northeastern punk like Dropkick on anthemic tracks that Vocalist / Guitarist, John Grimaldi shouts through. GR mixes the right portions of classic influence, modern cues, and loving spiritual guidance from Jamie Gillis to create a powerful and resonant brand of music.
I wouldn’t flinch if some governing body deemed My Morning Jacket the best live rock band in music right now – not a bit. The band is tight and rocks the fuck out – capable of cranking out pop rockers, electronica-tinged experimental indie, psychedelic jams, crisp country ballads, and anything in between with ease. They are incapable of doing wrong because their eclectic and masterful sound is tethered by Jim James expansive vocals.
What better place to experience the voice of a bearded Kentucky angel than the majestic splendor of Red Rocks Amphitheatre? A geological anomaly of sandstone projecting from the foothills of the Rockies creates one of the best, most natural acoustic environments on the planet. The acoustics are preserved by massive “Ship Rock” at the back of the venue and “Creation Rock” to the side, all while the bands performance emanates from another, smaller sandstone monolith behind the stage. The scenic beauty and acoustic perfection are accented by sweeping views of the park and greater Denver on the horizon. MMJ’s performance was further supplemented with a sustained, cool mountain gust for 3/4 of the show and a heat lightning storm in the distance.
OK, now that I got all this talk about powerful rock bands and acoustically perfect venues out of the way, there were some serious sound issues for the first half of the show. This would have been a large let-down considering the excitement of seeing a band that sounds like MMJ in a venue like that, but the overwhelming grandeur of the experience prevailed. It seemed, at times, I could hear the band playing through their onstage rigging while the large PA system cut in and out. The discrepancy between the volumes was irritating. The acoustic and quieter songs came off without a hitch, but the larger songs with effects like distortion and reverb were marred. I chalk this up to electrical problems, human error, or the relatively strong breeze during most of the show. Somewhere past the halfway point the PA system took over with crushing volume. The earlier patchy sounds were gone and the amphitheatre was filled with rock (no pun intended) the way I anticipated.
Jim James and company brought a big setlist with new stuff like the rousing “Victory Dance” as an opener as well as “Circuital” and “Out of My System.” They played a good mix of classics including “Golden,” “Magheetah” (the only song in the second half with a sound issue. For about 20 seconds there was this god-awful sound of which I could not determine the origin that was louder than the instruments ), and they even brought out a rarity in “The Bear.” The highlight was a magnificent, 20 minute extendo-jam of “Dondante,” a swirling and chaotic “Run Thru / Strangulation” and a crushing encore that included a huge “Wordless Chorus,” “Holdin’ on to Black Metal,” “Anytime,” and “One Big Holiday”
On albums, MMJ is taking on a more mature singer / songwriter approach to music as opposed to the big alt-rock jam sound of the past. Catching them live brings the best of both worlds.
Little Dragon is back with a new album in Ritual Union and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve followed Yukimi Nagano and her crew of Swedish masterminds for a few years now. After my first exposure I noted that it is only a matter of time before LD “blows-the-fuck-up” to quote myself exactly. They possess the elusive mixture of great musical composition, pop sensibility, underground hipness, mass appeal, and explosive live performances. Topping it off: a gorgeous front-woman with an elegant, understated charisma.
A brief review: In 2009, a friend in San Francisco starts telling me about this great little band. Little Dragon visits Orlando in 2010 and plays an astounding show for about 40 people. Although the crowd is small, they are wildly engaged. Later, Yukimi makes an appearance on Gorillaz 2010 album, Plastic Beach. LD returns to Orlando in early 2011 to play another mind-blowing show, this time, for a packed house. Since then, they worked with Big Boi (after he was tipped off by Andre 3000), performed on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (at the request of Questlove), and contributed to albums by David Sitek and Rafael Saadiq. This leads us to Ritual Union.
Ritual opens with the title track and it sounds like Diamond Life going down on Amnesiac marrying layered, dreamy pop with soulful vocals. “Brush the Heat” is reminiscent of later Dee-Lite with Yukimi’s playful sultry voice sliding gracefully through the skating rink disco beat and piles of synth. “Shuffle the Dream” swaggers through 80’s pop territory with its steady, walking electronic bass line and “Nightlight” reveals a more mature and progressive sound while maintaining all that is great about Little Dragon. “Summertearz,” a song debuted on their last tour, is one of my favorites. Riding a slinky beat and loops of percussive instrumentation, harmonized vocals charge directly out of my speakers and down through my man parts. This band is just getting bigger and bigger and Ritual Union is the oversized party bus to drive their fat sounds farther.