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Apr 292015


I picked up an event calendar from famed Denver jazz club, Dazzles, and noticed an interesting show: Rekha Ohal presents the music of Radiohead. Don’t mind if I do! Ohal put together a quartet to explore some of Radiohead’s darker music. I anticipated a sort of greatest hits set and that, to my delight, was not the case. Also, I envisioned a slightly more traditional jazz interpretation and was surprised to find Ohal on piano and keyboard supported by drums and two electric guitars. One guitar had an E string tuned for bass lines and both were drenched in effects. Despite that sounding like a more rock ‘n roll set up, band members took turns exploring each composition with extended, improvisational jams.

As mentioned, the group played with some deep tracks and a lot of music from In Rainbows and Hail to the Thief, which actually have sort of jazzy roots with keys and interesting guitar phrasings to begin with. They did moody and brilliant takes on “Reckoner” and “Weird Fishes” as well as “Scatterbrain” and I even think “Punch Up at a Wedding” was in there. The only “classic” Radiohead might have been “Fake Plastic Trees.”

The band did a a great job locking down Radiohead’s buoyant atmospherics and Rekha added her own charm to Thom Yorke’s haunting vocals. Band members appeared to be well-acquainted with Radiohead, but Rekha may have heard some of these songs for the first time when she played them. She seemed surprised  by some of the lyrics and musical changes, but being a consummate musician never missed a step. It was actually impressive if that was the case. Following “Everything in its Right Place” she exclaimed, “wow, that’s a great song!” The one Radiohead song that she plays often, “Fake Plastic Trees” was one they “messed up” but with true jazz chops the band reacted with ease and essentially improv’d a new arrangement.

Oct 072009
Although Switchstance Records has serious “street cred” among DJ’s and electronica fans; Kabanjak and Dogu, the two artists who comprise Ancient Astronauts (and founders of the label), needed the muscle of a larger outfit to deliver their album to the masses. The Astronauts first full-length release “We are to Answer” remained in orbit for some time as they searched for the optimal international licensing partner. They finally reached an agreement with ESL Music for what seems like a match made in some intergalactic, down-tempo, eclectic, retro-modern heaven.Ancient_Astronauts-We_Are_To_Answer_

Hailing from Cologne, Germany as evidenced by the album title (it sounds like a rigid German response to: What do you do with a question? Vee are to ansa dummkopf!), AA creates a rich, layered and vibrant sound by mixing hip hop, dub, funk, house, electronica and serving it with a chill international flare inherent in all of ESL’s music.

Laid back ambience is exuded in tracks like the album intro “From the Sky” and “I Came Running.” That ESL signature feel that makes Astronauts such a good fit comes across in the world music vibes of “Lost in Marrakesh” and the raw, driving dub sounds of “All the Things You Do.”¬† In an attempt to cover every form of electronic music “Dark Green Rod” touches on AA’s stylized version of Drum ‘n Bass.

The Ancient Astronauts thrive when toying with hip-hop. “Risin High” with Raashan Ahmad and “Classic,” featuring members of Oakland legends The Pharcyde, meld the finest attributes of electronica and hip hop so seamlessly that they virtually create a new genre. “Classic” is one of the best single tracks of 2009. The song’s pounding drum beat with driving ride cymbal mixed with serious turntablism, trippy loops and tight, hardcore breakdowns underscore both teams talents and push the Pharcyde sound even harder than on their own.

Article originally appeared at and thx mgmt, October 7th 2009
Mar 232009

Pitchfork awarded this album a stunning, near-perfect review, and given their penchant for lauding bands with cool names and unconventional music (even if they suck), I was hesitant to accept this. Then, throw in the fact that AC’s previous albums, although boldly defiant, could never steer far from the sounds of a reckless cacophony. animalcollectiveceart

Merriweather Post Pavilion
continues in that¬†Kid A approach to deconstructing people‚Äôs notions of what constitutes a pop-rock song. Scant use of guitar and drums with swirling, delicate layers of synth loops, bells, whistles, and odd blips combined with their unique vocal approach sometimes culminates in a maniacal and fantastical din – the sound of Willy Wonka‚Äôs Air Conditioner if it was on the fritz. It’s a Pet Sounds with no restraint, but I‚Äôm pretty sure that‚Äôs what they are going for. The Beach Boys comparison isn‚Äôt helped by the layered, echo-y yearnings of Panda Bear‚Äôs voice, but his soft and scary Brian Wilson – discorporated, floating above asynchronous waves of sound – is the high point in some of their music. ‚ÄúGuys Eyes,‚Äù one of the more coherent and direct tracks, and ‚ÄúMy Girls‚Äù expand with his voice, as do the ethereal backing vocals – reaching out of the din with eerie softness – on ‚ÄúLion in a Coma.‚Äù

This album is a watermark and it definitely does its job in merging indie and experimental in ways that challenge the listener, but (as I draw the ire of the hipsters), even though it is superbly produced, music like this can‚Äôt help but seem muddled. Live, with some lights and video, this material may be staggering, but it is performance art. AC is groundbreaking, fresh, and sure to influence music for the next few years. It‚Äôs just that, up close, near the source, it’s too much. It needs to be distilled in the minds of other musicians and reinterpreted (it‚Äôs actually already happening) in order to make it palatable. Most of MPP‚Äôs content seemed a minute too long for songs of their nature. There isn‚Äôt a track that makes me want to turn it up. In fact, I found myself turning it down to escape the auditory mindfuck.

Article originally appeared in REAX #38, April 2009

Mar 232009

At first glance I asked myself, ‚ÄúWhy two EPs? Why not one good album?‚Äù Then I listened.¬†March of the Zapotec, apparently inspired by a recent sojourn in Oaxaca, Mexico, plays like the White Album for Mariachi bands. More than drenched, it is nearly indigenous-sounding music that is a result of Zach Condon‚Äôs Mexican stay, just as Balkan folk and French Chanson music heavily influenced the last release, The Flying Club Cup. The first track (more of an intro), ‚ÄúEl Zocalo,‚Äù erupts from the start. It’s like being thrown into the middle of a Mexican street carnival. Like past releases, Beirut are able to cleverly synergize an international folk sound with good ole American indie whimsy.beirut-march_of_the_zapotec-art

Realpeople Holland is a nifty piece of indie electro-pop. This one is more a return to the familiar Beirut, at least vocally Р“My Night with the Prostitute from Marseille” brings Condon’s forlorn, drunken bellowing up front and center. The electronic exploration of Condon’s musical construction on this EP is lighter and not so much like “your-favorite-indie-music-got-swallowed-by-the-World Music-section-of-the-record-store” sounds of other work. “Venice” maximizes feeling and mood with its muted horns bleeding through waves of electronica, and the instrumental “No Dice” seals it all a with a sugary retro kiss.

Article originally appeared in REAX #38, April 2009

Mar 052009

Bat for Lashes sweet sophomore release is a sophisticated, edgy, sincere effort with loads of musical integrity.  sfw-bat-for-lashes-two-sunsTwo Suns is a sensible follow-up to her debut, taking the themes and style of the previous Рwith its haunting charm Рand expanding on it. Two Suns is sweeping and large for an “indie songstress.” Her style invokes names like Kate Bush, PJ Harvey, or Siouxsie Sioux without sounding like any of them. For instance, “Good Love” with its somber organ, tambourine and eerie vocal delivery is reminiscent of Mazzy Star without being a slavish knock-off.  “Two Planets” Рpsychedelic and experimental with its vocal twists and chilling melodies all driven by Timpani’s and hand claps Рreminds me of Bjork.  Both rich and sparse, this album is soaked in tasteful production, revealing a well produced, elegantly dark, but positively pop, gem.

Dec 152008

Shredding at The Orange Peel in Asheville

In the summer of 2007, the Smashing Pumpkins made their return to the United States. Instead of a traditional tour to support the release of Zeitgeist, original members Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin opted for a progressive approach. In an effort to gel the band and stimulate the musical process, they chose to do two residencies, a nine-night stint in Asheville, North Carolina and another eight-night stand (which eventually grew to eleven shows) at the historic Filmore in San Francisco.

The purpose of these shows was unique. It put both the band and fans in the same bubble, trapping the energies, both good and bad, and transferring them between fan, band, venue and town. For a $20 ticket fans were allowed in during the day to hear soundchecks, and treated to three-hour-plus shows nearly nightly. These performances saw the band playing hits, b-sides, lost favorites, reworked classics, new music, and songs written throughout the engagement and even the day of the show.

If All goes Wrong examines these residencies, watching the band evolve through the contrasting experiences of Asheville and San Francisco. More importantly, it gives an inside glimpse into their songwriting process.

Asheville welcomes the band warmly. Shots of fans and the town are intercut with live performances and the band speaking frankly about their return. A good portion of footage features Corgan secluded in his room at the Biltmore Estate, eating raw veggies and working tirelessly on songs while donning some sort of Victorian nightgown. One song, “The Leaving Lament,” is an open letter to Asheville, regretting the band’s departure.

The giddy excitement of North Carolina turns into stunning disbelief in San Francisco as their first shows lose the audience. After walking backstage for the first encore Chamberlain gasps, “Three hours of fucking quiet misery” compared to Asheville, the proverbial wheels fall off in Cali. The songwriting and drama continue as the band battles back throughout the residency. This is a strong point of the film, a vivid, unflinching look at a band in peril, showing the adversity and using it as a point of development.


The song “Peace and Love” is born of the Filmore experience. An ironic jab at a city supposedly built on peace that is now filled with “aggro homeless hippies with trust funds.” Some 15 songs were written during the Filmore stint, each reflecting different parts of the experience. (A handful of these songs later appear on their American Gothic EP.)

The movie also looks at the group of hired musicians being molded into a band. Jeff Schroeder, Ginger Reyes, and Lisa Harriton are thrown headlong into the experience. Four hours of rehearsal, soundchecks, and three-hour shows have the band playing over eight hours a day. The group has to learn nearly 60 songs to keep up with the set lists Billy writes minutes before the shows. There is a moment when new guitarist Schroeder unravels under a series of sound issues and loses it backstage; This breakdown is seen as a milestone in their evolution as a band.

When SP debuts “Superchrist” halfway through the San Fran shows, it’s a highlight, an over-the-top guitar and drum assault which seems to lash out at critics and a tepid audience. The documentary uses this as a turning point, a place where the Pumpkins earn back the respect of the city through sheer force of rock.

We see the chords and phrasing for “The Rose March” coming to Corgan in a flash. The next day is spent flushing out the song, with shots of Corgan working on the song appear in split-screen, culminating in the song being performed that very night. Watching “99 Floors” go from concept to full-band arrangement is another high point, as the viewer watches it transform from a fly-on-the-wall perspective.

The DVD also includes Voices of the Ghost Children, a vignette featuring fans in and around the shows lending their interpretations of the band. There is also an interview with Pete Townshend, tying in The Who’s attempts at a residency in 1971. Disc 2 features 15 songs from the Filmore shows, with solid performances of “Starla” and the free-form epic “Gossamer” that are worth the price alone, as well as a rehearsal featuring five of the songs written during this period.

Love or hate the Pumpkins, If All Goes Wrong lends unique perspective to the rock documentary. It shows a storied band unapologetically surging forward, on their terms, for the sake of art.

Article originally appeared in REAX #31, January 3 2007

May 082008

I was never into M. Ward. I never understood what he was all about, but I never really took the time to investigate. He keeps company with all the right people: Yo La Tango, Jenny Lewis, My Morning Jacket and Neko Case, to name a few collaborators. Enter: Zooey Deschanel. I wasn’t sure who she was either – name sounded familiar. Whatever obscurity they shared independently in my narrow view was obliterated with the formation of their joint effort, She and Him. she-and-him

Volume One is a wonderful collection of music. Deschanel‚Äôs voice is fragile, haunting, and versatile throughout the album. Although one can hear the jazz crooner within her on every song ‚Äì especially ‚ÄúTake it Back‚Äù ‚Äì she moves comfortably from ’60s/’70s pop in the vein of Carole King (as in ‚ÄúSentimental Heart‚Äù and ‚ÄúThis is not a Test‚Äù) to the Patsy Cline-ish ‚ÄúChange is Hard.‚Äù Deschanel‚Äôs angelic voice brings an elegant charm and whimsy to M. Ward‚Äôs dignified, low-fi production.

“Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?” is my early frontrunner for the best song of 2008. The simple, driving melody accompanied by the Spector-ish hugeness of Zooey’s echoed voice and wall-of-sound approach to her own back-up vocals make an undeniable pop gem which begs to be heard over and over. Volume One is a sweet surprise, Ward and Deschanel seemingly come out of nowhere with a brilliant soundtrack for spring.

Article originally appeared in REAX #24, May 2008

Mar 032008

Possibly the most overlooked band of the ‘90s has made its triumphant return. The Elevator Drops are back with the release of OK Commuter, a flexing, grooving, power pop gem. True to form, TED create a swirling haze of sonic joy that is both classic and innovative and, as with previous releases, completely beneath the radar.



To re-cap: Boston’s The Elevator Drops birthed their Devo meets Zeppelin meets Bowie future glam pop in 1996 with the release of Pop Bus and followed up in ’97 with People Mover. Both are stellar, grandiose albums that feel as if they could be released next year. I compare them to powerhouse acts like Tool, Smashing Pumpkins, and Radiohead (no, I’m not joking) in that, at the core they are a great band with solid songs, but possess a gift for using production to flush out a number, elevating it with their unique sonic signature. TED was on Time Bomb records, probably a major reason for their obscurity.  Now they re-emerged on San Francisco indie label Plastigas. The Drops were able to parlay a small cult audience with the energy and overwhelming volume of their live shows.  In the 10-year hiatus they kept working with several side/solo projects including The Rentals and the excellent, but mostly discarded, The Texas Governor.

OK Commuter sees the return of Goolkasian (bass, vocals) a.k.a. Tone Source 1, Garvy J (guitar) a.k.a. Tone Source 2, and FITTS (drums) a.k.a. Tone Source 3 in top form. They continue the tradition of incredible drumming, powerful guitar, cool bass lines, and hooky synth loops piled on top of each other in an elaborate web, which in the end produces undeniable power rockers.

Despite their notorious bombast they open OK Commuter with the slow, almost yearning “Hello,” but this serves as a build-up to full form. The next song, “Shake It” continues the upward momentum with more of the pop nuance they are renowned for. Replete with comping piano lines, hazy guitar, do-do-do-do’s and electro back beat that builds until a real drum kit takes over, “Shake It” glimpses the modern Drops. “Jules” begins the heavy grandeur and the album completely takes off, never looking back by the clever changing “Catastrophe.” The hook-laden “Christmas Song” transitions from an acoustic intro to catchy synth pop Рa la The Cars Рand slides gracefully into heavy guitar and back displaying all their talents at once.

Bottom line: Do your ears a favor and find a way to own this album. Do your hipster friends a service by being the first one on the block to blow your windows out with this album and sing the well deserved praises of The Elevator Drops.

Article originally appeared in REAX #22, March 2008

“Be a Lemonhead / Beautiful Junkie” from 94′s Pop Bus

Feb 142008

I am continually blown away by The Pumpkin’s (Billy and Jimmy) prolific nature. Shortly after the release of Zeitgeist comes American Gothic, an EP Corgan refers to as Zeitgeist +. Gothic is a short, but wonderful collection of acoustic music that continues the themes of Zeitgeist in contrast to the near neo-metal pummeling of the parent record. american_gothic

When I learned of the acoustic recordings, I anticipated the quiet soulful reflections on much of Billy’s unreleased demo’s and b-sides, but was overjoyed to hear Jimmy’s explosive cadences ring in through the opening song, “Rose March.”

The album continues delicately with “Again, Again, Again (the Crux).” Once more, Jimmy Chamberlin persists his visceral thundering, beginning with rim shots and building to a swirling, fierce attack. JC is hands-down the best drummer alive (maybe ever, and I know my drummers) at being ridiculously over the top without crushing the song. His relentless bashing churns like an engine bringing life and dynamics to music that is already ostentatious. “Pox” carries on with a deep, heavy acoustic groove and the album finishes with the sweet “Sunkissed.”

All songs on this EP are clever, smooth, ethereal, and crisp. It is a fantastic follow-up to the alt-metal rage of Zeitgeist, continuing the pessimistic themes of the current U.S political and cultural state while embracing the renewed hope and energy of the band.

Article originally appeared in REAX #22, January 3 2007

Nov 182007

The Pumpkins are back! Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin rose from the ashes of their former selves and put together an incredible rock album that gets better with every listen.

Billy and Jimmy is all you need

If it's white hot soul you want ...

The release of Zeitgeist follows a unique marketing build-up and blitz designed to restore interest in a 7-year defunct band and reward long-time fans with a hands-on almost jam band network. First, the release of a full page ad/ plea from Billy in the Chicago Tribune declaring their resurrection, then a home page on their website that slowly leaked information about the band; They’re in the studio recording, the new line-up, the album name, album release date, the release of the first single, “Tarantula,” album cover art, the announcement of their return show at Le Grand Rex in Paris. Coinciding with the return show is the release of their interactive, fan content-driven website. They followed the Paris show with a series of festivals throughout Europe and came home to hold two historic residencies. The first is nine sold-out shows at The Orange Peel in Asheville, North Carolina and then thirteen sold-out shows in San Francisco’s famous Filmore. In between the residencies the band managed to play Live Earth, bookend Late Night with David Letterman the Monday and Friday of the week Zeitgeist was released, and play a monstrous CD release show in D.C. Impressive.

The hype begins to pay off. Demand from radio for “Tarantula” is so great the song must be released early to prevent ripping. “Doomsday Clock” the first track on the album makes it onto the Transformers soundtrack. Finally, the release of Zeitgeist, five versions to be exact. Depending on where the album is purchased (Targé, iTunes, etc.) it will be a different color, each having different bonus tracks.

Now, is Zeitgeist worth it? One word: Hell Yeah! The thunderous drum intro on “Doomsday Clock” surges Zeitgeist out of the starting gate. A searing wall of guitar soon follows adding fury and power to Billy’s dire predictions.

“7 Shades of Black” continues driving the revamped Pumpkin assault. One that is closer to their live sound than previous recordings with a raw and direct attack (The continuous rolling flood of drums throughout the 10 minute “United States” was recorded in one take). At the same time, it’s still Billy, for every moment it seems like two rock titans jamming in a garage, (Billy and Jimmy recorded everything, much like all the previous work) there are meticulous flashes and flurries of intense guitar production: layers of notes adrift on waves of distortion and delay.

“Bleeding the Orchid,” on first listen, was where the album lost steam. I noted complaints by friends and on message boards about production values and Billy’s voice being too far out in front and “Bleeding” showcased this but with more listens the song grew. The architecture shone through as well crafted and Billy’s voice, although unnaturally clear, seems tame and even huskier with age. Then, “That’s the Way (My Love Is)” delivers a sweet groovin’ Zwan revisit.

On lyrical merit alone, Billy is back as strong as ever. The great thing about SP songs is when one actually takes the time to read the lyrics, they realize what they were singing is not at all what he was saying. “Tarantula”, a brutal, unforgiving four minute rock song with Pumpkin dazzle and a quick tease of their old heavy/slow/heavy formula (and several guitar solos ‚Äì Sweet) is a call to fans and critics of their arrival as well as a castigation of former band mates for pissing on their parade. I bet you didn‚Äôt know the last line of that song is, ‚ÄúIf it‚Äôs white hot soul they want/ A black heart they‚Äôll get‚Äù ‚Äì I love that shit!

Furthermore, this album takes on seemingly spiritual and political messages throughout, opposed to earlier more self-absorbed themes. I feel a coming age/ I feel a dawn in me/ A certain sun keeps risin’/ On my beliefs/ In You, Billy croons on “That’s the Way” Рwhat seems like a rockin’ love song Рand in United States he howls “Freedom shines the light ahead/ I’ll lead the last charge to bed/ I said my last rites/ I don’t have to run scared no more/ Fight/ I wanna fight.

Songs like “United States,” “Doomsday Clock,” and “For God and Country” portray Billy’s love of the ole U.S. of A as well as fear for where it’s heading. This is something – I firmly believe Рculled directly from Billy’s watching of a viral internet movie called “Zeitgeist” and trying to direct the public’s attention towards it.

Many “fans” are complaining about the absence of James and D’arcy. Come on! This means they never listened to the music beyond watching videos and reading CD jackets. The music is all Billy and Jimmy. James Iha didn’t even come into his own as a solid tonal manipulator and soloist until the last tour and his few songs are cute, but embarrassing when held up to the rest of the catalog. In the end, all those two did was complain that the band rocked too hard and Billy, the guy who brought them this fame and acclaim, is a jerk – Get lost. If the shows in Asheville are any indication of the new band Р3+ hours of pummeling rock that, at times, overwhelmed the crowd and the venue, then godspeed little Pumpkins.

Zeitgeist is produced almost entirely by Corgan and Chamberlin.  Terry Date (Soundgarden, Pantera) assisted on a few numbers, the charged “Come on Let’s Go,” and “That’s the Way…” as well as Roy Thomas Baker (Queen) on two of the record’s highlights “Starz,” and “Bring the Light.”

The guitar is classic Pumpkins without sounding retread, the drums are Jimmy’s standard all-out assault of precision and fury that drives the music like an engine without running over it, and the lyrics, sublime, even changing how you feel about songs you think you dislike. In the end they crafted another excellent rock album that sounds like the Pumpkins, yet unlike any preceding albums, and it is miles above the “competition.” What more do you want, Nickelback?

“Doomsday Clock” and “Lucky 13″ recorded at The Fox Theatre in Atlanta 11.16.2007