Palisades // Big Fresh – Signal Delayed

signaldelayedfrontcover

Power Pop // Electro Sci-Fi Pop

Self-Released – September 30, 2016

One of my favorite things about Lexington’s music scene is the way that so many musicians are determined to work together. They play in each other’s bands, they record on each other’s albums, and in the case of Signal Delayed, they put out albums together. In preparing for this write-up, I spoke to Scott Whiddon of Palisades, who said: ‘For me, this project represents everything I wanted Palisades to be: community, collaboration, creativity.’ Make no mistake, I wont pretend that Lexington is the only city where musicians are nice to each another – I’m just grateful, because I imagine that not every city is so lucky.

The first side of Signal Delayed is a pair of power pop songs from Palisades. The first of which, “Pretty Thief,” is familiar sounding (if you’ve listened to Palisades previously) – it’s full of bright guitars, a super quick and catchy chorus, and uses every bit of its runtime for something a little different than what came before it. “Tough Shakes” is a fair bit grungier and moodier than the more sugary pop that Palisades have produced in the past. Most of the lyrics of are more spoken than sung, the guitars are weightier than usual, and the lyrics have a little more bite than usual. That said, the production on these songs is at a place I haven’t heard from Palisades before – all the instruments are rich, well-balanced, and crystal clear (plus, the organ sounds on “Pretty Thief” adds a nice bit of light-hearted texture).

As far as I know, this is the first new recorded music from Big Fresh in a good while (since Moneychasers came out in 2011, maybe?) In case you’re not familiar with Big Fresh, it’s a long-running collective of musicians fronted by John Ferguson that has been around since 1998. The songs on the second side of Signal Delayed are funky, synth-heavy, and sci-fi flavored. “Atlantis” is quick, but punchy and in your face with a buzzing synth in the front of the texture and echoey vocals singing things like “we launched a rocket in space, we blast a hole in your face.” “Night Driving” is the perfect foil to the song preceding it – the quiet, low-key groove of the chorus is much more mellow and has the perfect feel for a song about driving at night. The many members of Big Fresh are orchestrated richly on this track, with horns and keyboards imitating vocals, a very well-chosen soundbyte, and drums helping to direct the song through its course.

If you’re a lover of Lexington music, it’s a no-brainer to find yourself a copy of Signal Delayed. It’s two great bands (whose collective members are likely in ten or more bands between them), four great songs, and I hear it’ll even be available on red vinyl! You can pick it up when you see both bands this Friday at The Green Lantern, or grab a copy the next time you stop by your favorite local record store.

Tracks I Liked: Pretty Thief!!, Tough Shakes!, Atlantis!, Night Driving!!

Ben Southworth – September 24, 2016 – Kenwick Place

 

Doctor Girlfriend – Silent Screen

drgfNew Wave(y) Art Rock

auralgamiSOUDS – August 27, 2016

It is really difficult to pin down the sound on this album. If David Byrne and James Murphy made a record together, recruited Colin Greenwood to play bass, and fleshed out the texture with keyboards and saxophone, it might sound something like this (maybe?). The first four songs on Silent Screen assail your ears with unrelenting momentum and sound – crunchy basslines, bright guitars, bongos, accelerating breakbeats, and vocals sometimes past the point of shouting. “Boy to Do” exemplifies this perfectly – it’s armed with an opening guitar riff that will undoubtedly get stuck in your head, and a bass that sounds like its powered by a diesel engine. By the time the album reaches its midpoint, your ears are ready for a bit of relief, and “Crystal Girl” provides exactly that. The song pumps along with a a quiet electronic beat, warbling guitar, and much calmer vocals that stretch themselves into beautiful falsetto, singing much more tender lines like “she danced right through my mind tonight” and “crystal girl, wont you dance a while with me.” The single, “Photograph,” follows directly after – a song that starts mellow and relatively quiet before growing into an angular, dense, psychedelic track drenched with saxophone. “Stutterstep” is dizzying in its combination of syncopated guitar and swirling synthesizers, and has one of the best grooves of the entire album by the time it reaches the chorus. The album ends with the grandiose, smoky slow-jam, “Babydoll,” complete with weighty drums and vocal harmonies as the chorus sings “you’re not my babydoll.” At just over a half-hour, Silent Screen is over before you even know it, but it manages to be absolutely unique and interesting from the very beginning – absolutely worth at least a few listens.

Tracks I Liked: Trouble!, Boy to Do!!, Crystal Girl!!!, Photograph!!, Stutterstep!!, Babydoll!

Ben Southworth – September 18, 2016 – Kenwick Place

Dream the Electric Sleep – Beneath the Dark Wide Sky

dtesProgressive Post-Rock 

Mutiny Records – July 22, 2016

Back in my days of hosting WRFL-Live! – during which time I hosted somewhere around fifty or sixty bands – I distinctly remember Dream the Electric Sleep as the loudest. Though the band is made up of just three musicians, Matt Page, Joey Waters, and Chris Tackett create sounds that are not simply big, but complex, nuanced, and beautiful. Further, the production on Beneath the Dark Wide Sky showcases how in-sync the three are with one another. The songs here choose texture and melody over speed – this isn’t the sort of prog-rock that tries to blow your mind with a sheer number of notes played. Instead, they let the rhythm subdivision propel the energy in their songs, so that while they may not ever feel fast, they do feel massive and unstoppable. “Let the Light Flood In” is maybe the album’s most accessible and is primed for radio play with a catchy, impactful chorus. My favorite of the album is “Culling the Herd” – seven minute track, complete with a rich chord progression in the chorus, and a word-painted bridge whose tonality and repetition cleverly mimic the lyrics ‘when you fall you fall hard, from the top down to the bottom, there’s nothing to stop.’ As an album, Beneath the Dark Wide Sky is expertly produced and performed, and full of colossal, beautiful, well-structured songs that are difficult not to be mesmerized by.

Tracks I Liked: Let the Light Flood In!, Flight, Hanging By Time, Culling the Herd!!, The Last Psalm to Silence, The Good Night Sky!

Ben Southworth – September 11, 2016 – Kenwick Place

Billy Nelson – Water Sports

a1674900812_10Smoky 80s-Style Synth Pop

Karate Body Records – July 22, 2016

They say trends are cyclical. Nowadays, bits of the 80s aesthetic have returned in music and other pop culture, and Billy Nelson is channeling that mood in a way that could only be done by someone who experienced the decade firsthand. Water Sports is a cool, cohesive collection of six songs painted with buzzing synthesizers, laid-back drum machines, distantly roaring guitars, and Billy’s echoey vocals falling just behind the beat. The first two tracks on the album were released over the last year as singles – you can find more extensive write-ups on “We Could Be Friends” and “Lord, You’ve Got the Nerve” in older posts. “Feels Like an Arab Spring” is filled with shuffling drums, shimmering synths and arpeggiating piano that consume the song before giving way to a quiet ending. For me, the standout track on Water Sports is “Still Life with Cormorant,” a dark, densely layered song which finds Billy’s voice imitated by rattling guitars as he describes an encounter between a bottom dweller and a bird circling overhead like an apparition. Things get even hazier on “Let’s Live Through This Feeling,” which is arguably the catchiest song of the bunch. The line “because it was too dark, was too dark to see, I couldn’t make out objects standing in front of me” is almost self-descriptive of this song and much of this album – the music is strange, moody, impressionistic, with lyrics that leave a lot of interpretation up to the listener. The final track, “A Hidden Beach,” sheds the synthesizers in favor of layers of shimmering guitars, closing the album with a beautiful chorus of “I’m still in love with you.” As a whole, Water Sports listens like an abstract, introspective series of snapshots as Billy Nelson finds his way through the emotions and experiences of adult life.

Tracks I Liked: We Could Be Friends, Lord You’ve Got the Nerve!, Feels Like an Arab Spring, Still Life with Cormorant!!!, Let’s Live Through this Feeling!!, A Hidden Beach

Ben Southworth – September 5, 2016 – Kenwick Place

Warren Byrom – Heavy Makes You Happy

warrenbyromHomesick Americana

Self-Released – August 12, 2016

It’s great to have some new stuff from Warren. His first full length, The Fabled Canelandslives in a special, sentimental part of my mind with records like Jeffrey Lewis’ A Turn in the Dream Songs and Yellow Ostrich’s The Mistress – all albums that populated the playbox at WRFL during my first semester of late-night/early-morning shows. I’ve revisited that album – especially songs like “Sidewalk Kings of New Orleans” and “Home” – several times since the spring of 2012, and I’ve taken something new from it upon each repeated listen.

With references to the French Quarter and “the storm” as well as to Old Frankfort Pike and Henry Clay, Heavy Makes You Happy listens like a love song to Warren’s homes – past and present – in New Orleans and Lexington. Alongside these more direct references to place, live more personal life experiences. “Elkhorn Flood Blues” is a night in late summer, paying homage to the might of our own, modest Elkhorn Creek when it occasionally swells past its banks. “Ice” is a live take from UK’s Chandler Hospital that recalls the sounds of trees shedding limbs after an ice storm, and “Water Tower” opens with the line “there’s a lot of love in this land locked town, some days I try and drink it down.” 

“Get Real” is an altogether beautiful song, and fantastic close to the album – a breathtaking reflection on life in New Orleans “after the storm” that slowly heats up until it boils over with emotion. By the time the song nears that emotional break, I can’t imagine hearing “when the mud starts rushing down and crushing through the town, I better find some loving hands and hold on for dear life” with dry eyes.

Heavy Makes You Happy tells stories of experiences we’ve shared collectively through the lens of the individual. I remember being without power for nine days following the ice storm of 2009, the yearly flooding of the Elkhorn Creek, and watching helplessly from Kentucky as Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans at full force. Warren has chronicled his own memories of these experiences, and many more, into songs that add up to an emotional album that feels relatable and bittersweet from start to finish. For someone who has lived in Lexington his whole life, this album makes me homesick, even though I still live here.

Tracks I Liked: Elkhorn Flood Blues!, Ice!!, New Best Friend!, Water Tower!!, Get Real!!!

Ben Southworth – August 28, 2016 – Kenwick Place