Search results for: palisades

Palisades // Big Fresh – Signal Delayed


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


Palisades – Nervous Habits EP

EP2Cover_CMYKPower Pop

Self-Released – December 12th, 2015

I’ll admit it: power pop isn’t a genre I’m thoroughly conversant in, but it is one I’ve gained appreciation for over the last eight months or so. During that time, I’ve been doing a show called ‘State Songs’ on WRFL – one that plays music from a different state each week. People insisted that Big Star was a must play for Tennessee (they were right), and I’m sure that the dB’s will have a spot on the episode about North Carolina. The thing is, though, that Palisades are starting to sound less strictly like a ‘power pop’ band – at least here on Nervous Habits. 

Nervous Habits is a four-song EP that just eclipses the ten-minute mark, much like Handshake Codes that came out a couple Septembers ago. Like that preceding EP, the songs here are concise (maybe that’s appropriate, given that lead singer and guitarist, Scott Whiddon, directs the writing center at Transylvania University), but are perhaps a little more experimental. The lead-off track, “Burn the Maps,” is a fast-paced track with just a little bit of organ held over at the end (was that buried in the mix the whole time?). “Maybe We Can Just Hold Hands” with its soft-spoken background ‘ahhhh’s’ and nearly twangy guitar interludes feels like it’s channeling at least a little Jeff Tweedy, but does so without losing the feeling that it’s a Palisades song.

“Poor Holidays” is the first track on the backside of the EP, is a bit slower than the first two tracks, and the lengthiest of the release. The more laid-back tempo is a good thing, giving the mix a little more room to breathe – you can hear some double tracked and background vocals, and the distorted, reverb-heavy guitar solo stands out as one of my favorite things I’ve heard on a Palisades song. The EP is closed with “Careless,” a song that starts with the line “call in the reserves, I might need some help,” and ends with exactly that as friends of the band – including the likes of Dave Cobb, Joe Drury, Coralee, Robby Cosenza, John Drake – help sing on the final run of the song’s chorus.

It’s worth mentioning, too, some of the behind-the-scenes work that made this EP sound the way it does. First, the album was recorded at Shangri-La with J. Tom Hnatow, who was largely involved in the creation of last week’s album released by Small Batch. John Ferguson (Big Fresh, Apples in Stereo, and ATTEMPT) mixed the album, and we’ll be hearing a split 7″ record from Palisades and Big Fresh in the spring called Signal, Delayed. The album cover was created by Neil Bell, the band’s drummer, and is one of my favorite pieces of album art from a local band in a little while.

Nervous Habits is not only a good release, it’s my favorite from Palisades thus far. It is everything that a four song set of power pop songs should be, but it also proves that the band is modestly experimenting and doing new things, trying out new sounds. It’s some growth that I earnestly hope to see continue for Palisades, and a trend that has definitely paid off for them here.

Tracks I Liked: Burn the Maps!, Maybe We Can Just Hold Hands!!, Poor Holidays!!!, Careless!

Ben Southworth – December 6th, 2015 – Patterson Drive // Rose Street

Palisades – Handshake Codes EP

a2285649375_10Post-Punk Power Pop

Self-Released – September 27th, 2014

Yeah, this review is way late, (I know, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do). Palisades are a band who have effectively stitched themselves into the fabric of Lexington music as one of those bands that most everyone knows about to some degree. They’re made up of three guys who play really well and – perhaps more importantly – know how to work within a music scene like the one in this city. The members of the band are constantly finding ways to collaborate with other musicians in town, and they make posts on social media about other band’s concerts as often than they do for their own shows. In a musical and cultural landscape like the one found in Lexington, this is an extremely healthy thing, and goes a long way in helping everyone.

So the music? The EP is the first of three planned releases for 2014/15 from the band, and features four snappy, catchy rock songs that come in at just about twelve minutes total. “Anecdotes” starts off with a driving guitar riff, and wastes no time getting to the lyrics, before reaching a pulsing chorus and a great guitar solo. The second track, “All Hands on the Take,” is stocked with another catchy solo, guitar embellishments and great breakdowns between sections of the song. Flipping the record, you start out with my favorite track of the EP, “Parlor Games/Party Tricks.” The song starts off with a lone strum of a chord, the first couple lyrics, and then straight into the track – this song has a really nice bridge, and an awesome coda (not to mention my favorite guitar tones of the entire release.) The final track, “Pedal Sassy,” is an instrumental track, but is every bit as catchy as the songs that preceded it – as a final track, it pulls things together very nicely.

The audio production on Handshake Codes is great, which is no surprise, when you know that J Tom Hnatow and Duane Lundy of Shangri-La produced and mixed it, respectively. The songs are tight, well-rehearsed, and have a great polish to them that shows off the drum and guitar work of Neil Bell and Mark Richardson put into it. Scott Whiddon’s experience in Transylvania University’s Writing Center shows here – his lyrics are clever, calculated and delivered with confidence and nuance. If you’re a fan of poppy rock songs that get right to the point, this record is a must get – you should be on the lookout for the two follow-ups that these guys have planned for later this year, too.

Tracks I Liked: Anecdotes!, All Hands on the Take!!, Parlor Games/Parlor Tricks!!!, Pedal Sassy!

Ben Southworth – March 10th, 2015 – Maxwell and Hagerman

Scott Whiddon – In Close Quarters with the Enemy

a3214545209_10Serene Indie Folk

Self Released – July 22, 2017

Few people would say that Scott Whiddon doesn’t keep himself busy. As a follow up to the three EPs released by his band, Palisades, since 2014, Scott is now putting himself out there with a full length album of solo material. In Close Quarters with the Enemy – a title taken from the work of Walt Whitman – Scott’s musical and literary influence (he’s Director of the Writing Center at Transylvania University) are as pronounced as ever. Fans of Palisades will find his songwriting familiar, but have occasion on this album to hear it in a more relaxed setting, now with the back up of J. Tom Hnatow, Robby Cosenza, and Cecilia Miller Wright.

The album opens with the beautiful instrumental track, “The Bird Girl” – one that builds layers of acoustic guitar, strings, and piano to give a hint at the atmosphere surrounding the remainder of the album. “Holidays” is built on a low, droning guitar and sets the scene of a kid struggling to fit in – ‘he’s got some kind of accent // he’s not like the other boys upstate.’ On “Faster than We Hoped,” Scott’s lyrics effortlessly evoke imagery of a pair pushing a car off a cliff, putting the past behind them. The melancholy of the track is supported by a mellow organ and sweet vocal harmonies during the choruses – a warm harmonica provides a nice, sweet color for the bridge.

The title track, “In Close Quarters with the Enemy,” is perhaps the most like Palisades – it carries throughout it a more distorted electric guitar, features a group singing harmonies during an extra-catchy chorus, followed immediately by a more intense break-down bridge. All the while, the track feels right at home at this point the album, providing a sort of high point in it’s arc. Following is “The Breakers,” another instrumental track that picks up exactly where the first instrumental left off – it brings the intensity back down as the album drives towards its end, and is even more lovely than the opening track it compliments. The album’s final track, “What We Knew All Along,” is colored by organ, light drums, and understated bass; the song’s middle section is perhaps the most beautiful of the album, but it never breaks a sweat.

Those who have heard Scott’s work before should enjoy the sounds on In Close Quarters with the Enemy – though, sonically, things are different here than on Palisades recordings, Scott’s songwriting retains a strong sense of itself. At many points throughout the album, I found myself with vivid pictures of the lyrical subjects in my head. These songs have a strong sense of place, and though his memories are not my own, those shared here are nearly universally relatable – it’s easy to feel as though they belong to you.

Tracks I Liked: Scatter and Fade!, Holidays!!, Faster than We Hoped!, In Close Quarters with the Enemy!!, The Breakers!, What We Knew All Along!!!

Ben Southworth – July 9, 2017 – Post Road

Big Fresh – Fall Preview

Bubbly Electronic Popbigfresh-cover

Desperate Spirits – June 2, 2017

Big Fresh (and its leader, John Ferguson) are icons of Lexington music. They’ve released a handful of albums since their start in the late 90s – the most recent full album, Moneychasers, came out in 2011 (and was one of the first Lexington-made records I ever bought), they put out a couple songs in 2016, and now have plans to release a pair of EPs in 2017. The first of those, Fall Preview, is a five-song trip through the band’s style and musicality – each with its own personality and a different guest singing lead.

“Tongku” is fronted by Beijing’s Bianbian, opening with a trio of guitar, piano, and shakers that give the track the feel of a ticking clock. The vocals here are in Mandarin (Google Translate tells me that Tòngkǔ means ‘pain’ or ‘suffering’), but the song’s lovely vocal melody conveys a balanced mixture of joy and melancholy. Robert Schneider, Ferguson’s bandmate in The Apples in Stereo, sings on “Paralyzed,” the EP’s first single. The song is a fast-moving pop track, buoyant with whirring synthesizers and horn lines, covering Ferguson’s upbringing in rural, Christian Kentucky as Schneider sings “I used to sing of a heaven far way, where no one ever dies.”

Former Big Fresh singer, Kate Pope, takes the lead on “Yes Yes Yes,” which feels the most like songs from Moneychasers to me: it’s a funky track with pulsing synth bass and quick stabs from trombone and saxophone. ATTEMPT’s Trevor Tremaine takes us through “Rock ‘n’ Roll Beans,” a short, ridiculously fun track that name drops Bruce lee, Lee Iacocca, and the Ayatollah (among others). The EP ends with “Like Swayze,” sung by Lexington’s Michelle Hollis. It’s a smoky, piano-driven slow jam that crescendos through a heavy second chorus before descending into a disorienting haze.

Fall Preview covers a great range of sounds, thanks in larger part to its many guest singers, but it’s tough to imagine these songs without Ferguson and the other constant pieces in Big Fresh’s sound. The group continues its reputation as one with a knack for unusual (sometimes tongue-in-cheek) pop songs, but the musicality, fidelity, and colors on this EP elevate the music to a new level. Fall Preview is full of substance while remaining fresh and hugely fun – it’s a great EP, and Big Fresh is a listening experience I can’t recommend enough.

Tracks I Liked: Tongku!, Paralyzed!!, Yes Yes Yes!, Rock ‘n’ Roll Beans!, Like Swayze!!!


Ben Southworth – May 25, 2017 – Kenwick Place