Sweet Southern Rock
Self Released – May 12, 2017
I first heard of Louisville’s Bendigo Fletcher in early March. Around that time, they put out “Sleeping Pad” as a single (which you can read a little more about here), following that up in May with a four-song EP. The release opens with “Sleeping Pad,” which sets a nice tone for the remaining tracks in the lyric “open your eyes and find a damn good reason to live.” “Joni Blue” is a little dreamier with a lot of texture in blending violin and understated synthesizers – it manages somehow to turn a clever phrase about wanting someone to come back using global warming as its metaphor. The opening of “My Dad” is washed out and filtered from somewhere far away before it locks instantly into focus. The track is the catchiest and most concise of the four here as Anderson sings about his dad flying back from overseas to land back in his mother’s arms. Last on the EP is “Dislodger,” a sweet track about wanting to understand another person. Bendigo Fletcher come across in their music as a band made up of kind, happy folks – listening to their music just makes you feel good.
Tracks I Liked: Sleeping Pad!!, Joni Blue!, My Dad!! Dislodger!
Ben Southworth – June 11, 2017 – Post Road
Dreamy Baroque Folk
Self Released – April 21, 2017
Last summer, Austin Wilkerson made his residence in an old farmhouse and recorded this album. Altruisms is largely his invention – the record is ten songs of refreshingly creative and personal music. It opens with “Come to the Garden,” a track that very effectively sets the tone and color of the album to come. After a quick, rich intro, Austin’s voice dances lightly over an odd meter as he sings “life never is what we want it to be, I’ll never know all the secrets it keeps.” “Worthy” bounces back and forth from a hazy, finger-picked guitar and a more upbeat feel – the transition into the final verse is almost startlingly rich. The world appears from nothing on “Creation Song,” as Austin joyously sings “I can hear the oceans forming, I can see the mountains rise, I know it’s good, oh yeah!”
“Memory Harp” begins with ringing bells before layers and layers of acoustic guitar form the song’s foundation – each section flows seamlessly into the next, constantly evolving so that no moment is wasted. Austin’s string accompaniment is used most effectively on “Elegy,” where the double bass echoes the melody of his lyrics after he sings “in my dreams I follow soundlessly down to the water, there I spy your body shimmering beneath the moonlight.” “Called from Above” begins with sounds of nature set behind an acoustic guitar, before the song leads the listener through another set of delicately placed sections of dreamy music. As an album, Altruisms never settles into a single sound for more than a minute or two – even several times through, I am still hearing new things on each listen. The music is beautiful and personal: it breathes air of compassion and beauty.
Tracks I Liked: Come to the Garden!!, Worthy!!!, Creation Song!!, Towers by the Sea!, Memory Harp!!, Jeremiah!, Elegy!!!, Called from Above!!, Valley of the Bees!
Ben Southworth – June 4, 2017 – Post Road
Bubbly Electronic Pop
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
Lo-Fi Chamber Folk
Gubbey Records – May 19, 2017
Dream Eye Color Wheel is a project based in Louisville // New Albany, Indiana made of many musicians and led by Ben Traughber. Their new album, False Omega opens with the plodding instrumental, “Slow Thundergeist,” a dark, richly orchestrated piece (featuring my favorite woodwind, the bass clarinet) that toes the line between feeling mechanical, even machine-like, but ultimately human and raw. “Saw Teeth” opens as a waltz, led by acoustic guitar before Traughber’s soft vocals enter, eventually giving way to a lovely organ-violin solo. Later is “Flying Erase Head,” a beautiful piece that feels transmitted from a long time ago – everything is whispered and washed-out, like it’s coming from a distant memory. “Gamma” rumbles into focus on a low synthesizer note before acoustic guitar and Traughber’s voice enter, him singing a repeated “gamma, gamma, gamma… rays.” Balanced somewhere between upbeat and psychedelic, “On Arrival” challenges what a bossa nova can be, throwing a noisy guitar solo on top of an already disorienting track. The album closes with “Goodbye (Listen Here),” which starts as an unsettling duet between rewound guitar and an angry voicemail (the caller eventually cools off). Dream Eye Color Wheel is a fascinating, refreshingly creative project of Ben Traugbher – False Omega is a strange, disorienting listen, but a beautiful and enjoyable one at that.
Tracks I Liked: Slow Thundergeist!, Saw Teeth!!, Flying Erase Head!!!, Gamma!, On Arrival!!
Ben Southworth – May 21, 2017 – Kenwick Place
Lo-Fi One-Man Punk
Twin Cousins Records – June 17, 2017
J. Marinelli is known well around Lexington for his quick songs and only-the-essentials stage-setup – a guitar on his lap and drums set up at his feet. Though songs on Stray Volts move by quickly, Marinelli doesn’t use this as an excuse to phone it in with his lyrics. “The Dead Don’t Need Us” is a laid-back, slow track that uses ideas of vanity and fixation-with-life-on-earth to set up the repeated “the dead don’t need us.” Following immediately is the sub-one-minute-track, “Humble-Brag Man” – the shortest and fastest-moving track on the album. Despite the rapid-fire delivery of the lyrics, Marinelli packs the song with a harsh critique of the ‘humble-brag man’ (we all know one), ending the bridge with “his false modesty is such a drag.” The delivery on “Cocaine Activist” is more pronounced and pointed, where J. describes a ‘pat-yourself-on-the-back’ kind of guy taking advantage of us, the bridge ending in “with rhetoric so desperate, intentions that they motivate are less than pure, they’ll always leave you sore.” At four-and-a-half minutes, “Creak and Sway” is nearly twice as long as any other song on the album – it’s a dark song full of pain, and with a lot of room to breathe, it serves as a nice break from the intensity of much of the rest of the album. Stray Volts is J. Marinelli at his finest – catchy, lo-fi rock with great melodies, clever lyrics, and nothing else that isn’t needed.
Tracks I Liked: Brand New Glasses!, Madison Girls!, The Dead Don’t Need Us!!, Humble-Brag Man!!!, Cocaine Activist!!, The Evil of Two Lessers!, Creak and Sway!
Ben Southworth – May 15, 2017 – Kenwick Place