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
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
Jigsaw Records / Hope for the Tape Deck – February 17th, 2015
Plastic Bubble is a Louisville, Kentucky band, making some of the catchiest indie-pop music in the state, and their recent release, Big Day Parade, is a great representation of just that. The album is made up of twenty songs, however it comes in at just over 39 minutes long – thanks to the fact that none of the songs eclipse three minutes. That said, the album listens well as a whole, and the brevity of the songs only adds to twee that makes them so fun and easily digested. What’s more, there were so many people involved with recording the record, I’m not sure I could honestly tell give you an accurate count (although, I’d guess it’s somewhere between 25-30).
The songs range everywhere from the super-sugary sounds found on “Sol Invictus,” to the alternating jazz/pop-punk feels of “Neanderthal Song” (which has an awesome video, featuring Louisville legend, Will Oldham). Some of the songs delve well into the realm of psychedelia, like “Caves,” “Changeling,” and “What We’re Made Of,” and the band channels this sound very well. The final track, “Moving Away,” is almost comically juxtaposed to the rest of the album, with its steel guitars and an Americana feel, but the sound is not just a gimmick – the band pulls off this song as well as any others on the record, and somehow wrote a really solid country song.
The fingerprints of many musicians are all over this album, perhaps the members of Big Fresh, as much as anyone’s – their frontman, John Ferguson, helped record pieces of the album (as did other members of the group), and it would be a treat to see a bill featuring both bands. The extensive album credits make me think that these guys must be pretty fun to make music with, and the record certainly makes it sound like that’s true. If you’re a fan of weird, silly, sugar-coated pop, this one is a must listen – the songs are fun, sound great, and the album is one I’m looking forward to listening to again and again.
Songs I Liked Most: Sol Invictus, Neanderthal Song, Traveling Song, Caves, In Kaleidoscopic View, Respectable Establishment, Changeling, What We’re Made Of, Moving Away
Ben Southworth – March 15th, 2015 – Mt. Horeb Pike