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
Self-Released November 30, 2016
Beat Awfuls released their album Nothing Happens in February of 2016 – a collection of twelve lo-fi pop indie songs. The album ended up being one of my favorite local records of 2016, and perhaps the one I listened to the most, too. Something Happened works a little bit like a companion piece to that album – five tracks are demo versions of songs that can be heard on the full-length, and one is new. The tracks are more lo-fi here than on Nothing Happens, subbing in a drum machine and boiled down to Dave Cave and Dr. Paul’s stylings on guitar and bass (with some extra noises here and there). “Come Correct” works well as a quick ‘first track,’ and the vocal melody of “Do It Now” stands out as being even catchier than I remembered it. New to the lineup of songs is “I Will Follow You,” which works in acoustic guitar, a busier bass line, and a shuffling beat. A favorite of mine from Nothing Happens was “No Dice Cold Bones,” a track reworked here with calypso strumming and shakers that somehow seems even dreamier and more melancholic than before. If you liked Nothing Happens, you might just like this too – these poppy melodies will get stuck in your head, but it’s nice hearing it boiled down even further to basics.
Tracks I Liked: Come Correct!, Do it Now!!, I Will Follow You!, No Dice Cold Bones!!!
Ben Southworth – January 8, 2017 – Kenwick Place
Harsh Heavy Rock
November 6th, 2015 – auralgamiSOUNDS
I wasn’t sure what to expect with Insect Policy’s most recent release – where their former EP was sparse at times and full of harsh avant-noise, Wolf Brick River Dirt Train Moon feels thicker and is full of brutally harsh motion from the get go. The first two tracks complement each other in some way – “Power Container”chugs along with some serious groove, while “After Ghidaro” is a dark mixture of sludge and doom – both ending with the line “we will never see land again.” “The Importance of Banishing” picks up the pace again with pointed, angular guitars before dissolving away with a wash of noise and screams. The second half of the EP opens with “The Sound of Tumult,” a freer, noisier, somewhat calmer track that offers a break from the unrelenting drive of the first three tracks. “Zero Weather” features a noisy violin and guitar duet for much of its duration, but by the two minute mark the dissonance gives way to something really beautiful between the two instruments. The final track, “Atlantic Ocean,” opens in a somewhat similarly pleasant way – buzzing guitar drones, french horn, and mandolin (I think?) provide a distant sounding backdrop for calm, subdued vocals to bring the album to an unexpectedly calm close. Wolf Brick River Dirt Train Moon is not the album that I thought it would be – it travels through some real grindingly harsh stuff before turning over with a few truly pleasant and relaxing tracks to finish. I certainly haven’t listened to an album that does anything quite like this EP, and it’s well worth the seventeen minutes it takes to take this trip.
Tracks I Liked: Power Container!!!, After Ghidaro!!, The Importance of Banishing!, Zero Weather!!, Atlantic Ocean!!!
Ben Southworth – January 6th, 2016 – Kenwick Place
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
Scuzzy Blues Rock
Self-Released May 27th, 2015
When I first heard Johnny Conqueroo, I was standing in an ice cream truck and enduring the heat of late August at this year’s Crave Food & Music Festival. If I recall correctly, the band was the first to play on the festival’s second day, and I was certain that the sound engineer was just playing some Black Keys or White Stripes soundalike over the loudspeaker to fill time before the first band went on – no specific song that I’d heard before, but something in that general vein, I thought. Nope, it turns out it was a live performance, and one being put on by three young guys (average age… 17, maybe?) who I assume are classmates at some Lexington high school they have in common. If they end up reading this write-up, I’m sure they’ll want to read something about the quality of their music, and one that speaks about it independently of their age.
The EP clocks in at seventeen minutes, is made up of five songs (four originals, plus a much more distorted rendition of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning”). The tracks are true to the blues tradition, in the sense that they tell the sorts of stories you’d expect from folks like Muddy Waters or Buddy Guy – nights spent in jail, infidelity, the summer heat, and whatever other trouble the average blues musician finds themselves in. Injections of lyrics are usually spaced out with longer portions of slide guitar, solos, and vamping. For the most part, the vocals take the back seat to the instruments on these five songs – the texture and distortion they’re picking up of their instruments in the recording (and even the warmth of the vocals) is what gives this EP the atmosphere it has, edging right up to the point of psychedelia and sometimes even stepping across the line.
Generally speaking, I don’t listen to a lot of blues music, but this EP is one I certainly enjoyed. I hope that these guys get to stay together for a little while and that they’re able to experiment even more with their sound – in the meantime, this is a really solid place to start.
Tracks I Liked: Night in Jail!, Hearing Voices!, Summer Blues!!
Ben Southworth – October 2nd, 2015 – Mount Horeb