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
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
Don’t Panic Records – May 5, 2017
Few better Kentucky releases have come out than Mirror, Mirror since its release in 2012 – Louisville’s Wax Fang followed that up in 2014 with their remarkable space-rock-opera, The Astronaut, and now with Victory Laps. The music here is, in many cases, denser and more concise than songs on either of those releases, fleshed out with a big group of additional personnel and collaborators. As always, though, Wax Fang maintains a massive, in-your-face, unapologetic feeling to their music, thanks in large part to Scott Carney’s recognizable voice and confident delivery.
Opener “Pusher” gets right to it: a quick, shuffling synth-and-drum-driven intro, and we’re into the verse – Carney slurs long strings of lyrics together before crashing into a chorus, where he asks “if it’s the end of everything, then what am I a fighting for?” Next is “The Things I Do For Fun,” an outrageously fun track with a hook sure to get stuck in your head. Carney’s voice is distorted, his delivery is fast and punchy as he assaults you with “come on everybody let’s get ready to go because we’re going downtown to a rock and roll show” – the setup to the third chorus is huge, and the wildest moment of the entire album. “Decathect” provides some aural relief from the intensity of the prior song – a simple piano-driven introduction provides foundation for sweet, falsetto vocals throughout the song.
The second half of the album opens with “…” – a very nice, acoustic guitar lead-in for the next track. “Serenity Now” begins with plodding bass and synth, positioning itself as an anxiety-ridden anthem highlighted by the line “have I lost my mind, or is this just a sign of the times?” that caps off the end of each chorus. The verses on “Mystery Girl” – with their low synth pulses and dance music samples – could nearly pass for a Jamaican Queens track. The chorus here is filled out with shuffling drums, warped guitar, and Carney’s sweet admiration of the song’s subject, “she’s got a stigma, she’s an enigma, she’s a mystery even to her.” The brief “Lonely Nights” is another highlight of the album – it’s a well-produced track where Carney feels most intimate as he stutters through the third verse, “d-d-d-do you, do you still think about me … did you delete me from your m-memory?” and with beautiful harmonies on each repetition of “lonely nights.” “Exit Strategy” provides a dark, spaced-out finale to the album, replete with lengthy wordless sections and a dense orchestration.
Victory Laps is a step in a busier direction for Wax Fang, but this thicker texture is carried out well, providing opportunities for the band to increase the range of their live shows, given their full catalogue. Though not described as a concept album, themes of anxiety – both internal and external – are explored frequently; there’s often also the presence of a certain someone in the subject of many of the songs. No matter your experience with Wax Fang, it’s great to have some new music from them – Victory Laps is a well-crafted, wild ride of an album.
Tracks I Liked: Pusher!, The Things I Do For Fun!!!, Decathect!, Serenity Now!, Mystery Girl!, Lonely Nights!!
Ben Southworth – May 7, 2017 – Kenwick Place
No Quarter – May 5, 2017
Louisville’s Joan Shelley is known for her quiet, soothing music and beautiful, clear voice – Joan Shelley is elegantly all of these things, and a quietening listening experience throughout. The album begins with the quiet track, “We’d Be Home,” featuring a pair of guitars churning softly beneath Joan’s voice as she repeats “if you were made for me, we’d be home.” On “Where I’ll Find You,” the space is filled with shuffling, brushed percussion and a light organ – the song’s highlight is Joan’s vocal duet in the chorus. My favorite of the album is “Even Though,” a brief, simply-orchestrated song of plodding, finger-picked guitar and voice that manages a beautiful, melancholic fullness in its sound. Piano is added to the texture on “Pull Me Up One More Time,” with electric guitars crying softly in the background – Joan addresses her sister, “have I lingered too long, sister?” before reaching out for a hand, “pull me up one more time, for I have fallen.” The album ends with a droning, dissonant acoustic guitar on “Isn’t that Enough,” where piano doubles Joan’s voice several octaves below during the verses; her final lyrics of the album ask, “isn’t that enough, that you were meant to be free?”
The talent of the album’s remarkable collaborating musicians James Elkington, Nathan Salsburg, and Jeff and Spencer Tweedy is in their subtlety and restraint, adding only what is essential to the texture of these songs. Joan Shelley is an utterly appropriate title for its namesake’s fourth LP – despite the album’s superstar collaborators, Joan’s signature voice and songwriting are the driving, dominant force behind this music. I’d recommend this album with headphones, so you can catch every beautiful, nuanced note beneath the surface.
Tracks I Liked: We’d Be Home!!, Where I’ll Find You!, Even Though!!!, Pull Me Up One More Time!!, Wild Indifference!, Isn’t That Enough!
Ben Southworth – May 1, 2017 – Kenwick Place
Rock and Roll
Polyvinyl Records – April 7, 2017
From the moment you read the title of White Reaper’s new record, you get an unmistakable sense of the band’s bravado. The music is armed with the know-how of one of Louisville’s best-known producers, Kevin Ratterman, helping the songs evolve from the less-polished, garage-rock style of previous albums to a clearer, weightier, bigger-sounding version of things. The album opener, for which the album is named, opens with the sounds of cheering crowds, featuring an anthemic chorus ready for the radio. “Judy French” is the album’s single, complete with chugging guitars, fast-rolling drums, and quick instrumental breaks that lead back into tight verses. At first listen, “The Stack” could almost pass as a My Morning Jacket track (particularly the resemblance between Esposito’s voice and Jim James’), but a fiery, angular guitar lick at the end of each chorus just gives things a different energy. The album’s closer, “Another Day,” is washed out, distorted, and loud – in just under two minutes, the band wraps things up, never losing the energy they started things with. The World’s Best American Band is a title that toes the line between tongue-and-cheek and sincere, leaning more towards the latter – White Reaper are pure, American rock and roll.
Tracks I Liked: The World’s Best American Band!!!, Judy French!, Eagle Beach!, Little Silver Cross!, The Stack!!, Another Day!
Ben Southworth – April 17, 2017 – Kenwick Place