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
AuralgamiSOUNDS – October 20th, 2014
This EP shouldn’t be so relaxing to listen to as it is. It’s a fairly quick set of eight songs that are super sonically-busy – loops of odd rhythms, muddy time signatures, and strange timbres abound – but Black Blizzard is the kind of album that makes you want to shut your eyes while you listen to it. Even as vocal samples on the first track, “Solar, So Low,” tell you “you don’t have to listen to this, listen to something else,” it’s hard not to get sucked in.
Other songs are tricky in different ways. Upon my first listen to “Solar Flares,” I thought my tape player was cutting out on me, as the first layer kept dropping in and out (turns out it’s just being used to set a sort of tempo for the rest of the track). “Palm Freaks” pairs a really nice groove with some spooky sax lines before it brings in a noisy drum and synth duet – this sudden shift in texture is perhaps my favorite moment of the whole album.
When listening to this, it was difficult not to make some comparisons to Oneohtrix Point Never, but Dominic Republic is definitely its own sound with a different mood – even still, I’d be surprised if there weren’t some influence. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into when I first got this album, but Black Blizzard was definitely one of the fresher and more unique albums I’ve heard in quite some time.
Tracks I Liked: Solar, So Low, Solar Flares, Palm Freaks
Ben Southworth – March 23rd, 2015 – Maxwell and Hagerman
Pacific Trash – February 25th, 2015
The debut release from Lexington’s Cherry Crush is a reverb-drenched set of five songs that sounds like its from a different decade than ours. The first track is “Ludlow,” a grungy instrumental with a mid-tempo drive of rich guitar sounds, that fades out, leaving only the echoey feedback of the lead guitar. “Okay” is a bit more up-tempo from the previous track, and introduces some vocals – they’re placed well in the mix, and give the song a nineties-esque feel. My favorite song here is the third track, “Nothing Left,” which bursts into things from the very beginning – it’s written a little like a punk song, and if it were without all the reverb, it would probably pass pretty well for one. “Freeze” is a super-spacey track, and has nearly all the front cut off of the guitar sounds, making for an awesome shimmery mess of a song (the bridge has a nice ear-bending feel to it, too). The EP ends with “Ride,” which instantly sounds like the sonic love-child of an old 45 and a warbly cassette tape – it’s a cloudy, slow-burning, lo-fi track that ends with an almost total wash of noise. This song, and the rest of the album, sounds a little like listening to a band playing in a cave, except that you’re standing outside the cave, while the band plays somewhere further down in it. If you’re into shoe-gaze and reverby guitars, this would definitely be something to pick up – I’m especially excited to hear how it sounds on tape.
Tracks I Liked: Ludlow, Nothing Left, Freeze, Ride
Ben Southworth – March 21st, 2015 – Maxwell and Hagerman
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
Released March 13th, 2015
Perhaps I just haven’t been paying much attention lately, but when Ben Sollee posted a link to a three-song EP on his Facebook today, I was quite surprised. Though I don’t know too much about the context of this EP, Steeples Part One, is presumably the first of some series of releases coming from Ben. It starts with a short tune, “Forgotten,” which pairs cello and vocals for an intro before slowly adding layers of drums, electric guitars, strings, and additional vocals. Short interludes between verses become increasingly rich, and the sound he arrives at for the coda just feels really good. “Pretend” is my favorite track of the EP – it’s a soul-pop tune that discusses notions of simplicity and love, and the repeated lines, “I’ll be there when things get tough, and I’ll hold your hand,” ought to resonate with people who grapple with the expectations of love. The final track, “Loving Memory,” is quiet, somber, and the most intimate of the bunch, featuring mostly cello, voice, and bass. All in all, the EP is pretty stripped-down from the sounds found on 2012’s Half Made Man – he’s moved a little bit back towards the sound found on his Learning to Bend and Dear Companion. But this simpler sound lends itself well to his music – it feels more natural, and definitely a step back in the right direction. Hopefully we’ll know soon whether there’s more stuff like this on the way.
Tracks I Liked: Forgotten!!, Pretend!!!, Loving Memory!
Ben Southworth – March 13th, 2015 – Mt. Horeb Pike