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
Intimate Lo-Fi Bedroom Pop
Plastic Response // Death Records – March 6, 2017
Those who have seen Dr. Paul perform live can tell you that it’s a unique experience to take in. It’s like going to watch psychedelic karaoke where the singer has written all the songs themselves – the tracks flow into each other, one right after the other, to the point that it becomes disorienting. Calling Daddy Anarchist, in its recorded form, gives the listener the benefit of being able to listen to the music one song at a time, allowing time to digest things and better understand what Dr. Paul is trying to get across.
The album opens with “Artificial Significance,” setting the aural tone for the album with lo-fi, laid-back guitar, affected vocals, and a drum machine chugging in the background – the repeated ‘the future’s just ahead’ has a way of getting stuck in your head. “Up To My Wasted” has an upbeat feel, instrumentally, but lyrics like the opening line, ‘not even the sun can bring me up anymore,’ have a way of making it lonely. Later in the album is “King of Crash Landings,” which alternates between laid-back verses and a more intense chorus with the memorable lyrics ‘it’s like screaming in a vacuum with a knife in your eye // the king of crash landings here saying goodbye.’ My favorite of the album is “Trouble Sleeping In,” which may also be the album’s most accessible and catchiest track – it has some of my favorite lyrics of the album, like ‘wait… I can grow back my long hair // too late… now the timing isn’t there’ and ‘if you ever want for nothing, you can get it over here.’ A few songs later is a solid cover of Beat Awfuls’ “Jackie Ono,” another Lexington band that Dr. Paul plays in.
Calling Daddy Anarchist explores dark feelings of loneliness and disappointment through some really intimate-feeling lyrics and storytelling, though Dr. Paul does a nice job of sprinkling in occasional pieces of humor throughout. Those that like other Lexington acts like Beat Awfuls, Cherry Crush, and Jovontaes ought to really enjoy this.
Tracks I Liked: Artificial Significance!!, Diane Lives too Fast!, Up to My Wasted!, King of Crash Landings!, Trouble Sleeping In!!!, Air Guitar!, Jackie Ono!
Ben Southworth – April 10, 2017 – Kenwick Place
Soul Pop Fusion
Desperate Spirits // Hop Hop Records – February 14, 2017
As an album, Personal Fables is one of the richest collection of eight songs to come out of Lexington in several years. This meticulous orchestration and arranging is made that much more impressive after realizing it was written and performed almost singularly by Trevor Tremaine – minus trumpet and saxophone, everything you hear here is his doing. The songs here are so densely-packed that they become fresher on each repeated listen, propelling them forward with constant momentum as they roll into the next of a seemingly endless supply of ideas.
The album opens with the manic “Personal Best,” which rolls the bassline, drums, guitar, and vocal riffs into one smooth hook – the track yields toward the final third of the song, setting up a great guitar solo through its end. “Life and a Day” has maybe the catchiest and most accessible chorus of the album, yet the song still manages to break the mold with its contrasting bridge (plus, I love the line “I am an idling time machine, and I’m going nowhere slow” that sets it up). On the first few listens, “The One and Only,” didn’t stick out to me a lot, but the tight rhythm and arrangement in the chorus eventually reveals itself as delightfully smooth and well-done. “Incompetence” is perhaps the track the benefitted the most from multiple listens. The lyrics carry the story from start to finish, and the lush instrumentation throughout the track make it one of the most immaculate, enjoyable listens of the album.
“Getting It” is punchy, clever, and self-referential – it pushes and pulls throughout the track, forcing you to listen closely (in which case you’ll hear little treats like “smoking squares outside the Speedway,” a quick line which has rolled around my head all week). The album reaches its most experimental point on “Beyond Cliche'” which walks the harmony all over the map, stretches an angular melody over top of it (while managing to make it fit naturally on top of the unusual progression), and packs in another quick, sharp spoken-word bridge. “You Have Lived” may be the album’s peak – as the penultimate track, it is arranged as a ballad, with only vocals and a shimmering organ. The lyrics here are just as sharp as on the rest of Personal Fables (and, at times, they even lean into the same tongue-in-cheek territory that many of the other songs inhabit), ruminating on the line “a life of no regrets is the only kind worth living.” Tremaine sings through a lifetime of missed opportunities, and by the time the song nears its finish, it swells into a gorgeously multi-tracked chorus of “you have lived” that carries through to the end. Closing the album is the quick “The Worst Thing that Could Happen,” which brings things full-circle into the same exciting territory of the album’s opener.
This album is thoroughly enjoyable – it manages to be smart, inventive, and wordy, while remaining catchy and fun. Its singular point of creative origin becomes more apparent upon each repeated listen, and Trevor never favors density of ideas over the ability of these ideas to work in harmony with one another – they’re simply arranged in a way that works. Personal Fables is a must-hear album, and is unlike anything else I’ve heard from Lexington.
Tracks I Liked: Personal Best!, Life and a Day!, Incompetence!!, Beyond Cliche’!, You Have Lived!!!
Ben Southworth – February 5, 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
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