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
Three Lobed Recordings – May 5, 2017
I almost wasn’t going to write about this album – in trying to stick to a blog about Kentucky music, I wondered if it were right to write about Wooden Wand after James Toth had moved to Virginia. However, upon receiving my preorder of the CD in the mail and hearing how good it is, I felt it appropriate. Aside from being a stunningly rich and beautiful album, its roots still stretch throughout Kentucky – a combined four tracks were recorded in Shelbyville and Lexington, and many feature the talents of a handful of Kentucky musicians. Despite being made from these many collaborations and stitched together from a few recording sessions, Clipper Ship is cohesive, intimate, and retains a feeling of Toth’s singular vision.
“School’s Out” is the record’s second single and opens the album with shimmery acoustic guitar and Toth’s reverberating vocals. The first two verses are divided by interjections from a glowing pedal steel and satisfyingly rich bass; on the second verse, Toth asks a deceptively enticing volcano to spare his only daughter, that “she was not made to be a martyr.” These conjured images of human sacrifice are hinted to again on “Sacrificial,” a song orchestrated simply by finger-picked acoustic guitar and voice – the richness of the previous song’s thick instrumentation is replaced by the intimacy and fidelity in this one’s recording. “Mexican Coke” features droning strings from James Elkington and Jim Becker, as well as the rustling percussion of Glenn Kotche. The track expresses appreciation for antiquity, and contains the album’s most immediately understood lyrics on the fleeting nature of time and one’s best intentions going awry.
“Mallow T’ward the River” and “One Can Only Love” stand tall as lengthy centerpieces to the album. The former is a ballad about an Uncle Perry – a man who “cheated many women and murdered men for gold.” When our narrator asks the uncle if he has any fears about what might come of his misdeeds, the track’s texture blossoms as Perry responds confidently “nephew, you are such a foolish one / I’ll be here tomorrow, same as river, same as sun.” Eventually, age, his enemies, and nature itself catch up to Perry – “they beat uncle like a beast / the river changed direction and the sun set in the east” – Toth personifies our world beautifully, imbuing it with supernatural power. “One Can Only Love” is the most sonically striking track of the album, and its three droning sections push forward past the eight-minute mark. Throughout the breathtaking first section, the musicians assembled feel entirely unified as if they were a single instrument; the latter two sections – both instrumental – are equally stunning as the first.
The album’s title track features the talents of Lexington’s Joshua Wright and Seth Murphy (of Bear Medicine), as the trio conjures imagery of a clipper ship moving fast across the water, “cracking through the dawn like a horsewhip.” Finally, an instrumental reprise of “Mood Indica” (the second of the three sections of “One Can Only Love”) brings the album to a close. Though the album originates from four recording locations and thirteen musicians, its seven songs fit together as one long breath, and Toth’s voice feels clear and intimate throughout. Clipper Ship is a fabulous album of beautiful, haunting stories with vivid imagery.
Tracks I Liked: School’s Out!, Mexican Coke!!, Mallow T’ward the River!!!, One Can Only Love!!, Clipper Ship!
Ben Southworth – April 23, 2017 – Kenwick Place
Fantastico Records – December 2, 2016
Johnny Conqueroo has enjoyed some fantastic (and well-deserved) success over the last two years or so. They released their self-titled EP last summer and have played a bunch of shows and local festivals, gaining a large following in a relatively short time. This Friday, they follow all that up with the release of their first full-length, Washed Up.
The forty-four minute album is ten songs long (eight and a half are originals), and though it explores a wide range of sounds over its course, it remains cohesive and engaging throughout. The lead-off // title-track is fun, catchy, and youthful – “Washed Up” expands the sound from the three-piece’s last release with bells, handclaps, and background vocals. “High Tiding” is a great take on fellow neo-blues musician, Nick Waterhouse, sped up and with busier instrumentation. My favorite of the album may be “Dancin With You,” a song whose unique texture catches your ear the very moment it starts, doubling the lead guitar on synthesizer during the intro and the bits between verses. The track is punctuated with spoken backgrounds of ‘dancin’ and ‘groovin,’ and fleshed out the rest of the way with shakers, shuffling drums, and a grooving bassline. “The Key” could nearly pass for The Doors, complete with ‘oompah’ organ and a vocal melody placed right in the harmony the way Jim Morrison might’ve done.
The latter half of the record is impressively strong and perhaps more experimental than the first half. “Who Do You Trust” is quick with barked vocals and warped guitars that remind me just a little of fellow Kentuckians, Teal Grapefruit. The slow, weighty drone of “Palindrone” goes along for nearly seven minutes with sparse vocals, but the instrumentation and intensity swells and recedes well, keeping the track interesting throughout. “Grinding on Sand” is lo-fi and crunchy with a totally bizarre texture of lap steel (and something, maybe whistling?) – it’s really far-out. The final track, “Take 5,” is sort of a cover on the jazz piece made famous by Dave Brubeck – a brief, and fairly faithful rendition of the tune starts around the three-minute mark, sandwiched between two mirroring sections of high-energy rock.
Washed Up comes out this Friday at the band’s release show at The Burl, where I assume you’ll be able to get the album in physical form – the photography and layout of the whole package wraps the whole thing well, perfectly matching the vibe of the album. It’s exciting to see such a high-quality release from Johnny Conqueroo, and to hear them continue to grow and establish their sound. Grab yourself a copy and give it a listen when it comes out – it’s great, fun stuff.
Tracks I Liked: Washed Up!, Dancin With You!!!, Who Do You Trust?!!, Palindrone!, Grinding on Sand!, Take 5!!
Ben Southworth – November 27, 2016 – Kenwick Place