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
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
Psychedelic Doo-Wop Pop
Hop Hop Records – January 29th, 2016
Idiot Glee is a musician that most who are interested in Lexington music are acquainted with to some extent – Idiot Glee is the newest album, and the best, most representative yet. This self-titled release is the first release since Four, and the first released through Lexington’s Hop Hop Records since Life Without Jazz was issued close to three years back. It’s no coincidence, I think, that this album is self-titled, even if it comes more than five years, more than five albums into the Idiot Glee discography. The album captures elements of all the past releases – the songwriting of Four, the texture and ambience of The Prairie, the clarity of Life Without Jazz – and combines them all into something distinctly and simply defined as Idiot Glee.
The album is also the most album-like of any release thus far. “Deep Warm Something” sounds much like it’s titled, easing you into the album with whirling electronic tones before giving away into an uptempo ragtime-esque piano-driven groove. With your palette effectively cleansed, “Baby (I Could Be Your Bone)” is a hazy, rich, mid-tempo, danceable tune with a catchy guitar hook and a lengthy instrumental outro. “What’s That Smell?” is a fun, nearly surfy track, and recalls some of the piano of the intro track – the instrumental breaks between verses getting noisier and more distorted as the song progresses. Slowing back down, “I Don’t Feel Right” grooves steadily as Friley offers offers one of the most personal lyrics of the album, mixed with a really gorgeous midpoint – listen closely when the psychedelic, doo-woppy wave of synthesizers, drum machines, and “why don’t I” crashes into the second half of the song. A shorter instrumental interlude, “Chinese New Year” is thoroughly reminiscent of the more ambient music found on The Prairie, but is not simply a throwaway track – it sets up the second half of the LP, while carefully keeping momentum under close control.
The album’s latter half starts out strongly with the first single, “Evergreen Psycho” – a richly produced track mixing acoustic guitar, piano, and bright keyboards as it relates the story of an evergreen tree befriending a cactus, only to steal the water it holds inside. The two tracks that follow were among the last on the album to leave an impression on me, but particularly interesting ones nonetheless. “Personal Computer Television” is orchestrated much like another track from The Prairie but with almost unsettling lyrics, like “have you ever told your brother / mom / priest / sis they’re just the same” as it simmers down to a quiet close. Friley looks to the future on “The Whip” as he sings about teaching “the kids how to write a hook,” punctuating verses with increasingly noisy guitar breaks. “Chinese New Year Reprise” settles things back down a little, leading straight into the last song. “The River” is a picture perfect ‘final track’ to an album, and a beautiful one at that – after an introduction of only piano and harmonized vocals, it bursts richly into the second half of the song and gives Idiot Glee a sense of definite closure.
All in all, this album listens all the way through better than anything Idiot Glee has put out thus far. And though it might sound familiar to those who have listened to past albums, it seems confidently the most illustrative of the sound that James Friley wants to achieve. The songs are more intimately personal than before, the orchestration is brilliant, the production is pristine, and Idiot Glee is an album absolutely representative of its maker.
Tracks I Liked: Baby (I Could Be Your Bone)!!, What’s That Smell?, I Don’t Feel Right!!!, Evergreen Psycho!!!, Personal Computer Television, The Whip!, The River!!
Ben Southworth – January 28th, 2016 – Kenwick Place
Dreamy Art Pop
October 16th, 2015 – Winspear Records
Back in July, Pomegranates announced they’d be playing one more show at the Southgate House Revival after having taken a nearly two-year break. The show was a vehicle to release Healing Power, an album that had gone unreleased since it was recorded in 2012 and 2013, and was a long-awaited reunion for the band and its fans. Though the album didn’t get picked up by any labels back in 2013, it was released digitally this past October through Bloomington, Indiana’s Winspear Records and as a run of one hundred sparkling gold cassettes.
For those familiar with previous Pomegranates albums, Healing Power might strike you as a little different than what you’ve heard before. Heaven was a collection of ten pop-perfect indie rock tunes and Everybody, Come Outside! was an intricate art rock opera. Despite the fact that it listens a little differently as an album, Healing Power certainly sounds like a Pomegranates record – it’s moody, poppy, dreamy, and the vocals of Joey Cook and Isaac Karns are distinct. What makes this album unlike other Pomegranates albums, though, is its texture. Kick drums and guitars and basses are overdriven, warbling synthesizers are higher in the mix – even on the softer tunes, things are noisier here, and it’s great.
It’s tough to tell whether the songs on Healing Power take themselves too seriously or not seriously at all – perhaps they take themselves just seriously enough. “Friends” starts with the announcement “this one goes out to all my friends,” and feels like the perfect way for a band like Pomegranates to say thanks to their loyal supporters. My favorite track of the album is “House of My Mortal Father,” a grungy anthem about Cook moving to a new city away from home – it ends with a combination of shimmering guitars, electronics, and at their reunion in October it was choreographed with windmill strokes on the guitar. “Hand of Death” is a totally ridiculous song, especially because of the minute and a half it spends pretending to end before Karns comes back to tell you “first rule in life: you gotta make sure that you’re alive” and “you gotta let go of death (see you later bad guys!).”
As intense as those three tracks are, they’re sprinkled between much spacier, softer songs. “Constant Companion” is a beautiful, drifting track tethered by a steady beat as Isaac sings choruses of “constant companion, I wish that I could see you, baby, but I’m blind.” “Taking it Easy” is a smooth centerpiece to the album, and reprises the tune of the intro and outro tracks before it gets carried out by distortion and noise. Another favorite of mine is “Soul Crossing,” another gorgeous track that burns slowly and dreamily as Joey sings “I feel like I’m a soul crossing the highway in the dead of night / can’t see where I’m going, but I’m sure it’ll be alright.”
Altogether, Healing Power is definitely different than other albums in the Pomegranates discography, but unmistakably a Pomegranates album, nonetheless. It’s a more than satisfying way of tying up the loose ends of the Pomegranates run, and certainly worth the extra wait.
Tracks I Liked: Friends!!, Constant Companion!!, Hand of Death, Taking it Easy!, House of My Mortal Father!!!, Soul Crossing!!!
Ben Southworth – January 3rd, 2016 – Kenwick Place
On Friday, Lexington’s Idiot Glee announced that they’d be releasing their self-titled album on January 29th. Idiot Glee will be released through Hop Hop Records and is the first release since Four was released about a year and a half ago in 2014. Given the album notes uploaded on Bandcamp, and much like previous releases, this album looks to be made mostly of the sounds of its central musician, James Friley – though there will be some additional sounds on a few tracks from Case Mahan and Jamie Adkins, both members of the live band. The album art, which is pictured, was created by renown Lexington artist, Robert Beatty – who has done work for several of Idiot Glee’s previous releases. Stephen Trask, another Lexingtonian known for writing the music for Hedwig and the Angry Inch, helped produce the album – his presence is evident in the remarkable fullness and fidelity that is found on the single that was shared.
“Evergreen Psycho” is embedded below, and is a bit of a departure from the more dominant sounds on previous Idiot Glee albums, but it also feels like the natural progression. Gone are the old-school drum machines that made up Life Without Jazz and Paddywhack, as well as the lo-fi tape warble of Four. Instead, it’s replaced with spotless production, layers of keyboards, and nearly a psychedelic haze. If you’re an Idiot Glee fan, you’ve probably already heard it – if you haven’t, you should give it a play:
Ben Southworth – November 15th, 2015 – William T. Young Library