The Wandas: OurStage Artist Of The Week

The Wandas rarely deliver exactly what you expect. When this writer happened upon their afternoon set at South By Southwest a couple of years ago, they were about three-quarters of the way through and had nearly reached the crashing crescendo that would find them spilling off the small roofdeck stage and into the enthusiastic crowd, instruments held aloft, strummed, banged, and fedback, for what seemed like the entire last song.

The band and I happened to be leaving the venue at the same time and when I told them how I’d enjoyed the set, they handed me their self-titled 12 LP. Based on their show, I looked forward to a hooky, high-octane garage rock romp. Yes, a romp, dammit. What I heard was indeed energetic rock and roll, but it was deeper, more thoughtful and introspective. It was the first new album I’d heard in a while that contained honest-to-god guitar work, in the vein of Television and Neil Young. It was psych and pop and jamming, all rolled into a concise musical language. I knew what they meant.

Now, a new album for 2013. New Interface (A Design with Friends for the Future) was released June 25th. And once again, the band has confounded expectations with appreciable growth. Having fully realized on their first album the often-elusive cohesion of being in a gritty yet cerebral rock band, The Wandas have added a diverse songwriting palette, highlighted by increasingly elaborate and deliberate production.

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Lady Lamb the Beekeeper: Pro Artist Of The Week, New LP Review

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper is this week’s OurStage Pro Artist of the Week. You may remember her (a.k.a. Aly Spaltro) from such exclusive recording sessions as OurStage’s Songs of the Revolution or from such MTV Needle in the Haystack spotlights as this one.

OurStage Songs of the Revolution session:

The music of Lady Lamb the Beekeeper is, in quick summary, impactful, melodic, abstract, often stark, and drenched in alluring imagery. Usually armed only with her instrument (which can vary) and confident voice, Spaltro commands the attention of any audience.

In the three years since her first feature on OurStage, the initially impressive Maine to Brooklyn transplant has grown even further as a songwriter and performer, and has gained a growing swell of well-deserved national attention. This week, she releases her new LP for Ba Da Bing! Records, Ripely Pine.

In contrast with her prior releases, which were often home demos marked by sonic and stylistic experimentation, Ripely Pine is beautifully recorded “ perhaps as close to ˜slick’ as she, or we, would want the music to be. The spare nature of Lady Lamb’s music is essential to its force “ her voice is the driver and the focus. Yet somehow Spaltro and producer Nadim Issa manage to create a soft atmosphere around her plaintive vocals and un-adorned guitar that make it all feel quite lush. Between the ambient noise, layered vocals, and well-tamed reverb, songs like Little Brother are as potent and fulfilling as though they were fully orchestrated. Conversely, Mezzanine features significant string and woodwind parts, yet strikes as hard as any punk song.

New to the table are full-band songs like Bird Balloon, which swings in an Elliott Smith/Heatmiser kind of way, with a very Smiths-esque melodic turn in one section (since we’re doling out comparisons) and a very pretty break-down bridge. Yes, it veers pretty wildly, and that is one of the hallmarks of the record, and one of Spaltro’s unique talents “ she is quite an arranger. While some songs remain simple, they rarely have easily classifiable verse-chorus-bridge parts, and the more complicated songs are built with parts that are more like movements.

Ripely Pine is bizarre and beautiful, the fully realized sound of a musical thinker whose output could be described as joyous, despite its often melancholy imagery and its frankly pained and raw delivery. It is simply a thrill to listen to music so unpredictable and in love with music itself.

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Review: Local Natives – 'Hummingbird'

Writing a sophomore album is a tricky prospect, especially when a band has received a massive amount of buzz and critical praise in relation to their relatively short lifespan. Groups crumble all the time under the weight of these expectations “ whether from themselves or from the media “ and often are unable to recapture the magic of their first major release: the one that they had their entire lives to conjure, instead of just a few months between tours and promotion. The rapid pace of the blogosphere has magnified the effect of this pressure, churning out new acts by the day that are effective sonic replacements for any formerly beloved group that has failed to pass muster on a new release. Add in the democratic and anonymous nature of the Internet, which emboldens the opinionated to release the type of caustic criticism that most would hide in person, and it is understandable why many bands today would have some trepidation regarding the release of new material.

Local Natives seem like they may be aware of, if not certainly reactive to, these perils. In part, because their second release Hummingbird does not stray far stylistically from Gorilla Manor, the debut album that put the Los Angeles group on the map in 2010. The band’s chiming guitar parts and multi-part harmonies remain, as do their intricate percussion lines that often form the focal points of their studio compositions and their energetic live shows. For some bands, the re-creation of a uniform sonic profile reminiscent of a past release could be interpreted as an insurance against loss, a way to satisfy those listeners who are expecting more of the same from a band they already enjoy. For other groups, the preservation of the same style could simply signify their love of that particular sound, and their desire to wring it dry for all of its latent value.

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Album Review: Dropkick Murphys – 'Signed And Sealed In Blood'

Being from Boston, it’s hard to go a day without hearing about the new album from Dropkick Murphys. Though they have seven studio albums out already, the promise of new irish punk jams from the group that has served as this city’s personal soundtrack since 1996 is enough to get people talking, and this time there is plenty to discuss.

Signed And Sealed In Blood is the first new material to surface from Dropkick Murphys since 2011’s Going Out In Style. As a whole, the album showcases the Murphys at their absolute finest, with more than enough chants, heartfelt lyricism, and foot-stomping anthems to ensure their status as America’s go-to irish punk outfit lasts for years to come. There is a certain undeniable hook to the opening lines of “The Boys Are Back” that reels in even the most distracted listener with the promise of good times to come. This continues into “Prisoner’s Song,” which fans of “Shipping Up To Boston” will likely lose their minds over as driving drums and gang vocals paint an audible portrait of a crew banding together aboard the seven seas. (more…)

Review: Blink-182's 'Dogs Eating Dogs' EP

Three weeks after its release, many of you long-time Blink-182 fans have probably given a listen to their new 5-track EP, Dogs Eating Dogs. I must admit, I was a bit apprehensive putting my headphones on, as I was not too thrilled with the results of their 2011 reunion album, Neighborhoods. Recent press and interviews with the band, however, indicated a possible shift in the right direction. Drummer Travis Barker was quoted saying, To me, this EP is a hundred times better than Neighborhoods. The band realizing that there was something not quite right with the prior LP bode well for the EP. Neighborhoods was apparently recorded via file sharing, where each member individually worked their parts out and sent them back and forth, rather than working collectively. Having recently parted with their long-time label, Interscope Records, Blink hit the studio on their own for the first time since Flyswatter (throwback much?) and did so in traditional fashion – together, as a band.

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Review: Black Veil Brides – 'Wretched And Divine: The Story Of The Wild Ones'

The rise of Black Veil Brides has been one earned from lengthy tours and stopping at nothing to connect with disenfranchised youth worldwide. You’ve likely heard of them, or at the very least seen a photo of their Mac cosmetic loving selves (usually shirtless) striking a defiant pose. Comparisons to bands to other image heavy bands like Kiss are inescapable, but they are also not far from the truth. Much like the rock gods who delivered Destroyer, Black Veil Brides have built a devoted following that relentlessly follow the band (and their brand)’s every move, and in 2013 they look to recruit even more followers with their Sophomore effort, Wretched And Divine: The Story Of The Wild Ones. (more…)