Though the members of The City Never Sleeps hail from all corners of New York state”Albany, Middletown, and Oneonta”none live in the city to which their name refers. The irony ends there, however. Musically, TCNS is all about earnestness delivered via tight, stylized songs with snap. On Mr. Hide a percussive bass, jutting guitars, and glossy boy-girl harmonies create a taut little rocker buffed to a shine, with a gnarly guitar solo to boot. Return to Sender features an exhaustive revue of guitars that stretch, scribble, grunt, and thrust all over the pop rock melody. But on Crumble At The Fault, the band switches things up, sewing a bit of jazz into the blissed-out ballad. Glistening guitars nip and synths sigh as singer John Glenn admits, Sometimes I feel just fine. We know the feeling, dude.
AM to AM is led by Will Tendy, a guitarist/songwriter/producer/engineer who’s manned the sound board for indie luminaries like Melissa Auf der Maur and Morningwood. But his skills at the console are just one of the many reasons AM to AM sounds so good. Tendy”along with bandmates Sarah Goldstone, Jonathan Schmidt, Peter Recine, and Derek McWilliams”builds dynamic, swaggering rockers layer by layer. Spot of Light, with its rhythmic lashings and high falsetto soul, makes for a jagged dance party. There’s a lot going on here”stomping drums, bluesy guitars, choppy keys, and big digital swaths of fuzz. But Tendy’s production chops bring all the elements working together for the common good. Sew and Outline set forth gunfire guitars, pummeling drums, and polyrhythms for intense, stylized melees. But if you want a kinder kind of lashing, skip to Pop As Science and see how one of their bubblier melodies can still hurt so good.
It takes a mighty presence to hold an arena-sized audience captive. And though Kat Robichaud, who fronts Raleigh-based band The Design, has spent the bulk of her career on smaller stages, she’s the kind of heavyweight performer who could shake the rafters of a stadium. Armed with a muscular contralto, the singer powers through theatrical rockers that harken back to the ˜80s. Young America is the soundtrack to defiance, a stomping gutter groove for those with their jaws firmly jutted out. But even protestors like to take things to the dance floor now and then, and Sing, Girl, Sing provides the chunky rock guitars, a funk bass line, and angular percussion to get things moving. Still, The Design is a band that thrives on dissent, and nowhere is their unrest more palatable than on Burn” a rallying cry sounded by syncopated drums and a salvo of gnarly guitars. I will not be found wanting, Robichaud warns. No, ma’am. Absolutely not.
There’s something about the music of Really Old Airplanes that reminds one of old nautical towns with their creaking buildings, eccentric townsfolk and a salt-cured way of life. Or maybe that’s just us. But there’s no arguing the fact that the Tacoma band’s music is steeped in a sort of roughshod romance. Armed with an unusual assortment of instruments”ukulele, keyboards, bass, drums, cello and bells”Really Old Airplanes lead you into a world of slightly disheveled, bright-eyed melodies. Perennials wheezes and twinkles with bells and accordion. Singer Kory Mathis delivers a swaying, sing-a-long chorus that could bring a tear to any drunkard’s eye: Shoulder to shoulder, it’s over and we’ve met our end. Pleasantries holds you in thrall with fluid, fluttering strings, horns and croaking keys. Likewise Crown, with its big, swirling constellation of keyboards and harpsichord, casts its own sort of folk magic. Fans of Neutral Milk Hotel, Beirut or Decemberists”you’re gonna wanna get all up on this.
If you can judge a band by the number of big names it’s affiliated with, then Man On Earth is doing OK. A feature in TIME magazine, gigs with Perry Farrell and The White Tie Affair, a guest appearance on their record by Stephen Pearcy from RATT”things could be worse. Here’s what everyone’s fussing over: stylish, dancey rockers like Staring At Your Phone, where the deep grumble of bass and serpentine guitars get the adrenaline flowing. Man On Earth has a lot of muscle, but there’s heart, too. The dreamy, gossamer Venus begins with a speech by John F. Kennedy during the Space Race. If that doesn’t get you in a sentimental frame of mind, then maybe All We Want will. A salvo of guitars, racing drums and piercing synths build an anthemic rallying cry”part U2 and part Cure. Maybe Man on Earth isn’t at the level of those bands yet. Give them time; they’re on a roll.
“Staring At Your Phone” – Man On Earth
In the oversaturated marketplace that is the music industry, true originals can sometimes get lost in the crowd. Be glad Dolly Johnston isn’t slipping past your attention. Johnston’s songs are treasure troves of uncommon instruments and complicated arrangements. As a composer, her intellect is undeniable, but her real talent is her ability to make fun, frisky music out of the strangest of bedfellows. Like Wind At My Back, where a theremin, a baritone guitar, a computer and some woodwinds join together in a percussive romp that’s part surf music, part tango, part Goldfrapp. Bang Bang, with its tambourine shambles, electronic bleeps and ropy guitars, is garage rock go-go for the 21st century. On the subversive Ghetto Blaster, Johnston lends her velvety, feline alto (similar to fellow Canadian Emily Haines) to an ode to the redemptive powers of the boom box. Take a pill, it’s only a song, she teases. Yeah, but what a song it is.
California’s Local Natives have slowly but surely strummed, drummed and sung their way to the top of critics’ and general listeners’ It list. The outfit of five, comprising Taylor Rice (lead vocals, guitar), Kelcey Ayer (vocals, keyboards, percussion, guitar), Ryan Hahn (guitar, keyboards, mandolin, vocals), Andy Hamm (bass, backing vocals) and Matt Frazier (drums) officially formed five years ago, with the innocent intention of following their hearts by making meaningful music. Says Ayer, We didn’t have a lot of money; we had a passion.
From the lyrical content to the instrumental arrangements, the exhilarating live delivery to the pristinely produced disc, the quintet has succeeded in amassing both a cult and commercial following. Of their rise from at one time attracting a sum of five show-goers to performing nine sold-out sets at SXSW (not to mention roughly 200 other shows over the course of the past year-and-a-half), Ayer admits, It’s pretty incredible. I don’t think there’s any other word to describe it. He humbly elaborates; It’s those [small] shows that make [bigger] shows so much more special. The process wasn’t simple, he explains. It didn’t happen overnight. We earned it. This band has always been about longevity. I think that will help us in the long run.
Performing in Manhattan last week at a Ray Ban-sponsored SPIN showcase for CMJ, Local Natives took the stage close to 11:45 and played until 12:30. Before emerging, the longtime friends gathered backstage in a huddle, a more modest and adorable assembly of the classic football pre-play rally. Speaking of the specific show, which took place at Lafayette Street’s Firehouse, Rice shares, Our live performance is a lot more energetic; has raw energy to it. At a small party vibe venue, like this, it’ll come off a lot more that way. ‘Tis true. They tore into their album, proving their rock star status by playing their hearts out. There was no lack of enthusiasm for these limelight pros. Rice commanded the mic, but a great deal of their appeal has to do with their powerful harmonies, which were in full force. Ayer took the lead on Airplanes, given the fact that he wrote it about his father’s father, whom he never met. All members were impressive, but Ayer takes the cake, earning major cred when balancing both keyboard and percussion simultaneously. Right hand plucks keys as left hand soars over other to tap his solitary drum. Pat head, rub belly much? Wow. And to think, this guy used to be, as he confessed, A server at a California Pizza Kitchen.
Rice, who before becoming LN’s lead sold products door-to-door (I was hawking really expensive kitchen cutlery to housewives in Orange County), says he enjoys intimate engagements as well as massive festivals; There’s a different type of connection when it’s a mass of people versus a sweaty club packed to the gills. I like the fact that we get to mix it up. Local Natives wound down the evening with the amped anthem Sun Hands, a pulsating song that manages somehow to channel the precise clip-clop pattern a horse makes when galloping. This thanks to Frazier, whose severe focus is evident when staring, mouth agape, from stage right. And he seemed so unassuming! Color me floored by their collective and unflinching gifts.
Perhaps the most recently buzzed about Local Natives venture is their music video for Wide Eyes, a soaring and somber number with so much more lurking beneath its surface. Much akin to the antagonist co-starring in said mini-narrative: a shark, who stalks a suburban man, flaunting his fins everywhere the increasingly insecure individual goes. Undoubtedly this cinematic decision aroused some questions about the band. Maybe they’ve an underlying desire to feature their twinkling track on Shark Week? Hahn fills in the blanks matter-of-factly; I’ve got a fear of sharks. They always make fun of me. So why go viral with a phobia? I had the idea for the video a long time ago. Many of our ideas were way out of budget. It was a play on my ridiculous fear of sharks, he laughs.
So, what’s next for this party of five? After enough bus travel time to make you hate highways, the boys are stoked to get back in the studio. That is, after writing the entire record, a shared responsibility. Of the experience, Frazier says, We’ve learned so much. He hints at the sophomore follow-up: The bits and pieces of songs we have so far are really promising. Ayer adds, Everyone’s excited to jump into it next year. Next year can’t come soon enough for fans, including this chick. But, for now, I’ll keep my impatient chin up; they’re returning to the Big Apple this Friday to blow away Webster Hall.
By Nell Alk
Nell Alk is a culture and entertainment reporter based in New York. Her work has appeared in Paper Magazine, InterviewMagazine.com, Zink Magazine and BlackBookMag.com, among others. She also contributes to NBC’s Niteside blog.
From the humble basement of a Portland, Oregon residence, upstart indie record label Amigo/Amiga Recordings has just released the self-titled debut album from Godfather artist Drew Grow & The Pastors’ Wives. The record dropped officially on Tuesday, September 14th, and is available on white vinyl with a digital download. The band recorded their debut full-length themselves in their home, crooning and plunking around on pianos and wooden things, singing their hearts out, and their passion is palpable.
Drew Grow–who has been making music for over 15 years–and his band play a kind of music that’s best described as alt-gospel. Distorted, it’s got the stomps, it’s got the holler; it’s cathartic. It’s soulful and wise; it’ll take you on a heavenly breeze to the river one moment, and punch you in the gut the next (in a good way). Rollicking; full of impassioned vocals with the feel of the album being more the buttress than musical key or precision. This album is so full of impressive melody and harmony, story, color, heart, joy, and trembling honesty that listening to it only drives you to step outside. Their harmony and choiresque lines have been likened to Spiritualized, but with Grow and his band’s breadth and preternatural sense of variation, this comparison falls short. The song Bootstraps is reminiscent of the ever fuzzed-out BRMC, who did dip into gospel and Americana for an album but never seemed to wrangle punk, gospel, Americana and shoegaze together as seamlessly and as fluid as Drew Grow & The Pastors’ Wives.
The standout third track, Friendly Fire harkens to the greats: Cash, Waits (circa Mule Variations) and at the same time nothing else ever recorded. Grow has an astoundingly talented group of three alongside him in Jeremiah Hayden (who runs the label too) on drums, vocals and percussion; Kris Doty, who plays the standup bass and contributes vocals, and Seth Shaper on keys, slide guitar, and you guessed it: vocals. My two favorite tracks on this album are Hook, and It All Comes Right.
Check out the band performing “Company” live below.
Paul G. Maziar is a writer and published author, newly relocated from Brooklyn to Portland, OR. His writing has been featured in BlackBook Mag, ISM Quarterly, BPM Mag, Lost in a Supermarket, Celeste Magazine (Mexico), The Tripwire, and ‘The Good Things About America’ Anthology.