Welcome back to the Grapevine. This has been one of the strangest (or most frightening) months I’ve experienced in a long time. People hoarding toilet paper? Seriously bizarre. Since it’s best to stay in and avoid contact with people – OK, I do that a bit anyway – it’s a good time to sit back and catch some music. I’ve been listening to a lot of bands that are totally new to me. Here’s some songs that I’ve really enjoyed. A tip for discovering on your own: if you hear one of these you like, check out the other videos picked up by the algorithm. I’ve come across some great stuff that way.
First Up: House And Land – ‘Across The Field’
Talk about breaking a song down to it’s basics. This song starts with guitar and vocals (not even fretting with the left hand in the beginning). A violin carries what is basically another vocal line in the background. The drummer is working soft rhythms with felt mallets. Doesn’t seem like much. But the feeling from their version of Appalachian folk music is strong. Towards the middle of the song the guitar chords expand and the violin takes over the melody line. Changes in tempo (imagine that! – no quantizing) really add to the mood. Also love the recording in the kitchen video. If you want to really feel this, take a walk through a dark pine forest by yourself with this in your earbuds. You’ll hear the ghosts.
Next Up: Blackwater Holylight – ‘Lullabye’
While you’re walking through that dark pine forest, add this song to your list. Maybe our theme for this month is ‘spooky’. Quite appropriate. Vocals are at an instrumental level here. They blend in to the overall shoegaze feel. The sound builds as it progresses. Vocals are added over the wash of fuzzed out guitar. The drums add to this build, increasing as the song goes along. Great layering and mixing on the vocal harmonies. The sound is almost visual. Lean back against one of those pine trees and watch the ghosts float by.
Finally: Seratones – ”Gotta Get To know Ya’
Wouldn’t be a ‘Grapevine’ without a change of pace (can’t stay spooky forever). Give me a tight drum rhythm and funky bassline – I’m in heaven. I really enjoyed strapping on a bass and jamming along to this. With a rhythm this funky you could probably read a chocolate cake recipe (mmmmmm…..chocolate) over the groove and it would still make you want to dance. But Seratones put an ass-kicking vocal on top just to add to the bang. They were even nice enough to put a wonderful fuzzy lead guitar line in at about a minute and a half. If I could change this song in any way? Make it longer please!
Retro: Budgie – ‘Breaking All The House Rules’
….and coming in from left field – Budgie with ‘Breaking All The House Rules’. Budgie is one of the lesser known and much under appreciated lights of 1970’s British metal. A three piece band with a bass playing vocalist singing in the high end range. Sound familiar Rush fans? Sort of like Rush heading in to blues garage rock instead of prog. This song starts and builds on one of my all time favorite guitar riffs. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve cranked this up and played along. This song contains one of Budgie’s specialties – a great extended middle section before heading back to the first riff. Why weren’t they more well known? Hard to say. Could be because a lot of their songs hit the six or seven minute mark – not really radio friendly. Who needs radio anyway. Punch up the volume and bang along!
Even though it’s winter there are still lots of items growing on the Grapevine. As always, you have to keep searching, keep your ears open and you never know what you may find. There’s no real theme for this month’s music, just a variety of nuggets found on the winter ground. So let’s get going….(it’s much warmer if you keep moving and don’t stand still).
First Up: Money For Rope – ‘Actually’
This band from Melbourne, Australia, plays a beautiful swampy form of garage rock. Nice crisp drum sounds and enough space between the instruments where you can hear all of them. Great guitar sound, a bit ‘surf guitar’, love the reverb and tremolo that it’s bathed in. Sharp, simple bass has a prominent place in the mix. There’s a spooky keyboard lurking in the background for atmosphere. The vocals sit on top of the song, a little bit distorted and sometimes stacked for a graveyard effect. Listen for the guitar going totally fuzzed out at the end of the song.
Next Up: The Jackets – ‘Wasting My Time’
Well, maybe there is a thread in this month’s songs. International garage rock? The Jackets are from Switzerland. This has the elements I love in garage rock – simple, straight forward, in your face. Again, nice tremolo on some of the guitar parts. You listen to it and say ‘hey, I’d love to get up there and play that’. Simplicity. For me that’s meant as a compliment, not a put down. This band reminds me of The Hives (if you don’t remember them look up ‘Hate To Say I Told You So’). And I love the video. It’s like an fun-house mirror version of the Beatles ‘Help’. Matching outfits, running around fields with no purpose. Performance parts are a hoot. This is an older video, but they did put out a new album in 2019. For another great, fun video check out ‘Losers Lullaby’.
Finally: Sylvia Black – ‘Walking With Fire’
This is the slow down change of pace song. I’m a fan of David Lynch movies. And this tune is definitely being played in the Lynch Lounge. It’s the music you would hear in some underground black and red lounge bar at 3:00 in the morning. The music underneath is just the set up for the flaming vocals on top. It feels like the vocals could blow up at any time, but are kept totally under control, adding to the tension. The Lydia Lunch spoken word in the middle of the song is just bizarre – oh, how I love bizarre. Mood music for life’s strange trip.
Retro: Gang Of Four – ‘To Hell With Poverty’
Gang Of Four are one of my favorite bands from the post-punk time of the 80’s. We unfortunately lost GOF guitar player Andy Gill on February 1st at age 64. This band had a tremendous influence on the style of music I was writing at the time. Especially Dave Allen’s bass playing. The bass and drums lock in to this amazing funk groove. Then screeching, jagged guitar is dropped on top. The vocals are pretty jagged too, with a lot of fist in the air political content. Gang Of Four showed me that if the rhythm section is grooving, there’s a lot you can drop on top. GOF was the type of band that probably had more effect on other musicians than on the general public. Sure miss those shows. And – ‘to hell with poverty!’.
It’s a new year, so what should we take a look at as far as new music? Sometimes in Grapevine we’ll take a look at music that falls in to a relatively specific style. Not that long ago ‘styles’ of music were relatively basic – music was lumped in to a few large categories: ‘rock’, ‘country’, ‘jazz’, ‘classical’ etc. As ‘underground’ music became more visible, especially with the onset of the internet, labeling music went in the opposite direction. Now you can probably find fifty different variations of thrash metal.
When you try to market your music, knowing where to group it can help reach your target audience. But it’s not that simple. Ten people can listen to the same song and categorize it ten different ways. So, what to do? With ERP we’ve been expanding (and will continue to expand) the instruments we use and the styles we incorporate. With the ‘Messin’ With The Music’ series so far we’ve been adding instrumentation that is probably most associated with Americana or Bluegrass. Except a lot of the songs we cover fall under different styles of ‘rock’. So we decided (definitely tongue in cheek) to try to come up with a music category and fit in to that. Soooo…… how about ‘Dark Americana Shoegaze’? I think we’ll work ERP style towards that. Absolutely serious, uh-huh.
So for January how about we look at some different shades of ‘shoegaze’? And yes, everyone can debate whether these songs actually fall in to shoegaze. Having a dialogue is the fun part.
First Up: DIIV – ‘Taker’
This song is from their newest album ‘Deceiver’. It has a lot of what you might consider basic shoegaze elements. Trippy, heavily effected guitars. Heavily reverbed vocals mixed in more as an instrument than in front of or on top of the music. I really like the guitar sound. Especially as they sometimes pull it back to somewhat clean and then double down with a second even more distorted guitar. Drums are also fairly deep in the mix in parts of the song and more upfront in other parts. They keep the tempo at a nice ‘sludge’ pace, so you can sit back and let the sound wash over you. I recommend listening to the entire album as they do touch on a bunch of styles throughout.
Next Up: Angel Olsen – ‘New Love Cassette’
Most people would probably not consider this shoegaze. The song is built on electronic keyboard and samplers, but adds strings to the mix. The drums sound electronic, although I believe it was recorded with a live drummer. Vocals and drums are relatively upfront in the mix. I added it for a couple of reasons. It keeps the spacey, slow burn, drone sonics. The vocals are heavy with reverb and effects, yet still sound crisp in the mix. And I just like the feel. I read a review that described this song as a tune from a David Lynch movie. I think that’s a pretty good description.
Finally: Bedroom Eyes – ‘Wire’
We’ll conclude with the song ‘Wire’ from Boston band Bedroom Eyes. It’s on their 2019 album ‘Nerves’. I wanted to add this to have a more uptempo version of the shoegaze aesthetic. I think this song falls more classically in to the genre. Ringing and effect heavy guitars. Drum track more in the background. Vocals embedded deep in the mix. Vocally it’s more about voice as an instrument. You’d probably have to look up most of the lyrics to know what they are. But the feel and impact of the song shines through the haze.
Retro: My Bloody Valentine – ‘Only Shallow’
If we’re discussing shoegaze, it would be hard not to include My Bloody Valentine, especially the album Loveless. This band and album are a huge touchstone if you’re discussing shoegaze. Loveless came out in 1991. Honestly, the first time I heard it I was blown away. The sound is almost something you feel more than hear. The emotional tone is amazing. You know I love melancholia, and this song is dripping with it. The guitar sounds created using volume sustain, effects and a whammy bar (in a technique labeled ‘glide guitar’) were pretty revolutionary at the time. The whammy makes the guitar fluctuate sounding in tune and somewhat out of tune. Very tight drum sound for live drums. I’ve also read that it was recorded mostly in mono to make sure the guitars were upfront and smacked you right in the face. So strap on some headphones, light some candles and sit back and enjoy.
December in the Northeast. Daily weather report: cloudy with a chance of more cloudy ending in rain.
So we need new music to listen to. Again, in another interesting coincidence I came across a style of music I hadn’t really listened to before in two different magazines (one was not even a music magazine). It’s often known as ‘desert blues’ and is associated with the Tuareg people of northern Africa. Think of combining blues music with African drumming and time signatures. I’ve included a couple of examples. And of course we also have……..other stuff.
First Up: Tinariwan – ‘Kel Tinawen’
This song is from their recent album ‘Amajdar’. A lot to love here. First, the majority of this album was recorded live. In the middle of the desert. Using a mobile studio in a camper van. The video has some great clips from the recording. The rhythm underpinning of the song is absolutely hypnotic. All the instruments flow through the song – almost like listening to a waterfall. The first song I listened to put me in a trance and I ended up spending the night on my tablet listening to song after song. You can feel the blues in the song’s vocals. It’s so strong language doesn’t matter.
Next: Mdou Moctor – ‘Tarhatazed’
Mdou Moctor has a bit more familiar blues sound. The band’s instrumental makeup is kit drums, guitars and bass. Again, what sets it apart for me is the rhythm. A lot of 4/4 blues is stomp (and I do love a good headbanger). This just flows. I wanted to show a live video for this band. The lead guitar by Moctar is amazing. On top of the hypnotic flow is absolute shredding. I’d rather hand play guitar than use a pick, so watching him hand blaze through notes was cool. Supersonic index finger. And since it’s live performance, no overdubs or punch-ins, just nailing it. Watch the whole video. About half way through they push up the tempo and really roll. So delighted.
Finally: Bodega – ‘Truth’
What’s a good ‘chaser’ for hypnotic trance? Sharp, angular new wave. This takes me back to the early days of ‘punk’ or ‘new wave’ (or whatever you wish to call it). Bands like Television, Wire, Talking Heads. An insistent, rolling drum line. Crispy guitar lines that cut though the mix. Listen to the lyrics – the joyful snap of a great sarcastic observation. Sing along with middle finger held high. A lot of people found the great part of ‘punk’ – the primal scream of singing along to bands like The Clash. Guess what – it’s still out there if you want to find it. Pull up the lyrics to ‘Truth’ and shout along.
Retro: Sly And The Family Stone – ‘Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)’
This song (and band) pulled me body and soul in to the joy of funk along with performers like James Brown, Parliament Funkadelic, The Meters and Prince. It also made me pick up bass guitar. Spent hours trying to get the feel of players like Larry Graham, James Jamerson, Bootsy Collins and Victor Wooten. Playing bass let my turn off my brain and listen to my body. Sit back and enjoy the slap and pop on this song.
Finally. Thursday night at the Sellersville Theater I got to see Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. We’ve done several posts on them, first back around 2010 when ‘The Wages’ album came out. It’s been a long wait for a live show that I could get to. Summation of the show: great music, great performance, non-stop energy, absolutely worth the wait and I’d go see them again if they were back tomorrow. Crazy full live sound for a band with only one melodic instrument. This is the type of music I’ve really fallen in love with. Rev Peyton’s set up is simple – a guitar goes to an amp. No pedals, or extra electronics added. He plays mostly vintage guitars. Then you add Breezy Peyton on the washboard and Max Senteney on a small drum kit and make an amazingly full sound. They added a little more at the end of the show by having opening act J.D. Wilkes join them on butt kicking harmonica.
And they’re the kind of act you have to see live, especially at a more intimate venue. Loads of fun and personality. Audience participation requested and required. Non stop energy throughout the show. A good time is had by all. Stripping away instrumentation and effects makes it feel raw. It’s the total opposite of computer perfect songs and for me that makes the music feel alive. Blues you can head bang to. The Rev goes though multiple guitars from vintage resonators to three string cigar box, often switching guitars during songs.
I don’t really do phone videos when I’m at shows. I’m adding a couple of live videos that have much better quality than I would get. They’re two songs I really like, ‘Clap Your Hands’ and ‘Front Porch Trained’.
If you ever have the opportunity to see Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band live, grab a ticket when you can. You won’t be disappointed. I’d also say if you find a band you love, support them. Go to the shows, buy some CDs and merch (the Rev has some cool T-shirts). This band plays about 250 shows a year without a big label record contract. And puts out total energy each show. This is the kind of band that deserves support.
I’m finding that sometimes the monthly grapevine songs fall in to a similar theme or style. I don’t know if it’s due to the mood I’m in, the weather, or just sheer luck. That seems to have happened this month. Or it could be my imagination………..or the voices……….ummmmmmm…… sorry got off track there (feel free to comment on similarities you see). Anyway, off we go…
Saron Van Etten – ‘Memorial Day’
Nothing cheers me up more on a cold, rainy day than a good drone. Yes, I’m serious. I like the simple drums. The drone buzz here is carried by the fuzzed out bass. The keyboards have their own repeating rifts with a nice piece of droning noise in the background. The vocals play off of this, floating on top. And you get to see how it’s generated live. Always cool to visually see how parts go together. Putting all the relatively simple pieces together in their own little orbits makes the sound mesmerizing.
The Willows – ‘False Light’
I liked the mix of sounds on this one. It’s built on a ‘folk’ feel. But it has the electric guitar layering in the background with a lot of sustain and reverb as well as a more standard drum kit. Although not truly a ‘live’ video, you do get shots of matched performance footage so you can see what/how people are playing. I like the banjo player playing it more like a guitar with a regular guitar pick style. Banjo is often thought of only in terms of bluegrass and it’s interesting seeing it put to different use.
Baskery – ‘Wanna Tattoo’
So we have another video of what I call ‘matched performance’ playing along to the recorded song. I really liked the song when I first heard it. I’ve been in to good ol’ swampy blues music from Creedence Clearwater Revival, though The Gun Club and The Immortal Lee County Killers. So this simple, buzzy thump caught my ear. Then I saw this video. Now it’s even more fun. Fuzz on the double bass! Floor pedaled kick and snare! A six string banjo with distortion and slide (while playing the foot drums)! Recording wise, just enough reverb on the vocals and all the instruments are crystal clear. Now that’s a party.
Adding some retro:
Echo And The Bunnymen – ‘All That Jazz’
Sometimes I’m listening to an album I’ve heard a million times before and I have that little flashback of why I loved it in the first place and why it still sounds great. This song is from Echo And The Bunnymen’s first album ‘Crocodiles’. Starting with simple riffed bass and drums with vocals, it explodes in to heavily trebled guitar, drops back down and starts all over again. The vocals match the intensity of the parts being played. I did a lot of recording where I was working for that whip crack snare sound. Even the bass has a good amount of attack on it. All the components have their own clear space in the mix. This album will never grow old for me.
With a new year unfolding I thought it would be a good time to present some more bands that released albums in 2018 that I enjoyed and got the gears in my brain turning.
First, Parquet Courts ‘Wide Awake’. The song reminds me of much of the ‘post-punk’ funk I enjoyed from the 1980’s, like Talking Heads first forays in to that style.
I’d recommend getting the full Wide Awake CD. They play a variety of styles on the album, all of them really well done. Also really enjoyed the song ‘Total Football’. I still buy full CD albums. First, I like hearing the songs in wav format as compared to MP3s. Second, support the bands you like.
Another great album from last year was Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs ‘Clippety Clop’. An album of stripped down covers and traditionals many of them with that old time ‘Southern Gothic’ feel. Like hand pluckin’ an acoustic guitar sittin’ on a tombstone in a cemetery at twilight (and yes, I already know I’m a bit odd). First song is ‘Horses In The Mines’.
They also do a cover of the traditional ‘Two White Horses’. You can find an early version of the song by The Two Poor Boys on YouTube. Here’s the Brokeoffs version:
As I listened to it, it seemed familiar from somewhere else. Beck did a wonderfully spooky rewrite version of it on his Guero album. He kept the basic tag line of the song and wrote his own chords and verses to come up with ‘Farewell Ride’. For years musicians have worked from old traditional songs. Wonderfully done shivers.
‘Till we meet again.
I stumbled across this song from a book I read called Stillhouse Lake, by Rachel Caine – good read and the music she lists at the end is awesome. So check it out.
This is one of the titles I particularly liked – and of course, the lyrics are way cool – the beat is catchy.
Lo Fidelity All Stars – Battleflag (came out around 2008, um, where have I been?)
So on to serious business… I have a great surprise coming out next week from the studio. Got to work with a really great guy and had a great time recording with him.
Until next week, hit play and turn it up!
One of the great things about music is the way it can generate emotions and trigger memories and feelings. I’m particularly drawn to songs that bring out feelings of melancholy. Although melancholy is usually defined as sadness, often with no obvious cause, I also consider the feeling as nostalgic, flooding back memories from days gone by. Do you have any songs you listen to that can bring you to tears? Or bring flashbacks from past experiences? If you really analyze a song that does that for you, is it the chords and notes played? the chord progression? the vocal style? the lyrics? I’ve included three songs I really enjoy that do this for me. Different styles, even different eras, but they wash over me like a river and do what music does best: bring out feelings and memories.
First a song from Kurt Vile, ‘Pretty Pimpin’, that has all the things I love, great finger picking chord progressions, lyrics that make you ponder about your day to day life and a nostalgic feeling of what is my life about and what could it be?
Next a song from Wolf Alice, ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’. Ever feel different, like an outcast? Personally I strove to be an ‘outcast’ in my younger years. I love the feeling of being part of something that most people don’t connect to. Being part of a tribe. Great shoegaze style guitar in the song. Also love the videos of the these songs. I think they do a great job of matching the visuals to the music.
Finally, a song by The Replacements, ‘Unsatisfied’. This song came out at a time my life was in turmoil and seemed to encapsulate everything I was feeling. If you’re not familiar with The Replacements and the album the song is on, ‘Let It Be’ I highly recommend taking a listen. The entire album is a gem. It was the soundtrack of my life for a few years. Listen to the lyrics and tell me you haven’t felt this way at some point in your life.
As a songwriter I live to compose songs that carry this kind of weight. Hope these songs strike a chord in you. Fell free to share any songs with us that do this for you.
I found these guys through a friend at work. I really wanted to review it because I think this is one of those situations where the genre may not be what your into per se, but you can appreciate what you are hearing.
Hatebeak, is out of Baltimore and their vocalist is an African Grey parrot. Yes, you read that right – a parrot. Not only is that unique, it’s certainly a testament to the idea that with music, just about anything goes – depending on how you do it. In the song (link provided below) the drummer literally sounds like a beat machine (in a good way). For all I know, there may be parts of this song that are. Either way, whoever did their editing and mixing knew what they were doing.
Just in case you are wondering, they don’t tour because it wouldn’t be optimal for Waldo (the parrot). I am not sure it’s optimal for people either, but such is life. Give ’em a listen and check out Reptilian Records other releases on SoundCloud. Have a good Easter, be happy, fluffy bunnies, jelly beans, etc.
Hatebeak, Number of the Beak, Seven Perches