June has arrived. We’re in to the middle of the year 2020. And everything is still weird. I guess we’re all just trying to make the best of what is turning out to be one of the strangest years I can remember. Part of me just wants it to be over. Fast forward to January 2021. But there’s no way to tell if things will be any better by then. And I’m too old to be willing to give up six months of my time. So thank goodness we still have access to music and art. I miss the energy of seeing bands live, but I still have the ability to search out and find new (and sometimes old) music that can lift the spirits or make you think. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what’s cooking this month.
First Up: Six Organs Of Admittance – ‘The 101’
One of the main thoughts constantly going through my head right now is “I wish I was……..”. I wish I was hiking the edge of a cliff, going to view a glacier. I wish I was on a deep forest trail. This song is ‘I wish I were on a two lane road, cruising up the California coast’. Route 101 runs up the west coast from Los Angeles, California to northern Washington. The song captures that windows down, cruising feel. Nice mix of acoustic and electric sounds. The acoustic repeating riffs create that trance like repetition with bursts of electric jam noise rolling in and out of the mix. The vocals are buried in the mix and maintain the trance inducing effect, like singing words to a song when you don’t really know the lyrics (yup – do that all the time). I also like the video. The idea of hauling my guitar rig in to deserted woods and jamming away (yeah, I know, no electricity – remember, this is ‘I wish’). Great shots of the strange and beautiful sights you see on that road. Roll down your windows and smoke ’em if ya got ’em.
Next Up: Fire In The Radio – ‘Tulare’
Tulare is a great example of classic indie rock. The mix is exactly what I would want in a song. Instruments and vocals all hold their own clearly audible place in the mix. The guitars have a nice buzz but are crisp and sharp. Perfect snap on the snare drum, high enough in the mix to drive everything forward without over powering it. Changes in dynamics pull you in to the song. The band said they were trying to create a feel of nostalgia with the song and video and I think they absolutely achieved their goal. The video mix of band performance and old video scenes are a perfect background for the song, enhancing the feel of nostalgia the song is trying to deliver. There are many ways to enjoy a song. The movement and sound of each instrument, the sonic kick of a well placed chord or a change in dynamics. But one of the best is the emotion a song can make you feel. ‘Tulare’ certainly delivers that emotion.
Finally: Smoke Fairies – ‘Disconnect’
We’ll finish up with Smoke Fairies ‘Disconnect’ from their album ‘Darkness Brings The Wonders Home’. It seems that I’ve put in three songs this month that all carry some emotional weight. In this song the emotion really comes to the front in the vocals and lyrics. They are put out in front of the musical elements of the song. The main vocal has a sad minor key feel and is presented in a lower register. The harmonies drift behind the main vocal. The music is carried by a guitar riff in the verses that turns to a more distorted chord pattern in the chorus. The drum sound in the back is pretty dry without a lot of reverb that would usually make the snare sound bigger. The main vocals are also relatively dry, which puts them more ‘in your face’. It was a good choice for this song. Little mixing choices like that are really important in making a song ‘feel’ a certain way. I think they made all the right choices in ‘Disconnect’.
Retro: X – ‘The Have Nots’
X has to be one the most underappreciated bands to come out of the punk era. They put out a string of consistently amazing albums beginning with their debut album ‘Los Angeles’ (note – X just released a new album with the original line up). They mixed punk with rockabilly, indie rock, Americana and variety of other genres to create an amazing sound. On top was the always strange and interesting vocal mix of Exene and John Doe, with lyrics that ran more towards beat poetry than punk screaming. I’ve always felt that Billy Zoom’s guitar playing was far above what you would hear in most rock bands, especially for bands that were put in to the ‘punk’ category. If you’ve ever worked at a job that was just a ‘job’ and remember surviving the day so you could meet your friends at the local dive, this song was written for you. Truth in lyrics = “Dawn comes soon enough for the working class. It keeps getting sooner or later. This is the game that moves as you play”.
Welcome back to another Grapevine recent listening post. Like most cautious people we’ve been hunkered down in our houses as much as possible trying to ride out the storm. And like most people that cuts us off from some things we’d like to do. We have a number of new ‘Messin’ songs and other videos and tunes that are almost completed and we’d like to finish. But our families come first and we’re taking no chances so we do what we can through the internet and the rest will be completed when the time is right. For all our readers please stay safe.
So let’s see what we have for this month. I got to listen to a number of bands I haven’t heard before (along with some I have) and these are the ones that stuck with me the most.
First Up: The Haden Triplets – ‘Memories Of Will Rogers’
This song is from their recent album The Family Songbook. This is another instance where I would recommend listening to the whole album. The sister’s musical background is really interesting. Their father is well known jazz bass player Charlie Haden who played with Ornette Coleman and others. Their grandfather was Carl Haden whose Haden Family Band played with The Carter Family and other ‘backwoods’ country bands of the time. Quite a legacy to live up to. This album covers songs from that older era, many of them with spare instrumentation and beautiful three part harmony. I selected ‘Memories Of Will Rogers’ for it’s fuller band sound and the fact that it brings back memories of late 60’s, early 70’s country rock. Listen for the vocals flowing behind the slide guitar on the break.
Next Up: Sonny Landreth – ‘Mule’
The first reason I selected this tune is simply the absolutely awesome slide guitar. Landreth is one of the best and has some unique techniques like fretting chords and notes with his other left hand fingers behind the slide and really crisp right hand finger playing work, sometimes tapping and often using a thumb pick. So smooth. Landreth is from Louisiana and this song brings a New Orleans zydeco feel to the mix. The vocals are a great match for the song. If you listen there are some other cool instrumental parts in the mix like the organ after the lead break and a great accordion part at the end. Couldn’t stop tapping my feet.
Finally: Mush – ‘Alternative Facts’
This song would have been right at home during the mid to late 80s post punk era. Think in terms of bands like Wire, Television and Pavement. Crisp, stinging guitar share the spotlight with the spoken/sung vocals. Some twisted, gnarly guitar runs come in and out as the song progresses. Several times the guitars feel like they’re about to fall apart towards a song ending. Nope. Everything just cranks back up again. The song even has a nice dynamic change where the guitars drop out and the vocals are centered. At the 7:00 minute mark everything stops. But they’re just kidding – there’s more slamming guitar to be had.
Retro: Blue Oyster Cult – ‘I’m On The Lamb But I Ain’t No Sheep’
Here’s this month’s look in the rear view mirror. I’ve always loved Blue Oyster Cult. Never could figure out why they weren’t a bigger band than they were. This song is from their first album which I still play along to when I want some guitar finger exercise. Of course there’s the sterling guitar work of Buck Dharma. But everyone in this band could bring it. Check out the drum work. Not just straight with fills but intricate work through out the song that doesn’t stomp all over the song itself. The song title is classic. And lyrics about the Canadian Mounties? Gotta have some fun. The band was from Long Island NY and even mixed in with the punk crowd – Patti Smith wrote lyrics for several of their songs. Finally, listen to the riff and tempo change at the end of the song. The band actually took this riff and reworked it more up tempo on their second album and called it ‘The Red And The Black’. Awesome.
April is the month most people see as the start of spring. You know “April showers bring May flowers”. As has become the weather ‘custom’ in our area, April is just, well, weird. It’s 70 on Monday, it’s 45 on Tuesday, possible tornadoes on Wednesday, out cutting the grass on Thursday. And we’re still staying in. There’s a million things I want to do yet with my life, so no chances are being taken. Fortunately our access to music while stuck at home is almost limitless. On the internet you can start with one song, then decide how far down the rabbit hole you want to go. Here’s a few different entry points you may want to try.
First Up: Ghost Funk Orchestra – ‘Seven Eight’
So what musical ‘category’ does Ghost Funk Orchestra fall in to? The fact that you can ask that question is one of the reasons I like this band. The way all the separate instruments have their own little riffs that weave in and out of the song makes analyzing how this song was put together really interesting. I chose the live video version of this song because you can actually see all the players and instruments and what each of them is doing. It’s also pretty cool how all of them are crammed in that little room and still keep all the pieces tight yet separated. That many different instruments could easily turn a song in to a big ball of mush, but GFO pulls off something that is both snappy and smooth without missing a beat.
Next Up: Old Crow Medicine Show – ‘Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer – Live At The Ryman’
Old Crow Medicine Show has been around for quite a while, since the late 1990’s. They have some well known songs (Wagon Wheel) and have been at the forefront of the Americana movement for quite a while. Their music is a great combination of ‘old time’ sounds mixed with the raw edginess of more modern Americana, Folk and Country. The song is a few years old, but the band just released a ‘Live At The Ryman’ album so I wanted to put this version in. Why? Live. At. The. Ryman. I’d love to be dancing in the aisles during this show.
Finally: Psychedelic Porn Crumpets – ‘Cornflake’
So we’ll veer off in to different territory for the third song. How to catch someone’s attention as they’re reading through album reviews? Name your band Psychedelic Porn Crumpets. How could I see that and not pull up some songs? The song builds from fuzzy space guitar hooks to quieter interludes. Also has cool reverb swimming vocals, a nice change from some songs in this genre that rely on shouted vocals. I also liked the video. It fits in perfectly with the music: strange, colorful and mesmerizing visuals. It’s always good to go from floating in space to banging your head in one song.
Retro: Supersuckers – ‘The Evil Powers Of Rock N’ Roll’
So I think it’s a great idea when cooped up indoors to end with a bang. Straight forward, high energy, butt kicking rock n’ roll. This album and song came out in 1999. I’d often play it while driving, although it would give me a tendency to drive a bit too fast and a strong desire to throw the bird at anyone that got in my way. So much fun to play jamming along with the record, or better yet play live with a band. It has the guitar sound I like – crispy crunch. And it ends with a strange slowed down death metal type sound. Classic.
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!’.
Grapevine will be a new feature we’re going to try to do on a monthly basis. It will contain info about things we come across and would like to share with our readers. Most times, it will feature bands or songs that make an impression on us. Some will be new, some may be old but we’ve just found them. We don’t do reviews. These are songs (or some other media) that we like and why we like them. It may be the recording, the song style or feel, the instrumentation, arrangement or the attitude. We may also look at videos, photos or whatever excites us at the time. Who knows how it will evolve?
Spielbergs – ‘Five On It’
Great recording, sounds kind of lo-fi style, but with all the instruments a clear part of the mix. Vocals are mixed in low enough that they have an instrumental feel, another instrument in the mix. The kind of songs I listen to cruising around backroads with the windows open singing along. Love the guitar crunch. This song is from the album ‘This Is The End’ and hearing the whole album straight through is a great listen. Some songs add a little shoegaze feedback guitar to the mix.
Strand of Oaks – ‘Weird Ways’
The songs starts with vocal and just some background guitar. Really makes you listen to the lyrics. Excellent clear vocal sound. When the band kicks in the song goes up a notch without losing the vocals. Really like the clean drum sound. The song structure works with the interlude in the middle and the kick back in to the song. Super headphone music.
I’m adding a second song from the same album ‘Eraserland’. If for no other reason – the sonics of the slide guitar. Why do I so love melancholy?
The Devil Makes Three – ‘Chains Are Broken’
My reason for this song is pretty obvious. Live. In. The. Studio. Acoustic. Does it get any better than that? So simple, so beautiful. If you can pull someone in using that format, you got it going. This version sounds a bit darker (and I do love darker) than the album version that has drums and more production. Second guitar part bites a little better on the studio version. Pretty cool that it kicks in both versions.
Hey, if you like this too, let us know.