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Friday, November 17, 2017

Casper Skulls Amidst

The other day, a friend of mine made a post about going to a show at Spirit. The date was November 12th, 2017. The show looked pretty cool, so I decided to go. I had not seen any of the bands before.

I missed the first band, the Early Thirties. The touring band, Casper Skulls, was starting as I came in. This was the band I had come to see. They have a poppy post-punk sound. It reminds me of the Birthday Party. The bass was super solid, and the drums were snappy. The guitars had a cold thin sound like my own and could really go off into realms of electrical chaos. Some of the vocals sounded like Lee Ranaldo from Sonic Youth, and those songs sounded like his songs from Washing Machine. I really liked this band a lot, and I bought a CD that I will review.

After Casper Skulls, I took a quick trip home and came back just in time to see Tremoravia, the next band. Tremoravia, musically, is a garage/grunge/90s indie rock (think Pavement) kind of band. I remember the vocals having that pop-punk/emo sound that I despise, but I don't hear that on my recordings from the show; they sound more like Kurt Cobain or Steve Albini. The guitar sound was okay. I wasn't fond of the bro-y banter between the songs, though there was also a self-deprecating tone to some of those things that made me more worried. The end of Tremoravia's set was cool, with the bassist and guitarist on the floor screaming.

The final band was One Hundred Year Ocean. This band was the most emo/pop-punk, but the musick had a lot of variation and cool stuff happening; at times, you could say it was more post-rock, though the instruments did not include the more unconventional strings you find there. I really loved the atmospheric, instrumental breaks; they had an epic and emotional quality to them. Some of those guitar lines were so cool with Hawkwind-esque space rock sounds. The vocals resembled some of the pop-punk standard stuff, but they could be cold and deathly at times. I liked the variations from fast and furious to sludgey heaviness in one song. I didn't expect to like One Hundred Year Ocean, so much. I'm glad I gave them a chance.

This was a fun show. I went just sort of looking for something to do, and it was a good choice to make. I found some new bands that I will watch for in the future, and I also heard about another band called Fruit & Flowers, a Brooklyn band whose members were at this show to see their friends Casper Skulls. Since I was going to Brooklyn soon, for other reasons, I planned to see if that band might be playing when I was there. We'll see if I made it at a later date.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Pay The Rent - Soft On Glass review

If you remember, I won a few tapes from White Reeves Productions at the show with Bill Nace and Twig Harper. One of these albums was Pay The Rent's Soft On Glass. Pay The Rent features members of Pittsburgh's Slices doing something totally different than hardcore. Soft On Glass came out back in May, but this is my first time hearing it. The soft sounds left me feeling somewhat damp, a mild ennui of slight, vague despair.

The album cover follows the White Reeves Productions design template with a rectangle border around an image surrounded by, usually, a solid color. This one is particularly simple, but it is a good design and an eerie one at that. The lizard that adorns the tape really creeps me out, in a subtle way, with its double-tail, headless form.

Soft On Glass starts out with the ambient "Knaut". It's like a small choir of mermaids singing underwater. The next track, "Lower Down", starts droning, turning into a John Carpenter-esque synthscape before moving back into New Age territory. "Two Days In" is a somewhat bleak, sad track, meditative. And the first side ends with the swinging "Calf", which reminds me of a bleak highway, shot in black and white, somewhere out in the high desert.

Side two comes in with another more Carpenter-esque track, "Diana". Waves repeat as something builds in the background. Many echoing voices form this space travelogue. "Corridor" has more watery sounds; I imagine walking through an aquarium with huge windows to peer into jet jellyfish. "Knaut (reprise)" sounds more like the sky, a musick box that you might open to reveal clouds and winged humanoids and other things. The sky would be a pinkish orange in color, not blue. This one also reminds me a bit of some of David Bowie's stuff from the Labyrinth soundtrack. "Knaut (reprise)" really is beautiful and might be my favorite track on the album. Soft On Glass closes with "Soft Silhouette", a scarier track like Coney Island at night, some of the abandoned dark rides beckoning from the gloom. There's the sound of the ocean, a pulse, and various creaks and bells and things. And then that's it.

Soft On Glass is a really interesting album. I'm not sure if I have ever heard something that made me feel quite this way. It's gloomy and brooding but not to any sort of extreme. The title fits the musick extremely well. I enjoyed the small slices of synthscapes that would normally be longer, grander epics. Despite the unsettling feeling, this was a breath of fresh air to what could have been a much more typical electronic album. Soft On Glass gets a Good.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Softly Into the Chiffon from the Space Between the Stars

Upon my return from NYC, I was pretty tired, but I went to a show not long after on October 30th. I almost didn't go. I wanted to see my friend Anna Azzizy though; she had a new performance that she had done on her tour this fall. I didn't know the other bands on the bill.

I wore a costume to the show, a priest of "He Who Dwells in the Space Between the Stars". Such an outfit, at least as seen on this plane, consists of a big hat, scarves, and a big red coat. I had meant to bring some gory body parts enclosed in envelopes with me to hand out to members of the audience on behalf of My Lord. This didn't work out so well, the night being cloudy, creating a distance between myself and that cosmic being of the outer void. I just had some slime instead. "Is this edible?" everyone asked. It wasn't. The slime was the liquefied remains of some nobody. I wouldn't eat it.

The first performer I saw was Soft Bodies. They were already playing when I came in. Without any cosmic guidance, I had trouble finding the venue, which was located in a deep, dark wood, a place of true mystery. Soft Bodies made some magical and upbeat trance stuff, a good choice for a house of illusions. The vocals were like Siouxsie Sioux. The many colored lights made the performance fun to see, a rainbow from a prism of dusk.

After Soft Bodies was done, I found out that I had missed Anna's performance. Again, I cursed the dreary cloud cover of the celestial sphere. This grey canopy had brought many despairs to me on this night. I whispered a malediction to the clouds and the rain, a meaningless act as these beings rule this place called Pittsburgh.

The next band was Chiffon. They were really cool. Despite doing more electronic dance musick, the duo was very dancey themselves. I often find electronic performances somewhat dull; I don't like to see people standing still or moving in a sort of bro-y, cool guy way. Chiffon, on the other hand, seemed to really have fun with their performance. I felt good watching them and hearing the upbeat tracks. There were jazzy piano bits, harsh machine sounds, and a deep bassline accompanied with R&B vocals. Again, the lights really made it fun to watch.

The final act was slowdanger. I had heard of them before but never seen them. I did lIke the one single I had heard weeks before the show. slowdanger is a more cerebral act, emphasizing dance in a fine art way. It was cool actually. I really liked the costumes, and the songs were good. The cold sounds were met with vocals like from a dream, airy or octaved down. It was like the sound of water underneath a glacier, the cold depths of the North Sea. Their themes seemed to revolve around sex and gender norms and breaking those norms, but the vocals were more a part of the song if that makes sense. I liked it.

The show was over early, and I went home after some talking. It was a good time despite missing some stuff. One day the Herald of "He Who Dwells in the Space Between the Stars" will return and bestow the gifts of his master to all. Until then, carry on.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Sweet Baby Jesus - Lyres of Ur review

If you've been reading Skull Valley for a bit, you will remember that the Climax Landers/Sweet Baby Jesus show at Roboto really made me want to start writing again. I reviewed the Climax Landers tape back in July, but I somehow forgot about this one, Lyres of Ur by Sweet Baby Jesus. I think I left it in my bag or something, but here it is after it was brought to the light.

Lyres of Ur starts off super strong with the Cheap Trick in the weirdo zone of "Dark Horse". Bright guitars and soulful rock vox make this a great track! "Soul Can" is next. It's another rocker and reminds me of the Rolling Stones, especially the vocals. I like the different sections of musick, especially the waterfall chorus solos and other little speed bumps between the out and out rock 'n' roll drive. "Amaryllis" is a short song with a dark tone. I liked this one a lot. It seems like a sad song using star-shaped flowers for a metaphor. "Wild Wind" is more country than the ones that came before, again in a Rolling Stones way. I really love the slide guitar on this one, and there are some amazing guitar solos that ricochet off the peak of the Sun. "Oh pretty baby, you're the wild wind". That's beautiful. "Center of Seasons" closes side one mournfully. It's not all total livewire energy as before, as we "take a train out to the ocean". There really are beautiful lyrics on this album, especially within the spaces between the notes on here.

Side two opens with the wailing "Rock & Roll Queen", backing vocals and chugging hard guitar. This is a tale of heartbreak, and it makes me sad, as I've been there before too. Next is "Birds of Paradise", a wild country rocker with more backing vocals. It's not as basic as it sounds, sounding off with elastic chords and a voice like Bowie out of Pin Ups. There's more melancholy and melodrama on "Easy Rider". The song is really down and out, all the space of the lonely spaces of the far west, places that I have never been. At least it's like that before the guitar bursts into the scene in full gear once more. All the guitars on this album are amazing! "Sunlight has a toxic hue" in "Nasty Ones". This one is so full of great lines. Some of it reminds me of Badfinger or Big Star but way weirder. "River of Fire" is the end of the line here, and it's a good end, a solid end. It ends, and that's it. I was so enraptured with this song after the whole album, and then it was over.

After listening to Lyres of Ur, I really do want more. Sweet Baby Jesus have constructed one of the best albums I've heard from this year. Seriously. Really. I mean that. The musick takes twists and turns while staying true to soulful, old-school rock 'n' roll roots. I felt sad, uplifted, angry, and in love. This is a magickal album. I didn't know how much I needed this until I heard it. Lyres of Ur gets a Good, and I can't wait to hear the next release from Sweet Baby Jesus.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Hurricane Charlie - Maelstrom Boogie review

Towards the end of September, when everything got really screwy for me, Mirkwood Recordings released a pretty cool garage punk/blues album called Maelstrom Boogie by a band I have never heard of, Hurricane Charlie. The album is a live recording from, I think, earlier in the year. It is not dated, so I'm not sure. I'm all about raw, live albums, so I was pretty excited to listen to this. Now, finally, here is my review.

First off, the cover art to Maelstrom Boogie looks like a vial of poison. I like the look of the text a lot, though I am not particularly fond of the colors used. The image is creepy and reminds me of tarot cards. It's kind of cool and fits the dark blues tone of the songs.

Maelstrom Boogie starts strong with "Death Rattle/Damage Baby", which is a cool name for a song. It's a stupid song with wild guitars and crashy drums and like no lyrics, so it's all pretty good. It's just a two-piece band, but they do a good job here. The vocals really remind me of Alan Vega of Suicide. "Rue the Day" is the next track. It's got really rough, sorta bluesy vocals. I like the guitar line and the snappiness of the drums. "What's the Matter Now?",  originally by The Oblivians, starts with a loud yell, and then Hurricane Charlie starts into a song with more of a dance beat and vocals that really recall Howlin' Wolf or Bo Diddley. The song grew on me as it went along, and I really liked it after the first half. The guitar falls apart mid-solo to leave a sparse drum and vocal pairing that springs back into full gear soon. I like everything about "Leave Me Alone". The guitar has a cool start/stop thing with a cool solo, and the vocals are really rough. "Goin' to the River" sounds like a more normal version of Cleveland's electric eels combined with lyrics from the blues catalog of songwriting. It's a cover of a song by The Gories. Next is another cover, this time by The Standells, "Dirty Water". This version of the famous song sounds a little like Sex Pistols covering Chuck Berry. It doesn't have the heaviness of the original, but it isn't bad. The seventh track is the third cover in a row, John Lee Hooker's "Burnin' Hell". This is the longest track on the album, vastly exceeding the earlier short punk speed bursts; this one is over 6 minutes! It starts a little clumsy. I like the dark lyrics quite a bit. There is a strange bell on this track before the track goes into that semi-dance punk beat that the band did earlier, and then the gravel vocals turn into a fierce instrumental section that gives the song some much-needed energy. Though there are some cool shifts in tone, the song is pretty samey overall.

"It's Gonna Bleed" is not a cover, and I don't particularly like it. The guitar does some cool stuff in the middle, but it's otherwise pretty basic. "Spoonfull" is a misspelled Willie Dixon/Howlin' Wolf cover. I wasn't particularly fond of this one either. The roughness really hurts the swing of the original, despite Howlin' Wolf's similar vocal style. One of the last songs is "Thunderbird ESQ". It's okay. I don't like all the counting, but I do like the chorus part and the single-note solo. Suicide's "Ghost Rider" is done kind of poorly for the penultimate song, though like with the other songs, it builds over time, combining with Rollins Band's "Black and White" and another Suicide song, "Rocket USA". I really like these songs better with Martin Vega's synths. The end would be much better with less cymbal crashes and held guitar notes. The last song is "Under the Sun", and it's pretty good.

Maelstrom Boogie is nothing new, but it's a good addition to the garage punk genre. I enjoyed listening to the wild instrumentals and sawmill vocals, though sometimes I felt like the instruments were lacking. The songs are all over the place, veering wildly throughout the short time frame most of them exist within. It's definitely not the most consistent album, but Maelstrom Boogie still gets a Good. Thinking about this band overall, it would be cool to see Hurricane Charlie play with Pittsburgh's own Spectres. That's something to hope for in the future I guess.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Deep Dub Dream with Lee "Scratch" Perry

I have known of Lee "Scratch" Perry for a long time. His legend is vast. He appeared in a dream of mine once where he invited me to play keyboards on his new album that he was recording in the Pittsburgh suburb of Glenshaw. Getting deep into punk and post-punk, I had heard his name referenced by John Lydon, Joe Strummer, and others. Though I had listened to some dub-reggae before, mostly by The Clash, last year I got really into that style of musick when I was creating chiptune songs for my YouTube channel. I had read that Chip Tanaka, Nintendo's star composer in their early years in the console game business, was inspired by Linval Thompson's intense echo effects on his album Negrea Love Dub. I started listening to dub with that release, being sure to check out the others that I had heard of over the years, such as Augustus Pablo, Prince Far I, Scientist, Black Uhuru, Max Romeo, and of course, Lee "Scratch" Perry.

This year, Perry released a new album entitled Super Ape Returns to Conquer, a reimagining of his classic Super Ape album, which I actually had heard a while back. This time his backing band was Subatomic Sound System instead of The Upsetters. I was excited to hear the album, and then I saw something amazing - Lee "Scratch" Perry was doing a tour of some of US with that very same band! I couldn't believe it! He lives in Switzerland, and I had never heard of him coming here in the time that I knew his name. Now, of course, I wasn't following him particularly closely before I really got into dub, but I feel like I would have heard if he was coming to Pittsburgh. The thing is that he actually wasn't coming to Pittsburgh this time either. The closest I was going to get was New York City on October 25th, two days after my 28th birthday, and that was something that I was willing to do.

An avocado hummus wrap at Terri
Despite almost having a cool trip to New York with a friend, I ended up having to go alone by bus. I've done it before, so I didn't think much of it. The trip was kind of weird because I ended up being unable to sleep on the overnight bus, arriving in New York at the crack of dawn and feeling like a stripped wire, twitchy and unwell. Like Ginsberg's protagonists of "Howl", I dragged myself through those streets until I found the delicious food at Terri, a vegan sandwich shop. I spent the rest of the day wandering around Manhattan, making sure to finally stop at the Nintendo World Store in Rockefeller Center for once.

I had not brought much luggage, only staying in the city for one day, but it was still annoying to carry around. Plus, I had bought some stuff at the Nintendo store and a few games and books at Book Off and VideoGamesNewYork. I left the luggage at a luggage store using the Vertoe luggage storage system. It's kind of like an Airbnb for bags.

Dinner with a friend at Oasis in Williamsburg
After leaving the bag in that wonderful bag land, I proceeded to buy some other stuff at a thrift store I stumbled upon in the East Village. I really liked that neighborhood, lots of artsy kids and less giant neon signs and snobs. That may seem contradictory, but it makes sense to me. I got some CDs by Wesley Willis and Utra Bidé, some cool Converse shoes with colorful zig-zags, and a compilation of old rock 'n' roll songs. I also ended up meeting a little plush friend at a store called Cult Party in Brooklyn and brought them along to Oasis, one of my favorite restaurants. So much for leaving the bags behind.

With my new bundle of junk, I went up to Output and waited in the line to see the dub master. It was not a short wait. Output is sort of a fancy club, at least more so than any place I have ever been. They check you for weapons and the like and have a mandatory bag and coat check. Pfotos, videos, and pfone usage are not exactly prohibited, as that would be near impossible to really enforce, but they are heavily discouraged. Smoking is prohibited. I actually didn't mind these rules. It made me feel safer inside, and I liked having my belongings stored safely. I don't like being around smoke very much. While the pfoto stuff was a little disappointing, I didn't really mind it; it meant that the musick had to be more important than posting stuff to Twitter and Facebook.

The inside of Output was beautiful. Though I cannot show you a pfotograph, trust me when I say this. There was a slight fog so that trails of light enshrined both the main dancefloor and the open upper level. The lights were purple and green. It felt like a movie.

François K was DJing classic dub reggae songs as the club opened. This seemed more meant to just dance to and have a good time. It was nice and not too loud. Of course, this wasn't the main event.

In about an hour, a man took to the stage. He was not the man everybody was waiting for but a DJ and herald for the rest of Subatomic Sound System. Slowly, and with much fanfare, the DJ welcomed the famous conga player, Larry McDonald, and two horn players to the stage while he provided a bassline. The others joined in as they came in. I was glad to hear an Augustus Pablo cover. Excitement rose and rose as we awaited Lee "Scratch" Perry's arrival, and I feel like they really milked that excitement for all it was worth.

It was not disappointing when Perry did arrive. Covered with small trinkets on his clothes, Perry looked the part that I imagined, and, for a man of 81, he had the moves to back those looks up. Perry and his band went through several long jams, clouded in smoke.

The sound in the venue was excellent. The bass was a bit overpowering when I was right up close to the stage, but even still it was not bad. The vocals and other instruments became more clear on the second floor. The echo effects on the horns were so cool! I had some trouble getting around with the record and shirt that I had bought a the merch table. I wouldn't have got them before the end of the show if I hadn't been told they would sell out. They did sell out before the end, so I'm glad I got them when I did.

After a short break, Lee Perry and Subatomic Sound System returned for more, Perry greeting the audience with a new costume. They played for a whole additional hour! It was a lot to take in, and there were so many people there to take it in, the musick making everyone somewhat like a single being. The songs seemed to drift through each other with the raspy Perry floating over the top like a wizard from another world.

There's not as much to say about this show as I would like to since I was so tired and I have little media to review for myself. Somehow I did end up with that blurry pfoto above. The experience feels like a really weird and lifelike dream. I was so winded by the end, but it was a good experience. I was glad to get back in Pittsburgh, not doing much the next morning in New York except go to the Lego Store and rest inside a cafe. If Perry comes back to America, I will try to see him, though I will not travel again for it. Check him out if you get the chance. He still knows how to bring that deep rumble to yr soul.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Ploughman's Lunch and Dinner

On October 21st, I went to the final show at the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern (BBT). The BBT was not a place that I visited often, but I enjoyed the few times I was there and wished there had been more. My great-uncle had, at one point (I don't think so in the later years), a connection to the ownership of the place. A few of my friends played there often. This show was particularly exciting for me as it was a reunion show for a band that I had heard much about, Ploughman's Lunch.

Ploughman's Lunch was a sort of later version of Carsickness, one of my favorite Pittsburgh bands. Unlike Carsickness' no-wave/punk/new wave, Ploughman's Lunch was part of a trend in the late 1980's to early 1990's of world music/rock bands. It seems like it was a big thing in Pittsburgh, Rusted Root being an obvious example. I was just a little kid then, so don't quote me on that.

When I got to the BBT, I was surprised; the place was totally packed! I had planned to make a nice video of the night, but there was no way to do that with the huge crowd of people there. Maura Moonshine was just starting when I walked in. She is the daughter of Karl Mullen from Ploughman's Lunch/Carsickness. Her set was pretty laidback acoustic singer-songwriter/country. It was fine and certainly spirited, but it's just not in my field of interest. She had some accompaniment on vocals towards the end, which was cool. After Maura's set, we moved some of the tables, so that people could fit in better.

Ploughman's Lunch took the stage soon after. Though there was still the glimmer of the angry Carsickness, even the setup of the band showed that Ploughman's Lunch was a more radio-friendly group. In addition to the core lineup of Karl Mullen (guitar & vox), Steve Sciulli (woodwinds), and Dennis Childers (drums) from Carsickness, this band included a backup singer, violinist, saxophone player, and a bass player (well that last one isn't so unusual). I've heard comparisons made to the Pogues, but I've actually never really listened to that band. Ploughman's Lunch definitely was a more mid-range rock band with some punk stuff still hanging around. Much of the songs draw from traditional Celtic musick with tin whistles and the like. The lyrics still retain their left-wing political stance, one song, in particular, being about a routine traffic stop that led to a man's death back in the 90's. I didn't know any of the songs they played, but I enjoyed the set and the next set. Yes, Ploughman's Lunch actually played two sets that night with a short break in between. They really did close down the BBT, and awesomely snuck in a version of "Bill Wilkenson". Maura joined them towards the end, which was touching, and members of the group led the audience around in a congo-line sort of thing to the song, "Never Walk Alone". Everyone was all together.

Now I should say that the show was a bit much for me. Though Maura Moonshine may have started the show in a laid-back manner, Ploughman's Lunch really went all in. That kind of 90's rock/pop/world music thing is something I will never understand, but I appreciate the energy of both band and audience that I saw. It was a glimpse back in time to something that I know little about, Pittsburgh musick in the 1990's.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Bill Nace and Twig Harper Win the Prize

Actually, I won a prize, but that doesn't encompass the event with its titanic titular labeling. It was October 20th of this year, and I set off for The Tub on that dark night. I had seen Bill Nace many years ago with Sonic Youth at No Fun Fest 2009, the last year of Carlos Giffoni's noise festival, at least in New York City from what I can tell. And I had seen Twig Harper a few months back with Wolf Eyes before all of the chaos. Seeing them play together seemed like it would be very exciting.

I arrived at The Tub towards the end of Anchient Lesbians set. I love the spelling of that name! I was glad to finally see Olivia (from Olivia II) play live. Her new duo is really fun with jammy ambient/psychedelic dance tunes. The last song reminded me of Bowie's "Crystal Japan" or Neu! though.

Right after this, I realized that this was a White Reeves Productions show. Despite being friends with everyone involved with such things, this was the first event under that name that I was attending. I had heard that they did a sort of game show thing at Distro/Palanzo's when that was still a thing, and this had some elements of that as well. As I mentioned, I won the "Dress to Access" contest with my studded leather choker vs. Andrew Kirschner's punk pins. For my troubles, I was rewarded with two White Reeves Productions tapes which I'll review when I get the time.

During the weird, little contest, Andrew Kirschner had set up. He played a droning piano loop that started out with dark and stormy sounds. I liked the piano piece, but it was not the most exciting thing. Mostly, I just wish it had been less trebly. There were definitely some cool elements to it though, and it reminded me of Eno's "Music for Airports".

Finally, Bill Nace and Twig Harper were ready to play. It was nice to have the show moving and finishing before it was a-million-o'clock. For their performance, it seemed like Nace produced various sounds, starting with small pieces of percussion and moving to prepared guitar, while Harper modified the sounds and played them back. Twig Harper also did some vocals, scary breathing and gasps. The piece started slowly, creeping up on the audience as it went along into harsher realms of terror that I envision as a green color, the inside of some hideous worm. The vocals started to become inhuman as well. The rushing noise and space sounds of modulated delay gave way to a calmer rustling peace that faded out to the claps of the crowd in the small room. Then I proceeded to go up to Bill Nace and say I saw him with Sonic Youth in Washington D.C. instead of No Fun Fest as I mentioned above. He was really confused until I realized my mistake. You can't win them all.

Afterwards, I watched as some people ate bites of scorpion peppers, and we tried to kick one of those things that dangles from a ceiling fan. Nobody could really do it. It was quite a night of things, and then I went home to watch horror movies and lament my making a fool of myself to Bill Nace.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Arto Lindsay Delivers the Good

On October 18th, I was supposed to go with my friend Tyler to see MDC at Belvederes. I was really excited to go because I don't go to a lot of straightforward punk shows. The day before the show, or maybe the day before that, I realized there was a major conflict for me: Arto Lindsay was playing at the Warhol Museum on the same day and around the same time. Since I've already seen MDC, a while ago with Subhumans at the Rex Theater, I knew I had to see Arto's band. His creepy-crawly, slashed guitar sound was a huge inspiration for me when I was in high school and inspired my playing in the band Belt of Venus. Also, when was he ever here on tour?

I got to the show right when it started. Beauty Pill had just begun to play. I had only heard of this band when I first saw this show was announced a few months before, so I had no existing experience with them. Beauty Pill reminds me of dance-punk bands from a decade ago or artists that morph between several genres like Beck or Björk. They sound like a band that could be on WYEP but might be a little too out there at the same time; it straddled the line between academic middle-of-the-road and weird art-punk. The songs were somewhat subdued but often pushed forth as they played longer into it. I really enjoyed the strange samples played by the frontwoman, but the bass was a little loud. Beauty Pill definitely set the mood for the main event.

The second and final act was Arto Lindsay himself, accompanied by a percussionist, bass player, drummer, and keyboardist. Arto handled the vocals and outbursts of his wild guitar, a sparse seasoning for each song that primarily relied on the other members. The bass player, the legendary Melvin Gibbs, provided heavy, pulsing rhythms and squirming electro-worm sounds via what appeared to be Moogerfooger Ring Modulator with an expression pedal. I really need to get one of those pedals for mine! The keyboard player had some trouble hearing the bass player at the beginning, but his playing never off. Constantly smiling, he provided an upbeat counterpoint to the rest. The percussionist and drummer made the coolest rhythms, not the standard 4/4 that I love; this was something unique, at least to me. Arto's guitar sounded as dangerous as ever, even with a full band behind him playing soulful songs far from the dread dead zone of DNA. It was a great show. I felt like I transcended my normal anxiety into a very aware state of bliss.

After the show, I talked with Arto for a second and thanked him for his work with DNA and the show that night. I got the setlist from Melvin Gibbs too! It's written in such a fanciful cursive, some of the songs in Portuguese. I talked with some friends for a bit, and I wondered if I could, or should have, asked Arto for a picture or autograph, but I really didn't want to bother him. It sounds kind of cliche, but really seeing his band meant a lot to me, and that was enough.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Halloween Covers 2017

I went to a Halloween covers show on Saturday, October 14th. I usually miss these for various reasons, but I really wanted to see the bands at this show. Also, many of my friends were playing, so I knew it would be fun.

I wore a costume that was like a vampire/sorcerer/masquerade attendee. I brought a red masquerade mask, but I did not wear it. Someone compared me to a character from The Lost Boys, which was kind of what I was going for. Originally, I had wanted to create this alien costume I had in mind, but I could not find most of my makeup or some of the prosthetics I would need. It was interesting to ride my bike wearing a cape, skirt, and high-heeled boots.

I got to the show right on time, and the first band to play covered the Cranberries. I am not a huge fan of the Cranberries, though I don't hate them either; I'm just neutral on them. I felt the same way about this. They did a good job with the covers, though I wish there was a full band to add to the sound, especially for songs like "Zombie". Instead it was just two acoustic guitars and two singers. It's tough to get Dolores O'Riordan's vocal style right.

The second band (SFX + Weird Paul and Greg Cislon) covered Pavement.I actually didn't really know any of the songs, or I at least couldn't make them out. I have only heard the first Pavement album though. I liked seeing Weird Paul as a shout-y background vocalist. It was a fun set to see even if I didn't know what they were playing.

The third band was like a supergroup and covered The Donnas. I liked this set. The Donnas have the same kind of sound as The Ramones, The Runaways, and Shonen Knife, all of whom I like a lot. Everybody looked the part here, and they had funny stage banter. I will have to check out the real Donnas more.

The fourth band covered Ween. Their bass player didn't show up, so my friend Mae filled in. She was flawless. The band was really exciting to watch, and I liked the goofy costume and the spot-on vocals. It was another really fun set.

The fifth band (holy cow! and there is still one more!) covered Def Leppard. This band was The Telephone Line, whom I had first seen at Ladyfest this year. They had some really funny costumes with the big hair that everybody expects for a band like Def Leppard. The singer sounded amazing! I was so impressed when she hit all of the high notes, low notes, long notes, and all of the other notes.

Finally, Dumplings (and friends) covered The Damned! This was the set I was most excited to see, and it did not disappoint. It even exceeded my expectations. Jon looked very, very much like Dave Vanian, and the band sounded very good, very close to the real Damned whom members of Dumplings and I saw earlier this year. The crowd was so energized by this performance. People sang along and slam danced and all of that stuff. I hope that Dumplings cover some of these songs in their normal sets.

The Halloween cover show was really fun. It was very laid back and just generally a good time with all very good bands. It was fun to wear a costume too. I had some ideas for playing at this show actually, earlier in the year, but they all fell thru. Maybe next year I will get something together.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Friday the 13th Is Actually Unlucky And You Can Blame Your Own Faults On It

Last week, on Friday the 13th, 2017, I went to see a show at Howlers. I was excited to see Dorothy 6, Dan's country band that I have never seen before, and Aloe, a band that I enjoy a whole lot. However, when I was about to leave for the show, I saw that Dorothy 6 had already started and that the show was not starting an hour after the scheduled event time like most things do. I think this is actually not a good move; I always think of the event time as the time that the doors open. This was all in the event description on Facebook though, so I should have read it more thoroughly.

I zoomed out of the house, trying to rocket all the way to Howlers, but Aloe started before I got there. As I was parking my bike, I saw that they were playing a My Bloody Valentine-esque song. "Wow, I don't think I have ever heard this one before," I thought to myself, "and it sounds really great!" When I had got through the door and into the band room, they were done, pretty much right on the nose. Damn.

I did get to see Lady Bizness, the touring band from NYC, and The Park Plan. Lady Bizness is a really interesting band that I didn't like at first, though they really, really grew on me over the length of their set. The band is only guitar, drums, and vocals. The guitar had a grunge/hard-rock tone, which was the main thing that turned me off at first, playing simpler chord progressions with a lot of energetic fills. I liked the drums, and the singer had a cool style. The songs were tough with a Bikini Kill cover and that's a good benchmark for their sound, though Lady Bizness is its own band. I always enjoy seeing minimalism work out so well with all of the energy in these songs!

The Park Plan was also great. They had a few guest vocalists, including Steph from The Lopez. I really liked seeing those collaborations. A lot of their songs are about street harassment, and the singer mentioned that she wrote many of them while walking. I write most of my songs in the same way but not on that subject. It is an important subject and one that is obviously on many minds, as we can see from the "Me Too" posts about sexual assault and harassment on Facebook recently. I disagree if you are going to tell me that it's just people being political to be trendy. Anyway, I really enjoyed all of the instruments in this band, the house right guitar most of all with its jangly rhythms and flying solos. The bass was really good too. Also, I want to point out that the bass and house right guitar just look so cool, orange and metallic pink respectively.

I'm glad I saw Lady Bizness and The Park Plan. They were very enjoyable, cool bands to see that you should probably check out. I am disappointed to have missed Aloe and Dorothy 6, who you should both also check out; I still have to listen to the latter. The lesson here could be to always read events and stuff, but clearly, the fault lies on this notoriously unlucky day. Sometimes we are all cursed by the stars and the cosmic entities that lie beyond. Watch out for those things! And, yeah, always read the darn event!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Guillermo Pizarro - Harmonic Poems review

Back in 2014, I played a show at Garfield Artworks with Guillermo Pizarro, Christopher Feltner, Stephen Palke, and Ali & the Haitians. I don't remember much about the show. Recently, in the last month or two, I saw that Guillermo Pizarro had released a new album that seemed to be semi-blowing up across the noise groups on Facebook or at least was being talked about by various friends in "the scene". I figured I'd check it out.

The cover art of Harmonic Poems brings the viewer to a strange barren cabin room, the kind that might exist in a modern horror film. There is a focus on the strange chair, perhaps the seating for a garrulous ghost. It's quite a bleak, ghastly image and a good display of what will be heard when the musick is set in motion.

Harmonic Poems starts with "My Guest", sounds the crackling of wood, the invitation to a dark house as pictured on the cover. It is a slow burn, erupting into booms and crashes that sub-octavely pained me to listen to. I had to take off my headphones to hear all the creaky, creepy sounds without like losing my hearing. This track is still incredibly painful and probably damaging to speakers. It's certainly going to an interesting level, but I kind of don't like it for the levels it goes to. The next track, "A Room With A View", scares me. The high-pitched tones and strange screeches made me fear what might come next, but then it just stopped. There were just the sounds of typing or rattling shutters or clicking buttons and switches before the tones returned with more monstrous sounds too. And then everything stopped, and a voice spoke amidst explosions. The voice creeped me out, talking directly to me. I really felt scared. It was dark at night, I was alone in my house, and I almost gave up listening to the album right there.

I'm glad I toughed it out. "Aokigahara" has a different kind of space. It is still a scary space filled with the murmurs of the unliving surrounded by rattling bells, but this one is not claustrophobic. There is air to breath, maybe at the risk of one's health, and there is a space to get lost into. It's really not a good place to get lost though - Aokigahara is the suicide forest of Japan. It really isn't good for your health to be there. The creaking sounds, lost violins on the winds of the damned, build as the track goes on. I became afraid again. "Aokigahara Pt. II" features more violin, more cries, and rain. The violin provides more of a song than before, but the samples are a little much. The cries, which become somewhat annoying by the end, and the storm, drown out the sound of the violin. I don't think it works particularly well.

"Wind Horn (Kaze no Denwa)" recalls another morbid Japanese cultural artifact - a disconnected rotary phone on the shores of the Pacific Ocean to call to those lost in the tsunami of 2011. This track was interesting but the harsh noise blows everything out again. It kind of works here, but I feel like it is strange to use these types of sounds when referencing something solemn like that. I really like the droning sounds that go thru the rest of the track; I wish that was the main focus. When this track ended, I became acutely aware of the fan blowing in the other room. It seemed so loud all of a sudden. I quickly went back to focusing on the album, somewhat unnerved again.

"13 Years - Deep Creek Blues" is the final track. It starts with one or more field recordings, seemingly someone walking through a creek bed surrounded by animals and flies. The same voice from earlier begins to talk, very low and rough. The man says something about going down to the creek, but it's hard to make out the rest amidst all of the other sounds. I don't particularly like the separation of the sounds, obviously sourced from multiple sources. The voice sounds so robotic; of course, that's kind of the big reveal I guess. The track ends in a flood of Iommi-esque guitar and black metal vox.

Harmonic Poems is really an interesting album. It really does try something experimental. There is a narrative, but it doesn't consume the entire album. There are a lot of different sounds in relatively few tracks as well, ambient to metal to harsh noise. Unfortunately the production gets in the way. I didn't like the harsh, blown-out, digital sound of the various samples and effects used. It felt claustrophobic and somewhat jarring with the rest of the track, though on "A Room With A View", it helped create a particular fear. The levels seem off to me; it's hard to hear various sections that seem important. I did enjoy the album, though I also find it hard to listen to. Harmonic Poems tries something different; I don't think it is totally successful, but it made a good effort. Harmonic Poems gets a Good.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

the Miami Dolphins - Water Your Waiting For review

I apologize for the lack of updates recently. There have been a few major, negative changes recently, so I'm not in the best mood. I also haven't actually gone to any shows in a bit. There are still plenty of albums and EPs and singles and videos to review for now, though. Today, let's talk about Water Your Waiting For by the Miami Dolphins.

The cover art is quite a thing of majesty. I think the band is standing in front of a greenscreen that displays industry overtaking a pleasant valley. The Springsteen-esque text and the umbrella really make this what it is. I also really enjoy the toxic colors.

The album starts with a short "Intro" that recalls the false 50s pleasantries of the same kind of intro from The Dead Kennedys' Plastic Surgery Disasters. "Flouride", the next track, warns us of conspiracy paranoia, the truth in the untruth. What can we really trust as true? I'm not worried about fluoride in water, but there is much to worry about that the government does do. Going from a rollicking, jumpy off-ness, the song turns into a more forward rocker with a more deadly message. "Connect the Dots" sounds like Björk fronting the Minutemen, and that might be a good summary of the majority of the album. There are nice melodies here amidst the chaotic musick. I like the staccato guitar attack in the middle and the remainder of the song's breaking down. "Kill Them All and Take Their Money" has a great chord progression. It recalls Bo Diddley with its asking of, "Who do you love?" This song makes me worried about my own future. The vocalist does a great job though. "Map Off" really sounds like the Minutemen, especially "Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing". I like the goofy doo-wop backing vocals, but the song is pretty dark, ricocheting back and forth. "Protect the Children and Drain Your Boat" starts so deathly - "Nobody wants to go to war! Doesn't mean we shouldn't do it." As I mentioned in my review of the show Miami Dolphins played at Roboto, this song heavily reminds me of the ancient Pittsburgh band The Cardboards. Eventually the band shifts to a collage of voices complaining about the dryness of a hamburger. This is a dense song with a lot to hear; you'll need to do some extra listens or fail the class.

"It Goes On" comes in much different than the earlier songs. It's like a straightforward punk song. "Let the roads crumble and rivers dry". "Kill our parents, take their money, more, more and more". These are true words for the world we live in, espoused as the song descends into wild guitar and fading feedback. "Speak Up" also comes in strong with heavy drums and rocking guitars. The vocals harmonies are strong and impressive here, self-conversing to where I feel like I gobbled a popsicle and am a little froze up. "Bootstraps" sounds like a cleaner Sonic Youth before it goes off dreamily into despair. "Great Deals" comes in like a wild boar, crunching, beating heaviness. Then it breaks off, seperating like a sea hewn in two by a legendary mystic talking about consumerism. The song ends back in the noise heavies. "Miami Oh Yeah" is a little piece of the repeated title phrase through a vocoder and maybe accompanied by a jaw harp. "Interlude"  has a bunch of people talking, mostly a somewhat naive male speaker who seems like he only started looking into different types of economic systems. The title track, "Water Your Waiting For", ends the album. It recalls the initial paranoia with talk of chemtrails. It's a dramatic piece, maybe with some kind of lap steel guitar or horns or something in the background. It makes a fitting end to a difficult album. "Too many dollars and not enough sense". Yep.

Water Your Waiting For is deep, deep water. An orange man would say something like "the deepest! we have the deepest depths! our depths are the best!" That is one of the few times that I agree with that orange man, even though it's just a thing I wrote. Really I'm just agreeing with myself, and that might be a very orange man thing to do. Miami Dolphins make some wild musick on this album that really makes you think hard, and yr brain might sink like a stone into those deep depths. These songs challenge what we know to be true and what we wonder about being true to come to a real conclusion. The production is good, the songs are excellent, and Water Your Waiting For gets a Good. It's one of my favorite albums of the year.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Echo Lightwave Unspeakable - The Horror On Heaven Hill review

Echo Lightwave Unspeakable is a noise artist here in Pittsburgh. I like his work. It is not setup in the camp of harsh noise and gross-out shock value while also not being in the intellectual, collegiate sphere. It reminds me of my own Satyr/Elfheim. When I saw that he released a new album last week, I had to take a listen to it.

The Horror On Heaven Hill looks like a horror movie. Two legs straddle a stream of blood in a bathtub as the person stares down at the mess. The cover uses the gore effectively; it isn't exploitive, though it is shocking. The image really is quite horrific.

"Part 1", which forms the entire first side, opens with some slow drones and the chattering of small impish beings. I imagine a man sitting in a bathtub, staring blankly at the tiles on the wall, noticing some strange things as little bells sound from the twinkling darkness of the basement he has descended into to wash himself away. There are some old radio sounds that transform into a kind of repeated groaning and chirping bats, maybe the same impish monsters. I imagine this as the man remembering something he did with a meat grinder and a human corpse; he can hear the droning sound of the machine and the awful whirring mutates into the demonic. The whirring and noise increase, though the track loses its ambiance for a moment. The ambiance does come back with a lot of interesting elements - more weird radio repeats, chirpy sounds, booms, creaks, and distant bells. A quiet melody builds the horror in the background as all of these sounds envelop the foreground. After a portion of radio sounds, the melody takes the foreground. It's somewhat obvious for a horror movie. The radio comes back talking about work and expectations; these are the things that drove the still unseen crime with the meat grinder. The first side drones out, interrupted by radio broadcasts and small sounds that shouldn't be heard in this mortal world.

As you would guess, "Part 2" forms the second side. It continues straight from "Part 1". There's the same droning and some little creepy sounds. There is a part with some kind of plucking or a kalimba that sounds particularly eerie. After some time of this, everything cuts out and goes to a dream world full of mysterious soap-opera flashback musick and a musick box or baby's rattle. Then, right after, everything goes haywire. That guy in the bathtub is having a panic attack and blood is all about; he bashes his head against the wall. A piercing sound and heavy noise splits the scene. This part is very loud and increasingly high-pitched. There are pulsing throbs of bass, waves of static, and glitchy computer sounds. The old musick box and the whirring fade in and out. The musick box takes over with some small scratching sounds, someone running a fork over a plate, a horn, and other pangs of fear. I await a loud sound to come, but instead, the melody drifts away. Now there is only the scratching, the man cooking the ground up meat, the woman's corpse from last night. There's a hideous laugh that leads into the sound of film running quickly through a reel. More strange sounds and laughs fill the air, and the loud whirring of the grinder returns. It becomes hard to handle, and then, soon, there is nothing.

The Horror On Heaven Hill is quite an experience. I enjoyed the horror soundscapes, the telling of a dark story through only audio stimulation. I created all the details in my mind; there was no narration or anything like that. It speaks to the power of the work that I was able to do so. The tracks do go long, but you really need to experience the whole thing in a short time to get the full effect. It's not something I could listen to very often. Still, I give The Horror On Heaven Hill a Good.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Reptilians From Andromeda video reviews

Reptilians From Andromeda is a really cool garage punk/no-wave/post-punk band from Istanbul formed by Aybike Çelik Özbey and her husband Tolga Özbey. We were gonna do an interview last year, but I got anxious about doing an email interview (we couldn't do an international call due to signal issues) and didn't know what to do. Needless to say, it never happened. They've emailed me a bunch more times about new videos and albums, and since I'm doing this blog regularly now, let's do it! (Sorry Aybike!)

The Reptilians just released a new video two weeks ago for their song "Burning Inside". I love this song! It's a dangerous love song of unhinged desire and BDSM. The guitar has a rockabilly feel and the vocals have a disconnected quality like Niagara from Destroy All Monsters. DAM is a good reference point, at least the punk/Asheton years of that band.

The video itself is not a masterpiece, but it is good. It looks like a contemporary horror movie. I like the desaturated look of the horror scenes, and I like the close-ups of the band. The woman staring at the end is unsettling. The video kind of reminds me of the film, The House of the Devil.

Now let's go back to March of this year. Reptilians From Andromeda released a video back then called "We're Gonna Fight Tonight". This is a really poppy song that reminds me of Shonen Knife or The Ramones. The vocals and guitar are melodic, and it works. It's almost too repetitive, but the bridge sections break it up and relieve the tension. I wish the drums were a little more punchy though.

The video itself is pretty cool. It's super lo-fi, especially compared with the video for "Burning Inside". I like the washed-out VHS look, though it's also a little unpleasant too. That's fine. The video is a montage of clips, mostly of the band playing. I like the strange way it cuts back and forth; it's almost delayed(?) which makes the video really uncanny.

The first video that Aybike sent me was this one for "Get the Power". I like this song a lot too; this might be my favorite of the ones that I have heard. It has an Iggy Pop feel, like something from Lust for Life, combined with Sonic Youth riffs. I love the guitar sound a lot on this one. It propels everything in a sickly cyclone. The drums thump nicely too.

The video for "Get the Power" has a more deliberate VHS look than "We're Gonna Fight Tonight", and the colors recall the early 90's MTV appearances of Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, No Doubt, or Hole. I like the video, though it overdoes the VHS tracking stuff a little. The fuzzy shots that pan around the band work best. Combined with the cool colors, it creates a half-awake dreaming feel to the video.

I see that Reptilians From Andromeda have a self-titled album coming out soon, and I am excited to hear it. I'm glad to finally review the videos, and I appreciate the fact that they kept emailing me even when I was being a mopey loser. Maybe they will do a tour of the United States someday? It's definitely not out of their reach.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Dead Milkmen Grilling

On September 16th, I saw the Dead Milkmen at Jergel's Rhythm Grille. I wasn't originally going to go but I decided to only a few weeks before. It seems like that wasn't actually uncommon. It sold out for a while, but more tickets were added towards the end. I was able to snag one and so were some of my friends.

Since Jergel's is way outside the city, we carpooled together. We ended up missing the opener, Red Locust. I was disappointed about missing them, especially because I sort of know one of the members of that band. Nobody was really excited to go to Jergel's. It seemed like a Hard Rock Cafe and, it has a funny name that I secretly kind of like for the camp factor.

I was surprised when we got there - Jergel's had a HUGE parking lot, like as big as the parking lots at some malls. Interestingly, the actual Rhythm Grille was not that large, smaller than Cleveland's House of Blue where I saw The Damned. It was about the same as Pittsburgh's Hard Rock Cafe, where I have only been to see Guitar Wolf, but the layout was strange. There are two floors with an open, recessed area in the middle. It seems kind of interesting that you could be eating and watch the band, but being in that pit felt a bit claustrophobic. It wasn't really bad, though.

The Dead Milkmen played a good show. They were energetic and played some cool songs including that one everybody knows. It was cute that the singer tried to entertain a little girl that was brought to the show with presumably a parent, and he even brought her onstage to play the keyboard. He also talked a lot about Charlie Daniels, the singer of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia", and about Ted Cruz's porn scandal. It was basically what I expected.

We drove home, thinking the Rhythm Grille was not so bad. Everything was, again, pretty much what I expected. The venue was fine and the band was good. There isn't much to report. These big, more corporate events, create that kind of feeling. I won't say "it isn't rock 'n' roll" or whatever because obviously there is a point to playing well and having a good crowd, but it is sort of like going through the motions when attending something like this.

This asks the question though, "is rock 'n' roll (or musick in general) about the spectacle? Does there need to be a desperation, a chance of failure?" I don't know if there needs to be but it certainly makes a more heroic story, a fantasy world, to see someone making something amazing, perhaps something that seems difficult or impossible or risky, when everything could fall apart at any moment. Musick is a mythologizing force in our world. The modern world is not a world of mythical gods and monsters. We have musicians and celebrities to fill that niche, and we live through them and their actions. We can see ourselves, even just a bit, in our favorite actress or rockstar, and I think seeing something that just works does not give us the sense of accomplishment that we may otherwise obtain.