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Friday, August 18, 2017

Radon Chong - I Keep On Talking To You review

Radon Chong grew from the remains of Skinless Boneless, a band I mention here quite a bit. It is a worthy successor. While Skinless Boneless could be a little sloppy sometimes, Radon Chong is very tight and more jammy. The dual guitars, hopping bass, and drums, accompanied with some lifting sax, make something more than the sum of their parts. The vocals, from Actorcop's Sasha Weisfield, are so varied and more musical than most bands. And it really is a band, not a one-person show, everything working together like the gears in a grandfather clock.

In this month of August 2017, Radon Chong is releasing an album on Single Girl Married Girl Records. I got a copy for review purposes, and it is a fine piece of work. Everything is so solidly crafted, with tight, clean production and good sound. The release has calming/creepy color scheme of yellow/purple, the cover adorned with a manikin pillow person next to a small lamp. It is an eerie and lonely picture, but it's also just a room in every house, white walls, darker carpet, and enough light to bring that known feeling.

The first track, "Faith-Based Charles" has some bouncing bass and geometric guitars. The vocals are loud and quiet, dynamic but not like Nirvana, saying, "I really miss you". I like the crispy sound of the cymbals and the slow fade out of the guitar harmonics accompanied by a sort of bass solo. "Grandma Anthropology" sounds like Pere Ubu mixed with R.E.M., David Thomas singing about explosions. It starts with some fancy guitar lines and really bouncy bass and follows with some NYC Ghosts & Flowers ambiance. The vocals are really nice here, incredibly musical and growing to growls. "Farm Pays for Me" might be my favorite with its, "c'mon, the farm pays for me" and more Pere Ubu sounds (vocals a little like the similarly titled "Big Ed's Used Farms" from Song of the Bailing Man) and springy guitars. "Seaform" is a bit slower, a small whirr before building up to some cymbals and then heavy drums. It's not a slow, epic build like Television. This song really shows Radon Chong's pop sensibilities, which, though buried, they do have. It's in the corners, behind all the scattered things, but it is there in the end "living in a steel mill". "You're a Kid" starts with Stooges drums, going into some Texas art-punk vocaloids before saxophone sounds, the color of a blue city painting, ride along the guitar and other vocals join harmonically. I like the outtake at the end. "Second to One" is kind of a continuation of the last, sonically but with some breaks. The drums are really energetic. The album ends on "Cold Hands", the title of which describes, to me, exactly what I said about the cover art, distant but warm in the end (cold hands, warm heart). This track goes from a downer to a real rocker that descends into guitar drone and more rock 'n' roll, Skinless Boneless style. Screeching, textural solos come up around like Humbaba's Cedar Forest at sunset. Then it ends, like everything else, at least in theory.

I Keep On Talking to You is an excellent album. It drags on a tiny amount, the songs sounding similar towards the end, but the actual end is well done and these are interesting songs with many things to find. The production is crisp, not muddy or blown out as is too common, and every instrument, including the vocals do their part to make something monumental. This is an epic, a tiny epic, "it's like sitting at home and risking yr life". Radon Chong's I Keep On Talking to You receives a Good.

If you're in Pittsburgh, be sure to check out Radon Chong's release show for this album on August 26th at the Mr. Roboto Project. They are playing with the always excellent, and sonically similar, Night Vapor along with two touring bands, Nonzoo and Lake Lake. Here's a link to the Facebook event. I hope to see you there!

EDIT: The album title was incorrectly written here as "I Can't Stop Talking To You" (hence the web address); it has been changed to the correct one.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Girls Rock! Pittsburgh Showcase 2017

This year, 2017, is the 5th year of Girls Rock! Pittsburgh, a summer camp for 8-to-18-year-old girls who want to learn about and play musick. Every year, they have a showcase for the bands that were formed that year; I have been to most of them. This year's showcase was on August 12th and at the Winchester Thurston Lower School.

I got to the showcase when it was just starting. There were various tables of merch, both band merch, created by the girls who attended the summer camp, and Girls Rock! merchandise. There were shirts, zines, pins, and some CDs from the previous years. When we got in, many people were seated, both people from the music scene and more "normal" families. I was impressed with the size and design of the auditorium; I liked the colors and the shape.

This year, nine bands were formed at the summer camp. These bands included (in performance order): Freak Show, Dark Butterfly, Dangerous Dragons, Copyright, Pac-selated Girls, Picking Petals, The Wicked 5, Total Blackout, and Girls of Rock. All of the bands were interesting, and they had very unique song structures, these coming from, often, young children with little musical training and done in only one week. A lot of the songs were kind of dark, but I also could not make out the lyrics that well. I really liked the sound of Freak Show; I would be surprised if the singer did not continue doing music as she gets older. Their song, "We Are the Freaks", had charm and powerful energy that made me think of Big Brother and the Holding Co. with their R Crumb album cover. Freak Show seemed to have some of the older members, and I was surprised at how young some of the participants were, Girls of Rock seeming very young especially. Two of the bands all fell down after their sets. I wonder if this trend is related to protest die-ins being re-contextualized by young children?

During the performances, the sound was good, though the guitars seemed quiet. In previous years, I have found the sound to be kinda screechy with too much feedback. I'm sure that was partially due to the sound systems used and the spaces that were rented out, such as the church-shaped Union Project. I think it's probably also a little harder to mic young people who might not always be projecting their voices. Anyway, this one was pretty good. The only other minor criticism I have is that the lighting changed oddly at times, sometimes going pretty dark.

As always, the band logos were projected behind the bands. Some of these were very whimsical, such as the Pac-selated Girls logo, with the members drawn as the monsters and heroes of Ms. Pacman. I really liked the Blackout logo, so I bought their pin. The Girls of Rock logo had a strange amorphous quality to it, kind of spooky, which was really cool to me. The Copyright logo reminded me of the performance the Dead Kennedys did where they wore shirts with the letter "S" on them and then brought a necktie from behind their back to make a dollar sign.

I hope Girls Rock! Pittsburgh continues for a long time and is able to teach many young women about empowerment through musick. Some of the participants have attended the summer camp for multiple years, and it is interesting to see how some of them have aged out of it and gone on to do musick and art in "the real world" (read the last three words in a scary voice for maximum effect). If you have a child who might be interested in attending in 2018, or you want to get involved in some way (instrument donation, funding, volunteering), check out the Girls Rock! Pittsburgh website at girlsrockpittsburgh.org. Organizations like these can only exist with support from the community; if nothing else, maybe I will see you at next year's showcase.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Aunt Dracula - Freaker review

Aunt Dracula is the noise project of Philadelphia's Scott Daly. I'm not sure how I came upon Aunt Dracula, but it is a perfect name combined with perfect trash/lo-fi/horror/melted fairy tale aesthetic. Not long ago, I saw this new album, Freaker, in my Facebook feed; the art reached out to me like a doppelganger in a mirror in a nightmare I had when I was a child, so I had to click on it.

The cover is a beautiful grotesque, a monster with a horror OVA color-palette preserved in latex, some kind of mask. It's got a Tim Burton-striped pointed head, a curved horn, and a tokusatsu gem. The creature's face is in a fiendish grin, a symptom of an indulger of the Hyborian lotus perhaps, with a tongue, also striped as though in a Tim Burton film, emerging through roughs of teeth under three eyes. It's just the profile of that beast and the title.

The album starts out with the chaotic mirror entity related "Stepping into a Giant Magic Melting Mirror", which sounds like an amorphous Bowie mutant fusing with weird plastic monsters on a plastic castle on a platter of various funk LPs spinning and spinning. The next song spins a similar way, less spastically, drums almost dub reggae, vocals childishly scary, calling out to the cosmic void; this song is called "Black Pyramids". "Passion Fruit" begins with a sickeningly sweet dried crackling intro of crystalline tones before going into some heavy plodding sort of dub/funk covered in gobs of distorted slime nets. "Power Moves" starts with a warp speed/race car sound, and then it's like hearing a chant from the Banana Splits band in a deep cavern. "Gonna climb right up to the top eating a cherry freezie pop". These childhood chants are interspersed with VCR static warbling and it ends with a journey off to distant crystal star worlds.

"My Bloody Frankenstein" takes a different turn with it's phasing arpeggios and vast space sounds; there are no cavernous boulders here, but there is the whooshing of water. The vocals get lost in the space world, echoing into some large number that could be infinity as they recite the title. "Ego Problem" reminds me of the musick from the Sea of Japan from the game Mystical Ninja: Starring Goemon or the soundtrack to the game RayStorm (aka Layer Section II). It has the dub drums and some more spacey sounds; it's not as chaotic, and there are no vocals. I got lost in this song. Towards the end it gets really cold and scares me.

The next track, "Lights Out", has vocals that remind me of Vincent Price or the singer from the Deviants. It's a dense beat with bat screech horror sounds above and around. There's kind of like a baby crying or something somewhere far away in a dream. "Pharoah's Ghost" reaches the crystal stars on a rocket with a weird nursery rhyme vocal to a creaky dub beat. "Sine Wave of the Para-static Ultra Maze" has a ghostly choir, off-kilter drums, and static bursts (para-static being paranormal static?). At the halfway point there's a turn towards techno drums and space sounds with an almost calming harp, an exit to the maze.

"Dreams Burnt Through the Core of Paktakaars Moon" is another creepy instrumental, more techno than dub. The layers of dread congeal into a hole in my head as the song goes on. "Scripscrap (Script Flipped)" goes back to dub drums with some cool synth sounds and hissing; it makes me dizzy (but that's the nature of this strange underworld). It made me think of stories of vast machines underneath the Appalachian Mountains, as told in Fate Magazine. The last track, "Freaker", breaks out with a horde of bats or insects or other small weirdos before a beat accompanies a weird story recited to nobody. It reminds me of the Velvet Underground's "The Gift". The vocals break up and slowdown and reverse, dreamlike, as it is. I was humored and worried by the segments of the story I could make it. "He vaguely recalled seeing a magazine for 160 dollars". The dread builds. The man, David, the lead character, drives off to nowhere. Naked, he stares a cow down. I won't spoil the end, but it's scary as it goes on.

The production on Freaker is dense and open at the same time; the instruments cluster together with heavy weights within the vacuum of the Platonic Sphere. The songs are well done, though they can be a bit samey at times. Despite this, there was still a decent variety of songs. I love the aesthetic - it's scary and unhinged, a lotus dream wonderland, dark with dripping plastic and ephemera from various media. This might be one of my favorite albums ever. It's the place I've been searching for. I hope the album gets released physically; vinyl in particular would look great with the giant, monster face staring off, but I like CDs and tapes too. Freaker gets a Good. Give it a listen.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Last Minute Kagedama

I was asked to play a show on August 7th only the day before. I was bringing the PA too. Another band had dropped off, and I guess there was some confusion over the PA situation. I considered asking my bandmates in Sorry I'm Dead, but, since it was so last minute, I decided to play solo as Satyr/Elfheim.

It was going to be the first Satyr/Elfheim show in over a year. I was both excited and nervous. I was excited to be playing noise again, feeling rejuvenated with new ideas and equipment, but the show was starting soon after I got off of work. August 7th was dreary; it rained that morning, so I had to take the bus to work rather than ride my bike. Taking the bus slows my commute. I was able to rush out of work at the end of the day, but now I needed to figure out what I was going to do for my set.

Originally I was set on using my sequencer and some synths, but, when I started working on it, I ran into some problems. I couldn't find the power cable for my ring modulator, I didn't like the setup I had for the sequencer, and I am not yet proficient with my Micro-Korg. There wasn't a lot of time to figure this stuff out either; I had to eat and get the PA equipment ready! I kept glancing over at the pedalboard I have set up for Satyr/Elfheim, my standard array lined up still ready to use. However, I decided I would do something else. I took my now standard Strat and made a new setup of pedals, using a new fuzz and pseudo-tape echo, my normal DOD Echo FX and Meatbox, and the really little looper that I have used rarely; I wanted to bring the Boomerang, but it is just too big. I was able to fit everything, wrapped in bubble wrap, into a piece of luggage except the mixer, which I put into a box. It was done just in time.

When I got to the venue, Nettle Nest, not a ton of people were there. We were a tiny bit late, but the touring band and I got set up quickly. I couldn't remember the name of their band, but I found them to be super nice. I played first, and it was great! At first, I was a little nervous, but everything really came together quickly. The pedals worked really well together, and I was able to get some great sounds. I played the first Satyr/Elfheim song, "Giants of Earth", but it was a lot different too. It sounded excellent! Deep darkness rumbled through wisps of aether; sonic sharpness scattered across the room. The only real issue was that the lights were all on; I didn't think of it until I was halfway through the set. Everybody only had positive things to say, and the guitarist from Kagedama praised my guitar work, saying that whatever it was that I was doing with my hands exactly during the middle part of the track, it made some really strange sounds. I have another noise set coming up at Treasure #7 on October 5th at Howlers, and I hope you will be there. That's gonna be more ambient; originally I had the same synth stuff in mind, but now I'm leaning more towards doing something new with the guitar. You'll have to come out and see!



Kagedama, taking their name from the anime Mushishi, played second. They are a queer black metal band from Milwaukee, and I enjoyed their set a lot. I rarely listen to black metal alone, but I do like seeing these kinds of bands live. The drums were a little sloppy, and the bass should have been louder. However, the guitar parts were so cool, and everything came together as a whole, the sum of the parts something very chaotic and wild. All the band members were cool, and we spoke about nerd stuff and whatever. The bass player does a festival called Filth Fest Milwaukee; it's a queer punk festival and seems pretty neat. I got the compilation tape they put out for the fest, but I haven't listened to it yet; I will soon.




Thief in Your Head played last. They were great. I've spoken of them before, but I will say again that I am pretty impressed by this band. They combine screamo and noise rock and maybe some metal for a cool sound! The guitar player uses a bass amp in addition to a weird 70s Ampeg, and it works amazingly; I feel like these setups can be kinda shitty a lot of the time, but here it sounds so dark and vicious. The singer sounds and moves like Darby Crash or Stiv Bators. The drums are fast and tight. They were too loud for my small PA unfortunately, though I'm not sure I could have made out the words anyway. This fall, Thief in Your Head is going on tour, maybe to yr town (if yr not in Pittsburgh).

After the show, I was super tired. We had to bring the equipment back to my house, but the guitar player from Thief in Your Head helped and gave me a ride back. It was great to see Thief in Your Head again, and I enjoyed hearing Kagedama and hanging out with everybody for a bit. This was kind of what a house show should be, and thankfully there wasn't any awfulness or grossness (in the environment) or severe intoxication or police. It was actually fun (wow!), and the show ended early enough that it wasn't tiring (unlike my job) like some of the Roup shows were, those going on into the late hours of the night. Most importantly, for me, this show made me feel a lot more confident to do Satyr/Elfheim again. I'll see you on October 5th for Treasure #7.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Kid Congo Powers

Back on May 14th, 2016, I went to see Kid Congo Powers at the Brillobox. I was only sort of familiar with him in that I had heard The Cramps' Psychedelic Jungle and had read about him on Wikipedia. Kid Congo Powers is a guitarist who played with The Gun Club and Nick Cave, in addition to the previously mentioned Cramps. He also was the head of the Ramones Fan Club, which is awesome. I decided to go, because my friend Dan's band, the Spectres, were playing the show.



The Spectres were the first band to play. They did their two-piece garage rock thing, which is always good. James, on drums and guitar, was more prominent for this set; usually his vocals don't come through super well, but it was fine this time.  His songs were really energetic and fun. It was a good set to set the tone of the night.


Next up was a band I have not seen for a long time - The Gothees. I saw them at a place called The Shooting Gallery a long time ago. That venue was really cool in a weird, screwed up kind of way. When I went there, directly under Arsenal Lanes, with my friend Kyle back in high school around Halloween, we were greeted by broken guitars hanging from the ceiling, spray-painted walls, a cake, and some people talking about sniffing markers. That show was one of the first shows I ever went to, and it left a lasting impression on me.

It was good to see the Gothees again. I remember looking them up after the show and being disappointed by what I heard, but the set this night was good. They have described themselves as a sort of "bubblegum pop goth", but I think they just sound like Rocket From the Tombs or Destroy All Monsters, though less energetic. The members of the band all wore suits, and the frontperson had a theremin, which is pretty cool, it was only used on a few songs. The band has the melodrama of a 60s sci-fi or horror film, the vocal style of the villain's monologue before he attempts to end the heroes lives and fails in a dramatic way resulting in his own death. This band doesn't play very often for some reason.


Kid Congo Powers was last, and he was awesome! His band, the Pink Monkey Birds, sonically journeyed from the dusty desert, speckled film grain of Rowland S. Howard and Ennio Morricone, to city street garage rock. Everything was overall fast and driving, fuzztone full blast fat guitar head-on collision sounds. The drummer was especially excellent, but the whole band was awesome - so tight! The dual guitar lineup sounded great; sometimes, this kind of thing just overlaps and makes nothing but mud. Powers' vocals were strong and sorta funky or maybe kinda like ? and the Mysterians, blunt and not particularly melodic. He was a super nice dude when I talked to him after the show too.

I'm really glad I went to the show. It was kind of a last minute decision, as I mentioned above. It was worth it though. Kid Congo Powers was so cool, and the other bands were great too. I was pleasantly surprised by the Gothees' set, and the Spectres are always great! Sometimes you can end up in a lot of debt to credit card companies for buying expensive guitars and games and stuff when you do something without thinking, but sometimes it's good to make impulsive decisions. Anyway, I'll see you next time!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Dredging Slime - Multicult at Gooski's & Variable Impulse review

A long time ago, just right here in Pittsburgh, I was asked to play a show at Gooski's with the Baltimore noise rock band, Multicult. By a long time ago, we're talking August 18th, 2014, so it's been almost 3 years. I still want to review these old shows, and this one was pretty cool, so here we are.

Nick from Multicult set up the show, and I helped with a few things. Originally we were set for Roboto, and Cyrus Gold was also going to play. Then the show moved to Gooski's, and Cyrus Gold dropped. I was luckily able to get my friend Mihalko to play. He uses a bunch of different names for his sets; this one was Flesh Heels.

I brought a small setup, because I rode my bike to Gooski's. Some friends saw me on the way there, and we might have loaded everything into their car; I don't remember. When we got to Gooski's, the sound was kinda goofy, and I had never run sound there before. Luckily, there were people there who knew what they were doing (thanks John Roman!).  For my set, I used a small sequencer and made some eerie alien sounds with its tones. I think I did well, and it was a fun set to play. With the blue lights above, a lights ensconced a dark mire, on this world or another. I will probably be doing something like this at the next Satyr/Elfheim show, the first in a long while, this September.


Next up was Flesh Heels. Unlike most of his sets, Mihalko did not bring one of his weird homemade guitars for this one. He did some cool noisy guitar stuff, going on a little longer than he maybe should have. I liked the creepy lizard mask.


Finally, Multicult played, an actual band on this short show. They were really good. I loved the bass tone; it has to be one of the best ever! The guitarist and drummer were good too, but the bass was really the standout instrument for me, a thick but not too low growl. Multicult is fast and tight and off-kilter in a way. It was hard to hear the vocals, due to the sound issues, but they are hard to understand for me even on the album from that tour.


Before I go, let's talk about Variable Impulse, Multicult's 2014 album. They also did an album last year, Position Remote, but I'm reviewing this ancient show here. Variable Impulse sounds a lot like the live show, and that is good. The album starts with "Othello", a song that has some cool bass sounds underneath the thrashy guitar; those bass growls really make this song. "Particle Shower", the following song is more interesting; there are some cool riffs here and more weird bass tones. It's also a little faster. The album steps back a bit for "Foreign Object", an atmospheric journey. More cool riffs and angular guitars happen. There's a bit of a Nirvana "loud quiet loud" thing going on here. Multicult isn't so far from grunge, but they aren't as detuned as a tarpit mummy. This album has Albini-esque production, so it needs to be turned up a bit to really make it pop; then it's great! "Melee" is a great bass-driven rocker, one of my favorites on the album, and it's followed by the post-punk by means of the Wipers, "Expressionless". I really like this song too. "Ungrounded" and "Jaws" continue the trudge forward, almost becoming too samey, but the great guitar fills on "Jaws" keep it all fresh. I really liked these guitar fills; they remind me of something I might do. Later, the heavy drum fills split the seas like an old sage calling to a sky god; that is also good. There is some very grindy bass on the next track "Nimbus", like it sounds like things being ground up, which is gross but cool. The album closes out with the harder, "PCP" and the title track "Variable Impulse". I wish the vocals were more prominent, but it's a great album. Multicult dredged up some toxic Baltimore sludge for this one. Variable Impulse gets a Good.

I really like Multicult and Variable Impulse. I missed them when they came again after this show. Thankfully they will be back this year on September 29th with a stacked lineup, including Philly's Soul Glo, at Roboto. I will be there, and it will be here soon after. I don't want to wait 3 years again.