Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Upcoming Concert: Hammer No More the Fingers with The Big Picture, Thursday, March 1st

Joe Hall on guitar, Duncan Webster on bass
Raleigh is in for quite a treat on Thursday. Hammer No More the Fingers, the indie-punk/pop/rock trio from Durham, N.C. is headlining Tir Na Nog Irish Pub's weekly Local Band, Local Beer Night.

 Jeff Stickley on drums
HNTF has been rocking the Triangle for years and just recently released their third and most polished album last year. Their sound is unique and tricky to describe, as even they admit. Some critics call them emotional rock, without being emo. For me, Weezer comes to mind as a major influence (see Vodka Grasshopper). The songs are short and catchy, with melodies and choruses sure to have you on your feet, moving to thumping bass-lines and up-beat drumming.

The Big Picture
The Big Picture is opening up for HNMTF and I can't wait to hear them, as they feature a mix of some of the bigger names in the Triangle music scene (Johnny and Joah Tunnell of The Never, Nick Radford of The Annuals, Leah Gibson of Lost in the Trees). They're described as experimental pop, at times reminiscent of The Arcade Fire. Come enjoy a local brew and some awesome local music this Thursday at 10 p.m.!

Hammer No More the Fingers - Shark (Black Shark, 2011)
Hammer No More the Fingers - Radiation (Looking for Bruce, 2009)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Track Review: Nothing but Our Love by Dale Earndhardt Jr. Jr. (Live)

Forget synthesizers and drum machines. Why not have a grand piano and an organ instead?

That's exactly what Detroit duo Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. does so well with this live performance in Sólheimar, Iceland. For those who haven't heard the original version of this tune, it is heavy with bass guitar, a drum machine, acoustic guitar, and synthesizers. However, in this seemingly impromptu live version they perform sans mics, using only a grand piano, organ, and the acoustics of a sun-lit wooden-walled church to fill the void of minimal musical accompaniment. Joshua Epstein (organ) and Daniel Zott's (piano) soaring harmonies are spot-on. The result, reminiscent of The Beatles, is a somewhat chilling and stirring version of an otherwise chilled-out synth-ridden song. 

Nothing but Our Love - Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Track Review: Oro y Sangre by John Talabot

Who would have thought girl screams in techno music would work so well together? John Talabot did with his song titled "Oro y Sangre" off his new album ƒin. The basics of this song are not that different than other songs in its music genre, but when Talabot added those scream sounds, it made his track standout for me. Although this song lacks lyrics, which I'm usually not a fan of, Talabot still managed to keep the listener intrigued through out the whole song. Instantly I knew this was a unique song to me, as I have never heard screams work so well with synthesizer sounds and electronic beats.

I had never heard of John Talabot until I found this song. Now with his album in my hands I look forward to hearing what else Talabot has up his sleeve. Look for a reivew of fin soon, along with more tracks from the album.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Track Review: A Walk by Tycho

Who says you need lyrics to write an amazing song?

I've been listening to Tycho for several months now but was blown away when I discovered this song. "A Walk" is a track from Tycho's most recent release, Dive (2011).

Tycho is the project of San Franciscan graphic designer, Scott Hansen. (Check out his amazing graphic designs and listen to more Tycho here.) His work, though electronic, seems to derive some interesting undertones from other genres. If post-rock was entirely electronic in nature, I think it might sound something like this: slow, tranquil, and gradual starts that culminate into a much bigger, broader picture. So instead of noisy, echoing guitars, Tycho provides dreamy, layered synthesizers with a sound seemingly inspired by 1970s electronic. Though this track appears to be a bit lengthy, Tycho keeps your attention with varying dynamics, well-placed pauses, and heavy electronic choruses.

A Walk - Tycho

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Concert Recap: Yonder Mountain String Band

The last time I saw Yonder Mountain String Band was at Bonnaroo in 2005. Prior to Bonnaroo I had listened to several of their live albums, but after seeing them live in Nashville, TN recently, I realized that their live recordings just don't do them justice. I was impressed by their 2005 Bonnaroo performance, but the show was not as memorable as other shows I attended that year. This time around I really feel like I witnessed the band for what they really are, a talented, live entertaining newgrass jam band. 

For those of you who are not familiar with Yonder Mountain String Band, I'll give you some details before I get into the actual show. The band was formed in Nederland, Colorado in 1998. They have released 6 studio albums and several live albums. The band consists of 4 talented musicians: Dave Johnston (banjo), Jeff Austin (mandolin, vocals), Ben Kaufmann (bass, vocals), and Adam Aijala (guitar, vocals). All contribute a great deal to the band's sound, music, and writing. The band has created such a large fan base that they have their own music festival in Arkansas called "Yonder Mountain's Harvest Festival". Of course, Yonder headlines, but they have brought in other large bands, such as Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Railroad Earth, Corey Smith, to name a few. Given their large fan base I knew that I was in for a treat since I was seeing them in "Music City".

The venue called Marathon Music Works, was a newly renovated warehouse on the outskirts of the downtown area. It was the venue's second show since opening earlier this year. The inside was huge, able to hold 1,500 people with two large restrooms and two fully stocked bars (local beers on tap). Experiencing a live show at a new venue that had excellent lighting equipment, sound system, and well-maintained restrooms was very pleasant . The stage was set on the side wall of the venue which allowed for just about everyone to have a great view of the band.

While I mainly paid to see YMSB, the opening band, The Infamous Stringdusters, was a great bonus. The band was much like YMSB but a little more traditional. YMSB chooses bands like the Infamous Stringdusters to open for them because they invite the opening band to come back out to play with them. This makes for a great show because the unique blend of music not heard on YMSB's albums. Hearing their music, old and new, brought out the bluegrass lover in me and I danced pretty much through the whole show.

If you enjoy bluegrass/newgrass music with great vocals and lyrics, check out Yonder Mountain String Band and keep an eye out for a live show close to where you live. You will not be disappointed with what you see and hear.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Album Review: The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy by Nada Surf

I found reviewing this album to be particularly challenging. In my mind I expected something similar to Lucky (2008) or This Weight is a Gift (2005), two albums that feature a more polished, nonetheless driven indie rock group. (And of course, long gone are the days of "Popular" from High/Low (1996).) What I heard was something very different, and my first listen to the album almost left me disappointed. I knew better, however, and I continued to listen to the album, searching for notable songs, and a few began to emerge.

"When I Was Young" surfaced as my favorite of the album (download on their website!). It begins with a typical Matthew Caws acoustic guitar intro, with his piercingly high voice cutting through the ringing guitar riff. The song builds and the drums and bass begin to thunder along, driving the melody. The harmonies are classic Nada Surf. That is, Caws harmonizing with himself. The bridge is musical in a way that is typical to Nada Surf, and the tune comes to a powerful close, leaving nothing more to be desired. This a song that any Nada Surf lover will enjoy.

My other favorite is "Let the Fight Do the Fighting", a track falling towards the end of the album. It starts off somberly with an electric guitar in a minor key with some neat harmonies between the keyboards and another guitar. Caws' stunning high-pitched voice chimes in. Then the drums and bass kick in as they would in any older Nada Surf song. This song is unique in that it features a trumpet solo by Martin Wenk, a German trumpeter who has toured and recorded with Calexico and Arcade Fire, to name a few. The chorus is catchy and the finish is strong.

Overall the album is lacking some of the types of tunes that made their older albums so great ("Happy Kid" and "Killian's Red" come to mind). Matthew Caws' vocals seem a bit too polished at times, some of the choruses get a little too repetitive, and certain songs are lyrically flat. However, I find this to be a very solid album with lots of catchy tunes and choruses that will keep you coming back for more. Not bad for 16 years in showbiz! I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Concert Recap: Fountains of Wayne

I finally had the chance to see my favorite band from my high school days. Power-pop quartet Fountains of Wayne played a stellar set at the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, N.C. To my surprise, my friends and I were some of the youngest people there, surrounded by a lot of 40+ year-old couples who weren't afraid to headbang lightly when appropriate. Opening for FoW was the less than exciting group, The Stars Explode. My friends and I showed up late, anxiously awaiting FoW and attempting to miss the opening act.

After The Stars Explode cleared the stage and many excruciating minutes of waiting, FoW took the stage. Surprisingly, I quickly found myself wondering if I had wasted my money. Lead singer Chris Collingwood's guitar pedals were not working and his guitar was inaudible. A roadie worked quickly to resolve the situation and Collingwood had to repeat a verse of "I've Got a Flair" from their self-titled release (1996). After a few songs, the band settled in and proceeded to rock out, playing a good mix of newer and older material. Even without the synthesizers that are present in so many of their recorded songs, the band managed to present a full sound, and Jody Porter, lead guitarist, didn't miss a note in his solos.

Notable numbers include "Radiation Vibe", where FoW showed off their ability to play measures of classic rock songs, then quickly return to the original tune. "Hey Julie" from Welcome Interstate Managers (2003) featured the percussive work of three members of the crowd. "Valley Winter Song" was befitting for the evening, given the bitter, blustery cold weather outside. In the encore, "Stacy's Mom" was rearranged into a slow, jazz piano-infused tune, perhaps taking a stab at the crowd members who came hoping only to hear this one-hit wonder. All in all it was a great show, but one can only hope for a better opening act if they return to the area.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Album Review: Be the Void by Dr. Dog

While their genre of music is nothing uncommon, Dr. Dog has a very unique sound that can't be mistaken by today's other pop indie bands. Their trend of raspy vocals (Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman) mixed with organic, catchy guitar rifts (Frank McElroy), mingled drumming (Eric Slick), and dramatic keyboards (Zach Miller) continues with Dr. Dog's seventh LP Be The Void.

When this album was in the works, I was hoping Dr. Dog would move towards something I have had yet to hear from this talented band. After listening to Be The Void I was slightly disappointed to hear a lot of similar sounds the band has used before. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing, as the band took what they had learned from their more poppy music from Fate and Shame, Shame and brought back their strong, psych rock sound from their older albums Easy Beat and We All Belong. This blend has created songs that use more raw guitar rifts , such as, "Vampire" and "Lonesome".

While Be The Void is a more dynamic, southern rock album, Dr. Dog has stayed true to writing their music with layers of pop harmonies, something that gives this band their unique sound. Songs like "How Long Must I Wait" and "Do The Trick" are just like the songs that first drew me to this band back in 2009.

Be The Void is another solid album by Dr. Dog and it continues their impressive run of making unique but traditional sounding 60's style pop/rock music. While I can't quite find that one song that makes me want to keep playing on repeat, like "Shadow People" from Shame, Shame or "The Old Days" from Fate, I think I will keep going back to this album because this band does a great job paying attention to detail on each one of their songs, which is the essence to making a fantastic album.