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Aural Slate Recordings: “No Tears” – Lo Moda

So I’m alive and well in Boston, just not so well with the having of free time. Fortunately I was able to help finance one last project out of Baltimore, putting one of its criminally underappreciated bands on wax for the first time. I’m happy to say Lo Moda tracked a 4 song 12″ EP limited to 300.

If you are in the area, be sure to drop by Windup Space tonight for the release show tonight with Monster Museum.

Enjoy this last track off the EP, and check out the page at Aural Slate Recordings for more info on the release as I get a chance to put it up.

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Preview: Counting Crows @ Pier Six Pavilion (2010.07.12)

Do you know what I love about Baltimore?  We have our own water-front concert pavilion right in the middle of the harbor.  It is the perfect place to see a show, and there is plenty to do before or after you hit the venue.  This Monday night, you can catch Counting Crows performing with Augustana and NOTAR for The Traveling Circus & Medicine Show.

This is promised to be a special night because, unlike traditional shows, there is no “opening act.”  All acts perform throughout the whole entire evening, sometimes playing alone or with members from the other bands (similar to the famed Round Robin series).  Get there on time and enjoy a fun night with the Counting Crows at Baltimore’s Pier Six Pavilion THIS Monday evening July 12th!

To buy tickets, click here.

To read more about their tour, click here.

Preview: Ben Harper and Relentless7 @ Pier Six Pavilion (2010.04.20)

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MP3: Ben Harper and Relentless7 – Under Pressure (Queen cover) from Live from the Montreal International Jazz Festival (2010)

How this so-called “Campus Consciousness” Tour, featuring Ben Harper and Relentless7 and opener Alberta Cross wound up at Pier Six Pavilion on the biggest stoner holiday…well, the only stoner holiday of the year…is beyond me. I mean, who wants to “Burn One Down” in the Inner Harbor?

The last time you may have seen the Relentless7 (of which there are four) was when they were awkwardly backing up Ringo Starr on the Daily Show. Their performance was admittedly not awe-inspiring, probably because they were playing the songs of Ringo Starr (inexplicably a frequent guest of the band). But Ben Harper and Relentless7 will definitely be an exciting act live, which is especially impressive because Harper often plays seated.

Relentless7 is a more rock-oriented group than previous bands Harper has toured with, and their album White Lies for Dark Times thankfully takes more chances than Harper’s adult-contemporary hits from the early part of the 00s. You’ll hear lots of intriguing guitar meandering, some shifting drum patterns, and Harper’s typically incidental lyrics. No, they aren’t a band I listen to all the time. But the best songwriters on record aren’t necessarily the best performers. Take Arctic Monkeys, who I love to listen to on record, but I was a bit disappointed with their unilateral approach live. Ben Harper and Relentless7 are a band that thrives on their live shows, on the flux and unpredictability of real-time performance. Harper is a singularly joyous and charming showman. His concerts are fantastic specifically because they branch out into so many different styles from their blues-rock origins, from funk to hard rock, to pop, to folk, by turns imbued with the spirits of Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Blues Traveler, Parliament, or (perhaps needless-to-say) Lenny Kravitz.

Alberta Cross is the opener, and for some reason they always remind me of the Verve when I hear them. The songs have the same wandering, spacey, barely held together quality, but Petter Stakee is a far quirkier singer than Richard Ashcroft. His voice occasionally takes on a Cedric Bixler-Zavala-like timbre. The songs share some of the Mars Volta’s unhinged volatility while lacking their diamond-cut production and dadaist lyricism. I hadn’t listened to them before, but they are a band playing well beyond their years at the moment. With an opening spot for Ben Harper, they probably stand to increase their cachet. Their imagination on record is admirable and they deserve more than a passing listen.

Preview: Konk Pack, Matmos, Leprechaun Catering @ the 5th Dimension (2010.03.26)

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  1. MP3: The Work – Cain & Abel from Slow Crimes (1982)
  2. MP3: Konk Pack – Off Leash Excerpt from Off Leash (2004)

Tentative plan for tonight: 930PM start, order (first to last) = Matmos > Leprechaun Catering > Konk Pack

Tonight, Baltimore is once again ground-zero for an atom-bomb of experimental improv talents. Firstly, there are few openers that hit harder than the one-two punch of local luminaries Leprechaun Catering and Matmos. The former’s ever-engrossing, stream of thought racket combines seamlessly with the latter’s deft compositions that somehow use unconventional tools to mine the deepest pits of experimentalism, and emerge with gleaming gold nuggets of pop.

But people around here already know that. So I’m going to take a second and introduce tonight’s special guests, British/German imrpov trio Konk Pack. Read the rest…

NoVo / Nouveau: Introductions

You’ve probably seen or heard something about this week’s inaugural NoVo (No Vocals) instrumental music festival somewhere around town (City Paper, Fox45, WYPR’s Maryland Morning and the Signal, the Baltimore Sun), and with such an impressive lineup, you’d be a fool to miss it.

Since opening the Windup Space, owner Russell de Ocampo (also a member of instrumental band Yeveto) has yearned to hold a festival that would highlight the different flavors of instrumental music in Baltimore. When asked why instrumental often gets the short shrift, de Ocampo mused that ” a lot of people tend to view it as soundtrack music, or background music, so I think that it kind of gets that stigma to it. People don’t tend to think of it as something to be watched at a live show, or to be listened to directly.” In an effort to combat this perception, de Ocampo teamed up with Matthew Leffler-Schulman (owner of Mobtown Studios) to create this 5 day showcase of instrumental splendor.  However, Matthew Leffler-Schulman notes that instrumental is not without its successes in the realm of pop music, citing singles such as “Green Onions” from Booker T. & the MGs whose riff has become almost ubiquitously associated with slick and cool.

Taking a historical look at European attitudes towards strictly instrumental music, it is clear that religious institutions and figureheads, who played large roles in direction of culture and society, had an unfavorable view of instruments themselves. In fact, little remains of ancient music despite the fact that evidence suggests Romans and Greeks had extensive systems of musical notation. This is largely due to their destruction by the early founders of the Christian church. One pillar of their reasoning was that the best praise for God would be using God’s gifts (ie- voices) and not crude, man-made implements. Furthermore, instrumental in the period of Early Music (6th-17th centuries) was so closely associated with dance that it was demonized as the flawed and sinful province of the salacious and deviant. As the era of Early Music progressed (particularly through the Medieval period), instrumental music gained prominence outside the realm of dance owed to the growing tradition of theater.

Through huge leaps in musical notation in the Baroque period, and the advances in polyphony through Early Music, instrumentalists rose in prominence and finally had a codified language to write music with, likely facilitating the development of classical music (probably the genre most associated with instrumental composition). While a lynchpin of classical and jazz, instrumental compositions and artists have gotten more than their fair share of negative press within the broader consciousness of fans outside of those two genres. This makes NoVo a brazen choice, particularly for a popular music venue, to strictly focus on solely instrumental music. Thankfully for them Baltimore’s wellspring of talent operating in this realm is overflowing.

Tonight everything gets kickstarted with the free Out Of Your Head Collective’s 1 Year Anniversary featuring three sets from local invaluable improv-ers, such as pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn and reed-man John Dierker. Check back here throughout the week for more info on daily performers, and starting next week we’ll be providing full live recordings of the entire festival.

Check out the NoVo website for full lineup and schedule.

Preview: Celebration’s Yin Yang Show @ the Creative Alliance (2010.02.26)

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  1. MP3: Celebration – I Will Not Fall
  2. MP3: Celebration – Open Your Heart

Celebration are one of Baltimore’s more reclusive groups, and one of the city’s best treasures with a sound that is always captivating, always evolving, and always delivering a show-stopping live set. Their darkly brooding, churning songs have outstretched the bounds of the genre portmanteau “punk cabaret,” reaching far and wide with high-profile (TVOTR) and local (Ami Dang’s sitar) collaborations that have wrought a distinct and unhinged sound.

They signed with one of the more revered and high-quality indies (4AD) in 2005, and released the stellar Celebration (2006) and Modern Tribe (2007). Over the past couple years however, they have cast aside the traditional music industry business model associated with being a band. In early 2009 they parted ways with 4AD, choosing instead to engage in a number of increasingly intriguing and mysterious projects including releasing free songs under the banner of their Electric Tarot series, and restricting their 2009 live appearances to elemental-themed performances in non-traditional venues (along with the occasional festival or one-off collaboration with friends).

The final show in their Elemental series was originally scheduled to take place on January 29th, but as most people around town know, the host venue was the now-dissolved LOF/t under the direction of Ric Royer, shutting down a scant few weeks before the show.

This all brings us to today, with a performance that seems to fall outside the scope of their Elemental series. In its stead we have a bonafide Celebration double-header featuring one acoustic and one electric set, aptly named the Yin Yang show. The show tonight doubles up for early-comers as an open house for the upstairs resident studios at the Creative Alliance, an opening of a new exhibit by Lauren Boilini and Becky Alprin downstairs, and a chance for a cheap chili dinner if you are so inclined. The space is great, and the music grand, so I can’t imagine a better place to spend a blustery Friday night.

Oh and it’s free.

Preview: Pfisters @ Ruintown (2010.02.19)

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MP3: Pfisters – She’s Mine from the forthcoming 12″ Narcicity (Fan Death Records)

Pfisters, Landlords, White Suns, Needle Gun @ Ruintown, Doors @ 9PM / $5

Tonight, roll, don’t walk, to your friendly neighborhood multi-use warehouse space as the concert venue cum industrial skate space Ruintown hosts yet another killer show.

The highlight of highlights will likely be the ferocious and aptly named headliners Pfisters. Fortunately for most, unlike their homophonic namesake, Pfisters will violate you only in ways you will enjoy. Rest assured that there will be ripping and shredding, but it won’t be painful. It’ll be glorious. Take my word for it, this new 12″ continues the stellar quality that has fast become synonymous with local upstarts Fan Death Records (for some real classic e-tainment, check out the dramatic brouhaha they stirred up at Washington City Paper).

Narcicity is a release full of piss and vinegar, the record bucks and thrashes like a righteous, punk-fueled bronco. This is unsurprising when you consider vocalist/guitarist Jason Donnells lays down bass lines in the New Flesh. A flurry of guitar and bass whips into a frothy frenzy with halting vocals and manic drums, possessing a combined stopping power not unlike a magnum. Technically, there is much more meat here in each song than your average punk or thrash band has over a full album, and it all cuts through the mix crisp and clear thanks to great production that polishes without buffing off the aesthetic edge. Pfisters even toss us a few experimental curveballs.

Keep your eyes peeled, because I’m definitely recommending this LP as its release nears with a proper, full-sized review. In the meantime, check out the track above and beat your feet to Falls Road tonight.

Aural States Fest II: Spotlights – Dustin Wong, Sick Sick Birds

Dustin Wong @ Open Space

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MP3: Dustin Wong – Matthew and Kenneth

I think we can all agree that Dustin Wong (likely you know him from Ponytail) knows his way around a guitar. Every effect-laden note found in his work, both solo and otherwise, is deeply imprinted with a profound familiarity for the instrument. Combined with his exceptional pneumatic awareness, Dustin Wong’s sound is surely nothing to take lightly. Recently the two of us sat down together, miles apart (or so I presume), and had ourselves an email chat about his solo work. Here lies the result.

AS: So, can you describe what exactly it is you’re trying to say with your compositions?

Dustin Wong: I definitely want the whole set to be an experience, kind of a loose narrative or a journey. Towards the sky with a sense of humor.

AS: How does that differ from your work with Ponytail?

DW: I use my pedals completely differently, although they are set up in the same way. Ponytail has a more horizontal build vs playing solo things build vertically, sounds stack up. Ponytail is my extrovert, and playing solo is my introvert.

AS: Your compositions are pretty bereft of structure–what is the writing process like? Do you look at your music linearly? Stream of consciousness?

DW: It’s definitely more of a stream of consciousness thing. I think my film background has an influence as well. I write music as if I’m editing video.

AS: What urged you to compose Seasons? Why the four seasons? What was the general conception like?

DW: I think it was realization and conception at the same time. There were a bunch of songs accumulating and I realized that they sounded like the season they were recorded in, so I just went for it.

AS: Greg sent me a copy of your “Matthew and Kenneth” demo, is that going to be featured on an upcoming release? Anything new in the works?

DW: I’ve been talking to Justin Kelly about releasing a cassette tape, and this was one of the tracks that I wanted to have on that release. Starting to think about it more concretely these days. Also in the process of recording my current set, hopefully I’ll get that done soon.

AS: Your set at the Hexagon last October was pretty fantastic, how do you usually go about your live performances?

DW: Thanks! I actually play a little better if I’m slightly nervous, maybe its because its heightening something. Also I love it if I feel like I’m inside the music rather than out.

AS: Looking forward to seeing anyone in particular at Aural States Fest II?

DW: Leprechaun Catering is going to be incredible. I’m looking forward to Sick Weapons and Lands &Peoples. Also, J. Robbins’ new band Office of Future Plans!


Sick Sick Birds @ the Metro Gallery

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MP3: Sick Sick Birds – Committees (Need A Champion) from Heavy Manners LP (2009)

Sick Sick Birds reconcile a sage and poetic approach with the sound of pop-punk, something normally associated with the trite and disposable. This, in and of itself, is reason to be impressed. Their dynamic live show carries all the energy of punk while channeling the bittersweet reflection of something more measured. Given that I practically wore out the grooves on their 2009 LP Heavy Manners, their inclusion in the fest is hardly surprising. Their live presence is still a relative rarity in these parts, so come out and bask in it. Here’s hoping they have an active 2010.

Aural States Fest II: Spotlights – Thrushes, Death Domain

Today, Brandon takes a moment with Thrushes for a few questions and another track premiere off their new full-length Night Falls, while I preach the gospel of Death Domain.

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MP3: Thrushes – Skywave from the forthcoming LP Night Falls

The Baltimore music scene has gotten loads of press over the past couple of years, but there are still plenty of bands that we love dearly that never get the recognition they deserve. Thrushes, your friendly neighborhood shoegaze/noise pop outfit, has managed to avoid the limelight in spite of the beautifully fuzzy “Wall of Sound” they produce. Fortunately, they have a new album, Night Falls, coming out in March.

We chatted with guitarist Casey Harvey about the upcoming release, and lead singer/guitarist Anna Conner chimed in to inform us about the themes on the group’s sophomore effort.

AS: I read that Casey and Rachel recruited Anna during a pick-up baseball game in 2005. Does anybody still play? I’m glad to hear people still play. It’s usually hard to get the right amount of people together.

CH: Unfortunately, it looks like that group of pick-up baseballers drifted apart over the last couple of years. It was a sunday friendly game that was pretty active for a few years and a lot of fun.

AS: Yay or nay on Andy MacPhail?

CH: Nay

AS: You guys have got a new album coming out in March! What can we expect?

Casey Harvey: Night Falls ups the stakes in every department. Thrushes’ trademark wall of sound, widescreen guitars and technicolor noise-pop are brilliantly polished to sparkle. Opening single “Trees” finds Thrushes in full on “Dazzle” mode. Bells ring, drums thunder, guitars chime, hearts break. “Crystals” is a conscious nod to ‘60’s girl group’s cotton-candy coated odes to fallen love. Night Falls illuminates the dark edges of town on brooding tracks “As Much to Lose” and “Juggernaut.”

AS: “Crystals” sounds a little more poppier, a little more uptempo. Was there a conscious effort to speed things up a bit on this record?

CH: I don’t think there was neccesarily a conscious effort to up the tempo, these just happened to be the songs that came out during this time period.

AS: Have you had much of a chance to work the songs out for the live setting?

CH: Some of the material, such as “Trees” and “Night Falls” were written almost immediately after we finished Sun Come Undone. So we’ve had those for a while. “Used to You” was written about a week before we started recording this album so we’ve got a good mix of road tested and fresh new material.

AS: Back in your marathon interview with Greg in 2008, Anna mentioned that some of the newer songs were about “angry heartbreak.” Is this a theme you developed further on Night Falls? What other themes did you touch on?

Anna Conner: Some of the songs on Night Falls are about heartbreak. Songs like “Night Falls,” “Crystals,” and “Juggernaut.” They were written at a time when I was facing some personal demons, and they really were helpful in the healing process. I like playing those “angry heartbreak” songs because they show me what I was going through then, like re-reading an old journal entry.

But not all of the songs are about heartbreak. The songs written after that period are about what happens after you’ve been through the worst of it: learning more about yourself, about who your friends are, and eventually about finding love again and finding the people in your life you can rely on. Night Falls tracks a journey for me. As the band evolved musically, I was evolving emotionally.


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MP3: Death Domain – Programmed Cell Death from the Ethidium Bromide 7″

Death Domain is a project remarkably underground, especially for a place like Baltimore where it seems you can’t get the mail without seeing someone you know or recognize from a show or a night at the bar. A Huntley Stroupe’s one-man minimalist synth act is a great contrast to Thrushes. The music has a chilling aesthetic owed to Stroupe’s near-monotone vocals and patently artificial sounds, yet it still motivates those primal, beat sensitive regions of your brain with repetitive, uptempo and machine-like pulses. Though I tend to abhor genre portmanteaus, “coldwave” is really the perfect tag for this music. As much as Thrushes’ music really gets your emotions out, Death Domain’s sublimates those urges with jarring proficiency, making you question if they were even there in the first place.

Get into it with some of his latest releases including an 8-song tape on Jerkwave (limited to 100 on silver tape), a 3 song 7″ on Army of Bad Luck (limited to 300, silk screened glow in the dark cover), and a 2 song 7″ on Dark Entries (limited to 400, silk screened glow in the dark covers with 100 of each nucleic acid, A/100, C/100, T/100, G/100). Look for a reissued split tape with High Marks, limited to 150.

What others are saying: Still Single, Freak Scene (Fader)

Aural States Fest II: Spotlights – Lands & Peoples, Jack Chick

Ed. Note: We’ll be running spotlights on all the artists playing our second anniversary show, Aural States Fest II, over the coming weeks. First up, Brandon talks with Caleb from Lands & Peoples, and I drop some fresh, raw demos from the newest act to be playing the fest: Jack Chick.

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MP3: Lands & Peoples – Awake

There’s little sense in me trying to sum up the sound of Lands & Peoples, other than to say that whenever they try their hand at something, the results are pretty fantastic. They can veer from Grizzly Bear-esque chamber pop with “Ukulele” and then shift gears to pulsing electronics and lush harmonies on “Awake,” all the while managing to sound like no other band out there.

We talked with the trio’s frontman, Caleb Moore, a lapsed blogger for this very site, about their possible upcoming LP, their ever-changing sound, and the wonderful ligature that is the ampersand.

AS: I read on your Tumblr that you were in the studio back in December, and that the result was either going to be an EP or LP. What did you decide?

CM: We are shooting for a full length LP, which will (we hope) be released by an “actual label,” and eventually (sexual favors) make it to vinyl. Also want to mention that in addition to the full length– we’re doing a 7″ split w/ our friends THIN HYMNS. They make amazing, beautiful music and they’re from Chicago.

AS: What’s it going to be called?

CM: We have to have a band seance before any big decisions such as that are made. No freaking clue!

AS: I’ve found it’s really impossible to pin you guys down to any one genre or aesthetic. How do you keep evolving your sound?

CM: We just can’t fucking help it– it’s good and bad for us. On one hand, we all have an immense appreciation for music that stays pretty tight in one aesthetic. I think that’s one way to really make an album an album. Wavves, Beirut, Nite Jewel, Washed Out, Beach House– they’re all different from one another, but have a VERY consistent sound on each album.

But also, we think diversity within a record/live performance can be really important and have a palate-cleansing type effect. So, for now it’s happening because we can’t control it, but one day maybe we will have a very specific sound? Seems hard to imagine for me.

AS: Maybe I didn’t poke around the right corners of the internet, but I didn’t see too many interviews with you guys. What’s your backstory? What inspires you guys, musically or otherwise?

CM: That’s a big question. Back story is that i made the L&P myspace to post some weirdo audio experiments that I’d been making w/ my computer, loop pedals, and stuff. Then i started writing songs– Amanda and I played for the first time in my old apartment in Charles Village above Donna’s. She sang harmonies on “Isabella” with me at a tender lil house show that I curated w/ buds of mine.

Beau was there that day too, visiting from NYC and playing a couple of his songs. Amanda and I kept playing, and I finally convinced Beau to move down here from NYC. Mostly because NYC sucks hard– errrr it can be a challenging place to live for anyone that’s not rich as fuck .. err.. Baltimore is cheaper.. shit. I don’t know. Point is, it worked out very well for him. We’ve all 3 been playing together since he moved down about a year ago, and we’re now toying with adding a bass player!! Whooohoooo!

AS: Your first EP was called &, and you make a point of punctuating your band name with an ampersand. Do you have a particular fondness for the ampersand? Why?

CM: Yes, I have a ‘&’ tattoo on my chest, the only one so far. They are just oh-so-pretty to me. Such a satisfying line to follow, and to draw. I got it w/ my friend Kate in order to seal our bond as super-friends forever, under the eyes of God, and the hairy tattoo artist that applied da ink.

AS: Who are you looking forward to seeing?

CM: EVERYONE. But, specifically I’m super pumped to see Height w/ Friends for the first time, whom my friend Mickey raps with. Also, True Womanhood and Dustin Wong both put on really great, interesting shows, and are nice dudez. The other people I’m actually very inexperienced with– so that will be fun to see a bunch of new Bmore music for the 1st time.


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01. MP3: Jack Chick – Why Don’t You Do Right
02. MP3: Jack Chick – Untitled

Jack Chick are a project that has been simmering and gestating for some time now. And I would’ve been none the wiser if not for my conversations with Jack Moore, El Suprimo head honcho and member of Mopar Mountain Daredevils (whose release in 2009 I highly recommend). While Mopar Mountain are on hold, Moore (keys) is joined by fellow Daredevil Derrick Hans (drums), and boyfriend-girlfriend duo Chrissy Howland from the Degenerettes (vocals, bass, keys) and studio whiz Rob Girardi (guitar).

With such a strong pedigree, it’s no surprise that their darkly swirling, experimental vision of psych is gripping. Their ever-evolving sound is remarkably atmospheric for being so weighty (check out some of their raw practice demos above). I can’t wait to see what surprises they have in store for their debut live performance at the fest.

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