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Sound Off!: American Folklore

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MP3: American Folklore – Arrows from Trapped in the Game (2010)

What I feel towards American Folklore is an unusual kind of fondness. It’s distinct from a critical or artistic penchant, but still very apparent. I don’t think I understand it quite yet. Granted, I do kind of like how the name “American Folklore” looks in print, how it rolls off the tongue–but that can’t be the whole of it. Maybe it’s because I so rarely hear decent music coming out of Westminster, a town whose coffee houses and thrift stores often serve as a necessary go-to evening spot away from my relatively sightless hometown. I mean, what with McDaniel College’s artsy influence weighing upon the town, it only seems natural that a few Westminster-based projects should surface sooner or later. Despite the facts, only a handful of meritable musicians from the area have been brought to my attention.

So sure, perhaps my keenness for Lucas Rambo’s (also from Human Host) American Folklore can be attributed to some sort of quasi-hometown pride–or maybe it’s just the music. With “Arrows” as evidence, I’ll point towards the latter.

It’s a slow moving, folky number; and I’m certain that at least a couple of you are going to turn your noses outward in favor of the now-classic “sounds too much like Animal Collective” critique. And you know what? Screw that noise. Animal Collective started releasing music ten long years ago, and the artistic community should surely be allowed to react to their influence by now. To refuse American Folklore’s sound on the basis of an Animal Collective likeness is akin to refuting the validity of the last decade’s garage rock revival because it sounds too much like Marquee Moon.


“Arrows” is almost entirely defined by Rambo’s drowsy croon. Its harmonies are watery and relaxed, but they still manage to come off boldfaced to an absurd extent. Rambo’s minimal lyricism shows a perfect compliment: “and if we knew/the things we’d do/if no one had/something to prove”. Lucas–you ain’t got nothing to prove here. American Folklore’s latest album, Trapped In The Game, is pending release out of the soon-to-be-renamed FirecrackerFirecracker Records. It’ll be worth checking out, don’t you think?

Sound Off!: The Harlan Twins come down from the mountains

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MP3: The Harlan Twins – White Light from The Harlan Twins (2009)

Over the past two years, The Harlan Twins have gained a reputation among everyone from the hipster set to the aging folk-rock cognoscenti as the best band in Pittsburgh, resulting in scenes like the overflow, sell-out crowd at the unveiling of their self-released debut discharlans this past summer.

Covering ground from Allmans-esque jams to subdued high-lonesome folk and beyond, the band casts an eye to a century’s worth of Americana influences without letting it contain their creativity or enthusiasm. Be no more surprised to see a banjo or mandolin appear than to be immersed in swirling loops or pummeled by a bone-crushing deconstruction of an ’80s goth classic. James Hart lays down some of the finest guitar leads you’ll see anywhere while he and Carrie Battle trade off tailor-made Appalachian-tinged vocals. Their allegiances here won, it’s time for the Twins to get on the radar of roots-rock enthusiasts everywhere.

The Harlan Twins perform at Golden West Cafe in Baltimore on Fri December 4 and at Cafe Nola in Frederick on Sat December 5.

Sound Off!: Sick Sick Birds


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01. MP3: Sick Sick Birds – Your Machine
02. MP3: Sick Sick Birds – Hearts & Their Minds

Sick Sick Birds open for Thrushes tonight at the Metro Gallery.

You might have noticed that tweens have a bastardized derivation of a once sacred screed from an Exploited album title: “Pop punk’s not dead.”

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Sound Off!: Death Domain @ AMERICA (2009.10.16)

death domain

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01. MP3: Death Domain – A Pox on You from split tape with High Marks (2008)
02. MP3: Death Domain – Ethidium Bromide 2

There’s a lot of good going on in Baltimore tonight, particularly in Station North with the release parties for Height With Friends’ Baltimore Highlands Remix Album at the Windup, and Jason Urick’s Thrill Jockey debut Husbands at the Hexagon.  But for something a little more under the radar and farther towards the extreme end of the spectrum, you should look westward to AMERICA.

Now, I’m going to say at the start, there’s a little authorial bias here.

Death Domain aka Adam Stroupe is a science nerd and, like me, wears it as a badge of honor.  The name of his apocalypse-heralding solo project says as much (death domains are stretches of amino acids found in proteins that signal for apoptosis, programmed cell death).  And let’s not get started on the bevy of overt scientific references saturating his songs’ titles (“A Pox On You,” “Vampyroteuthis infernalis,” “Toxoplasma gondii“) and lyrics.

To my ears, his sound is perhaps the most deserving of the ultra-vague, tongue-in-cheek designation of future shock.  If you take novelist Alvin Toffler’s definition, “future shock” is merely a twist on “culture shock,” essentially defined as the disorientation arising from the speed of change.  And DD’s music is undoubtedly one of the most bewildering, disorienting yet magnetic and infectious slices of downright bleak takes on synth-based dance music.  So welcome this wayward son home from tour tonight when he stops off at AMERICA with tourmates Cult of Youth and a host of others from the House of Tinnitus venue/collective in Denton, TX.

death domain flyerCrucial details:

AMERICA, doors @ 8pm
122 S Stockton St (a side street, between Lombard and Pratt, in the perpendicular, and between Carey and Carrollton, in the parallel)

CULT OF YOUTH – Neofolk in the tradition of Death in June.  These guys and gal barely play outside NY.  Snagged them after the last date of their tour!

DEATH DOMAIN – Criminally overlooked local synth-based non-organic onslaught.  Cold, catchy and clinical.  Lamentations of the future-present.

LYCHGATE – Grim harsh noise from Denton, TX.  Power electronics without the courtesy of misanthropicscreamers.

ASHES – On tour with Lychgate; also from TX.  Like-minded harshness.  Think FFH, Grey Wolves, Ahlzagailzehguh.  Ashen colored nihilism.

CORPORATE PARK – Part of the TX noise package.  Self-proclaimed back stabbers.  Think Pedestrian Deposit, Burmese, Throbbing Gristle and where the best place to find a leather zentai suit would be.

Sound Off!: Indian Jewelry

Indian Jewelry

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01. MP3: Indian Jewelry – Temporary Famine Ship from Free Gold! (2008)
02. MP3: Indian Jewelry – Swans from Free Gold! (2008)
03. MP3: Indian Jewelry – Lapis Lazuli from untitled 2010 release (World Premiere!)

Indian Jewelry are students of drone and psychedelia.  Formed by Erika Thrasher and Tex Kerschen in 2002, the logistics of this ever-evolving collective are baffling, seeming to expand and contract as frequently as the air we breathe.  With a rotating cast of members that is kinda like a revolving door, it’s a wonder they ever get anything done.  They have remarkably churned out two full-lengths (2006′s Invasive Exotics and 2008′s Free Gold!) along with refining a noted live spectacle.  Happily, they have a third album on the way and we are premiering the track “Lapis Lazuli” above.

The result is one of the catchier distillations of mind-warping visions you are likely to see. Uniquely, they manage to wrangle a balance of psych and drone that is rarely seen; more often than not, you encounter one predominating and the other playing the role of hook or kitsch.  IJ are relentlessly toeing lines: they teeter on the precipice of shoegaze with the clashing of distorted guitars, deploy drones that take them to the pearly gates of noise, paint often enough in textures to recall post-rock.  All done while keeping aligned with the fundamental vision of psych: providing a musical framework for melding and moulding of consciousness.

“Temporary Famine Ship” displays these qualities perfectly, a simple psych guitar riff twirls amidst a cacophonic din of reverberating vocals and droning synths that might be considered neon if not so sinister, driven by a stomping set of tribalist drum beats; a paradox that is catchy and unsettling at the same time.  ”Swans” feels appropriately ascendant in its guitar melody, leading to a gradual and righteous coalescence of the various droning components that feels not unlike basking in the sun after a sojourn through the dark woods.  Slow-burning grower “Pentecostal” has a pipe-organ-like drone that recalls a sermon or ritual of titular origin, primitive power, and low-range vocals that could easily be mistaken for tongues.  The excellently titled “Lapis Lazuli” shimmers with textures of guitars and synths in perhaps their most polished track to date; the track also brings them even closer to the sounds of post-rock, the proceedings having an ominous cloud above them.

celebration indian jewelry flyer

With a sonic palette such as this, they’re well paired to open for Celebration along with Videohippos (premiering as a quartet featuring Jared Paolini and Adventure aka Benny Boeldt) at the LOF/T this Thursday Oct 15th, as part of the “Earth” installment of Celebration’s Baltimore Elemental series.

Check out the music video for “Lapis Lazuli” after the jump.

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Sound Off!: Jared Paolini


Photo credit: Defekto

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MP3: Jared Paolini – The Fog Desert from Side B of Bears & Pieces/Jared Paolini split tape (2009)

Being that the philosophy backing experimental music largely emphasizes meaning to the individual rather than to the culture with which the musician belongs, I find it unnatural to be the least bit persuasive when speaking of Jared Paolini. To me, his half of a lost:ghosts:records split cassette with Bear & Pieces, entitled “The Fog Desert,” is something of an aesthetic wonderland, its very fabric shimmering with heavenly charm. The track’s liveliness becomes more persistent throughout its 19-minute duration.  In a way, Paolini evolves “The Fog Desert” idiosyncratically while still keeping it cohesive, a pool of unreal reverberations and entrancing resonance.

Others that I’ve played the tape for suggest that his round edges and soft tones are designed to bring the listener into something of a divine coma, and I couldn’t disagree more. Jared Paolini, though I haven’t read his word on the subject, probably does not make sound for any specific purpose. Rather, I’d posit that he has a simple and genuine enthusiasm for these exact frequencies, the sort of appreciation that won’t let you nod off; it’ll hold you captive. Many without an eye for experimentation and ambiance are at a loss when it comes to music that demands an above average amount of effort on the behalf of the listener; and I won’t lie to you, “The Fog Desert” is no exception. Sure, this one might take a little elbow grease to decipher, but is art really worth discounting for that reason alone? I don’t think so, and I hope not.

Sound Off!: SMARTS


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MP3: SMARTS – Caring

MP3: SMARTS – Jules et Jim

How do SMARTS put on such a fierce live act? I mean, the trio uses a grand total of three instruments for chrissakes. While Whartscape stands as firm testament to the fact that they’re scootin’ along just fine without any of those fancy-pants six string guitars, a part of me still yearns to discover how their bass/drums/vocals combo ends up sounding so damn big. Lucky for us, 2009 has come through with some surprisingly mid-fi recorded material of theirs for all to scrutinize over.

SMARTS (their self-titled and self-released EP), is so straightforward that by the end of the second song, “Fresh Air,” you begin to have an in-depth relationship with each of the instruments. In a way, you know them, their tendencies, their limits. The bass is basically bound to two settings throughout the EP’s bulk: good-humored family fun, and its punch-throwing distorted alterego. The accompanying percussion rides out post-punk style at a perky tempo, gracefully leaving space to breathe between fills without feeling minimal. The vocals are those of a dog-tired punk rock, one that’s played fourteen shows too many this week and is about ready to cave in on itself. With this exhaustion setting in, you might anticipate that SMARTS doesn’t have a whole lot left to say. And on that front, you’d be right.

Fortunately, Harold Hughes happens to sing with this ever-pungent diehard emotional momentum, meaning that even though he may be done with his verse, you’re not necessarily going to stop feeling the impact potential of his words. Opening like a lighthearted game of tag in the backyard, the bass on their leadoff, standout track (“Caring”) finds time to dillydally around with Alex Dondero’s chipper percussion. Then, at uniform speed, the dynamic duo opts out for some good ol’ fashioned low-end thrashing. As dandy as that may sound, you can go ahead and pin the song’s benevolent outcome on Hughes’s breathless expression, building exponentially upon a solitary verse to outstanding effect: ”healthcare, car care, i care, no. We don’t care, i don’t care. No.”

Despite what all this might lead you to believe, I would never under any circumstances call SMARTS a punk band. Now that I think about it, I wouldn’t readily label them pop, rock, or experimental either. Hardcore, actually, is the word I keep coming back to. It takes no stretch of the imagination to picture SMARTS as a bare-bones hardcore band, to such a degree that all you’re getting is the ideology, and a subset of the equipment required. Really, you might want to take the word “hard” out of the equation entirely. “Core.” That’s what these guys are, the tiny ball of superheated iron that belongs at the foundation of every music group.

Sound Off!: Boogie Boarder

pizza hero

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MP3: Boogie Boarder – Bio Hassle

Let’s take a look at Boogie Boarder’s latest single, “Bio Hassle.”

For starters, the tune kicked everyone’s ass at Whartscape ’09. All of those MICA kids jacked up on Ponytail and Ecstatic Sunshine could just die for the slight variation in style Boogie Boarder have to offer. Imagine an equally fun, but jammier and more pop-oriented “Celebrate the Body Electric.” That’s the song, albeit less diverse and breathtaking. Let’s give ourselves a breakdown here: lo-fi stock fuzz-bass partners up with likeminded guitarwork, both busy producing divinely electromagnetic riffs around a maze of binary choruses and refrains that cascade in euphoria. Hot damn.

Odd thing is, that’s not even the best song on their debut album, Pizza Hero (the playful “Pig Pile” duo slams the likes of Ecstatic Sunshine, and I say this with love, into oblivion).  Some might say that Brooklyn’s Boogie Boarder sound a bit too much like our Baltimore art-rocking friends, but as it seems to me, they dwell in a class much less exclusive than that of the art-dash-genre. Which is not to posit that these guys aren’t arty–because are they ever, but unlike their most agile competitors from our hometown, the music associated with Boogie Boarder is more about rocking out than anything else. Moving you with skillfully placed atmospherics and tempo changes isn’t really Boogie Boarder’s thing; instead, the sugar-side of indie rock suits them quite nicely.

I should point out we’re only dealing with candy here. There appears to be no grand artistic vision behind Boogie Boarder. And if there is, it’s safe to say that these creative minds haven’t quite done themselves justice with Pizza Hero.

But that’s the downfall of most bands bent on manipulating predictability. See, rather than using astonishing instrumental feats or go-nowhere discourses, Boogie Boarder work the hard edges of repetition and suspense to their advantage. So unlike Ponytail’s Ice Cream Spiritual, you don’t have to listen through Pizza Hero four or five times before you get a handle on what the record’s about. It’s clear, concise, and above all, inherently fun. Pizza Hero might not be the most artistically credible album around, but it sure as hell gets my rocks off.

Sound Off!: Golden Birthday

golden birthday

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MP3: Golden Birthday – Exposed from Infinite Leagues

Golden Birthday are first of all, a pop band. Going further in depth, they’re one concocted from equal parts Beach House and My Bloody Valentine. Now what does that tell you right off the bat? That they took the perfectionist’s complexity away from shoegaze’s pristine arrangements? That they stripped down, packaged, and re-marketed dream pop, ready for mass consumption? You’ll have no part of that, surely. Who would? I mean, what kind of self-satisfied schmuck would willingly support the bastardization of these two distinct artforms?

I am. Their Whartscape ’09 set was a double-underlined, circled, paged-folded, and sticky-noted highlight. I was found among the fluid mass of festival-goers, all of us flailing limb over limb in reaction (not to be confused with cooperation) to the sound waves, as if the music was just as involved with our movement as muscles and bones were. The brand of bass driven funk-pop they displayed live however, does not appear on their debut album, Infinite Leagues. Rather, it’s been mysteriously replaced with the dream-gaze that I spoke of previously.

What Golden Birthday have made is an album that begs to be felt. Even though few of the lyrics break away from their all-encompassing progressions, you always know what they’re trying to express. Example: “Exposed.” All words aside, I know it has something to do with love, and it’s not a cheerful anecdote either. The track shows what these Chicagoans do best, the mindless repetition of simple pop melodies, unintelligent fuzz bordering every edge. Heartfelt textures and the uncanny ability to evoke empathy. Is it good? Well, I’m 12 full listens through and I’ve never once wanted to turn this record off.

Sound Off! / Contest: Dysrhythmia @ the Talking Head (2009.07.25)

We are giving away a pair of tickets to Saturday’s show @ the Talking Head with DC’s Rattler. Comment with some sort of euphemism about how hard Dysrhythmia rocks.  Winner chosen on Friday.

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MP3: Dysrhythmia – Sleep Decayer

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MP3: Dysrhythmia – Appeared at First

Dysrhythmia play dissonant (sometimes), technical (sometimes), catchy (always), progressive, metal-influenced rock music. Everyone says their music is really hard to describe but this not true. Imagine the cover of Joe Satriani’s Surfing with the Alien. Now imagine that cover colliding with a strange dimension and becoming a bizarre, dark cubist rendering of the Silver Surfer. And then imagine that as a piece of music. That’s what they sound like.

It is tempting to describe their music in terms of the clichés symptomatic of “progressive” and “experimental” music that they manage to avoid: Words like “restraint” come up a lot in reviews. Their music provokes comparisons to other heavy instrumental rock groups like Don Caballero, and avant garde jazz guitarists like Bill Frisell and Sonny Sharrock. Comparisons to jazz and experimental rock are well motivated and seem accurate, but they are belied somewhat by the emotional payload of Dysrhythmia. To the extent that the terms “technical” and “experimental” suggest music that is interesting but that you cannot get down to, disregard those terms in reference to this band. One reviewer suggests that their special appeal consists in the fact that they make music that is challenging but enjoyable and emotionally stirring. I concur, and for me this puts their albums in a very special category alongside jazz and metal classics like A Love Supreme and The Sound of Perseverance.

Individually the members of Dysrhythmia demonstrate incredible technique and musicianship. However, on their records you will not hear anything showy that might make you exclaim “That drummer rules!” even though drummer Jeff Eber is awesome. More often than not, you will hear deceptively simple musical ideas explored and developed in a way that makes you pay attention.

On their earlier recordings (especially No Interference which I’m listening to as I write this) guitarist Kevin Hufnagel uses a warm, twangy, Strat-y sound which makes for an organic and live-sounding listening experience. His playing never really sounds “technical,” although he is playing complicated parts. Listen to one of the long trance-y songs (e.g. “Let You Fall” from No Interference) for some tasteful and subtle guitar (no 64th note triplets, but that is what we have Necrophagist for). Their two most recent albums Barriers and Passages and this year’s Psychic Maps sound more metal than their first three. I like former bass player Clayton Ingerson, but Colin Marston definitely brings something cool to the mix (to my ear a heavier sound). All their recordings have a tight, collaborative feel and emanate musical hyper-competence and a magical energy.

I have never seen them live and I am really excited.  You should be too.

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