Live Review: Felix Lighter @ Quips (2010.01.16)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Felix Lighter – “Doug”, Live @ the Chameleon Club

Centered around a shared rehearsal space/ studio, and away from the sometimes harsh glare of Philadelphia and Baltimore, a small independent music scene is starting to grow, flourish, and gain some well-deserved attention in Lancaster, PA. While independent describes their approach, it is the collective power of all the groups that share the studio that give the scene its strength. Over the course of the years, a strong core of musicians and bands has come together to write, record, and play music together. They share stages and shows, and at times even band members. They come together to work on individual ideas and group projects. And while there is a decidedly alt-country feel in the air, there is no one defining sound. Bands tread from one end of the musical spectrum to the other, moving from the more alt-countrified sound of Slimfit and They Were Only Satellites, to the fuzz-folk of Stinging Nettles, to the more rocking improvisation of Felix Lighter.

Recently they have seen the influence of another musical realm as Joe Jack Talcum (guitarist/ singer of legendary punk band The Dead Milkmen) has become involved with the scene. Talcum has provided guidance and a sense of inspiration to the younger bands. He also occasionally plays shows with them, sometimes sitting in during their sets. He even recorded his last album at their studio.

Saturday night at Quips, one of the many Lancaster venues that support live music scene in the area, Felix Lighter played thirty plus songs across a lengthy three sets. It was the type of performance you rarely get to see: a band playing all night, with nothing to lose and everything to gain. They played as if they were personally trying to reach every person in the place, from fans right in front of them to those standoffish people at the back.

The first set was a solo acoustic set from lead singer/ guitarist Paul Skozilas that at its conclusion quickly moved into two full-band sets. The two full-band sets featured adventurous, guitar driven rock that would in an instant go from balls out rocking, to an inventive prog-rockish movement, to a subtle acoustic strum. Songs were not neatly tied up in a box. There were dangling solos, jangly jams, and a passionate intensity that brought each song to life. The first set was dominated by old-school favorite “Stomach.” It was a serious work-out in which drummer Marshall Fischer and bassist Adam Horita built a steady foundation allowing room for guitarists Rich Caloiero and Skozilas to work to the slowly building climax, which found Skozilas shredding his vocals as he delivered the final verse in Spanish.

Near the end of the first set, Talcum who had been lurking around the stage all-night, joined the band for a fiery version of Bob Dylan’s “Isis.” This was not the subdued Desire version, but the raging Rolling Thunder version. Talcum brought the heat, delivering Dylan’s classic harmonica lines with a ferocious punch.

The addition of a few covers in their set helped give insight into the wide ranging influences of the band. Dylan, Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Gardenhead,” Dave Mason’s “Feeling Alright,” and Bombadil’s “Johnny” all help to give a brief glimpse into what comes together to make up Felix Lighter’s diverse musical palate.

The 2nd set was classic Felix Lighter: a whiskey-soaked, psychedelic rush of classic guitar rock that found the band stretching out, taking chances, linking songs and finding a groove that got those standoffish people in the back up and moving. It was the type of night you hope to have when you go see live music. It was unabashed fun, it was late nights, it was ripping guitars and hard-hitting drums, it was a discovery of new music that moved you. But most importantly, it was quite simply Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Aural States Fest II: Spotlights – Pontiak, Caleb Stine, NARC

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

MP3: Pontiak – Life and Coral from Sea Voids (2009)

The prolific Pontiak released two stellar albums in 2009: Maker and Sea Voids, and look to have a new release this Spring. Both albums have garnered considerable critical praise, and they’ve ridden a steadily rising wave of internet popularity. Their live show is captivating and loud…catch them close out Sonar’s Club stage at Aural States Fest II on January 30th.

AS: Before releasing Sea Voids you moved back to the Shenandoah Mountains and (from what I’ve heard) lost your beards. Was this a conscious shift? Identity crisis?

Lain Carney: We all moved back to VA from Baltimore at roughly the same time, about three years ago. The beards? Those come and go pretty frequently and without much thought. The move was definitely a conscious shift but more for personal reasons than anything else.

AS: The band gets tagged as stoner metal a lot but the new album explores a wide array of song styles, from the acoustic “Life and Coral” to the more traditional indie fare of “World Wide Prince.” Did you deliberately think “let’s mix it up a bit”…is this your “experimental” album or is there more to come?

LC: We never thought of Sea Voids as our experimental album. I feel as though its as varied as our other albums.

AS: This isn’t a question, but Sea Voids seems a lot more melodically dissonant as well–especially say, the lead on the title track juxtaposed with the brighter, more shimmering distortion is pretty brilliant.

LC: Thanks Man!

AS: The first couple times I listened to “Suzerain” I thought my internet connection was failing (which I suppose is the modern equivalent of your CD skipping). What’s the story on that intro? You also played with the tape on the intro to “Laywayed” I believe.

LC: When I was mixing “Suzerain” I just had the idea to cut up the beginning. As soon as I started doing it, it immediately started to sound cool so I went with it. After I finished I said to Van and Jennings, “people are going to think the song is fucked up, not unlike ‘Laywayed’”.

AS: You must be downtuning your guitars to get them so rumbly. What do you tune them to, what gear do you use to achieve that signature pontiak growl?

LC: Yes, the guitars are tuned down to B. The sound we get is a direct result of one very key practice: turn the amps up. Once an amp is turned up, they all sound different and add their own color. Van always plays through at least two amps at once. That really helps to give the guitar a full sound.

AS: The press for Sea Voids that I’m looking at says you recorded the album in three weeks. Is that the most time you’ve spent in the studio? Some folks have suggested Maker was a one-take cut-and-run kind of recording session.

LC: We definitely try to not overwrite songs, and once we have an idea we try to record it while it’s fresh and loose. With Maker, as with our other records, we usually just did one or two takes for each song. It feels good to do one take and not become so concerned with “nailing it.” When I was younger I used to be really concerned with that stuff, but it’s way too micro.

Sea Voids was similar in that way. Just one take, maybe two. We wrote AND recorded it in three weeks which is the quickest we’ve ever done an album. It takes us about two weeks to record an album but the writing behind it can go back months, depending on how much we’ve been touring and things like that.

AS: You just had a European tour. How was the band received in Europe?

LC: Really well. We got tons of love in Europe and are about to head back actually in March. Can’t wait!

AS: Say I’ve never been to a Pontiak show…how’s it going to be different from your studio recordings? What can i expect?

LC: Our shows are usually pretty high energy. I’d say that it probably sounds like that album but louder.

AS: Tell us about your 2010 plans

LC: We’ll be in Europe in March, a new album in early spring and US shows in May. Summer and winter are going to be busy but things aren’t in stone yet. I’d like to have a new record by late summer.


Caleb Stine is the soul of Baltimore music. His straightforward, honest, storytelling is what Baltimore is at its core – hardworking, genuine, and unafraid to tell it like it is. As Baltimore’s music scene has taken on a larger national profile, much of it for noise driven noise-rock such as Animal Collective, Beach House, and Dan Deacon, it is Stine who always seems to best reflect the people of the city. His timeless style and deeply personal songwriting evokes images of a classic generation of outlaw-country songwriters like Kris Kristofferson, Townes Van Zandt, and Willie Nelson. His power comes not from overwhelming volume or violent guitars, but from simple strums and carefully measured words that together carry an army of unmatched strength.

Stine who has recently returned from a short tour with Andy Friedman, is energized from his time on the road. A time he spent discovering new music with Friedman as they drove from show to show, “Now I’m pulsing with great music in my veins and can’t put the guitar down.”

Saturday night, those simple strums and mighty words that he delivers his songs with will be given even more power and more life, as Stine has recruited an all-star band of local Baltimore musicians (Dave Hadley and Nick Sjostrom (the Brakemen), Andy Stack (Wye Oak), Jason Butcher (Among Wolves), Tiffany DeFoe (The Bellevedeers), MC Saleem (Saleem and the Music Lovers), Jordan Leitner (Mad Sweet Pangs) and Sam Guthridge (Chester River Runoff), to play with him. The combination of Stine’s music and his roster of all-stars will serve to deliver a set of unparalleled emotion that at the same time will be a reflection of his hometown. As Stine simply says, “Its gonna be a special set.”


Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

MP3: NARC – Cuped (demo)

I’ll be frank: I was never fully on-board with the teen sampler and noisenik duo of Engine. But since their split, NO Smith has followed a frequency that resonates with me much more in the form of his one-man guitar & electronics act NARC.

He presents something more curious and soaring, while not forsaking his noisier roots. According to Smith, “there will probably be an EP in the nearish future, maybe spring/summer, and hopefully a full-length called SLY by the end of the year.” NARC opens the Talking Head Stage on Saturday.

Live Review: All Mighty Senators @ The 8X10 (2009.12.26)


Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

MP3: All Mighty Senators – Culture Shock, Live @ All Good Music Festival 2008 from Live Music Archive

Of all the crimes committed in the first decade of the 21st Century, none may be greater than the fact that the All Mighty Senators did not become the biggest band in the world. Their music is a combination of hard grooving rock ‘n’ funk and an other-worldly stage show: lead singer and drummer Landis Expandis – usually decked out in some Superhero pimp outfit – standing front and center on a bright pink standup drum kit, guitarist Warren Boes and bassist Jack Denning flanking him, and a trio of horn players behind. The Senators blasted out weird transmissions of funk that seemed to originate from some planet that worshiped Parliament Funkadelic, Sly Stone, Frank Zappa, and the Meters with equal gusto.  The sound they create is a wholly unique musical experience.  There was a moment right before the decade dawned when it seemed like they might take over.  But bad luck, illness, and the usual band dysfunctions seemed to steal the wind from their sails.

For a generation of people in Baltimore, The All Mighty Senators, still represent the pinnacle of what live music can be.  And following Expandis’ lengthy battle with kidney failure, the band was off the road and out of the spotlight for far too long. All this made The Senators’ “Boxing Day” show (the day after Christmas for those who don’t know) that much more special.

Read the rest…

Album Review: SeepeopleS – Apocalypse Cow Vol. II (Unsigned)


Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

MP3: Seepeoples – The Most Famous One

The fourth album from SeepeopleS, and the follow up to 2008’s Apocalypse Cow Vol. I, finds them returning to their roots and exploring that narrow chasm between rock and electronica.  It is a tricky area to navigate, and many a band before has wandered into this neither-region only to find themselves with an album of half-baked musical ideas that seem to fall flat, never quite taking hold.  SeepeopleS have emerged from their exploration of this potentially dangerous area with Apocalypse Cow Vol. II in tow, a lush soundtrack of dreamy sonic landscapes that perfectly straddle that narrow gap. It also finds the band getting back to what made their sophomore album (The Corn Syrup Conspiracy) such a glorious guilty pleasure of swirling power-pop.

Read the rest…

Live Review: Kenny Liner & Caleb Stine @ The 8×10 (2009.12.08)


It was a “blink and you’ll miss it” kind of collaboration, a mid week set by two friends.  It was a collaboration of two of Baltimore’s most genuine songwriters, playing together without the safety of their bands.  A couple of stools, a mandolin, an acoustic guitar, two songwriters, and a list of songs were the only things needed this evening.

Read the rest…

Album Review: Nathan Moore – Folk Singer (Royal Potato Family/R.E.D.)

nmoore cover

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

MP3: Nathan Moore – Tombstone, Live @ Tuolumne Hall (Nov 1 2009) via Live Music Archive

“I go into a convenience store and I will hear someone say something and I know that is going to go into a song somewhere,” explains Nathan Moore, about how he gathers inspiration for his songwriting.  It is something he says he is doing constantly, all day, his eyes and ears noticing the way people say something; it is what he calls “the filter through which I see the world.”

Read the rest…

Interview: The Swimmers (w/ Steve Yutzy-Burkey)

Swimmers group shot

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

  1. MP3: The Swimmers – Shelter
  2. MP3: The Swimmers – A Hundred Hearts

How does a band follow up a debut that received much love with NPR, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Magnet, and many others hailing the smart guitar-driven indie-rock sound they had created, when that same band found themselves disillusioned with the writing and recording process they had to endure to make that debut?

If you are Philadelphia’s The Swimmers, and you are following 2008′s Fighting Trees, you build a home studio, take control of the entire recording process, and rediscover who you are as musicians.  You release an explosive blast of modern new-wave-pop, that hearkens back to the best parts of New Order’s deep synth driven groove, yet at the same time borrows the deep noise explorations of Radiohead’s catalog, combining them with a sharp songwriting sense.

People Are Soft is a career defining point for the band.  Despite the success of Fighting Trees, the band has almost completely remade themselves by creating an album that, while a radical change from what came before, also exceeds the expectations that surrounded their stellar debut.

Singer/ guitarist and principle songwriter Steve Yutzy-Burkey recently took some time to talk with Aural States:

Read the rest…