Friday, February 28, 2014

January-February Mix

[0:00] "Good Day To Die" – The Space Merchants
[4:25]"Hunting Neighbors" – Spirit Of Danger
[6:57] "Portland Gutterpunk Love" – The Planes
[9:32] "Kinky" – The Meaning Of Life
[13:25] "System Overlord" – Spaghetti Blacc
[16:20] "What It Is" – Stephen Selman
[20:30] "Much" – Typefighter
[23:19] "The Claw" – Low Fat Getting High
[25:03] "Alright (Get The Hell Out Of Dodge)" – Crazy Pills

Friday, February 21, 2014

Square Zeros #9: Amanda B. (Crazy Pills, Adolescence, Nakanaka Yaru Na, Yamamba, Useless Chairkicker Loves Dawn)

For most of us, bedroom rock stays locked away in the bedroom. Fortunately, that isn't the case for Amanda B., who has a handful of 10-plus-year-old shoegazey tracks that crisscrossed the Pacific Ocean and eventually got put to tape here in New York.

Amanda is the guitarist and singer for the Brooklyn-based power trio Crazy Pills, which plays a surf-tinged blend of rockabilly and garage pop. They call up aspects of The B52s, The Pretenders and even some early Ted Leo for me, especially in the guitars. And that's Amanda's doing. She's a guitarist's guitarist — not in the Guitar Center let-me-show-you-how-much-I-shred sense, but in her clear obsession with tone and timing. Crazy Pills' 2013 full length Restless features a rich assortment of sounds and textures from Amanda's mauve mist Jazzmaster (check 3:15 in the podcast), alongside a bouncy, rock-solid drum and bass. It's an irresistibly catchy record, and each of the ten tracks will keep you on your toes. Check it out here, pick it up on wax.

Amanda started playing guitar young, training on classical in high school and figuring out her style and sensibilities largely on her own. Apart from some guitar sidework in a boyfriend's band, it wasn't until after college, when she relocated to Japan, that Amanda started playing in outfits where she had more ownership. The first track she brought us, "The Stars Above," is a song she wrote at 19 and later took to Japan to play in a group called Useless Chairkicker Loves Dawn. Years later, after she'd moved to New York, she recorded the song with a four-piece called Adolescence, and that's what we get here.

In Japan, Amanda also spent time in a cover band called Nakanaka Yaru Na, which (roughly translated) is a Japanese phrase you say when someone performs better than you expect them to at something they're not good at. Nakanaka Yaru Na covered T. Rex, Blondie, The Clash and a host of others, and even did some recordings, but regretfully their GeoCities page has been lost to the ether.

Following that project, Amanda joined a band called Yamamba, meaning Mountain Witches, that played original songs and dressed in Yamamba garb on stage (this paints a good picture). Here, we get "Bebe," a song Amanda wrote for and performed with that group before moving back to the states and laying it down in the same session as "The Stars Above." They both have a sweet, wistful sound, shimmery guitars and drawn out vocals — all stuff that's reemerging in a big way now, giving these tracks some real staying power.

Crazy Pills recently finished tracking a new EP, so keep an eye out for that, and they've got a series of spring shows in the works. Like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter for more. Thanks Amanda!

"Look Alive" from Crazy Pills' LP Restless opens the podcast and the single "Break It Down" from the same record closes it.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Square Zeros #8: Marta DeLeon (The Meaning Of Life, The Getter Flash)

Coming on the heels of our first foray into interviewing a full band in Square Zeros #7, Marta DeLeon's visit to the studio was a welcome reprieve. The bassist and frontwoman of Brooklyn dream-pop trio The Meaning of Life, Marta's musical roots stretch across the country to her time playing cello and bass in the somewhat similar (if softer) band The Getter Flash in Seattle in the early 2000s.

For a song entitled "Weltschmerz," the first track Marta brought in is ironically very soothing. Hell, it gets positively sunny about a quarter of the way in. Full disclosure requires me to note that I am of course protecting my fragile psyche from actual weltschmerz by taking care not to internalize the very prettily voiced but downhearted lyrical content. Nevertheless, those vocals float along quite nicely on a gentle blend of clean guitar, thrumming bass, and the low cello, which provides a pleasant meeting ground for the rest of the instruments.

On "The Days of Living Velvet," Marta's cello rests momentarily before providing an instrumental melody that drives much of the song. This second track's surprising last act — which begins around six minutes in — provides a nice crescendo that genuinely rocks for a band with such a dreamy sensibility. As surprising is the song's hilarious alternate title, which Marta reveals in the interview. There's also the matter of the melodica and chiming harmonic guitar loop that get us there: it's not every day that I get to type the words "tasteful melodica part" when reviewing a song, but here we are. Savor it.

That breadth of instrumentation, Marta explains, was part and parcel of being in the Pacific Northwest indie scene at the time of these recordings. The Getter Flash's EP It Never Happened Quite Like That was recorded by Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla, to give an idea where one might fit them into that sphere. While The Meaning of Life tends to rock harder than The Getter Flash and differ sonically due to Marta's vocals, the two share common ground in their exploration of dreamy, ambient tones and their willingness to allow songs to develop into longer forms, rather than just sniping for a two-minute splash. To be clear, though, you are more likely to shake it to The Meaning of Life.

While we haven't been promised any incendiary melodica breakdowns in the near future (ahem), The Meaning of Life does have an upcoming release planned in early Spring, and you can catch them at the showcase at Matchless on February 19.

— JM

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Square Zeros #7: TYPEFIGHTER (Politicks, Noise Pollution, Kokopelli,Sidewinders Ska Club)

Combine equal parts folky blue-eyed soul, nu metal, Phish-obsessed jam rock and second-wave ska. Shake vigorously. Wait a decade or so. If you're lucky, in some universe, you'll pour out Typefighter.

Typefighter is a garage pop band based out of Washington, D.C., and they graciously agreed to give Square Zeros its FIRST FULL BAND INTERVIEW. We took a trip to their neck of the woods over the weekend and talked with Will Waikart (drums), Ryan McLaughlin (guitar, vocals), Thomas Orgren (guitar), and John Scoops (bass) about the wildly different music they made before they came together and formed the band. The four of them have been a unit for a few years now, but they'd never heard the pre-drinking-age recordings featured in this session until now. (Spoiler alert: the band doesn't break up at the end. So far as we know.)

Typefighter, of course, sounds nothing like the subgenres mentioned above. They've worked their asses off honing a highly stylized melodic punk sound, which will appeal to fans of Superchunk or even Ty Segall, but plays a bit more anthemic than either. Big, fuzzy double guitars, hard-driving rhythm section, gritty yet tuneful vocals — familiar tools used with tons of swagger for a distinct and utterly fulfilling final product. ("Heeeeeeey-oooooo!" You'll be singing along.) They've played a string of shows in and out of D.C., and they recently released a music video for the song "Much," the single from their record, The End Of Everything, which drops this spring.

We sat down with the guys at Thomas's recording studio, Persona Non Grata, and heard four absolute gems of songs from their earliest projects. It wasn't any bullshit nostalgia-fest, it was a fucking roast. And it started with Will, who shared a cut called "Back To The Basics" by his college rock band, Politicks. Will, the band's percussionist, plays washboard — listen for his shredding in the left channel.

The song was part of a six-month session at a professional recording studio in Salem, Va., during which the band laid down 13 songs. Will says Politicks racked up a massive bill and, unfortunately, didn't end up doing much with the album. But we're happy it's at least found a spot in the Square Zeros archives.

Ryan spent the better part of his teenage years playing five-string bass in a nu metal/prog-rocky trio called Noise Pollution. Not only did they get some glitzy studio recordings of their Staind/New Found Glory/Glassjaw-influenced ripping — they got featured in YM Magazine in a section called Boys In Bands. (Buzzfeed recently posted "39 Reasons YM Was The Best Teen Magazine." Reason No. 40: Noise Pollution.) Ryan showed us the smash hit "When It Rains It Pours," which contains some serious slap bass and the sounds of getting frosted tips.

Ryan says his YM profile — he got dubbed "craziest" band member — helped him score with a girl he ended up dating for three years (they're still good pals). She'd rejected him at first, but started hanging out with him when she read about Noise Pollution in her issue of the magazine.

"We were virile young chaps.  ...Fecund." — Thomas Orgren on Kokopelli, 2/01/2014.

We chose to unveil Kokopelli next, primarily on the assumption that nothing could be further from Noise Pollution than a jam band named after a Southwestern fertility god. Then we were treated to the piano-driven "Goodnight Stars, Goodnight Moon," named after the popular children's book, so we really had to adjust those expectations even further.

"Goodnight Stars, Goodnight Moon" is every bit the Phish-derivative track that the virile young chaps in Kokopelli intended. The soft, meandering verse picks up into the catchy chromatic descent of the chorus, lending the song just enough weirdness to make it stick in your mind. We had to edit out more than a few instances of someone in the room singing the chorus after the fact, because no one could escape it.

For his part, Scoops gave us the sort of classic track that might have driven out that Kokopelli earworm. I like to think that anyone who's ever seen Typefighter live would surmise — seeing him bounce around, all joy on stage, never missing a note — that Scoops had undoubtedly played in a ska band before.  Still, we were all pleasantly surprised when he unveiled "The Oldie" by Sidewinders Ska Club, which hits all the hallmarks of the second-wave two-tone sound.

By the time Sidewinders S.C. was playing, that sound was already a throwback, and "The Oldie" embraces that, focusing on tight horn arrangements propelled by a straightforward beat and walking bassline. At a time when most ska was being adulterated with punk (and I was going ape for it), Scoops's team was kicking it old-school, paradoxically making "The Oldie" perhaps the most timeless of the bunch.

But if there's a take-home from this interview, it's that — despite our jokes now — none of these guys were ever joking around. Even though we all laughed at a lot of the aesthetic choices these guys made (both musically and personally — see: Tips, Ryan's frosted [24:45 in the interview]), each song is actually a solid shot at a genre. If you liked the soft college rock at the Spring Fling of your freshman year in undergrad, you'll like Politicks; if you think Ill NiƱo was great and all, but too mainstream and not ambitious enough, you'll like Noise Pollution. If you wore out the grooves on your copy of A Picture of Nectar, you'll like Kokopelli, and if you spent nights in a tight suit kicking your feet up to Madness, you'll like Sidewinders S.C. Each song is razor-sharp in its production and execution, especially for first efforts by young musicians.

Typefighter plays in Washington, D.C., at DC9 on Saturday, February 22. Be sure to catch them there and stay tuned for their new record, The End Of Everything, which comes out in April.

— DJH + JM