Category Archives: Reviews

Restorations – Strange Behavior 12″

It’s a precious thing knowing I will be surrounded by a scene choc-ful of talented musicians when I move back into the bowels of Philly – the lads in Restorations being no exception. This 10″ 12″, released on the Paper + Plastick label, covers a wide swath of musical terrain ranging from the excited, backwoods guitar-licks-and-whiskey-drawl of the opening ‘Title Track’ to the rushing crescendo of ringing guitars and crashing drums of the closing 2 minutes. Press sheet name-drops Lucero and Jon and Dave’s former band, Jena Berlin (of whom I’ve never actually heard), but I’m more inclined to say this type of restrained punk energy filtered through a dynamic spectrum of sounds yields an aural image of the Drive-By Truckers with Frankie Stubbs of Leatherface in the driver’s seat. Grab the wax from the insanely cheap No Idea mail-order warehouse like pow. Looks like they’ll be playing an acoustic house show in the area next week – more details on their FB.

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Sufjan Stevens: Love and Madness in Space?

Sufjan StevensThe Age Of Adz (2010, Asthmatic Kitty)

“Boy, we made such a mess together”

Matt has pleaded and begged for me to write a review for his awesome website, and I’ve always promised him I would. I was simply waiting for the right album to come along (actually I’m just lazy, and not procrastinating-lazy, but lazy-lazy), and surprisingly, for me anyway, that album is by Sufjan Stevens. An artist I am familiar with but in a “yeah I like him, but lets not go bananas” kind of way. And as I’m sure you are aware, there are many people who go fucking bananas for the Superman of Folk.

The opening track starts simply enough. Sweet, caring, here’s-my-heart-on-my-sleeve-while-I-gently-pluck-some-strings. It’s obviously meant to call back to his more favored styling. To be fair, it is a good song and nicely introduces the theme found throughout the album, that of expressing, or not expressing, love, and all the heartache that accompanies these actions. But where that song ends, a whole other world begins in the next, giving way to “Too Much,” where the record is scratch and the glitch-bomb is dropped. How you receive the album may hang a lot on this song since it’s the first one to introduce the noise bomb Stevens lays down. If it left you a little cold and unsure in your world where God is Good, Sky is Blue, and Sufjan Stevens is a Folk Master Genius, don’t despair! There is beauty amongst the chaos in this crazy, mixed up album, and it deserves a listen with an open mind.

It’s not until the titled track that we get to really sink our teeth into some bloody meat. “The Age of Adz” begins like an atomic bomb going off. Like the wild-eyed crescendo of a mad man’s epic space fantasy musical, or perhaps the soundtrack to someone losing his mind; consumed by love and doubt. And it is loud. Angels trumpeting the coming of the apocalypse loud. The inspiration behind all this end of the world turmoil is due to one Royal Robertson, the album cover artist. Robertson was a schizophrenic born in Louisiana who had wildly vivid dreams of outer space, aliens, and God, usually in a combination of all three. He saw hallucinations and professed himself a Prophet. He was also a raging misogynist, with the divorce from his wife being the main inspiration for much of his art and sermons. This is curious because we see many mentions throughout the album of love either through the point of view of Stevens, Robertson, or both. It’s hard to say how much Stevens is channeling Robertson in these songs, or if he is channeling him at all. When he was young, Robertson had “a futuristic vision of a space ship with God as driver,” which perfectly sums up where “Get Real Get Right” is coming from, as it is the song most inspired by Robertson’s special brand of insanity. An album highlight, Stevens is on top of his form here. The track showcases his best work at infusing his electronic manipulations into a damn catchy song that begins with a feisty, space age retro feel but swells to a head rush of finale.

By this point into the album there is no mistaking the direction Sufjan is taking. Soft acoustics and plucky banjos of yesteryear give way to multi-layered and high soaring electronic soundscapes, but unlike his 2001 release, Enjoy Your Rabbit, the tinning drum beats and synthesized noises are intertwined with melody and strong vocals. No track displays that better than “I Walked.” Vocally it is similar to his more acoustic work, but it is encased in a heady drum beat and features shimmering effects that works well with the melancholy, lovelorn lyrics. And that is one of the greatest strengths of this album as a whole. All the so called electronic noises and bleeps work with the music. It’s not used for the sake of it; there is craft behind this tinkering. Listen to “All for Myself,” where the repetitive use of the scratched record effect lends the song to the feel of a long lost track on a once loved, warped record. Or the strange bubbling sound featured in “Vesuvius” that would be just at home in a 80s Atari game as it does on this beautiful, introspective song.

Stevens has basically made a name for himself from his Illinois and Michigan albums. That is all fine and good, as there is always a time and place for his previous, quieter works. Some would even argue that “Vesuvius,” one of the quieter “Sufjan-like” songs, is the album’s best track, but hearing him lose the proverbial fucking shit in “I Want to Be Well” was the high moment for me. Where has this Sufjan been all this time? That freak out sounded like the equivalent of bashing the hell out of that rubber foam bat in the office of the psychiatrist your parents made you visit after they got that divorce. Though, it is not without its controversy. Shortly after this album came out there was the gasp heard round the indie water-coolers at the audacity of an adult musician using the F word in one of his songs. Hold on to your bonnet, Sally! It’s hard to imagine anyone would care after the first listen. If you can get past the shock, you will hear a man losing himself into singing in a way he never really has before.

Love and death. A Prophet and his space piloting Jesus. F-bombs and freak outs. There is a lot to love about The Age of Adz. And yet Stevens made sure to leave the best for last. Ending track “Impossible Soul” is an ambitious 25 minute, but feels like half that length, journey into the heart of all this madness. The song can be split into at least four thematic parts, all vaguely connected to one another. Sure some of those themes may seem at odd with one another, but in a way that’s impossible to explain it remains cohesive, and assembled with elegance. Is it a space soaring ode to a schizophrenic? A feel good mantra for coming together and living life? A self-reflective love letter to an old lover? I’ll leave you to ponder that while I’m bouncing my head to the chorus half way through the song. Eventually, you will be too.

“It’s a long life, better pinch yourself!”

Underneath (and over and side ways) the space themed glitches and swirling orchestras are the gloriously repetitive choruses and catchy melodies that are the solidly Sufjan Stevens trademarks we have all grown to know and love. Some may see this album as a departure from his usual fare, but honestly, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. He always had it in him to produce something like this. It’s a mad whirlwind of all his electronic experimentation and genius melody craftsmanship seen in his previous works. A Stevens pot luck that can proudly stand on its own two feet as a wholly realized work of art. Above all The Age of Adz is filled with passion. Stevens cuts loose vocally and sings with a fire in his belly that is most refreshing. He said in interviews previous to releasing this album and his sister EP All Delighted People that he had lost his faith in creating music. Well then, hallelujah, it sounds like he has decidedly found it with this release.

Lastly, as an aside, I don’t really agree with reviews calling this album “weird” but I know I am in the minority here. Whether you consider this “weird” music will depend on what you’ve been exposed to and can tolerate. One person’s weirdness is another person’s music comfort food. I’m sure there are people who consider My Bloody Valentine weird or not listenable, but to me they are the purest form of bliss suitable only for jukeboxes in heaven. So from my point of view, this is not weird, not even close to weird. It’s pretty close to perfect, however.

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Eternal Summers – Silver

Eternal Summers bring the 90’s revival

Listen closer. Don’t call it beach rock. Listening to Silver by Roanoke, VA’s Eternal Summers sends visions of 1997 running through my head. Not that it sounds dated, mind you. Daniel Cundiff (also a member of The Young Sinclairs and SUNKING!, among others) and Nicole Yun (Mommies) have found a way to channel a whirlwind of sounds into pop perfection. After a stellar debut EP and a number of 7″s released over the past 2 years (including an outstanding split with Philadelphia’s Reading Rainbow), Silver, the band’s first LP, not only reminds us of how good indie pop used to be, but also (and more importantly) that it can still be good. After listening to this record about 4 times through, all i wanted to listen to was There’s Nothing Wrong With Love and Mag Earwhig! and Slanted & Enchanted and all the rest of my favorite 90’s albums. The spirit this record evokes is hopeful, is vibrant, is clear. I’m floating down rivers of reverb. I’m gliding through the skies on wings made of catchy hooks. Don’t be fooled by their name…Eternal Summers have created the perfect soundtrack for the coming fall.

RIYL: Guided By Voices, Sleater Kinney, Built To Spill, Broadcast

Eternal Summers – Pogo

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Straight Up Reviews


The Shutouts
Saturday Night at the Bunk House
(Buzz Pop/Insubordination)

A six-song EP from Pittsburgh PA’s Shutouts hits my desk and I’m once again reminded that “traditional”/pure pop punk is still alive and kicking.  The songwriting/lead vocal duties are shared by Jody Davis and Pat Mcghen, and while there’s something to be said for democratic variety, it doesn’t come across very smoothly here.  Sounds more like there weren’t enough drummers and bassists around so these two guitarist/singers are just sharing a rhythm section to back their individual songs.  That being said, the results are (obviously) mixed but not necessarily terrible.  The Davis songs emit a Dickies/Squirtgun vibe, especially in the vocals, which I think is a pretty cool combo. Mcghen supplies some nice pop punk moments as well, particularly the call-back parts of “No Good.”  A couple of tunes reach the warning track but that’s about it.  Definitely some potential for some future smashes though, especially if they narrow their focus.


The AV Club
Not Your Heart EP
(Self Released)

Back in 2008, the S/T AV Club full-length was one of my favorite releases.  Probably the best album a Lemonheads fan never heard.  Here we have a 4-song teaser (1 single from the forthcoming album, 3 exclusive songs) that gets me absolutely giddy.  “Not Your Heart” and “Ear To The Speaker” are in the same vein as previous AV work: big hooks, bright vocals, catchy and well executed power pop/rock.  I’m already declaring sweet victory but icing is nevertheless smothered on thick with the other two tracks, “Something’s Going On Tonight” and “Not Tonight.”  The former brings us great layered backing vocals and the latter brings in some cool synth action, both of which fill out the sound like we’ve not heard before.  Excited to hear more.  Dig the new stuff at itunes and the grab the old stuff at Insubordination Records.


Night Birds
Midnight Movies EP
(No Way Out)

From the ashes of bands that I wish were still around (The Ergs, Hunchback, For Science) comes a band that I’m glad is here! Night Birds play 80s-style punk and rip like nobody’s business. Although the band follows the rule of “The Four As” (Adolescents, AOD, Agent Orange, Angry Samoans) and do very little to branch beyond that sound, they still sound fresh and ferocious. Why some bands can pull it off and others can’t I don’t know, but I’m glad it works here. Mike’s Agent-y surf lines and Brian’s Angry-y caterwauling crash through a crowd in some kind of precise reckless abandon, and the overall speed of the songs (4 tracks in under 6 minutes) would make any Adrenaline junkie happy as hell. They’ve already released a few impressive 7″s, but “Midnight Movies” might be their best song yet. It’s a perfect mixture of hard-edged catchy punk and biting surf rock. The theme throughout has a horror bent, the references being obscure beyond my radar, but it doesn’t make the tunes thrash my ass any less.

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The Great Explainer….explained

Man, listening to Trenton’s The Great Explainer makes me feel young again. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for this chunky, melodic Hot Water Music/Lifetime/Kid Dynamite-influenced hardcore. They got that nice guy/tough guy dual vocal attack working for them, the guitars weave in and out effortlessly and the skins sound like they are getting duly pounded. I applaud the brevity of each track – all filing in under the 4-minute mark – get in, break a sweat, get out. The hardcore/emo scene was once youthful and relevant and hopefully once the thrill of its 00’s mainstream success wears off those of us who were there can stop waxing nostalgic and get back to what’s important – the music itself. We should keep an eye on these lads to see where they float this ship in the future but in the meantime – dig their debut 10″ out now on Chunksaah. Those of you in the Philly area might want to stop by The M Room Oct. 15th – TGE are opening up for (drum roll, plz) The Ataris. Sample a track below and check out their Bandcamp page for a few demos.

The Great Explainer – I Finally Found My Dreamboat

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A Kick In The Pants # 5 – The Dopamines

A while ago I heard that Cincinnati, Ohio’s the Dopamines were retiring some of their crowd favorite/”hit” songs. It’s understandable that a band tires of playing the same song every night on tour for years, and if you’re a smaller band, you’ve actually got the luxury of getting away with it (unlike big-time money-making professional acts that are obligated to please the crowd) so I don’t blame them for taking advantage of it. However, in the back of my mind I was thinking “With barely two albums out, do they really have enough great material to start nixing the old stuff?” After spinning Expect The Worst, their latest LP on Paper + Plastick, I can honesty respond, “What old stuff?”

The album contains more than enough bouncy beer-blast gems to satisfy both the east coast poppers and the midwest basement punkers. “Public Domain” and “3244” are # 1 hits with a bullet in a just world, but I dig the gravel and grit shoveled out in “My Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Night Vision Goggles.” All pistons firing with unrelenting vocals – reminds me of the lyrics and delivery of “survive yourself” Henry Rollins. Another great thing about the track (and “October 24th” as well) is the verses melodically spill out a whole, vivid, story’s worth of words, and the when the catchy and ALL TOGETHER NOW chorus hits you get energized by the sing-along and jolted by the obvious shift in gears. It’s a great feeling. Contemporaries like the Copyrights, whose harmony/unison vocals are a fairly good point of reference for the Dopes, follow a similar formula, but their sound seems brighter and lyrics more vague in comparison. The Dopamines bring the noise and funk(y odors), stubble, sweat, and all the other images one associates with authentic DIY punk rock.

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