Reviews: Grape Soda, The History of Panic, The Memorials

Anthony Mark Happel

Grape Soda, Form A Sign (Kindercore)

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The first thing that struck me when I received this disc: what took so long for a band to adopt Grape Soda as a name? Not only is it a culturally-charged entity, it’s also a hangover cure for some people (my wife says so). Brothers Mat and Ryan Lewis are Grape Soda, and they seem to have come together almost by accident. At one point Mat was in DC, playing in Pocket Rockets, who were on Teenbeat Records, and Ryan was in Athens playing in The Sunshine Fix, among other bands. All roads lead to Rome at some point, I suppose, and with Mat on organ and vox and Ryan on drums and vox, they have united under the purple banner for their first full-length together. From the initial Farfisa notes on the excellent “Obvious Signs,” there are so many things going into their recipe, and they’re so good at distilling it into a powerful hooch that it’s pointless to try to unravel it and piece it all back together. It’s minimalist, un-reconstructed, post-psych-pop, indie rawk to the max. They’ve dismantled the entire set of new musical encyclopedias. “Smooth Rider,” with its great repetitive rhythm, takes off like a shot, and away they go, and as they rumble through the rest of the album the groovy hooks emerge one right after another, often within some loose and fuzzy aural concoction. Sometimes, when the organ takes the lead one can’t help but think of the Lyres, and sometimes it just acts as a compliment to the rhythm parts. It’s the vastness of late 80s/early 90s college rock rolled into one musical burrito and played by two guys with an organ. The buried vocals often venture ahead, on point all alone, sometimes sounding like Pete Shelley in a dumpster. The artful beauty of a song like “Unaligned” is that it almost seems unfinished, as if it might have been created right there on the spot. Even when they go oddball, like on “Hot Toes,” which is essentially made up of six notes, it’s not the least bit shrill or overbearing. Eleven near-perfect songs; anthemic, bristling with hooks, and available on 180 gram white vinyl from Kindercore. One of the best albums of the year. Can somebody please help get these guys some dates opening for Mumford & Sons?

Lilly Hiatt & The Dropped Ponies, Let Down (Normaltown)

Yes, she is the daughter of Mr. John Hiatt, but she’s been working in a coffee shop for the past six years, and this is her first album. And let me be among the first to say she probably won’t be at the coffee shop much longer. She’ll be taking this show on the road, as she damn well should. While it’s sometimes the case that the musical apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, that’s only an adage, and it doesn’t always hold true for obvious reasons. Sometimes musical offspring must venture off in a completely different direction than their parent(s). On this album Lilly has clearly distanced herself from the old man with her ability change it up as she goes, and her accomplished vocals don’t hurt. Although she says he’s still one of her biggest influences, her songs sound nothing like her dad, and she’s all the better for it. She’s also into Townes Van Zant, John Prine, and she’s a self-proclaimed Pearl Jam fanatic, but, when people ask, she calls her music: “spacey country.” She has a really nice trill in her voice on “Young Black Rose,” a very shifty alt-country tune, and also on “Knew You Were Coming.” And she’s not afraid to let the country girl come out to fly her freak flag. She’s actually in the same vicinity as the uber-talented Neko Case on the dimly lit “People Don’t Change,” and she can also hit the high notes, as displayed on “Oh Mister” and “Let Down.” One writer said her song, “Angry Momma” sounds like Crazy Horse, and I can even get with that. If she can maintain this momentum for a while the old man will be opening for her one of these days.

The History Of Panic, Fight! Fight! Fight! (self-released )

Gerald Roesser is The History Of Panic, and his excellent opener, “Out of Control,” sounds like an energetic/slightly irritated Howard Jones circa 1986, and I mean that in the best possible sense. Howard had a way with melodies and his clear-headed vocals were always way up front in the mix so you could really hear his annunciations. Roesser also has a real knack for (electro) pop melody, and his inclination is also to highlight the vocals. A case in point being “Joyce Do It,” a fine follow-up to the first song; then when the buzzing guitar takes over it morphs into something else entirely. This really took me back to the synth-pop of the 80s, and had me recalling the murky wonders of OMD (Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark), among others. Of course, I’m being sort of tongue-in-cheek, since Roesser doesn’t have the luxury of 80s naïvete (nor do we). This guy is a songwriting machine, and one after another, some damn fine songs emerge from the catchy analog keyboard sounds: “The Devil’s Boredom,” “Anthem for Panic,” “The Chase.” The synthesizers do take over the proceedings at times (“Fight Song”), holding some songs temporarily hostage, but the songs all seem to want to break free of the constraints holding them back, and the killer hooks help enable them to do so. This is a truly impressive effort and it should see some action in the clubs and on the inter-web.

Kinder Machines, Beaten By Them (Logicpole)

This is a mostly instrumental No-Cal five-piece that dabbles in earthy electronics and walks the line between the jam band scene and the crossover dance club scene. Their electro-hippie jams turn out to be more facile and mobile, and less “jammy,” than some other bands in their area code. “Follow The Leader” is great, with sad, sparse piano and acoustic guitar, followed by some flicking electro-pulses accompanying the drums; then, it takes a turn and becomes a shuffling boogie-rock tune. Guitarist Andrew Harris has that acoustic, light-rock backing track thing down cold. Bassist Spencer Murray does a lot of the rhythmic heavy lifting, and keeps the show moving forward with the bass parts leading the charge. The vocals on “Salvador Divinorum” are cool, and more of that wouldn’t be a bad thing at all, and “City of Joy” is muy excellente. The synths are quite prominent throughout, and there’s also some trumpet, cello and pump organ here and there, rounding out a fairly big sound. Good work. The disc comes in a fancy hardcover book-style jacket and is limited to 1000 copies.

The King Of Spain, All I Did Was Tell Them The Truth And They Thought It Was Hell (New Granada)

Matt State (vocals, guitar, programming) and Daniel Wainright (bass, vocals), recorded this swell record at home, and when you hear the tinfoil staticky snare emulator announcing itself at the outset it’s easy to assume this will be a chilly ride and that you should bundle up. But, almost instantly, the vocals belie that assumption as they warm the room with dual-tracked whole notes that hang like graceful, over-sized birds. They construct their cosmic compositions around simple rhythmic parts, winding the vocals and the beats together as they go (“Perception”). The staticky percussion sounds persist on “Motions,” with a breathless vocal and great low-key melody that traps you before you know it. This is a dusky electro-pop that somehow defies gravity, and when the stunning “Green Eyes” comes a-calling, with an “ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh” vocal break, it eases the pain of all the apparent themes contained inside this thing. These two talented young men are something akin to a new millennium electronic Simon and Garfunkel. All they need is a breakthrough song. New Granada Records should rally behind this and give them a push. Start with “Green Eyes.”

Maybeshewill, I Was Here For A Moment, Then I Was Gone (Function/Robot Needs Home)

First of all, what’s with these silly names lately? This Leicester, UK band is part of a group of musical friends who have all named their bands in this fashion: 65daysofstatic, Worriedaboutsatan, And So I Watch You From Afar. Birds of a feather, and all that, I suppose. This is their third album, and they haven’t been immune from the requisite underground struggles in the music biz, practicing a post-emo d-i-y ethic, insofar as that is possible in the world today; and after their first two albums they’re still dwelling in the underground. Their “shtick” is that they sound like the little brother band of Explosions In The Sky, and, like EITS, they push the emotional envelope instrumentally wherever they can. They find their “loud” self quickly and they hammer away in fits and starts; there’s a rowdy robustness on the grandiose “Farewell Sarajevo.” The piano underpinning the violin on “Take This To Heart” slams you in the head as the volume and intensity increase, but the pounding rhythms don’t always aid their cause on every track, instead, creating some aural claustrophobia which limits them musically and boxes them in at certain points. They do let the light in on the Sparta-esque “Red Painter Lanterns,” but then it’s not quite as dense as it could have been. Some of the more mechanical electro-beats fail, and they could benefit from loosening up a little. They really only have two modes, and they go back and forth between the two in largely the same manner on every song. They have their moments, but, mostly, this has already been done. Time to break that mold. Andmaybeshewillchangethatsillyname.

The Memorials, Delirium (Self-released)

It’s hard to describe exactly what it is that’s going down here. It’s completely incoherent on one level; bombastic and ridiculous noise-funk, but, somehow, it all gels and in the end some kind of fucking bizarre magic happens. Thomas Pridgeon, who is considered a “drumming prodigy,” did time with the Mars Volta before starting this band in ’09. He handles drums and programming here, and is joined by the hellacious Vivica Hawkins on lyrics/vocals, and versatile guitarist Nick Brewer, with whom Pridgeon co-wrote the music for the songs. “Dreams” is the bomb, with slap-back quick-time beats, and Vivica riding sidesaddle over the top of it all. It’s a dynamite opener, and weird as fuck, and it only gets busier from there. Pridgeon’s drumming on the almost twelve-minute long “Mr. Entitled” is a tour de force, and the seven and a half minute long “Flourescents” is also a powerhouse, and on that song they sound suspiciously like the Atlanta band, Daughter (not to be confused with Canadian noise band called Daughters). They sound intoxicated on most of this recording, and the result is pretty intoxicating. Then, finally, they unleash the monster on “Heavyweight,” which just may be one of the top ten songs of the year. What a frying pan upside the head this thing turned out to be. Disregard the silly cover art and let her rip.

Mythical Motors, Full Breathing Costume EP (Disturbing Fish)

In the interest of full disclosure I have to acknowledge that this Chattanooga band’s bass player, Mike, is an old friend of mine. But that fact in no way precluded me from writing a clear-headed review. There, that’s done. This seven-song EP throws the door open with “Your Days Are A Blast,” which offers up a nice hook and the tinny, high-end vocals immediately call out the psych-pop of the Three O’Clock. The chiming guitars arrive and they settle in on the janglier “Crying Legend,” and, along with “Science Fiction Lab,” it sounds like they could’ve been part of the Elephant 6 family at some point in the 90s. Songwriter/vocalist Matt Addison has a slight Ed Ackerson quality to his songs (and his overall sound), and he nails it to the wall on the muy excellente “Simulcast Soul,” a great song that approximates a jam session between the Windbreakers and a revved-up Apples In Stereo. The spirit of Guided By Voices shows up, sort of, on “36th Street,” sporting some cool vocals, and, speaking of vocals, the raw “X-Ray Stripes” rides a rapid, pulsating bass line with a distorted, angry chorus that made me briefly think of those bratty Brits known as Huggy Bear. The disc is well-mastered and the recording level is loud. Job well done, fellas.

Tarrus Riley, Mecoustic (Soulbeats)

It goes without saying that Tarrus Riley comes from a musical family, since his father, Jimmy, sang in quasi-legendary bands The Sensations and The Uniques, and he recorded his first songs at the ripe old age of fifteen. Over the last couple of decades Tarrus has developed a singular approach to reggae music that has found him incorporating rock and pop and soul and moving toward a more universal mash-up of all of the above. This album consists of mostly acoustic versions (hence the title) of some smooth polished reggae like the very artful “Pick Up The Pieces,” with warm, richly colored vocals. He, occasionally, sounds like Jimmy Cliff, and he also possesses some of the subtle, naturalistic melodicism of Dennis Brown. As a Rasta, his progressive politics are wide open, often embracing feminism and the struggles of women in his songs, something that is not always prominent in the reggae/Rasta sub-culture. He performs a duet with his father entitled, “Black Mother Pray,” and he does a new, radio-ready version of his pro-woman hit, “She’s Royal,” complete with strings. In the press notes he had this to say about his music: “I sing for the people. I define myself, so I make thought-provoking music about Black consciousness and experiences.” While he’s fairly well known in the global roots music community, it’s fair to ask, why isn’t this guy an international superstar? And why is he a virtual unknown in the U.S.? Commercial appeal and market success are no true measure of anything artistic, but, sometimes the impossible occurs and the two worlds come together. This album should open a few more minds to the possibilities. College and indie radio should be all over this thing. I’ve got an idea: an opening slot with U2 on their next global jaunt. That’ll help.

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