Reviews: Halloween, Alaska, Sleeping Bag

Hello. I hope your summer is delivering some good things. Try to make time to get outside and commune with Mother Nature a little bit. Still doing a lot of politicking around these parts. The Wisconsin “Republidouches” (stole that from my sister-in-law) have redrawn the boundaries of the state voting districts, in order to ensure they can lock up a few areas that vote Democrat in elections. Literally stealing votes. Ironically, their dishonesty knows no bounds. Wisconsin Assembly Republicans continue to create legislation that takes rights away from citizens, flouts the Constitution and is in violation of state laws, but they don’t give a damn. They’re like a corrupt junta for a little Napoleanic dictator who was shockingly swept into power. They know it won’t last, so they do all they can to steal the wealth of the state and turn it into a dysfunctional backwater. As part of the agenda of their Tea Party backers, they’re literally marching us back in time as they throttle state government infrastructure and dismantle the system as much as they can, all the while declaring that they’re balancing the budget. An apt descriptor would be the UB40 album and song title, “Rat in The Kitchen.” These people are soiling our kitchen with their diseased feces and gnawing on our furnishings. In the city of Milwaukee, unemployment among Black males between 18 and 45 is said to regularly hover around 35 PERCENT! Imagine what it is presently. While they kill worker’s rights and give tax breaks to wealthy companies, our Republican leadership has not spoken the word “poverty” once in eight months since the election. Poor people exist only as fodder in their world. What is happening in Wisconsin is similar to the socio-political destruction taking place in Michigan, Indiana, New Jersey, Ohio and Florida right now. The current conservative movement hates government, and they don’t want it used to help the poor. They fundamentally reject that as “socialism.” Their plan to disrupt our democracy is under way. Keep your eyes peeled in the next six months because the recall elections begin here in August. The lines of battle have been drawn with the Teabaggers. Wisconsin is the front line. Let the trumpets roar!

Halloween, Alaska, All Night The Calls Come In (Amble Down)

This oddly-named Minneapolis band recorded this album in a single room over the course of a single week. They used the confined space-time matrix to capture a cool, ambient world in their music that exists somewhere outside of daily functional reality. With all the terror and bloodshed and strife all over the world it’s kind of like flipping the switch off and passing through an airtight corridor to a sealed room. This is some seriously self-contained electro-chamber pop. Things start off floaty and dreamy on “You Are Not Well,” and they evolve into a fuzzy, semi-noisy resolution. Even more personality emerges on “Analogue,” and they’re off and running. “Dance By Accident” is a pleasantly queasy pop nugget in a similar vein to China Crisis, and “The Jealous Ones” contains some Prefab Sprout in its DNA, most notably in the vocals. “Tables” adds some needed volume and works itself all the way to the point of ejaculation. Some of this is quite danceable, but not overtly beat-driven. It’s interesting to note how timeless this kind of pop music actually is when it’s done right. Other than some obvious changes in computer-based technology, some of this record sounds like it could be from another time, another place, circa 1988-92. It’s not earth-shattering, but it’s pretty damn good.

Ballake Sissoko & Vincent Segal, Chamber Music (Six Degrees)
Kora player Ballake Sissoko wrote seven of these dialectical songs, and Vincent Segal, who happens to be a classical cellist, wrote three. Right from the git-go one can hear that the kora and cello work perfectly together, and these mystical, maudlin tunes bring with them a musical depth of character that resonates from both. The kora is a non-Western instrument indigenous to Mali and Senegal, among other places, which utilizes a cow skin as a resonator and has a notched bridge like a lute. Wikipedia says it can be loosely referred to as “a double bridge harp lute.” It does resemble the tones of a harp, but can also be made to sound like a guitar very easily. “Histoire De Molly” provides really nice tension, with the cello stretching out long notes and dragging the listener along every step of the way. And the sound of the kora keeps things just off-center and holds your attention with its mellifluousness. There’s a globe-trekking back and forth element that plays out in the decidedly non-Western sounding title track, for example, and in the fusion of East and West as heard on the song, “Future.” It makes for a musical yin-yang experience unlike most we’re likely to hear anywhere else. Two very disparate worlds brought together seamlessly as one. Only in music does that happen.

Sleeping Bag, S/T (Joyful Noise)
SB is a Bloomington, IN trio that is built around the songs and vocals of drummer, Dave Segedy. What began as his solo drum project called Whoa Bro Awesome is now a fully-realized band, and their sound is a no-frills 90s indie rock that couples with college radio post-punk or power-pop with equal aplomb. It’s a little silly at times, but never frivolous, with the possible exception of the song, “Scone Zone.” The first three songs (“Slime”, “Sunroom” and “Rental”) are all very well-rendered and start things off with a wallop. “Rental” presents some of the more esoteric qualities of Segedy’s lyrics… “…Best rental of the century/Give it time/Give it room to breathe…” Okay. There have been some comparisons made to Stephen Malkmus, but there’s also a sense of the Meat Puppets’ Kurt Kirkwood in some of the flatter vocalizing, and there’s some My Dad Is Dead contained in a few strains. This band would have fit right in with the rest of the early 90s roster on Homestead Records. Nicely done.

Southerly, Youth (Greyday)

Krist Krueger is Southerly, and he sings and plays everything on this accomplished recording, with the exception of some additional keyboards by Eli Jemison and backing vocals by Sarah Saturday. Krueger has some skillz and his songs are solid. The opener, “Suffer,” catches fire right away and eventually burns itself out big at the finish line. “Do We Believe?” has a weaving, wandering melody and points the way to the title track, which is exceptional even among the other strong material here, and it should definitely make its way onto some college/indie radio playlists this summer. “Lust” slows things down to about 60 bpm, and parses out some deeper mood music, and “Without A Cause” is laudable “NZ pop.” Drawing from an encyclopedia of influential sources, he turns it all into something different, something that screams “me”, complete with a rather warm and cozy production. There are mildly repetitive “shoegazey” or “psych” elements mixed with some spare electro-rock and they all seem to get along just fine. If you’re going to run with the big dogs you’ve got to piss with the big dogs; and if you’re going to be compared to Greg Sage, for example, you better bring the goods. He mostly does, on every song, and there’s not really a fleck of filler to be found. Dozens of major label “new rock” bands wish they could write one song as good as any contained on this album.

Sundress EP (Self-released)
A 6-song EP from Denton, TX’s Sundress, an atmospheric throwback to 90s-era ambient, psychedelic, slow-rock, shoegazing space-pop, not unlike Spacemen 3 without the droning effect or the darker undertones. It lands in the center of the target mostly. Definitely one of the underground gems of the summer thus far. “Middle of Here” plays it like The Verve (no complaints here), then “Bloom” continues farther down that track toward some spangle-rock, and it had me thinking of Straitjacket Fits. But it’s selling them short to compare them directly to another band based on one song. This EP has some real personality quirks of its own. A yeoman-like effort. They’ve toured with The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Vetiver and Sleepy Sun, and that kind of exposure should help them find the audience these songs deserve.

As a bonus… I’d like to mention a four-song EP, entitled, “Not Tonight,” by a Virginia band called, Ceremony that sounds like a shaky marriage between The Jesus & Mary Chain and The Raveonettes, and while there’s been a spate of that in recent years, I mean it in the best possible sense. The EP came out back in May, but I just received a copy, so I’m just now catching up. Written, recorded and produced by Paul Baker and John Fedowitz, but I don’t know who else is involved. The opening title track is fuzzed-out, distorted guitar rock that opens the door to the JD/Warsaw-like “Leaves Me Cold.” “Dreams Stripped Away” rides on a throbbing drum machine right into “Take You Down,” which is buzzy, post-new wave, with a guitar stinger. This thing feels like an “A” quality demo that could snag them a full-length record deal. AMH