Greetings from the home of Steve Miller, Orson Welles and Ed Gein, and the new wave in politics: recall elections. Been really busy with the film project and other activities of late. We’re getting ready for recall season once again in Wisconsin, and we had another Occupy Milwaukee demonstration this weekend. The date is approaching when we begin gathering signatures for a recall of Governor Scott Walker, the point man in the Tea Party, Koch brothers-fueled attack on working and poor people and common human decency. Wisconsin made history earlier this year by recalling two sitting Republican State Senators primarily for their support of Walker’s pro-corporate/anti-union policies, but many of his other policies, and his distasteful approach to governing, have made him enemies in every corner. It will be a difficult task since Wisconsin has a quirk in the law that allows Walker to raise an unlimited amount of money to fight the recall effort. He can tap into his wealthy corporate pipeline and he’ll bombard the public with TV/radio/web propaganda. Polls have shown that almost two-thirds of the population is unhappy with the Walker powergrab. Stay tuned on this because it could point to the future for a few other governors. American politics is finally shaking at its foundation and getting interesting again. I didn’t want to shortchange any of the good records that had shown up recently, or the nice people who still send them in this era of digital downloads, so I did a quick encapsulation of a bunch of them here. I leave it up to everyone else to explore further as desired. Have fun. Thanks. AMH
Shawn Lawson Freeman, Non-etre (Self-released)
For Shawn Lawson Freeman, the most obvious, prominent immediate, visceral comparison that emerges on his album is found on “Loop Me In,” which is like a Lou Barlow/Sebadoh/Sentridoh side project of some kind, and that’s something to proud of, for sure, but the other, slightly less prominent, comparison is Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas on “To Be Special,” and that drags this down a few notches. The rest of the album strikes a balance. “Angry Love” is good, with piano and vocals by guest Amy Seeley, and the echoey piano and bass are effective “I Am You” introduces more flexibility. “God Said” is strong, and captures more of what I gather he’s after, which in this instance appears to be a slightly drunken Ryan Adams.
People Get Ready, People Get Ready EP (Quite Scientific)
Excellent four-song EP that latches onto your dendrites right from the beginning and doesn’t let go. It’s a far sight better than I expected from something with the generic title, EP. Steven Riker, who once did double duty as a “dancer and guitarist” for Mr. David Byrne is the gang leader and his gang includes, Luke Fasano from Yeasayer, Jen Goma from A Sunny Day In Glasgow and James Rickman from Slow Gherkin. Barely twenty-three months old, but they’re well on their way to musical adulthood very soon. Their sound is totally their own and is something fresh compared to a lot of what passes for the other side of the indie rock/art rock scene.
Gregory Scott Slay, Horsethief Beats (Communicating Vessels)
This is a rather peculiar recording. It’s like a weaker Afghan Whigs on “Keep It Secret,” and it’s little lost in a haze on “Kindred Spirit.” “New Loop, Old Hope” is a clever title but just a so-so tune looped around a basic beat. “Hidden Among The Somethings” loosens up vocally, and that helps the song considerably. This is club music, not really lounge music, although it hints at it not only in terms of the raw material used in its making, but also in the presentation itself. An unusual mix of pop, dance, etc., without a defined audience. Also includes “field recordings” at home after the birth of Slay’s first child who struggles with cystic fibrosis.
Today The Moon, Tomorrow The Sun, Wild Fire (Greyday)
Not sure about the name. I haven’t embraced it yet, but their music has grown on me. They play with a degree of seriousness, and singer Lauren Gibson is a good point person, but the songs don’t always do her justice. Opening with a mild bang on “We Were Wild” they find a throbbing, static buzz that really works, but their near perfect, Disney-fied, herky-jerky pop on “Single-Hearted” is just too “easy” to be real. Isn’t it? They do try hard, revving up toward the end, and they do make a fair amount of noise occasionally, but there’s something missing. The set-up just needs to be tweaked. It’s got big upside and big potential. Now they just have to find the key to unleash the inner Tony Robbins. Don’t we all…
Touch People, Show Me Your Dimensions LP & Sound Expression EP (Illegal Art)
Nebraska’s Darren Keen, who is better known as the dude behind The Show Is The Rainbow, has played over 1000 shows in the last 8 years, so I’d say he’s earned some time off. TSITR released four albums in a relatively short period of time and he was bound to be a little burned out. This diversion is a four-song
EP of more fractured, electronic art music/art rock. Think Xiu Xiu on “You Can Live” and you’re in the neighborhood. It’s a quasi-experimental thing, and that can get dicey, but when it’s good, it’s good, like the cool distorted vocal parts and the groovy organ. “Every Word” fields a staccato vocal over a mangy keyboard, and it wriggles about pretty well. Keen also released an album as Touch People on The Faint’s label, BLANK.WAV, and word is he wants to be compared to Battles and Dan Deacon, although why I’m not quite sure why, since they’re both kind of overrated, no offense. This batch of recordings will see twin releases of a limited edition LP and a CD-EP.
Wooden Wand And The Briarwood Virgins, Briarwood (Fire)
Ding! Ding! Ding! Winner winner, chicken dinner. Takes the prize for best of the bunch. James Jackson Toth (Wooden Wand) drops another beauty on the world, just like it ain’t nothin’. Hot on the heels of his very well-received album, Death Seat, he releases an effortless one-off that is better than much of what I’ve heard this year. This accidental project came about following an invitation from Duquette Johnson, formerly of Verbena, for Toth to record a split 7” for the Communicating Vessels label, along with a band called The Gum Creek Killers. Toth took to the Homewood, Alabama environs and decided to record an entire album there, with some of the same musicians. And that’s where the Briarwood Virgins come in. He used Kickstarter along with donations from friends and fans to finance it, and came away with a minor masterpiece. Spectacular. One of the albums of the year, accidentally.
Yukon Blonde, Fire/Water EP (Dine Alone)
“Fire”, the catchy first track on this Canadian band’s four-song EP is among the best new songs I’ve heard in weeks. They’ve played SXSW, CMJ’s New Marathon and Milwaukee’s Summerfest, so I assume they’ve risen in the ranks of new buzz bands, and they sound like they’re headed in the right direction musically. 2009 saw a self-titled debut, and there’s a new album coming out in February 2012. It’s smart post-indie rock that could share the stage with a lot of bigger comparable bands and hold its own. It’s a mish-mash of genres that comes out sounding like it’s suspended between decades. Some art pop, some slippery rock, some drifty, unmoored, unclassifiable expressionism.