November 2, 2015
As the end of the year looms, 2015 has yet to conjure a song more infections than the one I wrote about in August 2014 by BRONCHO, “Class Historian” (Broncho’s new single: the catchiest indie rock song I’ve heard in years). Jump through the title of the article to hear it for yourself. It’s a brilliant, post-punk-inspired bauble. If anyone can find a catchier song, I invite you to share a link to it in the comment section.
Since then, the Norman, Oklahoma band has been on a long on and off tour supporting its second album, Just Enough Hip to Be Woman. It’s an energetic, smartly constructed record of 11 songs rooted in the hooks and swagger of early-‘80s post-punk that’s only 32 minutes long. You can hear the entire album for yourself on the band’s soundcloud here:
BRONCHO features guitarist/vocalist Ryan Lindsey, guitarist Ben King, bassist Penny Hill, and drummer Nathan Price. I spoke to the band’s frontman via phone ahead of BRONCHO’s first South Florida appearance opening up for The Growlers at the Culture Room. Naturally, I had to ask him about the magic behind “Class Historian,” and how he writes his music, specifically where did that long stuttering hook in “Class Historian” come from?
“When I first started playing that song, probably the very first time I played it, I came up with the idea,” he reveals. “I was thinking that that would be an instrument playing that part, but when I play by myself, I vocalize a lot of parts, and it just kind of stuck. It made more sense, so I just kept singing it rather than finding something else to play it. A lot of times stuff will happen that way, whether it be vocally or if I’m thinking about putting a part somewhere, I’d just be singing it and that, lots of times, will just turn into a verse or something.”
So words and lyrics, therefore, are a bit secondary to melody and music for Lindsey. Lindsey says they come to him from spontaneous moments of melodies popping into his head. He also finds words and their structure by following the music. “Lyrically, I’ll come up with ideas through singing through songs,” he says. “There’ll be a word that makes sense with the rhythm of the song, and then I’ll try to build the rest of it off of that, and then we kind of fill the blanks during the recording, try to figure out the rest and make sense of it.”
With “Class Historian,” I made a big deal in last year’s post of Lindsey’s phrasing and how he chooses to reinvent the accents of parts of words. Particularly the way he extends the first syllable of the word “historian” and rushes the rest of it, sort of nonchalantly tossing the word off. “I think you can get away with simple stuff,” he muses. “If you mess around with the really simple things and chop ’em up, I think, for one, it feels good rhythmically, and it adds a little rhythm to an otherwise really simple part. I think mixing that in as much as possible feels better to me. It’s more something I would want to sing and more something I would want to hear.”
When it comes to finding the words, he credits guitarist Ben King for helping out. “I’ll basically bring a chunk of ideas that I have, and on the last record Ben really helped me fill in the gaps … he wrote a bunch of lines, too, so most of the time it’s Ben and I working on the lyrics. As far as the band goes, it’s kind of a mix, but Ben’s a great person to work with on lyrics. He’s the only guy in the band with a degree,” Lindsey adds with a laugh.
Lindsey was at a recording studio in the band’s hometown, while taking a break from touring, when we spoke. Asked if he is writing while on tour, he replies, “Kind of. It happens sometimes on tour or when I’m home. If an idea comes to me, I’ll start singing. I’ll sing it in my head for a while and sometimes play it randomly. I’ll just think about it and come up with a lot of ideas prior to playing through it, and then I’ll start playing through stuff and see what makes sense. It’s pretty casual, really. Sitting down and like really saying, ‘I need to write a song,’ it sounds really stressful to do that.”
During the band’s tour for its first album, Can’t Get Past the Lips (2011), the group mixed in several new songs that wound up on its 2014 album. Lindsey sounds a bit surprised at himself when he admits that none of BRONCHO’s new material has appeared on its current set lists. “For the last record we played a pretty good chunk of the songs live for a while,” he says. “We played ‘Kurt’ and ‘It’s On’ for a long time and then ‘Class Historian’ we played for a while before we recorded it.”
He says the band’s current tour has felt so breakneck, it has even disoriented Lindsey’s sense of time. The last album is over a year old at this point, and the touring has been unrelenting for band members. Dates recently included festival appearances at SXSW and the Firefly Music Festival in Denver, among others. “It’s been a real blur,” admits Lindsey. “Like I just ran into a friend last night, and I hadn’t seen him since January, but I thought I saw him like a month ago,” he says with a laugh, “so it’s all a blur. It’s like a dream state.”
* * *
For PureHoney Magazine, I wrote about the band’s evolution in its sound between this record and its 2011 debut, which had a rawer, garage rock sound. Lindsey and I also spoke about the song “Deena,” another wry cut that speaks to the band’s post-punk influence. He was real happy to talk about that song, which you will hear and be able to download as an mp3 for a limited time when you jump through the image below. He told me, “It’s nice hearing people talk about ‘Deena’ because I don’t hear very many people bringing that song up, but that was one of my favorite songs on the record.” You can check that out by jumping through the PureHoney logo below:
BRONCHO and The Growlers are touring Florida right now. They will be in our South Florida area this Tuesday, Nov. 3. BRONCHO will play an in-store performance at Radio-Active Records in Fort Lauderdale for free (plus free pizza) at 5 p.m. that day (details). Then they warm up the stage for The Growlers at The Culture Room, whose doors open at 7 p.m. (tickets here). The tour continues northbound, the following day, in Orlando (visit the band’s website for all dates, which continue through Nov. 21 in California). Photo of BRONCHO by Rozette Rago, provided by the band.
(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
From the Archives: Reliving Red House Painters live in 1997 in St. Petersburg, Florida; stream it here
September 15, 2015
Full disclosure: Mark Kozelek blew off a scheduled interview to my face the night after this concert. Still, I don’t take my taste for his music personally. I kinda knew he could be rude after this show in St. Petersburg, Florida. At one point he shared his hotel room details on stage because he’s “on the prowl now.” At another point he told a fan, “I’ll fuckin’ choke you with this Flying V.” Despite all that, this show at the State Theater, on Nov. 21, 1997 is one of my fondest remembered live shows. His Name is Alive opened it, and I met with them at sound check (they were way friendlier). I’ll never forget the long row of varied guitars lined up backstage for Red House Painters. There must have been 40 to 50 of them, including that Gibson Flying V. Reportedly, all had their own tuning for various songs, depending on what Kozelek would feel like playing that night.
My interview with His Name Is Alive was for “Goldmine,” which they got a kick out of: an obscure alt-rock band — whose biggest hit played on MTV’s weekly alternative late-night show “120 Minutes” — profiled in a stodgy record collector’s magazine. The Red House Painters interview would have been for “JAM Entertainment News,” a statewide Florida ‘zine. It could be Kozelek wasn’t impressed with the opening act going into the national publication, or he just didn’t feel like talking about his music (he denied we had the appointment, even though his PR company would express their frustration to me about him, as if he had done this before). Who knows? I don’t care much about it at this point. This has become my fun Kozelek anecdote from back in the day.
What matters is that his music still holds up, and I was really pleased to see 4AD recently reissue its entire RHP catalog on vinyl (I picked it all up). Most recently, I was digging through some of my old cassettes and found a decent quality audience recording of RHP’s performance from the night before I was supposed to sit down and talk to Kozelek in Orlando. This was the first of two dates in a Central Florida tour in support of Songs For a Blue Guitar.
One of the things that make the Red House Painters live so interesting is how they reinterpret their original recordings. Live, the songs often change a lot, and often for the better. Take this night’s version of “Grace Cathedral Park.” Kozelek’s voice is sadder than on the record. He sings each line with a yearning, which is more powerful than the wistful reserve on the record. Even the guitar line has changed. On the record, it’s a dreamy, strummed affair, but live, it’s a rambling, hypnotic hook in a minor key. “Evil,” despite Kozelek double-timing the vocals, is as intense as ever because of the song’s crawling tempo and dynamics. A change halfway through, where Kozelek groans out wordless vocals that crescendo from a mutter to a siren’s howl, is remarkable in its stripped down, hypnotic drone rock mastery.
Despite a terrific version of “Evil,” the highlight of the night wasn’t familiar songs, but a brand new track he didn’t even name. He only introduced it by saying, “We’re gonna play a couple of new songs.” Then he played some dreamy chords, awash in a watery effect. In my notes I called it, “You Are My Everything” based on the refrain before the song took a turn during an explosive jam before clamoring into a lower gear and settling back to its beautiful, familiar chords. The part returned with an extra bit of guitar solo on top for a brief moment. I wanted it to go on longer. It was heartrendingly gorgeous. It would later be re-worked (in my opinion, to its detriment) into “Michigan,” on the band’s follow-up album, Old Ramon. It’s so amazing that I have isolated it as an mp3 for download:
But, if you want hear (most) of the show as it unfolded, you can stream it below in two parts that I’ve uploaded to YouTube. It was recorded with a handheld cassette recorder on a 100 minute Maxell XLII-S cassette. The tape was not long enough to capture the entire show. “Lord, Kill the Pain” was cut short on Side A and “I Feel the Rain Fall” was cut short on Side B. I faded out both before the harsh cuts. By the end of Side B, the band hadn’t even gotten to their encore. As for the sound quality, it’s an audience recording, so there’s not much dynamics. I messed with the amplification a bit in Audicity, which helped. There’s also some tape hiss, but the audience stayed quiet for much of the show (there is some unfortunate restless muttering during the quieter parts of the new songs). In the end, it’s a good historic snapshot of where the band was between what would be their final two albums, Songs For a Blue Guitar and Old Ramon. They actually played three songs that would end up on Old Ramon, which only saw official release in 2001 via Sub Pop Records. Here’s the set list:
“Albuquerque” (Neil Young cover)
“Grace Cathedral Park”
“Lord, Kill the Pain” (cut)
“I Feel the Rain Fall” (cut)
And now the show:
Images courtesy Island Records.
I must thank my friend Pablo for pointing out this two-hour radio show on the BBC hosted by David Bowie in 1979. He pointed out this post on Dangerous Minds, who credit the find to John Coulthart. There have been several cannibalistic posts that share the link to the two-hour radio show on YouTube and the track list with not a lick of insight into why Bowie may have chosen some of the songs he did. If you want to read the tracklist, you can jump through the Dangerous Minds post (Update: I found a complete transcript of the radio show here). They buried it under the link to the video posted by a YouTube user over a year ago. Here’s the link to the radio show:
I’ll refrain from sharing the playlist because it’s so much more interesting to hear the songs by surprise with Bowie talking about each track before and after he plays them. However, I can’t help but share some of the revelations on the show, being a hardcore Bowie fan in tune to his influences and tastes. At this point in his career, Bowie had dropped the guise of putting on over-the-top personas. He just sounds like a down-to-earth music geek sharing some of his favorite music. You’ll hear him play a record by an early influence, for instance, as he challenges the audience to guess who it might be. He shares the genuinely surprising answer afterward. After revealing the singer’s name, Bowie says, “He had this strange thing where he threw away his rings and all that to become a preacher for a bit, and this was an outcome of that … How he changed his voice like that, he must have given up something else, I think.” It’s a bit of a delight to hear the so-called chameleon of rock ‘n’ roll marvel at another musician who changed up his identity before him.
You can tell Bowie likes some songs he plays more than others. He says of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man,” “I used to love this one” and cuts it short. However, he loves every last note of “For Your Pleasure,” by Roxy Music, calling Ferry’s repetition of “Tara Tara” at the end of the track, “a beautiful gesture.” After playing a Bob Seger track, though, Bowie remarks, “Now, I’m not sure about that one.” Then he admits he played it for the sake of his ego because it has the word “Lodger” in the lyrics, the same title of the album he was on the radio to promote. He also plays a few songs from that album, which had only come out two days earlier, that weren’t necessarily singles from the record. “D.J.” was not among the tracks, but wouldn’t that be too obvious for Bowie?
However, the lyric, “I am a D.J./I am what I play,” is so accurate. He plays music by former collaborators like Iggy Pop, Robert Fripp (the Crimson piece), Jeff Beck, John Lennon as well as a freaky, kinetic post-punk track from a band called Mars, off an album that Brian Eno had recommended to him. Bowie even plays some songs he covered in the past as well as the future. He covered Bruce Springsteen’s “It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City” in 1975, but his version wouldn’t see release until 1989, as a “previously unreleased” track on the Sound+Vision box set. He also plays a song he would wind up covering way in the future, on his 2003 album Reality.
There are many great tidbits to be found in his wide ranging selection of music that varies from classical to soul to nursery music (no wonder his self-titled debut sounded like that) to punk rock. It’s worth discovering for yourself. I will end this post by noting that it’s quite funny that Bowie had to bring his own Mekons record because the BBC didn’t have it in its library. Like another friend of mine said in this post, “nobody gives a fuck about the Mekons.” That was true even in 1979, at the height of the post-punk scene, but at least Bowie proves he was hip to them.
If you’re wondering where the still image is from, it’s of course his video, for “D.J.” Watch it below.
And that snapshot of Lodger is my personal copy on my turntable.
Duke of Burgundy plunges deep into the frailty of love and S&M as lush, evocative, retro Euro-sexploitation film — a film review
February 13, 2015
It’s funny that the 50 Shades of Grey movie will hit the multiplex on the same day as The Duke of Burgundy enters select art house theaters. I haven’t seen 50 Shades, but there’s no way it can present as complex a picture of a relationship between a sadist and a masochist than The Duke of Burgundy. Director Peter Strickland, who also wrote the script, presents a bold vision of S&M that not only tests the limits of its value in a relationship between an amorous couple, but he makes the couple women. He heightens the relationship further by placing them in a world only populated by women (the title actually refers to a variation of a genus of butterfly, but there is no “Duke” in the film, per se). Furthermore, Strickland also adopts a cinematic style that recalls early 1970s Euro sexploitation films like those by Jesús “Jess” Franco and Jean Rollin.
The atmosphere of the film is so on point and other-worldly, the viewer will forgive any superficial judgment of the two women at the center of the film, as the director explores the dynamic break-down of the relationship that gradually frays feelings and questions the roles between these two women, the lepidopterist Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and her younger lover and servant Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna), who reveals an amateurish interest in the moths and butterflies Cynthia studies. The film’s opening scene immediately seems to fetishize atmosphere. We meet Evelyn in a velvet cape sitting by a babbling brook, her back to the camera. Smash cuts to close-ups on some green moss that coats the bottom a tree trunk and protruding, brown mushrooms emphasize a fantasy world. Then there’s a cut to the brook and its sparkling surface reflecting the sunlight that dapples through the leaves overhead.
Next, there’s a wide shot of the mountain forest, what appears to be a Bavarian wilderness. Evelyn rides out of the trees on her bicycle, as the opening titles begin with the film’s theme song by the film’s composers, Cat’s Eyes, a duo from London, who have a sound comparable to the ‘60s-influenced Broadcast, the composers of the music in Strickland’s last film, Berberian Sound Studio (2012). At a time when many Hollywood films are eschewing the opening title sequence in favor of cutting to the action, this moment in The Duke of Burgundy stands as a terrific musical testament to the importance of setting a mood for a film. First, the music sounds like a slight chamber pop song from the late ‘60s. Over the bright, pastoral rambling of an acoustic guitar, Cat’s Eyes vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Rachel Zeffira punctuates the soft tap of a beat with staccato sighs. After a flute plays a circular, cheerful melody, shimmering, languid strings join the track, and Zeffira hushedly (maybe) sings, “One day you’ll be back … when you’re done dreaming … about lust.” Her breathy voice sounds as though it is coming out of the ether of a dream. Her partner in the duo, Faris Badwan, who also sang on the band’s previous self-titled record, has no vocal duties in the score, once again, keeping the film strictly female-centric.
As the credits appear, the pictures freeze, like what Ti West did with the opening of The House of the Devil (2009), another contemporary indie film interested in recalling a film style of the past. Strickland takes it further, washing them out to monochromatic images of various colors using flickering filters of various primary colors. Another funny detail in the credits: lingerie and perfumes are given credit. Early in this sequence, when Evelyn pedals her bike out of the forest, the music is interrupted as a distant voice calls out her name and a young woman on another bike travelling the opposite direction waves at her. Her echoing voice has a surreal, archaic quality that speaks to Strickland’s detailed tribute to the past style he is emulating.
Sound is incredibly important in this movie. When the title song ends in a flourish of flutes, twinkling harpsichord, swooning strings and that sighing voice, the chirp of birds and the mundane rattle of Evelyn parking her bike and grabbing her hard leather bag sounds jarringly pronounced. After buzzing the doorbell, Cynthia opens the front door with a creak and greets her with, “You’re late.” Evelyn does not reply but follows. The sound of their footsteps even vary, speaking to Evelyn’s smaller size to the older and taller Cynthia. When they speak, there’s an almost disembodied character to their voices, as if the dialogue has been dubbed into English. One could go on and on about the sound in this movie, which gradually grows from scandalously suggestive (behind a closed bathroom door it won’t take much imagination to figure out what one of Evelyn’s punishments entails) to surrealistically evocative (in several montage sequences the dissonant sound of insects, from chirps to fluttering wings evoke the internal state of things).
One could also go on at length about the rich use of lighting and shadow or the dynamic camera work, which often highlights reflections and double images, not to mention the atmospheric set design and the loaded mise-en-scène within those refracted images, as duality and role-reversal abounds. It’s also important to note that none of this could be pulled off without the sincere, heartfelt chemistry between the two leads. The Duke of Burgundy is such a rich film that upon returning to the opening scene after the first watch, I could not help but notice the witty foreshadowing of the babbling brook and all the water Cynthia gulps down as the movie unfolds.
Though it all might sound a bit salacious or gratuitous, the film never goes there. Strickland keeps much of it suggestive, and that’s where the sex appeal lies. I think there was only one nipple shot in the entirety of the film, and when Cynthia sits on a chair with her legs open, all you can see is darkness. It’s not about keeping it classy, though. Strickland seems more interested in evoking mystery. Who knows? Maybe the women in this world do not even have genitalia. There’s always a sense that something is missing. During a languid pan of the audience at one of Cynthia’s lectures, the camera reveals not only are there no men in the audience, but there are also some mannequins of women sitting in the audience. It’s a stylistic flourish that calls attention to something being amiss in a world of only women.
The film soon reveals that S&M seems to be the de rigueur choice for intimacy between women who have paired off in the world of this movie. At least in the case of Evelyn and Cynthia, it is also revealed that their relationship is so mannered that it is the master Cynthia who is actually obliging herself to the commands of her servant Evelyn, who leaves notecards with instructions of what Cynthia should tell her as her punishment looms. Evelyn’s desperation to be punished also makes it feel as though the passion between this couple might falter at any moment despite such declarations as Evelyn whispering to herself, “Cynthia, as long as I am yours I remain alive.”
As the film lumbers along to even more twists, scenarios are repeated between the couple that reveal the terrible thread they have hung their relationship on. The idea that the spice of sadomasochistic sex might heighten romance is profoundly questioned in this film lush with atmosphere and a disturbingly probing insight into relationships. I highly doubt 50 Shades of Grey will dare to go as far as The Duke of Burgundy.
The Duke of Burgundy runs 105 minutes and is not rated (this film features all sorts of advanced sexuality between women except for the kind you might expect). It opens in the South Florida area exclusively at Miami’s O Cinema Wynwood on Friday, Feb. 13. It will later expand to the Miami Beach Cinematheque on March 12. It could be playing in your area if it isn’t already on its way. It’s also available on VOD, but we always encourage the viewer to give in to the controlling mercy of the dark theater. IFC Films sent us a DVD screener for the purpose of this review.
September 26, 2014
Perched on the edge of Independent Ethos’ leather couch, Caso is decked out in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts and canvas shoes. His translucent blue sunglasses are perched atop his bushy hair, as we share a listen to his ambient album, She is a Galaxy. He checks to make sure the noise reduction is off on our sound system. It’s the way he prefers people listen to his new albums.
Releasing his music on tape is not so much a choice to satisfy audiophiles as it is to have a physical end-product that defines the music. Let’s face it, cassettes have an inherit hiss by nature, and there is always a generational loss from the master, but when music can take those qualities and run with them it transcends the medium’s limitations, and Caso’s luscious, dreamy, rough-hewn music works aptly with it.
It’s not about pristine sound quality. The subtle hiss of tape adds an almost subconscious layer to the music, which itself is quite layered with the dreamy wash of synths and guitars. That it is rich with electronics that reverberate with a layered luster somehow makes it appropriate for the medium. But do not call it ramshackle or gimmicky. Caso put a lot of consideration into these albums.
Listening to the wash and sparkle of the ambient album, Caso admits a preference for this music over what he calls his “pop” record, Mujeres Infieles, which roughly translates from his native Spanish to “Unfaithful Women.” As you may infer, his preference is not so much about the quality of the music as it is what inspired the different works.
He wrote and recorded Mujeres over the course of a year, between 2011 and 2012. He calls them love songs, but they are not the uplifting sort of ditties that elevate the romantic notion to a pedestal. “I work a lot out of emotional needs,” Caso explains. “A lot of these songs I wrote after a break up. It’s all emotionally based. It’s like exorcising demons. They’re what I call heartmares.”
In fact, the album features two tracks named “Heartmares,” a “dub” version that closes out Side A and the original version, that ends the album. The dub version is an instrumental of layered, twinkling melodies and hums, that also has a steady, lashing crackle that actually sounds like a brittle, old tape. The original actually sounds like an early Depeche Mode song, if Depeche Mode made spy music. The only vocal is a distant howling wind, distorted by a ghostly echo.
It’s generally hard to understand what Caso sings on the album of pop songs. It could be by design, as he’s not really into revealing details about who the songs are about. Though, he says, they may know who they are. But it matters little, as it’s about his affection for sonics, which sound inspired by early Magnetic Fields and My Bloody Valentine. The album opens with “Princess Fantasy,” featuring an electronic beat mixed into a hissing, percolating melody that chugs along like a brilliant early Magnetic Fields song, in fact.
He is aware that ‘80s and ‘90s-era music is a big influence on him. He says pop songs from back then were just better than those of today. He notes there is just no vision in commercial or pop songwriting anymore. “The old guys were right because every decade the songs are getting worse,” he bemoans. “Everything now is a dance remix or songs about butts/big booty girls or a generic hum to drink your coffee at Starbucks.”
His vocals are mixed into the music in such a way that it is hard to make out exactly what he is singing, but the ambiguity is part of the music’s charm. During “Princess Fantasy,” I may have heard “She belongs to Satan” at one point. It works, as these tapes are a sonic statement to an era with sly little nods to its medium. Within the album there are also sonic effects like warped piano and some clicks of mechanics that might seem like the aural symptom of an aged cassette tape. That the music is often muscular and catchy is testament to this Miami music veteran’s skill as a songwriter.
Whereas Mujeres was completed in a year’s time, he notes She is a Galaxy is the product of roughly a decade of ideas. The springboard often came from a need to wind down from a night of work. “A lot of this stuff was recorded at 4 to 5 o’clock in the morning after DJ-ing,” he says.
Sometimes he would be wired from the rush of spinning and in need of mellowing at home, so he would brew up some ambient music on his keyboards and computer. He admits that the effects of the buzz of excitement, libations and sometimes exhaustion was not always conducive to judging his work. When he would wake the next day and listen back to the results he could either be delightfully surprised or horrified. Though he admits to the challenge of this music, he says he preferred working on the ambient work over the pop songs because of the amount of free-flowing creativity involved. “It’s based on a sound, and then you go from there,” he says.
Still, the former member of the Miami-based band The Waterford Landing — among other area groups — notes that he enjoyed working solo. Even though he also admits missing some aspects of collaboration. He found himself with some surprising challenges when dealing with some elements of the pop songs, from the way the music sounded to the bridges within the songs. “When I was in a band, things would get recorded faster,” he explains. “It’s always better working with more heads, and sometimes you get in the way of recordings with self-doubt.”
But he is quite happy with the results, and the neat package of the cassette offers a sense of closure and accomplishment. He says it’s about preserving an era, even if some of that was documenting an emotionally painful time (he’s currently in a content steady relationship). Music is by its nature ephemeral, but these tapes capture his songs in a satisfying physical object. “I wanted some sort of document,” Caso says.
He also says the package signifies the end of a project in a nice tidy physical object, but it also offers something deeper. “It is nostalgic too,” he admits. “It reminds me of when I was a kid. There is something about the sound quality.”
He only had 50 tapes manufactured of each album, and he still has a few left. He says he found the process easy and enjoyable. Now, Caso is already considering releasing more music, if not his then someone else’s. “If I could keep it as a boutique label, I’d be happy,” he notes.
You can order either cassette via Alx Cxo’s Bandcamp page: www.alxczo.bandcamp.com, and stream them in their entirety at no cost. There is also a 6-song covers EP called “Under Cover,” which you can even download for free. Both these albums are also available in the Miami area via Sweat Records and in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at Radio-Active Records. Tomorrow is International Cassette Store Day, and both stores will be running specials during that day.
Despite what you may have seen at last night’s MTV Music Video Awards, classic rock ‘n’ roll is not going to ever go away. As this veteran music writer grows older, every year there seems to be some group of younger and younger musicians who come up with new music that harkens back to the roots of rock. Last week, I pointed out Broncho, a band from Norman, Oklahoma, who have come up with one of the catchiest tunes of 2014. Their song “Class Historian” hits on the tiniest details of ‘70s era post punk with an uncanny sensibility (Broncho’s new single: the catchiest indie rock song I’ve heard in years).
Tomorrow, Ty Segall will release his 12th full-length album, Manipulator. Over the past few years Segall has refined his garage rock noise-pop to feature more diversity in his song-writing and a stronger grip on the subtleties of the rock song. Opening like nothing else in his catalog: with a blare of harmonizing organs, the album bounds along through 17 tracks as varied as anything else in his career. Some even include strings. But he has not compromised his command of the electric guitar, offering many a shifty, screeching solo over the course of the sprawling, near hour-long LP (and double vinyl – order here to support IndieEthos).
“The Singer” is one of several tracks that feature a string section. It also has the added bonus of whispered vocals to add emphasis to a few words that end certain phrases — very ‘60s psychedelic. But, more than ever, the influences that shine brightest are that of the early ‘70s glam rock scene. Segall’s voice more than ever recalls Marc Bolan, and there’s even a song (“The Clock”) that features strings and an acoustic guitar line that sounds eerily like the one that drives “Andy Warhol,” a deep cut on Bowie’s classic 1971 album Hunky Dory.
A back-to-back trio of songs early in Manipulator cast a powerful shadow of the guitar crunch bravura Segall is best known for over the album. “It’s Over,” features the pounding, driving, feedback-fueled stuff fans would be more familiar with. “Feel” opens more subtly but eventually features a muscular guitar solo that builds and builds to more rapid plucking until it gives way to a drum solo featuring a nice amount of cowbell. Finally, “Faker” features dominating, strutting guitar work that stands as testament to Segall’s connection with the instrument.
But there are more surprises in store. “The Connection Man” is driven by pulsing archaic electronics that brings to mind the tools of the Silver Apples. Over all, Manipulator is one grand rallying cry celebrating the immortality of rock ‘n’ roll, produced with great affection with his stalwart collaborators Mikal Cronin (bass), Emily Rose Epstein (drums) and Charles Moothart (guitar) and several other guest musicians adding vocals, keyboards and strings. Manipulator speaks to Segall’s strength of a musician open to growth and experimentation without betraying any semblance of a signature style and could very well stand as his best album yet. I’ll leave you with a link to an mp3 of a preview track released a few weeks ago, “Susie Thumb” (jump to KEXP.org for it).
Ty Segall will be in Miami with Wand (Drag City/LA), Plastic Pinks and DJ Sean Ashworth on Thursday, Sept. 11, 9 p.m. at The Stage Miami courtesy of Miami’s coolest vinyl shop Sweat Records, where you can also pick up the record and tickets to the show. Ages: 18 and up. Tickets: $12 in advance, $15 at the door. His U.S. tour kicks off Aug. 28 Click here for tour dates. Pitch Perfect PR provided me with a preview of the album for the purpose of this review and an up-coming article in “Pure Honey” magazine.
It’s probably been two years since I’ve heard a single as catchy as the new song by BRONCH, “Class Historian.” The last song that was as infectious must have been “How Do I Know” by Here We Go Magic. I relegated that to a simple Facebook post. But this single from BRONCHO, which has been making the interweb rounds for about a month now, deserves a special examination. It shows a fantastic growth by the Norman, Oklahoma garage band, and it plays with hooks in that smartly crafted, teasing manner that will have many hitting the repeat button.
There’s a clear evolution from the gritty, garage rock sound of the band’s noteworthy first album, 2011’s Can’t Get Past the Lips, to a more polished new wave post punk style. Even vocalist/guitarist Ryan Lindsey sounds different. He sings in a higher timbre that sounds like a young Andy McCluskey of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. It comes from the way he extends his vowels in the multi-tracked vocals and the casual way he tosses off the song’s title, “Class Historian,” by extending the first syllable of “Historian” and running the last three syllables together as quickly as the first.
The added studio sheen takes nothing away from the band’s smart song craft. In fact, it feels more advanced. Instead of driving along on a hook, they know how to cut it short to keep you wanting more. It’s a lazily strummed guitar line in sync with an almost mechanical drum beat but also so much more. At the start of the chorus, it shifts to a higher, brighter octave for a few measures that could have been right at home in a late-1980s-era Cure single. But before it overstays its welcome, it falls back into the rhythmic, propulsive state of the band’s garage rock origins. There’s this mixture of a cavalier attitude with impassioned playing that gives the song a sort of effortless quality.
But, of course, the elephant in the room is the rapid-fire stuttering da-dah-dahs that kick off the single and which the singer constantly toggles to, as an added layer of both rhythm and melody throughout the song. As with the shifting guitar hook, it’s a case hookus interruptus that keeps the vocal element from getting tiresome. The varied vocals, guitar sounds and incessant beat all combine to form a song that satisfies fans of pop on a pure level without over-the-top effects and using real, raw tools of the trade: guitars, drums and vocals.
“Class Historian” is the second track of what will be the band’s sophomore release, Just Enough Hip to be Woman, due out on Sept.16, 2014. The latest song released as a preview is also worth a listen (stream it above). “What” came out last week and opens the album and has an even more cheeky laid-back attitude, with dynamic guitar propulsion and Lindsey’s elastic vocal work. It recalls the best of ’70s, ’80s and ’90s rock, which simply makes it timeless.
Another new BRONCHO song you can hear now first premiered during the closing credits of the first episode of the last season of “Girls.” BRONCHO’s label said the track found its way to the show’s creator Lena Dunham, who decided to use it in the episode. Here’s “It’s On:”
Both of these other new songs show growth by the band in a good way, but there’s lightning to be found in the bottle of “Class Historian,” which some bands can only achieve a few times in their career. Based on the strength of these three songs, their new album should be worth picking up, and if you have a chance, see BRONCHO live. Get tickets to their upcoming tour, which kicks off August 24, bundled with new album in all sorts of formats (including colored vinyl) by clicking here (as with everything bolded in this post, that’s a hotlink). Unfortunately for us in South Florida, the furthest south the band’s coming is Orlando, on a Wednesday, but it may be worth a drive and a day off work…