Saturday, March 28, 2009

Giant Squid review on THE SILENT BALLET

Giant Squid - The Ichthyologist


Score: 8.5/10

There are no two ways about it - Aaron Gregory, frontman of the Sacramento-based epic sludgers Giant Squid, should very definitely not give up his day job. But this is no poorly-veiled way of saying he has no hope of making a career in music; rather, where the average non-professional musician will tend to mope away their days locked in torturously dull employment out of the necessity to pay the rent and fund the medical bills for crippling Gear Acquisition Syndrome, Gregory clearly has it sorted. Aside from crafting conceptual metal-masterpieces in the styling of a folklore-influenced Mastodon, the man earns his keep as a professional scuba diver and shark-feeder for San Francisco's Bay Aquarium. The man feeds sharks... for a living! Even better for us, he and the rest of the band still find time to write and release a killer record where Gregory's passion for all things aquatic could not be more apparent.The Ichthyologist marks Giant Squid's second full-length, following 2006's Metridium Fields (actually a re-recording of the album they self-released in 2004 as Metridium Field). A concept album based on Gregory's yet-to-be-published graphic novel of the same title, in the words of the press release, it tells the story of "a man stripped of his humanity and left with nothing but the sea in front of him" who is reduced to "adapting in inhuman ways to survive the shock of human loss and total emotional tragedy, becoming something else entirely in the process." Add to that some ferociously pounding toms, swishing cymbals and the filthy, High on Fire-esque scuzz of baritone guitars, Big Muff pedals, and Orange amplifiers and you could be forgiven for thinking "so far, so Mastodon." Unlike Brett, Brann, Bill, and Troy's latest efforts, however, the concept is clearly followed and, remarkably, reads considerably less like the creative writing notebook of a stoned twelve-year-old. But more importantly, the music itself actually lives up to the grandiose nature of the story it tells. Further to this, Matt Bayles' production job actually takes the band's style into account, unlike the increasingly clinical sound Mastodon have burdened themselves with.The narrative rides upon the back of a wonderfully fresh take on the type of post-metal typified by Neurosis, where annihilating riffs and gloriously-distorted basslines (see the middle section of "Throwing A Donner Party At Sea (Physeter Catodon)") mesh seamlessly with Jackie Perez Gratz's ever-tasteful cello and vocals. This gives way to moments of singularly eerie beauty, with the whole of "Mormon Island (Alluvial Au)" being a particularly strong example, before these then segue seamlessly into sections that wouldn't sound at all amiss on a Picaresque-era tune by The Decemberists. The sheer variety of styles and influences displayed by the band is fairly staggering, and even moreso for the fact that it never becomes overwhelming or difficult to follow. Each song acts as a unique and comprehensible entity in a manner which I have yet to hear on any other post-metal record. No doubt this is at least partly helped by the way they all represent individual episodes of Gregory's story, but the way in which they make it all sound so wholly effortless is nonetheless a powerful indication of the band's songwriting abilities.The vocals on offer show a similar degree of diversity, ranging from frenzied screams to half-whispered, half-growled segments, via an unexpected and unmistakably Serj Tankian-tinged nasal twang, most evident in the intro to "La Brea Tar Pits (Pseudomonas Putida)." On paper I can't think of a formula that sounds more likely to crash and burn in a spectacularly over-laboured manner, but believe me when I tell you it couldn't possibly work much more effectively. If a better-structured, better-executed and more suitably-produced song in a similar style to "Dead Man Slough (Pacifastacus Leniusculus)" is released before next January, 2009 truly will be a spectacular year for music. I cannot recommend this album highly enough - I defy you to tell me when you last heard a mariachi trumpet solo glide over a sludge riff as though there couldn't possibly be a more obvious pairing!

-Fred Bevan

Friday, March 27, 2009

An Interview with Amadan on dryvettymeonlyne

Celtic Punk Lives!

Starting a band will always be an experience filled with excitement. From the initial practices and those original songs written for and by the band, to the time the group sets foot on a stage for the first time and beyond, there’s a rush of adrenaline encapsulated in those scenarios that can’t be found in any man-made substance. But what happens when things get rough or when life hits everyone square in the face? How do you keep things going and forge ahead through those trials? If you’re the Portland, OR-based Celtic punk act Amadan, you cast aside any lingering ideas of quitting and simply keep plugging away at the music that you love. I had a chance to speak with the group’s driving force, one Mr. Eric Tonsfeldt, about what it takes to keep a Celtic punk band going in this day and age as well as his love for the music in general.

APN: Are any of you guys actually Irish, Scottish, or any combination thereof?

Eric Tonsfeldt (ET): Absolutely, in the melting-pot kind of way. We’re not really flag-wavers, though. One of the guys I started the band with was (and is) from Cork, Ireland.

APN: How did you embark upon playing Celtic punk music? What sparked your interest in the genre? How was the band originally formed? What is the meaning and concept behind your band’s name?

ET: I grew up listening to punk and bluegrass and playing classical music. Irish music interested me early on because of the similarities in lyrical theme to the former two and the musical similarities to all three. The band was myself, a friend named Rupert Hugh-Jones on whistle, and Mikey Morrow on percussion. The three of us got together in 1999 because we thought it would be fun to play the more rebellious and political Irish music in bars. We’d all performed for years in orchestras and bands, but a stripped-down pub band was relatively new idea for us. Also, Amadan is Irish-Gaelic for an idiot or fool.

APN: Who have been the constants in the group despite the many lineup changes over the course of the band’s history? How have these members shaped the direction of the band? Where do you typically go to find new members?

ET: I’m the only original member left, though Kevin Pardew came in early on to play bass. Kevin and I write and arrange all of the music for Amadan. Interestingly, Bill Tollner (the current bass player) has been a constant friend of the band and occasional stage guest for eight years. Having him on board feels great. That being said, we usually draw from a rather large base of friends and musicians we’ve worked with before to find new members.

APN: What drives the band to keep going, even though your chosen subgenre can be viewed as being quite dominated by three principal acts [Flogging Molly, Dropkick Murphys, and The Pogues]?

ET: Interestingly, the reason we keep going is because the music we write, while owing a few things to that sub-genre, is pretty diverse and ever-evolving. I think that if we consciously wrote “Irish punk” songs, it would get musically stifling. Our saving grace has been the ability to nod occasionally to The Pogues and The Clash and do our own thing from there on out.

APN: When playing shows, what kind of bills do you find yourselves on most frequently - punk, rock, or something else?

ET: Yes. To all three. Got suggestions?

APN: I’ll keep an ear out for like-minded bands in my neck of the woods. How has Pacifica been received? Has there been much touring involved in support of the record? If so, where have you been? Do you have any stories from the road that stand out as being the most memorable?

ET: Pacifica has been received well, and the music has been received well live. We’ve been swamped with member changes since the release, but we’ve managed to get out on the West Coast several times, through CA, NV, UT, OR, ID, WA, and MT. We played fewer shows both years than we’re used to (<>

APN: Someday I’ll get out to Vegas and actually experience that for myself. What plans does the band have for 2009? Do you have any touring in the works? What about an EP of some sort?

ET: An EP sounds great. We’re there for material, and are pretty fired up to do a project of that size. Have a pretty slim schedule right now, so it’s a perfect time to create.

Benjamin Bear review on Deckfight!

Benjamin Bear
Self-released 2008

Though the name is Benjamin Bear, there isn’t a bear or a Benjamin among this Seattle group. What is here is a deep, almost damning introspection that bends the will of the piano into narrative pathways that is usually assumed by the singer-songwriter with a guitar strapped on. All that remains is dark Ben Folds heady trip that does not depend on easy chorus hooks, but on full verses. They would be “soul” if the word had not already been ripped from its original meaning into a musical one. So I’m stuck with words like “brooding but hopeful” and “holy crap, this is what the Counting Crows would have been before selling out for the Top 40.” The voice of Mychal Cohen interplays with elegant sweeps on the piano to produce gems like “Russ,” whose quick tipped licks reveal a playful and honest confessions about a medical crisis with clever lyrical inversions that stick for days.
Those are the same reasons I like the second track, ‘Posterboy” which also starts in a soft but steady piano beat before plunging into a rocking chorus with jazzy drums provided by David Stern. The surprises that Cohen gives with his piano playing elevates Benjamin Bear beyond a novelty into a surefire creative force.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Motorik review on Nocturnal Cult



Self Released 2009

This sound of this Seattle trio has a lot in common with fellow Washingtonians, Sleater Kinney. Also I hear some Souxisie and the Banshees circa The Scream. Mechanized sounding beats and quirky bass lines form the foundation for most tracks on Klang! Box of Knives reminds me of Sleater Kinney material from the Dig Me Out era but Motorik are more authoritative and commanding in their approach lacking any of the vulnerability found on Sleater Kinney's material. On Robert Palmer has a an almost uplifting melody that carries the song during the chorus. Sio belts out commanding vocal lines. Whereas on It's Just Sugar the song structure is stark and minimalist with a humming bass line and mildly tormented vocals comprising most of the song. Like a robotic entity becoming aware and stumbling on newly activated limbs, Motorik marches to a cybernetic beat with throbbing bass line humming with life. Another band I see shadows of filtering through Motorik's compositions is Voivod. In a way that is reminiscent of Sleater Kinney's One Beat, the album closes out with Six Filters. This song however moves at an accelerated pace and grasps at a melody that brings to mind an eastern flavor. If you thought a mixture of Sleater Kinney and Souxsie and the Banshees would be a marriage of power and beauty then Motorik proves you correct. Klang is an album that unites a first wave post-punk feel and controlled awkwardness and builds them into an automaton of gothic pop-rock splendor.

Nocturnal Cult

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

THe BAcksliders feature in COPPER PRESS MAGAZINE

The Backsliders are fronted by married couple Kim Pendleton and Chris Bonner. Abetted by rhythm section Nolan Thies and Taylor Young, the Dallas-based foursome combines high-octane performance energy with an impressive array of influences, from fifties rock and sixties soul to contemporary indie pop.

Kim Pendleton is a most dynamic lead singer. She has the pipes to emulate Roy Orbison and an emotive stage presence to make many riot grrls jealous. This flexibility extends from the power pop singles “Wedding Day” and “Typically I don’t Mind,” on which she and Bonner craft winning harmony vocals, to the raucous roadhouse rocker “Fat Girls”. An appealing vulnerability is present at times as well, highlighted on the acoustic ballad “Someone has Broken.” Bonner is an ideal guitarist for the range of material displayed on the band’s latest CD, You’re Welcome. His playing is economical, abounding with tasty rhythm guitar arpeggiations. It also includes occasional lead fireworks and sustained countermelodies that underscore a soaring vocal or propel an interlude into the next verse. Under his guidance, the Backsliders have developed a correspondingly streamlined profile that focuses on excellent music-making rather than the arch careerism that has infected so much modern day rock. We recently discussed the band’s genesis, progress, and new recording.

Interview with Chris Bonner
Christian Carey: Tell me about the beginnings of the group: when did you meet and
begin to work together?

Chris Bonner: Kim and I met in mid 2004. She was the singer for a band called The Shimmers, formerly known as Vibrolux. I came in as the bands bass player, and we started dating soon thereafter. It was kinda inevitable at that point that we would start a group of our own. We began writing songs and played out as The Disasters with various bass players and drummers. We eventually settled on our original rhythm section and recorded our first album which was released in early 2006.

CC: How did you decide on the name of the group? Were you aware of your antecedents?

CB: We came up with the name The Backsliders after finding out that there was another band called The Disasters. Both Kim and my family are fairly religious people, and we go to bars and play ,so the name was a comment on that .We had no idea there were also 5 other bands called The Backsliders. We are much different from those other groups so I don’t feel it is that confusing. Plus we capitalize ours funnily.

CC: The Backsliders are known for tremendous energy in their live performances. How do you translate this into studio recordings of the material you’ve been playing out?

CB: When in the studio we try to keep the live feel as much as possible. Most of the
rhythm tracks and even some of the vocals are recorded at the same time, so that there is somewhat of a live feel. Of course the recordings do lack the sweat and the flailing about, but the listener is invited to add that in where they see fit.

CC: Do you like the music scene in Dallas? What are your favorite venues as performers and as audience members?

CB: We love the Dallas music scene because we thrive on adversity. There are no bands in town like us so that is good and bad. However there are tons of really good bands and good people making it happen. Our favorite places to play are the bigger rooms( Granada, House of Blues), but so much of what we do and who we are comes from the 200 plus shows we have done at the little dingier places. I like to see bands at those places (Double- Wide, Club Dada) ‘cause it’s more up close and personal.

CC: How has Dallas done in the midst of the challenges facing the music business, in terms of record stores, bookstores, and performance venues?

CB: A huge chunk of the cities clubs have closed over the last five years and the main music area, Deep Ellum, is in a pretty dire situation. We have several great record stores; Good records, Bill’s records, CD world. People are still coming out to shows, there is probably just less of them.

CC: Has MySpace been an effective promotional tool for the band?

CB: The most. Myspace is the quickest and easiest way for bands to network and to connect with a fan base early on. If I could have had something like it in early bands I was in I can only imagine.

CC: One of the things I most enjoy about your material is its economy. The conciseness kind of hearkens back to the early days of rock ‘n roll, where singles were even shorter: two minutes instead of three! How did the song “Serves you Right,” a particularly single-worthy one in my book, come together?

CB: Kim came up with the basic melody and lyrics for “Serves you Right”. At first it had a kinda Beach Boys “California Girls” feel. I was listening to the demo of that one the other day and couldn’t figure out how it got to where it did. Usually with us, the more we play a song live the more rockin’ it gets. We just have to pull the breaks before it gets all metal. As far as the lyrics go, I guess it’s just more unspoken hostility on Kim’s part. She’s a pistol.

CC: Would you share back stories for two of your songs: “Fat Girls” and “Wedding Day?”
CB: “Fat Girls” is a song about the various adversities a band faces now,”some kids don’t wanna hear it less you can’t sing, but they don’t buy no songs ‘cause they get ‘em for free”. Kim was nine months pregnant when we recorded it so the title had to stick against my better judgment. It is no way a slam against over weight young ladies. In fact Jason,my brother and our new bass player, is rather fond of them. “Wedding Day” is a love song to my wife written for her to sing about us. I wanted to write something direct and not masked in any way, and I think I did.

CC: You’re Welcome presents an impressive range of moods. I was particularly taken by some of the ballads on the back half of the LP: the one-two punch of “Disguise” and “Love Field” was particularly effective. Would you talk a bit about the sequencing decisions you made for the recording?

CB: You’re Welcome is laid out like an LP. The first side, in my mind ends with “Pass on all your fears”, and the second side begins with “Fat Girls”. I wanted it to feel like a set,like a classic album. Thirteen songs like Sgt. Peppers and the new McCartney album. I can’t see how using that guy as a template could ever lead you astray. We write the songs we write because we like them. We are often criticized for stylistic changes, but I would be bored playing in just one format. Why should bands just sound one way. Even The Ramones mixed it up a bit, and they are known for being so simple.

CC: “Cry” grabs that early rock feeling too; it even has the triplet feel of some of Roy Orbison’s songs. Any interest in this material, or is it coincidence?

CB: We love Roy Orbison. Kim and I wanted to come up with a real vocal showcase as far as the arangement was concerned. There is another version of the song on
a seven inch that we released last year. That one has more of a new wave feel to it. So we did our best to emulate that Roy Orbison/Patsy Cline sound.

THe BAcksliders at SXSW video!

Find more videos like this on


"Fat Girls", THe BAcksliders

Why this band is not playing an official SXSW is beyond me. No band in Dallas puts on a more consistently fabulously dirty rock and roll spectacle than THe BAcksliders. Instead of official shows, the group will be playing two Saturday shows. One will be at the Electra Beauty Lounge, and the other will be at Trophy's. I don't know if there'll be a cover charge, but even if there is one, pay it. You know you want that dirty rock and roll.

THe BAcksliders on Dallas Observer

Download: Two New, Improved Tracks From THe BAcksliders

By Pete Freedman in MP3s, Music News
Thursday, Mar. 5 2009 @ 12:07PM

I'll be honest. I was somewhat underwhelemed by THe BAcksliders' 2008 release, You're Welcome. It was weird, I thought. Here's this raucous, straight up rock 'n' roll band--one that's pretty darn great live, and here's this disc that just shimmers in crisp, clean, shiny production. Something didn't really jive.But today, over on the band's ReverbNation page, you can download new, much-improved renditions of two You're Welcome tracks. Re-recorded for a new, limited release, 7-inch marbled pink vinyl release, the songs "Cry" and "I Got Mine" are now dirtier, lower in fidelity, and, pretty much, just thrown through a loop; both tracks sound far more washed out now (makes sense given the band's flavor for classic power pop rock acts like Badfinger) and on "I Got Mine", frontwoman Kim Pendleton removes herself from her usual frontwoman roll to let (I think) husband/lead guitarist take over on vox. The results are, well, pretty great--and more in the wheelhouse of the band's live performances. Check out the new versions right here.And catch THe BAcksliders on Saturday night at The Lounge with Cocky Americans and Slider Pines.
Tags: new releases, re-workings, THe BAcksliders, vinyl

Giant squid review on BLABBERMOUTH

GIANT SQUID The Ichthyologist (self-released)

In a sense, the eclectic collective known as GIANT SQUID is as mysterious and elusive as the lore-inspiring creature from which they took their name. Dwelling beneath the watery cloak of the ocean's depths, the over-sized cephalopod has managed to escape the clutches of science since the dawn of man's exploration. Similarly, the beast's land-dwelling namesake have done well to avoid being pigeon-holed or labeled by critics and fans alike by never settling on one definable "sound." Yet, through their ambiguity, they've managed to remain consistently true to themselves as musicians and songwriters. In other words, GIANT SQUID is a band that can only be defined as GIANT SQUID. Conceptualized around a graphic novel written by guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist, Aaron Gregory, "The Ichthyologist" finds GIANT SQUID taking full advantage of their diverse array of instrumentation and influences as they bring together elements of jazz, doom, classical, prog and post-metal with unique perspective. Capturing the story's premise of a man left with nothing but the solitude of sea before him, the disc spirals through many level of loneliness; continually ebbing and flowing in terms of mood and musical dynamics. It's from this brooding core that GIANT SQUID reaches out to the world with an array of outstretched arms; some quirky and wandering, some melodious (often in disturbing ways) and others are simply heavy as hell. From the exotic opening moments of "Panthalassa", where Gregory and cellist Jackie Perez Gratz swirl around one another with the fluidity of river rushing into sea, GIANT SQUID begins a journey as epic as the vast expanses that have long inspired the guitarist's writings. Recalling memories of their breakthrough release, "Metridium Fields", "La Brea Tar Pits" rumbles the ocean floor with crushing and doomy chords topped with Gratz's moody strings and an odd little Arabic melody played on a banjo of all instruments. Said tune would be a perfect companion to the SABBATH-y undertones of "Throwing A Donner Party At Sea" (featuring Karyn Crisis) were the two not strategically separated by the jazz-tainted and mellow "Sutterville" and "Dead Man Slough". Containing the album's heaviest and most beautiful moments, "Sevengill" sees Gregory not only dancing a hypnotic waltz with his cellist, but with the song's guest vocalist, Anneke Van Giersbergen (THE GATHERING) as well; the latter's angelic qualities a perfect companion to the former's arid croon. Where the song's first half serves to lull and entrance, the snarling and monolithic end screams for vengeance at the ears of whoever is listening. After such an explosive climax, the immediate return to stark minimalist melody with "Mormon Island" takes a bit of cerebral adjustment, as does the next transition into the experimentally heavy "Blue Linckia". Repeated listens and proper attention to this ebb and flow reveal the intention behind this album, and that is to keep the listener guessing and the allure constant until the closing notes of "Rubicon Wall" fade into silence. Again repeating the elusive behavior of nature's giant squid, "The Ichthyologist" may very well go down as one of the best albums you'll never own as this independent release has thus far been limited to 1,000 copies. Sure, this exclusivity would probably see GIANT SQUID's cult credentials skyrocket, it honestly would be a shame to think that this provocative and expressive piece of music was kept from the ears of what could easily become a huge fanbase.

- Ryan Ogle


Album Reviews

• Friday March 20th, 2009 • 4:58 pm
Twin Tigers are the latest dirty rockers from Athens, GA — the one-time college radio/indie capital of the world — to throw up a wall of psych-roar that buries into your skull. On their newest 7″, the one-two combo of “Sexless Love” b/w “Envy” is enough to sustain the band’s already-growing reputation as a fuzzy, back-to-the-source four-piece. “Sexless Love” opens up with a sustained, early Sonic-Youth driven guitar line and builds on top of singer Matthew Rain’s reaching tenor until it crashes into a fury of sustained distortion. “Envy” is subdued enough to demonstrate Rain’s knowledge of melody and is underpinned with distorted bass rolls that keep the song low to the ground, while the guitar and drums deliver inconspicuous lines and beats that manage to sound huge.
The fickle eyes of the indie rock world may have moved on to greener, richer musical pastures such as Portland, OR and Brooklyn, NY, but just because the camera’s eye no longer watches a particular region doesn’t mean said region stops cultivating talent. Twin Tigers have proved that in two distinct, fiery songs.


Mike Pardew – Azul review

Monday, March 23rd, 2009
Afan Music / Five Oaks Productions
Mike Pardew – AzulReview by Mike Bax
Mike Pardew’s Azul album plays like a set of jazz you might see in a back alley bar in nowheresville USA. A few songs bring in some beats akin to Medeski, Martin & Wood… but overall, this disc is straight-up jazz music.
While I’m not a particularly big jazz fan, I did enjoy the heavy bass notes on this CD – they are big and chunky – you can almost hear the rasp of the guitars’ strings leaving the tips of Damian Erskine’s fingers on a few of the songs.
I don’t feel I’m educated enough to say whether this is a good jazz album or not. My knowledge of Jazz is so sparse I couldn’t hold my own in casual conversation about the genre. I’d pretty much throw out the Bitches Brew staple recordings, maybe a little John Coltrane. And then I’d be done. Azul seems to be a fluid recording. And I’ve popped it on around the house from time to time while relaxing / reading.

BENJAMIN BEAR REVIEW on fazer magazine

Benjamin Bear – Lungs review

Monday, March 23rd, 2009
Self released

Benjamin Bear – LungsReview by Mike Bax
This Seattle two-piece band will appeal to fans of Ben Folds and M. Ward. Their music is more somber than either of the afore mentioned bands, and a bit rougher around the edges. But in a good way. Mychal Cohen brings the voice and pianos to Benjamin Bear, and David Stern the drums.
Intro song ‘Station Rest Release’ is a lovely downbeat track oozing out the songs’ theme of lost love. ‘This Rusty Track’ crescendos in such a swirl of cymbals and clashing drums/piano I found it hard to believe the band utilizes no strings at all in their music.
‘Russ’, the fourth song in on Lungs is a bouncy and upbeat track that sounds like more like an upbeat acid jazz song than what the majority of the material on Lungs sounds like.
When I play music like this, and I’m talking in general here, I have to wonder how a band like Benjamin Bear will survive. Two or three years could see them as successful as the Decemberists and Grizzly Bear. Or they could swim around for years underneath the surface of the vast ocean of quality unsigned bands floating around in North America today. Certainly, if you take the time to screen some of Benjamin Bear’s songs, and watch for them on tour – you’ll be rewarded with some quality songs and what I’m hearing (from some online postings) is a decent live act as well.
I believe Lungs has been around for a while in some form of soft release, but the physical album release is on April 21st. You can scope out the bands music and profile at their MySpace link below.

Motorik review on FAZER magazine

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Self released

Motorik – Klang!
Review by Mike Bax

Motorik is a term used by critics to describe the 4/4 beat employed by many of the early Kraut rock bands of the ‘70s and ‘80s. The band themselves are a three-piece from Seattle, and their sound owes more to post-punk acts like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Placebo (I hear some early Placebo oozing through on ‘It’s Just Sugar’). Singer/bassist Sio’s butchy-yet-effeminate vocals work well for the band – and this short nine song album seems like it ends far too quickly for my liking.

‘First Rule’ is a great track, pulling some influences from early Gang Of Four and X. Sio’s vocals sound a bit more urgent here than on previous songs. Adrian’s equally frantic guitaring round out the song effectively, delivering a short but sweet track that is one of my favourites on the album.

Klang! opens with ‘Or So I Thought’, a good selection to lead off their album with. It offers up some slicing guitar riffs (this track reminds me of some of the guitar-work utilized in early Killing Joke), quick, snappy drum beats and Sio’s snarling vocals – setting the tone for what the listener is in for the remaining tracks on Klang!

Giant squid review on cosmosgaming

Music: Giant Squid: The Ichthyologist

cosmos gaming

Our Take
Progressive/post rock band Giant Squid impressed quite a few listeners when they released their 2004 debut Metridium Field back in 2004 (which would go on to get expanded distribution from The End Records in 2006). Since that time, the group has put out an EP, released a split with fellow progressive rockers Grayceon, and continued to work on their sophomore effort The Ichthyologist. The resulting album has been self released and is limited to 1,000 physical copies, but should also be available as a digital release. And hopefully it does become available digitally (or the band is able to make enough money to afford another pressing), as The Ichthyologist is definitely worth a listen for fans of the genre.

Those who haven’t heard Giant Squid yet but have heard Grayceon will definitely find the two bands to sound somewhat similar, but where Giant Squid differs is in its tempos and song lengths. Whereas Grayceon has been working with lengthy track times and a combination of fast and slow tempos in recent years, on The Ichthyologist Giant Squid’s instrumentalists work with mid-range track times and focuses more on slower tempos. There are some heavier moments throughout the course of the album, but for much of it the band seems completely focused on offering entrancing melodies that absorb the listener in their high levels of atmosphere. This does admittedly make the group a bit of an acquired taste, as those looking for flashy, constantly changing progressive rock may not be able to get into the slower grooves that this band has to offer.

As with some of the other groups of this type, Giant Squid offers plenty of extended instrumental jams and doesn’t always have vocals as a prominent element. However, when the band does let their two vocalists take the spotlight they do an excellent job. The two often move between lighter, more restrained singing styles and much louder, powerful singing. It is clear on The Ichthyologist that the singers intended to match the intensity offered by the instrumentals when writing their parts, and because of this they really stand out. Because of this, unlike with some of the other progressive rock bands out there, listeners will be anticipating when the vocals will begin on a song rather than wishing that they weren’t there at all.

Giant Squid has crafted a worthy sophomore album that is sure to hook both new listeners and established fans. As I previously mentioned, those looking for flashy, always changing progressive rock will want to look elsewhere but if you are able to appreciate slower paced, absorbing progressive rock then you will definitely want to check out The Ichthyologist. Hopefully the band is able to get this album out there despite their limited budget, as it deserves the attention.

Chris Dahlberg
March 23, 2009
view band here

romeo spike review on Cosmos Gaming

Music: Romeo Spike: For The Cause
go here to read

Our Take
Started by mutual friends back in 2006 when they started a weekly songwriting competition, Romeo Spike has gone on to become a full band and recently put out their debut album For The Cause. And as one might expect from its origins, Romeo Spike’s music pulls from just about every rock sub-genre that you can think of. And while some listeners may feel that the group is trying to do a little bit too much at once, there are enough noteworthy moments to keep them interested and coming back for more.

While some bands go for repetition and similar ideas, Romeo Spike is always changing their instrumental style on a song to song basis. On the first track, “Spaceman”, the instrumentals take on a space rock vibe while the rest of the album moves between pop rock, hard rock, and everything in between. One might think that this means the band has spread themselves too thin, but this doesn’t seem to be the case as almost all of the songs have noteworthy hooks that are sure to keep listeners interested. But keeping this in mind, I do feel that the group should commit to a couple styles to explore further in depth in the future as I would like to see them fully explore some of the ideas that this album only hints at.

Romeo Spike has a great vocalist that fits with the instrumentals despite the fact that they change so often. The group’s singer has a melodic voice that he is able to alter in intensity and pitch to match up with the particular instrumental style offered on each track. What I really like about this group in comparison to some of the others out there is that they use very subtle and softer singing throughout For The Cause and this really demonstrates that the vocalist has a good sense of dynamics and how to use them as an advantage.

For The Cause is an enjoyable album and a great debut for Romeo Spike. However, as I previously mentioned I think it would benefit the band to further explore some of the styles offered on this release as it feels like the group is just starting to scratch the surface. This isn’t to say that the band won’t succeed if they continue to release albums that are all over the map, but I truly believe that they will reach a new level if they move towards a couple of specialized sub-genres in the future.

Chris Dahlberg
March 23, 2009
band site

xo's SXSW show review

Lights Resolve (9:00pm)
Admittedly, I was at first put off by the band’s pretentious badgering of the soundman for sound check after sound check. It’s live music fellas – it won’t ever be truly perfect, so deal with it. When you factor in that the guitar player looked like Ric Ocasek from The Cars, the bassist was a skinny, raven-haired goth look-alike, and the band’s sound is a bit dated (coming across as Jane’s Addiction lite), I just wasn’t feeling it at all. However, as the power trio plowed through their glam-inflected rock set (complete with a drummer who couldn’t stop smiling), I was won over by the group’s un-ironic rock-n-roll earnestness, especially that of the lead vocalist/guitarist. When he placed the microphone in the pit, and gathered the 40 or so people near the stage in a huddled mass around him, I cast aside my earlier claim of “pretentious” and realized that he probably just wanted the best sound possible for the best show possible. It’s not my preferred musical style, but you can’t fault this group’s attitude.

The Photo Atlas (10:00pm)
If Lights Resolve could be seen as hoping that early ‘90s alt-rock makes a revival very soon, The Photo Atlas is probably hoping that its emo-core/post-hardcore sound isn’t fading away (though it actually is). I greatly appreciate the fact that the lead singer had a credible voice that stayed in tune throughout the set, but I would suggest that a band with this kind of talent shift its sound and either play straight-up pop-punk stuff or move on to a more contemporary indie dance-punk kinda sound. There’s a great amount of energy present with this act, but it’s going to waste by playing a formulaic style.

After Midnight Project (11:00pm)
Wow – it’s been awhile since I’ve seen a living, breathing example of a Hot Topic goth rock wannabe band actually perform. This was pseudo hard rock blather at its worst, especially the post-emocore, My Chemical Romance nonsense. I was thoroughly put off by the lead singer, who incessantly projected an annoying “I’m much too cool and hip to be playing this showcase” attitude, all while sporting a flannel shirt over a v-neck t-shirt and a horrendous ducktail haircut. Elements of trendy, lite metalcore sprung up, right down to the angry vocals, attempts at big rock guitars, and an abundance of misplaced testosterone. When your lead singer spits this line into the microphone – “It sounds like the devil took a shit in the speakers up here.” – you probably aren’t going to become friends with the sound guy or anyone outside of your immediate circle of fans.

giant squid review on stoner rock

Giant Squid - The Ichthyologist
Review by Nick DeMarino (
Release Date: February 2009

stoner rock here

I’m not a patient person. I was stoked to hear about the new Giant Squid record last September when I got schooled by guitarist/vocalist Aaron Gregory, but by the end of the year my thoughts had drifted to things more shallow. It was thus a pleasant surprise to hear that the Bay Area quartet had a new record in store for the masses. Well, maybe not in stores - they’ve parted ways with their label and are putting out The Ichthyologist themselves while fishing for a new distributor. There’s nothing fishy about this: Giant Squid have a marked DIY ethos, bouncing labels and self-releasing first runs of most releases. The band’s history is punctuated by the migration of members from coast to coast as well as along the Gulf’. As a result their discography has only one previous full-length, Metridium Field(s), although their EP and split with Grayceon are both great catches.

If the progression of songs on The Ichthyologist seems alluring, that’s because it tells a story related to Gregory’s yet to be inked graphic novel (anybody remember The Resident’s Freak Show concept?). It seems to be a Melvillian/Lovecraftian tale of obsession and destruction. Trumpets, flutes, and other instrumentation flesh out pensive grooves over the hour long fishing expedition. Don’t let the melancholic adjectives scare you away - there are moments of triumph here as well. Apexes like the choruses of “Dead Man Slough,” “Sevengill,” and “Blue Linkia” provide necessary release valves for pent up emotional energy. Within the microcosm of individual songs, Perez Gratz’s vocals make a mellifluous counterpoint to Gregory’s nasally lamentations. Gratz’s forlorn cello parts are the sexiest facet of the music, although the rhythm section of Bryan Beeson and Chris Lymen are quite accomplished as well. “Dead Man Slough” - arguably the standout song - is a delicate dance wherein each member plays independent lines that intersect at surprising junctures. While there aren’t any sixteen minute epics on The Ichthyologist, all of the songs are substantial enough to quench the thirst of most listeners. By the time “Rubicon Wall,” comes up, it’s obvious the album has reached a natural conclusion.

The record is produced by ex-Minus the Bear knob-twiddler Matt Bayles, who’s worked on critically acclaimed albums by Isis, Soundgarden, and Mastodon, among others. Bayles’s production is immaculate, attenuated to such perfection as to be diaphanous. It’s akin to the first time you saw a puppet show, not so much ignorant of puppeteer’s translucent strings as willfully blind to them. The Ichthyologist is a powerfully emotive, original album that accomplishes the rare feat of having powerful singles that don’t disrupt the flow of the album as a whole. Along with Rose Kemp and Grayceon, Giant Squid are surfers on a cresting wave of smart, contemplative rock music that defies classification.

URL: band site here

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Metro Spirit review of Twin Tigers

Issue #20.34 :: 03/18/2009 - 03/24/2009
Twin Tigers
Metro spirit here

"Sexless Love/Envy" EP


Twin Tigers
"Sexless Love/Envy" EP
Old Flame Records
Available Now (in digital form, and as a 7” vinyl)

AUGUSTA, GA - So, it’s become apparent to me at this point that every American band presently in existence comes out of either Athens or Portland; they seem to be the only places I ever hear about anymore from 1) PR agents and 2) my friends. And Portland, I get; the combination of the coastal region’s sunshine/dreariness duality with the mystical expanse of its mountains and forests would inevitably foster an insanely fertile musical spectrum, the likes of which include the Decemberists, Mirah, and Blitzen Trapper; hell, half the albums I review are cut by Portland bands. Athens, on the other hand…well, have you ever BEEN to Athens? Despite its primary source of notoriety being a football team whose fans can’t even spell its name correctly (GO DAWGS!), it has also inexplicably managed to churn out such critically acclaimed groups as R.E.M. and Widespread Panic, as well as up-and-comers like Dead Confederate, All the Saints and Jucifer.

And now we have Athenian foursome Twin Tigers to add to the mix; the band has already been causing a few ripples with its 2008 debut “Curious Faces/Violet Future,” a five-song offering of impeccably catchy, lo-fi garage rock. It’s a safe, winning formula, and one that the group could have probably successfully ridden out for two or three more albums—which makes their new two-song EP, featuring “Sexless Love” and “Envy,” a pleasant little gem of a head-scratcher. Starting with a foundation already made up of tight arrangements and singer/guitarist Matthew Rain’s superb ear for melody, Twin Tigers pile on about fifty extra layers of sound and completely indulge their My Bloody Valentine jones. Oh, the hooks are still there…this time around, though, they poke their heads out from under oceanic blankets of ambience and vocals that echo and waver like ghosts in a vacuum.

In case I lost you, I’ll simplify: loud, pop-influenced shoegaze in the vein of LSD And The Search For God. Such a left-of-center progression would divide fans if taken later on in a band’s career; fortunately, Twin Tigers are still righting themselves in the dawn of their own existence, and have plenty of time to dig in. This EP is a step in a challenging, fascinating direction, but only time will tell if it’s the right one.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

TWIN TIGERS SHOW PREVIEW in dallas observer

Gig Alert: Twin Tigers, Sleepy Horses and Gift Horse at City Tavern Tonight
By Darryl Smyers in Gig Alert
Tuesday, Mar. 17 2009 @ 3:59PM

Mike White
Twin Tigers roars at City Tavern tonight.Gotta love that SXSW backwash that brings so many quality bands into our region. Three of these make their way to City Tavern tonight in a show that offers, besides some great music, an odd animal motif.Twin Tigers, Sleepy Horses and Gift Horse all hail from Georgia and all three ply their craft loudly in an interesting shoegaze meets alt-country manner.Curious Faces/Violent Future, Twin Tiger's debut, released last summer, is the best record from any of the bands playing this evening's bill, though--and that's not shafting efforts from Sleepy Horses or Gift Horse in the least. Featuring swirling, psychedelic guitar and tortured vocals, songs such as "Invisible Zombies" and "Golden Daze" sound like Gram Parsons fronting The Jesus and Mary Chain.

Sleepy Horses, meanwhile, actually has some Texas ties: Frontman Nic Goodson began his musical odyssey in, of all places, Lubbock. Goodson's story--a near-death experience and various band personnel issues--doesn't lend itself to a blog post, though. Let's just say that he channels a lot of frustration into his dense narratives. And the band's most recent EP, The Golden Light, lives up to critical praise the band has received on past efforts.Lastly, Gift Horse is quite possibly the most intense band on this bill--and that's saying a lot. Currently recording its full-length debut, the band, led by singer/guitarist Mike Stokes, has a tendency to overlook melody in deference to volume. But such is a small quibble when the results are as powerful as "Both of Me" and "All the Rage."In any case, this is as good of a Tuesday evening triple bill as any slacker is likely to stumble upon.
Tags: City Tavern, Gift Horse, gig alert, Sleepy Horses, Twin Tigers

Monday, March 16, 2009

Giant Squid review on TEETH OF THE DEVINE


Giant Squid
The Ichthyologist
(Self Released)

Based on vocalist/guitarist Aaron Gregory’s own nautical writings, The Ichthyologist unfortunately did not get the PR, press push and full release it deserved after the tragic death of band Publicist Adrian Bromley. However, after a personal request from member Jackie Perez Gratz (Grayceon) to give Giant Squid’s second full length album some much deserved coverage-how could I refuse?

The band’s first album, Metridium Fields, seemed to be a perfect fit for The End Records, taking experimental post rock on its head with chants, brass sections and an off kilter sense of ambition that defied categorization, and while The Ichthyologist sticks to the same tenets, it’s a far more laid back and structured album, that’s more in line with Gratz’s other project Grayceon.

While the maritime/nautical concept of the album may be responsible for the album’s more fluid, shimmering, and ebbing rock based sound, the overall backbone of the band is the same with a quirky tone with Gregory’s Serj Tankian like voice, some screams, some gruff roars, some trumpets, some cellos and a non conformist approach to song writing. Still - as off the wall as it all sounds, it’s far more structured and reigned in, and thusly more enjoyable than Metridium Fields. The songs are shorter and more focused with nothing going over 8 minutes as opposed to the 9 and 21 minute largely overdrawn and programming heavy forays of the last album.

On the whole, Gratz’s cello (and at times vocals) on the more languid, relaxing tracks like “La Brea Tar Pits”, “Sutterville”, “Dead Man Slough”, “Mormon Island”, “Sevengill”, mesmerizing ballad “Emerald Bay” and excellent “Blue Linkia” is more prevalent, certainly cementing the more Grayceon like hues of the album. There are only a couple of spurts of off kilter post/lounge rock such as “Panthalassa”, “Throwing a Donner Party at Sea” and hypnotic closer “Rubicon Wall”, that still ensure that the album is tangibly Giant Squid, just more gentle in its experimental throes. However, the lessened presence of Gregory’s vocals may be a benefit as his distinct chant/shout may be a sticking point with some listeners.

Giant Squid have never been and never will be for everyone, but the more laid back, less chaotic and less rangy tone of The Ichthyologist makes them a much easier pill to swallow, but still deserving of a record deal. The beautiful card bound digipack album was limited to a 1000 copies meant to promote the band and get a record deal, so get it now and spread the word.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Erik Thomas
March 16th, 2009

Sunday, March 15, 2009

smile brigade show preview in seattle sound magazine

The Gift Machine, Smile Brigade
Sunday will be a night of mellow local pop at the Sunset, starting off with Dave Matthies’ band the Gift Machine. Matthies, a long-time veteran of the Anacortes scene, helped found What the Heck Fest and assisted Bret Lunsford (Beat Happening) in running KNW-YR-OWN Records for some time. His band just celebrated its 10th year with an enchanting new album, Goodbye/Goodluck. Headliner Smile Brigade, which just released a new EP, Eering, Creaky, will finish things off with its hazy, mellow pop and J. Hiram Boggs’ gravelly, Jeff Tweedy–esque vocals. (MC) Sunset Tavern


Romeo Spike review on BULLZ EYE

Romeo Spike: For the Cause
Rock/Adult Alternative
Buy the CD
Reviewed by Neil Carver

The opening seconds of "Spaceman" offer a quick, jazzy, up-tempo electronic beat that hooks the listener with the promise of something more interesting to come. Unfortunately, that something never materializes on Romeo Spike’s debut album… and there are a number of reasons why.

To start at the beginning, band members Mike and Donn embarked upon a long-distance collaboration that resulted in Mike moving from Chicago to Atlanta to create the band Romeo Spike. This cross-pollination of alt pop and southern rock is in evidence throughout For the Cause; it just never coalesces into anything even remotely memorable.

The album opens with "Spaceman," which tries to be an up-tempo piece, but seems to have forgotten the "up" part. The lyrics are bland and Mike Kunz’s vocals are solid, but passionless… and it sets the tone for the entire album. The Killers just released their own "Spaceman" in late 2008, with equally absurd lyrics, but the dynamic energy of that song and album are nowhere in evidence here.

After the leadoff track abruptly ends, the second song (and traditional "power" track) turns out to be a quiet and uninspired Coldplay pastiche. Kunz can eerily capture the inflection and tone of the famous Chris Martin, but he sounds like Chris when he’s half asleep, and throughout the album, he never quite wakes up. Nor does the music have the anthemic power of even the least of Coldplay or their thousands of imitators.

It just gets stranger after that. Track three begins with an enervated Bon Scott shriek and a guitar riff stiffer than a corpse. The blues-ish "Laserbeams" then meanders around an uninspired beat and a few Bowie-esque refrains, going nowhere for four minutes.

You start to get the picture. For the Cause is an album full of influences, but lacks any cohesion or even the hint of original meaning. Every song seems to show the accomplished musicianship of the band, without a shred of emotion, personal vision or songcraft. They have the talent, but lack anything interesting to say at all. "Cocaine Skinny" is their bad-boy song about a cocaine dealer who tempts all the ladies, but with lines like "What’s a sinful pleasure when the pleasure is sin," it comes across like the work of someone who did a book report on Iceberg Slim and then wrote a song about it.

The end of the disc tries for some redemption. After a few southern-tinged easy listening tunes that make Hootie and the Blowfish seem edgy, they finish up with another change of sound. "It’s Only Real" gives us a shot of the jazzy, smoky blues croon that Love & Money epitomized on their classic Strange Kind of Love. It is here that the real potential of Romeo Spike comes to the fore, with Kunz delivering something of a gutsy performance that’s enhanced by Aaron’s pedal steel. Even the final song, "Yesterday’s News" hints at some actual depth and emotion, but it’s too little, too late to save this utterly unconvincing debut. Even after multiple listens, you’re left with only the refrain of "Seasick" running through your head: "We don’t try, we don’t try, we don’t try."

Friday, March 13, 2009

MOTORIK SHOW REVIEW in BOISE @ terrapin station


The Arbiter Culture Report
Dale W. Eisinger
Issue date: 3/12/09 Section: Culture
Article Tools
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Media Credit: Dale W. Eisinger

Last night March 12, Terrapin Station was more packed than this editor has seen for the greatest show seen so far this year. The bill consisted of Portland's Motorik, local boy Andrew Anderson, Bremerton's Simon and Go F*** Yourself as well as Tumbledown (featuring Mike Herrera from MXPX), and Sprockets. Motorik plays a spazzy and dark brand of post punk that really knocked the socks off all present. The next three bands played fusions of rock and Western, soaked in whisky-swilling, dice-throwin' attitude. The latter notched up the energy a bit and closed the show.
Best Band of the Night Award goes without question to Simon… for their punk-rock ethos and sheer obscurity. Sure, the band's tunes sound a little familiar, but listening to the skid-row lyrics and seeing the band off stage make the act really rewarding.
"This goes out to the girl I was making out with back there. No, she didn't make out with me, but she wanted to," guitarist and lead singer Mike the Pike said at one point on stage.
I set up an interview with the band in the alley behind the bar and went out to meet both members. There, singer and guitarist Mike The Pike was already deep-kissing an unidentified fan. Before I could ask any questions, the pair disappeared behind a dumpster, not to return for the breadth of the interview.
"He's definitely not fucking himself," Hal 9000 Beers, drummer for the band, said. Beers's style, while bare bones, displays an amazing ear for tone control and dynamics.
"You listen to enough music and you feel the tides and swells. You've got to understand dynamics before doing anything else," Beers said. Beers's style also stands out for its austere qualities: he plays only a two-piece kit with no crash cymbals.
"I spent a lot of time sitting behind different amounts of drums throughout my life, but then I realized it takes only two to tango," Beers said.
I personally won't try and describe the sound of the band any further, considering I was little distracted by the sounds of behind-dumpster coitus rising up from the alley, but Beers did his band justice:
"It sounds like an acoustic guitar and a bass drum and a snare and a hi-hat."
The only release the band had available came wrapped in what appears to be a discarded real-estate flyer, handwritten, with a great sound.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Romeo Spike "For the Cause" review - Imagine Echoes

When I read a description of Romeo Spike, they were termed as sounding like "futuristic classic rock." So after hearing that, I thought to myself, "What does futuristic classic rock sound like?" My first impression was it would sound like Pink Floyd or Yes. After a few listens of For the Cause, I came to the conclusion that nothing released now can be coined "classic rock" or "sounds like classic rock." Classic rock isn’t a genre, it’s an era that encompasses such a broad array of bands that to say something sounds like classic rock would be like saying something sounds like...well... sound. So then what does Romeo Spike sound like? At times they sound like a tamed version of The Flaming Lips with the quirkiness taken out and during other moments - sound like Pink Floyd, with a clear and heavy influence from David Gilmour’s guitar work. Ultimately, all of this adds up to a fine album with plenty of space rock qualities.

The space rock qualities are most evident on the opening track "Spaceman", an upbeat song filled with atmospheric effects and a dominant rhythm. The opening track is the albums plateau in terms of tempo, but while the mood may become more subdued, the quality of music never ceases. The remainder of the album will have you drifting away with their melodic and dreamy attributes. "Cocaine Skinny" features a soothing slide guitar that creates a lulling backdrop, sounding very much like Floyd. The following track, "Candy Heart", continues with the David Gilmour-esque guitar work with a solo that could certainly be confused with one of his solo’s from his latest solo album On an Island. The final song on For the Cause, "Yesterday’s News" is an incredible melodramatic minimalist piece with the vocals taking full command and like a puppeteer, Romeo Spike has their listeners under their complete control.

Romeo Spike has created a very authentic spacey album with enough atmospheric backdrops to take you as far away from earth as possible. The album is almost like a space ship, it blasts off with the energizing "Spaceman" and then drifts away into a calm tranquility that can only be described as fantastic.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, March 10, 2009



Review by Ned Raggett

After announcing it in 2005, it almost seemed like Shawn Smith's The Diamond Hand, originally the name of the collaborative project meant to record the album, would never fully surface. Its 2008 release was worth the wait, though; if Smith's lovely, rich vocals provide no change from before, that's precisely why The Diamond Hand is such a joy. If anything, the key signifier of the album is its dark undertow in many of the arrangements — also not too much of a surprise given Smith's past work in bands and solo, but the contrast between Smith's exultant singing and the moody feedback growls on "Ring That Bell" and the calm drones in the background of "Back into Me" has rarely seemed so strong since his guest work with the Afghan Whigs. Perhaps tellingly, Smith's major partner on the album is Harold Chichester, another Afghan Whigs fellow traveler; Keith Lowe also turns up on a number of songs but ultimately there's no one common thread beyond Smith himself, his warm singing never placing a false step. Whether it's the shuffling beats and piano on "Losing Home" or the stirring surge of "Toss It in the Fire," one of the better anthems for a pantheistic approach out there at present, Smith pretty well nails it song for song. Perhaps one of the sweetest touches occurs on "The Congregation," where two young girls provide the voices of the title, but Smith then tops that later with "Original Hymn," with just his overdubbed vocals, piano, and trumpet on the album's most stunningly beautiful moment, a hushed invocation in a darkened sanctuary.

Shawn Smith review on Dryvetyme Onlyne

Shawn Smith
The Diamond Hand
Gator/Sound Vs Silence; 2009

read whole thing here

The musical term “blue-eyed soul” is one rife with conflict, as it typically is employed to refer to white folks with passionate vocals reminiscent of black singers belting out old-school R&B. On a good day, the expression can be used with affection to denote those white singers who manage to call upon traditionally black vocal forms artfully and reverentially. In other instances, for a critic to describe someone’s songs as “blue-eyed soul,” this is a death knell signaling the arrival of cheap, copycat music from someone whose voice and style is more than sub-par. Do we need to replace this often-misused idiom with something more generic, something that’s less racially divisive or should singers (and their record labels and PR people) simply embrace the term and belt their tunes out even more heartily?

If the music and voice of Shawn Smith are any indication, the answer might just be the latter option: forget the critics and focus on the music. The Diamond Hand, Smith’s new record, should serve as a master class for all of the David Archuleta/Clay Aiken types who want to take their passable voices and attempt to sing simpering ballads to fawning television screens nationwide. To make this style of music work, it helps to have a personal stake in what you’re singing and it’s the fact that he is the primary composer of every track on the album gives even more credence to the power and verve in Smith’s voice.

This album is replete with the kind of rootsy, gospel-infused, rock-flavored soul that would please the fans of both Ben Harper and John Legend, especially when you factor in the heavy amounts of piano and horns that lift up Smith’s Cee-Lo-sings-country vocals to fresh heights. In one sense, there is a familiar formula driving The Diamond Hand: great voice, inspirational lyrics, upbeat pacing, and poppy R&B arrangements all work together to create an enjoyable listening experience. The difference is that, instead of some American Idol karaoke schlock, Shawn Smith and his big heart own these songs – he is no style-stealer.

My primary quibble here is that the slower selections were all lumped together on the last third of the record. “Original Hymn,” “Back Into Me,” and “The White Queen” are alright songs on their own, but they would have been better served as change-of-pace tracks, slight slowdowns before the music took another huge upswing in tempo and volume.

Despite my reservations with track placement, The Diamond Hand succeeds by allowing songs like “At War,” “The Congregation,” and “Breathe In” to fly freely about the room, using Smith’s compelling pipes to give voice to his engaging, post-evangelical meditations on faith, hope, and love. If there should ever be a poster-boy for quality blue-eyed soul, it should most assuredly be Shawn Smith.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

GRAYCEON review in BLURT magazine

Blurt reading...


This Grand Show


Everyone has seen ‘em: those seemingly random RIYLs ("Recommended If You Like..." - followed by a string of band names) that reviewers, publicists and record labels use as shorthand to describe a new artist. Employing RIYLs can be shortsighted and risky, however, if it dredges up (a) spurious/obscure comparisons, (b) too-disparate, even contradictory, influences listed, or (c) trendy shit that just annoys you so much you want to chuck the album before even hearing it. (Does anyone really want another fey singer-songwriter namechecking Nick Drake?) Bottom line: sometimes there's just no substitute for a well-chosen descriptor, and invoking other bands, while not necessarily verboten, can backfire when you're trying to get across a concrete impression of the artist at hand.

San Fran trio Grayceon's second album This Grand Show arrives with a quartet of RIYL tags featured prominently in the press materials. Hyperbole alert? Actually, in this instance those listed - Pelican, Priestbird, Opeth, Neurosis - all combine as a collective stew of influences to pretty much nail the Grayceon aesthetic, and I mean that in a hugely positive, sense.

The record comprises three lengthy tunes bookended by two shorter ones, so right off it's telegraphed that you'll get some prog action from the band. The cello/guitar/drums outfit tends to rub shoulders with instrumental outfits (both in reviews and in the physical world) even though Grayceon does feature vocals, which are doubled and bear gothic overtones, but not so much ominous as darkly romantic thanks to an irresistible guy-gal dynamic. That said, with those long songs clocking in at 11, 13 and 21 minutes, there's a lot of leeway to assess matters along instrumental lines, too.

RIYL: The art-metal stylings of Pelican peek out from these suitelike compositions, notably in the flurries of metronomic, ratatat percussion and the chugging, arpeggiated/angular riffage. The Priestbird connection arrives by way of Jackie Gratz' cello textures casting an undeniable neoclassical vibe at times. Swedish death metallers Opeth might seem an odd comparison until one considers that band's predisposition to crafting songs of the ten minutes-plus variety and an occasional reliance on string arrangements. And finally Neurosis, specialists in heavy/light dynamics and tension-wound arrangements spontaneously erupting into sheets of noise, are proximate elder kin (or perhaps mentors) to Grayceon, whose precision flights of sonic serendipity frequently veer off on kamikaze missions so dizzying that it's all one can do to hold on to the seat with one hand and cover the eyes with the other.

Grayceon is at once propulsive and epic, leap-frogging over time signatures while making hairpin turns that would give lesser players whiplash, and serving up a thick, heady miasma of sound that's rooted equally in ‘70s British prog (think King Crimson) and ‘80s Bay Area thrash metal (Metallica - there's a moment near the end of the song "Love Is" that finds the cello and guitar in a deathly duel that's pure Hetfield-Hammett). At the same time, like those groups outlined in the preceding paragraph, Grayceon has carved out a style that's fresh and challenging enough to be utterly contemporary. RIYL? Absolutely. We like.

Standout Tracks: "Love Is," "It Begins, and So It Ends" FRED MILLS


Caves (Someday Lounge)
According to event organizers, approximately 50% of all acts performing at this year's festival hail from Portland. One of the best of the bunch, Caves, closed the curtain on this year's event with a 1:00 A.M. set at the stylish Someday Lounge. Blending jerky, ska-inspired guitar riffs and a sneaky, serpentine rhythm section with a casual but oh-so-cool sense of fashion, the band had various attendees dancing their way into a sweaty mess. Some have compared Caves' moody pop to acts like the Police or the Jam, or contemporary bands like Bloc Party and Interpol, but none of these labels really stick. Caves' peculiar sound is a testament to just how awesome they truly are.

Read on SPIN

Catfight! review on wonkavision

CATFIGHT! – In Stereo

Published December 11th, 2008 in Uncategorized and C. 0 Comments
Like the static on the airwaves before a radio station tunes in crystal clear, the distortion at the beginning of “In Stereo” jars the listener a bit before zeroing in on a driving guitar hook that crescendos into the first words of “Get It On.” In the minute-and-a-half that follow, the song doesn’t go beyond a few strings of repeated lyrics over a zig-zagged guitar line and crashing percussion. But what it does is set up the direction for the remaining four songs on the EP, all of which follow in a similar fashion of fuzzy, loud, stripped-down rock.
Yes, the songs are simple – perhaps a bit too much so – but the band seems to go more for the slug-you-in-the-gut approach as opposed to the route of impressive, over-the-top pretention.
And it’s easy to point out that the marketing is just a little too White Stripes, with the swirly red and white artwork gracing the cover like a Target ad, the imagery brought forth by the song “Candy Cane” and the most obvious one of them all – the male/female duo. Yes, maybe it’s a little too…formulaic…but it still manages to work.
With most songs coming in under three minutes, CATFIGHT! play a brand of catchy, infectious garage rock that sports its own interpretation of riot grrrl influences in the backbone of its presentation. What’s unique about this band is that guitarist Bobby and drummer Christine trade off – and sometimes collaborate on – vocal duties, and the latter sports seductive pipes that are both deep and screechy, akin to Courtney Love meets Kathleen Hanna meets Nina Gordon meets Liz Phair – or something along those lines.
In fact, it’s Christine’s vocals on “Alone Today” and “Sheila” which really make the sound work. In spite of the minimalism of the music, or perhaps because of it, there’s something contagious about her enigmatic way of singing.
The one song on the album that is a bit too stale in comparison with the rest is the middle track “Ready Steady Go”. The problem is that it dances but doesn’t really drive. The abrupt endings to most tunes also make things feel a bit edgy, although not necessarily in a good way.
Overall, the duo could stand to expand a bit in its lyrical and musical exploration, but this isn’t a bad start, although playing it a little less close to comfort might do wonders for this group. There may not be too much original about this band, but I bet CATFIGHT! put on one hell of a live show. [By: Natalye Childress Smith]
Rating: 3/5
Release Date: September 20 2008

Blue Skies For Black Hearts on INDIEPAGES

Blue Skies For Black Hearts in IMPOSE MAGAZINE

Blue Skies For Black Hearts on DAGGER

Blue Skies For Black Hearts seattle takeover!

Blue Skies For Black Hearts on SKYSCRAPER MAGAZINE

Serenades and Hand Grenades CD ­ King Of Hearts
There¹s no doubt who influences Portland, Oregon, pop quartet Blue Skies for Black Hearts. Pat Kearns, Michael Lewis, Kelly Simmons, and Paul Noel continue the English tradition of the early Beatles, Kinks, Hollies, et al, on the group¹s latest retro-trip, Serenades and Hand Grenades. They recreate bouncy early to mid-sixties pop without irony or cynicism. Thankfully, Kearns is a keen song scribe who rarely hits a foul ball, and he gives these12 tracks an infectious quality and bright character. Leadoff single "Siouxsie Please Come Home" has a timeless Flamin¹ Groovies power-pop affectation. "A World Without Love" and "Sweet Valentine" deliver a convincing British invasion inclination, particularly Paul Noel¹s rollicking Ringo Starr-ish drumming. Trumpet filigreed deception rumination "Jenny & Steve" has a studied baroque pop edge, a style firmly demonstrated on melancholic album closer "Someday There Will Be Better Days." Meanwhile, "She¹ll Follow Me" and galloping pop pill "Pretty People" have a contemporary angle akin to indie-pop artists such as The Apples in Stereo and Dressy Bessy. Some days you just need a simple escape from the day¹s troubles, and the concise guitar lines, enthusiastic and personable vocals, and unadorned drum beats supplied by Blue Skies for Black Hearts are the vitamin for those cloudy times.
(Doug Simpson)

website here

Blue Skies For Black Hearts on ALL MUSIC GUIDE

Review by Mark Deming


Pat Kearns writes sweetly sad pop tunes that are catchy enough that you can't help but wonder why the poor guy can't cheer himself up. As leader of Blue Skies for Black Hearts, Kearns clearly knows how to rock out when he's in the mood — "She'll Follow Me" attests to that — but that doesn't happen all that often on the group's third album, Serenades and Hand Grenades, which is devoted to the more polished and carefully crafted side of their musical personality. Kearns and his bandmates even brought in a horn section and a string ensemble to fancy up tunes like "Jenny and Steve," "Someday There Will Be Better Days," and "Ambition," and while this was produced on an indie budget, Kearns (who runs the studio where this was recorded, PermaPress Recording) clearly knows how to give this music the appearance of a grand scale, and this album sounds impressive indeed. But while Kearns and his cohorts have a knack with a melody and can make them into something in the studio, Serenades and Hand Grenades needs something a bit more, and these songs are missing the bite, wit, or drama that would make them truly hit home. (And despite its title, "Siouxsie Come Home" doesn't appear to be about the former leader of the Banshees, which would have made a nice counterpoint for the very '60s arrangement.) Serenades and Hand Grenades is a superior calling card for Pat Kearns as a producer and engineer, but it doesn't say quite so much for his talents as a songwriter and frontman.

Benjamin Bear review on Delusions of Adequacy

Benjamin Bear- Lungs
March 6, 2009 by Jordan Blum
Category: Albums (and EPs)

read review here

Benjamin Bear - Lungs

Lungs, the debut disc by Benjamin Bear, carries the same charm and modesty as the crayon drawings of children. There is a certain warmth in its amateurish nature. What the duo lack in strong melodies, vocals or diversity is compensated with a brotherly partnership for emotional soul bearing. In essence, Lungs is not the most engaging or fresh piano rock, but you can hear desire of two friends to craft their own slice of art, and that is appealing.

Formed in 2007 in Seattle by Mychal Cohen (piano, vocals) and David Stern (percussion), they already have a decent fan base. They cite their influences as Radiohead, NIN and The Mars Volta, and …”seamlessly blend psychedelic, prog rock and ambient genres with a folk pop melody.” In truth, (at least on Lungs) they aren’t as complex or multifaceted as that, but their simple formula works for the most part. It boils down to affective chord changes, some hectic syncopation and a voice that is both untrained and very honest. However, more often than not, the music is far more interesting than the vocals, which sound dull and unfitting. Sometimes, they work though.

It’s impossible to deny that the piano of “Station Rest Release” grabs you. Its basic but effective, and brings about a feeling of loss that will remain with you. Vocally, Cohen reminds one of David Grey. Instead of a wide range or especially pleasant sound, he represents any heartbroken male in early adulthood. As for stern, the bridge serves as a showcase for him to change the tempo and freak out a bit on drums. It’s a fine opener.

“Posterboy” has nice dynamics, intriguing piano playing an a more disjointed (intentionally) sound. There is a lot of dissonance in it, which contrasts the consonant simplicity “This Rusty Truck.” Honestly, its tale of striving doesn’t capture the ears as much as it should because of the stagnant melody and lack of musical drama. “Russ” continues the quirky piano playing as Cohen speaks more than sings. This track is perhaps the best example of how the interplay between piano and drums is sometimes far more engaging than the vocals on Lungs. The music deserves a better melody and singer to do it justice.

“Frictionless” opens with an electric organ, which gives needed freshness to the album, and the marching beat keeps the song moving. The piano cascades as the organ plays over it and even reaches the exciting power of Ben Folds. “Napalm Runner” uses a tambourine during the softer parts, and again the piano has intensity as Cohen bashes on it. The third person perspective of “Walls” helps make the vocals complement the music more than they have for the last few tracks. It’s a fairly heavy song. “Riverbed” is the first song to prominently use acoustic guitar, and to their credit, the sorrowful nostalgia does compare to sadder Radiohead (though not nearly as good, but they are on their way).

“God Damn Thing” is the first track to not have anything really interesting about it. It just sort of drags on. Luckily, “I Just Wish This Could All Be Different” immediately begins with the tension of Tori Amos, and Sterns use of cymbals is a nice touch. Also, the barely audible background vocals add a slight but sufficient level to it. The middle piano jam is great. Near the end, the sparse electronic notes that barely accompany Cohen’s voice show some inventiveness. “Wilson Ave.” has Cohen whispering over what sound like Bongo drums and airy chords. It’s the most intimate track on Lungs. Finally, “Now That You Are Gone” is another sad song. Again, Cohen’s voice doesn’t successfully capture the emotion and personality the music deserves, and even sounds off key a bit.

Benjamin Bear have undeniable talent for crafting heartfelt, intense music out of relatively simple skill. That is to say they aren’t the best musicians, but they definitely make the most out of what they can do. Cohen’s piano and Stern’s percussion work together perfectly to convey earnest loss and confusion. Unfortunately, Cohen’s vocals undermine the seriousness most of the time. Again, his voice does have a quirky charm to it, and for certain moments it fits fine. But the majority of Lungs requires a better vocalist and stronger melodies to do justice to the music. When all three elements work, they work well, but for the most part, the vocals are definitely the chink in the armor.

benjamin bear website here

Saturday, March 7, 2009

giant squid feature in SUBMERGE MAGAZINE

SUBMERGE magazine here!

Church Underwater
Posted on 16 February 2009 by dubs

By James Barone | photos by Shannon Corr

The ocean is home to the world’s largest creatures. One of the most fascinating of these mammoth beasts is the giant squid. Rarely photographed, its elusiveness belies its ponderous size. As a result, the mysterious creature has inspired folklore, myth and art worldwide. It is fitting that such a beast would serve as the moniker for San Francisco-/Sacramento-based metal band Giant Squid. Titanic in sound, Giant Squid is difficult to categorize. Though the band leans heavily on the tenets of doom/stoner metal popularized by groups such as Isis—riffs are heavy, thick, slow and hypnotic and paired with wailing vocals laden with despair—Giant Squid pushes the avant-garde metal envelope even further, tossing in atmospheric keys, horns and strings into the mix. This strange sonic brew made the group’s debut full-length, 2006’s Metridium Fields, a noteworthy release for underground metal fans. On Feb. 3, Giant Squid may extend its reach even further with the unveiling of their latest album, The Ichthyologist.

Weirder, heavier and deeper than the group’s previous efforts, The Ichthyologist is a sort of heavy music kaleidoscope. Considered separately, the songs seem to share little in common with one another: The jazz-y “Sutterville” sways like a drunken zombie lounge singer; while the opener “Panthalassa” starts with a sinewy, serpentine guitar line that snakes into a wall-squalling metal noise. Yet, when listened to as a whole, these disparaging colors form a mesmerizing picture.

A portion of the album’s success should be credited to the man turning the knobs. In-demand heavy music producer Matt Bayles, who has worked with the aforementioned Isis as well as Mastodon in the past, served as producer for The Ichthyologist. According to Giant Squid singer/guitarist Aaron Gregory, the band, without the backing of a label, pooled its resources to pay Bayles’s considerable price tag.

“Everyone in the band chipped in their savings and then some,” Gregory says. “We sold some gear, and we finally got around to putting the rest of our Monsoon EPs online, and made some money off of those real quick. We managed to do it somehow. We put together a really large sum of money and hired him.”

It was money well spent. During our interview, Gregory refers to Bayles as a “taskmaster,” but says he appreciated the producer’s strictness.

“He really whipped us into shape, and made us make sure we play every note to the best of our ability, or he wouldn’t let it go,” Gregory recalls. “It’s one of the first records I’ve walked away from and said, ‘I’m pretty much OK with every single thing I did on that record.’”

The Ichthyologist’s cohesiveness may also be attributed to its concept. The album coincides with Gregory’s first, yet-to-be-completed graphic novel by the same name. Gregory says that the comic book version of The Ichthyologist is, in part, inspired by The Swamp Thing. “I love the idea of a man becoming something so much more than a man, and yet kind of less than a man, and the spiritual heaviness of Swamp Thing, especially when Alan Moore started writing it,” Gregory says of the classic DC Comics character.

Gregory, a professional SCUBA diver working at San Francisco’s Aquarium of the Bay, discussed the audio, visual and philosophical aspects of The Ichthyologist in a recent interview.

You’re self-releasing The Ichthyologist in a limited run of 1,000 copies. What made you decide to take that route with the album?
We spent an incredible amount of money to work with Matt Bayles, and we’re maybe not the caliber of band yet that could get a label to pay us right upfront enough money to hire Matt Bayles. Honestly, I doubt most labels would be able to give us half of the advance we would need to work with Matt. Because we did it for ourselves, we wanted to make sure that we didn’t give this album away to a label for nothing and we all kind of lose our ass. In all reality, you don’t see hardly any money back from small labels. That’s just part of it. That’s fine too, because they work their ass off and they have bills to pay too. In this way, if we sell a thousand of them at 12 bucks a pop, we get all of our money back. We get to break even. We’re at the level that we can do that on our own, for sure. The pre-sales are already exploding. We sell a shit-ton of them every day. Hopefully when all is said and done, we would have signed a new label deal or two, six months after the release, it’s our goal to find someone to put it out on vinyl and put it out on CD.

I’ve read that The Ichthyologist is based on a graphic novel that you’re working on. Would you like to talk about that?
Yes, the album is based on a graphic novel I’m writing that goes by the same name. The protagonist has lost it all in haphazard ways and takes on the abilities of a sea star to survive it, and thus begins this huge journey, that no matter what happens he ends up healing, because sea stars have this regenerative ability. The album is basically the poetic description of my character’s origin. It’s the poetic downfall from the beginning to the end of his origin. The graphic novel goes much, much more past that.

Did you know that you wanted to tell this story both musically and as a graphic novel, or were you not sure?
I came up with the album title first. I thought that would just be a great album name, The Ichthyologist. It’s perfect for me—perfect for Giant Squid. Then I was talking to someone in the comic book industry, a good friend of mine, about some ideas to pitch for the company he works for, which led me to this concept, under the same name. The songs had already been written, and I worked the general themes of those into the story. There’s a song on there called “Mormon Island,” which is a very old gold mining town in the Sacramento area that’s long since gone and is now actually sitting at the bottom of Folsom Lake. We were writing this very creepy song, and someone said that it sounded like a church underwater, and I was like, “Shit, I know where there’s a church underwater. There’s a church at the bottom of Folsom Lake, a town called Mormon Island. We’ve got to call this song ‘Mormon Island.’” Then I was like, “How can I work Mormon Island into the story?” And by doing so, it opened up all these different angles into my story. So, as I’m writing the graphic novel, writing the album helped inspire a lot of different things, and vice versa. There would be ideas, right from the get-go, like, “I have to write a song about this moment in the dude’s creation, this moment in the guy’s downfall,” and so on.

Looking at the other titles on the album, there’s one that mentions the Donner Party; and Ernst Haeckel, whose image you used on the cover, has a peak named after him in the Sierra Nevadas. There’s also a mention of the La Brea Tar Pits. I don’t know if it was intentional, but the album seems to have a very firm sense of place. It’s very Californian.
Absolutely. I’ve always been obsessed with California history, and have incorporated it in a lot of ways, sometimes more subtle than others, in all our albums. We also had a 7-inch called “Sutter’s Fort,” and there’s a sequel to “Sutter’s Fort” on The Ichthyologist called “Sutterville,” which is more or less about Sacramento refusing to give up its capitol-ship. Sacramento kept flooding in the 1800s, and people kept saying, “You need to move your capitol. This is a pretty shitty fucking place to have a capitol.” And Sacramento refused to give it up, and after huge bouts of cholera and death and that kind of shit, they just raised all the streets 10 feet in the air. The actual story of The Ichthyologist is time-hopping as well.

There’s a mix between the human history of California and the natural history as well. Does working in marine biology allow you to see the scope of both? I would imagine being underwater, you can see how the Earth grew up out of it.
You know, not to get too heady, but when you’re 40 feet down at the bottom of the ocean in Monterey and you’re surrounded by kelp and a rocky reef and tens of thousands of fish swimming around…you are basically staring right at the godhead. You’re staring at the spiritual center of it all. As far as our planet goes, it all came from right there. You also never have felt like you belong as much as you do when you’re down there. It’s a very strange and surreal sense. It opens up a lot of spiritual thought and philosophy, and who we are in the grand scheme of things. The album is a little heady in some ways, because it does touch on stuff like that. The grand result of the graphic novel kind of deals with that—God being underwater. People go into the seas to talk with God.