Joseph Airport – Diorama Pt. 2 (Joseph Airport Records)

a0430959797_10It’s got to be difficult to be an old school indie rock band in 2019, even one as good as Joseph Airport.  Considering the sea of indifference that most bands of their guitar slinging ilk are forced to sail on in this day and age. I for one am glad they soldier on, especially when the fruits of their collective labor are albums as good as Diorama Pt. 2.

It’s easy to compare the Detroit based Joseph Airport with their good old fashioned angular mid-fi crunch to Dayton, Ohio’s lo-fidelity all-stars Guided By Voices, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But I think that’s a bit like comparing Badfinger to the Beatles. There happens to be a lot connections between the two groups that I think are worth noting. These guys bear the special distinction of being one of only a handful of acts to have a record released on Bob Pollard’s Rockathon Records label that wasn’t directly associated with him. It’s also important to note that guitarist Matthew Cutter is the man behind last year’s excellent Pollard bio Closer You Are: The Story of Robert Pollard and Guided By Voices. The group’s latest also features tracks recorded with Tobin Sprout; the man who I consider to be the Harrison to Pollard’s Lennon/McCartney when it comes to GBV’s classic lineup. So, the bottom line is these guys pilot an aircraft of a similar design to their mentors. The real question is how well do they fly?

I’m happy to report they manage to hit very few pockets of turbulence on the their latest, and manage to stick the landing. It’s an album chock full of soaring hooks, alternated with just enough mysterious psychedelic & proggy weirdness to keep the listener feeling pleasantly off-kilter. So, if you’re feeling a hankering for those long gone days of the late 90’s with a fresh approach, it might be time to book a flight with Joseph Airport.

Order the album via Bandcamp.

Guided by Voices – Warp and Woof (Rockathon)

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Sometimes I think that it must be exhausting being Robert Pollard. Hell, sometimes it feels exhausting just being a casual fan.  After dropping a double album Zeppelin Over China only a few months back, the fading captain sails back into port with another offering under his arm from his most reliable crew Guided By Voices.  The aforementioned album in question is Warp and Woof, and while it’s credited to the same rock solid lineup that has graced the past few exemplary efforts, it feels like a different animal altogether.

The album’s genesis started with an itch by Pollard to record some quickie EP’s following the completion of their last album, however when a boombox writing session produced six fully formed songs in under half an hour, it seemed another album was brewing faster than previously expected.  I imagine this would probably be a surprise to absolutely no one in the Pollard-verse given this guys proclivity for cranking out tunes.  Although this time there seems to be an element of Pollard having his (August by) cake and eating it too, as the material that comprises Warp and Woof was first released a series of 4 7″ EPs (which are the amazingly titled 100 Dougs, Wine Cork StonehengeUmlaut Over The Ozone, and 1901 Acid Rock) prior to the albums release proper.  Although GBV’s label Rockathon issued the following disclaimer about those cheapskates thinking about getting just the EP’s and not the album proper, “Just because you have the 4 EP’s doesn’t mean you have the album! Our Uncle Bob is the king of sequencing.”  As far as that whole thing goes, I think I’m just gonna leave it to the GBV podcast dude, to figure all that out as far as what’s what.  I’m sure that episode should be dropping any day now (if it hasn’t already).

What I do know is that Warp and Woof has a looser more fragmented vibe than anything else that has been credited to GBV’s so-called “new classic lineup” thus far.  For those familiar with the GBV oeuvre, think Alien Lanes or somewhat more recent reference point Let’s Go Eat The Factory.  That’s probably the more spontaneous circumstances of the writing and recording with guitar tracks being cut at sound checks or in a van hurtling at 60-plus m.p.h with Pollards’ vocal tracks being laid down in hotel rooms or small studios.  Unlike the past few albums which featured compositions that were meticulously crafted by producer Travis Harrison, and the group into miniature alternative universe arena rock epics using Pollard’s boombox sketches as the blueprint.  The end result is collection of tracks that whips by faster than the mile marker signs on your way to the next gig with plenty of left turns, and unexpected detours.  Quicker, dirtier, and more psychedelic; should probably be the disclaimer on the hype sticker.  If all this sounds like your cup of tea when it comes to GBV, then perhaps it’s time for another faster than expected motel check in with Uncle Bob.

Order the album via Rockathon.

Local Band Feel: Family Animals – The End Is Mere

coverLocal Band Feel is a column dedicated to shining a light on music that’s happening around the corner, down the block, or a few towns over in our particular corner of the Pennsylvania wilds.  We encourage you to support the bands featured, should you feel so inclined.

I remember these guys from a few years back when I was helping organize some bands to play a local arts fest.  They seemed like a bunch of unassuming friendly dudes.  One of the things that stuck out most was that the guitar they used was a battered fiesta red Fender Jag-Stang. There was something about the groups out of time approach that seemed perfectly encapsulated in their choice of that timeline scrambled Kurt Cobain designed axe.

The band that I’m talking about is the Family Animals, and up for review today is their latest The End Is Mere.  A trio comprised of two brothers, drummer Anthony Viola and vocalist-guitarist Jesse Viola along with best pal Frank DeSando on bass. The group has racked up the miles playing hundreds of shows and putting out seven proper releases over the past few years.  It’s evident they have that intangible type of telepathic connection that bands get after playing together for an extended period of time.

There seem to be three p’s that matter the most to these guys: punk, psych and prog.  I’m happy to report that their latest delivers the goods on all fronts.  Wrapped in some very groovy psychedelic art courtesy of another former local Brian Langan (SW!MS, Langor, Needle Points, etc) that perfectly matches the surreal sci-fi world the band has created on this semi-concept album.  It’s a song cycle that manages to never take itself too seriously.  There’s a Zappaesque playfulness about the proceedings that manages to shine through especially on tracks like “Guitarbot 4000 & The Two Tongued Twins (Live at Magnitard’s Tavern),” while “Captain Z Bop’s Friendly Friends” seems to use The Strawberry Alarm Clock’s “Incense and Peppermints” as a launching pad for a Nuggets influenced jam all its own.  Those are just two examples on an album full of absurdist left turns, and a crazy amount of variety from song to song.  The End Is Mere feels like a kaleidoscopic postcard from the edge of the group’s own far out musical universe.  Hop on aboard; it’s a trip well worth taking.

Local Band Feel: Kali Ma and the Garland of Arms – s/t

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Local Band Feel is a column dedicated to shining a light on music that’s happening around the corner, down the block, or a few towns over in our particular corner of the Pennsylvania wilds.  We encourage you to support the bands featured, should you feel so inclined.

 Jamie Kali lives one city over from me.  Wilkes Barre is the Shelbyville to Scranton’s Springfield.  If you live in there, your perspective is probably vice versa (at least I hope that it would be).  That seems like that’s the way that it’s always been, and probably will be forevermore.  Putting all of my sister city biases aside, Ms. Kali along with her compatriots have crafted something pretty interesting with their latest release; a self-titled, and self-released effort credited to, Kali Ma and the Garland of Arms.  What’s offered here is a bakers dozen of dreamy neo-psychedelic tunes that seem to take more cues from Grace Slick’s early Airplane flights than Lennon/McCartney for once, which is a nice change of pace.  We recommend you crack a Steg and settle in for a long strange trip down the electric mindshaft for this one.

Tim Presley’s White Fence – I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk (Drag City)

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I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk is the latest from neo-psychedelic wunderkind, and occasional Ty Segall collaborator, Tim Presley.  It’s a cryptic, and delicate song cycle that began it’s life in the rural United Kingdom town of Staveley, before being committed to tape in San Francisco, where it used to be a good move to be sure to wear flowers in your hair.  A fact that I don’t think was lost on its creator, as the city’s past psychedelic vibes seem to have gotten under Presley’s skin on the resulting LP.  While the finished product bears the audio and aural markings of both locations, it also remains content to float in its own peculiar pharmacological bubble outside of time and space.

The album feels like one of hazy rebirth.  You get the Barrettesque sea legs of the title track, and the Beefheartian shuffle of “Until You Walk”, along with the ode to the mysterious locale of “Fog City,” presented to us in two versions that only help to add a generous helping of disorientation.  The album’s primary 12-song cycle is built on this theme along with two additional instrumental pieces of Harm Reduction that seemed geared to assist the listener with the sometimes bumpy reorientation process.  You’re going to need it, as this new internal world is populated by both natural wonders and piss covered floors.  Set free to find a new illusion?  This seems to be the main dilemma the album is grappling with.  I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk ultimately leaves the listener to decide the answers for themselves.  Be forewarned, regardless of what you think, that hawk still needs to be fed.  As Presley notes, there’s always a danger in leaving the past.

Order the album via Drag City.

Big Star – Live On WLIR (Omnivore Recordings)

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It’s 1974, the Memphis group known as Big Star are holed up in Ultrasonic Studios in New York, and they’re starving.  As then bassist John Lightman explains, “…we were all very tired and hungry. we had low blood sugar. They wouldn’t let us leave to get food because they thought we wouldn’t be back in time for the broadcast.”  This was a band looking for more than just a quick bite; they were striving for the chance to finally live up to their name.  It wouldn’t happen the way they hoped it would, but there was no way they could have known that then.

Live On WLIR is Omnivore’s reissue of Big Star’s incendiary 1974 live in the studio performance for New York’s WLIR-FM.  It’s one of the few documents we have of the Alex Chilton led group performing in the actual decade in which they created their slim but still influential body of work.  If you’re a neophyte to Big Star, and the whole Bell/Chilton saga, then in all honesty this release isn’t probably the best entry point.  Just go buy a used copy of the #1 Record/ Radio City two-fer on CD, or some reasonably priced reissues.  Get back to me whenever you’re ready.  For those still hanging around, let’s get down to the nitty gritty.

It’s not the first time this set has seen the light of day, for that see Rykodisc’s 1992 release Live.  The EQ’ing and mastering is a little different for this edition, and in all honesty both versions sound good.  Though to these ears, this new one sounds a little more geared to accentuate the rock.  I’ll save the entire deep dive A/Bing comparisons between the two for some geek on The Steve Hoffman forums.  What will be important for most is to finally have this set readily available on vinyl.

The lineup on here is a power trio featuring Chilton doing all the rhythm and lead guitar work (which is honestly a joy to hear), with then fresh recruit John Lightman on bass, and the ever reliable Jody Stephens on drums. Sorely missed on this set are founding members Chris Bell, and Andy Hummel.  What’s good on here though is really great.  Since the set was recorded live to two-track, it presents the band sounding lean, mean, and with absolutely no frills.  There are even some technical hiccups as the sound guy mixes the band’s performance as it goes, which if you ask me only adds the audio vérité of the proceedings.  You will also get a delightfully thorny, and at times awkward interview between Chilton, and DJ Jim Cameron, which is classic Alex.  There’s also a nice acoustic performance in the middle, which is heartrending stuff.

The timing on when this set was captured is probably what’s most important.  In just a few months, Big Star would collapse into a black hole of sullen entropy that would result in the sessions for their brilliant third and final LP.  After that, Chilton and Stephens would split.  Despite the latter day reunions of the group, this is one of the few chances you have to hear Chilton fully committed to playing these songs with an unbridled enthusiasm, as opposed to the levels of detachment that he would approach most of these songs with in later years.  Despite of all of his grumbling during the interview about how scummy it is being on the road or low album sales; it doesn’t sound like the dream of Big Star had completely died for him yet.  Not at least on that day in 1974, and sometimes timing is everything.

Order Live On WLIR via Omnivore Recordings.

 

Guided by Voices – Zeppelin Over China (Rockathon)

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It’s kind of unimaginable to think that Robert Pollard and his band Guided by Voices are still kicking around; never mind, releasing such vital music in 2019.  Some thirty years on, and the former elementary school teacher turned full-time indie rocker is still cranking out a seemingly inexhaustible supply of tunes and high kicks like some kind of Miller Lite fueled energizer bunny.  Add to that the fact that we’re kind of in a new golden age when it’s comes to the group; boasting a current roster that some are referring to as “the new classic lineup,” which consists of Doug Gillard (guitar), Kevin March (drums), Mark Shue (bass), and Bobby Bare Jr. (guitar).

That brings us to their first offering of the new year, Zeppelin Over China.  It’s the new group’s second (!) double album since the latest incarnation of the band gelled together sometime around 2017, and it follows last year’s almost unimpeachable effort, Space Gun.  An album which is already considered by some amongst the greats in the GBV LP Hall of Fame, slotted alongside efforts such as Isolation Drills and Bee Thousand.

Zeppelin Over China sports a similar mostly high fidelity sheen as their last few previous efforts thanks to the work of engineer, Travis Harrison who along with the band excel at the task of elevating Pollard’s compositions to new heights; building the album from Pollard’s primitive boombox sketches to fully realized guitar rock.  It’s a massive 32 song work that sprawls its tendrils out of over four sides of wax, and unlike the groups’ previous double album effort August By Cake which featured songwriting contributions from every group member; Pollard’s hyper-prolific kaleidoscopic pen is doing all the heavy lifting this time around.  If there’s an album in the GBV oeuvre that’s similar to this one, it’s probably 1996’s Under The Bushes Under The Stars in that it’s a record that rewards, and reveals itself with repeated listening.  Sporting a collection of songs that run the gamut from the anthemic indie pop of “The Rally Boys,” to the proggy acoustic weirdness of “Bellicose Starling,” and the wirey post-punk moves of “Where Have You Been All My Life.”  There’s plenty to dig into on here, and it’ll probably take you a bit longer to explore everything here than you did on their last go round.  Which is totally fine, since it doesn’t seem like Bob Pollard and his crew are going anywhere anytime soon.

Order Space Gun via Rockathon Records.