Friday, July 28, 2006

The Sky Drops (fuzzed-up guitar/drums) at the Cave

The Sky Drops:

"Now Would Be"
"Green to Red"
(from Clouds of People 2006. Buy it here.)

This is mostly a local heads-up -- if you read a decent range of music blogs, you've probably already come across the Sky Drops, the guitar and drums duo of Monika Bullette and Rob Montejo. Bullette also made a splash (in relative terms) with The Secrets, an album that she self-released and made available (free!) on line last year. That one didn't really appeal to me, but her collaboration with Montejo sounds pretty good.

The name of the band and the title of the album seem well-chosen, since their music churns along in a big thundercloud of fuzzed-out guitars. "Now Would Be" actually starts off like it wants to be a Black Sabbath song, but lightens up (a bit) on the verses. The music is often foreboding, but the lyrics manage to poke some sunlight though the clouds ("Now would be a good time/to be awake"; "Hang on/We're not on this Earth too long"). As a musical descriptor, "shoegaze" doesn't actually signify that much to me, but if it does to you, then the Sky Drops are supposed to be like that.

The Sky Drops play the Cave in Chapel Hill tonight (7/28) -- go make them feel welcome. (Or, if you are house-bound, I believe the Cave streams live video of their shows, so if that doesn't crash your browser, you could try that.)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Never (again): an ambitious pop-rock concept album

The Never:

"The Sharpest Place"
(from Antarctica 2006. Buy it here.)

When I wrote about the Never's ambitious concept album/picture book Antarctica back in March, I was under the impression that it had already been released. (Their recent performance was billed as a CD release show, so not an entirely unwarranted assumption...) Turns out, no -- Trekky Recordsjust put it out this week. It's worth revisiting now, because I'm still impressed by the scope of the project, and the mature, theatrical pop/rock that it produced. They recently made "The Sharpest Place" available for download -- it starts off as a pensive piano ballad, then builds into something much more dramatic. "Cavity" is a repeat from the earlier post -- a crunchy pop song.

As this review in the Independent notes (scroll to the bottom), the story may be a bit opaque, and the some of the lyrics push the limits of sincerity, but the music here is compelling. I have lately been thinking about how my enjoyment of music is mainly sonic -- unless the lyrics are insanely awful, they don't register too much, and sometimes not even then. The Never have outstanding melodies, complex arrangements, and an extremely appealing sound, which is more than enough in my book.

The Never are scheduled to be on WUNC's State of Things tomorrow (7/28) tomorrow at noon (that show often has great musical guests but horrible interviewers -- often worth it for the in-studio performances, though) and at Shakori Hills tomorrow night.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Two from Hotel Lights (including TMBG cover!)

Hotel Lights
"Let Me Be the One"
(from Goodnightgoodmorning 2005. Sample other songs and buy it here)
"The End of the Tour"
(from Hello Radio: The Songs of They Might Be Giants 2006. Buy/download.)

I got a copy of Hotel Lights' EP Goodnightgoodmorning from the kind folks at Sit-n-Spin over in Carrboro (Carrboro!) and, man, is it great. It's nothing flashy, but a very well-crafted collection of songs in a low-key pop vein that's not too far removed from the Pernice Brothers. The part of me that likes Colossus finds this dreadfully wimpy, but the part of me that's moved past middle school can appreciate something as lovely as this. Goodnightgoodmorning is at least as good as, if not better than, Hotel Lights' debut album, which I wrote about back here. (Apparently some find that one too mellow.)

The band is spearheaded by Darren Jessee, who used to be the drummer for Ben Folds Five, though the Hotel Lights drum seat is filled by Mark Price. Price was a member of the Archers of Loaf, and if Hotel Lights sounds little like Jessee's work with Ben Folds Five, it sounds nothing at all like the Archers of Loaf... Here's an interesting interview with Jessee, including a few ambivalent comments about music blogs.

Hotel Lights also contributed a song to the just-released Hello Radio, a tribute to They Might Be Giants. It also features Frank Black, the Long Winters, and the Wrens, among other indie lumniaries. (Stream some other songs here.) I have to confess that my knowledge of TMBG is mainly confined to Flood, so I can't really comment on the quality of this song as a cover, though it's a nicely pensive performance in its own right, that sits nicely besides the rest of Hotel Lights' songs. (It is interesting to me to notice what a distinctive way with a melody TMBG have. I could probably guess that this was one of their songs even if I didn't already know it -- I don't really have the music theory vocabulary to define it, but it's something about the length of the melody lines, and they way they rise and fall...)

Hotel Lights plays at Local 506 in Chapel Hill on Saturday (7/22) with Jennifer O'Connor, who's been touring with Hotel Lights for a while, and Chapel Hill's wonderful North Elementary. Six bucks -- go see this show!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


"Jellybean Wine"
(from Bombadil 2006)

It somehow seems odd to me that a bunch of guys who are barely out of college would dress like they're joining Huck Finn for an adventure on the Big Muddy and play music that sounds like this, but that's Bombadil for you. God bless 'em.

I have a hard time finding good reference points for their acoustic, rootsy music. The fact that Stuart Robinson's piano leads the way for the most part -- there's very little guitar at all on their debut EP -- gives them a kind of roadhouse feel. Splashes of xylophone, smears of trombone (I think), and so on add some interesting textures. There's a lot of trading vocals going on, so that adds to an everyone-join-in vibe that I like. Most of all, it sounds happy -- you can tell that these guys are really enjoying making this music. (This is true even for "Johnny", which I'm willing to bet is the peppiest song about a cutter you'll ever hear.)

One thing that I've kept coming back to is the thought that Bombadil is in some ways a less-redneck Gourds -- they both mix together a broad range of musical styles into an organic whole with a lighthearted touch that borders on whimsy. So in that sense, even they don't make any nods to the origin of the band's name, it does seem to be well-chosen.

Between here and here you can basically listen to the whole EP. Much of it is similar to the songs I've linked here. "Tall Grass" is the place to start if you really need some guitar in the mix. I also highly recommend "La Paz", a more reflective song that shows another side of Bombadil.

Their next show is Thursday night (7/20) at the Pour House in Raleigh, with Maxwell/Mosher (ex-Squirrel Nut Zippers), so the quirk level should be pretty high for that one.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Two songs about Carrboro

...and they couldn't be more different.

Eric Bachmann: "Carrboro Woman"
(from To The Races 2006. Release date 8/22/06. Preorder here.)

Bachmann's work with/as Crooked Fingers bears little trace of his previous work with Archers of Loaf. This, too, is warm and folky. Recorded in Buxton on the Outer Banks, apparently.

Billy Sugarfix: "It's Carrboro"
(see the It's Carrboro website for more info)

Billy Sugarfix, aka Evil Wiener, busts out an old-school rap about Carrboro. (He'll also write you a song.)
Raleigh and Durham and Fayetteville
If it ain’t in Carrboro it aint worth my skill
I won’t even go to Chapel Hill
My momma cools her pies on the window-sill

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Brown Mountain Lights

The Brown Mountain Lights
"Blacktop Tar"
(from Late Show at the Cave 2004. Buy it.)
"Time Travelling"
(from Ghosts of the Old North State, 2006 [forthcoming])

Back to the rootsy Americana stuff now, here's the Brown Mountain Lights, a versatile group whose twangy songs blend blues, honky tonk, blues, pop, and bluegrass influences. They feature strong vocal harmonies and plenty of fiddle and steel guitar. I guess you could call it electrified back-porch music. "Blacktop Tar" is a great country-swing number from the band's 2004 live CD, which made No Depression's "Best of 2004" list. "Time Travelling" is a driving song (i.e., about driving, though it's got a stong beat, too...), a preview of their new album, which should be out sometime in the near future. There's plenty more to download here here and here, so if you're liking this (and you should), go crazy.

Fun facts: The band formed in 2001 to open for Buddy and Julie Miller, so there' s an auspicious beginning. Guitarist Jeff Hart used to play in Chris Stamey's band, and Brown Mountain Lights covers the dB's"Nothing is Wrong". Two of their songs were featured on Veronica Mars earlier this year.

Their next performance is Saturday (7/15), at the Saxapahaw Farmer's Market. It sounds like a really nice time -- buy some fruit and veg, have a picnic, listen to the band out in the country down by the Haw River. Music starts at 6:00.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Blag'ard: "Losty", "Peaches in Cream" (from Blank Faced Clocks 2006)

This kind of follows on my post from Friday about Black Taj, in that it's new music with roots that stretch back to another era of Triangle music*. Blag'ard is more or less Joe Taylor, who used to play in a band called Capsize 7. They put out a couple of records in the mid-90s and seem to be lumped in with Archers of Loaf and Polvo more often than not. I dunno, I haven't heard them myself (yet again I kick myself for not actually paying attention to local music back when I was in college...), these songs do have a mid-90s indie feel about them. They're pretty stripped down, just Taylor and drummer Bill Buckley, but they have a nice raw, twitchy energy. They are (I think) from the forthcoming Blank Faced Clocks EP -- e-mail the band for info.

Blag'ard plays on Friday (7/14) at the Wetlands in Chapel Hill with Cannons and Manamid.

Nothing to download, but in searching around for information on Capsize 7 (hard to find!), I came across Tommygun, a band that includes Geoff Abell, another former member of that band. They make a similarly pleasing sound that shows traces of that history -- listen here. If you're in Winston-Salem, they play on Saturday (7/15) at Rubber Soul.

*Of course, that post just about killed my traffic dead, so who knows why I'm continuing down this road....

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Black Taj: guitar rock from members of Polvo, Idyll Swords

Black Taj: "Clover" (from Black Taj 2005. Buy it here.)

This isn't a new song (though it's not too old, either), but I just came across it recently and found it really appealing. Black Taj brings together the shards of a number of storied local groups, including half of Polvo (guitarist Dave Brylawski and bass player Steve Popson) and 2/3 of Idyll Swords (Brylawski again and guitarist Grant Tennille). I've written about Polvo's fractured genius before (here and here). I wasn't familiar with Idyll Swords until I started researching Black Taj -- they were an entirely different beast, combining a variety of world influences, many Middle Eastern, into a swirly sound that anticipated some of the freak folk of more recent years.

Black Taj is a lot more like Polvo than Idyll Swords, though not nearly so twisted. The vocal parts of "Clover" aren't really anything special but I love the way the chimy, fuzzy guitars fit together in the slower parts, and how they navigate the tempo changes. I have only heard samples of most of the other songs on the album, but as far as I can tell, this track is the real standout.

Here's an article from last year that talks about the band's somewhat erratic history. I don't think they've broken up, but it sounds like it's only so often that they mange to get together. This may explain why they have no real web presence that I can see. There's a review of the album here (scroll down).

Bonus Music!
Black Taj: "Woke Up Tired" (from Black Taj 2005, and also the WXYC Bandwidth compliation)
Idyll Swords: "Tantz" (from II 2000. Buy/download)