Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Sparklefest Part Two

Just a quick spin through some of the other bands at this week's Sparklefest. I don't know much about them, so this'll mainly be links and songs that sound OK at first listen.

The Upper Crust: baroque-themed AC/DC, if that's your thing. Kind of ridiculous-looking, but I assume that's the point.
"Let Them Eat Rock"

Daniel Resko/Yellow Pod: no download for this one, but the songs on his MySpace sound pretty good. Less power, more pop.

The Cogburns: Self-described as "post millennium Garage Surf Punk".
"Southern Daisy"

The Shazam: I think they are Sparklefest mainstays, and no wonder. This is more-or-less what I'm looking for in the power pop sound.
"Squeeze the Day"

No offense to the other bands, but I'm out of time for this week. Cheers!


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Sparklefest Preview: power pop and more

The last time I wrote about the annual local festival Sparklefest, it seemed to be showcasing a fairly coherent style of music, which (depite some protests) might as well be called power pop, in particular melodic garage rock kind of stuff. A quick glance at this year's lineup seems far less cohesive, at least among the groups that I'm familiar with. I think the best way to sum up the theme this year might be "GUITARS!" Three nights of guitars kick off Thursday night at the Pour House in Raleigh.

Here's a quick look at a few of the featured bands.

SNMNMNM: a quirky group whose sound owes more than a little to They Might Be Giants, especially in the nasally, slightly nerdy vocals, whimsical lyrical topics, and subsitution of a tuba for a bass guitar. Also, the accordian.
"Danielle" (from Exploderama 2005. Buy/download SNMNMNM stuff.)

Parklife: draws on a variety of tropes from classic, 80s, and 90s rock, including the expected-from-the name Blur. "San Jacinto" has some of the breadth of sound and amibition of mid-80s U2, which I mean as a compliment.This is a band that I keep meaning to dig into, but somehow keeps getting put on my back burner. I need to fix that. (Their main site has apparently been Haxx0r3d!)
"San Jacinto"

Tiger Thief: another band that's been on my radar lately -- they've been playing out a lot and in pretty good company. I haven't given them the attentive listen they deserve, but "Jet Set Girls" is an entertaing blast of unpolished energy.
"Jet Set Girls"

Bull City: yep, these guys again. Their EP is available to download in full, and it's good stuff that builds on the promise of the Balance.
"Hurricane Eleanor"

Stratocruiser: I've noted their crunchy, Cheap-Trick influenced rock before. They have a new album, Revolutions, which is more of the same -- in this case, that's good. No downloads from that, but you can hear a few tracks here.
"Copyshop Girl"

Shalini: Shalini Chatterji is the wife of famed producer/Let's Active founder Mitch Easter (who's also on the Sparklefest bill). The music has more of a hard-rock edge than that might lead you to expect, but it hits a nice Blake Babies kind of note. The bass player here is Velvet's Jane Francis, by the way.

That covers most of the bands that I have at least a nodding acquaintance with. Time permitting, I'll come back tomorrow and at least link some music from some of the others. (Though I must say, quite a few of these bands are not down with the MP3 sharing -- get with the program, people!)

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Friday, September 22, 2006

A Rooster for the Choir: couple of new songs

A Rooster for the Masses:
"Damn Homie"
(new song. Buy/download the Gallo Rojo EP.)

Erie Choir:
"Picture Equals Proof"
(from Slighter Awake, forthcoming on Sit-N-Spin.)

This week has not been conducive to listening to/thinking about music, so in lieu of anything thoughtful (I know, but that's usually what I'm aiming for), here are a couple of new songs from bands that I've written about before that have floated out into the MySpace in the last week or two.

"Damn Homie" lowers the synth level and ups the guitars from the songs on A Rooster for the Masses Gallo Rojo CD. It's a fine addition to their small-but-solid canon, though I might prefer a bit more clarity in the vocal mix. "Picture Equals Proof" is likewise a slight departure from Erie Choir's general MO in that it's a little peppier than I tend to think of them.

Neither of these bands have shows this weekend, but they'll both be playing next month as part of the stellar lineup of Durham's Troika Festival. I'll come back to this soon. First, though (if I can manage it), I'll post early next week (rather than my usual late-week schedule) about some of the bands playing at Sparklefest.

Previously on the Oak Room:
A Rooster for the Masses
Erie Choir

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Friday, September 15, 2006

Velvet: Vintage Southern Power Pop

"No One Here"
(from The Juggernaut 2006. Buy it here.)

Here's the chicken-vs-egg puzzle of Velvet's new recording, Juggernaut: do they have such a great throwback power-pop sound because Mitch Easter produced the album, or was he just the logical choice to bring out their existing style? (I know, the answer is probably both and neither, but indulge my introductory conceit, OK?) One reason I wonder is that their bio claims that they started out as "a Wilmington-based art-rock outfit", and they sure don't sound like that anymore. I like guitarist Jay Manley's description in this article: "We sound like Chapel Hill in 1983" -- they are definitely working a sound that has at least some roots in the dB's/Let's Active sound of that era. The one objection I have to this is that the drums in particular sound like that as well, rather than something a bit more contemporary.

Juggernaut is a fine collection of hooks and harmonies , but it also gets a lot of mileage out of bassist Jane Francis' exuberant vocals. On "No One Here" she shares the vocals with Manley (who is also her husband), but "Cracker" is a ripping rocker that's all hers. Evidently it's been a struggle to get the album out -- the article linked above is three years old and refers to it as "forthcoming". Whatever the reason for the delay, it's a welcome arrival.

Jane Francis:
"18 Letters"
(from Skeletons for Tea, 2005. Buy/download)

A bonus track from Francis' solo album, since I'm so fond of her voice. This is the only track I have heard from Skeletons for Tea, but if the whole thing follows suit, its much more of a rootsy/folky affair than Velvet.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Pin Projekt and Troika Music Festival Preview

Midtown Dickens:
"Eggs and Toast"
Audubon Park:
"Oh Register Why Are You Crying"

Well, I had hoped to do this sooner, but that's how it goes...

TONIGHT (9/9) at 305 South in Durham, there's a fundraiser for next month's homegrown Troika Music Festival. They are auctioning off bowling pins that have been turned into works of art by a host of local artists and musicians, including Mac McCaughan and poster artist/Nein bassist Casey Burns. (Not to mention my e-mail pals John Harrison and Jason Kutchma.)

They look really cool, but the site is all Flash-ed up and I can't link to them. Take a look on line, and certainly go tonight if you are in the area. Musical performances by anti-folk duo Midtown Dickens and mysterious (to me) rockers Audubon Park, plus the unpredictable collective of the Pox Family Singers.

Much more could be said about this, and I'll definitely be coming back to Troika -- it looks amazing this year -- but time is short. Enjoy the music and the pins!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Ward Williams (Jump, Little Children) @ Local 506

Jump, Little Children:

"I Can Feel You"
(from Buzz, 1996. Buy or download JLC stuff.)
Ward Williams:
"Forever's Not Thirteen"
"Maybe Someday"
(from Ward Williams 2006. Buy here.)

It's been great fun for me to watch the developing career of Jump, Little Children. Most of those guys are from my hometown, and I knew them in various ways when I was young -- I took acting classes from the Bivins boys' mother, and (if I remember right) trained Evan as a Safety Patrol(!). But I was closest with cellist Ward Williams. We were good pals through third grade, when we went to different schools and lost touch for a while. We reconnected a bit through mutual friends in high school, and after that I've mostly watched from afar as JLC developed a pretty rabid cult following.

Jump, Little Children started out as a pretty folky band -- they spent time in Ireland, and that was definitely an influence early on -- though they occasionally threw a rap over top of that. ("Hey man, I love you but you know how it is/Even Mr. Cracker never counted on Cheez Whiz" remains a favorite lyric.) Over time, they moved away from that to a more conventional rock format, though Ward's cello kept something interesting in the mix. I really liked Buzz, a live album that kind of bridged the gap between the two sounds -- "I Can Feel You" is a track from that that features Ward to good effect. I mostly preferred the early stuff, and have to admit that I haven't even heard the band's last two albums. They are (at best) on hiatus right now as the members pursue various solo projects. Their last pass through the Triangle was billed as a "farewell tour". Whether that's for real or in the vein of the Who's farewell tours remains to be seen...

In any case, Ward has a solo album out, and is playing at Local 506 tomorrow night (9/6). From the samples on his web site and MySpace, it's a pretty pop album with some unexpected (to me) country influences. "Forever's Not Thirteen" also highlights Ward's strings, while "Maybe Someday" moves a little more in the country direction. (For the real thing, complete with weepy steel guitars, listen to "When You're Gone" on Ward's web site.) I remember Ward as very warm and funny, so I expect that he'll put on an engaging show. And this sounds cool: "Ward's live shows feature cello, guitar and recorded loops combining the two instruments." I'm looking forward to saying "hi" -- you should go check him out too!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Red Collar, "post-punk", and the longest Oak Room post ever

Red Collar:

"Used Guitars"
"Why You Knocking"
(no album or merchandise yet, though they are on the 307 Knox compliation that's kicking around)

A reader took issue with my tagging A Rooster for the Masses with the "post-punk" label. See the brief exchange here -- I'm hoping he/she will come back and comment further. And I certainly invite input from others! My thoughts for this post were circling around the idea anyway, so it's a good tie-in.

In writing this blog, I constantly wrestle with my sporadic knowledge of music trends and history. I was pursuing some unorthodox and specific interests in high school and college and I'm still slowly filling in the gaps. Want to talk about obscure 80s heavy metal? The varied lineups of Yes? I'm your guy. More main stream stuff, or the general flow of "indie" rock in the last 10 years? At least as much hit as miss for me.

I was recently reading Simon Reynolds' Rip It Up and Start Again, about the musical reactions to punk in the late 70s and early 80s. It was pretty enlightening, but as Reynolds uses the term, "post-punk" turns out not to be very helpful as a description of musical sound -- covering as it does many different kinds of reactions to punk, and at least one wave of counter-reactions. Very little (if any?) contemporary music could be said to fall under the more-or-less ideological movement that Reynolds terms "post-punk" (at least not mediated by another "post-" or two), but the sonic markers of these styles have obviously seen a revival in recent years. I tend to use the term for the rock-guitars-plus-disco-rhythm kind of music that seems to stem from Gang of Four and recently illustrated by (e.g.) Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand. That's my basis for classifying A Rooster for the Masses as post-punk, but I realize that may be an overly idiosyncratic definition.

Reading Reynolds' book, I was also intrigued by what I guess can be called art-punk -- punk energy and attitude merged with a bit more musical facility and some book-learning. Which brings us (finally!) to today's band, Durham's own Red Collar. I had an interesting exchange with guitarist Jason Kutchma, and learned that even the band's name fits with this notion:
I was working a desk jockey job for a while....At the time, I started really thinking about my job quite a bit, maybe obsessing about it a little too much. I'm not white collar even though I have a white collar degree and white collar air conditioning. Then again, I'm not blue collar even though I've got the blue collar pay and the blue collar vacation time. I kind of dress like a combination of both. It's a necessary job but it just kind of exists. It's this new brand of worker that seems to be popping up and I called it "Red Collar", filling in the obvious Red White and Blue....

The music kind of sounds like a blue collar work ethic done by people with college degrees. It doesn't quite fit punk rock or indie rock or bar rock but there are elements of that in the music.
The lyrics really seem to come from this perspective as well: "Used Guitars" is the broken-dreams narrative of a pawn-shop owner, while "Why You Knocking" illustrates the disillusionment of a door-to-door salesman. "Used Guitars" has knocked me out since I first heard it, and their other songs are quite strong as well.

The band is taking their time recording -- for now, what you see on their MySpace is what you get. I am impressed with the thoughtful perspective that Jason provided on their aims, and look forward to seeing what they come up with in the future. For the time being, you can see them next Friday (9/8) at Jo & Joe's in Durham.