July 13, 2010
Dear Comrade EP
2010 | Unsigned
I wanted deeply, in my heart of hearts, to not compare Dear Comrade to stellastarr*. But I truly think, even had I not known that Dear Comrade is the work of stellastarr* drummer/keyboardist Arthur Kremer (with the help of Emmett Aiello on lead guitar, bass by Dan Freeman, and backing and occasional lead vocals by Stefani Pekin – who also goes by Dex, and Dr. Dex, though I doubt she’s board certified), my mind would have immediately leapt to that conclusion.
Moody instrumentals, soaring female backing vocals behind almost-speaking-rather-than-singing post-punk male vocals (think almost Interpol), yeah, I could be describing either band. But while stellastarr* began reaching out toward what I would argue is a more gothic sound (in the literary sense of the word) with Harmonies for the Haunted, Dear Comrade is a little less flashy, more stripped down, and attempts to show a broader mix of influences.
“Badlands” opens the album, a semi-political track mostly about apathy. “Conflict of interests, clashing of faith / What would John Lennon fight for today? / Where’s the amber, where’s the glow / Where’s Black Panther, I just don’t know.” While I assume Kremer is referencing the 1960′s radical party, he could just as easily be asking for the Marvel Comics superhero. Oh, the joys of interpretation. The track itself is certainly enjoyable, but I think it lacks a certain spark, especially when compared to later tracks on the album.
July 6, 2010
It’s summertime. Let’s sing about it!
The Beach Boys | “Don’t Go Near The Water” (from Surf’s Up)
No American band has said more about the importance of catching waves and spending time at the beach than the oft-underrated/overrated/underrated again Beach Boys. In 1971, the Boys kicked off their Surf’s Up album by imploring folks to stay out of the water because of – you guessed it! – all that gross pollution. “Toothpaste and soap will make our oceans a bubble bath,” Al Jardine and Mike Love lament over an upbeat whiteboy funk groove typical of this era of the Boys’ work. Sure, they sound as naïve as they did just a few years before extolling the virtues of a surfin’ safari, but the song is damn catchy. And it’s maybe more than a little appropriate for the folks on the Gulf Coast right about now.
The Morningsides | “Summer Song” (Single)
A kind of New York supergroup, featuring members of the retro-rock band The Wowz and singer-songwriter Chris Maher, The Morningsides only have one single from 2004 to their credit, but it’s a keeper. The A-side, “Summer Song,” features the soap opera-like antics of a star-crossed couple in the verses while the chorus pays tribute to summer radio anthems, the kind that have choruses as catchy as the one featured here. The band’s sound has the same ‘60s garage rock crunch you find on a lot of Wowz songs, but the vibe is notably looser and noisier, bringing to mind Pavement. Maher’s slightly strained vocals similarly recall Stephen Malkmus but not in a way that seems slavishly copied.
July 4, 2010
I often find myself, in conversation, bemoaning the portion of Detroit’s storied history in which I was born and raised. Born almost twenty years too late to witness Motown first hand, even the MC5 and the Stooges were long gone before my time, having disbanded seven and five years before my birthday, respectively.
Sports were a joke, after 1984, for what seemed like ever. Even when Detroit sports teams go all the way, it’s a sporadic great season from the Pistons (basketball moves too fast for me), or the Red Wings (when I first moved to New York, my first boss there called hockey a “white boy” sport). The Tigers have largely been a laughing stock for almost thirty years (setting the record for most losses in a single season by an American League team in 2003), the Lions have not won a championship (and only a handful of games, it seems) since 1957. Don Was, who was born and raised in Detroit, made his mark as a musician with Was (Not Was) in New York, and as a producer (Bonnie Raitt, Barenaked Ladies, Rolling Stones) in L.A. Sadly, by the time the White Stripes, Dirtbombs and their ilk had made the term “garage rock” a household name, I had gone west to college.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote in this column that the Insane Clown Posse-the self-described (and aptly so) most hated band in the world, were the first group to make me feel like it was cool to be from Detroit. These guys had a national following, and yet they consistently did things to make Detroit feel special. At least one single a year (and the entire first Forgotten Freshness CD) was exclusively available in Detroit. Every Halloween was spent in the Motor City, with what they called the Hallowicked show. Gwar opened the Hallowicked show I saw, and it was, hands down, one of the most fun shows I’ve ever attended. I feel bad, admitting even I can’t stomach ICP records anymore, after spilling so much love on them for their Detroit-centric attitude in the 1990s.
A somewhat less embarrassing scene, though, made some of us proud to be from Detroit around the same time. Though not by any means rooted in Motown, any touring band in ska‘s third wave would have to admit that Detroit was a crucial stop for any band with horns, up tempo punk songs, and an emphasis on the off beat.
July 3, 2010
When Charlie Faye, a New York native now based in Austin, played Rockwood Music Hall earlier this month, it was at the midpoint of a ten-month tour whose concept is pretty much unprecedented: to support her new album Wilson St., she’s playing ten cities – and living in each one for a month. In locales ranging from LA to Burlington, Vermont, she’s setting up residencies, enlisting local musicians to back her up, and recording new material for her next album. At Rockwood, Faye delivered her songs with a vocal clarity and strength – shades of Neko Case, Chrissie Hynde, even Patti Smith – that suggested an untold number of gigs in her recent past. A few days later, at an office in the Meatpacking District, she talked about her monthly “miniature life,” her New York roots, and what she’s learned along the way.
JM.com: So this is kind of like intermission for this tour, would you say?
Charlie Faye: Yes. I’ve done five, and I have five to go.
JM.com: How do you feel?
Charlie: I feel like, you know, half the time I’m on the greatest adventure of my life, and half the time I’m doing something completely insane and I don’t know why I’m doing it. But that’s part of the adventure.
JM.com: What’s a day-in-the-life?
Charlie: I get somewhere at the beginning of the month, I move into wherever I’m moving into, I spend the first few days really by myself exploring, getting my bearings. Then I start meeting people. In that first week, I’m sending emails, making phone calls to friends of friends: “Who do you know in Burlington?” “My drummer’s friend’s brother is a guitar player.” So I’m gonna call that guy and have coffee with him. Then the first gig – I’ll probably do it solo or with one person I’ve brought on. Then by the second week it’s getting more exciting and social. I’m making friends and I’m putting together the band, and the third week is usually heavier in terms of more gigs, maybe some regional touring, and the fourth week is crazy ‘cause that’s always when I do my recording for the month. So I have that last gig, the recording, saying goodbye to everybody. It’s like one miniature life. A month-long life.
JM.com: Are you traveling alone?
Charlie: I’m traveling alone. And the crazy thing is, I’m originally from New York – I didn’t even start driving until I moved to Texas three years ago. So for me to be doing this solo cross-country trip is pretty nuts.