September 15, 2009
A Million Years
2009 | Self-Released
As the first EP from Brooklyn quartet A Million Years concludes after a scant ten minutes, the listener wonders what exactly just happened. She may listen again, trying to pick up on a nuance or two, some quirk of melody or rhythm to distinguish the music on this album from anything else out there in the wide world of indie rock, but these quirks are elusive. 80s influences? Sure. A danceable beat? Sure. Could you pick it out in a police lineup? No way.
The first track, “Suspicious,” opens with a clean and simple chord progression, which seems at first promising, the sort of catchy tune the listener might end up humming later on. Unfortunately, it’s a bit too simple, the sing-songy melody chasing its tail in a dizzyingly tight circle under repetitive lyrics, somehow managing to make a three-minute song sound several times longer with its distinctly saccharine overtones. The vocalist tries to shout a few of the repeated lyrics to almost comical effect, as if trying to force a dark edge into an innocent cartoon, but it’s all for show here.
The second track, “By Yourself,” follows the repetitive formula of the first, reversing its three staple chords from high to low to throw off the unwary listener, with even more insipid lyrics (rhyming “head” and “dead?” Seriously?). Like the first song, it feels overdone, even though it is barely hitting the three-minute mark. The slightly mellow interlude completes the collage of riffs torn straight from overplayed 90s rock radio one-hit wonders—anyone remember the New Radicals? I didn’t either, until I heard this song.
“Incandescent,” the final and title track, buries the by-now-irritatingly simple beat in a few layers of guitar effects but mercilessly continues pouring on the repetition, slightly tweaking the standard melodic formation again but keeping with the sugary nonchalance of Incandescent. A Million Years have got the formula for unobjectionable, benign indie rock figured out perfectly. No one is going to react violently against this music, unless it’s listened to on repeat in a maddening effort to find some individualistic tendency—so to this band I offer my congratulations: you’ve invented indie elevator music.
You can stream Incandescent from A Million Years’ MySpace.
by Helen Buyniski
September 13, 2009
MUSICIANS ON MUSIC
Musicians On Music is a weekly feature in which we feature exactly that: musicians, both local and national, writing about music, the industry, other people’s music, or whatever they feel like writing. This week we feature Helen Buyniski, who toured the summer festivals with the Mickey Western Band and Lady Circus’s The Rusted Gun Saloon. Here, as the festival season ends, she details what that was like.
How do you prepare for a week spent under the stars, surrounded by Phish fans, mud, and eco-friendly bio-degradable plastic cups? You don’t. You buy a tent at the last minute and ignore reality until you’re under the fluorescent interrogation lights of a 24-hour WalMart in a Tennessee surburb at 4 a.m., five minutes away from the festival gates. You glance at the camping supplies piled miles high in the aisles, hike for what feels like hours to the bathroom in the back of the store. You come out and realize that despite your loathing of the great outdoors, you will be spending the next week sleeping in a tent.
In June, the Mickey Western Band and Lady Circus were invited to bring our show,“The Rusted Gun Saloon,” to the eighth-annual Bonnaroo festival in Manchester, Tennessee. The Mickey Western Band supplied our dark gypsy-folk rock as the soundtrack to the Circus’ performance: a play of aerial acts, stilt- and fire-dances, beds of nails, displays of public drunkenness, and, of course, murder. Perfect for Bonnaroo, a festival characterized by its “peaceful vibe,” recurring appearances by jam band members, and general inescapable hippie associations.
The Mickey Western Band opened Thursday afternoon on the Solar Stage, an environmentally-friendly venue situated inside “Planet Roo.” Roo was the festival’s uber-green eco-enclave, anchored by a massive papier-mache hand grasping a wire globe and emerging from the earth like the avenging zombie limb of a PMS-ing Mother Nature. In keeping with the “green” theme, I wore a clump of silk roses in my hair, but following a sudden cloudburst two songs into our set, these and everything else on stage were soaked. I was able to shelter most of my equipment from the rain and avoid frying myself and my amp, but a wet-stringed violin sounds like cats being tortured and I couldn’t wait to stop playing. The rain confused Mickey so much he played one song twice, but the circus ladies in the audience kept the spectators dancing and watching even as the dance floor turned to mud. Several rounds of applause later, I ran offstage to try to dry off my violin with a number of other wet things. Success!
More on Musicians On Music | Helen Buyniski at Bonnaroo
August 27, 2009
JezebelMusic.com @ Public Assembly
August 22, 2009 | Buzzer, Impediments
An hour and a half after Impediments were scheduled to take the stage at Don Pedro’s on Saturday night, crickets were still chirping on the stage. Musicians periodically skulked through the equipment to prod at their instruments, and every errant drum hit raised the crowd’s hopes as they sweated out their alcohol in the front room of the bar. Finally, stretching the limits of “fashionably late” to the breaking point, Impediments took the stage. The young and energetic group from the San Francisco Bay Area were merciless in blowing out their audience’s eardrums. They may have looked almost too young to be handling their instruments, waving them around theatrically as if Guitar Hero was more age-appropriate than real guitar, but they were intent on recapturing the crowd’s attention by brute force. Singer Nick Allen delivered his vocals at a volume whose pain levels varied between intolerable and excruciating, making it difficult to remain in the room. Song after song blasted onlookers with walls of sound constructed of the same three chords and lyrics too distorted through the cranked-up mic to comprehend. There was plenty of raw punk rock energy in the music, but the songs quickly began to sound oppressively similar. Drummer Rene Macleay often struggled to keep up with the rabid energy of the guitarists, though he started almost every song with the same four drumstick hits to set the tempo, making the set even more predictable. As they continued, however, and the band gained confidence from the growing crowd before them in Don Pedro’s sweaty back room, the sound got tighter and the songs got better. By the time they finished, most of the room was dancing and everyone onstage was covered in a satisfactory coat of sweat. Especially given the age of its members, who otherwise wouldn’t even be allowed in to Don Pedro’s, Impediments have potential.
Buzzer – another Bay area band, featuring lead guitarist Mike Liebman and bassist Ray Seraphin from Impediments – took the stage after a brief cigarette break, delivering a much more musically mature set with just as much punk attitude. The two musicians who had already played with the first band excelled in the more melodic climate of Buzzer’s sound, which boasted a welcome element missing almost entirely from the Impediments’ set — occasional silence between notes. Liebman especially proved to have been hiding great talent in the Impediments’ noise-soup — his guitar parts were all over the scale and quite impressive. Drummer Colby Hewitt began the set with formulaic 4/4 beats like his predecessor, but gradually moved toward more experimental rhythms in later songs, keeping the crowd from getting bored or complacent, and the guitarists similarly weaved their melodies around the beat in patterns that far outstripped the standard punk-rock chord stock. Their surprisingly hook-laden songs had a darker cast in general than the first band’s, but this didn’t stop the audience from dancing even more wildly, bringing a benevolent chaos to the sweaty venue. The band later mentioned that the Don Pedro’s show, which was halfway into their U.S. tour, had been reinvigorating. Perhaps that was the real key to the show’s success: Buzzer looked like they were having as much fun as the thrashing crowd, and they finished on a triumphant note.
by Helen Buyniski
July 24, 2009
JezebelMusic.com @ Siren Music Festival
July 18, 2009 | A Place To Bury Strangers, The Raveonettes, Spank Rock
The Village Voice’s Siren Festival draws huge crowds to Coney Island every year with a foolproof recipe for success: a free indie-rock showcase at the beach. With the variety of acts ensuring something for (almost) everyone and the nonexistent price tag, there’s really no reason not to go. Or so every press release accusingly reminds us: It’s free, so what’s your excuse?
At the ninth year of the festival, it was alarmingly clear that the event was no longer all about the music. Like the Voice’s own articles lost in the commercial-stuffed clusterfuck of its website, the bands were dwarfed by advertisements coating every surface. Branded cups and handheld fans are to be expected; banners covering half the stage are not. These were in addition to the Budweiser-sponsored Beer Tents jostling for customers with vendor stands for the Marines, a vaginal contraceptive film, and VitaminWater. Free festivals obviously require tremendous public and corporate support, but the audience came to see the bands perform, not a six-foot Metro PCS banner. On the other end, bands arriving at the festival hoping to be the stars of the show must have been disappointed to find the star positions already filled by beer, phone companies, and hotel chains.
More on Siren Music Festival | 7.18.09