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by Brian Baker 03.27.2012
Posted In: Reviews, Music Video at 12:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Review: The Shins - 'Port of Morrow'

No one could have imagined a more appropriate outcome for James Mercer when the creatively obscure rags of Flake Music led to the everyman populist Indie Rock riches of The Shins. Strangely, but perhaps predictably, Mercer’s recent career moves seem more indicative of diva behavior, signing with Columbia Records, dismissing his longtime bandmates and making The Shins something of a solo venture while exploring a new and admittedly fascinating aesthetic with Danger Mouse in their Broken Bells collaboration.

All of this has transpired in the long gap since The Shins’ last album, 2007’s largely brilliant Wincing the Night Away, and the hiatus, coupled with Mercer’s oddly twisting creative path, have served to intensify the scrutiny on the long-awaited fifth album from The Shins, Port of Morrow.

At first blush, there is a clear difference between the wide-eyed cryptic wonder of 2001’s Oh Inverted World and the more calculated and plainly spoken weariness of Port of Morrow. Perhaps the most marked difference between the old collective Shins and the new solo-centric Shins is Mercer’s place in the mix. On the first three albums, his keening voice and hallucinogenic lyrical constructs were sublimated into the music, while Wincing the Night Away found him rising above the music’s sonic profile (Michael Stipe followed a similar path on REM’s upward spiral). Mercer’s process is complete on Port of Morrow, as his vocals ring with confidence and clarity even as his lyrics still inspire some allusory head scratching.

The album’s first single, “Simple Song” (see the video for it below), lives up to its title by stripping The Shins’ melodic and lyrical complexity to its basic elements, with the chorus serving as a possible manifesto for the newly liberated Mercer (“I know that things can really get rough, when you go it alone/Don’t go thinking you gotta be tough, and play like a stone/Could be there’s nothing else in our lives so critical, as this little home”). There are moments that hearken back to The Shins of old with the obvious new tweaks (“It’s Only Life,” “40 Mark Strasse”) and a few new wrinkles (the Samba-flecked “Bait and Switch,” the straightforward Indie Pop bristle of “No Way Down,” the rootsy reverb of “For a Fool”).

For fans who have fallen helplessly in love with the Shins’ sonic atmospherics and delightfully indecipherable wordplay, Port of Morrow may be confoundingly understandable. Still, like every Shins album to date, Port of Morrow’s greatest rewards are revealed through prolonged exposure.

by Mike Breen 11.12.2011
Posted In: Live Music, Reviews at 11:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Review: Beirut at Bogart's

A great concert can transform a venue and transport an audience to its own little world. Last night at Bogart's, Zach Condon and his very successful Indie-meets-World-music ensemble Beirut did both in front of a wildly appreciative, sold-out crowd.

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by Brian Baker 04.25.2012
Posted In: Reviews, Music Video at 12:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Review: Alabama Shakes' 'Boys and Girls'

Remember the first time you saw Erika Wennerstrom sing in front of the Heartless Bastards and watched amazed as she pummeled her guitar and sang with a ferocity that made her neck veins dance like a cobra in a snake charmer’s basket? Brittany Howard approaches her role fronting Alabama Shakes with a similarly wrought intensity and to a familiar result.

Like the Bastards and Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, Howard and Alabama Shakes channel ’60s Blues Rock with a contemporary edge on their excellent full-length debut, Boys and Girls.

It’s not hard to play spot-the-influences with the Shakes, as the broad experience of the individual members found them looking for the commonalities between James Brown and Otis Redding and Led Zeppelin and AC/DC while working up an early set list. The mega versatile Howard finds them easily with a fluid guitar style that can be Doo Wop sock-hop one minute (“Heartbreaker,” the title track), elephant-gun recoil the next (the Joan Armatrading-steered-by-Jimi Hendrix howl of “Be Mine,” the loping groin kick of “Hold On”). Vocally, she wails with the hellhound authority of her Soul and Blues influences while pushing the needle into Rock God territory; comparisons to Janis Joplin are not the least bit out of line.

Boys and Girls would be an impressive accomplishment from a band in its middle period, but it’s made all the more amazing considering the Shakes have only been together for three years and this represents only their second release. Howard and her cohorts in Alabama Shakes have an impeccable sense of Blues Rock classicism and an exciting sense of how to give it a good rowdy slap into right now.

by Mike Breen 09.14.2012
Posted In: Reviews, Live Music, Local Music, Music Video at 10:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

REVIEW: Tonefarmer's 'Helium 3'

Alt Rock quartet celebrates first LP in five years tonight in Northside

Local Indie Rock quartet Tonefarmer has returned with its first new recording in five years, Helium 3, which gets the “album release party” treatment tonight at the Northside Tavern. The band will be joined by Canoes and The Ready Stance for the free, 10 p.m. event.

Recorded with producer/bassist for The Afghan Whigs John Curley at his Ultrasuede Studios, Helium 3 is not only Tonefarmer’s first album since 2007’s Meanwhile, it’s also the first to showcase the band’s current steady lineup of Rob Hamrick (vocals/guitar, formerly of local pioneers Sleep Theatre), bassist Chris Mundy, guitarist Kevin Welch (The Underwoods) and drummer Todd Drake (Magnolia Mountain, Ruby Vileos). Given how impressive the band’s mature Dream Pop sounds on Helium 3, it’s a lineup they should probably stick with.

The album’s 10 tracks all hover in the same sonic realm — mid-tempo, emotive Pop/Rock songs buoyed by a swaying, hypnotic vibe and spacey atmospherics. But the lack of diversity from track to track is more than made up for in the strength of the songwriting and performances. Like the more grounded highlights of The Verve’s Urban Hymns album (think “Lucky Man” or “The Drugs Don’t Work”) or the softer, romantic moments of the Smashing Pumpkins, Hamrick and Co. have crafted a collection of compelling songs that stand as the best of their impressive discography.

Opening track “The Moon is Calling” sets the tone, beginning as an airy bed of string sounds and Hamrick’s distinct voice (like a smoother Frank Black) before building to Tonefarmer’s trademark style. The rhythm section’s rock-solid foundation allows the highly memorable and spine-tingling melodies and chiming, sparkling guitars to send the song into the stratosphere. Other highlights include the catchy “Weeds” (a single in waiting) and the lovely twilight-mellow and transcendent hopefulness of “Curious Longing,” the perfect closer.

Click here for more on Tonefarmer and here to preview and purchase Helium 3 (and other Tonefarmer releases). And check out this cool live clip of the group performing the album's lead track live at the Tavern late last year:

by Brian Baker 02.13.2014
Posted In: Local Music, New Releases, Reviews at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

REVIEW: To No End's 'Peril & Paracosm'

Nick Dellaposta is a graphic designer, web developer, guitarist, vocalist and songwriter for Cincinnati/Dayton band To No End. If he did brain surgery on the side, he'd be Buckaroo Banzai. 

And for a guy with little discernible local profile, Dellaposta has a metric ton of history that begins with learning guitar and writing songs at age 14. His father Bob fronted the Broken String Band and the pair gigged together when Dellaposta the younger was a college student, which led to eventual studio experiences. 

Dellaposta formed To No End in 2012, leaning more toward an emphasis on the Dayton market; shortly after the band's first gig, Dellaposta took them into the studio to record their debut album, last year's Curio, a rootsy, Blues-drenched work that tapped into the Kenny Wayne Shepherd/Black Crowes/Gov't Mule end of the spectrum.

To No End's sophomore album, Peril & Paracosm, comes almost exactly a year after the band's debut, trumpeting a slight change in line-up and a new and darker sonic vision. Along with original drummer Patrick Lanham, new bassist Eli Booth and contributing guitarist/now full-fledged member Grant Evans, Dellaposta has invested TNE with an expansive and moody vibe that mines '70s Hard Rock like Budgie and UFO ("The Afterlife," "Bad Apple") while sharpening everything to a contemporary razor's edge. 

Peril & Paracosm finds Dellaposta exploring darker lyrical themes which naturally results in a brooding and muscular soundtrack that is both an extension of and departure from Curio's brighter sonic perspective. There's also a slightly more psychedelic feel to some of the tracks on Peril & Paracosm, and when TNE drifts into a rootsier Gov't Mule direction this time out ("Good Intentions," "When the Time Comes"), there seems to be a greater conviction, a more desperate passion and a deeper understanding of both the influence and its translation. 

We can only hope that the release of Peril & Paracosm signals To No End's expanded local presence because this kind of loud is always welcome.

Below is Peril & Paracosm track "Good Intentions." For more on To No End, click here

by Deirdre Kaye 09.30.2013
Posted In: Live Music, MidPoint Music Festival, Reviews at 11:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

MPMF Day 3: Anchoring Down at the Taft

Great news, y’all! I made it through another MidPoint without getting raped or mugged. (Getting mugged might not be so bad, though. “No, officer, it was definitely not me who bought Duck Dynasty underwear at Walmart.”) I know you were concerned for my safety.

I did MPMF quite a bit differently than I have in years past and I have to say, I think it contributed to it being the best one yet for me.

First, I forwent going with friends. I like my friends in small doses and on a couch talking about TV and girlfriends/boyfriends. Trying to coordinate concert plans with them, though, has always been an ordeal. Some of us are more hipster than others.  Going it alone sometimes feels slightly sketchy, but mostly I think it helped my experience. I wasn’t forced to stand in any hot, cram packed rooms to see bands I was less-than-thrilled to see.

Second, I decided to spend my entire Saturday night in just one venue. I did this for a few reasons: 1) Everyone I wanted to see was in that venue; 2) Cheap parking close-by. Therefore, I spent my Saturday night either pacing around outside the Taft Theatre or swaying back and forth inside the Taft’s Ballroom.

And, ya know what? I had a damn good time.

The Taft is my favorite venue in town. Whether it’s in the seated portion or down in the basement, it just has an amazing vibe. I love those bright white bulb-lights out front around the marquee. It makes the whole place sparkle. It just looks like you could pick it up and sit it in the middle of Gatsby’s New York City. Downtown Cincy has plenty of art deco touches that I dearly love. However, nothing makes me feel more fancy and more ready for a special night than standing outside the Taft. In addition, the basement Ballroom, where all three of Saturday’s bands performed, has this comfortable, almost sexy darkness to it. You could get into a little bit of trouble in some of those shadowed corners. I wouldn’t judge you if you have. I might be disappointed you never invited me, though.

Bear’s Den opened the night and, since I’d seen them recently, I didn’t feel too bad when I spent the better part of their set outside on the phone. It gave me the chance to people watch, which is always a ton of fun at MidPoint. MPMF pulls in a jumbled assortment of people to tramp around downtown with their wristbands. I saw people my parents’ age, dressed rather fancifully, chat with security and then slip down into the basement. I also saw an insane amount of frat guys, plus one very drunk Reds fan and his seriously concerned girlfriend. (I still don’t know why she unleashed her concern to me. But I really hope she finds a new date for next year. Like, maybe someone who won’t put her life in danger?) Oh! And I saw one seriously fabulous drag queen. (I appreciate your use of neon, girlfriend.)

Despite missing London’s Bear’s Den, I know they rocked. Not just because I’ve seen them and I love them, but because they still had a line of fans waiting to meet them when the final act went on at midnight. I think Cincinnati fell in love on Saturday. I’m giddy for Bear’s Den and for Cincinnati. Good choice, my friends.

I caught Cincinnati’s Bad Veins, though. Of course, I’ve seen them before, but I never mind the chance to see them again. Those two boys can make a ton of noise. Even with a few sound/mixing issues, they still managed to keep the room enthralled. That may have had something to do with Ben Davis’ bellowing into the microphone or climbing to the top of the monitors. I have no musical talent whatsoever and my balance is minimal at best, but I was envious as he stood towering above me with his hands on the ceiling and an entire room of people staring up at him in awe. The Veins are a genuinely good band. Not “good for a local band,” but good enough to root for them to keep gaining fans across the country.

Later, I watched Davis stand in the back of the room talking to a couple people for a surprisingly long time. They seemed to devour everything he said. He has dangerous levels of charisma. It was fun to watch.

As much as I love Bad Veins and Bear’s Den, I’d spent all weekend eagerly awaiting Daughter’s performance. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t expect many people to show. I guess because I remember when “Daughter” was just Elena Tonra. I slinked my way pretty close to the stage and gaped at Tonra as she charmed the pants off everyone in the room. When it got stuffy a few songs in, I turned around and was speechless by the sheer amount of people that had suddenly come in behind me.

It makes sense, though. Jesus. Her voice is beautiful. If you were anywhere else in the city on Saturday night, you messed up. She sent heads to the shoulders of girlfriends and, shockingly enough, most cell phones managed to stay in purses and pockets. It’s not that she wasn’t worth capturing. It’s that she was too captivating for anyone to have any other thoughts other than keeping their eyes glued to her face and their ears filled with her voice. Oh. The bow across the electric guitar was a great (albeit not very new) approach, too. It added a nice eerie feel to Tonra’s already haunting voice.

As I left, I had big plans to reflect on the concerts and do a little pre-writing for this review while walking to my car. One of my favorite former co-workers waylaid me, though. So much for avoiding my friends. Cincinnati is too small for that. I didn’t mind too much; I got all the dirt on who had left and who (sadly) was still around.

Eventually, I said goodbye to my ex co-worker, wandered away from Taft Theatre’s bright lights and into the ever darkening street.  As I meandered, it occurred to me just how much of a feat MPMF is for us. Cincinnati may be a city, but we’re not a very big one. How do we manage to talk so many stellar bands into visiting us every year? How is it possible we have something as beautiful as the Taft? How do we produce such a bounty of awesome local bands?

My best friend likes to joke that Ohio has bred more astronauts than any other state. He says it’s because Ohio is awful and space was as far away as they could get. However, I think we’ve bred so many astronauts for the same reason we’ve spawned bands like Walk the Moon and Bad Veins and all of the other great acts playing MPMF and for the same reason we put on such an great festival. We’re small but mighty. We put our hearts into the things and the people we love. Even if they don’t deserve it. (I’m lookin’ at you, Bengals.)

by Alex L. Weber 04.29.2009
Posted In: Live Music, Reviews at 12:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Live Review: MDC at The Mad Hatter

A small, diverse crowd ranging from thirtysomething fans and overweight mosh-marchers to lanky, high school kids and excessively tattooed crust-punks packed into Covington’s humid, poorly ventilated (yet ever-endearing) Mad Hatter on Tuesday night for an evening of average-to-fantastic Speed Punk and Hardcore.

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by Mike Breen 08.03.2012
Posted In: Live Music, Local Music, Reviews at 11:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Review: 46 Long's 'Tennessee'

Local acoustic Blues duo celebrates new LP release tonight at Arnold's

Eclectic acoustic Blues duo 46 Long is set to release its latest full-length, the dynamic Tennessee, tonight at downtown’s Arnold’s Bar & Grill. Showtime is 9 p.m. and the shindig is a freebie. The show will be a brand-new experience for fans of the duo. The group will be debuting a lot of new material and the first set will feature drumming assistance from percussionist Joe Pro. For 46 Long's second set tonight, the twosome will go "full band" with the addition of bassist Bobby Loggs and some other special guests.

Though “dynamic” and “eclectic” might not be the first words to come to mind when you think “acoustic Blues duo” — all three words suggest inherent limitations — 46 Long is both of those and more. Eschewing Blues clichés while still staying fairly faithful to the music’s rich tradition is a difficult balancing act to pull off, but Tennessee finds the twosome subtly integrating sounds from a broad spectrum of influence without losing their core, distinct sound. In the end, it’s one of the more creative Blues releases you’ll likely hear all year, yet the detours and tangents shouldn’t deter (most) purists.

On Tennessee, Blake Taylor (who primarily sings and blows a mean harmonica, though also contributes keys, percussion guitar and, uh, “crowbar” on the album) and Jonathan Reynolds (who sings and plays guitar while also providing bass and percussion) start things off with the stanky groove of “More,” then take the listeners through deft interpretations of gritty, Delta-esque Blues (like the title track), gruff Tom Waitsian eccentricity (“Lock It Up or Lose It”), full-bodied, swaggering AltCountry (a cover of the Starkweathers’ “One for Her, One For Him”), boogying Lyle Lovett-like Swing (“Don’t Drink”) and stompin’ Garage Rock (“Something Strange”).

Other standouts on Tennessee include a sparsely percussioned take on Morphine’s “Thursday,” and “The Best Revenge,” a dark, ominously atmospheric track that’ll send creepy shivers up your spine.

The recording is refreshingly natural (with only some distortion here and there to add shadowing), the perfect setting to wrap your ears around the duo’s ace musical skills. Taylor once again proves he’s one of the best Blues harmonica players in the region, playing the mouth harp like a saxophone, a vocal part, a rhythm guitar or pretty much any other instrument you can think of.

If you’ve given up on the Blues because you think you’ve heard it all before, pick up Tennessee and let 46 Long show you otherwise.

Here's a live clip of the duo performing the new LP's title track.

by C.A. MacConnell 09.23.2011
Posted In: MidPoint Music Festival, Live Music, Reviews at 11:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

MPMF.11 Day 1: Bring It On

Everything was easy — parking, finding venues, moving from place to place. Easy street. Even the weather was easy — not too hot, not too cold, not even crisp yet. Clouds just hung out in the sky, slightly alive, so gray. Steel. 

When I literally jumped out of the car in front of SCPA, excited strange people started offering me donuts. I didn’t take one, but I considered it. Fuck, that was stupid, I should have. Free damn donut. “Glazed!” they yelled, “Glazed!” Shout out to hot Dot, the lady in pink with the donut tray.

Welcome to the randomness that is sometimes called Midpoint. Bring it on.

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by Brian Baker 06.21.2012
Posted In: Reviews, Music Video at 11:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Review: Alejandro Escovedo's 'Big Station'

If great reviews and the respect of your peers were tangible income, Warren Buffett would be paying 30% tax on his income as Alejandro Escovedo’s secretary.

From the start of Escovedo’s solo career — after a brief stint with the Kinman brothers in Rank and File and a turn in his own shoulda-been-huge True Believers in the ’80s — the hypertalented singer/songwriter has been long on critical acclaim and short on commercial success for a variety of reasons (label and distribution trouble, no love at radio, health issues), but he has continued to grow and evolve as an artist to the delight and amazement of his cultishly proportioned and loyal fan base.

Escovedo’s debut for Fantasy, Big Station, is the third in a de facto trilogy that began with 2008’s Real Animal and continued on 2010’s Street Songs of Love. Following those adrenalized-yet-sensitive rock albums/sonic scrapbooks, his first collaborations with fellow cult singer/songwriter Chuck Prophet and iconic producer Tony Visconti, Escovedo reassembles the dream team on Big Station, a set that rumbles with themes of home, love and a sense of place.

The album’s first single, “Man of the World,” bristles like Eddie Cochran shot through with a few thousand volts of Tom Petty; if there was any justice in the world, it would be pouring out of every car radio this summer. Like the best of Escovedo’s catalog, Big Station offers electric muscle (“Party People”), acoustic power (the title track) and heartbursting balladry (“Bottom of the World”), all of which he paints with the perfect brush and touch.

Escovedo’s exquisite gift is his ability to blend his Mexicali heritage with his unabashed love of ’60s Rock, ’70s Glam and Punk and ’80s Twang Pop and twist it into a sound that is weirdly familiar and pointedly fresh. And like everything he’s done, Big Station is his absolute best for now.