The album is an endangered concept in music, with MP3s and streaming encouraging more and more people to listen to tracks “a la carte.” If people aren’t listening to a collection of songs intentionally put together by an artist in a specific order, why should the artist bother trying? It’s one of the reasons releasing EPs seems to have become more popular than issuing full-lengths.
With some exceptions, the “album as art” concept has long been dwindling amongst Hip Hop artists, many of whom have more fully embraced the hodge-podge “mixtape” format, which is perhaps more in tune with our ADD/social media-plagued culture.
So it’s beyond refreshing to hear the new release from Cincinnati MC Sleep, Branded: The Damon Winton Story, a collection of eight tracks that tells the story of a young man’s troubled upbringing. It’s not just that Sleep has compiled eight songs that kind of fit together; Branded is a fully envisioned tale that requires the listener to hear the entire album in order to get the total impact. And it’s quite an impact.
It helps that Sleep’s “concept album” is based on some excellent storytelling skills, contains some fierce rhymes (with a flow and timbre that recalls Jay-Z at his peak) and is supported by the excellent, often hauntingly atmospheric production of Dope Antelope, which brilliantly reflects the dark, chaotic, heart-breaking nature of the story. The way Sleep — half of local duo 2-Man Cypher — lays the story out is also sharply clever. In lieu of titles, each track is labeled as simply “Question,” followed by the track number. The album opens with a police officer hitting “record” to begin his interview with the main character’s social worker about “what could have led up to what transpired with him this past weekend.” To kick off each track, the social worker is asked about a different aspect of the trouble the young man had experienced and been in.
Working backwards from the incident (which isn’t revealed until “Question 8,” so the listener is left to wonder what transpired), Sleep creates evocative, harrowing slices of life, usually told from the main character’s point of view, but with other voices popping in occasionally to give an even bigger picture. The young man’s horrific surroundings are revealed gradually; the listener learns that he has self-mutilated himself, been molested, lost (or never had) faith or religion and had family involved in drugs. Sleep’s brilliance is turning the smaller stories from the big picture into vivid, cinematic tales in themselves — “If this is grown folks’ business/Then why when you conduct it, there’s a child as a witness,” he raps after it’s revealed that the main character’s mother had substance abuse issues. When the social worker tells the officer that the young man had been bullied over his clothes in school, Sleep echoes that pain with lines like, “The peer pressure to be above the status quo/It’s never ending, it’s never taking sabbaticals.”
By the last track, the listener is primed to hear just what happened to the main character, but when his fate is revealed, it’s not what most would expect, making the album that much more powerful. (In the spirit of not ruining the final act, I’ll refrain from giving away the ending.)
Sleep’s Branded shows just how much power Hip Hop still has to tell a realistic story poetically but without hyperbole. It’s an incredibly moving piece of work that stands as one of the best Hip Hop albums to come out of Greater Cincinnati in recent memory. And Sleep shows that if he ever gets tired of the Rap game (which itself would be tragic becomes the genre needs more voices like his), he’ll be able to find some kind of career as a writer, be it an author, a journalist, a filmmaker or whatever field he decides to lend his talents to.
If you’re a fan of intelligent Hip Hop or just great storytelling in general, you must download (for free or whatever you’d like to kick in) Branded immediately at sleep513.bandcamp.com.
Here is a music video for the track, "Question 2":
After launching last year locally at the MidPoint Music Festival and nationally at New York’s CMJ conference, the intuitive and comprehensive music industry e-book Musicians’ Desk Reference has relaunched with a new format. Created in Cincinnati by longtime local musician and promoter Brian Penick (also the founder of The Counter Rhythm Group, which has helped numerous local acts garner national attention and work), MDR is moving from its original, one-time-purchase approach to a monthly (or annual) subscription plan.
For those who may have been cautious about its upfront cost, Musicians’ Desk Reference, which is customizable to the user’s needs (no matter where they are in their career) and features information, templates and advice relating to everything from touring, promoting and recording to radio and press campaigns and well beyond, is now available to test-drive for free. The no-cost 30-day trial doesn’t even require a credit card; click here to get started.
Artists serious about pursuing a career in music will likely become more interested in MDR as they dive in and look at all it has to offer. After the 30-day trial, MDR can be accessed for $10 a month or $100 for the year.
Visit musiciansdeskreference.com for complete info.
If you are a betting man or woman and the bet is “What Cincinnati band will be next to break out into the national spotlight?” putting your money on Indie Pop/Rock trio PUBLIC would be one of the safer wagers you could make. The three gifted young musicians craft some incredibly catchy music that would be right at home on any AltRock radio station’s playlist, as evidenced especially on a brand new track the group just unveiled, the danceable, hook-laden “Make You Mine.”
The new track is a part of series of new songs planned for a forthcoming release that will be rolled out over the next few weeks. The band (which released its debut EP Red in 2012 and has since performed at big-time tests like South By Southwest and CMJ) will stream a new track every week though its Bandcamp page leading up to its first local show in a while, on May 2 at Rohs Street Cafe’s Sanctuary in Clifton Heights.
PUBLIC will be joined by The Yugos and Harbour for the all-ages show, which is the trio’s first official headlining gig ever (so if you attend and they blow up, as industry buzz suggests they just might, you can tell your grandkids you were there). Tickets are available now here.
For more info on PUBLIC, visit the group’s Facebook page here. And check out CityBeat's interview with PUBLIC from 2013 (when the group was nominated for New Artist of the Year at the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards) here.
Local faves Buffalo Killers are gearing up for the May 13 release of Heavy Reverie, the trio’s first record for Warner Music Group subsidiary Sun Pedal Recordings. Today the band revealed the new album track “Poisonberry Tide,” a delicious slice of Pop Rock that is reminiscent of Guided By Voices and Superdrag and is one of the catchiest songs the band has ever released.
The label still has a few limited edition “bundles” of the new album available for pre-order. The bundle includes Heavy Reverie on CD and vinyl, as well as a digital download that includes the unreleased song “Don’t Cry to Me.” The package also includes a vinyl test pressing (with hand-drawn artwork by the band members), a T-shirt and a poster. Click here for more info.
Buffalo Killers will do some regional dates in April (including a Cincinnati album release show April 12 at MOTR Pub) before heading out on a wider tour in May and June. Dates so far include a performance at Pioneertown, California’s Freaks for the Festival II. At the fest, the band will perform right before the solo project of Chris Robinson of The Black Crowes (Chris Robinson Brotherhood); Robinson has been a longtime, vocal supporter of the trio.
Cincinnati native Tom Berninger’s film that follows his older brother Matt’s band, The National, on tour, Mistaken for Strangers, is finally opening in Cincinnati this weekend, after making the film fest rounds and racking up mounds of positive press (it currently has an impressive 92 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes).
The movie — which follows The National’s members (all Cincy natives) on their tour behind 2010’s High Violet album, but is really more about Tom and Matt’s relationship — makes its Cincinnati premiere this Friday at the Esquire Theatre in Clifton at 7:30 p.m.
The Friday screening will be followed by a Q&A via Skype with the Berninger brothers. Following Monday’s 7:30 p.m. screening, there will be an in-person Q&A hosted by Jim Blase of Shake It Records and featuring Tom, Matt and The National’s drummer, Bryan Devendorf.
Here's the trailer for Mistaken for Strangers:
The release of the self-titled debut album from Cincinnati trio Tweens is just about a month away now. The music site Stereogum recently premiered the trio’s first music video for new album single, “Be Mean,” a great introduction to the band’s classic-Pop-meets-classic-Punk style (or “Trash Pop,” as they like to call it).
The buzz around Tweens, which scored the “New Artist of the Year” award at the 2014 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, continues to grow across the nation, with more and more music press and online outlets heaping praise on the both the band's recordings and live shows. That buzz should be almost deafening when Tweens’ debut LP is finally released on April 8 through Frenchkiss Records. The band’s usually packed tour schedule is about to get extra-busy with the new release just on the horizon, beginning with a head-spinning six performances during next week’s South By Southwest music fest/conference in Texas.
Click here to read CityBeat's most recent interview with Tweens.
An EP can serve several purposes — a stopgap release between full-length releases; fresh merch to offer at shows; a teaser for more material down the road; or an exploratory release to test the waters for a response to a new band or an existing band's new direction (among others).
In any event, whatever a band's reason might be for offering up a small dose of their material for reduced consumption, the inviolable rule of the EP is simple — always leave the listener wanting more. If you elicit even a modicum of boredom or disinterest in a spare handful of tracks, you're not likely to entice listeners to take a chance on a full-length or get them out to a show, which is, as stated, sort of the point.
Luckily, no such lapse is even remotely evident on Real Far East, Saturn Batteries' second EP in just over a year. Since the Cincinnati bands formation in 2010, guitarist/vocalist/lyricist Brad Gibson — who's put in bass time with the likes of Charlie Hustle, Young Heirlooms and Walk the Moon — has presented his brainchild as a trio, quartet and quintet along the way, all in the service of Beatlesque Pop filtered through the New Wave aesthetic of the Police and XTC and adrenalized with a heart needle full of the Pixies' jittery satellite Rock.
On last year's Ever Been in Love? Gibson and the Batteries du jour hewed a little closer to the John Lennon/Frank Black strands of their DNA, but Real Far East finds the freshly minted foursome (Gibson, guitarist Brad Rutledge, drummer Justin Sheldon, bassist Archie Niebuhr) drifting more toward the Paul McCartney/Andy Partridge end of their gene pool. And while the Batteries soften the edges ever so subtly and polish their surface to a slightly more reflective shine on Real Far East, these refinements don't diminish the band's energetic charm in the least.
One of the reasons for that is the Batteries have never forsaken one direction for another, preferring to incorporate differing elements into their foundational sound in an effective display of their diversity. The soulful "It's Not About the Money" and propulsive "Overtime" are both Pop gems that swing and swagger in a groove that isn't far removed from the benchmarks established by Walk the Moon in their march toward global domination. "You Really Live Twice" features previous members Rob Barnes and Rich Shivener, naturally hearkening back to the moody energy of Ever Been in Love? "Every Last Time" updates '60s/'70s AM Pop to the 21st century, while "Cherry Times" is a solid hybrid of the sweet and dissonant Pop that has characterized everything that Saturn Batteries has done well to this point in their history.
Real Far East shows that Saturn Batteries can have fun within their core Pop/Rock sound and clearly points the way toward a bright future for the quartet going forward.
Saturn Batteries celebrates the release of Real Far East tonight (Friday) at The Drinkery in Over-the-Rhine (click here for details). Below is the EP track “Every Last Time”; click the player or here to sample/download the entire release.
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.
Besides being rid of this depressing winter weather, there's another great reason for local music fans to be excited about the coming spring. One of the more celebrated and acclaimed bands in and outside of Cincinnati, Wussy, will release its new album, Attica, on May 6. The recording will be the band’s fifth full-length of all new material and is once again being issued on the local label Shake It Records.
Below is a “rough mix” of the Attica track “To the Lightning.”
Shake It has also announced that Wussy — which scored both Artist of the Year and Album of the Year (for Strawberry) honors at the 2013 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards — will have its excellent 2007 album Left for Dead re-issued on “baby blue” vinyl in honor of 2014’s international Record Store Day (April 19).
Click here for Wussy’s comprehensive website for more info and to sample music from throughout the band’s entire career.
If you are even a marginal fan of Black Owls (whose members split time between Cincinnati and Granville, Ohio) and have not yet visited their Bandcamp page to purchase a copy of their recent recorded triumph, Wild Children (which came out late last year), off with you. I'll wait.
The Owls' fourth album is nothing less than the maturation of a supremely talented band that has been patiently waiting for the right pieces to fall into the right places almost from the beginning. The installation of drummer extraordinaire Brian Kitzmiller and the relocation of vocalist David Butler away from the drummer's chair and to the front of the stage was the first necessary shift, while adding second guitarist Brandon Losacker as a frenetic foil to Ed Shuttleworth's tightly coiled brilliance was inspired and equally required.
The bass position has been problematic only in its temporary nature; Nancy/National bassist Mike Brewer left to pursue his own thing, the thunderously wonderful Alan Beavers was forced from his role due to back issues and Goose four stringer Sammy Wulfeck was almost psychotically overextended and had to bow out; his work is all over Wild Children, a
tantalizing hint at what he brought to the Owls and further proof of his longstanding chemistry with Kitzmiller. (For the record, both Beavers and Brewer guest on Wild Children and remain welcome alumni in the Owls' extended family.)
On the whole, Wild Children is an expansion of the Owls' sonic mission statement of cross-pollinating early '70s-era Glam (see Bowie/Mott/Marc Bolan) with late '70s-era New York Punk (via Tom Verlaine's Television, Richard Hell's Voidoids and Lou Reed's simple fury). A good many of the songs on Wild Children have been worked out in live sets over the past year or so and will be familiar to anyone who has haunted the band's numerous local appearances; the effervescently charged "Incandescent Vultures," the melodically moody "She Invented Air," the propulsive and sinewy title track, produced into a beefy studio anthem. There's even a re-recording of "Julias Morningstar," one of the Owls' most recognizable and popular tracks from their 2008 debut, Lightning Made Us Who We Are. Wild Children shows that the Owls are gelling nicely and becoming even more comfortable and confident in the brilliant niche they've created for themselves.
And while Wild Children is patently excellent and an absolute necessity, perhaps even more exciting is the two-track glimpse into the Owls' future just revealed by Kitzmiller. A result of recent sessions featuring former Doc & the Pods/Roundhead four-stringer Kip Roe, an absolute prince of a human being and the perfect piece to complete the Owls' puzzle, the two songs find the quintet sounding less like the brilliant sum of their influences and more like a blazingly original band that has effectively incorporated their heroes into their creative vision without showing a seam
or dropping a stitch. "Gasoline" is a hard-charging, manic and relentless three minute thrill ride (and a prime candidate for the first single from the album that it will eventually crown), while "Rook" muscles along with the shivering, shimmering energy that has defined the Owls' best work over the past six years. These two as-yet-unmastered tracks show Black Owls evolving into a focused unit of astonishing power and unlimited potential.
More. Soon. Please.