When Maps & Atlases dropped Perch Patchwork, their 2010 debut full-length and first album for Barsuk Records, the Chicago-based quartet was just beginning to explore the intersection of their adoration of Post-Punk Math heroes like Don Caballero and their father-tilted love of ’70s Prog avatars like Jethro Tull and Mahavishnu Orchestra. M&A’s introductory EPs — 2006’s Tree, Swallows, Houses and 2008’s You and Me and the Mountain — found the band pursuing a more Folk-tinged flavor, but Perch Patchwork was an expansive yet subtle attempt to utilize the totality of the band’s creative building blocks. That exploration paid huge dividends as critics and fans alike were drawn to M&A’s lo-fi sonic constructions and hi-fi orchestral ambitions.
Maps & Atlases’ sophomore full length, Beware and Be Grateful, expands and refines the musical trail blazed on Perch Patchwork. In the album’s formative stages, the band employed a collection of secondhand battery-powered keyboards to blueprint their textural arrangements and, although the keyboard sounds were largely excised for the final recording, they were vitally important in forcing M&A to rethink their creative process.
As a result, Beware and Be Grateful doesn’t stray impossibly far from Perch Patchwork but it definitely advances the band’s flag a little further up the hill, exhibiting a forceful Math Pop sound that shimmers and shakes with an exuberant authority. The album’s opening track, “Old & Gray,” begins like Talking Heads tributing Paul Simon’s Graceland and finishes like Brian Eno producing Spoon. Similarly unexpected juxtapositions crash and meld into one another throughout the duration of Beware and Be Grateful.
Tribal choral melodies float above while the band skips and skates around a soundtrack that is equal measures of quirky Indie Rock (“Vampires”) and blippy Electro Pop (“Silver Self”). There are still plenty of remnants of the band’s organic approach to song construction but there are also many more examples of Maps & Atlases pushing themselves to think well beyond the natural box they fashioned on their earlier releases, blending their influences and experiences and evolving in fascinating new directions.
(Maps & Atlases perform July 15 at the inaugural Bunbury Music Festival along Cincinnati's riverfront.)
Tonight, dynamic Northern Kentucky group Kenny Peck & the Smoky Jack Band will celebrate the release of their new album, Country Jack, at the Thompson House in Newport.
Following up last year’s Naked Jack, which explored various forms of Pop/Rock, Country Jack focuses on the Country and Folk sides of Peck's schizo musical personality. Steeped in a vintage Roots style (and peppered with engaging lyrics that range from bittersweet to comedic), the new album includes some top-shelf local players, including Harold Kennedy, Bob Nyswonger, Lisa Biales, Marcos Sastre and Jeff Roberts, as well as a few musicians from Nashville, Tenn.
Peck grew up in Dixie Heights, Ky., and was drawn to the regional sounds of Bluegrass and Folk. Peck started writing and publishing songs in high school and college, before heading off to serve in Vietnam. Peck moved to San Diego after he was discharged and kicked off his music career with the original Smoky Jack Band in the early ’70s. From there, Peck played in various duos, including a comedy/musical act with his wife called The Special K. Peck settled in Greater Cincinnati in 1989 and continued writing and recording music. Naked Jack was his first album release in a dozen years.
Tonight's release party starts at 7 p.m. The $15 cover charge also includes a copy of the new album on CD.
Read more about Peck and find details on his releases at smokyjackband.com.
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.
Five years ago, Matt Baumann was exploring the fringes of avant garde Jazz and creating sparse Ambient soundscapes with nothing more than his alto/tenor saxophones (he occasionally duoed with friends Eric Barnett and Jim Feist, but largely worked on his own) and a vision of crafting a quietly powerful body of work. At the time of our last interview, in late 2008, Baumann namechecked all the right Jazz influences — John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Jan Garbarek — but he also ticked off a number of singer/songwriters whose work had been more inspirational than influential, from Warren Zevon and Tom Waits to Jason Molina and David Bazan, saying that he attempted to channel their passion and not necessarily their method of expressing it.
In 2011, disillusioned with the local Jazz scene, Baumann opted for the singer/songwriter route, learning to play the plectrum banjo but maintaining his lone wolf performing status. That may well have been Baumann's inspiration for adopting the nom de plume of WolfCryer, as well as his desire to begin a fresh new direction.
His acclaimed eponymous debut EP dropped in 2012 and he's been steadily working the Folk/Americana scene ever since, but the last few months have been especially productive with the release of a trio of evocative, emotionally engaging and typically atmospheric EPs. The first,The Long Ride Home, dropped quietly last September and showcased a new WolfCryer of sorts, as Baumann added acoustic guitar and harmonica to an arsenal already loaded with melancholy melodicism ("Roll Call of Ghosts") and intelligent wordplay ("Never Carry More Than You Can Hold").
The next two WolfCryer EPs, sporting four tracks each, have come in fairly rapid succession; Hell's Coming Down came out at the end of November and Wild Spaces dropped on New Year's Day, both generally following the template of The Long Ride Home and both stacked with highlights, like the lovely "Andromeda" and winsome "whiskeyheart" (where Baumann's banjo makes a welcome reappearance) on the former, the expansive "Lonely Country" and the heartrending "Better to Be" on the latter.
Baumann was a cluster recordist back in his Jazz days, and that aspect of his creative life hasn't changed much; on the heels of his last three EPs, released over the course of the last three months, his plans for the new year include both his debut and sophomore full-length albums (the proposed title track for the latter, "Box of Bones," is posted below). Originally slated for next month, WolfCryer's debut album, The Ivory in the Narrows, has been pushed to a summer release, but his Feb. 15 release show at Southgate House Revival remains intact as Baumann is re-releasing The Long Ride Home, which was never given an actual official release in the first place.
If you think a guy and a guitar is drab, give WolfCryer a shot; given the slightest opportunity, he'll build a quiet and beautiful new room in your heart.
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.
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.
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.