Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Nightair's Debut EP entitled ******** is anything but nebulous

The first track on Nightair's debut EP ******** is called The Roses. It is a jammy rocker drenched with youthful punk bravado, pursed lips, a killer beat and piercing lead lines that almost seem mocking. The sound grabs you instantly and while I couldn't not think about The Strokes and The Drums, that comparison falls away quickly.  While Julien Casablancas's vocal delivery feels a bit like a drunken stupor and Jonny Pierce can feel aloof, Tony Davia's vocal performances feel like fun flirtations.

In Clouds amidst a jagged cadence and heavy bass lines he twists out interesting rhymes as he coos "the cynicism.... just teenagism" and later says "but others say I'm immature" and then asks "but what is mature?" The lyrics are smartly poetic. I mean who uses "nebulous" in a pre-chorus? I also love how the background vocals shine in an almost 50's doo wop sort of way.

Supernova has a heavy dance swing. It rocks but feels a bit tweeny except for the fact that Tony sings "minutes and seconds.... fuck it forget it" but then, hey, I hear 12 year olds dropping F-Bombs (in between cigarette drags). As soon as I thought I had Nightair's sound, their indie pop aesthetic figured out I hear the track Waiting For Rain. It has, to me, a more mature sound than what came before. It feels more vast and romantic. It has a kind of sultry vibe and then takes off at a full pace. I thought of the Libertines. Great track.

The final track Blackshirt feel like tropical punk, it is my least favorite on the EP but it still has a lot to offer. The musical bed is super dancy and feels like that dance is at the beach. I dunno, I guess I have an aversion to songs that have "Maserati" in the lyric and some of the rhymes feel more silly than clever BUT overall this EP is pretty killer. In fact, the first 4 songs feel pretty perfect especially for such an obviously young band. I am not sure what the average age of Nightair's members is but I am pretty sure that I have more than one rock T-shirt that is older. Well done guys I look forward to seeing live performance videos and your debut full fledged album.
Robb Donker

Monday, November 23, 2015

Tess in Venice has the "Antidote" for what ails you.

Tess Cunningham as the London based alternative rock artist Tess In Venice is releasing her new EP "Flood Heart Fly" today on Itunes. The 4 track EP is all too brief a taste but one that will satiate your hunger for songs that are equal parts indie and dream pop.

There is the track Once Upon A Time that feels a bit like 90's post folk rock. It has hooks galore and a kind of hippie / garden rock underbelly. Nothing Ever Happens has a kind of cagey quality. It burns cool with a really great groove. Early Flo and the Machine flashed in my mind during this track. It builds and soon you feel like you are soaring.

I Won't Tell is stripped down acoustic with pretty flourishes. It feels almost childlike in a good way, whimsical and it should be sung to a legion of kids. Maybe my favorite track on the EP is The Antidote. It is the most celebratory track on "Flood Heart Fly" with a beautifully upbeat vibe. The cadence and downbeats feel a bit like Arcade Fire with Tess In Venice's artful inspirational aesthetic. At times like this, hope and dreams, love and inspiration is something we need a lot of.
Robb Donker

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Lydia Lee's Cover of Adele's "Hello" - Aw, yes... the student has outdone the teacher.

I am admittedly not a huge fan of Adele's music and the now omnipresent "Hello" that everyone is covering on Youtube will (for people like me) bury that song six feet under fast. Obviously, for those who like this type of song, these covers will undoubtedly make the song even bigger and make Adele known by even more people (if that is even possible). Now before I make a whole lot of enemies I must say that Adele is obviously wildly talented and I absolutely love the fact that she co-wrote "Hello" but, again, just not lovin it. I appreciate the somber chords on the verse which has that kind of Lana Del Rey vibe and the verse melody with it's sustained and kind of rushed points are so solid. I guess the chorus underwhelms me in terms of songwriting. But I digress. Despite me not really caring for the song, Lydia Lee's rendition (you know the Korean school girl whose version went viral) just rips my heart out. It is the sound, the quality and character of her vocal performance that is so amazing. Just listen to her on the first chorus, she stuffs so much tenderness and emotion into the stark performance. I hope she is able to hook up with great songwriters and that she goes far because she is truly gifted. Amazing. This is one case where the pupil blows the teacher away.
Robb Donker

Friday, November 20, 2015

David Bowie's Epic "Alejandro Jodorowsky meets Guillermo del Toro" Mini- Movie "Blackstar" has come to save the day.

During several days bereft of any truly creative media of any sort (the much anticipated "Into the Badlands" sadly was more like "Into the Blahlands") David Bowie has come to save the day. The mini movie / music video / upcoming album tease entitled "Blackstar" is an epic piece of cinema. Not only is each frame beautiful, it is thoroughly immersive in it's abstract narrative. Directed with a seductively artful hand by Johan Renck it feels a bit like Alejandro Jodorowsky meets Guillermo del Toro meets Jean Pierre Jeunet. It feels a bit outer spacey, a bit "end of world"-ish horror and pop up book whimsical at the same time. Bowie, always in such utter control as a performance artist, once again uses his entire body to engage us. This imaginative sounds meets images is best watched un-spoiled so I would rather not review it per-say. I will say that as incredible as it is to watch, it is the song itself that will stay with you, creatively creep under your skin and make you remember what you saw.

Blackstar is the title track of Bowie's 26th studio album which is set to drop on the master's 69th birthday, January 8th. The song with it's tender strains and dramatic touches pulls you in immediately. It is bathed in Andalusian /Arabic tones propelled by drums that rush and slow down within their own beat become unhinged at times and then tightening back up. I thought of Phil Selway (is that you?). Bowie seems to harmonize with himself in a haunting almost chanting way while, horns, strings, keys and guitars take you to other places. The song deconstructs and shifts into an almost fable-esque sound in that kind of "Neverending Story" kind of way but not for very long. The low horn section and refrain "I'm a Blackstar" has that sweet Bowie funk laden 90's meets 50's sway. There are so much dense musical cues here. The music metamorphosis is so absolutely interesting, shifting your creative / emotional point of reference as the track shifts back to the Andalusian tones. I thought of artists like Bjork, Radiohead, Woodkid, Passenger Peru, (early) ELO and Thomas Azier not to mention a dozen film scores and, of course, I thought of Bowie himself. Embedded in Blackstar are the tender, passionate, poetically dense vocal performances honed over so many years. There are hints of Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke, The Next Day and every musical incarnation that David Bowie has so artfully possessed forever.

Robb Donker

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Van Goghs - Latest Single featuring "Take It In The Teeth" Injects Some Funk In Their Progressive Indie

I reviewed The Van Goghs - Escape of The Jellyfish EP way back in 2012 and then (shame on me) kind of lost track of them. Escape Of The Jellyfish is a really cool EP with a decidedly progressive pop mentality. The Chicago based rockers just released a new digital single "Take It In The Teeth" / "Hello!" which has the same wide reaching musicality but veers into more cagey sounds.

Track A: Take It In The Teeth with it's shifty indie funk tone, hand claps and percussive breathes feels part proto punkish meets indie pop and romantic wave. I thought of Franz Ferdinand, 80's ABC even and Talking Heads. In a similar way, Track B: Hello! mines that kind of territory but it feels way more dramatic. There is more glammy rock theater in the presentation. It is audacious and fun. Both tracks compliment each other.

In short, this is a really cool single and made me want to hear the eventual album these song will be derived from (HEAR ME GUYS??). In summation the lush dynamics and sultry slow burn (erupting into flames) pops and crackles with the energy of proto punk meets Brit indie meets power pop. Aesthetically, think Roxy Music pushed through a Duran Duran filter. Yeah, I know that is a weird description. Check out the tracks below and crank it up.
Robb Donker

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Chicago Based The Obleeks - "One In A Million" EP is Short, Chunky, American Rock and Full Of Surprises

When the abrasive pile driving guitars of  Chicago based The Obleeks' Scamperhouse filled my head I got really excited. The entire song is drenched in distortion. The vocals have that dry and over-modulated tone, a sound I have loved  ever since I first heard the Beatles "Let It Be" sessions. There is a huge sound here, not arena rock big but small club huge sound, or basement rock or bedroom rock party stuffed full of sound. Cheap mics and everything turned up as much as possible, organic drums with no sound reinforcement in a tight space. That kind of sound. Maybe my favorite type of sound.

The Obleeks' power pop sound feels honed from many decades but, to me, the 80's indie mixed with 90's post rock feels most pervasive. That being said this EP made me think of a multitude of bands in either attitude or tone. Bands like Superchunk, Miracle Legion, Matthew Sweet, The Wedding Present, The Beatles and The Mice. I even sense a patina of early T-Rex glam and mod (The Jam) tones percolating in there as well.

The "One In A Million" 4 track EP starts with an abbreviated cover version of The Vulgar Boatmen's All My Friends done up really punchy and lovingly followed by the aforementioned Scamperhouse. By the way, the Scamperhouse vocal performance (to me) has a touch of Brit meets early Petty and the Heartbreakers. The downbeats feel incredibly energetic. The musical break kicks major ass. The title track One In A Million is also very chunky with great guitar breaks. The surprise track is Casual Seer, an acoustic vagabond on the road folk rocker with a bluegrass vibe that amazingly erupts into a pretty vast sound with the inclusion of strings (a cello I believe) that bends the song into something more abstract and quite beautiful.

This very short introduction into The Obleeks' sound and aesthetic has so much to offer. I look so forward to hearing more from this band.
Robb Donker

Monday, November 9, 2015

Freedom Fry - Celebrate at Hotel Cafe- Hear Their Ethereal Cover of The Smashing Pumpkins "1979"

Freedom Fry (Parisian Marie Seyrat and Michigan native Bruce Driscoll) create their musical aesthetic together and I do mean everything from their songs to their album art to their videos and even their stage wardrobe. 2015 has been a big year for them. Spotify ranked them in their "100 Emerging Artists From SXSW"- they supported Belgium's Stromae's West Coast Tour, began a weekly May residency in Los Angeles (their home base) and then performed in London and Paris rounding off an east coast tour with Communion Presents.

To highlight their last show of the year which is this Thursday, November 12th at Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles they just released a truly beautiful version of Smashing Pumpkins' 1979. Enjoy below as well as the video for their single 21.
Robb Donker

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Bone Tomahawk - Flawed Characters On A Moral Quest- This Western with its quiet romance and unflinching horror is this year's Sleeper

Bone Tomahawk, which is being referred to by many as a horror Western, is a character driven movie full of surprises. Written and directed by (first time dirctor) S.Craig Zahler, it feels like a director's cut, like Zahler's vision before any "powers that be" got there hands on it and I love that. This film is drenched in love and respect for not only the genre (as blended and twisted as it may be) but the characters Zahler created. Shot in a classic style, there is almost a sense that every image you see could of been framed with a camera of the era portrayed minus the gun powder flash. There are no dramatic camera movement and the color pallet feels consistent and kind of muted like the tone of the film itself. Zahler infuses a reverence and etiquette of the times (as he sees it). All that attention to detail pays off in a big way.

The basic framework is a familiar one of loved ones being abducted and a ragtag team set off to rescue them. It is as old as John Fords 1956 iconic film The Searchers, which has been paid homage to many times from Lawrence of Arabia to the Breaking Bad episode "Felina" to Star Wars, and while, the monstrous abductors in Bone Tomahawk are a race of cannibalistic Troglodytes (as opposed to Comanches or the "Prophets of the Dark Side") that uniquely human code to save a loved one and the moral obligation to do so under unspeakable odds hooks you in instantly. While I say instantly, Zahler takes his time to tell his story but the languid pace of the movie absolutely works and mirrors the dogged steady resolve of the heroes who must know with a certainty that they are walking into a den of death (or potentially so).

Months ago, the internet was ablaze with the descriptor "Cannibal Horror Western" which is kind of a shame. Just hearing those three words together make you feel that Bone Tomahawk might be a kind of purposely made B movie with Kurt Russell deftly dispatching the monsters. The opposite is true, this is definitely an A movie with A listers. The casting is perfect. Russell plays the stoic, "by the book" small town sheriff Franklin Hunt, Patrick Wilson plays Arthur O'Dwyer, a good as gold cowboy who aspires to be a ranch foreman who is married to the smart and spunky, Samantha O'Dwyer played by Lili Simmons. A lean, almost gaunt Matthew Fox plays the perfectly coiffed and dressed in white gunslinger / indian killer / racist John Brooder whose deep hate for Native Americans felt very much inspired by John Wayne's character in The Searchers and Richard Jenkins wonderfully plays the enthusiastic "backup deputy" Chicory whose constant out of left field ramblings create the comedic tone of the film. His character also serves as the moral barometer and in this way he kind of reminded me of the Dale Horvath character (played by Jeffrey DeMunn) in the first few seasons of the Walking Dead. David Arquette plays Purvis, a wretched bottom feeder drifter who by his actions has unwittingly lured a small contingent of cannibalistic cave dwellers to the town of Bright Hope. Oddly enough, Arquette also played in the 1999 black comedy horror movie Ravenous that also dealt with cannibalism.

I do not want to say more about the plot lines because this movie deserves to be seen with fresh eyes. The strength of this movie is it's slow burn nature, it's love of dialogue and it's moral center. The quiet before the storm is it's strength. In so many movies you don't care whatsoever about the characters or what happens to them. In Bone Tomahawk you do. Whether it be O'Dwyers lovely poem (that is not a poem) or Chicory's non stop babble or Brooder's back story confessions or Sheriff Hunt's authoritarian promises, it is Zahler's dialogue that has so much impact because it all feels so real.  Like the staid tone of the cinematography the spoken words in this film don't feel out of place. The movie does not rest on cinematic hyperbole. It does rest on superb acting all around and Zahler's ability to deceptively ratchet up the tension throughout the entire film. Because the film opens with Arquette (and someone who shall remain nameless) stepping on some truly scary, evil toes the sense of unease starts right away infecting everything that occurs afterward. Even tender moments have a sense of dread bubbling underneath.

As this is being called a horror- western, I must speak a little bit about the horror element. To me, this move does not feel like a horror movie per say at all. There are gore hounds who will surely post a specifically graphic and shocking scene up on Youtube and I hate that for a number of reasons but mostly because it devalues what this movie is. The graphic scenes in Bone Tomahawk, in fact, are stunningly disturbing because for all intense and purpose this is not a typical "horror" movie. The film's narrative does not hinge on horror or scares at it's core. The violence and graphic depictions are essential to the story as such scenes would be essential in a movie that takes place during World War 2. The violence does not really feel gratuitous even though it is depicted in an unflinching way. The slow burn build up where we, in essence, bond with these flawed men on this suicide mission fully engages our emotions and that is the crux of the story.  Near the end of Bone Tomahawk there is something that Sheriff Hunt (Russell) says to his trusted back up deputy Chicory (Jenkins) as they part company that is so beautiful and romantic that I felt it must of been uttered before in some movie somewhere. Maybe it has or maybe it hasn't. Either way, the utterance of these words are simply top notch writing. There is a lot of that in this movie. Great job Mr. S.Craig Zahler. I salute you.
Robb Donker

NOTE: This movie seems to have a limited release but can currently be seen ON DEMAND.
It is Unrated and is hitting about 89% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

ATTENTION PARENTS: If You Cannot Find Your Kids - They Are Probably at the Way Too Fun Fest (Santa Ana, California) - TODAY!!!!

Attention Parents: If you cannot find your kids don't worry they will undoubtedly just be having their faces melted off at the Way Too Fun Fest in Santa Ana (California). You see, this incredible amalgamation of 50 plus rad indie bands is not only open to all ages, it is FREE. Yes, you read that right, FREE. The Fest also boasts over a 100 Vintage clothing, art and food vendors and that sound incredible BUT the main thing is this collection of bands. There will be 4 stages and bands from all over represented and the absolute worse thing about this fest is trying to decide which band to see based on set times which you can see below. Whomever you see, show them some fucking love and spend a couple of bucks on Merch too. That is any bands life blood besides music sales which in this day and age of file sharing is hard to come by. Let's do this! Well, you do this as I am sadly about 2200 miles away. So take pics, instagram shit so I can live vicariously through you. Have fun, mosh hard and be safe.

Robb Donker

Elephant Stone's NEW Track featuring Alex Maas - "The Devil's Shelter" and North American Tour

Within seconds of hearing Montreal's psych rockers Elephant Stone's "The Devil's Shelter" featuring Alex Maas (the Black Angels) you feel transported to faraway places. It is not only the blending of traditional Indian Music with 70's-ish psych rock but the energy of the percussive bottom synth and buzzy post drag vocal delivery that makes you close your eyes and feel you body float away.

Elephant Stone's Rishi Dhir talks about the songs tone and inspiration: "I knew all along that the dark mood of this song needed something even darker. Lo and behold, a Black Angel came to my rescue. Alex Maas and I have been friends for well over 10 years and I try to collaborate with him as much as possible.  I sent him a bunch of my demos for our new album to get his feedback. Of all the songs, I felt this one was missing something. He offered to re-sing this whole song and I could do with it what I wanted. On the first playback of his vocals, I knew the song had what it needed. His voice can summon Tibetan monks, Nico and the devil all at once. He definitely brought the darkness to my light."

- Robb Donker

11/06 - Montréal QC - Turbo Haüs (Info)
11/12 - San Diego CA - Whistle Stop (Info)
11/13 - Los Angeles CA - Hotel Cafe (Info)
11/14 - Santa Ana CA - Constellation Room (Info)
11/18 - Seattle WA - LoFi (Info)
11/19 - Vancouver BC - The Cobalt (Info)
11/20 - Portland OR - Bunk Bar (Info)
11/21 - Oakland CA - The New Parish for Echo Fest (Info)