Monday, May 16, 2011

Royal Bangs, Superhumanoids and Therapies Son @ The Echo- Live AP review

When you hear Alex Jacob (Therapies Son) sing in hushed effected tones amidst a dreamy sound bed of choral synth sounds often times sewn together by a carnival like bass down beat and melodic guitar leads you are literally transported to another place. Alex has so much going on, something back masked, scratchy needle on vinyl sounds, pitched whispers and more that the compositions beg you to shut your brain off and just listen. Absent of all the psyche stirring vocal effects and ambient sounds on the record many of the songs that he performed at the Echo (off his critically acclaimed EP Over the Sea) lost some of the dreaminess but this live stripped down affair was still so easy to love especially with the addition of the bassist (cellist) and a great drummer. Therapies Son ran through all or most of the current EP."Touching Down" is still such a stand out piece of music, you cannot help but get wrapped up in the lead that is at once, bluesy and jazzy. "Golden Girl" strides the line between a lazy Sunday morning drive and a jubilant dance. "Yellow Mama" fools you with a sullen beginning and then goes back to the carnival. The comparisons are many, John Lennon, the Flaming Lips, Beach House and while those sound images may come to mind as you listen to Therapies Son, Alex's songs are much more internal and a whole lot less commercial. The music holds onto the wonderfully strange and I like that. Therapies Son is an apt name because you get the sense that he is not singing to us but introspectively singing to himself.

The first time I heard "Hey Big Bang" by Superhumanoids I became instantly smitten with Sarah Chernoff's vocals. The sparse and glossy production is part krautrock, (or in this case krautpop) part late 80's new wave, and part romantic pop. Their set at the Echo pulsated with an electronic heart in songs like "Persona." Free from the rhythmic record scratches, I especially loved "Contemporary Individual" live. It seemed to breath a bit more with Cameron Parkin's evocative vocals anchoring the spatial composition amidst the musical ebbs and flows and beautiful harmonies. Because their songs are played and sung so perfectly and all the instruments (save the bass) have a patina of electronica on them, Superhumanoids could be accused of sounding a bit too calculated, too robotic but then maybe this it their point - their name, after all, has "humanoid" in it. For me, it is Parkin's and Chernoff's bittersweet emotional vocals resonating beneath all the glossiness that makes Superhumanoids shine.

Witnessing Royal Bangs live is just way too much fun. First of all, I have a special place in my musical heart for 3 piece bands, secondly, these guys play their progressive indie rock with every fiber in their collective body. When you hear a song like "Fireball" the tight counter play between the synth keyboard, guitar work and drums is so skillfully tight (while still sounding jammy) that it harkins back to 70's progressive bands like Yes or Emerson, Lake and Palmer or more recent groups like At the Drive In or Mars Volta except that the Bang's approach to songwriting is much more personal. Lead vocalist Ryan Schaefer who commands the keys as well as guitar has a wonderful urgency to his singing that give songs like "Back Then It Was Different" a melancholy feel while Chris Rusk's drumming punches holes in this upbeat almost number. Rusk's drumming is an exercise in punctuation. Never one to simply keep a beat, Rusk utilizes his sparse kit so well, working in a wealth of fills without sounding like he is doing a drum solo. "Triccs" - one of the more straight rock songs on their latest record sounded particularly crunchy. Schaefer strapped on a guitar for "Grass Helmet" trading chops with Sam Stratton who's style can be both precise and a bit off kilter but always interesting. Often times he is providing interweaving notes or airy accompaniments to Schaefers dirty keys and heavy synth bass lines instead of just typical chord progressions. Royal Bangs have been compared to Radiohead probably because both bands are intense in the way they approach music but I do not hear a sonic connection. There is, however, something about the way Statton plays that guitar that does make me think of Jonny Greenwood. While their styles are vastly different they both seem to be almost possessed as they play their instruments creating lovely, memorable sounds.

The boys from Knoxville, Tennessee played most of their latest record "Flux Outside" and finished their set with "Slow Cathedral Melt" - a rock ballad of sorts that has elements of the blues, gospel and glam. Dynamically driven by Stratton's amazing guitar work and Schaefers passionate vocals it has a break in it that fondly reminds me of "All the Young Dudes" by Mott the Hoople. It is a wonderful stirring piece of music. As they departed the stage to yells of "More... more", Chris Rusk stopped at a mic and said they had wanted to play a Led Zeppelin song that they hadn't played in a long time. This tasty morsel fueled the audience's appetite and suddenly most of the room was chanting "More- MORE". Stratton and Schaefer looked happy to take the stage once more but The Echo would have none of it. The sound guys voice (barely audible) over the chants were telling the boys they could not perform an encore. It was a bit awkward, a standoff of sorts with the boys tapping on mics that were turned off and looking quizzical. I am sure the sound guy was just following policy because I believe the Echo turns into a dance club at certain times but in the time it took to hash things out, the Royal Bangs could of been done with their impromptu encore. Finally, the mics came on- Ryan Schaefer said, " Here we go. Awesome. Alright... we'll make it quick, we'll just do one. We haven't played it in a little while but we really wanted to so we want to do it for you." Royal Bangs tore into "Bring it on Home"- aaah, yes- the end to a perfect evening.
Adler Bloom

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