Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Lemmy Kilmister has died - R.I.P. Motorhead Man

Photo credit: Eamonn McCabe for the Guardian

Motorhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister died yesterday, December 28th around 4pm at the age of 70 after a short battle with an aggressive cancer.

Motorhead released this statement via Facebook:

"There is no easy way to say this…our mighty, noble friend Lemmy passed away today after a short battle with an extremely aggressive cancer. He had learnt of the disease on December 26th, and was at home, sitting in front of his favorite video game from The Rainbow which had recently made it’s way down the street, with his family.
"We cannot begin to express our shock and sadness, there aren’t words."
R.I.P. Lemmy
Robb Donker

Saturday, December 26, 2015

"Secret Shot" by Rare Diagram - The Best Album of 2015 That You Haven't Heard

"Secret shot", the newest album by Rare Diagram is like many movies within a movie. When the lush aural landscape that is Empire Rubber Co. (track 10) wraps around you it is a 360 degree immersive experience. The down trodden beat that flows into musical dramatics feels like a planned escape to a new beginning. It is cagey and audacious. It stirs it's tale into an intoxicating brew and then smashes it against a brick wall. When Justin Chase sings, "If you got your shit together baby maybe we can go real far" amid bluesy strains it feels like the story is over until a cavernous train car of sounds build ever so slowly and flow into the guitar picking of (track 11) the 9 plus minutes of Heat Death pt I+II. This transition is surprising and enchanting.

Heat Death pt I+II literally gives you goose bumps. It feels like a passionate rock opera. You can feel both the musical protagonists and heroes exist in the sounds, confused, running for their existence but still alive. I cannot tell you how exciting the interplay is between the rhythm section and the guitar lead lines but the weight of the emotional gravitas enhanced by the chorus of vocals and poetic words, "How can you carry the weight of the sails with broken arms?" is formidable. It is high musical art and just not something you hear all that much anymore. For me, these two tracks that feel like many engaging stories fused into one exhilarating ride and it maybe the most epic part of "Secret Shot" but there are many others highlights as well.

The songs on "Secret Shot" are written by multi-instrumentalist Justin Chase out of Portland, Oregon and rendered in such an engaging way with with Emma Browne, Chris Marshall and Corey West. The album as a whole is not a concept album but the songs feel emotionally chained together. Many of them start as intimate moments that build or deviate into unexpected places and in this way, many feel like journey songs. This is the case with the opener, Come Home that crescendos so beautifully ("you always stand so still for a close-up before you're gone") or in the cagey pop of Eva that feels more whimsical and fun it its construction. Falling down this more playful rabbit hole continues in the track Ouroboros that has touches of Fool On The Hill and heavier psychedelia. It also has a sardonic bite and deep in the playful musical fray is a dark vibe hinging on societies appetite for self destruction. Scripture feels like the most "songy" song on the whole album. It is rock flirting with honky tonk, jazz flavors.

The diversion of the strange trip-fest that is the (more or less) instrumental Sandshark is quite literally all over the place. If it were an outfit it would consist of red polyester bell bottoms, a denim jacket with ripped off sleeves, a fedora and platform shoes. Nothing matches as the song tastes like soul, jazz and metal in places. Then it metamorphoses into detached voices in radio space. All this craziness doesn't make sense until you hear the next track The Dive Pt.2 which feels like a tonal shift and the crazy Sandshark was the interlude to that shift.  I can tell you that at this part of the album experience, I am thinking that this is all a musical fever dream. I mean, quite frankly, it is either high concept or no concept. Whatever it is, the important thing is that it is working. The hyperbolic guitar lead and blendo pop sound of the Drive Pt.2 is wonderful and makes me think of Be Bop Deluxe / Steely Dan / and Tod Rundgren.

Cardinal with it's shimy almost surf punk beat feels like 90's post rock meets 80's new wave. I thought of Television meets The Tubes meets Franz Ferdinand. Again, the journey of the song feels vast, feels like a full blown movie. As you might be able tell, nothing is predictable with Justin Chase and that is what is so fascinating. Columbia purges all the operatics and get's spartan, intimate and lovely. There is a down home quality to the piano chords and lulls in the sounds hanging in space as Chase coos earnest lyrics. It is a ballad that falls away into such beautiful places. It has a Brian Wilson-esque qualilty. It might make you smile and yearn to see someone who you lost. and it might make you cry. I love this track a lot.

When you start to think Chase's musical / emotional well might just be dry then the strains of Cartographer begin. The breadth and scope of this song push and pull you in so many directions. While it has the sprite light jazz flourishes that twist into heavy pop rock the abstract poetry is always there as Justin sings,  "and if he tells you that the future is heaven-sent, the scent of morning happens now. and if he sells you scripture or regret, the taste of rain is in his mouth". In this way, there is always a sort of psychedelic abstract and free flow sense to many of these songs and in that sense the aesthetic made me think of Unknown Mortal Orchestra.  And, boys and girls, this is where this part of the review comes full circle to the beginning. This is where the awe inspiring Empire Rubber Co. (which transforms into the operatic Heat Death pt I+II.) begins.

In the end, "Secret Shot" is such a special record and one that I think you will appreciate the more you listen to it. I know that Justin Chase, being a multi-instrumentalist has rendered many songs by himself and when you have such mad skills there is a tendency to let your emotional and musical stream of consciousness play out. Sometimes the result can be a million heartfelt puzzle pieces that just don't quite fit together. In "Secret Shot" and with the help of some truly amazing musicians he has managed to create an intricate emotional puzzle that pieces together perfectly. I don't think that any singer /songwriter or band plan to make a great album but Rare Diagram has done just that. It is a fucking masterpiece.
Robb Donker
(link below but I encourage you to go to the RD Bandcamp and listen to the album from start to finish)

Friday, December 25, 2015

"Best of" Lists are Bullshit but Here is American Pancake's 25 Favorite Songs of 2015 -- MERRY CHRISTMAS !!!!

I cannot believe 2015 is nearly over. It has been a tumultuous year. The world seems to have tipped from just crazy to full blown insanity. Here in the states as wannabe presidents vie for our hearts and votes every thing seems askew like we are collectively looking in a fun house mirror. Through all the struggle personally or as a nation we use music to filter our thoughts, to clarify our reality and to forget about it too. Escapism isn't a bad thing when doing so somehow keeps our creative souls stoked which in turn helps us move sanely through the fray of our lives. The following songs are my favorites of 2015. A few are by iconic artists but most are by indie artists yet to be widely known but I think all the songs are pretty epic in their own way. One thing is for sure, this AP list undoubtedly contains more artists not on those "other" lists and for that I am proud.

(Note: Most songs have links to AP's original review)
Robb Donker

(In no particular order)

1. Callous Reaction by Look Vibrant:
Montreal based indie / art rock Look Vibrant's latest video suits the season. The track Callous Reaction leaves you out of breath as the energetic pulse and melodies chase themselves. The video directed by Max Taeuschel features 3 ghosts wreaking mild havoc and thankfully states "no animals harmed" in the credits. Love the song breaks that let you breathe amidst the roller coaster ride. Elements of the song made me think of LA's So Many Wizards and MGMT for some reason.

2. Next Gen by Post Life:
The progressive nature of Post Life's music is what makes it so amazing to me. In Next Gen, bass, guitars and drums intricately fit together like a jigsaw puzzle that you have to stomp down with your fist to make the pieces fit. Brianna's vocal yelp stitches it all together and it might be her full tilt call, sometimes filled with doubt, pain, elation and abandon that ultimately gives these songs a goose bumped jubilant feel. Not jubilant as in happy go lucky but as in I don't give a fuck I just need to press on no matter what. And while there may be a patina of nihilism throughout there are also equal doses of hope.

3. Into A Tissue (for Grandpa Bob) by Little Star
This may be the dreamiest song ever that touches on masturbation (I think) .... no seriously. The bass line is so engaging, love everything about it and it is about longing, crushes or love and such. When I first heard it, I thought of The Cure for some reason.

4. Space Waste by the Lovely Bad Things:
 Controlled feedback guitar fuzziness ride a bottom heavy bass bounce and a mid-tempo drum beat as emotional melodies add to the punch. The production is thick and powerful but not overproduced which I think their fans will appreciate. Hearing the produced studio versions of any band's songs that you love and have heard live can be a dicey thing especially with genres like proto-punk and garage rock which is inherently at it's core has a raw sound even if the songs are well crafted but the Lovely Bad Things hit the right balance. Part 90's post rock, punk pop there is always a celebratory feel to their songs even when the lyrics veer into the darkness of youth finding their way.

5. Black Star by David Bowie: 
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. 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.

6. Wet Juice by The Vulgarians:
The Vulgarians hail from Hull, England and their latest track Wet Juice is loaded with atmosphere both wistful and caustic. The bass line and drums stalk and creep along with haunting guitar sounds waiting to erupt and they all do. The vocals feel battered, are on the edge, are full of snarl and spit. The result is kind of indie gothic, kind of grunge, kind of post rock and 100% captivating.

7. The Memo by Father John Misty:
The Memo is snarky and thought provoking and depressing as hell. I love it, love Father John Misty and also love when he creates artful songs that don't necessarily comment on society at large. In the end maybe it's all bullshit anyway and if art and entertainment are the opiates of the masses, Father John Misty is one of our most interesting drug dealers.

8. The Dogs by Seldom Family:
The whole torrid affair feels both emotionally sad and conflicted, some times lashing out and sometimes comatose. It saunters along like a slow dance but for one not two. It is as dark as it is sad and as sad as it is passionate.


9. The Roses by Nightair:
 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.

10. The Giving by Matthew Spires and the Learning Disorders:
 I hear and feel glimmers of deep hope for the condition of the world. The Giving is a track that you will want to listen to often and the more you do I think you will feel that hope percolating up too. It floats in the thoughtful prose, vocal performance and plaintive trumpet.  Maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel, maybe the inkwell is not that dark.  


11. G by Young Jesus:
 The tone still feels very organic in that 90's post rock sort of way. Like in the beautifully transient Brothers, John Rossiter and the boys let the rock and stories breathe / air out and float around your senses. The thoroughly catchy G churns while it tells personal stories. It feels as big as the biggest Weezer song in spots but also has an almost down home backyard porch rock feel too. Dynamically rich, it darts around, get's lost and then runs down dark city streets like youth run amok at a break neck pace.

12. Random Name Generator by Wilco:
Random Name Generator has a thick, lusty glam feel and might be the best T-Rex song they never wrote.

13. Casual Seer by The Obleeks:
The surprise track on this Chicago band's latest hard rocker EP 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.

14. So by Built to Spill:
My favorite song on the album, So, is absolutely beautiful in it's dirty sustains. There is nothing like the biggest bad ass dirty sounding guitar playing stunningly beautiful melodies and that is what you have here. When the heaviness falls head first into Martsch's sweet vocal melodies it is so engaging and lovely. It is Black Sabbath meets the White Album. The song induces true goosebumps when the lead lines wrap around you and when it suddenly erupts into full out pandemonium it is a blissful thing. When I heard them play this track live at Shakey Knees I nearly lost it.

15. Reincarnation by Charlyne Yi:
The ballad stirs and swirls dreamily along until it becomes a crescendo in sustain. It is so charming and sweet in a kind Brian Wilson's "Smile" sort of way and then it blows up even more with an out of sight very cool trumpet accompaniment that is downright blissful. The repetitive refrain is so joyous that the song turns into a lovely mantra that could go on forever and not wear out it's welcome. It instead becomes part of you, just like your heartbeat or breathing itself... that is until it sadly ends at only a little over 2 minutes.

16. Plow Song by The Sideshow Tragedy: 
Sideshow Tragedy is fighting the good fight and the last track (on their album Capital) Plow is a stark bare cascading lineage of the haves and have nots (morally speaking) and of cold false promises. The final lines "and you will die pushing that plow" feels (to me) like a downer although a memorable one. Maybe I wanted those plowshares to be beaten into swords.

17. The River by King Grizzard and the Lizard Wizard:
Pour yourself a drink or light up to the utterly chill swill of King Grizzard and the Lizard Wizard's The River. The seven piece Aussie garage psychedelic band that sometimes stir in jazzy garden rock flavors into their post punk fusion get really mellow on this track.



18. Raising The Skate by Speedy Ortiz:
Speedy Ortiz has a unique sound and Raising The Skate is once again mired in the delicious thick guitar wash that was so inspired on Major Arcana. Sonically, this track is a pretty lushly produced and frames Sadie Dupuis' code poetry so well.


19.California by Drug Cabin:
For me, the track California might be the most beautiful and lush song on the album. As tender as a slow motion bottom turn on a perfectly walled four foot wall of water at Trestles, the song glides like the sweetest embrace and yet still hold's some tears in it's happiness.

 20. Where The Hills Start The West by Grassfight:
 Grassfight's album "Please Don't Tell" is so engaging. Atmospheric, sultry and badass. For me, it is steeped in 90' post rock meets 80's Brit rock sounds while retaining it's own aesthetic. This is one of my fav tracks, maybe the most vast sounding.

21.The Best Way To Drown by Passenger Peru:
 The line: "the price that your worth will be deducted from birth" stands out in The Best Way To Drown, a kind of full charged rocker with a rebel streak. Like some of Muse's work it as a freedom fighter tone like it is hiding in dark places from an omnipresent enemy. The bass riffs, the walls of sound are delicious, the words a bit battle scarred, "here come the waves over the mountainside, wash me away, wash away all our lives."

22. Pepper and Milk by Melted:
Besides the pure punk sound that is instantly addictive, they put on a live show deserving of their songs that are full of jagged guitar lines and full thrust drum and bass anarchistic punk attacks in that Vandals / Circle Jerks vein tempered with the cynical (even semi humorous) vocal slap of a band like the Dickies. But comparisons thrown aside they are their own  cool thing, standing on formidable punk leather clad shoulders yes but feeling fresh and new and alive.

 23. She's A Queen -- Together Pangea
Together Pangea is not afraid to deconstruct their punk style and reconstruct in some other fashion. This is the case with their latest EP The Phage which shuffles 70 garden rock and 90's post rock together. "She's A Queen almost has a RIDE vibe.

 24. Heat Death pt I+II by Rare Diagram:
This 9 plus minute song or 2 feels very much like a fully realized mini-rock opera. I have yet to review "Secret Shot" but it is a stunner of an album.

25. Should Have Known Better by Sufjan Stevens
When sadness and abject pain can be somehow channeled into absolute beauty it can feel so healing.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Papa Releases A Searing Musical Indictment of Donald Trump and his Fear Mongering Message in "I Hate You, Because" -- And it is Amazing.

Papa is a band that not only wears their musical heart on their sleeves but kind of wear their beating emotional heart like a suit of armor and just released a passionate scathing indictment of "the Donald". Trump who is leading in the GOP polls for President, at first, seemed like a joke candidate but his often incendiary comments have caught fire with his supporters. The lyrics in  "I Hate You, Because" (a re-working of an Elvis song) doesn't mince words and as I listened to it I thought a little more seriously about Trump's message.

Fear mongering is insidious and subtle. When Papa coos the first line, "I hate you because I understand dear, my grand folks had to register as Jews. So I know just where your kind of thinking leads to, I hate you most of all because you're you" it hits you like a cold slap in the face. When Trump calls out and targets an entire group of people because of their religious beliefs images of the past come into focus. The word scapegoat used throughout history. "Jew" painted on shop windows. And, a little short man with a short mustache. Trump yelling fire in a crowded theater may of seemed like a joke in the beginning but after the fires has subsided and we sift through the ashes of misguided hate we might find that the joke is on us. All of us.

So I applaud Papa for this important heartfelt (cover) song. I guess it really must be called a protest song right?? No one seems to write them anymore. Maybe more artists should.
Robb Donker

Monday, December 14, 2015

Happy Monday. Start off the week with Ra Ra Riot - and feel "Blessed" not "Stressed" as you Jump Into the "Water" New Album "Need Your Light" 2/19/16

Happy Monday. It is that time of the year when most people's day jobs are blowing up. Whether you are in retail or work for a manufacturer like myself, everyone's stress levels are through the roof as product has to be produced or sold in order to finish out the year in a big way and, of course, this translates to long hours and sleepless nights. Our life outside of work usually suffers as does those extra things you do besides work, like working out, going to the movies or doing those blog posts you were supposed to do.

I am behind on all those things so let's listen to the cool sounds of Ra Ra Riot to start the week off in a leveled manner. On their track "Water" the beat is mellow yet heavy like something off a classic Moby track. Soon the bass and lush sounds fill in the edges as does a very embracing vocal track. Absolutely love the bridge which made me think of classic MGMT a bit. The sound is hopeful, a bit somber though healing and as inviting as the ocean.

New album, "Need Your Light", out 2/19/16!
Pre-order your copy here:
Merch store (w/ exclusive bundles) - http://smarturl.it/shopnyl 
Itunes - http://smarturl.it/NYLiTunes
Amazon - http://smarturl.it/NYLAmz
Google - http://smarturl.it/NYLGoogle

Friday, December 11, 2015

Star Wars Music and Art Show / "The Grinning Ghosts Tape Release" @ Table 87- Santa Ana, California - Sat. December 12th - May the Punk Force Be With You

If you jump into the indie / diy fray head on then you have been to those venues that are off the grid. Oftentimes they are in discreet warehouses just like Table 87, a pretty large space in Santa Ana, California (a mere 13 minutes from The Observatory) that showcases music and art. These kinds of venues hold the ultimate promise of awesome live shows and the kind of raw and unpredictable experiences that you will never forget. Such is the case this Saturday, the 12th as Table 87 hosts a "Star Wars Music and Art Show / The Grinning Ghosts Tape Release".

I gotta say the Posters put out on Twitter and elsewhere caught my eye immediately as did the line up boasting Lovely Bad Things, Melted, The Grinning Ghosts (of course), Beach Bums, The Hurricanes, Vajj, Bad Bikini and The Shivs PLUS art on display by a bunch of talented local artists. This show is All ages and a mere 7 bucks to get in.. Whaaat??? Yes, the ingredients are all there for one of those unforgettable experiences. May the force be with you (no not, any police force please).
Robb Donker

"Star Wars Music and Art Show / The Grinning Ghosts Tape Release
Saturday- December 12th - 4pm - at Table 87 in Santa Ana, California





Saturday, December 5, 2015

"I Want to Eat Your Artichoke Heart..." Thom Yorke and Flea Perform "Atoms For Peace" on French Television

I remember how giddily dumbfounded I was back in 2009 when I heard that Thom Yorke was forming the band Atoms For Peace with Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers as well as Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich along with drummer Joey Waronker and Mauro Refosco. I couldn't believe it was happening and I thought it would just be more or less a diversion, a side project. It turned out to be more, and, of course, a wonderful musical / artistic vehicle. The band (they say) was really formed to perform Yorke's 2006 solo album Eraser and Thom Yorke and Flea recently appeared on the French show Le Grand Journal to perform Atoms For Peace from that debut album. According to Stereogum:

"The duo later chatted with the show’s hosts as well as Canadian author Naomi Klein, who wrote The Shock Doctrine and a number of other influential books".

I am searching for clips of the interview because I enjoy hearing Thom and especially Flea talk about just about anything. Hmmmm? I would love to be a fly on the wall when Flea and Thom discuss everything from the Lakers to jazz to world affairs.

Check out the performance below- it will replay in your head many times.
Robb Donker

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

You can have Adele (bless her heart) just give me Little Star (and bands like them)

New musical discoveries just makes life better. Sometimes I find out about new music (to me) because it come to me through the blog but oftentimes it is more random than that. I may be looking at my Twitter feed and see an interesting or funny comment, then ping pong off that to a response or a re-post by that user who seems to have interesting tastes in music and bam, there it is. A band I have never heard of and then the Google search commences. That is how I found out about Little Star.

I am still checking them out, immersing myself in their sound and trying to figure out their take on things. They released an album via Bandcamp in February called "Love and Kisses" and a cassette
called "The Romantic World of Little Star" which dropped in March. Currently I am deep into "Love and Kisses" and I like what I am hearing. The recordings feel home brewed. The sound quality is actually fine but the record does not have a mastered sound but that has never bothered me. It is all about the songs and the bands creative aesthetic and I get the sense that some of these songs were recorded kind of fresh like they got what they want figured out and recorded quickly. Like they didn't work the song to death over months and if that is the case it works. In any event, if there is one thing I believe all bands should strive to have is pretty good recording gear and to self -record not only full fledged songs but song in embryo too.

The songs on "Love and Kisses" have a kind of emotionally down turned sound with cascading progressions and vocal melodies that feel sad. It makes for a beautiful somber dreamy affair like being curled up on the couch on a rainy day, wrapped up in a blanket and not know which direction to take your life. At least that is what I felt or maybe am projecting. Oh shit.

"Love and Kisses" might have the dreamiest song ever that touches on masturbation (I think) .... no seriously. The bass line is so engaging, love everything about it and it is about longing, crushes or love and such. It is called Into The Tissue (for Grandpa Bob). When I heard it, I thought of The Cure as I did when I listened to Wart. The acoustic and intimate Long Long Time with it;s upfront almost "on the phone" vocal presentation is just amazingly beautiful. I love this song. It is the kind of song you want to embody and you want to perform yourself (where is that guitar?).

The album starts off with three "ritual" songs. Night time Ritual feels very surreal and pretty at the same time with a dirty guitar carrying the song. It feels art rocky with a glam heart. Calm Ritual #2 is a kind of proggish punk song and the guitar lines and progressions go in unexpected places.... half steps when you least expect it and off kilter de-tuned-ish sounds and then the song just ends or steps right into Calm Ritual. Maybe it is the bi-polar side of the song that came before. I dunno. Interesting stuff.

So far this little band from Portland called Little Star is in my head. The songs are so wonderfully all over the place that (in total) the album makes your mind take it's own side trips. The songs push you in different directions and I like that. Sure Adele can sell 840,000 albums in two weeks (bless her heart) but that kind of music pretty much bores me. I will take Little Star or adventurous bands like them any day.
Robb Donker