Search This Blog

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Har-di-Har - 'Feudal Kind EP'

Har-di-Har - Feudal Kind EP
Slimbeast Productions; 2012

Written by Kyle Talbot

Thinking about Cedar Falls based husband and wife freak/psych/pop-folk duo Har-di-Har I can't help drawing comparisons to the 1980's hardcore-punk band the Minutemen. Sonically, the similarities are few to none, but Har-di-Har seem to subscribe to the Minutemen's "We jam econo" philosophy better than any band I can think of. The term, coined by the Minutemen in 1985 described their band's philosophy perfectly: minimal expenses, relentless touring, an ever-expanding discography, a DIY attitude, and a rare sense of self-awareness and innovation.  

Har-di-Har have consciously or unconsciously embraced similar principles-- the band has toured relentlessly around the midwest playing shows in all sorts of unique venues, they have already released word(s) of whim EP, will release Feudal Kind EP, tomorrow and will release another new EP as soon as next March next year. They have marketed themselves in a way that is innovative, creating flash-drives with songs and artwork and a promise to upload new music at their shows. In their "spare time" they have managed to found a label/production company, Slimbeast Productions. With Slimbeast, Har-di-Har hopes to nourish the local scene as well as to create a platform in which to collaborate with other scenes and bands in the Midwest.

The DIY ethic embraced by Andrew and Julie Thoreen of Har-di-Har pervades their music. Andrew plays bass drum, trombone, and guitar/bass, while Julie handles snare, cymbals, and keys. Both sing lead or harmonize depending on the song, and it is all done without any samples, loops, or tracks. With just two members producing a full band sound, labeling the couple as a power duo is somewhat of an understatement.

Feudal Kind EP, sounds thick-- like there are more musicians than just two. It speaks greatly to Har-di-Har's musicianship that the EP sounds so full and complete without additional musicians. At the same time it is minimalistic and sounds somewhat lo-fi. To me this is the greatest strength of the EP, each sound is carefully mapped and arranged for maximum emotional impact. Similarly, the somewhat lo-fi/ live sounding recording heightens the impact rather than detracting from it, much like an early Sufjan Stevens or Elliott Smith record did.   

For the most part the EP sounds what the band sounds like live. EP centerpiece and lead single "Campaign" is sprawling and varied in it's arrangement. It's a track that is held together by layered and repetitive rhythmic vocals, an earworm of a bass line, and infrequent piano stabs. First song "Of the Tongue" plays with the idea of volume shifts-- a bass line is repeated at different decibel levels throughout the track. This track is the most upbeat of the bunch and oddly enough has somewhat of a dance-ready, four to the floor type vibe.  

The second half of Feudal Kind EP is slower paced.  "Thistle's Edge" is sparse and quiet. In this song silence is well utilized. Between verses the band makes the listener wait just a second more than one would expect before bringing guitar and vocals back into the mix. It's that kind of subtlety that makes this a track that is easy to come back to.  "Thistle's Edge" floats seamlessly into closing track "Losing You". On "Losing You" Har-di-Har really show off their distinct harmonizing ability. Spoken word vocal lines are heard periodically through the track. Barely discernable, the words become very rhythmic and add a unique percussive element to the track.  

Feudal Kind EP seems shorter than its' 20 minute or so runtime. It is the sound of a band that knows what they are playing is different and difficult to classify and it is also the sound of a band that knows their audience well. Har-di-Har use both of the above factors to their benefit by creating something fresh and different, something that is audience friendly and vaguely familiar sounding, but also very avant-garde.  

It would be one thing for a band with a DIY ethic to make great tunes, but it is another thing altogether for a band to be so incredibly self-aware and goal-oriented. The ambition of Har-di-Har seems limitless, and with what they've accomplished since forming in January of this year, it is hard to see their momentum being slowed anytime soon.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Catching up with John June Year

Photo taken by Cierra Fitzgerald

John June Year are a Midwest band that play no frills indie rock and roll.  Since forming in the Summer of 2011 the band has taken giant leaps, mostly due to their strength as songwriters.  The band's songs are tight and immediately memorable, familiar but with a fresh tilt that begs for repeated listens. They are already garnering comparisons to the likes of Arctic Monkeys, the Strokes, the Velvet Underground and even the Beatles.  With comparisons like these it is easy to see how bright their future as a band is.

The band has released their debut EP, "Translations", and it is available for streaming here.

John June Year has a show this Wednesday October 24th  at the HuB Live Music Club in Cedar Falls, IA supporting the Envy Corps.  The band plays again at the HuB November 8th with Topher Dunlap.

I had a chance to catch up with the bands primary songwriters, Greg Heysinger (vocals, rythm guitar) and Colin Sullivan (lead guitar, keys).

Monday, July 30, 2012

Ebbz and Flowzzzz's Summer Skin 2012 Playlist

Let's all enjoy the rest of summer.  Thanks to some friends for some help picking out a few of these tracks. 

01) Passion Pit - Carried Away
02) The xx - Angels
03) John June Year - Mind Boosting Secrets
04) Tame Impala - Elephant
05) Bat for Lashes - Laura
06) Band of Horses - Knock Knock
07) Tanlines - All of Me
08) Bear in Heaven - Reflection of Me
09) Purity Ring - Lofticries
10) Summer Heart - I Wanna Go
11) Flying Lotus - Between Friends (ft. Earl Sweatshirt and Captain Murphy)
12) The Vaccines - Teenage Icon
13) Bloc Party - Octopus
14) Geographer - Kites
15) Kimbra - Come Into My Head
16) The Walkmen - Heartbreaker
17) TNGHT - Higher Ground
18) Best Coast - No One Like You
19) Yeasayer - Henrietta
20) Frank Ocean - Sweet Life
21) Animal Collective - Today's Supernatural

Friday, July 27, 2012

Frank Ocean - 'channel ORANGE'


Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE
Def Jam, 2012
Our Take: 9.1

Written by Bradley Davis

Before beginning any review, I like to clear the air about the circumstances under which I am writing. I like to state my experience with the band or musician in the past, events that have happened or are currently happening that have thematic significance within the album, and generally contextualize my particular perspective. With that, I must make the admission that, before this album, I didn't care for Frank Ocean. Nostalgia, Ultra frustrated me with its restraint and failure to coalesce into an emotionally cohesive whole. This guy is part of Odd Future, right? Why isn't there more passion here? Why does it sound so adult-contemporary? Perhaps his affiliations gave me an unfair notion of what to expect. Fast forward to now, and the exuberant anarchism of OFWGKTA has worn out its welcome – especially after the rather pitiful showing, in my opinion, of Tyler's Goblin – so that affiliation doesn't mean as much as it used to. Two things made me pay attention to this album: one, the stellar early reviews coming in from just about everywhere, and two, Frank's infamous blog post revealing his bisexuality.

As someone with a vested interest in both LGBTQ issues and hip-hop, the two rarely converge in a positive way. Those particular crossroads often consist of me trying to convince my friends and peers that they can't discount the entire genre because a few slurs get thrown around by certain artists. Instead, we had an artist coming to terms with his own sexuality, which in turn showered him with praise from his record label – certainly one of the most prominent and influential in hip-hop no less – and fellow artists. How often does that happen? In fact, I think this represents not only a mainstream acceptance of non-normative sexualities, but, more importantly, acceptance within an industry and a culture that have steadfastly maintained the status quo.

Frank's approach to sexuality in general separates him from the usual discourse of the subject in modern hip-hop and R&B. He brings a certain sincere and wholly realistic tenderness, often keeping the pronouns at an anonymous “you” distance. This is not a work that wallows in genitalia and explicit metaphors. This is a work that writhes alone in its bed as the sun rises after a long, drunken, heartbreaking night. This is a work that appreciates gentle strokes against the cheek, or kisses along the collarbone. All art springs forth from tragedy, personal disasters like heartbreak, death, or any of a number of inevitable losses along the road of life, but channel ORANGE is different. Pain runs deep throughout this album, but you can practically see all of the different piles laid out on Frank's floor as he's unpacking and sorting his emotional baggage.

Musically, the production is slick and modern, but it still ignites with a raw energy lacking a lot of overproduced pop music these days. This is probably the best extant argument for the validity of Auto-Tune as a stylistic tool; Frank's voice is undeniably beautiful and accomplished, but the occasional digital treatment compliments the dreamy, electro-inspired beats on tracks like “Pyramids” very well. Much like Nostalgia, Ultra, ORANGE shifts around stylistically constantly, but this album seems to have a more even tone than his previous release. All of the different genres dipped into here, from funk to stadium rock to lounge jazz to classic soul, seem filtered through the same sieve, and all carry the same stain of the pains of unrequited love and the inherent loneliness of fame.

With this audacious debut, Frank Ocean turns a page in modern R&B; one that feels simultaneously forward-thinking and rooted deeply in a musical tradition all but lost today. Whereas the larger-than-life, rigidly masculine, ferociously sexual men reigned in the genre in the past, Frank is hopefully opening the door for the insecure, tender, and fallible. The emotion complexity of this album gives it a depth and staying power that feels realer and more authentic than anything else in recent memory. Frank doesn't front. This is him, stripped down to the blood vessels and muscles.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Hot Chip - 'In Our Heads'


Domino; 2012
Our Take - 8.3
Written by Kyle Talbot June 23, 2012

Sometime in between their first release and 2012's latest In Our Heads, Hot Chip has become a serious affair.  Liking Hot Chip has always been easy-- their tongue-in-cheek lyrics, four on the floor dance grooves, goofy persona's, and their make 'music for music's sake demeanor', but somewhere along the line they've grown into a seriously influential and powerful electronic music force, and a band that is easy to love.

Their maturation was apparent on 2010's outstanding and masterful One Life Stand.  Without dropping their humor or wits the Hot Chip started writing songs about serious topics like love, religion, devotion, and commitment.  The Trend continues with In Our Heads-- on mid-tempo house-y jam, "How Do You Do?", the lyric, "A church is not for praying/ It's for celebrating the light that bleeds through the pain,"is emphasized and stands as a motif or statement of purpose for the album.  The just under 8 minute, "Let Me Be Him," drifts and sways through layers of warm and atmospheric pop and features outstanding vocal contributions from both Joe Goddard and Alexis Taylor.  The track stands up with the best of the band's material and is the highlight of the album.  Then there is, "Night and Day," a 'sweaty' dance groove with a memory searing breakdown that has them at their funkiest since, "Shake a Fist." 

I don't know exactly know how or where In Our Heads will fit into Hot Chip's discography especially considering the now classic, The Warning, and the masterful, One Life Stand.  Without question, it stands as their most colorful album to date (not just considering the cover art), and it is certain to get better and better with each spin.  If one thing is certain it is that Hot Chip has asserted their relevance as a band.  The beauty is that they have done so without trying to be relevant, cool, important, or anything that they are not. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Walkmen - 'Heaven'

Fat Possum / Bella Union 2012
Our Take - 8.4
Written by Greg H. - June 15th, 2012

Starting out as a very scrappy, explosive, and in-your-face type band the Walkmen have grown up. With their seventh LP, Heaven, they seem to be comfortable with their growth, satisfied with their positions and absolutely content.

Heaven is a celebratory album of the phases of life the band have been through, and conquered. The members have all been settling down, getting married, having children and are completely satisfied with where they have landed. They feel content with their new lives, and display it with their album-opener "We Can't Be Beat." Leithauser's first words "I was the Duke of Earl, but it couldn't last / I was the Pony Express but ran out of gas," explain life at a crossroads, in need of some desperate change. The next few verses reinforce this idea, until the song comes to halt and Leithauser delivers the ultimate sentiment of contentment , "It's been so long but I made it through / We can't be beat."

The album continues on with many shimmering guitars, riffs that bring one back several decades, and subtle keys that occasionally explode with energy. "The Witch" comes off as a real nasty, devil-woman rock song, backed by the quick bursts of a powerful organ. The guitar ballad-based "Line by Line" is perfect for a late evening drive into the horizon and title track "Heaven" is one of the best songs they've put to record with it's persistent snare hits and desperation in the lines of the chorus.“Don’t leave me, you’re my best friend/All of my life, you’ve always been.”

Heaven continues to produce songs that are nearly impossible to get out of your head such as "Song for Leigh" and in the latter half of the album with "The Love You Love" and the title track "Heaven." Even with the catchiness of these songs, the album stays original and feels like a breath of fresh air. The vocal delivery and the lyrics come off as the most impressive, and are the focus of the album.

As they've reached the middle of their lives, it's hard to see where the Walkmen will go from here. This could be the beginning of a new era, or the bittersweet ending of a band that will go down as one of the premiere American indie rock bands. All in all, they have put together some of their finest work on 'Heaven', and the future looks promising if they choose to go in that direction. After 12 years of "scrapping by", it appears that the Walkmen have found themselves happy, contented, and comfortable.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Ebbz and Flowzzzz's HOLY MAY PLAYLIST!!!

It's MAY and it's SUMMER-- bittersweet though, Brite Futures (formerly Natalie Portman's Shaved Head), one of the greatest summer bands are calling it quits.  This May playlist is dedicated to them and the happiness that they have brought to the lives of all of their fans.  It features mostly new tracks and should be listened to loud and probably outdoors.

Thanks for checking the playlists out, and someday, I'll get to reviews and the like again.  Till then, enjoy the end of May and this playlist.

01) Starfucker - Dragon Queens (Live)
02) The Walkmen - We Can't Be Beat
03) Azelia Banks - Jumanji
04) Dirty Projectors - Gun Has No Trigger
05) SBTRKT - Gamelena
06) Metric - Speed the Collapse
07) Beach House - New Year
08) Kindness - Cyan
09) Best Coast - The Only Place
10) MS MR - Hurricane
11) Mark Foster, Kimbra & A- Track - Warrior
12) Animal Collective - Honey Comb
13) The National - Rains of Castamere
14) Leaves - Cheers Elephant
15) Oneohtrix Point Never - I Only Have Eyes for You
16) Brite Futures - Baby Rain