September 23, 2012

Debo Band - s/t

When I arrived at this year's Summer Solstice celebration at the Cleveland Museum of Art with my fiancée after agreeing on paying the extra cash to attend the earlier portion of the event at her suggestion, I was pleasantly surprised to hear this fine band playing as we walked out onto the museum's courtyard. The Boston based Debo Band play Ethiopian influenced pop/funk/soul as a full 11-peice band. Led by Ethiopian-American saxophonist Danny Mekonnen and fronted by vocalist Bruck Tesfaye, the band formed in 2006 and this past summer released this self-tittled debut through Sub Pop/Next Ambiance. The album is produced by Thomas Gobena of Gogol Bordello and mastered by Grammy nominated engineer Joe LaPorta.

In addition to vocals and saxophone mentioned already, the group also includes violin, trumpet, guitar, bass, sousaphone, accordion, and drums/percussions. As a full ensemble they are engaging and attention grabbing on stage, but create enough musical space for charismatic vocalist Bruck Tesfaye, who in turn acts as a lightning rod for the rhythms of the string section and percussion of the drums to flow through. The horns often act as leads and chorus, playing off of and in response to Testfaye's vocals. Though their sound and influences draw back from the late '60s and early '70s, they represent a fresh take and uniqueness, in particular, within the current music scene.

Debo Band - Asha Gedawo

Charging from the gates, this 5:13 minute song is a nice example of the back-and-forth play of the vocals and the horn leads. The drums keep a quick pace with half notes mixed in to pepper the speed even more. Backing vocals add to the impact of the chorus, though this isn't as common on the remainder of the album. At the midpoint electric violin and electric guitar take us into a dreamy duet that works well within the context of the much more frantic pattern of the percussion and vocals found in the remainder of the song. The horns and drums play in unison to close out the song, demonstrating the tightness of the large ensemble.

You can find the new album available in CD, 2xLP, and mp3 through the Sub Pop Records store, Amazon, and on iTunes. Here's a video of the group performing Ney Ney Weleba at the 2012 SXSW in Austin, TX:

December 20, 2011

Mind Eraser - Glacial Reign

I was lucky enough to see Boston's Mind Eraser play here in Cleveland along with Japanese hardcore band, Slang about a year or so ago. The show was intense, and having Mind Eraser wrap it up with their brand of power-violence/hardcore did the trick. They released a split 7" with Slang for that tour, which I highly recommend if you can get your hands on it. Glacial Reign (2006) finds Mind Eraser on top of their game. It's a brutal thrash/speed mixed with crushing and (insert adjective of choice) breakdowns. The album seems to fit in a little closer to the hardcore side of things when considering the power-violence genre, but fret not the speed is still there, and the songs remain short and sweet. The album is twelve songs in just over 22 minutes, so you get the idea. The recording is surprising pretty well done for this style of music. No real complaints here. They're only a few standout songs, though enough catchy riffs and intense chord progressions exist to keep things interesting.

Mind Eraser - "Wrote Off"

The 1:37 song starts off with a full on total rush of guitar, drums, and vocals, and almost as quickly settles into a groove that is moved along slowly by the guitar. The drummer slashing away on a crash. Following a transition through another blitz, a breakdown into one of the catchier riffs on the album, with screamed and called out vocals accenting the shifts.

Mind Eraser - Equation

The shortest song on the album coming in at 45 seconds, demonstrates the band's sound a succinctly as possible. Really about four parts of pure thrash then a busting breakdown with hoarse vocal calls. I like the job done by the drummer, hitting every syllable uttered with an accompanying snare/high-hat/bass drum hit. As with any good hardcore song, the faster you can crank up that early part of the song the harder the chugging tail end feels when it comes.

I highly recommend checking out the song that follows "Equation" on the album, "Full Spectrum Dominance", as it side steps into a pure chugging hardcore reminiscent of something off of a Holy Terror/Integrity album; vehemently dark. I believe that one of the band members runs the label this album was released on, Painkiller Records.
You can find the mp3s of this album here. So no excuses.

November 29, 2011

June of '44 - Engine Takes to the Water

The debut album from June of '44, released in 1995 on Quarterstick Records. I previously wrote about one of their later releases, Tropics and Meridians also released on Quarterstick. I'll refer you to that posting for more background on the group and its evolution. The two albums are similar in style, both fitting somewhere within the post-hardcore and math-rock genres particularly of that mid-90's era, though I don't feel the music to be all that dated. Furthering the similarity between both albums, Engine Takes to the Water is generally short on the number of songs (only 8) but carries a mix of extended cuts that last past six minutes long, and a few that remain less than four. In general I'm quite picky about bands who create songs longer than four to five minutes, often because there isn't enough succinctness. With June of '44, I rarely find this to be a problem though, as creativity and experimentation within the songwriting keeps things fresh and some of the hooks created are just too infectious, I find myself wanting more instead of looking to push the next button. It's Slint worship, and who could go wrong with that?

The fairly common nautical themes exist here as in other June of '44 releases to be sure. The strength of the music is within the guitar play, and play off of each other in particular of the two guitarists, while the bass and drums find their own spaces in each song. Vocals are a mix of spoken words and calls out, sung over the chorus section. The drumming, particularly on a song like "Mindel" is just as up-front and creative as the guitar, in fact I would say the coordination between the instruments is precise and distinct. Subtle use of horn in "I Get My Kicks For You" allows Fred Erksine to really shine in what is one of the more downbeat songs on any of the earlier albums.

June of '44 - Sink Is Busted

A slow thumping beat with scraping skin of my teeth guitar and brief keyboard notes. Then steady rhythmic guitar with soft vocals and the second guitar adding a beautiful hook that is accented by the high-hat play in its second set and more of those soft keyboard notes fluttering around in the mix. The vocals are almost strained towards softness at times. The opening guitar tone returns briefly, followed by a stripped down few bars of simple guitar and cymbal only play. Then when the full accompaniment of instruments and vocals return it feels like a warm wave sweeping in. Another more distinct break leads back into the first part of the song with a jangling key sound, then the song ends.

June of '44 - Mindel

Typical math rock type guitar chords start this song out, the drums once entered do a great job building on the discordant rhythm created by the guitar. This continues through the song, as the percussion is really tested in keeping in line, not getting in the way, but still accenting chord shifts that often are out of whack from the norm. The shifts and changes are certainly married to the band's influences, and "Mindel" is a song you wouldn't expect to find on any of the later June of '44 albums, but it's a perfect representation of where this band started from.

This album sits well out of print but this zipped file of the album in mp3 format for free popped up at this link. Also the record label has the album or individual songs for sale at a very reasonable price at Touch and Go/Quarterstick Records. And if interested in more of the background of this style of music, I fully suggest looking into more of the Louisville, KY bands from the mid '90s on through turn of the century.

November 22, 2011

Cliff Martinez - Drive Soundtrack

First time reviewing a soundtrack for a movie. I've been a big Cliff Martinez fan since seeing the Steven Soderbergh rendition of  Solaris (2002), which also featured Cliff Martinez (former drummer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) formulating the soundtrack. Drive came out earlier this year without much buzz, but the storyline caught my attention as it was about a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as the driver for get-away cars in heist jobs. The movie stars Ryan Gosling, who's been making quite the name for himself as of late with a number of "big time" movies coming out. The film is shot with plenty of care and consideration in each scene, and the pacing of the film called for a soundtrack that matched and accentuated this feel.

Most of the songs or arrangements are by Cliff Martinez, there are a couple of songs by others (College (feat. Electric Youth)
, Riz Ortolani (feat. Katyna Ranieri)
, and Chromatics) but the majority of the tracks are Martinez's work. They are almost exclusively synth based, lots of long drawn out waves with a mix of blips and keyboards. Some guitar is present as well as drum machine sparingly. Production is excellent as you would expect on a film soundtrack and none of the songs are too long or overly boring. It's good background music to have on, and a few of the tracks can stand on their own.

Cliff Martinez - Bride of Deluxe

The final song on the album. After an eerie lead-in, some guitar starts and then with blips in the background and builds up to a crescendo and a moment of pause before a percussion joins in. Blips and some keyboards are able to ride out through this section giving the song character.

Cliff Martinez - "Rubber Head"

Conversely, this is the first Cliff Martinez song on the soundtrack. The buildup is slower and with softer blips, coming in alternating almost reverberated waves. These waves don't stick around too long, they sweep on through and things settle down and softly soaring chords ring out until the end of the piece.

Unlike the Solaris soundtrack, which is extremely difficult to find now at a reasonable price, Amazon has the Drive soundtrack for under $13 for the cd, and only $5 for the mp3 album, can't beat that price.

November 8, 2011

Rob Crow - He Thinks He's People

Just picked this up in LP form recently from Temporary Residence Limited. The label is doing the very cool "buy this LP and get a code to download the mp3 version of this album" thing, which I jumped on. Rob Crow is one half of the band Pinback and also a member of a number of side project bands (as they may be categorized): Thingy, Heavy Vegetable, and of course his own solo albums. I reviewed one of his previous albums, My Room is a Mess about a year ago, and have to say that that album released in 2003, and his following album Living Well released in 2007 get regular play in my listening rotation. He Thinks He's People follows well from Living Well, but furthers his indie pop sound. It's amazing in a away how so many others who seriously attempt to pull off this genre lose focus of the simple yet key elements of a well written, catchy song. With Crow, it's album after album of wonderfully quirky yet catchy and effortlessly delivered music gold, masqueraded within indie pop simpleness. It's beyond needing to be noted how easily he makes it look, yet it's like he's got a patent on this stuff, as I struggle to think of someone who's been as consistently solid.

Surprising as it may be after I just spattered out this praise for the man, I actually didn't enjoy this album as much in the first listen. It was good, but I missed the hooks from the previous albums. Then it struck me as I was giving it a second listen....this happened to me before, with Living Well. And sure enough, after giving this album a second and then a third listen, and on and on, I'm here absorbed in the music thinking forward to the next time I'll get to listen to it in my car on the way to work, or my ipod while taking a walk outside trying to enjoy the last decently warm days in Cleveland this time of year. I think my initial difficulty with this album was caused by only providing it a cursory first listen. It dawns on me now, how the little details within Crow's songs on this album aren't accidental elements or afterthoughts added for flare in post-production. Whether it's the woodblock claps (closest way to explain the sound I can think of) in "Prepare To Be Mined" or the quirky lyrics of "So Way", they go on to provide definition and individuality to each song. The songs are concise with no song reaching the four minute mark. The instruments chosen on this album seem to mostly be of the guitar, keyboard/synth, and drums variety, and of course Crow's voice, which is as much of the enjoyment as any other part of the album. Production is solid, without much in the way of mixing issues, maybe a lack of low end, but it's not really that noticeable.

Rob Crow - "Prepare To Be Mined"

Somewhere in the middle as far as tempo goes on this album, "Prepare To Be Mined" starts off innocent enough right up to the quirky guitar chord transition around the 00:25 mark. Then things shoot off on one of the many catchy chorus sections within this album, as the pace of the guitar picks up (and those woodblock sounding claps accentuate effectively) I find myself toe-tapping along. The layered vocals are perfectly used here, just the right depth and added at the right times to further accentuate and increase the warmth of the chorus' delivery.

Rob Crow - "I'd Like To Be There"

The absolute "poppiest" song on the album. A gem of juxtaposition, really. The lyrics are the real gold mine here, as amongst this sunny guitar driven jaunt, Crow has paired the following lyrics:
Some people talk on the phone at the movie theatre. 
That's right!
On the phone!
I can't believe it either!

When you're choking on your blood,
When they've stapled shut your tongue,
realized you couldn't trust no one,
When your body bag gets zipped shut,
I'd like to be there.
His musing on the how he'd like to be there when these people who talk on phones in movie theaters get what's coming to them (well maybe to an extreme for some people) is certainly something I can relate too. 

Go to Temporary Residence to find the CD or LP w/ mp3s download code. Also just announced, Pinback will be touring Europe, though I couldn't find any details just yet, I'm sure they'll have something on their website about it.

October 23, 2011

The Plugz - Better Luck

I recently went and saw a re-showing of the 1984 cult classic film, Repo Man, starring a young Emilo Estevez as a punk named Otto. I remembered liking the soundtrack a lot when I was younger, but I had forgotten what was all that good about it until I was sitting in the theater a few weeks. I immediately went and grabbed it online the next day. In addition to good songs from Iggy Pop, The Circle Jerks, and Suicidal Tendencies, there were a three songs by The Plugz. Outside of the movie I hadn't heard any of their material previously, but the song "El Clavo Y La Cruz" particularly caught my attention. The hook was just so catchy, I couldn't keep it out of replaying in my mind. I went searching and found that the band had released two albums, Electrify Me (1979) and Better Luck (1981). Both horribly out of print and way expensive if you find yourself a copy (I think you can find both at Amazon or eBay for around $100 each). Luckily, I was able to find both albums free for download, and I'll link it down below as well since the albums are out of print as I mentioned.

The Plugz were a Chicano punk band from the Los Angeles area that existed primarily from 1977 through 1984 where the band then formed The Cruzados. The band was a three-piece with initially Tito Larriva (of Tito and Tarantula fame) on lead vocals and guitar, Charlie Quintana on drums, and Barry McBride on bass/backing vocals.
McBride would leave the band following the creation of the first album, Electrify Me, and was replaced by Gustavo Santaolalla on Better Luck along with a few other musicians providing keyboards and a horn section. On Better Luck, the band had progressed in their sound, moving away slightly from the simpler punk arrangements of the first album, and adding a bit more variety, with various levels of success. The Latin sound is present, along with more of a focus on the clean vocals and harmony. There are some excellent stand out songs, some decent ones, and then a few that don't seem to work as well. The ones that are on the mark are worth a listen for sure. I'd consider the first album a better album in general through and through, but my favorite Plugz songs are on Better Luck.

The Plugz - "Better Luck"

The title track and opening song on the album immediately demonstrates the shift in writing away from the fast paced punk of the first album. The riff is strong, yet simple, and the high-hat play is surprisingly not annoying, but rather perfect for this song. There's an interesting plucking from what I assume is acoustic guitar that is almost inaudible at first but rises just a touch from the right side and adds a nice warm element to the initial build-up prior to the vocals starting. The vocals and lyrics are beautifully matched with the songwriting. Little accents like the acoustic guitar, and quick breaths in before delivering a line add color and character to the song. The lyrics "Then we get lost, then we find each other again" illicit comfort amongst uncertainty for me. My favorite lyrics on the album.

The Plugz - "El Clavo Y La Cruz"

Sung in Spanish and with a bouncy almost ska beat, it's the funnest song within the album. The tempo of the song is upbeat and decently quick, but also features a few changes where it slows down then abruptly shifts back to the initial fast pace. Once again here, the accents (by the whole band; guitar, bass, and drums) throughout the song are perfect in grabbing the listeners attention and powering the chord changes. The keyboard and horn play toward the end of the song works well to reinforce the Latin sound and the overall catchiness of the song.

You can download this album and the first album by clicking on the links. The band has a myspace music page available, and there is more information on the background of the band here and here.

October 20, 2011


Well it's getting cold and wet here in Cleveland, like record setting rain already this year, so I'll be back writing very soon.
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