Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Midwest alerts

• Looks like if you're a small touring band the best time to play Chicago is around Lollapalooza. Apparently bands aren't allowed to do shows at other venues in Chicago 60 days before or 30 days after their performance.
That's nuts, but I say take advantage of it. It's also good to know for next year, isn't it all you other bands fighting against nepotism?
Read the whole article published at Time Out Chicago, HERE.

• Is Detroit on the verge of an economic downfall - again? Newsroom magazine is asking this very same question and citing a lot of scary facts about how the American auto industry based in Detroit is going the way of the New Dodo: The SUV.
Read the article, HERE.
The most telling point was that when people want to have fun they now have to go across the river to Windsor, Canada.
Today, Detroit is a shadow of its former self. The big Three that made this city an international icon of prosperity and industry have fallen on bad times. And now the unthinkable — the possible demise or bankruptcy of the once mighty industrial giants now withering from decades of short term thinking, cash cowing, and going for the quick buck.
The disease eating at Detroit is not of its own making. We all played a part in prostituting American businesses for their short term gain.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Midwest alerts

• Former Cincinnati, now Brooklyn band The National seems to be popping up a lot lately.
First I read about their new pro Obama t-shirts with the democratic nominee's image and the words "Mr. November" on the bottom. All proceeds of thr t-shirt sales go to Obama's campaign.
Then I saw this interview with Matt over on Aquarium Drunkard, HERE.
• A Upper Kentucky folk musician just signed with Sub Pop, according to Mike Breen's "Spill it" column, HERE.
• Mil Milk Lemonade has a refreshingly open-minded take on the recent Columbus, Ohio Parking Lot Blowout concert, featuring Times New Viking and Dead Sea as headliners. Check that out, HERE.
• Uh Oh, did Pennsylvania's Girl Talk get screwed doing the whole "pick your price Radiohead" thing? Some people think so. Check this story, HERE.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Chicago's The Interiors

(Proving great minds think alike, I wrote this a few days ago after learning about the band but hadn't posted it yet. Then I saw Buddha Den wrote about them too. So, here's my take as well!)

Perhaps it is the influence of Brooklyn sounds on the Midwest, but I'm not so sure.
Lately, I read about Chicago band The Interiors and its new self-titled release.
Here is a nice interview the Chicago Daily Herald did, HERE.
What strikes me so much about The Interiors is that they take those African rhythms made "hip" by such transparent luminaries such as Vampire Weekend, but they do it in a much more subtle way. Not only that, but they incorporate the feel into their own sound.
What I specifically hate about Vampire Weekend is the band's blatant disregard for being unique. They are simply stealing what Paul Simon did in the 1960s and stealing what Peter Gabriel did in the 1980s and then adding a Strokes feel to it. It's ham-fisted and boring to me.
But check out The Interiors at its Myspace page and give them a listen.
For those in the Columbus and Indiana scenes, you might hear a kindred spirit of their song writing approach in the soon-to-be-defunct Miranda Sound. Both bands have a similar vocal style and angular aspect, with a broader melodic pop cap on top. But Miranda Sound adds a bit more of a two-vocal interplay element.
What is even more amazing about The Interiors, as you will know from reading that link I posted, their guitarist almost chopped his finger off a while back and had to undergo extensive rehab to keep playing. But he succeeded in recovery and apparently is getting more fluid as the days go by.
On a side note: Something that scares me about the African rhythms creeping into the Midwest indie rock scene is that it gives too much credit to what is going on in Brooklyn and not enough to what is going on around these parts.
Either that, or it shows that musicians might care too much about looking to New York for guidance instead of coming up with their own unique voice.
Fortunately, for now, The Interiors have succeeded in accomplishing its use of the stylistic rhythms in a new way. Even better, they did it much more affectively than Vampire Weekend.
But I'm telling you, if I start seeing Midwest bands using more than one drum kit I'm going to start laying into people. I'm already seeing bands with singers hitting snare drums and shit.
Don't give in to the hipness, musicians, just try harder to do your own thing.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Outsiders who value the insiders

I just found this South Carolina-based music site called Sound as Language and lo and behold there are several reviews of Midwestern bands.

This Athens, Ohio band Russenorsk was the first review I read:
If I had to guess without looking, I would surely place Russenorsk from the NYC area. They have a hipness to their sound which is curiously reminiscent of many NYC bands. But, the band actually hails from Athens, Ohio. Perhaps that is why Russenorsk are able to distinguish themselves from the cesspool of NYC indie pop. Tim Race and Jack Martin met during their freshman year at Ohio University and In A Great Wave Of Horns is the result of that friendship. The band certainly has a familiar sound that could be traced to bands like Arcade Fire or say, an incredibly less annoying Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. In fact, Russenorsk often reminds me of the laid back sounds of the underrated Takka Takka as well. Regardless, Russenorsk are able to do more than an adequate job of lacing their songs with a noticeable personality all their own. The arrangements and the band’s use of Martin’s cello creates a diverse backdrop to the promising, distinct vocals of Race. Look for Russenorsk’s next record (which they are about to record) to truly separate the band from the crowded indie pop/folk pack.

Then I noticed they had Columbus, Ohio band Tin Armor on there as well:
As we impatiently wait for that new Smoking Popes album ( will it ever see the light of day?), it is comforting to know that Tin Armor have our back. I recently covered Tin Armor in the Band You Should Know category. Their 2007 album, A Better Place Than I Have Been was a brilliant starting point and this seven-inch keeps the band’s momentum going in the right direction. I am a sucker for bands in this mold and Tin Armor have the ingredients down to a tee. Clever, morose lyrics are twirled around melodic instrumentation and vocal harmonies so warm and cuddly you could lay with them for days. And frankly, that’s exactly what I did. With four songs clocking in at an all too brief ten minutes, this record begs to be flipped over and over again and again. The band brings to mind a wide range of artists/bands. From the jangle of Ted Leo (and his old band, Chisel) or the Dan Adriano-penned Alkaline Trio songs (or Adriano’s old emo/pop band, Tuesday), Tin Armor are riding a charming pop wave to perfection. Songs of doomed relationships never sounded so sweet.

I also saw they had a review of the (in my opinion, totally excellent CD) by Cincinnati's The Pomegranates new CD "Everything is Alive":
Pomegranates debut, the Two Eyes EP, was one of my favorites of 2007. The band’s first full-length, Everything Is Alive, is a bit of a different beast though. On Two Eyes, Pomegranates attacked their songs with a youthful exuberance. However, on Everything Is Alive the band has grown up in a relatively short time. Here, Pomegranates lay back and let the material come to them instead. The songs are, dare I say, more mature and well-rounded. They offer more structure than the band’s original frenzied approach towards indie pop. The band’s enthusiasm might be missed at first but Everything Is Alive proves Pomegranates have way more to offer than just a good time.
Everything Is Alive was recorded and mixed in the span of six days. The majority of the album was tracked live and those elements add a great deal of character as well as a bit of spontaneity to the recording. Everything Is Alive is an album completely comfortable in its own skin. In essence, the album title is brilliant. Whatever flaws and callouses the band possesses, it is what makes them unique and it breathes life into Everything Is Alive.
With two vocalists who offer distinctly different paths, Pomegranates walk the line masterfully on Everything Is Alive. It is what the band surrounds those vocals with that is so exhilarating though. Pomegranates’ arrangements are cunning to say the least. There is inherent melody in the band’s song but there is also a subtle ambiance that intrigues throughout. Lyrically, the band shows off an impressive depth and maturity. The songs range from gentle caresses to anthemic sparks of energy but always possess a brilliant intimacy.
Over the last few years, indie pop has become stale and overrun with countless bands and inconsequential hype. Essentially, the genre has lost its soul. Pomegranates are able to reinvigorate a lifeless body with the earnest, hopeful spirit that emanates from Everything Is Alive. The record is a true, joyful expression of life and all the sadness and beauty therein. Who knew indie rock had such a wild, beating heart left on the inside?

Here's another Cincinnati-based band they reviewed, in 500 Miles to Memphis:
500 Miles To Memphis hail from Cincinnati, OH. The band cleverly took it’s name from the distance between their hometown to Graceland in Memphis, TN. 500 Miles To Memphis has an interesting sound as they combine country with rock n’ roll. With ample fiddle and steel guitar the band adds an authentic element to their brand of punk n’ roll. Ryan Malott’s endearing tales of life, love, booze and everything in between is almost comforting. With a thoroughly rocking sound and Malott’s wry lyrical take, 500 Miles To Memphis are able to strike a nerve here. The only complaint is that the album clocks in at nearly 50 minutes. So, Sunshine In A Shot Glass does run a bit too long at times. Regardless, fans of rock n’ roll with more than a little twang should find much to sink their teeth into here.

Flock of rock

I get a kick hearing about little kids forming rock bands. You never know what you're going to get when they put their energy behind it. It could end up genius like The Shaggs, or simply honest like Chet Baker. That's why I was drawn to this article in the Chicago Tribune about "School of Rock" programs having high enrollments. It's also interesting how the writer notes that kids are a lot more into classic rock. I'm not sure how much things have changed since I was young. People were obsessed with Led Zepplin when I was in my teens. But I can tell you that I go swimming every chance I get. You can get a good feeling of what kids listen to these days by what the lifegaurds on summer break blast from the loud speakers all day. Last year it was horrible country music. Now they are another year older and rocking out to country rock from the 1970s. Go figure. But here is the article at this link.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Canoe trip regression

I guess his name is Christopher Bell, and here's his Myspace site: HERE
Fortunately he's actually touring into Cleveland, OH. so it falls within my dumb Midwest focus.
His tour also makes me think back to something I read lately. It was about how society will have to regress into a more primitive state in order to move forward. The big trucks will fall away back into bicycles. The frozen TV dinners of the 1970s, fall back into today's grilling chicken outside. If we really want to get off our society's addiction to gasoline, we have to find other means of transportation. Something we can rely on.
In fact, the more I read about Bell the more I think of another book I read (I will post the name/title when I remember it) about a historian/writer who did a similar boat trip. He started in New York and boated his way across the United States. People didn't even think it was possible anymore. I guess it has a lot to do with planning spring river heights and knowing when people will be working certain gateways where rivers are controlled by man-operated dams. It was an interesting read.
With gas prices rising so much, I honestly think touring is pointless. Without label help on your side, or unless you're some rich kid digging into daddy's pockets, you're just wasting time. So aside from giving up, bands just have to be more imaginative.

Canoe Tour:
Jul 3 2008 8:00P
The Labyrinth Jamestown, New York
Jul 8 2008 8:00P
Labyrinth Jamestown, New York
Jul 10 2008 12:00P
taping on WRFA Jamestown, New York
Jul 10 2008 10:00P
Live from Cleveland Cleveland, Ohio
Jul 11 2008 10:00P
Mojos Jamestown, New York
Jul 12 2008 8:00P
Stedman Corners Mayville, New York
Jul 19 2008 8:00P
Canoe Tour Kick Off - Attic Show! Buffalo, New York
Jul 24 2008 8:00P
Canoe Tour - Boulder Coffee Co Rochester, New York
Jul 26 2008 8:00P
Canoe Tour - House Show! Rochester, New York
Aug 2 2008 10:00P
Canoe Tour - ABC Cafe Ithaca, New York
Aug 15 2008 9:00P
Canoe Tour - Tramontane Cafe Utica, New York
Aug 21 2008 8:00P
Canoe Tour - Moon & River Cafe Schenectady, New York
Aug 22 2008 10:00A
Canoe Tour - SACC TV Schenectady Today Schenectady, New York
Aug 23 2008 8:00P
Canoe Tour - Muddy Cup Albany w/tba Albany, New York
Aug 29 2008 8:00P
Canoe Tour - Cubbyhole Coffeehouse Poughkeepsie, New York
Sep 6 2008 8:00P
Local Music Showcase Jamestown, New York

Midwest alerts

I wrote the last post a while back and wasn't gonna post it. But I changed my mind, said what the fuck, and decided to post it for posterity sake. Sometimes things just need to be put out there to remind us all to try harder.
I guess I'll keep plugging away:

• I've been hearing about this dude who plans to do his next tour by canoe, in order to save money on gasoline. I'll try to find out some more and post about where he goes.
• New release from Captain of Industry out now via All Hail Records. Check out Buddha Den for some info on that.
• Chicago's David Vandervelde is back at it again. He was roomies with Jay Bennett and they owed a studio together. Yeah, so that's how we all know about him today. His music is still good though.
• Just to give you an example how bullshit can turn into reality, I learned today that the myth about lemmings running off cliffs to their suicide was created by a 1958 movie called "White Wilderness." It is filmed in the Canadian Arctic and the director imported the lemmings in order to create a staged migration scene. It resulted in the mistaken belief that lemmings kill themselves.
So the next time some hipster rants about lemmings, you'll know the irony of that.

People with Animal Heads
Project Update

I have to admit my heart hasn't been into writing about music lately. Underground rock is akin to the Greek mythology of Sisyphus, condemned to ceaselessly roll a rock up and down a mountain over and over again.
But writing about it is a fate even worse than that.
My original goal for PWAH was to do a ton of research on every city in the Midwest, because I was sure that there were dozens of great bands that I was not hearing about. This part was true. These bands exist. I have seen them. I have talked to them. They are just as disappointed as I am.
I'm not even 1/4 way through the project. But after so many months of doing this, I have noticed that our Midwest music scenes are really hanging on by a thread.
The more I learn about music scenes across the Midwest, the more I realize that every city has people in control. There is a glass ceiling. Local writers, people who run the bars, and the organizations that put on shows - all run by little groups in every city. When a festival is organized, it's normally pretty obvious what bands will play. If a great national band comes to town, it's pretty much a given what locals will open for them.
It isn't some covert operation, it's just reality. We live in small towns. It's a lot like politics, you put enough bible thumpers in the government, you will end up with George Bush. It's natural selection.
But it started to make me feel used when I would write glowing reviews about a band, only to realize later on that they are part of the problem.
The more I learn about bands rising to the top in other cities, the more I realize that I'm only hearing about them because someone gave them opportunities. They were those bands whose friends in charge let them open for every national band that came through. They were those bands that knew people who organized the festivals. They knew the people on the radio. They grew up with the dudes who started the label. They were buddies with the music critics at the newspaper and web sites.
The bands that didn't know these people personally? Broke up. All of them. They were good bands too.
And the pissed off hack musicians are way too busy trying to kiss ass to keep the circle going.
It used to make me angry, but now I'm just ambivalent. I'm just amazed at how lifeless our society has become. No one stands for anything.
The worst offenders, aside from music fans, are music critics. I'm sure they had a lot of goals when they started, much like I did. But they soon were ignoring the fact that they were supposed to be documenting their scenes, instead of documenting their friends. Even worse, they started documenting Vampire Weekend.
But that isn't the only problem I see. The fault lies in the laps of music fans, as well. Everyone is infinitely more interested in talking about MGMT and why they are better than Vampire Weekend, or vice versa. Dude, the Brooklyn music scene rulez!
Most people are happy with being told who to listen to by magazines, TV and radio stations. And the sad reality is that they are only getting the top of an iceberg. That chunk of ice is being dictated to them by nepotism. No one cares about putting their face underwater anymore. No one wants to venture outside of their bubbles.
It doesn't matter what city I go to, the hundreds of bands I have seen. People go to shows, but they don't necessarily go to LISTEN to music. People are out there for purely social reasons. Nothing wrong with that. But this is akin to the same reason why people go to see fucking horse shit bands like The Menus. That makes me sick to my stomach.
"Support local music!"
That is what I hear from city to city in our Midwest. In reality, the majority of scenes consist of musicians going to see other musicians. They stand in the back of the bars and talk about themselves. The true audience of underground music is non existent. The bars are empty.
People that do go out, go to the same place every weekend. It doesn't really matter who is playing, as long as the same people they have known for years are there. It's all about repetition.
Maybe the musicians are performing that night, maybe they are just in the audience. Rarely do I see people specifically trying to see new bands they have never heard before. When was the last time you did this? The reality is that when a new band is about to perform, the room clears. People go outside to smoke and come back when someone they know is back onstage. Maybe they talk about "scene unity" while they are out there?
So how do bands break through this wall? I have decided it's hopeless. Because if no one is trying to find better music, then they are being told who to listen to.
Which leads me to another problem. The music sites out there all focus on the same new indie bands. It's a pretty ridiculous cycle. I often take a look at the "recent adds" on the CMJ charts. The bands on those lists (actually only the ones on the best labels) soon show up on the radio and then show up on the music sites. Have I mentioned that they, or their labels, pay thousands and use their influence to be on those lists in the first place? Out of the CMJ list, three bands that have paid the most for publicity end up getting talked about ad nauseam. The cycle then repeats itself.
When I started PWAH I used to poke fun at how every site had pictures of MIA and Kanye West on the front page. Now it's just too depressing to do that anymore.
So how does a band get any attention aside from nepotism? They either have to have a total schtick, go on tour relentlessly until they are broke and tired (which frankly doesn't work either), or it goes back to the old "having friends in high places" thing.
So is all underground music just a smaller version of the constant national circle of glad-handing and nepotism? Yes.
In fact, I'm not above any of this. I'm just as bad.
Maybe if I could somehow quit my job and set out to document each city first hand. But I'm not going to do that.
I used to have hope that local music critics were doing that - because they are being paid to. But they don't.
In fact, as talented as many of them are, not a single one does this. It's too daunting a task.
Instead, they are like the rest of the musicians that make up underground scenes. They hang out with their buddies at night. They go to the shows their buddies go to. They see the bands their buddies are in. They write about what they see.
And they are all stifling their music scenes one by one.
These days I guess I would rather just go outside and enjoy the weather and not think about any of this anymore.
Maybe I can dig out all my Velvet Underground records and go sit in the sun.
But wait - VU only got famous because they rode Andy Worhol's goddam coat tails.
Yeah, it's pretty hopeless.