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KC music

Album review: Drek - Drek Happens

If you haven’t yet had the chance to listen or watch Kansas City’s own Drek, its release of Drek Happens may be the perfect time. With in-your-face instrumentals and mean vocals, this is a band that not only makes your head bob while listening, but makes your whole body move when you see them live. Drek’s latest album dropped March 30and is heavy, dirty, and will make you rethink the whole rap-rock genre.
The first four tracks on the album showcase the band’s heavy side of as it delivers killer guitar riffs and hard-hitting bass. “Deep Breath” lets you more into the lyrical side of Drek and reminds of the power music has on influencing mood. Drek doesn’t allow you stay in the mellow mood too long, both live and recorded. From the ballad-y feel of the previous track, “So I’ve Been Told” moves to heavy drum and guitar sounds. This track sets the mood for the rest of the album, but when you finally hit “Yup, Yup, Yup Uh Huh,” you won’t be able to keep yourself from grooving. This track goes back to early 2000s rap-rock music with a real funk-based groove to it, which is probably why it was the album’s debut single.
“Dirtier” delivers more of a hard southern rock feel, with a “Yee Haw” included and a funky guitar part during the verses that will get you into it. Drek wraps up the album with “The Price,” a testament to all of those who threaten you but never to the face, and I think we’ve all had those. Drek offers a nice surprise for the fans by offering a bonus track. This cover of Cypress Hill’s “Hits from the Bong” is pretty legit and gives just enough balance to the original against Drek’s hard-hitting instrumentals. Overall, you can really feel the energy of the band coming through the speakers. If you get the chance to see it live, you will see just why Drek has one of the biggest and most loyal fan bases in Kansas City.

This Saturday, May 11, Drek will appear at The Roxy in Overland Park with Mad Libby, Unwritten Rulz and Cronus for a fundraiser for a girl named Izzy, who is battling leukemia. Facebook event page.

--Cassiopia "KC Cassi" DeMars 

KC Cassi believes that with true local music support, you can do great things. I grew up somewhere that way and have been in Kansas City since 2005. Music can change the world and support can help spread the jams.

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Album review: Bears and Company - South of the Mountain

South of the Mountain has been in the works for a while now. After a successful Kickstarter campaign in January of last year, Bears and Company set out to “create a dynamically driven record fueled by honest emotion,” according to its Kickstarter page. Dynamically driven it is, and hot damn, is it emotionally honest. This brand-new album will melt your face with heavy indie jams and just as easily melt your heart with brutal, beautiful lyrics.

If you’ve seen Bears and Company live, you’ll be insanely content as soon as you press play. “I Dreamt I Destroyed the World” tears into the audible plane with fast, riffy guitars—a live show favorite. This is one of many songs that entices the whole crowd to sing along to. Not to mention this song was released on a limited demo album the band put out last summer as an acoustic track.
Pay attention, because before you know it, “Occurrence in the Wildwood” is on. A graceful guitar reverb sound blends the songs wonderfully. You’ll find yourself lost in an entanglement of Logan Tyler’s smooth voice and Alex McClain’s angsty screams as they combat for the attention of your ears.
Again, you barely blink before “Susannah and the Elders” hits your playlist. I’d love to say this is the catchiest song on the ten-track album, but truth is, that’s just in my ears. Sitting in class, or on the clock at work, and I find myself shamelessly humming the tune to any song on the album at any time. Large sounds from gang vocals spice up the tune.
The Bears finally key things down from the seemingly customary heavy and fast songs with “Carroll A. Deering,” the fourth song featured on South of the Mountain. The song is a lullaby compared to what we’ve heard so far. Slow, sentimental, and heartfelt. It takes an uphill aesthetic, getting louder and more intricate during the four minute and fifty second duration. Don’t understand? Close your eyes and listen to the song, you’ll get it.
Keeping the tempo down and the tunes quiet, track five is just as chill as four. “When the Sky Opened” is another limited acoustic track from the Bears’ summer demos. A chillingly soft timbre emits from this song. This is the closest thing to an anthem you’ll find on this album. Starting off with a daunting and melancholy tone, the song does pick up a brighter message near the end, powering into the last half of the album.
“‘Return of the Hunters” and “After the Quake” are two other crowd pleasers at any Bears’ show; crowd pleaser is putting it lightly. As the band plays these songs live, the whole ambiance of the room shifts. Show patrons get closer and for several minutes every individual molds into one. It’s a weird, eerie phenomenon that is spectacular at the same time.
After these two powerhouse songs, you’ll run into the album’s title track, which serves as an interlude—an all-instrumental arrangement. To be the bearer of great news, this is not a break from the hard-hitting action that you’ve become accustomed to for the past half hour. This song stands just as tall and strong as any other of the nine tracks.
A personal favorite of mine comes next: “We Were Brothers.” It’s a sorry, remorseful song that has a plethora of ups and downs, musically and lyrically. On the latter half of the song comes a haunting, spoken-word-esque, poetic verse. Combining the screams of McClain and the angst-driven voice of Tyler, an otherworldly sound is created. This song takes the cake for the most emotional arrangement, for me at least. Just as mentioned about the catchiness of all the tracks, any given song on South of the Mountain can be claimed as the most emotional.
The Bears finish strong with the finale, “Moskstraumen.” In alignment with the title, this song is a perfect soundtrack for imagining large swirling bodies of water. Again, if you don’t get it, listen close, eyes closed. It’ll become clear. The dynamic shift of the heavy indie jams blending into subtle “la da da’s” pushes the song around and around, further and farther. This song was by far the best choice for an outro track.
The production and mastering of this album is top notch. Recording artist Aaron Crawford kept Tyler sounding sweet and soulful, his bass prominent and plucky. McClain’s voice was very vivid, but not overshadowing. McClain and lead guitarist Zachariah Knoll’s guitar works sounded perfect. Coming in loud, merging into a soft embodiment, resonating and producing feedback; gentle plucks and fast power chords fill the rest of the guitars out. The production of Allan Latini’s drum work was excellent: loud when they needed to be, heavy where appropriate, and epically proportioned to keep each and every track moving along.
South of the Mountain is an extremely emotional ride. The music may suggest otherwise, but listen for the meaning of each song and you’ll find several heartbreaks lurking for you. I recall a show a few months ago where I was talking to McClain after their set. He informed that this album would be his most emotional and honest work to date. That really shines through.
Bears and Company will be celebrating the release of South of The Mountain tomorrow, April 27, at FOKL. Doors open at 7:30, $12. The Author and The Illustrator and Clairaudients will open. Facebook event page.
--Steven Ervay 

Steven Ervay is super rad. 

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Album review: Soft Reeds - Blank City

(Photo by Todd Zimmer)

When you go out and see live music, preferably a lot of live music (as you all should, y’know), you occasionally find yourself witnessing a performance that gives you the sense of something really big on the horizon. When Soft Reeds played the 2012 Middle of the Map Festival, I happened to be front and center for their set at recordBar. They ran through several songs that evening that I hadn’t heard before, and frontman/guitarist Ben Grimes said they were tracks from their still-being-written next album. Since then I’ve been telling anyone who would listen that, based on the five tunes they performed, their follow-up to 2010’s Soft Reeds Are Bastards was going to be a monster. One year later, the band has released its second full-length album, Blank City—and it would seem as if I got this one right.
The core four from their Bastards album—Grimes, percussionist Josh Wiedenfeld, multi-instrumental man John Mitchell, and funk mistress Beckie Trost on bass—were joined soon after by Jeffrey Harvey, whose keyboards and backing vocals added that extra bit of something that helped to pull the rest of the band into a more cohesive unit. Blank City comes in at a taut 31 minutes over its eleven-track playlist, and very few moments will leave the listener with the desire to sit still. “Pregnant Actress” is a case in point, as Trost’s effortless groove lays the foundation for what could pass for a lost classic from the heyday of Studio 54. The influence of Berlin-era Bowie can be found throughout the album, with “Nothing Changes” particularly showcasing angular, jagged guitar riffage—it’ll cut up some eardrums, without question. Grimes’ vocals are once again at their machine-gun-staccato best, which serves to augment the edgy arrangements that make Blank City a splendiferous indie-dance-floor classic in the making. 
Not every track follows the same game plan of getting people on their feet—not that there’s anything wrong with that. The opener, “17,” is a brief aside to a Moroccan marketplace where spices and savory goods are openly displayed for all to enjoy. “Hospitality” is an unexpected course-change that shows Soft Reeds can do more than just attack: they can musically woo as well, and who doesn’t like a little musical wooing now and then? And the album’s closer, “A Hysterical Woman,” once again proffers the Middle Eastern vibe of the opener, but instead of an open market you’re in a trendy hookah bar, zoning out on the smoke and the rhythm and Mitchell’s snake-like sax work.
Soft Reeds put down their sounds in the studios of Element Recording, whose owner, Joel Nanos, says of Blank City: “Truly one of the best albums to have graced this place.” Whether it was the surroundings, the move from a four-piece to a five-piece band, the cohesion of creativity and ability intersecting at just the right time, or a combination of all of the above, there is no doubt that the thoughts I had regarding this album a year ago have been validated. This is more than an improvement or a natural progression from their previous work; this is a band hitting on all cylinders, and they know it. The confidence, the tightness, the swagger … they’re all there. In abundance.
They may not be bastards anymore—but they’re hardly soft, either.
Soft Reeds will be celebrating the release of Blank City in Kansas City this Friday, April 26 at The Riot Room with special guests Be/Non and Rev Gusto. Facebook event page. Ticket link. And next Friday, May 3, the band will venture out to Lawrence with The Caves and Schwervon! to release the album at Replay Lounge. Facebook event page. You can purchase Blank City on iTunes and/or pre-order the vinyl with immediate digital download at The Record Machine Store.

--Michael Byars

Michael Byars is a self-confessed music junkie, used to drink Mountain Dew as if his life depended on it, has a second career in England as a juggling busker waiting for him if he wants, and once nearly made a purple-haired record store employee shoot tofu out of her nose. How many of you can say THAT, bitchez? 

(Video from I Heart Local Music)

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Album review: Fourth of July - Empty Moon

(Photo by Todd Zimmer)
There is no time to breathe. No time to think. No time to even formulate a thought. There is no count in. Nothing. The sad, sorry songs from Fourth of July hit you like a bag of bricks, and now you’re forced to pay attention. Press play on Empty Moon and the baritone voice of singer Brendan Hangauer is the first thing to hit your ears. “Honey / is it hard to make friends / the way your emotions bend / and almost break?”
That first line is a decently accurate depiction of Empty Moon. A tangled, conglomerated mess of emotions; bitter songs with a tinge of hate and remorse fill out the full flavor of Fourth of July.  Subtle hints of longing and love lost finish off the lyrical taste. As stated in the band’s Facebook profile, Fourth of July is “having fun to sad music.” I couldn’t have said it better.
The majority of Empty Moon, as with the band’s previous two efforts, maintain a poppy, indie folk sound. Through Fourth of July On the Plains (2007), Before Our Hearts Explode! (2010), and now Empty Moon, the band has not changed their style. It’s good to know exactly what you are getting into when a band releases new works.
The difference in this album is the sheer rawness of the lyrical content. Previously mentioned is the band’s knack for formulating sad songs. This album takes a much more hateful tone; more of a big middle finger to one’s emotions as opposed to a snarky rude comment featured in the albums before.
Every song on Empty Moon can stand alone and hold its own as a potential single. But there are several songs that really resonate long after the album is done playing. “Drinking Binge” takes on the tale of, well, binge drinking, with arguably the fastest-paced tempo on the album.  “Eskimo Brothers” explores the seemingly shitty life of small-town dating. How a girl goes from guy to guy and eventually you’re just waiting your turn—there’s nothing else to do. Finishing off Empty Moon is perhaps the group’s most heartbreaking song, “Berlin.” The track takes a very angry, bitter tone as Hangauer serenades the memory of a former love.
Accompanying this album, on the High Dive Records Bandcamp page, is the Empty Moon Demos (below). All the same eight tracks dumbed down to strictly Hangauer and his guitar. In this demos album, Hangauer sounds more sorrowful and his voice is raspier. This is a haunting and distraught album that lies in the shadow of the musically-upbeat Empty Moon. These demos almost sound more appropriate than the actual album, having that melancholy ambiance.
This Lawrence band has made us wait for three years for Empty Moon, and it was well worth that wait. Exploding with such force and emotion, Fourth of July’s latest effort is really a great listen when you’re feeling blue.
Empty Moon was released on April 9 on High Dive Records. This Friday, April 26, Fourth of July will be doing an in-store performance at Love Garden Sounds with 1,000,000 Light Years at 7:00 pm. Vocalist Brendan Hangauer will be exhibiting his art there for Final Fridays Lawrence. Facebook event page.

--Steven Ervay 


Steven Ervay is super rad. 

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Album review: The Silver Maggies - My Pale Horse

(Photo by Todd Zimmer)

The origin of The Silver Maggies can be traced back to 2009, when musician and Jaykco Guitar Strap peddler Patrick Deveny did what many other makers of music do: he got a bunch of friends together and formed a band. Early returns were good, and the country-rock sounds being made were fine, but after taking part in the Murder Ballad Ball of 2010, Deveny wanted something a little different. He recruited American Catastrophe’s Terrence Moore soon after, and fellow AC member Amy Farrand a couple years later, thereby taking The Silver Maggies to a place much darker and pensive, but still stylish and sophisticated. After some tweaking and fine-tuning, the band released My Pale Horse, its first full-length album, earlier this year.
Having seen Terrence Moore perform as a solo artist numerous times, I’m familiar with a few of the songs he brought to the band. Hearing “Trouble” as a fully-formed work is a revelation, as the starkness of the singer-songwriter is replaced with the muscle and polish of this seven-piece juggernaut. Moore’s voice has a natural sinister quality, which lends itself well to the lyrical content of this opening track (“proceed to the exit quickly / cause I’ve got a match that’ll burn this place down / to the ground”).
By contrast, in the second cut, “To the Quick," Deveny’s well-weathered voice slides over the music, coercing the listener to join him on a desert drive, windows down, the landscape lit by the waning light of dusk. When the chorus hits, I hear a perhaps-unintentional-perhaps-not taste of ‘90s alienation of “Nearly Lost You” by Screaming Trees, giving the track that much more of an isolationist feel.
When the distant horn comes in on “It All Went South," you may get a sense of influence from Arizona legends Calexico—and you would be absolutely correct. The band’s signature trumpet sound comes from the embouchure of Jacob Valenzuela, who lends his services to My Pale Horse in a most distinctive and impressive manner. To further the connection between the two bands, the album was mixed by long-time producer-engineer and Calexico collaborator Craig Schumacher in his Tucson, AZ studio.
Labels such as “gothic country” and "high desert noir" are not so cut-and-dried as “rock” or “blues”; they are far more descriptive and far more challenging to attain, as they hint at music that is very cinematic in scope. This isn’t the sound that you want as low-level background ambiance—these genres should take the listener into a far more visual realm. A daunting task to live up to, and The Silver Maggies—which also include Jonathan Knecht on drums, Felix Dukes on guitar, Steve Tubbert on bass, Samon Rajabnik on Hammond B3 organ, and guest vocalists Claire Adams and Katy Guillen—have risen to the challenge. When I listen to My Pale Horse, I not only feel as if I’m watching a sepia-tinged Western movie; I feel as if it’s getting to the part where the good guys and the bad guys are getting ready to settle things once and for all.
Sounds like trouble—but a kind of trouble I’m happy to bear sonic witness to.
My Pale Horse was released on March 28 by KC music collective Money Wolf Music. The Silver Maggies' next live appearance will be at Cowtown Mallroom on Sunday, April 28 at 3:00 p.m. It'll be a free, all-ages show in one of KC's most historic venues. 
--Michael Byars

Michael Byars may or may not be pickling things at this moment. It’s possible that he’s already had four or five bottles of Mountain Dew by now. There’s a chance that he is at a hookah bar somewhere. You may say he’s a dreamer. But most of all, he spells pretty well and he works for free, so we let him write stuff for us sometimes. 

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