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KC music

Album review: Man Bear - Infinity Cat (EP)

(Photo by Layne Haley)

Lo-fi: pretentious calculated choice or economic necessity? When someone says, “Because that’s how __________ did it,” you know you’re dealing with the former. When someone says, “I have no idea what I’m doing,” that’s a sign of honesty, simplicity, and little money.
Man Bear’s latest EP, Infinity Cat, is riddled with economic necessity, a condition that doesn’t bode well for fashion endorsements. In fact, listening to Man Bear, it’s obvious the band doesn’t bode well for fashion anything. But it all makes for great songwriting and a real, gritty-sounding recording.
Continuing to fly the tattered banner of Midwest punk rock, Kansas City’s Man Bear lets it rip with five solid tracks of shredded melodic anthems. Vocals are nearly lost in the mix, guitars are distorted within an inch of their lives, and someone might have bumped a keyboard, then let it play the same loop for the first three songs.  And through all the power and noise, a strand of pop sensibility threads the three-piece outfit together.
The favorable comparisons to The Replacements, Soul Asylum, Buffalo Tom, and Superchunk are inevitable, but in no way diminish the sermon Man Bear preaches. Paul Westerberg would be spinning in his grave, bright green with jealousy, if he didn’t have the bad sense to still be alive.
Don’t think because Infinity Cat chooses heart over production that Man Bear doesn’t try. They pack their short songs with tons of hooks and tight rhythms. The backward guitar solo in the tragi-ballad “A Girl I Once Knew” and the pulsing cowbell in “All Goes Down” are nice touches. Man Bear tries all right; they just don’t try to please everyone.
Infinity Cat probably won’t usher in a new-wave of mid-paced, rootsy punk rock. Too unfashionable, too risky, and too bad, because the near absence of any type of rock—punk or otherwise—has made albums like Infinity Cat more crucial than ever.
Man Bear will be performing at The Brick on Saturday, March 2. The band was recently featured on KC Live on KSHB-TV 41 (see below), and was also named the winner of The Deli’s open submission poll for Best Kansas City Emerging Artist of 2012.

--Steven M. Garcia

Steven is guitarist and lead vocalist for Kansas City power pop trio Deco Auto. He also makes a deliciously angry salsa.

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Album review: Bloodbirds - Psychic Surgery

Bloodbirds’ latest release, Psychic Surgery, takes no prisoners as it roars across a hyperdistorted punk psychedelic landscape. At times, the album oozes with a raw and spastic energy similar to that of Nirvana’s Bleach. Other times, it meanders down swirling passages of thickly affected instrumentation. Either way, it is truly impressive how much pleasantly overbearing noise is conjured up by this three-piece group, consisting of Mike and Brooke Tuley (of Ad Astra Arkestra fame) and Anna St. Louis.
Driven by what seems like more guitars than Billy Corgan could count on both hands and feet, this album is fuzzy, buzzy, yet well executed. Underneath the torrent of distortion, the solid beat and bass combination of Tuley and St. Louis keeps things grounded and moving along, while paying close attention to not clash with the siren of guitars wailing above them. And although the material does get a tad formulaic at times, it is a damn solid formula: chaos noise incarnate loosely trapped within the parameters of pop structure.
“Bad Animal” sticks out for me. The intro fools the listener a bit with 26 seconds of Bob Seger-esque guitar noodling before launching into an all-out sonic blitz. Reminiscent of early Queens of the Stone Age, it is a furious four minutes of song, almost too saturated at times with antagonistically distorted guitars, but nicely counterpointed by the stripped-down, daydream verses. Being one of the more straightforward and less meandering efforts on the album, it packs a blow worth noting.
“Patterned Sky” prominently features restful female vocals and flexes the psychedelic and dreamy muscles that Bloodbirds has to offer. The main guitar finds itself clean, verbed to almost surf rock in a way. This track gets in and out pretty quick and provides a nice breather to the otherwise resonant assault.
Perhaps some of the album’s most interesting guitar work is featured on its title track. All too often guitarists in this genre can get inane or annoying when trying to fill time with random effect noise. Tuley avoids that pitfall in “Psychic Surgery,” putting together a solid and dynamic performance. With what I assume is at least a handful of effects, he coaxes his guitar through a variety of emotions in a nice compact instrumental section. From wailing to pouting to singing to just random robotic musings, it is clear that Tuley is very aware, in control, and discreet with this performance.
The album ends with a bombardment of riffs called “Time Battle.” This song screams like someone beating the shit out of a banshee. It may just be the perfect summation of the rest of the record. There is just enough breath to the verses to make you think you might have some chance of keeping your eardrums intact, but all hope of avoiding the dreaded rrrriiiinnnggg in your ears while trying to fall asleep at night is lost once the vocals give way to the cavalcade of searing guitars. It is a fierce bitch slap to the face, the perfect way to finish off the sonically engorged LP.
All in all, Psychic Surgery will make your audiologist incredibly pissed at you. Bloodbirds do not hold anything back. There is no mute button left on any track in the final mix. If their live show is anything as powerful as this record is, I would suggest earplugs inside earmuffs inside an old deep sea diver’s helmet for protection. Or chance it. Bloodbirds would be a wonderful thing to go deaf to.

Bloodbirds was recently selected to play Ink’s Middle of the Map Fest, which is curated by The Record Machine and runs from Thursday, April 4 to Saturday, April 6. Details on schedules and venues will be forthcoming.

--Zach Hodson

Zach Hodson is a monster. He once stole a grilled cheese sandwich from a 4-year-old girl at her birthday party. He will only juggle if you pay him. I hear he punched Slimer right in his fat, green face. He knows the secrets to free energy, but refuses to release them until "Saved by the Bell: Fortysomethings" begins production.

He is also in Dolls on Fire and Drew Black & Dirty Electric, as well as contributing to various other Kansas City-based music, comedy, and art projects.

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New single: "Wonderful Daze" by Chocolate Wurms

The #1 in under- underground Kansas City trash pop meets an indie art rapper scientist of lyricism in this laid-back groove single with a purpose. I had actually quite literally just dusted off an older Chocolate Velvet CD from the early 2000s the other day to give it a spin when I saw on Twitter (which is both CV’s and Wurm’s social media of choice) that this collaboration had happened. Having also known, worked with, and been a fan of Wurm’s for many years, I was certainly intrigued what this seemingly odd duo would come up with. After listening, the pairing makes perfect sense.
For the most part, the beat is super chilled out, almost sounds like something you’d hear on a TLC record. It’s a groove you can easily throw on and sit back, sip a drink of whatever color liquor you prefer, and just enjoy.
Wurm handles the verses with his usual deft and quick-spit rap stylings. Whereas I don’t listen to rap enough to have a developed ear to understand everything he is saying, the pace and intensity of his vocalization provides a nice contrast to the silky track beneath. The hook is supplied by Chocolate Velvet and features spaced-out, dual-octave, half-sung/half-spoken vocals that have been a staple of his sound for almost a decade.
Thematically, this song is a celebration of making art for art’s sake. This idea is by no means a new one, but this duo is able to paint a new shade on it that keeps it from being just another starving artist anthem.
Got no money in the bank, I know where I stand
Summertime comes and I soak up a tan
If you want to make music, don’t call it a brand
Wurms made of chocolate never made a cent
I admire the fact they finish up the song at a swift and enjoyable three minutes and nineteen seconds. It is just enough to make their point with passion and get out the door without beating the listener over the head with a monotony of holier-than-thou excess. It does exactly what pop music should do, leaves you wanting more. I certainly hope they do just that.

Chocolate Wurms is the combination of the main creative forces behind Chocolate Velvet and Wurm & the Madness. “Wonderful Daze” is its debut single.

--Zach Hodson

Zach Hodson is a monster. He once stole a grilled cheese sandwich from a 4-year-old girl at her birthday party. He will only juggle if you pay him. I hear he punched Slimer right in his fat, green face. He knows the secrets to free energy, but refuses to release them until "Saved by the Bell: Fortysomethings" begins production.

He is also in Dolls on Fire and Drew Black & Dirty Electric, as well as contributing to various other Kansas City-based music, comedy, and art projects.

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Album review: The Great Vehicle - The People's Cathedral of Wavelengths (EP)

Described as “a guided tour of performance, technical, and philosophical minutiae,” The Great Vehicle’s The People’s Cathedral of Wavelengths journeys down an experimental and rock-infused path to deliver a fresh sound that help gives the “progressive” genre a good reputation.

The People’s Cathedral of Wavelengths opens abruptly with “Bald Chemist,” a track that sets the dynamic and progressive tone for the rest ofthe EP. A guitar solo about two-thirds of the way in provides a throwback feeling reminiscent of early/mid-’90s rock, but in the best way possible. “Touched in the Head,” a proclaimed “disparate mismatched junk glued together with industrial-strength adhesive—in the best way possible,” builds upon itself with ascending and descending scales and an introductory riff that supposedly has been in the works for years. “Swan Meat (Slight Reduction)” closes out the EP on a strong note. Though there is an overarching heavy guitar sound throughout all of The People’s Cathedral of Wavelengths, the song has a contagious tempo and beat that makes it the most catchy track of them all. Strong percussion coupled with some random hollering from “an unknown preacher from an unknown cable channel” that the band tossed into the mix make “Swan Meat” a favorite on the EP.
It can be a rare case to find progressive rock songs that are less than 10 minutes long and actually “progress” from start to finish. The Great Vehicle does a great job at keeping listeners’ attention in their tracks and giving them a beat to dance to.
The Great Vehicle is composed of Mason Fann, bass; Gregg Todt, drums; and Troy Van Horn, guitar. The People’s Cathedral of Wavelengths is the band’s first EP, released January 22 and recorded at Sandusky Sound Co by Erik Voeks. The six-track EP can be purchased and downloaded at Bandcamp. Also on this site, the band gives fan some added insight by sharing the backstories to all the songs. 
--Alex Peak
Alex Peak is a magazine designer by day and a music listener by night. To her, stumbling across great new music is even better than finding a $10 bill floating around in the laundry.  

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Upcoming show: Stiff Middle Fingers/Scruffy and the Janitors/Black on Black at Bottleneck, 2.20.13

Two punk rock-leaning acts playing an all-ages show on a Wednesday night with a blues-driven garage rock band made up of teenagers. Weird? Perhaps. Worth $5? Yes sir.
On Wednesday February 20, three of the area’s best, most passionate bands will plant their flags on the stage at The Bottleneck: Black on Black and Scruffy and the Janitors will be laying out the lush red carpet as they support local hardcore punk aficionados Stiff Middle Fingers
Black on Black, a punk three-piece, claims to play and live the music that drives them. One listen to the EPs Help Yourself and the upcoming Let’s Get Cynical and you will know this statement is not just more pseudo-punk posturing from some mall punk rockers, this band practices what it preaches. Influenced by luminaries of the hardcore scene like Fugazi, Gorilla Biscuits, Bad Religion, OFF!, and Bad Brains as well as the alternative leaning Dinosaur Jr., The Melvins, and Archers of Loaf, Black on Black embraces the ominous tones of garage rock, the all-out audial assault of massive volume legends like Swans and storytelling like that of Husker Dü. Make sure to show up early for some punk rock storytelling truth. If you dig Vampire Weekend, stay home.
Bands charging out of the fertile music scene of St. Joseph are all the rage. First was Dsoedean, the indie rock-leaning band with an affinity for Built to Spill and expertly crafted songs. Next—and the one to make the biggest boom thus far—was Radkey, the punkish trio of brothers that no one can seem to get enough of right now. Now it is Scruffy and the Janitors’ turn to test the waters, to bask in the light. Scruffy (Steven Foster, Teriq Newton, and Trevin Newton) takes its love of ‘90s alternative bands like Mudhoney and Nirvana, blends them with The Animals, The Kinks, Led Zeppelin, and The Stones while embracing more recent garage acts such as The White Stripes and The Strokes. For good measure, Scruffy shakes some Skip James, Little Walter, and Son House in the mix for good measure. Driven by their debut release, last year’s Pino and an ever-solidifying live show, Scruffy is definitely a band to keep an eye in the future. The four will go all the way, if they don’t melt their amps first.
Stiff Middle Fingers, an action-packed local favorite, cover tunes from legendary bands from the world of punk like Stiff Little Fingers, Descendents, Black Flag, and Minor Threat as well as original tracks as skull rattling as “Common Cents,” “World Biggest Guillotine,” and “Psycho Bitch,” from last year’s million volt-charged debut Enemies with Benefits (see our review here). Frontman Travis Arey is a remarkable sight to witness as he runs around, microphone in hand, with the boundless energy of a hyperactive kid eating a 10-pound bag of sugar and doing lines with a pixie stick. Arey stands on tables, runs to the bar, having people sing along; he just wants you all to enter his world for an hour or so. He is the embodiment of Henry Rollins if Henry were ever in a good mood. The band behind him plays like there’s nothing left to lose. Cameron Hawk attacks his guitar, playing with the speed of a hummingbird, Barry Swenson’s bass work is as good as it is bowel shaking, and JP Redmon plays the drums like the bastard son of Bill Stevenson and the goddamned Energizer Bunny.
If you want to see where music is heading in the region, that there are indeed great bands out there willing to give all of themselves for the sake of the show and the crowd—be it five or five thousand strong, that care more about the music than their image, The Bottleneck is the place to be. If you like churned-out, radio-friendly “rock,” these probably are not the bands for you.
The Wednesday show will kick off at 8:00 pm with Black on Black, followed by Scruffy and the Janitors, and concluded by the explosive sounds of Stiff Middle Fingers. This is an all-ages show; cover is $5. Facebook event page here.
--Danny R. Phillips
Danny R. Phillips has been reporting on music of all types and covering the St. Joseph, MO music scene for well over a decade. He is a regular contributor to the national circulated BLURT Magazine and his work has appeared in The Pitch, The Omaha Reader, Missouri Life, The Regular Joe, Skyscraper Magazine, Popshifter, Hybrid Magazine, the websites Vocals on Top and Tuning Fork TV, Perfect Sound Forever, The Fader and many others. 



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