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The Deli's Bands of the Month 2013
For those who decide whether to come or go based on the first forty seconds of an album, Restorations’ LP2 is practically tailor-made for snap judgments. After a chiming, anthemic guitar opening, the band already known for fist-raising jams lets all hell break loose with “D,” their most unrestrained opener yet. The drum kit-mauling, earth-shaking bass lines and ascendant guitar riffs can only be described as complete sensory overload, and make it clear that the following eleven songs are going to be fueled by pure viscera. If your preferences run towards structure over huge sound, this release may leave you cold; LP2’s predominant means of exploring the band’s wealth of ideas are stadium-sized instrumentation and endless waves of atmospherics, as well as a dose of ennui.
This is a murkier, more inward-looking Restorations than we’re used to. Everything that was there before, musically, is blown sky-high this time around. They’ve managed to pack ideas into every iota of the song list, aided by Jon Low’s miles-deep production; the density of the music itself is offset by an album-long meditation on place, belonging, and the ramifications of leaving the familiar behind, which makes the outsized sound that much more of an interesting direction. Juxtaposing the existential discomfort with more sophisticated, complex forays into Restorations’ sonic wheelhouse.
The spiraling guitars, one of the album’s specially prominent features, are everywhere, serving various purposes in each song. “Kind of Comfort”’s jittery glam rock aspirations accompany lyrics of searching and wanderlust. Even the more downbeat cuts (“In Perpetuity Through The Universe,” “New Old”) are propelled beyond their subject matter by the songs’ barely-concealed restless energy. At its more pensive moments, like the folk-inflected “Civil Inattention,” there is a restless undercurrent of texture and volatility that never quite lets up.
Album closer “Adventure Tortoise” is all monster buildup laced with extraterrestrial effects, kicking off into a sort of requiem for the band’s neighborhood. “I’d really like to stay to help this place,” growls Jon Loudon through his teeth, but the allure of letting it all go is too strong to resist. The longing for a place “where nobody knows your name” isn’t quite all-consuming enough to inspire real action, but it is definitely the new paradigm Loudon means.
It takes guts to pull off a release that feels ten minutes long but contains more emotional and musical texture than most records. Restorations cover a whole lot of ground on LP2, and for the most part, pull off their ambitions. A bit too sanguine for shoegaze, and maybe too heady for punk, Restorations’ second full-length album brings an intriguing palette of aspirations to their open road-ready sound, prepared to try anything and everything. - Alyssa Greenberg
Dangerous Ponies’ latest release, a four-song EP entitled Tenderheart, emphatically meets the expectations of their fans. Tenderheart is a systematic combination of fresh rocking, dance-inspiring, indie pop led by the supreme vocals of Chrissy Tashjian and the band’s innate ability to construct and balance complex musical compositions, stacking tight layers of sound, with the help of producer Joe Reinhart, while retaining a clean crispness.
The EP’s title track sets the standard. A guitar riff assisted by some light smacking percussion and a subtly twinkling keyboard anchors the stage before the song kicks into high gear. As the powerful fuzzed-out combination of drums, bass and volatile guitar pushes forward, Tashjian finds a natural place for her voice and lyrics - “You got a lot of ghost/You got to let them all out.” While the percussion and vocals are aligned in the center, the guitar work weaves from side to side, stretching out on a little run before briefly falling back to the original vocal/drum/keyboard combination, reemerging in a blistering fuzzed-out explosion that’s completed by warning micro chant “Watch Out!”
Seamlessly leading into “Sparks,” rumbling drums and claps form a base, but the song takes an unexpected route when a bright choir-esque vocal teams up with Tashjian’s lead, developing an airiness before yet another transition - one from keys into guitar. A chunky bass/guitar groove thrusts into a dual laser beam guitar riff.
“California” is a microcosm of the band’s ability to blend an array of styles into a dense rich package. What begins as a poppy vocal song using a twangy guitar and a snap/pop driving percussive backdrop quickly changes shape morphing into a fuzzed-out guitar lick; then turning into a pulsing bass/key scenario nod to The Clash. Finally, the two-worlds meet as a twangy/fuzz guitars rip through, and the song comes full circle closing out with a polished choral/lead vocal marriage.
Tenderheart rounds itself out with anthemic “Dogfite.” Similar to its predecessors, the closing track shape-shifts as it moves. Beginning at a precise jogging pace that puts emphasis on the groove, but after coasting down the road, it speeds up merging into a raunchy fuzz-guitar explosion, and then steps back with as a slick lick and drum beat creating a path for Tashjian to lament, “Everything in you, is in me too/the nature of us we are so free.” And as the full instrumental artillery reemerges, the rest of the band’s wails of “Are we strong enough?” go head to head with the lead vocals, providing the song and Tenderheart, as a whole, with a dynamic and powerful ending.
Dangerous Ponies have found a way to craft music that streamlines genres, proving that if the individual pieces know how to come together, the final product, even in just four songs, can truly stretch the boundaries. - Michael Colavita
If there’s one certainty in life, it’s that in the year 2076, when the world is a utopian paradise and all existential threats have been remedied, one guy will still be out there. You know the one. Everyone will be joyously riding emission-free silver air taxis to work, and homeboy will be sitting there glowering as the sun shines on pristine soybean fields, a hologram of an ax slowly grinding on a whetstone flickering over his head. He’ll be pissed off about a band who, in his eyes, has sold out.
Pissed Jeans were recently on the receiving end of the kind of bug-up-ass screed that’s been around since man first rocked out. Honeys is their first release in four years, and it seems that they’ve found their ticket to widespread renown, with a cover story for City Paper and reviews across the globe, even (complete with hilariously prim censoring) in BBC Music. Of course, someone was going to get angry at them for sullying an imagined mantle of punk rock. How dare they take the sounds of misanthropic nineties idols to the masses! How dare they get themselves signed to Sub Pop! How dare they not write songs using the official Punk Rock Word Bank! How dare they be courteous, good-natured family men making evil songs about TV dinners!
It’s unfortunate that Disgruntled Letter Writer has written Pissed Jeans off, because Matt Korvette and company, aside from being legitimately decent guys, are maybe more punk rock when they’re chronicling the sordid, mundane rites of their day than some bands are when they’re screaming about street living in a South Philly basement.
“Bathroom Laughter” is a fanged, rabid creature of an opener, now impossible to hear without picturing the insane, hilarious video that has changed the way people watch the Home Shopping Network forever. The following track “Chain Worker” sounds musically like they’re lying in wait, plotting their next attack, but lyrically it goes right for the viscera: a grim number about living life as an office drone, complete with crying alcohol-induced tears of blood. Jesus.
“Romanticize Me” has something of Dead Kennedys’ demented, acidic rants, but bludgeoned into a deadpan, lumbering sludge-rock crawl underscoring Korvette’s insistence that his lady should be grateful when he blearily suggests they get it on. The sleazy delight of “Loubs” might make Christian Louboutin kind of nervous, since it’s doubtful he would want his brand associated with our heroes, but somehow I doubt that this one is going to trigger an Apple Bottom Jeans-style bump in sales. Here, the iconic red-soled high heels are the object of lust for Korvette, a seedy flack trying to give his girl a lavish future; one day, if he’s smart about saving and planning, they’ll walk into the store, and he’ll buy her the titular shoes that will be her ticket to happiness. It’s like the world’s scuzziest update of Springsteen’s “Atlantic City.”
“You’re Different (In Person)” is oddly poignant, maybe since online dating is such a given these days when it comes to how people find other people. It seems weird that Pissed Jeans haven’t already written a song about online dating, actually. But here it is, and it will make you cry snotty tears of cringing laughter and remember to never accept a date from anyone with a poorly-lit profile picture ever again.
As far as the music goes, the production is notably cleaner than their previous albums, which serves them well on songs that employ their gritty blues swagger, such as “Cat House,” which is about as glorious as a double entendre gets. “I got an invitation, the sorta thing I wanna try... give it a shot before I die,” moans Korvette morosely. Alas, his hope of finding a “feline” companion are dashed by itchy eyes, sleeplessness and the feeling of having committed a crime against one’s body. Behold: cat allergies as a metaphor for visiting a hooker.
One of the best things about stepping into Pissed Jeans’ modern-day theater of the absurd is the occasional forays into sympathetic and reasoned views of what other people go through. Disgruntled Letter Writer may not have considered that it’s actually pretty punk rock to advocate for the rights of a large part of the population to not be harassed and belittled, which is the gist of “Male Gaze.” While it took Henry Rollins and Steve Albini years to pick apart their misanthropic worldviews and separate women from their general issues with humanity, here you have a song where Korvette openly admits, “It’s when you’re judged before you even get to speak a word/It’s when you make the smartest point and it goes unheard/I’m not innocent - I’m guilty/I’m not innocent - but I’m sorry.” Someone get this guy to lecture the entire GOP, for a month straight.
Stepping into Pissed Jeans’ sweat lodge of sexual inadequacy, vindictiveness and processed foods can be either the happiest or the most anguished experience you’ll get from a band of their ilk. Pissed Jeans are not the band to go to if you want what Disgruntled Letter Writer seems to want, which is punk rockers as crazed degenerates who scream about veganism and don’t use the internet. Instead, they’re a philosophical foray in the other direction: Just as there’s a terror in realizing you’re just a vile cretin like everyone else, there’s transcendental bliss in their self-hating hymns for the everyman. - Alyssa Greenberg
Somewhere between the first and last tracks on DRGN King's Paragraph Nights (Bar None), the record’s spiritual grounding reveals itself with startling clarity. After nearly an album’s worth of psychedelic, maximalist indie-pop, with all the attendant touches of pleasure-loving and Altamont Sunrise-watching you could hope to hear, “Warriors” finds frontman Dominic Angelella asking “We heard about the house you built - did you find your way back home?” This is not the carefree euphoria of teenagers. Rather, Angelella and his bandmates are channeling a more mature, collectively-oriented freedom, one that’s shared by other adults who know what it’s like to create, struggle, triumph and grow through supporting one another. At a time when pop music is so often aggressively self-involved, it feels almost revolutionary to invoke such familial comforts. This is undoubtedly the most emotionally affecting line of his on Paragraph Nights, the question held aloft on a soft background chorus of triumphant whoops and yelps, as if offering the emotional support of a whole gang. Have you made your house a home? Are you at peace? If not, Angelella wants you to know, here we are for you.
As with Angelella’s other projects, DRGN King’s overture is engineered with exceptional confidence and talent, even throughout its spacey interludes and everything-but-the-kitchen-sink tendencies. The sound is so dense that it can seem like DRGN King have always been a full band, with each member contributing a monolith of effects from the get-go. Not so; DRGN King was born a two-piece. Angelella’s songwriting duties often ride sidecar to the encyclopedia of effects, phasers, synths, and atmospherics offered by producer Brent “Ritz” Reynolds and the myriad of performers recruited to asseble this debut.
“Warriors” is a leisurely, beat-inflected strut, and one of the most radio-ready songs on the album. It’s a standout for the band as a whole, and when broken down, for individual members. Its bassline is a thing of sheer delight, and Ritz, who cut his production teeth on the Roots and Peedi Crakk, uses his designation as the hip-hop mind of the group for one of the most exciting parts of Paragraph Nights. “I got a bad, bad feeling they’re gonna take it all away....Warriors, out to play, and no one stay inside/The beautiful, the young, the brave.” Rather than a lament, Angelella’s exhortating people to level with themselves before it’s too late in life.
The moss-covered piano intro gives way to “Wild Night,” childlike wonder personified. After this bit of luminous electro-pop, Angelella slows things down for couple of sultry garage jaunts. “The Cardy Boys” is full of Mercury Rev-style nostalgia, as well as the same sort of lush production values given to Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips by Dave Fridmann. Tame Impala is another, more contemporary touchstone; their folkloric sonic tapestries and easygoing lyrical persona is instructive if you’re hellbent on finding a comparison who have succeeded in the mainstream.
“Barbarians” is a fittingly primal nightlife anthem. “Down in the trenches with barbarians” - who are these barbarians, specifically? Of any alluded-to group on Paragraph Nights, Angellella makes them sound like the most fun, going by hip-thrusting guitars and space-age synths.
The Santana-like guitar howls on “Caught Down,” the album’s penultimate number, are too prominent - and bizarrely perfect - to ignore. But just when this song is powering down, the drums weaken for a seemingly depleted conclusion, and neatly pivots into “Looking at You,” a funky hand-clapper and tambourine-shaker. It’s a total flouting of typical album structure, as if Angelella was determined to have one last moment of wistfulness before ending the album on an upbeat note. For the capstone to an album that feels like it belongs to a collective, this is an excellent way of corralling everyone for one last pump of the fist. Above all, Paragraph Nights is an album of mastery - whether technical, stylistic, or emotional, Angellella somehow knows where he’s headed from start to finish and how to keep people on board. - Alyssa Greenberg
Wolf Like a Stray Dog
Norwegian Arms’ debut LP Wolf Like a Stray Dog is a solid and short one. The album is over in a flash, with all the tracks, minus one, clocking in under two and a half minutes. The songs are snapshots, but they do not feel cut short despite their limited runtime. It is more an in-and-out effectiveness of punks Minor Threat or Bad Brains. The lyrics on the album are just great. Mulvihill could have easily allowed the album to rely on its poetic strength, but instead, with the help of Dr. Dog’s Eric Slick, among others, he was able to capture the emotions of the words, and counter them with a prancing, percussive folk sound.
The minimalist opening of “And Then I Found Myself in Taiga” introduces the listener to singer/mandolin player Brendan Mulvihill’s quivering tenor and ruminant, gentle lyrics. A lot of Norwegian Arms’ appeal up until this album were those sticking points, but as soon as they introduce Mr. Slick’s dynamic percussion, it changes the way that you look at the band entirely. The sound from previous demos is really flipped on its head, and suddenly the mandolin is complimenting the tribal percussion that is the heartbeat of the LP. The opening track is significantly more put together than anything the band had released before, which is not to say the lo-fi approach didn’t have its benefits, but the sound on this album realizes the songs in a way that a lo-fi approach could not.
The title track “Wolf Like a Stray Dog” has an animalistic charm of Animal Collective’s Sung Tongs - both in subject and the primal nature of the song itself. Maybe it is a cop out, but there were numerous times when I heard that era of AnCo in Norwegian Arms. There are dynamic similarities, thematic similarities and vocal similarities. That is a compliment by the way.
Another rewarding listen on the record is “She Lives in a Secret Town,” which also showed up on their Trimming of Hides EP. If you really want to understand how the new recordings changed their sound for the better, just listen to both versions of that song, and you will get it. Simple things like the sparse lead guitar do wonders for the song. “Soviet Bicycle” has a hypnotic repetition to it. It is a dizzying listen, and fully captures the bike ride that the band takes you on. The song is really clever in that way, and for that matter, the whole album. One of the earlier tastes that we sampled of the LPwas “Tired of Being Cold”; the ever relatable lament about not only being cold, but self-reflection and the inevitability of aging. The record closes with the declarative, bouncy “Pu-Erh.” The song removes you from the cold being sung about, and places you in a sandy oasis where your only obligations are to relax and enjoy.
Wolf Like a Stray Dog is fully immersive. It is a cocoon to protect from external surroundings. At the same time, it obsesses about external surroundings while displaced. Throughout the record, you can hear Mulvihill question and reaffirm his purpose. He does so with vignettes - some seemingly unrelated but all ultimately essential. There is a lot to say for an album with no filler. It is melodic, it is therapeutic, and it is truly fulfilling. - Adam G.