Tuesday, January 18, 2011


“Alta” b/w “Gift Horse in the Mouth” Vinyl 7-inch

This Tucson, Arizona group of artists debuts on Fort Lowell Records with a sweet 7-inch vinyl release of two tracks which form a Jekyll & Hyde persona. “Alta” is playful, wildly swinging for the fences with spacey charm and a kinetic, dreamy feel. The song is frantic at first but molds into something bouncy and anthem heavy, resulting in a tone that’s like a parade just outside your window. It’s built around psychedelic atmospherics, swirling guitar and hollowed out vocals that seem either distant or hiding inside your ear. Its atmosphere is accented by strong lyrics. Take note of lines like “Jesus won’t answer my wicked soul” or “Sometimes we fail/Sometimes we fail/If the heavens won’t hold you tight/The ground surely will.” It’s the last words we hear as the remainder of the song is embraced by swirling guitar winding out playfully, like paper floating on the breeze. Inside this single track is surely half an album’s worth of ideas.

“Gift Horse in the Mouth” is quite the opposite, beautiful in its murky calamity and disjointed beauty. The keyboard playing is bountiful, church-like, as if some aged opera is being banged away at by an unconventional rock star. The playing bears a sixties twangy texture. It’s crazed and punchy, only stopping nearly midway for low slung harmonizing.

Not sure how Fort Lowell is handling this, but the “Alta” track was remixed by three different artists resulting in three wholly different and engaging versions. Jacob Safari’s has a version rich with Casio/video game ambiance and the remix by Fort Lowell label mates ….music video? turn in something more tribal and rustic – a bevy of staccato stick beats against the vocals. Kurt Snell’s remix boasts old school video game effects but the track is primarily drenched in static and soft squash beats as the vocals slip through like a criminal. Don’t know if these three remixes are available but they’re interesting reworkings of the original “Alta” and mirror what Dead Western Plains has created already.

Their focus is rich in mood and texture, and the result is ambitious as it is marvelous. Like Tomandandy, Dead Western Plains seems to be adept at using technology to create more than just ambiance. The music elicits more than, say, clothes on the rack. It conjures up what several floors are carrying – clothes and their varying colors, their fabrics, their genders and designs. The layers here add up to more here than mere catchy music. It’s a neural network.

-Brian Tucker

Available here:



Tuesday, November 30, 2010



have you met my friend?

This San Diego trio has a lot to answer for. By no means negatively, but as music makers and fans of music. They wear numerous influences on their sleeves with have you met my friend? Judging by the excellent sounds, and songs, they seem like people you'd want to talk music with at a noisy party. New Mexico sound different track to track, on the seven song EP. Where it fails many bands the variety works here over and over. There's no through line to be found other than a great album with a lot of energy.

"Case Closed" opens with this cool, magnetic, echoing guitar line. The song jumps around, most fun at the chorus and then burns into oblivion by the time it ends. This one song encapsulates the power and aesthetic of the band. So does "Chosen Ones", a Mooney Suzuki-like song that pumps with the vigor of a band from Detroit trashing a warehouse filled with battered car parts. "Abused and Amused" is another crash-and-burn track that recalls The Dead 60's but is completely theirs. There's an early eighties New Wave/rock and roll sound to New Mexico. Its all rather large sounding like European bands with random hit singles and moody like The Psychedelic Furs, namely on "Quiet in the City" where the band harmonizes over slumming and slurred vocals. The guitar and drums bash and fight, making for a fantastic song that feels they could care less. New Mexico could easily become "that band" of the moment. Nothing wrong there. But it'd be a shame to have them lost in the shuffle of hipster fame when they make music that's way beyond trendy.

-Brian Tucker

Saturday, October 2, 2010


Rock ‘n Roll Ghoul

7-inch/digital download

Asheville, North Carolina’s Mad Tea Party has found special ways of celebrating the holidays over the last few years. They’ve released either a split single of Christmas music or in celebration of their favorite holiday, Halloween, the uke-abilly duo went all out in 2009 with four spooky and fun garage pop rock songs pressed on vinyl with letter-pressed artwork. Following up on last year’s bonanza Zombie Boogie, Ami Worthen and Jason Krekel have recorded another batch of Halloween rock songs. Called Rock ‘n Roll Ghoul, this special recording is being released as another limited run of 7-inch vinyl with EC Comics inspired art by San Francisco artist Gus Cutty.

The title track is a fireball, rich in hot rod driving jangly guitar and fast-paced vocals. It shakes like a punk tune as if made in the fifties and laced with tambourine and screaming back-up vocals. “Possessed” is a 60’s flavored psychedelic number, think the B-52’s drinking specially laced party punch. Worthen’s vocals are sweet and wiry, the whole sounding like a girl group singing love songs in a cemetery. “Dr. Phibes” laments Vincent Price, part Hawaiian guitar, part Buddy Holly. Covering the Hollywood Flames’ “Frankenstein’s Den” is the real treat, a creepy-crawly throwback to the 1950’s whose doo-wop vocals (with Snake Oil Medicine Show’s Caroline Pond) make the song shine.

The Mad Tea Party has done it again with this release. Here’s hoping they take a shine to other holidays. The 7-inch Rock ‘n Roll Ghoul comes with a download code and can also be purchased solely as a digital download.

-Brian Tucker


Record release shows planned to date:

October 2 - The Pour House - Raleigh , NC (with the Straight 8's)

October 15 - Stella Blue - Asheville , NC (with Mark Sultan)

October 16 - Double Door - Charlotte , NC

October 16 - The Cave - Chapel Hill , NC (part of Blackbeard's Lost Weekend)

October 29 - Uketoberfest - Aberdeen , NC


Lights That Last Forever

Chicago's Darling have continued to evolve, re-shaping their sound with each album. On their new album, Lights That Last Forever, they've added a variety of styles - funk, garage rock and early nineties college rock. Throughout two EP's (2005's Ground is Sound, 2009's Burned by the Sun) Darling has shifted, as if wholly trying new things out, from blending moody and soft-assault ambiance to songs that are more catchy, more radio friendly, than before. There's sweet melancholy to Jeff Schneider's vocals, sounding like a teenage David Byrne. Lights That Last Forever shakes up the band's old ideas, giving them more heft, more color.

Lights really sounds like a '90's album, its strangely catchy, obtuse and more playful. The proof is the introspection of the songs, the album lending itself to the autumn season versus the rejuvenation of spring. "Move In Move On" makes no bones about getting down, the bass noticeably at the forefront. Bass notes noodle and swirl, the guitar jangly and rusty. "In the Ground" blisters like a Superchunk number, aggressive and fun. Lights doesn't stay settled, from the trippy bass on "Bad Dream" whose quick chorus and closing moments is rich with fractured guitar playing, first mimicking erratic rainfall then the world falling apart, to the travelling bounce of "Bicycle Ride" which gleefully sounds as if it should be sang with cast of The Muppet Show.

Darling sounds less romantic, slightly less idyllic about it in the music than before. The band now ebbs closer to an indie version of Matthew Sweet trying to be ELO. That's not meant as derision, Darling play songs simply that just happen to sound large.

-Brian Tucker





It's interesting to see a band years into to their career still making something new out of old material - be it live or on the typical "best of" album. Many artists find gold in reworking their songs, be it creative exercise or contract fulfillment. John Mellencamp did well with Rough Harvest, turning old songs into new ones. The Black Crowes have done something similar. Having already released a "greatest hits" album a few years back the band has released Croweology, a collection of largely acoustic and gently reworked versions of the band's staples.

Twenty years on in their career, The Black Crowes laid down enough tracks to support a double album - some expected and some surprises. Taking a cue from last year's ...Until the Freeze the band recorded these quick and live. The result puts forth a band, once derided as a throwback to the seventies, as a multifaceted and genre shifting one. Croweology is proof that the band's songs are like clothing that can be re-stitched and worn again and again. The songs here are generally remade with different dressings, a little harmonica here, the crunch of guitar removed there.

The real gems are "Morning Song" a Sunday church reworking of a song that was written that way in the first place, just heavier on guitar. It's the rave-up at the end, its blast of energy that gives the original version a run for its money, replacing bombast with spare playing that reaches the same ceiling. "Sister Luck" feels like a totally different song than on 1990's Shake Your Money Maker and 1992's "Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye" is wonderful, sounding like a ghost form the past. Some tracks that were born in acoustic beginnings ("Good Friday", "Downtown Money Waster") seem familiar yet still shine. "Girl from a Pawnshop" sounds more melancholic, more deliberate now, but loses the huge wall of sound. "Wiser Time," always a magical number, rolls on for nine minutes, still resonating as it did in 1995, paired with the equally lengthy "Ballad in Urgency."

The only real disappointment is that, as the band currently tours for the last time before taking a lengthy hiatus, is that they haven't released a collection of songs that's never seen the light of day. "She" and "Cold Blue Smile" are the only evidence here of it. The band apparently has a lot of original material stored, hopefully it will see release during the band's hiatus. Croweology doesn't sound like closure, more like a hint of what's could come down the road.

-Brian Tucker

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

John Mellencamp

No Better Than This

Rounder Records

Since 1989 or so John Mellencamp has been shedding the label-induced "Cougar" moniker and all the crap that came with it. At the same time he's been making indelible, serious and fun music ever since. People were confused or turned off by Mellencamp's "Pop Singer" (from 1989's Big Daddy), a thrown gauntlet to cats off his manufactured namesake. Perhaps fans felt he turned his back on their good times, their lives. They should have seen it coming with 1987's Scarecrow.

It was easy to misinterpret. Mellencamp was asserting his power as a songwriter, not wanting to be part of the pop music assembly line, one far worse now in 2010. He continued to craft earnest songs ("Martha Say, "Jackie Brown") while delivering catchy ones ("Key West Intermezzo", "Get a Leg Up", "Your Life is Now"). In truth, Mellencamp has never really made a bad record since hitting big in 1982. He's been talked about with Guthrie and Dylan but derided for writing hit songs. He's had albums that wandered, Freedom Road, Trouble No More, and struggled the last decade with record labels, jumping from Mercury to Sony to smaller labels (Hear Music, Universal Republic).

The singer once said that men weren't worth a damn till they're forty. Maybe Mellencamp was talking about richness with age, attaining wisdom. His last album, 2008's Life Death Love and Freedom, produced by T. Bone Burnett, seemed to be the distillation of age, wisdom and creative countenance. It was, perhaps, an album he's been working towards since the mid-nineties, if not earlier. It's spare and raw nature was perfect for the album's subject matter and Mellencamp's coarse, much older voice. No Better Than This, also produced by Burnett, follows up on it, the singer still sounding like a young man adverse with the world around him.

No Better Than This was recorded at historic locations - the hotel room where Robert Johnson recorded, Sun Studios, the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Ga. Those locations are interesting, poignant, but what's relevant are the songs and how they were recorded - a single microphone and a 55-year old Ampex tape recorder. Mellencamp once thanked The Rolling Stones for keeping the "living room on the record." He was recalling the feeling of wonderment of sitting in a room and hearing a record - before an overabundance of TV and the Internet. With No Better Than This, we're alone in those rooms with him.

The sound of the record is important. It's thick and unpolished. It feels real, it feels dirty and tainted. For all the grittiness and sparseness the songs are inviting and at times as catchy as anything else the man has ever written. Each is an individual story, all worth taking in. I'm as much of a fan of Mellencamp's early work as his most recent. we've probably only begun to see the watershed of work by a man in his later-years prime. Years from people and critics alike will probably look back at these years and albums as the beginning of something far more prolific in Mellencamp's catalog.

-Brian Tucker


Split 7-inch

Fort Lowell Records

Black and white. Yin and yang. North and south. You get it. That's how disparate this split 7-incher is. Selecting the raw power-pop of Los Angeles' Wet & Reckless and Tuscon-based Tracy Shedd works significantly, eschewing the notion of placing similar sounding bands on a single platter simply just to sell. Wet & Reckless, a dubious and exciting name for a band if there ever was one (its a term for an actual DUI charge in California), and Shedd have songs that are polar opposites in terms of emotion and surrealism. They are textured and honest songs, anything but overtly polished but are seriously songs that stick. Wet & Reckless' "New Guy" is retro and electric, its jangly surf rock sound coupled with Emily Wilder's sugar coated vocals, as if The Breeders tried on The Beach Boys. It's an energetic song of guys and relationship uncertainty. Wilder sings, "I'd rather be burned and left in the dark/Than Durafalmed with a tiny little spark." Regardless, it's a great rock song that lasts much longer than its actual three minutes. Shedd's "Tear It Up" is haunting and moody, built upon lilting western styled guitar playing. The song is about going out and dancing and whose lyrics are brief but weights the song like a novel. Shedd's vocals are magical and hypnotic. She sings the words in a soft cooing fashion and the effect is nothing short of ghostly. This split 7-inch is solid, an no-brainer teaser for looking into work by both artists.

-Brian Tucker

$6 Limited to 500 copies this 7-inch Candy Bubblegum Red vinyl comes with w/download code. Out October 5th, 2010