Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Far and near EP

The syncopated and manufactured sounds on Far and Near push beyond a simple defining metaphor - of leaving the world, floating away to someplace better. But it works. For all of Panda Riot’s ironic namesake the truth is the triumphant singing that penetrates most of ‘Julie in Time’ and much of the album feels uplifting, devoid of irony, devoid of anything harmful. Chicago's Panda Riot achieves something beyond shoegaze and ambiance/synth harmonics. It’s peaceful and cool simultaneously, a dreamy trip that ends too quickly but needlessly wants for more spins. Far and Near is at times angelic, vocals that are delightfully unearthly and music that echoes The Cure if they played completely uplifting melodies with restraint. The six songs at work here seem to flow into one long piece, the whole like a brilliant moment in time, the imagery brought about by the imaginative listener. Choice cuts: ‘When You Said/When I Said’ and ‘Julie in Time.’

Set for release May 11, 2010

Brian Tucker


Q&A with

The Diamond Center's

Kyle Harris

How long has the band been together?

We started writing Jan of '07

You’ve grown from a duo by adding Brandi Price’s sister. Is the bandcontinuing to grow/add new members?
It is. In fact since moving to Richmond, (Jana didn't move) we have a bass player (Will Godwin), and 2! drummers (Tim Falen & Willis Thompson {also of Thao & the Get Down Stay Down}) both playing in the standup/ no cymbal style that Jana started. If I had my way, we'd be and 11 piece!I’ve read The Diamond Center began as a project in Athens, Georgia.

Were Kyle and Brandi attending college there at the time and why was it viewed as a project?
We were both living in Athens, I (Kyle) had been in bands in and around Athens/Atlanta for several years including one with Brandi. We had mostly been bass players in other groups. Upon writing, we realized we both wanted to play more guitar. We wrote 10 songs in Jan-Feb and recruited some friends in Athens to play and record with us. By March, we had a cd-r only release- CLAWS & FLAWS.

To what degree is The Diamond Center different from its earliest incarnation? How did areas you’ve lived in – Lubbock or Athens, influence the music that you’ve made?
For the first batch of songs, we were just trying somewhat different styles. It's a little more erratic. Moving to Lubbock really helped us find our sound. The landscape is very flat. Scrub desert, high winds, tumbleweeds, prairie dogs, the whole west Texas bit. We spent time in New Mexico and Marfa, Tx., just exploring. That really influenced our creepy, reverb-y sound. After incorporating Jana on drums, with her stripped down set and playing style, it really solidified. The heartbeat behind the haze.

What did you draw on or were taken by as an artist and as musicians?
Again, the landscape was a major role in our sound. There is desolation when you are away from big cities and trees. I grew up in Ga where there was always a canopy of trees and hills. It really changed me for the better.

What prompted the move from Lubbock, Texas to Richmond, Virginia?
Brandi got accepted into the grad program for Graphic Design at VCU. Plus, we're drifters. It was time.

You recorded My Only Companion in Kyle Harris’ home. How did thecomfort and close quarters help craft the album?
I couldn't imagine capturing those feelings in a studio. There is so much pressure, time is money. It was my first venture into recording other than demos. I figured, why try to explain things to someone else. We considered going back to Athens and recording with Joe McMullen (who did our first cd), but it wasn't financially feasible. He mastered it for us. I did it all in Garageband. For our lo-fi psych layers, it worked out just fine, I think.My Only Companion is incongruent in terms of production. It sounds as if Phil Spector recorded a western folk album with psychedelic shades yet it also sounds lo-fi and at-a-distance.

Did you know specifically what you wanted going in to record the album?
I did. I was listening to a lot of Spector and Joe Meek recordings at the time. I wanted it to be lush. I believe there is strength in ambiguity. I don't want to hear every little nuance. You wouldn't hear it live like that. I'm the same way when I look at a painting- Isquint. Also the way I cook. I never use recipes. I don't like straight lines. The sound was very intentional. I basically took what I like about other recordings and applied it. If you listen to an old Stax recording, you don't hear every kick drum beat, it is a wholesound. Echo and reverb make my head turn.The album has a carnival/travelling vibe to it.

Is life on the road more attractive than settling down? How does travel and those experiences shape your artistry?
Travel is a huge part of our lives. We try to get out as much as possible, playing or otherwise. Both Brandi and I are stimulation junkies. We love meeting new people and seeing new things. We take field recordings and video on our phones all the time. Our music and art is a direct reflection of our surroundings. Nature and society's impact is much more interesting to us than boy meets girl blah blah blah. Not that our music isn't personal, just vague, like life. The album is marvelous at conjuring imagery via its complex soundscape. The tribal beats and echoing music bring to mind empty fields, David Lynch films and sixties-era love songs.

What were you trying to create with this album? Were there themes you specifically wanted to invest in?
Thank you. We actually get the Lynch reference a good bit. In fact one of the songs on the cd was written with a character from Twin Peaks in mind. We did try to create an album. Period. Front to back. We spent a great deal of time with the sequencing of the songs. I think they can stand alone, but I always recommend a front to back listen. Maybe in the dark, or when it's raining. Or a Sunday morning. I had one friend say she was listening while driving and damn near wrecked from being caught up in it. Wonderful compliment. Glad she was safe.

Have you performed the album at shows in Richmond? Are you able to recreate the ethereal and spare qualities of the album at live shows?
We have started to play in Richmond. Brandi's school schedule is pretty hectic, so we have to juggle that. We try to create the ethereal sounds live, but when it boils down, we're a rock band. I get into what is referred to by Tim (drums) as a trance state when we play. I kind of just lose track and space out. Luckily, the others know what’s going on. The songs take on a life of there own, for sure. Never the same twice. Is that good or bad? That's why it's important to surround yourself with good players.
The album’s sound is familiar to bands like Spindrift or The Love Language. Is this type of sound a move by musicians to a more accurate sound, one less produced in a world of AutoTune and overly slick production?
Perhaps and thank you. We love those bands. I personally use music as an escape. So, let’s get way out there.

How is My Only Companion available - as cd, downloads or vinyl?
Cd, and digital download. Hopefully we can put it out on vinyl one day. I'd love to see the artwork that big.

tom mcbride

Tom McBride & The Whig Party
Like a Lion

Like any good soup the flavor sets it apart from just being a bowl of soup. Tom McBride likes his with varying stocks – Midwestern rock, southern soul and vocals that deliver heart with guttural personality. McBride and band The Whig Party come on strong with Like a Lion, a rich and moody collection of reserved rock numbers that trade in excess and bombast of the rock genre for outright storytelling. Like a Lion is stark stuff, rich in imagery, the craftsmanship insistent on being atypical, and graciously more than verse-chorus-verse stuff. But for as much as McBride and his material sounds middle of the road or a little like Bruce Springsteen or Rob Ronner the group finds its own voice in serious ideas (“Cutting up L.A.”, “Fisheries & Swine”). McBride’s lyrics invade the music versus accompanying them. It’s written as a stream-of-consciousness delivery, as if recalling as much imagery to someone as fast as possible. Each song bears individuality, the album’s musicality continually morphing a little song by song. “Natchez (Southern Odyssey)” blends slide guitar and horns like a tempered Muscle Shoals recording. “Everybody Plays Their Role” strolls along just right, gentle guitar plucking and scratchy percussion layered for delicate atmosphere. Both are album highlights - more internal, more personal, standing out from the album’s core sound. Like a Lion is a reserved and focused album that isn’t interested so much on catchy numbers. McBride is adept about putting the listener on someone else’s home front.

Brian Tucker


All of the Fire

Record labels started by musicians always happen with the best intentions. It used to be that a more famous band would help another favored band to a label. These days, the do-it-yourself mentality takes on a whole new meaning. Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear, along with Ethan Silverman, has formed Terrible Records and brought exposure to Class Actress and Brooklyn’s Acrylics whose EP All of the Fire was released October 28th as a 10” vinyl and as mp3’s (iTunes, Amazon.com).

The band name alone couldn’t be more appropriate as it denotes a massive color scheme and bright hardened finish. Original founding members Jason Klauber and Molly Shea met in college and started a band that dissolved. The two kept it going and have since added players Sam Ubl on drums and Travis Rosenberg on keyboard and pedal steel. All of the Fire was recorded over a week’s time in a church that Taylor himself uses. The result is beautiful and stark, fussy and cosmic. The sound has a faint echoed feel and a crystallized feel to the vocals and music. The EP is passively sonic, never browbeating the ear but grabbing it hard to whisper into coolly and sweetly. Jason has a gutsy voice, whiskey soaked like a mid-western Steve Kilbey. Molly Shea bears an angelic quality, whether holding back or letting loose. It’s the perfect mixture of two distinct voices, partly aggressive and partly sincerely playful, that never clash when put together. On the EP we get more of Jason, which is fine, but it will be well-served to hear her more on her own.

All of the Fire is reminiscent of Eighties music in terms of melody and song construction, yet painted with a rough Nineties veneer, like Cutting Crew or Big Country mixed with Baby Animals and punk flourishes. “All of the Fire” feels lifted from 1985. “Avenue I” unfolds like The Church covering Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire.” “Honest Aims” fires like mid-west eighties rock with Euro flavoring and a blistering finish. The songs are evidence of why there’s a lot of talk about Acrylics. They have distilled and put forth much at once: Americana bathed in eclectic shades of rock music, subtle melodies and psychedelia.

Brian Tucker


Adrian and the Sickness

Austin, Texas is seemingly never short on musical diversity. Adrian and the Sickness, an Austin stalwart since 2004, have a new album that hugs very hard. It’s a mixed bag of tricks. More so, the female trio is a powerhouse rock and roll band that drops guitar riffs and drum beats like a cute kid driving a Sherman tank around town and firing wildly. Sometimes blistering, sometimes heavy handed, and consistent on saccharine laced vocals, the band deliver loads of explosive energy on their fourth album B.F.D.

Fiery and melodic as late eighties metal (think L.A. Guns, Fastway) and funky as seventies-era AC/DC mixed with the jump-up-and-dance feel of The Go Go’s the band shoots from the hip, clear-cut and fast. Influences are evident – the album was produced by Kathy Valentine of the Go Go’s and lead singer/guitar player Adrian Conner plays in AC/DC tribute band Hell’s Belles. Conner’s playing is Angus Young-tinged, notably on “Loser” and “Rice N Bean.” “Modern Freedom” opens with heavy sonic crunch, boogie flavored “Rice N Bean” keeps the album solid and “Turn It Up” is an album highlight in which Conner’s chorus is on fire and Melodie Zapata’s drumming hammers away. But instead of lingering in one area B.F.D. reveals a few surprises like its title track which could easily be mistaken for a Bangles song and a cover of “Radar Love”. The album makes a complete left turn with, gasp, a fantastic pop song – “Listening,” which soars like a great radio rock anthem and vocals like a teen queen. It takes the form to respectable, and renewed, heights.

For all its sonic boom there’s an off-balance quality to having sugary vocals placed against ragged rock music. It does not detract or sound out of place, except maybe for “Loser”. If anything, it adds an indifferent layer to the whole by a band is not stuck delivering all-out rock tunes for an album’s length. The result is a confident rock album by a band content to play around.

Brian Tucker

nite nite

nite nite
How to Touch the Moon

Nashville is as good a place as any for a band to call Siouxsie Sioux as an influence. The proliferation of love for Sioux or The Cure and near-heartland geography are found buried within nite nite’s How to Touch the Moon. nite nite exemplify a new, and better, trend of modern music that channels styles from bands from nearly thirty years ago. In the simplest terms, they smartly blend old with new. That said, nite nite make moody, emotional fun. Even with the easy comparisons to darker pop music, nite nite is nevertheless catchy and accessible. It bears little baggage of the Goth label and if one were to not look at band photos it would be easy to compartmentalize How to Touch the Moon as a dance and synth-pop laced album graced with a unique lead singer – Sarah-Brooks Levine, and a band adept at mixing driving rhythms and crashing ambiance. Levine is a raspy and ghost-throated singer – she can play as much as she can howl, smile less than gnash her teeth. nite nite’s sound may appear new wave but it fits nicely along the lines of Franz Ferdinand or Class Actress, just more serious.

Brian Tucker

BEST IN SHOW by Phil Juliano



What’s exciting and pleasing about Continent is its capability to bridge dance music and ambience. Michael Silver, the Montreal DJ known as CFCF, has stylishly crafted an album that serves the dual purpose of dance music or something to relax to. Throughout it unfurls with energy, vibrancy - all on its own terms. Continent sounds like an artist trying to please themselves and we’re lucky to be along for the experience. The result is partly bipolar in fine glorious fashion - sultry and emotional yet patient early on about not having to give everything up for one style. It is hardly a chill album, but still lends itself to intimate encounters.

Silver draws on the eighties, from dance music to electronic game sound bites - done far from obvious, begging thoughts of where have I heard that? But references are sparse, texturing them from the eighties as much as the nineties, combing those periods to craft something relevant for the next decade. But it’s more than catchy memories. Silver is adept at dreaming up atmosphere, think of sound layering Peter Gabriel used to make music. Silver finds tribal heart in “You Hear Colours” and scratchy echoes on “Monolith”. “Raining Patterns” conjures up visuals of water drops falling all around. CFCF’s working of Fleetwood Mac’s 1987 hit “Big Love” sounds familiar to the original, feeling right at home here and reminding that the original felt more akin to the future than its late eighties birthplace. “Come Closer” is seductive, ripe for an MC and “Snake Charmer” sounds like a brilliant mid-eighties one-hit-wonder sans lyrics.

Where an artist like DJ Shadow delves into beats and copious amounts of samples the result is less about forming a music environment. CFCF succeeds at that, at building worlds and massive atmosphere with his music. At times it feels like noir-ish pop or recalls art film scores. Continent broods and jumps, moving with grace and electricity. It’s as if Vangelis detoured into synth pop territory and made scattered usage of squash beats. The whole seems an interlude between the current and the future, a world where Blade Runner may come to pass but with a lot more color.

Brian Tucker


Journal of Ardency

Class Actress have made pop and dance music with intelligence, and especially for those who normally may not enjoy it. For all the posturing, and the far-worse embarrassing imagery of the eighties, it’s refreshing to hear groups today echoing the better flavors from that decade. Brooklyn based Class Actress lands here, delivering Journal of Ardency, an EP that is fun, moody and eye-raising. It’s built around sensual singer Elizabeth Harper and synth music crafted from big-beat samples lifted from vinyl. Though the electro-pop heavy EP gives nods and winks to the likes of The Human League, New Order and Debbie Harry, Harper is less a pop songstress than one who accidentally comes off as one while singing sullen, sexy vocals both breathless and bated. She holds back for effect – tempting, not teasing. There’s keyboard rich songs (“Careful What You Say”, “Someone Real”) playing with squashed beats and ghostly vocals and “Let Me Take You Out”, a song that could easily be a U2 cover. Journal of Ardency is dance music for people who want to get down without having to get dirty. If Harper is aiming to be a diva then she’s the new kind, one that is less loathsome while still delivering the goods.

Journal of Ardency is out February 9 on Terrible Records and available digitally and on 10" vinyl.

Brian Tucker


Facing You

There’s nothing temperamental or self-effacing about Marionette’s first full-length. Facing You plays out beautifully, like a thorny night of sleep interrupted by threads of a person’s bemused and amusing life. This emotional ride is supported by the album’s atypical construction where songs are built on ideas, not hooks. It’s about tempo, melody and mood. It’s is an emotional album, one that induces feeling because it’s simply drowning in music that is tangible, sonic and well-paced. Singer and drummer Kevin Cornell compliments the band, and vice-versa. There is a connection between his vocal sound and what the band is creating that is quite fitting, even as it teeters at times on pleasurable melancholy and brazen frustration – mostly as interjections and not elongated themes.

In conception and delivery Facing You is absolutely striking, heavy on driving rhythm from Marshall O’Leary’s keys to Cornell’s up-tempo drumming. It’s a world of sound, built on ambiance from varying genres. There are strong ideas built from multiple layers and textures - a gentle bell, a sound bite or a crunching guitar riff injected at just the right moment. It’s also the juxtaposing of Cornell singing and Kerri Helsley’s ethereal vocals.

‘Four Voices’ is an example of the band using straightforward melodies and uncomplicated playing - fusing them together to make one mountain of a song. It strides along and then showered with Adam Rose’s guitar and O’Leary’s lilting keys. Similar could be said of ‘Facing You’ which makes great use of horns. ‘Disappearing Act’ is tedious and creeping, graced with Helsley’s cooing vocals. ‘Orchid’ is a haunting carriage ride where Cornell sings like whispers in a hallway and Helsley gives it an icy, albeit dangerous, vocal quality. ‘All You Need’ and ‘Wavering’ give Facing You the explosion it needs – the former a driving, hectic track and the latter serving as a chant that explodes magnificently by song’s end. The album closer, ‘Over the Radio’ is epic, a fitting finale to a moving album of material. Facing You feels seamless, one that could be viewed or mistaken for one long song about the ebb and flow of emotions and sights in the mind’s eye.

Marionette plays elegantly moody and emotional music with a variety of sounds and instrumentation. The material is dreamy, textured, haunted and methodical. With Facing You the band delivers a complex album comprised of ethereal song construction and unexpected mood enhancement. Marionette bring much to the table, and seemingly never too much too handle.

Brian Tucker


Libby Johnson
Perfect View

There’s plenty of singer-songwriters trying to rise above the swarm that fill the hours at numerous coffee houses and after-dinner crowds sipping overpriced drinks. It’s a tough climb, and if the throng of loud talkers quiet down enough one gets to hear a singer with a lot to offer. With a seemingly simple, yet intrinsically far reaching vocal ability Libby Johnson does much with little. That’s not meant to detract from Johnson, but merely to highlight her strong delivery. Emotionally she digs deep with seemingly scant effort, able to tap into the heart with grace and ease, sounding like Sarah McLachlan and Gillian Welch singing the same song simultaneously.

Her voice is striking; deep in timbre yet remains smooth. For much of the album Johnson lays low, singing sincerely and with restraint, like a serious conversation or gut wrenching confession – all done with grace and ease. “Perfect View” is soft and slow and “Being Your Stranger” is reflective, descending and breathless vocals against rocky piano playing. “Be Your Revelator” is country-tinged with a little funkiness. It isn’t until “Coming Up for Air” that Johnson lets the hair down, strutting like Fiona Apple sans the guttural vocal crush. Johnson croons over slinky piano, taking her time. On “Sister You’ll Be Back Again” Johnson sings against slide guitar, making some hair raising acoustic music. But on the spare acoustic “I Know You Know” Johnson seems to bare the most.

With Perfect View Johnson is somewhere between singer-songwriter and caregiver - her voice warm, soothing and at times angelic. For a musician who’s performed at CBGB’s and seen her music used in film (Trust the Man) it’s evident her qualities as a singer translate beyond the norm.

Brian Tucker


It’s Fun to do Bad Things (2010)

It’s been far too long between Lions Rampant albums. It’s good to know that a band out there still gives a damn about having a good time, getting fucked up and playing great rock and roll music sans pretension and corniness. The Burlington, Kentucky band fires on all cylinders, doing what the music world really needs - stimulation and liveliness, music that makes you feel alive, like a kid downing a handful of sodas the first time. Their album It’s Fun to do Bad Things is a non-stop party, meant to be played loud as a dirty concoction of neo-soul crashing head on with brazen old school rock music when guitars were plugged in and played as is. It’s a rush - a head shaking, hip quaking explosion laced with delicious grooves that drags feet to the dance floor.

Judging by the intensity of It’s Fun to do Bad Things their self-propelled gnarly party never stopped between 2006’s Play Rock n Roll and 2007’s Freedom. It’s Fun sounds authentic, as if recorded at a house party with the partygoers and noise removed. The recording sounds bare but comes off monstrous, like an old record found in your parents stash. Its simplicity, its knock-down-drag-out bare knuckled delivery, is akin to the rawness employed on recent albums by The Love Language or The Diamond Center. It’s Fun sounds recorded with guns to the band’s heads - it’s fast, soulful and blows mercury out the thermometer. They fuse blues and punk through a sixties metallic filter, its heavy grooves are brash, hypnotic and fun. Think The Isley Brothers by way of The Standells and the J. Geils Band. It’s hard to point to specific tracks as gems because the whole album is fucking great. ‘I’m a Riot’ and “Cocaine Anne’ are choice listens, but there’s not a single bad song on the album. It’s Fun to do Bad Things is one of the best party records in years. Buy it, download it, invite your friends over and play it loud. Warn your neighbors.

Brian Tucker