Reviews, interviews, articles, and other blather about music from the mind of Yugoboy

Monday, November 23, 2015

Mrs. Skannotto with The Meg Williams Trio, The Dirty Pennies, The Action, and the Sexy Teenagers - November 20, 2015 - Concert Review

Mrs. Skannotto Concert - Buta Pub 11/20

     The Meg Williams Trio opened up the night's proceedings with a nice little acoustic set. Meg Williams as guitarist/vocalist and did a really nice job, while her trumpeter performed well in support. The percussion guy made the most of his busker-like set-up (check out the pix to see what I mean.) As singer/songwriter Meg Williams creates music on the enjoyable and tuneful end of jazz, and did a good job of playing the unsuspecting diners out the door before the punk and ska acts blew the batter off their fish fries.

     The Dirty Pennies, a blues/rock duo on drums and guitar played some killer tunes that genuinely didn't miss a bassist. For two dudes, they make a lot of noise. Terrific noise, and thoroughly enjoyable noise, but a lot of noise nonetheless. The lack of a third guy might limit them a bit to a certain sound, but a remarkably enjoyable and consistent sound embedded with a healthy dose of George Thorogood, which can never ever be a bad thing.  PIX

     The Action followed up bringing energetic and fun ska tunes to the party. These five dudes from Syracuse know how to churn out the catchy whimsical side of ska. Their sound is all crank all the time, and should not be missed by anyone even remotely interested in ska. They also managed to make the most of an incredibly limited stage space, turning in a most energetic performance.  PIX coming soon.

     Separating the two ska bands, punk rockers Sexy Teenagers cranked out their proprietary blend of party punk. Featuring an extraordinarily animated performance style combined with good music and sophomoric lyrics Sexy Teenagers are a local favorite with the kind of punk rockers who have good jobs and own homes. Aside from some truly offensive lyrics, these guys can shred the heck out of a stage. Beware the Sexy Teenagers headache, derived from the volume, the force and the headbanging.  PIX coming soon.

     Of course Mrs.Skannotto killed it when they got on stage. These guys are consumate and experienced pros. Along with pumping out great tunes, they know how to grab their audience. Their highly anticipated next album has been ready to drop for a while now, but behind the scenes "stuff" has prevented them from getting it out, although the current release date is inFebruary. So, they keep building interest by playing the new tunes at live shows, and tonight was no different. A solid third or more of their set this show was new tunes, and they seem to be as awesome as their history indicates they would be. Mrs. Skannotto kicks out terrific old-school ska while bringing new elements, including some neat effects with the guitarist's wawa pedal.  PIX coming soon.

     Mrs. Skannotto tells me they're planning a number of these shows around town, inviting friends and making new ones through invitations. Keep an eye out for these guys to play anywhere near you. The shows are fun, fun, fun and you will get your money's worth.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Maruta - Remain Dystopian

Remain Dystopian

For the last half-hour Maruta’s Remain Dystopian assaulted my ears with a sustained attack consisting of a rather unique speed- and black- metal combination that managed to convince me each song was its own unique entity but without my being able to articulate exactly what each song was about or how it is different from the others on the disc.  One or two songs’ tempo slows down a bit and the non-death metal vocalist can be almost heard almost clearly.
The majority of Remain Dystopian consists of short song after short song (under two minutes in length) featuring decent rhythm guitar and bass support combined with death metal growls and drumming fueled by speed.  I suppose, with a lyric sheet and more patience, this album could grow on me.  The talents of guitarist Eduardo Borja, guitarist/bassist Mauro Cordoba and drummer Daniel Morris shine pretty effectively at various times throughout the album, and Mitchell Luna’s vocals suit the music perfectly.  Even considering the issues behind the vocals that define the death metal sound, this album’s mixing muddied the vocals too much.  The times when Luna switched up the vocals to a more understandable screaming were even more overwhelmed by the music.  This kind of mixing I expect at a dive bar show, not a finished album.
For those inclined to liking speed and death metal, may I recommend Remain Dystopian to you.  For the rest of us, it really is what it is, and if you don’t already like it, this won’t convert you.

Exmortus - For the Horde 7"

For the Horde 7”

                With a death metal name like Exmortus, going in I figured I knew what to expect.  The name’s the only death metal part of the band, and thank God for that.  These guys get thrash right, with a very Annihilator-esque sound, very welcome in these days of power punk and death metal.
                “For the Horde” features the same driving guitars and rhythm attack as all the classic thrash bands ever did, complete with the growly-yet-coherent vocals favored by Annihilator and other acts that weren’t willing to all the way to the grumbling incoherence of death metal.  It opens with the most Mettalica-ish guitar-based opening before being joined by Conan Moreno’s snarling vocals.  This marriage of sounds brings one back a long ways - if one can remember as far back as me – to the joy of discovering a new band as great as the bands you loved.
                The B-side tune covers Yngwie Malmsteen’s “As Above, So Below.”  Covering, as it does, one of thrash metal’s favorite tropes of death and the undead and the sinister side of mysticism, the track holds up well, and guitarists Moreno and David Rivera hold their own on a tune penned by one of the 1980s’ most gifted metal guitarists, and the solo embedded in the center of this tune kicks some righteous ass.
                The whole enterprise would fall apart without the gifted support of bassist Michael Cosio and Mario Moreno (cousin to vocalist/guitarist Conan) on drums.  Based on these two tunes alone (and it’s all I’ve got to go on right now) I sincerely hope Exmortus gifts the world with more, much more of this pure thrashy excellence.

Sianvar - Sianvar EP

Sianvar EP

                Sianvar’s five-song eponymously titled EP features some of the more innovative progressive metal I’ve heard in a while.  Suffused with time-changes, texture out the wazoo, and more mood-swings than a sorority at the end of the birth control cycle, Sianvar capably manages to make what has all the elements of a train wreck into a fine collection of tight tracks.
                As “Chest Pressure” opens, the tone of the collection is both set and defied.  It takes nearly a full minute for the heavy metal elements of Sianvar to emerge.  Feeling both derivative and innovative, Sianvar brings serious chops and creative genius to bear and by the end of “Chest Pressure,” well… if you don’t love this band, you don’t love guitar virtuoso heavy metal.
                Following up that massive introduction, “Sick Machine” has all the elements of a nu metal tour de force except the keyboards and rap.  This is solid guitar, bass and drums metal and Sianvar carries it off very well.
                The guitar riffage opening “Your Tongue Ties” sets the stage perfectly for Donovan Melero’s vocals to unify the whole.  Without the lyrics (which don’t really matter) the whole edifice would crash in a mélange of musicians going all jazzically off into their own directions.  Those musicians bring the ass-kicking skill set that we associate with the best sort of prog metal, and at times their virtuosity threatens to overwhelm the project.  Fortunately, Joe Arrington on drums helps guitarists Will Swan and Sergio Medina and bassist Michael Franzino stay on track to gift us songs like the epic “Your Tongue Ties.”
                Bringing the tempo back under control, “Virtual Vain” starts off with some nice slow bits in which Melero gets to carry the band on his voice before the others just flat out assert their talents with traded solos and sonic collisions.  “Virtual Vain” alternates between these extremes, from the contemplative singing over classical guitar styling to the head-banging audio mash-up of everyone bringing their A-game at once.
                “Substance Sequence” fittingly closes out the set as diversely and skillfully as the rest of the EP, keeping the tone solid, talented and progressive and unfailingly awesome.  Every song sounds the same, yet owns its own space and doesn’t sound the same.  It’s a tone thing more than a sound thing.
                If your idea of heavy metal is simply speed, volume and vocals that sound like a vomiting tiger, Sianvar isn’t for you.  If your appreciation of metal has enough room for Rush, Primus, Faith No More, early Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Felix Martin, you are going to LOVE this EP and wish it were an LP.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Jeffrey Foucalt - Salt As Wolves

Jeffrey Foucalt
Salt as Wolves

                Following one of the most somnolescent songs I’ve heard in a long while, Jeffrey Foucalt’s Salt As Wolves develops into a very enjoyable country/folk album in the John Mellencamp vein (fortunately, not in the recent and execrable “John Deere 3:16 style… jeez does that song suck.)  Solid yet simple guitar work, basic drum and bass time-keeping and a mature, slightly raspy singer combine to deliver twelve tunes with more real country in them than the entire Country Top 40 you’ll hear on any contemporary country station in any urban center in America.
                While my own personal tastes run to a more up-tempo style of music, I totally dig what Foucalt is trying to do here.  Presenting us with a roots-based country album really highlights the garish un-rooted and derivative nature of the current crop of country music stars.
                As mentioned in the intro, the opening track, “Des Moines” could put a platoon of seventh grade ADD sufferers to sleep.  However, “Rico” and “I Left This Town” pick up the pace, to where “I Left This Town” could easily become a minor radio hit.  “I Love You (and You are a Fool)” drops the energy back down to Quaaludes level, and most of the rest of the album remains at somewhere along the slow ambling pace reminiscent of some of the more bluesy country tunes of the late 60s and early 70s.

                This is not the album for late-night drives in the country – you’ll fall asleep and drive into a cow.  This is perfect, however, for an afternoon drinking beer and sitting around doing as little as possible as the sun bakes you to a crisp.  If the slower side of Mel Tillis, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and Conway Twitty appeal to you, you’ll enjoy this music.  If your enjoyment of country music doesn’t go much further back than Garth Brooks… don’t bother unless you’re willing to hear what real country music should sound like.

Luna Aura - Supernova

Luna Aura

                The “Pop” in Pop Music stands for Popular.  This designation supposedly describes a fact about the music; namely, that it’s popular.  However, to my mind Pop Music also describes a genre - an inclusive genre that covers significant chunks of the R&B scene, as well as pieces of electronic music, alternative stuff and whatever else label executives think will stick to the charts and make them rich and influential.  The poppiest of Pop Music wriggles its way into the collective subconscious becoming earworms that drive the sanest among us mildly loopy.
                Luna Aura’s recent EP Supernova comes across emphatically as electronic Pop, but fails to develop a single earworm that would make any of the four tracks overly memorable.  Far from being a criticism, this observation means that Supernova is as enjoyable a collection of Pop tunes as I’ve encountered in quite a while - enjoyable, but not very memorable.
                I’m not sure there’s a single “real” instrument during the less than twenty minutes it takes to listen to the five songs.  This reliance on electronica helps, rather than hinders the experience, as there’s no real competition for your attention, and you can enjoy Luna’s earnest singing.  Aura tries hard to bring sultry to the experience, and at times seems to succeed, but at other times simply comes across as earnest.  If the lyrics focused less on relationships and more on serious topics, she could carry off some real meaning.
                Opening the EP, “Like You” could be an 80s paean to love and monogamy if the tempo picked up just a bit.  If released thirty years ago, I could easily see this one being the slow dance at hundreds of proms across the country.  “Gravity” establishes the tempo “Like You” could have benefitted from, and proceeds to add a metric ton of layers of vocals and digital effects.  This tune should be the first tune for strippers everywhere, what with the beat changes, strong female vocals and passionate lyrics.  “Dancing With Your Ghost” struts its way into your ears next.  This one smells strongly of mid-80s female-lead R&B acts.  By the mid-late 80s R&B music had largely abandoned the B (Blues) and focused heavily on the R (Rhythm).  If an album skewed too strongly to torch songs and slow tunes, you could be sure it always had at least one radio-friendly up-tempo tune, and this one could easily replace any of dozens.  “Supernova,” another up-tempo Pop track, features a bit more female rap verses and digital wizardry than “Dancing With Your Ghost” or your average 80s female act that made it to the radio would have done.  “Trigger” closes out the collection, returning to the more sultry and earnest style featured in “Gravity” and “Dancing With Your Ghost.”

                As a “Pop” record, Luna Aura’s Supernova isn’t a horrible collection of digital junk whose sole purpose is to dig it way into our brains and leave tracks that’ll make us nuts in the weeks and months to come.  No, it’s an enjoyable set of love songs that would be great for background music in a movie’s love scene or on your next date.  The music’s fun and enjoyable without being distracting or depressing.  Should Luna Aura ever decide to go more political with her lyrics, they could easily open for U2 and have a decent career as college-radio staples.  If she worked on developing more earworm-y tunes, she could be a one-hit wonder, or better.  For now, she’s pretty good (seriously, try this record the next time you go out and park with your date at a scenic overlook… you’ll be doing yourself a big big favor.)

Home Movies - Hell

Home Movies

The appeal of power punk continues its angsty march through youth culture with the release of Hell by Home Movies.  LA-based Home Movies travels well-trodden ground in a most enjoyable fashion, demonstrating a general commitment to high musical skills while remaining firmly in the pop punk tradition of fuzzy guitars, flatly inflected vocals, and quality rhythm.
Title and opening track “Hell” starts out pounding its way into a three-minute diatribe against the kinds of things we never have control over, firmly establishing the band’s cred as a power-punk outfit before stretching their legs a tiny bit with track two.
Home Movies allows “Faith and Folly” to travel its own path, frequently abandoning the continuous wall of sound most power punk bands feel is a necessary component to their styling.  The track remains firmly pop punk, but opens out the sound to more variety than we’ve come to expect from a typical genre band.  The tempo slows down a bit at first, but the back two-thirds crunch out the power punk that dominates the EP’s sound.
“The Will of Fire” returns to straight-up power punk and relationship whining.  This track is the most pedestrian and typical of all of Hell’s tunes so the smart move was to bury it in the middle of the four superior tracks.
The EP’s penultimate track, “The Winds” qualifies as a power punk power ballad, slowing down the tempo and giving us an acoustical journey through the mourning of a relationship.  Even if the lyrics lack some originality, the music comes across as heartfelt and a nice change of pace we don’t normally find on a pop punk album or EP.  The best news is that this isn’t treacly pap like the last 80s power ballad movement became.
Capping the five tunes is “Fickle,” another fast-paced power punk track.  However, “Fickle” feels the most radio-friendly, with its really excessively catchy melody, its slower-tempo bridge and slow fade ending.

Home Movies’ Hell EP serves up a meat and potatoes power punk meal with a couple non-traditional sides to show a bit more range than a typical power-punk outfit.  If you’re into the power punk thing you’ll enjoy these five tunes.

Northbound - Death of a Slug

Death of a Slug

                Stop.  Think of the last alternative band you enjoyed.  Was it uptempo?  Were the vocals clear and sung in that prototypical flat alternative style?  Were the lyrics relationship-heavy and angsty?  Were the guitars seemingly fueled by distortion?  Then you already know what Northbound’s Death of a Slug sounds like.  Much in the way the British Invasion brought a sonic theme across the pond with tunes that seemed relatively interchangeable but always enjoyable, modern alternative seems to “suffer” a similar through-line.  But, just as any British Invasion fan’s collection must include some Beatles, it can’t neglect the Hollies or Herman’s Hermits.  A genre doesn’t get and stay popular on the uniqueness of a single band.
                Describing Northbound thus sounds like criticism, but should instead be taken as a descriptive assist for readers.  If you like your alternative skewed to the Blink-182 side of the genre, you’ll like Northbound; they’ve captured the style perfectly and will nestle nicely in your playlist.  I could tediously plow through each track and discuss the variations on the musical and lyrical themes they wallow in.  Instead, a few titles from the twelve tunes Northbound crammed onto Death of a Slug should help cement the description above.
If “Leech,” “Everyone But Me,” “The Effort is Never Worth the Outcome,” “Dropout,” “Half Drunk – Fully Alone,” and “I Want to Hate The World” don’t help you grasp what Death of a Slug sounds like, you’re probably not the target audience.  Hailing from Boca Raton, Florida, this re-release (the first version had 10 tracks, 5 of which were acoustic) features some quality performances and captures the pure essence of why kids (and it’s generally kids, what with the relationship-angst lyrics and all) enjoy alternative music.  Jonothan Fraser, the band’s founder (and main mover and shaker) re-released Death of a Slug with Cody Badgley and Kevin Lopez on all twelve tunes, but Fraser can and will perform acoustically solo when he wants/needs to.

                Northbound’s Death of a Slug certainly deserves a place on any alternative fan’s playlist, as exemplars of the genre, they will feel as familiar and comfortable as everything else on your playlist; their angst, their whining and their music could have easily been released any time in the last twenty years and been as well-crafted and enjoyable and genre-fitting as it is today.

Locrian - Infinite Dissolution

Infinite Dissolution

                In the solar system of metal, speed metal bands occupy that Mercury orbit, racing around the sun, completing a year’s worth of notes in eighty-eight days.  Death metal’s orbit comes in around Earth and Mars, all noisy and raw.  The infinite variety of asteroid designs in the more traditional power metal and thrash realms complete the inner solar system of tight, loud, and hard music.  Beyond lie the more sedate gas giants where bands like Zu, Hope Drone and Locrian laze through their orbits.  Locrian’s Infinite Dissolution moves sedately through its landscape of emptiness, animated nonetheless by the solar gravitational pull of metal – the photonic wind of guitars and powerful drums.
                 Infinite Dissolution opens with the distortion-heavy “Arc of Extinction,” a track that feels like it’s building towards something before ending in nothing; an apt musical metaphor for a band that explores “[u]rban decay, environmental destruction… and post-apocalyptic themes.”   The trio forces themselves to explore all these heavy themes with naught but instrumental tools.  The very few vocals on the album scream primal rage into the void without giving voice to their pain.
                Founders Andre Foisy on guitar and Terrence Hannum playing keyboards fill the remainder of the album’s tracks feature much “cleaner” music, stowing away the distortion pedal for use another day.  The third member of this trio, experimental musician Stephen Hess bringing a creative mass of electronics, and banging the drums helps the tempo  within each track to vary and skew and meander, but never does the void ever get filled or the pain ever get solace.

                In a busy, noisy, pain-filled, depressing, and soul-crushing world, taking a quiet hour of exploration with Locrian cannot be undervalued.  These gents have gifted us something magical: a collection that describes this world without getting trapped by it, carrying us with them above and beyond, but never forgetting.