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Screaming Females’ Castle Talk

26 Aug

Screaming Females
Thursday, Aug. 26th
Replay Lounge, 21+

Screaming Females will be returning to Lawrence exactly three months later from their show earlier this spring at the Replay in order to promote their upcoming album, Castle Talk, which marks their fourth full-length release to date. The show in May was pretty fantastic, not only because it made me realize how much I overlooked King Mike’s bass parts when it comes to their sound, which Marissa Paternoster ensures to pack a heavy punch, but also because watching Paternoster play & sing live is enough to bring tears to my eyes. The integrity of Screaming Females’ live sound remains such that it’s almost as if the tracks are playing over the PA, but with more ferocity and bite. And you gotta love a band that plays a killer encore for a crowd of some twenty people.

Castle Talk, which blasts outta Don Giovanni’s rock womb on Sept. 14th, is currently available for pre-order on Insound, and if you get it now, you can nab a free Screamales poster as well. All pre-orders also come with an MP3 download of the album so that you can listen to it as soon as you make your purchase. Highly recommended.

Order Castle Talk for a measly $9.99

Track by Track Review

1. Laura and Marty

A pretty menacing intro rolls into a brisk bassline and steady beat as Paternoster’s calculated notes throw down the pavement for her mighty vocal range to run upon. Besides displaying the wonderful quality of the recorded vocals (crystal clear with a healthy touch of reverb), the track also reminds listeners of the band’s great songwriting control–capable of keeping it subdued but interesting, and knowing when to let go and burn hard, which they demonstrate after the second verse by finally bringing in the chorus, and then letting their instruments ring loud and free. After this, Paternoster launches into a twenty five second guitar solo, which I’m not really sure is necessary, but then again, when is a guitar solo ever necessary? The woman squeezes three times as many arpeggios in that interim than anyone else in her age bracket, that’s for damn sure, almost to the point of distraction by nature of being so badass.

2. I Don’t Mind It

The first single off the new album not only tones it down a notch but also adds a proper serving of pop next to Paternoster’s tasty distortion and expressive couplets. The rhythm of King Mike’s bassline holds this track’s head up high and proud, even when the Paternoster busts out a terse guitar solo for the outro. Once again, the front woman’s skillful timing works to the benefit of the overall musical composition–by knowing when to hold notes out and when to let them flood, she works out a balanced chemistry between herself and the rhythm section. On the other hand, the snare barely ekes out over the rest of the crew and at times the drums almost sound like they are just there to keep time.

3. Boss

In this track, the band takes a sensitive approach to feeling subordinated, coming into the song with a slow-release–drums setting the tempo for a somber bass, which is then layered with a wailing guitar that then goes into Paternoster’s signature guitar sound. However, when the vocals drop in, the distortion drops out in order to match the austerity of the rest of the song. In the second verse, there’s no guitar and instead the listener is left bobbing their head to the tambourine played in conjunction with the drum parts. In contrast with the beginning of the song, the end fades out a combination of all the instruments and a hook-worthy guitar riff.

4. Normal

It seems that swift fingers and strong lungs aren’t enough for the front-woman, because her rhymes are darkly dexterous as well. The chorus contains sarcasm so thick that it peels away as Paternoster sings, “I wouldn’t be surprised if no one wants to waste their time with me/I’m joyfully employed and normal.” The switches between effects also make for shuddering transitions within the guitar arrangement. I especially love the tail of oscillating bass note that Paternoster latches onto the very end of the chorus. The stark musical contrast between the chorus and the bridge creates an atmosphere of withheld rage that then builds up and brims over before the song ends. The brevity and beat make this one of the catchiest tracks off the record.

5. A New Kid

Hands-down my favorite song–all I could think was, “Fuck,” when I first listened to it. With its merciless hooks and engaging composition, it tells the story of a newcomer who has overstayed his welcome. Paternoster reaches record-high levels of creepy with her lyrics–“If I invite you over can you look me in the eye?/Because your head is a cavern and I want to crawl inside/I put some speakers in your ears and I stuff up where you sleep/You’ve got a whole lot of nerve to think that you can fool me” and “Let me travel up your brains, hang my image in your skull/So I can be the gizzard(?) in your nightmares from now on”–while hazy guitars and lolling bass torridly circle one another before switching from a stagnant mood into a frenzied chorus. The guitar solo after the second verse is especially driven and forceful, blending in nicely with the subsequent riff.

6. Fall Asleep

Not to be outdone by the previous track, this song’s appeal profits from a cruising bass and a diverse guitar sound that switches between psychedelic and grunge. Not forgetting to throw in a helpful dose of skillful guitar picking during the chorus, Paternoster keeps it slamming in the last minute with another lively solo before throwing down notes befitting of a metal musician. I can’t get over this bassline though, which makes the heavy tones surprisingly danceable.

7. Wild

If there’s one anthem off of Castle Talk, it would be this track. A sensitive bassline matches an emotional, yet not delicate, guitar part and vocal melody. The build before the chorus makes for a great transition, and the bridge heightens the intensity of passion before flowing from chorus into a third verse that utilizes an alternate guitar melody, which is quite nice as well. I didn’t initially like this song as much as some others, but I found that it possesses a lot of replay value and gets stuck in my head a lot.

8. Nothing At All

I thoroughly enjoy the guitar riff that occupies the intro and chorus in this track, and it stands out from the sneakily unadorned verse. The drums sound pretty sweet too, with some cool tom action going on throughout the song. It’s nearly epic when Paternoster sings that she “want[s] to be your late night crisis lion” and the instrumental part that comes in toward the end of the song channels some serious late 60s rock n roll vibes.

9. Sheep

Got to appreciate a song that criticizes casual, unconcerned promiscuity–“You count sheep with anyone/Yeah anyone would do”–quite bluntly. I’m kind of interested by that weird “zipping” guitar noise that occurs in the intro and unsurprisingly excited by the sweet bassline near the last refrain of the chorus and generally by the different measure of rhythms King Mike uses throughout the song.

10. Deluxe

A solitary acoustic track with lots of reverb trails at the end of the album. I can’t figure out if this is a cover or not, but it sounds nice either way. It’s odd hearing Paternoster sing in a tone that’s much closer to her speaking voice.

11. Ghost Solo

Thundering, reverberating drums start out this song, which is a nice change of pace from all of the other guitar heavy intros that dominate most of the band’s songs. I love the guitar melody in the short bridge; the listener is also gifted with a psychedelic guitar solo afterward. Once again, Paternoster gratifies with her diverse guitarwork. The only thing that dismays me is that the album has now come to an end…hah.

photos © 2010 Mahsa Borhani, all rights reserved


Barbara, track by track

6 Aug

So if you weren’t aware, We Are Scientists will be playing two of my favorite American cities soon with Bad Veins.

Aug. 12th
Record Bar
10 PM, $12, 18+

Aug. 15th
(w/ locals Satin Gum!)
10 PM, $13, 21+

1. Rules Don’t Stop

It’s their first single off the album, and there’s a reason why–the quick tempo, swift guitar picking, funky bass and vocal verses don’t play games when it comes to telling the listener what the deal is. Apparently Rules Don’t Stop We Are Scientists, and that is the extent of what we are told, until we reach the bridge. There, Keith intimates that the rules are meant to put a leash on unacceptable behavior, and he wants none of that. In fact, he tells the listener that breaking the rules isn’t a mistake because it makes us “so damn happy.” Really? If this song is meant to be an anthem, why do the lyrics make me feel so naïve when I sing them (which I inevitably do because the instrumentation is pretty catchy)? And the answer is not, “Because this song is not meant to be an anthem.”

2. I Don’t Bite

Every time I hear this song I feel like Keith might say “It’s pretty clear we’ll get along, it’s pretty clear we’ll get it ON!!!!” but instead he states that he “don’t bite.” My mind is not in the gutter; the clever syntax and rhythm of the line plays me for a fool, as if I should keep singing, and then there’s my freudian slip. Also, notice in the beginning that great finger slide action going on, reminiscent of Under the Sea recordings. Andy’s toms sound very nice during the chorus as well. Unfortunately, Chris’s bass isn’t written as perky as it usually sounds.

3. Nice Guys

I think this song made a good second single, because–even though We Are Scientists might not admit it–Nice Guys panders to fans of their older work by foraging back into pop punk. The song could easily join the ranks of Bomb Inside the Bomb, Secret Handshake, and Easy Kill. Chris’s bassline and Keith’s guitar also combine for a great harmony in the intro, outro, and during the chorus, while Andy beats the shit out of his kit. Keith’s lick during the bridge sounds sweet and continues the urgency of how much the band really “want it more.”

4. Jack & Ginger

If there’s one track off of Barbara that could get on a time machine and tell With Love & Squalor what is up, it’s this song. With the exception of the beeping and “strings” synth layered in the background, in addition to the guitar tone during the chorus, the composition really takes me back–especially when it hits that twelve seconds of frenetic dance-rock goodness towards the end of the song. Jack & Ginger also acts as their ultimate bar romance song to date, though Worth the Wait is a strong contender; this song is a little less depressing than Worth the Wait, however, so I give it the laurels.

5. Pittsburgh

The war-like drums and heavy bass set an intimidating mood for this song, but then Keith sings about sneaky flirting and that ruins it for me. What a “rupture in etiquette,” a real boner kill. I don’t like this song, but everyone else does so I’m not going to write about it. Before I go, though, I’ll slight it some more–the guitar parts are boring. The vocal melodies are too redundant. Also, the way the lyrics are arranged makes me think that the “one thing” is sex, and then I’m all “Oh cool. A shallow song that’s entitled ‘Pittsburgh.’ How disenchanting.” One positive observation I shall admit–this song would probably sound gorgeous if played acoustic, with just a piano.

6. Ambition

This track builds on We Are Scientists’ conceptual songwriting skills by imparting the slight feelings of discomfort and angularity referenced in Keith’s lyrics onto the listener, partially through skewing the pitch of the guitar during the second verse. Chris’s bass takes a sludgy route and his basslines during the bridge have personality. The vocal melody for the chorus disappoints me, once again. The syncopation from the verse just goes there to die.

7. Break It Up

This song reminds me of a continual obsession with video games by acting as the perfect soundtrack for cruising the world map with a naval battalion; it also rewrites themes from This Scene Is Dead by questioning partying if it’s not a means for “[being] up all night.” Bouncy basslines, solid drumming, and little “oohs” spruce up bummer lyrics into the most chipper sounding ditty. The fleeting bass during the chorus doesn’t hurt either.

8. Foreign Kicks

Shares WAS-world with earlier slow rock ballads like “Textbook” and “Spoken For,” but the guitar tone and bobbing bass have a sort of beachside feel to them. Yet, where “Spoken For” changes up the rhythm dramatically and “Textbook” profits from diverse drumming as well as a soulful chorus, “Foreign Kicks” remains as an unassuming creature and doesn’t stand out as much as it could when you take into consideration the talents of the band. I dislike the way the guitar twinkles during the verses and it really pains me to say this, but the vocal harmonies from “The Method” were better. The buildup to the last refrain of the chorus underwhelms me, and then the song ebbs away.

9. You Should Learn

My first thought when I hear this song is, “Why does the guitar have to play the same notes as the vocals during the chorus?” And then during the bridge, Keith plays the same boring riff from where he sings “learn” over and over again, even though I feel like transitional elements should be throwing something new out there. Chris’s bass and Andy’s drumming carry the whole song. With that being said, I still really like it.

10. Central AC

There’s really only one song on Barbara that succeeds at incorporating a great vocal harmony. Coincidentally enough, Central AC also displays the best of Andy Burrows’s drumming ability. Contrary to what Christopher Walken thinks, the triumph results from the three musicians’ concentrated effort at sharing the one hundred and eighty two second limelight, not from the occasional tap of cowbell. The pop-driven chorus, the vocal tempo change (“Hey, let’s take it easy for a night…”), and sweet shredding bring the house down. Hot. Damn.

Before you leave, check out this great live show review: Also, do not take my sourpuss review as an excuse to not see the show. As Abby proves in the link above, We Are Scientists are still a force to be reckoned with.

Toro y Moi

2 Aug

photo by Dustin Shey for

Toro y Moi will be coming to Kansas City twelve days from now, so if you missed Chaz Bundick play with Caribou in Lawrence earlier in June, you can check him out at the Czar Bar. Bundick released his album, Causers of This in January. Though Bundick has been linked with Washed Out (stage name of Ernest Greene)–which is why I decided to check him out–I was delighted to hear more bits of 90s r&b, pop, and funk mixed into his arrangements.

“Fax Shadow” starts a beat by looping a texture that sounds like a softly skipping record. The gentle skewing pitch in conjunction with a muffled bass, looped vocals and his own vocals–running with reverb–allow the listener to float through a soundscape laced with mystery. “Talamak”, on the other hand puts you into a groove as soon as it begins; a rolling scale peaks into an intermittent beeping synth beat that keeps the vocals company throughout the song. The overlapping effect 2/3’s of the way into the song changes it up before Bundick goes back into his chorus and then ends the song.

On his most recent release (7″ Leave Everywhere/First Date), however, Bundick launches into garage pop stylings, complete with glockenspiel. I’m not gonna lie, I’m a sucker for this sound, but I think that if Bundick makes friends with the rock monster, his talented production would be more interesting to observe in a post-punk or darkwave setting.

Also, what would you give to see a Zola Jesus // Toro y Moi collaboration? I think that would be pretty damn exciting. Speaking of which, here is “Sea Talk” from Niki Danilova’s latest work; the Stridulum EP is available at the label’s website here: Sacred Bones Records

Anyhow, Nomathmatics, Shaun Duval & MODE will be wrapping up the night after Toro y Moi’s set if you wanna dance dance dance.

Toro Y Moi
August 14th
Czar Bar
9 PM, 21+, $5

Blues Explosion hits Pittsburgh

14 Jul

Blues Explosion
w/ Expensive Shit & Icon Gallery
Thursday, July 15th
7 PM, 21+

The artists more commonly known as Jon Spencer Blues Explosion will be playing Diesel this Thursday, as a part of a few tour dates that also hit Pitchfork and Michigan–after which they will be doing some fall dates in California. Although Jon Spencer has not released an album with Blues Explosion in six years, fans still shiver in anxious excitement to see the band’s hybrid style of rock n roll blues; many of the favorable live reviews stem from Spencer’s eagerness to interact with the crowd and his wild, borderline raucous, charisma. Seeing as the band possesses a diverse range of sounds embedded in their instrumentation and an extensive discography, even those who became disappointed with the band’s output after Now I Got Worry will hopefully find their dismay jolted out of them at the show.

photo by Brian Velenchenko

Being previously unfamiliar with the band’s work, the first album I started out with was Orange (after checking out Groovy Hate Fuck by Pussy Galore) and I felt pretty annoyed at myself for brushing off the band after only having heard “Talk About the Blues.” Even from the first track, you get the feeling that Spencer can pretty much sell anything he sings due to the band’s musical chops, his own vocal prowess, and their penchant for having a damn good time. Even though the last track has a cheesy “we’re playing las vegas” ostentatious feel to it, there’s enough of a genuine 70s rock vibe in order for the band to pull it off.

I think that my main gripe with Damage isn’t that the songs are bad, but the popularity for swaggering southern cock rock has grown so much that it is hard to pick out the band’s redeeming qualities from everything else that’s floating around. Despite this, “Crunchy” and “Fed Up and Low Down” still stand out–the former for its poppy goodness and the latter for its retreat into funky powered territory that is intermittently changed up with a careening punk chorus.

Spencer’s more current work in Heavy Trash highlights his musical knowledge in a way that Damage did not; not only is he able to delve into more genres with Matt Verta-Ray–country, blues, rockabilly–the removal of the Blues Explosion brand allows him to write more faceted lyrics as well. The band’s latest record, Midnight Summer Serenade, consolidates production quality, songwriting, and album progression in a manner that’s very addictive. It’s like The King Khan & BBQ Show’s wet dream.

JSBX sampler:

and also: Bedevilment from Heavy Trash’s Midnight Summer Serenade (2009),
Dead Meat from Pussy Galore’s Groovy Hate Fuck (Feel Good About Your Body) LP (1987)

Gallery opening on friday

21 Jun

Soad A. Kader, buscando el abrazo (searching for the embrace), 2009, monotype, 8 x 10 inches

This Friday, June 25th, Miguel Rivera and Soad A. Kader will celebrate the opening exhibition of their prints at Cara and Cabeza Contemporary. Miguel is the department chair of the printmaking program at the Kansas City Art Institute, and I’ve had the privilege of seeing him implement his cross-disciplinary approach to the field, first-hand. Therefore, this is one show I’m really looking forward to–after two semesters of Miguel teaching, watching the students in the department work, and coordinating printmaking shows, I’m sure he’s excited to share his fruits of labor and kick off the summer.

Both of the artists featured employ a gestural and organic aesthetic to convey their messages regarding “ideas of physical connectivity…[and] a tendency towards embracing the present.” Please come out and get a chance to view the work, speak with the artists, and check out this very intriguing space near the Kansas City Rivermarket.

Ritual: Works on Paper by Miguel Rivera and Soad A. Kader
June 19 – July 31, 2010
Opening Reception: Friday, June 25, 7 – 10 pm
Cara and Cabeza Contemporary
218 Delaware, Suite 208
Kansas City, MO 64105

Tonight at the Andy Warhol Museum

8 May

The Middle East

The Middle East are a band from Australia who play really beautiful & languorous folk pop. Imagine if Norfolk & Western made a lovechild with the lovechild of The Acorn and Tulsa, and then add a bunch more percussive elements, a lapsteel, and a heavenly set of singing voices–then you’ll maybe come close to the kind of music that The Middle East create. If you’re still not convinced as to the band’s musical merits, they’ve supported Grizzly Bear during their tour dates in Melbourne last year and are currently on their US tour.

In their seven-minute song, entitled “Lonely”, a blues-tinged guitar works over soft drums, acoustic guitar, an organ, trumpet, and heart-breaking lyrics that describe the current state in which people live. It’s always impressive when musicians write lyrics that can keep up with the emotional caliber of their songs, and this song is really no exception. In the first two choruses their singer laments that:

We have material minds and restless hands,
Longing hearts and lonely beds,
But we purchase stuff and work too hard,
Use our heads and fill our beds.

What’ve we done?
What’ve we done?

And we’re left with wretched hearts and mangled minds,
Concrete feet and beggars lies,
But we live our lives on broken earth,
We need repair our eyes to kiss the dirt.

It’s a message that really speaks on a global level and addresses a first-world obsession with materialism, rather than recognizing–I suppose–the natural beauty around us that’s slowly dying from our negligence. I appreciate the cathartic crescendo towards the end of the song and the subsequent harmony of voices that bring it to a close.

The Middle East – Lonely (17 mb)

They will be opening for British songbird Laura Marling (!!!!) tonight at the Warhol, which is pretty exciting as Marling herself is a stupendous musician. Great pairing I think. Tickets are still available as well, so definitely go check it out unless you’ve got a ticket to the Pens game, in which case…
More info:

Laura Marling w/ The Middle East
The Andy Warhol Museum
Saturday, May 8th
8 PM, $15

Vampire Hands

17 Apr

Vampire Hands are a psych rock band from Minneapolis who have a fondness for playing in Kansas/Missouri. I also have it on good authority that their most recent release, Hannah in the Mansion, was named after their experience of staying at Charles Mansion in northeast KC, which I find pretty hilarious. I hope that’s true. Anyhow, their music is eerie and compelling as well as expertly composed. I’ve always skimped out on seeing them live, but they are playing Lawrence tonight, and seeing as how I am a stone’s throw from the beloved Replay, I will be going. Come hang out! Vampire Hands mp3’s are hard to come by, so if you’re smart you’ll come to the show and buy some records from these cool dudes.

LISTEN: Vampire Hands – Cool Bath

Vampire Hands
Daughters of the Sun & Expo 70
Replay Lounge, 10 PM
21+, $3