“West” is from the upcoming second record by OAKS, Animal Life. The video was directed by Carlos Lamas. There’s a release show for it at the Icehouse on Friday night, and we’ll have it in stock later this week!
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We’ve been waiting a long while to hear from Wizards Are Real, the enigmatic instrumental quartet so dear to our hearts. Their last record, the 10″ EP I’m Your Free Lieutenant, was released nearly three and a half years ago. No surprise then that their latest, which snuck quietly into record shops last month, presents all sorts of advances in the band’s unique alchemy.
“Bring on the Night, Sting”
Because the band is on a brief family leave, there’s no release show for The Money’s Coming, their third release. Wizards Are Real has never followed industry conventions as far as promotion and marketing are considered, anyways — this is one of the things we’ve always loved about them.
The Money’s Coming features the Wizards’ established combination of richly reverbed pedal steel and low-register saxophones, played by husband and wife Brian O’Neil and Melanie Bergstrom. Bassist Ted Held and drummer Jim Baumgart provide bedding for each tune which which transitions between jazz, post-punk and post-rock with fluidity. None of this is news — they have explored this terrain for years. What separates the new record is the confidence with which they collaborate.
More than on the previous records the instrumentals imply a representational program, although we’ve never forgotten that the Wizards once told us the reason their songs have no words is that they would be too creepy if they did. The cryptic titles certainly offer something to consider. The Money’s Coming could be the soundtrack to some surreal landscape or another, maybe deep sea diving or space exploration or cleaning the back of the fridge here in the record shop. A few of these nine new tracks have a slower, more narrative sense, like “In my Ironman,” which O’Neil opens slowly and evocatively, and “It’s A Wrench,” which treads forward as if on ethereal feet only to surprise is by disappearing.
The Money’s Coming plays at 45rpm, adding a sense of urgency to the songs, none of which pass the three minute mark on the first side. “Bring on the Night, Sting” opens the record with the intensity established by I’m Your Free Lieutenant, and it is followed by excellent, energetic bass and drums on the next two songs. You can, incidentally, hear the entire album on the Wizards’ Bandcamp page here. We chose these two tracks to present the wider range of this release, which takes more chances than the previous records (is that a slide whistle on “Genesee” or is it our imagination?). Money has all our favorite Wizards motifs, from the hard-edged rock to the sinister sinewiness of the title track from their 10″ EP — this new record was well worth the wait.
The last time we posted Wizards Are Real here on the Hymie’s blog was when we singled out “Good Goods” from their first album as one of our favorite closing time songs. This is still true, and its one reason why we have twice chosen them to close down our block party (the other is that we love these folks). The awesome UndercurrentMpls filmed them in 2013 if you want to take a look. Their last show before taking a little break was here this past Record Store Day — we only mention this because it seems like this might cause people to not notice the release of The Money’s Coming, at least until the Wizards begin haunting clubs around town again. Too bad — this is a record which merits some attention.
When we first encountered the evolving creature Panther Ray, the band was knee deep in the hazy golden era of psychedelic rock, and we described their formative live sets as being pulled fourfold in different directions. Around the same time Dave described them as the Twin Cities’ “new psychedelic rock hope” in a story for the City Pages‘ local music blog. It might have been a long time coming but the release of the band’s formal debut, Ripple, lives up to any lofty expectations.
Ripple runs frantically through eleven tracks with minimal spacing, placing the jingle jangle combination of electric twelve-string and strung out fuzz of their early EPs into a more modern lo-fi foundation. We have loved this band through its steady evolution for its innate ability to build arrangements around memorable pop hooks and Ripple is filled with them — some, like “Speaking to a Tone” and the standout track “I Want You” strike a chord with their pre-psychedelia pop roots (we should mention here that you can hear the entire album on their bandcamp page here). Others fuse this with fuzz, feedback and studio experimentation without leaving melody on the floor.
“Don’t Hold Me Down”
“I Want You”
It’s a guitar-driven record in more ways than most recent local releases, and filled with so many unexpected, inventive moments that things still leap out on the tenth or twentieth listen. Local label Forged Artifacts put forward “Get To You,” with its sweeping seventies solos, as a single, but the tracks which caught our ear were the reverb-rich “Natural Girl” and “Inside Out,” where guitarists Dan Ries and Hannah Porter are awesomely eerie.
Ripple‘s largely anonymous vocals alternate between Ries and Porter, with bassist Andy Rockwood providing some support (he was a founding member along with Ries). The effect is at first alienating, but increasingly fits with the album’s fusion of fuzz and pop. Our favorite tracks capture the most interesting combination of these.
We were late to post about this album when it was first released, but Panther Ray has been playing pretty often in the Twin Cities for some time now. Their next show is Thursday night at the Kitty Cat Club in Dinkytown along with Graveyard Club.
Everyone here at your friendly neighborhood record store loves local songwriter and bandleader Gabe Barnett, which is why his album Old As the Stars was included near the top of our list of favorite albums of 2014. Barnett has a way of placing contemporary ideas into classic arrangements which makes him equal parts folk troubadour and bonafide crooner a la Crosby. The best of Barnett’s songs cut to the bone, a quality which hits home here at Hymie’s.
He’s just released a new single with an ‘electrified’ version of his backing group, Them Rounders — just in time for the band’s July residency at the 331 Club in Northeast. They’ll be there each Thursday night with a great bill of guests.
#1 Pleasure Horse
There are more than a couple bands in the Twin Cities who claim Gram Parson’s “cosmic American music” as inspiration, but few if any appropriate the very best of its stylistic medley as well as Pleasure Horse, whose self-titled debut has been must anticipated around your friendly neighborhood record shop. The band slowly evolved over its several years, staying focused on multi-instrumentalist and lead vocalist Tim Evanson, who we first met as a member of the Flying Dorito Brothers. They were a Parsons cover band with a short-lived run much loved by many, and Evanson’s take on “One Hundred Years from Now” stuck to our ribs.
With lead guitarist Ben Mahowald, he’s kept the band going and growing. Pleasure Horse offers just a little of just about everything you’ve ever loved about country music over ten tracks: beer-soaked heartbreak and twang, and a little Tex-Mex and a little rock and roll. There’s a fuzz guitar on “Reasons” which recalls Grady Martin’s solo on a 1961 Marty Robbins single, and an organ on “News Radio” which sounds like it was borrowed from the first Lambchop album. Either song is an excellent example of the band’s innovative arrangements, which are so consistently inventive its impossible to pick a favorite moment on this album.
The album’s production doesn’t do its ambitions justice, as is evident from the rollicking opener “Company Spade,” which we really want to burst out of our speakers with the energy we know is in there, and sometimes the drums get lost. The band balances its rhythm section against pedal steel, brass, organ and fiddle, but feels boxed in and restrained. The songs are just so damn good it doesn’t matter. Some are solidly pastoral and narrative, like “Gracie” and “Oahe,” and others just fantastically catchy. Pleasure Horse hits that sweet spot on every song on this album.
#2 The Gated Community
We Can Do Anything opens with a rich, bluegrass rendition of the Youngblood’s harrowing “Darkness, Darkness” (the only cover on the disc), but the ensuing eleven tracks aren’t as driven towards a cynical worldview as their first disc (heard here), which had a series of Dead Kennedys-as-a-bluegrass band moments. Hints of the way the political world creeps into daily life, whether welcome or not, still appear. In “Non (A French Song)” a laid-off factory worker laments malaise with a little more grace than the stumpjumpers on Charlie Parr’s latest (but not much), and the slow burning closer, “This World,” presents an open-eyed optimism in response to the oppressive pressures in the Youngbloods anthem which opened the album by embracing the here and now.
This doesn’t suggest Sumanth Gopinath’s lyrics are any less dense or intense, just that their focus has shifted in a new direction. Its almost as if he’s channeled John Hartford’s alternating sense of humor and stark sentimentalism and the ability to shift between the two with ease. The arrangements suit this well, especially in the balance between bluegrass roots and good old fashioned Nashville country — All the twang’s in all the right places. Remarkably, they get in all the requirements for “the perfect country and western song” as per David Allen Coe (though not in a single verse). A lovely duet, “Georgia,” is the album’s highlight, just enough George and Tammy to hit the heartstrings, and lushly produced. “I Wanna Get Drunk Tonight” is a hilariously fun song which would have fit perfectly in our post last week about bar fightin’ songs, and “Non (A French Song)” is good outlaw country fun. You know, it was Charlie Daniels who played the fiddle on that Youngbloods song.
“Non (A French Song)”
People make a lot of jokes about the weird things Minnesotans do to survive the long, cold winters, although we’re so used to weird around your friendly neighborhood record shop that there’s not a lot left to surprise us. One tradition which has over more than three decades become a local institution is the Minneapolis Battle of the Jug Bands.
The rules are fairly simple: Your band gets 20 minutes. Your band has to include at least three traditional jug band instruments instruments — examples include jugs (duh), comb & tissue (ie, kazoo), washboard, washtub bass, spoons, etc. No electrified instruments. The competition for the coveted Holliwood Waffle Iron provides for a weekend of rowdy fun split over a couple West Bank bars.
Each year’s bill reads like a “funny band name” list — last year’s included The She Goats, The Hump Night Thumpers, The West Bank Temperance League and Show Me Your Jugs, for instance. Few of these pickup groups play regular gigs — although a striking exception is two-time winners of the Waffle, The Roe Family Singers, who have been playing every Monday night at the 331 Club for nearly a decade. The Minneapolis Battle of the Jug Bands has grown in recent years, in terms of the crowd and the number of contestants. It’s even the subject of an upcoming documentary (though we can’t say the trailer has us enticed to make it our once-a-year trip to the movies).
“She Broke my Heart in 3 Places”
One veteran of the annual event is the Dumpy Jug Bumpers, who have been playing a lot of show — just last month they had two residencies, one at Fulton Brewery’s Tap Room and one at the 331 Club. Their debut disc, Dumpin’ at the Savoy, will celebrate its release this weekend at our fifth annual Record Store Day Block Party, where the Bumpers will be joined by fourteen other awesome acts in a fun-filled full day of live music on two stages.
Dumpin’ at the Savoy is a lively tour of string and jug band esoterica. Nearly everything on the album comes from the twenties and thirties. The songs come from folks like the Mississippi Sheiks and the Hoosier Hot Shots, a big little jug band which enjoyed an extraordinary half-century run on records and in film and influenced none other than the man who murdered music himself, Spike Jones. Others are from lesser-known sources, like “Take A Look at that Baby,” a kazoo-y tune first recorded by the Two Poor Boys in the late 20s.
Some of the songs had a short hippy revival, like Gus Cannon’s “Viola Lee Blues,” written by his harmonica player Noah Lewis in 1928 and recorded by the Grateful Dead as an extended jam on their first LP. Still don’t confuse their “Take a Look at that Baby” with John Fahey’s song (he just used the title) or their “If You Don’t Want me Don’t Dog Me ‘Round” (originally the “Alabama Blues”) with J.B. Lenoir’s alarmingly contemporary 1965 song, “Alabama Blues.” The thing about traditional music is it’s not as static as the sticks in the mud would like. Titles come and go, and jug band music is a magically informal format.
Even their name is flexible: You can rearrange the letters and always come up with something fun. The Dumpy Jug Bumpers, The Juggy Dump Buggers, The Buggy Jump Duggers. Drew Temperante tells us the band evolved out of Alas, Alas, a great band which rarely plays because its members are scattered around the country. Hymie’s first heard Alas, Alas through our friends in El Le Faunt and his Travelling Circus, and we were lucky enough to once host a memorable Alas, Alas show around the holidays.
Teperante goes on to explain how the band went through nearly a dozen players before settling on its current line-up last fall, in which he’s joined by Tom Phelan on the harmonicas, Aaron ‘Muskrat’ Barck on the parlor guitar, kazoo and all-essential jug, and bassist Liz Draper. Rather than a jug band, the Dumpers consider themselves “a string band on the more blue, jazz and ragtime end of the spectrum,” he explains. “We pay close attention to detail in trying to emulate the feel in all these styles, including the classic jug band sounds, and tha’ts something we strive for as a band, whichever style song we’re playing.”
There’s an awesome revival of what we called “the good stuff” (in our post about Patty & the Buttons’ XXX hokum album) — folks are discovering songs nearing their centennial and giving them a new spin. The Twin Cities is full of bands playing traditional folk and blues, but enthusiasm for tunes from this era has been a growing nationally for years. The commercially-acclaimed Carolina Chocolate Drops have featured Charlie Poole’s “Milwaukee Blues” and our favorite Gillian Welch song (“Wayside/Back in Time” from Soul Journey) borrows lines from “Peaches in the Springtime” — They might not seem like it at first, but the Jumpy Bug Dumpers aren’t so far behind the times.
Of course, one thing which makes Dumpin’ at the Savoy especially fun is the band’s single original, “I Got the Stuff.” Just like Patty and the Buttons and so many other local favorites of ours, the Dumpys fit a new tune into a set of old ones seamlessly. We were genuinely surprised it was a new song!
“I Got the Stuff”
When we asked if the band would bring in more new songs, Temperante said they’ve been writing new material since recording Dumpin’ at the Savoy, but they’ll continue to focus on the making the original numbers fit in with the old stuff. “Learning the old songs is just so fun for us. We love the music so much we want to learn it and play it and make it exist beyond just the old recordings. It feels different than covering a contemporary song. It doesn’t feel like covering a song at all actually. It feels like the old songs are something we all own now, as a part of American cultural heritage.”
It’s not yet April and already 2015 has been a banner year for power pop trios here in Minneapolis. One of the first local releases we reviewed here was New Noir by Mystery Date, which hasn’t been far from our turntable since. No less an authority than Maximumrockandroll picked it as“record of the week” recently, describing it as “strangely catchy and poppy, while also a little bit eerie and dark.” And if you finally unsnagged yourself from all the hooks on Rank Strangers‘ new album Lady President, you’ll find yourself caught up in them all over again: the band plans to release two more LPs before the end of the year.
And then there’s this disc which — to borrow a phrase from that Maximumrockandroll review — blew our socks off. What Tyrants’ debut, No Luck, is an addictive album at the nexus between garage rock, power pop and the down-on-my-luck, unemployed and unrequited-love tunes of Mike Ness. Brothers Sean and Kyle Schultz play their respective parts on guitar and drums with the sort of intuition we suppose you’re supposed to expect from brothers — and bassist Garrison Grouse walks through the trios tight arrangements with class and charm not at all removed from John Entwistle’s role on Live at Leeds. Absolutely everything about this disc succeeds in reminding us why we love rock and roll in all its glorious forms.
What Tyrants’ first release was a single featuring an earlier version of this album’s catchy opener, “Far Out.” It fell flat on our ears last summer for its lo-fi production. There’s nothing wrong with sounding good, even in garage rock: its why, for instance, we love a good 45 of the Standell’s “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White” played loud, and its why we love No Luck so much. Killer tunes “Lean on the World” have a fantastic drive, given the same healthy li’l nudge by their clean drum sound. Recording engineer Ali Jaafar knows how to hit that garage-y sweet spot, even though his Ecstattic Studio is actually in an attic (and incidentally, give a listen to this recent compilation of other surprisingly diverse Ecstattic recordings). The record has the right rough edges, especially in its reverb-tastic vocals and crisp lead riffs, and you’re going to find it best played loud.
And you should, because it touches on all the things that makes one want to play a record loud. The trio approaches classic arena rock in the magnificent “Feeling Alright (I’m Okay)” — a song which we think oughta join Dave Mason’s “Feelin’ Alright” and the Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll” in the great canon of rock songs about, you know, feelin’ alright — with the same stunning success as their take on the whole garage rock thing. Shades of rockabilly make “4s and 5s” a fun song, just before good old fashioned punk rock steals the scene moments later in “Scuzz,” where Grouse and Kyle Schultz jumps into an unexpected psych rock breakdown just before the end of its minute and forty second mania. You can, by the way, hear and download the whole album here.
“Feeling Alright (I’m Okay)”
There’s even a few little hints of the rhythm & blues vis-à-vis new wave Sean Schultz and Grouse have been performing together with ol’ Hymie’s favorites Black Diet, as in the Television/Blondie-ish rocksteady beat of “Blue in the Face.” What Tryrants put the whole mix together with originality and striking sincerity — its like they raided our record collection and found new ways to make our favorites work together. And it all works so well: If we may borrow again from that Maximumrockandroll review of the Mystery Date album, “these guys clearly believe in what they’re doing.” This is one of our very favorite local releases yet out this year. You’ll be hearing it a lot around here.
What Tyrants have an album release show for No Luck this Friday, April 3rd, at the Triple Rock Social Club. Also playing are Fury Things, Some Pulp and Ripper. Details through Facebook can be found here, as well as on the Triple Rock calendar.