Category Archives: Stuff We Like

SPOTLIGHT ON: THE ELEPHANT GRAVEYARD

This started as a review of Bloodpheasant’s latest LP, but I lost everything so it’ll become two separate posts.  I’ll start with The Elephant Graveyard…

1982186_617193725032402_92599391_nOne of the best parts of playing in a DIY band is playing at non-conventional “venues” and submerging yourself in said culture surrounding the places. The Elephant Graveyard stands in a “dead zone” on acres of farmland in Chester, NY. You wouldn’t know it just by looking at it, but the barn houses some of the most high-energy, diverse and positive shows I’ve been to in years- the kind of shows that remind me of why I started playing music and reaffirm my involvement in it when things go sour. The kind of shows where the focus truly lays on the music and the message.

Jay and Drew of Common Folk book everything from stripped down folk-punk to in your face hardcore and they always lend a hand to help touring bands.  They aren’t the only ones making things happen there, though.  Colin Jay of Entropy often has a hand in booking and Jay’s parents are so supportive they actually cook vegan friendly meals for the bands and proceed to stay to watch the show.  It’s a true privilege to have met this group of people who first welcomed me back when I was playing with Melissa (aka Francie Moon) and who continue to support projects I’ve done since.  I’ve met a lot of great people and have been exposed to some music that will stick with me for a while because of this place.  I just want to leave this here as a “thank you.”  “All good things come to and end” or at least need a break sometimes, I guess.  I’m hoping with The Elephant Graveyard it’s the latter and they come back strong and continue contributing to the scene they helped build.  Come to the  bon voyage show this Saturday at 7pm with Control, Tesla’s Revenge, Common Folk, and Entropy.  Wear a costume.  Listen to each band below.

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BALLROOM: ENTER THE BALLROOM

Ballroom are one of NJ’s current hidden gems and if you find yourself skipping most songs on your playlists, i-pods, shuffles, spotifies, winamps, et cetera, Enter the Ballroom is for you.  I stumbled upon this mysterious band at one of my favorite North Jersey Venues, Pat’s Bar, over a year ago and struggled to find anything out about them since.  Their live show imbedded itself in my brain with their unconventional musical explorations/various and interesting rhythms- all under catchy melodic vocals despite the ensuing craziness.  All of the instruments existed in their own little world, yet it all fit together so perfectly.  Fast forward a year or more.  I haven’t forgotten.  Apparently, my friend from Portland hadn’t forgotten either and he happened to be thinking about them around the same time they re-surfaced in my head and he had a fresh link ready for me.  After little exploring on said link, I finally found it: a click-able to the band’s full length on some obscure label’s bandcamp:  16 songs of progressive post-punk reminiscent of Nomeansno.   Oh and no song reaches the 3 minute mark, which is something I always feel necessary to mention- to confine such awesomeness in such short time is a feat not to be ignored.  I’ve posted it below. ENJOY!  Hopefully, we’ll be hearing more about Ballroom in 2014, as they appear to still be active!

BENEATH TREES: HARVEST EP

What do you typically find Beneath Trees?  Worms? Rocks? Dirty old dirt? Ants? Roots? For the sake of this argument, let’s go with roots.  I’m all for the stripping down of rock and roll to the blues that birthed it and that’s just what Beneath Trees do with their grimy/punk influenced garage rock.  Shortly after their relocation from North Jersey, the bass-less duo hit the Savannah, Georgia DIY music circuit with their EP, “Harvest.”  Their “down-to-earth” approach serves Genevieve and Hemmy well- with little polish and touching up aside from some distortion and reverb.  Really, what other effects do you need?  Just play…be real…and remember: less is always more.  Check the EP out below and keep your ear to the ground as they have been keeping themselves rather busy.  I’m eager to see how Beneath Trees grows (puns intended).

EARTH ANCHOR: VIRTUE AND FAULT

What do a mechanic, exterminator, office administrator and audio engineer have in common?  Well, besides being honest career choices, each of the four people in question make up ¼ of Earth Anchor– a heavy-hitting rock band who calls Portland, Oregon home. 

Earth Anchor proved their self-sufficiency early on with no deterrence from quality or excellence.  In less than a year, the quartet released 2 EP’s, 1 music video and an album of B-sides and covers with no outside help. 

Kevin Carafa moved from New Jersey to the other side of the nation to start Earth Anchor on guitar.  He handles ALL of the mixing and mastering of ALL of the band’s output.  Andrew Carreon and Todd Fowler showed great interest in the original 4 Earth Anchor tunes (Outshined EP) when they were posted online.  Together, they make up the band’s rhythm section.  Additionally, Andrew handled the editing duties of their debut music video which perfectly represents the band and their relatable songs.  Heather Steele binds everything together with her emotional melodies and sincere lyrics.   

You won’t find over-the-top story lines or a giant back-line of fake guitar cabs with Earth Anchor.   Nor are they masked by skunky hair-dos (PEE-YEW!) and caked on make-up or flashy photos and “fake” production.  What you will find are four passionate people combining their various abilities to play songs they wrote and love: truly the greater sum of the individual parts.  Listen to them at their (current) best on their sophomore EP, “Virtue and Fault” below. 

MATT PLESS: TUMBLEWEED

7 or 8 years ago I mail-ordered a boxed set of 7 cds with packaging built from a collapsed barn from a quirky singer/songwriter known as Captain Chaos.  I think only 50 were made and I listened to these 7 CDs non-stop for almost six months.  That was my introduction to folk-punk, or whatever you wanna call it.  I have no idea what Chaos is up to these days, but listening to Matt Pless leaves me with a sense of nostalgia, bringing me back to that time period and reminding me that “you never forget your first.”  I don’t listen to many bands/singer/song-writers of the genre, but the few I do listen to really stand out.  I imagine, like any other genre, that countless bands exist that sound the same and follow the same sentiment/ideals, however I’m willing to bet that only a few persevere because of their hard work, dedication and well, song-writing ability.  Matt Pless is one of them.

“Tumbleweed,” the latest full length of Matt’s impressive repertoire of musical output, houses 12 hook-friendly tunes that will have you singing along, nodding your head, tapping your foot,  giggling and thinking.    Mr. Pless calls upon various literary  elements to keep his words interesting and clever with an extreme honest and almost uncomfortable undertone.  In 12 tracks he sings of everything from letting his father down, drug use, minor crime sprees, love, god, technology and tall/short tales which all could be metaphors (that really happened).  His use of humor and his catchy melodies make his message clear and accessible, while adhering to the “don’t take yourself too seriously” protocol.  You won’t find the distraction of over-production, over instrumentation or tasteless noodling on Tumbleweed.  What you will find is one guitar and one friendly voice ready and willing to make your day that much better.

Matt toured  and continues to tour extensively on the album, hitting the DIY circuit hard and relentlessly.  Chances are Matt Pless played your town in some barn, basement, living room, storefront, street corner, kitchen etc and you probably missed it.  Don’t fret.  I’m sure he will return,  so keep a look out because he is definitely worth checking out.  Listen to “Tumbleweed” below.

LOCAL RESIDENT FAILURE: A BREATH OF STALE AIR

Every few months, something comes along and reminds me of my undying love for skate-punk and that early Epitaph/Fat Wreck Chords sound:  the bands that taught me how to play guitar, the songs at the foundation of my love of music, the sound that made me want to be in a band…and I still am in one…or more.  What can I say?  I couldn’t skate.

Enter Local Resident Failure, who I stumbled upon on accident because their drummer, Kyle Smith, made two drum videos spanning the entire Epitaph and Fat discography.  Watch those here and here.  They’re quite impressive based on volume alone.  Now, the more aggressive side of this genre always held my attention over the poppier side.  In ’94, I went the Offspring-Smash route as opposed to the Green Day– Dookie, route, if you know what I mean (Kyle also has a video spanning Green Day’s career here).

Local Resident Failure offer a comfortable blend of that aggression and the melody/hooks/harmonies that could draw someone who doesn’t typically listen to punk derivative stuff.  There’s upstrokes, too…like the ones you’d find on an early Millencolin record.   Their first full length, “A Breath of Stale Air,” could very well sneak it’s way into the Fat Wreck Chords catalog (I’m not too sure what Epitaph is up to these days, but that last Bad Religion record ruled).

Local Resident Failure sound like The Deviates meets NOFX with a hint of a real accent on the vocals, on their debut.  You usually know what you’re going to get with this genre, which is why the titled makes me laugh, however it’s rare that a new band comes out and does it so well.  Listen for yourself below:

ROTHENBECK: SECRET MONSTERS

Maybe I’m swayed by the cover art, but the 7 tracks on Rothenbeck‘s debut studio EP encompass the feeling captured in that woodsy shot on the cover (which could have very well be taken in Twin Peaks, Washington). Rothenbeck effectively makes me feel right at home and find solace in knowing that I’m a 30-40 minute drive to any of the NJ entering points for the Appalachian Trail and that the woods are literally a hop away.

For this EP, Brian summoned Jeff Banchansky, Michael Biskup, and Brian Leahy (The Megadeath Three) to add more life to his already flourishing folk tunes.  Brian hones in on an honest voice  with the perfect hint of rasp and does not hide behind any jarring effects or edits.    There’s no studio magic here, just solid tunes with production that appropriately showcases the nature of the music and lyrics.  The Megadeath Three offer tasteful playing that accents each song letting the roots of each  shine.

The EP ends on a song that reminds me of Cake’s “Sad Songs and Waltzes,” so naturally, I love it. If you’re looking for some honest music by great local musicians who do much more for the music community they are involved in than record a few songs and throw them on the internet and spam your social media, this is for you.  If you’re looking for over the top production that hides in metaphors and effects, seek elsewhere.  This EP is Brian Rothenbeck and friends doing what they love and do best.  Take it or leave.

WHORES: CLEAN

Dirty.  Listen

BLEAK: 3 SONGS

For most north easterners, fall brings darker times for a short while and then winter happens and things get back to “normal,” by spring.  We endure longer nights/shorter days, watch the leaves change and the flowers die as it gets colder and colder by the day.  Things become…well…Bleak.  For Bleak, the Syracuse based powerhouse, this time lasts 365 days out of the year…as their 3 debut songs suggest.  Rising quickly from the ashes of Nick and Matt’s former band  (Blood Money) the quartet offers somber riffs entwined with disgusting feedback and grimy bass that can only happen by turning up and turning up loud.   The only part (besides the whole) that hits harder than Nick (drums) on this caustic debut, are the lyrics which, needless to say, emerge from the murky depths of intense personal experience.  Michael declares his last words on the EP like his life depends on it while pushing the preamp to complete saturation with his nails-to-the throat scream:  “Just because I’m alive, doesn’t mean I’m not dead inside.  I miss my friend.”  If you dig real sounding recordings that capture a solid performance devoid of studio magic or polish, definitely click those songs below.  It sounds like four guys playing their hearts out in a a room…but I imagine they would describe it more as a cell… 😉 Oh and one more thing, despite all the hate, these dudes are some of the sweetest and most humble guys I have ever met.  Positive creative outlets save.

CLICK ME GENTLY!

DEAD UNICORN: PANDEMIC

I want to start this off by thanking Dead Unicorn for all of their educational efforts.  First, they warned us about the Yellowstone Supervolcano and then they hit us with Global Thermonuclear War, and now we have Pandemic, which hits uncomfortably close to home compared to the other two.  If Dead Unicorn intended to instill a little paranoia with their latest release,  they succeeded and backed it with some super urgent music- one part bass and one part drums, just how we like ’em.  The bass- dirtier than ever, with feedback forcing itself through during any small chance it gets to breathe and spread.  The drums- resonating, hard hitting and laced with the occasional double bass fill.  On “Pandemic,”  Zac and Paul infect the listener by maintaining the strong sense of melody and catchy choruses that flooded their previous 2 releases.   They could not have made a better choice pressing this thing to wax and for a bass ‘n drumz duo, they certainly don’t lack in the high end, either.  Concept albums run the risk of getting stale and pretentious and just poorly done, but Dead Unicorn are 3 albums deep into a 7 album warning and show no signs of neglect while ever-evolving and keeping themselves relevant.  Next up: Alien Invasion.  Be on the lookout for “Pandemic” on tape via Bedside Manner Collective & Station 3 Records.  You can stream it below, but I recommend purchasing the limited edition 12″ from Music For End Times as it translates beautifully to vinyl.