REVIEW: Founding Fathers “Rapid Transit”

foundingfathers

Founding Fathers, “Rapid Transit”
Snax, 2013

I’ve read a lot on the topic of increasingly non-geographical musical landscapes. Those days of 70’s, 80’s, or even 90’s scenes in cities across the country spawning great bands, venues, labels that shaped my own musical development have been replaced by an internet age where the concept of belonging to a geographic place of permanence is less necessary. Bands pack up and head to Brooklyn, Chicago, Portland, or Austin leaving behind hometown music scenes that may not exist as strongly anymore or they may have had little involvement in. One of Aquabear’s goals has always been to focus on that strong geographic permanence of the state of Ohio and the great music and art in produces. Now before I start getting all philosophical about my work with Aquabear Legion I will promise you that this introductory paragraph has something to do with this record review.

Founding Fathers new album Rapid Transit has an LP insert with an old promotional map of Northeast Ohio with the slogan “Rapid Transit is Rapid Growth!” across the top. Below the map are the following words: WRITTEN, RECORDED, MASTERED, CUT, PRINTED, AND PRESSED IN CLEVELAND, OHIO. The album’s name itself coming from city’s public transportation system of rail and bus, a photo of which graces the cover (by Rose Marancil and painted by Jake Kelly). This record is a great example of why the concept of geography plays an important role in the creative pursuits of musicians that reside in that community. Its songs take a journey around Cleveland’s musical past, present, and future not unlike the Rapid Transit system itself. Growing up in Lorain (west of Cleveland) I spent a lot of time listening to bands from the area during my formative years and there was also something about bands from Cleveland that I never could put a finger on. Founding Fathers are made up of some of Cleveland’s most talented folks: John Neely and Stanton Thatcher played together in Tokyo Storm Warning and Neely and fellow John (Kalman) worked at the Grog Shop for years and Kalman’s band Roue still remains of the city’s most missed projects. The three are joined on bass by Carol  Schumacher Yachanin (Tough & Lovely, Reigning Sound, Detroit Cobras) and together create a pretty amazing record from start to finish.

Rapid Transit sounds immediately familiar drawing on touchstones ranging from Archers of Loaf and Dinosaur Jr. but with a heavy dose of a certain sound that comes from the geographic influence mentioned earlier. A lot of that feeling also comes courtesy of Paul Maccarrone (formely of the legendary Zombie Proof Studios and currently of The Black Eye) who recorded and mixed this record (along a long list of other Cleveland essentials over the years). Opener “Flower Plower” storms out of the gate but its the second song “Sailing Stones” that is the standout for me, recalling for me mid 90’s Yo La Tengo with several moments of perfect harmonization that only come along once in a great while. Songs like “Latest American Hero”, “Secret Win”, and “Dancey Pants” are carried by riffs that switch back and forth, soaring and angling into each other drawing to mind other Cleveland bands of days past like Sun God, Machine Go Boom, The Franchise, and State of Ohio. “Chasing Shadows” is a fitting end to the record leaving the listener with just a few more melodies and progressions to hum along to the rest of the day.

There is always something great happening musically in Cleveland but lately it seems as if new music and new projects or coming out all the time. New bands with familiar friends (The Safeties, Classic Sand, Palaces, and more) are popping up and the Lottery League is readying itself again to mix up some of the city’s finest musicians into a whole new crop of bands. This city is full of some of the most talented people I have ever met and they all seem to be putting out some incredible stuff these days, with the potential of more and more to come. I highly recommend this album.

REVIEW: Connections “Private Airplane”

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Connections, “Private Airplane”
Anyway Records, 2013

Take a quick glance at the cover of Connections’ debut LP and you’ll surely notice a hot pink biplane soaring across an empty sky. It’s a seemingly calculated piece of iconography that links this record to Dayton, OH, the birthplace of aviation and the ancestral home of legendary Ohio rockers Guided By Voices. Located an hour east via I-70, in the relative metropolis of Columbus, this group of local music scene veterans have managed to channel the same sort of energy that Robert Pollard and company began tapping into almost 30 years ago.

For singer Kevin Elliot and guitarist Andy Hampel, the association is far from superficial. Four track recordings made by the pair’s high school band 84 Nash found their way into the hands of Pollard, resulting in the release of their debut full length on GBV’s own Rockathon Records in 1998. Drummer Adam Elliot’s group Times New Viking toured alongside the recently reunited ‘classic lineup.’ And if their previous musical output is any indication, guitarist Dave Capaldi (of El Jesus de Magico) and bassist Philip Kim (of Andrew Graham & Swarming Branch) have definitely listened to Bee Thousand.

Private Airplane possesses a sort of polished scruffiness, echoing the lo-fi roots of some of its key personnel without assaulting your ears with distorted blasts of tape hiss. The thrashing chords of “Miller’s Grove” and noisy hooks of “Casuals” sound as if they were written in beer can-strewn basements and hastily recorded using equipment identical to that which birthed albums like Under the Bushes Under the Stars. By the same token, short, divergent interludes like “Sister City” and “Capital of Strange Cravings” might have been fleshed out over the course of a few smoke breaks. And while Kevin Elliot may not have Uncle Bob’s vocal presence, the band’s unison delivery shares the consistent aspiration of treating a Thursday night bar crowd like a densely packed arena.

That’s not to say that Connections are entirely derivative of their most conspicuous influence. From the woozy chords of “Cindy” to the earnest sentimentality of “I Can Fix Memories,” the group consistently finds new ways to wrap their thoughts into succinct, pop-indebted rock songs. There’s a visceral feel to the half hour of music presented on the album, divided into bite-sized pieces that, while easily digestible on their own, are enhanced when placed in the context of the record itself. It’s a testament to Adam Smith’s production work which along with Adam Elliott’s understated rhythms, help unify the LP’s 15 varying tracks into a cohesive whole.

Amid all the muddy guitar tones and muffled cymbal crashes, there’s a palpable sense of midwestern nostalgia that finds the group’s romanticized small town recollections clashing with contemporary urban realities. It’s a source of inspiration that easily lends itself to uncovering universal truths, much like those exposed by their elders down the road in Dayton. Boarding their Private Airplanes, Connections achieve catharsis through a very specific strain of concise musical expression, giving a salty salute to their forbearers while proving that the club is still open.

You can find this record at your finest local record store.

RECORD REVIEW: The Black Swans – Don’t Blame the Stars

The Black Swans
Don’t Blame the Stars
Misra, 2011

Jerry DeCicca is one hell of a songwriter. He has quietly amassed a catalog of gems over the course of several stellar albums, an ep and a handful of equally stellar 7″ tracks that follow a solemn tradition, a niche of singer songwriters that defy categorization. Americana? Folk? Country? The songs on Don’t Blame the Stars possess elements of all these genres, but are hardly bound to them. These are dusty, lived in ruminations on faith, friendship and the power of music, delivered in DeCicca’s unmistakable baritone. He is accompanied by an incredibly sympathetic cast of talented musicians (including long-time band-mate Noel Sayre, who tragically passed mere months after the recording of this material), resulting in the fullest sounding, most accomplished set of songs the Black Swans have produced yet. The guitar playing of Chris Forbes shines throughout. Songs like “Joe Tex”, “Sunshine Street” and “I Forgot To Change The Windshield Wipers In My Mind” are some of the most upbeat songs in the Black Swans catalog, providing a perfect balance to the somber title track and the sparse “Little Things”. Don’t Blame The Stars is as excellent an album of Americana-tinged storytelling as you are likely to hear this year. Highly recommended.

-Andrew Lampela

REVIEW: Southeast Engine “Canary”

Canary is the album I have been waiting for Southeast Engine to make. It is really good. Seriously. I have always had a great deal of respect for this band and Adam Remnant’s songwriting, but they’ve never before grabbed my attention the way this record does. In my almost 10 years in Athens these guys have always been a huge part of the music community here, but this one hits me all the way through. As someone that has seen this band dozens of times and heard their recordings over their career, I can honestly say that with Canary, Southeast Engine finally finds what I think they’ve been looking for.

The tale told over Canary‘s 11 songs is one of America during the Great Depression, specifically the story of a miner in my own adopted home of Athens County who is struggling through a particularly rough patch of his existence. A story of poverty and hopelessness that really turns out to be one of searching and understanding. Rem’s songs follow through those themes of closed mines and mills and a beautiful and storied landscape and culture that have been stolen away. It is that underlying hope that frames Canary, strength found in love, family, and the importance of home and tradition. “Sure things could be better, at least we have each other.” A story steeped in history, but as contemporary as they come.

Canary‘s production is beautiful (thanks to Josh and the fine folks of 3 Elliott Studios here in town), but its the songs themselves that carry the record and the band. The songs are intense, musically and lyrically and lush instrumentation is added from peripheral instruments (banjos, fiddles, harmonicas) and from rollicking, fuzzy versions of their basic setup (Adam’s badass guitar solo on “1933 Great Depression” and Billy’s sweet organ on “At Least We Have Each Other”) for the more uptempo numbers. “The Curse of Canaanville”, “Mountain Child”, and the beautiful plea “Adeline of the Appalachian Mountains” showcase both the depth of Remnant’s songwriting and voice while showing the range of the band itself.

Another of my personal favorite Athens songwriters, Mike Elliott said today “Southeast Engine has begun the take over. review after review, blog after blog, I see things like this..” and then links to a review of a recent Chicago show with the headline “Southeast Engine’s show at Schuba’s almost too much to take”. I hope the reviews keep rolling in like that from the corners of this country, this album deserves it.

Visit:
southeastengine.com | misrarecords.com

RECORD REVIEW: Wheels on Fire – Cherry Bomb EP

This album seems like a demonstration of how deeply Wheels On Fire can worm four
songs of their greaser surf-rock into your skull. It’s a cleaner break from the straighter
rock sound of Get Famous!, and more in line with beach riffs of Liar Liar. (So much so
that there’s a different version of a song off Liar Liar.) Cherry Bomb’s lead off, “Black
Wave,” starts the dig in your head with a dark beach-party sound, its catchiness only
covered up by the second track (“Broken Up”) and its insistence on including a kind
of ‘keyboard cat’ riff. The title track demonstrates Wheels on Fire’s experimentation with doo-wop harmonies, and the final song of the set is a stripped-down revision of Liar Liar’s “Go Give Your Love Away”. These are all good songs, and the descriptions, admittedly, are simple bastardizations of how you’ll experience them, or what they actually are.
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RECORD REVIEW: Orchestraville – Poison Berries

Orchestraville were one of the premiere bands as I came of age in the dingy clubs of the early ’90s Athens music scene.  They stood out from crowd by infusing their music with quirky angularity and a much poppier feel than their contemporaries.  I had, at a young age, developed an affinity for XTC, and damned if these guys didn’t nail the sound.  It also didn’t hurt that Dave Pascoe was a complete badass on what was, up to that point, the only fretless bass I had ever seen.  I was hooked.  Two albums, a 7-inch and a few comp tracks later, however, that was that. The band fell into that hazy, excess-soaked gray matter not often called upon, dubbed “the ’90s.”

It was quite a shock this past fall, then, to hear tell of a new record.  I usually greet these types of reunions with a fair amount of trepidation.  Putting an album out after so many years usually goes the way of having a release show in the lobby of a Holiday Inn or, at best, being a pale imitation of the reasons you loved the band in the first place.  Orchestraville did neither of these things.  Instead, they decided to put out a 12 track collection of amazing pop songs. Pop in the long, almost-forgotten sense of a band playing intelligent, well written songs with great production that unfold over repeated listening.  Pop in the sense of attention to detail.  Pop with the sense of, well, not sucking.

Gone are the acute angularities and innate quirkiness of their earlier releases/incarnations.  Instead, Chris Forbes, Keith Hanlon, Dave Pascoe and new-to-me Parker Paul have crafted  a stellar set of thoughtful rock songs that, considering the influences,  sound like Orchestraville.  Sure, there are some distinctly British-feeling moments to some of these songs (particularly “Only A Song” and “You Wanna Be Like That”), but these are minor quibbles that tell me you’d rather reference things than listen to music.  There is an amazingly attentive eye on all of the arrangements, with layer upon layer of subtle instrumentation always benefiting the song.  “Phil Och’s Flag,” “The Bird Without Wings,” “Poison Berries,” and my personal favorite “I Could Stay Here All Night Long” nail the art of pop rock, marrying catchy rhythms and smart lyrics to toe-tapping perfection. I won’t lie—not all of these songs are winners for me.  Seriously, though, if the only thing wrong with a record is that I want to skip “I Take It Back” every once in a while…

Poison Berries is a fantastic collection of songs, by people that still give a shit about writing real songs.  I highly suggest you go to orchestraville.net and start figuring out how you’re going to get a copy.  Oh, if you were wondering—yes, Pascoe is still a badass.

RECORD REVIEW: Whale Zombie – Whale Zombie LP

The guys in Whale Zombie know what they’re doing. They’ve crafted a sound and persona that borrows from numerous characteristics of pop rock history while somehow maintaining an identity that’s all their own. Playing with the vigor of a bunch of teenagers who just bought their first battered secondhand instruments and the finesse of seasoned veterans, Whale Zombie have constructed a solid offering with the debut of their first full-length album. Musical genres are thrown in a blender throughout, but this is accomplished in a way that never jars the listener or upsets its own flow. This is, in part, because the fuzzy, lo-fi aesthetic is one of a few rare elements that remains constant. Add to that quality song writing and skillful playing, and there’s little fault to be found within these 35 minutes of throwback surfy psychedelia.

Any number of Whale Zombie’s songs could be equally at home in a Nuggets compilation or on the iPod of a hungover OU underclassman. It’s apparent that they like to screw around with pedals, which will always earn high praise from me. Still, that never really prevents them from writing some truly catchy, rocking tunes. Some of my favorite tracks are the raucous “Ridin’ the Wave” with it’s singalong melodies, “Battle for Middle Earth”, an instrumental ditty that shakes the walls with its thundering chorus and sprint to a false finish and the wonderfully sludgy “Demons”.

Ultimately, any album review can be boiled down to one simple question: is it worth a listen? In this case, the answer is a clear and resounding “yes.” Check out their Myspace, Facebook and Bandcamp presences for information and downloads. Their label, Dark Circle Records, also has a site, but it seems to be in its infancy as this is being written. Whale Zombie might not be everyone’s cup of tea, nevertheless there is plenty in there for fans of surf rock, psychedelic freak outs, retro pop, heavy instrumentals and Final Fantasy IX to enjoy. Just watch out for the Ultra Sound Wave! That shit can fuck up your entire party.

Buy: Whale Zombie LP

RECORD REVIEW: Megachurch – Megachurch

“Holy shit! These guys are fucking awesome!” That was how I responded when I first saw Megachurch play live at last year’s Aquabear County Fair. That exact same reaction held true when I first heard this album. Their music is a punch to the gut. It hurts a little bit, but it makes you feel like more of a man (or woman) afterward.

Megachurch offers up the soundtrack to the end of days with driving, gigantic drums and a duo of talented bassists. The only vocals to be heard are samples from numerous preachers speaking the gospel to throngs of adoring followers. Plus, it’s all recorded and mixed so masterfully that you’ll feel as if you’re sitting in Ted Haggard’s congregation just as the floor cracks open and hell’s legions drag him down into the abyss. Through a mere six songs, Megachurch rocks out more than most bands can accomplish in their entire careers. Let’s break it down track by track. Continue reading “RECORD REVIEW: Megachurch – Megachurch”

RECORD REVIEW: Tom Evanchuck “Tom”

by Laura McMullen

The first few songs on Cleveland native, Tom Evanchuck’s album, Tom, have lots of talk about train stations, roads, coming home, etc.—the usual sort of reflective, acoustic shtick. But at about two tracks in, it’s clear Tom makes it work better than most.

Sure, there’s the Lonesome Dove sort of fiction lingering behind his ode to his “darlin’ Mayapple,” and in a few tracks where Evanchuck can be pictured leaning against a tree in the Old West—guitar and brow dusty from livin’. But sometimes a guitar and a great voice can turn even the cutest, Ray-Ban-sporting twenty-year old into a weathered cowboy. Cue the bluesy “Bury My Wife” where he declares, “I’m gonna bury my wife under that old pine shade. Lord knows that woman don’t know how to behave.”

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RECORD REVIEW: We March – Creator/Destroyer – Non-Prophet, 2007

– by Pencil –

we-march-creator-destroyer

Full length number three from Athen’s vanguard of punk/hardcore/garage/psyche, WE MARCH’s “Creator/Destroyer”, ranges from the speed and fury of 80’s H/C punk to scrappy garage stomp and murky psyched-out jams, but don’t think for one second that this is anything but the most scathing Punk record you’ve heard in a long time. While “the kids” are out there trying to recreate the past glory of these genres, WE MARCH manages to destroy them. Whether it’s uptempo ragers like “beep beep beep”  or “the choice” (from their 7’’)  or slower swaggering numbers like “never compromise” or “wash away”  you come away with the feeling that, just like the first wave of punks (who had no reference to what they were creating, unlike so much of the rehash of the past ten years), these guys don’t care about emulating their heros, just about creating music on their own terms, and for almost ten years (!) they’ve done just that. Released on their own NON-PROPHET record label “Creator/Destroyer” proves that even in the 21st century, punk can still be original, exciting and inspirational. Highly recommended.

Contact them:
wemarch.net, myspace.com/wemarch
wemarchbox@hotmail.com

RECORD REVIEW: Percolator – Man is Not a Bird, 2007

– by Brian Wiebe

percolater

The relationships we have with music are as varied and complicated as the ones we have with people.  Sometimes a song or album is love at first listen—swooning as I hit repeat for the fifth, sixth, seventh time—enraptured in immediacy.  Other times, the relationship takes a little while to develop.  Maybe I haven’t heard the album in the right setting, or maybe I haven’t heard it enough, or maybe I just didn’t understand it right away.  But I keep listening until eventually a deeper respect forms because of the piece’s slowly unraveling mysteries and complexities.  Percolator has managed to do both.  Man is Not a Bird is an album that had me from the get go, and then kept growing on me.

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RECORD REVIEW: The X Bolex – This Time Next Year You’ll Be Oxidizing Stone – Tower Control, 2007

– by Brian Koscho –

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The X Bolex began as a solo project for then Small Object a drummer Nate Scheible while he was still living in Athens, Ohio. But, The X Bolex is now a full band made up of  some of the greatest musicians in the Cleveland music scene. Nate also co-runs Zombie Proof Studios and recorded “This Time..” with fellow engineer Paul Maccarrone. In addition to Scheible (who has spent/spends time in Cleveland acts such as Self Destruct Button, Neo Nothing, The Washout Corporation, and Thee Scarcity of Tanks), the band is filled out by Matt Majesky (State of Ohio), Lou Arocho (Small Object a), and Dale Ursic (Homostupids, State of Ohio). Scheible’s songwriting has always been spectacular as have X Bolex’s previous albums, but there is something special that develops on their new record.

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RECORD REVIEW: Machine Go Boom – Music for Parents – Collectible Escalators, 2007

– by Brian Koscho

machinegoboom-CD

Cleveland’s Machine Go Boom has been one of my own personal favorite bands for years. Music For Parents is their second album after 2004’s Thank You Captain Obvious, both were recorded by Paul Maccarrone at Cleveland’s Zombie Proof Studios. Machine Go Boom’s music is an audio sugar rush, with band-leader Mikey Machine’s voice ranging from a beautiful swoon to the tone of a small child on Christmas morning after twelve cans of soda and an entire birthday cake. Mikey and the rest of MGB make music that really is a breath of fresh air.

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RECORD REVIEW: Southeast Engine – ” Wheel within a Wheel” – Misra, 2007

seengine_wheel

Adam Remnant, Southeast Engine’s principle penman and visionary, is a Dayton native living currently in that mythical berg of Athens, OH… a town often described as sleepy, dreamlike… you get the picture. Let me tell you about the Remnant’s house: piano, keyboard, drum here, drum there, harmonica, violin, organ… zounds of guitars. And that is not to mention the collective musical talent of the various characters often to be found lurking in and about the Remnant household on a given day: Adam Torres (backing vocals, guitar) lends a capable hand in the realization of Remnant’s musical vision, with distinct vocal harmonies that have become perhaps the most recognizable aspect of the band’s sound. Jesse Remnant (bass, keys), another Daytonite and recent addition to the band’s live lineup, and Leo DeLuca (drums), co-founding member and major hunk, round out the live band, which has recently completed its first tour as a quartet.

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RECORD REVIEW: Casual Future – “Footnotes in the City Lights”

Footnotes-Front

On their debut album, Casual Future gets into character as musicians from the slacker set, slinging well-penned quips filled with cynicism and absurdity, while keeping pretty level heads.  It’s a well-balanced act owing much to lead singer Scott Spice’s almost ho-hum delivery, dancing drunkenly over lyrics finely calculated and clever.

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RECORD REVIEW: She Bears – “I Found Myself Asleep” – Self-released, 2009

shebearscover She Bears is a six-piece band from Athens, Ohio who have found their voice with their new release I Found Myself Asleep. I had the opportunity to play several of their earlier shows with them in my former band Casual Future, and one thing that stuck out to me was how good they sounded then. That of course led to the next thought of how scary it would be once they started to get really good. Their new album reaches that point. It’s a great record for sure but even more importantly it accomplishes something often lost in recording: She Bears sound like they should.

More after the break….
Continue reading “RECORD REVIEW: She Bears – “I Found Myself Asleep” – Self-released, 2009″