Monday, 24 October 2011

Familiar WATERS: Ex-Port O'Brien Front Man Flows Through NYC

Yes yes, I still have days 2 to 5 to report on from the recently completed music marathon that was, is, and will be again, CMJ. 

Alas, unable to face the mammoth task of writing up another 20 odd bands worth of live music - and this was a light year - I thought I'd delve a little deeper into just one of those artists: WATERS.

Before focusing on the act, mention must be made of the venue and promoter. I caught the set as part of a series put on by indie radio station KEXP, at the Ace Hotel in midtown Manhattan. Unlike other makeshift, aspiring (opportunistic?) venues, the focus here was on the experience, rather than crass cross-promotion. 

When KEXP state "where the music matters", it seems to be something they take seriously, as the set-up was professional and the streaming audio of performances a neat addition for the musicians to make the most of their appearance. In the same breath, Ace Hotel provides a grand-yet-cosy environment to watch live music. With plenty of seating and connectivity for reporting journos (and filthy plebeian wannabes such as yours truly), not to mention outstanding coffee from the connecting Stumptown Roasters, it's a pleasant spot to take in some tunes. 

All of which is secondary to the music, which was a particular treat at 10:30am.

At this point, despite a naggingly familiar vocal tone, I was unaware that WATERS front man Van Pierszalowski had previously given voice to the delicate melodies of Port O'Brien. With a semi-frenzied stage presence and tendency to rip at the guitar quite distant from his former band, however, this isn't a connection one would naturally make. 

MP3: WATERS - O Holy Break Of Day 
MP3: WATERS - For The One
Taken from the debut album 'Out In The Light', out now on City Slang

WATERS' sound lies much more in the frayed emoting of indie rockers like Manchester Orchestra. Switching between the raucous attack of 'For The One' and the somber reflection of outstanding closer 'Mickey Mantle', this set is as often energising as it is effecting. In particular, I fell for this timely lyrical couplet: "I was in New York, living / Waiting in the cold of Thanksgiving / Hoping I could have a day to reason". 

Something about the playing and delivery communicates a complete integrity, one that helps the crowd connect ever deeper with the endearingly awkward singer. At one point, he offers an over-the-airwaves apology to his Mum for not calling and being away so often. If this early form is a sign of things to come, he'll be making such laments on a regular basis as WATERS spread to the welcoming ears of new fans around the globe. 

Check out a set of far superior pics from the morning set here on KEXP

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

CMJ 2011: Day 1 Report

The 'road' to Williamsburg - CMJ 2011

It being a marathon and all, the well-prepared listener on first night CMJ duty will pace themself accordingly. Thus prepared, I venture out from central to north Brooklyn for 'taster Tuesday'; a brief early dip into the CMJ 2011 pool.

Destined for Brooklyn Bowl and the Live4Ever opening night showcase, I am greeted by a band with chunky, pulsating riffs and a Union Jack draped over the lead mic stand. 

This could go one of two ways...

Pint Shot Riot

Pint Shot Riot | Brooklyn Bowl - 10/18/11
Happily, these lads from Coventry, England, err on the side of spunky, fast-paced rockers, rather than any second rate Oasis or Arctic-isms.  Despite only catching the last few songs, it's clear they're having a great time and they pass that enthusiastic energy on to a not too shabby early crowd. 

Not breaking any moulds, on this (admittedly short) showing, but not braking the momentum of the night either. Worthy of taking in a full set at the next opportunity.

The Minutes

The Minutes | Brooklyn Bowl - 10/18/11
Moving on to a band I know considerably better, having caught them at this festival's 2009 incarnation and anticipated their return earlier this week, I settle in with a lager for Dublin's The Minutes.

Raw rock blood courses through the arteries of this Irish trio, with nods to their bluesier influences not thin on the ground either.  Fat low end grooves root many of the songs, whilst singer Mark Austin delivers acerbic lyrical asides and stalks the stage with fierce intensity. Equally capable of lighter jams (the satisfying float of 'Believer') as they are balls out rockers ('Black Keys' or the guttural swirl of 'I.M.T.O.D.'), it's the latter that fire their live show the most. Should they harness a full set in an order that makes the most of their dynamic range, it's easy to see them being an unmissable live act.

At one point, Austin asks the ever-swelling crowd "Where did all the great American rock n' roll bands go?" Though it's a point that could be debated long into the night, it hardly seems to matter when his own band is tearing up the boards with such genre-affirming force. 


Decked out in shades, against a backdrop of pulsating visuals and strobing lights, New York's Figo boast a frontman who certainly looks the rock star part. And with their chest-thumping electro alt-rock attack, the odds should be stacked in their favour to make a bold first impression.

Unfortunately, for all the electronically-fuelled pulse and the attempted energy, their sound is unnervingly derivative of acts that littered the 90's and didn't make it much further. After the initial pomp and ceremony wears off - all of two minutes into the set - all that remains is recycled riffs and indistinct material, aside from one particularly grating stab at the glory days of punk. 

I'd hoped for the band to hit a new vein of inspiration as they struck into each successive song but, alas, the spirited performance being given in vain is the only development here.

The Duke Spirit 

Back to England and a band from home shores that I've been looking forward to seeing for a couple of years. From the very beginning with debut album 'Cuts Across The Land', The Duke Spirit have given me the impression that they could put on one helluva live show. As they take the stage to rip into that very track, front lass Liela Moss looking the quintessential rock diva and strutting with an attitude to match, it seems my hopes will be met.

The Duke Spirit | Brooklyn Bowl - 10/18/11
Suitably pumped and with increasing anticipation, I enthusiastically tweeted: "The captivating allure of pure rock & roll lies within this band."

I don't retract that now. At least, not entirely.

Clearly, Moss and crew have the chops to mix it on the main stages of major venues and festivals. The uncertainty lies in the depth of their material. Pure gold numbers like 'You Really Wake Up The Love In Me' and 'Everybody's Under Your Spell' easily enrapture, yet a minority of the set is filler that throws the shapes yet makes no memories.

The band has the ability and experience to deliver a near-flawless rock set. Nothing less will suffice on the next release and tour schedule, if they're to ascend to that deserved next level.

And thus concluded the opening night of CMJ 2011, with a veritable feast of rock action already under the belt from just one showcase. There's much more to come and I look forward to bringing to you the best of it that my ears can muster...

Monday, 17 October 2011

Calm Before the Storm: CMJ 2011 Preview | 5 Bands to Watch For

It's not unlike Christmas Eve, the Monday before CMJ Music Marathon kicks off...

High anticipation of the veritable feast of stimuli to tickle one's senses in the days to come. 

Uncertainty as to the highlights of what we'll unwrap this year. 

Anxiety at the distinct possibility of falling into a drunken stupor on the Friday night and sleeping through 'last chance' Saturday.

All in all, despite the questionable hype/discard/hype again cycle that such occasions undeniably breed, there's a chaotic hunger to them that feeds our inner music obsessive to the point of bursting. There's another Christmas similarity.

As it's impossible to really lay out a schedule for other folks - as I've become all too aware in recent years - I thought this time around I'd simply highlight 5 bands that I believe you'll be well advised to catch, should you find yourself in the musical neighbourhoods of NYC this week. 

The Minutes

Who? Blues-tinged Irish rock n' roll trio, heavily touted in these here pages.

Why? Big riffs and bigger quiffs. Possibly not the latter, but the pure rock grooves will be in full flow as these lads hit the stage.

Where/When? 10/18 - Brooklyn Bowl (Williamsburg, Bk) - FREE
10/20 - Fat Baby (Lower East Side)

The Duke Spirit

Who? Wide ranging rock band from England, fronted by the silver-tongued, not-so-secret weapon Liela Moss.

Why? Aside from being on the same bill as The Minutes, meaning you need not destroy your feet too early in the marathon, these guys fuse all the raw power of garage rock to the huge melodies of stadium rock, meeting with one colossal bang in the middle. 

Where? 10/18 - Brooklyn Bowl (Williamsburg, Bk) - FREE. Also playing a guest list only show at Bowery Hotel earlier in the day. 

Active Child

Who? Highly lauded, wide ranging indie solo outfit of New Jersey native Pat Gross.

Why? It's always tough to cut through the hype, but it does seem justified after a few glorious spins of lush, dense new album 'You Are All I See'. It might be tough to get in to the evening shows, but if the impact is anything like that of the album, it will be worth those long, snaking lines down a stanky street (here's looking at you, Delancey).

Where? 10/20 - The Delancey (Lower East Side).  
10/21 Puma Store w/ SPIN (Union Square/17th St). 
Also Music Hall of Williamsburg (Brooklyn) 
10/23 - Spike Hill (Williamsburg, Brooklyn)

More information:


Who? Norwegian death n' roll act making waves around Europe.

Why? Because you're going to need to lose your shit at some point during the marathon, so why not save it until the final day and some of the most serrated riffs with a heavy groove that you'll hear all week? The perfect antidote to almost falling catatonic after hearing your 100th chillwave band of the week.

Where? 10/21 at Europa (Greenpoint, Brooklyn)

More info:


Who? Floaty light duo of Aleksa Palladino & Devon Church, based right here in NYC.

Why? Because they channel all those enigmatic, ethereal artists that you know and love, force them into a pulsing, unnerving body of sound, and give the end product meaning with Aleksa's smooth, evocative vocal delivery. 

Where? 10/18 - The Delancey (Lower East Side)
10/19 - Piano's (Lower East Side). Also Union Pool (Williamsburg, Brooklyn).

More info:

Who are you busting to see? 

Wish you were here, or glad you're nowhere near the whole bloody hype parade? 

As always, hearing your thoughts is a very welcome thing indeed. The comments and our Facebook page await...

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Walking The Margins With Brooklyn's Red Measure

I can't explain all I ever wanted to do. 

Fugazi - Margin Walker 

Photo Credit: SMS Chauhan

Slinking up from somewhere around Brooklyn's fair borough, my initial thoughts on Red Measure's new EP - their first, in fact - were that too few bands are willing to twist their music into new, interesting forms. If I'm wrong, you need to send me your favourite samples of evidence to prove it so. Start your abuse on Twitter, by all means. 

Red Measure don't fall into that category. Indeed, from the first three songs they've put out into the world, they don't drop into any category all that neatly. 

Red Measure - Seven Inch by Red Measure

The spirit of (very) early Queens of the Stone Age haunts the hallways of opener Parlor Pageant, though the pace and prickly guitar attacks have a much more post-punk air than that comparison allows. The combination blends together for a vaguely unsettling yet rather satisfying ambiance.

Walking On the Hill conjures up a similar feeling, with languid vocals drifting through, contrasting starkly with a tense rhythm section and wailing guitars that seem to bleed from the speakers. Here I started to pull elements of Fugazi from the mix, as the only reference point I can touch upon for simultaneously creating relaxation and anxiety in a three minute song.

Closing out with Wall Patch Compound, the sound acquires a greater density. You also detect a slightly more aggressive lyrical delivery, hinting that there may well be heavier material to come on future releases. Delving into the lyrics provides no clue as to the source of increased vocal tension, with lines like "Wild hands are coming out of sour mud / You've got scissors / But you don't know what to cut" suitably obtuse to pique interest but draw no firm conclusions. Meanwhile, the snake-like guitars continue to slither underneath, occasionally striking out to inject extra venom, as and when the song requires it. 

Though there are still plenty of rough edges here, natural to a band exploring their early sound, the EP points to a path that we'll want to follow. Channeling high quality influences of which they possibly aren't even fully aware, Red Measure show the potential to dig into deeper and darker shafts of long forgotten musical mines. Should they emerge with a twisted trove of post-something alternative gold, whatever now constitutes the Brooklyn music scene will be all the richer for it. 

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

REVIEW: Wild Flag - Wild Flag

'Super groups' come and go. 

Often, they come and go without fans or press having decided whether or not they did indeed qualify for such elevated status in the first place. What remains - and the only element that is of much importance anyhow - is the music by which we judge their impact.

Wild Flag formed amid plenty of excitement, even before the first notes of this first album filtered through the wireless and into our lives. But then, counting amongst your number some of the most influential female players in US 90's alt-rock will have that effect.

Across the length of their self-titled debut, Wild Flag walk that precarious tightrope between channelling the music of the past and challenging that of the present day. In doing so, their balance is exquisite and they should reach the other side to rapturous applause. Influences pop up and bubble around on this album exactly as they should: in short doses that remind you of an era and style, without being immediately recognizable as a specific artist. Eventually you peg the relevant act and further appreciate how they've blended in the sound. 

Having listened through several times, I'm reminded of everyone from Elastica to Echobelly, the early punk of Blondie to the slinking post-punk of Fugazi. But never are the songs a facsimile of their roots. Every track has been stir brewed through the talent and experience of the magnificent musicians that make up this band. Start your journey with the jaunty 60's bounce of 'Endless Talk', or perhaps the more angular presentation of 'Glass Tambourine', and you'll hear exactly how wide the span of styles here is. Then, of course, there's album opener 'Romance', which helpfully provides an early digest of much that is to come, in one memorable burst of rolling guitars and an addictive refrain. 

So, a 'super group'? The answer remains of little use. Wild Flag is exactly what fans of Sleater Kinney and their other forebears desired to hear. Better still, it has myriad contemporary qualities that will appeal to listeners unaware of all that's gone before. 

Super or not, Wild Flag is undoubtedly an album that will garner plenty of superlatives.