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Album review: New Baboons - New Baboons

With twangy guitars, plenty of organ, and vocals dripping with reverb, it's obvious that New Baboons are purposefully channeling the sounds of the ‘60s on their self-titled debut album. Influenced by The Beach Boys and Velvet Underground, their airy, melodic songs combine the California sound with catchy neo-psych, garage rock, and power pop, resulting in something not often heard in the local scene.
 
New Baboons consist of Elliott Seymour (guitar and vocals), Adam Scheffler (guitar and vocals), Tom Livesay (bass and vocals), Paige Newcomer (keyboards), and Josh Klipsch (drums). Seymour, Scheffler, and Livesay did the songwriting, and the album was recorded on an eight-track in Seymour’s basement. Despite the vintage tone and sound, it is far from one-dimensional.
 
Several of the 11 tunes unapologetically borrow from the past. “History Books,” “Dress,” “Man, They Just Don’t,” and “Velcro Underground” (a tip of the cap to Velvet Underground) all pass for songs that could have been drifting from the windows of a VW bus in 1968. This isn’t a bad thing, as they are solid tracks that will keep the listener tuned in.
 
“Oh God, You Phantom” and “The Victor” are darker and a bit strange, but remain very listenable, which may equal a more interesting musical experience. Two highlights are “Worm in the Apple,” a pulsating, bass-heavy song that is reminiscent of The Shins’ early work, and “If You Find Some,” a piano-driven, soulful gem with powerful vocals and an extended jam that could go on even longer.
 
Overall, New Baboons is a good, layered offering that should grow on listeners the more it is heard. Some may suggest that the sound is somewhat formulaic, but it is a formula that continues to work and is given a unique and refreshing spin by the band.
 
 
You can check out New Baboons a couple times in the coming weeks: they’ll be playing the dinner show at recordBar on Tuesday, September 15 (Facebook event page) and Harling’s Upstairs on Friday, September 25.
 
 
--Brad Scott
 

Brad loves music, Boulevard beer, and his family. Not necessarily in that order. 

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Schwervon! explores its identity in Kansas City

(Photo by Todd Zimmer)
 
Though Matt Roth and Nan Turner had already been a musical duo for over 10 years, the word “Schwervon!” didn’t infiltrate Kansas City’s vocabulary until 2012. In fact, their appearance at Ink’s Middle of the Map Fest that year took place the weekend they moved to KC from New York.
 
Three years later, the pair has become one of Kansas City’s most beloved indie pop acts. Since building a foundation in KC, Schwervon! has released two full-length albums and has performed hundreds of dates around the world, including a two-week European run with The Vaselines last fall. In addition to its clever, captivating ‘90s-influenced brand of rock, the band has also become known for its live show, chock full of playful stage banter and wacky show antics.
 
“We've done a lot of US touring and a lot of growing as a band since we've moved,” says Roth. “I don't think we could have managed this while living in NY. KC has provided a soft landing for us to engage in, a vibrant local art scene, while at the same time motivating us to get out there and to grow.” For constant touring bands like Schwervon!, it makes sense to live in a central, less expensive locale with a smaller but thriving music scene. But being a band that is deeply rooted and established in a much larger city also presents its own set of challenges. “There’s great stuff to do in KC but we’re more isolated here, at least when it comes to the sort of DIY, arty, pro-feminist community that we love,” Roth mentions.
 
Regardless, Schwervon! has been able to carve out a distinct notch in local, regional, and national markets since moving to KC. In that time, Roth and Turner have had a chance to develop as artists, performers, and grow as a musical partnership. Their most recent LP Broken Teeth (released in 2014 on Haymaker Records; here’s our review on it) was their first acoustic album, which caused the two to examine the essentials of their songs. “As a two-piece band, you often hear the space in and around our songs. We're not afraid of space. And clarity, which I really like,” says Turner, who shares songwriting duties with Roth. “But to play softer and acoustically—it's even more eagle-eye focus on the song skeleton, and you notice quickly what works and doesn't.” Broken Teeth showcases Schwervon!’s music at its most basic level, and it succeeds in remarkable ways. Even in a studio recording, the band’s unmistakable charm shines through in catchy, sincere songwriting.
 
The two have also honed their performance craft over the past few years. “The shows are so much better when people engage with the music,” says Roth, who writes and recites a Beat-style poem at each show, while Turner performs an interpretive dance. They owe this move to their theatrical background, as well as their desire to keep the audience engaged in their art. Turner says, “I think the cool thing for the audience is that if you haven't seen us before—they're watching this theatrical thing in the middle of indie rock songs and whether they love or hate it, it's unexpected and just lives in that moment.”
 
If you haven’t had a chance to witness a Schwervon! show, you can catch them this Friday at Josey Records with The Cave Girls, Lauren Anderson, and The Sluts. They play at 6:15, and the show is free. Facebook event page.
 
 
--Michelle Bacon
 

Michelle is editor of The Deli KC and plays in bands. 

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HMPH! pushes musical boundaries with Headrush

Simply stated, the music of HMPH! could be described with a term like math rock or experimental jazz fusion. But these terms, while accurate, don’t paint a complete picture of the sounds created by guitarist Ryan Lee Toms and drummer Jonathan Thatch. “Just when you think you got the groove, we switch it up, add a few beats, or throw in a chord from another key,” says Thatch, whose mastery over the drum kit is jaw-dropping. And while rhythmically complex, progressive compositions have become a cornerstone of the math rock genre, HMPH! additionally incorporates elements of jazz, ambient rock, alternative, and metal.
 
On Friday, the duo will be releasing its debut album Headrush (Haymaker Records), a 36-minute instrumental effort that showcases HMPH!’s dedication to push the envelope while keeping its music interesting. Nine of the 10 songs clock in under 5 minutes, keeping a fresh, brisk momentum for the entirety of the album. The listener has a chance to delve in to each song, but is pulled out before it becomes indulgent or formulaic.
 
Many of the songs start with a basic guitar riff that is bent and twisted in multiple directions, meandering from its original shape but always returning to it. From a polite jazz lick to a climactic rising arpeggio, Toms designs unpredictable, jagged noises with his guitar. “The harder it is for us to wrap our head around a riff, the more fun it is to write and the more enjoyable it is to dissect as a listener.” His combination of intriguing guitar sounds with Thatch’s intricate drum work shows that they’re very much up to the challenge. “Sometimes it starts with a complicated polyrhythmic drum part from Jonathan and I’ll create a progression to that. Other times, I’ll zone out and write arpeggios while thinking of decrepit medieval castles that kind of remind me of all the video games I played as a kid. Then I bring them to Jonathan.”
 
At the same time, Thatch is creating his own variegated sounds with just a five-piece drum kit. He often provides a countermelody to Toms’ guitar, building upon dynamic layers with odd meters, polyrhythms, subtle dynamic shifts, and rhythmic intensity. “One quality we strive for is to keep people guessing,” he says. This even includes retooling songs on the spot. “Our songs tend to keep evolving over time. We might be playing a song live and try something new, and we like the new sound so we keep playing it that way. Sometimes we don't even talk about it; we just both know how it goes now.”
 
 
Join HMPH! on Friday at Harling’s Upstairs. They’ll be releasing Headrush through Haymaker Records. Vinyl and cassette copies of the album will be available for purchase. Preorder here. Facebook event page.
 
 
 
--Michelle Bacon

Michelle is editor of The Deli KC and plays in bands. 

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Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear celebrate a homecoming

(Photo by Todd Zimmer)
 
The last time Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear took the main stage at The Midland, they were opening up for B.B. King in one of his final performances. At this point, last October, the mother/son duo was just being introduced to listeners not just around the country, but in their hometown as well. They had recently been signed to Glassnote Records after wowing a roomful of record executives in Muscle Shoals and playing a secret showcase at Third Man Records in Nashville during the Americana Music Festival.
 
Not long before that, Ruth and Madisen Ward were playing to small but enthusiastic audiences in and around their hometown of Independence. Ruth has been a musician for most of her life, playing the Midwestern circuit as a folk songwriter in the early ‘70s. She returned to music after her three children had grown, and her youngest son Madisen began accompanying her to coffeehouse gigs, sometimes joining her for a few songs. Like his mother, Madisen began writing songs as a teenager, finding his footing as a musician while accompanying Ruth on these shows. “The style we play is different than what my mom was playing in the ‘70s, and I came to music later, so I see it differently,” says Madisen, who has since fallen into the role of chief songwriter. “Eventually, my mom gave me the reins and told me to write.” While Madisen constructs a song's general melody and lyrics, his mom helps with song development, bridges, and harmonies. The two have found major success with this formula, creating a unique, moving brand of Americana music.
 
All of this is why their performance this Thursday is a bit of a homecoming. This will be Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear’s first major headlining show in Kansas City, after a slew of achievements that include appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman and Later... With Jools Holland; opening slots for a broad scope of acts like The Pixies, Rodrigo y Gabriela, and The Tallest Man on Earth; and prestigious spots at events like Bonnaroo and Newport Folk Fest. They’ll also be bringing a full band with them this time, with Kansas City musicians Tom Hudson on drums and Brent Kastler on bass, as well as Larissa Maestro on cello.
 
But this sudden onslaught of triumphs—which also include a European tour (and another on the way, with Sufjan Stevens) and the acclaimed release of their debut LP Skeleton Crew in May—is not without its challenges. “Your creative routine has to be altered,”  mentions Madisen. “We used to be able to sit in the dining room and bounce ideas off each other. I still write when we’re on the road, but it’s a different dynamic that you have to learn to juggle.”
 
On the flip side, the two have found that success has great rewards. “The whole thing is the people,” says Madisen. “It’s a very personable career that really revolves around human interaction, and the energy of a room. All of these different people we get to meet have different stories.” Stories, perhaps, that will find their way into the duo’s music one day.
 
Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear will be playing at  Arvest Bank Theatre at The Midland with special guests Luluc, an Australian folk duo, on Thursday night. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased here.
 
 
--Michelle Bacon

Michelle is the editor of The Deli KC and plays in bands.
 
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This week's releases

Several KC-area bands will be releasing tracks or albums this week:
 
Bad Wheels / Bad Wheels (EP)
 
 
This heavy-riffin’ four-piece rock collective is releasing its debut self-titled EP tomorrow (Tuesday) through Bandcamp; you can download the 6-track album, or purchase a limited-run cassette with a download card. You can also pick up a cassette and hear some of these tunes on Saturday at Harling’s Upstairs, where the group will be performing with StrawBilly.
 
 
Shades of Jade / “That One”
 
 
Shades of Jade will be releasing a single from their forthcoming album Fingerprinted Memories: Part II Sketches of the Heart this Thursday. That evening, the eclectic jazz group will take the stage at The Blue Room. The band will also be talking with Mark Manning on Wednesday Midday Medley this week, on 90.1 FM KKFI at 10:30 a.m. Preorder the track on iTunes. Facebook event page. #thatone
 
 
HMPH! / Headrush
 
 
On Friday night, math rock duo HMPH! will be celebrating the release of its debut full-length album Headrush on Haymaker Records. The band will have vinyl copies for sale that evening at Harling’s Upstairs. Rhunes and Arc Flash will also play. Facebook event page.
 

Radkey / Dark Black Makeup
 
 
The wait for Radkey’s long-awaited debut LP, Dark Black Makeup (Little Man Records) will also end Friday. The boys kick off a 2-week European tour in Belgium on Thursday, but their next appearance in the area will be September 25 at The Bottleneck. The album is now available to stream via Spin. Preorder the album here.
 

 
 
Danielle Nicole Band is the project of former Trampled Under Foot singer/bassist Danielle Nicole Schnebelen. The group released its debut self-titled EP earlier this year, and will release Wolf Den this Saturday at Knuckleheads Saloon. Grand Marquis will open. Preorder Wolf Den here. Facebook event page.
 
 
 
 
Saturday will also mark the release of Radiant Man on UniGlobe Records. A Crooked Mile will be playing at recordBar that evening with Kristie Stremel’s Pet Project and Carswell & Hope. They will also be featured on Wednesday Midday Medley this week, at 11:00 a.m.
 
 

--Michelle Bacon 

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