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Album review: Akkilles - Something You'd Say

 
(Photo by Mollie Hull, Seen Imagery)
 
As one who has been a self-professed music junkie for pretty much my entire life, I’m constantly in awe of those who go onstage, no matter how large the stage or the venue or the crowd, and make music. As one who doesn’t possess a lot of musical talent, the chances of me experiencing that feeling are pretty slim, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking about the art in its various forms. When a solo artist writes music, and when it’s the kind of music that requires more than just the one musician to be performed live, does he/she worry about finding the right people to bring that music to life, or are the songs written because they simply have to be written, and there’s an intrinsic faith that they will eventually be heard as the author hears them? In the case of David Bennett, the man behind the loosely-knit group Akkilles, it seems to be mostly the latter.
 
When asked about the process involved in creating Akkilles’ first full-length album, Something You’d Say, Bennett speaks of having a clear vision to go with his musical voice, and he also was able to assemble a supporting cast of accomplished musicians that he respected and was fully comfortable with, even though they had never actually played together before. Additionally, the making of Something You’d Say involved having all five players in a recording studio (Nick Pick, Rachel Pollock, Jeff Larison, Isaac Anderson, and Mike Crawford, who also engineered the recording), as opposed to his first effort, Demo Treasures—recorded at Bennett’s home, and on which he was the sole musician and vocalist.
 
A bit about Demo Treasures: released in April of 2013, this five-track EP serves as a natural lead-in to the full-length recording. It contains a very Freelance Whales vibe at times, but there are instances when Bennett takes more risks with the music—as if he’s experimenting with his own potential, trying to test the boundaries of his work, perhaps seeing the bigger picture of the future ten-track album. It would be a wise investment to listen to this as a primer; it would also be a low-cost investment, as Akkilles is only asking for a couple bucks for the download on their Bandcamp page. (psst … there’s no rule against paying a little more, either. Any band worth supporting—not just Akkilles, but any and every band—is a band worth kicking in a buck a song for an EP purchase. Just sayin’.)
 
Listening to “Your Only One,” the opening track of Something You’d Say,put me in mind of being in a kicked-back state at the end of the work week, sitting on the beach, cold beverage in hand (make mine a cider, please), and watching the sun go down over the ocean. “She’s My Girl” offers nine-plus minutes of more gently trippy sounds, and the deeper you explore the album, the deeper your state of relaxation will be. Getting into the swirling psychedelia of the third track, “Country Boy Deluxe,” I started hearing a few more subtle resemblances and possible influences: a touch of yacht rock, maybe a little Minden, and (for me, anyway) the pensive reflection of Beck’s Sea Change album. Bennett masterfully tells his stories at their own pace, without the need of studio-born tricks or gimmicks to keep the listener’s attention. It’s also very clear that his band of musical hired guns is in complete lockstep with him, and the result is a seamlessly pure and effortless 51-minute mental massage.
 
Akkilles is not without its sneaky side, though: “Chic City” presents the listener with a relatively alt-country song as compared to the rest of Something. If the Flaming Lips had decided to bring Wilco into the recording studio … and, perhaps, maybe, oh, I don’t know, enjoyed a puff or two of some agricultural mood-enhancing materials, just speculating here … this might have been the result. It’s the closest to a “road song” that the album comes to—but it’s still a relaxed road even so.
 
Something You’d Say is more than the sum of its parts, as any worthwhile collaboration aspires to be. For those of us who look forward to summer every year only for the purpose of finding that special “summer song” or “summer album,” you can’t go wrong with making this your choice for 2013.
 
Of the roster of musicians that make up Akkilles, Bennett says this: “My current band is more of a collective than anything else. Everyone would be making music with or without me, but we all knew each other and they really wanted to be a part of what I was doing, and I love getting to work with such talented people. It's a pretty dynamic group.” If you have the opportunity to see this group as they support the new album, be ready to have your mind bathed in the serenity of gentle ambience and warm, finely-tuned summer pop.
 
At least, that’s something I’d say.
 


 
Join Akkilles with special guests Roo & The Howl (Colorado) and La Guerre at recordBar on Thursday, August 29. It’s an 18+ show, $7 cover. Facebook event page. 
--Michael Byars
 

Michael Byars has an infatuation with cider, which we all think comes from his internal Britishness, but he works cheap and spells most of his words correctly, so we let him hang around. And Michelle still likes to punch him every once in a while. Executive privilege and all that, jolly good, pip pip, cheerio.

 

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Album review: Pale Hearts - Hollowtown

A shift has taken place. Balance granted once again to the world. Emotionally thought-out sleaze has reared its head on the Kansas prairie. Pale Hearts are alive.

 
Like frontman Rob Gilaspie’s former band­—the sadly departed wonder that was The Spook Lights—Pale Hearts channel The Cramps in disturbing and distinctive ways on their debut Hollowtown. The band masterfully blends elements of surf, punk, rockabilly, Latin, new wave, and even grunge to make a sound that is fully formed, complete, and unique. Always a twisted, off-kilter force of nature, Gilaspie’s vocals are more Richard Hell than Lux Interior this time around. The tone and body of his lyrics has changed as well, and for the better.
 
While still certainly offbeat (he sings about fucking a hole in a phone book on the record’s title track. Ahhh, classic Rob) the last year has been one filled with tragic loss, financial setbacks, and the collapse of a long-term relationship has caused a shift. Now, Gilaspie seems to be a changed man, unafraid to stand out front and exorcise his pain through rockabilly-fueled yelps, screeches, and screams; to say what he is thinking without coating it in layer upon layer of camp. The honest excitement and joy that he conveys during his live performances translates perfectly to tape on Hollowtown, while the band makes fantastic, strangely serene surf-influenced rock ‘n roll to feed the schizophrenic fire of the album.
 
Where The Spook Lights, while great at times, could be limited in scope, Pale Hearts are a band more than capable of reining it in or filling the horizon with sound, and it shows on Hollowtown. Rob Kemp’s guitar on “Breakheart Mambo” sounds as though it came straight from a David Lynch film; sauntering around the room with Mike Young’s drumming filling the song with restrained power as Gilaspie takes shots at a presumed former lover. “You made the scene on your back / you’ll go out the same way.” 
 
“Motorsports” is the song that feels most likely to make it to the radio. Melinda Robinson’s bass work is of a quality that would make Joy Division’s Peter Hook proud, razor sharp and ominous, while her background vocals bring a soft, otherworldly touch to Gilaspie’s wounded words. An amazing sonic feat considering the entire album was recorded and mixed in drummer Mike Young’s bedroom.
 
Hollowtown takes many paths; there is lamenting the loss of love (“Moon in the Gutter”), straight up weirdo surf interplanetary sleaze (They Pass for Human, High Plains Disko) and beauty (Motorsports). Hollowtown has powerful touches and velvet gloves, gnashed teeth and sincere smiles.
 
It is a weird record, not in a contrived way but genuine. This is who they are; forceful, delicate, talented and astonishing. Gilapsie has finally found the right band to help him make the record that has always been there, lurking just below the slime. Hollowtown left me off balance, not knowing where to go, which was up; all of these things are meant in a good way. It has been said that everyone has one good book in them. Hollowtown is The Pale Hearts epic novel. Dashell Hammett would be pleased.
 
The release party for Hollowtown is this Friday, May 24 at Frank’s North Star Tavern in Lawrence. Fake Surfers (Detroit) and Jocks will also be playing. Facebook event page. If you can’t make it out there, they’ll be at Black and Gold Tavern on Wednesday, June 5 with Deco Auto. Facebook event page.
 
 
--Danny R. Phillips
 

Danny R. Phillips has been reporting on music of all types and covering the St. Joseph, MO music scene for well over a decade. He is a regular contributor to the nationally circulated BLURT Magazine and his work has appeared in The Pitch, The Omaha Reader, Missouri Life, The Regular Joe, Skyscraper Magazine, Popshifter, Hybrid Magazine, the websites Vocals on Top and Tuning Fork TV, Perfect Sound Forever, The Fader and many others. 

 

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Album review: Fourth of July - Empty Moon

(Photo by Todd Zimmer)
 
There is no time to breathe. No time to think. No time to even formulate a thought. There is no count in. Nothing. The sad, sorry songs from Fourth of July hit you like a bag of bricks, and now you’re forced to pay attention. Press play on Empty Moon and the baritone voice of singer Brendan Hangauer is the first thing to hit your ears. “Honey / is it hard to make friends / the way your emotions bend / and almost break?”
 
That first line is a decently accurate depiction of Empty Moon. A tangled, conglomerated mess of emotions; bitter songs with a tinge of hate and remorse fill out the full flavor of Fourth of July.  Subtle hints of longing and love lost finish off the lyrical taste. As stated in the band’s Facebook profile, Fourth of July is “having fun to sad music.” I couldn’t have said it better.
 
The majority of Empty Moon, as with the band’s previous two efforts, maintain a poppy, indie folk sound. Through Fourth of July On the Plains (2007), Before Our Hearts Explode! (2010), and now Empty Moon, the band has not changed their style. It’s good to know exactly what you are getting into when a band releases new works.
 
The difference in this album is the sheer rawness of the lyrical content. Previously mentioned is the band’s knack for formulating sad songs. This album takes a much more hateful tone; more of a big middle finger to one’s emotions as opposed to a snarky rude comment featured in the albums before.
 
Every song on Empty Moon can stand alone and hold its own as a potential single. But there are several songs that really resonate long after the album is done playing. “Drinking Binge” takes on the tale of, well, binge drinking, with arguably the fastest-paced tempo on the album.  “Eskimo Brothers” explores the seemingly shitty life of small-town dating. How a girl goes from guy to guy and eventually you’re just waiting your turn—there’s nothing else to do. Finishing off Empty Moon is perhaps the group’s most heartbreaking song, “Berlin.” The track takes a very angry, bitter tone as Hangauer serenades the memory of a former love.
 
Accompanying this album, on the High Dive Records Bandcamp page, is the Empty Moon Demos (below). All the same eight tracks dumbed down to strictly Hangauer and his guitar. In this demos album, Hangauer sounds more sorrowful and his voice is raspier. This is a haunting and distraught album that lies in the shadow of the musically-upbeat Empty Moon. These demos almost sound more appropriate than the actual album, having that melancholy ambiance.
 
This Lawrence band has made us wait for three years for Empty Moon, and it was well worth that wait. Exploding with such force and emotion, Fourth of July’s latest effort is really a great listen when you’re feeling blue.
 
Empty Moon was released on April 9 on High Dive Records. This Friday, April 26, Fourth of July will be doing an in-store performance at Love Garden Sounds with 1,000,000 Light Years at 7:00 pm. Vocalist Brendan Hangauer will be exhibiting his art there for Final Fridays Lawrence. Facebook event page.
 
 

--Steven Ervay 

 

Steven Ervay is super rad. 

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Album review: Bloodbirds - Psychic Surgery

Bloodbirds’ latest release, Psychic Surgery, takes no prisoners as it roars across a hyperdistorted punk psychedelic landscape. At times, the album oozes with a raw and spastic energy similar to that of Nirvana’s Bleach. Other times, it meanders down swirling passages of thickly affected instrumentation. Either way, it is truly impressive how much pleasantly overbearing noise is conjured up by this three-piece group, consisting of Mike and Brooke Tuley (of Ad Astra Arkestra fame) and Anna St. Louis.
 
Driven by what seems like more guitars than Billy Corgan could count on both hands and feet, this album is fuzzy, buzzy, yet well executed. Underneath the torrent of distortion, the solid beat and bass combination of Tuley and St. Louis keeps things grounded and moving along, while paying close attention to not clash with the siren of guitars wailing above them. And although the material does get a tad formulaic at times, it is a damn solid formula: chaos noise incarnate loosely trapped within the parameters of pop structure.
 
“Bad Animal” sticks out for me. The intro fools the listener a bit with 26 seconds of Bob Seger-esque guitar noodling before launching into an all-out sonic blitz. Reminiscent of early Queens of the Stone Age, it is a furious four minutes of song, almost too saturated at times with antagonistically distorted guitars, but nicely counterpointed by the stripped-down, daydream verses. Being one of the more straightforward and less meandering efforts on the album, it packs a blow worth noting.
 
“Patterned Sky” prominently features restful female vocals and flexes the psychedelic and dreamy muscles that Bloodbirds has to offer. The main guitar finds itself clean, verbed to almost surf rock in a way. This track gets in and out pretty quick and provides a nice breather to the otherwise resonant assault.
 
Perhaps some of the album’s most interesting guitar work is featured on its title track. All too often guitarists in this genre can get inane or annoying when trying to fill time with random effect noise. Tuley avoids that pitfall in “Psychic Surgery,” putting together a solid and dynamic performance. With what I assume is at least a handful of effects, he coaxes his guitar through a variety of emotions in a nice compact instrumental section. From wailing to pouting to singing to just random robotic musings, it is clear that Tuley is very aware, in control, and discreet with this performance.
 
The album ends with a bombardment of riffs called “Time Battle.” This song screams like someone beating the shit out of a banshee. It may just be the perfect summation of the rest of the record. There is just enough breath to the verses to make you think you might have some chance of keeping your eardrums intact, but all hope of avoiding the dreaded rrrriiiinnnggg in your ears while trying to fall asleep at night is lost once the vocals give way to the cavalcade of searing guitars. It is a fierce bitch slap to the face, the perfect way to finish off the sonically engorged LP.
 
All in all, Psychic Surgery will make your audiologist incredibly pissed at you. Bloodbirds do not hold anything back. There is no mute button left on any track in the final mix. If their live show is anything as powerful as this record is, I would suggest earplugs inside earmuffs inside an old deep sea diver’s helmet for protection. Or chance it. Bloodbirds would be a wonderful thing to go deaf to.

Bloodbirds was recently selected to play Ink’s Middle of the Map Fest, which is curated by The Record Machine and runs from Thursday, April 4 to Saturday, April 6. Details on schedules and venues will be forthcoming.

--Zach Hodson

Zach Hodson is a monster. He once stole a grilled cheese sandwich from a 4-year-old girl at her birthday party. He will only juggle if you pay him. I hear he punched Slimer right in his fat, green face. He knows the secrets to free energy, but refuses to release them until "Saved by the Bell: Fortysomethings" begins production.

He is also in Dolls on Fire and Drew Black & Dirty Electric, as well as contributing to various other Kansas City-based music, comedy, and art projects.

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Album review: The Dead Girls - Fade In/Fade Out

(Photo by Rachel Meyers)
 
It doesn't seem too premature to consider The Dead Girls’ latest effort Fade In/Fade Out a strong contender for best local pop album of the year.
 
The four-piece power pop group, who also cites classic, heavy guitar rockers like KISS and Thin Lizzy as influences, is releasing its first full-length album since 2010’s Out of Earshot. Though they also released a 7” single in 2012 (She Laughed A Little), the new LP has been highly anticipated by fans and the band itself.
 
“We started recording FIFO in 2009,” said guitarist and vocalist Cameron Hawk. “We were putting the finishing touches on Out of Earshot, and then went in to track drums for a few new tunes. We were thinking like, ‘Man, we’re gonna be done recording this new album even before Out of Earshot comes out!’ Now, here we are, three-and-a-half years later. It’s the story of our lives, really.
 
That said, this album is well worth the wait. FIFO was produced by Chris Cosgrove, who has been an integral part of The Dead Girls’ recorded sound since producing Out of Earshot and their previous EPs Te Quiero and Hair Trigger. According to Hawk, Cosgrove helped push this recording in a stronger direction. “He was very set on having really different guitar sounds for every song; some of this extra layering resulted in more than 70 tracks on a few songs. Virtually every guitar track features a different amp, guitar, setting, or all of the above. Also, Chris had this wall of amps for us to choose from, so it was pretty much a guitar player’s heaven.
 
Layered guitar sounds are evident throughout the album, weaving masterfully between a big entrance in lead-off track “Never Erased” to a soft, crisp acoustic guitar progression in the sincere track “Sing It Soft.” In the same vein, the songs gracefully transition from energetic to heartfelt. The contrast between Hawk’s and co-writer/vocalist/guitarist JoJo Longbottom’s songs is enough to create variety on each track, but the sense of what makes a Dead Girls’ song remains intact.
 
According to Hawk, all of the songs on this album are written separately by him or Longbottom. “JoJo and I will write songs on our own and bring them to the table through demos we record at home,” noting that each composition undergoes an intense collaborative scrunity by the band. “We’ve found a system that really works for us, and we’re getting better at it all the time.”
 
On songs like “The Beast Inside,” you hear the punk vocal stylings of Longbottom, which also maintain a smooth, accessible higher range. On the other hand, Hawk’s voice leans toward a purer pop tone like Alex Chilton with a slightly gritty rock ‘n roll edge. With their songwriting and Thin Lizzy-style dueling guitar attacks, Hawk and Longbottom construct nearly flawless pop songs with the help of a booming rhythm section from Eric Melin and Nick Colby. Some of album’s songs are structured like standard, quality pop songs; yet there’s a secret touch that comes from each member contributing his own part. Colby throws in gripping bass lines in addition to establishing a sturdy foundation to propel each track. Melin complements Colby (they’ve been together since the days of Ultimate Fakebook), punctuating each chug with a solid beat. He precisely attacks the skins on each track, and initiates crucial breaks that give songs an extra bite.
 
Flaming Lips’ drummer Kliph Scurlock, a friend of the band’s (he recently filled in at a gig for a sick Melin), mastered FIFO. The element of adding another ear to the recording process—especially from someone familiar with the group’s sound—also shaped the overall sound of the album. “’I Feel You’ (a nearly seven-and-a-half-minute song) was actually split into two tracks originally, but Kliph helped us understand that it should be a single song.Sometimes, one person will see something not even five other people can see,” said Hawk. With all of these elements, Fade In/Fade Out demonstrates a work of pop mastery from a group of true musicians.
 
Fade In/Fade Out will be released for digital download tomorrow, Friday, February 1, on The Dead Girls’ Bandcamp page. The group will be celebrating the release with a show that evening at Replay Lounge with The Depth and The Whisper. On Saturday, February 2, the boys will celebrate on the other side of the state line at recordBar with Gentleman Savage and The Casket Lottery.The Dead Girls were also one of over 40 KC artists selected to play the 2013 MidCoast Takeover showcase at SXSW from March 13-16 at Shangri-La in Austin, Texas.
 
 
--Michelle Bacon
 

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