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Empire State Games

One of Michigan’s forgotten great bands. I saw these guys a lot in the late ’90’s and really dug them. Classic.

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WYCE Reviews. 01/28/2014

1. The Moth and The Flame – “&”

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Hailing from Provo, Utah these Los Angeles transplants create a sound that harkens back to the lo-fi days of the New-Wave movement of the early ‘80’s. The band has found themselves on many Los Angeles critics “Band To Watch In 2014” lists. Their debut EP finds them trying to find their collective voice but still managing to create some worthy attempts at pop songs. The EP is synth and sample heavy relying on the thick slinky bass lines of Scott Wiley to carry it along. It is a decent first outing for the band but not a particularly strong one. It will be interesting to see where 2014 takes these gents.

Standout Tracks:
Track #1: “Sorry”
Track #2: “Winsome”

2. James Hughes and Jimmy Smith Quintet – “From Here On Out”

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Hailing from Detroit, Michigan this Jazz quintet is made up of veteran Jazz musicians that have been playing around Detroit for the past 18 years but never together in this setting. Calling their style of Jazz, “Detroit Post-Bop”, these cats deliver 9 original numbers that showcase their skills as well as their influences. James Huges lush saxophone sound and Jimmy Smiths bright trumpet are firmly backed up by the talented rhythm section of Phil Kelly (Piano), Takashi Iio (Bass), and Nate Winn (Drums). This record brings back the sound and feel of a time when all the cool cats and kittens listened to Jazz.

Standout Tracks:
Track #2: “Premonition”
Track #7: “Luna Di Luna”

3. Scott H. Biram – “Nothin’ But Blood”

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Based in Austin, Texas Scott H. Biram is a multi-instrumentalist that prides himself on this fact. Dubbing himself “The Dirt Old One Man Band”, Biram has been making his unique blend of Outlaw Country Blues since 2000. Before going solo Biram was apart of Punk Rock bands and a couple of Bluegrass outfits. He self released his first 5 albums before signing with Chicago based Country label Bloodshot Records, in 2005. Since joining the Bloodshot roster Biram has gained an ever-growing fan base and much deserved critical acclaim for his work. His 2014 effort, “Nothin’ But Blood” has some heavier moments but also some very touching points as well. He ends the record with three traditional gospel tunes that give the album a very well rounded feel.

Standout Tracks:
Track #4: “Never Comin’ Home”
Track #6: “Jack of Diamonds”

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Sunny Day Real Estate – “LP2”

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So far 2014 has been just what I would expect out of a winter in Michigan, though most people are taken-a- back by the weather we have been having. Really?!?! You live in Michigan, it snows, it gets cold and miserable deal with it. I have been spending most of these days either working or sitting in my office listening to any random record that strikes me as I glance my collection. One day it’s Anthrax – “Among the Living”, the next it’s John Coltrane – “Live At the Village Vanguard.” It all really depends on what is calling out to me at that specific moment.

Thats the great thing about music. It has the ability to capture how you feel at any given moment, and can also keep you suspended in that moment for as long as you want. The song is not going anywhere, it’s not going to get up and leave, you can always start the song or LP over and have that feeling when ever you want. It is endless. This is why I love music so much. There are certain records that if I put them on when the weather is just right, or the light in the room looks a certain way, it can take me back to a specific place in time or a specific memory. Sunny Day Real Estate – “LP 2 (the pink record)”, is one such record that brings me back to a specific moment in time.

When I was 18 years old I moved out of my parents house and on my own for the first time. It was exciting. No rules, and no supervision of any kind, and the best part was I was living with guys that were able to buy booze, so that was a bonus. I used to listen to a ton of music around the house, mostly punk rock as thats what the majority of the house was into, but I also would listen to stuff more on the sappy side that the other roommates, save for one or two, couldn’t get behind. One of those bands was Sunny Day Real Estate.

I first heard about Sunny Day Real Estate when I saw their video for “In Circles” on MTV’s 120 minutes back in 1995. I wasn’t sure how I should feel about it at the time, because during this period in my life pop-punk was all the rage; Mr. T Experience, The Queers, Screeching Weasel, etc. This was different, it was emotional, deeper, and more musically proficient. The song wasn’t about how the singer couldn’t stop farting, or how much he loved a girl because the size of her tits, this was about something more. After the video aired the song was stuck in my head, and the next day I rode my bike up to the local record store and bought “Diary”, the LP to which the song belonged.

When I got home and put the record on I couldn’t expect what was going to happen next. The record blew my mind. It was a life changing moment. From the first cymbal crash into “Seven”, to the last cymbal crash of “Sometimes”, I was hooked. I still listened to my beloved pop-punk music but slowly bands like Shudder To Think, Fugazi, The Nation of Ulysses, and Sunny Day Real Estate were taking over. Every time I listened to “Diary” I listened to it like it was the last time I would ever be able to listen to the record in my life. I memorized every drum part, every guitar part, and every vocal inflection. I was obsessed.

Then later that year or the next, I picked up “LP 2”, or “The Pink Record” as it came to be called due to its incredibly pink artwork. This record soon surpassed “Diary” as my favorite Sunny Day record. The songs were more thought out, more emotional, and technically constructed. From the opening arpegiated chords of “Friday,” you know where the band is. Even though the record artwork is pink, the mood on the record is darker than “Diary.” There are some traces of the past Sunny Day on the record such as  songs “8” and “Rodeo Jones”, but over all we are dealing with a band in a dark time and a transitional period. When the band entered the studio they were already beginning to fall apart and didn’t have enough material to make up a record so they re-recorded the song “8” which had appeared on a 7″ release in the past, and used “Rodeo Jones” a leftover track from the “Diary” session, to round out the record. The band eventually broke up well before the record even came out, henceforth the pink artwork. When the band was contacted about artwork for the record drummer William Goldsmith famously told the label, “Who cares? It’s over, make the whole thing pink and put a tiny fly in the corner”. Sub Pop did.

When the record came out it didn’t sell as well as “Diary”, but its impact and influence on the bands fans and new fans alike,was immeasurable. Most people like myself, state that “LP2” is their favorite Sunny Day record and with good reason. Besides the two songs that feel not so much out of place, as they do just in the wrong context, the album is a solid emotional journey through a band breaking up and it’s lead vocalist finding himself.

The journey of finding one’s self is what I most aligned to when I listened to the record prominently during that fall and winter of 1999. It was like hearing the record for the first time all over again. This was record I listened to a lot before I even lived on my own but it’s affect on me didn’t happen until much later. I wasn’t becoming a born again christian like lead vocalist Jeremy Enigk was, I was just starting to etch out my own life away from my parents and thats what the record came to mean to me.

I remember lying in my bed on a winter night and watching the snow flakes fall in the light of a street lamp just outside my window as the song “Red Elephant” began to play. It was perfect. That moment in my life is frozen in my mind, much like a picture would freeze frame a moment, but unlike a picture where everyone can see it and experience the moment, this moment was mine and mine only. No one else could experience this with me, or comment on how it must have felt at that moment. Only I will ever know just how I was feeling, and just what I was thinking. Moments like that are extremely special and music makes those moments last forever. Every time I hear the song “Red Elephant” I think of that moment in time and for that brief 3 minutes, I can feel like that again.

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2013 Top 10 Records.

So here it is, another year down and tons of great music came out of it. I bought so many records this year that sitting down and listening to all of them again would have been quite the task. I looked through the pile of this years releases and tried to find the ones that I constantly went back to. The ones that never left the turntable or were getting constant play on my walks around town, these are the records that comprise my 2013 Top 10 list. So without further delay here it is, my Top 10 of the year (for what its worth).

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10. True Widow“Circumambulation” Relapse Records:  On True Widow’s third full length, and first for metal powerhouse Relapse Records, we find the band doing more of the same Shoegaze Psychedilia by way of Doom Metal style they have come to be known for. Where doing the same thing through out each record is the kiss of death for most bands, it is what makes True Widow thrive and continue to capture attention. What other band do you know of that can successfully combine the chillingly slow speed of Codeine, the psychedelic backdrop of Brian Jonestown Massacre, and the anvil heaviness of Sleep and make it not seem that its trying to hard? Austin, Texas’ True Widow do all of these things with ease and do them well. They have made one of the years great records and yet no one is talking about it on their year end lists. The 8 songs on “Circumambulation” trudge through thick swampy regions where humidity hangs heavy and the spanish moss floats in the trees. High on LSD and full of so many emotions that they can’t convey them to you as vividly as they see them in their mind. The songs are simple in structure, but rich in beauty and atmosphere. The record feels as if it is aging as it spins on the turntable and the band is taking you on a dark journey through their version of what Texas is. Standout tracks: “S:H:S” and “I:M:O”

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9. Washed Out“Paracosm” Sub Pop Records:  Ernest Greene, the man behind Washed Out’s signature sound, tried something different on his second full length for Sub Pop. While hints of bedroom day dreams and hazy summer sounds are still present on the record, he introduces more live instrumentation than before. The result is a lush sound scape that’s fits the albums floristic nature, It feels organic and full of life. It has a warm quality that is not so much reminesient of summers care free nature as it is more of springs hope and beginning of new life. The album isn’t something that blows your mind or catches you off guard like a wave in the water, but it does keep you afloat with beauty and wonder as to where Greene will take Washed Out next. Standout tracks: “It All Feels Right” and “Paracosm”

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8. Pharmakon“Abandon” Sacred Bones Records:  Much like a horror movie, the debut from Margaret Chardiet’s Pharmakon, is frightening and exciting all at the same time. The album starts off with a blood curdling scream from Chardiet and from there we plunge further into a David Lynch meets Leatherface style musical hell. The album moves us along through Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell all while maintaing a musical quality that most Noise records tend to disregard. While just only 4 tracks, you can hear Margaret Chardiet pour her heart and soul out on to each of them. The record is abrasive and confrontational but also welcoming. It captures you just like that horror movie you saw when you were a kid, or that horrible car wreck you can’t turn away from. You want it to stop, you want to not look at the screen or the cars twisted mangled bodies, but you can’t pull yourself away. Fear is an emotion we have a love/hate relationship with, and this record brings it out of us and makes us deal with it. “Abandon” takes the word darkness and coats it in a thick veil of black paint, and makes the horrifying experiences in your life seem like a simple trip to the mailbox. This is the soundtrack to your darkest fears and your most terrifying nightmares. Standout tracks: “Milkweed/It Hangs Heavy” and “Crawling On Bruised Kness”

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7. Chvrches“The Bones of What You Believe” Goodbye Records/Glassnote:  Listening to this record felt like a trip back to the ’80’s all while maintaing your footing in 2013. Hailing from Glasgow, Scotland, Chvrches made one hell of a convincing and captivating time capsule of ’80’s electronic dance pop. Synth lines intertwine and drum loops pulse through the background, carving up ground for people to dance in their wake. Lauren Mayberry’s voice is strong and sweet creating melodies that are all at once seemingly familiar and fresh. This record is the soundtrack to late night basement parties filled with empty cans of cheap schwag beer and strobe lights pulsing. It is a record that gets catchier and catchier with each listen. Stand out tracks: “We Sink” and “The Mother We Share”

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6. Rhye“Woman” Republic Records:  From the start the band was shrouded in mystery. Who is this? Is this new or old? Is that a man or woman singing? What everyone should have been saying was how fantastic of a debut LP Rhye had made. Comprised of producer Robin Braun and vocalist Mike Milosh, Rhye’s “Woman” is not just one of the best R&B records of the year, but one of the best all around. The opening track on the LP, “Open”, begins with a gorgeous string arrangement and Mike Miloshs’ Sade by way of Justin Vernon vocal approach, and thus the mood is set. The record creates a setting that most records of the ’70’s and early ’80’s R&B records tried to create but where they fell short, Rhye succeeds exceptionally. On “Woman” Rhye creates a mood that feels almost weightless and free of time and space. You can get lost in the songs, and the songs can get lost in you. The album is the soundtrack to a Hollywood party at dusk where everyone drinks only the finest wines and does the most expensive cocaine. However at this party no one is rich, and no one is elitist, they are they to just live life to the fullest even if only for one night. It is hard not to notice the obvious Sade influence over the group but it’s not something that makes it feel like a carbon copy or rip off. This influence makes it seems that they could have been her opening act in the early ’80’s. The two would have been perfect counter parts for one another. The response to her call all while making their own path along the boulevards of a sun bleached California backdrop. Stand out tracks: “Open” and “Shed Some Blood”

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5. Their / They’re / There“Self-Titled” Polyvinyl Records:  The 6 tracks on the debut EP for Chicago’s Their / They’re / There, are not only a perfect introduction to a great group of musician’s, but are also some of the most infectious and well crafted songs their genera has seen in years. The members are all well known for their other musical endeavors but that is not what makes them special. What makes them special is what they are able to achieve as a band. Bright songs with pop hooks galore and a mathematical swing that you can move to. The songs will get stuck in your head and can remind you of summer trips to the beach, or late night skate sessions at empty parking structures. Stand out tracks: “Fit Your Life Into A Grid” and “Apocalypse (Not Right Now)”

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4. Pissed Jeans“Honeys” Sub Pop Records:  On Pissed Jeans fourth full length, and third for Sub Pop, the band continues its sonic asult on the world via the Noise Rock way. Pissed Jeans do a style of music that had it’s heyday more than twenty years ago, but still sounds every bit as fresh and exciting as it did then. The songs on the album range from pummeling blasts of fury and aggression, to drawn out sluggish drones. Each track keeping you glued to the speakers to see where the band will go next, if they will all make it there together, or fall apart along the way. They have the ability to capture the energy they create in their live shows and put it on tape. This is something that most bands try to achieve but fail miserably. This record finds Pissed Jeans at their creative best and their most exciting musically. The energy of the record makes you want to start your own one-man-slam-dance pit on your bed and stage dive into your dirty laundry. Stand out tracks: “Bathroom Laughter” and “Male Gaze”

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3. Disclosure“Settle” Island Records:  This record came out in June of 2013 and I totally slept on it. This is mostly due to the fact that I never really gave electronic music a chance, or even bothered to do so. I have some friends that are really into electronic music and they would point out tracks that they liked or figured I would like. One of them was a track off the debut full-length by English brothers, Guy and Howard Lawrence under the name, Disclosure. My uninformed beliefs on electronic music were way wrong, and the proof of that laid in the 14 tracks of “Settle”. Every single track on this LP is fantastic. The songs twist and turn around sharp rhythmic corners and create soft beds of R&B hooks that would make ’90’s dance artists embarrassed for even attempting. These young brothers from the U.K. created a dance record for all time. This will be the record that when ever you hear a song drop at a dance party, a night club, a rave, or where ever your at, you will yell “OOOOHHH!!” and watch the dance floor come to life like waves in an ocean. Stand out tracks: “Latch” and “Defeated No More”

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2. Swearin’“Surfing Strange” Salinas Records:  Before I had even heard a single note on this record drummer Jeff Bolt, told me it was going to be way different than their debut and that the kids might hate it. First off, fuck the kids! What do they know? And secondly, the record is different from the debut, but in an extremely good way. Their debut, while a fantastic record in it’s own right, sounded like a group of people trying to find their voice after their previous projects came to a close. You could hear where everyone was coming from on the debut, but you couldn’t hear the bands voice. “Surfing Strange” finds Swearin’ finding that voice as a band and writing a batch of songs that show just who they are as a group, and not just individuals apart of something. It’s melodic, slow building, with tension around every note, a perfect sample of what well executed Pop-Punk should sound like. These songs are more than the cliff notes in the book of Pop-Punk. They are the paragraphs themselves, they are the chapters. The more and more I listen to this record, the more it has the quality that classic records like, “24 Hour Revenge Therapy”, “Nevermind”, and “Departures and Landfalls” have. This will be a record I will continue to pull off the shelf and listen to through out my lifetime. It’s a classic. Stand out tracks: “Parts of Speech” and “Dust In The Gold Sack”

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1. Queens of the Stone Age“…Like Clockwork” Matador Records:  This was the album I was most excited about in 2013. It had been 6 years since Josh Homme and companies last effort, “Era Vulgaris”, and the news surrounding this record kept the curiosity and excitement high. The result of the 6 year wait made for the best collection of songs Queens of the Stone Age have delivered since 2002’s, “Songs For the Deaf”. The record is the most vulnerable we have heard Homme and the band, and it takes us on the journey we were left out of for the last 6 years. Josh Homme’s lyrics are the most personal and intimate he has ever penned. The days of desert soaked beer busts are not over and not long forgotten. They have just taken a backseat to late night life contemplating drives on Death Valley’s Highway 190. My pick for record of the year. Stand out tracks: “If I Had A Tail” and “I Appear Missing”

I hope you enjoyed the list. See you in 2014.

-John

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December 20, 2013 · 9:10 pm