Five Eight keep on truckin’

Athens, Georgia legends Five Eight are readying to drop their eighth studio album, Songs for St. Jude (Chicken Ranch Records). Produced by Mike Albanese, the 17-song double album illustrates just how relevant the band remains some 25 years after their debut. Don’t believe it? Just listen. Go ahead and YouTube some live Five Eight vids from the early- to mid-90s to realize that the band – especially leader Mike Mantione – has lost nothing from its energy stores. If anything, the band is more of a force today.

St. Jude is a master class in passionate and literate rock and roll, with Mantione emoting his ass off (as usual). There is an unexpected maturation with this new release, which isn’t to say that the new tunes are more sober and evolved than previous releases (Mantione has tackled personal issues in the past). Maybe the band with the punk aesthetic has expanded on their sound. The songs run the gamut from slow burners (“Smoke,” “Sherman Oaks Fire”) to their familiar triple espresso sounds (“Werner Herzog,” “Someday”). In between are pure gems, songs that will become etched in your memory for some time.

Dark and wonderful, “The Hollow” holds dear some genuine Athens DNA, while you may hear whispers of Neil Young in “The Flood,” honoring those affected by Hurricane Katrina. You should recognize the familiar voice of Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood on that track, as well as on the memorable “Song for Jim Gordon.” And is that an ode to Beastie Boys in “Tall Tales”? You be the judge. As for this tightly fantastic four piece – Sean Dunn on guitar, Patrick Ferguson on drums and Dan Horowitz on bass – there is zero shortage on talent and commitment. These guys will show you what a live band should sound like.

Athenian Jack Logan makes an appearance on a couple tunes here. Cowriting and taking lead on “Iron On Sun,” Logan and the band find a phenomenal balance on a memorable track. “I bought a shirt there on the midway / On the front was an iron-on sun / On the back it said, ‘Keep on Truckin’ / On the front was a iron-on sun.” Logan also cowrote and sings on the smooth and fuzzy “Huckleberry Inn.”

The happiest and hookiest of the bunch may be the one-two punch of “Kids” and “Florida.” In another time and place, you may ask yourself, “Why is this not on the radio?” Closing out the album is arguably Five Eight’s most beautiful recording, “Once On The Lam,” a sparse and personal piece of work that should be the closing song at every show. “Once on the lam aren’t we all sorta strays / Keeping a home and a poem for those darkest days / If they return it’s why we burn to belong.”

Short of writing a novelette, there is no way to fully explain the greatness of St. Jude. Coming in at just over an hour, each song has its own story, its own power. Layered and complex, this may just be Five Eight’s most outstanding achievement yet. Your mission now, if you choose to accept it, is to buy Songs for St. Jude. More importantly, though, is to experience Five Eight live. You will never hear their music the same again. The biggest irony is the title of the album, as St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes. This album is far from it.

Listen to “Kids on Spotify

 

Shearwater soar into Atlanta

Shearwater and Cross Record at Terminal West in Atlanta, 12/13/16

What a year it’s been for Austin’s Shearwater. With their eighth studio album, Jet Plane and Oxbow (Sub Pop Records), the band is getting noticed more than ever. Coming off a successful European tour and now back to the states, critical acclaim and a fast-growing fan base has catapulted Shearwater to the forefront of the indie music scene. Obvious fans of David Bowie, the band covered his entire Lodger album with the AV Club in early 2016.

Lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Meiburg was energetic and full of joy as the band offered up a terrific set of songs mainly from Jet Plane, but sprinkled with gems like the excellent “You As You Were” from 2012’s Animal Joy. The first single off the new release is the Cold War-inspired “Quiet Americans” which looks and sounds a bit like the eighties, and was a touch prophetic as months later millions of Americans stayed home on election day. The entire album, in fact, has been called a protest record. Which makes sense if you listen closely.

Jet Plane has such an eighties feel that as “Filaments” kicks in, you may be reminded of the Police’s “When the World is Running Down…” But Shearwater is most definitely not an eighties band. They are Meiburg’s unique conception of an amalgam of different genres, shaped by his very own creative mind. Filling out the band are Lucas Oswald (keys, guitar, backing vocals), Emily Lee (keys, backing vocals), Sadie Powers (bass) and Josh Halpern (drums). All five members raise the bar on musicianship. This is a tight band and sound terrific live.

“Radio Silence” is anything but, with a mountainous build-up and soaring vocals (“In disarray! Disarray-ee-ay!”). Meiburg’s voice is strong and smooth, complementing the music (or is it the other way around?). The encore paid homage to Bowie with fresh versions of “Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)” and “Look Back In Anger.” Keep your eyes and ears open for the next tour, Shearwater is finally becoming a household name.

Fellow Austinites Cross Record put on an amazing performance. Emily Cross and Dan Duszynski play with a self-described genre of “doomage,” which is slightly misleading because a fan may argue that the sound is more beautiful and uplifting. Their new album, Wabi-Sabi (Ba Da Bing!), is definitely worth a listen.

Was this Wolf Parade’s final show in Atlanta?

Live review: Wolf Parade at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, 11/12/10

The Montreal band Wolf Parade has announced an indefinite hiatus just days after ending their tour promoting the new release Expo 86 (Sub Pop). The reason for this is somewhat mysterious, as this show was a resounding success, according to the fanatics present on that evening in Atlanta. But then again, what better time to go on hiatus than after a grueling tour? Wolf Parade has been in existance since 2003 and grown its fan base steadily over the past seven years. Expo 86 is their third studio album, each one subsequently reaching more fans.

Wolf Parade is a unique group, in that there are two lead singers. They trade off on leads or do a bit of harmonizing. Any way you slice it, the vocals are quite dandy. Spencer Krug’s vocal stylings have an eerie resemblance to that of Isaak Brock of Modest Mouse (especially on the excellent “What Did My Lover Say?”), while Dan Boeckner has a striking visual similarity to Nick Cave. Arlen Thompson and Dante DeCaro round out the quartet’s rhythm section, although all four members pass around keyboards and guitars like a virus. In a good way.

The band ripped through an energized set at the Variety Playhouse and kept the crowd on its feet for most of the evening. Several songs from Expo were performed including “Palm Road,” “Cave-O-Sapiens,” and the synth goodness of “Ghost Pressure.”

While Wolf Parade take well-deserved time off, music fans everywhere are hoping for a brief hiatus. For more information and to hear songs and watch videos, go to http://www.myspace.com/wolfparade

Set List:
1. Cloud Shadow On The Mountain
2. Soldier’s Grin
3. What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had To Go This Way)
4. Ghost Pressure
5. Dear Sons And Daughters Of Hungry Ghosts
6. This Heart’s On Fire
7. I’ll Believe In Anything
8. Fine Young Cannibals
9. Cave-O-Sapien
10. Palm Road
11. California Dreamer

Encore:
12. You Are A Runner And I Am My Father’s Son
13. Shine A Light
14. Kissing The Beehive

Openers OYA (Ogre You Asshole) hail from Japan and apparently got their name from the movie Revenge of the Nerds. That’s all they got from the movie because their tunes were cool. The heavy guitar-driven pop/rock was infectious and had the crowd jumping from song one. Nevermind that every once in a while, the listener may hear a little Yoko. Just an aftertaste. With broken English, the lead singer thanked the audience, announcing, “This is our first time playing in America.” The land of promise, it is.

New release finds Crowded House with unfinished business

In 2007, Crowded House fans got an unexpected reunion of their favorite band. After a 13-year hiatus which showed no signs of ending, mainly due to drummer Paul Hester’s suicide in 2005, the band regrouped with a new drummer, a new album, and a sold-out tour. Now CH have proven they’re in it to stay with their upcoming release Intriguer (Concord Records). Back together are Mark Hart on guitar, backing vocals, and whatever else is needed, and bassist/album cover artist Nick Seymour. Drummer Matt Sherrod has also rejoined the group.

The first single off Intriguer is “Saturday Sun,” and ranks right up there with their best songs in terms of songwriting, sing-a-long potential, and hookworthiness. For the most part, this latest effort exhibits are more mature and subdued Crowded House. All songs, however, showcase head Crowdie Neil Finn’s golden pipes, superb songwriting, and much underrated guitar work (his musical arrangements haven’t been compared to Lennon and McCartney for nothing). On the wonderful “Archer’s Arrows,” Neil is joined by wife Sharon for some terrific harmonizing. In true-to-form Finn style, this one grows from quietness to a crescendo and back with great panache.


With the catchy “Either Side Of The World,” Finn sings, “Either side of the world / Chase the sun / Pay the maximum rate / To feel so lonesome.” It’s always difficult for the average listener to understand how someone so successful (and seemingly surrounded by throngs of supporters) can even mention the word “lonesome.” Finn translates this well and always has. He’s truly a deep thinker and wants us all to join him down there.

On a related note, “Isolation” explores that loneliness again (“There’s always a way / To end this isolation / One step away from everyone / If you could open it up / You could connect it to us / One step is more than enough”). Not sure if Neil is delving inward, or observing another. “Inside Out” embraces a countryish feel, complete with Hart on electric fuzz guitar.

Intriguer is an album for the intelligent music lover. No big explosions or gratuitous sex and violence. Just quality music with a meaning. It’s one of those albums that, after several listens, you find yourself loving it. Just like a great foreign film. With subtitles.

Catch Crowded House on the road this fall and become enlightened (www.crowdedhouse.com or www.frenz.com).

Fiction Plane bring the noise with excellent Sparks

For their third release, Sparks, Britain’s Fiction Plane has woven a tighter and more accessible web of tunes. The first single, “Push Me Around” has more hooks than a fishing tournament. Singer/bassist Joe Sumner (son of Sting) sings “I used to think I was something / I used to think I was, but now I’m sure” with all the bravado and confidence of his old man. The song, like many of Fiction Plane’s, involves Seton Daunt’s reggae-tinged guitar, Sumner’s smooth solid bass, and Pete Wilhoit’s explosive drumming.

The highly caffeinated lead off track, “You Know You’re Good (La La La Song),” shows off Sumner’s strong and evolving voice. And like caffeine, is very addictive. Just listen to it once…you’ll want another cup. While his voice does remind you a bit of his father’s, it’s easy to hear FP’s signature song style. They have slowly made a name for themselves and are succeeding on their own merits. And as a live act, they earn it.


“Russian L.S.D.” finds the boys drifting into Doorsland (you’ll swear that’s Ray Manzarak on keyboards). The pace is measured and the vocals are haunting. Daunt’s guitar solo is wicked as well as his effects later in the song. Nice one. While FP totally nail the near-ballad (“Denied”), their soul lies in rock music.

When Sumner sings, “This is real democracy / This is what the people want / Put your feelings into action, a statement of intent / We speak clearly, you’ll know just what we meant / Revenge, revenge,” in the post-punkish “Revenge,” you’ll believe he’s getting his. Behind these thought-provoking lyrics is a powerhouse three-minutes of great musicianship that WILL make you move your feet. Promise.

Throughout Sparks, one should take notice that Daunt, Sumner, and Wilhoit have pushed the envelope experimenting with new sounds and taking those sounds in new directions. After a massive amount of exposure in 2007-2008 warming up the Police during their reunion tour, Fiction Plane surely found some new fans. This trio has slowly moved out of that big shadow and made a name for itself. For tour and CD information, go to www.fictionplane.com.

Atlanta’s Oryx & Crake deliver shining debut

The first track on the self-titled debut from Atlanta’s Oryx and Crake transports the listener to a melancholy place with its cello, guitar, and plaintive vocals of leader Ryan Peoples. Then the guitar gets fuzzy, harmonies are layered in, and the clouds part on the beautiful “Fun Funeral.”

The 9-person band has created a dazzling debut that is difficult to label. Among other things, instruments include guitar, bass, banjo, cello, electronic drums, a homemade midi, and a toy piano. Combine these with Peoples’ smooth and striking vocals harmonized with bandmates (including wife Rebekah Goode-Peoples), and deeply interesting lyrics and you have the magic that is Oryx and Crake.

Named after the Margret Atwood novel, Oryx and Crake have birthed their own version of fiction (because this sound cannot be real). Intentionally avoiding the easy hook that would guarantee radio play, O+C instead pursue an eclectic and uniquely stunning piece of work that should be on the radio.

“Bed Death” is at once a simple and complex piece with harmonies, effects, and a spooky bass line throughout. It’s the sort of hypnotic song that you’ll find yourself humming and singing hours later (“Bring it on back! / Bring it on back!”). Falling in the middle of the tracks are two catchy yet brief gems. “Superlady” starts off sounding like a five-year-old playing with the reel to reel but quickly gets mature, while “Pretty How Towns” is a countrified piece of work showcasing some nice banjo.

In the gorgeous “Unbound,” Peoples sings “Everyone is so tired of lugging you around / Everyone is so tired of you dragging us down.” This could be describing one of several possible stories, but seems to be an ode to an abusive parent (“The wooden spoon you used on us has broken.”). With hand claps keeping the beat, “Unbound” is a standout track. “Lullaby No. 1” ends the disc on a mellow note, sounding a bit like a 60’s Beach Boys ballad, but soon evolving into signature O+C, with the addition of more instruments and more personality.

After a few listens, this superb debut sounds like something from a band whose paid their dues; whose time has come. Rarely has a first outing been such an impressive recording. It takes most groups four or five records into their career to achieve such a solid accomplishment. Each of the nine songs on this self-titled debut has its own traits and tells a different story. This does not sound like anything else out there right now. That’s why music lovers owe it to themselves to discover Oryx and Crake now. This group of musicians, if they so desire, will be around for quite sometime.

You can find it on iTunes and more than likely be able to purchase the CD at the release party on August 28 at the EARL in Atlanta. You owe it to yourself to be there. Tickets can be found at Ticket Alternative or at the door.

Vampire Weekend evolve with ‘Contra’

This New York foursome came out of the gates in 2008 – guns-a-blazing – with their self-titled debut Vampire Weekend. It was rife with worldbeat beauties about being rich and prominent. Many critics eluded that these youngsters were posing and had stolen their fresh new sound from a variety of genres. The fact that the band’s name itself evoked images of crazed teenage girls didn’t help attract serious music listeners either.

But as their tunes slowly dripped through speakers, more and more people reluctantly entered their lair. With the release of Contra (XL Recordings), expectations were high that this would be a carbon copy of the debut, which would have sufficed for their legions of supporters. But to the surprise of critics, lead singer Ezra Koenig and keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij had other plans. Batmanglij is the musical genius to Koenig’s lyrical genius in Vampire Weekend. He produced as well as provided much of the worldbeat feel to the new album.

On Contra, Vampire Weekend have evolved beyond even their own expectations. They have given their fans (and everyone else) a tighter, more mature, and downright better collection of songs. Arguably every single track on Contra has redeeming value.

This time though, Koenig has upped the ante on the lyrics, which are sometimes deep, frequently strange, and always intriguing. On the bouncy ska perfection of “Holiday,” Koenig sings, “Holiday, oh a holiday! / And the best one of the year / Dozing off underneath my sheets / While I cover both my ears / But if I wait for a holiday could it ever stop my fear? / To go away on a summer’s day seemed so clear.”

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“Cousins,” the first single off Contra, is a high-octane, thousand-mile-per-hour punk/pop prize. The song showcases everything that is great about Vampire Weekend. Along with Koenig and Batmanglij, speed drummer Chris Tomson and bassist Chris Baio bring home solid musicianship (the four met and formed the band as students at Columbia University in 2006). The video is a direct hit as well.

On the eighties feel of “Giving Up The Gun,” the group drives a pop song through the roof with a solid and stomping rhythm section and smooth synths. A song like this could be a hit by itself on someone else’s album. On Contra, there are really no standout tracks. They’re all excellent.

As the songs flow, one may be reminded of Paul Simon. Maybe a little Graceland filters through. This was true on their first release, but becomes very noticeable on Contra with its depth, breadth, and synthesis of genres. A prime example is “Diplomat’s Son,” which kicks off with M.I.A. samples and an infectious vibe that ends way too soon. Simon’s influence is especially obvious in the opener, “Horchata,” which includes a soaring chorus of singers and tribal-ish drums. In this joyous selection, Koenig sings, “In December drinking horchata / I’d look psychotic in a balaclava / Winter’s cold is too much to handle / Pincher crabs that pinch at your sandals.”

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The closing track “I Think Ur A Contra,” is a beautiful creation combining piano, a string section (or the synth version of that), Koenig’s lilting voice, and a plea to possibly his own youth (“You wanted good schools / And friends with pools / You’re not a Contra / You wanted Rock’ n’ Roll / Complete control / Well, I don’t know”).

Contra proves that Vampire Weekend weren’t a fluke the first time around. If the rich kid mentality is too much for you, get over it. This album should end up on several top ten lists at year’s end. Buy it now.

108. THE ELVIS BROTHERS, (out of order) 12/91

Venue: Elbow Room, Chicago
Supporting Act(s): ?
In the Company of: Chris

Just in the Windy City for the weekend and discovered the EBs were playing. What a night! Two memories (hey, it’s been like 18 years) were the bandmates switching instruments and also playing the Bow Wow Wow classic “I Want Candy.” It was cold as hell outside but the Brothers were burning it up inside. I’m pretty sure this was in promotion of their third and last release, “Now Dig This.”

107. THE ELVIS BROTHERS (out of order), 1985ish

Venue: The Lone Star, Kansas City, MO
Supporting Act(s): The Clique
In the Company of: Gregg H.

After catching our fave local cover/original band the Clique, lead guitarist/singer Don Schmidt talked us into staying for the headliner, the Elvis Brothers. We did not regret it. Furthermore, I became a fan for life of the pop/rock/rockabilly/”other” trio who to this day live and breathe on my iPod.

106. COLLECTIVE SOUL, 9/5/09

Location: Centennial Park, Atlanta
Supporting Act: Drivin N’ Cryin
In the Company of: Ethan T.

The massive crowd at Centennial (Olympic) Park was dominated by red and maroon…red for the Alabama fans and maroon for the Virginia Tech fans. Their teams would square off later at the Georgia Dome for a college football week-one match up. Lucky for them – and everyone else here – Georgia’s own Collective Soul had agreed to put on a free concert in the heart of the revitalized downtown Atlanta. This would be one of those shows for which the planets would align: the weather was perfecto, the sounds were exquisite, and the SEC fans were all amenable (even the Hokies, who would soon experience losing the first game of the season).

Touring in support of their self-titled new release, Ed Roland and crew were sounding fresh and relevant. The band appropriately kicked off the show with their new single “Welcome All Again,” showcasing the excellent vocals and trademark guitar-driven sound that made them famous.

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Among the other songs on the set list were “Gel,” “Shine,” the new “Staring Down,” and “December” (“Don’t speak aloud / Don’t dream about / Turn your head now baby just spit me out”). Before playing 2008’s “Hollywood,” Roland explained that this song had been written while they were touring with Metallica, and that it was a tribute to the great 80s bands like INXS, the Police, the Cars, “and our favorite: R.E.M.” The mere mention of one of Georgia’s all-time greatest exports brought huge cheers from the audience.

Leading up to “Run,” Roland told us that this is where they’d usually leave the stage and wait a few minutes while the fans roared for an encore. “But since we’re all friends, neighbors, and relatives, we’re just gonna stay out here. If we were somewhere else, I could be cool and leave. I mean, we’re gonna play this song anyway, right?” The song ended with Roland being the last to walk off stage playing his acoustic guitar, and the crowd singing, “I’ve got a long way to run.”

Sadly, I showed up too late to enjoy another local favorite, Drivin N’ Cryin. This I regret. But finally getting to see one of my faves in Collective Soul did my soul good.