Tag Archives: Rock

Album of the Day, The Buttertones, “Gravedigging”

One word comes to mind mid-way through The Buttertones’ latest effort, and that word is “Trouble.” Every character in the songs on Gravedigging, is either in it, or about to be, and there’s a dark undercurrent to lead singer Richard Araiza’s Jeffrey Lee Peirce-ian croon, making the danger feel both real and imminent.

Opener “Pistol Whip” plays out like a crime of joy. It’s a drunken teenage James Dean smashing tombstones with a hollow bodied guitar, wearing a skull for a mask, egged on by a moody saxophone, the “oohs” in the background sounding like police sirens. There’s a particular menace behind the surf jangle on “Sadie’s A Sadist”; the guitar riffs sound less like strings on a fretboard and more like a handful coins spilling out of snatched purse. In the sorrowful “A Tear for Rosie,” Araiza cries for his beloved; one could almost believe it was a cautionary tale if that driving disco beat didn’t seem to encourage a new set of midnight mistakes.

Since their inception The Buttertones have shown an uncanny ability to conjure cinematic imagery, from the twinkly ‘50s prom from American Brunch’s “Baby Doll” to the oh-so-casual ‘60s indie cocktail lounge of “Reminiscing” on their self-titled debut. There’s a touch of those same elements here (“I Ran Away”), but Gravedigging is more like a beach party movie set in a circle of Dante’s Inferno. The songs are as punchy as they are profane, a bottomless bottle of grim Americana that’s very easy to pick up, but almost impossible to put down.

Sim Jackson 

How The Eagles Inspired Trans Am’s Latest Anti-Post-Rock Record

Trans Am

Nearly 30 years into their career, with 11 studio albums under their glittery belts, Trans Am show no signs of moving to a retirement home in Florida. Now living in separate cities, multi-instrumentalists Nathan Means, and Phil Manley have other jobs and families to raise. Drummer Sebastian Thomson recently committed to playing percussion in the metal band Baroness.

Less-dedicated musicians would have failed to keep a long-distance project alive on a part-time basis, or would have at least been susceptible to diminishment in the quantity or quality of their output. This hasn’t been the case for Trans Am.

By drawing on a seemingly discordant range of influences—including arena rock, synth pop, prog, metal, krautrock and sci-fi soundtracks—the trio created an amalgamated, largely instrumental style that is wholly their own and has shape-shifted through the years. They cut their teeth in the Washington, D.C. hardcore scene, and were initially lumped in with contemporaries such as Tortoise and Labradford; but Trans Am had little in common with the urgent, earnest polemics of the former movement, nor the chin-stroking intellectualism of the latter.

But just because they were considerably more fun than their peers doesn’t mean Trans Am were never sincere. 2004’s Liberation was a reaction to the George W. Bush administration, and their latest album, California Hotel, was recorded as Donald J. Trump was huffing his way to electoral triumph. Packed with fuzzy riffs, glistening synth tones, vocoded voices, and luxuriant rhythms, the album’s overall vibe is one of pre-dystopian melancholy mixed with a more optimistic defiance. This is especially true when it comes to tracks such as “Staying Power,” which the band nailed in one take, immediately after hearing the result of last year’s presidential election. Still, Trans Am have seen off Reagan, George Bush and his junior and aren’t going stand by idly in the face of another administration they oppose. We spoke to Trans Am’s Phil Manley about stupidity, distance, fatherhood and The Eagles.

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Oxbow’s Avant-Rock Experiments With Light and Shadow

Oxbow

Oxbow by Jennifer Hale

Simultaneously smart and loutish, severely disciplined and wildly chaotic, legendary experimental rock band Oxbow combines the musical mastery of guitarist Niko Wenner, drummer Greg Davis and bassist Dan Adams with the visceral caterwaul of vocalist Eugene Robinson. In a live setting, the band executes their songs with precision while the tattooed Robinson menaces the crowd, virtually naked. The potential for physical harm is ever present; there are countless reports of Robinson, an amateur fighter, subduing rowdy “fans” with his formidable martial arts skill set. The group is currently set to release The Thin Black Duke on Hydra Head Records, their first studio album since 2007’s The Narcotic Story. As its title suggests, The Thin Black Duke folds baroque Bowie-esque pop into the heaving, gnashing Oxbow sound for their most compositionally coherent and personally challenging effort yet.

Oxbow’s tale begins in the Bay Area in the ‘80s, when Robinson sang for hardcore punk band Whipping Boy. They’d appeared on the seminal punk compilation Not So Quiet on the Western Front, which documented the 1982 northern California punk scene. Wenner joined the band in 1984; Oxbow began in 1989 as a side project of Wenner and Robinson’s which slowly took on a life of its own.

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Hanni El Khatib on Embracing Multi-Racial Identity and Being Famous in France

Hanni El Khatib

Although he’s already four records deep into a successful career, Hanni El Khatib was looking forward to taking a break after he wrapped an extensive tour. But it wasn’t long before he found himself in the studio, banging out material in a series of low-stakes sessions that would end up on a series of EPs he released over the course of 2016. Now, those five EPs have been collected into full-length, Savage Times, released this past February on Innovative Leisure, the label he co-owns.

The album’s 17 tracks showcase El Khatib at his most diverse, each song pushing his signature take on rock and roll in a different direction. The album moves from the uptempo swagger of “Paralyzed” to the stark, hymn-like “Miracle,” to the rebellious “Mondo and His Makeup,” referencing a range of musical eras and movements along the way. Lyrically, El Khatib reflects on his experiences as a first generation American (“Born Brown”), considers his own bad habits (“Hold Me Back”) and embraces individuality (“Freak Freely”)

The child of immigrant parents from Palestine and the Philippines, El Khatib grew up in San Francisco, and has called Los Angeles home for nearly a decade (though he’s often away, perpetually on tour across the States and abroad, most frequently, in France). We met up with El Khatib during a one-week break in his touring schedule to talk about the challenge of self-reflection, how the immediacy of releasing songs as he finished them enabled him to be more honest, the value of personal freedom, and why the cycle of culture dictates that rappers are the new rock stars.

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Album of the Day: Tonstartssbandht, “Sorcerer”

In the 1960s, some of the greatest rock bands—The Kinks, The Beach Boys, and The Bee Gees—were anchored by members who were siblings. It’s easy to speculate that the supernatural tightness of those groups has something to do with “family bonds,” but it’s also worth noting that, over time, a lot of those sibling bands of the ’60s ended up getting really weird. Not as weird, perhaps, as Tonstartssbandht, the tough-to-pronounce and tougher-to-categorize brotherly psych-rock duo originally from Orlando, Florida.

On the band’s new album, Sorcerer, Tonstartsshbandht prove themselves a contortionistic outfit capable of impressive shifts in tone and musical approach. In just three songs, Andy and Edwin White meld Can’s propulsive math-rock with summery guitar licks worthy of Shuggie Otis (“Breathe”); deep-dive into acid-soaked southern rock (“Sorcerer”), and indulge in a skittering punk opera with drumming and elastic vocal harmonies that evoke The Who (“Opening”). This is, technically, the band’s first studio album since 2011—even if a decade’s worth of demos and live recordings paved its way. While Tonstartsshbandht takes full advantage of their newfound studio setting, the duo’s Southern roots—the band has been based in New York City for years now—bubble to the surface in a congenial looseness that belies spooky psychic myths about “family bands.”

The fact that two players can pack this much sound and style into three songs is the minor miracle here.

Casey Jarman