“Demon In Profile” is as enticing a slice of stylish, urgent rock’n’roll as I’ve heard in a good while, and is unimaginable as the product of anyone who hasn’t been at this game a good long time.
Boy, is there something to be said for veteran musicians who still feel the urge to create. “Demon In Profile” is as enticing a slice of stylish, urgent rock’n’roll as I’ve heard in a good while, and is unimaginable as the product of anyone who hasn’t been at this game a good long time. Actually it’s unimaginable as the product of anyone who isn’t the Afghan Whigs, a band that in its day created one of the more singular catalogs of music in the popular and semi-popular realm.
The Cincinnati-based band did have a bit of an alternative-rock cultural moment in the early ’90s, moving up from Sub Pop Records to a major-label deal with Elektra, and then in 1993 releasing the widely acclaimed album Gentlemen. The Whigs always had a distinctive if somewhat elusive sound, funneling a grunge-y crunch into a musical landscape that tipped its hat to something soulful and unrestrained. Front man Greg Dulli combined a dramatic baritone with larger-than-life bravado, all excess and attitude. Never, however, quite hitting the mainstream, they did what they did until 2001, with one personnel change along the way, at which point they broke up, amicably. Ten years later, they were back, and in 2014 released their first album since 1998. They appear to mean business in their 21st-century incarnation, which includes only Dulli and bassist John Curley from the original lineup.
“Demon In Profile” slips in with a welcoming piano refrain that harkens back to AOR radio days (Al Stewart? Journey? something), then morphs assuredly into a midtempo rocker that’s equal parts swing and menace. Horns mix with electric guitars in a very satisfying way, undergirding melodies that feel inevitable and haunting; every section of this impressively concise song feels all but perfectly conceived. Dulli, meanwhile, sounds as in command as ever, and early on delivers the especially suggestive line “It was all that I wanted/Now it’s killing me.” If an all-out rock’n’roll dude like Dulli can stomp his way through middle age without keeling over I imagine he’ll continue to have some pretty interesting things to say.
“Demon In Profile” is the third of 10 songs on the new Afghan Whigs album In Spades, which was released earlier this month. The band is back on Sub Pop Records after all these years. You can listen to and purchase the album (available in vinyl as well) via Bandcamp. MP3 via KEXP.
Kim Taylor has a convincing timelessness about her; she seems the kind of singer/songwriter who can disappear for years and later return as if in mid-sentence.
Equal parts stomp and grace, “Like a Woman Can” spiders its way into your body with its minimal urgings and dusky vibe. I think it’s that hollowed-out stamping sound, kicking in around 0:32, that really hooks me and makes me engage in a bit of office dancing. To show you how centrally the song is organized around that elusive effect, which sounds kind of like clapping hands crossed with marching feet, see how the sound moves from background to foreground at 1:36, and how this is when everything begins to make perfect sense.
Kim Taylor has a convincing timelessness about her; she seems the kind of singer/songwriter who can disappear for years and later return as if in mid-sentence. In “Like a Woman Can,” she has come back to us with something of particular importance to say; in interviews, she has called it nothing less than a “protest song,” penned by someone not merely tired of the persistence of garden-variety misogyny but aware of how much we have to gain by getting past it already. It’s 2013, people.
Taylor was first featured here back in December 2005 and then again in August 2010. “Like a Woman Can” is a song from her fourth studio album, Love’s a Dog, which she recorded with drummer Devon Ashley and producer/multi-instrumentalist, and long-time musical associate, Jimi Zhivago. MP3 via Magnet Magazine. The album, funded via Kickstarter, was self-released earlier this month. You can listen to it, and buy it if you’d like, from Kim’s web site.
This isn’t nostalgia, it’s sheer presence: the rumbling drumbeat, the unadulterated guitar lines, and, at the center, mighty Erica Wennerstrom, who can make your heart skip a beat if you listen too closely
Flaunting a compact, muscular sound, the Cincinnati-born Bastards, now residing in Austin, have a timeless air about them. This is rock’n’roll as if the internet not only never happened but wasn’t even supposed to. And yet I like how unnostalgic they still manage to sound, via sheer presence: the rumbling drumbeat, the unadulterated guitar lines, and, at the center, mighty Erica Wennerstrom, who can make your heart skip a beat if you listen too closely. Whatever she’s doing, more singers should do it. Or: would if they could.
As befitting the title, “Parted Ways” is really two songs that kind of move through each other and then separate. The first half is launched by the easy charm of the verse, with its ambling, descending melody and its seamless connection to the upward-oriented chorus. Punctuated by some Stones-worthy rhythm guitar playing, that fluent shift to the chorus (first heard at 0:31) really settles the ear; when it comes up again at 1:32, it seems newly powerful and true. As it turns out, there appear to be dualing choruses—the previously mentioned one that segues out of the verse, and then a succeeding one, beginning with the words “Out in space, I’m a long way from home” (first heard at 0:46), with a slower melody and a suspended sense of rhythm. The second chorus eventually takes the song over and moves it into a more expansive, jam-like (but not jam-band-like) space. An instrumental section modulates into an augmented version of chorus number two and then, at 3:32, we get a new vocal section with a loose, chuggy feeling that sounds like Wennerstrom doing a vocal solo the way she, as a guitarist, takes a guitar solo. Which she then in fact does as well. She is no slouch in that regard either.
Heartless Bastards were formed in Cincinnati in 2003. For most of its performing life the band has been a trio. A second guitarist (Wennerstrom has been the lead) was recently added; the band’s forthcoming album, The Arrow, will be its first as a quartet. It was produced by Spoon’s Jim Eno and is due out in February on Partisan Records. MP3 via Rolling Stone. This is the Bastards’ third appearance on Fingertips, with previous reviews in 2005 and 2006.
An exquisitely musical duo, and a married couple to boot, Over the Rhine seems to leave no little detail unregarded, even in a song as loose and slinky as “The King Knows How.”
An exquisitely musical duo, and a married couple to boot, Over the Rhine seems to leave no little detail unregarded, even in a song as loose and slinky as “The King Knows How.” Grounded in Linford Detweiler’s sly, atmospheric piano playing and some marvelously well-thought-out percussion, this song shimmies like an old soul classic, while rewarding careful attention at every turn. Even the casual-seeming introduction, barely more than the sounds of instruments getting warmed up, is elusively wonderful, with Detweiler’s offhand (but perfect) piano fills and what surely sounds like an elephant trumpeting. Or take the seven or so seconds we get between the words “take me all the way” and “to Memphis” at 1:47: listen carefully and hear the subtle smorgasbord of sounds employed during a moment most bands might tread water, which this time includes something that sounds a bit like sheep.
And then of course there’s the front and center reality of Karin Bergquist’s distinctive voice, which operates so much with its own idea of tone and phrasing that whatever combination of human and robot is responsible for the content on internet lyrics sites hasn’t been able to figure out that the first lyric in this song is, simply, “I feel as lonely as anybody/who’s crying on a Friday night.” Her singing may be an acquired taste but it is one I think worth acquiring—as warm and rich as it is idiosyncratic. I like that she’s sharing the stage this time with some strong backing vocals, their explosive, roomful-of-soul sound adding rather than detracting from her own vocal potency.
If there were a Fingertips Hall of Fame, this Cincinnati band, along with John Vanderslice, would be charter members; this is now OTR’s sixth song featured here, but the first since 2007 (check the Artist Index for details). “The King Knows How” is the first available track from the band’s upcoming album, The Long Surrender, due out in February on their own Great Speckled Dog label. MP3 via Each Note Secure.
Kim Taylor doesn’t appear at first glance to be doing anything that thousands (millions?) of other people also do: play guitar, sing songs, release albums.
Kim Taylor doesn’t appear at first glance to be doing anything that thousands (millions?) of other people also do: play guitar, sing songs, release albums. I have no doubt that the so-called “freak folk” movement—of which she is most definitely not a member—was begun at least in part as a way for a guitar-toting singer/songwriter to stand out in the pack. I mean, there are only so many chords, only so many ways to say that love goes bad over time. Sounding bizarre and off-kilter at least spices things up, and it’s (let’s face it) a lot easier than figuring out how to stand out the way that Taylor does: by writing arresting songs and singing them with spirit and nuance.
“Little Miracle” grabs attention from its first strummed chord, which carries a bit of dissonance with it, beginning the song slightly off its own home key (always an effective move). The dusky urgency in her voice demands even more attention—as, it must be said, does the opening line. Just about the surest way to have a listener’s eyes glaze over (well, this listener, anyway) is to start immediately singing about yourself. Because at that point, out here I’m like, “Well, who are you, and why do I care?” Taylor hits the ground singing about something else: “This is not the end, is not the end,” and of course we don’t know what isn’t the end of what, but that doesn’t really matter. And now we can see the value of the musically uncertain landscape we’ve been thrust into, as it mirrors and enhances the lyrical uncertainty. She’s making what sounds like a firm assertion but she has to say it twice, which undermines her conviction. Likewise she plays with the melody, offering subtle variations of the primary phrase that both give the impression of spontaneity and augment the song’s lingering irresoluteness. The lyrics, meanwhile, end up offering only the barest sketch of narrative; far more drama is happening between the lines than in the words. (I happen to like when songwriters use very simple words and yet still don’t reveal exactly what’s happening.) And don’t by the way miss the smart, unexpected organ break (1:25), which likewise adds layers of impact to this brisk, appealing song.
Kim Taylor, previously featured here in December 2005, lives in Cincinnati and actually runs a coffee house there (The Pleasant Perk, in the Pleasant Ridge neighborhood) when she is not writing, recording, or touring. “Little Miracle” is the title track to her new album, her third full-length disc, which is slated for a September physical release. (The MP3 version has been available since December.) Thanks to Kim’s management for the MP3.
Exuberant, horn-laced pop, performing that endearing trick of sounding more slapdash than it actually is. I think drummer John Kathman, brandishing a combination of full-out bashing and asymmetrical fills, has a lot to do with this. The horns, too, carry with them the sound of a band a half step away from flying apart, maybe just from the inherent imprecision of brass instruments, which must create multiple octaves of notes from (typically) three valves.
Exuberant, horn-laced pop, performing that endearing trick of sounding more slapdash than it actually is. I think drummer John Kathman, brandishing a combination of full-out bashing and asymmetrical fills, has a lot to do with this. The horns, too, carry with them the sound of a band a half step away from flying apart, maybe just from the inherent imprecision of brass instruments, which must create multiple octaves of notes from (typically) three valves. On a guitar or a keyboard, each note is precise and unique. On trumpets, less so. This occurs to me as important all of a sudden.
And then, in the middle of this burstingly happy-sounding song comes a philosophical interlude we may not be quite prepared for, as singer Ben Walpole wonders, “Jesus, why did you give me a conscience/If I can’t use it to influence my actions?/And Jesus, why do I have to know wrong from right/When the knowledge never ever beats out passion?” Um, hmm–can we get back to you on that? In the meantime, what happened to the trumpets? The guitars have taken over, along with the existential crisis. Drummer Kathman is still bashing away, however.
The Minor Leagues, from Cincinnati, have grown to seven pieces from the quartet they were when last featured here in 2006. I like how each band member, in the bio material on the Datawaslost site, places him- or herself in an exact year with a particular band, to illustrate with unusual clarity the sound each feels most connected to. “Good Boys” comes from This Story Is Old, I Know, But It Goes On, released in November via Datawaslost, which is both a musical collective and a record label. MP3 via Datawaslost.
Any 21st-century indie band that can this successfully channel their inner Joe Walsh is a friend of mine. Not that I’m a particular Joe Walsh fan; it’s more the principal of the thing. This is not a sound I expect to come out of my MP3 player in the year 2009. It’s a simple, grounded sound, a mid-tempo loper with a light acoustic rhythm at the front of the mix, sometimes messing playfully with the beat, with a heavy bass line underneath and a resonant electric guitar that interjects kind of whenever you’ve forgotten there’s an electric guitar hanging around.
And then there’s no avoiding that voice. This Cincinnati trio features brothers Andrew and Zachary Gabbard on lead guitar and bass, respectively, and both sing, so I’m not sure who is who here, but whoever is offering up that achy, upward-straining, and yet decidedly masculine tenor is paying uncanny homage to James Gang-era Walsh. But this is no lifeless imitation; “Huma Bird,” while completely relaxed, manages to soar with confidence and verve. Only fitting, as a huma bird, by the way, is a mythological creature, from a Sufi fable, which was said to live stratospherically high above the earth and never in its life touch the ground or even a tree. The bird laid its egg from so high up that the baby could grow inside, peck its way out, and manage to learn to use its wings just before the egg smashed to the ground. Some might find a metaphor in this. (Weird side note, not necessarily metaphorical: the song starts fading, for no apparent reason, 50 seconds before its official ending, and leaves us with a good 12 seconds of complete silence.)
“Huma Bird” is a new song, not yet on an album. The band’s last CD was Let It Ride, which came out in July 2008 on Alive Records. MP3 via the band’s site. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the lead.
Propulsive and canny, “Gold and Warm” sneaks a huge, sing-along chorus into a multifaceted piece that sounds very little like standard-issue indie-rock-duo music in an age in which the duo has become oddly commonplace.
The dreamy, retro-y orchestral intro is an immediate clue that the song may not unfold as expected. While “Gold and Warm” drives with a determined beat, it also opens itself at various points to more delicate touches, and although singer-songwriter-guitarist-keyboardist Benjamin Davis pushes his voice through something of a Strokes-like filter, he doesn’t use that as an excuse to sing monotonously, which is something this particular effect typically encourages. The rich-toned Davis shows me a thing or two about the emotional range that’s still possible for a filtered voice, while partner Sebastien Schultz gives the duo the gift of a human drummer, grounding the band’s sound in something nuanced and organic, often putting his cymbal work more forward than the drumming in the mix. And then listen to him work the drum kit in the instrumental break that accompanies the instrumental interlude three-quarters of the way into the song (2:46)–that’s just some good, old-fashioned drumming the likes of which you might have heard from Ringo way back when: patient, spacious, self-effacing, and effective precisely because it doesn’t try to be intricate or show-off-y.
“Gold and Warm” is the second track on the Cincinnati-based band’s self-titled debut, released last month on Dangerbird Records. MP3 via Spinner.