Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Brandon Luedtke -- A Self-Titled EP

The first thing that stood out to me about this album is Brandon Luedtke's voice. It's distinctive but it somehow has a timeless quality; like Bob Dylan took a right turn on the way to Albuquerque instead of a left.

That's how the music feels, too. The first two tracks on the album (the A side if you get it vinyl) are traditional songs: "Molly and Tenbrooks" has deep roots, and most Americans are/should be familiar with "Lonesome Highway." The final three tracks (the B side) are original compositions, but other than references to TVs you'd never be able to tell the difference.

Luedtke has already recorded a full-length album, but this EP is suggestive of big things to come.

Brandon Luedtke -- Facebook, ReverbNation, Stream on Bandcamp, Purchase at Salient Records

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ryan Smith -- Better Days (Video)

If you're reading this, it's cuz I'm in muthafucking Disneyworld!

But Ryan Smith, whom I said nice things about a few weeks ago, will make you forget about your intense jealousy with this music video:

Ryan Smith - "Better Days" from Josh Fitzwater on Vimeo.

Ryan Smith -- Official, Bandcamp

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

NC Music Love Army and Robert Sarazin Blake

Today's post is going to be a little unusual and a little long as I'll be reviewing two albums, so I'll be breaking it up into different sections. It's also the last post before I travel for spring break, so perhaps it'll leave you with some food for thought.


Or intellectual masturbation, whichever you prefer. I was inspired to write this review after going to a concert in Williamsburg (with Miss Shevaughn and Yuma Wray and Uncle Leon and the Alibis, so it was great and you should have been there.) I hadn't been there in months and I was glad for it. Here's why.

I hate Williamsburg almost as much as I hate Times Square, probably more.

You have to understand how deep and burning my anger must be for a native New Yorker to say such a thing. Everyone knows Times Square is the worst place on the planet.

Here is why I hate Williamsburg: it is the living embodiment of everything that is wrong with New York City right now, from gentrification to corporate greed to education policy. It is basically a trust fund baby college town combined with the original gentrifiers, who sold out and made bank in the tech industry (or banks) and swill organic fair trade kombucha and pretend they're still counterculture or something. Meanwhile, there are a few Puerto Ricans left who have managed to hang on for dear life.

I'm not blameless here. I don't live in Williamsburg but I'm living in a neighborhood that is 100% whiter than it was when I moved here six months ago. I wear plastic rimmed glasses, I have a penchant for chambray, and I've got an undercut. I listen to music that nobody cares about.

But Williamsburg. It's infuriating because people go there for "authenticity," for "real" art. But really what's going on in Williamsburg is a homogenized not-so-alternative culture that is fueled by Wall Street money, globalization, and free market-inspired housing policy that allows rent to skyrocket while working class families are displaced. (Fun fact: the increase in luxury housing in NYC is directly proportional to the increase in homelessness! Thanks, Bloomberg!)

In other words, bored suburban kids' search for the "real" New York is eradicating the very thing they seek: the hustle New York is so famous for. The rest of the world doesn't seem to appreciate that that's the real New York: an immigrant mentality in a city that at least used to be full of opportunity.

Yes, neighborhoods change. That's how cities work. But there's no neighborhood in New York that's on its way down; you've got neighborhoods that already have money, neighborhoods that are rapidly gentrifying, and neighborhoods that are abjectly poor. The middle ground is rapidly shrinking.

Williamsburg draws my ire because it pretends that it was never complicit in this process, that it still exists outside of it. In reality it's the worst and most arrogant perpetrator.

So let's talk about music.

NC Music Love Army -- We Are Not For Sale 

While Mike Bloomberg was busy shaping New York into a neoliberal playground, the North Carolina legislature has taken a sledgehammer to leftist politics in the state. You may have heard of the Moral Mondays protests held weekly at the state capital. Occupy Wall Street was started by hipsters who thought they could make protest into an ironic joke. The NC Music Love Army uses music as a legitimate form of protest.

This album is awesome. It's a compilation of modern-day protest songs and it is, as my students would say, fi-yah. The album encompasses all kinds of genres of folk, including hiphop. In the grand tradition of protest songs, some of these are funny, some of these are strident, some of them are really fucking angry. I love it. They may have been created for the protests in North Carolina but they're applicable in any state. Including Brooklyn.

Purchase the album; proceeds go to NC Planned Parenthood.

NC Music Love Army -- Website

Robert Sarazin Blake -- Self-Titled

I get a lot of music from Devon Leger. When I received a folk album from a Washington native who moved to Brooklyn, Devon probably heard my eyeroll over the Internet. But most of the best music on this blog comes from Devon's suggestions, so I gave it a shot.

My first impressions were that Sarazin Blake is a truly gifted songwriter. These songs are warm and simple but richly textured and beautifully written.

I was excited to write a review for this album, but then "Ghosts on Bedford Ave" came on and I had to drop everything and listen. (Bedford Avenue is the main street of North Williamsburg.) The final track on the album is a 13-minute, stream of consciousness meditation about political activism during Bush-era New York (which I was just becoming aware of) and the Williamsburg that existed before it became, well, Williamsburg. And it'll never come back.

Robert Sarazin Blake -- Official, Bandcamp

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Library Is On Fire -- Halcyon & Surrounding Areas

The Library is on Fire does not have an official website but they do have a Wikipedia article. Here's what it says:

The Library is on Fire is an American indie rock band formed by singer/guitarist Steve Five in 2007. Their sound has been described as art punk. The band originally began from a manifesto of the same name written by Five. Five took the name from a poem by French war poet René Char while working at Strand Bookstore....
If that made you throw up in your mouth a little, it's alright; you weren't the only one.

Whatever the band's origins are on paper, I can promise Halcyon & Surrounding Areas is not the usual hipster bullshit. First off, it's clear that Five is quite intentional with his compositions. "Fly On the Painting" features what I believe is a harmonica floating in, out, and around what would otherwise be a straightforward melody -- not something I'd thought you could do that with instrument. Five has got something to say and he put a lot of care into it. He's not some kid with a vaporizer, thrift shop keyboard, and GarageBand.

Secondly, this is not the "apathetic melancholy" (as Micah Schnabel so aptly put it) that often wafts across the Brooklyn Bridge. Yes, the lyrics are dense and literary, sometimes the point of obscurity. The urgent punk that supports the lyrics makes sure the emotions behind those words bleed through. "Art punk" to me means "pretentious lyrics with lazy use of power chords." That's not the case here. The Library on Fire makes finely crafted music with punk as a jumping off point.

The Library is on Fire -- Purchase from Official Site, Facebook

Monday, April 14, 2014

GuiGuiSuiSui -- A Cult of Bipolar Personalities

Guiguisuisui has been amusing and bemusing me for nigh on a year now.

This neo-colonial (I sure hope he doesn't mind my saying that) bluesman is a British expat living in a dingy industrial city in the bleak steppes of Northern China. I can't imagine it's much fun, but Guiguisuisui made his own fun -- literally -- with a bo diddley made out of a skateboard.

A Cult of Bipolar Personalities is Guiguisuisui's homecoming. It includes some songs that appear to be recorded live in Dartford, England. This music is grungy and raw and you'll find yourself picking weird things out of your teeth afterwards. His rendition of "John the Revelator" is spooky and impassioned enough to raise the dead. And it's definitely better for the Chinese economy than opium was.

Guiguisuisui -- Facebook, Bandcamp

Friday, April 11, 2014

4H Royalty -- Liars and Outliars

Oh man, did I ever need an album like Liars and Outliars. Denver's 4H Royalty has been championed on better blogs than here and it's truly a gross oversight of mine to not have looked into them earlier. Liars and Outliars may have come out last year but it is certainly one of my favorite albums this year.

My biggest regret, though, is reading the lyrics before listening to the songs all the way through. 4H Royalty sounds like a simple alt-country bar band at first glance, but they're so much more (I asked Ninebullets writer and Ajax Diner Book Club host Charles Hale to recommend some punchier music for the blog, and here we are.) Zach Boddicker's capacity for perverse humor is only matched by his ability to spin a story through verse. Trust me on this one -- don't read the lyrics; the punchlines are just too good to spoil.

4H Royalty --Official, Bandcamp

Thursday, April 10, 2014

George Taylor -- Rain or Shine

If there's justice in this world, George Taylor will become a household name as a singular bluesman.

The Tennessee native's Americana roots pairs nicely with whiskey (or, in my class, aged rum that tastes like whiskey when I close my eyes.) Taylor has a playfulness in his lyrics and a clarity of purpose that reminds me of a young Roger Clyne (though maybe one from the Ozarks?) Taylor has spent the last few years studying blues in the Delta and it shows: these songs are honest and to the point and feature some badass blues licks. They could've been written in the 1930s or 30 days ago. You'd better get in on the ground floor here because if Taylor's next albums are like Rain or Shine, you'll have a hard time getting to see him live.

George Taylor --Official, ReverbNation, CDBaby, iTunes