LuxDeluxe Delivers with New Album “Let’s Do Lunch”

LuxDeluxe
Let’s Do Lunch
(Spirithouse)
Release date: 5/5/17

The latest release from these Northampton rockers is a pretty straightforward affair. In fact, the album’s opening track, “Intro,” even welcomes listeners and lists each band member’s name in succession.

Ned King, Jacob Rosazza, Gabriel Bernini, Caleb Rosazza and Jake Edwards, have seen their collective profile rise over the past few years playing sold out shows, earning the song of the year (“So Far Away”) title on WRSI, and opening for none other than Bernie Sanders at a rally held at the Mullins Center in Amherst. But it’s the group’s continued refinement of a classic sound that still garners the most notice.

That sound, once described by former Advocate writer James Heflin as, “solidly delivered, exuberant pop music that draws from the sounds of several decades ago,” is on fine display throughout “Let’s Do Lunch.” Album single “Keep Your Distance” rides some bubbling bass over its sub-two minute run time, while “I’m Goin’ Fishin’” features a tasty, extended guitar solo. “Baby Whatcha Feelin’” conjures the same vibe John Fogerty and company once dredged up from the bayou, and “Hey Girl” resembles a take on some lo-fi indie rock with just vocals and a couple of guitars making up the mix.

The mere existence of such a variety of tunes on one record is a testament to LuxDeluxe’s craftsmanship, especially given that the tracks were recorded live by the band on a Tascam Portastudio four track cassette recorder, which was set up in the group’s rehearsal space. Outtakes from the recording sessions are even included on “Let’s Do Lunch” via “Interludes,” a song-length medley of music snippets, studio chatter and unfinished ideas, some of which beg to be expanded upon. But if all this creativity and experimentation doesn’t sound the least bit straightforward, hear me out.

The members of LuxDeluxe know exactly what they’re doing. By marching from start to finish to a steady, rhythmic lockstep groove “Let’s Do Lunch” is a complete album experience. The record begins with “Intro,” and ends with “Goodnight” – a clear beginning and a logical end. In between are songs that push and pull at different emotions without overshadowing one another or feeling out of place. There’s time for nods to classic sounds. There’s time to expand, fly free, and try new tricks. There’s even a section (“Interludes”) acting as an outlet for this overflow of ideas. But the proceedings work best as a cohesive whole.

In a recent interview, Bernini said, “We wanted the record to represent our influences and the music that we’re most comfortable with. It’s definitely a return to form for us. It’s the music we grew up on and still listen to and it’s what we do best as a band.”

Enjoy the ride. Just don’t forget to start at the top.

LuxDeluxe album release show with co-headliner Madaila, April 8, 9 p.m., $10-13, Pearl Street Nightclub, 10 Pearl Street, Northampton, (413) 584-7771, http://www.iheg.com/pearl_street_main.asp

For more information on LuxDeluxe please visit https://www.luxdeluxemusic.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/luxdeluxemusic.

Read more by Michael Cimaomo at www.michaelcimaomo.wordpress.com.

Say Yes to Expanded Elliott Smith “Either/ Or” Reissue

Elliott Smith
Either/ Or: Expanded Edition
(Kill Rock Stars)
Release date: 3/10/17

Either you are an Elliott Smith fan, or you are not.

For some, Smith is the singer and songwriter who contributed a handful of heart-rending songs to the soundtrack of the film “Good Will Hunting,” including the Oscar-nominated number “Miss Misery.” For others, he remains a cult-figure, known equally for his delicate artistry and his sudden death in 2003. Smith lived his whole life between such dichotomies.

Now to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his best-selling album, Kill Rock Stars is again shining the spotlight on the work of such a tortured and talented figure. “Either/ Or,” Smith’s third solo release, has been repackaged by the label into a new expanded edition featuring a collection of previously unreleased rarities and live tracks, as well as a remastered version of the original album.

For fans, this news is a welcome reinvigoration and reason to revisit Smith’s work all over again. But newcomers to the artist’s discography should rejoice too. For whether you’ve listened to “Either/ Or” a million times or not even once, the release is worth a closer look.

The original version of “Either/ Or” was released at a pivotal time in Smith’s career. Recorded while he was still a member of the alternative rock band Heatmiser, the record would also be Smith’s last release before being signed to the Dreamworks label. Thus, the sound captured on “Either/ Or” could best be encapsulated as resembling a bridge between his earlier lo-fi acoustic recordings and the more ornate orchestrations of his later releases.

Tasked with remastering a work that straddles two different worlds, recording engineer and Smith friend Larry Crane, who also helped produce the posthumous Smith compilation “New Moon” in 2007, appears to have chosen the path of least resistance. Instead of radically altering the mix, Crane goes for a more cleaned-up take. Both Smith’s voice and guitar now sound more distinct, and the same goes for all other instrumentation present.

This approach works well on songs like “Angeles” with every finger-picked note coming through loud and clear atop an almost spectral drone. And on “Ballad of Big Nothing,” the drums provide a solid foundation for Smith’s vocals and acoustic strumming. In fact, the sparser the arrangement the better Crane’s scrub down of the original material sounds. “Say Yes,” one of Smith’s most optimistic songs, inspired by his relationship with musician Joanna Bolme, remains a tender ballad that now sounds like the listener is in the studio with Smith while he’s recording instead of hearing the singer whisper the tune through a set of headphones.

Still, the biggest motivation for anyone to buy a reissued version of an existing album is the inclusion of additional material. The first five songs on the expanded edition’s second disc are live cuts from Smith’s appearance at the Yo Yo A Go Go Festival in Olympia, Wash. in 1997. The singer and guitarist shines in a stripped-down fashion playing three songs from “Either/ Or” as well as the country-inflected “My New Freedom” and b-side “Some Song.” Smith seems relaxed and confident on stage, taking the time to playfully call out to his sister in the audience after completing a performance of “Pictures of Me,” and laughing frequently while asking the crowd if it wants, “to hear a fast song or a slow song.”

The jovial version of Smith also crops up on “I Figured You Out,” a demo of a song recorded for indie folk musician and frequent Smith touring partner Mary Lou Lord, who later recorded a version for her “Martian Saints!” EP. Though filled with lyrics about heartbreak and being ignored, the tune is full of melody and feels unabashedly pop, a juxtaposition any longtime listener of Smith might describe as par for the course.

There are indeed two sides to everything. Either you are an Elliott Smith fan, or you are not. Smith himself often expressed his own duality inside the same song by masking his melancholy words with elegant music. Now, 20 years later with an expanded edition of one of his career highlights, music fans get the opportunity to parse both sides of such a work all over again.

For more information on Elliott Smith please visit http://www.killrockstars.com/artists/elliott-smith.

Read more by Michael Cimaomo at www.michaelcimaomo.wordpress.com.

Indian Oven Cooks Up Full-Length Album Full of Surprises

Tenderness album coverIndian Oven
Tenderness
(Self-release/ DIY)
Release date: 8/12/16

In a 2013 interview, the members of the Western Massachusetts indie rock band Indian Oven – Sam Carpenter (vocals, guitar, bass) and Griffin Bazzeghin (drums, percussion, harmonica, backup vocals) – mentioned exciting plans of starting work on a full-length album. Now, three years later, the duo has emerged with the finished product.

With a name like Tenderness, listeners might expect the record to be chock full of sappy love songs or gut-wrenching odes to past relationships. However, it doesn’t take long to observe that Indian Oven may have had a secondary definition of tenderness in mind when it came time to title the album – sensitivity to pain.

Opening track “Oh, His Body” cuts right to the point. Over some tuba (courtesy of Pioneer Valley musician J Witbeck) and melancholy strings (from cellist Eric Remschneider of Siamese Dream fame), a tale is told of a thin, lonely man who amidst flashes of lightning and a wounded heart is pursued by a persistent memory. It’s an intriguing character study built off images to ruminate over, and the mood is accented by churning, dirge-like music that marches almost grudgingly forward.

It gets even better on perhaps Tenderness’ best song, “Mystery Novel.” Featuring banjo and a wordless intro filled with “oohs,” the track unfolds around a repeating guitar riff in almost short story fashion. Characters include the reader of the aforementioned novel, a lost father and a mystery woman who’s “nowhere to be found.” Plus, it’s catchy to boot.

Fittingly, a host of characters contributed to the recording of Tenderness itself. Though Indian Oven’s membership consists of just Carpenter and Bazzeghin, Valley residents like Witbeck, Jamie Kent (group vocals), Alex Drenga (banjo) and Emma Cohen (vocals) amongst others, also crop up on the record.

The addition of so many players to the group’s sound lends a wider scope to the proceedings. While many songs focus on intimate subjects, the songwriting structures used consistently ebb and flow. Rhythms shift from number to number, and different musical styles meet, mutate and merge into new creations. For examples, look to the burbling country rock of “Mama Don’t Buy Me Marbles,” as well as the indie rock sing-along “Harder.”

But in the end, everything boils down to the melodies. As far as Indian Oven stretches stylistically, the band still shows a knack for hanging its songs on a particular melody or hook. To wit, one of the group’s most hummable tunes “Warm Gin” even gets a reprise as a stripped down and unlisted bonus track.

Starting today digital downloads of Tenderness are available to purchase online via iTunes and CD Baby, and physical copies of the release can be found at Turn It Up! in Northampton.

For more information on Indian Oven please visit www.facebook.com/IndianOvenMusic.

Read more by Michael Cimaomo at www.valleyadvocate.com/category/blogs/northeast-underground/

Dinosaur Jr. Roars Again on New Album “Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not”

JAG285Dinosaur Jr.
Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not
(Jagjaguwar)
Release date: 8/5/16

Break out the ear plugs. Western Massachusetts’ own alt-rock power trio, Dinosaur Jr., is back.

New album Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not marks the fourth release by the band since the acclaimed 2005 reunion of the group’s original line-up – J Mascis (guitar, vocals), Lou Barlow (bass, vocals) and Murph (drums). In fact, this current incarnation of Dinosaur has now actually lasted longer and produced more records than it did in the ‘80s, when Mascis and company turned out such ear-crushing gems as You’re Living All Over Me and Bug. And while the new album bears less resemblance to those early classics than it does to the band’s more recent reunion work, that fact only aids the assertion that the group’s second life is no fluke, it’s a full-on resurgence.

Opening with the one-two punch of singles “Goin Down” and “Tiny,” Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not hits the ground running.

“Are you with me?” Mascis sings on the album opener. “I got more to say.”

Though not normally cited for his loquaciousness, the guitarist lets his axe speak for him with catchy riffing and skittery solos filling up both tracks’ running times. It’s alternative rock with a pop sheen for the ‘90s nostalgia age, and the Murph and Barlow rhythm section keep up a relentless chug.

“Be A Part” slows the tempo with a repeated guitar figure ringing out between lines focusing on being “broken hearted.” But it’s the Barlow penned cut “Love Is…” that marks the first deviation from the band’s trademark crunch. Over acoustic guitar and some lurking fuzz, the Sebadoh founder feels right at home on a song that wears its ‘60s influence on its sleeve. It almost even sounds like another band is playing complete with Mascis’ ragged Neil Young-like solo conjuring a classic rock vibe.

The album’s second half features a return to a heavier sound. “I Walk For Miles” feels like a slow trudge with a bludgeoning grunge riff that stomps along as Mascis’ reach for a higher register accents the weary atmosphere of the track. At nearly six minutes in length, the number also pairs with the five-plus minute “Lost All Day” to hammer out an air of wistfulness that sees lyric subject matter looking backwards at past relationships and the things that went wrong.

“Knocked Around” follows suit. “I miss you all the time and I’m lonely,” Mascis laments on the first half of the number, sounding plaintive and wrung out. Then, strength gathered, the band soars into overdrive for the rest of the track with the furious strumming barely keeping up with the relentless drumming.

Finally, it’s left to Barlow to close out the album with his second contribution. “Left/ Right” again sounds like a song that could come from another band, only this time that band is Barlow’s other group Sebadoh. More acoustic instrumentation rears its head, but where “Love Is…” showed off a wily Mascis guitar solo, here his playing feels restrained, almost terse. There are still textures aplenty, but the idiosyncrasy of the moment leaves question marks on an otherwise strong track.

Overall, Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not sees Dinosaur Jr. making subtle tweaks to a tried and true formula. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. But the clock is ticking on referring to this phase of the band’s career as post-reunion. When you’ve already outlasted the era of your earliest rumblings and eclipsed a spell spent under a major label banner, those events soon start looking like bumps in the road of a significant career that just needed some time to grow into its current arc.

Read more by Michael Cimaomo at www.valleyadvocate.com/category/blogs/northeast-underground/

Sara Watkins “Young In All The Wrong Ways” album review

Sara Watkins “Young In All The Wrong Ways” album review

Elmore Magazine - Sara Watkins

And The Kids near indie rock graduation on new album “Friends Share Lovers”

coverAnd The Kids
Friends Share Lovers
(Signature Sounds)
Release date: 6/3/16

In the midst of graduation season in Western Mass, it’s easy to forget that graduation itself is about more than caps and gowns. Students, who four years ago were mere freshmen in high school or college, are now readying for their respective commencement days, which will launch them into the next stages of their lives.

Many are a bundle of nerves. Others are impatient. And still more are focused, confident and prepared to meet whatever challenges come next, with a zeal and aplomb that could only be the product of minds hungry to make their own dreams come true.

Similar descriptions could be used to discuss the members of the Pioneer Valley band And The Kids. Like the students mentioned above, And The Kids’ Hannah Mohan, Rebecca Lasaponaro, Megan Miller and Taliana Katz, started out four years ago with big dreams and ambitions. Now, with the release of the group’s second full-length album Friends Share Lovers on Northampton’s own Signature Sounds label, And The Kids is a band ready to graduate as well, into a world of indie rock stardom.

Recent years have seen the group buzzed about by more than Advocate writers and local music scenesters. Publications like the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal and Pitchfork.com, have all weighed in favorably on the band’s mature mix of indie pop and alternative rock, and that hype is justified on Friends Share Lovers’ opening track.

Beginning with a rapid-fire drum roll and vocals from Lasaponaro, “Kick Rocks” sees Mohan’s own voice emerge and blend with her drummer’s to create an enchanting harmony. The pair sing about moving on, and whether they mean from a relationship or a physical location, the message is delivered with unbridled energy. It’s a headlong introductory rush, and only the first stop on a tour of sounds to come.

The record’s second track, “I Dropped Out,” slows the pace. While its lyrics veer from slogans like “love is concentration” to more observational fare like “bodies walking over bodies that are sleeping,” the song hinges on Mohan’s wordless “ohs” and “ahs.” A slinky guitar solo even apes a similar melody with ear-catching results. And Mohan finally finishes the song by repeating the phrase “I went to graduation” over and over.

It’s important to note that many of the tracks on Friends Share Lovers were originally written by Mohan and Lasaponaro as a duo due to visa problems that are currently keeping Miller in Canada. But to show solidarity with their bandmate, the pair trekked north to record the album as a complete group resulting in a fully-realized product that expands on the core compositions exponentially.

For example, the record’s title cut is aided by a litany of studio effects that project the individual member’s talents into a sonic array that could not be duplicated without everyone’s input. Despite lines that seem to allude to the messy gray area where relationships and friendships start to overlap, the song possesses a sunny bounce that plays off the stacked electronic sounds and layered vocals.

Continuing the student/ school analogy from earlier, album finale “Pennies, Rice” could read as a fitting final exam or thesis project. The song employs a variety of percussion and rising sounds that melt into a cohesive whole. After an extended intro, an underlying melody takes shape as Mohan sings about her ability to “do what I want.”

Like many anxious graduates, the feeling behind Mohan’s words is palpable. Graduation does lead to a lot more freedom after all, but it also carries with it some weighty responsibilities.

“This track is about having all the freedom in the world,” Mohan has said. “But the only thing holding you back is your indecisiveness.”

Fortunately, as “Pennies, Rice” builds to its conclusion, a fitting metaphor is gleaned from the lyrics. Just a single word, “avalanche,” is sung over and over near the song’s end, and appropriately so. Like an avalanche, And The Kids is already rolling. Having built momentum over four years, and taken what it can from the area that spawned it, the band is moving on to bigger and better things. Call Friends Share Lovers a diploma to signify all that progress. The group has earned every word.

And The Kids album release show with special guest Carinae, June 4, 8 p.m., $12-15, The Shea Theater, 71 Avenue A, Turner Falls, (413) 863-2281, www.sheatheater.org. For more information please visit www.andthekids.com.   

Read more by Michael Cimaomo at www.michaelcimaomo.wordpress.com.

Whitney “Light Upon the Lake” album review

Whitney “Light Upon the Lake” album review

Elmore Magazine - Whitney