Thee Oh Sees: Castlemania

In The Red, 2011

Anyone who’s heard the Coachwhips’ 2003 album, Bangers Versus Fuckers, knows the impossibility of overstating John Dwyer’s ability to craft some of the most abrasively over-driven recordings in the history of rock n’ roll. That band’s penchant for playing three chord blues progressions at a blistering pace through a deregulated analog soundboard could blow the doors off anything the “THE” bands of the early 2000s could ever muster while simultaneously jarring loose your eardrums and leaving you dangerously disoriented. Though basic, that formula contained an altogether perfect balance of defiant San Franciscan nonconformity, head bobbing Americana, and anti-“image” punk rock.

Thee Oh Sees (formerly OC’S and The Ohsees), another Dwyer brainchild, actually predates the aforementioned project by many years, but it laid in waiting throughout much of the late 90s and early 2000s until becoming a full-fledged band in 2004 – at which point the group proceeded to put out nine albums, a live disc, and countless seven-inches. From its inception, Thee Oh Sees has been a decidedly “softer” – though no less abrasive – affair, trading the in-your-face-and-ears vibe of Coachwhips for a relatively more laid back Middle America psychedelic garage band approach. However, on their latest offering, Castlemania, Dwyer and co. have managed to shift away from their usually straightforward instrumentation towards something completely different from anything they’ve done in the past.

Opener “I Need Seed”, a good-natured storybook allegory about outsiders, dropouts and bottom feeders needing a little mood food here and there, sets the tone of the record as a light, up-in-the-clouds jaunt that replaces hard, jagged electric guitars with sing-songy acoustic guitars and a kitchen sink of unconventional instrumentation. The rest of the disc listens like an echo of one of the most perfectly absurd lo-fi recordings ever made, as Dwyer becomes Guava-era Gene Ween with his grainy, high-pitched squeal while the band propels itself through a surprisingly fast psychedelic haze with a white noise-enveloped intensity akin to the Brian Jonestown Massacre if they were all speed freaks (“Castlemania”). It continues into thick, oscillating walls of fuzz, flutes, and tower bells with the kind of strange 2.5-dimensional orchestral depth (“Corprophagist”) of which only Bowie circa Space Oddity was previously thought capable.

Note: This is a review of the vinyl release of Castlemania, which (for audiophile reasons) was recorded for 45rpm playback. As such, it is slightly faster and higher-pitched than the digital release, which sounds similar to a record played at the usual 33rpm. Nevertheless, this review should not detract from the quality of the digital release. Though the vocals may be more grounded, they certainly aren’t normal; and the lengthening of each track does nothing to slow or cool the intensity that the band exhibits throughout this phenomenal album.

Castlemania at Insound.com

Live Picks: 05.26.2011 – 06.01.2011

05.26: NON! + Jean-Eric + Mikronaut + DJ Joey Buttons – Siberia

05.27: Damian Yancy – Republic

05.28: Consortium of Genius + Letters to Voltron – Hi-Ho Lounge

A  month and a half ago, New Orleans was one set of unforeseen circumstances away from hosting avant-garde art-rock institution The Residents – a band as enigmatic as they are prolific.  Over the course of their 40 plus year career, The Residents have released over 60 albums and produced dozens of award winning music videos and short films, all the while operating under almost complete anonymity.  So an unsurprisingly vague announcement that they were cancelling their April 5, 2011 gig at The Republic was met with a healthy dose of disappointment.

Just as upsetting, perhaps, was the fact that the news also meant we would not have the privilege of seeing the scheduled opener, New Orleans’ own Consortium of Genius.   With lectures – their preferred term for live performances – that involve costumes, props, or any number of their signature “inventions” (a constantly expanding stable of contraptions that includes drum-bots, radio terrorscopes and hypnotronic helmets), CoG have pioneered their own brand of multimedia concert event that has been part of the local indie rock panorama for nearly two decades.

Although in this case, “indie” means more than just “independent”. It can also be short hand for CoG’s industrial style of songcraft that deconstructs nearly every known genre of popular music of the last fifty years and boils it down to its visceral, elemental core.  The incorporation of vintage sci-fi ingenuity and the uninhibited kitch of post-Golden Age B-movies adds a healthy dose of levity to their “lab rock”, making each one of their lectures a unique, polysensory experience.  Houston prog-rockers Letters To Voltron open.

MP3: Consortium of Genius: “M.I.L.K.”

05.29: Billy Iuso and Restless Natives – Tipitina’s

05.31: Hurray For The Riff Raff – Saturn Bar

06.01: Raekwon – Maison

Check out our New Orleans Music Calendar for a full slate of constantly updated live picks

Belong: Common Era

Kranky, 2011

Belong is a local anomaly: a self-described “New Orleans” band that could seemingly be – in terms of both sound and physical presence – from anywhere but here. After releasing a well-received collection of lengthy guitar-drone endeavors entitled October Language on D.C. label Carpark back in early 2006, the duo – Turk Dietrich and Michael Jones – dropped off the map for about five years before signing to the Chicago-based Kranky Records. With this kind of label-backing, logic should dictate that Belong is the undisputed “Biggest Indie Band” in the city of New Orleans. However, as their relatively un-google-able name began popping up again in 2011, the newest wave of New Orleans music heads were thoroughly unfamiliar with the band’s music, with only the occasionally-knowledgeable insider positing  that they (allegedly) stay on the West Bank, but they (categorically) never play live.

A better explanation came from someone who simply guessed, “I think they’re really big in Germany?” If that’s the case, then Belong’s newest offering, Common Era, would have to be the reason, as this time around Dietrich and Jones have traded in some of their conceptual abrasiveness for the airy, subtler abstraction of 1970s krautrock – making it an altogether perfect pairing with Kranky contemporaries Disappears and a perfect fit for German nostalgia fiends familiar with the label’s otherwise avant-garde output. Indeed, there is something undeniably, uniformly European about the entire album, from the haunting, ethereal keys of “A Walk” to the washed out loops and barely-there vocals of the title track.

The stylistic shift from the duo’s debut is most starkly noticeable in Common Era‘s addition of the aforementioned vocals and, most importantly, a rhythm section. Like a sun-warped Cure tape slowed down and played straight into the mic of a four-track, the foundation for nearly every track is a muddy, droning, minimalistic drum loop that – for better or worse – forces otherwise very different songs like “A Perfect Life” and opener “Come See” to sound like ruminations of one another (a result that, if unintentional, is unfortunate in some respects).

Nevertheless, Common Era sounds less like a band abandoning one style for another and more like a necessary expansion of its pedigree. Though the sparse, multi-instrumental vibe of the record gives it a somewhat less personal allure than October Language, Common Era is nonetheless strangely intimate and best experienced alone, either with headphones or through a blaring car stereo.

Common Era at Insound.com

Cracker + Camper Van Beethoven + Mahayla: 05.18.2011

I left Tipitina’s on May 19th both inspired by discoveries I made and lamenting the fact that I hadn’t made them until now. The bill, a stacked yet aberrant group of musicians including seminal New Orleans alternative rock band Mahayla and the David Lowery-fronted acts Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, had me wondering: would these acts – out of the spotlight for some time (and in the case of Mahayla and Camper, it’s arguable whether they were ever in it) – come off like alt rock burnouts aping old school arena rock clichés to a cult crowd of diehard fans that’ll eat it out of the palm of their hands? Not even remotely.

I am all too keenly aware of the oh-so-subtle distinction between 90s alternative rock and alternative rock that simply existed in the 90s, so considering the era that encapsulated these bands most prolific periods of output (the late 1980s and early 1990s), it remained an unlikely, yet entirely possible scenario. Luckily, even with a band like Mahayla – greatly informed by the aforementioned eras – that wasn’t the case. As the New Orleans group, featuring Big Blue Marble members David Fera, Paul Chell and Ike Aguilar, soared through song after song of unpretentious, high-intensity roots rock that was at points simultaneously poppier and more rock-heavy than BBM, I found myself asking, “Where has this band been?!”

Camper Van Beethoven, on the other hand, is a name that has been seared in my memory since the day I read the liner notes of Sublime Acoustic: Bradley Nowell and Friends and discovered“Eye of Fatima” was actually a Camper cover. CVB’s run-through of their pinnacle album Key Lime Pie was a seminar in verbal emotion and instrumental restraint. However, it was with the subtle country western augmentations of lead guitarist Greg Lisher and on-off pedal steelist David “Immy” Immergluck, beginning with “When I Win the Lottery” and continuing all the way through “Flowers”, that the band began to paint itself as a little-known monolith of modern alternative an indie rock: a band who’s every piece has become the stylistic foundation on which every forward-thinking sub-genre – from College Rock to No Depression – has placed its feet before bending and altering it in favor of things as varied as noisy dissonance and sinewy, orchestral strings. The fact that I have spent the better part of the last two decades not listening to Camper Van Beethoven may be the only thing that amazed me as much as the performance itself.

The on-stage lineup largely remained the same for Cracker, who treated fans to a larger-than-life performance of their famous Kerosene Hat. After kicking things off with “Low” (which happens to be both the album-opener and likely Cracker’s most well known song), Lowery shifted seamlessly from shoe-gazing alt-country conductor to gruff, ornery alternative rock crooner. Though maybe not as personally universe-shattering as Camper, Cracker certainly brought the energy of a band one-third their age, with tracks like “Sweet Potato” making for the perfect night of nostalgic thrills for the packed barroom of genuine die hard fans.

LUCKyLOU Drops New Music Video, Joins Felix’s Tour

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3yGQR3DK-7A

Jermy “Lucky Lou” Tassin has been a fixture in the New Orleans hip-scene for years; not only as a performer, but as a mentor.  He is the founder and coach of the Fresh N Stainless Dance Group, an organization designed to keep at-risk youths off the streets by providing them with a safe and enjoyable creative outlet.  So it should come as no surprise that all dancers – young and old –  featured in the music video for his new anthem “That Ninja Cold” are so spot on.

Filmed at various locations around town including Central City’s A.L. Davis (ne Shakespeare) Park and the corner of Dumaine and Derbigny in Treme, both the moves and the lyrics that appear in the video for “That Ninja Cold” are the result of Lucky Lou’s collaboration with his talented performing crew.  All his backup dancers contributed some steps to the sequence, with Lucky Lou adding a few of his own and tying it all together in song.

Lucky Lou will be taking the show on the road, joining all dates of explosive cowpunk trio Felix’s summer sweep through the Southeast and Midwest, which kicks off with a can’t-miss show tonight at The Saint.

FELIX TOUR KICKOFF show w/ Empress Hotel, LUCKyLOU and The MICROSHARDS on Facebook