Album Reviews Archive


Old Man Markley



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Flogging Molly.  Gogol Bordelo.  Mumford and Sons.  These are just a handful of the bands that have taken a traditional style of music (Folk, from their respective regions of the globe) and mashed it together with either punk rock (the first two) or modern songwriting sensibilities (the latter) and “turned” it into something “new.”  We can add “newgrass” act, Old Man Markley to that list as well.


The seven-piece group, based out of Los Angeles (the undisputed mecca of Bluegrass), has released their sophomore record, Down Side Up, and – despite their inclusion of traditional, Bluegrass instruments (fiddle, washboard, stand up bass, banjo) – I can’t quite shake the impression that these cats are the love child of “Weird” Al Yankovic and They Might Be Giants.  This isn’t necessarily a negative connotation, but speaks more directly to their lack of “punk” that is allegedly contained in their musical formula.


That isn’t to say that Down Side Up is a bad album.  On the contrary, this is one of those rare records that the entire, Chuck Taylor-wearing, tattoed family can enjoy.  The approachability of John Carey’s voice; the consistent, up beat tempo; and the previously mentioned comparisons to “safe” artists your parents can get behind is, collectively, a difficult formula to create.  If one were to describe Down Side Up, it would have to be, “fun.”


Although the concept of “newgrass” seems like fodder for the hipster ethos, the PG nature of Old Man Markley’s material will drive the elitist types away faster than a “Closed” sign on a vegan coffee shop.


So for the punk rock parents out there who are searching (read as, “dying”) for anything else to listen to that isn’t produced by Disney, Nickelodeon, or Selena Gomez, run out and purchase a copy of Down Side Up.   Hell, it’s endorsed by Fat Mike of NOFX (the group is on his Fat Wreck Chords label), what more street cred do you need?


The Bronx – IV

urlLos Angeles ragers, The Bronx, return to the world of punk with their aptly titled fourth album, IV.  Even after their foray into mariachi music, the lads haven’t lost any of their fire and froth.

Matt Caughthran, guitarists Joby J. Ford and Ken Horne, bassist Brad Magers and drummer Jorma Vik have collectively concocted an album that packs a wallup, but throws it’s punches from a more mature stand point.  Gone are the thrash about, violent anthems like “Heart Attack American” and in their place are melody driven, group sing-a-longs (“Youth Wasted”) the Dropkick Murphys would be proud of.

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For fans that jumped on The Bronx bandwagon because of their raucous similarity to bands like Every Time I Die, I can attest that they will  likely be disappointed as the previous “rage-for-rage’s sake” sound these cats were so good at has been replaced with 70’s rock swagger.  The boys balls’ are still big, they just don’t end up black and blue as often.  IV, for all intents and purposes, is damn near catchy; and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.




Eight Belles, Girls Underground

Eight Belles, Girls Underground
review by DZ

Beautifully executed and recorded, this collection of 10 songs from Oakland based Eight Belles boasts enchanting melodies, haunting narratives and a classic soundscape you may not want to leave once you enter. An ache of nostalgia and longing immediately took hold of me upon first listening to this album. Singer Jessi Phillips’ voice balances deftly between classic-country-western-diva and bittersweet-wistful without being indulgent or kitschy in any way and the rest of the band seems to have no trouble establishing an appropriate space for the big, rich vocals to inhabit. Imagine waking from a dream in which you have entered an abandoned ghost filled landscape and as you lie there awake, as illogical as it is, you can’t escape that tug – that heavy ache – that irrational desire to return. This describes something of the vibe of this recording. This is a music that is deeply rooted in a long country music tradition while still feeling relevant and not overly twangy; I feel as though the band’s cover of Richard Hawley’s “Tonight The Streets Are Ours” squarely aligns them with an underground ethos and particular cultural currents.

My only gripe – if I had one – about this album is that it doesn’t really take any big risks. It moves comfortably mostly amid charted waters. And while there is certainly nothing wrong with that, I think that this band is probably capable of greatness and I find myself wanting them to push things further in some way. Still though, for a first album, Girls Underground is pretty amazing. I think there is every likelihood that these guys will become very popular. So check out this album now and you can say “Eight Belles? Oh yeah, I was into them…”



Boyfrndz – ‘All Day Pass’

All Day Pass by Matt Toman

Boyfrndz, “All Day Pass”

review by DZ


Since the inception of prog-rock, adventurous artists have been going to great lengths in an attempt to synthesize the perfect technical rock elixir. This alchemical tradition very well started in the late 60’s with bands like Yes and King Crimson and has continued to this day. At some point, punk rock hit and changed everything giving birth eventually to math rock. Pioneers like Slint, Rob Crow, A Minor Forest, June of 44, Don Caballero, Drive Like Jehu, and more recently, Hella – just to name a few – started paving the way for a whole new generation of hermetic tinkerers in search of that divine synthesis of math-technicality, punk-ferocity, and pop-accessibility. Whereas some of their predecessors, like Rodan, and The Shipping News used vocals almost purely as a rhythmic element, newer bands like Caddywhompus, Maps & Atlases, and Boyfrndz extend the tradition by using melodic vocal themes, effectively bridging the gap between composition and song. Granted though Rob Crow among others has stepped nobly up to this challenge with varying degrees of success, I feel that melodic-vocal adorned math rock may have had to percolate in the collective subconscious long enough for the disparate flavors to fully hybridize. With their sophomore album “All Day Pass,” I think Boyfrndz have hit upon something that will satisfy a wide range of listeners who appreciate eclectic influences and want to rock the f’ out. This album is a blistering display of energetic fuck-all abandon held together by technical prowess (especially the drums) and a modern indie sense of melody ala Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes, The Shins, or Animal Collective and with a good dose of reverb for the psychedelic-inclined. Although a tad prog at times, I’m enjoying this album very much so far and am looking forward to enjoying it a lot more – possibly for a long time. Also, I’m sure these guys would be great live. Seven cheers for Boyfrndz and bands like them for keeping the alchemical pursuit going.



Citizens! “Here We Are”

Citizens! “Here We Are”
review by DZ

I didn’t want to like this album. I didn’t want to write a review about this album. I’m still not sure if I like this band. And it would seem that they certainly don’t need any help from me. But, annoying cheesy-hipster-first-

impressions aside, as I listened to the tracks on Citizens!’s (can you do that with an apostrophe?) debut album “Here We Are” I was, if nothing else, struck by the skill and reverence with which the songs have been rendered. I don’t detect an ounce of irony here. Instead here is a band of young skinny-jean British kids offering themselves wholly to the Great Pop-Pantheon in the sky and merely asking for admittance and maybe a good shag. Normally I don’t go in for this sort of unabashed catchy “everybody dance and have a good time” sort of music, but the arrangements, melodies, lyrics and delivery all drew me in despite myself.

Tom Burke’s vocal delivery on my favorite song, Reptile reminds me very much of Marc Bolan; it’s certainly easy to picture ol’ Marc slithering around with a feather boa. I like pondering what it might mean to become a reptile. In fact, the number of influences poking through on this album (Prince maybe? Bowie? Talking Heads? Duran Duran? Rocky Horror Picture Show? John Lennon? Yaz? The Cars? Yes? The Doors? the entire Pitchfork canon?…) is impressive and varied enough to avoid sounding strictly derivative as well as integrated enough to avoid sounding disjunct. Overall neither the lyrics nor the production get in the way and there is enough sonic variety to keep the momentum going. These are some talented kids. This is a catchy album. Well done.



Lowtalker – “The Marathon EP” review

The Marathon EP
review by DZ

The Marathon EP by Lowtalker which is being released September 18th, is wall to wall full of driving rhythms, big angular guitars and gravely melodic vocals that teeter right on the brink of nausea-inducing-emo-

catastrophe without quite falling headlong into that godforsaken abyss. This is a band that I most likely would have really liked when I was 24. Their sound reminds me of 90s era Jawbox, Quicksand, Jawbreaker, et al. The more times I listen to the first track “Like Minnows” the more I find it affecting. Though the vocal stylings dip occasionally into that dark emo-cesspool, overall I feel that Lowtalker has managed to walk a fine line that not many bands seem to be able to do; this recording seems to exist in that magical liminal space in between whiny-stock-melodic-self-indulgence and dissonant-angular-power-post-punk. The result is an awkward alchemy that I find endearing and even nostalgia-evoking. My favorite tunes are “Like Minnows,” “Barstow” and the last song, “Chances” which has these guitars that come in during the outro that remind me of Death Cab For Cutie’s seminal first album, adding a mysterious and wonderful contrast to the big angular rockpile underneath. While not particularly original, and a little same-y song to song, The Marathon EP will surely satisfy the angsty yet sensitive post-punk youth of the midwest and beyond. Go team!

On a side note, is the cover of this EP a nod to fellow emo-rockers, The Get Up Kids’ “Four Minute Mile?” or just a coincidence?



Annie and the Beekeepers- “My Bonneville”

Annie and the Beekeepers, “My Bonneville”
Review by DZ

One thing I really like about this album is the production. From the spooky “Wake Up Mama” to the carefree bounciness of “My Bonneville” to the lazy muted trumpet in “Wrong Darling” to the ethereal end of “Come On,” this is a great sounding album. The arrangements are tasty and smart. I like the use of the occasional horns and the roomy sounding piano. I feel sometimes as if I am inside a physical space that the songs create. There is a tactile quality that I find very compelling similar to some of Tom Waits’ recordings along with a reverb induced spaciousness I found myself falling into from time to time. Annie’s voice sounds confident and sweet with a nice balance of country Americana and straightforward melody.

While I find the lyrics occasionally contrived and / or cliched, overall the songs are very well crafted and smart. Any minor bumps in the road ultimately don’t matter since the whole thing adds up so well and there’s plenty of craft to compensate.

Kudos. This is a very well done album. I highly recommend if you are into indie rock influenced lush folk / Americana without too much twang.



Kyoto Drive – ‘The Approach’

Kyoto Drive – The Approach review by DZ:

When art imitates life and life imitates commerce imitating art imitating life, bad things happen. The underground, subculture, counterculture – call it what you will – is constantly being devoured by the mainstream and regurgitated back as products for the ADD-stricken and media-numb masses and too-young-to-know-different to consume in a never ending fruitless pursuit of identity and spiritual fulfillment in a culture divorced of purpose and meaning. This process effectively subjugates and disarms any free-thought borne of the underground; when that which is a threat to the current order of things is ultimately absorbed by the current order of things it is no longer a threat (John Lennon, The Sex Pistols, The Clash – I recently heard a muzak version of a Bob Marley tune at a conference center hotel). Sometimes when an idea bubbles up intact from the underground it can have a profound transformative effect on the culture. However when commerce seizes upon that idea and turns it into a product, that idea is instantly transformed into an idea of itself and thereby rendered impotent; I also recently saw a photo of a young girl wearing a pink peace-symbol-adorned sweatshirt firing a semi-automatic weapon. Such is the engine of capitalism. How much of this is a sinister mechanism of control and how much of this is simply capitalism at work, I do not know. It used to be that by the time the mainstream had digested an idea or a movement and began selling it back to the population, the counterculture had already moved on to greener pastures. And while this is still mostly the case, the corporate marketing machine has gotten much more savvy while its scope of influence has increased tenfold thanks to the digital age and ever-increasing corporate control. Meanwhile, the rate of “absorption and regurgitation” has increased exponentially. This has inevitably led to all sorts of social anomalies, artifacts and collateral damage. The lines get very blurry, very fast. After all, this process is not so cut and dry. Now we have kids making art that imitates commerce and while this in itself could potentially be a wonderfully devious and profoundly subversive undertaking if the art were self aware and revealed some deeper understanding and or commentary, it usually instead is vacuous, repugnant, insidious and an insult to the legacy of free-thinking. What is so insidious about bands like Kyoto Drive is that they adorn a counterculture affect as if it were simply a fashion statement while making art that to my ears sounds like high budget corporate top 40 radio swill (with more guitars) purporting to be a counter argument. Don’t get me wrong, I love myself some pop music when I’m in the mood, but artists like Rihanna, Drake, Lady Gaga own and completely inhabit their mainstream pop aesthetic. In all likelihood, Kyoto Drive means well and I’m sure that they enjoy making the music they make and I’m sure many other people do too (I’m sure Kyoto Drive will do well for themselves and I wish them the best), and it is very likely that I’m just getting old and am missing something here, but Jesus f’n Christ I did not enjoy listening to this album.

You frustrated suburban kids who might be into this stuff, do yourself a favor, listen to some Unwound, Drive Like Jehu, Hoover, Crownhate Ruin, Sleepytime Trio, Jesus Lizard for godsake! And don’t worry, things change; you won’t always be stuck in high school living in nowhere-ville with crappy parents.



Henry Clay People, “Twenty-Five for Life” review

Henry Clay People, Twenty-Five for Life review by DZ

This album makes me want to dance apeshit around my living room in my ACDC boxers and mismatched argyle socks while drinking my fifth Schlitz before 10am on a Monday morning when I’m supposed to be at work. Chocked full of mangled guitar, singalong anthem vamping, melodic guitar-rock craft, angular arrangements and driving chaos, and with lyrics like: “we went to school cuz we do what we’re told / and we found some jobs to pay off our loans / and we lost our jobs so let your parents know / that you’ll be moving home” Twenty-Five for the Rest of our Lives sounds like the frantic soundtrack to a panicked cling-to-youth phase as the 30’s rush headlong towards you when actually you know deep inside that you are already fucking there and nothing actually came up roses. Part caffeine-soused Pixies, part The Fall (sans the art-punk opaqueness) and 100% energy, the music skirts the edge of pop melodica just enough to rock the pants off the shrewdest of grandmothers and charm the enchanted heart of the most wide-eyed kid. The sound is visceral and uncompromising and you can taste every juicy detail while still rocking out. Look at the freakin’ cover – it’s a silly dude with a cape on the top of building with his arms up like he’s gonna try to fucking fly. Fuck yeah.





Adios Amigo, Dos Review

Adios Amigo, Dos Review
by DZ

My first listen of Adios Amigo’s second EP, “Dos” solicited a sense of languid ease and almost complacency mixed with vague annoyance. The music sounded as if there was a thin layer of frosted glass obscuring its true nature. Not quite murky but not quite visceral either. Something about the aural aesthetic reminded me a little of the early 90’s, ala Sebadoh or early Dinosaur Jr. And then the main refrain “chicken come on” in the second song “Chicken” left me with a bad feeling and the beginning of the third song “Never Forget” made me cringe slightly with its strange use of hand drums and a bossa nova(?) beat.

Then something funny happened. I got little bits of the songs stuck in my head; not in that insipid “I want to kill these assholes” kind of way, but rather in an almost wistful, longing sort of way as if I had been away from home for many many years and suddenly I awake in the middle of the night trying to place the faint and eerie music that is coming from somewhere outside my window.

I listened to the EP a couple days later and to my surprise found that the songs had taken seed in my psyche in a way that began to bear strange and delicious tiny fruit. I found the dueling guitar hooks moving, the vocal melodies and harmonies deliciously catchy and even some of the lyrics poignant. I even found the strange beat at the beginning of “Never Forget” to be charming, bold and catchy.

On the surface there’s nothing mind-blowing about this EP. It is an indie rock record with nice mid-fi pop dressings, some Elliott Smith-esque vocal stylings (vocalist and songwriter Johnny Major can definitely sing and to be fair, he sounds more like Johnny Major than anyone else) and some Built To Spill reminiscent guitar work. But there is something infectious and haunting about it as well and if you are paying attention you will find that it is also very well crafted and even unique in its particular approach. My favorite tunes are “Colony’s Dead” and “Pretty Pretty Princess.” It seems to be the sort of recording that requires some time to work its magic and those are usually the best; initial wow-factor is typically a red herring. I have a feeling I will be coming back to this EP. Thumbs up.

Check out “Dos” for yourself. You can download it for free here: