Alt-Nation: Belly is Back, 123 Astronaut, and More

Belly — Dove

Set your wayback machine to the burgeoning alt-rock era, when in both the pre- and post-Nirvana periods, Aquidneck Island proved a very fertile talent pool. Throwing Muses was formed byBelly Newport songwriters Kristin Hersh and Tanya Donelly in the ‘80s, and saw some success before Donelly left the band to form Belly in ’91.

They made RI proud, and were given the full ’90s treatment: “Feed the Tree” from their debut Star on heavy MTV rotation, a nomination for the Best New Artist VMA in 1993, TV show appearances and a Rolling Stone cover. Belly broke up in 1996 after their second album, the less successful King, and Donelly settled into a solo career. Unlike many bands, Belly hasn’t had an overabundance of reunion shows.

On Friday, Belly will release the album Dove, their first new music in 23 years. The album was a crowd-sourced effort, funded by donations via the band’s PledgeMusic page, and features the King lineup of Gail Greenwood on bass, Thomas Gorman on guitar and drummer Chris Gorman.

Belly - Dove

Belly – Dove

Dove is a carefully produced, purposefully catchy effort, unlike their edgier, more cerebral albums from the ’90s. Dove’s first single, “Shiny One,” is a groovy, Stone Roses-like tune, complete with bongos, and “Artifact” is a twangy number with pedal steel.

This effort was a collaborative affair; What’s Up Newport recently reported that many of the songs were pieced together by band members sending snippets of songs to each other from across the country.

It seems that Belly wanted to give audiences something more accessible the second time around, both lyrically and musically, grappling with mature themes and adult-type problems. “Human Child” is a jangly pop song about trying to get a loved one out of a funk, and “Suffer the Fools” is an acoustic song about keeping in contact during the waning days of a relationship (“you stay in my orbit, and I’ll stay in yours”).

Perhaps it’s my own over-mythologizing of the past, but I can’t help wanting more of the old harshness. A highlight for me is “Army of Clay,” the most dissonant track with a refrain of “leave your stake in the kill.”

Overall, a grown-up Belly continues to be a homegrown source of pride, and Dove is worth a listen.

Belly will perform at the Boston Calling music festival in Allston on May 26. Look for Dove in stores this Friday or at on the web at bellyofficial.com

123 Astronaut – The Friction

The Friction is the auspicious debut EP by 123 Astronaut. Some may know frontman Jeff Robbins from the well-regarded Boston band Orbit, active from the mid ‘90s to the early ‘00s. This stuff hits like a breath of fresh air, a kind of beefy power pop that’s like a mix of Matthew Sweet and the Smashing Pumpkins.

According to the band’s website, these tunes were written in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election as an attempt to make sense of it all in a positive way. I was skeptical. I’m generally not a fan of vaguely political, uplifting lyrics like “We are surrounded by the stars,” or “I am invincible.” But musical conditions on this planet are so good that even a crusty cynic like myself has to give mad props.

The Friction capably makes the case there really need be no more than 3 chords, and is boosted by great musical performances all round around, featuring Keith John Benjamin on bass and Eric Hastings on drums. The title track is a fuzzy, up-tempo rocker, and “Cheyenne” goes balls-to-the-wall. The horn section kicking in on an epic bridge on “Stars” is something I could listen to endlessly, and the more subdued “Weightless” is captivating in its own way.

This EP is highly recommended, and is hopefully just the first from these guys. Seriously, some of these tunes are so catchy, you may find yourself neglecting work duties to get a few extra listens in.

See 123 Astronaut in the flesh on May 11 at the Columbus Theatre with Eric and the Nothing, Extraordinary Rendition Band and Silverteeth. Check out The Friction at: 123astronaut.com

Adjuncts – boyz noise EP

boyz noise is the latest EP from Adjuncts, the rag-tag punk rock trio from Providence. The straight-ahead playing doesn’t take itself too seriously while tackling themes of angst, capitalism and existential dread. I’d compare their sound to Bomb the music industry! or AJJ and the way that those bands make serious themes palatable with some whimsy and a simple melody.

Frontman Adam Hogue muses about wanting more on “In the USA”: “I’m looking for open land…something left for me to travel on.” No one can deny a local reference, (check out their Feinstein Jr. Scholars In D EP from 2016), and “wax on” is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Rhode Islanders’ anchored state of mind – it examines the commitment to “dying in the Ocean State.”

In fact, Adjuncts’ whole vibe kind of sums up what’s great about living in the Ocean State; to me it’s like Scurvy Dog punk mixed with high-brow Ivy League ideas. With boyz noise, you’re not going to get Rush-level precision or Beyonce-level production, but sometimes 2 minutes of shambling rock ‘n’ roll is all you need to get right to the heart of things.

boyz noise drops this Satuday. Check it out at: adjuncts.bandcamp.com

Askew – Get Yer Food on a Skewer

On a final community-related note, Askew is a new venue that has just opened its doors in the Jewelry District at 150 Chestnut St, where the Fatt Squirrel used to be. They describe themselves as a “unique venue that evolves daily from an eclectic bistro to a live entertainment venue.”

So far on the roster, they’ve got Lifted Bells with OVLOV and Twin Foxes (May 12), Hudson Falcons (May 11) and cool stuff like Name that Tune Bingo Night and a comedy open mic. With the recent closure of Aurora and Firehouse 13, a new venue that isn’t afraid to mix it up is a welcome addition. Their signature thing is serving all food on a skewer, and I’m looking forward to seeing for myself if it tastes better that way.

Check out the full Askew calendar at: askewprov.com/upcoming-events

Other shows of note:

  • Horse-Eyed Men with Lord Youth, Nina Violet and Willy Mason at the Columbus on May 3
  • Atomic Action Presents: Dirt Devil, Lendl, Cygnid, Hairspray Queen, and Leopard Print Taser at AS220 on May 12
  • Summerland Tour with Everclear, Marcy Playground and Local H at The Strand on June 1

And be sure to check out the Motif Music Awards, happening on May 8 at The Met!

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