Still Spinning: Twin Foxes and Gnarnia

Twin Foxes – Broken Bell

Broken Bell is the new full-length from Providence rock band Twin Foxes. The album features Andrew Fortin on bass and Mann solidly performing almost every other instrument. It has a more minimalist feel than their 2018 full length, Sleeping on the Attic Floor, which featured straight-to-the-point aggression. Here, the band shoots for a musical journey and focuses on the quiet anguish of the everyday in both musical tone and lyrical content.

The ardent, anxious vibe is summed up in the title track: ”There are no words to fix a broken bell,” as well as some great lines in “You Are:” “Here I am six years late/Still trudging through the snow, still trudging through my brain.”

The shuffle feel in “Wake Up” is not in your average garage band’s repertoire, and the keyboard waltz in “It’s Always Raining In My Minds” keeps things interesting. 

“6 Years Old,” about leaving the past behind, employs a super-long buildup to epic effect. Two minutes in, after some more muted chords and picking, you get slammed with the full electric treatment. Mann’s Conor Oberst-esque muffled, stylized vocals sometimes come off a bit repetitive and hollow in songs like “The Burden” and “White Rabbit.” 

My favorite, “The Wall,” has the sprawling, melancholy vibe perfected by Modest Mouse and uses the title as an effective metaphor about overcoming real or perceived hurdles, which hits home the COVID era. The song builds off of a creeping groove and summons a ton of emotion with just a few simple strums.

Mann’s background as a producer comes through as well, as he recorded the album himself at his own Distorted Forest studio. I think the album’s biggest accomplishment are the sonic structures he is able to achieve, like the great, growling guitar alchemy in “Move Out West” and the wailing synths in “You Are.”

Buy Broken Bell at Bandcamp (all donations of $25 or over will receive a vinyl LP). 

Gnarnia – cheap thrills

Gnarnia is a Providence band that plays a refreshing blast of fast, brash punk rock in the grand tradition of bands like Bad Brains and the Circle Jerks. The three-song cheap thrills EP can take you right back to the sweaty, germy circle pit that you’ve been missing all year. 

Unlike some hardcore, these tunes don’t revel in mediocrity, but are expertly played and super tight. “Procrastinate” is a breakneck speed ode to everyone’s favorite stalling tactic. “Fade Away” is even faster and rawer, and barely cracks the one minute mark. 

Buy cheap thrills at Bandcamp.

Vaccination Preoccupation

Here is Motif’s comprehensive collection of the best-ever songs vaguely related to vaccines. 

“A Shot in the Arm” — Wilco

“A Shot in the Arm” was the second single off of Summerteeth, an album in which songwriter Jeff Tweedy began exploring more ambitious pop structures. The chaotic wall of noise and synths at the end is downright epic.

“Anodyne” — Uncle Tupelo

From Tweedy’s first band, this title track of their 1993 final album was written by Jay Ferrar. The band split just as they were beginning to find some commercial success, but the album remains a high-water mark in the alt-country genre.

“Rubella” — Smoking Popes

Smoking Popes, an underrated ’90s band that combined expert punk pop melodies and crooning vocals, released “Rubella” on 1994’s Born to Quit, their only album to chart. “I’m inflamed with desire and it’s spreading like wildfire” is a killer line. 

“Injection” — Rise Against

Off of 2006’s The Sufferer & the Witness, “Injection” is a great example of the era’s hook-laiden punk rock that brushed up against hardcore just enough to keep the kids interested. 

“Inoculated City” — The Clash

This one is off of the band’s fractured final album, Combat Rock. It’s a bright, pop-heavy Mick Jones tune that sounds like a precursor to his post-Clash Big Audio Dynamite project. “Inoculated City” also contains an audio clip from a cleaning product ad, which I assume means something about the horrors of commercialism.

“Sure Shot” — Beastie Boys

1994’s Ill Communication continued to build the Beastie’s rep as an innovative force in hip-hop. Though the band did play the instruments themselves on most of the album, flautist Jeremy Steig’s “Howlin’ For Judy” served as the foundational sample. 




Listening for the Depths of Winter: And a hot debate enters the House floor

Austin Bullock — Don’t Wake Me Up

At the end of 2020, Providence-based multi-instrumentalist Austin Bullock dropped Don’t Wake Me Up, a satisfying collection of eight songs with wide-ranging influences. A prolific writer, Bullock put out three albums in 2020, all following the theme of “8 hours labor, 8 hours recreation, 8 hours rest” according to his Bandcamp page.

Though it was hard to decipher any kind of throughline, all the songs feature smart arranging and superb guitar playing. He mixes a lot into the stew here, and all the parts are well fleshed out. “Circus Freak” has a kind of dancy Franz Ferdinand vibe, and “How Could You” is a breezy folk tune. 

Some of the songs off Don’t Wake Me Up make that warbly, Mac Demarco guitar tone the star of the show, like the heavy groover “Deflated.” The leadoff “(I Don’t Want) Another” has the sunny, laid-back tones of Ryland Baxter. The interlocked guitars in “Evaporate” are straight-up Strokes.

The best moment comes when Bullock moves away from the modern indie influences completely in the bluesy, psych-infused ”Talk the Talk.” The song’s repetitive, hypnotic riff is something my brain hasn’t been able to shake.

There is a homespun basement vibe — Bullock appears to play all the instruments — that is definitely cool, but these songs would really rip with a full band. The act performs as a duo with Lauren Boucher on drums, and hopefully will be playing live at a venue near you soon. 

Purchase Don’t Wake Me Up here.

Torn Shorts — Live at Dusk

During this time of peak concert withdrawal, Torn Shorts has released their Dusk set from eight years ago. The quartet, consisting of Josh Grabert, Nick Molak, Brendan Tompkins, and Zach Zarcone, specializes in a mix of heavy blues, folk and jam.

The band always seemed like a popular live draw in the before times, and this set illustrates why. If you listen hard enough, you can almost feel yourself back in the post-industrial hinterlands listening to a live set, beer in hand, and afraid to use the dank, graffiti-covered bathroom.

Live at Dusk has many jams fans would describe as “tasty,” with extended guitar solos in “Wishing Well” and “Sunday Afternoon.” They mostly keep it pretty tight without entering moe. territory, though the part about getting high down by the river in “It’s A Feeling” may be a bit on the nose.

I’ve said before that Dusk has the best sound in the game and it’s on display here, where each instrument is well-accounted for. “Life On A River” features anthemic, Springteen-era rock with everyman themes. A groovy cover of the Wilco, Guthrie-penned song “Airline to Heaven” is made infectious with some tasteful slide guitar.

On this album, I gravitated toward the heavier stuff: “Take my Soul” is kind of a classic rock blowout and “Devil” is supercharged, distorted blues for the win.

The best part: all proceeds will go toward supporting Dusk.

Purchase Torn Shorts’ Live at Dusk here.

Making it Official?

A recent ProJo article highlighted a bill in the RI House of Representatives that would make R&B the state’s official music. Warwick Democrat Rep. David Bennett filed the bill at the behest of RI R&B Preservation Society president Cleveland Kurtz.

The bill defines R&B as “music which contains elements of pop, soul, funk, hip-hop and electronic music.” My take: Perhaps folk or jazz would be a better option, given the state’s two historic music festivals. I suppose any way to draw more attention to our musical heritage is a good thing. 

I can’t help but imagine what sort of spirited discourse this measure might inspire. Is House Speaker Shekarchi more of a ’90s hip-hop guy? Would a companion bill on the Senate spark debate, with Ruggerio pulling for doom metal? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.




Ahoy to the Humble Sea Shanty: Sharks Come Cruisin’ elevate the genre with a punk background

As the new year rolls along, still chock full of anxiety and loneliness, a seafaring music genre that peaked in the 19th century has become an unlikely star on TikTok. The trend started when 26-year-old Scottish mailman Nathan Evans posted his version of the sea shanty “Wellerman,” a whaling song with origins in New Zealand. That triggered a full-blown frenzy, with hundreds uploading their own riffs.

Sea shanties are maritime songs sung to accompany various ship deck tasks like sail hoisting. They combine the rhythms of African work songs with lyrics that are Anglo-Irish, often in 4/4 time with simple melodies that make them a good fit for mass consumption.

Some say the popularity of the sea shanty, meant to be sung together in support of a common goal, speaks to the desire for connection during these dark times. On the other hand, Vox contributor Rebecca Jennings sees it as the next in a series of random crazes driven by the social media hivemind: “The quarantine-era internet just makes us cycle through obscure niches of culture faster and faster,” said Jennings.  

So what is it about these sea shanties? I spoke to local expert Mark Lambert of Providence’s Sharks Come Cruisin’, who specialize in sea shanties, about his experience with the unique genre.

Lambert grew up playing in punk and hardcore bands in Providence. His band, Return Around, fizzled out at the end of a long tour at which point he took an extended break from music. He wanted to start playing again in the early 2000s, but wasn’t sure what shape it would take. “A lot of my peers from the rock scene were gravitating to country or blues, which didn’t really seem all that authentic to me.”

One day, Lambert was watching the movie Jaws, which features a few shanties, and was immediately taken. “I heard Quint’s version of ‘Spanish Ladies’ — I knew there was something very New England about the sound, and it felt very close to home for me,” he said. After borrowing some sea shanty LPs from the library he dug in further, working out the songs and playing local open mics. SCC started to take shape once he got a bassist and drummer involved. 

On a musical level, the appeal for Lambert makes sense. Three chords, an everyman spirit and a supremely singable nature make shanties not unlike punk rock. “The melodies are all very familiar — even if you don’t know them, you kinda do,” said Lambert.

The call and response element, which helped shiphands stay in sync when performing heavy-duty chores, was another big draw for Lambert. “It reminded me of exactly where I grew up at hardcore shows — the singer was singing and the audience screaming back at them.”

SCC, to date, has two full-length albums, along with various EPs and live recordings mostly consisting of traditional shanties and the odd original mixed in. Lambert’s punk background really shines through in songs like “South Australia” and “Donkey Riding” off their album When I Got Home From Across the Sea, which are uptempo, semi-rocked out shanties. Instruments like banjo, fiddle and accordion round out the sound.

The band has also become known for the monthly Shanty Sing at the Parlour, the rare family-friendly evening gig. Lambert came up with the idea and pitched it to then part owner Aaron Jaehnig, and it ended up being a major success. SCC had been doing virtual shanty sings at home remotely until this month. “It is a little unfortunate that this popularity comes in the middle of a pandemic, when no one can actually come together and do the real thing,” said Lambert.

Lambert, who says he’s had many articles around the “Wellerman” craze sent to him by friends, isn’t so sure that the craze is related to the pandemic. “I think it’s more a matter of this guy in Scotland putting his own spin on the song (which I had actually never heard), with a great hook that happened to resonate with a wide audience. And now, it’s great to see others who are continuing to make it their own.”

Listen to the music of Sharks Come Cruisin’




RI Repository: Taking the Wayback Machine to Six Finger Satellite’s improbable history

To kick off a hopefully brighter 2021, here’s another edition of RI Repository, where we revisit notable releases from RI’s past. This year, we examine 1995’s Severe Exposure from noise rock band Six Finger Satellite.

6FS formed in Providence in the late ’80s with a lineup that included singer/keyboardist J. Ryan, John MacLean and Peter Phillips on guitar, and Rick Pelletier on drums. The band was signed to Sub Pop records after, legend has it, they submitted an alt rock-styled demo and the label signed them thinking they would provide something along the same lines. 

The band’s first album, The Pigeon Is the Most Popular Bird, is a scratchy, post-punk affair, and their second, Machine Cuisine, is mellower and made extensive use of synths. With Severe Exposure, the band arrived at a satisfying middle ground between the two sounds, an adventurous mix of the herky-jerky new wave of Devo and the punishing guitars of The Jesus Lizard.

“We started out as a guitar band, but were really into bands like Chrome and Public Image Ltd.,” said Pelletier. “A big reason we added the synths was because we didn’t have many choruses in our songs. To us, the synth lines were hooks that the listener could grab ahold of.”

 The warbly, distorted synths in “Cock Fight” and the unsettling modulation of “Rabies (Baby’s Got The)” provide a deliberate dissonance that, if anything, heightens the level of chaos. “We were never interested in using the synths as some kind of atmospheric, background noise,” says Pelletier. “We intentionally tried to make them as hard-edged as the guitars.”

Severe Exposure’s unintelligible vocals, jagged guitars and frenetic pace creates a trance throughout. “Dark Companion” has a MC5, frenzied proto punk vibe, and “White Queen to Black Knight” sounds like demonic blues. The whole album has a compelling spirit of confrontation and experimentation.

According to Pelletier, the Severe Exposure era marked the band’s most cohesive and well-known lineup, and saw the band firing on all cylinders. “Around that time, we were always playing, pretty much all our spare time was spent either playing or recording at the studio.”

It helped that the atmosphere was so inspiring. “The Fort Thunder scene was great, and Providence had a lot of clubs with touring bands coming through at the time,” said Pelletier. “People felt that creative buzz and tapped into it.”

Their sonic mélange was concocted at The Parlour, the 6FS’s own studio in Pawtucket, (located in the building where Jamstage is now), which the band put together to gain more control over the process. “We had recorded in studios before and inevitably it always came down to time or money, so we took each advance from Sub Pop and put it into getting our own gear.”

According to Pelletier, the band also received invaluable recording and gear advice from  legendary indie engineers Bob Weston, who recorded their debut, and Steve Albini.

The song “Parlour Games” got the ultimate ’90s treatment when the music video, directed by RI filmmaker Guy Benoit, was featured in an episode of “Beavis & Butthead.” 6FS went on to put out two more critically acclaimed records that failed to set the charts on fire. The follow up, Law of Ruins, was produced by James Murphy (later of LCD Soundsystem fame) who had joined the band as a live sound engineer.  

After Law, John MacLean left the group, partly due to tensions arising from his relationship with Murphy, and Sub Pop dropped them shortly thereafter. They called it quits in 2001, and Pelletier and Ryan reformed the band in 2007.

6FS is now recognized for being ahead of the electro-rock curve. ”We knew we weren’t going to sell a shit ton of records, and did a lot of what we set out to do,” said Pelletier. Ultimately, Severe Exposure is now looked at as something of a cult classic, and their catalog is remembered by many as a bold exploration of new sonic territory. 

6FS has two releases consisting of demo reissues coming out this year. 
Stream Severe Exposure on Spotify.




The Weary World Trudges Through: Support local with these holiday albums that don’t suck

Many of us are cancelling Thanksgiving plans and looking ahead to an equally weird Christmas, and with the holiday season comes the inevitable buying spree. It was recently reported that Jeff Bezos saw his wealth rise by an estimated $48 billion from March to June alone. In the spirit of rejecting this gross inequity, I urge you to support local businesses.

Any of the albums featured in this column would make excellent gifts for the music lovers in your life. Even more enticing, December 4 is the last “Bandcamp Friday,” in which the revenue share is waived so that every cent goes to the artist. Whether it’s music related or not, consider kicking in a few shekels to your local creators or give a donation if you can swing it. 

A few campaigns to consider:

Dan Blakeslee and the Calabash Club — Christmasland Jubilee

Local songwriter and crooner Dan Blakeslee has built an impressive resume by pounding the pavement throughout New England and putting out a string of acclaimed albums. He’s well known for his ghoulish alter ego Doctor Gasp, but this time takes a turn round the ol’ Christmas tree with his first holiday record, Christmasland Jubilee. 

It’s astounding to think that so many Christmas albums are released year after year given that the canon and themes don’t really don’t change much. Instead of a straight rehashing, Blakeslee manages to bring his own folksy flair to the catalog.

Blakeslee brings a brooding, rolling tumbleweeds vibe to “We Three Kings” and puts his own spin on the melody. He tries out boogie woogie on “The Reindeer Boogie,” and “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” is set atop a gorgeous NOLA-style ragtime, replete with clarinet and muted trumpet.  

Blakeslee describes the album as “a 10-year dream album come to life.” I have the pleasure of knowing Dan in real life, and there is no denying that the guy really loves Christmas music. 

The musical ornamentation (no pun intended) creates a captivating soundscape throughout the record, with deft backing vocals, accordion, piano and percussion. There’s a lot going on at times, but it’s managed with minimal turbulence. A high point is “Silver Bells,” featuring a beautiful combo of Hammond organ, mandolin and vibraphone.

The Calabash Club is pianist/accordionist Mike Effenberger, bassist Nick Phaneuf and drummer Jim Rudolf, but there’s a pretty extensive cast of characters who do a great job.

In addition to the classics, Christmasland Jubilee has a solid crop of originals. “Glowin’, Blowin’, Jumpin’, Swayin’, Wishin’, Swingin’, Dancin’, Rockin’, Fishin’, Laughin’ Christmas Tree” brings a jazz flavor and proves that the holidays are no time for brevity. 

“The Somerville Lights” is a straight-ahead folk tune about the light displays in Blakeslee’s former city, and a bonus song, “Let’s Start Again,” has a more off-the-cuff feel and really shows off his songwriting chops. 

Maybe the fact that Dan and others can keep coming out with engaging takes on the same material is a comment on the supreme adaptability of music itself. Sure, it’s all been done, but now it’s been done by Dan Blakeslee.

Purchase Christmasland Jubilee on at Bandcamp.

Holiday Albums That Don’t Suck

My relationship with holiday music mainly involves grumbling when the dentist’s office starts playing it in early November, but after Dan’s album I decided to see what else is out there. Here are a few of my most cherished holiday records, most of which I pulled from other online “best of” collections yesterday. 

Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings — It’s a Holiday Soul Party

The late Sharon Jones put out this soulful selection fearing the glorious horn section of the The Dap Kings in 2009. The slow burn of “Silent Night” and “Please Come Home For Christmas” really let Jones’s vocals shine, and upbeat fare like “8 Days (Of Hannukah)” and “Funky Little Drummer” boy will bring down the house at your Zoom holiday party. 

Jethro Tull — The Jethro Tull Christmas Album

What says Christmas more than some woodland woodwinds or super show-offy arrangements of the classics? In what was to be their last studio album, Tull puts their own proggy spin on the holidays with tunes like “Birthday Card at Christmas” and “Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow,” as well as rerecordings of fan favorites like “Weathercock” and the instrumental “Bourée”

Aimee Mann — One More Drifter in the Snow

Christmas doesn’t have to be all good times and cheer; Aimee Mann depresses along with the best of them with “Whatever Happened to Christmas” and “Christmastime,” about things falling apart around the holiday. “Calling on Mary” is a brilliant song no matter the time of year. 

David Sedaris — Holidays on Ice

While not technically music, I always enjoy hearing the audiobook being played on NPR and getting a look at Sedaris’ time as a department store elf.

Willie Nelson — Pretty Paper

By ‘79, Nelson had released 24 albums and was just beginning his well-publicized troubles with the IRS. The title track is a rerecording of Nelson’s song, which was a hit for Roy Orbison. The bright spot for me, though, is the nifty organ and keyboards on tunes like “Rudolph” and “Here Comes Santa Claus” by Booker T. Jones, who also produced the record. 

The Vandals — Oi to the World!

The Vandals specialize in juvenile themes mixed with lightning fast skate punk, evidenced here with tunes like “A Gun For Christmas” and “Christmastime for My Penis.” Interestingly, the 1996 album received renewed interest after No Doubt covered the title track a few years later.

Jelly Side Down — Had to Be There

The golden era of pop-punk may have come and gone, but Johnston newcomers Jelly Side Down do a good job capturing the spirit. And with stellar recent releases from bands like The Callouts and U.G.L.Y, maybe there’s something in the water. 

There’s definitely some examples of Jelly Side Down nailing the format, with general themes of unease and the angst of the young along with some effective hooks and crunchy guitars. “$18,000 and a Chance at the Title” has the shredding and lead harmonies of Sum 41, and “Midnight” packs a killer hook.

“I Hope You See This” has some heavy breakdowns and dark edges that remind me of Evanescence. “Specter” features an impenetrable fortress of beefy guitars, and they also cover “Valerie,” made famous by Amy Winehouse, which they manage to rev up a bit. 

Buy Had to be There on Bandcamp.




Misster Dylan’s Beautiful Blues: Dylan Harley releases his debut album, Dark Side of the Force

Misster Dylan – DARK SIDE OF THE FORCE

Just in time for perhaps the darkest time in recent memory, Misster Dylan, moniker of local songwriter Dylan Harley, is out with his debut record DARK SIDE OF THE FORCE. DSOTF is a sonically diverse, thematically ambitious record that wades straight into muck that seemingly no one can avoid these days.

Harley boldly mixes together everything from rap to folk and focuses on demons both inner and outer. “Mac Milliner’s Ball”  has a kind of swaggering ragtime with great horn arrangements by John Birt, and “Tragick Magick” deals with addiction via a minor-key macabre reggae groove.

“The general theme of the record came about organically,” said Harley. “The songs were written separately over the last three years, but I realized that these songs have a unifying force in that they’re all about fear, and especially my personal fears.”

My favorite track, “The Gom Jabbar,” combines the funereal doom metal of Sleep and a shuffling, Stevie Wonder-like drum groove with some spooky, demonic Halloween screams. This dark-but-funky tune deals with the release of death by way of a Dune reference.

“It refers to an ultimatum the hero is given when being tested by the high priestess to see if he’s a human. They give him the choice of putting his hand into a box with the most immense pain imaginable, or getting pricked by the poisonous Gom Jabbar needle,” said Harley. “The point being that an animal will gnaw their own arm off to escape, even if it means dying. I wanted something that would take the listener out of the day-to-day and frame it in a more universal way.”

If that all wasn’t enough, he forays into rap in “Invasive Species,” spitting rhymes about the toxicity of his own white privilege: “No need to ask, I just help myself/beneath the leaves of my family’s tree of inherited wealth.” The song, which even contains the obligatory *inhales weed* noises, ends with a fiery verse from local rapper Slitty Wrists that flatly rejects the entire premise of injustice and racism.

“I didn’t want the song to be entirely a white dude gloating about how good he’s got it, especially while appropriating the genre,” said Harley. “I connected with Slitty through Jessee Tree after I heard him on Jesse’s record, and knew immediately that he would be great to rap the ‘kill shot’ verse,” said Harley.

The song is one of two notable collaborations, the other being “Shai-Hulud” (a second Dune reference), which prominently features the djembe of local percussionist Sidy Maiga. Harley, who recorded much of the album and plays virtually every instrument on it, doesn’t shy away from collaboration.

“I’m so inspired by so many artists and musicians in this city, so I figured why not see if there are people who can help elevate it?” he said. “It helps make things way less precious and more communal. At the end of the day it’s about trying to achieve some kind of resonance, and I think that’s much easier to do when there’s other people involved.”

Harley noted that there are at least two other collaborations that didn’t make the record, but which he hopes to release in the future.

“Killing the Planet” is about every single move you make puting us closer to the undoing of the Earth, and the album ends aptly with the experimental folk balled “Let’s Try Not To Fuck Up Our Kids (TNTFUOK?)”: “A rock ‘n’ roll dose of Red, White, and Blue that’s been tellin’ us all what to think, feel, and do.”

Preorder DARK SIDE OF THE FORCE before its October 31 release at missterdylan.bandcamp.com/album/dark-side-of-the-force.

Minky Starshine – Gold Plated

Rob Anastasi’s Minky Starshine has been cranking out reliable power pop since the mid-2000s, and the recent Gold Plated is the first in a planned trio of releases coming in the next few months. The slick production, creamy guitars and horns make listening to this like being ensconced in velvet.

The standout “Wrong and Right” has a fun, bouncy glam rock feel and killer fuzzed-out guitar leads. “Somebody’s Heart,” is kind of a strong but starry eyed rock ballad that reminds me of Badfinger. Along the same lines, the sappy heartache of “Radio Holster,” with its ’80s sax solo, falls a bit flatter.

Frankly, what originally attracted me to the release was seeing the cover of “1000 Umbrellas” by XTC, one of my favorite cult rock bands. Anastasi really nails the string section, shelling out the dough for a mini orchestra, and the reverb and ethereal backing vocals give this impressive take a more melancholy effect.

Gold Plated is definitely worth a spin in your rotation, so stay tuned for the others.

Purchase Gold Plated at minkystarshine.bandcamp.com/album/gold-plated.

Song Birds

Song Birds is a new group out of Providence with two turbulent EPs released in quick succession that direct the collective anger of the current day into some unhinged garage rock. Their sound is akin to being ensconced in a psychedelic fireball, like they’re in a loose jam session rather than a studio. 

“Fever Dream” is a catchy mid-tempo song about being unable to connect with somebody, and “Swallow Glass” is pure punk rock. The highlight, “Time Pulls the Trigger,” is a big, brash southern rock funeral dirge for this dumpster fire of a year, with a total barnburner of a guitar solo. 

The second EP, The World’s Gone to F​@​#king Hell, sounds even more cathartic and low-fi. I enjoyed the indulgent noise of “Space Camp” and the maniacal jamming on “Cashmere.”  

TwentyTwenty and The World’s Gone to F​@​#king Hell are available at the Song Birds Bandcamp page: songbirdspvd.bandcamp.com




Lockdown Listening: Something old, something new

In a furious attempt to see some live music before winter hibernation sets in, I attended shows at both Askew and Nick-A-Nees last weekend. I’m happy to report that it was a good time, and both places did a great job with masks and social distancing.

But fears about the future remain. A recent Vice Article chronicles some of the dire consequences that independent venues could face without some sort of support from Congress, going as far as to say there could only be one indie venue left standing in Nashville by year’s end. So continue to get out to shows while you still can, and call up your representatives.

Dandy Highwaymen — Land Shanties

A crowd of three are the Dandy Highwaymen, now out with their debut recording, Land Shanties. It’s an amusing release that bills itself as rococo punk, a genre I was unaware of that’s “inspired by the art, history and culture of 18th century France and England.”

They say write about what you know, and for the Dandy Highwaymen, it’s … being drunk highwaymen, as evidenced in tunes like “Drunk Highwaymen,” “The Ballad of the Dandy Highwaymen,” and a cover of Adam and the Ants’ “Stand and Deliver.” In addition to the strong branding, the album contains tales of intrigue, wig theft and being exiled a world away.

The players, Jean-Jacques J’adore, Beau Pummel and Sovay Beausoleil, are two-thirds based in Rhode Island. The songs go from pub singalong to rock ‘n’ roll, though the playing is a bit sloppy, kind of like they’re actually in the back corner of a dank tavern.

The Dandy Highwaymen do, however, have a real flair for storytelling. “Four Finger Frederick” is a cautionary tale about overindulging in lady fingers, and “Ballad of the Dandy Highwaymen” is an epic canard featuring characters like Vance and swift Claudette.

Fitting with the historical period, a lot of these feature a revolutionary tilt, like the Swiftian “A Modest Proposal,” about the age-old fantasy of eating the rich. “Let’s Go” and “C’est Bon” go full-on punk rock, though the canned drum sounds detract from the desired effect a bit.

Land Shanties is available at: http://dandyhighwaymen.com/product/land-shanties/ 

RI Repository | Small Factory – I Do Not Love You

In this edition of the RI Repository, where we delve into simpler times, we take a look at the celebrated rock trio Small Factory’s debut album, I Do Not Love You. Drummer Phoebe Summersquash, guitarist David Auchenbach and bassist Alex Kemp formed the group in 1991 in PVD, and were already New England indie up-and-comers by the album’s release.

The record consists mainly of simple, two-minutes-and-change tunes about disconnection, lost love and youthful exuberance. It brings to mind the stripped-down innocence of the Blake Babies or the Lemonheads, but with more raw edges. 

“Valentine,” a Lois Maffeo cover, has a wistful dorm room vibe, and the repetitive “Come Back Down” drives home the point with a soft punk rock growl. Small Factory was not about achieving virtuosity; simple bass lines and no guitar solos kept the spotlight firmly on the songwriting. Kemp handled most of the lead vocals, with Summersquash often simply covering the high octave.

I Do Not Love You was recorded at Warren’s Normandy Sound and White Room in Boston and released by SpinART, the now-defunct New York label that boasted releases by Frank Black, The Apples in Stereo and The Magnetic Fields.

“What to Want” is both vigorous and delicate, and admits “sometimes I’m a child and I don’t know what I want.” The highlight, “Keep On Smiling” is a jangly rock song with just enough dissonance that builds to a catchy chorus with everyone joining in on vocals. While the language in “Junky on a Good Day” may be outdated, it’s a plainspoken folk rock song building to a jagged, jamming outro.

Ultimately, Small Factory didn’t set the world on fire, but their softer, starry-eyed approach to ’90s rock is remembered fondly by plenty.

I Do Not Love You generated enough buzz to get them on Vernon Yard Records, an indie division of Virgin Records, for their follow-up For If You Cannot Fly. The record would be their last, and the band broke up in ‘95. Post Small Factory, Kemp and Summersquash formed the band Godray, and David Auchenbach went on to produce artists like Lightning Bolt.

Stream the album on Spotify

Popcast

And finally, an interesting podcast from The New York Times “Popcast”  about the state of the popular music charts. Two music biz journalists discuss how the Billboard charts are now essentially meaningless because many artists are finding creative ways to bundle album sales with concert tickets and other media to pump up the numbers.




Enter the Flange Factory: Math the Band releases a multi-concept project

Troubled times call for audacious measures. Math the Band is back, this time with a whirlwind of multimedia the likes of which has never been attempted. Their latest project, Flange Factory Five, is an immersive experience that includes a novel, record, game boy cartridge, energy drink and boutique guitar pedal. 

MTB, sometimes billed as “Math The Band The Band,” is the project of frontman Kevin Steinhauser and a rotating cast of characters, which currently features guitarist Max Holbrook, bassist Adam Waz and drummer Matt Zappa. The band has been operational for 20 years, and based in Providence for 12.

A characteristically joyous effort, the Flange Factory Five features the band’s signature combination of glitchy, 8-bit keyboards over distorted guitars. A project like this requires the boundless energy they put forward in their ecstatic live shows, and it totally comes through on the recording.

The uptempo “Dual of the Deer” features guitars and synth lines in roaring triumphiant harmony. “DKWIC” has a great Brian May-style guitar solo, and “Coach Says” is a hard-edged tune at the circle pit end of the spectrum. Stenhouser, who started the project in high school, puts every ounce of himself into the vocals.

Along with great playing throughout, this album brings us the best of grit and nerddom, like a skater punk version of the music from Crash Bandicoot. But the video game sounds can belie the smart composition and clever lyrics. “Wet Cement” is ultra-catchy montage fodder about starting a new chapter: “The fear is exciting and I can’t wait to be born.”

An additional treat is a suite of “Flange Factory Five” instrumental interludes that could be the jingle for the cartoon television show of the same name.

I spoke with Kevin about the origins of this unique project.

Jake Bissaro (Motif): How did the multi-format concept come about? What made you want to release your own energy drink?

Kevin Steinhauser: I don’t really recall a moment of inspiration. Each piece was something I had kicking around in my head for a while. It’s basically the culmination of years of saying ‘wouldn’t it be funny if…’ and then we just decided to go all in and do it for real. 

JB: What is the book about?

KS: It’s a choose-your-own adventure fantasy novel that plays off the ones marketed toward young adults, but very tongue-in-cheek with a lot of crass, dark humor. It revolves around a kid who meets a wizard and ends up needing to save the wizarding world. It ended up being a big universe of stuff; the novel mentions the pedal and energy drink heavily, and the Game Boy game is based on the novel.

JB: I have never heard of an album released on a piece of gear. How did that come about?

KS: The Flange Factory Five is a collaboration with our friend Frank, who makes small runs of handmade pedals under the moniker Frayed Knot. The pedal is a matrix of five flangers and five ring modulators, and also has the album stored on it, with a playback mode that lets you mess with the sounds. We’re trying to make as many as 55, but they are large and expensive, at $250. To keep things more accessible, we’re making the “Flange Factory Zero” a slimmed-down version that’s more of a collectible.

JB: Is there a particular fascination with the flange effect? Does gear play a big part in your inspiration? 

KS: Not really. Personally, synths are really what I’m into. To be honest, we chose flange simply because “flange factory five” sounded funny. But I found a connection after the fact: The story goes that the effect was made for the Beatles as a way to mimic stereo. Apparently Paul, in an interview, was asked what the effect is called, and just said, ‘Oh it’s the flangelator,’ making up a nonsense funny word. 

JB: How has the band been handling pandemic life?

KS: To be honest, we’ve probably never been more productive. This whole project has been like 90% of the way there for about a year, so it was the opportunity we needed. We all have our own home studios and have been passing files back and forth, and recorded basically the whole album that way. 

JB: What’s next for the band?

KS: We’re hoping in December to throw a big performance in the black box theater at AS220, playing the album front to back and adding in some theatrics.

Math the Band (the Band)’s Flange Factory Five Universe is available for purchase at flangefactoryfive.com. To coincide with Bandcamp Fridays, MTE will release a limited-run FFF product every first Friday for the rest of the year. The current schedule for releases is as follows:

September 4 — Energy Drink; October 2 — FFF record release; November 6 — Guitar pedal; December 4 — Game Boy game

The Brother Kite — Make it Real

I think it’s appropriate at this point to refer to The Brother Kite as a Rhode Island rock institution on which we can still depend for polished, top-shelf indie rock. With five full-lengths now under their belt, Make it Real is the band’s first release since 2013’s Model Rocket.

Fronted by Patrick Boutwell and Jon Downs, TBK’s specialty is a vintage jangle mixed with a deeply emotional frequency, like Teenage Fanclub mixed with Something Corporate. “Don’t Ask Why” blends the elements pretty well, where a moody verse gives way to a vigorous, full-throated chorus. The smart instrumentation and production “Afraid To Even Try” uses the sleigh bells to add to the chime, with bang-on harmonies throughout. 

The songs are well-formed and sure of themselves, though the shimmery guitar is a little too much at times; in “Rotten,” the pedals seem to be the star of the show. Songs like “Hopeless Ghost” and “Dream to Me” tend to linger on your mind long after you’ve listened to them.

Make it Real is another compelling chapter in TBK story, and is worth your attention.

Check out Make it Real at the band’s Bandcamp page.

Live Music Rundown

Live! Outdoors! In the next few weeks!

Askew

Friday, Sep 4: The Copacetics

Sunday, Sep 6: The John Allmark Super Jazz Octet

Dusk

Saturday, Sep 12: Absolute Eddie and Three Points of Madness

Saturday, Sep 20: New Idol




Summertime Blues: Can we get a re-do?

As I write this from the one air conditioned room in my house at the end of a six-day heatwave, I can’t help but think it would really be nice if we weren’t living through a global pandemic. With no air conditioned bars to escape to or concerts to keep our hearts energized, it feels like this summer deserves a re-do. 

Post West – Bronco

Post West – Bronco

Providence’s Post West does an engaging take on the indie pop sound with their recent full-length, bronco. Tunes written by Tyler Nakatsu and Dylan Protus have a bedroom recording element to them and feature the dreamy guitar tones that have been in vogue since Mac DeMarco.

The song “astoria” is catchy, velvety punk that makes you feel like you’re ensconced in a warm blanket, and “secrets” is a subtle tune that sounds Strokes-inspired. “Arrivals” has some alt-country pedal steel energy mixed in with some ’90s overtones. Vocals are at times a little pitchy and the drums are sometimes rushed, but all in all the catchy hooks and melodies are there for the taking.

Buy bronco on Bancamp

Museum Legs – Much Like The Nest.

Museum Legs – Much Like The Nest

On Museum Legs’ latest release, one man band Penn Sultan continues to sow the fertile landscapes he’s created with the first two records last year. Typical of his concept albums, Much Like The Nest. deals with a weighty subject: what it means to bring another human life into the world.

”It Never Ends.” talks about the endless work involved in raising children, and also somehow works anti-vaxxers into the mix. Sultan ponders the possibility of his own brood in “Nesting Time:” “Can a family wait till I’m feeling prime?/Till it’s my nesting time?”

He’s settled into a signature sound, characterized by translike loops and layering of guitars, keyboards and subtle percussion. Much like the previous releases, MorganEve Swain lends great backing vocals and viola. Sultan is the kind of enviable artist who can spin poetic silk from his thoughts in a fully realized way.

Buy Much Like The Nest. on Bandcamp

From the Depths of Bandcamp

Steely Mario – Super Abbey Road World

Have you ever wondered what The Beatles’ swan song masterpiece Abbey Road would sound like in the world of ’90s video games? No? An artist called Steely Mario, straight outta Portsmouth, does a totally faithful version of the album using Super Mario World soundfont. For the adventurous, there’s also a gamified version of Steely Dan’s Aja.

Mesmerizing cover tunes like “Flattop’s Island World” (Come Together), “George’s Castle #1” (Something), and “No-Money Island World” (You Never Give Me Your Money) feature Far Four’s basslines, guitar riffs, and even Ringo’s drum solo! Sometimes you just have to stand back and be wowed by the magic of MIDI. To whoever you are: Thank you.

Check it out here

The RI Repository – Mission of Burma’s Vs.

Mission of Burma – Vs.

In another installment of the series I made up that explores great Rhody records of that past, we examine Mission of Burma’s first album, Vs. Before you say anything, I know they’re from Boston, but the album was actually recorded in sleepy Warren at Normandy Sound studio. 

With 1982’s Vs., guitarist Roger Miller, bassist Clint Conley and drummer Peter Prescott expanded the vision for which they’d laid the groundwork on their debut EP Signals, Calls, and Marches with a more chaotic and free-form approach. The groundbreaking sound expertly combined the angular jabs of British posk-punk bands like Gang of four with the scorched-earth aggression of the burgeoning hardcore punk movement. 

“New Nails” is a jarring, frantic song rife with religious imagery, about the “special book” that “got changed by facist crooks.” “Trem Two” refers to the guitar effect that pulsates along with the tempo throughout the song, over cryptic, moody lyrics.

The album has an off-the-cuff, improvisational feel that isn’t as prominent now in the era of click tracks and digital recording.Vs. illustrates the band’s distinct ability to produce a cacophony of untamed noise while remaining super-tight.

That was partly due to the contribution of engineer and de-facto fourth member Martin Swope, who added noisy tape loops, first live and eventually on the recordings. The whirling samples are in full force on “Weatherbox” and “Fun World.”

In his great book Our Band Could Be Your Life, Michael Azzerad’s writes, “A lot of people never knew about Swope’s contribution and were mystified by how the musicians on stage could wring such amazing phantom sounds from their instruments.”

The syncopated beat of “Mica” is kind of like a blindsiding funk that throws you off-kilter. The final track “That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate” is maybe the most single-like track, and proves they can bring the fierce hooks with the best of them. It also features the great line “honesty is an actor’s worst mistake.” 

It wasn’t drugs or debauchery, but hearing damage that brought the end; Roger Miller’s worsening tinnitus led to Mission of Burma’s disbanding in ‘83. They took a 20-year hiatus and are the rare group whose post-reunion music, particularly 2004’s ONoffON and 2006’s The Obliterati, remains as or possibly more respected then their “classic era” releases.

Stream Vs. on Spotify 

Normandy sound is now Triad Recording




The Road to Reopening: How are local music venues going to handle Phase III?

This pandemic has taken a massive toll on the entertainment industry, and it’s one that might be insurmountable for small clubs. On a national level, the newly formed National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) revealed that “90% of independent venues report that if the shutdown lasts six months and there’s no federal assistance, they will never reopen again.” On June 18, NIVA released a letter signed by a who’s who of musicians calling for financial relief from Congress.

Here in Little Rhody, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. As I was beginning to put this column together, Governor Raimondo announced in a press conference that indoor public spaces will be able to open with 66% capacity in Phase III of reopening. She was asked whether the indoor openings will include establishments with live music. 

Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor answered in the affirmative, noting that performers will be required to be 14 feet from the audience, with musicians also spaced apart. He went on to say that venues will be required to come up with an approved plan, and that specific guidance for music venues will be released in the coming weeks. The governor has since announced that for free-flowing venues, like music venues, one person per 100 square feet is allowed.

But there remain many unknowns. Much of RI’s live music was silenced in March when entertainment licenses were pulled by the city of Providence, so it’s unclear how city regulations will jive with the statewide rules. And furthermore, is it worthwhile for small clubs to book shows at reduced capacities? 

I talked to three local venues about their plans for the near future. Noah Donnelly of Nick-A-Nee’s cited an executive order from the City of Providence on June 18 that says nothing about lifting the live music ban, so they’re holding out on hosting music for more clarification on the rules. 

As far as operational changes going forward, Donnelly “assumes it will be the same as it was prior” if music is allowed in Providence. He added, “We are going day by day. There does not seem to be a real plan for the arts, and that is very disappointing.”

In an effort to play it safe, The Parlour is also waiting it out. Gregory Rourke said that “with limited space and no outdoor seating, it’s impossible for us to socially distance effectively,” and that “the risk outweighs the reward.” He said they will be starting take-out food service after July 4. 

Rourke’s concerns point to the element that may be the toughest for these neighborhood spots. For most patrons, it’s not about just the live music; it’s about getting together with friends at a bar for talking, drinking and general merriment. Implementing this new normal with social distancing is going to be a tall order. 

Local musician Mark Lambert organized a wildly successful fundraiser to benefit The Parlour; it raised more than $8,000 after an initial goal of just $2,000. Rourke said without that, they would’ve closed for good. “This has been an incredibly hard time for many,” Rourke added. “The music/entertainment field has suffered greatly, and it’s been amazing to see so much love and support in the community.”

When I heard from Danielle Tellier of Dusk, they were in the beginning phases of formulating a Phase III reopening plan. They’re hoping to start off with limited live acoustic acts and DJs, with both indoor and outdoor seating.

Dusk is taking safety seriously, with plans to implement measures like “a designated ordering station, Plexi partitions, ample space between tables both indoor and out, mask requirements when ordering/going to the restrooms, disposable everything and available sanitizer.” 

Teller also realizes the constraints. “Our largest hurdle is that our floor space is not set up for social distance with most live music, so providing entertainment, not only to draw in customers but to continue to support our music community, will be challenging,” she said. “We hope to survive as a bar and start integrating our musical format as time, law and safety allow.”

Dusk will be updating their Facebook page regularly as their plans take shape.

None of the three clubs received any state or federal assistance; Nick-A-Nee’s didn’t apply because of “limited payroll and the lack of transparency in the PPP,” while The Parlour did apply for grants and loans but received no aid.

Like most small businesses during this time, your local venues need your help as they try to reopen. Hopefully, imagining your favorite venues shuttered gives you more than enough motivation. Yes, things will be different, but after more than three months with no live music, I’m certainly excited to give it a try.