Tag Archives: orlando weekly

The Intelligence: Everybody’s Got It Easy But Me review

(4 out of 5)

Lars Finberg is one of the brightest and funniest dudes in the rock underground right now. He also makes great music, not just with his “main” band, the Intelligence, but also with Thee Oh Sees and … well, a lot of others. The Intelligence’s sixth album shows off a more restrained version of incisive, post-punk-y noise-pop, with cuts like “The Entertainer” and “Sunny Backyard” locking into beefy garage-tinged grooves, while more sober numbers like “Techno Tuesday” and “Dim Limelights” split the difference between XTC and Ted Leo.

First appeared June 21, 2012 in Orlando Weekly.

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The Bombay Royale: You, Me, Bullets, Love review

Taking on vintage Bollywood the same way that Dengue Fever takes on Cambodian pop, the Bombay Royale manage to evoke the bold glamour and easy swagger of R.D. Burman’s ’60s and ’70s soundtracks while adding just the right amount of cheeky, surf-rockin’ groove to get modern Western audiences to pay attention. The 11-piece band hails from Melbourne, Australia, but their covers of filmi classics like “Jaan Pehechan Ho” and the danceable, hard-swinging originals like “Dacoit’s Choice” that make up most of the record are Bombay-legit and essential party music.

First appeared May 31, 2012 in Orlando Weekly.

Poetry ‘n Lotion performs Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! concert preview

The members of Tampa band Poetry ’n Lotion aren’t shy at all about waving a flag for their teenage influences. Although the quartet’s main gig is dishing up thick, instrumental music that’s as indebted to modern jazz as it is to art-rock and international sounds, PNL has also garnered something of a reputation for its tribute sets where the band plays one of their favorite classic albums front to back. They’ve done Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, the soundtrack to The Rocky Horror Picture Show and they rang in 2012 with a New Year’s New Wave celebration in Tampa that ran through Devo’s Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! album. Of course, the notion of hearing the second-best Devo album transmuted into instrumental, jazz-flecked weirdness is just the sort of thing that helps get people in the door, and when the band follows up the closing notes of “Shrivel Up” with a set of PNL originals, you’ll realize the true genius of their approach.

First appeared May 17, 2012 in Orlando Weekly.

Van Halen reunion tour show preview

 

If you were anywhere near the Internet in early February, you likely couldn’t miss the hue and cry of a certain cohort of Dudes of a Certain Age crowing about how amazingly incredibly awesomely surprisingly kickass the new Van Halen album was. Comments like “picked up where they left off” and “it’s so great to hear these guys playing together again” and “reunion albums are never this great” were definitely in the mix, and, most amazingly, they were issued without the many caveats and qualifiers that typically accompany such declarations.

As one of those Dudes of a Certain Age, I confess that I was certainly a vocal contributor to said hue and cry, as I was completely flabbergasted at the strength of the album as a whole, at how well the mid-’70s demos were converted into brand-new rockers, and, of course, at the fact that I was sitting here – a grown-ass man with generally respectable (and occasionally respected) taste in music – in 2012, giddy with joy over a new Van Halen album.

I also confess that I haven’t listened to A Different Kind of Truth since the week after its release. In fact, when it came time to buckle down and write a preview of the band’s reunion tour stop at the Amway Center, all I wanted to do wasnot listen to Truth, and instead luxuriate in the eternal excellence of Fair Warning or side two of 1984. This is not a comment on the quality of A Different Kind of Truth – the album is the best ever put out by a reconstituted legacy act 30 years after their prime.

But it doesn’t matter. Van Halen in 2012 simply can’t be anything more than a band and a sound that trades completely on nostalgia, evoking the decadent possibilities of the era in which they did matter. The hedonism, debauchery and Jack-from-the-bottle days of the late-’70s and early-’80s have come and gone, and even though Eddie, Alex and Diamond Dave are gelling fantastically, and even though they’ve made an album that eclipses everything Van Halen has done post-1984, it just doesn’t matter. They may as well have released a crap album – or no album at all – and just gone on tour. It’s great that they didn’t, and diehard Van Halen fans have every reason to be pleased with how good A Different Kind of Truth is. But pretending that it’s anything other than a respectable reminder of how powerful the band – and hard rock in general – was in the group’s early days is a fool’s errand.

And, in exactly the same way that Truth acted as that reminder, so too will the reunion shows. There will be moments of ecstatic rock & roll happiness, but the fact remains that as a culture, we’re well into the post-Van Halen era. They served up a solid reminder of past glories, but that’s really all they can do anymore.

First appeared April 12, 2012 in Orlando Weekly.

Floor concert preview

Around this time last year, we giddily announced that South Florida metal legends Floor were reuniting to play a few shows and pimp a comprehensive box set of all the material the band had ever recorded. The fleeting and temporary nature of the reunion – “But for us, this is it,” guitarist Steve Brooks told us – made it all the more awesome. Of course, we naïvely believed him, and now, here we are telling you that Floor is playing a gig at Will’s Pub. Still, this is a capital-B Big Deal. While the band that Floor evolved into (Torche) has seen substantial success among alt-metal fans, the relentless, gut-punching intensity of the original band’s material is something else altogether. And hey, if you don’t see ’em now …

First appeared Feb. 25, 2012 in Orlando Weekly.

Bitch Magnet: Bitch Magnet reissue review

College rock just ain’t what it used to be. For one, nobody calls it college rock anymore. But in a more literal way, doing time in the dorms (or at least living within signal range of a college radio station) is no longer mandatory to expand your musical horizons. However, before the Internet made everything available to everyone at anytime, college towns were the only places outside of large urban areas where independent music could flourish.

Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is a mid-sized town that’s home to the University of North Carolina. It’s also home to one of America’s most celebrated underground music scenes. Sonic Youth wrote a song called “Chapel Hill.” Merge Records lives there. Superchunk and Archers of Loaf were born there. And, in 1989, Bitch Magnet, a band that formed in another vibrant college-town scene in Oberlin, Ohio, moved there.

Bitch Magnet could not have come from anywhere but a college town in the ’80s. The weird and unique way that the band merged hardcore velocity and volume with complex dynamics and melodies was a textbook (ahem) result of the clash of brains and brawn that occurs when smart punk kids find themselves surrounded by fellow smart punks who are suddenly immersed in a new world of arts, philosophy and bigger record collections.

The band’s 1988 EP debut, Star Booty, was recorded in Oberlin, and it’s all sinew and mumbly rage. However, when the band recorded their first full-length, Umber, in 1989, they were not only ensconced in the blossoming Chapel Hill scene, but they also had found a way to meld the forcefulness of their live performances with the increasing density of their song structures. The album would become a foundational article for the emerging math-rock subgenre (along with the output of Slint and Bastro, two bands with whom Bitch Magnet’s history is intertwined), but it rocks far harder than any other album that’s been slotted into that classification.

By the time Bitch Magnet recorded their final album, Ben Hur, with Steve Albini in 1990, its sound had become both darker and weirder than it had been on either of the previous two albums, and if Umber was a foundation for math-rock, Ben Hur was a star-chart for the genre’s possibilities. Alas, the band was not long for the world; Bitch Magnet would break up later that year, with leader Sooyoung Park going on to form Seam (with Mac McCaughan of Superchunk) and guitarist Jon Fine playing in several other bands (including Don Caballero) before eventually becoming a media critic of some renown (he has written for for Businessweek).

Three albums in three years and multiple tours playing in front of a tiny but intensely devoted following – that’s the stuff that indie-rock legends are made of. Although Bitch Magnet achieved little widespread recognition while the band was active, the years have been incredibly kind to their musical legacy. The roadmap the band laid out onUmber and Ben Hur has been followed by scores of other, more successful acts, almost all of whom are effusive in their name-checking praise.

This week, Temporary Residence Ltd. will release a long-overdue reissue of all of the band’s recorded work in a tidy and spartan three-CD package, and the group is playing a handful of reunion shows. In all likelihood, the band will meet with considerably more attention this time around. Maybe your local college radio station will even give them a spin this time.

First appeared November 17, 20122 in Orlando Weekly.

Tinariwen feature

For a band of nomads – a literal band of nomads – to make a musical impact on Western ears is an unusual achievement. Maybe such a group constitutes a curious aside on your favorite world music show, or garner a tiny blog mention as the preferred obscure listening habit of your favorite indie musician, but to be signed to the same label as Tom Waits and Nick Cave? To embark on a tour that takes them to rock clubs across the U.S.? That’s not just unusual, that’s nearly unprecedented.

But that’s exactly what’s happened with Tinariwen, a group born in the sands of Northern Africa that has exploded beyond the typical constraints of world music festivals and into a legitimate underground rock & roll phenomenon. One could argue that this newfound attention is due to the fact that Tinariwen’s compelling back story – they’re a loose collective of Malian musicians who were forced into Libyan refugee camps while their country was at war in the late ’70s – has helped them garner this newfound attention, but a story only goes so far.

The group’s raw, blues-flecked and dirty guitar sounds instantly resonate with Western audiences raised on rock. The guitarists’ circular, trance-like melodies are as insistent as they are inviting, as foreign as they are familiar. When threaded through the Tuareg rhythms and vocals that define the music of these Saharan nomads, the combination is deeply affecting and resonant, and not a little bit punk rock. Unlike other world musicians who have evolved over time to accommodate the ears of those in Europe and America, Tinariwen has remained true to their original sound, if not their ad-hoc roots.

“We always do what we want. In the ’80s, we were not a professional band, we were a collective of musicians who used to perform together for some traditional events,” explains lead guitarist Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, who helped found the group while a refugee in Libya. “There was no planning, no touring. We were recording tapes in some radios and people shared our music with tapes. [But] from the beginning of 2000, we became more professional; we hired a manager, an agent and so on. The music didn’t really change, though. We just needed to adapt it for a record.”

That newfound professionalism yielded results quickly, and in 2001, Tinariwen headlined the Festival in the Desert in Mali, which began that year as a celebration of traditional Tuareg culture, but would quickly grow into a massive annual event thanks to their popularity. (The 2003 edition featured Robert Plant and was documented in the excellentFestival in the Desert film.) This popularity soon spread to European audiences and, over the years, the group has gone on to play festivals like Coachella, All Tomorrow’s Parties, Glastonbury and others. For a group playing semi-traditional music in a language that few Westerners speak, this is a major feat, but it’s also been frustrating for Alhabib and the rest of Tinariwen, since so much of their music is message-based, touching on both broad issues of freedom and more overtly political themes.

“We try to offer translation in the CD’s booklet [and on] our website for people interested,” Alhabib says. “But I think that first, this is our special camel groove and this trance feeling that people love; they can enter in the meanings later.”

Those meanings, though, are still deeply important to Tinariwen, especially in these days of the Arab Spring.

“We are really happy about what [has] happened in the Arabic countries these days,” Alhabib says. “Libya is a more complex situation as [deceased Libyan dictator Moammar] Gadhafi had some relationship with Eastern governments and West African politics. A lot of people died also, and a lot of our people needed to leave Libya and have no lands to leave.” But, he adds, “Freedom is always what we were looking for as nomadic people.”

First appeared Nov. 3, 2011 in Orlando Weekly.