“Calm Down” (streaming below) is the opener from Ruby Red—the third album from Chapel Hill and Raleigh's reliably hook-happy and heartbroken The Love Language, due via Merge Records on July 23. That’s the cover art at the top of the post.
“Calm Down” is also the first of a handful of songs on Ruby Red that finds the normally grandiose pop outfit digging into deep garage grooves, taking cues from rising Bay Area rock acts such as Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall. Stuart McLamb—the outfit’s singer, songwriter and only reliable member—seems to have been paying attention to his competition, balacing his blue-eyed pop melodies and profoundly emotional songs with hints of rock ‘n’ roll grit and tight psychedelics.
The song announces itself a with quick and meaty combo of drums and bass before building up a gauzy, jangling wall built from multiple guitar tracks. The tender touch is familiar. The surging rhythm is new, matching McLamb with a nervy and somewhat concussive backbeat that equals his own irrepressible verve. Fittingly, the song is about a relationship in which the singer never feels at ease. “You won’t let me calm down!” he shouts in the chorus, the musical momentum driving him just as hard as the lover in question. After the final chorus, the band locks into a wild, two-minute outro. Distortion solidifies into a torrent of noise as the groove escalates with Kraut-approximating intensity.
This isn’t The Love Language we’ve come to expect. It’s something bolder. Check it out:
Since debuting in 2005 with a split 7-inch featuring California’s Godstomper and Maryland’s Magrudergrind, To Live A Lie Records—the one-man operation of Raleigh’s Will Butler—has steadily issued solid slabs of grindcore, powerviolence and hardcore from bands across the globe. Of the 91 titles in its catalog, though, only a few are homegrown. Of particular note: Thieves’ 2010 EP Positive Vibrations, Torch Runner’s 2012 album Committed To The Ground and Brian Walsby’s latest Manchild book.
This summer, To Live A Lie’s local-interest catalog will grow with the release of full-length debuts from two young Raleigh bands, each spun from the (still technically unofficial) demise of Stripmines.
The first of these, Last Words’ self-titled LP, is expected this summer. The quartet features Stripmines guitarist Jeff Young, bassist Dave Yarwood (Antibubbles, No Love), drummer Connor Donegan (a recent addition to Double Negative’s lineup, at least until the end of this month) and vocalist Marina Madden. Their 20-minute album lunges through 10 songs, shifting regularly between frenzied sprints and slowed-down stomps true to their Boston hardcore influences. Where the album stands out, though, is in Madden’s vicious vocals, which use her throaty, higher-register timbre to tilt the songs toward black metal maleficence.
Abuse., whose full-length will follow the A New Low EP released by Greensboro’s Hygiene Records, skews closer to powerviolence, yielding few songs that pass the one-minute mark. Stripmines bassist Alex Taylor takes vocal duties, barking over a belligerent blast that’s driven, again, by Donegan on drums.
“None of it has been recorded yet, but we have about 20 songs that are finished being written,” Donegan admits. “I don't actually even know how many songs we have now because everyone has songs that they've written that none of us have learned yet because of how busy we all are with other bands, work, and school.”
To Live A Lie expects a release date in August.
"It's been a couple years since I gave a fuck/ It's been a couple more since I ran out of luck."
That's the opening couplet from "Omnicide" — the lead-off to Time Stamp, Annuals' first full-length in five years — and it couldn't be more blunt about the struggles that have forestalled its release. Since ascending to major label success — 2008's Such Fun came out on the Columbia Records subsidiary Canvasback — the group has parted ways with the imprint and endured the financial fallout from a pretty devastating break-in and theft at their practice space, all while weathering the advancement of time and lives that too often upends bands, even ones who haven't been hit with such bad fortune.
Last Tuesday, with little fanfare, Annuals added Time Stamp as an $8 download on their Bandcamp page. It's the band's first large platter since Such Fun and their first release of any kind since the five-song EP Sweet Sister arrived in 2010. Much of the record sat almost finished for about 18 months while the group figured out what they wanted to do with it; the project's completion threatened to deplete all of Annuals' funds.
Revealing a new level of maturity, these songs are rawer in their emotional immediacy and tidier in their sonic diversity, organizing stray elements of electronica, folk and pop into potent and punchy offerings. "Omnicide" builds from breezy acoustic strums, ratcheting up with kinetic drum loops and robust distortion before exploding into a dense electro-pop groove in the vein of All Tiny Creatures. "Orbweaver" complicates outsized country balladry with ragtime piano fills that are continually twisted by effects and odd electronic flourishes. Time Stamp still overflows with ideas and moods in the way of Annuals' previous records, but — on first blush — it wields them with greater control.
"Whether it's a swan song, a comeback, or something else... Even we aren't sure," Annuals wrote in their description of the album. "There have been good, bad, hard, and harder times since our departure from Canvasback and Columbia Records in 2010. It seems we've all individually landed on our feet but for better or worse in different, separate places."
Here's hoping for the comeback.
Today, three Art Lord members - Samuel Herring, William Cashion, and Gerrit Welmers - comprise prominent Baltimore synth-pop outfit Future Islands. Yet the preceding band formed in Greenville, while they were art students at ECU, in the same grungy house-show scene that spawned Valient Thorr, The Kickass and, eventually, Lonnie Walker. The reunion show is even the tenth anniversary of a show at Soccer Moms' House—one of a handful of semi-legal show spaces that town's surprisingly fertile underground relied on in the early- and mid-’00s.
"(We're in the Same) Bubble Baby," originally from 2003 LP Searching for a Complement, finds its nightmarish, drum machine-driven New Wave ably remastered by Talk Normal's Sarah Register, who did the same for the rest of the retrospective. The new version maintains the original's hypnotic minimalism, which matches perfectly with a tale of hopeless, decrepit barhounds "trying to make it out alive." Register has tastefully bolstered the existing track, lending it higher fidelity and more distinct thump and snap without overdoing it. This bodes well for the rest of the collection.
Right on the heels of a Chorus Project Cat's Cradle benefit concert this past Monday, sales of this track will benefit KidZNotes, a Durham nonprofit which provides children's classical music instruction and organizes youth orchestras in low-performance school districts.
The track, again, is here.
Santa has been making his list and checking it twice since 1939. The chestnuts have been roasting since 1944. And Rudolph with his nose-so-bright has had us blazed at Christmas since 1949. Christmas, it seems, is a holiday as much about nostalgic feelings as new memories; The Rosebuds' latest release, Christmas Tree Island, takes that spirit to heart.
At 13 tracks, the record mines timeworn Christmas themes with new energy. The band's signature pop swells enthrall from the first jingle bells on "I Hear (Click, Click, Click)" to the beautiful strings on closer "Journey to Christmas Island."
"Christmas music is more than just changing the lyrics to a non-holiday themed song," according to the merry manifesto on the record's Bandcamp page. "It's about creating a world of its own specifically for the Holiday and capturing those feelings for a moment."
Those high intentions lead to songs of big city celebrations ("Xmas in New York"), unsung heroes ("Christmas Dan") and the simple joys of Christmas morning ("Blackout Choir"). Altogether, it's a worthy send-up of holiday tunes that trade schmaltz for pop delight.
Last week marked the 20-year anniversary of Sade’s classic, Love Deluxe. In tribute to the original, Raleigh-based band The Rosebuds (now living in New York) have released their own version of Sade’s Love Deluxe, recorded while frontman Ivan Howard spent some time on the North Carolina coast polishing up demos for The Rosebuds.
Sade’s discography has always strongly resonated with the duo, explains co-founder Kelly Crisp in an essay, influencing the breadth of the band’s work over the years. The album was recorded independent of Crisp, but it still reflects all of the swooning moods and romantic battles that the two have expressed during their career as a couple and, following their breakup, just as bandmates.
In a recent three-part article for the magazine Wax Poetics, journalist Nelson George examines the arc of Sade’s discography, starting with 1984’s Diamond Life and ending with this year’s CD release of live material, Bring Me Home Live 2011. He points out that Sade’s 1992 classic Love Deluxe LP was “mixed almost like a dub album with the silences between the notes as powerful a presence on the record as the instruments themselves.” Later, George calls Love Deluxe “the apex of this balance between rhythm and space, melody and arrangement.”
The friends who helped Howard achieve The Rosebuds’ take on this balance—Rob Lackey on drums, Matt Douglas on saxophone and Jon Yu on keys—don’t mutate much of the original’s jazz and dub undertones. Instead, they fill in those shadows between notes by fogging songs like “Bullet Proof Love” with chords and a sax that reinterprets the blues and erogenous vibes of Love Deluxe .
While missing the percussive droplets that lead the original through themes of joblessness, despair and hatred, The Rosebuds’ take of “Feel No Pain” still captures the song’s social consciousness. The question in the lyrics “Do you ever see a man break down?” is left dangling in both versions, but with Ivan Howard singing it, we hear the testimony of a stand-in man whose past losses in love and life re-teach him how to walk with his head held high. Even if Howard can’t match Sade’s goddess-like incantations, he casts his own spell over this material; he presides with the universal voice of the blues.
Artists from jazz legend Herbie Hancock to neo-soul singer Pru have covered Sade songs in the past; this year saw the release of jazz/ hip-hop virtuoso Robert Glasper’s Black Radio, which featured Lalah Hathaway’s cover of Sade’s “Cherish the Day.” Head-to-head with The Rosebuds’ version of Love Deluxe’s “Cherish the Day,” the two couldn’t be any more different: Howard is almost daring his lover to abandon him, whereas Sade pleads with and preps her lover as she’s gliding towards him. Hathaway and Glasper’s version, on the other hand, leans more toward reunion-worship and doesn’t out-beg The Rosebuds’ call-to-rescue.
Check out a Stranger Spirits set, and you may find yourself faced with a hype ninja or a surfing Amazonian librarian or the Sherriff of Rockingham himself. “We call ourselves rock ’n’ roll pilgrims from another planet,” explains Aubrey Herbert, aka Destructika Poppins, a most evil take on a favorite English nanny. Adds Chris Wimberley, the regal Lord Wimberley of Bitchfield, “We have delusions about having our own set of action figures.”
Whatever their excuse, these seven pilgrims are dressed to kill and ready to unleash a new record of altiverse melodies on audiences. Masterpiece Rock Parlour is a collection of songs that drift from ’80s movie musical hooks to gospel swells to Springsteen-esque growls.
We caught up with Herbert and Wimberley to talk about the record and personal stories that influenced its creation.
Indy Week: How long have you been working on the record?
Chris Wimberley: Oh boy, Aubrey: Has it been about five years?
Aubrey Herbert: About five, yeah. It’s been a work in progress.
CW: Pretty much. We were going to call this The Great American Novel, but we decided that would be a little pretentious sounding, so instead we’re calling it Masterpiece Rock Parlour.
AH: It sounds awesome, too, and that’s also a reason.
Rewind me back five years. How did you get started?
CW: Oh wow, where were we five years ago?
AH: I was finishing up college at UNC. Chris was working with another guy as kind of a two-man-band. That’s how Stranger Spirits started out.
CW: I was working with Chris Anderson, our drummer. We met Aubrey and Taylor and started working with them. Actually, maybe the more significant thing is their love story. They fell in love and they got married. There were lots of marriages, deaths, and all kinds of things that have happened since we started working on this record.
AH: That dragged it out for five years.
CW: Yeah, that’s just a few of the reasons why, it just became this thing that we would return to and build little bit by little bit.
AH: We started out with two people, and now we have seven people in the band. It’s grown quite a lot since five years ago.
When working on it that long, how do you know that you’re finished?
CW: That was actually a problem at points. There were a lot of things that delayed this. As we came to different places in our creative lives together, we just had to ask ourselves that constantly.
AH: That’s a problem, too. You can concentrate on something so much that at some points you can almost go in the opposite direction of where you want to be. You’re doing more harm than good in spending more time on it. At some point, you just have to let it go.
CW: Just being creative together was one of the things we loved and one of the reasons why we are together as a band. The process at times was really rewarding, but obviously you can work on something way too long. Records are not meant to be made for five years. I know this from my clients, but in terms of myself, for myself this was one of those big, epic, “trying to write a great American novel” kind of things. I’m not saying that, “Oh, this is the greatest record ever.” We are really proud of this, but it was a really challenging record to make and the songs were really personal. Sometimes they were hard to sing because they got so personal, so it took a long time.
What were you going for in the beginning, then?
CW: Well, we had been doing this mad-scientist-robot-girl rock show, where we dressed up as mad scientists and robot girls. We called it Rock Laboratory. We knew that we wanted to do something similar with Masterpiece Rock Parlour, where we wanted to put together content and fun and characters and costumes and a sense of imagination along with the music, however it was going to be interpreted.
How did it evolve during the process? How would you describe the sound now?
CW: Big, fun, melodic rock. We’re trying to embrace the ‘80s revival, I guess, but we’ve been doing that for so long that it just sort of came back around. It took so long to make it that we were sure that certain things about the record would be fun from certain decades, so I guess we were a little postmodern about what we decided would fit.
AH: The original intent was to lean more toward that rock’n’roll sound with that ‘80s or ‘90s flare, but it ended up in many songs, some will have more of a western or more folky sound, some are bluesy. This album ended up being kind of a crucible of sounds.
CW: A lot of the actual songs are about rock’ n’ roll themes you would hear in songs from the ‘50s and ‘60s and ‘70s. We’re not trying to be a catchall here. We talk a lot about what it is to have a calling and what it is to lose things for that calling. That’s a big part of what the record deals with from different angles—from money and love and death and those kinds of things.
Is that the personal aspect for you?
CW: Well, part of what made Chris Anderson and I start writing some of these songs (and then we, of course, finished the rest of this with the full band) is that we were pretty fascinated with having worked with so many amazing, talented people just everyday at Nightsound who are trying to get stuff out of their hearts and heads because it’s their calling. It’s who they are. We identify with that, and some of this is our personal experience and our stories and some of this is inspired from other people’s stories and struggles to deal with their calling. Like Aubrey’s saying, there’s this crucible thing where we end up taking so long to put so much together from so many different stories and places.
My father was really ill for many years before he passed away. That had a lot to do with a lot of the writing for me, but the record wasn’t just about any one thing. Everyone deals with balancing their artistic life with their normal life, and for me, that was the big challenge I was going through the whole five years of making this record. To be the best that I can be, how do I have one foot in the real world and one foot in the art world? How do I walk that line to be able to serve myself and the ones I love and be able to make great art?
Stranger Spirits release Masterpiece Rock Parlour Saturday, Nov. 17, at Local 506.
It took Ari Picker—the composer and songwriter who leads Chapel Hill's orchestrally inclined Lost in the Trees—four years to follow up 2008's All Alone in an Empty House. Though the record was reissued and expanded in 2010, Picker didn't debut a full collection of new songs until this year's haunting and fractured A Church That Fits Our Needs, an extension of All Alone's narrative and a tribute to his late mother.
It seems that listeners won't have to wait another four years for the Tress' next effort. The band recently played a session at the Los Angeles-based radio station KCRW and premiered a new song during the performance. The tune, called "Glass Harp," represents a tasteful evolution of the group's sound. The keyboard added to approximate A Church's complex arrangements is utilized in a pensive, reverb-rich piano part. Picker switches to an electric guitar, too, while effects create gauzy tangles from violin solos. The result is a gracefully distorted wash of melody and rhythm that pushes the Trees into new territory without forsaking their identity.
Lost in the Trees' entire KCRW session is available here.
Raleigh's Whatever Brains are nothing if not prolific. After releasing self-titled LPs in 2011 and 2012 that landed less than a year apart, the darkly sarcastic post-punks return with a video for "Bellied Up at Sick Town," a new demo that will likely be included on the outfit's in-progress third album. The video captures the Brains in their recent live line-up, which features the added percussion of an extra floor tom and two guys on synthesizer. The result is a complex and demanding track where rhythms ricochet off one another in disorienting fashion. One of the band's trademark bass lines mixes skuzz and muscle as synths steeped in '80s horror add a sense of stylish creepiness. The video mimics the sound as screens behind the band display videos of them playing, images doubling and refracting with psychedelic abandon. If the video leaves you hungry for more Brains, they have also posted another demo — entitled "Companymen" — to their website.