Posts Tagged ‘Sophomore Lounge’

Huevos II – III EP

I mentioned the relatively low-profile pop of Huevos II a little while back, but a deeper look into their inviting EP for Sophomore Lounge is worthwhile. The band boasts a solid lineup featuring Michael (Ma) Turner who’s held down time in Warmer Milks, State Champion, Teal Grapefruit and duo’d with Nathan Boweles. Turner hooks up with some fellow Western Mass heads, but eschews the obvious – swerving shy of the noise laden squall and psychedelic folk of his peers to work in a clean combed vision of pop that’s at least paid a day trip to the alters of Kiwi-pop and Fort Apache-bred US indie. They poke the wounds of Eric’s Trip. They lean back into the mellower moments of Hüsker Dü round about the Zen Arcade days. They dig though the remains of Angst and pick out the sprightliest sections for reexamination.

There’s something bygone about the EP, a remnant of the past unperfected. In exploring Hidden Gems on the site, I’m always looking for the connective tissue from scenes that didn’t materialize, but somehow seeped into the unconscious ether and this is a record that feels like the very notion of that. The Paisley Underground harmonies of “Alright” feed on the slightly misaligned angles of Flying Nun jangles in “Sandy Goes.” The slight twang of “Memories” sighs out of the East Coast Boston basements and the record does a good job of making the case that they were all part of one spontaneous continuum. There’s every indication that the bad isn’t doing this for keeps, but after this five-spot start, I definitely want more.




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Huevos II – “My Time Is Gone”

A jangled gem out of Massachusetts gives off glimmers of ‘90s practioners of the palette. There’s a hooky, harmonious feeling to Huevos II’s rose-colored collapse and it’s littered with the debris of The Pastels, The Chills, and The Sneetches. Like those, the band exhumes some ennui, though theirs seems to be a more American brand of sadness than these others, perhaps snagging a few Eric’s Trip allusions on their way out of the speakers. “My Time Is Gone” is a delightful downer that sinks into the marrow and mellows. The song sets up the band’s upcoming LP for Sophomore Lounge with some nice expectations. The debut EP lands on January 24th. Get that one on the wishlist.




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Bill Direen – A Memory of Others

In the lore of New Zealand rock, Bill Direen is a mythical figure. More than just a songwriter (though he’s a hell of one to be sure) Direen also served as a literary guide at the head of Percutio Magazine and he’s written as extensively on the page as he has in his songs. This new volume from Sophomore Lounge acts as a bit of a musical accompaniment to his life and works. Simon Ogston has directed a documentary about Direen — Bill Direen: A Memory of Others — and this serves as a companion piece to the film. It’s not a soundtrack, since the film itself doesn’t pull strictly from the recorded versions of Bill’s work, but the songs themselves are as integral to getting to know Direen as the film itself.

Direen kicked through several early bands in his youth – forming (the) Vacuum in 1980 along with soon to be members of The Pop Group. His band The Urbs laid the groundwork for The Builders (or Bilders depending what year it is.) The group’s debut Beatin’ Hearts still stands as an essential of pre-Flying Nun primal New Zealand rock and has cemented Direen in the roots of a sound that would continue to expand and explode in and around Christchurch in the years to come. The album, covers his time in The Builders and beyond, but this is no chronological arc. The record skips scattershot between periods and players, giving a three-dimensional picture of Direen’s work.

The songs move from early, fuzz-caked but brilliant pop nuggets to arid and affecting poetry backed by more organic and quieter players. Direen traversed post-punk to folk while making it all seem like one long spectrum. Like the film that portrays him, the album is euphoric and melancholic, hallucinatory and revelatory. Direen’s name should always be among those being discussed in the formation of the Kiwi sound, but more than that, he should be among the best of those seeking to shove pop from its ivory pedestal – a punk in the truest sense of the term. He’s a peddler of pain and a seeker of light. His music and art deserve to be brought to the surface worldwide. I highly recommend checking out Ogston’s film to get some insight into Direen’s arc with some great commentary from a litany of fellow NZ players, and picking up this anthology of South Hemi bedrock.






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Warren Winter’s Band – “Crossbar Hotel”

Sophomore Lounge digs up a real gem here – a heady mix of folk, West Coast-leaning mellow rock ripples, and biker psych. The record is the work of Edward Winterhalder, now a leading authority on biker culture and author of several books on the subject. Around the time Winterhalder was based just east of Tulsa, OK, and working with the Bandidos, a club with a sizeable following that helped form the lyrical bent of Warren Winter’s Band. The record follows in the wake of Winterhalder’s previous outfit The Connecticut Dust Band, which Winterhalder fronted for 10 years previous to the formation of Warren Winter’s band. Where that band leaned heavier into the folk, here Winterhalder adds in the dose of hangdog country and prison blues that gives this one more heft.

Winterhalder taps his childhood friend Kurt Newman to drum on both this LP and its predecessor As I Was (’84). Alongside Winterhalder and Newman the band nabbed studio ringers and laid this down at Grace Studios in Connecticut. Both albums were released on Winterhalder’s own imprint Shovster records. While the haunting, desperate sound resonates nicely all these years later, its easy to see how it might have landed out of step when it was released in ’88. Thankfully, though, Sophomore Lounge followed the trail back to this one and given it a right proper release that features a hand-cut die cut sleeve and a limited 500 press. Fans of Gary Higgins, Raven, Spur, Circuit Rider and the spirit of outsider rock should find something to love here.

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State Champion

State Champion have been carving their initials in the bar wood for a few records now and this time around the gouge is getting hard to ignore. I’ll admit I’m guilty of not giving the Louisville band enough credit, credence, or most importantly enough time on the speakers. There are a lot of bands battling for the haggard and hangdog void left behind by The Mats, Uncle Tupelo and Camper Van Beethoven, but few are actually able to capture the effortless ease of any of those record shelf regulars. Ryan Davis belts like the best bar band basement chuggers inhabiting your average college town’s VFW circuit, but elevates himself out of the depression dens with his indefatigable wit and an ear for raw melancholy that’s enviable.

The magic of State Champion is they’re wading through an alt-country ramble that’s been picked clean before but making it work like few of their peers. Davis is without a doubt a big part of that. Much like fellow perennial underdogs James Jackson Toth, Ned Collette or Joseph Childress, he’s one of this generation’s great songwriters, sketching out a vision of the American Midwest that’s self-aware, unpretentious and biting. Full of crumpled last cigarette vignettes and bar rag blues, Send Flowers is without a doubt the best vision of their quarter-draft night aesthetic. While the band’s last couple of records wore down the threads on their flannel resolve, this one breaks through the disguise to reveal State Champion as more than just top-billed Louisville royalty.

Its not simply a vehicle for Davis though. While the touchstones of alt-country and bar rock aren’t revolutionary, the band backing him up are nailing the sound with a subtle grace. There are soft touch slide guitar runs that practically weep, fiddle that dances slowly in the corners, and an uncluttered strum that knows just when to step out of the way. There’s something beautiful in a record that lets the listener crumple in its wake. Send Flowers is that friend that will buy a few rounds when that relationship that stretched past the point of breaking finally does you in. It lifts you up with a few great stories and leaves you to think in the cold, numb embrace of the parking lot’s void staring up at the stars – afterward you’re better, even if you’re not better off.



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Thee Open Sex

After some great tapes and a release on their own Magnetic South Records, Bloomington’s Thee Open Sex bring their hypnotic sound to Sophomore Lounge. The new LP tumbles headlong into cosmic synth with a German Progressive punch. Still anchored by the core duo of John Dawson and Tylor Damon (Damon/Dorji Duo, Circuit Des Yeux), the pair augment their sound with the help of members of Burnt Ones, Creeping Pink and Call and Response House Band. White Horses is a meditation on a theme that covers both sides of the new release. Creeping and claustrophobic, the record drops out into minimal space with a core of repetition offset by a grinding drive doused in drone.

The band brings in further help from Kosmiche master in his own right Cooper Crain, who helped the band record and mix this crusher. With Crane guiding the shading on the LP the band takes the listener through the twists of a towering build. They start out in calm space as they ease into “Pt. 1,” rolling steady strums against a steady lap of percussive patter. The tension mounts over the course of the track, but it’s the flip where they let loose the power of the White Horse. By the end of “Pt. 2” the band has fully whipped the universe into a sonic froth, engulfing the listener in a psychedelic storm that threatens from all sides. Its almost a relief when the chaos clicks to a close, the clouds part and sun trickles in at the seams of madness. Recommended listening at maximum volume to really hammer home the heights of tethered tension on this record.



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Soft Gang

Soft Gang’s name is one of those non-descript monikers that feel like you’ve heard it before a dozen times over, akin to any number of animal tagged bands of years past or the constant beach combers that never cease to pop up. But for as much as their name tends to fold into the background of a thousand soft namesakes, their sound stands them up and apart from the rabble. They find themselves perched in a din of noise and krautrock precision and an experimental attitude that permeated the late ’90s core of post-rock lock-steppers like Don Caballero or June of 44. Though don’t for a second think that an association with post-rock means that the band is in anyway buttoned down and checking their mathematics of riff. Though they have the length and repetition on lock they also tend to wander off into noise breakdowns and some squelch that reminds me of Afrirampo or Nisennenmondai.

The band’s got some pedigree coming in, Dahm Cipolla (Phantom Family Halo, Sapat) on drums and Charlie Hines (Dichroics, Sabers) on bass form a formidable rhythm section that holds the fray in place, dirging when necessary and ramping up to a full rumble at a moment’s notice. There are areas where the band’s eponymous album drags, but those are soon forgiven for the moments when they burn and crinkle, singe and repeat. A few more listens strip away some of the artful coverings and expose an album with a heart that want’s to dance, just not in a way that’s carefree. If you can give yourself over to full body convulsions and a constant rocking chug, then Soft Gang have a song or two to unlock your spirit. Its got teeth when it needs it and for that I’m enjoying the ride.



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