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Homegrown and Fresh-Cut

by The Staff on November 3, 2011

This season’s crop of local recordings

We Are Jeneric

Our Day in the Sun

Our Day in the Sun, an epic concept album about two adventurers’ journey from land to sea and back to find their rightful place in the world, marks a giant step for Jen O’Connor and Eric Krans.

They retain their folky charm with Krans’ warm acoustic guitar and upright bass lines, and compliment them with violins, jagged pianos, and splashes of aqueous keyboards. But even the folk signifiers like the acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies are inverted by subtle recording tricks like distant microphones and multitracked countermelodies.

The vocal performances by O’Connor and Krans on this album are stunning and evocative, like Krans’ falsetto leads on “We Are Free/Boat on the Sea” or “Full of Hope and Heart.” Beware listening to O’Connor’s spooky take, “My Teeth Are Falling Out in My Dreams,” while walking home alone at night. When she sings, “This time the cactus is rubbing me on the wrong side,” you’re liable to experience disturbances in your peripheral vision.

“To the Wind Like a Sail” synthesizes the simmering tension of the album’s middle into an arresting song of redemption. The song opens with rushes of timpani and panned nylon-string guitars as O’Connor’s and Krans’ vocals slowly fade in. When they reach full volume, their refrain pushes on your chest with the heft of a baby blue whale.

–Raurri Jennings

To learn more about We Are Jeneric’s Our Day in the Sun and get a first listen of select songs, tune in to 97.7 WEXT today (Thursday) at 2 PM for a special Local 518 performance and interview recorded in the Metroland offices with music editor Josh Potter. View video footage by Bhawin Suchak at metroland.net.

Around the World and Back

Big Beat

The fact that Around the World and Back sound like they could be the biggest band in the world could also be held against them. The band’s rock-star shades, Brit-rock swagger and indie heart could add up to a walking contradiction for some. Their latest disc, Big Beat, does nothing to dispel that sense of conflict. The first single “Old Man” could double for the latest Oasis single and is as catchy as fucking “Wonder Wall.” That song alone could stop some in their tracks, causing them to toss the CD out the window or have a new favorite band. But that track is not representative of the band’s sound—in some ways it’s their epic arena-rock closer. Meanwhile, album opener “Old Man” and standout tracks like “Alone” and “Lie to Your Mother” are propulsive and emotional indie numbers that sound years away from the stoic, gargantuan “Slave.” They sweetly pull on your heart strings and make you want to dance at the same time. Guitarist and vocalist Marco Testa brings the sweet and soaring vocals while guitarist and vocalist Bryan Shortell brings the blues and grit. And guess what: Bassist Matt Ippolito and drummer Jared Bashant aren’t bandbots. Their frantic grooves make the songs worth a click of the repeat button.

–David King

Phantogram

Nightlife

Likely the Capital Region’s highest-profile national act, Phantogram have been splashed across the pages of our country’s biggest publications, landed a multi-release deal with Barsuk Records, and graced the stage of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. And yet we still can’t tease out any hometown pride: We’ve been snubbed on their current national tour and receive nary a mention in most interviews.

I jest. Sort of. It’s likely that we, as a community, are just not used to watching a local act make the leap so quickly. Good on them. They’re in a small group of local-gone-national acts, and their success is a positive sign for other talented locals.

And so Phantogram’s whirlwind tour has brought us here, to their new six-track EP or “mini-album” dubbed Nightlife. The electro-pop, hip- and trip-hop, musique concrète and big-beat signifiers seen on the band’s earlier offerings—particularly 2009’s Eyelid Movies—are still here, alive and well. The vocals and keys of Sarah Barthel float around the guitars of Josh Carter. The rhythms are still kicking right along. It’s all very much in line with the band’s earlier work. Opener “16 Years” makes good on the promises offered by initial live versions and “Don’t Move” operates well as a buzz-creating lead single: catchy, accessible, danceable. The real highlight here, though, is “Make a Fist,” with its relentless guitar riff and lockstep drum programming leading a sound this band should undoubtedly chase further.

Unfortunately, the EP’s short run time leaves things sour. Sure, it’s dubbed a “mini-LP,” but the problem with this truncated release is that the lesser moments, the back-to-back “Nightlife” and “A Dark Tunnel,” which could be buried in a longer tracklist, stick out and wear thin quickly. If the style of these tracks is scrapped on the band’s next full-length for more cuts like “Don’t Move” and “Make a Fist,” it’ll be worth exploring.

–Taylor Morris

Yuko Kishimoto

Songbook

Yuko Kishimoto’s CD release party at the First Reformed Church in Schenectady’s Stockade District almost didn’t happen. Hurricane Irene came blowing through and left the block without power. The event was canceled, but was then “un-canceled” at the last minute and the admission fee was waived. This left members of the jazz community no excuse but to show up and give Kishimoto a proper send-off. She is a Japanese citizen, and was deported the day after the release party.

And so it is that Kishimoto’s debut album Songbook comes as a kind of farewell (for now) gift. Tunes like “Elements” already have a life of their own, as they are performed with Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble. Others like “Bow Wow Chow Mein” and “Humming” are sure to find a new life as they do such a good job of being likeable. The album features local greats Lee Russo on saxophones and John Menegon on bass, as well as New York City native Conor Meehan on the drums, who was introduced to Kishimoto by saxophonist Brian Patneaude.

Kishimoto’s tune “Sultry” is just that. It moves along at a slow Brazilian bossa tempo like that of the classic “Corcovado.” Russo’s tenor sound is more beautiful than (albeit heavily influenced by) Stan Getz. This particular tune may also be Kishomoto’s best solo performance on the album, as her lush chord voicings have enough room to resonate and breathe. Her voicings are probably her greatest strength, which explains why her music translates so easily to the big-band idiom. Menegon’s arco-style bass intro on “Maybe Someday” showcased not only his stoic stability but also his wise and deep solo voice.

–Jeff Nania

The Erotics

Boulevard of Choking Screams

Later this year, Albany’s favorite sleaze-rock merchants the Erotics are set to release a new five-song EP. The band returned to hardcore master Don Fury’s Troy studio for Boulevard of Choking Screams, a follow-up to last year’s blistering Today the Devil, Tomorrow the World, which cranked the vitriol way past 11. Boulevard of Choking Screams continues unrepentantly down the wrathful path, with the murderous stomper “Death With Heartbeat,” the deliciously profane kiss-off tune “Hell Is Where My Heart Is,” and the baiting “Wheelchair Fantasies of the Dumb and Retarded.” Only “Another Girl Gone” reveals a glimmer of regret, while the EP’s first single, “Your Bloody Frankenstein,” released in advance just before Halloween, turns that regret on its head and strangles the life out of it.

–Kirsten Ferguson

Rawhead

Psychopomp

The lifespan of Psychopomp, the 10-track debut vinyl release from Sub-Bombin Records instrumental beat-maker Rawhead, is one that lacks an expiration date. It continues to remain fresh ever since its July release.

The album itself is a rather quick listen, but that’s what gives it part of its charm, making it easy to vibe out to on repeat. The familiarity of the rhythms upon a second or third listen help the listener notice new details in the production, such as on the multidimensional “Soliloquy.” Another interesting detail is in the play on words in track titles: “Obtuse” is the shortest track and “Pause/Still” features playful, rhythmic diversity.

Strictly instrumental production doesn’t confine Rawhead to any one style, and he is able to occupy a variety of spaces and emotions, while still remaining creatively aware in his experimentation. The sounds adapt to many rooms and audiences, appealing to both hip-hop and electronic-based mindsets.

Following the 28-track release Beatwise & Alchemy back in 2008 and the 23-track release of its “leftovers” in 2010, Psychopomp is tightly compacted, and appropriately so, for this record is the beatsmith’s foray into a vinyl-exclusive release. An accompanying digital download exists solely as a courtesy, keeping the intended focus on the atmospheric feel of the record. “Side B” is also exclusively available on vinyl. The limited nature of the release is exciting, as it creates a contrast between the record’s physical limits and the boundless space that Rawhead’s thought-provoking yet subtle constructions digitally explore.

–KC Orcutt

Wild Adriatic

The Lion

Wild Adriatic’s debut EP is a polished study in guitar pop built with major glam and soul influences. Vocalist-guitarist Travis Gray has a bright, clean singing voice and a penchant for writing songs about love and all its trials. It would be easy on some levels to write the band off as a simple pop band with few artistic flourishes, built on the strength of Gray’s vocal chops, but the guitar interplay of lead guitarist Shane Gilman and Gray is simply magical and makes the dismissal impossible. Songs like “The Writer,” and “Lion in Its Cage” groove and pulse until the pair rip into nasty, bluesy Queen- and Allman Brothers-like solos that would make Jack White blush. The band have introduced a few new tunes at shows lately that are more bluesy and riff-based, and it seems like a wise direction. With focused songwriting that capitalizes on their chops, the band could easily be the next Black Keys.

–David King

Mark Jones and Jonesville

Honky Tonk Deluxe

Country music’s golden era, the age of honky-tonk, ran from the late ’40s to the mid-’50s, when Nashville producers, challenged by competition from the newly emerged rock & roll, adulterated the rootsy sound with pop ingredients like strings and choral voices. Honky-tonkers like Ray Price and Hank Williams sang to acoustic guitars, fiddles, pedal steels, and string basses—the lean and sassy sound Mark Jones calls home.

Recorded live in the studio, the self-produced Honky Tonk Deluxe is Jones’ second CD and offers 13 tracks of authenic old-school country. There are only two covers here; all the rest are Jones originals that sound as though they could have blared from barroom jukeboxes back when Harry Truman was president.

Then there’s Jones’ band, Jonesville. Local steel-guitar king Kevin Maul can seamlessly switch between dobro to lap steel to pedal steel as the moment demands, and Jay Byrd Goreleski’s girlie-pinup-decorated upright bass effortlessly lays down the groove. Guesting on the record is Peter Bearup, who adds tasty Telecaster twang and acoustic backing to the mix. Together they give great honky-tonk.

On the first track, “Baby, I Got to Go,” the band slap down a strutting groove, and Jones’ tenor is better than I’ve ever heard it as he sings of splitting town and his lady love as he heads for the next gig. Maul’s soloing is on the money. The third track, “Cadillac 8,” is a swingy instrumental that starts with a boogie riff by Jones, and on “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” Jones revisits Bill Monroe’s bluegrass classic, adding a fresh interpretation of the tune to the list started by Elvis. Honky Tonk Deluxe is pure country gold, and should win Jones many new fans.

–Glenn Weiser

Elizabeth Woodbury Kasius and Heard

Karibu

“Wow, this is way better than I expected.” That was my initial thought after popping in Elizabeth Woodbury Kasius and Heard’s most recent album, Karibu.

The journey begins with the title track and the rich, woody bass of local heavyweight John Menegon. The album has a warm, woody rainforest vibe that relaxes and invigorates you like a steamy shower. Some of the sounds on this record are native to jazz. The saxophone and electric piano timbres on the first track ensure that it is indeed part of that world. But I’m not entirely sure how to classify this record. There is improvisation; there are also extraordinary scripted melodies. But the flute-driven “Malaika Mlongo” has an almost traditional Peruvian flute-band sound, which iTunes automatically identifies as “world.” “Aire” recalls Miles Davis’ “Flamenco Sketches” with its slow, almost eerie melody.

There is something particularly old-world about the track “La Danse.” At the same time, it sounds like it could be the soundtrack to a futuristic movie. The clarinet has a 1920s way of bending notes until they whine like Benny Goodman. The clean sound of acoustic piano accentuates the clarinet and gives more of a modern jazz-club feel, but even this comes across as tango-esque at times as voices sing in exotic tongues. The percussive combination of Brian Melick and Zorkie Nelson is really what gives this album its overarching flavor and makes each track intriguing.

Karibu is an enjoyable but uncategorizable album. It registered on the national JazzWeek world-music charts, which is quite a feat for any group, but especially for one which we in the Capital Region can call our own.

–Jeff Nania

Barons in the Attic

Turn it Off and Take Out the Battery

Recorded in just five days at Black Dog Studios outside Saratoga Lake, the latest from Barons in the Attic captures a band at peak creativity.

“Turn it Off . . .” showcases a host of collaborators who fill out the band’s revved-up folk-rock sound with horns, keys and vocal harmonies. “Theme From a 90s Sitcom” opens with a burly ascending bass line, doubled by trumpet provided by B3nson guest Louis Apicello, and washes into a sweetly sung melody with vocal harmonies by another B3nson member, Jen O’Connor. O’Connor also guests on the first single, “Julia.” With guitars charging, the band dust off their pop savvy with a big chorus courtesy of singer Aaron Wilson, whose vocals fly low with the blasé charm of Evan Dando. The oh-oh-oh’s of the chorus belie the grizzly story told in the verse about the eponymous runaway who falls on some seriously hard luck.

The drawling shuffle of “Go Down Together” brings to mind Bright Eyes and the laid-back melancholy of I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. Matt Hamilton’s slide guitar and the singing saw bowed by Sgt. Dunbar multi-instrumentalist Dan Pardee provide the perfect soundtrack for making a bottle of rotgut wine disappear.

Turn It Off and Take Out the Battery is a document of a band stretching out. Barons in the Attic sample everything from post-punk on the ironically titled opener “End Song” to acoustic balladry on the album’s closer “Upstate Song,” but it never feels forced and retains a cracked pop sensibility throughout.

–Raurri Jennings