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True to Form

By Josh Potter

Ashley Pond Band

The Warning

It’s tempting to use the term “slow burn” to describe the way many tracks on The Warning spread from singer-songwriter Ashley Pond’s acoustic sketches into fully formed roadhouse arrangements. If you consider the ground covered between sultry opener “No More West to Be Won” and disc-closing mini-epic “The River,” the whole album is a slow burn. Indeed, it’s a testament to the band’s range that it won’t become clear to the listener until the snarling title track that we’re dealing with a bona fide blues band here. However, for those who have followed Pond since the release of Dala in 2007 and through the addition of bassist Sarah Clark and drummer Scott Smith, this assertion should come as no surprise.

Cool composure runs through the uptempo tracks (“Breaking Day,” “Wolf Man”) in the manner of Van Morrison, while achieving a haunting, ethereal effect on the slower ones (“Meet Me”), and the band—extended at times to include strings, reeds, vibraphone, horns, and guitar work from Eric Halder—never assert themselves more than the song demands. Even in their mature, fleshed-out configuration, the group still are ultimately about supporting Pond’s enchanting and virtuosic voice, which tends to steal the attention from her equally impressive guitar playing. With the full band, tracks like “There You Are” trade what could be easy comparisons to Ani DiFranco and ’90s femme rockers for nods to Janis Joplin and Robert Plant. Never hesitating to draw a note out for its full effect, and warbling just outside a lyric’s point of resolution, Pond reaches for something more elemental than an acoustic songwriter’s average confessional fare.

Given the band’s penchant for the blues, ’70s production values, and owl iconography—not to mention a recent Alive at Five opening slot—it’s also tempting to draw some parallels between Pond and Burlington act Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. If the latter’s steep ascent can be read as an omen, it’s probably safe to say that things are just getting started for the Ashley Pond Band.


Invisible Cities

Given the genre’s relative consistency with the way it sounded 30-some-odd years back when Fela Kuti coined the term, it’s easy to forget that Afrobeat has always been a hybrid form. Nowadays, no music is safe from some cross-pollination, so it was only a matter of time before a few (mostly) white dudes from Ann Arbor, Mich. got their hands on Afrobeat and threw in a couple hyphens. NOMO have been around for a few years now, but Invisible Cities is their clearest articulation of a style that includes a healthy dose of electronic and experimental elements. Democratic, like the liberation movements Afrobeat has always championed, and true to the Italo Calvino reference in its title, each track is a small world built of simple, looping textures, delicately orchestrated yet powerfully executed. Present are the syncopated percussion, insistent basslines and haughty horn arrangements common to the form, but underneath it all, it’s not uncommon to hear an electric finger-piano, scrap-metal percussion, preset electronics, or a chorus of conch shells. Saxophones solo in and out of polyrhythmic drum figures before making hard left turns into brand new time signatures. It might be a stretch to call this stuff post-Afrobeat, as some are, but it’s worth noting that the influence of Charles Mingus, Sun Ra, and Miles Davis is felt here at least as much as that of Kuti. The band spell this out even more clearly by covering American avant composer Moondog’s piece “Bumbo.” Which begs the question, as an Afrobeat band, where do you go from there?

—Josh Potter

Ear Pwr

Super Animal Brothers III

It really puts things in perspective to wonder, these days, why everyone’s so happy in Baltimore. But the question’s valid: Due to Dan Deacon and Wham City’s influence, the Charm City is becoming known more for its caffeinated kitsch pop than its rusting industry and high crime rate. Haters call the whole bedazzled puff-paint freak-out shallow and escapist, but it’s also really fun.

Electropop duo Ear Pwr are a case in point. If the album title recalls a long-lost Nintendo game, this is no coincidence. Devin Booze’s untz-y beats and 8-bit synth hooks sound as if they’re lifted from NES classics like Contra, while Sarah Reynolds’ vocal approach is bubbly and aerobic, floating along with the non-sequitur logic of Wesley Willis. Songs like “Sparkley Sweater” (“you’re my favorite, favorite shirt”), “Ghostride the Buffalo,” and “Boyz II Volcanoes” are self-conscious three-minute blasts of early-’90s techno in the vein of bands like Aqua. Booze plays hype-man to Reynolds, who spouts beautiful bits of Fruity Pebbles psychedelia like “drink that glitter,” “diamonds falling from the sky as Alan Jackson began to cry,” and “there’s kitties in the pyramids, there’s kitties underground” on “Cats is People, Too.” It’s the sort of stuff that’s dying to be animated by the likes of spazz-collage artists Paper Rad.

As listening to the album front-to-back can test one’s patience, ideal operating instructions are as such: Listen to one toxically infectious track on repeat until it drives you crazy, then tuck it into the middle of a party mix for safekeeping. It’s guaranteed to make unsuspecting listeners uncommonly happy.

—Josh Potter

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