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An Album a Day

Stock up on these recent local releases to keep your ears healthy, wealthy, and wise

 

We Are Jeneric

Animals Are People Too

Regarding children’s literature, Anton Chekhov wrote that “one should give children only what is also suitable for adults.” Regarding music, We Are Jeneric seem to claim that the converse is at least as true.

Like an increasing number of area bands, the duo spent this February holed up, whiling away the deep winter on the RPM Challenge to record an album in a month. By the time the weather turned warm, the album had grown into a full-fledged LP, and the couple’s Altamont farm had become a cacophonous menagerie of wildlife. Animals Are People Too documents the creatures that cohabit their land. It’s a cute idea, one that Eric Krans outwardly recognizes as customary for children’s music, but not exclusively so. The end product is a collection of songs and musical sketches that can be as dark and eerie as they are playfully anthropomorphizing, and hang together like a concept album ought.

It should come as no surprise to hear that Krans and Jen O’Connor received plenty of assistance from their Hobo Banned-mates, but the duo’s true third member is the parlor of their 19th-century farmhouse, in which the album was recorded. Fragmentary tracks like “The Bats and the Bugs” and “A Sister and Brother in the Kitchen Trying to Fly Like Eagles by Jumping Off of Counters” utilize lo-fi production techniques, like incantatory vocals mixed beneath clattering percussion and found sounds (church bells), to generate that “bedroom confessional” quality. A parlor is a meeting place, though, so much of the album is upbeat, uninhibited, and socially inviting. “The March of the Coyote” opens the album with ragged, brassy fanfare, calling to mind Beirut’s polyethnic dabbling. Similarly, “Crawfish and Frogs” lilts forward at an Afro-Cuban clip, and “Hey Mama Oriole, Over Here It’s Me” draws its spirit from a West African guitar riff.

Throughout, Krans stretches his voice to suit the various idioms, reaching for a mannered falsetto on “Turkey Vultures,” and reverting to a spoken reggae toast to chastise an invasive woodchuck on “Sir Charles the II.” Meanwhile, O’Connor’s voice provides steady counterpoint, doubled to spooky effect on “Murder of Crows,” and feathered into the toy-piano lullaby “Deer, Oh Dear.” The album’s strongest tracks, though, are the one’s in which the parlor has been filled (at least ostensibly), and a crowd of humans sing the part of “Nocturnal Animals” coming out of hiding.

As a whole, Animals Are People Too isn’t a bunch of “Old MacDonald” or even “Rocky Raccoon.” As the title suggests, animals can serve the same social functions that humans can, and, to rural people, their stories can be as relevant as the ones of their human neighbors. Sure, there’s something playfully childish about all this, but kids (and squirrels) have more fun anyway.

—Josh Potter

Aficionado

The Myth About Real Life

For the follow up to their self-produced Circus Music concept album from last year, the genre-defying (some would say indie-prog) Albany band Aficionado brought their prodigious crew of horns, mandolin, flute, guitars, drums and assorted other instruments to producer Don Fury’s Troy studio to record the exceptionally creative The Myth About Real Life, a whirling dervish of an EP that does justice and then some to the band’s legendarily frenetic live performances. A wall of horns and a twittering flute punctuate the anthemic title track about the perils of taking life too seriously, while the band wave their ’70s progressive-rock flag high on the carnivalesque “I Don’t Believe We’ve Met” and “Naysayers”—epic jams, the latter with a “Roundabout”-worthy keyboard breakdown.

—Kirsten Ferguson

Michael Benedict Jazz Vibes

The Next Phase

Recorded in the aftermath of the passing of his wife, Gail, veteran jazz percussionist and Greene County music teacher Michael Benedict responds to his personal tragedy with a hushed sense of resolve on this, his second release as a leader in the small-band format. The songs selected reflect Benedict’s keen interest in developing themes first developed by a former mentor, the often-overlooked musician Gary McFarland. These explorations are usually a refreshing take on the jazz-samba sound. Benedict’s clean and nimble vibraphone playing is the star attraction, but he also leaves plenty of room for his young band members to shine, with pianist Dave Solazzo playing with a particular dazzle and force throughout. High points include a lovely vocal performance by Julia Donnaruma on McFarland’s “Sack Full of Dreams,” and an exciting jaunt through tenor sax player Lee Russo’s “The Abenaki,” a gem reminiscent of the great Coltrane Quartet. A laid-back but involving album, perfect as a remedy for the cold and dark months ahead.

—Mike Hotter

The Cave Weddings

The Cave Weddings

Flying largely under the radar, a trio of accomplished garage-rockers from the heartland relocated to the Capital Region in the past year to attend grad school at UAlbany.

They formed the Cave Weddings, a dual-guitar-and-drums trio featuring Erin Dorbin (of Swedish Headaches from Kalamazoo, Mich.), Eric LaGrange (of Eric and the Happy Thoughts from Lafayette, Ind.), and drummer Nathan Meltz, who ran the Madison, Wisc., music-art collective the Wisconsin Pop Explosion.

Hopefully they’ll stay around a while. In a relatively short period of time, the group, now based in Troy, injected a burst of energy into the local music scene, bringing out-of-town garage bands here to play, releasing a 7-inch single on Chicago punk label HoZac Records, and putting out this limited-edition five-song EP of lo-fi, high-energy, retro guitar pop. With a shambolic beat and a chorus of catchy ba-ba-ba’s, lead track “Let’s Drive” channels both the Beach Boys and Ritchie Valens’ “Come On, Let’s Go,” while “When the Lights Go Out” recalls the best of the Phil Spector girl groups—hand claps and harmonies galore. More, please.

—Kirsten Ferguson

Alta Mira

Alta Mira

It’s been two long years since Metroland named Alta Mira the region’s Best New Band, and so there’d been some speculation that the category might carry a curse similar to that of being featured on the cover. [Ed.—We have determined the curse to be a myth.] As it turns out, the quartet had simply been cloistered away at Barefoot Studios in Massachusetts honing material for this, their full-length debut, the inaugural record for Albany upstart label Indian Ledge Records.

Thankfully, all that attention to detail has paid off, as Alta Mira is a powerfully mature offering that doesn’t shy away from either art-rock grandeur or radio viability. Vocalist Joe D. Michon-Huneau doesn’t hesitate to display all that his sterling pipes can do, with a post-emo penchant for musical theatrics that ranges from Jeff Buckley confessional to Cedric Bixler-Zavala virtuosic. But as much as Michon-Huneau dominates the disc, brothers Hunter and August Sagehorn (guitar and bass, respectively) shape it. Standout tracks like “Sinker/Or,” with its Sea and Cake lilt, and “Slumberjack,” built on a bed of fuzz bass, prove that the band are hiding some serious chops behind their economic songcraft. Like a post-Radiohead Andy Summers, Hunter prefers to play delicate time-signature games with his brother and drummer Tommy Krebs rather than take a solo, and “Harder They Fall” succumbs to outward because-we-can prog-rock. Dig the hazy “Interlude” for what the instrumental trio can do by their lonesome.

Graced with the kind of masterly production that used to be reserved for major-label acts, this is a serious disc from a band with serious aspirations. More than shake a curse, this one should set Alta Mira up for loftier superlatives.

—Josh Potter

Public Noise Concern

Yesterday’s Trash Is Full

Last February, as BMX bikers and skateboarders executed tricks off ramps near the stage, Public Noise Concern—an “all-girl” punk trio from East Greenbush—competed in a battle of the bands contest, hosted by local radio personality Ralph Renna, at the Shelter Skate Park and Shop in Albany. Skaters and spectators alike cast their votes for PNC as the best band of the day, and the trio won the contest’s top prize: studio time donated by influential producer Don Fury, who had opened his new recording and mastering studio in Troy just months before. Yesterday’s Trash Is Full is the result of that session: a four-song EP capturing the trio’s considerable pop-punk charms. Though barely out of their teens (if that), the scrappy threesome (Katie, guitar; Heidi, drums; and Kate, bass and vocals) have a five-year history of playing together. The camaraderie comes through on a pair of fast-paced kiss-off tunes for the doubters and haters, “Out in the Open” and “Yesterday’s Trash,” but also on the more dire but personally affecting closing track, “Don’t Be Emo About Chemo.”

—Kirsten Ferguson

Dan Berggren, John Kirk, and Chris Shaw

North River, North Woods

The cover photo of a mountain stream in winter sets the tone for the recording within: North River, North Woods, by upstate folkies Dan Berggren, John Kirk and Christopher Shaw, offers a tonic of traditional and contemporary acoustic music, much of it sounding like it originated in the 1800s, a time when large tracts of the Adirondack Mountains that the record celebrates had yet to be seriously explored.

Although the three have been mainstays of the local folk scene for years, this release marks the first time they’ve joined forces on an album. (Of the 17 tracks here, though, they play as a trio on only seven of them, the remainder being duets or solos.) Berggren, the songwriter and banjoist of the group, contributes six original tunes, while fiddler-mandolinist- guitarist-flautist Kirk serves as picker-in-chief. Although they all sing, Chris Shaw is easily the best vocalist here, his sturdy baritone bringing to mind Doc Watson’s resonant pipes. Berggren, Kirk, and Shaw are also joined by guest artists Garth Hudson (of The Band) on accordion, blueswoman Rory Block on harmony vocals, fiddle whiz Cedar Stanistreet and Finest Kind’s Ann Downey, who sings “Log Driver’s Waltz.”

The CD opens with Kirk’s fiddle on “Irishtown Breakdown” a tune named after a small burg near Schroon Lake, and segues into “Once More A-Lumbering Go,” a rousing heigh-ho type of work song with a melody reminiscent of a Civil War anthem. Another highlight is “The Ballad of Blue Mountain Lake,” sung by Shaw, which chronicles the rowdy exploits of long-forgotten local roughnecks. But the gem of the record is the majestic, elegiac fiddle duet, “Be Thou My Vision,” played beautifully by Kirk and Stanistreet. Folk fans will love this disc.

—Glenn Weiser

The Boston Celtics

The End of Mont Pleasant

Don’t let the name fool you. This isn’t some second-career foray into hip-hop by the likes of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett; although, it’s likely that Ryan Stewart and Richard Nolan Jr. (also of Beware! The Other Head of Science) have fond memories of Shaq’s fantastically bad “Shoot Pass Slam.” The experimental pop duo’s debut is peppered with fleeting glimpses of cultural kitsch (was that just a piece of the Jurassic Park theme? An Alanis Morissette lyric?), but, unlike many who wade into ironic waters, the pair has managed to assemble an album that’s as sweet and true as it is fun.

With opener “Mont Pleasant,” the disc promises bedroom-tape intimacy with acoustic guitar, melodica, and grand David Byrne-style vocals, EQed for lo-fi haze. The vocals, however, are the only bit that persists. “Let’s” has a jaunty Casio beat, a la White Williams, that marks a turn into the cheeky synth territory familiar to Beware. Along with tracks like “Paramour” and the excellent “Eventuality,” the disc brings the laptop dance party—in the “glo-fi” manner of Neon Indian and Memory Tapes—but remains more complex (and, frankly, more enjoyable) with tracks like “Bond of the Alderman,” a droning piano ballad, and the spacious lament of “Pride.”

The term “experimental pop” can seem like a contradiction, but the Boston Celtics make music that’s both altered and accessible. Each track here is a thorny tangle of electronic chatter and muddy human voices, but each one is also, undoubtedly, a “song.” The End of Mont Pleasant isn’t really a bedroom confessional or a party mix, but it might make you cry and/or dance, hopefully at the same time.

—Josh Potter

Eric Margan and the Red Lions

Midnight Book

Midnight Book, the full-length debut released by Eric Margan and his Red Lions troupe back in spring, is one of the most notable local releases of 2009, if not the most ambitious. The loosely themed song cycle follows a romance from its thrilling beginning to its disillusioned end; in a dozen baroque-pop tracks, the album wraps references to Greek mythology, ancient Roman history and recurring water metaphors in gorgeous layers of ornate instrumentation.

Margan, a classically trained 22-year-old Columbia County native, composed and arranged Midnight Book for an ensemble including the core Red Lions quartet (Margan, drummer James Bertini, guitarist/keyboardist Rick Spataro and bassist-guitarist Scott Kellerhouse) and additional piano, trumpet, violin and cello players. The results are impressive. From the sparkling piano flourishes that start off album-opener “An Ocean Blue” (when giddy lovers meet) to the mournful strings that capture the relationship’s demise on closer “Without the Sun,” Midnight Book is melodically memorable and lushly elaborate without being overwrought.

—Kirsten Ferguson

Bone Parade

Vollmondlieder

It’s rare when a band’s style heading on their MySpace page actually describes the way that band sounds—especially if they trend toward the experimental end of things—but “ethereal doom” seems to sum up Bone Parade rather well. A sense of unease (maybe even disease) arises from the opening swell of “Mandragora” and carries through the duration of Vollmondlieder, a five-track EP by married duo and Albany Sonic Arts Collective regulars Kevin Johnston and Erica Sparrow. From the hand-sewn sleeve to the collaged liner-notes, this one’s a real-deal short-run underground CD-R release, that is, a genuine labor of love—which makes the music therein all the more disturbing.

Johnston’s bleak drones pair scorched bass with windy atmospherics in a manner that owes more to doom metal acts like Sunn O))) and Boris than abrasive industrial bands like Einstürzende Neubauten. It’s more foreboding than combative, but it’s still the kind of stuff you’ll fear playing at high volumes while understanding that loud is the only way it really works.

Sparrow takes the hooded occult ritualism of the music one step further with chilling churchy vocals. On “Mandragora” she uses Johnston’s sonic canvas as the basis for an operatic German Lied. On “Selenite,” she floats while Johnston blacksmiths a thunderous dirge. However, it’s in the Gregorian incantation of “Remember/we are not this” on “The White Ship Has Sailed,” and the spoken-word narration of “Death and the Maiden” that the doom gets grounded in ideas. Oddly, and interestingly, this is pastoral music that credits the fall of humanity with the rise of the machine but uses both forces equally. Ethereal doom, indeed.

—Josh Potter


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