Album Review – “Bleak Plaza”, A Noisy Burst of a Joy Ride

Bleak Plaza by Bleak Plaza

Hitting play on Bleak Plaza was a good idea. The Denver based group’s debut album kicks off with an immediate hit of energy on the title track “Fire in The Olfactory”, and it doesn’t soon let back on the acceleration. Track 3 “Say It and It Dies” brings a satisfying change of pace via catchy driving beats that transition from garage-y slacker rock to swirling kraut rock. These moods are complimented by clever motifs in the lyrics such as “when we’re dancing in the dark do you really care what the lyrics are…”.

Furthermore, this album will never bore you with stale grooves and patterns. Track 4 “Some Things Happen” starts off with a funky no-wave-esque groove that drops into a agony-tinted heart pounding finish to the song.

The second half of Bleak Plaza continues with the same pattern of passionate noisy pop songs with dynamic genres layered on top. The tight driving feeling of “Night of Vampires” is reminiscent of “Hard to Explain” by The Strokes. It brings a similar lovely feeling of driving in a car in a city filled with neon lights.

The final song “Until I Untie” quickly became my favorite track off the record (because I’m an absolute sucker for any simple powerful pop song such as this). In addition, the guitar tones are on point with perfect EQ, drive, and modulations. This song will make you feel as scared as you did the first time you felt that classic teenage reflex of pure romance squeeze your chest.

Bleak Plaza wastes no time in fulfilling its purpose of delivering an eclectic stream of toe tapping lo-fi power pop that will make you feel like you’re falling backwards into a swimming pool filled with nostalgic goop. I sincerely hope that this Denver based group will come play in SLC soon. This one will definitely be in heavy rotation in the rock/indie and Midday Mix shows right here on K-UTE Radio.

Like them on Facebook here: Bleak Plaza

 

The Grateful Dead’s “Holy Grail”: Does It Hold Up?

 

What elements are required to make a show the “greatest of all time”?  Is it the location, the quality of music, the performance, or a combination of all of these elements?  With the Grateful Dead’s official release of their long held “Holy Grail” show, which took place in Barton Hall, at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York on May 8, 1977, listeners get the chance to find out.

As any more-than-casual fan of the Grateful Dead knows, it’s not long after one’s introduction to the band’s huge catalog of live recordings that whispers (or in some cases, shouts) of a singular date, May 8, 1977, begin to appear.  I can personally remember sitting on the lawn at SPAC, my local summer amphitheater in New York, waiting for a Phish show to begin, and hearing a remark made behind me by a former Deadhead, arguing with his companion, “No, man, no way you can beat May 8th, man.”

So it was with some excitement that I sat down to hear the Grateful Dead’s first official release of this famous show, promising crystal-clear audio for a show that has only ever been heard through audience recordings and soundboard patches.  Regarding audio quality, like so many shows from 1977, the sound is very strong and well mixed, with all band members being able to be discerned.  Phil’s bass is very strong (always a concern), just check out “Dancin’ in the Streets” with your subwoofer to see what I mean.

However, it’s not the audio quality alone that makes the great show. For those who have never listened to the Grateful Dead, this is perhaps the perfect show to start with.  Set One comes out the door with the classic late-1970s Dead sound, leading off with some Bob Weir-sung swagger on “New Minglewood Blues”. By “Lazy Lightning>Supplication” though, the Dead are beginning to reveal their true form, as the song begins to shed its verse-chorus structure and depart into musical freedom, lead by Jerry Garcia’s somewhat restrained lead guitar. Later in the set, the band moves through a solid version of its folk-y classic “Brown-Eyed Women” and sees Jerry Garcia lay down a strong “Row Jimmy”.  It is the closing song of Set One that stands out, though. The aforementioned “Dancin’ in the Streets” certainly dates this concert, but it is still a nearly 20 minute trip through a psychedelic disco, with the band tight as ever, each floating around the central groove before rejoining to end the song. 

It is in Set Two, however, where the magic of the Grateful Dead really shines.  If Set One represents some level of musical restraint, then it can be said that the opening notes of “Scarlet Begonias” represent a point of no return into total musical freedom.

Paired with its longtime song partner, “Fire on the Mountain”, this monster 25 minute “Scarlet Fire” cements its place as one of its most popular examples, with a focused mid-point transition, and Jerry Garcia’s guitar soaring above the huge wave of sound provided by his bandmates during the last half of “Fire on the Mountain”.  The following “Estimated Prophet”, a personal favorite, is the darkness to the light that precedes it, with Bob Weir describing a seemingly apocalyptic vision of delusion with a backdrop of a romanticized version of America before allowing the music to leave into a snaking cosmic exploration.  The band comes back to Earth with a strong version of the classic favorite, “St. Stephen” sandwiching a sprawling “Not Fade Away”.

What comes next, though, is for me, the high water mark of perhaps all of the Grateful Dead that I have heard, truly.  Attendees of the concert have since described feeling a wave of energy radiate from the crowd as they heard the opening notes of this “Morning Dew”, a relative rarity.  Beginning as a low-energy, somber tune, “Morning Dew” rises in energy as it progresses to its emotional peak, where instrumental music says all and more than lyrics possibly could have.  Closing with the utterance, “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway…”, Jerry Garcia speaks to the existentialist that lives within all, urging listeners to live in the present, as the past is gone and the future is coming.

So is this truly the “greatest Dead show of all time”?  For me, this question can not be answered, as the musical power that the Grateful Dead convey can not be simplified to any moment, song, or concert.  What this concert is, though, is a measuring stick.  This concert brings unparalleled consistency, power, tightness, exploration, and emotion together to deliver the trademark Dead experience.  So, if you can only listen to one Dead show, make it this one.

This concert can be heard on the Grateful Dead’s newly released “Cornell 5/8/77” set, either as a 3-CD or 5-LP set, or, of course, on digital streaming and download services.

http://www.syracuse.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2017/05/legend_of_1977_grateful_dead_show_at_cornell_lives_on_at_40th_anniversary.html

http://www.spin.com/2017/05/grateful-dead-day-cornell-show-40th-anniversary/

http://www.stereogum.com/1939833/why-even-non-heads-should-listen-to-grateful-deads-famous-cornell-show-from-40-years-ago-today/franchises/sounding-board/

 

 

What’s The Deal With Jam Rock? (Or, What Happened to the Tuesday Rock Show?)

As one or two of you may have noticed, the Tuesday Rock & Roll show has gotten a little weird over the past couple of weeks.  Gone are any semblance of verse-chorus structured songs, or even any song structures at all.  Instead, long, meandering jams, seemingly devoid of any purpose, often lasting well over ten minutes, seem to have taken their place.  So what’s going on with this spaced-out music and why is it a part of the Rock Show?

Vermont-based jam band Phish (http://phishthoughts.com/tag/new-years/)

Jam rock has deep roots in rock music; there is no genre that describes it more closely, hence its name.  But listen a little more closely, and you may hear the country-blues-rock-jazz fusion of the Grateful Dead, the Zappa-esque funk grooves of Phish, the “jamtronica” of Lotus (peep Jessica’s recent review of Lotus at Park City Live: http://kuteradio.org/tag/lotus/), or the progressive influences in the music of Umphrey’s McGee.  This is an eclectic genre that truly shines in its most unrestrained form, live performance.  Jam bands, in a practice that is not widespread around the live music scene, never perform two shows with the same setlist.  More importantly, though, no two songs are ever performed exactly the same.  Jam bands perform their shows “without a net”, that is to say, they have no set plan for how any single song will be played. Instead, their extended musical explorations, which often branch out of rehearsed song sections, are reflections of a single moment in time which will never be replicated.  Such is the beauty of jam rock: it is an endless supply of new music due to the fact that no two performances will contain the same music.  Though it may be a hard concept to explain, there is no greater musical gift than to be able to constantly hear totally new versions of your favorite song, with familiar parts where they should be, and totally new pieces elsewhere.  Thus, live recordings (apart from going to concerts!) represent the best way to consume jam rock, which each unique performance captured as a musical snapshot of a particular moment.

Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead (https://www.pinterest.com/farrelltimlake/homegrown-dead/)

So you might be thinking, “Just because they jam doesn’t mean that it is good!”. You would be absolutely right.  With such unplanned, improvisational music, flubs and truly aimless jams are bound to happen.  But when all elements come together and bands are firing on all cylinders, amazing moments occur.  At their best, for example, the legendary guitarist Jerry Garcia can be heard weaving flowing melodies throughout the rhythmic tidal wave of the Grateful Dead, and Phish’s legendary ability to turn jams on a dime gives them an ability to bring frenzied musical-freak outs to soaring, totally focused peaks.  Often, audience reactions can be heard slightly on recordings, and there is a clear sense of mutual exchange of energy between the bands and their audience as each push each other to continue exploring musically.

http://www.dead.net/fanphotos/jfk-stadium-7-10-87

Before you dismiss jam music as only for spaced-out hippies and freaks, give it a listen.  It works equally well in the background or for focused listening.  Let the bands take your ear with them wherever they decide to go, and recognize the depth of musical theory, knowledge, and experience that allows these bands to step onstage without a set plan.  You may begin to notice clear signs of totally unspoken musical communication between band members, and you may be surprised to hear the return of familiar chords and lyrics after particularly meandering or intense jams.  Should you enjoy the music and continuing listening, you may begin to get the sense that there is a huge community around this music, but that topic is for another day.  In the meantime, you might be able to start to understand how a little Vermont band like Phish can sell out four nights in a row at Madison Square Garden nearly every New Years weekend, or how a bunch of hippies from late-60s San Francisco, called the Grateful Dead, were able to fill football stadiums well into the 1990s.  There is truly more to this music than first meets the ear.

Interview with Bad Suns

As a long time fan of the LA alt-rock band, Bad Suns, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to sit down and talk to them about their newest album Disappear Here. Along with that, I was also able to interview the band about their current tour, as well as ask a few questions about their previous album, Language & Perspective.

My first encounter with Bad Suns was in 2014 when I ran into their music online. I quickly fell in love with their songs, and after a couple months I received their Language & Perspective vinyl as a birthday gift. Their catchy hooks and energetic songs make them the perfect band to sit down and jam out to, but they also don’t shy away from music that focuses on more serious issues and contain a lot more lyrical depth.

I met up with the band at The Complex on February 28th; the winter weather was still lingering as fans huddled up in a line outside of the venue. I met up with the band inside where I was able to meet all of the members. I was first introduced to Christo Bowman (Lead vocals and guitar), then Gavin Bennett (Bass), Ray Libby (Guitar), and Miles Morris (Drums).

After we all sat down, I asked the group about their newest album, Disappear Here, and how  their sound has changed and evolved from their first album, Language & Perspective.

“We felt in a lot of ways that Language & Perspective feels like the first couple of dates with a person; you present yourself the best that you can, showing the best sides of yourself, but with Disappear Here it’s kind of a bit more like falling in love…There’s more vulnerability there and it goes a bit deeper, but at the same time it’s still the same person,” Christo explained.

While Language & Perspective is still one of my favorite albums, it’s easy to tell that Disappear Here feels more confident and structured while still maintaining their original sound.

I then asked the band about the album title itself, Disappear Here, and how the name came about.

Christo explained, “We were in the studio and I was reading the book Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis, which is one of my favorites, and there’s a billboard that appears in the narrative a few times that says ‘Disappear Here.’ I remember we were thinking of album titles…and it kind of encapsulated everything we wanted it to. It’s like instructions too, to an extent, it’s like sit down, put your headphones on, and disappear here.”  

For myself, music has always felt like an escape, but with the track list for Disappear Here it’s very easy to follow the album’s directions; just sit back and get lost in the music.

Lastly, I talked to Bad Suns about their most recent tour. Coincidentally, Salt Lake City was their first show on the list, so I asked them about what they all looked forward to the most when performing live on their tours.

“I was talking to my uncle just the other day about this. It’s a really cool real life manifestation of your hard work. It manifests itself into people physically spending their time to go buy a ticket or drive to the show; it’s really encouraging.” Ray explained.

Christo chimed in, “Yeah it feels like the reward aspect of what we do…It’s one thing when we put a record out, and it’s great to see that people are listening to it…but you don’t really get the full picture until you come to a show and you see a room full of people singing along to the entire record and you go ‘Oh wow, this is real, these people are actually spending time with our music,’ and that’s just an incredible feeling.”

It was definitely really nice to see how humbled the band was to be playing live, and as a fan, I was definitely humbled to be able to sit and interview them.

If you’ve never listened to Bad Suns before, make sure to check out the song below. Sadly, they’ve already passed through Utah, but if you’d like to see them in the future during the rest of their tour, be sure to check out their tour dates for this Summer!

 

The Orwells – Terrible Human Beings

The Orwells are at it again with their third release almost three years after the well-received Disgraceland. However, with this new record comes a new set of challenges for the group: not only are they in competition with their earlier releases, but also, the question of how long rock and roll records are going to keep getting attention. In some views, The Orwells are our today’s Strokes: five dudes making rock and roll; claimed to be saviors of the genre; youthful, spirited, sexy; etc. But it’s the contrast between the two bands and their respective eras that bring up the obstacles of reality this new record faces: the Strokes got to be in a world where MTV still gave a shit about music; the Orwells get to hope that a portion of one of their songs play while VH1 transitions between episodes of “America’s Next Top Model;” the Strokes got to release records when people were still buying them; the Orwells get to have their pennies snubbed by Apple Music and Spotify; the Strokes were able to inspire a generation of kids to pick up a guitar; the Orwells might be some of the last of those kids. However, their situation isn’t all dismal. They are still able to tour as a group and they do have an unprecedented ability to make old rock and roll tropes seem alive and well.

https://is1-ssl.mzstatic.com/image/thumb/Music71/v4/0c/4c/ce/0c4ccea5-8262-49ad-5a77-7c23fd948b06/source/1200x630bf.jpg

“They Put a Body In the Bayou” came out late last year and made promise the band was going to make another good delivery. Batting off the record it sets a high standard that are quickly followed up by “Fry” and “Creature,” two tracks that demonstrate the sassy yet relatable demeanor that has become loved of the band. “Buddy,” also an early single, probably comes out of the record as the best looking track. It’s quick, under a minute-thirty and is about one-night-stands, which has always been a favorite of rock and roll. “Hippie Soldier” and “Heavy Head” keep the record moving at solid rates with tormented guitars laments of “the easy way out” until it arrives at “Body Reprise,” a minute-fifteen ambient track full of hollow “ooooohs” with a vacant drum beat that I’m sure Brian Eno could at least nod at.

Wrapping up the record, “Ring Pop” and “Last Call” bring on a noise level that calls across to pond and time to those 1970s pub rock bands like Duck Deluxe and Dr. Feelgood who were as indifferent to the last call as the Orwells are to diminishing record sales. “Double Feature,” clocking at a surprising 7:18 for the band, brings on a perspective of questioning life choices and what chance a man has “from the wrong side of the tracks.” After few verses and choruses, the band dive into an instrumental break with guitar technical that surfaces images of what Television was doing years ago and introduces more howling vocals similar to what was going on in “Body Reprise.”

By the end, though, this record turns out to be a solid release, but, however, nothing more significant than that. It’s an album defined by the rock and roll tropes it lives up to. Nothing is out of place, wrong or a short step from the Orwells, it’s just very familiar. Without a newer cause or figurative idea of what rock and roll could be, it comes out as another record. Thirty years ago if this had been released it would have gotten a fair amount of attention and deserved it. Though, if it were released a hundred years from now no one would probably know it. Terrible Human Beings is a good record, but, however, because of the times and with all of the other noise out there, it’s just not that exciting.

Interview with Sunsleeper

Following the release of their new EP, Stay the Same, I had the pleasure of sitting down with local emo/rock band, Sunsleeper, to discuss their music, background, and plans for the future.

I met up with Sunsleeper at Kilby Court for their December 17th show. After the band finished up with their soundcheck, we all headed into the green room where I was introduced to the members of the band: Jeff (Guitar and Vocals), Scott (Drums), Eli (Bass), and Thys (Guitar and Backup Vocals).

We started off the conversation by discussing the history of the band and how Sunsleeper formed into what it is today. Jeff began by explaining that before Sunsleeper, all of the members were in various bands around Salt Lake and met up with one another through mutual friends. Strangely enough, before the band had even formed, Scott and Jeff had ended up standing next to each other at a concert without any knowledge that one day they’d be in a band together.

Before the interview, however, I was able to listen to a little bit of their soundcheck and noticed them playing a song from the band, Brand New, an emo/rock band from New York. I then asked the band what some of their musical influences were.

“100% Brand New… Brand New is my biggest influence, [they’re] the reason I started playing music in the first place…,” Jeff explained.

While Sunsleeper is heavily influenced by Brand New, they create a sound that’s unique to them; something that’s genuine and personal. The song “Maple Drive,” especially, is an emotional amalgamation of soft and clean melodies with a gritty chorus and heartfelt lyricism. While listening to their EP, I might’ve shed a tear or two, but I think an album is truly special when it can elicit that much emotion in its listeners.

Apart from their sound, something that truly stood out to me was their album art. The image is a simple flower on top of a light blue background, but the photo is so striking and elegant, and perfectly encompasses the feel of the band. Because album art is such an iconic part of a band’s image, I asked them about their process in choosing the photo. Jeff talked about how one of his close friends Ryan ended up being the photographer for their main album photo:

“He [Ryan] was my best friend growing up… and I randomly went to his company page… and I looked at his header photo…and was like ‘that’s it’…I remember sending it in a group text [to the other band members] and everyone was just like ‘that’s the record cover’… And it’s especially special to me that it was Ryan who took it because he’s basically my brother.”

Lastly, I asked the band if they had any plans for future releases.

“We’re working on some stuff; tentatively want to record sometime next year [2017]. It’s really up in the air, but yeah we probably have 4 or 5 skeletons of songs,” Jeff mentioned.

Thys added: “We are trying to stay as busy as we can, we’ve gotten a lot of traction lately and want to be really action-oriented, so hopefully we can get some music out sooner than later.”

While new music is still in the works, it’s obvious that Sunsleeper is definitely a band to keep an eye out for in the future. If you haven’t heard any of Sunsleeper’s music, take a listen the song “Maple Drive” below and definitely check them out on their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr!

 

 

Editor’s Spotify: Theo Katzman’s Heartbreak Hits

I was listening to my Discovery Playlist on Spotify earlier the week when I found someone I had to talk about, an LA based rocker named Theo Katzman and his album Heartbreak Hits. Katzman’s Soul, Rock, and Jazz influences combine to create a modern rock album that hits all check marks, even a punky picture of the lead man on the cover, and it’s all I’ve been listening to this week.

There’s not a bad track on this album, from top to bottom and front to back it’s solid as a rock. The opening track I Put In The Hard Work where Katzman laments time and energy put into a past romance, gives us something of a teaser. While subject matter, like most songs on this album, isn’t going to give anyone a revelation about break ups, it’s so well done I couldn’t help to groove to it. The guitar heavy intro brought me in as a well composed swinging beat topped off by Katzman lyrics sung with in classic rock falsetto, there was no escape I needed to listen to the whole thing.

Heartbreak Hits isn’t afraid throw a fast ball and switch to a slow song like Break-up together and my 1-bedroom. Katzman’s grooving energetic tone somehow sticks around during these tracks and I still found myself rocking back and forth as he shows a more sensitive touch. These songs are heavily influenced by Katzman’s Jazz upbringing with a strong focus complex melodies and employing full use of the chorus and piano that otherwise take a back seat to guitars and Katzman’s lead vocals for the rest of the album.

Katzman is at his best when he goes loud. In this humble editor-in-chief’s opinion there is no exciting moment on Heartbeak Hits then when Katzman goes full rocker. The guitars whale, the drums burst into a beat straight out of the garage, and Katzman puts all out there the mic. My Heart is Dead, Lost and Found, and As the Romans Do are the type of polished and heart-felt rock songs that we just do not get a lot of these days, and it’s great to hear a student at the Art go town.

Although with all of that said I would be remorse if I didn’t mention the album’s most powerful track. Paine Jane Heroine. I can’t tell if the song is about a girl, Heroin, or some combination of both. But after learning about the Opioid epidemic that faces our country this week I couldn’t help but be moved. The song is sliced somewhere in the middle when it comes to energy, not soft not loud but perfect for painting the picture of drug addiction and its disastrous effects on lives. The sincerity and simplicity that make this album work is on full display and if you are going to listen to one song off this album this is the one.

Heartbreak Hits isn’t a complex album. There’s minimal amounts of production that creates a clean sound. There is no wonky instrumentation to create some weird hook and Katzman barely isn’t flashy in any sort of way, he is just a dude lookin’ to rock. It’s ten solid Pop Rock songs on level that I haven’t heard in while that together create the solidest album I have so far this year, take or leave it, but that it’s what’s on my Spotify.