Rounding up some releases from Middle of the Map performers 

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Bloodbirds
Psychic Surgery
(Self-released)

Bloodbirds is the latest venture from Mike Tuley, best known for leading beloved Lawrence group Ad Astra Per Aspera. Since that band went kaput, Tuley has tooled around with some other local bands (the Grisly Hand, Dark Ages) and fronted the sprawling and infrequent freak-rock act Ad Astra Arkestra. But Bloodbirds seems like a more deliberate endeavor: The trio plays shows on the reg, and now it has pressed vinyl for its debut LP, Psychic Surgery. Those familiar with Tuley's old bands will recognize his fingerprints on Psychic Surgery, most noticeably in the wild, squealing fretwork. The tone is set in the rhythm section, though. Anna St. Louis' thick, sludgy bass and Brooke Tuley's cold-and-steady drumming create a grimy dungeon groove to support the ferocious, distorted chords and sirenlike wails coming off Tuley's guitar. "Rings," the album's most melodic and memorable track, breaks the mold and mood of the album, which is basically post-punk plus psych freakouts. But it's not necessarily the best track. "Post-punk plus psych freakouts" is a pretty good look for a band, and I can't think of anybody else wearing it as well as Bloodbirds.

The ACBs
Little Leaves
(High Dive Records)

The best song on Little Leaves, the new LP from pop savants the ACBs, is unfortunately also the shortest: "Surface" clocks in at only a minute and 40 seconds. That leaves you no other viable option but to just keep queuing up the song, over and over, to soak up its gorgeous, heartbroken melodies. (I'm up near 33 plays, according to my iTunes counter.) I only wanna see your face/And find out how you've been/Oh, oh, oh, sings frontman Konnor Ervin, sounding roughly as wounded and weary as Christopher Owens of Girls. "Xanies," a song that is probably about Xanax, follows the theme: About to walk through a crowded group of folks, and I forgot how to smile/Nobody wants me there, but I'm on my way. Ervin, you surmise over the course of Little Leaves, is not an especially comfortable adult.

It makes for pretty great listening. The ACBs started out playing energetic power pop, but as their lineup has changed and they've grown older, they've embraced a more complex, alienated worldview while retaining their pop convictions. Ervin works as an independent landscaper, and Little Leaves teems with the kinds of observations that might accompany an afternoon of pushing mowers and trimming hedges in solitude. Note the desperate but determined Zen of "Attic Fan": Little leaves in the blade, I don't get angry, oh no/Midnight, shoveling snow, I don't get angry, oh no/I don't get mad, I just turn on my attic fan. Musically, there are echoes of Real Estate's breezy beach jams, Phoenix's glossy guitar rock, and the aforementioned Girls. "Lover Yeah" is the oddball of the mix but seems destined to be a crowd favorite — its polished dance-funk tones are a dead ringer for "Billie Jean." You get the feeling that the ACBs could pull off an entire album of songs like "Lover Yeah" if they wanted. They understand a core music truth: A good song is a good song. Whether you adorn it with pedal steels, disco beats or lyrics about SSRIs is, in some ways, beside the point.

The Conquerors
The Conquerors

(Self-released)

You don't hear a lot of cool young bands talking about Jimi Hendrix these days. His influence is felt more deeply among junior-high guitar beginners and old dudes with ponytails who hang out at Guitar Center. Judging by the huge, heavy, hallucination-inducing shows that the Conquerors have been putting on of late, though, the band is on a bit of a Jimi kick. They more or less confirm it on their new self-titled release: The slyly named "Proxy Shady" steals the famous "Foxy Lady" riff, before the song transitions to singer Rory Cameron's screaming into a distorted microphone amid a haze of droning guitars and busy drumming. (There are now two drummers in the Conquerors: Continents' Jim Button and the Caves' Jake Cardwell.) On "Cave Wave," they more or less do the same thing with the riff from the Animals' "House of the Rising Sun." It somehow works, though it's not exactly the most inventive approach to songwriting ever known. The tremendously named opener, "Every Time I Throat Sing (I Puke)," is seven minutes long, and closer "Bung Shui" flirts with 10 minutes, but the earthquake garage-psych grooves that these guys are laying down justify the drama. 

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