Looking For Werk
Huntington’s Bad Employees (Andy Rivas/John McComas) have released their eight-song LBA Records debut, Looking For Werk, a CD we’ve been looking forward to hearing.
On songs like “San Jose,” “Always Down” (w/bass by Broadmoor’s Russ Fox), “Bad Employee” and “Watching the World Explode” Bad Employees display nods to Chemical Bros. and maybe Crystal Method in the music, but with McComas’ guitar-driven half on the songwriting end, singing, Bad Employees aren’t the kind of electronic bands that don’t feature vocals, or only rarely.
The standout track is the acoustic-synth driven “I Will Believe,” with the acoustic and Moog sounding synth, something that sounds like Weezer and The Rentals merged. Totally catchy radio hit.
It’s great to hear more cool local electronic bands; the Rivas (programming) and McComas (guitar/vocals) combination, together for a few years now at this point, is exciting. And we’d love to see these guys live, where they run video behind them. We look forward to hearing more from these guys and seeing what musical directions they take.
(reposted from April)
For Glory or For Flames
There are a million bands out there these days, but you’d be hard pressed to find one whose home state is its muse. West By God, as the name implies, is a true, honest to God West Virginia rock band.
We’ve always compared this Morgantown-based four-piece to Clutch, for some reason. But on their recently released 11-song effort For Glory or for Flames, West By God puts its own stamp on their own Appalachian stoner rock sound, while filling listeners in on West Virginia’s history, and their place and future in it.
Songs like “Home No More” and “High Ground” open the CD, with singer Darin Kordyak painting a picture of the self-reliant, honest, hard-scrabble life Mountaineers have endured; from the state’s birth out of the Civil War to the Buffalo Creek disaster, Kordyak’s descriptive lyrics set the scene.
On “Home No More” describing a hometown stripped bare that he hardly recognizes, Kordyak sings:
Right where two green rivers meetAnd the music moves the story along. Josh Baldwin’s solos seem to fit perfectly in the song structures; not dominant or too long, just killer. Mike Lorenzen plays bass and slide guitar on the recording and Treasure Cat drummer Roy Brewer steps in on the recording with rockin’ results.
Times are tough but life is sweet
Always working on our feet
Cuz we were taught we ought not cheat
And in case there’s any doubt about West By God’s affinity for West Virginia, there’s the State seal emblazoned inside the sleeve. Nice.
The band, like so many, many others, recorded the CD at Zone 8 in Granville. Compared to their debut EP, re-recorded tracks like “Pottawatomie” and “Hello Mingo” (one of our favorites) sound even better.
From Kordyak’s lyrics (from the historic to the apocalyptic, a real treat) to the hard rock tunes, West By God has done West Virginia proud on this effort. Whether the band is destined for glory or for flames, this CD is definitely worth checking out.
(reposted from March)
8. '85 Flood
On their sophomore release Junkbone Morgantown’s hi-octane lo-fi four-piece ‘85 Flood strings together 10 bluesy, danceable bar ballads on a more than solid follow-up to last year’s Toolshed Shangri-La.
Where Toolshed had a few great songs, Junkbone highlights the progress the Flood has made in the songwriting and arranging department.
Opening with “Florentine Memory” and frontman Aaron Hawley’s gravelly, raspy vocals and following with the uptempo rock standard “Sex Drugs and Rock & Roll” (written and sung by bassist Dusty Hays), then throwing down the slower, somber “Living With Your Ghost,” (with cool slide guitar & lead parts) ‘85 Flood, over the first three tracks, sets the stage for the entire CD.
“Slow Night In Stripperville” is simultaneously a hilarious booty-shaking good time anthem, and a warning to any females who fear they may end up dancing for pervs dressed up as Santa, making it rain with dirty dollar bills. Seriously, it’s one of the cooler songs on Junkbone.
“Coal Whistle Yell” seems like a theme song not just for the Flood, but the state as a whole; at least anybody who’s ever known anyone who has worked in the mines. The song is at once uptempo and depressing, written from the perspective of the cradle-to-grave coal mining family life.
Hawley sings, his voice perfectly fitting the hardscrabble subject of the song:
Don’t you see this ain’t the life I chose?The beautiful memorial “Some Things” helps close out Junkbone before finishing with the anthemic sing-along “Be Here Now,” each examples of how the Flood has progressed in the year and a half since Toolshed; increased sharing of songwriting (and performing) duties, with killer guitar parts and touching lyrics about the sublime parts of life, Junkbone -- recorded at Mark Poole’s Zone 8 Studios in Granville -- all-around is a good window into where this Morgantown staple is now.
You can say it’s just me, I suppose
If you stay here and toe that line
Send me right back down into that mine
Every day -- of my whole life
(reposted from November)
7. Jude Universer
So you stick Weezer’s debut and Return of the Rentals into a centrifuge and hit the button, you get Demon Beat drummer Jordan Hudkins’ six-song sophomore CD, released under his stage name, when the spinning stops.
The fuzzy guitar tones, walking bass lines and Moog synth, in addition to Hudkins’ obvious nods to the two groups, even though there are only six songs, really do remind us of 1994.
“Rocket,” “New Mexico,” the mega-hit “Time Travel” and “Forte” are all reminiscent of those days when we first came across “Undone” and “Friends of P” and constitute, even with just six songs, one of our favorite CDs of the year.
This is a CD for people who'll debate exactly what Matt Sharp took with him when he left (quit/got fired) after Pinkerton, and it’s our bad really for not getting on the Jude Universer bandwagon sooner. Hey, we’re glad all over again that Shepherdstown is still technically part of West Virginia so we can rock this out.
6. Scrap Iron Pickers
By the time we catch onto anything cool here it’s been out for a while, and such is the case for Charleston’s own Scrap Iron Pickers.
Comprised of a veritable star-studded lineup of John Sizemore, Roadblock and Matt Wolfe, these guys are joined on this genre skipping debut split effort by a half dozen or so notable guest musicians (the band’s “Union” members) and from our perspective, having had the CD drop into our figurative lap all of a sudden, it’s better late than never hearing it, becuase it’s got to be one of the coolest CDs we’ve heard all year, period.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone who's already heard this relatively recently formed trio, though.
First off, there’s no vocals or singing on the 13-song release, so there’s no lyrical or narrative structure to tyrannize the Pickers version of “angry jazz.” Sure, there’s the (by this point fair use?) old Camel cigarette and DuPont commercials sampled in with William S. Burroughs among others, but really, not having vocals seems to make the stretched-out jams cooler.
Opening with “Coal Bucket” and “Too Pissed Off To Sleep,” by the time you get a feel of what’s going on with what they’re going for, the Pickers have already begun their impressive journey on whatever musical direction they’re wanting to go on, and that’s the cool thing with their music: it’s seemingly ambitious without being contrived or forced -- they’re just jamming and it seems to come natural to them. The journey is the destination.
Most of the music -- a directionless hard-prog rock/punk/dub-reggae hybrid -- on Redeeming Metal seems to remind us of music we’ve always seemed to like, which makes us even lamer for not “getting” what the Pickers are going for sooner. Possibly the coolest track on the CD is the acoustic-based, harmonica soaked “Swamp Thing,” which before you know it has evolved into explosive hard rock, and features “Union” members Jeff Ellis and Bud Carroll, who engineered and co-produced the CD along with the Pickers.
“Kids Raising Kids/Kids Killing Kids” evokes Hum for us, they’re that band from that Cadillac commercial. “The Stench of Poverty” is a pretty cool prog rock-sounding jam. “Spy Vs. Spy” is the dub reggae-meets hard rock flavor of the Pickers. The garage techno of “Strange Bytes” on the Union EP only cements the idea that the Pickers aren’t leery of embracing a wide spectrum of genres and styles, and just excites us all the more.
But two of the coolest tracks are saved for last -- “Junkyard Jesus” and “The Mourning After” -- and taking up approximately 40 minutes worth of time, you’ll have to check out the CD, which is shaping up to be the surprise hit of the year here at the site.
Like it says on their MySpace profile, if you come expecting nothing out of the Scrap Iron Pickers, you’ll not only be surprised, but duly impressed. We look forward to hearing more from these dudes.
(reposted from November)
5. The Demon Beat
Shit, We're 23
Trying to cover rockin’ local bands for the past few years has put us in the fortunate position to be able to, for better or worse, judge new CDs against band’s previous releases.
We can remember getting The Demon Beat’s debut, Heavy Nasty, what seems like 10 years ago (2007), being taken aback by our misjudging not only the cover and the title of the CD, but the name of the band itself; we expected something like death metal, having never really heard the band.
Instead we got catchy, powerful, mostly Brit-rock -- much to our delight.
Having in the meantime heard their most recently released EP and the couple of songs they put on the Bud Carroll Caustic Eye split release, with Shit, We’re 23 Adam Meisterhans, Tucker Riggleman and Jordan Hudkins continue the shock and awe campaign of throwback-style rock power that the Shepherdstown-based trio has been making waves with, and just now realizing that they weren’t 22 anymore, they decide to put down 10 kickass rock songs for posterity’s sake.
The “best new band in West Virginia” (as judged by The Boston Phoenix) and the band already (allegedly) banned from coverage by Shepherd University’s student paper (haha, their own hometown) returns with Meisterhans’ jangly guitars, insane solos, distorted noise jams and soulful, soulful, lovelorn crooning turning into painful shrieking and howling.
Instantly comparing the tones on 23 to Nasty, there’s a more distorted, live, high energy feel than what was even on the overall really good debut effort. The band retains the old school rock feel -- they list Hendrix, The Who, and the Stones among their more obvious influences -- they’ve showed since they came on the scene, way out there in the Eastern Panhandle, and capture an even greater, palpable intensity on their latest (self-produced?) Big Bullet release.
The driving “Got You Movin’” and the funky “Millionaire” open Shit, We're 23 with more of that same vibe, which is why you dug the band in the first place. Meisterhans intones “I’m gonna be a millionaire” psychotically, asserting “I’m a mover,” before building into the gutteral, frenetic choruses. With the harder, fuzzier tones, some of the new Demon Beat songs approach grunge, with Angus Young solos.
One pro/con about taking 23 as a whole is the three songs we’ve already heard. Hearing the amped-up re-recordings of the absolutely killer “This Is No Fun,” (think “Search And Destroy“) “Memory Ain’t Enough” (with the cool Pink Floyd flavor three minutes in) and “Bad Man,” are neat benchmarks to compare to the previous versions, but from a tactical, CD-listening-to standpoint, it makes 23 seven previously unheard songs instead of 10.
Speaking of seven songs, the seventh song on the CD, the uber-catchy “Make My Move,” is our favorite; it’s the one that we’ll come back to over and over to listen to again. They need to put that one on their MySpace profile. “Move” and “The Game” approach the prettier, poppier side of the Demon Beat’s rock style.
“Can’t You” is a slow, echo-soaked dreamy near-power ballad and sews up 23 with the re-recorded “Bad Man” -- not sure where the songs were recorded at, but The Demon Beat capture a hot, live, plug-in-and-go attitude on the solidly produced effort.
For fans of The Demon Beat and those who’ve heard Heavy Nasty and their other, smaller releases, hearing this new CD will kind of make you glad you’ve been doing what you’ve been doing over the past couple of years -- rocking out.
The Demon Beat is a bad band. Bad as in they rock.
The CD, possibly named for some sort of perceived post-college mid-mid-life crisis, or some as-yet unknown perk of being 23 -- is a more than solid addition to the Demon Beat library as the continue to rock as hard as any band around, make fans and continue to earn critical rock and roll acclaim and any other accolades they deserve. There’s enough in on the band to judge them as one of the best bands out there, and make you question what could come next for these guys, what 24 will bring, maybe.
But for Adam, Tucker and Jordan, with this CD, they’ll always remember (and we’ll always be able to hear) where they were when they were 23.
(reposted from November)
4. Black Knots
On their self-produced sophomore effort Guitarmageddon Huntington’s Black Knots seek to redefine what kickass can be over 10 songs in less than an hour. If, in recent months or years, you’ve asked yourself ‘What the fuck happened to rock and roll?’ the Knots have the answer, and it’s as big as the record’s name implies.
From the opening riffage of “The Rapture” to the anthemic, angelic closing of “A Change Is Gonna Come,” the Knots -- fronted by out-of-control bassist Jerry Lee Queen and powered by the insane solos of lead guitarist Greg Gatlin -- capture an unparalleled frenetic sound on the CD.
It’s too bad that Undisputed Attitude is already taken; would’ve made a nice alternate title. The phrase pops in your head listening to Guitarmageddon.
Listening to their songs, you’re instantly struck with the idea Angus Young started a punk band with James Hetfield or something, influenced by Turbonegro and Supersuckers. As you roll through “Redefining What Kick Ass Can Be,” “Steel Rails” and “Bout Fuckin’ Time” the Knots take you on their version of a hardcore rock and roll fantasy.
“Gypsy Cobra” and “Tokyo Ho’s” are nice surprises, but the band wisely saved the best for last, placing “A Change Is Gonna Come” at the end of the CD. This song stands out with its more melodic power-chord flavor, anthemic whoahs and angelic backing vocals provided by Queen’s ex-girlfriend.
Queen sings “And I've been told that a change is gonna come” over a ringing intro before defining what the Knots mean to him -- “kicking ass” and “running wild,” living and loving, the good and the bad, all through rock and roll -- all over drinks, naturally.
“These good times tonight we take ‘em back,” Queen sings before one of Gatlin’s huge, soaring solos over the female space auhs. The song is at once an ode to the band itself, and still deftly attempts to be something bigger without seeming political at all. It’s just the power of rock and roll.
Where most Knots songs have a gnarly, balls-to-the-wall, plug-in-and-go mentality -- the thought that these guys could have rented all their instruments and would have to take them back at the end of the day, ending everything, emerges -- a hopeful, approachable hit song is the result. A real anthem.
You get the sense that Queen and the Knots don’t take themselves too seriously, but when it comes to rock, they’re dead serious. You can picture them pulling up at a show in their old school “Gnarly Cobra” van, bringing nothing if not a kickass rock and roll party.
The Knots approach the pinnacle of their craft on Guitarmageddon. They’ve definitely made progress since Hell Bent To Kick It Out; they’ve brought guitarist Bobby Balboa in successfully, toured regionally, recorded and produced one hell of a great rock and roll record by themselves, found the favor of a few independent labels, and, with Guitarmageddon it doesn’t seem like the end is anywhere near for the Knots.
(reposted from May)
3. Bud Carroll & the Southern Souls
Wasted Words & Best Intentions
This is a CD that we were looking forward to hearing so much that we didn’t even wait on getting the actual cover for it.
Irregardless nonetheless, this 12-song sophomore release from the 27-year old Huntington phenom Carroll (and his Southern Souls) will serve as a permanent benchmark not only of his own enormous musical talents, but the Souls rockin output over the past few years.
Their mix of southern rock, blues, soul and country, and the band’s growth as a unit since their debut, is on display, with all their best intentions. Those who’ve ever liked the Black Crowes will instantly fall in love with what Carroll and the Souls are putting out. But Wasted Words has not only the southern rock feel, but a more uptempo Americana feel in parts, with tear-in-you-beer country tunes, too.
The CD opens with revamped, redone versions of songs you’ll recognize from the Souls’ eponymous debut EP, the uptempo version of “When It All Hits You,” and the funkier, subdued version of the anti-authority polemic “I Don’t Believe You,” still one of our favorites, despite the softer edge compared to the original.
Standout tracks on the CD are “Nowhere Town” and “That’s All She Wrote,” the former (a “sad, sweet refrain” dedicated to Huntington?), with its clear lead guitar, walking bass lines and overall pop feel evoking Weezer, and the latter, with its feelgood Americana vibe reminding us of something off Wilco’s Being There, maybe sung by Matthew Sweet. Great songs each.
Carroll opens on “Nowhere Town” -- describing a sentiment shared by so many West Virginia residents who may have moved on, or maybe the fate of his own band:
All that remains is a rusted pair of tracksCarroll sings on the bouncy, rockin chorus:
but no one complains, cause they ain’t lookin back.
We did everything we could now it’s well understood,
everything that went away this time is going to stay for good.
I get the feelin -- should’ve left here yesterdaySprinkled throughout the songs, in addition to Carroll’s soaring solos, are arpeggiated synth rolls and parts; good stuff, and a good example of what Jon Cavendish brought to the Souls live act before moving to Nashville.
I get the feelin -- I’ll be leaving here to stay
Nowhere town, nowhere bound
Nowhere to go to but down
The shuffling, only slightly depressing country feel of “King of all the Fools,” with its mandolin, fiddle and Carroll’s slide guitar, reminds us of Dwight Yoakam for one reason or another.
“Big Coal” -- written by bassist Jimmy Lykens -- is one of the more hard rockin tracks. “Soul Searching” is a frank, funky, effort by Carroll to get at what he’s looking for (with a rockin’ bridge and solo) and “You Don’t Have to Walk Alone” is the bluesy, barroom Black Crowes side of the Souls.
Recorded by Eddie Ashworth (Pennywise, Sublime) in Athens, Ohio, Wasted Words & Best Intentions serves to ensure that -- whatever form Carroll’s future bands may take, whatever name -- people won’t forget about his and the Souls talent, and their rock was not in vain.
One of the best CDs we’ve heard all year, from one of the best musicians around.
(reposted from November)
2. Fox Japan
With this December release, Morgantown’s Fox Japan barely snuck in the Top 10 and then shot right to the top with this 11-song CD that evokes, for us, the best of a band like The Pixies.
On Reenactment, their third release on their Small War label, the Wilmoth clan (frontman Charlie, Sam and Pete) and guitarist Andrew Slater compile an impressive array of solid tracks like “Hate Hate Them,” “The Pedant,” the more-than-disturbing “Bachelorette” and the mid-life crisis of “Window Closing,” which finds Wilmoth forgetting high school, Wheeling, and family, as the jet-set adult life didn’t seem to turn out like it was supposed to.
Wilmoth sings, yearning for California:
Cliffs and glitz and drama.The songs on Reenactment have rich, ambitious, layered arrangements, with Wilmoth’s schizophrenic, observational lyrics spanning the quirky punk rock type sound.
The simple life it slowly kills you.
Time it weekly bills you.
Life it slowly kills you.
Maybe the coolest song on Reenactment is “Glenn Beck,” the fictional account of the talk radio/TV host exposing himself in a Cold Stone for ice cream, realizing the damage he’s done, the asshole he’s been “…helping white guys stay mad,” and deciding to give his money away, join the Peace Corps and go to India.
Maybe there he’ll encounter some Arab Muslims, but it’s okay, because, as he discovered in an epiphany during his check out at an all-night restaurant off the Ohio turnpike:
You appear to be a Muslim, and yet a human beingSo, everything turned out alright with him -- whew. Somewhere, he likely is crying on command.
You appear to be an Arab, and yet a human being.
A day at the megachurch turns into the split concept songs of “An Apocalypse” and the aptly titled rant, “Sermon,” which envisions parishioners finding packs of dogs howling on main street and swarms of bees in their gardens. It’s more disturbing than uplifting, that’s for sure.
“Maybe I Won’t,” “The One I Used To Love,” and the title track close out Reenactment, a CD that seems to have had a lot of thought and time put into it; it’s a great CD throughout -- recorded by Brian Spragg (of Magic Town’s It’s Birds) and mixed at The Kennel in Brooklyn, the production is super solid.
We were kind of surprised, not having heard any of Fox Japan’s prior efforts, just how much we liked the CD.
1. The Gentlemen
Stick To Your Guns
Do you hyphenate the phrase “Celt punk” or not? Either way, Spring 2009 was an Irish one here at WVRockscene.
On their 10-song, self-produced full length debut Stick To Your Guns Morgantown’s Celt punk Gentlemen mix punk rock and traditional Irish musical faire, recalling memories of the Emerald Isle and, of course, drinking and fighting all the way for fans of bands like Dropkick Murphy’s and Flogging Molly.
It’s rare that a CD has come to us with so much anticipation not only delivered, but, made comparisons to those nationally known acts not only easy and apt, not that much of a stretch at all, and never too far out of rotation in the then-functional WVRockscene home stereo.
Even if you’ve never really heard bagpipes cut through punk rock; heard DKM’s live version of “Amazing Grace” or The Gentlemen’s version of “Country Roads” -- found on their debut EP and, played at Milan Puskar? If not it should -- take it from us longtime fans of DKM: The Gentlemen are no weak caricature, they’re the real deal and this CD proves it.
Over the course of Stick To Your Guns The Gentlemen capture a raw, genuine sounding version of Celt punk attitude on songs like their opening salvo, “Embarrassment,” through “Don’t Mind,” into “War Time In North London,” and the politically charged, painful remonstrance “Belfast Boy,” recalling the deadly conflict in Northern Ireland.
Singer Matthew Lineham’s lyrics quite descriptively cover all the bases of Irish living: Drinking and fighting; love of family, friends and of course, the fair lasses; and, not most unimportantly -- hate those British wankers. He’s Ken Casey and Al Barr rolled into one. The boisterous, anthemic choruses will have you in short order raising your Guinness, or, depending on the time of day, coffee, doing some combination of spinning, kicking, raising your fists in the air and banging your head.
There are no weak songs on the CD; they’re all great.
While The Gentlemen easily capture the punk rock attitude and sound, with the bagpipes, accordion, tin whistle, fiddle and mandolin sprinkled heavily throughout the arrangements, and with the somber piano intro into the punk rock on “Molly Malone,” the eight member Gentlemen and their more than half a dozen guest musicians produce a richly textured, traditional, diverse range that would compare them favorably, maybe, to even the aforementioned big time Celt punk bands.
The acoustic flavored, tin whistle-soaked, pub-based ode “Under The Rowan Tree” is just one of our favorite songs on the CD, which, like a few other songs on the CD, manage to subtly employ enough background atmospherics; voices, glasses clinking, and clapping, that will have you thinking you’re actually in the pub, raising your glass during the rousing choruses, or at least in that SNL skit where the two Irish dudes in the pub do stuff and sing.
Better to imagine yourself in the pub with The Gentlemen; SNL skits these days aren’t that funny. Ha. Ha. Haaaaa.
Special kudos here are in order to bassist Tommy Bailey, who recorded Stick To Your Guns at his Bebob Studios in Morgantown; bad production or mishandling of the layers of awesome Celt punk sound, high and low, soft and hard -- in addition to handling the recording of the 15 individual musicians -- seems like a challenge, but he pulled it off superbly. We’re not producers or engineers, but the CD sounds great; a pro job.
Being huge DKM fans for years has made us not only favorably predisposed to Stick To Your Guns but hopefully in a position to say if you put the two band’s material on a CD and did a blind taste test on the people who’ve only heard DKM as background music on a credit card commercial or over the PA at a football game (many, it seems, not just Patriot games) they would think that The Gentlemen are the same, if not better -- not only two or three years on course, but right now.
“All Alone,” “Come Out Ye Black and Tans” (anti-wanker fight song) and “Sea’s A Beauty” round out the CD nicely.
Skeptical readers and mutual DKM or Flogging Molly fans might wonder how some dudes from Morgantown could pull off the entire thing so soon, with such awesome results. Sure, a Celt punk band will be huge in Boston, the Celtics play there, but Morgantown? South Bend, maybe, maybe unbeknownst to the important role the Scots-Irish played in settling the Appalachian region in general and our fair state in particular.
The Gentlemen belong exactly where they are, deserve all the praise and DKM comparisons they get, and, depending on the strength of the not-anymore-obscure Celt punk niche market, could not only find themselves on some cool punk record label (they could start their own) but also in a patriotic credit card commercial, too, maybe.
We don’t know what the future holds for this band, but they sure helped 2009 fly by, as the CD spun throughout.
We could go on.
If you like DKM or Flogging Molly or any other Celt punk band, you’ll love singing The Gentlemen’s songs loud and proud; maybe you‘ll buy the CD, or, catch them on St. Patrick‘s Day at 123 Pleasant Street this year. Either way, know this:
The Gentlemen rock.