CD Review: "Exit Anthem"

CD: Exit Anthem
ARTIST: Attack Flamingo

Let’s be honest; a large portion of what are known as mainstream Christian rock bands do not in fact actually rock. The phrase “Christian rock” has seemed like an oxymoron for a long time. And while, yeah we don’t want to generalize an entire genre from what we’ve heard on 93 K-Love, the bands? God awful.

And while their Christian faith is the driving force behind the music, Attack Flamingo really does rock.

On their self-produced sophomore CD Exit Anthem, the Huntington-based electro-rockers, after the epic intergalactic search for God on their debut No Star Could Be As Large, return to earth and is lied to, religiously (and politically?) persecuted by some sort of total tyranny, and prepares to leave all over again.

But not before they make their own anti-authoritarian manifesto.

You can judge this CD by its killer Stalinesque cover art; there are five jets for five dudes and apparently they’re escaping some sort of Orwellian prison state, with dreams of infinite skies. Maybe that’s what it means.

While their Christian faith inspires them to make music, the lyrics don’t at all come across as proselytizing or preachy; listening to the debut, you didn’t even really pull together the overarching religious theme until the end. While the lyrics on Exit Anthem have more up front religious undertones, it’s nothing that turns you off about the band, and maybe we notice it more because we know it’s there this time.

We should preface this review by saying No Star was probably the surprise hit of 2008 for us. Not really having heard too much about the band, synth guy Joseph Spurgeon hooked us up with the CD through the mail, and we got on that elevator to space. The CD is still in the regular rotation in the WVRockscene home stereo -- the computer.

After the space rock and interstellar theme of No Star, musically, Exit Anthem keeps Attack Flamingo’s searing version of electronica, simultaneously incorporating more earthy tones -- more acoustic guitar, and mandolins, violins, and even a banjo. Nice touch.

On the whole the band (Sean Knisely: guitar/vocals; Marty Brown: guitar; Spurgeon: synth; Patrick Stanley: bass; Sam Hodge: drums/electronics) sounds like Muse, with Billy Corgan singing.

“As The Dog Returns To Its Vomit,” “Counterfeit” and “Nothing” highlight the band’s acoustic-driven yet still synth-soaked sound, “A Mask For Make Believe” sounds entirely electronic, and the rest is hard rockin’ electronica with lush, spacy atmospherics and awesome solos.

“Thomas,” appropriately enough fits into the latter category, kicks off the CD, wasting no time jumping right into the same kind of space rock that No Star left off with, tying the two releases together in sound.

A nice kind of Dark Side of the Moon sounding slow jam breaks the song in half, and abruptly jumps back into fat-synth, high-energy rock.

Like on No Star, one thing that jumps out at you listening to the songs; while AF is a band with heavy synth flavor, the catchy, guitar-driven songs are arranged so soundly that they would rock without the synth.

“Y/our Kingdom/Cosmos,” if we had to pick a few, is one of the standout rock songs on Exit Anthem. Knisely opens with a cool lo-fi effect on the vocals: “We hold the hope of the future/while we burn it down/we’re all temporary now…Down with our pride and our lies, now bring our empire down.”

He sings on the chorus:
“Now it resounds/and to save our life we’ve got to lay it down/‘cause there is no other way to save it now/‘cause the ground and the kingdoms and the cosmos pass away/but you will stay the same”
And shouts “down with our pride and down with our empire,” over and over, with nice, panned, schizophrenic backing vocals. The schizo backing vocals seemingly tying in with the mind-body, spiritual duality conflict thing Knisely finds himself in.

Nice, spacy moog sounding synth and blips permeate, and a nice, fat, bouncy bassline help drive the song, more killer solos. The band nails the loud-quiet-loud dynamic, as the song builds and descends throughout. They’ve got the rock thing down.

The acoustic opening, with sample drums panned side to side on the comparatively mellow yet still catchy “As The Dog Returns To Its Vomit” evokes Radiohead, with Knisely singing in softer, stripped down fashion. With the mandolin, this song helps show the band’s developing range, or at least promising directions they’ll take.

“Counterfeit” opens with delicate, dreamy acoustic and soft singing from Knisely about lies of a kind of spiritual substitute, as the song picks up the driving synth sound and distorted electronic drum hits.

The song cuts into space hum underneath a George H.W. Bush sample, of him famously name-dropping the New World Order in speeches, and promptly builds into a cacophony of LFO-like noise and other inaudible samples (something about a “Federal Bank”) overtop the horns, marching drums and crashing cymbals of a now ominous sounding “Star-Spangled Banner,” this is what AF needs to develop; a wild, sample-based side, and now we see where they’re going with the whole persecution thing, not just spiritual, but maybe political. There’s definitely a vision here.

A marching, machine-gun snare opens “The Militaristic Materialist” before giving way to a swinging, trippy, almost reggae-sounding slow jam, building into hard rocking chorus.
“Everyone sold out to build up a name/Tryin’ to be so great/You wanna be so great…All materials fall apart just the same/No they cannot stay/All the people, they break your heart, it’s a game/Is there a better way?”
“Superego” is straight ahead, catchy guitar rock, and at 2:30 min is probably the shortest song on the CD, yet probably most rockin’.

The band picks up its electronica feel on the break-out chorus, with Knisely singing “I can’t climb, I can’t fly to you/But I can bow and be found by you” as he fights his super-sized pride.

The band shows its entirely electronic feel on “A Mask For Make Believe,” with its dance/house-type sound. With Hodge (aka DJ Sir-Boy) Attack Flamingo can remix its own songs, or tweak certain parts of its sound. Together for the first time with the band as they recorded this time, Hodge shows his input and value to the band on this seven-minute long track, as Knisely sings of hiding hearts, love, and escape.
“I see you falling down…You’re running away but you still feel the same/Open your eyes to the infinite skies”
“Nothing” is a song that we’d heard a rough mix for back in August; acoustic guitar-driven with washy keys, and dreamy NIN-sounding synth it picks up about half way through, then strips everything back into the acoustic outro. A great song, with more visions of infinite skies.

“Remind These Wings of Infinite Skies” is a great song; reminds you of the end of No Star; awesome solos, soaring to shredding, seemingly the crescendo of the entire CD, sonically and lyrically.

Knisely sings on the chorus:
“I can feel it from miles away/Coming over the face of yesterday
My savior can fly me away/Redeeming me the dream you placed in me”
The title track closes the CD in outer space rock opera fashion, AF’s members shouting “Goodbye” over top whispers of “Climb.”

Exit Anthem is an obvious step up for these guys in all aspects. With the awesome cover art and interweaving message of strength through faith, the CD isn’t just a great record, it’s one of those rare instances where a band’s message actually ties in with and reinforces the lofty or ambitious imagery and/or art.

When we first heard about the propaganda theme we were aroused, but skeptical they could back this up with what was in their music; they did big time on a whole new concept CD.

Kudos to Knisely for recording the whole thing in-house quite literally, in his bedroom. The production befits the band’s huge sound and layered atmospherics. Some bands just can’t pull off an electronic rock hybrid sound, these guys do seamlessly. Listen to their music with headphones to get the full effect of their sound.

If we know anything, Attack Flamingo is a great example of a “Christian band” that could be a crossover hit; gain mainstream appeal, maybe -- they’ve gained a lot of local fans who wouldn’t necessarily be called hardcore fans of Christian rock. Like us here.

Attack Flamingo, with Exit Anthem and No Star, really make the jerks who run this site question themselves for judging an entire genre on one radio station. We didn’t hate those Christian bands because we’re intolerant bigots; we hated them because they sucked!

Attack Flamingo rocks so hard, it doesn’t matter what they believe, by the time you find yourself asking ‘This is a Christian band?’ you’re a fan. Now, wave goodbye to them.

--- Attack Flamingo releases Exit Anthem Friday 4.30 at Shamrock's Irish Pub in Huntington with opening act Universes.

Related: H-D article on Attack Flamingo

mp3: “Y/our Kingdom/Cosmos” by Attack Flamingo

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Straight Outta Roanoke, It's Joey Fuckup

You loved him on Whiskey & Waterbeds, got burned on his Hayride to Hell, and laughed and puked at the same time hearing his Trailer Park Free Clinic Power Hour.

Now, Joey Camp wants to talk to you about a serious subject, his new Cheap Beer & BBQ Radio podcast.

If you go around telling people you're "Waaaay more Country" than they are, or, just wanna hear more "50's rockabilly, classic country, 60's garage, a dash of surf, and a smack of vintage bluegrass," as Joey says on the site, you'll wanna swing by.

In episode number one, Joey finds out just how much fun he can have sober, and the answer is, apparently, not that much. But even if he's not drinking, or grilling up who knows what, he still has the passion for playing killer tunes, and hopefully that's something he never has to go into rehab for.

But, don't take Tucker McElroy's word for it, swing by and check out the pilot episode, or add Cheap Beer & BBQ on MySpace.


Rising stars: Retro rock trio to make stop at Huntington's V Club

The Shepherdstown, W.Va.-based band The Demon Beat will perform at 10 p.m. Saturday, April 24 at the V Club in Huntington.

Reposted from The Huntington Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON -- No two towns in West Virginia seem farther apart than Shepherdstown and Huntington. For The Demon Beat, Baltimore and D.C. are just a stone’s throw away from their hometown.

Evoking The Who, with its loud, distorted, catchy, retro-garage rock style, front man Adam Meisterhans’ soulful, guttural, lovelorn wailing, and a handful of CDs released to critical acclaim near and far, no band in West Virginia has seen its star rise as fast as this trio has over the past two or three years.

And, hey, they love playing Huntington, and return for a show at the V Club on April 24, with their friend Bud Carroll. And compared to where they’ve been recently, the drive to Huntington isn’t so bad.

The band (Adam Meisterhans: guitar, vocals; Tucker Riggleman: bass; Jordan Hudkins: drums) recently went to Austin, Texas for shows at the uber-fest South by Southwest.

“It was pretty cool,” Meisterhans said. “It gets a little annoying with all the self-important a--holes walking around, but I saw J. Mascis, which was awesome.”

For most up and coming bands, playing SXSW would be huge, and for them, it was, but, they’re taking it in stride.

“I think we’re all pretty level headed and modest about it,” Riggleman said. “It’s just like anything else: You have to work for it. We’ve put in the work and we’ve seen a little bit of a result. That’s all you can ask for.”

They’ve been making moves on their own, focusing on the music one show at a time, whether it’s Austin, New York City, or Lancaster, Pa. Meisterhans, when asked to pin down reasons for the band’s ascension and why people love their version of rock and roll, had a few ideas.

“I think there are a fair number of people interested in going back to some of the older artists and digging into where this comes from,” he said. “For some people it’s genuine and for others it just seems fashionable to wear a Zeppelin t-shirt. I think all that has a little to do with the type of people that get into what we do, but I think the touring has just as much to do with it. I think they both coincide with the attitude and work ethic we have towards music.”

Together for about five years, The Demon Beat embodies the do-it-yourself rock n’ roll work ethic; they record in Adam’s basement, Jordan handles CD artwork, and they release the music on Tucker’s label, Big Bullet Records.

They put the music first, and don’t worry about labels, for a few reasons.

“We can do whatever we want and don’t have to answer to anyone,” Meisterhans said bluntly.

“We don’t have to give anyone any money,” Riggleman added.

“At this point, the music industry is a sinking ship,” Meisterhans added. “So it seems more prudent to do your own thing and let the chips fall where they will.”

Meisterhans said that, whether or not they get a new CD out this year, where the praise comes from or where they play, making the music and writing the songs are what’s important for him.

“It’s cool when people like what you do, but I view it artistically and if you’re not loving what you do and trying to make it better in every way, then any acclaim is really just people talking,” he said. “I’m going to be in my room either way, playing along to Howlin’ Wolf records and trying to write as well as Pete Townshend, so people can either pay attention or not. It’s not going to make any difference to me.”

One person whose opinion does matter to Meisterhans is that of Huntington’s Bud Carroll, whom he called “a kindred spirit” in rock and “super generous” with all else.

“As far as guitar players go, I’ve yet to know or see anyone play who could match his intensity, tone, or ability to switch between styles, and lead a band,” he said. “Pretty unbelievable. He and I share nerd-dom about fuzz pedals, recording techniques and cool guitarists. I think he’s had a positive impact on my perspective about playing and recording.”

And as far as the drive to Huntington, Riggleman said that the response they get makes it all worth while.

“It continually blows my mind how well we are received in Huntington,” he said. “We have great relationships with both Shamrock’s and the V Club, and try to alternate our shows between the venues. Last time we played Shamrock’s the PA breaker blew so the vocals weren’t coming through and we couldn’t even tell because of folks singing along. Great town; people love to party there.”

If you go
Who: The Demon Beat, Bud Carroll Band and Lake and Ocean
Where: The V Club, 741 6th Ave., Huntington; 304-781-0680
When: 10 p.m. Saturday, April 24
Cost: $5 cover

Photo: Brian Scott


Strap-on, Full Boner Fun 4.23 @ The Sound Factory

We don't get any money for promoting shows at The Sound Factory, but in recent months they've been booking more and more rocking Magic Town bands, and we take it upon ourselves here to help plug the shows.

It's a heavy burden to bear.

If you haven't yet caught Lake and Ocean or Thick as Thieves, or, are just looking for a full boner (you missed Harrisonburg, Va. trio Elephant Child 2.12) you'll want to swing by the boulevard this Friday night.

There, as you can clearly see from the conveniently placed, fun, informative flyer above, you'll be able to do all of the above.

So, do what Eddie Speed says; arrive on time, get yer tiaras strapped on tight, maybe pick up a copy of Lake and Ocean's CD "Pull" if they have 'em, and get ready for a hot time in the old town.


CD Review: "The Dreadful Horoscope"

CD: The Dreadful Horoscope
ARTIST: The Dreadful Horoscope

We’ve got like a half dozen new CDs in the past month or so, and this eponymous 10-song debut from Morgantown’s Dreadful Horoscope, just kind of fell into our lap. We’d been on their MySpace page a few times to link ‘em to shows, but hadn’t paid too much attention to their overall sound. Released on Tucker Riggleman’s Big Bullet Records, we had a feeling it would be worth a listen, though, and are glad we gave it a spin.

Sounding like Frank Black and/or Shannon Hoon singing on old Beck CDs, Jacob Matz and crew display a nice alt-folk, sometimes nu-grass bent, sans drums, with an original, trippy ambience.

The songs on the CD are not always hard-charging or complex, (in contrast to Matz’ vocal delivery) but with the layering of multiple instruments (synth and mandolin), they are ambitious, but not pretentious. Matz, on most of the songs, simply strums along on an acoustic, allowing the rich, experimental, sonic textures and ethereal backing vocals to sweeten his songs.

Lyrically, Matz covers love, hate, freedom, fear and power in the songs; a kind of radical environmentalism pops up, appropriately enough for the almost tree-hugging, hippie-type sound.

“The Forest” is some sprightly sounding nu-grass; the mandolin is always fun to hear, and on the songs, it fits right in. Matz, hiding in the trees, finds freedom in the woods.

“Fairly Balanced Mind Clean” has cool wind effects over deep, Eastern sounding strings and mandolin, with Matz, as he often does on the songs, railing against a TV-induced “trance-like fiction” and overall brainwashing of the masses. Spooky, intricate mandolin runs provided by John Morgan (who recorded and mixed the CD) add to the ambience.

In addition to “The Forest,” “Remote Controlled Rapture” is one of our favorites. Catchy acoustic opening gives way to a frenetic, layered distortion, and one of the only times on the CD you hear something approaching a kick drum. Sounds like something off Bad Music for Bad People; a nice snapshot of Matz’ bipolar approach to tone on the entire CD, in one song.

“Wild Noise” is two minutes worth of samples, warm synth and pulsing, miscellaneous noise over an anti-totalitarian rant about secret police and FBI agents. This is the kind of thing that we’d want to hear more of; it really shows Matz’ sight, vision, and creativity -- it would be great to see him do more of this.

“Thoughts to Ignore” floats in on the rustling, spooky samples from “Wild Noise” over acoustic, sax, and eerie pitch-shifted backing vocals, with Matz’ most appropriate line on the CD, maybe: “I'm trying to find a cure for the war in my mind.” So, Jacob Matz, indeed, there is a war on for your mind, an info war, maybe.

“Hands of Greed” is an anti-mountaintop removal polemic over ambling, dirty blues, even more appropriate to hear after what happened in Raleigh County a few weeks ago. Metz sings:
“Buy off all the justices, pay off all the congressmen, get in bed with the governor, and a cut for every senator...The earth weeps at the hands of greed. Business booms, rivers bleed.”
More dreamy soundscapes and Gaia-type lyrics on “Newborn, Culture Entranced,” (“Where man is nothing, and loving is fun,”) -- The Dreadful Horoscope may indeed be an appropriate band name, as nuclear meltdowns ruin the planet.

“I Walk Towards The River” closes the CD nicely with Matz solo on acoustic, finding salvation in a deer carcass, swimming to the middle of the river for peace of mind.

Here would be a good place to give kudos to Morgan (for his musicianship and production on the CD) and Morgantown’s Paul Vallette (Squirrel Sound) for mastering; nice job capturing not only the sound, but Matz’ vocal range -- soft to shrieking, echo-laden where appropriate.

This is a way better CD than we expected it to be; half sunny day in the forest, half bad acid trip in front of TV at night. At a time when listening to an entire CD has seemingly gone the way of the evening paper, Matz’ crazy, Tim Burton-like dystopia is a place we’d want to come back and visit, surprisingly enough.

We seriously wish Matz the best in the battle for his own sanity (in this day and age maybe it is the sane people who actually go crazy) and look forward to seeing where his vision takes him, and us as listeners, next.

mp3: “Remote Controlled Rapture” by The Dreadful Horoscope


Event/music reminder: Wizards of Ghetto Mountain

Just a quick reminder: the Huntington doom band Wizards of Ghetto Mountain just uploaded some rough demos onto their MySpace page, and have confirmed some studio time with Steve Albini in Chicago this July to record their debut. You read that right.

The Wizards will make up the cancelled Weedeater show from early February May 7 (as you can clearly see on Jimbo Valentine's flyer above), and look for more on these Ghetto dudes soon.

Related: our chat with the Wizards from January


Enter the Softcore: Mike Andrick's Soft Rock Renegade

Hands off the monitors!!! Mike Andrick's Soft Rock Renegade site captures a bygone era...
For some reason we’ve had a recent affection for throwback, roll back the clock type pages for area bands that may have preceded the world wide internet revolution. And, we love coming across cool West Virginia related sites, blogs, bands and books.

Mike Andrick’s Soft Rock Renegade blogspot site is a nice combination of these variables, with an emphasis on WV-related bands. Andrick has a ton of killer content, with a lot of band content from years gone by, from user submitted footage, and CDs he’s made available for download.

Just quickly scanning the posts, you can:
*See footage of KTB and Clutch circa 1997
*Download Chum’s 1994 cassettes Postblisstheory and God Given
*Watch the Butthole Surfers play Magic Town waaay back in 1985 (talk about a time machine)
*Download the entire EMC CD from The Emergency! Their last? Who knows, but it looks like someone had the great idea to make entire CDs downloadable -- and we mean it: GREAT IDEA!!! Will he make How Can You Move? (our personal favorite -- hear “Morning Announcements”) and Doo-Lang Doo-Lang available? You know you want him to. Each of these are CDs that would still be in the WVRockscene home stereo rotation, if we had a home stereo. Oh, this just in, we scrolled down, not only can you download the aforementioned CDs, you can catch footage of The Emergency too! This is the post you wanna check out if you do not know which song is which off of Doo-Lang Doo-Lang.
*There’s even footage of Common Grounds coffee house in Charleston you can check out -- remember that place?

There’s also super neat WV-related books and documentaries you can check out (Denise Giardina checks in) and oh yeah, J Marinelli makes an appearance (as he is seemingly apt to do) as a Dirty Poncho download is tucked away on there, too. Talk about getting awesome.

If you’re sitting on old footage or think you’ve got something cool Andrick could use, holler at him at his email: srrblog@gmail.com. Kudos are indeed deserved to him for setting this up; we’ll be keeping tabs on it here.

photo: Bob Williams


Morgantown Rock Scene

You don't have to paste pics of yer favorite one-man band together to have yer pics posted on Andy & Brian Pickens' Morgantown music group on flikr...

If you're out and about up Magic Town way, catching any number of cool acts, like, say The Hackensaw Boys tonite at 123 Pleasant Street, and you happen to have a camera, you too can be there to document the event by snapping band pics for the Morgantown music flikr group.

Like Brian, you may be able to snap a cool pic of Staggering Cardoons frontman Chris Herrington (with beer) at their recent CD release show:

Like Andy, who's taken tons of awesome pics, you may catch Lake & Ocean (below) out, and catch 'em with all these cool, blurred lighting effects:

But it's not just Andy and Brian out there at the show; there are more than a few contributors to the Magic Town music flikr group. If you want to be part of the scene and submit pics to the group, these dudes are super cool and now there's a rockin' place to post & host 'em.

Marinelli panorama: Andy Pickens


CD Review: "My Bloodless Wife"

CD: My Bloodless Wife
ARTIST: It's Birds

When it comes to evaluating art -- music, film, messed up barbecue pits -- it’s been argued that a piece can and should stand on its own; that comparing, say, a new CD to previous works can be largely irrelevant. That’s good for us, because we’re starting fresh with It’s Birds recently released nine-song sophomore CD My Bloodless Wife.

The Morgantown-based math rockers follow up 2007’s Horses Love Me Yes I Am (which we didn’t hear) with more confounding time signatures, chord progressions that sound like M.C. Escher staircases look, and lyrical absurdity -- just look at the song titles.

The band (Brian Spragg: guitar/vocals; Andrew Slater: bass/vocals; George Zatezalo: guitar; and Jason Birch: drums), influenced by the likes of King Crimson, Fugazi, and Dismemberment Plan, sucks it all in and spits it out as their own unique version of version of post-punk, prog-rock or, whatever they want to call it, “hard math,” maybe. Fat, punchy bass walks underneath the weird time changes and riffs in the verses, leading to frenetic, hook-filled, heavy chorus and jammed out bridge parts, displaying a quirky, experimental bent throughout.

“Spy Gear Website” kicks off the CD with ethereal, dirty, hard stomping riffs over what sounds like morse code, with lyrics about sentimental, half-eaten Twix bars, and spying on a chick with binoculars bought on a spy gear website. Those can get expensive.

The dreamy, minute-long song fragment/intro part “We Want and Want to Have Our Cakes” sounds like an unfinished thought. “Gina Lollobrigida” has quirky, dreamy noodling verse parts with heavy, kicked out retro rock sounding jams; a song about Gina, and something involving a doctor:
“The right will be the one I let go/Don’t give me time to change my mind, so/Let’s call the doctor let’s get this done/You sure you’ll want me more with just one?”
The standout track, “The AIDS and the Bees” has a marching post-punk sound that reminds us of a song off that At the Drive-In we had like 10 years ago, with cool lo-fi guitar breaks and blips, instant rock is had.

“I’m in Love with Warren Forest” is apparently not about an actual person, so if your name is Warren Forest, sorry. Cool song though.

A great example of the complex, yet approachable vibe It’s Birds rocks out is “Understand the Silverware but Why the Dog?” -- runner-up to “AIDS and the Bees” not only in Bloodless Wife standout track mention, but, the WVRockscene Most Absurd Song Title of 2010, a category It’s Birds might sweep this year.

“Sean Balad” is It’s Birds’ seven-minute space jam ode to Sean, who, tragically, was stuck down by lightning at a young age. Hope it’s not a true story. Essh. At a little over three minutes in, the band breaks down into distorted, heavenly awesomeness. Taken as a whole, it’s almost like the band could drop the absurd lyrics and singing altogether, take up an instrumental, experimental approach, and maybe draw out or expose what they’re going for musically.

While the songs aren’t exactly simple, structurally, it’s mainly the verses that have the weird time changes and the band breaks it all down with simpler, hard rocking chorus parts, and they’re funky and catchy enough to definitely keep things interesting.

My Bloodless Wife, recorded in-house (literally) by the capable Spragg and shipped off to David Klug in Pittsburgh for mixing and mastering, is a CD that should be listened to with headphones. It’s times like this we’re glad we ran that crowbar through the WVRockscene home stereo/DVD player back in 2009. You can tell Spragg spent some time in his bedroom, tweaking and stabbing little parts like a DJ, laying echo on top of vocals.

Zatezalo and Spragg might seem to be doing their own thing on guitar half the time, but bring it together for the rockin’ chorus/jam parts; there’s a method to the sound of their madness. Spragg and Slater sharing the singing (and songwriting) duties mixes things up nicely.

The rhythm section stands out, too; the bass is full, punchy and fat on most of the songs, and the drums, well, they get beat with on with ferocity in parts, and it all sounds live, loud, and clear.

It’s Birds’ sound is at once challenging, unique, and fun. Don’t let the “math” part fool you; whatever rock and roll is about, It’s Birds get whatever “it” is. But is there a ringing endorsement to be found in this review?

It’s Birds -- more fun than a bunch of math problems!

Related: Our chat with Brian Spragg of It’s Birds


CD Review: "Down The Narrow"

CD: Down The Narrow
ARTIST: Mark Bates

Over the course of 11 songs of Americana and alt-country, 22-year old Hurricane native and Nashville transplant Mark Bates, on his recently released CD Down the Narrow removes not only any doubt as to his musical talents, but also, the depths of his insanity.

We were lucky enough to catch Bates open for Bud Carroll at the Glass in early 2008, back when he wasn’t even old enough to buy beer, and remember being blown away at this guy alternating between the piano and an acoustic, fronting The Vacancies, before his Lonely Town days. We came to see Carroll, but always remembered how impressed we were with Bates.

So, long story short, it’s no surprise that Bates would release a great CD, but wow, the depths of his depravity, at least lyrically, in song, know no bounds. Over the course of the first few songs worth of twangy, sometimes bluesy, piano-based Americana, Bates:

*kills a born-again, ex-felon preacher to avenge the murder of his lover (“The Promised Land”)

*hits his wife in a drunken rage, forges his kids names on Christmas cards, and then burns down the Christmas tree in the middle of town, naked, smoking a joint (“A Drunkard’s Holiday”)

*has a $20 hooker for a wife! (“Daisy”)

Nashville really changes a man.

Seriously, a nice alternate title for Down the Narrow would be Bates Motel, or, maybe, Down and Out on Blue Lick Road. But really, if Bates were ever to go postal and really hurt anyone, this CD would be the smoking gun, nail in the coffin piece of evidence for the prosecution. Much media hand wringing would ensue: “Who could miss these clues?” Not us here.

Shoot, that sounds like a Bates song right there, the logical follow-up to “Promised Land,” maybe, called “Murder was the Case That They Gave Me,” haha. Bates’ morbidly depressing lyrics might approach over-the-top hilarity, but that’s not what he’s going for. Painfully honest and insightful, beautiful lyrics? Bates has ‘em.

“Your words go into my ears/like rusted nails I’ve come to fear”...“You hug so hard with thorns on your arms/I bleed for you, and all that you are” (“Clean Through”)

The songs throughout Down the Narrow have a rich, layered feel, with Bates adding harmonica and trumpet, guitarist Duke Levine adding pedal steel, banjo and mandolin, and Michael Bellar contributing Hammond organ. Bates’ vocals alternate between soft and raspy crooning to soaring, soulful and powerful. He’s a great singer and musician.

“Shotgun with the Devil” is Bates’ fork-in-the road weary haunting descent into madness, opening with plucking banjo and piano cutting through silence; one of the standout tracks, in addition to “Drunkard’s Holiday,” on the CD. The song deftly employs soft/loud dynamics into an approaching storm, as “the clouds swallow the moon” and Bates battles his demons in an open field on a cold summer night.

“Flying Shoes” is Bates’ Townes van Zandt cover, one of his main influences. “The Show is Over” opens with soft, beautiful chord progressions as Bates’ gets “low down and lonesome,” keeping his memories in a hole. A really pretty song. Bates has the “melodramatic pop song” arrangement thing nailed down.

Down the Narrow, ably produced and engineered by Mark Thayer at Signature Sounds in Connecticut, is a very nice start to what will hopefully be a stellar career for Bates.

It’s great to see that Bates is doing well (at least we hope he is), moving his career forward out Nashville way. Remember, he’s still only 22 years old; Bates likely has a lot more great music left in him, we just hope he stays out of trouble long enough to make it.

mp3: “The Promised Land” by Mark Bates

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