• AEM001 Strawberry Hands

    AEM001 Strawberry Hands

    Pop music is a bitch. Once you start listening to it - and listening to it obsessively - it becomes inescapable: you can’t listen to anything else. And among certain sensibilities, pop music is hotter than ever. We appreciate more experimental bands when they go pop; far from looking down on it, we treat pop as a virtue. While a lot of interesting stuff can come out of more left-field bands dabbling in pop, we also fetishize it, crowding out true experimentation. At least this reviewer did. Then a band comes along like Strawberry Hands that makes you think again about why you listen to music in the first place.

  • AEM002 Boy Without God

    AEM002 Boy Without God

    Records often become inextricably tied to the place and moment in our lives when we hear them. Music’s power to latch itself on to our memories is truly remarkable: a single song can completely transport the listener back into that mood in ways that mere recollection cannot. They are an easy ticket for re-experiencing the past. But sometimes we associate them with memories that are too painful to confront, and they become unplayable. Listening to records that can arouse such intense emotional memory is a risky business, but it is perhaps that deeply affecting quality that makes music great.

  • AEM003 Weyes Bluhd

    AEM003 Weyes Bluhd

    Weyes Bluhd is good enough to inspire elaborate suicidal fantasies. That may seem like ridiculous blog hyperbole, but for a brief moment in the summer of 2006, it was truer than true. It was my first summer as a college student. I was living in a tiny but expensive walk-up in the LES, spiritually vacant and utterly depressed, making frequent trips to visit my girlfriend in Philadelphia where a small, committed group of artists were turning me on to the rich possibilities of DIY. There were a lot of great bands playing an endless variety of venues, but for my money, the cream of the crop was a young girl from Doylestown, PA (~45 minutes North of Philly) by the name of Natalie Mering.

  • AEM004 RAUL

    AEM004 RAUL

    Some would say metal is the easiest genre to parody because of its obsessive maximalism. Clearly, any metalhead worth his or her warpaint could immediately name some examples to the contrary. What about some of that minimalist black metal like Ildjarn or Striborg, recorded in one take on a Sony tape player by a rustic lunatic? Or the whole genre of grindcore, predicated on the principle of compressing what could conceivably be a six-minute song if it were performed by, say, Suffocation, into a denser-than-Iridium thirty seconds? OK, these are valid points, but not the right points. Metal over-the-topness is all about the aesthetics of production, lyrics, instrumentation, dress-sense, or, to be more specific: distortion, Satan, double-kicks and spikes. Like in the case of the statement “not all smokers get cancer,” the exceptions to the rule do not necessarily make the rule untrue. Smoking, for all intents and purposes, will give you cancer. But metal is a different theoretical beast. Metal, despite all signs to the contrary, is not about maximalism, but, at its core, is a fundamentally minimalist art. Some artists, like Mick Barr of Orthrelm and Krallice, totally get this: shred patterns repeated to infinity, the sound file directly translatable into a binary grid of drums on the x axis and guitar on the y. It’s counterintuitive, but this mutating 2-bit virus of a style is the closest thing metal has to a soul. RAUL, out of New York, is another one of the rare groups to grasp this paradox. They’ve performed the kind of weird alchemy necessary to separate the ding as sich of the genre from the frilly bullshit that so typically clings to it like maggots to a disintegrating ham.

  • AEM005 Amazing/Wow

    AEM005 Amazing/Wow

    There’s something about the guitar/drum duo that lends it instant credibility in my eyes and ears. Bands like the Japandroids, PS I Love You, and Amazing/Wow are the stuff that rock music is made of, and I’m just a sucker for bands that really let their balls hang out. If you can’t say what you need to say in 3 chords and with shitty distorted singing, maybe you need to sit back and reconsider the whole rock music thing, eh? I mean, you can gussie it all up with harmony and some tricky chord substitutions, but a rose is a rose is a rose—they don’t really do a whole lot to change the fundamental character of the music. Amazing/Wow is just two dudes, bangin’ it out, but they elevate the whole venture to such epic proportions that a whole army of guitarists (a “guitarmy,” if you will) couldn’t show them up on stage. Fellow Ampeater writer Nick Kelly saw Amazing/Wow a while back, and wrote, “Amazing/Wow is really one of those bands that hits their stride live. You can get a sense of their raw energy from their recordings, but seeing them live is truly a physically overwhelming experience. Instead of going to another big-name show at Webster Hall and having to pinch yourself mid-way through to confirm that you are not in fact dead, go see Amazing/Wow in a loft somewhere. They singlehandedly reminded me that sometimes all you need is a bit of melody and a whole lot of adrenaline to make music worthwhile.” Hell yeah, that’s the spirit. Amazing/Wow is Barrett Lindgren and Adam Ferguson, and they’ve been making abrasive punk music with delicious pop hooks for only about a year now. Based out of West Philly, these guys are the real fu*king deal. Keeping the DIY tradition alive, Amazing/Wow isn’t label bound, but their recordings are killer enough to keep me headbanging at my desk all day long. Moreover, withstanding one of their live shows is purportedly akin to surving a tornado. Awesome, sign me up.

  • AEM006 Extra Life

    AEM006 Extra Life

    The first time I saw Charlie Looker, I felt bad for the dude. Here he was with his band Zs, playing Philly for the first time, pouring every ounce of energy and spirit into the performance. I was a young buck, only 16, smoking cigarettes outside and waiting for headliners Les Georges Leningrad to come on when my friend sent me a stern text from the belly of the beast: “Dude. Come in.” So I curiously re-entered my favorite church basement to find six airtight musicians blasting away with horrible symmetry, squawky sax shards playing against dissonant guitar chords and wonderfully unpredictable rhythmic cells. To put it simply, Zs took me to the nether regions of musical abstraction and I never looked back. Unfortunately, the majority of the crowd was less receptive. Between songs the young band endured some pretty brutal mockery. If anything, I think that response was a good indicator of how forward-thinking, how much musicians’ musicians Zs truly were. And hey, all’s well that ends well: Several years and performances later, Zs had attained legendary status in the New York avant-community, playing some of the most mind-altering new music ever laid to space, with balls to boot. How many new music ensembles have you seen where the drummer breaks his bass drum playing too hard?

  • AEM007 Pet Ghost Project

    AEM007 Pet Ghost Project

    Pet Ghost Project started off as a one man band, the moniker of Seattle based singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Justin Stivers. A few years ago, Stivers moved to the Big Apple where he has immersed himself in Brooklyn’s bustling indie scene. In the studio, Stivers is a “one man wrecking crew” who stacks layers upon layer of himself to build a huge sound. On stage and increasingly in the studio, Justin Gonzalez and Jake More lend their skills to the mix. All multi-instrumentalists, the three members of Pet Ghost Project switch off on guitar, percussion, bass, and keyboards. The result is a fun and slightly chaotic live show, which is definitely worth checking out if you have the chance.

  • AEM008 Dan Wholey

    AEM008 Dan Wholey

    Back in the rough and tumble days before we had music blogs and Mediafire.com and digital distros (basically before we were walking talking media receptacles), people used to get their music the only way they could: by making it. On Sundays, small town America would gather in churches and living rooms and sing all day, in huge choirs of people, most of whom were trained in music only in that they did this every damned week. Different singers conducted each song, so that there was no one leader, and everyone lifted their voices as much as they possibly could, whether those voices were rhapsodic and pure, or pop-eyed and scraggly. You may note that I am throwing some seriously drippy nostalgia at you, but Sacred Harp music, named after a term for the human voice which doubles as the title of a major songbook from the 1840s, is hard to resist as a metaphor for the good old American spirit, with it’s fierce democratic methods and community base. It also happens to be incredibly powerful and lovely, though it was never intended for a non-participating audience. There’s nothing quite like hearing all those unabashed voices in unison. It takes a strange sort of idealism to think of taking this method and applying it to contemporary indie rock, and that should tell you something about Dan Wholey.

  • AEM009 Color of Clouds

    AEM009 Color of Clouds

    As a musician and music lover, I’m always on the lookout for new bands. Over the years I’ve found music in a lot of interesting places, but I’ll always remember the way I discovered Color of Clouds. We’d all like to be famous. A few months ago, I plugged my name, , into Google to see how many hits popped up. Sadly, I did not top the list, nor was I even the most famous Nathan Greenberg in the music world. Instead I stumbled across a music producer named Nathan Greenberg from Brooklyn and his band, Color of Clouds. And they were good. Flash forward to October-, a friend and Ampeater Review co-conspirator, tells me that he met Color of Clouds during a recording session at Serious Business Records and that they were interested in an Ampeater write up. It seemed so serendipitous that I jumped at the chance to write the review.

  • AEM010 Ashraya Gupta

    AEM010 Ashraya Gupta

    Ashraya Gupta is a voice out of another era - though exactly what era is up for debate. She most immediately recalls the sweet, delicate voices of 60s and 70s folk singers like Vashti Bunyan, but she sings with the wispiness and tight vibrato of Billie Holiday. At certain points she even sounds even older — in her precise intonation, she sounds something like an imagined popular singer from the 19th century. All of which is to say that Gutpa has an incredible voice that is immediately loved by most everyone who hears it; describing it is almost a waste of time. But, since one paragraph doesn’t really do her justice, let’s indulge a bit.

  • AEMLive001 Launch Party @ Pianos

    AEMLive001 Launch Party @ Pianos

    The Ampeater Launch Party was a resounding success, and we owe a great big thanks to all the artists who put on incredible shows and the fans who made it out on a Tuesday night to have their asses thoroughly rocked. For those of you who didn’t or couldn’t come (shame on you!) it was a seriously awesome evening, and we kept Pianos packed to the brim for hours. We didn’t manage to document every second of the event, but we’re lucky enough to have this kickass photo of Amazing/Wow and full sets from Weyes Bluhd and RAUL. Check it out!

  • AEM011 Hotel St George

    AEM011 Hotel St George

    If Gang of Four had met and reproduced with My Bloody Valentine, and if their super fucked-up kids had been raised on The Beatles and Guided By Voices and had managed to live long enough without killing themselves to make a record, the result might sound a lot like Hotel St. George. Their music is heavily guitar-based with nouveau punk vocals, slick instrumental production that pays homage to the 70s DIY sound without quite emulating it, and enough harmonic complexity to set up and execute some brilliant hooks. There’s really nothing to dislike here, and there’s a whole lot to merit repeat listens. But on first contact, Hotel St. George does little to grab and secure its listenership. I put it on, thought, “this is pretty good,” and went back to listening to Queensryche. City Boy Lemon, their latest LP release, is a grower not a show-er, and I’ve come back to it again and again over the past couple weeks with an eager ear to the melodic contour of their songs and the pure joy of dancing around in my underwear while Matt Binder sings “I always dream of sex, I always dream of death, it’s always on my mind, it’s always on my mind.” Cute stuff. In sum, I’ve decided that I really like this band, and I’d like to share them with you guys.

  • AEM012 The Wailing Wall

    AEM012 The Wailing Wall

    Jesse Rifkin has spiritual concerns. As if you couldn’t tell from the name (The Wailing Wall, also known as the Western Wall, is the holy remnant of an ancient temple in Israel, long a place of pilgrimage and prayer for Jews and, according to some, the site of the gates of heaven), the music of The Wailing Wall trades in love and death, faith and its absence, transcendence and exile. Rifkin takes a position in a long line of smart, thoughtful troubadors with acoustic guitars and a penchant for sonic exploration and biblical references (Leonard Cohen, Bill Callahan, Jeff Mangum). Like those songwriters he manages to turn pop songcraft into something with gravity and holiness, low art into high.

  • AEM013 Normal Love

    AEM013 Normal Love

    Since dropping on Philadelphia’s thriving experimental music scene in 2006, these virtuosos have already compiled a beefy resume. A grant from the American Composers Forum, a slot at John Zorn’s The Stone, legions of fist-pumping fans. But the real accomplishment comes in the form of their music. Normal Love packs an incredible amount of musical diversity into their compositions, making the cliché of postmodern pastiche too weak a descriptor. Plus, we’re not talking about some guy huddled over a laptop and dropping nostalgia-bomb after nostalgia-bomb by just glitch-quilting his whole record collection. Nay, we’re talking real artful synthesis of deliciously obscure influences, from death metal to satanic funk to West African minimalism to…um…the boss music from Contra.

  • AEM014 Rosalind Schonwald

    AEM014 Rosalind Schonwald

    Providence-based singer Rosalind Schonwald is my Model Martian Moon Girl and here’s why… She’s got a great voice and sings with remarkable maturity for a nineteen year old. Well versed in both jazz and classical music, she approaches pop with a strong theoretical background, but she isn’t too haughty to have a little fun with it. Her music is accessible but intriguing enough to warrant repeat listens. And while her lyrics are superficially cute and clever, they don’t shy away from heavier topics. Consider the A-Side, a love song for a non-existent “Model Martian Moon Boy.”

  • AEM015 James William Roy

    AEM015 James William Roy

    James William Roy has been making music since before I was born. He picked up the bass in 1982 and the guitar shortly afterward. He began recording his own music at home on an 8-track long before it was considered ‘retro’ to do so. Over the years he’s been in more bands than one could comfortably keep track of; Tin Honey Gold, Idiot Purge, and St. Bastard, to name a few. If you’re looking for a few hours of entertainment, a full listing is available at thejamesrocket.com. Currently Roy plays bass in A Bunch of Girls, which he describes lovingly as “the last rock band in NYC.” And in between gigs, he somehow finds the time to hold down a full time job, maintain a healthy marriage, and to write and produce some pretty fresh music.

  • AEM016 Debo Band / Kiddid

    AEM016 Debo Band / Kiddid

    I might as well get it out of the way at the beginning: Debo Band is not world music. Debo Band is something far more interesting and complex than the safe, de-contextualized commodification of music from the perceived golden age of another country sold in coffeeshop chains to cool dads wearing Keds and visors. Debo Band, organized by saxophonist and leader Danny Mekonnen back in 2006, is a band whose music, though it may initially sound foreign to ears weaned on indie rock, can trace its roots through almost every arena of American music. Since its inception, the band has been deeply involved in the DIY scene in Boston, playing loft parties and rock venues for the young and artistically inclined, while at the same time securing touring grants from respectable institutes like the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation. They have performed with and befriended brilliant Dutch anarcho-punx The Ex, who themselves have developed quite an interest in Ethiopian music, collaborating with legendary woolly-toned saxophonist Getatchew Mekurya on their last album.

  • AEM017 Twin Sister

    AEM017 Twin Sister

    You, dear reader (hopefully you’re out there somewhere), may be surprised to see me penning a review of a pop band. I can’t blame you. Then again, Twin Sister is no average pop band. I first saw these guys opening for Megafaun at the Silent Barn last spring. Since then, my support for them has been unwavering, my praise of them hyperbolic to the extreme. Towards the end of the show, the battering chorus of “Ginger” made me blurt out that this band was the Weezer of the 21st Century. Granted, Weezer is still a band in the 21st Century (sort of), but that subject is too painful for me to pursue. I wasn’t linking them up with the embarrassingly unselfconscious goofballs behind “Beverly Hills” and Raditude. I was thinking of the endearing nerds who threw pure pop genius in the face of the dominant grunge and alternative rock paradigms. This was almost certainly the whiskey talking, but there’s an element of truth to my dumb declaration. Twin Sister are a true pop band’s pop band. There may not be any overt innovations in their music, but it’s so well conceived, so well crafted and, most importantly, so well executed that you’d be foolish not to give their music a serious listen.

  • AEM018 Shark?

    AEM018 Shark?

    The biggest question asked by the music of Shark? is, well, Shark? No, seriously, this is pretty straightforward business, albeit masterfully made, with an expansive, almost theoretical understanding of what “indie rock” could mean in an era when that term has become practically meaningless. So, regardless of how, I don’t know, not-new-in terms of synth wobbles, cut-up drums, faux-afro flavor, fu*k it, even compression-Shark? sound, that reactionary aesthetic, here appropriated with live instruments the way other bands mine Max MSP, is very interesting indeed.

  • AEM019 We Are Soldiers We Have Guns

    AEM019 We Are Soldiers We Have Guns

    “I’m gonna walk / down the sidewalk / like it’s a runway / … / I’m gonna be like Madonna” We Are Soldiers We Have Guns, November

    I’ve just moved to New York City, and it’s just turned to November, and I have to say that I admire the attitude of those lyrics. When it starts getting darker earlier, and everyone’s bundled up in patterned scarves and heavy coats, the sidewalk starts to feel a bit lonely-I’d very much love to be like Madonna walking home from work some days.

  • AEM020 Jean-Rene Ella

    AEM020 Jean-Rene Ella

    I won’t do this too often, I promise, but I’d like to use the beginning of this review as an opportunity to climb up on my ethnomusicological soapbox and do some good ol’ fashioned preaching. I’ve had this idea for a couple years now that YouTube is the next evolution of musical transmission, in so much as it’s become a virtual substitute for the proverbial front porch banjo lesson. But, instead of sitting cross-legged on the wooden floor while your used-to-be-a-coal-miner-until-he-got-the-ol’-black-lung-don’t-ya-know Grandpa walks you through the rudiments of how to play “Darling Cora,” you get to sit in your boxers, eating Chinese leftovers, and work your way note by note through “StillJreming”’s rendition of “Trouble in Mind.” You savvy readers already know this, but the internet has really done much more for music than merely piss off Lars Ulrich and encourage 1TB hard drive sales; it’s completely changed how music is passed down through generations. Teenage kids have just as much access to traditional blues and gospel tunes as they have to punk and rock, and this incredible confluence of influences is already leading to some wonderful things. How else could an organic chemist in Indiana come to have 30,000 views on his YouTube video of “Hard Time Killing Floor,” and inspire a listener comment like “There’s so much soul leaking from the guitar that you could harvest it, put it in mason jars then sell it for wholesale purchase with great bargains.” The great unveiling: StillJReming is Jean-Rene Ella, and though I’ve never met the man, he taught me how to play guitar.

  • AEM021 Cuddle Magic

    AEM021 Cuddle Magic

    It would be easy to accuse Cuddle Magic of being Luddites if only they weren’t making music about a hundred times more interesting than all the panda cubs huddling in basements with SP-404s. I mean, samplers hell, these folks don’t even use electric guitars. The thing is, while there is much fascinating and beautiful music to be made with samplers, for many people who adopt the instrument carelessly it becomes a crutch. When each button you press creates not just a note (with variations in attack, volume, etc.) but an entire complete sound, it’s far easier to fill the aural space without much intention or thought. I think this is why it can actually take more skill to make great music on samplers: there are so many easy outs. When one loop sounds great, you have to actively disrupt it to create something new, whereas with acoustic instruments you have to literally play a repeated section every time. This may seem like splitting hairs but it makes a difference. It’s the same kind of difference illustrated by the fact that it’s easy to make deafening noise on an electric guitar and have the same absent expression on your face as someone adjusting the thermostat or reading page 712 of Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, while making the same kind of noise on, say, the saxophone requires you to sweat torrentially and turn sunset red and stumble around like you’re on whippets for the next 5 minutes.

  • AEM022 Trevor Wilson

    AEM022 Trevor Wilson

    There is a contradiction that hounds all music that resides somewhere near the crossroads of art and pop, said contradiction being more or less that art music is supposed to provoke and challenge the listener, while pop music is supposed to be catchy and digestible. Art music pokes you in the arm (kind of hard) and sits down to ask you troubling questions about man’s place in the universe; pop music lies down at your feet and looks cute (if you think I’m being dismissive of pop music, ask yourself which of those things would be more welcome in your life at this very moment). A hybrid of these two styles is almost by definition impossible. A catchy melody gets stuck in your head and repeats itself endlessly, often on a first or second hearing. You find yourself humming it while making toast. This is the exact opposite of the awareness and attention and work that art music is supposed to require. You do not often find yourself mumbling excerpts from the Rite of Spring while pouring milk over your generic-brand Cheerios.

  • AEM023 Zeke Virant

    AEM023 Zeke Virant

    I first met Zeke Virant when I was living in the East Village after my first year of college. Virant was living nearby with a model who liked to cook biscuits and gravy. He would frequently pop over to my tiny sixth-floor walk up. We’d cram into the little bedroom I shared with a friend and play god knows what with a bass and 3 drums. Those were the days. Virant’s musical gifts were immediately apparent. He had an amazing ear for slinking bass lines and liked to play around with extended techniques (including, but not limited to playing the bass with a spoon). We only had a summer of musical interaction, but that was long enough for me to realize that I had encountered someone truly special.

  • AEM024 Tres Coronas

    AEM024 Tres Coronas

    Tres Coronas was formed in early 2004 by students at one of America’s most elite boarding schools. Surprising? Well, perhaps it is, but in a way it makes perfect sense. Without Stalin could there have been a Mandelstam a Bulgokov? Without the Vietnam War, could there have been a Woodstock? Maybe I’m getting a bit carried away with my metaphors, but the point I’m trying to make is that often art is reactionary. What use is rebellion without something to rebel against? And so it came to be that Tres Coronas, one of the edgiest bands out there, was born in a stuffy and sterile environment.

  • AEM025 Swimming in Speakers

    AEM025 Swimming in Speakers

    I love the internet. It’s great to live in an age where two ordinary friends in a small town in Upstate New York can self produce an extraordinary EP and rise to indie fame in a matter of months. Or perhaps multi-instrumentalist Chris Clarke and vocalist Meadow Eliz were not so ordinary to begin with. Nevertheless, the pair have done pretty well for themselves considering that they met little more than a year ago. Here’s a short chronology of their efforts: October 2008: Eliz and Clarke meet at bowling alley in Saranac Lake, Population 5041. Shortly afterwards, they cross paths at the deli in which Eliz is working. From these humble beginnings a strong friendship is formed.

  • AEM026 Spirit Kid

    AEM026 Spirit Kid

    Those of you familiar with Showtime’s Weeds might already have rubbed aural elbows with Spirit Kid (A.K.A. Emeen Zarookian, the man with the most fabulous name in the universe) via an online only promo video (see below) that lifts his madly catchy and jangly Ampeater A-side “You Lit Up For Me” and gleefully reinterprets the lyrics in a way that you need only stare at the song title for two seconds to guess at. In fact, the song is secretly an elegy to a lost and puddle-killed cell phone (think about it: you fell down / out of my pocket and into the sea / you lit up for me), and this contrast between the hidden, mundane inspiration and the perfectly open ended lyrics is a perfect distillation of Spirit Kid. “You Lit Up For Me” is a perfect, concise pop song, recorded with a warm, full and just slightly muddy sound that sounds both musically and tonally straight out of 1965 (Zarookian lists the Beatles, Kinks, Beach Boys, and Zombies as influences and let me tell you, you can hear it in the best way) and yet with a secretly contemporary source. Who among us doesn’t know the anxiety of a lost cell phone? Who would think to write a song about it? Meet the Spirit Kid, a man who, in his own words, is trying to capture “a child-like willingness to experience the world with open eyes and a open heart, something that many of us, including me, often let slip away with our own daily problems.”

  • AEM027 PS I Love You

    AEM027 PS I Love You

    Before this decade, only Canadian artists who had explosive popular appeal - like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Alanis Morissette, Celine Dion and the rest - would make it in the States, their success having less to do with a homegrown Canadian music market and more to do with the open-armed American music industry’s willingness to swallow any delicious pop morsel whole. Most other bands were left to wither in the lonely, obscure Canadian cold. And then Canada surprised everyone and produced, in one decade, not one but two genuine, sprawling homegrown scenes — based in Toronto and Montreal, really the only two cities in Canada anyway - that led to great art-tinged pop groups who also found immense popularity across the border. Led by the New Pornographers and then Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire, these groups have perhaps defined the sound of Indie rock in the last decade more than any others, American or Canadian. The explanation for their popularity has little to do with the Canadian scene itself: the burgeoning international indie movement of the last decade has created a larger venue for more experimental artists, and the online democratization of music has made it easier for new bands to catch a break regardless of their location.

  • AEM028 Mount Eerie

    AEM028 Mount Eerie

    When I was sixteen and at the height of my Microphones obsession, I saw Phil Elverum at the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia. [Ed.: Jake, why do all of your reviews start with an adolescent anecdote? Are you writing about music just to revisit your unspoiled youth? Jake: Um…Yes.] The set had all the familiar Microphones vibes: pseudo-mystical lyrical meanderings, fans sitting on stage, and endearingly mousy stage banter. The real surprise came when I asked Elverum to sign my journal. Rather than give me the minimum-effort John Hancock, he spent ten minutes drawing an enormous mountain towering over the clouds. “That’s Mount Eerie,” he said, pointing to the mountain, “and that’s the world.” No one, including Elverum, has unlocked the full significance of Mount Eerie the concept, but that hasn’t stopped him from delving deep into murky symbolism. Since that concert, the Microphones have ditched their original moniker for Mount Eerie, released Mount Eerie Pts. 6 and 7 as a sequel to the five-track Microphones swan song called-you guessed it-Mount Eerie. More recently, Elverum has been exploring the sounds of Norwegian Black Metal, an element once present in classic Microphones songs like “Samurai Sword,” now brought to the fore in albums like Black Wooden Ceiling Opening (2008) and, most recently, Wind’s Poem (2009). Elverum’s story is a familiar one. Music loving kid works in a record shop, starts playing around with recording equipment, records sloppy and earnest demos. The difference between Phil Elverum and other home recording artists, however, is that his recording projects eventually caught the attention of Calvin Johnson, founding member of Beat Happening and head of K records, during a brief stint in Olympia. Elverum was given access to Johnson’s famous Dub Narcotic studio where he began a long discography as The Microphones, including It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water (2000) and the seminal The Glow, pt. 2 (2001), the latter of which was recently treated to deluxe reissue. While The Glow, pt. 2 was and remains his most critically acclaimed album, 2004’s Mount Eerie unveiled the severest themes of Elverum’s imagination. Confronting death, rebirth, nature, and the universe, the album was an epic five-part opera set on Mount Eerie-a real mountain on Fidalgo island that looms over Elverum’s homebase in Anacortes, WA. It may have been unintelligible to those who’d been won by The Microphones’ more concise lo-fi folk statements; for others it represented the culmination of a genius’ lifelong meditation on the universe’s mysteries.

  • AEM029 Unsacred Hearts

    AEM029 Unsacred Hearts

    So I’m reading this Guided By Voices tell-all biography in an attempt to catch up on the last 20 years of their music. Being a child of the 2000s with respect to my artistic tastes, I seemed to have missed out on the lo-fi indie movement altogether, until people old enough to be my father kept mentioning bands like Guided By Voices and Pavement with a kind of religious reverence. And I have to say, my first impressions of the whole scene weren’t too great. I wasn’t immediately “struck” by the enormity of their talents. But here I am, reading a Guided By Voices biography in an attempt to “get” it, and I’m just starting to gain some perspective. In order to fully appreciate some music, it’s necessary to suspend one’s critical faculties and just dive straight in, to accept that the mind behind it is infallibly brilliant, and that any misgivings on one’s own part are nothing but critical paranoia. Once this happens, something clicks, and just like that a once scorned album turns into a perennial favorite. To paraphrase Scat records founder Robert Griffin on Guided By Voices’ notoriously abrasive Vampire on Titus, “Once you get inside, it’s a pretty big house in there.” This is the mindset with which to approach the Unsacred Hearts, so take my hand and let’s step inside the house.

  • AEM030 The Milkman's Union

    AEM030 The Milkman's Union

    It took me several listens to really get inside The Milkman’s Union. Yes, it sounded like good, independently produced rock music. You know, electric guitars, wordy lyrics, drums that lingered somewhere between time keeping and expressionist flourishes. It wasn’t until I sat down exhausted in a darkening room and stared out at the heavy blue skies of early winter evening while hearing the line “I drove home in a long line of cars” listlessly intoned by singer Henry Jamison that it all clicked into place. It’s all there in that one image: the highway at night (has to be night), the long line of beat little cars with their beat little drivers staring straight ahead, moving in bleak unison, oozing worms of light out into the blue that blink over the desiccated skeletons of winter trees each time the road bends. The heavy crunch of tires on the gravel driveway and the sudden yawning silence when the engine is cut. That moment of no thought when the driver disappears somewhere even he doesn’t know, just before he clanks the seatbelt and steps through the silence and into the house, each footstep’s sound hanging crisp in the cold air. Melancholy. Not sure how I ever missed it. The Milkman’s Union is lousy with it, and it’s the weary, faded blue of those winter skies, not to mention most of the music I lost myself in during my lonely high school years.

  • AEM031 I'm Not a Band

    AEM031 I'm Not a Band

    When a band decides to call itself I’m Not a Band, it’s kind of like a bear coming out of the woods and saying “I’m not a bear.” The first thing you think is, “Yeah right, prove it.” Then the next thing you think is, “Holy shit! That bear just talked!” So in this case, when some German guy with a synthesizer and a violin and a pretty lady on vocals tell you that they’re not a band, try and suppress that gut instinct that, well, they look like a band, and sound like a band, and, who knows, probably smell like a band, and focus instead on the less obvious point: Why are they telling me anything at all? To this question, I think, there is always only one answer: they have something to hide.

  • AEM032 Dandelion Fiction

    AEM032 Dandelion Fiction

    The world of sound is a strange one, indeed. Think about it. We pay money to watch people make sounds. If people make really cool sounds, we pay more money. I’ve heard people make some pretty cool sounds in my day. But it’s all a hoax. I sincerely regret to inform you that the current sound world you inhabit is limited, a sham. After all, there’s a potentially infinite combination of sonic textures to be tapped. If it’s in the range of human hearing, we should be able to hear it. The problem, however, is that there’s a finite number of instruments in the world. The objects we have for realizing sound potential are inherently limited.

  • AEM033 Freshwater

    AEM033 Freshwater

    Generally I write about bands but today I’m going to write about an album, Cold Duck Complex Presents Freshwater: Bad Love. Skirting the gray area between solo album and full band release, Bad Love is a collaborative effort, the musical voice of Joe Cardozo (alias Freshwater) filtered through the hip-hop/rock/jazz machine that for the last 7 years has been called Cold Duck Complex. Our story begins in Amherst, MA in 2002 when the Cold Duck Trio, a jazz and funk group featuring Cardozo on bass, Makaya McCraven on drums, and Jeff D’Antona on keys, began collaborating with rapper Platypus Complex.

  • AEM034 Boca Chica

    AEM034 Boca Chica

    Boca Chica is a Pittsburgh based indie-folk band in the vein of Sufjan Stevens, Neil Young, Arcade Fire, Joanna Newsom, Gillian Welch, etc, etc… I use the term band, but in reality Boca Chica functions more like a collective. It’s a rotating cast of characters jamming along to the songs of Hallie Pritts. Boca Chica began in 2004 as a duet featuring Pritts (vocals, guitar) and Susanna Meyer (bass, vocals, flute). Since then, the group has grown at a healthy clip. In addition to Pritts and Meyer, their latest album Lace Up Your Workboots features Jeff Baron (guitar, banjo) Christopher McDonald, (keys, banjo, guitar, vibes, vocals, synths, sounds), Lisa Campbell (Cello), Matt Miller (Drums, Vocals), Jeff Ryan (Drums), James Hart (Pedal Steel, Vocals), Dave Flaherty (auxiliary percussion ), Drew Ceccato (Electronic Valve Instrument). They’ve recently picked up a new drummer, Ricky Moslen, who does not appear on Lace Up Your Workboots but will appear on the next album. And it’s not uncommon for additional friends, including the entire cast of Cuddle Magic, to join them on stage. You get the picture. With eleven-plus members and twenty-something instruments between them, the permutations are pretty much endless.The name Boca Chica (Spanish for Little Mouth) was chosen on a somewhat of a whim. Pritts and Meyer were slated to perform at a folk festival and thinking that “Pritts & Meyer” sounded too much like “old man jazz” they decided to choose something new, eventually settling on Boca Chica. There wasn’t a lot of thought behind it, but Boca Chica is a more fitting name than Pritts and Meyer could have possibly imagined at the time. Why? Because for an eleven member collective, perhaps the most striking thing about Boca Chica is that they know how to shut up. Really. Often large ensembles fall into the trap of trying to play over one another rather than with each other but not so with Boca Chica. They never step on each others toes. This band literally can go to eleven, but usually they hover around four or five, and sometimes bringing it all the way down to one. The dynamic range is astounding.

  • AEM035 King Expressers

    AEM035 King Expressers

    Okay, so today I am going to tell you about three young Brooklynites playing pop music that draws heavily from Ghanaian highlife and Congolese soukouss and I’m going to ask you not to sneer. I mean, let’s all put aside our kneejerk Vampire Weekend Paul Simon reflexes and think about this for a second. Why do we feel like we’re supposed to look down on such things? Usually it is a question of authenticity, connected to some imagined exploitation or imperialistic colonization of styles of music and musicians from the third world. First of all, let me just throw some wrenches into this authenticity thing. I mean, it’s almost too easy. The idea that there is some racially pure music out there is just ridiculous, and the idea that it would be somehow more real (what does that even mean?) or automatically better than any of the countless hybrids we have is just kind of stupid. Highlife itself was already a fusion of Western and African music back in the 1930s when it emerged. According to afropop.org, it was a blend of Trinidadian calypso, military brass band music, Cuban son and older African song forms with the addition of American swing music a decade later during WWII. Do you have an urge to go back to Ghana 1941 and sneer at them for defiling their culture with swing music? See how silly this all is? Highlife was never anything but a hybrid, one piece of dialogue in the eternal conversation of culture. I may be out on a limb here but I’d say there is something way more imperialistically iffy and patronizing about wanting to quarantine various foreign musics in order to preserve them like museum pieces (read: kill them) than there is about oh, I dunno, going to Ghana and learning how to play some of their music and then letting it into your own, which is what the King Expressers have done. Culture is only alive when it is changing and growing, kids.

  • AEM036 Benji Cossa

    AEM036 Benji Cossa

    Benji Cossa was once called “The King of Song” by Bjorn Copeland of the Black Dice. Other people that have been referred to as musical royalty include: Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Johnny Cash, not to mention Queens Aretha and Latifah, Ozzy the Prince of Darkness, and just plain old Prince–all popular artists that achieved massive radio success. Cossa heard his song played on the radio too. Once. He recalls, “They played ‘April’ on WFMU and I missed it. I didn’t know it would be on, but I turned on the radio and heard my name. It was exciting.”Benji Cossa, like many truly great songwriters, doesn’t “write” songs in an active sense of the word. They just seem to spill out by the dozens–on train rides, at work, all the time. It’s remarkable, and it’s genuine. That isn’t to say that he doesn’t work hard. He’s a craftsman, and he’s very serious about his work. The man’s prolific, but only a small cult of friends and fans can say that they’ve heard even one of his thousands of original compositions.

  • AEM037 Andy J Gallagher

    AEM037 Andy J Gallagher

    I always get a bit concerned when an artist claims, like Andy J Gallagher does, to possess a “longing, homage, respect, and love for the glory days” of something, especially punk rock. Not only does nostalgia make people sound old, but the very idea of the “glory days” of anything as amorphous and fickle as punk is ludicrous: less a genre than an ideology, punk has always been more about breaking things and creating monsters out of the detritus than a particular sound or style. “Fuck history,” some collective mega-ghost of Joe Strummer, the MC5 , Iggy Pop and Penny Rimbaud might say, “Gimme danger instead.” On the other hand, despite the fact that everything can become punk-a rendition of Handel’s Messiah sung into a beer can, for example-not everything that says it’s punk actually is. It’s one of those know-it-when-you-hear-it kind of things: Afrika Bambaataa, Bob Dylan, Minor Threat, Slayer…all totally punk. And Andy J Gallagher, backwards-looking or not, certainly sounds punk. It’s abstract. But is it enough?

  • AEM038 Little Women

    AEM038 Little Women

    If I learned anything as an Anthropology major in college, it’s that when we speak of “human nature” we’re almost always talking about culture. Countless ideas and institutions deemed natural for the human spirit are in fact part of a complex web of learned vocabulary. Take the Western notions of consonance and dissonance, the supporting base of musical tonality. It is in no way apparent a priori that certain tone combinations are pleasing while others are unrefined or disagreeable. Clearly, tonality is as much a constructed system as ethics, something which is produced by (not before) human interaction and disseminated, with constant re-adaptations, from generation to generation. An invocation of the musical philosophy of John Cage is appropriate here: “The first question I ask myself when something doesn’t seem to be beautiful is why do I think it’s not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason.” This quote has always haunted me because I think it penetrates the problem of the question of music. What is and is not music, the obsession with exclusionary division, has marked every stage of Western musical history. Combining Cage’s challenge of traditional aesthetic binaries (reflected in tonality’s consonance and dissonance) with the insights of anthropological thought, we see that the resolution of this historic problem is to nullify the binary by looking beyond our present cultural systems and imagining new systems awaiting to be forged. It shouldn’t be as scary as it sounds. As Cage puts it, “I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.” Doesn’t the very health of our cultural spirit depend on an understanding of where we have been and where we can go? Are we to remain forever trapped in an outdated mode of thinking about sound? There are plenty of artists that understand this imperative, but the larger cultural landscape must recognize that sound is sound and must be reckoned with in any context.

  • AEM039 Pistolera

    AEM039 Pistolera

    “mujer terrorista, feminista, mexicana, americana, condenada, peligrosa… pistolera.”

    Pistolera, like many of the bands featured on The Ampeater Review, hails from Brooklyn but their heart lies over the border. And no, I’m not talking about Queens. The quartet, which features Sandra Velasquez (vocals, guitar), Ani Cordero (drums), Inca B. Satz (bass), and Maria Elena (accordion), plays an energetic blend of ranchera, cumbia, and rock. Velasquez’s percussive guitar and Satz’s reggae-tinged bass grooves lines would be standard enough fare in Brooklyn’s dives, but Elena’s peppy accordion-driven melodies and Cordero’s distinctly Latin percussion, not to mention lyrics entirely in Spanish, evoke the small-town cantina mexicana.

  • AEM040 Verb the Adjective Noun

    AEM040 Verb the Adjective Noun

    Verb the Adjective Noun like crescendos. Listening to their EPs (available for free at the adorably named www.welikeyoualot.com) brought to mind my first time hearing fellow folk-rock screamers Okkervil River. Each song (with the exception of Ampeater A-side “Madeline” which is a born power-pop single if I’ve ever heard one) begins with something nondescript: a few simple strummed chords or a gentle fingerpicking riff. The verse melodies tend to be pleasant but not aggressive. They flow by easily at first, usually taking a detour through a catchy, relaxed instrumental interlude and then somehow, by the end of each track, somersaulting into an absolutely cathartic explosion, carried by the worn out, raw vocals: usually a creaky baritone doubled in octaves by an expressive, quavery second voice (actually at the climaxes Verb the Adjective Noun tend to just f*ckin’ go for it and overdub about 100 vocal tracks, but these two are the most prominent; check out the chorus of “Madeline” for an example). The effect calls to mind another Boston native who specializes in weaving the simplest melodies and harmonies into gold, Tim Howard of Soltero.

  • AEM041 Hot Sugar

    AEM041 Hot Sugar

    Nick Koenig, for one of his new songs, made a field recording of the wind, mapped the sound to a keyboard, and played out a melody on the breeze. OK Pocahontas. But seriously, this found-sound technique-which extends throughout Koenig aka Hot Sugar’s oeuvre-deserves some attention. Not in the sense that these kinds of excavations are new: over half-a-century’s worth of art music experimentalists and Japanoise terrorists have found ample sonic uses for everything from vacuum cleaners to plastic surgery procedures. What makes Hot Sugar interesting, however, is not the aesthetic extremism or aggressive anti-musicality of someone like, say, Merzbow, but rather the prettiness, catchiness, even humanism this artist extracts from these instrumental (but not instrument) materials. In the world of outre industrio-acoustic studies, this kind of pop-smithing amounts, ironically, to the opposite of conventionality, a length of particularly percussive copper piping swung at the hydrahead of No Fun conservatism. In Hot Sugar’s mellotron, tunefulness becomes radical.

  • AEM042 Order or Ardor

    AEM042 Order or Ardor

    My friend and musical companion Jeremy once gave me this advice when I told him I was having trouble writing songs: “Start with a philosophical concept and try to make the sound describe that concept.” It was an interesting, if startling method that I had never encountered before. Should music proceed from some base of an idea and build from there? Or do what we call “philosophical concepts” even have a place in music? Don’t we still put stock in the transcendence of the musical experience, in its absence of direct reference and metaphor? Only in a very restricted sense. As many worthwhile contemporary artists have proven, idea and form are mutually illuminating projects. One does not follow the other. They contain and advance each other.

  • AEM043 Pete Galub

    AEM043 Pete Galub

    “I’ve always considered myself primarily a songwriter” says Pete Galub, who also sings and plays guitar. For nearly two decades Galub has been a force in New York’s vast underground music scene. He started gigging at the tender age of 15, performing in CBGB’s and other NYC clubs. Over the years he’s played in numerous bands and shared the stage with Gillian Welch and Liz Phair among others. But as he insists, Galub is a songwriter above all else. He cites a diverse range of musical influences from the likes of Thelonius Monk to 60s and 80s melodic guitar pop music a la the Byrds, Big Star, and the Chills, as well as folk/country tunesmiths like the Louvin Brothers and Michael Hurley, and raw punk groups like Wire and the Undertones. Decades of experience and an eclectic taste in music have certainly made their mark on his songwriting, which embraces both the catchy and the quirky. As he puts it, “I love catchy melodies and great songs. I love dissonance. I love experimentation and growth and try to integrate improvisation, noise, and other things into live performances of the pop songs I write. Sometimes they’re an absolute train wreck, sometimes they’re the most gratifying moments of my life.”

  • AEM044 Lady Lamb the Beekeeper

    AEM044 Lady Lamb the Beekeeper

    There’s a line in a Boy Without God song that goes “And if you play an instrument, I’m probably a little bit in love with you.” I’m not sure whether there’s some sort of chip that they put in pubescent males when we’re not looking, but it’s almost universally accepted as fact by most young men of quality and standing that if you can play three chords on your older brother’s beat up acoustic, we like you. A lot. The best performers have a way of creating a bridge between stage and audience that makes every listener in the room think that he or she (and only he or she) is being sung to, and that each song was written explicity for his or her ears. This is the pinnacle of the coffeehouse experience, and it’s something that generally only transpires in documentaries about Greenwich Village in the 60s. And yet, I get the same feeling when Lady Lamb the Beekeeper pops up on iTunes.

  • AEM045 Evening Hymns

    AEM045 Evening Hymns

    We tend to think of sad, acoustic guitar anchored music as being intimate (I don’t want to call it ‘folk’ because folk is already another kind of music. You know, like The Carter Family singing “John Hardy” ). It’s a music of deeply personal songs whispered in bedrooms and as such it has the effect of feeling like a direct communication between us and a softly crooning bearded guy. It’s a kind of music that can really only exist perfectly on record, as softly crooning into a microphone in front of 600 people all craning their necks to get a glimpse of the artist’s sensible clothing doesn’t have quite the same effect. Recently, though, there seems to have emerged an interest in taking the small, cramped spaces of confessional music and cracking them wide open without sacrificing the personal content and directness that made the original style so appealing.

  • AEM046 Life Partners

    AEM046 Life Partners

    If you read Ampeater like I do, you probably scroll down to the bottom of the page and hit play on the A-side of the single before you read one word of the review. Today in doing so you may have noticed that the first song is entitled “The Only Living Goy in Jew York.” There are two basic responses to this song title, 1) a laugh, or whatever sound you make to express mirth while alone on the internet (mine is a sharp, tiny exhale of breath that makes it sound like someone just stabbed me with a pushpin) 2) a beetling of brows and slight canting forward of head and opening of mouth so as to indicate offense (actually this is what people do in conversation to indicate offense; I don’t think people on the internet really adjust their faces to match their emotions. Think about what your face does next time you type ‘lol’. It’s creepily blank, right?). You’ll probably react to the music in one of those two ways, too, especially the amazing off-key falsetto delivery of the song title, which sounds like a muppet after a night of guzzling 151 and torturing people for sexual pleasure. The song also uses the word “kike” prominently. So, you know, people will probably divide into two camps pretty quickly re: Life Partners. And you might not want to blast it at the office. Or around my dad.

  • AEM047 KC Quilty

    AEM047 KC Quilty

    The way new music matriculates into the current music scene has become this sort of precision-based, hyper-active process. The LPs, EPs and 7-inches float down the conveyor belt of some Wonka-like mega-gadget. When they get to the end of the belt, the claw lifts them up and drops them into their respective genre bins. Over here is a bin labeled “Glo-fi.” And over here is one labeled “Shit-gaze.” And right next to that, “Baroque NPR-pop.” Online music culture is like the record shop on steroids-instead of just one wall being labeled “rock” and the other “alternative,” we can now finger interminably through infinite cyber bins.But what about music that falls outside the reach of the judgmental music machinery? That’s what KC Quilty is-a young band whose tastes fell into a time capsule 15 years ago, leaving them to sound delightfully disconnected to anything current. If you had to peg a genre on it, it’d be grunge. KC Quilty, a three-piece from Brooklyn, drags its drumbeats through sludge and soaks its guitar tones in slacker anti-energy. Its choruses swell with easy power while zephyrs of feedback swirl in and around the mix. The drones and dissonance are matched by the rock solid hooks. These are jams composed with moptops and bags under the eyes and a warm heart for 90’s rock radio.

  • AEM048 Dinowalrus

    AEM048 Dinowalrus

    Some bands begin with an idea. Most of these ideas are bad: maracas, choirs, bassists wearing hats, putting a pool on the album cover. These are all bad ideas.

    But let’s break this down further. If we were to construct a band-generator from whatever’s left of Brian Wilson’s bathtub, that spinning 9-necked guitar from Cheap Trick, and the foreclosed ruins of Lou Perlman’s boy dungeon, the device, no matter how complex on the inside, would only need to have two inputs: “adjective” and “noun,” or, as it states in the manual, “idea” and “thing.” Wonderful! We have just given birth to Whitesnake, Darkthrone, Big Black, Lightning Bolt, and, why not, Cheap Trick. This construct is useful not just because you can make new bands forever, but because the layman can decipher what he’s about to listen to before he even hits play. Whitesnake sounds like a huge penis, Darkthrone sounds like a malevolent, slightly smaller penis, and Big Black sounds like Steve Albini’s idea of Parliament were Parliament to turn into a…oh wait, never mind. The idea begets the name begets the band. Click, spit, another gem off the assembly line.

  • AEM049 You and Your Pointy Ears

    AEM049 You and Your Pointy Ears

    In the last few years, the ease of home recording has increased exponentially to the point where every 17 year old with an acoustic guitar and a laptop is now a “band” (I will make fun of these kids forever, but I am happy that they exist. I wonder if their children will unearth their MySpace pages in 30 years). Anyway, as we have gotten more and more used to hearing home recordings by people who don’t have much experience in the realm of…well, recording, we’ve gotten more and more used to low fidelity, to everything clipping. Lo-fi wasn’t invented by the internet generation, of course, it’s always been a marker of authenticity and anti-top 40 pop music (think of Daniel Johnston bleating his immensely effective songs of pain into a tape recorder), but we may be the first group of consumers to send some kid straight from making blown out tapes in his basement to having public drug meltdowns at European festivals within, what, six months? Low fidelity recording is acceptable to a wider swathe of audience than ever before. Those of us who have grown up listening to streaming MySpace mp3s have learned to listen past the blurry audio when necessary and to appreciate it as an aesthetic of both intention and necessity. It could even be considered a backlash against the unnatural cleanness and dryness of digital production, which removes the warmth of occasional tape saturation of most of our beloved analog recordings and makes it sound like listening to a rock band suspended in a vacuum. Cambridge, MA, band You and Your Pointy Ears, the brainchild of Spenser Gralla (when he’s not busy being in all his other bands) fits neatly into the lo-fi pop category, but instead of the angsty numbness of bands like Wavves, You and Your Pointy Ears channels the badass, dance party stomp of old school garage weirdos like The Monks and country rockers like CCR.

  • AEM050 WALLcreeper

    AEM050 WALLcreeper

    Rock n’ roll is a bit like my turtle, in the sense that every time I think it’s going to die, it manages somehow to plug along for another ten years. It’s a new decade everyone, and even if the oughts gave birth to more micro-revivals and quantum genres than anyone could care to keep track of, I think it’s safe to say that rock came out sounding not only alright, but perhaps even more rigorously defined than at any other point in its now officially geriatric lifespan. Remember the opening seconds of Radiohead’s Hail To The Thief back in 2005, that buzzy sound of a guitar getting plugged in and the nasty hiss of speakers. After Kid A and Amnesiac, it was like, oh, amplifiers! That was rock in the 2000s. What’s that crappy sound? Oh, rock! After a decade’s worth of electro-shock therapy and drainpipes posturing, the dirty, scuzzy nature of the beast still persisted like a bad personality trait.

  • AEM051 Lohio

    AEM051 Lohio

    As a freshman in high school, I managed to select an almost impossibly horrible schedule of classes that led me on an epic walk across the full length of our sprawling campus not once but twice each day. I was 14, and September and October were shitty and cold, as they usually are at New England boarding schools. Then, in late November a wonderful thing happened–Apple invented the iPod. In a split second this little white box with its massive 4gb (HA!) hard drive turned those 15 minute walks into the most highly anticipated stretches of my daily routine. I’d spend the better part of the previous evening selecting the perfect combination of songs for each walk, thinking that I could somehow transform this wholly banal ritual into some kind of cinematic experience. The idea was to crank the tunes as loud as my little earbuds would go, and to imagine seeing myself walking through the snow as though it were a dramatically framed cut scene from The Graduate or some equally introspective indie art film. Unfortunately, my music library was at the time limited to about 20 classic rock albums that I’d appropriated via Napster. Needless to say, the movie playing in my head probably looked a lot more like Easy Rider than I would have hoped. Anyways, Spring rolled around, I got a bike, and my once cherished iPod mega-walk went the way of the dinosaurs–that is, until Lohio landed in the Ampeater submissions box.

  • AEM052 Redbird Fever

    AEM052 Redbird Fever

    People form bands for all sorts of reasons. Some bands begin with a concept or gimmick, others are driven by a thirst for self expression, while others still are born from egotism, curiosity, political motive, chance, or even boredom. Redbird Fever, a three-piece indie rock band based out of western Washington state, was born from a challenge. In February of 2009 Ralph Hogaboom (guitar, vocals, glockenspiel) decided to participate in the February Album Writing Month challenge at www.fawm.org by writing fourteen new songs. It can’t be easy to write fourteen songs in twenty-eight days-I’ve never been able to write more than a couple in a month-but Hogaboom managed to pull it off and after the month was up, he took his songs to Jay Wainman (violin, vocals, melodyhorn) with whom he’d been jamming for several months. The pair entered the studio in May and spent two full days pumping out as much as they could. First Hogaboom recorded drums, guitars, and vocals and then Wainman layered on violin, additional vocals, and a collection of instruments she had brought with her. Conrad Uno (Presidents of The United States America, Fresh Young Fellows) mixed it on the spot and, as Hogaboom reflects, “we took it home dazed and confused and not really knowing if we even liked it yet.” The product of these sessions was the six-track EP Come Away From Your Home (available for download on this site). Perhaps Hogaboom and Wainman couldn’t see it because they were stuck in the thick of it, but it only took me one listen to tell that they had created something special.

  • Remember Me? AEM001 Strawberry Hands

    AEM001-1 Strawberry Hands

    Hey there, remember our very first review? Well, way way back in 2009 we started this whole thing off with Strawberry Hands. You can read the review and listen to Side B from the 7-inch at ampeatermusic.com/aem001. We’re sad to say that Side A is no longer with us, having suffered a tragic demise at the hands of its own creator. That said, we’re not about to cut our catalog one song short without doing something cool to compensate. After all, these songs are like family to us. So, we present you with a new 7-inch from Strawberry Hands, sans review, as a bit of a teaser. These tracks are both from the magnificent album Palaces Upon Palaces.

  • AEM053 My Dearest Darling

    AEM053 My Dearest Darling

    When I heard My Dearest Darling for the first time my initial reaction was, “wait, what just happened?” My second thought, after suppressing the acid flashbacks was, “that’s some trippy shit.” And my third impulse was to contact them about doing a feature in The Ampeater Review.

  • AEM054 Tony the Bookie Orchestra

    AEM054 Tony the Bookie Orchestra

    The story goes that Anthony Confalone (AKA “Tony the Bookie” , a moniker acquired in his long residency as the booking agent for Somerville, MA club PA’s Lounge, but one which nicely doubles as an indication of the kind of seedy, beer-soaked, mortality-heavy, miserable bastard country music Confalone writes), before each take of every song on his debut full-length Tony the Bookie presents…The Tony the Bookie Orchestra!, lifted a glass of Dewars to his mouth and took a swig. I probably should have swapped the glass out for a bottle, and the Dewars for some kind of bourbon, but hey, this is a music blog with some journalistic standards. There’s something to the classiness of the scotch, though, for despite the roughshod misery of a bunch of dudes howling “on the day that you left me/I knew my life would never ever be the saaaaaaaaame” in a unison so wild there’s actually about a major second span between the various notes, Confalone’s songs are incredibly well-written and well-crafted. He may be drunk, but he knows what he’s doing. Confalone describes the band as a bunch of weirdos trying to play country music, and that’s about as accurate and concise a description as you’re going to get from me. The genre touchstones are all there: lyrics about sin and church bells, twangy lead guitars, ever-present death, plaintive pedal steel, that high lonesome voice-cracking sound (altered here a bit by the fact that Confalone actually has quite a low voice), those sinking melismas at the end of each line, but the Bookie Orchestra never sinks into pastiche or self-parody. The musical template may be country, but the content of the songs (mostly pain, like in any good country song) resonates beyond the framework in which they’re delivered, and most importantly, Confalone never steps over the line into weird authenticity gaming by, say, singing in a put-on southern accent. This has been a pet peeve of mine ever since I noticed that about half of American rock bands today sing with fake British accents. Don’t get me wrong, I like Gang of Four too, guys, and there is always an extent to which influence is unconsciously absorbed, which is fine. Someone writing country inspired music is likely to pick up a little bit of twang just like an aspiring suburban MC is probably going to pick up and throw around some slang he didn’t learn on his neatly landscaped streets. However, it can quickly get out of hand and turn into something that is at best distracting and at worst offensive. What makes Confalone’s music so good is that it sounds not like an old country record, but like new music made by people who listen to a lot of great old country records. When his voice rises to a quaver on the bridge of A-side “True Love” (titled sardonically of course) and he belts “well it hurts so bad / just won’t go away,” it shares a common method with country music (simple, somewhat generic lyrics delivered with a force that renders them mysteriously powerful), but it doesn’t really sound like country music.

  • AEM055 Megafaun

    AEM055 Megafaun

    We often speak of separating the artist from the work. There’s always a small contingent of people who ignore Ezra Pound’s poetry on the grounds that he was a fascist and anti-semite. Many more people, however, approach those poems with an appreciation for their quality despite controversial origins. In this day and age, nobody really fears the artist as a threat to moral codes. Media is exchanged quicker than stolen tourist notes in Barcelona; do you have the energy (or the stupidity) to read into G.G. Allin’s background, only to stop listening to his music once you discover he smeared himself and audience members with his own feces? Fuck that, I say. Let’s celebrate the fearless freaks and worry about their alleged danger to civil society after the party’s been busted up.

  • AEM056 Best Hits

    AEM056 Best Hits

    It’s hard to tell when exactly this happened, but at some point over the past ten years, electronic music started sounding, I don’t know, more alive than rock or country or folk or jazz or other kinds of real-life noise-making. Whereas plenty of revivalists seemed perfectly content to disinter long-dead dinosaur jams and repackage them in tight pants, man-machine hybrids everywhere were evolving, reproducing, absorbing influences and creating new ones out of silicone chips and synthesizers. It wasn’t the end of music, but it was the end of a certain idea of music, that it should be played on instruments that needed to be tuned, that the frontman needed pipes like a Basilica organ, that the drummer…hell, even that there be a drummer. Texture was the new guitar solo, attack sustain decay release the new “Never Mind the Bollocks.” It smelled like…nothing. And sweat and sex and liquor.

  • AEM057 White Suns

    AEM057 White Suns

    Angela Sawyer, owner of the incomparable Weirdo Records and someone who has been quoted as far and wide as Billboard Magazine in regards to noise music, once called Brooklyn band Sightings “the most dangerous band in America.” Obviously we have long overcome our bizarre American belief that violent music will bring on the end of the world, but if there’s one band that could have split the earth open and brought Satan out (riding a bubbling, spitting river of fire, of course), it would have been Sightings. Their music combines an all-out assault on the listener (something that feels a bit like foundering in a choppy, dark sea, which entails not just disorientation and terror at your sudden apparent smallness in the face of the huge ocean but also a kind of life-or-death exhilaration) with a really appealing lack of bells and whistles and an abundance of craft that only someone who has tried to make music like this could easily discern. Sightings, unlike most bands that thrive on extremes of volume and intensity, didn’t remake the same album over and over again, but instead expanded their sound in all sorts of unpredictable directions, making music that is both powerful and interesting. Fellow Brooklynites White Suns, a trio composed of Kevin Barry, Rick Visser, and Dana Matthiessen, remind me quite a bit of Sightings, and let me assure you that is a terrific thing.

  • AEM058 Cabinet of Natural Curiosities

    AEM058 Cabinet of Natural Curiosities

    There’s something to be said for sounds and the people who love them. All musical artists worth a salt love music, they love songs, of course, duh. But I have a particular fascination for singers, songwriters, bands, orchestral three pieces, xylophone collectives, what have you, that are clearly fascinated with sound itself, as a medium. And when someone loves sound and songs? Oh boy. A songwriter who loves sounds is a potentially powerful musical force-a person who’s love for the communication extends to the mode of communication. The greatest artists are always like this: the best painters have a love for the color and texture beyond the paintings; the best writers, a love for words beyond the story.

  • AEM059 Jerome Ellis

    AEM059 Jerome Ellis

    Picture yourself in a garden. There are some bushes, some trees, and clusters of flowers scattered about. Several defined paths wind through this garden, but there’s plenty of space to forge ahead through the rough. You can enter the garden at any place, but from the entrance it’s impossible to see out the other side. The garden is seasonal, and its creations grow, evolve, and die over time. No, this isn’t one of those “Who killed Sean in the garden?” puzzles; this is an introduction to the mind of Jerome Ellis.

  • AEM060 Ivana XL

    AEM060 Ivana XL

    Ivana XL is the latest subversion of one of the more familiar rock ‘n roll personas: That Weird Girl. Look at her press photo: What crazy hair! Why is she dressed like a Google employee? Is that shit under her eye? That Weird Girl isn’t the girl who stuffed rolls into her sweatpants at lunch in middle school. That Weird Girl isn’t the lady who walks around your neighborhood with a block of wood tied to her arm that she checks periodically like a watch. Those are just weird girls.

  • AEM061 True Womanhood

    AEM061 True Womanhood

    True Womanhood have been around for about 9 months and their debut album, Basement Membranes, was released only a few days ago. Nevertheless, the band has made a name for itself, particularly locally, through regular gigs at some of DC’s most renown venues. With an impressive knowledge and appreciation of local indie/experimental music, they’ve managed to integrate themselves into the scene remarkably quickly. Moreover, although all 3 members of True Womanhood are only 23 years old, they’ve known each other since middle school and it shows in the comfort with which they blend influences and support each others’ crazy ideas. The chemistry is all there.

  • AEM062 Lingering Last Drops

    AEM062 Lingering Last Drops

    There’s this wonderful moment in the British hipster-psychopath comedy The Mighty Boosh where the two protagonists Howard, an overweight, balding Jazz nerd, and Vince, a stringy vapid self-styled rave Jesus, are practicing for an upcoming gig at a local music club called The Velvet Onion. Howard has a microKorg running through a wall of effects pedals, several test-tubes bubbling with green liquid, and a dead crab in a vat of grease. Vince is banging on a cymbal and improvising a tuneless shaman warble while waving his hands around like a octopus who has just been exposed to a deadly dose of scopolamine. The sound is ungodly, a near-platonic interpretation of the worst music in the world. Eventually, the pair grind the track to a close. Vince looks at Howard, smiling like a super-shy, zit-covered twelve-year-old who has just masturbated for the first time. “Howard,” he says, barely able to contain his excitement, “We’ve invented a new genre!”

  • AEM063 The Paparazzi

    AEM063 The Paparazzi

    The word ‘rococo’ has made a couple of surprising appearances in hip rock music lately. First as half of the title of a song from Bill Callahan’s fantastic(ally named) 2009 album Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle, and now as the title of an album by The Paparazzi, the solo project of Erik Paparazzi, who you may know as Cat Power’s current bassist. It refers to an ornamentation-heavy style of 18th century art, originating in France, which is usually referred to in dictionary definitions as “fanciful” or “gay” (no, really). At first it seems like a strange word to apply to a rock album, but the more I listen to Rococo, the more it makes sense. The songs are so lighthearted on the surface that it’s easy to miss out on the endless series of carefully crafted hooks, guitar lines and arrangements that manage to sound as unlabored as if the band just made them up on the spot. The addition of lots of little bits of studio chatter (the reverby speech in the middle of “The Rococo Tape” is instantly recognizable the band talking about the take they just played) is a clever device that helps keep this looseness present and dominant throughout even the most complex songs, though Paparazzi’s yeah-I-can-sing-but-I’m-not-going-to-exert-myself delivery does a lot of the work as well.

  • AEM064 Susu

    AEM064 Susu

    Susu is an aggressive artcore machine out of Brooklyn with one setting (loud) and no off switch. Their full-throttle sound is a welcome holdover from their beginnings as a larger hardcore/postpunk outift called Surgery Sunday. The rock-n-roll laws of attrition whittled down this original group to Andrea Havis (guitar, vocals), Mike Gabry (bass, vocals), and former-drummer Justin Bilicki, prompting a namechange to the shorter Susu. The leaner, meaner unit hooked up with engineer Martin Bisi to record their self-titled debut in 2006. Bisi, whose credits include John Zorn, Sonic Youth, and Bootsy Collins, helped Susu find their signature hard-driving, paint-peeling sound. “I think his influence was mostly present in the actual mixing and capturing of the song and sound,” as Havis recalls, “His drum sound is amazing. He really brings the instruments to life.”

  • AEM065 Lisa Germano

    AEM065 Lisa Germano

    When you cast a look over her resume, it’s astonishing that Indiana-born songwriter Lisa Germano isn’t more well known: Session work with Bob Dylan and The Indigo Girls (?!); albums released on Capitol and 4AD to accolades in Rolling Stone and Spin; collaborations involving Johnny Marr, Phil Selway, Giant Sand, Calexico, among others; oceans of praise from Swan/Angel of Light Michael Gira, who has released her last few albums on his Young God imprint; stints accompanying pop legends like David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Sheryl Crow. She’s worked with more rock superstars than most people have had jobs, yet she still remains appealingly enigmatic and (this is a dangerous word to throw around in talking about artists, but still) childlike. There’s something about her music that manages to be completely open and simple and yet at the same time elusive and mysterious, much in the way of the wisdom of little children. Her music is not, thankfully, cloyingly cute like most of the other artists who happen to strike, intentionally or not, the childlike aesthetic.

  • AEM066 The D'Urbervilles

    AEM066 The D'Urbervilles

    Their awkward to pronounce name - it’s “The Do-U - r - b - e - r - villes” - from Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles presents a beguiling front for this Canadian band. By naming themselves after the poor English family featured in the novel, are they asserting their own poverty? Or, hailing from Oshawa, Ontario, do they consider themselves second-bests to their more sophisticated Québécois? Or is the band — which attained its complete form in college —using such a literate reference ironically, a self-conscious acknowledgment of their middle class privilege? The questions swirl in the background as The D’Urbervilles don’t so much lament their poverty —real or imagined — but rather use it a defiant rallying cry on “We Are the Hunters.”

  • AEM067 SAADI

    AEM067 SAADI

    It’s one thing to be experimental, quite another to perform a successful experiment. The first is a compulsion, a personality quirk like generosity or reckless driving. The second is something people other than your mother should pay attention to. Boshra al Saadi, a songwriter with visionary aesthetics and a voice in the birthing stages of becoming legendary, from Damascus, Pittsburgh and currently the Lower East Side, is something everybody-even, maybe, your mother-should be paying attention to. For every shitheaded musical algorithm you could throw this artist’s way, like if Cornelius had a sex change and re-recorded Tusk, or if, you know, Regina Spektor had ousted Aaliyah at the Timbaland audition, there is really only one accurate way of encompassing the emotional kick these tracks deliver. Maybe it’s a thing about eponymous musicians, Prince, Madonna, whatever. But here’s the catch: I don’t want to just listen to SAADI songs or go to SAADI shows; I want to be SAADI. After you hear the A and B sides, you’ll probably feel similarly, and we can start a creepy support group for one another where we dress up and write borderline fan fiction.

  • AEM068 Day Sleeper

    AEM068 Day Sleeper

    Day Sleeper is a band comprised primarily of college sophomores but they have a remarkably long history. Cas Kaplan (guitar, vocals) has been gigging since age eleven and began writing songs under the moniker Day Sleeper at age twelve. Kaplan finds it important to clarify that Day Sleeper is not a nod to the REM hit of the same name. Actually it is a reference to Insomnia, Kaplan’s former punk band, whose rejected material became Day Sleeper’s early repertoire. Eventually Day Sleeper grew into a band with the addition of guitarist Justin Danforth, bassist Dan Ferm, and drummer Luke Pyenson. They recorded their first album Drop Your Sword in 2008, while attending high school in Newton, MA and released it the following year through Cooling Pie Records, home to KC Quilty among others. Kaplan jokes that, “the album was well received, especially internationally, where oddly enough more Chinese websites have written about it than ones from any other country.” At any rate, I think it’s due time that Day Sleeper got a little love from the press back home and although I’m currently writing from a cafe in Seoul-really it’s just a minor technicality-I hope that this review will at long last introduce them to an American audience.



    Here at Ampeater, we’re not ashamed to say that we love Canada. The bustling Toronto scene has been a neverending source of marvelous music for us to present triumphantly to the open-eared public: Evening Hymns, PS I Love You, The D’Urbervilles, and now Kat Burns, aka KASHKA. Burns’ gorgeous voice and sharp songwriting skills (you try and slip the word “dendrophiliac” into a song without sounding like a jerk) help make the wonderful Forest City Lovers what they are, but occasionally, prolific as she is, she churns out some songs that don’t quite fit into the FCL template, and so she’s taken on the KASHKA alter-ego to begin releasing those songs, which swap the Lovers’ sunny summer acoustics for a subdued, wintry electronic sound, probably more appropriate for Toronto.

  • AEM070 Will Stratton

    AEM070 Will Stratton

    Will Stratton is poised at a moment of spiritual and artistic growth, and lucky for us he is committing it to tape (or hard drive, rather). His first two records, 2007’s What the Night Said and 2009’s No Wonder, were received warmly by fans of beautiful acoustic pop songs with spiderweb-delicate fingerpicking and hushed, intimate vocals. For them he garnered innumerable Nick Drake comparisons and honest, thoughtful praise from many corners of the media. Coke Machine Glow called No Wonder “a lovely, humble, mature record from a person who seems like a lovely, humble, mature human being,” and this is exactly how it feels to listen to it. Mature and humble are hardly the attributes that get the blog hormones flowing these days, but in some ways we are reaping the benefits of the fact that Stratton hasn’t completely blown up in the hyperbolic, slavering world of blog music journalism. No Wonder was a perfectly lovely album that could have been replicated for an entire career (see Damien Jurado, for example). It is dramatic enough to be moving without coming anywhere close to gaudiness, simple and understated enough to seem completely uncontrived, intelligent enough to ring true in a way that surpasses platitudes, and warm enough that you get an immediate sense of the human heart behind the songs. The drama in it comes from delicate internal moments like walking home, alone and lovestruck, after a party, the way it often does in real life, at least for the kind of people who tend to listen to melancholic acoustic pop music that is heavy on the I-IV chord progressions and literate lyrics (I can be mildly snarky because I count myself squarely in this camp). Stratton could have had a lovely career working within those straight-forward song forms, but he has the searching and self-critical personality of an artist, rather than just a craftsman.

  • AEM071 Peasant

    AEM071 Peasant

    There’s a certain kind of delicate music that quickly divides listeners into distinct camps; we’re either enthralled by its ethereal melodies or utterly bored by the appalling infrequency of extended drum solos and full stacks of Marshall amplifiers. I happen to love acoustic music for its simplicity, candor, and occasional brilliance. But, I can see where the other guys are coming from and usually refrain from forcing the latest Neil Halstead solo project or Sufjan Stevens solo banjo tape on my friends and colleagues that favor music with a bit more oomph. Only occasionally does an artist come along that so perfectly transcends the framework of expectations for acoustic music that I feel moved (compelled, actually) to share his full catalog with everyone I meet on the street, regardless of their musical inclinations. This happened with DIY savant Damien DeRose, known as Peasant.

  • AEM072 The Laughing

    AEM072 The Laughing

    All digital 7-inches posted on The Ampeater Review include an A-side and a B-side, just like a classic vinyl 7-inch. Most of the bands that we work with chose an accessible A-side to hook new listeners and a more experimental B-side for the adventurous listener. But Austin-based band The Laughing has taken their selection a bit more seriously and, upping the ante, they’ve presented us with something unprecedented-a concept 7-inch. Get ready for “pop music as envisioned by The Laughing.”

  • AEM073 Liturgy

    AEM073 Liturgy

    If you are a serious, disciplined listener of music, black metal might be an as-of-yet unwritten entry in your encyclopedic grasp of music and its oft notorious sub genres. You might view it as elusive or even contradictory. Perhaps you find it overly serious, dark, depressing, maybe even unintentionally funny and ridiculous. But there it is, this entry, unfinished and perhaps unfairly ignored. Black metal traces its origin to thrash metal acts like Venom and Bathory but its real history begins in the early 90s in Norway where bands like Mayhem, Immortal, Emperor, and Darkthrone perfected a raw, low fidelity sound defined by trebly guitars, continuous pounding double kick drums, tortured vocals, and pagan, anti-Christian lyrical content. It was a scene that was linked to murders (most notably the murder of Mayhem’s á˜ystein “Euronymous” Aarseth at the hands of Varg Vikernes, who still records under the moniker Burzum), the arson of dozens of historic Stave churches throughout Norway (some at the hands of Varg Vikernes himself), and suicide (most notably by Mayhem’s vocalist Per “Dead” Ohlin). Black metal’s “second wave” was met with a satanic panic of press in Norway and all over the globe. Its corpse-painted performers were seen less as members of a musical sub genre and more as willful participants in out and out Satanism and far-right politics, a reactionary categorization that still permeates accounts of black metal’s history and current iterations, most notably in Michael Moyinhan’s Lords of Chaos, a book which has been criticized for failing to dispel this categorization and even tacitly endorsing this (mis)understanding of the music. Varg Virkenes denied accusations of Satanism and insisted this (or maybe his) music was something more primitivist, a-Christian, and neo-pagan. Yet he aligned himself with toxically xenophobic political viewpoints, and although he (and the incredibly nascent national socialist black metal movement) operate within an extreme minority of an already obscure genre, the associations stick. Darkthrone’s Fenriz dismissed any political associations whatsoever, and his jovial, light-hearted demeanor belies Varg’s self-seriousness and the genre’s stereotypically dismal attitude. Whatever “second wave” black metal was, it was the ultimate enactment of what extreme music always masqueraded as and never quite was, it was excess and violence and confusion. Yet, theological and semantic arguments regarding “Satanism” aside, it was absolutely misanthropic, anti-Christian, and deeply nihilistic.

  • AEM074 Horse's Mouth

    AEM074 Horse's Mouth

    Inserting moments of musical unrest into pop music without disturbing the graceful flow that makes pop songs so pleasurable is an incredibly difficult task. Even brief moments of dissonance can be distracting (occasionally one gets the feeling that they are intentional distractions from poor songwriting) or come off as forced, an insincere attempt to make a band sound more interesting or difficult than they really are. It requires a remarkably gentle touch to make dissonances and rhythmic quirks not only slip by without disrupting the song, but actually lock in and sound as if they are essential and natural, and this is, in fact, just the thing Tavo Carbone of Brooklyn’s Horse’s Mouth excels at.

  • AEM075 Girlfriends

    AEM075 Girlfriends

    Once in a blue moon a movement kicks up on the scene that makes a big fuss over the way an artist’s music finds its way to the listener’s eardrums. Remember the 4-track hullabaloo in the 90s? Didn’t matter if the music was the most god awful shit ever produced–if it was churned out on one of those cheap Aiwa 4-track recorders, then it deserved a listen. Now finally the twenty-first century has its own trend: cassette rock! Fashions of this sort can be fairly hit-or-miss. If the bands’ style of delivery doesn’t mesh with the style of production, the whole approach can come off as a misfire. Do you really want to hear Dark Side of the Moon redone on four tracks? Or how about Leadbelly in a twenty million dollar studio? If the shoe doesn’t fit, you can’t wear it. Luckily for Girlfriends the shoe fits just right. There is something about the cheeky, cheapo fun of tapes that captures their approach perfectly. There is a cream to every crop, and cassette rock may have found its very first keeper in Girlfriends.

  • AEM076 Bing and Ruth

    AEM076 Bing and Ruth

    I once read an essay that conjectured that the moments we feel most fully alive and present in the world are the moments in which we get closest to the impossible. For example, what if you turned around right now and Bill Murray was in your bedroom, staring at you, eating an apple? You would probably remember that moment for the rest of your life, and it would certainly put a thrill into the rest of your day, if not your week or month. Think of all the conversations you would have about it (“I have no idea how he got in! And then he just climbed out the window, never said a word!” ), whereas if you turned around and found the pile of dirty clothes you left there yesterday, you wouldn’t even remember that moment ten minutes later. This idea has stuck with me since then (it’s not unlikely that I’ve mangled or misunderstood it in some way, but if so then it is now my idea) and it resonates with my experience of music as well as my experience of life. The music that always grips me in the most visceral and immediate way is the music that sounds impossible, that generates in me a feeling of joyful surprise. Sometimes it happens in straight-up pop music, if I hear a new three chord song that sounds so eternal and so unique I can’t believe it wasn’t already written decades ago, or an unconventional yet lovely chord progression or melody. More often it only lasts for a moment, a rhythmic hitch in the chorus of a song or one bar of sublime and strange harmony. These are the moments in pop songs I play back over and over again, but in other modes of composition, minus the familiar pop anchors, the feeling of being in wonderfully unfamiliar territory can last for far longer.

  • AEM077 The Hibernauts

    AEM077 The Hibernauts

    I’m glad I overcame my fear of fun in music. Otherwise, I might have never enjoyed The Hibernauts. I still haven’t quite figured out what it was. I came into being a consumer of music from a steady diet of “oldies 103.3” outside philly, which is pretty much what my parents chose to have on in the car. But when I became a modern music consumer, I skewed away from musical levity. The first CD I got was Limp Bizkit’s “Significant Other.” The second was Powerman 5000. Part of me feels the need to defend this, but whatever, I was like 12 years old. I was young, kinda angry, and listened to bad nu-metal, and had little interest in “fun” music. Even when young-me started skewing softer, it was to things like Low, Mogwai, etc., not party pop jams. I think fun seemed substance-less?

  • AEM078 Galapaghost

    AEM078 Galapaghost

    “We’re competing to see Which worthless degree Was worth the most Debt”

    So sings Casey Chandler in A-side “Lost Generation” and if you’ve graduated from college within the past 3 years you’ll understand exactly what he’s talking about because you’re a part of it. Chances are you can’t find a job and if you can it’s doing something completely unrelated to whatever it is you wanted to do before the economy shat itself and spending every last ounce of effort trying to convince yourself that it doesn’t suck that much. All you you learned in four years of college is how to make a gravity bong out of a water bottle and enough about economics to realize that our national debt will be financed with the social security you’ll get to never see a dime of. Knowing then what you know now, maybe you wouldn’t have deemed a degree in philosophy, political science, art history or whatever worth four years of your prime and a pile of debt.

  • AEM079 You Can Be A Wesley

    AEM079 You Can Be A Wesley

    You Can Be A Wesley made some waves this past year with the release of Heard Like Us, a mélange of clean, crisp Telecaster licks, peppery percussion, and otherworldly vocals woven together into sweet and bracing indie rock compositions. Comparisons were thrown out likening the Boston-based quartet to the Pixies, Pavement, and Joanna Newsom. The local press, from the Boston Phoenix, to CMJ, to QRO Magazine, tabbed them as a band to keep an eye on. Not bad for a few BU students on the verge of graduation. Since then the band has been mixing bouts of touring with time in the studio, assembling a much anticipated raft of new material.

  • AEM080 Bong Kong

    AEM080 Bong Kong

    The druggy nightmare that is the internet flyer for their very first gig–a grungy house party in Chalfont, Pa.–should be the initial clue. Bannered over a couple of mangled, post-traumatic automobiles juxtaposed weirdly onto a pink-skied, muddy plantation is the text: BONG KONG…at the Dock Ellis Home for the Chronically On Acid. Underneath the date and address at the bottom of the flyer it says: 9PM Until You’re Fucked. Don’t be a douchebag — bring booze. The next clue should be the comprehensive sticker bundle that comes in a Bong Kong CD EP package. There’s one of a lemon answering a portable phone, another of a kitten with a rainbow beaming across its eyes and a third of a bleak, dusty, Cormac McCarthy-esque landscape littered with dead cowboys. Clearly, Bong Kong-a super loud, super fun, guitar (Kris Tyas) and drums (Eric Lisausky) thrash duo from Philly-take their goofiness seriously.

  • AEM081 Chad VanGaalen

    AEM081 Chad VanGaalen

    There’s something endearing about music that always seems to be on the verge of falling apart. We’re not talking mass destruction, like if Iron Maiden’s infrastructural backline suddenly started melting down, but a series of smaller catastrophes: the guitar goes out of tune, the homemade electronics begin to shoot sparks and smoke into the audience, the legs of the organ go out like a buffalo shot from a stagecoach. You get the idea pretty much every time you go to a local band showcase in some smaller city in the Northeast, that heart-thunk moment of Oh shit! when the drummer starts soloing mid-verse and the rest of the band exchanges awkward glances, or when the iPod somehow falls out of the chiptune dude’s back pocket. If music is about control-tight pants, technology, etc.-these are the rough times when entropy turns the mixer all the way to suck.

  • AEM082 MiniBoone

    AEM082 MiniBoone

    There’s a part in the Beatles anthology in which Paul talks about the scarcity of resources for young rock musicians in 1950s Liverpool. Without money to purchase records, and without record stores willing to carry rock ‘n’ roll music, the pre-Fab 4 sat with their ears glued to the radio with the hope that they’d catch a snippet of something hip. Times have changed, the internet’s here, and with it is a ridiculous oversaturation of musical content in every style and genre imaginable. Not only is buying music a thing of the past, but getting people to listen to a whole song (let alone an entire album) is becoming increasingly difficult. There are bands and labels out there making unbelievable music that literally can’t even give their records away. By now you’re probably wondering why I’m opening a perfectly normal review with this dreary state of the union nonsense. Well, because I’m an asshole, and MiniBoone almost didn’t make it on The Ampeater Review.

  • Ancient Patterns: an essay on Life and Lucky Dragons

    Ancient Patterns: an essay on Life and Lucky Dragons

    Life is Long I (Intro)

    I’m not sure anybody would have noticed, but I’ve been absent from the writing scene for a few weeks. To answer your question, yes, I am lazy. But my hope is that through this experimental meditation on a very special artist, I can demonstrate the very artness of life that surreptitiously surrounds all modes of creative production. I’ve been the architect of an imaginary universe whose materials are the very stuff of living. I’m putting my entire life into an aesthetically unified package they call ‘the record’. I’m unpacking my life through my body via sound. (Audience: “Right…” ). In other words, sticking to the tradition of saying the unsayable, this piece-my return to writing- shouldn’t really be read. [I don’t mean that literally. Keep reading. I also don’t mean the next sentence literally (keep reading)] I plan to masturbate, and cover way too many topics beyond the scope of a blog post. There is a method to my madness, however (melty-brained intentions aside). This exercise is as much about form, construction, confusion, division and sincerity as any of the topics it purports to unpack. My absence from writing will be included within this return to writing as a source of spectral potency. The transitive property of space in ten dimensions: a=b, b=c. Therefore, a=c. Art is Life. Life is Love. Therefore, Art is Love.

  • AEM083 The Wave Pictures

    AEM083 The Wave Pictures

    I discovered The Wave Pictures when I volunteered to cover, for another illustrious internet publication, Brooklyn Vegan’s pre-SXSW party at the Knitting Factory. At first it was pretty much as expected: swarms of overzealous photographers, PBR sponsorship, lots of dazed-looking but pretty people, an opening act that was competent but forgettable. Nothing to complain about, but also nothing to really justify all the hullaballoo. I often have this feeling at shows, especially shows where higher-level or hyped bands are playing and something of grand significance is supposedly going on. It’s a natural reaction, I think, after reading so much fawning praise of bands, to see them live or hear a song and think “this is it?” This tends, for me, to lead to lots of abstract and bloated pondering about whether the world really needs this many god damned rock bands and what the hell we’re all doing standing in this room on a Monday night not talking to each other and just sort of waiting for something to happen.

  • AEM084 Forest Fire

    AEM084 Forest Fire

    Let’s part the curtain for a moment and acknowledge that most bands that you will hear about and have heard about over the last five years, even at the lowest and most fleeting levels of blog fame, either have a catchy and authenticity-enforcing backstory (Antlers, Bon Iver, Passion Pit), a friend in high places, or the ability to tirelessly email tracks to blogs and talk themselves up in every possible location and at every possible opportunity (or hire people to do so). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (okay, yes, it usually is a bad thing, but a few of these bands are actually great); it just tends to be how the game works. It makes for some funny contradictions, especially when people argue that the internet hype cycle is somehow more artistically pure than the now-faltering independent label system.

  • AEM085 Life Size Maps

    AEM085 Life Size Maps

    When I heard Life Sized Maps for the first time my immediate reaction was, “Wait, haven’t I heard this band on the radio?” Of course, I hadn’t, but it sounded like the kind of thing I could have.

  • AEM086 Loyal Divide

    AEM086 Loyal Divide

    Loyal Divide is five guys who started playing music together in Columbus, Ohio around 2005 until the lure of bright(er) lights and a big(ger) city drew them to Chicago. It was a journey not just of miles, but also of musical maturation. The earlier Loyal Divide received favorable comparisons to Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade, comparisons most bands would be ecstatic about, but the band felt they were destined to make a different style of music. The band pulls no punches in relating their thoughts on their earliest work, “For the first EP, we poured money into recording time at a studio with no real idea of what we were doing. We paid no heed to things like consistency and sequencing, and the whole process was casual. That can work wonderfully for some groups, but it didn’t for us. The music was random and derivative as shit.” That’s an unusual level of honesty to hear from a band these days (doubtless, they were their own fiercest critics), but Loyal Divide is an unusual collection of guys. In a day and age when most musicians jump from band to band, from sideproject to sideproject, looking for a winner and engaging in the sort of speculation you might expect to see from a Wall Street broker, the five members of Loyal Divide remained true to their project. In the face of the positive notices they received for their first EP, they reapplied themselves to find a sound that was more uniquely their own, in their words, “….we purchased some rudimentary recording gear and started from scratch. The learning process was long, and the output has been way too slow, but we’ve become more cerebral and particular about our music.” Now five years removed from their beginnings in Columbus, Loyal Divide has established itself as a band to watch in its native Chicago and beyond, having carved out a unique blend of breathy shoegaze, Brian Eno intellectronica, and Kraftwerk’d beats. The results of their metamorphoses produced the well-received EP Labrador, which the band hopes to roll into a full-length album.

  • AEM087 Emanuel and the Fear

    AEM087 Emanuel and the Fear

    Sometimes you encounter music so eclectic, so diverse and brimming with influences that you know it must either be the work of one person or eleven. When the musical diversity is at its highest, I think perhaps the one-person unit is the one with the lower degree of difficulty-humans are animals, and with the natural infighting, egos, whatever, you figure, “This must just be one dude in his basement.”

  • AEM088 Cerberus Shoal

    AEM088 Cerberus Shoal

    The Ampeater Review is thrilled to embark upon a series of 7-inches based on honest to god real vinyl. The opportunity came our way thanks to Portland Maine’s Eternal Otter Records and its “Death, Rebirth, and Transformation” 7-inch series. If most of the music that hits your ears was made somewhere along the L train, now’s the time to perk up and pay attention, because there’s something special happening up north.

  • AEM089 Will Stratton

    AEM089 Will Stratton

    This is the second of two Will Stratton digital singles to grace Ampeater’s pages in the last few months. For some more background info, I’d recommend checking out the first one.

  • AEM090 Beat Radio

    AEM090 Beat Radio

    Beat Radio is a synth-influenced Americana outfit that’s had more lineup shuffles than Spinal Tap has had drummers. The moniker dates back before 2005 when five musicians came together to form the band. Fastforward to the present day and there are still five members, but the road in between was anything except smooth. Three original members departed for good, eventually replaced by Dan Bills (synths/keys), Evan Duby (lead guitar) and Brian Ver Straten (drums). Mike McCabe (bass) took a sabbatical around 2008 and, in the words of the remaining musician Brian Sendrowitz (vocals/guitar/casio), “…I found myself suddenly without a band- I spent the next year working on Safe Inside the Sound mostly on my own.”

  • AEM091 Lozninger

    AEM091 Lozninger

    The French are undoubtedly the most self-effacing of pop perfectionists. Like a case of asymptomatic herpes, Frenchness has a tendency to lurk in records, unregistered, unapparent, somehow spreading its genotype throughout the host until it’s too late to do anything about it. Other kinds of categorically foreign rock don’t have this invisibility problem: NME buzz bands swear by the Digidesign Cockney Box (now a preset in ProTools 8), Japanese groups trade compulsively in Orientalist kitsch, and Scandinavian singers can’t help but sound awkward as balls. But how are we to know we’ve been French’ed? The answer here isn’t that much different than the methodology used by Baseball cynics to identify steroid abuse: the players are too good not to be doped. French musicians, similarly, are too good not to be French. Lozninger, a French producer/songwriter whose style lands somewhere between Serge Gainsbourg, the Silver Apples, and Karlheinz Stockhausen, is very, very good.

  • AEM092 Uncles

    AEM092 Uncles

    Uncles is a collaboration between Dan Bateman and Will Schwartz, two Queens-based songwriters who grew up together in Yonkers, NY. Seriously? If you’ve jumped straight to the music and are only now reading these words, as I’m wont to do, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “bullshit, these guys are from the farthest reaches of Appalachia.” But sure enough, Bateman is a born and bred New Yorker and his thick southern accent is present only when sings. So, it’s contrived? No, it’s quite the opposite. As a child, he would often go down to his family’s acreage outside of Birmingham, Alabama, where he was introduced to music by his grandfather who would sing for him in that same thick southern accent.

  • AEM093 Truman Peyote

    AEM093 Truman Peyote

    The 21st century is beautiful and its name is Truman Peyote: two guys, Caleb Johannes and Eric Farber, from Jamaica Plains, Massachusetts who so successfully meld the textural possibilities of the digital and analog, of samples, found sounds, and live instrumentation, that their music is less like a hybrid and more like a brand new species. Acts like Aphex Twin may have trailblazed the path, and still others like Animal Collective may be getting more press, but Truman Peyote proves this sound is more than just an isolated phenomenon. The dam has burst and a new zeitgeist is upon us. After listening to their digital 7 inch, caroming ingeniously between cosmic psych-noise and infectious pop, you’ll wonder why the hell it took so long.

  • AEM094 Magic Man

    AEM094 Magic Man

    It’s one thing to cash in on “borrowed nostalgia from the unremembered ’80s,” as James Murphy put it. It’s quite another to dig deep into borrowed nostalgia from the unexperienced 80s_._ The first is a kind of homage for an unrepeatable bucolic past of Casios and barbiturates and roller skates. It’s pretty and a little bit sad, like finding a fuzzy picture of some attractive teenagers you don’t know hanging out on a beach in California, or worse, Florida. But the second kind of nostalgia is a bit weirder: unexperienced nostalgia, after all, has bred things as diverse as Renfairs, Civil War reenactments, and the Flintstones. In other words, it’s more cartoonish than elegiac, more fetishistic than sincere. This isn’t a bad exchange, necessarily, especially if you’re the kind of person who prefers the idea of dating Molly Ringwald in high school to the real-life experience of dating your actual high-school girlfriend. To bring things back to music, though, if the first kind of nostalgia is a band like Delorean, then the second is Magic Man, a baller group of college students born post-Reagan based out of New Haven and Boston and bound to blow up big in t-minus 5…4…3…2…

  • Download: Uncles - Replacing Words With Other Words (Full Album)

    Download: Uncles - Replacing Words With Other Words (Full Album)


  • AEM095 The Powder Kegs

    AEM095 The Powder Kegs

    The Powder Kegs are a pop trio from Philadelphia via NYC, featuring Dan Maroti on vocals, guitar, and keyboard, Ryan Dieringer on vocals and bass, and Sam McDougle on drums. Their rootsy pop rock & roll bends genres, and calls to mind personalities like Beck, Elvis Costello or Paul Simon. Dieringer explains, “our band’s take on indie-pop is eclectic, but grounded by a distinct folk bent.” He adds that their ‘folk bent’ was ostensibly acquired during their four-year stint as an old-time string band busking on the streets of New York City. But if you want to trace it back even further, you can, to the summer they spent in Vermont working as farmhands in exchange for room and board and taking Burlington’s clubs and bars by storm at night. When The Powder Kegs formed in 2005, they were as a six-piece ensemble featuring guitar, bass, fiddle, banjo, slide-guitar, harmonica, and vocal harmonies galore. This rootsy ensemble was featured on NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor-the same radio show your Dad blasted in the car when you were a child on those interminably long road trips to Grandma’s house-where in 2007 they took home first prize for the “People in their Twenties Talent Show.” So is that the beginning? No, because long before the Powder Kegs, Maroti, Dieringer, and McDougle, who met in high school, were making music together.

  • AEM096 Stepdad

    AEM096 Stepdad

    This could be a one sentence review: Stepdad embodies all that was good about the 80s, and all that is good about the current indie movement. Period. That’s glowing praise, I know, but I’m not wrong. These tracks hit the Ampeater submissions inbox and promptly knocked every other song off my weekend playlist. It was all I could do not to break out the neon green jumpsuit and rock out to some 8-tracks. The two pop masterminds behind Stepdad go by Ultramark (vocals/synths/programming) and Cobrazebra (synths/programming/guitar), and unabashedly claim Tears for Fears, Abba, and Duran Duran as their primary influences. Aware that this might raise eyebrows, they add, “And it doesn’t suck, I promise.” This, my friends, is an understatement for the ages.

  • AEM097 Saintseneca

    AEM097 Saintseneca

    A while back, my housemate Mark slipped a CD under my door with a note that said “These guys are playing in our basement.” I tossed it in my “listen to this eventually” pile and went my merry way. Weeks passed, and I still hadn’t laid an ear on Mark’s CD. Then one night I noticed a sizable crowd of hip young people (no, not hipsters, just hip people) gathering in my backyard for a vegan potluck (OK, maybe they were hipsters). I went on preparing my own dinner and thought nothing more of the assembling masses. Then, as I was digesting my feast in the living room, some sweet sweet sounds began wafting up through the floorboards. The vegan potluck had turned concert, and I remembered the long lost CD that Mark had so nicely compiled in preparation for the show. The first band was good, but not so good that I wasn’t content to listen through the heating vents. The second band was Saintseneca. Within seconds of their first downbeat I found myself leaping downstairs and pushing my way towards the front of the crowded basement. This was one of those absolutely magical moments, in which you’re reminded why you spend weekends at open mics, why you sift through the dollar record bin at flea markets, and why music is the single most powerful means of communication between human beings. It’s worth seeing a thousand Nickelbacks to catch even a moment of Saintseneca. These guys are the real deal.

  • AEM098 The Orange Opera

    AEM098 The Orange Opera

    “Sometimes, the best of things come from the most unlikely of places. Who would have thought a wellspring of world-class pop-rock would gush forth from a ho-hum city in the Midwestern U.S., not exactly renowned for its musical output?”

  • AEM099 Blaque Boose

    AEM099 Blaque Boose

    Evil-living like it, sounding like it, being it-was something akin to the Holy Grail of Old Weird America. Even today, listening to Harry Smith or Goodbye Babylon or the Secret Museum of Mankind, the sensation is more physical than intellectual, a moonshine chill coursing through your lymphatic system, the mingled smell of blood and wet leaves rising out of the earth in tiny, invisible particles. You don’t get into this kind of music; it gets into you. Like whiskey, it’s the infective, curse-like quality of the really good, ancient stuff that distinguishes it from any number of fresher, younger, endlessly subcategorized “Folk” brands, kids who think flannel and whispering constitute a workable detour around the crossroads, or that “Freak” -indeed, unspeakable freakiness-wasn’t a fundamental part of the 12-bar equation to begin with. I’m not down with calling any kind of music-making disrespectful, but the late-20th century’s turn towards the easy-listening side of acoustic trad stylings certainly is boring, like if suddenly we started collectively imagining that all jazz sounded like Mel Torme, or that punk rock began and ended with Good Charlotte. Folk is not chill music, it is chilling music. And, more so than virtually every other contemporary folk artist, from the catelepsy-inducing boredom of Iron & Wine, to the fey shenanigans of the Decemberists, to the woolier tendencies of Devendra and Wooden Wand, Blaque Boose understand the implicit and electrifying horror of the original craft.

  • Casual Business 01: Shark?

    Casual Business 01: Shark?

    To christen our first Casual Business session, we invited buzzing local rock-men Shark? to our studio for what we knew would be a terrific time. We had done our homework, downloading and delighting in their shambling homemade bandcamp EPs, made almost entirely by Shark? main-man Kevin Diamond, a real persona and a fabulously nice fellow. His band, made of Andy Swerdlow, Andy Kinsey, and Chris Mulligan showed up ready to fuck shit up. I think this was probably the first time these guys have played in a proper fancy recording studio together as Shark? and they BROUGHT IT. Yes they’re a New York band but there’s something resolutely Cleveland about their particular brand of meaty-beaty-big-and-bouncy jamgasms. Sure they’re scuzzy and they rock-the-fuck-out, but there’s an awareness, a slight tinge of the out-there, a little something palpably and deliberately not-normal popping up at every turn that keeps you engaged and trusting in their intentions.

  • AEM100 Man&Dog

    AEM100 Man&Dog

    It’s representative of how weirdly smashed together all of our culture is that a band as back porch sounding as Baltimore’s Man&Dog could have gotten their first big push in an Urban Outfitters contest. It would be bad faith, by which I mean bullshit, for me to say that this makes them any less legit than any other band, for while there are a lot of folks out there trying to make pop music that is Art, they are all still trying to make _pop_ular music, and a UO contest is as good a shortcut to renown as any. And though the band sounds like a couple of kids straight out of the midwest, with our unlimited access these days to any kind of music we might desire, aesthetics (in Man&Dog’s case the dropped ‘g’s and acoustic strums and growly vocals) have largely become a choice, rather than the inheritance they used to be.

  • AEM101 Translations

    AEM101 Translations

    “We’d like to be described as the first band to bridge the gap between Captain Beefheart and The Human League,” said Translations frontman Andrew Fox, as we settled into a coffee shop on the Lower East Side. “Really,” he continued, “we just want to be as rad as what we’re listening to.”

  • AEM102 Shai Erlichman

    Everything about Shai Erlichman’s latest release, the Season Of Increasing Light EP, is suffused with dreamy, warm light, like a washed out old photograph of someone backlit by the sun in a forgotten summertime living room. From the title to the hopeful lyrics to the spacious open arrangements and generous (but not too generous) reverb, the EP’s four songs glitter with warmth and an energy that remains simultaneously relaxed and controlled. Recorded live in a room (more bands do this please) by Greg Beson of Manners at the Whitehaus art collective in Jamaica Plain, MA, these recordings are one of the best examples of matching aural texture to songwriting that I’ve ever heard. The muted, mallet-struck drums (Mickey O’Hara) and gently reverbed guitars and keys (Jake Estner & Adam Coggeshall, respectively) provide a perfectly expansive, airy backdrop for Erlichman’s songs, which are catchy and harmonious, like all great pop songs, but rigorously minimal and stripped down to their absolute cores. The spacious feeling this minimalism imparts to the songs is crucial to their relaxed, sun-faded beauty, and contrary to what you might think, making music this simple and beautiful is incredibly difficult.

  • AEM103 James William Roy

    AEM103 James William Roy

    Writing the perfect pop song, unlike writing, say, the Great American novel, isn’t that much of an accomplishment. Just listen to a Nick Lowe album, or the first fifty or so NOW compilations: spot-on songcraft happens all the time. And, like any respectable thing produced in excess, (e.g. episodes of Law and Order: SVU or nice Catholic children) it can get pretty boring pretty fast. Most good musicians understand this. If the radio won the war against entropy, compressing vocals into weaponized siren-calls and cropping rock epics into low-calorie 3:39 chart-climbers, then the pop underground has consistently filtered chaos back into the mega-hit equation, slowing things down, chopping things up, cutting things out, replacing x with y and xy/xx with xxx and y oh y oh y. Darwinism, it turns out, applies equally in the natural and aesthetic worlds: perfect copies shrivel into evolutionary stumps and fuck-ups shape the future. Dig it, the Rolling Stones became superstars for being the worst R&B band in the world, Led Zeppelin for being the worst blues band of all time, and Hip-Hop for being basically the worst music ever produced. In all cases, it was spectacular. Rock history, it’s clear, is less the elegant progression of a master design than an accumulation of beautiful mistakes, holes poked in Marshall cones, decommissioned military hardware co-opted by the bohemian rabble, mishandled reggae vibes, and hissy tapes made on a four-track and handed out for free from the back of a station wagon. James William Roy, a genius songwriter, who in his promo pictures looks like a cross between a cool dad and the Duane Johnson of a less-literal Rock, might as well be the authority on pop mishaps spun into metaphorical, if not monetary, gold. This guy writes perfect songs. Then he ruins them. Case in point: The best way to find a great artist is by following the trail of debris he leaves behind.

  • AEM104 Lil Daggers

    AEM104 Lil Daggers

    The big thing missing from the majority of oughts rock was drama, plain and simple. I don’t mean real-life drama, necessarily, like overdoses and feuds and breakups and uncharacteristically horrible sophomore albums-although I guess there wasn’t all that much of that either-but musical drama, chills, bands that sound like murder. I can think of a couple of reasons for this backlash against laying on the terror: the first might be the Frankensteining of emo early in the decade into something that would make any post-pubescent person blush; the second, nu-Indie’s clinical passiveness, that narcotized monotone that now runs through every hipster’s bloodstream like a Joy Division bassline. It’s regrettable, really. If one genre oversold the art of feeling bad, then the other undersold the cathartic potential of bombast. The situation is almost Freudian in its logic: unable to adequately confront lived trauma through music, our emotionality has regressed, seriously, to the level of very small children. Check, Animal Collective connects on the basis that their songs are the audio equivalent of finger paintings; check, Lightning Bolt’s dense and manic album art; check, the talent reservoir feeding the Where the Wild Things Are soundtrack. It’s not really a musical problem, but a mass-cultural one: everything from the popularity of Wes Anderson to the resurgence of tights to the Web virus of adorable cat pictures to the apotheosis of the graphic novel are all indicators that our generation is retreating, with varying degrees of pathology, to the pillow fort. Instead of the bold and the beautiful, we have the fey and the cute. Instead of the Mamas and the Papas, an incestuous fake family who burned and choked publicly, we had the White Stripes, a brother and sister who got divorced. It’s the key metaphor: Bury the horror, get back to the playground.

  • AEM105 Boy Without God

    AEM105 Boy Without God

    His brother turned to jazz, his sister to classical music - Gabriel Birnbaum’s musical destiny lay along a different path. His solo project Boy Without God delivers guitar-led, moody rock compositions with a Bon Iver soul, heavy on the fusion sauce. But the path from there to here was a long and winding road. Formally trained as a tenor saxophonist, the jazz instinct died hard (if it died at all). In fact the Boston native has a few highbrow musical adventures under his belt, including stints gigging around the boroughs of New York with the likes of avant-garde, future jazz impresarios Andrew D’Angelo and Jim Black. Birnbaum kept that spirit of experimentation going with the short-lived, but well-regarded Boston Jazz Composers Collective, a tight-knit ensemble of players and composers bent on securing a place for jazz in the new century.

  • AEM106 Young Mammals

    AEM106 Young Mammals

    From the moment I heard Houston-based Young Mammals I’ve been itching to write them up. The trouble is that I didn’t know what to say. I’ve listened to their debut album “Carrots” so many times that if MP3s wore out as quickly as vinyl I’d have to purchase a new copy by now. But when it comes to articulating what it is that hooked me so thoroughly, I’ve been at a loss for words. At face value, Young Mammals falls under the same umbrella as a lot of the hip indie bands out there today. Creating articulate pop music which tastefully embraces the do-it-yourself aesthetic that’s so in vogue nowadays and accentuating it with moments of experimental madness, this is a band that’s primed for indie stardom. While that’s big praise, it could apply to a lot of the artists featured recently on the Ampeater Review. It’s nice, but it’s not the whole story. There’s something really special about Young Mammals, a certain je ne sais quoi. I’m still not sure I’ve found the words to capture it so let’s turn to the music and maybe you’ll see what I mean.

  • Casual Business 02: Kleenex Girl Wonder - Fancy Pants of Central California

    Casual Business 02: Kleenex Girl Wonder - Fancy Pants of Central California

    GENESIS When Graham Smith accepted my invitation to participate in this fledgling Casual Business series he also offered to write two new songs for the occasion. To this I intuitively responded “hell fuckin’ yeah.” Like any real man he made good on his promise. Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to present to you this 2-song record entitled Fancy Pants of Central California, which consists of the songs “Jobs Jeans” and “Cuperchinos.” Trust Graham. He knows exactly what he is doing.

  • AEM107 Francois Peglau

    AEM107 Francois Peglau

    “I may have 3 passports, all fake” jokes Francois Peglau, “but I consider myself first of all Peruvian. That is where my roots are. But don’t tell that to the French embassy!” The question “where are you from” has got to be a difficult one for Peglau, a self described “Peruvian/French/Argentinean” artist who currently resides in London. He grew up in Peru and achieved moderate fame throughout Latin America as vocalist and guitarist in Lima-based indie-rock quartet Los Fucking Sombreros, arguably the best band name ever. Upon moving to London three years ago, Peglau decided to start up a solo project. He began writing in English as an “exercise” to help himself adapt to his new environment. But like the man himself, Peglau’s music is worldly, transcending international borders and drawing inspiration from all of the many places he’s called home. Citing influences that range from Elliot Smith to the politically charged folk songs of Cuban artist Silvio Rodreguez, Peglau brings refreshing perspective to the scene.

  • AEM108 Woodsman

    AEM108 Woodsman

    Quite a bit of the press on Denver, CO quartet Woodsman leans towards discussions of longish songs and instrumental jamminess, two musical qualities that might be notable if you think Tangerine Dream and the String Cheese Incident belong on the same bill by virtue of their thematically foodie names. Of course, in situations where longish, jammy music is appropriate, length and jamminess turn out, ironically, to be the least notable points of interest. Like a film review describing a Holocaust documentary as “dark” and “historical,” it’s like tell me something I don’t know! Whoever is there came prepared. The biggest problem faced by any band pushing supertight guitar-and-drums instrumentals, vulnerable to the metaphysical trappings of “post-rock” (as if rock had a metaphysics to begin with), whose notions of song-structure place vibe above parts a, b and c is a categoric rather than a creative one. Imagine, for the sake of argument, that instead of the Nuggets anthology, there was something similarly enormous and comprehensive called Noodles: Bands That Didn’t Know When to Stop 1965-1979. It’s a terrifying prospect, imagining a Kilimanjaro-sized stack of vinyl, two songs to a side, “packaged” in 200 acres of pristine Vermont farmland. I point all this out because Woodsman, despite their bucolic namesake, are percolating a very different kind of longishness and jamminess than either term would have you believe outright, something closer to Dusseldorf than Dartmouth, something that demands your zone-outs with an urgency that’s almost political.

  • AEM109 Hallelujah the Hills

    AEM109 Hallelujah the Hills

    Albums, posters & other assorted promotions for Boston’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink-aw-fuck-it-let’s-mic-up-the-sink indie rock band Hallelujah the Hills all bear the same distinctive collage style. In it, color and grayscale are mixed freely. Perspectives crash into one another, creating a mindfuck of Escher-esque intensity, only without that cute, logic-puzzle element of resolution. Photographs and drawings and computer graphics join forces to create single figures. Ragged edges show. Enormous pencils rain down on a boat that looks to have arrived directly from a renaissance painting. A man drowns another in a pond next to what looks sort of like a filled in multiple choice test. Scientists cribbed from a technicolor film still point to a hand drawn arrow. Stray ink splotches show around the letters that make up the band name, remnants from stamps. It’s loose and surreal and unpredictable, but it somehow manages to sustain a consistent mood: an eerie melange of pulp novels, playful non-sequitors, conspiracy theories and David Lynch’s nauseous unreality, tempered with the occasional moment of beautiful clarity. It’s one of the things I’ve always admired about Hallelujah the Hills, because it manages to be a perfect illustration of what the band sounds like. Rough-edged, surreal, funny, eerie, packed with lyrics that sound like they were lifted from a pamphlet run off in someone’s basement, and dotted with those moments of epiphany (said epiphanies being created by ingenious arranging touches and/or stirring, shouted choruses). For example, there’s the moment in “Allied Lions” (a track from the bands most recent album, Colonial Drones) in which a frothy, building rock song suddenly disappears, leaving the line everything’s a dream except for this moment we’re in now hanging over the void, the lyric broken into three equal parts with audibly different effects on each, collage-style. Then an alarm clock rings.

  • AEM110 Hank and Pigeon

    AEM110 Hank and Pigeon

    New York City, more than any other place I’ve ever lived or visited, isn’t so much an objective location as it is a flexible concept. My New York isn’t Your New York, and it’s definitely not His or Her New York, or god forbid, That Guy’s New York. Most people carve a comfortable space for themselves that’s situated between the extremes of Gotham City’s criminal dystopia, Sex & The City’s 5th ave glitz, and GG Allin’s East Village nest of debauchery. Somewhere in this mess of fictional bubbles is an objective portrait of the city at large that accounts for the millions of people struggling to reconcile their fantastic projections of life in the big city with the reality that most of us wake up, go to work, do some shit, go home, eat some shit, and go to bed. We value good art as a culture because it pulls us just a little bit outside this reality and into the liminal space that separates the daily grind from what we always thought life would be like “when we grew up.” That’s good art, but truly great art keeps us there long enough to grasp whole handfuls of fantasy. It’s a precious thing. The dream isn’t to escape the metropolis but to feel like we’re living inside some highly stylized version of it that could only exist in someone’s head, and for but a moment at that. Filmmakers have it easy, they can literally mold a world and present it to viewers, and writers have hundreds of pages to describe and expand upon their thoughts, but songwriters have a meager 2 to 5 minutes to do the same, and so pop songs seldom grant listeners this level of creative freedom. But when I hear Hank and Pigeon, I imagine two people, living in a New York that’s not mine and can never be mine; a New York in which pigeons become trapped inside apartment walls, in which people stand on opposite street corners talking on the phone, in which songs are written like letters to a friend, and in which all of this can be boiled down into a simple melody.

  • AEM111 The Window Right

    AEM111 The Window Right

    The Window Right are a three piece space rock musical outfit. Right? Suppose so. Space is a nice place for these Brits. None of their tracks can seem to stay grounded. There’s an skyward trajectory to their instrumental stylings, an upward lift that breaks songs open from a jog to a gallop to a sprint. Combine the grand scope of prog rock, plus terse jazz nods, with the epic vistas of krautrock, and circumscribe the action inside the crisp lines of Brit pop, and you have the Window Right. They are a live band’s live band. Grinding out technically accomplished digital/analog jamouts that preserve an unleashed spontaneity alongside the precision. Though the three piece has performed with the likes of Damo Suzuki, famed Can vocalist and all around avant garde rock god of the 1970s, the Window Right’s music trends towards the ultra-contemporary. In their pulsing metric machismo, the guitar/bass/drums/laptop ensemble achieves the automaton flair of a mellower Richard D. James. The gentle valleys and peaks are even reminiscent of pre-suck Coldplay (yes, there was a time they didn’t suck), though when the band dials up the intensity they match the aggressive ferocity of neukrautrock and hausrock contemporaries Dinowalrus (in the US) and Drum Eyes (in the UK). The scope of the Window Right’s music spans a vast emotional and historical divide, the sort of reach that only instrumental music, without the articulated commitment to topical ephemera, can accomplish.

  • AEM112 Villagers

    AEM112 Villagers

    Villagers’ Conor J. O’Brien will probably draw a lot of comparisons to another well-known singer-songwriter named Conor (doesn’t hurt that he looks a bit like him too), but where Oberst’s music, at least in its prime, was all about catharsis and abandon and wild generalizations and accusations that feel really good to yell (no matter how uncool or over-the-top or not-really-true they may be), O’Brien’s is oblique and careful. Subtle, even. His lyrics slip easily from first to second to third person, and even the first person songs seem somehow distanced, easier to hear as a narrative device than a soul-bearing, this-is-the-deeply-buried-truth-about-Conor-J-O’Brien kind of thing. In fact, O’Brien is more interested in the elusive nature of truth than in any grandiose, whitewashed statements. In the quiet, brooding, sleigh-bell touched “The Meaning of the Ritual” (the gorgeous, delicate home-made animation for which (link) is 100% worth your time and happens to be one of the only videos I’ve ever seen that made a song clearer and more powerful instead of just distracting me from it), he sings: my love is selfish and I bet yours is too / what is this peculiar word called ‘truth’. And again, in Ampeater A-side “Becoming A Jackal” : before you take this song as truth / you should wonder what I’m taking from you. This fixation on the mutability of things dominates O’Brien’s lyrics, and actually makes him more of an inverse-Oberst. Rather than shouting the capital-letter Truth, he’s exploring the multitude of truths. The songs are quite decisive, but I have no idea what I am doing, or where I am going, he says in his absurdist press bio, and though some of it may be a faux-naá¯f pose (Once the songs took shape, I asked some friends of mine to help me play them to people. When they kindly agreed, I decided that we would present ourselves as ‘Villagers’ — I don’t really know why.), as contrived as any other publicity stance (PR is inescapably fake; even directness becomes a mediated game of authenticity), it’s still rather refreshing to hear someone say that songs should always be treated with humor, no matter the subject matter, or that his goal in songwriting is to surprise himself. Right on, Conor.

  • AEM113 We Can't Enjoy Ourselves

    AEM113 We Can't Enjoy Ourselves

    We Can’t Enjoy Ourselves is one the most enigmatic bands I’ve encountered recently. They may hail from Brooklyn like damn-near everybody else these days, and their songs, though incredibly well crafted, are hardly genre-bending. But when I came across their press kit in the Ampeater submissions box, I was immediately struck by their response to the question, “describe your music….” While most bands take this prompt as an opportunity to explain just why exactly they’re so fucking awesome, We Can’t Enjoy Ourselves launches into a scathing and borderline-nonsensical self-critique. “One should be careful not to expect much from (our music)” explains vocalist/guitarist Giovanni Saldarriaga. It’s “delightfully unimportant, in poor taste, demonstrably demonic, satanically pointless and thus,” he concludes, “absolutely fatal to art history majors, compost or compote enthusiasts, and class-conscious bores.” I suppose one should expect a reasonable degree of self-deprecation from a band named We Can’t Enjoy Ourselves, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something more to what Saldarriaga was saying than the mere sum of the words coming out of his mouth. Was it modesty? Irony? A desperate plea for attention? Crossing off theory after theory, I finally arrived at one that seemed a bit closer to the truth-poetry. Perhaps Saldarriaga will cringe at this conclusion. “You’ve got it all wrong,” he’ll retort, “it’s satanically pointless!” But there’s a world of difference between “satanically pointless” and “pointless” and my verdict holds. Some might call this distinction merely rhetorical but the implications are actually quite vast. I wouldn’t waste my time with pointless music but satanically pointless music is another matter altogether.

  • AEM114 Blissed Out

    AEM114 Blissed Out

    There’s a moment-a bunch of moments, actually-in Jay-Z’s 2009 monster-jam “Empire State of Mind” where, hidden underneath the real-estate shout outs and bends-inducing compression like a C-section scar on a TV actress, you can pick out something wrong, jarring, fucked-up. Tune in at around 21 seconds and you can hear it: this high-pitched clip, like a CD skipping or a steak knife striking a glass table. It’s a strange little imperfection to find in a more or less immaculately constructed pop song, something ostensibly unrelated to musicianship or writing, but still too much there to be considered an oversight. Every ten seconds or so it pops up out of nowhere, grinding at the gears of the chorus, tearing the whole jam apart from the inside out like an armful of bot fly babies.

  • AEM115 Bunny's a Swine

    AEM115 Bunny's a Swine

    “Our sound has been called tweegrunge by some, awkpop by ourselves, and indie rock by others,” explained guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist Candace Clement when asked to describe Bunny’s a Swine. While the distinction may be largely semantic, I concur with Clement that awkpop is the most suitable and certainly the most telling classification for this unconventional trio from North Hampton, MA. Those other labels might still apply, but they fail to capture the essence of Bunny’s a Swine. What separates these guys from other indie rockers out there is that they’re so fucking awkward. It hit me the first time I heard A-side “I Should Have Left the Bushes Hours Ago” and numerous spins later, I still can’t get over it. Even if you haven’t heard the music, take one look at the press photo accompanying this review and you’ll probably be nodding enthusiastically in agreement. What could be more awkward than some scruffy hipsters standing in front of a faux-dramatic nautical backdrop striking convoluted poses? Even the name “Bunny’s a Swine” seems pretty awkward. I asked the band for the story behind it and their answer only confirmed my suspicions. “We really liked referring to things using ‘bunny’s a…’,” they explained, “like ‘bunny’s a tour’ or ‘bunny’s a show’ or ‘bunny’s a swingle,’ a reference to a 3 song single CD we made for a weekend tour in Vermont. Its really infectious after a while.” Major-league awkward.

  • AEM116 Power Animal

    AEM116 Power Animal

    If you’ve seen Bela Fleck in concert more than once, either by choice or by force of family who believe this singular artist to be the only point of overlap in your respective muscal interests, then you’ll begin to notice that parts of his concert routine resurface across shows. To the extent that a musical exchange can be scripted, these are, with the most notable example being that of the “virtuoso duel,” in which Fleck’s pitted against a fellow musician in an epic bluegrass shred battle. This alone would be enough to capture the interest of most audience members, and is the point at which I usually start checking Twitter on my phone, but he usually adds in a cute little twist to boot–the challenger is presented as a college educated, formally trained product of the system, while Fleck boasts a mere high school diploma to his name (nevermind that it was from a prestigious performing arts school). Inevitably, Fleck defeats his nemesis, demonstrating the superiority of good old fashioned street smarts and personal discovery over the rigid discipline of the conservatory method. While Bela Fleck’s not exactly your average front porch banjoist, his broad point is a decent one–education is no substitute for true vision and creative inspiration. Keith Hampson dropped out of high school when he was 16, and soon every class on his imaginary schedule read “music.”

  • AEM117 Hands and Knees

    AEM117 Hands and Knees

    Note: My brother just got married, and all I’ve been doing over the last few days is eating delicious food and wearing suits. So, prepare for a lot of food analogies. I’ll save the tie-tying analogy for next week.

  • AEM118 Hank & Cupcakes

    AEM118 Hank & Cupcakes

    In the wave of public attention recently bestowed upon indie/dance/punk duo Hank & Cupcakes, the term minimalist has been applied with greater frequency than perhaps any other. I’ve encountered it in reviews by several prominent publications and blogs, as well as in an array of press releases and publicity materials. Even Hank and Cupcakes themselves have embraced the term. “If I had to define it, I’d call the music experimental minimalist pop,” explains Hank. And so, given what the whole world seems to think, I’m probably going to raise a few eyebrows by admitting what I’m about to admit-I just don’t see it. Although I love what Hank & Cupcakes are doing-A-side “Ain’t No Love” has tallied up enough spins on my computer in the past month alone to merit a tenured position on my top twenty-five iTunes playlist-_minimalist_ is among the last words that I would use to describe it. Terms such as high-energy, strong, seductive, and funky would be more appropriate, and on the spectrum between minimalist and over-the-top, it lies considerably closer to the latter end.

  • AEM119 Shiv Hurrah

    AEM119 Shiv Hurrah

    When I listen to Shiv Hurrah I’m struck by a deep nostalgia for an adolescence unlike the one I actually lived. The band’s bittersweet and expertly crafted songs send me cascading down memory lane in search of a first kiss far more poetic than the one I truly gave and received, for that fleeting summer night which probably never existed outside of a movie I once watched and-lo and behold-I find exactly what I’m looking for.

  • AEM120 Wicked Yawnz

    AEM120 Wicked Yawnz

    Once-time contributor to slop-folk megagroup the Earth People Orchestra and current member of the “never-famous dirt-heavy bacon-pop tri-force” Beach Hair, DIY savant Joseph Kelly has bequeathed unto us an audio journal for the ages. Assembled from influences as diverse as top 40 R&B and Tupac Shakur, Wicked Yawnz is the audio journal of someone so capable at expressing his thoughts in music that these pindrop samples of his personal catharsis reach heights seldom achieved by most artists’ formal recorded output. Kelly describes the process as a “punk band diary,” set down in proverbial stone through a series of spontaneous moments, spurred on by dreams, lovers, alcohol, a nice walk, or an old 45. Each song’s odd instrumentation is virtually always a product of availability, but whether he’s setting beats on a casio keyboard or strumming on an old acoustic, Kelly has a remarkable knack for capturing and conveying genuine experiences in their purest form and planting the seeds of his own memories in listeners. Fans of Jeff Mangum and Graham Smith will be all over this.

  • AEM121 Darlingside

    AEM121 Darlingside

    Five beautiful voices backed by three guitars and the conventional bass and drums. Backed somewhat less-conventionally by violin, cello, and mandolin. Further supported by the thoroughly obscure pennywhistle and saz. Five guys. Five unique musical personas. One aesthetic, astonishingly more congruent than the sum of its parts.

  • AEM122 Ghost/Light

    AEM122 Ghost/Light

    Musicians are usually subject to the worst kind of mauvaise foi when it comes to describing their own music. It’s almost as if the same gene that makes someone a creative individual is the one that prevents them from grasping what exactly about their creations can be appreciated by others. The real reason, I suspect, is that most music somehow obscures its own meaning, or makes the work of interpretation essential to fully experiencing its essence. Of course, this view presupposes the idea of a song as a thing in itself, a coherent and observable entity with a single objective manifestation. One might think of a song in the same way one conceives of a table–not as some vague notion of what it means to be a “table,” but rather accepting as given that the “table” exists, and that it serves a certain function defined within reasonable constraints. In some ways, “song” certainly fits this description, and gives me a controlled set of assumptions as to what I might expect, especially when compared with a symphony, cantata, piece, abstract, composition, or god forbid sound experiment. But on the other hand, the notion of “song” can be more akin to “love” than “table.” Despite the last millenia’s attempt to define and categorize “love” (courtly love, romantic love, filial love, etc.), it’s hard to say exactly what it is, how it’s supposed to affect us, or how we’re supposed to affect it. The full experience of a song is the act of switching between these two sets of expectations, between the objective and the deeply and personally subjective. Pop songs err on the side of “table”, while art songs err on the side of “love,” but the best of each embrace both concepts equally. Good listeners are musical metaphysicians of sorts, able to decipher both strains simultaneously, all the while taking in a song’s musical content. It’s a process akin to unwinding strings of DNA like the zipper on your windbreaker, reading the code buried within, and emerging with a composite image of the song as both object and experience.

  • AEM123 Dust Jacket

    AEM123 Dust Jacket

    Dust Jacket describe themselves as frenetic, lyric-centric, indie rockers with a healthy dose of shimmer and bombast. I would add that they are bright, funny, personable, musically talented, well-read, politically knowledgeable and involved, determined, laid back, cool, kind to the elderly, patient with randoms, helpful but not patronizing to inexperienced and slightly lame reviewers, and able to accomplish complex tasks with only a magnetized guitar pick and antique maps. Okay, I can’t really attest to that last attribute; but I met up with front man Conan Zimmerman and lead guitarist Shane Cook in their home base in Phoenix, Arizona and I positively affirm the rest of it.

  • AEM124 Chrome and the Ice Queen

    AEM124 Chrome and the Ice Queen

    Chrome and the Ice Queen was birthed out of a sudden inclination to write pop music, perhaps the result of studying more traditional forms of composition. Particularly, the aim was to fully craft just one song… And to post it on the internet without disclosing any information about the personnel involved. To see what the hell would happen.”

  • AEM125 Busman's Holiday

    AEM125 Busman's Holiday

    I’m going to call it right now. Busman’s Holiday are the American Kinks of the 21st century. What the hell does that mean? Well, aside from the obvious connections (they perform a beautiful and faithful Waterloo Sunset on their free EP “Old Friends” and the obvious differences (no electric guitars, fewer band members), here’s what that means: Busman’s Holiday specialize in story songs with acrobatic, catchy melodies and witty lyrics that flesh out archetypes as deeply middle-class American as the Kinks were middle-class British. To be sure, you will find in these songs everything you’ll find in most good pop songs: love, loss, lust and outer space, to quote the band’s press kit. But rather than coming at the material in the straight-forward I’m a dude singing about my life fashion, Busman’s Holiday prefer to clothe their emotions in the garb of struggling novelists, pining geriatrics (the A-side and B-side of this single, respectively), dying aliens, midlife crisis suffering car salesmen, recently fired corporate hotshots, &c.

  • AEM126 SAVES!

    AEM126 SAVES!

    “I’ve been told that I paint landscapes, that even where then isn’t much travel there’s plenty of exploration. I like that, forcing your ears to see in 3D and Technicolor. Someone told me that they thought it was punk folk, while another folk punk. I’ve heard Emo, Post-Emo, Emoricana. I think that’s what you get when you follow four straight years of Brand New with four straight years of Neutral Milk Hotel.”

  • Casual Business 03: Uncles

    Casual Business 03: Uncles

    Rock writers like to dig up Greil Marcus’s four word summary of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. It’s a phrase that somehow conjurs an image of our country as mother to a mystical culture of poets and balladeers who masquerade by day as farmers and coal miners. According to Marcus, it’s “the old, weird America” that Smith somehow captured in his now famous anthology, and it’s this same spirit that’s been used to describe figures from Bob Dylan to David Berman. Travis mentions this below as part of the “great tradition of heady North American songwriters.” But somehow I’ve always felt that this continuum was something built by critics in some desperate attempt to make enough bizarre cross-generational connections that they might have something to say for however many pages they needed to say it. Bob Dylan and David Berman are certainly old and weird, but I’m not sure they fully embrace the idea of an old, weird America. It’s a wonderful phrase, and sits as an untouchably concise summation of the Harry Smith Anthology, but for all practical purposes, it should stop there. What Uncles offer instead is a “new, weird America”--one that they somehow see, and that the rest of us don’t. It’s so easy to fetishize life as it once was, but Uncles see strangeness in the mediocrity of the present. When you walk through New York city, what do you notice? Maybe you turn a bit to catch a glimpse at a stunningly beautiful woman (there are plenty in our fine city), maybe you stop and look up at a historic building (there are plenty of those too), maybe you go out of your way to walk through Central Park in mid-Spring. Or, maybe you’re one of those “artsy” types, who takes pictures of homeless dudes, crumbling infrastructure, and bleak winter landscapes. Will Schwartz and Danny Bateman are interested in the place between these two extremes: the overweight but otherwise pleasant-looking Latino mother, sitting on her front stoop knitting; endless blocks of storefronts with fading but otherwise operational neon signs, and the abundance of commonplace scenes that are constantly being enacted in New York’s five borroughs. To most of us they’re nondescript, uninteresting, and neither so pleasant they’re coveted nor so discomfiting they’re fascinating. It’s the accurate portrayal of life as its actually lived, and to achieve this is a rare gift indeed.

  • AEM127 Whale Belly

    AEM127 Whale Belly

    Whale Belly approaches the challenges of modern urban life through a distinctly folk lens. I’m not simply referring to the genre of music that the band plays. When most people hear the term folk, they think of folk music, which conjures images of Bob Dylan, a barefoot hillbilly playing banjo on a porch in Kentucky, a barefoot Bob Dylan playing banjo on a porch in Kentucky, or other permutations of the same components. Educated listeners may know better than to anticipate barefoot Bob Dylan, but they’ll still harbor preconceptions which, albeit considerably better informed, are nonetheless the product of reflex.

  • AEM128 Alcoholic Faith Mission

    AEM128 Alcoholic Faith Mission

    We seem to be in the midst of a cultural panic, engendered by the nagging thought that our New Years resolutions have thus far gone unfulfilled. Shake weights lie dormant in the corner of some long forgotten closet, nestled amongst unassembled bow-flex machines, “The Idiot’s Guide To Car Repair,” and a complete set of Rosetta Stone DVDs on how to learn Klingon. And this bothers us. So, we transfer our private frustrations to our colleagues, and thus begins February, the month of irrational professional fervor and widespread hypertension. If you’re driven mad by the thought of opening Gmail for fear of what you might find lurking therein, this 7-inch is the panacea for all your mid-winter woes. Like omniscient musical deities, Danish Brooklynites Alcoholic Faith Mission have swooped down and bestowed two tracks upon us, that with their glacial pace and striking beauty are guaranteed to restore your fragile sense of inner tranquility. In truth, I’d expect nothing less from the hipster descendants of King Hroá°gar, but I digress.

  • AEM129 The Smiles

    AEM129 The Smiles

    36 inches of snowfall were recorded in Central Park last month. Never before in New York’s long and illustrious history of shit-weather had a year been ushered in with such force. Other cities throughout the region fared little better. Boston’s Logan Airport received 38 inches-a figure rendered only bleaker for its failure to break any records. In cities everywhere, plowmen worked overtime to clear the roads, evasively deflecting whatever lay in their paths toward the parking lanes where icy mountains rose up and then thawed, spawning rivers of toxic sludge. Escape was nearly impossible. The rustic pleasure of sleeping on the floor failed to sate the rage of passengers stranded for days at JFK. Conditions were evidently so bad that it took an entire revolution in Egypt to push everyone’s bitching out of front page news. But I wonder whether conditions have really been so much worse than usual?

  • AEM130 Shapers

    AEM130 Shapers

    Some music lolls gently in the background. Some music sits still. Some music serves to bring a degree of class to the social calendar of the captains of High Culture and High Finance. Shapers make none of that music. The Chicago four piece are gleeful collagists, roping in everything within their reach: improvised music; gleeful math rock; softly glowing, ambient synth jams; somber, sparse psych tunes laden with vocal harmonies; rolling afro-cuban percussion; David Byrne-style shout vocals. And none of these things are segregated neatly into their own tracks. They’re combined with a free and generous hand, mixing and overlapping so much that you forget they wouldn’t ordinarily share a record label, let alone a song. Shapers bandcamp page tags them as post-genre, which in most cases would be either dry irony or unwarranted cockiness, but the slurry of influences on the band’s debut full-length Little, Big makes one of the strongest cases for that particular phrase I’ve yet heard.

  • AEM131 The Seedy Seeds

    AEM131 The Seedy Seeds

    Those of us over here in the tiny corner of America known as Brooklyn tend to forget that we are in a tiny corner of America. Not that Brooklyn doesn’t have all sorts of cultural weight. When I first moved here, a Finnish girl I’d just met asked me if Roberta’s was really as good as everyone said. At the time I didn’t even know what Roberta’s was, and I was amazed to find out it was…a pizza place in Bushwick (Granted, it’s an amazing one, and calling it a pizza place doesn’t really do justice to how nice it is, but still). Because NYC is home to so many writers and publicists and videographers, and because everyone loves to publicize their friends, bands from Brooklyn, like pizza places, tend to take on cultural significance all out of proportion to their skill.

  • Casual Business 04: MiniBoone

    Casual Business 04: MiniBoone

    When MiniBoone arrived I immediately felt at ease. They’re five white dudes in plaid shirts and denim pants just like me. They all wear glasses and I would too if I hadn’t gotten the LASIK surgery years ago. When I made jokes related to flatulence or feces they laughed obligingly, especially Craig, who is known to lose it at the faintest whiff of deuce. We all enjoy cheap American lager because it gets you loose and also because somehow we like the way it tastes. Most of all, these dudes LOVE TO ROCK and that’s an immersive pursuit I get down with daily.

  • AEM132 Zeb Gould

    AEM132 Zeb Gould

    In what now seems like another life, I used to manage the Postcrypt Coffeehouse in the basement of St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University. The venue has a storied history of performers, including Simon & Garfunkel, Suzanne Vega, and Jeff Buckley, but its real flair is making the everyday singer-songwriters that drift in and out seem as magical as these legendary musicians. Its bare rock walls, peeling wooden tables, and sturdy candelabras dripping with wax create an atmosphere of intense intimacy. No amplification or electricity of any kind is allowed. A small plaque on the wall reads “Maximum Capacity: 35,” which may have even been an optimistic assessment. It was, and remains, a truly special place, one of those increasingly rare nooks that provide New Yorkers with a complete escape from the chaos of upper Manhattan. It’s there that I first met Zeb Gould.

  • CE01 - Concrete Experience Digital Mixtape: Transposition

    Casual Business 04: MiniBoone

    The Ampeater Review is stoked to announce the release of the inaugural Concrete Experience Digital Mixtape, which we curated in partnership with Concrete Experience, a new quarterly journal of contemporary photography and creative art. Each issue of Concrete Experience will contain work loosely related to a particular theme and which we will augment with a soundtrack inspired by the theme and featuring exclusively Ampeater artists. The theme for this issue is transposition.

  • AEM133 peopling

    AEM133 peopling

    The relationship between rock music and straight up terrible noise is a long and complicated one, punctuated equally by periods of domestic tranquility (Sonic Youth’s easy-listening records), malicious abuse (Metal Machine Music and its descendants), and toothless hypocrisy (remember Test Icicles?). Like in any lovers’ quarrel, outsiders tend to draw lines in the sand: some people like their chord changes neatly separated from their feedback freakouts (sometimes even, they like feedback freakouts over chord changes), while others come to realize that they never liked the noisier stuff to begin with, even though they feel guilty enough about their tenuous allegiances to talk up the experimental tendencies of bands like Animal Collective with something approaching seriousness. Finally, there are people who felt that rock music had become bloated and disingenuous with its increasing lip service to the avant-garde, a mongrel artistic commodity aimed at weekend warriors and self-hating yuppies who claimed to love the Velvet Underground but invariably left the room about four minutes into “Sister Ray.” These people, to borrow a term from Lester Bangs, albeit in a slightly different context, could be called “White Noise Supremacists.” These were individuals who, on the one hand, had developed over the course of decades exposed to pop radio and concept albums an ideological revulsion to all things melodic, rhythmic, and marketable, and, on the other, had suffered enough actual brain damage in the process to enjoy aesthetically the sound of vacuum cleaners and police sirens howling in the dark, wet urban night. Somewhere along the line, this group’s wiring had gotten disconnected from the mass-cultural mainframe and found itself channeling the random and nihilistic ambience of real life.

  • AEM134 Quiet Loudly

    AEM134 Quiet Loudly

    Imagine that the members of an iconic rock band suddenly grow tired of their work. They still know how to write a hit, but they’re sick of hits. It’s almost too easy, and they see through all the tricks they once employed in blissful ignorance. Unanimously, they decide that they don’t want to be in a rock band any more. But under contract, they’ve agreed to release one more album under their label. They propose an experimental final album, but the label rejects it. The fans demand rock. Consequently, the band decides to trick the label and fans, and disguise the avant garde behind a thick cloak of the usual tricks. At first, they view the album as a parody of their former work.

  • AEM095-1 The Powder Kegs (Follow-Up Review)

    AEM095-1 The Powder Kegs (Follow-Up Review)

    This is a followup single. Interested readers are encouraged to check out AEM095 for more free music and information.

    Last year, The Powder Kegs earned our attention with their catchy and energetic cuts “La Mariposa” and “Shake Me Down” on AEM095. Since then, they’ve refined their sound and have a new album, The Amanicans.

  • AEM135 Thick Shakes

    AEM135 Thick Shakes

    The Monks, The Gories, and The Detroit Cobras are staples in the litany of hip influences on modern music. For those of you who keep copies of this list in triplicate on your desks, just go right ahead and add Boston’s Thick Shakes to the top. Though they cruise on a road paved with discarded Nuggets compilations, they approach the mess of American garage rock with a remarkably refined aesthetic that brings a measure of control and sanity to a style of music that otherwise tends to run completely off the rails. At their core, these are songs made for dingy basement clubs, by dudes who don’t own cases for their instruments and drummers who make do with two broken floor toms and a cymbal made from soup cans and duct tape. The standard of musicianship is traditionally low, dominated by repetitive four chord riffs, half-sung/half-shouted unison vocal lines, and endless moments of disjointed slop. But that’s more a personal impression than a real assessment, and each band has its own particular swagger. The Monks tend to be on the experimental side, The Gories on the punk/slop side, and The Detroit Cobras on the motown/soul side. That said, the Venn diagram of their respective approaches to music is almost all overlap, and Thick Shakes are right smack dab in the middle. To anyone who’s spent weeks in their underwear listening to the Nuggets and Pebbles discs on repeat: Thick Shakes will be your new favorite band.

  • AEM136 Santah

    AEM136 Santah

    A couple weeks ago I revisited The Mighty Boosh episode “Searching for the New Sound”, in which the famous Bongo Brothers Rudi & Spider enter into a psychedelic journey through time and space to find their band’s “new sound”. As I sat there watching, I knew on some level that it was hilarious, but I was nevertheless paralyzed by the realization that this parody spoke to me on a level that it perhaps shouldn’t. My bandmate and I seem to reinvent our sound every gig, veering wildly from country to electronic, from rockabilly to black metal, and back again. And I don’t think we’re the only ones. There are hordes of reasonably competent musicians searching for their “new sound”, while going great lengths to avoid the common tropes of rock and roll, like a virus that might spread to consume everything in sight, leaving them left with nothing but pentatonic scales and skinny jeans. What they fail to realize is that these bits of musical kitsch are the proverbial building blocks of civilization, and when used in interesting new ways with a bit of creative enthusiasm are infinitely more compelling than whatever noise we might conjure in our attempts to eschew convention. In other words, there’s a reason we love pop music–it draws on its own past successes and expands upon them while culling inspiration from an increasingly large and varied pool of influences. We recognize something familiar and comforting in every pop song, even as it pushes the fold of our expectations. At exactly 22 seconds into Santah’s magnificent A-Side “No Other Women,” I saw with perfect clarity how decades of rock and roll can ferment into something powerful. This shit’s 110 proof, and it blew me clean off my feet.

  • CE02 Concrete Experience Digital Mixtape: Ritual

    1. “Just Like a Drummer” - The Wave Pictures (AEM083)
    2. “Adderech Arada” - Debo Band (AEM016)
    3. “You Lit Up For Me” - Spirit Kid (AEM026)
    4. “Malea” — Darlingside (AEM121)
    5. “Feathers & Fur” - Hank & Pigeon (AEM110)
    6. “Policia” - Pistolera (AEM039)
    7. “Sway” - Chrome & Ice Queen (AEM124)
    8. “Hymnal” - Jerome Ellis (AEM059)
    9. “27 Strangers” - Villagers (AEM112)
  • AEM137 Del Bel

    AEM137 Del Bel

    Del Bel began in the studio as an outlet for the compositions of Tyler Belluz, a Toronto-based multi-instrumentalist. The talents of Belluz must run deep, since to list them all on the Del Bel press-kit required the liberal adjustment of the page layout. He is the principal compositional force behind the collective, and plays double-bass, electric-bass, drums, guitar, accordion, organ, and, musical saw on the artist’s forthcoming debut, Oneiric. From what I gather, the final instrument on the list is not some sort of saw-toothed synthesizer but a very real and very sharp handsaw played with a bow, much like a violin.

  • AEM029-1 The Unsacred Hearts (Follow-Up Review)

    AEM029-1 The Unsacred Hearts (Follow-Up Review)

    Issued almost two years ago on November 30th 2009, AEM029 introduced The Unsacred Hearts as a band in the midst of a sea change, caught between their early roots as a firebrand post-punk outfit from Blue Point Long Island and an uncertain future as a group of poetically inclined and musically intelligent adults with jobs, law degrees, wives, and children. For the last five years The Unsacred Hearts have been working towards their latest album, fixing on it like a distant star that’s always visible but just barely out of reach. Instrumental versions of the songs have been floating around for years, serving as the soundtrack to band members’ lives, both informing and being informed by this great transition. Drummer Travis Harrison even walked down the aisle to an early version of B-Side “Flesh and Bone”. Working off and on at Serious Business Music with a coterie of friends, the album began to take shape, and at last The Unsacred Hearts completed and released The Honor Bar. We’re thrilled to follow up on our original 7-inch with two tracks from this release, which is available now on CD and Cassette from Serious Business Records.

  • AEM138 Rocketship Park

    AEM138 Rocketship Park

    Rocketship Park draws its name from a playground in the hometown of creator Josh Kaufman. It’s an appropriate metaphor for an artist whose music balances bittersweet reflection with a hopeful childlike wonder. At some point we realize that we’re too big to fit through the mouth of the rocket shaped slide but, with luck, we never forget how much fun it used to be. Kaufman remembers and conveys that in the music on his new album, Cakes & Cookies. Here too, we get a convenient metaphor. The album entices the sweet-toothed listener with a cover illustration of the eponymous delectables and a unique promotional offer-each copy purchased comes with a free homemade cookie! While one must never judge an album on the dessert, here it provides a taste of the contents. Rocketship Park’s original blend of symphonic folk-pop is rich, immediate, and above all, homemade. NPR noted that it offers “a sense of peace and nostalgia that grounds even the most anxious of listeners.”

  • AEM139 All Fox

    AEM139 All Fox

    I work at a desk. It’s a big long desk, and most of the time I have it all to myself. So, I listen to music all day long. Sometimes I go on shuffle adventures, sometimes I let whole albums or compilations play through, but more often than not I get stuck on a song that becomes an anthem of sorts for the day. I get so hooked, so intensely enthused about a single musical event that I seldom make it all the way through on the first attempt. After several repetitions of the first verse and chorus I finally let it play to completion, and then again, and again. When I find a gem like this, it goes in a special playlist. The whole process repeats until the playlist swells to over an hour, at which point I send the whole damn thing out to friends as Force Music On You (FMOU) volume X. It’s tough to send folks music without overtones of pretension, so I eschew any greater sense of order and present the whole thing alphabetically by artist, with little to no context or explanation. Of the hundred or so people who subscribe, about 17 download the mix, I would guess maybe 10 actually listen to it, and 2 or 3 send me a note explaining why they loved or hated a particular song. On the week I included All Fox’s “Fit To Advise”, I received 9 e-mails asking if I could send over the complete album, and 7 follow-up emails asking if I had any more All Fox albums. It’s fairly rare for me to include an Ampeater band in an FMOU, let alone one that’s still pending consideration for a review. And yet, All Fox defied precedence and spread like wildfire from the Ampeater submissions box to my personal favorites playlist, to the “most played” section of my closest friends’ iTunes. We do a lot of explaining here on Ampeater, in an attempt to justify exactly why a certain artist merits such a bright spotlight of intellectual scrutiny, but All Fox needs no coaxing to break through the shell of relative obscurity. The music catapults itself across whatever divide supposedly exists between artists and listeners, and once it’s playing you have little choice left but to move and be moved by it.

  • AEM140 Slow Motion Centerfold

    AEM140 Slow Motion Centerfold

    Slow Motion Centerfold may seem rather anomalous when viewed alongside the artists we’ve featured in the past on the Ampeater Review. We tend to shy away from music with blatant popular appeal, and the music featured in this particular review has a lot of that. Both tracks could be massive radio hits. Nevertheless, I feel that the appeal of Slow Motion Centerfold’s music extends far beyond the popular and borders on the universal. The Nashville-based quintet draws together the best qualities of mainstream pop-rock, implements them with unparalleled expertise, and forgoes the undesirable bullshit often associated with the genre. Biases aside, it was a band that needed to be written up.

  • Ampeater Streams the new Uncles record "m4w"

    Ampeater Streams the new Uncles record "m4w"

    Like a good parent, Ampeater loves each and every one of our digital 7-inches equally. Officially, that is. Behind closed doors, there’s a handful of artists we take home with us–they live on our iPods and in our car stereos. They know our personal Gmail addresses and together we’ve listened, hand in hand, to gentle folk ballads about Goatse. These are the privileged few, and we’d bend over backwards to see their records top the charts. If you’ve been paying any attention to Ampeater over the last few years, you might have noticed that Uncles is one of the elect. They first appeared with a digital 7-inch on AEM092, then returned will a full stream of their last album “Replacing Words With Other Words”. We brought them into the studio for a Casual Business session and included them on our first Concrete Experience mixtape. We’re now proud to offer their latest and greatest LP as a free stream.

  • AEM141 Clear Plastic Masks

    AEM141 Clear Plastic Masks

    These guys are a bit dirtier than the rest, and it’s not just the press photo-a hauntingly accurate prediction of what my apartment would devolve into if my girlfriend ceased to visit and demand a socially-acceptable minimum of hygiene and socially-acceptable maximum of substance abuse. In the Pulitzer-worthy shot, we get the obligatory group of mostly-bearded dudes who, let’s face it, are obviously musicians, seated around a table about to collapse under the weight of several handles of booze, cans of red bull, and cups filled to various degrees with unknown liquids that could have been left out for days and, odds are, were used as ashtrays at some point or another, although they don’t appear to have done much good because most of the ash ended up on the table anyway. Upon closer examination, we wonder why the top half of a water bottle is just sitting out there and for what sketchy purpose it was sawed off at the middle-perhaps an improvised smoking device, although there’s certainly enough rolling papers around that it wouldn’t have been necessary, even if it would have been possible thanks to the requisite roll of duct tape. In the background, we notice bookshelves crammed with impressive tomes that appear to have received a lot of love, of which by far the most visible title reads, New York City. How perfect.

  • AEM137-1 Del Bel

    AEM137-1 Del Bel

    Last November, I reviewed Del Bel, a Toronto-based electro-acoustic indie collective led by multi-instrumentalist Tyler Belluz, defined by the memorable voice of Lisa Conway, and supported by some dozen talented musicians.

  • Plume Giant - The Sprague Hall Sessions

    Plume Giant - The Sprague Hall Sessions

    In late March of this year, Nolan Green invited me to hear his band Plume Giant perform a short set of songs at Sprague Hall in New Haven, CT. A spacious, architecturally beautiful, and acoustically rich recital space, Sprague typically hosts concerts by Yale School of Music students and faculty, as well as all manner of visiting classical and jazz artists. Bass great Ron Carter played there a few days before our session. The week after, the St. Louis String Quartet performed a selection of quartets by Mozart and John Adams. It is, in other words, not the exactly the kind of place you’d expect to go see your friend’s band cut a handful of tracks. And yet, listening to the results, Sprague’s lofty pedigree proves an unexpectedly keen match to Plume Giant’s elegant, haunting, and immaculately executed songs. The recording is crystal clear, and I’d say less than half of that has to do with the Hall’s legendary sonics. From the intricately woven harmonies of “Kensico Dam,” to the coy insistence of Dan Hick’s staple “Old Timey Baby,” the trio of singer/guitarist Green, guitarist/fiddler/singer Oliver Hall, and fiddler/vocalist Eliza Bagg make music whose referents range from the raucous idioms of American folk, to the restraint and subtlety of a chamber ensemble, to the grit and humor of a touring bar band. Surprises are abundant in these recordings, but the ever-shifting structures, the complex interplay of the three voices, the endlessly inventive variations of recurring themes never seem manipulative or academic. Rather, Plume Giant performs with an honesty that makes no apologies about its talent, its willingness to go to harmonic and compositional places few other bands would even attempt, let alone pull off. In the interview below, Bagg discusses how the trio tries to create “a specific world” for each song they write and perform. Like any world worth visiting, Plume Giant’s tracks ask the listener to do a little exploring. For every standout hook, every beautiful stretch of a song, there exist hidden moments of weirdness, nooks and crannies that only come to the surface over repeated trips. When you leave, these places stick with you, like a bramble you find latched onto your sock after a long hike. Plume Giant took me on a journey that night at Sprague Hall. This session is what we brought back.

  • AEM142 Pinebocks

    AEM142 Pinebocks

    There’s a recent New Yorker article in which Arthur Krystal defends pulp novels against a perceived onslaught from the community of intellectuals who would happily see the vast majority of printed word scarified at the altar of literary fiction. Brought on by an incident in which President Obama admitted a less than challenging summer reading list, there’s developed a vibrant polemic surrounding popular versus literary fiction. In the interest of mediating this dispute, Krystal ultimately convinces his readers that there exists a class of literary-minded pulp authors who deliver the insight of highbrow fiction in somewhat less auspicious packages. These gifted writers sculpt sentences with the same care as their Oxford colleagues, but do us the kindness of placing verbs and nouns in an order to which we’re more accustomed. It’s this class of artist that we like to represent on Ampeater–populists who practice their craft with diligence and care, but make music rooted in traditions that evoke a visceral reaction in listeners. So, when Cory Clifford of Pinebocks sent a 7-inch our way, we knew he was someone you needed to hear.

  • AEM143 Best F-Tigers Forever

    AEM143 Best F-Tigers Forever

    Best F-Tigers Forever started out, like all bands do,” explains frontman Ralph Hogaboom, “with a hitchhiking hairstylist.” He noticed her on the side of the highway between Aberdeen and Montesano, Washington. He might have been driving too fast to size up the punk-rocker haircut but he must have noticed the guitar on her back and the thumb she held up high. In a matter of seconds, he made the obvious choice-he pulled over and picked her up.

  • AEM103-1 The James Rocket

    AEM103-1 The James Rocket

    Remember when the Beatles anthologies came out? As a 10 year old, this was my first full introduction to the most popular musical group in history. Now, this wouldn’t normally have been too strange an occurrence, except for the fact that the 6 CD box set featured demo versions and outtakes from throughout the Beatles catalog while altogether omitting the official studio renditions. This has left me permanently impaired during singalongs of Rocky Raccoon, in which I habitually repeat Paul’s misspoken line, “the doctor walked in, sminking of gin” and other lyrical oddities. If this is the worst handicap I have in life, I think I’ll manage. But what strikes me about the anthologies on repeat listens is the rather odd decision to re-record several John Lennon demos with the surviving Beatles adding new takes atop the original guitar and vocals. It’s a process that while interesting comes across as a bit cold and artificial, like the 3D hologram of Tupac at Coachella. It seems an unnatural union, and something that might have been better off confined to “what if” chatter around the coffee machine at George Martin’s studio. Until last week, I thought it impossible that this process could create music that’s not only passable but in many ways superior to the original recordings.

  • Whale Belly - Water Voices music video premiere

    It’s live! The first in Ampeater’s new music video series in collaboration with Plover Pictures. Behold, “Water Voices” by Whale Belly.


  • Introducing: The Ampeater Snapshot Series!

    The Ampeater Review takes pride in our obsession for detail. We like to ruminate on each review and allow ourselves to digress into abstract philosophical speculations, conversations with ourselves, grandiose cinematic fantasies, obscure biographical anecdotes, metaphors cloaked in metaphors, and even confessions about our troubled personal lives. Sometimes, we manage to weave these disparate threads together into a coherent and profound reflection on the music. Regardless, we manage to have fun.

  • Snapshot: Frog

    Snapshot: Frog

    In Ampeater’s Words: I have a soft spot for music that blends indie-rock and folk. Frog might appear to fall into that genre of palatable fusion, but we shouldn’t write off the Queens-based power-duo so easily. In fact, we should laud it for the opposite reasons. Frog sounds less like a hybrid than the toxic detritus of a rock band and a folk band forced to share the same small rehearsal space. Both traditions coexist but remain, for the most part, autonomous.

  • Snapshot: Passenger Peru

    Snapshot: Passenger Peru

    In Ampeater’s Words: Like one might expect from the title, Passenger Peru’s “Heavy Drugs” comes on hard. But after the low-bitrate drumbeat crunch gets swept up in a vortex of lush arpeggios, we’re reminded that the heaviest drugs aren’t always amphetamines and can creep up on you throughout the trip. While this track isn’t quite sure whether it wants to be an upper, downer, or hallucinogen, it has an undeniable power to destabilize and to draw the listener outside of the normal world.

  • Snapshot: EULA

    Snapshot: EULA

    In Ampeater’s Words: EULA knows just when to offer the audience a lollipop and when to slap it in the face. Often, the artist manages to do both at the same time. Alyse Lamb’s soft soprano vocals can come across as cute, but with an undeniable undercurrent of sarcasm. She’s like the devious kid sister who melted your legos in her easybake oven or folded your baseball cards into paper cranes, but somehow managed to shed enough fake tears to evade punishment. Lamb’s voice is beautiful, and a little bit cruel. With spastic rhythms and appropriate levels of distortion, the instrumentals tap into the fuck-you sentiment of vintage punk and thrash but without so much anger. Instead, the music veers into bursts of danceable euphoria. The minimalist three-piece formation helps to avoid the clutter that could otherwise ensue, and allows each instrument or voice to stand out in the mix. Still, EULA reminds us that it doesn’t take a large band to create a lot of noise. “Maurice Narcisse,” leaves no doubt that the artist has a good time on stage, and ends each show with a smile and no remorse for the blown-out sound systems left behind.

  • Snapshot: Whales / The Magic of Multiples

    Snapshot: Whales / The Magic of Multiples

    In Ampeater’s Words: Good songs are written but the best ones tend to write themselves. In Whales / The Magic of Multiples, multi-instrumentalist Alex Drum gives his compositions free range to do just that. As a studio project, Whales feels removed from the pressures of performance. With no need to cement that new tune before the next show, Drum has time on his side. For many studio projects, this liberation can become a curse because it strips music of its communicative power. Without an audience, music ceases to be an exchange and tends to lose its vitality. However, in the case of Whales, it’s clear that Drum has assumed the roles of both artist and audience. Intimate and reflective, the music feels like an artist’s conversation with himself. “Strong Female Leads” was subjected to ample rumination, forgotten and rediscovered in the course of its gradual maturation. The result is a superlative composition, full of nuances but also raw power in moments like the unexpected (but in retrospect, inevitable) explosion when the beat drops and the promised female vocals finally emerge. Whales is an artist on the verge of discovery, constantly surprised by the beauty it manages to unearth from within.

  • Snapshot: Peaks

    Snapshot: Peaks

    In Ampeater’s Words: Peaks never flaunts its colossal talent, but that talent is hard to overlook. The band embraces the indie aesthetic but goes about it via a classical approach. Each track is a masterpiece-pleasant to the ear and innovative to the intellect-full of compositional grace and orchestral balance.

  • AEM144 Delorentos

    AEM144 Delorentos

    With followers worldwide and heaps of critical acclaim under its belt, Delorentos isn’t the undiscovered diamond-in-the-rough artist we often write up on Ampeater. Three of the band’s albums have reached Top-10 on the Irish Pop Charts. Delorentos has also been nominated for notable accolades like the Choice Music Prize and Meteor Awards. The attention is well deserved. Delorentos knows how to write immediate and memorable songs like the two tracks featured here. Little Sparks, the band’s latest album from which both featured tracks are drawn, will no-doubt appeal to the mainstream. Still, Delorentos hasn’t lost touch with its indie heritage and sold its soul. In fact, grassroots tactics continue to pave the band’s path into the spotlight. Independent artists around the world should take careful note of Delorentos, and for more reasons than the music alone. Delorentos demonstrates a viable formula for homemade success and presents hope for reconciliation between underground and main-stream aesthetics and approaches in the era of digital music.

  • Snapshot: War Mothers

    Snapshot: War Mothers

    In the artist’s words: War Mothers started during a midnight drive to the ocean. This was maybe a decade ago. I can’t remember who was in the car. I think it was the night we went to the diner we liked and found it was closed for good. Maybe not. Years later I spent all my money and went to Texas, but it didn’t change anything. I remember a story about two people leaving an evil chair on the front lawn. I used to think it was good to hang on to your memories but now I don’t feel the same.

  • Snapshot: Ben Seretan

    Snapshot: Ben Seretan

    In the artist’s words: I have the words “Ecstatic Joy” tattooed on my chest in electric purple script. That’s what I’m after, that’s what singing and playing the electric guitar and droning on and on can give to me and, I hope, to you, too. I hope that we can be suspended together in the same warm syrup of human kindness that so moves me, at least until the tape runs out.

  • Snapshot: Pete Galub

    Snapshot: Pete Galub

    In Ampeater’s words: If there were such thing as a lifetime achievement award in independent rock, Pete Galub would deserve it more than anyone. For the past decade, he’s been a perennial figure in the great melting pot of New York music’s semi-underground, relevant and likable no matter where the trends have blown. Galub’s music draws upon classic powerpop and punk conventions, but with refreshing edge and insight. His latest album Candy Tears represents another well placed step in this trajectory. Some seven years in the making, it’s the work of a mature artist challenging himself to breathe new life into well-charted genres and, against all odds, succceeding gloriously. The hooks are instant but it’s Galub’s sharp intellect and attention to detail that hold it together.

  • Snapshot: Legato Vipers

    Snapshot: Legato Vipers

    In Ampeater’s words: I liked Legato Vipers from the first listen, but didn’t know what to make of the band’s psychadellic cinematic surf-rock antics. The music was quirky, groovy, and, without a doubt, over the top. But were these dudes for real, or was it all an elaborate and well executed joke? I’ve come to the conclusion that its a little of both.


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