a4049598838_10Since we’ve been on a bit of a Soft Boys kick lately, it’s become apparent that very few groups have managed to approximate that band’s sparkling guitar sound. Plates of Cake come close — and if you go back a bit, they even tackled “Underwater Moonlight” on a previous LP. The Brooklyn band’s latest LP, Becoming Double, is packed with sharp songwriting, catchy tunes and more than enough chiming guitar action from Jonathan Byerley and Joshua Carrafa.

Check out the dreamy “She Wants To Disappear,” with its Hitchcock/Rew-worthy opening hook and pleasingly eccentric harmony vocals. Not sure if Plates of Cake really fits into any current scene, but that’s just as well — they might be more at home with the early 80s Postcard Records roster: Orange Juice, the Go-Betweens and Aztec Cameras. Wherever you slot them, Plates of Cake deserve your attention. words / t wilcox

Plates of Cake :: She Wants To Disappear

ChuckJohnson_VelvetArcBay Area guitarist extraordinaire Chuck Johnson’s recent (mostly) solo acoustic LPs have proven him to be one of the most reliable players on the new-Takoma School scene. His new album, the utterly fantastic Velvet Arc, shows that Johnson is just as masterful in a more fleshed out band setting. The album’s seven songs offer shimmering electric guitar blending with gorgeous pedal steel and folky fiddles fading into mesmerizing minimalist pulses, backed up by a sturdy rhythm section.

It’s a widescreen vision of Americana that fits in with what William Tyler has been up to for the past few years, but Velvet Arc delivers its own unique reveries. Even though the album is less skeletal than on his previous solo work, Johnson never lets his songs get too lush or soft focus; each moment feels perfectly devised, as the guitarist guides us through one absorbing soundscape after the next. An album that just gets deeper the more you spin it. words / t wilcox

Chuck Johnson :: Velvet Arc

FlaminGroovies

Dig it. In celebration of their 50th(!) Anniversary, San Francisco’s legendary Flamin’ Groovies have released their first tracks since 1992’s Rock Juice. And in a move that rings full circle, from a band that inspired numerous nascent punk rockers and power poppers, the record is being released via the guys carrying the torch at Burger Records.

The A-side finds “Crazy Macy” — a track deeply rooted in British Invasion sounds, with a charming accompanying video channeling the vibe of a Hard Day’s Night. The echo-heavy production is straight out of the band’s magnum opus, the immortal 1976 lp Shake Some Action. 2nd Generation vocalist Chris Wilson (who replaced original vocalist Roy Loney in 1971), belts out a soulful lead in between the accompanying harmonies.

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Ah yes, to prefer the demo or the finished product. Where I typically have a firm opinion on such matters, the below, Les Olivensteins’ “Fier De Ne Rien Faire”, is an example of…not having one. I dig each, individually, in a way that the two feel unrelated. Anyhow, that’s just a longwinded way to entice you to explore these Frenchman, via their 1979 ep, as I always receive emails when I spin either version on the SIRIUS show. So — dig in if you have yet to engage. Voilà

Les Olivensteins :: Fier De Ne Rien Faire.
Les Olivensteins :: Fier De Ne Rien Faire (demo)

billycobham-georgeduke

It’s 1976. Beer comes in pull-tab cans and Miles Davis has taken a leave of absence. People don’t really know it, but jazz fusion is nearing the end of it’s creative streak: Mahavishnu Orchestra has burned through two lineups and Weather Report has just enlisted Jaco Pastorius, who’ll help propel the band into the stratosphere and towards glossy, slick jazz-pop.

For most of this year, Billy Cobham, George Duke and Alfonso Johnson toured together. They had impressive resumes: Cobham played with Davis and Mahavishnu, creating a reputation as a furious yet accurate drummer, while Johnson’s funky electric bass helped move Weather Report from the spacey, ambient grooves of their first few records towards the driving, funky fusion of Mysterious Traveler. Meanwhile, Duke had worked with Cannonball Adderley, but came into his own with Frank Zappa’s mid-70s Mothers of Invention, where he expanded into synthesizers and vocal duties, and left a unique mark on Zappa’s music. Rounding out the quartet was John Scofield, their the wild card: young, with a short resume and killer guitar chops.

As they toured, the Cobham and Duke band could’ve taken their lead from any of their members past: comedy rock, hard-driving funk or rhythmically complex jazz-fusion. Instead, they drew on all of these to become something else: a band who could be funky and pulsating with energy at one moment and only go off into a spoken interlude or weird spacey improvisations. At their best, they jammed hard and fast; at their worst, their antics were probably fun in person, but don’t translate to records.

Which, unfortunately, was how the only official document of this band shows them. “Live” on Tour in Europe is a mixed bag, an out-of-focus snapshot of a band dwelling on what doesn’t work and offering only glimpses of the band in full flight. “Space Lady” is a Zappa-esque monologue by Duke about an alien; “Frankenstein at the Disco” is a extended drum solo which overstays it’s welcome.

Fortunately, there are bootlegs of this tour, in, particularly a very good one from Hempstead on March 19, 1976. Let’s dive in.

Things in Hempstead start in full swing with a version of Cobham’s “Panhandler,” where Scofield unleashes on an extended solo, and the band deftly segues into an energetic “Floop De Loop,” and the slow groove of “East Bay,” each song giving them ample room to solo and jam; after nearly half an hour, they finally take a breather and Cobham introduces the band.

Billy Cobham & George Duke Band :: Panhandler

“This ain’t no Frank Zappa concert,” says a laughing Cobham. It’s not: it’s driving, it’s funky and it’s a full of tight musicianship: Scofield’s sizzling guitar, Johnson’s electric bass and Cobham’s propulsive drumming. There aren’t any cheesy jokes, any ironic covers or 10-minute guitar solos. At the same time, the influence of Zappa on Duke’s stage presence is undeniable: the silly monologues and spacey keyboard improvisations are all holdovers from Duke’s time as a Mother. Later, they’ll even cover two Zappa songs: “Echidna’s Arf,” blasting through its tricky passages with élan, and the slow groove of “Uncle Remus” (both also appeared on a then-recent Duke record). The evening closes with a slow, extended version of Johnson’s “Involuntary Bliss,” where the band stretches out and Scofield’s guitar sizzles against Duke’s keyboards.

The band plays well throughout, but Cobham’s drumming is especially on point: he’s all over the place, drumming fast and hard, but never overwhelms the rest of the band. Things really come together on “Earthlings,” where his drumming pushes the band forward and raises the tension. Before long, he’s going so hard and fast you’d swear there was a second kit. This was an interesting tour for Cobham; in an interview with Down Beat, he claimed he’d get so deep into a groove he’d have astral projections and watch himself drumming from up above the stage.

Billy Cobham & George Duke Band :: Earthlings

After this show in Hempstead, the band continued playing: there was a string of dates in Europe, including a nice set at the Montreux Jazz Festival and finally some more shows in the US that fall. But after about a year, everyone went their own ways; “Live” On Tour In Europe would be the Billy Cobham-George Duke Band’s only official release.

With Cobham’s solo records getting the reissue treatment – Rhino/Atlantic released a box of his early 70s records last year – maybe there’s some more of this band still in the vaults. And given the popularity of Weather Report’s recent live box set, there’s a market, too. But until then, this set’ll do nicely. words / m milner

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Nashville guitar journeyman William Tyler is set to release Modern Country June 3rd via Merge Records. His fourth full-length, the record is self-described as “a love letter to what we’re losing in America, to what we’ve already lost.” Tyler guests on my SIRIUS show this Friday, his set presented here as Sebastian Speaks – A Mixtape. The artists, in his own words, below . . .

I woke up this morning from a dream about the end of the world. It started in a coffee shop in Nashville, there’s a long line out the door and the credit card machine won’t work. There’s a big boom and all the electricity goes off. I run out of the coffee shop, get to my car, and start driving out of the city as quickly as I can. Only one radio station comes through and I can deduce there has been a catastrophic series of earthquakes, knocking out most of the nation’s big cities and power grids. As my car eases into the Tennessee countryside the radio station disappears into a melodic hum of static and I chase the sunrise. As I write this I am at my friend Michael Slaboch’s house in Berrien County, Michigan. We’re only an hour from Chicago, I can hear the morning traffic report on my radio, but in the measured calm of the countryside it feels a universe and a century away. I spend a lot of time driving through the front roads and back roads of the country and like most  people harnessed to cars, I gauge music by how good it is for driving. This mix is meant to mirror a back roads drive, catching an oldies station or a sermon or a baseball game on some unknown AM frequency. Hope for spring time and yearning for the stillness of the rural contrast to the anxiety of the city. – William Tyler, April 2016

Aquarium Drunkard Presents: Sebastian Speaks – A Mixtape

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The Brian Jonestown Massacre may have just celebrated a 25th anniversary, but it’s little surprise that there wasn’t a big to-do, as Anton Newcombe has always believed in pushing forward and not looking back. We caught up with Newcombe via Skype last week, from his home in Berlin, to discuss (among other things) his thought on recording, the music industry and…war.

Aquarium Drunkard: So, you’re in the middle of recording a new record…

Anton Newcombe: Well, several of them, yeah.

AD: And the Jonestown one, since you’ve been posting a lot of the previews online via twitter and such, it looks like it’s the first time that the touring members of the BJM have been in the studio with you in a while. And you’ve got Tess Parks.

Anton Newcombe: Well, all kinds of things are happening. I just write. The band happened to be here to track after we played Manchester, so they did some stuff. Now Tess is here doing some stuff helping me out.

AD: Just this morning you shared “Fingertips” with Tess on vocals and it sounds great. You brought out a side of her voice that I’d never heard before — she’s singing in a higher register, which made me think about how you’ve worked with so many different people on various projects and how you bring out unique things in them. How do you feel about that?

Anton Newcombe: Well, I don’t know. You know that’s up to the song inspiring. She felt the same thing. I mean, we were just talking a minute ago and she said, ‘Oh, I can hit those high notes, I just don’t.’ (laughs)

IMGP4632Our weekly two hour show on SIRIUS/XMU, channel 35, can be heard twice every Friday – Noon EST with an encore broadcast at Midnight EST.

SIRIUS 430: Jean-Michel Bernard – Générique Stéphane ++ The Cleaners From Venus – Clara Bow (Back Wages version) ++  Felt – Something Sends Me To Sleep ++ Parquet Courts – Paraphrased ++ Stomu Yamash’ta’s Red Buddha Theatre – Awa Odori ++ Faust – It’s A Bit of A Pain ++ Stomu Yamash’ta’s East Wind – Rian Race ++ Guided By Voices – #2 In The Model Home Series ++Cass McCombs – Big Wheel ++ John Cale – Barracuda ++ Les Rallizes Denudés – Night Of The Assassins (AD edit) ++ The Velvet Underground – Sister Ray (AD edit) ++ Jimi Hendrix – Happy Birthday ++ Can – Mother Sky ++ The Fall – Totally Wired ++ A Certain Ratio – Shack Up ++ The Chills – Pink Frost ++ Cate Le Bon – I Can’t Help You ++ The Only Ones – The Whole of Law ++ Ultimate Painting – Kodiak ++  Wire – Pink Flag ++ The Fall – What You Need ++ Wire – Outdoor Miner ++ Les Olivensteins – Fier De Ne Rien Faire (démo) ++ Ty Segall – Cat Black ++ The Vaselines – Slushy ++ Omni – Wire ++ Ty Segall – Diversion ++ White Fence – Swagger Vets & Double Moon ++ Destroyer – Times Square ++ Billy Changer – Chiller ++ ゆらゆら帝国 – おはようまだやろう ++ Serge Gainsbourg – Melody

*You can listen, for free, online with the SIRIUS three day trial — just submit an email address and they will send you a password.
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41ikUV7vqmL._SS280The New York City-based Texans of Parquet Courts have been responsible for some of the best post-punk rock & roll of the last half-decade. Coupling Wire and Silver Jews-style riffs with Reed and Richman cadences, songwriters Andrew Savage and Austin Brown are among the wittiest observationalists working in the indie rock landscape.

They’ve also proved themselves an ambitious bunch. Starting with their excellent debut, Light Up Goldthe band’s stayed on an artistically restless tear: Sunbathing Animal found ways to sweat more soul out of their taut framework; Content Nausea found Brown and Savage getting loose; Monastic Living was wild and improvisational.

The band’s latest, Human Performance, is their boldest, most confident record yet. It’s a big record, tackling big themes and employing big sounds, but specific too. Forgive the hyperbole, but it’s like the band’s London Calling or Green or Double Nickels on the Dime, the sound of a young band challenging itself, opening up, and creating the most personal record it could, cracking the format open and solidifying what makes the band tick.

Recorded over multiple sessions, at Sonelab in Western Massachusetts, at the Wilco Loft in Chicago, and at the Dreamland Studios in upstate New York, a former Pentecostal church which doubled as the band’s lodging while recording, Human Performance is the result of more time, editing, and creative pushing than anything the band has ever put to tape.

“This was a different process by design,” Brown says over the phone from Marfa, Texas, where the band played the Marfa Myths festival alongside experimental composer William Basinski, Fred and Toody of Dead Moon, Heron Oblivion, and other heady peers. “We wanted to get different results. Just all around, we wanted to make it as different as we could.”

The band succeeded. “Berlin Got Blurry” incorporates a newfound cowpunk twang, “I Was Just Here” lurches with punk funk swagger, and the title track is the most affecting thing the group’s ever released. But the song most out of left field is “Captive of the Sun,” incorporating hip-hop influences and dense, layered production.

For Brown, the song represented something crucial. Though he wrote it as a “typical” Parquet Courts song, a “fast, screaming” punk rock thing, he wasn’t satisfied by it. In fact, the song upset him. He kept thinking, “I don’t hear any of myself in this song.” The thought persisted: “I’m not getting anything out of this.”