Reviews: The Inner Banks, Marriages, Redgrave

Anthony Mark Happel

Image Courtesy of Chris Piascik

Aloha, everyone. Coming to you from the home state of the newly minted VP candidate, Paul “Don’t call me Eddie Munster” Ryan, whose hero is Ayn (rhymes with “swine”) Rand, and whose biggest accomplishment in Congress was to vote for every Bush spending measure. Really taking a fiscal leadership role there.

For anyone who wondered about where Mitt Romney stood on anything, I think you have your answer now.Ryan is the biggest cheerleader for not only dismantling Medicare “to save it,” he is one of those fiscal conservatives who are passionately in lust with Wall Street, and he wants to take the Social Security Trust Fund and hand it over to the brokers in NYC for them to do with as they please, no questions asked. The reason for this is because the feds keep raiding the trust to pay for other things and that really irks these fiscal penny-pinchers. (Funny how they never care about pinching when it’s the Pentagon asking.) They don’t like the borrowing and spending and they claim this will bankrupt the trust.

The answer, of course, is more Wall Street, because they did such a good job in the last meltdown when they lost trillions of dollars that belonged to the middle-class. But we’ll overlook that because we want them to like us. Ryan is a destroyer of worlds. He’s one of those guys who hates the government and what it can do for people so much that he had to go into politics to tear it down. But he’s also a hypocrite. Despite his family’s wealth he used Social Security survivor benefits to go to college after his dad died, something he never fully explains, but now he thinks Wall Street can do a better job with that money than the federal government, so we have to dismantle it to save it, like Medicare. A lot hinges on this election. Not the least of which is how much more money will Republicans allow Wall Street to steal from the middle-class. I shudder to think… Let’s talk music. Here are several more records that have been hanging around for a while. I’ve hit the motherlode of good stuff and all of these are worthy candidates. Back with more soon. Keep on keepin’ on…

The Inner Banks, Wild (Dag)

The cover shot of this album is reminiscent of Chokebore’s album, A Taste For Bitters. Coincidence? Hmmm… Brooklyn’s Inner Banks is the husband and wife team of Caroline Schutz and David Gould, along with assorted friends on this album, and both of them apparently have music in their souls. Caroline’s grandmother was a Broadway singing star in the 1920s and David holds a Master’s degree in ethnomusicology. He also founded the label on which they record. Together they’ve parented a band that is largely indefinable at its core. Their songs are so full of various particles that all fuse together so seamlessly that one is immediately lost in the netherworld they create. “Wild” is a chilled- out country-flavored ode to the road that channels a pinch of Bob Seger, maybe: “There you go on the road again/There you go on a stage/Take me somewhere you know I’ve never been/Take me somewhere far away…” “Box and Crown” is excellent art-pop; the surf guitar and violin combo is just right, and Caroline’s earthy and airy vocals are pure gold. “Ana Peru” is like re-living the very best of the Slumberland label, and it maybe borrows a hook from Billy Idols’ “White Wedding.” Ethereal flourishes on numerous songs bring about a glistening, humid, majestic meta-pop that’s colored in a hundred different shades and moves in a hundred different directions. The second half eventually melts into a more relaxed, lazy-drug state, as evidenced by the slow and dreamy “Trees” and “Pacemaker,” and I’m fast running out of descriptive terms to make the point. Suffice to say this fucking awesome recording is among the finest of 2012. Sorry it took me so long to get on it.

Naama Kates, The Unexamined Life (Mount Cyanide)

Naama Kates is an example of re-invention. She arrived in L.A. in 2008 and began an acting career that took her to the television heights of NCIS, and she also found feature film work in several indie movies. “But, Hollywood was lonely and I never really owned a television,” she says in her press kit. So, she bought a Yamaha keyboard, hooked up with producer Cyrus Melchor and re-discovered her youthful obsession with music. Slowly, she turned what had become a depressive state into songs that would find their way onto her debut album. She deconstructs the duality of the Hollywood existence through her themes and performs a catharsis that has apparently freed her creative spirit. She has found her bliss, at least for now. “Before You Lose It” ambles in slowly on piano and drums and her vocals glide over the top with a smooth, controlled delivery that eventually leads us to a big, loud finish in the last 30 seconds. Then, on “Bleeding Heart,” she comes out of her shell with a bold, emphatic swing. She has a strong, technicolor vocal presence and her presentation is Amanda Palmer-esque at times. Just check the piano rumble on “In The Twilight.” “When I’m Good” is very good, with a fractured melody and personality to spare. And “Between The Lines” is a substantive emotional statement with a great piano hook. There are a few moments throughout the album that come in contact with The Pretenders, and Chrissie Hynde is another apparent touchstone. Sadly, female singer/songwriters who expose themselves emotionally often get sequestered into their own camp separate from the males, as if their songs aren’t as substantial. Their work should be viewed without bias, but they also deserve to maintain their own gender identities as artists. This personal journey of self-examination has become a universally captivating musical manifesto. Job well done. Let’s hear it for girl power.

Marriages, Kitsune (Sargent House)

This is a “side-project” of Red Sparrowes members Emma Ruth Rundle, Greg Burns and David Clifford, and as a debut (also available on LP) it presents a dark and dirty face. Anyone out there remember the New York City-based band Dust Devils? How about Live Skull? If you do, you’re in the ballpark. Marriages are definitely rooted in some of that early '90s NYC grime and gloom. Sadly, the songs don’t all live up to that heady challenge. Sure, it’s dank and depressing in spots, but so are a lot of other bands. The quality of the songs is what sets you apart. And while it’s moderately intriguing to hear this kind of thing again, I have to ask, where’s the grand statement, or, hell, even a grand gesture of some kind? There are no songs that really dig way down and pull out your guts like they rightfully should. It never rises to the level of its forebears and it feels like an exercise in settling for less. And that’s a really dumb name.

Rec Center, Tin Year (New Granada)

Tampa Bay’s Susie Ulrey was in an “emo” band called Pohgoh and Michael Waksman was in a band called The Washdown, and in Rec Center they have joined forces as co-leaders and co-songwriters. Susie’s husband, Keith, is the drummer. She plays electric piano and guitar and wrote nine of the songs, while Waksman wrote four, and each of them handles lead vocals on their own songs. Ulrey’s elusive voice floats high at times, and at a couple points it goes so opaque it practically dissipates into thin air, leaving only loose particles hanging aloft and dropping the notes into the sour ocean of infinity. There are a few passages wherein she creates a quasi- tone poem out of the melody line. Waksman’s rendering of “Soft Pursuit” is delicate and relaxed, and the structure made me mindful of early Aztec Camera. Sometimes the pristine vocals are a little too lightweight, but that’s a minor critique. Susie’s voice is reason enough for this band to exist, and she has a lot to sing about. She was diagnosed with M.S. in 2001, and the emotional “Monster in your Heart” came out of that experience. Some wide spectrum 1970s moves are on display at certain points, and they even introduce some cello on “Swimming,” and provide some tasty understated chamber rock on “Stolen.” They do wander off course on occasion and the songs can lose focus, but their judgment is mostly right on the money. The question now is, where to go from here?

Redgrave, National Act (Lovitt)

This duo’s five-song E.P. knocked me on my ass right out of the box. Singer/guitarist Angie Mead is an amazing one-woman wrecking crew, a dynamo of dirt rock. “Dick Moves” has some serious Black Angels grease smeared all over it, from the ghostly vocals to the despondent, stabbing lead guitar moans, and when Angie roars like she’s Ann Wilson’s other more pissed-off younger sister she brings it all back home again. Drummer Stephen Howard, who also plays guitar and bass pedals, holds it all together with a relaxed sense of timing that hits all the right notes and leaves lots of space for the sustain of the guitar notes to linger in the mix, but they never just rely on Rat pedal distortion, opting for more texture. “Custom A” has an odd cough-syrup semi-sluggishness that launches into bursts of quasi-noise, while Angie wails “How long…?” Kind of like Heart jamming with the Melvins, with Mark Farner in the room. Then the flex-blues of “Assault Song” just goes off and steals the show with a guitar/vocal one- two punch that would make Jon Spencer bob his head. I‘m inclined to say, at first, she almost sounds like the offspring of Maria McKee and Kat Bjelland, but after a few passes she really just sounds like Angie Mead. The songs take over your head right quickly and then more of the various dimensions of her vocals emerge. Holy shnikes, this woman has got it going on! This is hands down one of the top ten records of the year!

Wrinkle Neck Mules, Apprentice To Ghosts (Lower 40/Blue Rose)

This Richmond, VA five-piece has five albums under their belts and have established a strange cult following, mostly deep down south. This album was released via a partnership between an Atlanta label and a German label. According to the band, they’re “a rock skeleton with bluegrass blood and country skin…” Okay. “On Wounded Knee” sounds quite a bit like the great Lucero (it’s hard to get around them if you play this kind of music right now), and there’s some Drive-By Truckers hiding in there as well. Surprise! The title track is handsomely honky tonk-ish, and “Leaving Chattanooga” is catchy and twangy in a Bottle Rockets kind of way. They even name-check Lookout Mountain, TN., proving they might actually know something about the place. “Patience in the Shadows” is somewhat more alt-country pedestrian than the other tracks, but it’s really the only weak song on the entire album.

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