Head to Pretty Little Empire to buy the mp3's of their stellar new album, Sweet Sweet Hands. You can read a review of the album on my blog posting below. Help support artists who do it all on their own!!!
tUne-yArDs is Merrill Garbus , a one-woman musical wrecking crew. Bird Brains is a beautifully balanced musical kaleidoscope that uses everything from ukulele to hand-held digital field recordings. It is a D-I-Y album that has imperfections like restarts and red-lighted eq's that add to the overall loose feel. It sounds chaotic at times, but it is an ordered chaos.
The first track, "For You", mixes Merrill's beautiful beautiful vocals and a simple but effective ukulele to create a short, restrained pop song.
The percussion on "Sunlight" is a loose simple jazz beat that augments the catchy pop ukulele hook. Merrill's vocals raise higher and higher as she sings 'I could be the sunlight in your eyes, couldn't I , couldn't I?' The last chorus is a busy sonic landscape with many parts that work well in concert.
"Lions" is a sound collage of found sounds including birds tweeting and car engine sounds accompanying a ukulele. 'I'm so angry at you goody two shoes punch you in the nose. We could pretend it's Christmas while we're out here in this box, while my brother and all his friends without their tiny teeny trucks. If I scream they'll hear us...' Merrill wails as the fervor of her singing matches the frustration in the lyrics.
The vocal collage opening on "Hatari" gives way to funky ukulele riff. The vocals here are reminiscent of a tribal chant. These elements make for an infectious groove. The bottom of the percussion drives this song with insistence. Ukulele brings a Hawaiian flavor on "News". The eclectic percussion here and production make this song sound like it's coming from an old phonograph. The harmonies on this song are beautiful.
The overall experimental nature of Bird Brains is impressively balanced with traditional pop hooks. This album is a hybrid of a hybrid. Each one of these unique ukulele based songs have a different shading and the end result is a full color palette of sound. I wish I could be in Merrill's head when the genesis of these songs started running around.
The albums list on Jamendo grows more and more exhaustive every day. They are up to 25 thousand and counting with hundreds added monthly. I have become a big fan of the French bands that play alt/rock, 90's guitar music, all of which you can find and download for FREE on Jamendo.
Clownage is an alt rockband that has a great lead singer and really good production. Ballads and rockers are on Premiere maux.
La Curiosite Tua La Chat have a swing to their big guitars and funk bass lines. It definitely has an Anthrax feel to it. The vocals go from whisper quiet to a controlled scream. Also here a trippy bounce reminiscent of 311.
Godon is : Jazz like guitar screaming riffs, check. Heavy funk bass lines, check. Stacatto dums, check. Half spoke, half howled vocals, check. All of that adds up to a band very similar to Living Colour. But they are not simply aping LC's style. They certainly have the chops to make all of these elements work.
Zero echo Smashing Pumpkins with clean tone guitar followed by big buzz guitar. Whispered vocals give way to controlled climb up the register.
Fresh Body shop sound similar to NIN. Their sound leans toward more traditional at times than NIN.
Adam Ashbach's voice is the calling card for Puzzle Pieces. The Ex - Musical Outfits front-man knows how to use the full range of his voice to create pop songs that stand out. There is a clean full production throughout this ep.
The build-up of Adam's vocals on "8 Years With Betty" go from a quiet statement to a loud plea.
Flourishes of marching drum beats are strategically placed in smart fashion on "Everything", the stand-out track on this ep. The backing falsetto vocals and sax give this songs soulful quality that is in the tradition of 70's Mowtown.
"Warning" is a contemplative love song that uses the warm tone of Adam's vocals as a blanket to cover the minimal instrumentation. There is a beautiful simple vibe here that works well.
This is just an ep, so I am interested to see if there are more songs coming. For my money the tracks that use less traditional means work the best here. Adam is a good songwriter who emotionally connects with his lyrics . It is his earnest approach to these songs that connect with the listener the most.
Sometimes the background information on how an album was recorded is pertinent information and sometimes it's not. In the case of Wilderness it is very important. After listening to the subdued and sublime melodic trip of the songs on this album I am not surprised that Josh Mease recorded a good deal of this in a closet in his Brooklyn apartment. He then mixed it in his native Denton, Texas. The title of Wilderness is apt as Josh's songs evoke the wilderness, whether it be NY or Texas.
"You Found Me" has a Beatles-esque rhythm with softly soaring vocals. The change in tempo here is nice and swells at times with a wink to 70's pop production.
The third song, "Neon Ghost" has subtle glockenspiel accents and dreamily whispered vocals. The bedroom closet recording gives this song an intimate feel.
After 12 to 15 listens of Wilderness, "White Diamonds" is the melody that has me humming time and time again. With a swelling, full production in the bridge, it is anchored in 70's production with Josh's vocals keeping a foot in the present.
Beautiful Beach Boys like harmonies start out "Eleanor". 'So time will tell, maybe I'll know you well, you don't have much to say but words just get in the way'.
Electric guitar comes to the front for "On and On". The distorted solo here is a nice change from the sonic texture of the rest of the album. More sweet melodies that build into a crescendo.
The album closer, "Tall Trees" shows more of Josh's inventive nature. On this song the piano is played with an Asian flair. Other backing sounds give you the visual of a Japanese countryside.
Josh has managed to infuse Wilderness with a relative calm. He uses the energy of New York City and not the loudness. He defers from using the larger than life qualities of Texas and instead focuses on the isolation that such a big place can impose on it's residents. Josh separated himself from people while recording this album. This allowed him to devoutly follow the concept of a Wilderness whether it be in New York or Texas. The end result is a singular vision delivered with great melodies.
I can't wait to hear what Josh's next album sounds like.
If you would like to enjoy this album as much as I did, you can get it here: frogstand records, and also at i-tunes and amazon.
Josh is also on tour NOW, so check out his shows on his artist site: josh mease.
Justin Johnson from Pretty Little Empire was kind enough to answer a few questions about their new album, Sweet Sweet Hands, due out Oct. 26 at pretty little empire. Hailing from St. Louis, MO. they play an infectious brand of alt- folk/pop music that is sprinkled with Western and punk. If you haven't already then check out my album review of Sweet Sweet Hands.
Where did you come up with the name Pretty Little Empire?
I was thinking up names for Will’s other band at the time. We were working together but not playing music together at the time. I did not like their name and was trying to come up with a few new ones. They did not end up using any of the names I came up with. Not too long after that, the band Will was in, and the band Wade and I were in ended. We formed this new group soon after and the name came up again.
The production from song to song give this whole album a sound even if the tempo and instrumentation change. Did you guys do the production yourself? Was there a sound you were aiming for?
Yes we did the album ourselves. Will has a 16 track recorder in his apartment. He produced and recorded the album in our practice space/his living room. When we started it was simply just a few late night recordings after Will and I would get out of work. I would start playing something on acoustic and Will would turn on the recorder. Some of it sounded started sounding pretty cool. We let everybody listen and then started trying to get that intimate late night feel sound for the rest of the record.
Tell us a little about the change in band members for PLE. How is the sound going to change with this new line up?
We have had quite a change in the last few months or so. Hannah who played guitar/vocals wanted to focus more on finishing school. She played her last show with us in July and helped finish the rest of the record in June. We thought about going on as a three piece but ended up getting Evan O Neil to come in as a drummer. Will moved up front on guitar and vocals. Hannah will be missed greatly. She definitely helped in shaping the quiet simplicity of our sound. I do see things changing quickly. We have a much fuller more aggressive sound now , but try to still keep things simple. Evan is also a songwriter, so we are working on a few of his songs right now too. Things have been very busy for us the last few months. Is there a full scale tour in the works?
At this point we are still getting our bearings with the new lineup. We do plan to do a few out of town shows this year. I think though at this time a full tour will have to wait until we get ourselves more organized, musically and financially. Now that you have the first record done is there something else you would like do do sonically, new instruments?
We do want to experiment, and add more elements to the sound. Some of our new songs sound different and have a more layered rock and roll feel. We plan to get into a real studio during the winter to record these new songs. Though we love the lo-fi sound of this first record, we would love to try for a bigger sound on this next one. Tell us how you guys feel about the whole label thing. Interested in signing to one?
Since we are just starting out the idea of labels has not really entered into our minds. We are just working hard right now to get our record out next month and hope people will take a listen.
One of my favorite bands at one of my favorite venues. I went with my wife and good friend Erik. It turned out to be every bit as good as I thought it would. They blazed through 22 songs with very few breaks. They opened up with "Middle Man" and "Desperate People" from their debut album Vivid. The versions were updated but still had the vibe of the originals.
Next up was "Go Away" from their heavy metal album Stain. A video was beamed onto the screen behind the band throughout the show, but in this song really worked well as they showed starving Africans as lead singer Corey Glover sang 'I see the starving Africans on TV...I feel it has nothing to do with me...I sent my $20 to Live Aid...I paid my guilty conscience to go away.'
"Funny Vibe" (Vivid) followed and bassist Doug Wimbash with the heavy funk bass on this song.
One of the highlights of other Living Colour shows I've been to did not disappoint at this show. "Bi" is a sexually charged tale that has the cautionary tale of be careful what you wish for. Corey puts a lot of suggestive movements with body parts and his eyes and breathes 'My lover told me that she's bi... I wanted to scream...there were tears in my eyes, she said baby, baby don't you cry cause the I am with you've been seeing on the side'.
Will Calhoun's drum solo was an interesting blend of standard drums and also electronic sounds. The rest of the band at this point left to catch a breath. Will has so many influences from so many cultures in his drumming it's impossible to name them all. He is an amazing drummer.
"Open Letter to A Landlord', my favorite track from Vivid is an emotionally charged song that the band was able to bring across well on stage.
Next they played "Burned Bridges", "The Chair", "Decadance", "Young Man", Method" and "Behind the Sun", all from their new album The Chair In The Doorway. (I'll be doing a review of it in another week). The high point in this block of songs was on "Decadance", Vernon broke a guitar string, and Cory had a couple of quips about how this "shit still happens after all these years". These new songs were good, but I haven't had a full chance to digest and break them down. So for now I can say the crowd loved them. All of the LC shows I've been to, the crowd has been informed and there is no silly screaming for "Cult Of Personality". The fans always know and sing along with the band on all songs.
The highlight of the night for the crowd came next as LC slid into "Papa Was A Rollin Stone". I have never seen them play this and the crowd really appreciated this cover of the Temptations classic. Corey turned this into a sing along for the crowd and everyone responded.
Funk laden, "Glamour Boys"(Vivid) has Doug holding down a bouncing bass line. "
After playing a couple of songs from The Chair In The Doorway, they played "Time's Up" at a frantic pace .
Then it was "Cult Of Personality" just before they left the stage. Another sing along.
The the first encore was "Love Rears It's Ugly Head" (Time's Up). Corey and Vernon went all out on this one. Then the last song, their cover of Hendrix "Crosstown Traffic". Somehow they managed to inject even more swing than the original.
Living Colour have been together, with this line-up, for over 15 years. They are a tight unit live that always manages to have a few tricks up their sleeve. If you get a chance I would highly suggest that you go see Living Colour.
Pretty Little Empire has crafted an album that vacillates between alt-folk and western music with campfire storytelling underpinnings. Justin Johnson handles most of the guitar and lead vocals. William Godfred plays drums and guitar as well as lead vocals on a couple of songs. Wade Durbin plays bass and adds vocals. Hannah Maxwell pitches in too with some instruments as well as beautiful background vocals. All of the vocals dovetail nicely. Their harmonies range from sweet and easy to loose and off kilter depending upon the tone they are going for. Glockenspiel, saw, upright bass, xylophone and trumpet are all used on Sweet Sweet Hands in small amounts that make the album a complete sound.
The wandering guitar line that starts"Piercing Blue Eyes", the album opener, sets the stage for a campfire sing along. The layered vocals add an extra depth and insistence to the subject matter, a broken heart. The refrain states 'staring me down with those piercing blue eyes you beat me down again, oh you beat me down again'.
"Good Morning Early Riser" features lonely trumpet flourishes, played by Andy Laisher, echoes the wistful nature of someone admitting they were wrong. 'How places change and faces change for us. And our loyalty is always at a loss...and I had it wrong".
"Never Said Much" is a punk charged sing along with a call and response that evokes big band swing jazz.
"Give It Time To Turn Around" features beautifully restrained vocals. Hannah sings background vocals that are sweet and soft. The lyrics are delivered with the emphasis on the last syllable that is repeated to good effect, ' I have nothing left to show -ow-ow-ow'.
An eerie warble from a saw ,played by Andy Laisher, gives "Baby Boy Killer" a dream like feel. This emphasizes the surreal subject matter of a child who grows up as a killer.
The tempo quickens on "Get Up and Go". The far away sound of the backing vocals gives this an urgent and displaced feel.
"A Long Time For Laughter" is a plaintive love song. The smart lyrics reveal the story between two lovers. 'You wanted babies, I wanted a war, now our bodies are meant for nothing but chores'. In this song a few words go a long way.
The sum of all the parts on Sweet Sweet Hands leaves the listener humming more than one of the melodies. There is an overall bright and dreamy feel that the music, vocals, and production have an equal part in creating. Pretty Little Empire understands the best way to tell a good story musically is to use a little restraint and leave a little to the listener's imagination. I often review just the "highlight" tracks but I found that this album is deep with beautifully crafted songs.
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