There is not much more that will make you question exactly what it is you are doing as a music writer than driving to Tucson with Guitar-Tech-God Ryan King. Just listening to songs as we drove, listening to him talk about the intricacies he could hear coming through those strings made me realize how little I really do know about music. I know poetry. I know emotion. And I know what I like, and what resonates with me; that is how I approach almost everything I write about. But preparing to write a review of a record on which Ryan King is actually playing – gave me pause.
As we drove along the I-10, we talked about Gin Blossoms, and how their signature guitar sound is to switch to an off key chord at the very end of a song. We talked about how amazingly funny it is to see how closely Ryan can mimic Thomas Laufenberg (Pistoleros / Dead Hot Workshop) on guitar. We talked about the skill set that makes Ryan such an asset for bands playing on stage. And I was reminded of a comparison that I made while writing Nostalgic Fusion, my review of Paper Foxes new album. We as artists are a blending of what we have seen and experienced. We take in everything, like sponges, and something of all the things we love, combines and infuses what we have in ourselves, and it becomes something new. Example: if I had a chance to not only read the works of say Edgar Alan Poe and Stephen King, but also work with them, travel with them to signings, talk to them like a peer, and continually be surrounded by their influence – how could it not immediately affect me as an artist? I mean…. Ghost Songs comes to mind. This is what is so cool, and unique, about Ryan King. At root, he is a fantastic student, and one who chose his teachers very carefully. It shows very strongly on the debut album from Sliced Limes.
Once more, returning to this idea of Nostalgic Fusion, the more I have written about Arizona Independent Music, the more I have started to sink my teeth into an understanding of what exactly is going on right now in Indie Rock. With Paper Foxes I talked about this wonderful connection to Joy Division, Interpol and New Order, so much so that it immediately brings back those memories, but it is combined with something new and modern that makes it exciting and once again – as if it had ever really stopped – relevant. This feeling is true with many of our local bands. Defining genre is almost more difficult than it has ever really been because the entire feel of music right now is to break down those barriers and fuse different styles. Sliced Limes are another qualifier to this thesis.
What happens when you take that voice, that iconic sound that Joe Jackson has, something that is so 80s but also so Lounge Lizard Crooner at the same time, but take it from being piano based to laced with the jangle pop guitar of someone who honed their skills in the Arizona desert with the Rock Legends of Tempe. You get something totally different, and unique. You get…. Sliced Limes.
That sense of nostalgia fused with something new and exciting will be perfectly on display at the Sliced Limes album release this Friday night at Last Exit Live. Two veteran bands filled with Arizona Rock n Roll Hall of Fame members and a future Tempe Town Councilman, Ghetto Cowgirl and Pistoleros, will open and close the show for the brand new Sliced Limes. The show is brought to you by Fervor Records and Tall Paul Productions. Talk about endorsements! So… mark down Friday on your calendar, and let’s get to this record!
Back to riding to Tucson with Ryan King, and this song comes on as we are listening to the record. I said, “Okay, Max’s vocal, they aren’t Spandeau Ballet and they aren’t Tears for Fears, but they are making me think of that swoony 80s ballad singing.” Ryan pulled up “Stepping Out” and said, “He actually gets Joe Jackson quite a bit.” That comparison, that nostalgia that instantly takes us back in time, like smells from our Mother’s kitchen, leaps right out of this first track. But as soon as you think you have it nailed, you start to realize that the only real comparison to those old bands ends at the sound of Max’s voice. The music you are hearing underneath it, is something very different: a juxtaposition you are used to hearing. This was my thought upon first turning on this record. Each song was going to be like a Delorean, holding me suspended in my love of the music of my youth, but firmly rooting me in the instrumentation of the present. The other realization right off the jump, is that this album is very nicely mixed. Recorded at STEM Recording with Curtis Grippe, this first song showcases a quality that continues through each track of the record. It is very easy to get drawn into Ryan King’s guitar and Max Rowles’ vocal, but when you allow your ear to focus on the understated Puerto Rican / Latin infused cadence of Alex Lopez’s drums, or the solid back-beat rhythm laid down by Tim Caggiano on Bass and Kyle Trueba on guitar – they leap forward, and it is possible to focus on each part. As I was saying at the top, the big difference between the 80s crooners and Max is layering that vocal over guitars rather than heavy keys, but even the subdued clarity of Dan Lecavalier’s keys are easy to pinpoint and appreciate on this record. Each part is audible, and possible to isolate.
Four Years: One of the first thoughts I had when I first dove into this Sliced Limes record was what an easy listening, happy album it was. Max Rowles’ vocal is playful, quirky, and very easy to just kinda groove along to. (Give it a few listens, you’ll be singin’ along.) But when you dig into the lyrics of what he is actually saying, there is a sarcastic element, a tongue in cheek sense of humor, and I found myself wondering not a few times, if Max wrote his sadness or disappointment into happiness. Like slicing a bitter lime to create the perfect beverage.
Generation Flake: This second song is a great example of these observations. The vocal is spry and playful, and Ryan King (live: Jonny Falasco offers the backing vocals on the record) comes in with a supporting vocal of Ahh’s / ooooos Underneath, and there is almost this du-op quality, almost Beach Boys or BeBop, but the song is about being a flake, not being able to keep dates, always being late, and full of several degrees of bullshit. It is that clashing of expectations, almost Surreal – that sets this band firmly in the category of one that deserves more than just a casual listen. It is feel good music. It is fun. You can easily imagine putting it on for a day alone doing house chores, listening to loud music… but there is more going on underneath the happy Ryan King ahhhs. (Now who said Millennials couldn’t laugh at themselves?)
Makes Sense: What is really awesome on this record, at least for me (as you know, I LOVE Old School Tempe, and Ryan King does too…. but he is 20 years my junior). Listening to him play guitar on this record, you can hear the influences of Doug Hopkins, Thomas Laufenberg, and maybe even a little bit Josh Kennedy. But Max is nothing of that style. He brings in the quality of another era, and sporadically infuses it with some rockin violin! I saw Blue October perform at the Marquee some years ago, and it was the first time I had ever heard a rock band use an electric violin live. Yeah…. Max took me right there. This is a VERY talented band, my friends!
Get Your Life Back: My favorite track on the album, this song has a solid message, a rockin groove, and shows yet another level of Max’s vocal range. The guitar starts out distorted, almost 90s grunge, and Max hips and hops through the verse. It’s not Red Hot… and it’s not a Chili Pepper…. but it might be a Green Tart Sliced Lime ! Yeah… ooooooo…. I’m gonna win this too. This might just be my new Feel Good Anthem!
Late to the Dance: Two take aways from this song. Ryan King’s guitar is like another vocal lead. It has that kind of clarity. And Max can pack a lot into what seems like a simple song. He plays with the speed of his delivery, and can load a lot of words into a song phrase. So as you are bopping through the house, rockin in your socks as you fold the laundry… don’t be surprised if you find yourself thinking some thoughts about all the dances you have been late too… but you just go through the motions anyway.
See You: This is a great love song. It is fun. It pulses with great drum parts. It makes you want to dance…. and it will make you wink at your date and share a secret smile. This is the fun dance at the wedding, newlyweds. Easy top three on the record for me!
That’s Why (I Hate You): Ah, my second favorite song on this delightful debut! This song, is just a wonderfully, happy little song about hate my friends, and that can go a hella long way! Now, Max also breaks a bit of an unwritten rule in entertainment…. and I freaking love it! You know me, my friends! I can also say with relative authority, Marc Norman…. you can probably where whatever shirt you want on Friday. And, last note…. I love saying, “It’s Gone” now in my very best accent impression. Great freaking tune!
Suns & Moons: Another wonderful fusion of instruments. Max returns on the violin, the drum is a solid stand out, and the guitar is more subdued. The bass stands out, and lays down a solid bluesy groove, and Max playfully croons to me as I work on the concrete at the Co….. Didn’t get much sleep….. but I need to Build myself up and find an Ego…. we all know Sure there will be suns and then moons….. there will be nights and high noons….. but let yourself go…. just let go let go let go…. This song is also one of my favorites, as it showcases each member and instrument of this band, and does it over a very interesting song about allowing yourself to rise above the salty lime….. and take flight.
Can’t Fake Love: Listen to this debut single here ! What do you think? Nostalgic Fusion…. Right!
Keep the Greasy Side Down, My Friends…. and I will SEE YOU FRIDAY! Let’s ROCK.