#ThursdayReviews

Once a week I bring you a fresh review of an Arizona Indie Record. Be sure to SUBSCRIBE and SUPPORT THE BANDS ! This Week: Sliced Limes – Self Titled

Sliced Limes

A fusion of something classic and something modern… over ice.

What happens when you take that iconic voice of Joe Jackson, something that is so 80s but also Lounge Lizard Crooner at the same time, and 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. Some time back, I was riding to Tucson with Ryan King, listening to his band’s new 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 the 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: each song was like a Delorean, holding me suspended between the 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.

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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.

The vocal is spry and playful, and there is almost this du-op quality, almost Beach Boys, 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.

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 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!

Two take aways. 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.

And the album plays this way, like a back and fourth game of cat and mouse. Pulsing with great drum parts, lyrics that make you wink at your date and share a secret smile, and a sly wit that smirks with Horation satire and sarcasm. The instrumentation is clear, playful, and a unique fusion of modern licks and nostalgia. You cannot go wrong with Sliced Limes!

#AzIndie #RockLocal #KeepTheGreasySideDown #MaskedAndVaxxed #GetVaxxed #BeSafe

Banana Gun

It’s Rock, It’s Blues, It’s Jazz….. It’s Banana Gun!

Rules

There is something to say about the excitement that comes from listening to a band’s first outing on the Flying Blanket.  You get used to a band, used to the flavor that they bring.  I remember when I was younger knowing about Flood.  I had no idea what a producer really did for a band, but I knew it was a big deal when bands that I liked announced a project with the legendary producer.  I also can remember from my youth and naivete, getting a new album from a much loved band, and not liking it at first.  Depeche Mode Violator comes immediately to mind.  I did not like it at all on the first few listens.  I wanted more Music for the Masses, and this was different.  Now, looking back, what I was picking up on, besides simple artistic evolution, was the producer effect.  The unique sonic experience that comes when a record is made with a certain person.  This was exactly the excitement I was feeling when Rules came in the mail and I got to listen to four new Banana Gun songs.

The first thing you notice is the sheer overall volume and sheer clarity of the recording.  This is not only Bob’s magic, but the mastering magic of The Blasting Room in Fort Collins, Colorado, Bob’s goto studio for mastering and a second set of ears.  Born to Lose opens side A, and it is everything you want from a Banana Gun song.  Great lyrics, powerful vocal delivery, whimsical and fiery keys and strings from Kevin Wiscombe, the boys you can trust Ross and Ian keeping it real down low, and that soothing sax juxtaposed with soaring guitar and of course Kevin Loyd’s versatile voice bringing the emotion to 11.  Lost in the Light is another pure love song from Banana Gun.  I love the chorus of this song, and the layers of the recording swell up again highlighting the multi mic channel talents of Mr. Hoag: this is most evident in the drum tones and Kyle’s sweet sultry voice, which I feel really pops with clarity and power on this record.  Get it opens side B, and I really love this song.  It reminds me of Roger Clyne’s Hello Tiger, it is this nice, friendly, go screw yourself song that tells you to straight Phuk off with a smile.  Lord Have Mercy closes Side B, and it is the highlight of crazy emotion on this record, complete with Kevin’s emotional “Why”’s and Kyle’s dizzying horn playing.  

Also highlighted on this record is the ability to record songs at 45 RPM and put them on 12” vinyl. In another era, a record like this could have easily been a 7”, a ‘45’, but what you gain by putting the project on a full size record is the amazing art of Sid Rhea, the quality of uncompressed sound, and the peace of mind that your baby will not be in a bargain bin hoard, but showcased with the ‘real records’ at your favorite record store.  This is a phenomenal record, 4 brilliant songs, beautifully recorded, and easy to just listen to over and over again.

#AzIndie #RockLocal #KeepTheGreasySideDown

Some artists remind you instantly of their inspirations. Some artists work too hard to hide them.  Some artists are so unique they are drowning flies in the milk of their individuality.  And some bands are so deeply rooted to their journey, so aware of it, so attuned that you are left wondering how that fire has been hidden under an indie bushel for over ten years.  But then, maybe that is not a mystery at all.  The masses have never been known for diving deeply into the realms of the independent spirit.  They leave it there, like diamonds in the depths, misunderstood and questioned, hiding in the dark. Waiting to be found.  In many ways Pete and Andrea Connolly, Birds + Arrows, are the artistic, musical, spiritual and cultural historians of that journey. 

The fiery, phoenix-fury of their revolutionary souls is charted in their departure from folk rock and their Chapel Hill, North Carolina home to land, reborn, free, and wide awake in the desert of Tucson, Arizona.  I first saw the band at Club Congress, opening for the legendary Sidewinders at their Witchdoctor Anniversary show.  Andrea blew me away immediately with her wild sense of fashion, and her absolutely fearless voice.  She screamed. She howled. And the lady can play that guitar.  Good Night!  I saw that show with the notorious Bubba Whicker of Phoenix, and we both bought the band’s seventh full length album, born under the southwestern desert sun of my hometown.  Arbitrary Magic.  When that needle first hits the record, Overloaded comes out of those speakers with this tone and energy that is familiar, but fiercely not, and you are sucked into the crystal constellations mapped in the spirit of these songs.  The opening track holds nothing back with the tragic “the country doesn’t want me so I’m packing it in, stacking it high, I’ve tied it all down… overloaded…. The rich people stare at the overstuffed bear…” Who is this gal?  Is she an immigrant, fleeing the land of the free down the I-10?  Is she a transplant cruising into the southwest and already judged as foreign?  Who are Birds + Arrows?  Fearless.  This – your first barbaric yawp in the desert?  Fearless

Birds + Arrows | OVERLOADED

The needle rides the groove of No Hand Me Downs, and capitalism. Necessity. Wants. Desires. Greed. Slide like sweet fuzzy honey from those guitar riffs like a girl who sings “I wish that every girl could ever want hand-me-downs baby should have given em to charity all i got on me a few ragged tee’s some worn out pants and…. Ohhhh ahhhhh ohhhh ahhhhhh let’s go, scream….. And that guitar whips you into the passion of a fiery individual spirit always on the wrong side of the fence from a private pool, who no longer cares.  She is free. 

She is Adrift…. “With the wind in her sails who can’t tell right from wrong, come on over girl make everything alright, she’s been working till shes tired… she’s been pushing it too hard…. She is down to the wire…. In the doldrums and set adrift” and then Pete, lends his melodious voice to the bridge, I know you’re tired…. And right now you’re afraid…. I know sometimes you think we’re crazy from those choices that we made…. But I can hold you“.

FEARLESS

And those opening songs, those three songs, tell you a story.  A story of love.  A story of inspiration. A story of spiritual journey and discovery. 

Pete and Andrea Connolly

But the first side of Arbitrary Magic still has rings on the vinyl, and Stay Down… does not let you wriggle free from the spell the displaced duo is spinning.  The song starts off almost like a throwback to the Carolinas of the past, if it was fuzzy and plugged in, and Andrea brings the blues and the rock n roll and the power of that vocal harmonizing with Pete from behind the drum kit…. “Stay Down…. Stay Down, Don’t you move…. Stand your Ground…. Feel the Power Shift and Grove“. And you aren’t moving.  You are feeling that vibe.  And you are not going anywhere. 

But that unquestioning, I know myself, do you know you confidence just keeps on coming, all the way through the country, twangy, steel guitar pining that rips into a rocking guitar beat with a voice that could make Linda Rondstat smile “your a vintage girl….. It is all just wearing me out….. But I wanted to look good for you“ of All Souls Sell Out to the needle spinning soundless at the label.  And the only emotional relief you get, from the poetry, from the haunting self reflection of those lyrics, is the distance you walk to turn the lavender vinyl over to Side B.  Where the crisp, clean guitar tone thrills out of the speakers and that haunting voice that has spellbound you, comes right back with those troubling thoughts…. “I guess I Guess I don’t know why I hung you out to dry or why oh why we go the distance that we drive“….. And you are with this couple, who like their website says, has left the honeymoon of North Carolina behind, and driven the distance to the sun and the cactus…. To set their souls on fire.  San Jacinto is a movingly, original tribute to the beautiful song of a twisted and savagely scarred past, marked across the land that the Birds +Arrows have just traveled.

Peter Gabriel’s San Jacinto

Their Animatronic Hearts are pure when they ask “why some people fly and some people can’t” over the tone of a simly gentle acoustic guitar that might fool you into thinking this song is a beer run. It is not. It is the poignant introspection of the perfect ending back on your feet…. shuffling through the dust

And the magic they weave is real.  And this Arizona Native…. Welcomes the power of their righteous free fury to the desert with open arms.  Someone asked me once, Ryan do you ever just light someone up? Just let em have it? Sure…. But why would I write about it…. Or expect you to want to listen to it.  Do Not Pass on Arbitrary Magic.  This album is a Vortex.  Just ask Bubba. #SupportSmallBusiness #azindie #Rocklocal

#keepthegreasysidedown

When I reviewed the debut album from Chrome Rhino, it had not even been named yet.  And I fell in love with it immediately.  When I wrote my original review, I played heavily into using movie clips to highlight my take on each of the songs. What Chrome Rhino is able to do is weave themes and motifs like: Love, Sex, Drugs and Strange Occurrences…. And then mash those themes up like a Monster Mash. You can do the mash…… The Monster Mash….. and that feeling, with that voice over I know you just heard in your head, is the madness that will dream and whip into reality at a Chrome Rhino Show.

Folks, I know, I am a horror guy, and this album is a sure-fire-win for the guy who weaves music into a new literary genre. However, this record is a lot of fun. I can imagine Bob Hoag just smiling away over there at Flying Blanket Studios dreaming of all of the awesome old school horror movie soundtracks he has on vinyl. Yeah…. this record kinda makes you feel like a kid again, running down the street right before sundown with your plastic pumpkin and your vinyl costume from the variety store. Laughing, jumping, staying up way too late and watching old creepy movies, and eating way too much candy with the Ghouls and the Goblins. Thank you Chrome Rhino, thank you for taking me there.

Stand Out Tracks: I Love You, But I Know You’re a Robot, Zombie Vision (BANGER !!!) The Butterfly, Potions, Soma Holiday (LOVE IT), and Phlebotomy… and folks, that is not to say that Love and Bigfoot and Swamp Daddy are not awesome.  I mean seriously…. If you liked Oingo Boingo at all, this one should be in your collection. Think Oingo Boingo… by way of Bowie. Yeah… seriously.

I like to consider myself pretty well rounded as to the Arizona Indie Music Scene, but honestly, I do not think I have really even scratched the surface.  By the time Hookworm Records was looking at Shovel, I had never even heard their music, and I still have not seen them live (August !!!).  But what I lacked in personal experience I made up for with well positioned network connections.  You see, Dusty Rose, front woman extraordinaire of the power trio, filled in for Meliza, the guitarist for The Darts – US, when the band toured Europe and Meliza was unable to make the trip.  That is a pretty awesome resume addition, so wanting to know a little more, I reached out to Nicole Laurenne and asked her why. 

“I have always loved Dusty’s raw abandon on stage,” the charismatic, but reserved (when not on stage) leader of The Darts began, “her dusky, gravelly vocals, and her true appreciation for fuzz guitars and big sound.  She really, really gets it.” 

Nicole Laurenne

And that, kids, is how you get your band signed to a contract for an original song when the guy signing the paper has never heard you before.  Sometimes, the people you impress really matter.  Since that time I have doven completely into Shovel’s full length EP It’s Fun to be a Nothing: a twelve song sonic assault that is nothing at all About a Girl but raw, emotive, garage fuzz that somehow surfs this crazy Wave of Mutilation like a Titanium Expose.  And yes, this band screams a little Pixies blurred through a whole lotta Sonic Youth Goo and somehow ends just a shade south of Nirvana.  Pretty stellar.  Can’t wait to see em live!  Stand out songs on this record: Space Heater, Monty, Ooze Ooze, Satan’s Inside, With You, Clouds are Fun and S/Y.  A solid, grungy, slug to the face, if you like your punk edgy, check out SHOVEL! 

The Psychedelephants

The Abyss

The band was listening to the mix.  We were all sitting in The Flying Blanket Control Room listening to and discussing the ending of their song, Triangle Sky.  “You know, “ Bob Hoag said, “this song is just so epic, what if it were to end the record and we just turned you guys loose all the way till the needle hit the label?”  And that is really the story of recording an original new song with The Psychedelephants.  Their last EP, The Abyss, saw the band take an interesting curve from some of the more blues inspired sounds of their previous release, Sun DrunkSubmerged in Water : A short song that acts as an introduction to the EP, (and bookends it when the themes return in the final track) it comes off like an intro to the Metallica Black Album, if Pink Floyd wrote it.  Whoah.  But if you thought you were in for a straight up rock album, that fuzz and grind that says something of the 70s landed in the 90s tells you differently.  Like the great progressive bands King Crimson, Pink Floyd, or Rush, this band brings that jam, those thoughtful lyrics, those layers, and those time changes.  Late is one of my favorite songs in the band’s catalog.  If there is one that challenges it as my favorite song on this album, it is Fall in Line.  You wanna write a song about conformity, Stepford people colliding into each other, and wrap it in a Progressive roll? Okay! Twist my Arm! But with A Whole New Low those guitars weep like a late Beatles song, until all of a sudden you are ready to head to the mosh pit. Timing Changes. Tempo flips. Progressive Gold.  Recording with Paul Balazs (AKA Danger Paul), singer and frontman for the band, it was obvious that not only is he incredibly skilled at musical arrangement, but he is a hell of a poet.  So, I am not saying he is Morrison, but… doors could open. The Psyched Guys are great musicians, weaving layers of Spenser’s jazzy drums, the crushing dynamics of Miles on bass, Colin layering the sound of different strings over the ensemble, and now, Paul has a Rhodes.  So enter the labyrinth of time, philosophy, and beautiful mayhem with a herd of thundering elephants rampaging through The Abyss.  For an Ep, a 4 full song album with an intro, you will not want to skip any tunes, curiosity will keep you locked in, and then you will repeat it.  That is Solid. 

Paper Foxes

Popular Confessions

Why Flying Blanket Recording?  For every positive review or accolade I bring up to Bob Hoag, he finds two where someone is calling him out.  Whether it is just his access to vintage toys, or his accumulation of film paraphernalia that creates the vibe, or it is just that console – anybody can do what Bob Hoag can do if they have all that candy.  Sure.  That is what they say.  And Bob is as humble as cherry pie. But the criticism raises a valid point.  What is it?  Is it tangible, this quality that makes carpets magic?  I submit – Pop Confessions by Paper Foxes.  When you dig into the Paper Foxes discography, you find a collection of singles and EPs dating back to 2015 (when, oddly enough they looked vaguely similar to their current lineup).  All of these songs show a four year progression from punk infused garage postmodern pop with Chopsticks & Merlot to their more and more focused songwriting and arrangements with the Dance of the Dead EP.  But what you get with the first full length Paper Foxes record, is only three new songs.  Every other song on the record has been on one of those previous singles or EPs.  So what is new?  Bob Hoag.  And that album made it onto Ed Masely’s coveted the best unsigned band in Arizona spot.  By listening to the older versions, and the Flying Blanket versions, back and forth you are really able to develop a sense of what Bob brings to arrangement and separate/ distinct mic recording.  He gets sounds that just do not seem possible.  But perhaps, it takes working closely with Bob, lurking in the shadows and the electronic hum of that control room, watching the djinn hard at work, listening to him hear notes that are not there, and explaining what he is hearing to a band with the capability of playing it.  And in that a magic dance of creativity – you will see blankets fly.  And that blanket flies neon bright on Pop Confessions! Now that you have heard a taste of what is coming next with the darkly dancilicious Crystal Ball, go back and revisit the first full length album from this rising Phoenix band!

As The Woodworks began their session for Hookworm Records with Bob Hoag (Flying Blanket Recording) , he turned to me and said, “Wow, I didn’t know The Woodworks were this rockin’!”  My answer, “Yeah, their creative range is amazing.”  Want proof?  It is this record.  I have been a fan of The Woodworks for about four years now.  They blew me away from the very first time I saw them at Crescent Ballroom.  That opinion has done nothing but grow in glow.  When Solo is at her best, it is when she is able to completely capture her voice AS AN INSTRUMENT.  It is quite amazing, and this album showcases the powerhouse of a vocalist that she can be.  In the studio, after about two takes with Konstantin, Bob said, “Wow, Stan is a helluva drummer!”  Again I nodded with a huge grin, “Yup.”  Down by the Ol’ Pig Canal is an eight song extravaganza of range and fun.  The standouts to me: In the Cell, what a rocking alternative rock anthem! Once upon a time I taught English Literature.  When teaching the scene in Hamlet where Laertes is leaving for college, and his father gives him a list of advice, I would use Will Smith’s Just the Two of Us to engage with students.  If I was still teaching, I would use Letters.  How can you resist poetic life advice from a guy named Beer who wears a kilt?  You cannot.  Choices is just a swoony, melodic masterpiece.  It shows the amazing range of this band in one solid single.  Error is a fun, B-52s-esque, trippy, psychedelic throwback to Biz Markie.  Yes.  I wrote that.  And I stand by it.  Freaking genius.  The fun mayhem just gets even more chaotic and atmospheric with Just Beat the Devil Out of It.  5 Standouts out of 8.  That is solid.  

Keep the Greasy Side Down