Saturday, January 10, 2009

America Reads - Humming in the Night Skull (2008)

America Reads is a dark spacey sound collage noise experiment conceived by one R. Lloyd Mason. Released DIY style on tape, the album consists of two tracks: (Side A) and (Side B).  Each side is about 20 minutes long and takes the listener on a journey through the dark matter of space in a lo-fi noiseship held together by jangling glass bottles and cans.  While floating in the void, you pick up a signal from an alien race, but either they are speaking too quickly, or you are hearing too slowly—you can’t quite make it out -- it doesn’t matter anyway, because your radio device, which is controlled by a toy piano, only works half of the time anyway.  In the end, the crumbling church bells lead you home again, only to discover that while you were gone, time turned in on itself, leaving only a negative of where you once lived. 

Download the trip here

visit America Reads at myspace here

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Secret Message Machine - "Giants, Madmen, and Ghosts" (2008)

Shedding much of the lo-fi aesthetic of past releases, Secret Message Machine’s 4th album sparkles and shines with crisp production, airy vocals, and thoughtful arrangements. Michael Barrett has been releasing music as Secret Message Machine for over five years, while at the same time playing in countless Subjective Collective projects, including Blank Blank. In the first few moments of hearing Barret’s deep vocals, you might be tempted to think: “This sounds like that guy from Smog”, or you could go the way of the Go Triad, saying that the vocals “echo Stephin Merritt (Magnetic Fields) with its organic melancholy tone and reverb”. But I don’t know about all of that. Barrett’s personality (and thus songwriting) is far from the smart-ass, sad clown schitck of Merritt, or the downtrodden slit-your-wrists stylings of Bill Callahan.  “Giants, Madmen, and Ghosts” is a beautiful layered experience, expressing much more complicated thoughts and emtions than just everyone’s old pal melacholia. 

Accompanied by Erik Chaplinsky (Summer Camp Casanova) and Chuck Chambers (Kaliedoscope Death), Barrett’s songs contain the best elements of singer/songwriter indie rock, with no cliches or tired sounds. Each track, although fronted by seemingly forlorn vocals, springs to life with intricately placed layers of bass, acoustic strumming, magical effects and rock guitar coming and going at just the right moments. The songwriting comes off in an extremely natural way, making the transistions from one song to the next easy, smooth, even ghostly—like, hey is this a different song, or a different part of the one before it? This album definitely has flow. Actually it flows so well, I’m always surprised when it’s over. With 11 songs, it clocks in just over 30 mins, proving that there’s never anything wrong with leaving the listener wanting more.  

Highlights include: 

the opener “Insomnia” - busy drums, drone, slide guitar, backwards casio, --”We’re all Guitly! We’re all Crazy!”  so good. 

“Literary Criticism” - mostly acoustic -with some otherworldy effects laden violin playing.

“Ghosts” - haunting vocals, flowing rhythm, casio melody, ghostly.

“Greensboro” - peepy little piano ditty about a donut run. Apparently for Michael, Greensboro and sugar highs go hand in hand. Maybe I need to get with the program and visit Dunkin Donuts. 

There’s not a bad song here.  A must listen for fans of lo-fi, dyi, indie singer/songwriter stuff, in the vein of Sebadoh, Netural Milk Hotel, Summer Camp Casanova and Kaliedoscope Death

Download it here.

Visit Secret Message Machine on myspace, here.

Romancer - Romancer (2008)

I have to start this off by saying that you if you have lived in Greensboro for the past couple of years, love rock music, and haven’t seen Jonathan Moore peform in one of his two bands,Tiger Bear Wolf or Health (r.i.p.), then you have no idea the scope of amazing music this town has to offer.  

I first saw Jon with Tiger Bear Wolf in 2003 - the unlikelypairing of explosive punk ferocity with 70s prog-rock style monster riffs was enough for me to almost run down Lee St. to the nearest tattoo shop and get a TBW heart on my upper arm. Tiger Bear Wolf is still blowing minds in local venues, - not as often as some would like, but see them if you can-- they are not to be missed. Jon, who provides Tiger Bear Wolf with most of the singing, and half of the guitar work - later formed Health, --- a sort of introspective alt-country realization of the Velvet Underground. Group harmonies, epic guitar solos, powerful yet minimal percussion, and on top of it all, Jon’s soulful vocals. 

But enough about the past and onto the present.  

Romancer finds Jon at his most experimental - which isn’t to say this is a weird album—In fact, in his experimenting, he offers up his most abstract and also his most accessible at the same time.  The self-titled album opens and closes with the Fripp/Eno-esque “Wheels Within Wheels”, produced with the almost forgotten technique of recording on reel-to-reel tape then physically cutting it and splicing it together again to produce a geniune tape loop. Creating layers of guitars and keys that echo and delay in the depths of a pulsing ambient drone.  The last thing you’d expect to find inbetween these spacey bookends is the feel good hit of summer (“The World Is Exploding”) - but it’s there—it’s catchy—and it makes me loathe the winter. 

Now, I’m no bible scholar, but  “Moses” seems to be a narrative of Moses, complete with a 3/4 tribal beat and splashed with bursts of horns.  Jon comes off as a deranged preacher, hitting his climax of crazy yelling about blood and snakes. Combining intimate stripped down songs with full blown rockers works really well on this mini-album by multi-instrumentalist riffrocking songsinging Greensboroian.  

Download Romancer’s self-titled album here.  

Hey, it’s really good. 

visit Jon at