Photo courtesy Flickr user Yaili
Ball of Wax 42 is coming! If you are a nerd like me, that means one thing and one thing only: the answer, per Douglas Adams, to the ultimate question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. So I figured why not create a compilation completely consisting of songs called “The Meaning of Life”? (With a little nod to Monty Python in there, too.) Songs can be instrumental, they can be dead serious, they can be tongue-in-cheek or satirical or whatever. They just have to all be titled “The Meaning of Life” (or the equivalent in another language).
Please have all submissions in by October 23rd (or if you totally plan on doing it but just need a little more time, please drop me a line by then). Submission guidelines right here.
I don’t know how Athens, Georgia’s Golden Eels first found Ball of Wax – and lead Eel Neil Golden couldn’t remember either – but I’m very happy they did. Their album Periscopes in the Air, from which”Human Heart Attack” was taken, is a fantastic collection of songs in the finest tradition of ’90s college and indie rock (as seems appropriate, based on their location in one of ’90s indie rock’s meccas). The songs seem to have been written, performed, and produced in such a way as to get things just right without being overly fussy; projecting perhaps a bit of a slacker vibe (I mean, just check out the album cover) while creating enormously enjoyable and sonically interesting music.
I happened to listen to Beck’s “Sexxx Laws” for the first time in a long time the other day, and it occurred to me that “Human Heart Attack” is almost like a slowed-down, stretched-out version of that tune – which allows you to really steep yourself in the surrealistic wordplay and the layered instrumental hooks, especially the delightful interplay of electric and steel guitar. Golden has a great knack, not unlike Beck, for creating phrases that make no sense whatsoever, but flow together with a sense of inevitability and easily stick in your brain. It usually takes forever for me to remember or notice song lyrics, but within a few listens I couldn’t stop my self from singing along: “And I’ve got no more to say / I was evicted by the human race today / They shoved a knife in my back / and made it look just like a human heart attack.” It was tough to pick one track from Periscopes in the Air to feature on BoW, but something about the strange warmth of this one makes it the perfect closer to volume 41. More please!
Invisible Hours‘ “Wake the Ghosts of Night” is moody, dark guitar rock with a few interesting twists. “Wake the Ghosts of Night” has the woozy, fuzzy feel of much of the modern psych revival, but elements like a quasi-prog breakdown around the 0:53 mark and an efficient 3:07 run times suggest there’s some pop sensibility to go along with the Big Muff-powered stoner sprawl. The vocals sit pretty deeply in the mix, but there are more dynamics than in most shoegaze tracks. In summation, Invisible Hours, based on the strength of “Wake the Ghosts of Night” and some other digging I did online, are an ambitious, genre-bending guitar band worth checking out.
I’m always a sucker for a good, solid baritone voice, and Puget Power‘s Barry O’Hara is the owner of a pretty exemplary one – rich and textured in the quiet bits, with just the right amount of heart-wrenching yowl when it’s needed. Combine that with a barroom ballad about the trials and tribulations of living in San Francisco with not enough income and a broken heart, and you’ve got a surefire hit in my books. I can only hope that the economic climate in Seattle doesn’t force him to write a sequel to this song called “Seattle Bust” from his roomy new Tacoma apartment in the near future.
Come see Puget Power in Seattle while musicians can still (sort of) afford to live here! The band is headlining the Ball of Wax 41 Release Show TOMORROW NIGHT at Conor Byrne!
Longtime Ball of Wax friend Darryl Blood (first heard all the way back on Volume 1, most recently heard getting feisty on Volume 38) has brought us “What This Means,” a sneak preview of his forthcoming album Arden Eevin Vol. 1, and an exercise in languid, understated beauty. I’m a fan of Darryl’s work whether he’s bringing the power-pop energy (as on Vol. 38’s “Gimme Some Soul”) or exploring subtler textures and muted melodies, as on this track. Either way, you know you can count on him to deliver a perfectly-formed, heartfelt musical statement in 3 minutes or less, bless him. Arden Eevin Vol. 1 should be out toward the end of the month; keep your eye on Darryl’s Bandcamp page!
Seattle artist Brenda Xu‘s “Trumpet Song” is a clever, sophisticated pop song featuring, you guessed it, a trumpet that make a couple of cameo appearances at the middle and the end. Trumpet aside, the song’s strongest elements are Xu’s understated, moody vocals and an inventive arrangement that makes a five and a half minute tune feel like a mini song cycle. Reminiscent of Aimee Mann and Elliott Smith’s thoughtful chamber pop, there’s also a bit of a Laura Nyro-plays-the-songs-of-Weill vibe going on here. Really, really nice stuff.
Xu and her band (including trumpet, I hope) will open up the Ball of Wax 41 show this Friday, and she is touring much of the West this fall – check her out if she comes to your town.
I don’t know how Brent and Chris Antal would feel about this comparison, but it occurred to me recently that GreenhornBluehorn has made a case for itself over the past couple years as the Simon and Garfunkel of our little musical universe – if Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were brothers, were both gifted songwriters and instrumentalists, and were total sweethearts. So, okay, not at all like Simon and Garfunkel, except for the fact that they sing beautiful, deceptively simple songs with lyrical heft – songs that actually say something – and they sing them wonderfully, obviously having spent way more than 10,000 hours playing their voices off each other over the years.
“The Noise” is the latest entry in their oeuvre, and fans of the Antals’ work won’t be disappointed. The song is relatively understated and laid back – and the lyrics seem to be making a case for everyone to chill the fuck out just a bit – but every element, from composition to performance to production, fits just so. The result is not inhuman, glossy perfection, but the lovingly crafted work of a couple of gifted, hard-working musical artisans. As far as I know, the only tracks they’ve released since their debut EP have been through Ball of Wax; here’s hoping they’re gradually adding up to a full-length to be unleashed upon us sooner rather than later.
It’s still summer for another week or so, and I’m gonna milk it for all I can. If the Kings’ horns and skanking beats hadn’t already gotten the message across, the chiming guitars and slinky rhythms of Cold Comfort‘s “My Appetite” should make you fully aware that we are now in the “feel-good summer jams” portion of this particular volume. Regular listeners will probably notice that this tune has a little more poppy sweetness and a lot less irony and darkness than the usual BoW fare, but I’ve always been a fan of well-crafted pop, and sometimes you’re just in the mood for a fun, charming love song played with delight and precision by a bunch of dudes from Port Townsend. Turns out that’s just what I was hankering for without even knowing it, and “My Appetite” fit the bill perfectly.
Come see the band this Friday at the Ball of Wax 41 release show at Conor Byrne – you don’t want to miss the last summer party of 2015, do you?
Instrumental ska on Ball of Wax? Indeed, instrumental ska on Ball of Wax. Levi stretches his curatorial wings to the plaid, Dr. Marten-wearing heavens for Volume 41 and returns with “Jenzone,” an almost 4 minute, horn-driven, skronky workout from a band called the Kings (one of many, many bands with that name over the past half century plus I assume). “Jenzone” has breakdowns, build-ups, a wonderful finish and all the hallmarks that you’d expect and demand from instrumental ska. This band sounds like they’d be a ton of fun live, and “Jenzone”‘s placement on Volume 41 provides a nice change-up.
I love the way new Ball of Wax artists beget more new Ball of Wax artists. The sexy party outfit Soft Blows only just joined our ranks for volume 39, but at the next possible opportunity member Seth Swift sent me some of the music he creates under the name Visceral Candy. Visceral Candy’s music is just as sexy, but where Soft Blows cranks up the guitars and live drums and brings the dance party, Visceral Candy ratchets down the tempo and pulses and grinds its way into your heart (and maybe other parts too). “Catastrophe” might just be the most seductive song about divorce I’ve ever heard.
While Visceral Candy on record appears to be a mostly synthesized affair, with Seth’s vocals the primary acoustic element in the mix, their set for next Friday’s Ball of Wax 41 release show at Conor Byrne promises to have some real live musicians on hand – I’ve heard talk of two drummers! – to execute Seth’s dark, groovy vision. Don’t miss it!