Heartbreaking songwriter Carlos Forster is back with his second solo outing, Disasters, on super rad Spanish label Acuarela Discos. Like his first solo release (Forster once led the fabulous Bay Area band For Stars) Family Trees, Disasters is melancholy, brooding, and beautiful. What’s new with Disasters is an expansive aural palate filled with layers of synth patches, ambient noises, and distant voices. Disasters is experimental and minimalist in arrangement, taking on a quasi-New Age vibe at times (though more Laraaji than Michael Manring) while remaining a song-based pop record. Songs like “Child on a Train” and “Outdoor Miner” (a Wire cover) rely heavily on seemingly archaic digital synth textures in a way that surprisingly complements Forster’s downcast lullabies. “Tim,” about the late American Music Club drummer and owner of San Francisco’s Closer Studios (where my old band once recorded – just a wonderful space) is a vast, moving tone poem. The musical highlight of Disasters may be the opener, “You’ll Survive,” carried by Forster’s heart-wrenching, irresistible melody and taken home by a gorgeous trumpet solo. Just a stunning track:
small plans are new to the Ball of Wax fold, but half of their members are old pals. The double-Josh rhythm section has also performed as a fearsome duo under the moniker Wyoming Young and Strong, whom you might have heard way back on Ball of Wax 21. For this project, the Joshes haven’t turned down their volume, but have adopted a somewhat poppier approach by teaming up with guitar players and singers Meghan (formerly of Racetrack) and Keenan (formerly of Patience Please). The result is a highly listenable hybrid of jangly pop-punk and sludgily bludgeoning noise-punk. This being the last song on Ball of Wax 39, it will not leave your head for days. I really wish small plans were playing the BoW 39 show tomorrow, but we were afraid they might be too loud for Conor Byrne. Make sure to catch them at your earliest opportunity, and don’t let those sweet vocal hooks fool you – bring your earplugs!
My god, has it really been four years since we last heard from Ainara LeGardon? How the years fly. It was almost exactly that long ago that she released We Once Wished, the blistering LP I wrote a bit about here. I included the title track from that album on Ball of Wax 23; apparently I have thing for title tracks when it comes to Ainara, as “Every Minute” is the song I knew I had to have for Ball of Wax 39 upon hearing her new album Every Minute. The song and album continue her trajectory of fearless, weighty rock, with Ainara wielding her guitar and voice as finely hewn weapons, backed up by the muscular rhythm section of Héctor Bardisa and Rubén Martínez. The tension created in “Every Minute” by the relentless three-against-four rhythm and the elegant bludgeoning delivered by this fearsome threesome is almost too much to bear. I don’t really believe in bucket lists, but I sincerely hope Ainara and her band come to Seattle or I make it to Basque Country to see them before I die.
I really should have an “Alex Drum” tag on this blog by now. [OK, now I do, but I don’t know when I’ll get to retroactively tagging the other relevant posts.] It would at least be a start in trying to keep track of this mercurial Brooklynian and his many projects, from Whales/The Magic of Multiples to FUNSHIP, Shiv Hurrah, and, now, Goodies (an apt band name from a guy who’s delivered so many musical goodies to us over the years).
Unlike some of the bedroom (or attic, as the case may be) four-track pop we’ve heard from Whales etc. over the years, Goodies has the sound of a collaborative band project, the product of a bunch of people playing together in a room, bouncing parts off each other, vamping, seeing where the music takes them. Something about “Others” evokes a certain slice of ’90s or early ’00s indie rock to me. I can’t put a finger on the band or songs I might be thinking of, but I feel like there were a number of instrumentally-oriented groups that wrote great vocal parts but paid at least as much attention to creating a compelling musical bed, and integrating the whole thing together so no one instrument or voice was the lead. I thjink the world could use more of this approach, so I’m glad to hear Goodies is carrying it forward. It’s just bass, drums, two guitars, and two voices – a couple simple riffs, a pulsing beat, and some hushed words – but it makes for some lovely listening.
Writing short song reviews that appear on Ball of Wax volumes for Ye Olde Blog of Wax is different from other music writing I’ve done in the past, most notably because I don’t get a press email or a one sheet to frame up my little reviews – Levi just sends me songs once he’s assembled each volume. Had I received something of the like for “Warning,” it would have hopefully given me some insight into the band’s unusual name: Lasers Lasers Birmingham. My context clues initially tell me it’s some sort of Black Sabbath tribute band, as “Warning” is also the name of a Black Sabbath song (which is itself a cover of a song originally by The Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation – thanks internet!), Sabbath is from Birmingham, England and Lasers Lasers are rad in a Heavy Metal kind of way. But, alas, my context clues led me astray. Lasers Lasers Birmingham appear to be the musical moniker of a country psych artist from Los Angeles. “Warning” is a catchy, well-put together song that reminds me of a cross between the spacey canyon jams of Beachwood Sparks and the bouncy pop of, say, Bishop Allen. Lasers Lasers Birmingham are a welcome new addition to the Ball of Wax consortium, I’ll be on the lookout for more of their work.
Seattle veterans Webelos bring a nice slice of hazy indie pop to Ball of Wax 39 with “Living in Another City.” Layering strings and electric piano over straightforward pop instrumentation, Webelos employ boy/girl vocals for an overall feel of longing and wistfulness. This is tried and true rainy-day bedroom pop done very nicely, distant and intimate at the same time. If you need a reminder of how much you love dreamy pop, try on “Living in Another City” for size.
There’s no theme to Ball of Wax 39, but there is an interesting thread of mortality, whether the fear or acceptance thereof, that has woven itself through a number of these songs, from “The Long Haul”‘s brooding meditation on illness to “Slim Skeleton”‘s goofy yet dead serious take on the indignity of demise. Ball of Wax die-hard Darryl Blood‘s latest contribution takes a fairly unsentimental approach to the idea of his own passing. For anyone who’s lost a loved one, the idea of what to do with all of their possessions can become overwhelming, and the act of doing it can be emotionally draining, to say the least. In this message to whoever survives him, Darryl basically says don’t worry about it. “When I’m dead and gone,” he sings, “Throw my clothes and tapes on the lawn.” The stuff is not important, he reminds us; it’s the memories and emotions that matter. If something is a burden, let it go. Still, I bet Slim Skeleton might’ve liked to hang on to a pair of pants and a Creedence tape.
I’ve typedmorewords about the Foghorns on this here Blog of Wax than any other band, and this post will certainly add to the digital pile. Their contribution to Ball of Wax 39 is called “If You Can’t Get Lucky Please Get Up,” a nearly eight minute song unlike any other I’ve heard in the almost decade Levi’s been sailing this proverbial ship. The premise, tone, and content of “If You Can’t Get Lucky Please Get Up” are bound to get people worked up. The song tracks a protagonist, presumably a young Bart Cameron, through a pair of frightening encounters with urban predators in pre-Bloombergian New York City. And the song makes very clear that the protagonist is white and both predators are males of color. There’s a lyric in the first third of the song that goes “He says ‘white bitch / gimme that watch'” and “‘if you make me ask you again / you ain’t never getting up.'” Hoo-boy, let’s get into this. Continue reading →
“Slim Skeleton” is the thirdsong Colin Ernst has contributed to Ball of Wax in as many volumes. As with his previous contributions, Ernst steeps “Slim Skeleton” in a mix of absurd humor and Kurt Weill-esque cabaret music. The result is pretty distinct, evoking both Frank Zappa and music from the Muppet Show (though, really, what’s the difference between the two? That the Muppet band had the good taste not to write songs in 11/16? BURN!). Anyhoo, it’s an expressive, cartoonish piece that opens with Ernst talking in a grumpy Muppet voice, a truncated line from Hamlet, some ambient noise and a slide whistle before the song even really starts. Once “Slim Skeleton” kicks off, you get a bouncy circus groove contrasted with a first-person testimonial from a skeleton (the aforementioned Slim) about the existential injustice of being dead. While Ernst sings, “how cruel that one can / just disappear, no dignity,” the music sounds like something from a children’s TV show from a bygone era. There’s a Halloween novelty song ending that adds a nice twist to “Slim Skeleton,” showcasing, once again, Ernst as one of Ball of Wax‘s most idiosyncratic songwriters.
Tucker Theodore is another brand new addition to the Ball of Wax fold (although he did previously appear on Volume 21 as a member of the dear, departed These Creatures). Tucker was referred to me by the same Friend of BoW who sent Joseph Allen Beltram my way, and despite their stark differences, the two artists seem to me like two sides of the same coin. The core elements of both of their contributions to this volume are the same – acoustic guitar, a man’s voice, some slide guitar – but the differences between the two provide a perfect illustration of how much you can do with so little. From songwriting to production to performance, “Thoughts and Chain” couldn’t be more different from “Meditation in D.” Where Beltram’s tune provides blurred edges to soothe and warm while its constant strumming propels you forward, “Thoughts and Chain” gives us hard corners and open spaces. The minimally picked acoustic guitar, later replaced by sludgy electric, distorted vocals and blown-out drums; the song draws you in, puts you on edge, and then smacks you upside the head. In the best possible way, of course.
Tucker’s band Nightlife will be another act at the Ball of Wax 39 show who’s not technically on the CD. Whereas Shannon Jae splintered off from Spit Shine and will be performing solo, Tucker Theodore has fleshed out his solo project with some collaborators, and will likely be delivering quite a ruckus to Conor Byrne next Saturday.