Monday, April 16, 2012

Chapter Thirty Two: "Reviews: Ninnie. Tender Mercy"

So far, 2012 has kind of blown my mind a little in the amount of independent releases from Louisville-based musicians. Since February it seems like a new seven-inch, full-length, CD, or digital album has been put out with a party to accompany it almost every week. In attempts to log in and document, here are two more.

Ninnie - "Freedom Rings Placed Within."  

Gosh, I've known Ninnie a long time. Going back to the years we both lived in Lexington, I believe I met her circa 1996ish. We both connected and befriended pretty quickly, and despite traveling to different areas of the US at various points in the last 16 years, here we are now in the River City in 2012.

Ninnie is the pseudonymish moniker used by multi-media performance-visual artist and singer-multi-instrumentalist Cynthia Norton. Born in Athens, Cindy has shown and performed all of over the US, Europe and Asia. Her art reflects the history of women, Kentucky, the rural South, and contemporary culture, blending it all together into a creative homemade vision that access the uses of technology over top the ideas of storytelling through film, created instruments, sculpture and lately, "video-quilts." Some of her latest work has been included in "Young Country" at the Rosenwald Wolf Gallery at the University of Arts in Philadelphia, and in "Contraption: Devices in Art" at the Delaware Center for Contemporary Art in Wilimington, Delaware.    

The character and name Ninnie have undergone a plethora of changes since emerging, each reflecting the path and points Cynthia is taking and making at the moment, whether it be Ninnie Nu Ninnie, Ninnie Nuance, Ninnie Naive all leads to Cynthia's senses of self-discovery and discovery of the world around her, which she reflects in both her performances and the accompanying music, which, for the most part, in my mind, inseparable. Her recordings often tie directly into the themes she is exploring in her visual and performance art, but still stand alone as recordings of some damn interesting and experimental music. 

not my photo

Her musical writing style is definitely off the regular path, and has changed and developed over the years, but has always had one foot in the dirt of country music. Her 2008 album, "Queen of Cups," reflects this the most, in my opinion. That relished in the fresh-water spirit of warbly old-time country and bluegrass complete with a full backing band, even swerving into rockabilly with a cover of Wanda Jackson's "My Big Iron Skillet." Ninnie has always written both beautiful and dark music that I've respected ever since hearing her first recordings on a cassette in her living room back in 1996 in Lexington. Plus, at that first meeting she said something that may have been one of the biggest influences on my own songwriting at the time. While listening to a particularly sad number she commented, "I guess this is what we're supposed to do when we're lonely." Doesn't get much more clear cut than that.

 I've been lucky enough, since relocating back to Louisville, to have performed several times with Ninnie, and to hear her music change and restructure. The songs have become more intimate, pulling back from the fuller band sound and jogging into a darker, lower-key centered around her use of an electric dulcimer and her voice. Sometimes she sings through distorted portable amps and or an art piece created from a suitcase and tennis racket. Percussion has come from bizarre objects created by Cynthia, often looped and projected and angled in various renditions and styles, uniting the art and the music even further. There's a noisy element that can be had when all of the homemade instruments and her voice, sometimes looping on top itself, creating an ambience that can be disconcerting and simultaneously introspective and wonderful. 

Once while rehearsing for a show at the Alley Theater, I sat back, listening to the sounds she was creating and commented, "Ninnie, it sounds like you've unleashed Patsy Cline into a performance with the Velvet Underground at the Exploding Plastic Inevitable."

The latest album from Ninnie is "Freedom Rings Placed Within," and sees her become even more introspective, concentrating on just her voice and her own creative use of the electric dulcimer. The album was commissioned by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) for an exhibit of the same name in Philadelphia. The CD accompanies Cindy's first solo museum exhibition of the same name, and through installations, prints and music, according to the PAFA curator Julien Robson, addresses "the historical portrayal of women in art, paternalism and colonialism, and the vernacular forms of folk culture." One of the centerpieces of the show, in my opinion, is a huge homemade dulcimer made from an old wardrobe. 

The CD features seven songs that address these themes individually. Ninnie's voice rises in a solo echo above her dulcimer, which is strummed or banged, sometimes slightly distorted, sometimes clean. Each song is its own mood. Her voice ranges from excitable ("Cleaning Up My Misery") to that warbly sadness she can reach into herself and project ("Emma's Song"), to a straight pretty sound that can be the perfect captivation in a quiet room alone, such as the title track. "Freedom Rings Placed Within" seems to access blues and folk as much as the country was present on "Queen of Cups." The album culminates with "Free from Hell," a pounding romp that finds peace somewhere in the distortion. 

Tender Mercy - "The Road to Good Intention is Paved with Hell."  

Tender Mercy is the baby of former ear X-tacy employee Mark Kramer. Originally begun in 2008, the project has undergone various line-up changes, all rotating around Mark's songwriting. This debut recording, which was released digitally in November 2011 and live onstage via CD release party in March 2012, is a quiet album that remains close to those songs, featuring Mark's voice and guitar, and the piano of Mike Seymour.

Tender Mercy clings as close to the bone of these songs as can be, keeping the instrumentation sparse. The sounds can seem solemn, led by the soft plucking of a guitar. Mark sings comfortably in a warm voice. Despite being only two instruments and voice, the sound can be a lush, nice moodiness. This is singer-songwriter music as concentrated as it can get.

Most of the tunes are of a slower-tempo, and follow the trail unhurriedly. I definitely appreciate music as stripped down as this; there's no delineation with a tricky bell-mare moment. These are songs presented as songs, clinging to the individuality of the lyrics and melodies. I'm reminded of seeing Mark Kozelek's material performed live with simply two guitars.

Hey, I'm not gonna lie; it's been a rainy Spring day as I've typing up this album, and its been the perfect minimalist soundtrack for it. This a record with a lot of color hidden within its skeleton. "Drive On" is one of the nicest songs I've listened to in a while. Skip over to Never Nervous for this interview with Mark. Skip here to his bandcamp to sample and purchase.  

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Chapter Thirty One: "Review: Madame Machine/Interview with Salena Filichia."

Make no mistake, Madame Machine are a capital letters ROCK trio that embroils and twists the definite lines and structures of rock music, pressurizing their ideas and various influences into a mash that makes a lot of sense. To put it simply, it can get complicated with this band, but in the end, it's a beautifully creative and challenging mixture.  Made up of Salena Filichia (formerly of Venus Trap) on bass-synths-vocals, David Cundiff on guitar-synths-vocals (formerly of Lucky Pineapple), and Forrest Kuhn on drums (formerly of Sunspring),  Madame Machine are almost a poking stick to the supposed ceilings of background rhythm departments. Salena put it best in a recent brief interview I did with her when she said, "We are a band made up of the rhythm sections of other bands that were not really stereotypical rock bands."

Madame Machine

Madame Machine just released its sounds on a self-titled debut seven-inch for Noise Pollution, and celebrated with a show at Third Street Dive on Friday, March 30, with Louisville punk band The Hal Dolls and Philly-NY-based punk-free jazz band Many Arms

Madame Machine was started in late 2010 when Salena and Stephen Shoemaker (former drummer of several bands between here, Lexington, and further places North and South, including Venus Trap, as well) got together post-VT to work up some new ideas. Instead of my summations of the band's background, I'll just roll tape on that interview with Salena now.

Salena Filichia
brine: Who is the new drummer, and where did he come from?

Salena: Forrest Kuhn is our new drummer. He's a veteran to the Louisville scene. From Sunspring to The Halifax Pier to Black Cross, he's been around town and elsewhere with his drums. We had big shoes to fill and not only needed someone who was a really good drummer, but someone who was a compatible personality. Forrest came as a suggestion from my bandmate, Becca, in Julie of the Wolves. He came in, he played, he hung out and has been a really solid drummer and a great personality to interact with.

Forrest Kuhn

brine: Prog. Let's talk about it. I feel like you all have a huge prog-thing going on, and I believe I've heard David talk about that [or read that when he was interviewed recently by our friends Never Nervous]. Venus Trap seemed proggy to me as all this progginess coming from you? In VT, were Stephanie Gary and Miranda Cason into prog? Is Madame Machine something that let's you get even more core about it? The lines, riffs and timing in those MM songs can get pretty complicated and shift all over the place...Also, I've decided to turn question 2 into a drinking game. Every time I say "prog" we both have to take a drink.

Salena: I guess that we have some wacky things going on. I like complicated things. I never wrote any songs for Venus Trap. Stephanie and Miranda are the geniuses behind that sound. They wrote songs that could have sounded either simple, or complicated. We chose complicated when appropriate, I think.
David came out of Lucky Pineapple, which I think was a totally different sort of complicated sound.
I'm not incredibly familiar with a lot of prog rock. Like you, I know Rush, I know Dream Theater. I kind of liked Genesis's "Selling England By The Pound" and while I haven't listened to a lot of King Crimson, "In The Court of King Crimson" is a pretty great album.

Long story ending, I like playing things that are challenging...

I finished my bourbon by the end of question 2.

brine: What are the main influences on the band's sound? What are the main influences on your bass-style? The vocal style?

Salena: Growing up in Eastern Ky, the only female bass players that I saw on MTV were D'Arcy or Sean Yseult. Neither played anything really exciting. So when Venus Trap needed a bass player, I learned real fast not to be either of them. They are maybe my influences in that those are styles that I didn't want to play something simple. I had my own stereotype of the female bass player, which I think is an actual stereotype of female bass players. As far as bass that I can relate to in that influential sort of way, Fred Smith of Television. Steve Harris is pretty amazing, too.

I don't think that I can pinpoint any specific influences for the band as a whole. We are a band made up of the rhythm sections of other bands that were not really stereotypical rock bands. I think that really, we just play and things happen.

Vocally...I try really hard to get in tune, but not hard enough. I have a higher pitched voice, so lower range stuff is difficult, but higher range on that doesn't sound right to me. Also, just to be heard enough so that there isn't feedback.

David Cundiff

 brine: I know the band started with you and Stephen playing with some ideas. How did David get involved? How soon or later into it?

Salena:  Steve and I started playing a couple of songs in November or December of 2010. Something was missing and we started talking about adding a third person, but it had to be someone who could play more than one instrument and one of those had to be a synth. Mostly for the absurdity of 3 people playing synth, and other instruments, at once. Because we were having fun with it. Steve and David had been playing music off and on. We asked, he came to practice and it was exactly how it was supposed to sound.

MM with Stephen Shoemaker on the drums, Nov 2011

brine: What are the future plans as far as recordings, touring?

Salena:  We are going to start demoing some of what we have so far. We are also working on new material. We played a couple of new songs at our record release show. I think that we have a lot of ideas on the table to work with that are pretty exciting structurally. I think that I would like to get a few regional shows this summer/fall and then shoot for a full length later this year/early next.

The seven-inch is a complete pocket of sound that makes it easy to walk over to the record player, flip it, and play it again several times. Further discussion eventually led Salena and I to the track "The Great Shame," which when played live, basically blew my mind into little sheets of metal all over the room at the release show. The song showcases Salena's distinct bass style. A mid-tempo stomp on the drums, "The Great Shame" has the bass taking the lead, cranking through the riff as main guitar with a creepy badass flanged harmonic bantering the end of the line, supported by David's synths. It was one of those moments when I was caught in the sway of the music, as well as standing there trying to figure out how they were making the sound they were making. The track poises itself as proof of Salena's approach to the bass from a guitarist's point of view.

In fact, all three songs pan some gold in as far showing off the challenging aspects Salena discussed in making the music. "Crystal Ribbons" flies into a higher upbeat jest, with Stephen sharply driving all over the place throughout the song, framing David's vocal lines. I've been listening to a lot of New Order lately, so its one frame of reference that I hear in David's voice, reminding me of the best mixtures between Bernard Sumner clear deliveries and Ian Curtis' poetic call-outs.

The track that I've found myself addicted to is "Snakeface," the side A instrumental that brings several of the ideas the band strives for into a tangible moment. A bass-led head-bobber that ends each verse with a nimble distorted guitar (or bass?) that then falls into a loud space of chorded heaviness, eventually slowing the tempo down to a semi-dirge, only to rapidly increase in speed and throw-out all the stops into a tightened bayeta of swirling guitars and aggressive drumming. Like any good space rock, it all seems to end in a fuzzed-out explosion of strings and feedback. I swear this is almost a dream-teaming of influences running the gamet into one place; there's the punk and prog, there's "YYZ," is that Man Or Astroman?, oh there's Link Wray popping his head in, too. Brilliant stuff.

Th physicalities of the 45 need to be mentioned, as well, featuring artwork on both sides of the cover by Rene Blansett, and the vinyl is a bleeding mix of colors, too.

"Madame Machine" is available for purchase online at the Noise Pollution/Madame Machine bandcamp site, as well as at some of the fine record stores here in Louisville.

Upcoming shows for Madame Machine include:
Fri Apr 13 at The Rudyard Kipling with Hellblinki
Sat May 5 at The Bard's Town with Opposable Thumbs and Softcheque  

Monday, April 2, 2012

Chapter Thirty: "Preview: Ancient Warfare. She Might Bite."

Ancient Warfare; photo by Natalie Baxter

 I've just recently been made aware of Ancient Warfare, a four-piece coming from 90 minutes down the road out of Lexington. The origins of the band dig further South, however, being started as a duo in Savannah, Georgia, by Kentucky natives Echo Wilcox and Azniv Korkejian in 2009. Wilcox has since taken the idea of the project, jettisoned back to the Kentucky homeland, and began playing with members and sounds, until the band developed into its current incarnation. Emily Hagihara, who I've known as a vocalist for her own solo projects and as bassist for Chico Fellini, takes the drums here. Also present is Eric Smith, former guitarist for The Apparitions, and violinist Rachael Yanarella.

Echo Wilcox; photo by Natalie Baxter
 Ancient Warfare's bandcamp page contains two demo recordings of songs that will be present on the band's upcoming debut, which is being recorded by Duane Lundy at Shangri-La Productions for Alias Records. The point these tracks radiate around seems to have a gelatinous base in a fuzzed-out psychedelia, heavy in the melody and led by Wilcox's rich vocals. She sings in a lowered pitch, matching the subdued tone of the guitars. The songs tangle and sway in darker, introspective sounds. The chorus for "Winter Times" is especially pleasant, finding a polarized upbeat cargo from the verses that allows a great contrast for the tune overall. Information on Ancient Warfare mentions beads being drawn from singer-songwriter Mark Lanegan, an influence I can definitely hear.

Ancient Warfare will be making their Louisville debut with She Might Bite, the all-female trio that has recently returned to live gigs here after a a hiatus of a month or two. She Might Bite has become known for their blend of percussive music that hovers somewhere in the cross-examination of punk-surf-garage rock poetry. The songs are catchy but not predictable, and the harmonies among all three members create some crazy original music. With the retirement of Courtney Kimes from the band, bassist-vocalist Miranda Cason (formerly of Venus Trap) makes for a perfect addition to this new version. The vocal melodies that travel between Cason's bass, Kathryn Slaughter's drums, and Tara Kimes' twang-guitar make for a highly entertaining show. The band is gearing up for the release of its new full-length, "Feral." For a sample of some their songs, check out their bandcamp.

She Might Bite

Tara Kimes
 Ancient Warfare and She Might Bite will play at Zanzabar on Thursday, April 5.