Friday, August 31, 2012

Chapter Forty Two: "Humongous - Miniature Pinschers."

i don't know i don't know i don't know i don't know

Humongous makes my head spin and turns my gangly, narcissistic, fustian record review guesses and cross-references to at least 50 percent peanuts. My first listen involved a 1 AM text to Kris Abplanalp, gagging at him for letting me listen to a record I'm not sure I can describe. Was I cursing him? I think maybe I thanked him. Or maybe I just typed him with a blank stare "i don't know."

"Miniature Pinschers" is the return of local bizarro-rock band Humongous, and the return of and the latest from Alplanalp's long-standing Louisville-based record label Black Velvet Fuckere Recordings in conjunction with Adept Recordings and Consanguineous Records. It was recorded and mixed by Dan Willems, another underground legendary who plays with such groups in Louisville as Sick City Four.

Humongous plays rarely. I saw them once last year in the now defunct The Lounge. Eating popcorn on the outskirts of the Highlands and Downtown, they came with a reputation for talent and a left-turn originality, and that live show lived up to the described notoriety. I'm hoping the new album will bring them out into live situations more often.

The band is a four piece group of world-getters that tackle the international problem of predictability and boringness in all forms of life and love and art and all that. There is tension that reels and sways and drops and returns in these songs. Drums and guitars swim through an erratic river, sometimes racing each other with irregular timings while a cornet bleats above all the aerobatics and mathematics, eventually reaching a head-bobbing riff-verse that can drive you crazy with its catchy nature. We are talking spasm rock that crashes through a waterfall of smarts and fun.

Diving into the pressing, "Panty Boy" is a good start to try and describe the places this album goes. A lot of arithmetic is involved somewhere in the construction of this music, but not in any predictable "post-rock" bullshit moniker. Most of the songs seem to change structure and time frequently, coming back at times frantic, to slide into a jazz run, then into straight riff, making me think in terms of Zappa, although that would not necessarily describe the tonality or song sounds at all. But the influence might be in there. Somewhere. Along with a million others. Its a tossed-about conductance that mines a lot of variant rhythmic and melodic arenas.

And that's the big picture in which Humongous approaches music. There is nothing prejudicial in the gaggle of genres that they chop, slice, juice, cuisinart and saute together. It can come from anywhere and any direction. The guitars overdrive chivalrously through "Never Mind What the Czech Girl Said." "Click It Or Ticket" is song that you will not be able to amputate from your brain after listening to it once; the cornet, drums and chunky guitars prehend each other in some outer world bout only to flip the switch and let Jess Myers' vocals swing up and down. Lines like "In its infinite wisdom/the government has raised you to/talk to the people that/most closely resemble you in/any kind of way..." are delivered so addictively you sit and nod with them. 

And then rising in the midst of the frenzy like a blind trap comes "If P Had W," a simply wonderful electric country song.

"The Hill" on side 2 leads into the most Zappa-esque experience on the album, at least to my ears. There's a tussle between voices as they vie for control of the song. "Hook Up the Keyboard" presents a rocking love tune to keyboards with Jess' voice soaring somewhere between Tom Verlaine and...I don't know...Bunnygrunt? "Intervention" is a theatrical jazz garage rock song describing what the name says and leading you to the conclusion of WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

"Miniature Pinschers" is not a selfish album; it fucks your soul up and gets out quick. Despite bob-tailing on a trail-drive down art rock lane, it ain't boorish and vain in any sense. Make no mistake, these are just rock songs that happen to be unclassifiable. The sense of experimentation reminds me of The Residents, but this album in no way sounds like The Residents, so strike that audial comparison. Humongous never sounds like a band that intentionally pulled the rug out from rock n roll in some pose-striking endeavor; they seem like they just started making songs without any subscription to any already-affirmed and formed music scenes.   

A great listen. Highly recommended.

 Available on October 13.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Chapter Forty One: "Kirk Kiefer - Sailing Stones"

"Sailing Stones" is the debut solo CD from singer-songwriter Kirk Kiefer. It was produced and arranged by the collective headed by Kirk known as Ice Gondola, which is also the name given to those that play with Kirk in live situations. "Sailing Stones" represents at least a year of writing and recording for Kirk, who immediately set out on this path once his country/rock band Yardsale went on "indefinite hiatus" in 2010. Having known Kirk since circa 2006, I've seen the work the man has invested in the band environment of Yardsale, and then saw that work ethic swung around and centered onto his vision here.

Despite this being his solo debut, "Sailing Stones" can also definitely be called an ensemble effort. Besides Yardsale, Kirk has performed with many bands here in the Louisville scene, including the Health and Happiness Family Gospel Band, Bad Blood, Adventure, Vrktm...the list is long, and members of some of those groups weave in and out of this recording. While Kirk handles the lead vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, bass and vibra-slap throughout the CD, appearances are made from Bob Dixon on guitar (Thomas A. Minor and the Picket Line) , Neil Hulsewede on pedal steel, Jacob Lee on harmonica (Yardsale), Scott Moore on violin (23 String Band/Joan Shelley), and Todd Hildreth on piano (Squeezbot/The Java Men), as well as a wide range of others. An entire horn section made up of Elmer White, Adam Heffer, Randy Burt and Todd Mullins doesn't fuss around on "Sailing Stones," either. [Full disclaimer: I play a little mandolin on one track.]

The bare center of Ice Gondola definitely seems to revolve around the presence of percussionist/drummer Colin Garcia and bassist/background vocalist/engineer Ted Stevens. Garcia was the drummer for the final incarnation of Yardsale. He's one of those few drummers in town that immediately blends his personality with his playing style; I can recognize some Garcia drumming almost from just hearing a recording. Colin not only added percussive tricks and variant paths to follow on this album, but seemed to be involved in its evolution from almost the beginning. The same can be said of Stevens, whose solo recordings and performances have almost coincided in timing with Kirk's. Stevens backs Kirk on vocals, and in the live setting maintains the bass. All three seemed to have locked into the arrangement and production of Kirk's songs, bringing them all into their own personality on disc.

And that leads to the anchor of this entire recording: Kirk's songs.

Kirk swims through a heavy repertoire of musical influences. However, none of them ever take over his sound at any point. These are Kirk's babies; his influences never direct him or turn into a smothering reference on any of this music. I think he knows what elements he likes, and has applied subtle notions that he has learned from the musicians, bands and albums he adores. Kirk has an undying love for the Beach Boys; however, unlike a lot of indie acts over the years that have based so much of their nucleus on the layered pop of "Pet Sounds" to a point of creating a swirl of unidentifiable generic-ness, Kirk's songs never pirate or rip from his influences.

"Sailing Stones" starts with the sound of a transistorized Kirk and his guitar that eventual fuses into full speed and stereo and band with the end of the first verse of "Call Home." The song is a great opening track that sets the pace for the entire album: carried by the drive of the acoustic guitar, its sees that "li'l bit rock; li'l bit country" mantra raise its head and sway back and forth between the two, happy to slide between genres and styles. It also acknowledges one of Kirk's biggest influences, Michael Nesmith. Like I said before, that doesn't mean the album or any of the songs sound at all like Nesmith, but Kirk's tunes have that penchant towards country-influenced pop rock that concentrates on the melodies and the lyrics. There is a catchiness that is patched and hardwired in these songs that ultimately is divided between the singer-songwriter playin' his songs boiled down and straightforward, as well as the addition of the full band to round out the sound and add to the music, while not overtaking the core of the song. I feel like I especially hear Nez's spirit hiding in songs like "An Old James Dean," "I Don't Care Anymore," "Kari I Know" and my personal favorite from the record, "Tomorrow Today."

Another aspect of the album that shines is the use of layering on the songs. Again, knowing Kirk, there is that love for Brian Wilson's multi-layered approach to even the simplest melodies. Kirk is subtle and doesn't predial every song using every musician and instrument available. Moore's violin pops up in just the right places, as in "Can't Figure It Out." Garcia's use of different percussion instruments throughout gives each track its own style. Hulsewede's pedal steel and Lee's harmonica in the middle of "Falling Ahead" is some of the prettiest music you can ask for, and that song sees Kirk's use of layered vocal harmonies the closest he comes to referencing them crazy Beach Boys. At the same time, there is rockabilly flavor added to "Settling" and "Surgeon's Sure Hands," and what seems like a Springsteenian full band blowout on "Like a Black Hole," especially when that horn section kicks in.

Highly recommended. Available on bandcamp,, iTunes, Amazon, and cdbaby. Or at a live show.



Saturday, August 18, 2012

Chapter Forty: "Blues Control. Sapat. Parlour."

This dream last night made my mouth taste shut when I woke late for work this morning. It started with my discovering a video channel on called Shocker Drive-In: a digital recreation of going to a drive-in movie sometime in the 1950s through the 1970s. I stayed up past the safety bedtime watching cartoon popcorn boxes dance, the faux-invention of corn dogs, and public service denouncements of vandalism to the venue, followed by a screening of screams centered around both Roger and Gene Corman's films. When I finally forced myself to the hay nigh 2am, my brain was fuzzy.

I dreamed. Somewhere in my dreams, I attended a baumy, summer-nights-on-my-radio drive-in. After getting home late from the movies, I was deciding whether to go to bed or go get some late night pizza. I apparently was living in a college house, and my concern for making it to work on time somehow became twisted into my concern for making it to classes on time. I needed sleep to understand those upper level Geology classes, I kept thinking. Several mushy incomprehensible dream minutes/hours/chairs later, there was an explosion near the house; or a shootout! Or giant haunted cave-beast attack! Who can tell!? All my friends were scattering from the pizza-gas station. They yelled my name, telling me "Run, Sex Dragon! Run!" We were all running to our cars in fear from a monster/madman/giant mushroom/gorilla that was firing lasers/bullets/frowns from his fingertips or gun or red Satan-eyes.

I saw my friend Neal's white van skid off. I hopped into a car with Matt from local punk band The Teeth, and then realized we all ended at the same place: our dorm house, which was, in fact, The Cathouse in Germantown/Old Louisville. And then I realized all my roommates were the people who attended the Blues Control show at The Cathouse on Thursday, July 23.

"Listen to me, Sex Dragon," Dream Matt addressed me, calmly. "Classes don't start until late afternoon. So go back to bed, turn off that alarm; sleep in; all is fine."

I adhered to Dream Matt's advice and was actually very late for work today. But I don't blame him, or the real Blues Control.

But what is the real Blues Control, anyways?

Before that drippy Thursday night show, I knew they were a duo from Queens that had played Louisville in the past, being brought in by Sapat, the River City anchors of experimental carousing. A few days before the show, Old Baby and Sapat member Neal (see white van driver from above dream) informed me that Blues Control had cracked the Billboard New Age charts and had peaked at number 5. This fact intrigued me to just what sound was going to come from the two on a summer night that was so humid I felt like we were being cremated in our shoes on Preston Avenue. It also intrigued me that Sapat was bringing in leaders of the Top 40 New Age movement.

I showed slightly late, unfortunately missing tunes by young Louisville band Wet. I walked in disorientated and swayed to Parlour, after which we all commenced to wringing our shirts of sweat into the backyard during a passing storm of lightning almost directly above us. Before Blues Control began I found myself engaged in talks with a fan who had witnessed them in their prior visit here. He attempted to describe the experience and sound, and found it difficult. He talked of BC being one of those bands that denies as much as defies genres; that just takes the music where they take the music. Plus, he added that he had taken acid right before that particular show. I believe his exact words to characterize the experience were "it was like hearing (or seeing) a freight train run through Bobby McFerrin's voice."

photo by Michael Powell

With that, the lights went down in the Cathouse, and we entered. I hovered and skulked behind amps, glancing the duo from afar at first. Guitarist Russ Waterhouse was nearest me and as the resonance ran through time and vision I was already captivated by the sparkly Mustang he played, standing behind a wall of wires and unpredictable sound concoctions. Directly across from him, keyboardist Lea Cho underwrote the swell of music through the keys, parceling between melodies and rhythms. As the music began to climb, I was pretty sure my head became part of the amp near me.

photo by Michael Powell

Blues Control. are touring in support of their latest LP "Valley Tangents" (Drag City), which is the recording that has earned them the aforementioned recognition in the popular New Age community. I don't listen to much music in that record store category (I didn't even know it still existed as a category), but I'd be willing to bet that Blues Control presents more challenging music than what is often accepted in that realm. The guitar changes direction often, technologically hopping on board with itself occasionally into a piggyback of seemingly undesigned soundscapes and melted percussion. Only after setting a pace or melody line that swims somewhere in the waters of jazz fused with an almost children's singsong that dips and sashes into a noisier subzone before passing into an angelic spin.

The mugginess of the summer night parked itself inside the thule of all of us there, and at times I felt like a chant from the audience could have coincided with the hypnosis Blues Control creates in the live situation. The Korg created a groove out of no percussion, but the simple chugging of notes and aligning of Cho's fingertips, which would dip in and out of melodic refrains and themes, sometimes delicately, and sometimes forcefully; sometimes both. The set was a juxtaposition of temperate notes delving and diving because of their synchronicities within one another; the guitar would almost build a slide for the keyboards to tip-toe down, and then both would swerve into a jump through the puddle at the bottom, and ditch roll to the end of the song.

photo by Michael Powell

And then Waterhouse would hit the cassette player to his left and something altogether new would happen. There were references to 70s soft rock that had boils of melted heavy metal and warped old blues hidden in there, but that would all be a blind trap that would patiently pursue an end that was never expected.

Sapat followed, with Kris Alplanalp beginning the set seated with an old electrified acoustic guitar. The more I experience Sapat, the more I am endeared with the directions the band takes. Their songbook seems to expand into more pages than there are members of the band. Nothing is ever pre-dialed with Sapat, as Alplanalp's voice shifts the band through variants of rock filtered through key changes and keys from other planets. With the horn section bombastically wrestling amongst the guitars and Jeff Komara's drums, it was loud and perfect for such a sticky evening. At one instant I felt like I was watching a German big band populated by gypsy musicians playing a hypnotic Malaysian theatrical piece. And Dane Waters rose above everything with That Voice.

It all made being late for work worth it. Although I still don't know much about Geology.