Power-pop is for lovers! Kansas City’s own hopeless romantics, Deco Auto, released their debut full-length today (known among the masses as Valentine’s Day), and it is available over on Bandcamp.
Let me begin by discussing the album artwork for The Curse of Deco Auto. Were I to stumble across a CD copy of this in a record store bin in Anywhere, USA, I would know exactly what it is: alternative power-punk with a late ’90s, decidedly Midwestern tilt. Perhaps something from Chicago, Detroit, or one of the other cities that seemed to dominate the sound during the era. It’s a simple cover, but one packed with nostalgia. It brings to the surface quickly fading memories of the simplicity of youth, of a willingness to attend virtually any show just to have something to do, of having good hair but questionable hairstyles. Of having more hair in general.
A handful of the songs on Curse have been making appearances at Deco performances since the band first formed in early 2011, and it’s interesting to witness the degree to which each has been further fleshed out or trimmed and restructured for a proper release, thanks to engineer/drummer Pat Tomek. A veteran of Kansas City music, Tomek is most notable as a founding member of The Rainmakers and frequent collaborator with Howard Iceberg & The Titanics. It’s absolutely worth noting, however, that he also has roots in power-pop, having played with the Secrets*, whose “It’s Your Heart Tonight” single is one of the better installations on what is already a near-flawless Titan! Records discography.
Tomek joins Tracy Flowers in the rhythm section, who in addition to being a founding member, provides harmony vocals throughout the release (and lead vocals on two others – go girl!). Flowers previously provided bass and vocal duties in The Straight Ups, a musically A.D.D. band whose members frequently traded instruments and played a pretty wide range of the rock spectrum. The drummer was Michelle Bacon (née O’Brien), who would go on to be a founding member of Deco, before bowing out in favor of playing in approximately thirty other bands at the same time.
Bringing in the lead, the ever youthful, the possibly immortal, Steven Garcia on guitar and vocals. Garcia is originally from the Saint Joseph area, but moved out to Fort Collins, Colorado, in the early ’90s and became a founding member of Armchair Martian with fellow St. Joe ex-pat Jon Snodgrass. Upon Garcia leaving, he would be replaced by Chad Price (All … no, ALL!), also originally from the Kansas City area, before the two would go on to form the well-received Drag the River. After Armchair, Garcia formed Knee Jerk Reaction, a straight ahead pop-punk band by all accounts, immaturity and all. Upon the band dissolving, Garcia would move back to the Kansas City area and, a few years later, start what was to become Deco Auto.
So now that we’re back to the present, let’s talk about the album. Opener “One of a Million” is in the group of older songs in the band’s repertoire to which I referred earlier, the chorus of which still has that familiar punch of Tracy’s “Ah ha!,” though the guitar is considerably more crunchy than I recall from the earlier days. Up next is “Frozen Tears,” a slower, sadder (non-ballad) song, showing a little more range in both vocals. There’s a spot where a chord is struck and left to float in the air while Tomek plays something akin to the “Be My Baby” beat, and I can’t help but think of “The Angels’ Share,” the closing track on the Revolvers‘ lone album (whose New Year’s Eve reunion show Deco was supposed to play). No accusations of riff lifting, they’re both just damn good songs.
“The Introduction” is the first of two tracks on which Garcia steps back and lets Tracy take over the vocals. It’s a quick, three-minute romp into the poppy territory in which the band specializes before three-chord anthems like “Such a Bother” and “The Silent Ones” pull the album along until the instrumental, surf-tinged “Deco Stomp” serves as a Shadowy Men-esque segue into the latter third of the album. “Play Along” sees Garcia toying with the idea of a guitar solo, which may have been granted a longer appearance were it not for the song’s length (the shortest on the album), but which is a welcome addition regardless. “Empty Gestures” displays the trio’s methodical approach to slower, downbeat songs, and album closer “Turning Down” is once again led by the vocals of Tracy – who, forgive the trope, reminds me quite a bit of Tawni Freeland on the track.
You can stream or download the album below. And you definitely should.
There is much to be said about Americana music as a means by which to reveal an allegory. The true beauty lying therein comes from the narration administered by generations of story-tellers, woven into the accompaniments provided. The path one must take to attain the status of a celebrated raconteur is often wrought with years of relentless touring and can ultimately be joined by misfortunes of substance abuse, strained relationships, and ostracization from the general public. Those few that reach the zenith of a lauded career are either gifted by luck or have a past haunted by the tribulations that give them the voice by which they earned their keep.
While Kansas City singer-songwriter John Velghe may not have many looming skeletons in his closet to speak of, the man has given decades of his life writing and performing for rooms across the country. It would be experiences had during these formative years that provided Velghe the articulation that culminates with an outstanding ensemble on his new LP, Don’t Let Me Stay.
In the first line of album opener “Time Bomb,” Velghe asks in a self-imposed drawl, “Could you blame me if I don’t trust pretty faces?” followed later by a proposal to allow the imagined former lover to whom he speaks the ability to tell a story which he never wants revealed. The basis of the entire song lies in that single sentence, but Velghe’s conversational writing style expands it into a nearly four-minute-long piece that gives the listener insight to the direction the album’s sound will be driven. Velghe’s portraiture is given further depth by the voices of Kirsten Paludan, guitarist Mike Alexander and bassist Chris Wagner, whose vocals braid together through the entire album and are strengthened by drummer “Go-Go” Ray Pollard providing the metronome by which the album retains its pace.
“Blood Line” begins with a purposeful false start before picking up to a marching beat of a repetitive snare and kick with a guitar providing the only cushioning. Piece by piece the instruments begin to fill in, and at each new measure another layer is added to the vocals. The sound explodes once the chorus is reached, as we are brought the first noticeable taste of the three-piece horn section from Hermon Mehari, Mike Walker, and Sam Hughes. It is at this very moment that Don’t Let Me Stay becomes more than an alt-country or Americana record, and begins to brazenly reveal flashes of the Big Star and Replacements influences that drove Velghe to begin creating music in the first place.
Not to be outdone with a mere nod toward that on which he was reared, the A-side is given closure with an acoustic song titled “Iron Skin,” whose echoing haunt immediately conjures thoughts of Big Star’s “Thirteen,” which celebrates its 40th anniversary this very year. Later in the album there is an additional salute to Alex Chilton with “Owe My Soul,” a play on words from Big Star’s “O My Soul.” Velghe sends out one final love letter to the most musically prosperous city in the south with “Austin (you sorta stole my heart).” Austin is a city that has been kind to Velghe in his previous endeavors, to the effect that he is something of a protegé of roots rocker Alejandro Escovedo, and will be playing a SXSW showcase with him this year.
The 12 tracks on Don’t Let Me Stay coil around the intricacies that are possible when the investment into your work comes at a level of detail so concentrated that instruments are removed and added even though the change may be wholly unnoticed by a large number of the listeners. Mike Alexander trades in a guitar for a mandolin on “Stage Inside the Main,” and there also exists the inclusion of James Mitchell, Whitney Williamson and Catherine Root as an understated string section on a handful of tracks. That brings the count to 11 well-versed musicians that lend their talents to the release, creating a patchwork of backgrounds and an amalgam of sounds on an album that would do well to be in any local music fan’s rotation. If Velghe thinks his hands were “meant for telling three-minute lies,” then consider this review an investment in deceit.
As I wrote a few weeks back, Lawrence quartet Rooftop Vigilantes are giving being an active band another go. As a result of this news, I know a few out there expressed confusion and were never even aware that the band had ceased to be. You can’t be blamed. For anyone paying attention, it only seemed as though Rooftop was temporarily placed on the back burner while co-frontman Zach Campbell jump-started the incoming national popularity of his newest band Mouthbreathers by recording a new 7 inch for In the Red Records (which was just released recently, check back in for a review). I want to preface this piece with some honesty: Rooftop Vigilantes are likely one of my top three favorite bands in the area right now. While I am here attempting to compose myself with a modicum of journalistic integrity, let’s just be honest that the announcement of this album (recorded in 2009) finally being released is like finding out I have two birthdays. Or to put it in terms relative to the band in question, like there is a case of my favorite beer hiding in the back of the fridge that I forgot was there. Yes, I just compared four living, breathing people to a case of beer. Good beer, though.
The opening notes of Real Pony Glue immediately showcase the band’s new directions in recording. The vocals are much more clear, at times even harmonized, and the four show a noticeable restrain on their instruments, further elevating the pop sensibility coming to the forefront in the band’s follow-up to the nationally well-received Carrot Atlas, last year’s four track cassette Who Stole My Zoo? The band’s core stylistic tendencies remain. Most songs on RPG clock in at under two-and-a-half minutes, many of the titles don’t really make a lick of sense but are likely in-jokes with their friends, and the organ is mercifully given a bit more distinction than in the back catalog. The inherently expected pop melody of the release does not deter, and is without doubt going to serve as a launchpad for the band’s decision to self-release all of their foreseeable recordings. The new album features much less in the way of the raw, string-breaking garage fury that was much more present in their earlier days, but this listener is quite content with the alternate result.
Keeping with the pop theme I have been running with throughout this review, one of the stand-out tracks on the album is “Love is Out to Get Me,” the longest on the album but still running at under three minutes, reining in the close before one final blast. It should be noted that while RV are more than able to create music that would sound great listened to with a tin can and string, the album was given an additional boost at the hands of lauded indie producer J. Robbins (Jawbox, Burning Airlines). Real Pony Glue is nowhere near a daunting listen, and in fact it probably goes by way too damn quick. The band packed 17 tracks into just over 30 minutes, and it only helps to whet the appetite of the listener to their recordings to come. Local readers, you can purchase a physical copy at the band’s release show at the Replay Lounge tomorrow (09/29) with Suzannah Johannes and Fourth of July. Everyone else can purchase the album from their bandcamp page or Lovely Sea Records (where you can still find their 2010 cassette release) on October 4th.
Click here to download “Hacking Up a Lungfish” from Rooftop Vigilantes’ Real Pony Glue.