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In Review: The Year 2012

Hello there! As you can tell from the glaring vacancy between the last post and this one, I haven’t really written much in the last six months. It’s a new year, and with that I’d like to continue to entertain the twelve three people that read this website. I haven’t really been able to make the time for writing, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t kept my ears open for great things happening in our fair city. There was such a considerable amount of good music to come out of the metro that I find it difficult to cut the selections down to a top five or ten. With that, I present you with Riot On The Plaza’s ABCs of 2012, a few dozen bands with great releases, many of which went largely unnoticed.

A is for Anakin, who released an astounding space-rock debut, instantly aligning themselves with the likes of HUM, Shiner, and Failure. The band recorded and released Random Accessed Memories before even playing their first public performance.

B is for Black On Black, a raging hardcore punk trio so humble they don’t even want to charge you for a download of Help Yourself, the LFK band’s six-track debut. Take a listen to “No Good So Far” above.

C is for CVLTS, edging themselves into the #1 spot with the internationally released Realiser, an aural oddity rife with tape loops, improvisation, and drastic mood changes. Hear “Wamego Fluff” above.

D is for Droves, who are the uncomfortable pitch blackness to the warm glow in which Soft Lighting allows the listener to bask. Bryan Cox and Michael Protzmann collaborated on an EP released last year. Listen to “Belial” above.

E is for Expo ’70, the perpetually recording project of Justin Wright. Beguiled Entropy pushes the number of his releases to the area of around fifty, and “Mark of the Rising Mantis” exemplifies what I like best about his music: a feeling of hopelessly drifting through space.

F is for Fiat, a fusion trio who blend classical, jazz, and rock together to form a very different kind of beast for the local music scene. The group released Returns over the summer, not so much an EP as a “bundle” of songs that stand on their own.

G is for Ghosty, who continue to please with well-crafted pop rooted in the ’60s and ’70s. “Joy In My Sorrow” is only one of the many stand-out tracks available on their self-titled release.

H is for High Diving Ponies, whose summer release of Suspended in Liquid received an unjustly quiet response from others in the area. The band will be releasing a split double cassette with Rooftop Vigilantes in the coming weeks.

I is for Is It Is, a band that shares with the High Diving Ponies a guitarist in James Capps, who also provides the vocals for the oblique shoegaze present on their debut, Hollyhocks.

J is for John Velghe and The Prodigal Sons, who at their fullest are comprised of nearly a dozen immensely talented musicians from the metro area. “Bloodline” is the first track on Don’t Let Me Stay to prominently feature a horn section.

K is for Katlyn Conroy, who released the three track sampling of Savannah > Jacksonville during the summer under her performing moniker of La Guerre. Listen to closing track “Lights Go Out” above.

L is for Lazy, an ever-evolving and always entertaining group of Kansas Citians who set fire to any semblance of their former selves with the release of Obsession, nine songs of filthy sounding lo-fi punk.

M is for Minden, who left us all in the dust by moving to Portland on the eve of releasing their debut full-length, Exotic Cakes. It was written and recorded here in KC, so as far as I’m concerned this little glam pop gem still deserves inclusion.

N is for No Class, who released their sophomore LP on Canada’s Deranged Records over the summer. Keine Klasse II piles more anger on the band’s already wholesale pissed off hardcore punk.

O is for Osiris-1, the name under which glitchy hip-hop producer Rick Mauna releases many of his recordings. This untitled album was recorded with inspiration from his then still in utero child.

P is for Power and Light, a Euro-inspired synth pop collaboration between Nathan Readey and Ghosty’s Andrew Connor from which I hope to hear much more than a three song EP in 2013.

Q is for The Quivers, an unabashedly retro rock band that draws from the early days of rock ‘n’ roll, pop, and motown. The track above is from the band’s debut EP.

R is for The Roseline, the ongoing project of Colin Halliburton and one of the best alt-country acts the metro has seen since Buffalo Saints dissolved. Vast As Sky is the third and likely most expansive album the band has released to date.

S is for Soft Lighting, the ’80s-influenced synth project of Bryan Cox. Slow Motion Silhouettes took me by complete surprise, and on multiple occasions it could be heard blaring from my car’s stereo while I was driving around at night. It’s that kind of record, I guess.

T is for Thee Water MoccaSins, a local supergroup of sorts, who self-released their towering debut From the Rivers of Missouri and the Banks of Fear and currently only get around to playing shows when Billy Smith is back in town from his current home of NYC.

U is for UMBERTO, Matt Hill’s monstrous creation that made a return to form last year with the release of Night Has a Thousand Screams, a score which was made to coincide with a 1982 horror film.

V is for Vital Forms, whose breadth of sound on their demo EP ranges from dark electronic beats with complementary vocals, to the chunky riffed dream pop you can hear in the track above.

W is for The What Gives, who will appear on this list regardless of their not being an active band in over a decade. Futureman Records dug up some unreleased sessions from the Lawrence lo-fi indie rock/pop group and finally let it be heard by the public.

And in lieu of an X, Y, or Z, I will post a list of honorable mentions:

Capybara‘s Dave Drusky, Coke Weed X‘s self-titled debut, Discoverer‘s Tunnels, Dry Bonnet‘s Seeds EP, Gemini Revolution‘s self-titled effort, Jorge Arana Trio‘s Mapache, Levon Realms‘ Other Time Period, Loss Leader‘s First Assembly, Mouthbreathers‘ Die Alone single, Prevrat‘s Intelligent Discontent, Radar Defender‘s Satellites and Airports, Sundiver‘s Vicious EP, and Surroundher‘s triple CD debut.

I hope you take the time to check out the bands above, they all deserve a listen. What are a few I’m looking forward to in the year ahead?

New ones from The ACB’s, The Dead Girls, and Fourth of July, and the debuts of Bloodbirds, The Conquerors, Radkey, and Shy Boys.

KC Psychfest: Day One Wrap-Up

Nestled within the confines of the Strawberry Hill neighborhood in Kansas City, KS, the FOKL Center flourishes in a space marked with little more than the four letters which make its namesake. Formerly the Tienda Latina market, the large display windows that face the street at its corner perch give a view of the precarious intersection at 7th and Central, a crossing which I found out that night is the antithesis of pedestrian friendly. Inside the building, the floors remain tiled with the featureless squares of vinyl that once provided footing for those acquiring their weekly groceries. These days, the floors support the traipsing, dancing, and stomping influenced by frequent art installations and live music performances.

The idea of a music festival in its basest form is daunting to all parties involved. The bands are kept on a tight schedule of loading and unloading heavy amps and road cases filled with who knows how many pedals, wires and gear, perpetually waiting for their brief moment to give what crowd there is little more than a sampling of their work, then tirelessly haul that same equipment back out to their van. The venue and those volunteering to keep things on track are constantly kept on their feet by unexpected malfunctions throughout the course of the night, and deserve commending for keeping their sanity intact through it all. Lastly, the audience themselves are inundated with a variety of musical choices, asking themselves if they should see band A, B, or sometimes C, D, or E.

The first ever Kansas City Psychfest made a good choice in staggering the musical acts so that while one is playing on the ground level, a band is setting up in a second performing area in the basement. In theory, when the first band finishes, the second band begins playing minutes later, providing an almost seamless night of music. There really is no better way to have a dozen artists play in the same building in one evening, but when put in practice the difficult task is given of deciding whose set you should break from to take a piss, get some fresh air, or grab a bite to eat.

The evening of music was kicked off at 7:00 with Thee Devotion performing upstairs. The local five-piece with an affinity for fuzzed-out ’60s and ’70s funk (with a nod toward The Sonics), white pants, frilled shirts, and platforms just released a new record and played some of it that evening. Davin Watne spent half the set with a pastel-colored guitar around his shoulder, and the other half peacocking around his performing area, all while giving a surprisingly on-point falsetto, wherein the stories were about ladies, sexiness, and other things one would expect from the kind of music they play. Such a performance was ultimately lost on a small, motionless crowd that wasn’t yet prepared for that kind of energy.

The duo that followed contrasted as much with the previous act as the dark basement from which the sounds emitted did with the luminosity of the light sculpture in the room above. Delaney Moore and Sterling Holman performed a set of improvisational drone as Twofaced, each settled adjacent from each other in the corner of the room. Ropes of intertwining red and blue light lay at their feet, providing the only other glimmer in the room barring the projector immersing the corner in fragmented images and video displays. The forms dancing on the walls were not so much influenced by the sounds coming from Holman’s guitar and Moore’s table of gadgets, but the aimless movements created a haphazard kinship with the wandering intonation they produced. The project has recorded together, but at this time none of it has been made public.

Upstairs, Brandon Knocke stood alone behind a case piled high with keyed instruments, eyes ceaselessly darting from one piece to another while everything above his waist instinctively bobbed in rhythm with the synth-heavy electronic music he creates as Discoverer. The tracks Knocke displayed began as sharp, bare-boned beats with a few sequencer knob turns, then were gradually piled upon until the initial raw beat was only an undercurrent to often soaring panoramas of groove conscious streaks that gnawed at a vintage aesthetic. Discoverer’s last output was 2010’s Build a Base, but a brand new album is expected to be released later this year. Knocke can also be seen and heard as one half of Parts of Speech, whose approach to ’80s centric synth pop is strewn with sleazy fuzz and overdubs.

Among the three musicians that make up the Jorge Arana Trio exists decades of experience in crafting fast-paced compositions with erratic time signatures. As a founding member of Pixel Panda, Arana is no stranger to the precision required in constant time changes, though with the Trio he is able to venture into avant-garde jazz experimentation. Most songs may feature a calculated mashing of keys or a meticulously plucked guitar, backed with bass and drums played with accuracy just as severe. Violinist Chaski Zapata joined mid-set to further accentuate the sheer veracity one can achieve through adherence to training. Final side note: it’s a bit odd that Jorge would play immediately after Discoverer, as Trio drummer Josh Enyart played with Knocke in the band Latin, which also contained Evan from Minden, and John from Sundiver, but I digress.

It was around 9:00 when my body reminded me I was going on over eight hours with nothing but an afternoon espresso as fuel, recently ingested beer trying to start a cage match in my stomach notwithstanding. As I mentioned above, the single downfall of nonstop live music is making the decision to skip out on a band to nourish oneself. By no fault of their own, Restless Breed ended up being that band, though had my hands not been shaking I undoubtedly would have enjoyed their set. In the few minutes for which I was able to stick around, I was enthralled by a trio versed in the kind of traditional psychedelic rock made popular by Vangelis years before his “Chariots of Fire” days. Under layers of woozy, synthesized programming by Tom Romero was a straightforward style displaying a fundamental example of exemplary songwriting.

After grabbing some questionable street tacos from a little place down the road and nearly getting hit by a car (full disclosure: it was my fault) I walked back into the basement with but a single thought in my mind. I hate smoke machines. Better yet… I abhor them, I loathe them, I unequivocally revile their very existence. As much as I wanted to stay in the room while Yam played, I got pushed out by a rapidly forming sinus headache and watched from afar. It was already proven earlier in the evening, but one need not encompass all things psychedelic in order to be welcomed into the fold of artists calling the venue home over the next few nights. While the trio displayed an unmistakable talent with composition synchronicity, an assumption of Will Christie’s influences would better lie on someone else, though their roots are assuredly planted in rhythmic eccentricity.

At the risk of sounding as though I’m giving one of the evening’s bands a bad review, Box the Compass played an overall adequate set of unmemorable rock needlessly pushing an expansion of time and space neither remarkable nor necessary. I understand that may sound overly critical, but had this band’s position been switched with Thee Devotion, the floor would have been a mess of drunken bohemians shaking their asses instead of a littered few with barely a head nodding along anywhere in the room. I only have this single, short set by which to judge the quartet, but the addition of vocals did not save them from the doom of sounding like anything more than a culture hungry band in any number of rock bars across the city. Furthermore, I can find no online presence of the group to seek out the possibility of giving them the second chance they deserve.

Following a trip down the wooden stairs to the basement, I encountered something very surprising. It wasn’t what I was hearing, though David Williams’ Sounding the Deep is wholly transcendental. I was taken aback by what I was not hearing. The exhaustive chatter of audience members during a subdued performance was nowhere to be found. In a cobweb-ridden basement with leaking pipes and spray painted walls I had found respite, and a near metaphysical experience with music that relied as much on the concrete walls for amplification as it did the delicately drifting hands that wrought the sounds from a guitar. The atmosphere was made further cerebral with padded drumsticks at times tapping a snare and gong, and an upright bass being slowly grazed with the bow of a man who looked as though he could crush me with his bare hands.

One of the many highlights of the evening was the fantastic Monta At Odds. Delaney and Dedric Moore have nurtured the project for the better part of a decade and continually expand their sonic horizons by adding or removing elements of jazz, funk, soul, dub, and an audible penchant for combing through endless boxes of long forgotten records. Depending on how the light catches them, they could be paying tribute in their own way to Ennio Morricone, or forging their own path through expansive creations that twist and turn through moods like a stereophonic bipolar. I’m unfortunately not familiar with the extent of their discography, but every note of their performance was a thrill, and I look forward to my next chance of seeing them.

Brock Potucek was nowhere to be found, so a planned performance from South Bitch Diet was replaced by the only half hour in the evening without any kind of music. In his absence, the next band to perform was Lawrence performance art weirdos Metatone. The group is headed up by J Ashley Miller, a local artist and contributing member of the prolific SSION, as well as Pewep in the Formats, and are just as quirky as anything else he has been involved in. Behind the elevated pitch of Miller’s voice and the syncopated plucking of his guitar was a group of musicians (including Mark Smeltzer playing a homemade, one-stringed fiddle) making the experience uniquely odd, and entirely undefinable in the placement of their sound. Metatone was equal parts indie pop, calypso, and folk, the result of which had the floor visibly bowing with each jump of the crowd in reaction to their animated set.

After spending the time that South Bitch Diet would have been playing making programming changes on a variety of sequencers, CVLTS began a droning set that was effectively cut short due to bass amp troubles. During their appearance, Josh Thomas remained kneeling on the rug that covered the corner of the basement, adjusting ambient tape loops and knobs to further heighten the intensity of the sound scape. Using his guitar through a floor full of pedals, Thomas provided a despondent tension that worked in opposition to the sensations released from the tapes. Nearby, Gaurav Bashyakarla had pushed two benches together to form a makeshift stand for his equipment, eliciting a piercing buzz through the air that idly glided until the eventual amplifier issues began the countdown to the piece finishing. I sat on the ground in front of Thomas, and once the sounds faded into a close, he looked up and shrugged, saying “That’s it.”

The final band to perform that night was the esteemed Mr. Marco’s V7, a group whose talent and vitality have made the band (and members) mainstays in the KC music scene for longer than I care to count. Marco Pascolini’s contributions to local music (Expassionates) are vast, but so are bassist Johnny Hamil’s (Pamper the Madman), and drummer Kent Burnham (many jazz, zydeco and rock bands), but all are outshined by the force of nature that is Mike Stover (Cher UK). Throughout the set, Stover would trade back and forth among a theremin, a mandolin, and a lap steel guitar as necessary, but the first two were the most prevalent. V7 is another band that defies definition, and anything you could label them as wouldn’t do justice to the extent that their sound reaches, though there were a few mentions of Captain Beefheart during their set. I was fighting sleep by the time they closed the night at nearly 2:00, but I’m very thankful I stuck it out to see the impossibly fast “Sweet 5,” followed by a bossa nova set closer.

Huge thanks to Leah O’Connor for stepping in and taking some amazing pictures. Check out the rest of her shots from the evening here.

Further lineup announcements for KC Psychfest

I have been waiting more than a month to find out just who will be playing the inaugural KC Psychfest. Announced yesterday, the collective at the FOKL (556 Central Ave) will be presenting 30 bands in their space on May 18th and 19th (the website also lists the 20th as part of the event). Tickets are available now, single day passes for Friday and Saturday are $11 a piece, Sunday is $8, or you can get the all-inclusive weekend pass for only $21. They can also be picked up in person from Earwaxx Records, Zebedee’s, or Love Garden for you Lawrence folk. With record store day coming up this weekend, you’ll have a perfect opportunity to grab a pair for you and your closest warped-minded friend.

As initially announced, the weekend festival will not only include the sanity crushing sounds of various artists from the metro and beyond, but will also contain art displays in the gallery, and what is looking to be a pretty intriguing sculptural video installation. Unfortunately, no specific set times have been announced, but I expect they will be made public before too long. See the full list below. I’ve included links to music and notes where applicable.

KC Psychfest 2012 lineup:

Umberto (KC – Matt Hill is a former collaborator of Justin Wright’s Expo ’70)
Dylan Ettinger (Bloomington, IN)
Be/Non (KC)
Expo ’70 (KC)
Mr. Marco’s V7 (KC – Marco Pascolini is an unstoppable force)
Monta At Odds (KC)
Metatone (presumably KC, has collaborated with a local Balinese gamelan)
CVLTS (KC)
Karma Vision (Lawrence)
Goodwillies (KC)
The Conquerors (KC)
Gemini Revolution (KC – members of Monta at Odds)
Vor Onus (KC)
South Bitch Diet (KC – side project from Brock Potucek of Lazy)
Box The Compass (KC – no website that could be found)
Plante (KC)
Sounding The Deep (KC)
Restless Breed (KC)
Import/Export (KC – one of the many John Bersuch projects)
Scammers (KC)
Kevin Harris (St. Louis)
Surroundher (KC – a project of Sterling Holman of Import/Export and Sky Burial)
Discoverer (KC – side project of Brandon Knocke from Parts of Speech)
Thee Devotion (KC)
Carnal Torpor (KC – project of J Ashley Miller from SSION)
Jorge Arana Trio (KC)
Twofaced (presumably KC, but no website could be found)
Yam (KC)
CS Luxem (KC)
Yuo (presumably KC)

Music Download Round-Up #2

Hello, and welcome to the second in a weekly bi-monthly probably monthly let’s shoot for bi-annual series of posts chronicling area bands and artists offering direct music downloads either for free or for a small fee (no more than $5). Releases included will typically be those that have been available for more than a few months, or albums from artists that are buzz-worthy but aren’t yet ready for their own dedicated post. Whereas the last time I had a working theme for the post, this entry will be more free-form in my recommendations.

Wrong Hands – Electric (2011) – Wrong Hands is the chosen moniker of Reid Bottorff, solo musician and native resident of Saint Joseph, MO. Like many under the radar acts in the area, Bottorff has used a bandcamp account to his advantage in getting his self-released music heard. Electric is an 11-track softly droning, subtly distorted piece of bedroom lo-fi that ranges in comparisons from a late ’90s Grandaddy, to a slightly more upbeat but nowhere near as quirky Daniel Johnston, and often touches on the kind of psychedelic pop currently experiencing a resurgence. The album is free and should not be passed over.

Parts of Speech – Floyd Biz (2011) – Parts of Speech is the sum of a collaboration between Kansas City’s Brandon Knocke and Alexander Thomas. On the side, the two have their own projects (Discoverer and Janet the Planet, respectively) but when Knocke and Thomas combine their skills, what emerges is a somewhat sleazy but no less groove-heavy ’70s/’80s mash-up of delayed keys, electronic drums, smooth vocals and additional programming. The music keeps a steady, relaxed pace through all of the eight tracks and provides a good backdrop for a lazy afternoon. A download or cassette can be had for only $5.

18 Carat Affair – 60/40 (2011) – Piggy-backing on the last recommendation of sleazy funk, I now bring you Kansas City native Denys Parker’s self-described “woozy funk.” Parker has been a word-of-mouth and Internet up-and-comer for a short while, and has received accolades from various online sources of things for which to keep an eye out (I avoided using the word “hipster blog,” but… who am I kidding?). Parker has self-released almost the entirety of his material, which he says is all recorded in a wooden shed on the south side. More can be found from this artist to watch at the link above, and 60/40 can be had for $5.

The Tambourine Club – Lo-Fi Feeling (2011) – While not entirely inaccurate, it’s always kind of a throwaway comment to compare a band to The Flaming Lips. The Lips have gone through so many evolutions, virtually anyone can be compared to them. And though I stick by my belief that “Intro,” and the track that follows are inherently Coyne-inspired in the use of a broken falsetto, the EP quickly moves beyond being tied to any particular sound. “Throw Me a Line,” for instance, leans heavily toward the scene nurtured by the influential Creation Records in the late ’80s-early ’90s. Lo-Fi Feeling is available at no charge for a limited time.

Fine Hoods – New Sensations (2011) – Fine Hoods is a newer art punk band from greater KC, who have only been peeking out every once in a while to play a show, most recently with the bizarrely undervalued Nature Boys . The band is two parts Lazy (Brock Potucek, Michael Boles) and one part The Fairer Sex (Brenton Wheeler). FH keeps the same ’70s art scene vibe as Lazy, culling what they can from Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground’s more lo-fi and heroin influenced offerings of that era. Add to that Potucek’s monotone vocals which conjure an image of Peter Murphy moving to NYC in the ’70s. This EP is $5.

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