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high diving ponies

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Riot Recommends: Kevin Greenspon with High Diving Ponies @ FOKL

flierThe end of the year is quickly edging closer and closer, and with it comes a few final opportunities to unglue yourself from the couch, brush the Cheetos® dust off your sweatpants, and get out to see some live music performed by a few of the more intriguing local acts the city currently has to offer. Read on, fellow layabout, I urge you to make the drive out to Strawberry Hill on Dec. 3 for this one.

KC native Ben Straus opens the night, performing under his YYU moniker (listen here), a project that primarily uses ambient tape loops with chopped and echo-laden vocals, and a variety of sampled instruments strewn about to create some art that is increasingly being talked about.

Next up, High Diving Ponies (listen here) come out of hibernation to play songs from their recently released cassette Face Blindness, as well as a handful of new ones. I’ve written about the band here previously, but their live show is a cathartic wall of noise borrowing elements of shoegaze, indie rock, and grunge from the last two decades. Also, they don’t play often.

Big Waves of Pretty (listen here) hail from Madison, WI, and encompass a variety a sounds, some of which fall into the reverb-drenched sound you’d expect with a lineup such as this. The majority of their work is simply upbeat and occasionally fuzzed-out pop songs. LA native Kevin Greenspon (listen here) closes out the night with more droning, ambient tape loops and sprawling arrangements that combine various facets of experimental sub-genres.

Doors are at 8pm, cover is five bones. Bring extra cash to spend on records, cassettes, and such.

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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.

06/28: Dads / Shy Boys / High Diving Ponies @ Riot Room

I’ve spent more than enough ink (or pixels, rather) going on pointless diatribes about the poor turnout at the venues I frequent. It’s a pointless battle, that much is clear — but I’ve had an epiphany that it’s no longer about the quantity of people, but the quality. It’s a goddamned shame when I’m one of eight people in a room watching a band who is neither bar staff nor a member of another band, but if those other seven people give those performing their undivided attention and a little respect, I’d gladly take that over the alternative. Even if one of those people is experiencing a paranoid high and demands I start referring to him as Gary in lieu of his actual name, and another wants to talk at great length about government conspiracies between bands.

Yes, there was a weird crowd in the room for the start of local ‘danger pop’ stalwarts High Diving Ponies. In the back, a group of college-aged girls inexplicably garbed in cocktail dresses began peddling sample shots of a new liquor (which was swill) to the people scattered about the room. On stage, Josh Thomas crooned morosely through wet vocal processing while hitting chords on his powder blue Stratocaster, his hair covering most of his face for the duration of the set. James Capps provided additional guitar effects, frequently pushing up his glasses and leaning down to adjust the pedals at his feet between moments of refrained thrashing. Alheim Amador remained poised behind Capps, standing statuesque save for the movement from his hands to give the necessary pulse through which the much more animated Justin Brooks finds alliance as the drummer. Brooks plays effortlessly behind the kit, offering up technically driven syncopated rhythms while making unintentionally humorous facial expressions in the process.

The set was in part made up of songs from the Ponies’ most recent release, Suspended in Liquid (album opener “Ersatz” has also been a recent set opener), though material across the band’s discography appeared throughout. Thomas has an often employed quiet-loud-quiet vocal technique he has been using since the days of Bodisartha and Spidermums, which he applies to the chorus of many songs in a strained, purposely off-key yelp that is washed over with effects in a conscious salutation to early ’90s grunge and the seminal underground counterculture with which it came. HDP is not a grunge band, just like they are not a shoegaze band, or an indie rock band, though all three of those subgenres have given the quartet the influences by which they define themselves. Although they are still honeymooning on their newest album (released about six weeks ago), the group has never been one for patience — a new album can likely be expected by the time the weather gets to be below the triple digits we are currently experiencing.

Prior to the show, I was puzzled at the billing of a mysterious and presumably local band called Shy Guys. I can appreciate the reference, but hoped there was some kind of confusion as there was already a KC band with a very similar name. At the very least, I hoped that the band would live up to the nerdiness their moniker would suggest. I was relieved and elated upon seeing Konnor Ervin enter through the door to the side of the stage, which confirmed the band performing tonight would in fact be the Shy Boys. The trio recently changed their name from The I’ms, and this would be their first performance using the new name, not to mention only their third or fourth time performing these songs in public under any name. Ervin joins Kyle Rausch (with whom he also plays in The ACB’s) and his brother Collin Rausch, with whom Kyle played in The Abracadabras at the same time Konnor’s Dr. Woo morphed into the first lineup of The ACB’s.

Full disclosure, I’ve been not-so-privately geeking on Shy Boys for more than a few months now, and to be effectively surprised with a performance from them completely made my night. Amid the occasional set troubles (Collin’s vocal volume being the primary issue) the trio placidly soft-rocked their way through a set of charming indie-pop (“Keeps Me On My Toes,” “Justine,” “Bully Fight”) with an ear placed securely in the ’60s, all three contributing to the harmonization of the vocals. The members played musical chairs with their instruments, with Kyle and Konnor frequently trading between drums and bass — it should also be noted that Konnor has only recently had a cast removed from his wrist and forearm. I had the rare occurrence of getting the giddy spine tingles felt only when experiencing something special, and though Kyle told me after their set that they are still trying to find their sound, what ever they are doing sure as hell works.

Omaha quartet Dads closed out the night with thirty minutes of brash, distorted garage-punk fueled by a wurlitzer and the vigor of youth. From what I could tell, almost the entirety of the set consisted of tracks from the band’s lone album, An Evening with Dads. Alek Erickson (bass) and Vince Franco (guitar) traded off vocals during the set, each of them wildly howling their words into the microphones while exerting a constant force of tightly packed powerpunk anthems into two-minute bursts. While Erickson played most of the set with his glasses resting on the tip of his nose, occasionally convulsing in spurts of energy, Franco would retort at his turn by sneering his lips against the mic, locking it in place with his mouth and forcing a mid-pitched bark of the lyrics from his gut. Behind them, a bespectacled Max Larson unassumingly bashed away on his kit, while Alexandra Hotchkiss played a keyboard which rested barely two feet off the ground on top of an amp for the entirety of their time on stage. The band was done before midnight, which is a rarity for the venue.

Hey! Before you go away, you might want to check out the bands that I’ve been ranting about on this page. Check out the streams below.

Shy Boys – ‘Strange’ mp3 download


Rooftop Vigilantes drop first single from new EP

As noted in a March 7th post, Lawrence garage punks Rooftop Vigilantes have quite a bit on their plate for the year to come. Last week, the group unveiled what is to be the first single from the upcoming Weird Adventure EP. “Movie Music For Assholes” retains the common RV thread of wurlitzer-backed garage rock played with an angular turbulence and, although I hate the term, the song is downright infectious.

The track was mastered by Josh Thomas (High Diving Ponies, CVLTS) and has a bit of his touch with echoing, almost hollowed out vocals that gives the final product a cozy, analog warmth. The EP will be released in May, in conjunction with the band’s incestuous May 4th Taproom showcase with side projects Mouthbreathers and Dry Bonnet. Download it as a free preview here.

High Diving Ponies post first single from new album

I have very few qualms about dedicating an entire post to the release of a single track. Anyone who has kept up with this blog since the beginning (that would make one of us) could remember that one of my very first posts ever was about High Diving Ponies and the musical background of Josh Thomas. You can click the link to read some background and check out most of his discography to date. With that, I bring you a stream of the first track to be released from the untitled upcoming full-length from the droned-out KC group, and in my opinion it may very well be one of their best yet. I’ve already listened to it about a dozen times myself. Check it out below.

FOKL Center presents KC Psychfest

Kansas City, KS, gallery space FOKL (556 Central Ave) will be hosting the first KC Psychfest this spring, on May 18th and 19th. The full lineup has not yet been announced, but the press release reveals that it will be a two-day multimedia festival featuring psychedelic bands, live VJs, and visual artists from the KC Metro and Midwest.

Thus far, the only bands featured on the bill will be KC mainstays Expo ’70, CVLTS, Goodwillies, Be/Non, The Conquerors, Monta At Odds, and Lawrence band Karma Vision. With a lineup like that, I’ll estimate that additions from Umberto, High Diving Ponies, and LAZY are to be expected soon, as well as what I’d guess will be a handful of decent touring national acts, and a few bands that just happen to be coming through the area this May that may be thrown on the bill for the hell of it. Keep an eye on the venue’s website for more info.

High Diving Ponies’ Pain Pills 7 inch download

There are few active bands in the region that have committed to churning out a respectably sized discography in the shortest amount of time possible as much as the High Diving Ponies. The band, in its current incarnation, caught my attention early last year by announcing their plans to release not one, or two, but three albums in the year of 2010. Their agenda was pushed into motion with the release of the 10-track Fractals in Heat, a fuzzed out, reverb heavy and, yes, probably substance-enhanced work that was equal parts grunge and shoegaze, a comfort zone giving just as much credence to Sonic Youth’s Evol as the pure wall-of-noise segments present in My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless.

The counterpart release to Fractals proper was the same album, mixed by Tim Goodwillie (GOODWILLIES), skewing the levels and creating a feeling the album is either being listened to through a slow-running blender, or the sound is vibrating off the walls of a steel grain bin. Listening to either release, you would expect that the currently played album is how it was meant to be heard, the preference is really in the hands of the audience. As quickly as the first two were made public, a third album was released. This one, titled Casino Economy, showed temperament on the band’s part, demonstrating a much more restrained approach to what was once just an onslaught of reverb. What could easily have been confused as an attempt to cover up a lack of songwriting skills in previous releases, was now stripped down just a little to reveal that underneath all of the noise there was real talent present.

Frontman Josh Thomas is no stranger to the use of reverb and noise as an artificial instrument. Prior to the existence of HDP, Thomas fronted Spidermums, a band similar not only in sound, but in the delivery of their physical product, using stenciled black sleeves to house each of their two CD-R releases (the last of which featured drumming from Gaurav Bashyaklarla of CVLTS), a trend that continued on with the Ponies. You could say that the change was more in name only than in sound, but with a new name came a new lineup, eliminating a cast that had largely been a part of Thomas’ endeavor previous to the ‘Mums, the straight ahead grunge outfit Bodisartha. The band garnered a bit of attention in the mid ‘oughts, and could be frequently found on the lineup at one of midtown KC’s shortest-lived but most documented haunts, The Sleeper Cellar.

Back to the present, and not to be outdone by… themselves, the self-described “danger pop” band released yet another album in November of 2010. Broken Sunbather would prove to be both a continuation of Thomas’ decision to focus on more of the intricacies that were often overlooked in some of his previous work, and a harkening back to the raw, out-of-tune fuzz rock they had built their reputation upon. Many of the nine tracks present on Sunbather had been tossed around in demo form by the band for most of the year, a few even appearing on a live recording the band posted online from a Recordbar show they played earlier that spring.

Little was heard from HDP for a few months. Their Twitter account was updated frequently, but mostly either updated the followers on what ever band Josh was recording/mastering (the previously mentioned CVLTS, as well as Baby Birds Don’t Drink Milk) or was limited to a one-line anecdote about drugs or a cryptic allusion to the thoughts taking place in his head at that particular moment. The occasional live performance announcement or a passing remark about a 7 inch would be made from time to time, vinyl had been mentioned as a possible format since the band’s conception, though cassettes were a frequent medium as well. As spring arrived, the discussion of a new analog release was steadily increasing, when last week, the news was out. The band plans to release the lathe-cut Pain Pills 7 inch in mid-June, and its run is limited to a mere 33 copies. They have posted a link where the EP can be downloaded for free. As far as getting your hands on a copy of the 7 inch, well I guess you’ll just have to check back in here after the band announces a release show.

Bonus: download Spidermums’ fantastic cover of The Amps’ “Bragging Party” right here.

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