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04/24: Pontiak / Expo ’70 / Muscle Worship @ RecordBar

It is at times a bit disheartening to walk into a venue and be one of a meager number of people in the building that is neither performing nor part of the staff. It’s hard not to internally bemoan the state of local music when even on a night of mild weather, no stragglers wander in out of sheer curiosity. Of course, energy can be better spent on things that don’t involve griping about the attendance to a weeknight show, but it is still interesting to wonder how things would transpire had the room been filled to capacity.

Lawrence trio Muscle Worship opened to an almost empty house with the same veracity I witnessed when the band’s volume quite literally made things fall off the walls at a now defunct record and second-hand clothing store. For thirty minutes, the trio of Sean Bergman, Billy Ning and Nathan Wilder basted the room with meticulously arranged, obliquely analytical rock music. Though perhaps not quite as experimental as the acts to follow, the band was no less complex in their delivery, albeit Bergman’s shouted vocals were stifled as a result of their insistence of playing as loud as they possibly could. The bulk of the set consisted of songs from the first EP (“Gone Before Dagon,” “Jesus vs the Lord”) and other releases already available, but two new songs made an appearance from the trio’s upcoming full-length debut, and were nothing if not complementary to the sound upon which the band has built.

Kansas City native Justin Wright began performing under the moniker Expo ’70 as an experimental outlet while living in California, and brought his project with him upon returning to the area. Wright’s output of droning and atmospheric soundscapes is staggering, especially as someone whose band is almost always nothing more than a floor full of effects pedals, an amp and a guitar. Recently, Wright has been playing with Aaron Osbourne (Monta at Odds) and Mike Vera, a move that only works to amplify the celestial Kraut-inspired work Expo is often known for and delves that much deeper into avant-garde compositions, replete with a looming disquietude and seemingly erratic plucking of strings. Don’t get used to the lineup just yet, though. Once the trio is finished playing a few upcoming regional shows and festivals, Wright will be back out on his own.

The last act of the night further continued the rule of three, but with the addition of the Pontiak trio being of blood relation. Lain, Van and Jennings Carney are not only brothers of the beard, but also by birth. The band call Virginia home, and on their multiple albums and EPs over the last seven years have touched on influences as arcane as Olympia drone purveyors Earth, to as obvious as psych, prog and stoner rock trailblazers like Tony Iommi. The trio played the majority of their newest release, Echo Ono (including the quite raging album opener “Lions of Least”), and so the 50-minute set was very much grounded in an ethos of organic, American psych-rock with rare instances of pedal work and noodling during soaring acid rock interludes. Banter was neither present nor necessary, in its place even more ear-splitting noise reminiscent of the forefathers of heavy metal.

I hate to be that guy, but you missed out on one hell of a show, Kansas City.

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Nerd talk: Although Muscle Worship has had a relatively short life thus far, only having been around since 2009, Sean Bergman and Billy Ning have been playing music together for over a decade. Before the release of their debut full-length in 2000, Bergman joined as second guitarist in Proudentall, in which Ning was playing bass. The band was fronted by Matt Dunehoo, who would go on to lend his voice and guitar to Doris Henson and Baby Teardrops. After Proudentall ran its course, Ning and Bergman formed Volara with Paul Ackerman (Giants Chair, The Farewell Bend) and Brandon Akin (Panel Donor). Muscle Worship drummer Nathan Wilder currently plays in both Ad Astra Arkestra and The Appleseed Cast.

Justin Wright has been evolving as a musician since he was in a high school band called Restrain, a band that was more or less straight edge hardcore, and was fronted by Sean Ingram before he later formed Coalesce. When Wright moved to Boston in the late ’90s, he threw in a few months of practice time with a group of guys led by Aaron Turner. Once he moved on, the group eventually became well-known metal band ISIS. After Boston, Wright moved to Los Angeles, where he joined Living Science Foundation, who had a release on the Kansas City label Second Nature Recordings. Wright now resides back in KC, where he runs the Sonic Meditations label and releases other mind-expanding sounds from local projects like Umberto, Sounding the Deep, and Breathing Flowers.

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Music Download Round-Up #4

Hello, and welcome to the fourth installation of a column I’ve been ignoring on this site. The music download round-up is a 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. This post, like the last, has no real recurring theme, but I recommend checking out every one of them.

Radar Defender – Sleep Dreaming Mammal (2010) – This EP took me completely by surprise the first time I listened to it, and it still gets frequent play to this day. The seven songs therein are filled with groove-heavy bass lines and poppy guitar hooks laid against a keyboard backdrop, and contain much of the same time capsule quality as many of the greatest hits from The Rentals, The Amps, and The Breeders. The EP just had its second birthday recently, so for the love of local music I really hope we can all expect something new on the way from Scott Burr, Tyler Snell, and company. Follow the link for a pay what you want download.

Lite Loins – Country House (2012) – If Radar Defender is Scott Burr and Tyler Snell’s commemoration to the laid-back tunes of a mid ’90s Kim Deal, then Lite Loins would be Thadd Lewis, Dane Carlson and Cal Santos’ exaltation of Steve Albini’s work in Shellac from the same era. The mix is purposely filthy and at times warps like a water-logged cassette, but the six tracks could just have easily been pulled from the long-neglected shelves of Sub Pop or Touch & Go when their output was still respectable. This EP can be found along with another one for free at the link to the band’s homepage. Both were mixed and released posthumously.

Grizzly J Berry – Tour Demo 4.20 (2011) – I have mixed feelings about this one. The songs are well recorded, and display some pretty decent technical guitar work akin to something in the Kinsella bloodline (American Football, Cap’n Jazz, many others). At the same time, the sound present on this recording has been a little played out now that it’s been successfully muddled down by bands like Maps & Atlases. The EP thankfully stays away from the beating of a dead horse and keeps things from getting too predictable by adding in a Mars Volta-style prog element. Free download from this defunct band at the link.

Major Games – EP1 (2011) – On the topic of weirdo prog, I present to you one of my favorite debuts from last year. I’d be remiss if I posted this EP without mentioning the great Lawrence acts from which these men came. Bassist Jeremy Sidener played in early ’90s band Zoom, guitarist Doug McKinney played in the equally revered Panel Donor (which was later joined by Sidener on guitar), and drummer Steve Squire played guitar in Everest with McKinney. The EP is textured with a reasonable measure of pedal work, and at times ventures into pure noise before coming back to a structured sound. Get it for $2.50 at the link. Worth every cent.

Power and Light – EP (2012) – It’s no secret that I adore the works of Andrew Connor. If you’ve read this blog before, you may have seen me refer to his songwriting style as a “Midas touch,” and I still stand by that statement. Between working with Ghosty (who are on the eve of releasing a new album) or playing with The ACB’s, Connor found time to collaborate with local producer Nathan Readey, and the end result is three tracks of woozy, synth-filled Euro pop that instantly became a city-wide sensation. I’m not here to tell you what’s hip and underground, my only purpose is to show you what is good. Free download at the link.

Actors&Actresses remix compilation up for pre-order 09/23

Kansas City’s Actors&Actresses has a sound that far surpasses what one would expect from just three people. The trio have steadily built a national fan base thanks to their label The Mylene Sheath (Gifts From Enola, Junius, Giants) with which they have worked for most of their existence. The label released the band’s latest studio output, 2009’s Arrows (recorded at Eudora’s Black Lodge with David Gaume of The Stella Link), though they most recently re-issued the band’s 2005 debut EP, We Love Our Enemy (recorded at HUM frontman Matt Talbot’s studio with the great Paul Malinowski of Shiner). With the recording details listed above, I think one can surmise that the band is largely influenced by a sonically driven, spaced out rock that has been championed by the likes of Failure, HUM, and Shiner, among others.

While those who are looking forward to brand new A&A tracks will have to wait a bit longer, their take on HUM’s “Aphids” can be found on the recently released tribute compilation to the aforementioned, Songs of Farewell and Departure. Locals Anakin and The Esoteric are featured on the album as well, performing “I’d Like Your Hair Long” and “Iron Clad Lou,” respectively. Author side note, I’m confused as to why no band attempted a re-imagining of “Diffuse,” a top 3 favorite of mine from the band. But perhaps this is for the best, lest it be tainted by a group who should not even be included in the first place (ahem, Funeral For a Friend).

On Friday, September 23rd, The Mylene Sheath will begin accepting pre-orders for ARC: Arrows Remix Compilation, a 14-track (digital) or 8-track (vinyl) remix and reinterpretation album, featuring various artists de- and re-constructing songs from the band’s 2009 album. A few of the artists featured include Philip Jamieson of Caspian (under the guise The Atlas Ladder), Will Benoit of Constants (using the name New Rochelle Rotary Club), Arms & Sleepers, and other artists who may have crossed paths with the label in the past. Only 207 copies of this release will be available on vinyl, and only part of that will be available for pre-order from the label. If you want to get in on this, either get your mouse finger ready or track down one of the members of the band.

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Additional nerd note: in 1993, HUM’s “Diffuse” appeared on a compilation CD released by Lawrence label Lotus Pool, titled Feast of the Sybarites. The compilation was populated primarily by Midwestern bands, including local artists Howard Iceberg and the Titanics, Sufferbus, Kill Creek, Rise, Panel Donor and Zoom. The last two bands on that list had releases through the label around that time as well. The compilation is worth seeking out for fans of local music.

Return of The Only Children; White Flight kickstarter

September 15th will mark the unexpected return of Lawrence’s The Only Children to Kansas City’s Riot Room. The group quietly went on hiatus shortly after the release of their sophomore release, 2007’s Keeper of Youth, and even frontman and Anniversary co-creator Josh Berwanger has kept mostly low-key in that time, unassumingly working in his career as a high school basketball coach. The band has plans to head in to the studio soon to record their third full-length, likely with another revolving cast of musicians.

Opening for the band will be Casey Prestwood & the Burning Angels, the eponymous leader of which once played drums for Hot Rod Circuit and contributes to The Only Children. Also playing is Major Games, a trio best described as a grown-up mix of Lawrence’s Zoom and Panel Donor, and while it would be a stretch to lump the band in with the resurgence of twinkly riffed or reverb heavy shoegaze present in a variety of sounds these days, the members play a spaced out and prog-heavy sound of rock just begging for a conceptual full-length.

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On the inverse, and decidedly not staying low-key is Anniversary co-creator Justin Roelofs, a man who has seemingly gone from being a mere mortal human to some kind of sentient, dimension-traversing being traveling the known realms of time and space. At least that is what the man would have you believe. Roelofs’ White Flight project is mid-way through a Kickstarter project for his new album, Pyramid of Light. I know not if he truly has the audacity to believe his project can get the over $12,000 in pledges required to succeed, or he created the entire project as a scheme to get people talking about his upcoming album. If he chose the latter, then he is without a doubt succeeding.

The project still has nearly a month left, but one who pledges can expect to get things such as “a 40 min. long sonic collage MIXTAPE made by White Flight in 2011, via mp3 download” for the lowest tier, or an “Amazing Crystal Quartz Necklace made by my partner Daughter of the Sun” for $111. Hell, for a meager $1,111, you can be so lucky as to receive “a CUSTOM larger scale sacred geometry painting, we can determine the image, color, etc. together via a phone conversation or skype session. Also I will share teaching on the I-Ching oracle in this conversation and teach you how to use it to make positive decisions in your life, if you aren’t already familiar with this system.” Sounds like quite a steal, that. Read the rest of the details from the project here.

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