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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.

02/24/12: The ACB’s / Fourth of July @ The Brick

Maybe it was the drink specials, or maybe it was the end of the work week. It could have been because four-piece The ACB’s recently had a Daytrotter session go live, even though it was recorded on a stop in Chicago last summer. Just as well, it could have been that both The ACB’s and opener Fourth of July are something of local darlings to corporate alternative trash station 96.5 The Buzz when they are allowed the weekly two-hour respite from playing Jane’s Addiction and Muse to air up-and-comers in the local music scene. Regardless of the reason, I’ve never witnessed The Brick get as packed as it was the night that two of the area’s best acts took the same Kansas City stage to display material both new and old.

Brendan Hangauer’s Fourth of July began their set at about 10:35, stripped down to a four-piece, free of the horns and keys that frequent their recordings and live shows. Joining him on stage was his brother Patrick on bass, and another set of siblings in Brendan and Brian Costello on lead guitar and drums, respectively. At its peak, the band’s lineup has grown to six people, with additional contributors, and in the early days the project was started as an outlet for Brendan alone. The band played a 40-minute set, during which songs that are normally meandering and melodic in their recorded direction were given a different focus, taking on a faster-paced jangle pop vibe which perfectly synced into the evening and the energy of the crowd.

There was a noticeable lack of Katlyn Conroy and Adrienne Verhoeven on stage, both of whom provided an additional charm on the songs to which they contributed on the band’s most recent full-length, Before Our Hearts Explode! Songs that were played in their absence received a commendable fill-in from members present, while others (“Bad Dreams (Are Only Dreams)”) were omitted from the set entirely. The band’s time on stage was spent frequently shifting between songs from the most recent record (the hyper-catchy “Self Sabotage”) and the first full-length, Fourth of July on the Plains (“Purple Heart”), but always kept a fool-proof musical theme combination: drinking and girls. Furthermore, new songs were played from a record (produced by Chris Crisci) that is expected to drop in 2012, and the band is adamant it will be their best yet.

The ACB’s began their set at 11:40. Last time I encountered the quartet in a live music setting, they all were dressed in drag (complete with smeared lipstick) for the Ultimate Fakebook-hosted Halloween show at the Bottleneck last October. I’m sure they were all very thankful to be able to play without worrying about getting a stocking run, and lord knows those heels can be a pain in the ass. The set has not changed drastically since then, with much of it focusing on their lauded sophomore album Stona Rosa, though they threw in debut album opener “You Did It Once” to appease the crowd. There is no reasonable explanation as to how singer/guitarist Konnor Ervin can hit the falsetto notes he does, but that single feat instantly sets the band apart from most others in the area, not to mention the group’s inclination toward hit-makers of former times.

My single complaint about the set is the speed with which the band plays “My Face.” It is arguably the best song on Stona, and is likely one of my favorite locally-released tracks in recent years, and deserves the same patience when played live that it was given in the studio. That said, I still must praise the harmonization and vocal trade-offs that take place during the chorus and that the pace is kept steady, if not sped up a beat or two. Besides playing staples from the newest album such as “Italian Girls” and “I Wonder,” the band played some more recent efforts like “Feel Winter,” a song which also appeared on the previously mentioned Daytrotter session. There was also a brief 30 seconds where they played Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash Into Me,” and we are all better off for that not having lasted longer than it did, even if their tongues were placed firmly in cheeks at the time.

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Nerd talk: While Brendan Hangauer has almost exclusively kept his songwriting under the Fourth of July moniker, the same can hardly be said for the rest of the band. As mentioned above, the newest album has voice contributions from both Adrienne Verhoeven and Cowboy Indian Bear‘s Katlyn Conroy. Conroy probably would have been in attendance had it not been for a prior engagement at The Bottleneck with her newest band La Guerre. Patrick Hangauer has not only collaborated with Verhoeven on her post-Anniversary project Dri (who have a surprising lack of crossover thrash songs), but also plays all instruments under his electronic alter-ego 1,000,000 Light Years. On that note, former FoJ guitarist Steve Swyers can be seen these days remixing and skewing others’ tracks under his Say My Name alias.

Patrick and Brendan’s brother Kelly still contributes to the band at times they require horns, keys, or additional vocal harmonies. Kelly has also worked with the Costello brothers in Save the Whales, an experimental Lawrence group whose permanent lineup is about as murky as Fourth of July’s; and White Flight, former Anniversary frontman (and ex-FoJ drummer) Justin Roelofs’ love letter to the extraterrestrial plane of existence for which he yearns. It should also be noted that Lawrence label Range Life Records has released output from most of the bands that you see listed in this section of the story thus far. If your mind has not yet melted, there is also former lead guitarist Andrew Connor, who miraculously juggles his time between Ghosty, Power and Light, and The ACB’s.

By comparison, the direct family tree of The ACB’s may not be quite as complex, but there is still some interesting blood lines that tie in with Kansas City music. About a year ago, Konnor Ervin formed a Belle & Sebastian and late ’60s psych-influenced pop band called The I’ms with Kyle Rausch and his brother Collin. One listen to the debut ACB’s album and one can instantly and correctly presume they were influenced by Cheap Trick. The sounds were not unfounded, as both Kyle and Collin were previously a part of rock/powerpop band The Abracadabras, which paid tribute to the ’70s powerhouse bands like T Rex, though to speak in more recent terms, both the Abras and the ACB’s could be compared at least in part to the sounds of Supergrass. Alternately, Kyle and Collin’s cousin Kasey Rausch has been a well-respected musician in the local bluegrass and Americana music scene for well over a decade.

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.

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