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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.

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KC Psychfest: Day Three Wrap-Up

At some point between his scheduled Friday performance for which he never appeared and Sunday afternoon before KC Psychfest’s third and final night, Brock Potucek was unearthed from a hazy slumber to open the evening as South Bitch Diet. In place of the bedroom lo-fi Potucek records, often imparted with nonsensical spoken word voice-overs, he instead used crudely wired sequencers cast across the carpet on which he sat. Cords gushed like a fountain from his devices, spreading in a tangle in front of the wealth of resources he bore. The Lazy front man produced a meandering array of sounds that amassed over a nearly 20 minute arc, becoming periodically abridged before once again gaining strength. Upon completion, an encore was requested by the meager audience, to which he complied with a shorter, improvisational piece.

Yesterday, I made reference to how just hours before they were set to play, guitarist Jeremiah James chose to depart from Be/Non in pursuit of other musical interests. James is a fickle man, having also been a part of (and subsequently disbanded or moved on from) Elevator Division (in which he used the last name of Gonzales), Lovers in Transit, and Mannequin Skywalker, in addition to performing as a part of the live band for a variety of others. The new project from James is known only as Yuo, and experiments with idiosyncratic electronic programming only transiently similar to a select few the venue hosted over the weekend. Floating background loops were carefully pressed into his sampler, becoming planar with the vivid colors of sound he created through a white Fender bass, Moog synth, and an Alesis MIDI controller.

Distorted against the art installation and screen towering behind Phil Diamond, scenes from a familiar Disney film were projected. From amplifiers placed about the room, the melody from Aladdin‘s “A Whole New World” was heard, soaked through with the synth with which he was tinkering. As Scammers, Diamond hunched over his equipment, playing the same measure until looped, then slowly wove through the crowd with a cordless mic. After stoically making two rounds singing a verse of his own creation, Diamond returned to the front where he would walk up to those standing and extend his hand. “Do you trust me?” he would ask, before pulling them out from the mass. The thumping bass, drum machine and inherently upbeat rhythm gave those singled out no excuse but to dance along, and the songs heard will be released on his new album, Magic Carpet Ride.

As Surroundher, Sterling Holman stood in front of the audience for the third time in as many days. Each act in which he performed was more euphoric than the last, with the final being the most aurally impressive of the three. Abstract rhythms and breaks pulsated with an IDM sensibility while Holman was awash in colors complementary to the sounds he engineered. In unison with jazz, electronic-based ebullience, and an unspoken respect for hip hop production, the final performance was hours shorter than I would have preferred. On the night of the performance, Surroundher released an intrepid collection of his first three albums, all available in a beautifully screen-printed LP jacket. Yes, the man has three entire discs worth of what was heard, and I was too foolish to grab one the moment he began tearing down his gear upon completion.

As a composer, Matt Hill has the ability to create some rather chilling portraitures through Umberto‘s obsession with the macabre. With a performing live band, however, he often devises a humorous farce that could leave some unsuspecting attendees perplexed, at the very least. For one night only, Umberto became The Folk Implosion, and surely I can’t be the first one to suggest The FOKL Implosion as the name of their tribute. My ears perked up when I heard the warbly synth, and I had my assumptions the moment I heard the distinct bass line for “Natural One,” but until the rest of the band came in I thought it may have been an homage at best. What resulted was a 25+ minute version of the band’s lone charting single, and the entirety of their slot. Phil Diamond convincingly mimicked Lou Barlow, but he told me after the set that he was hardly familiar with the song.

The final act of the festival was one of only two musicians performing that does not currently reside in the Kansas City or Lawrence region. Bloomington, IN, native Dylan Ettinger finished out a relatively psych-free evening with one final blast of ’80s influenced synth pop. The bespectacled Ettinger stood over a folding table covered in keyboards, synths and other tools with which to modify and skew the sound he created. His approach taken to the subgenre was simplistic at most, but at the end of it all, a mind-melting set of complexity wasn’t really what I or the crowd wanted. What they did want, though, was more saxophone. The set was opened with a sax player standing to Ettinger’s right, but through most of what followed he enthusiastically danced along to the music while still behind his mic stand. A group of people started to yell out “Pump up the sax!” until he finally made another appearance, and it certainly ended the night on a high note.

For the final night of the festival falling on a Sunday, the crowd hadn’t dwindled too badly. After the live music stopped once and for all, people began to congregate in the entry area and on the sidewalks in front of the space. As far as I’m concerned, the weekend was a success. If not in attendance, then in the quality of people I met and the nonstop music I witnessed over the course of three nights.

A final thank you to Leah O’Connor for the wonderful photographs she took at the festival. See the rest of her shots here.

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.

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)

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.

Music Download Round-Up #3

Hello, and welcome to the third installation of what may actually become a somewhat regular column on this site. Who knew? 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 each of these releases are recommended to be listened to with a nice set of headphones.

Actors&Actresses – ARC: Arrows Remix Compilation (2011) – I wrote about this release early last week when the pre-order was announced, but was not expecting the album to be available for a free dl prior to the street date. For those who did not read it, A&A is a KC based trio specializing in a Failure-esque kind of sonic space rock. They have one full-length and a recently re-issued EP under their belt, and this remix album is being released by their longtime label The Mylene Sheath. The album features drifting, atmospheric, and skewed versions of the songs present on the band’s titular release. This may not be free for long, so get it fast.

Living Ghost – Lavinia’s Hands (2011) – Dan Davis is more recently known from Lawrence’s Muscle Worship, or even Wichita’s now defunct Ricky Fitts (among numerous other ICT bands), but for the last year he has also been at the helm of Living Ghost’s dark, distorted, gothic-friendly, middle of the map answer to the annals of 4AD’s best offers from the last 25+ years. Think of the most bleak moments from Cocteau Twins’ Treasure and Xiu Xiu’s Fabulous Muscles, echoed and dubbed from blown speakers. Lavinia’s Hands is a sophomore release, and can be found along with 2010’s Wilderness Names, for free at the link.

Burger Kingdom – Shugazi (2010) – I’ve been a cheerleader for this band since this album first came out early last year, and by the end of 2010 this still remained one of my favorites. Burger Kingdom is a two-piece originally from the Columbia, MO, area, who now reside somewhere between KC and Lawrence. The vocals display a falsetto that nearly reaches the same height as Lush’s Emma Anderson, against a backdrop of clearly My Bloody Valentine inspired drone. Shugazi contains six tracks that should be listened to as one whole, and at a deafening volume. The album can be downloaded for free from Columbia’s Yards&Gods label.

Auternus – Dissonant Sea (2011) – I will be the first to discredit the perceived merits of instrumental rock. Bands like Explosions in the Sky bore the hell out of me, and others seem to exist solely to track commercials for businesses who wish to appeal to a younger audience. I was expecting much of the same from Auternus, but was pleasantly surprised to find that while they do not break the mold, they certainly give it a little roughing up. Hell, half the album features scattered vocal arrangements, almost negating the label altogether. Auternus disbanded recently, and in its place A Light Within has emerged. Get Dissonant Sea for $5.

UMBERTO – Prophecy of the Black Widow (2010) – In short, former Expo ’70 contributor Matt Hill’s sophomore release is an eery, synth-laden ’70s throwback to master composers Goblin and the scores of horror classics from Italian directors Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. The haunting synths only serve as one layer of what results in at times a quite new-wavey and danceable horror pop album (take that term with a grain of salt, mind you). Though Hill’s debut, From the Grave…, served to much the same crowd, his follow-up efforts to Prophecy have thus far been a bit of a let-down by comparison. This album is a $5 download.

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