Nonagon’s ‘They Birds’

First off; super geek level esotericism and ages NC-17(?) and up warning. Nonagon is a band forged in the fires between post hardcore, math rock, and screamo in the fertile delta of the Chicago aughts. Since then they’ve adhered to a fiercely dedicated integrity and obsession with writing fantastic short songs with unexpected time signature changes overwrought in complexity so finely worked out they only release about an ep’s worth of these terrific songs every 4 years. As a result, every single production they’ve released since they began warms. our. bones. To hear music that sounds like the constant noise in your head is a transcendent level of empathy that lets you know, there are others just like you! Granted they may be far better at getting those sounds out of their instruments and conveying those feelings, but we’re at least cousins if not straight up siblings. We walk around with a soundtrack of thought in our heads uncannily matched by the music that comes out of specific nearly impossible to discover magical circles and wonder, how’d it get in there too?! Everytime I hear Nonagon that’s exactly what I think (and also fuck I wish I was that good at it but I know I’m not willing to give it as much time and energy as these incredibly dedicated musicians (a term I do NOT use lightly) obviously must do).

They Birds front cover — now that’s ‘detail oriented’!

Secondly, an important note about Nonagon’s packaging of their releases over the years; stylistically brilliant in the way it… creates a mood (does that sound right to you? Fuck I’m not going to make every word of this article perfect — it’s not like I’M in nonagaon). All of the artwork is produced by bass guitarist and clearly quite accomplished visual artist Robert Gomez. All 3 ep’s and this full album include the signature highly idiosnycratic artwork of Mr. Gomez’s creations. One could write an entire review about the artful presentation of their latest record ‘They Birds’ (wow did it really take me until now to mention the actual title of the record!?) including front and back covers and what appears to be a small hymnal with notes and lyrics all artfully presented alone. All have a late 19th century explorers/biologist’s transcriber vibe that clearly encapsulates a highly abstruse inside joke that only the band themselves understand (for further info read the interview!). Various animals outfitted with rudimentary flying apparatuses (“They Birds”, or the “Magestic Creatures of the Sky”) grace the intricately busy and ingeniously clever cover of the album, aptly foreshadowing what lies on the black circle inside. Point is, if you’re gonna buy this album, definitely buy the record. You won’t be dissapointed. Much as I’d like to write an entire review of the elaborate artwork, you probably want to hear about the music…

This offering differs from Nonagon’s previous releases most markedly in being slightly less harsh and angular. Which, if you’re a fan, you know means it’s still indelibly harsh and angular at many if not most points. However, where previous releases leaned more towards post-hardcore and at times forms resembling what was once called ‘screamo’, the tracks on this album lean more towards more ‘mature’ indie/college and post-rock forms, focussing more on melody than the early ep’s. Passages are often spoken-sung and at times sung, even including parts with harmonies instead of all full volume screams. Which does nothing to dilute the intensity that is Nonagon, but rather increase its dimensions… also the majority of the lines are still shouted at the top of singer/guitarist John Hastie’s lungs.

The album begins with Tuck the long Tail Under, which would definitely be the lead single if they released one. If this were 30 years ago when really good music had an actual chance to make it to late night MTV, Tuck the Long Tail would rival Jawbox’ Savory in its immediate and unique appeal (for those of you under 50, when I and many others saw the video for Jawbox’ Savory on 120 minutes I ran out to buy the album the next day. So what I’m saying is a teenage version of me today would do the same thing in response to hearing Tuck the Long Tail Under, if there were still JUSTICE in the music industry). Similar to all of their works, it’s a beautifully complex piece that really captures opposing harsh and soft dynamics and blurs the lines between them. If you’re a long time punk rock fan this song will definitely make you nostalgic; like a cross between mide period husker du and a midwestern screamo band. Broadly speaking the lyrics describe something that’s been tried and judged wanting. Not that the judges were impartial nor the trial fair; “We misssed the mark. The perspective is slanted”, nor does it stop them in any way “We toe the line to forget what just happened, and tuck the long tail under”. Like a metaphor for Nonagon’s career, unappreciated but inimically brilliant, unceasing, and instead of giving up constantly working harder and getting better.

As much as I’d like to continue a song by song (note by note really) analysis, I’ve been told by my bosses and editors that I really need to stop doing that if I ever want anyone to actually read my reviews. So it’d be fair to summarize Slow Boil as one of their signature unrelentingly complex yet incredibly catchy pieces. I’m guessing the third track, The Family Meal, is going to be a lot of people’s favorite. As touched on previously, Nonagon traffics in a deliciously ecclectic post-hardcore that firmly reminds one of mid nineties post-hardcore DC Dischord groups like Fugazi and Jawbox with fascinating minor key adventures from their regional contemporaries like Minutes. Which sets the perfect tone for this tune about a ‘Family Meal’ at which something, if not everything, is very clearly not right to really fucking disturbingly wrong.

Hack and Salt continue the complex jarring stabbing and sliding motions of intricate guitar and drum work yet contain enough clarity (i.e. not an excess of distortion or redlining in the production) to be melodic and accessible enough to approach June of 44 style post rock (I’m trying very hard not to label them with the largely derided ‘math rock term’, but yeah, that too). Salt in particular has inimitably catchy super complex back and forth series of angular slides.

And whether I consciously or not mentioned June of 44 before getting to the track titled ‘June of ’14’ or whether Nonagon was making an offhand reference to the Chicago math rock supergroup who will ever know? The track certainly bears similairities to a June of 44 song, beginning with a fascinatingly dark and pensive riff on both guitar and bass that spreads out to Shellac/Fugazi like driving rhythms and then proceeds to move quickly and constantly back and forth between the two. It’s also a great example of the unpredictable off kilter drum beats and fills Tony Aimone’s famous for in his approach to odd time signatures and changes.

Jeff(s) is another unpredictable track that begins at a bridge then runs through its many different parts (I lost count at around 6), everyone of which has SO MUCH going on despite there being only 3 members of the band. Boxes is another track which could be a single given how relatively straightforward and catchy the riffs, melodies, and breakdowns are (I hear echoes of, believe it or not, drama club math rock band Faraquet), then ‘Swing Goat’ goes back to the unpredictable type that starts at such a strange angle then transitions seamlessly between complex math rock rhythms and dynamic shouting and slightly sung vocals.

By the Holdouts, it feels as though exhaustion is setting in at a complex beginning, but of course an energetic lift follows. The overall effect is, of course, jarring to say the least.
Bells is a perfect closer, “Set aside but still alive” leaving us in a state of exhausted minor key inertia where “no lung can deny the truth in the lie, son” where we “lose on all sides”.

I can’t imagine what has and continues to sustain Nonagon through all these years without anything approaching the international renown and critical lauding they deserve. Perhaps it’s that every note they put together is an intense labor of love, a struggle with the maddeningly complex and unappreciative bitch goddess of music made with so much fervor, vitality, and sincerity it’s criminal that everyone that truly loves music doesn’t know about it. Or that they feel a responsibility to their work as scientists from an elite laboratory where a rich history of thousands of previous and contemporary midwestern rustbelt independent rockworkers ply their signature sounds in deep underground esoteric niches recognizably steeped in fellow precedents in a language known only to those of us that have intensively studied whatever small pieces of it we can get our ears on. And yet we’re a disparate bunch strewn across the western world — my greatest hope in writing this is that I’ll reach a few more of us out there to let them know that Nonagon’s ‘They Birds’ is something so great that if they didn’t know about the group before now, they’re an essential part of the diet of the kind of music that people like us can’t get enough of. Thanks Nonagon for another great record!

-k. Sonin

Old Town Crier’s ‘I’m Longing for you Honey in Middleboro, Mass’

Old Town Crier is only one man, namely Jim Lough, but he did a good job making it sound like a collective cacophony, delicately sewn together with madness, abandon, and raw feeling. Released on March 13th of last year, I’m Longing for You in Middleboro, Mass, is a brilliant collection of heartfelt, sorrowful, searing, raunchy rock ‘n’ roll songs. Upon my first listen, I could tell that this was an opportunity of sorts for songwriter Jim Lough to do something different than he normally does.

Lough is also a member of the Mass bluegrass band, Riley Coyote, so I was correct in thinking this was a passion project of his, and I could tell because if I’m Longing for You’ is anything, it’s honest. When you have a few years of experience in a collaborative project under your belt, you learn the heavy but fruitful lessons of collaboration and compromise. The choices that are made in a collaborative group might not always be the ones you would have made along, but the upside to this is that you learn how to coexist creatively with other musicians, and most importantly, it teaches you humility and to swallow your pride.

Another beautiful reward derived from collaboration is that you get to find out what you want from music made solely through your creative instinct. Perhaps this is why I get the feeling that although I have not listened to Riley Coyote, I prefer Old Town Crier. It’s because I would choose rock ‘n’ roll over bluegrass any day of the week.

There are certainly hints of bluegrass in his newest solo album; all the songs from it originate from the genre, that much is clear; his voice bears the markings of a bluegrass-accented twang. But with songs like track three, ‘I Might Get Lost’, the drums, which kicks it off, are reminiscent of the Phil Spector school of songwriting and then subsequently detours down a short alleyway of John Mellencamp and Springsteen folkiness. The quality of the recording is Lo-fi and the tone of his distorted guitar is on the brink of ripping at the seams.

Track one, ‘Don’t Go’, reminds me of Blonde on Blonde-era Dylan in the timbre of his voice and the joviality of a carefree attitude and no holds barred in a slight decline in mental fortitude. When dealing with pure rock ‘n’ roll, you definitely want to toy with the edge of insanity a little bit.

Track 2, ‘Easy’ is a nice enough song, although it is my least favorite track on the record. While a sweet lullaby-like melody works well on a mandolin, it sounds too predictable to me and a bit of an underachievement. The song picks up a little more when we hit the bridge leading into the chorus – this part caught my ear – good hook.

‘Into the Dark’ – Now we’re into the murky waters of the twilight hours of the EP. This is usually my favorite part and it certainly is on this collection. ‘Into the Dark’ is an exceptional song. While I typically enjoy more sombre songs in general, this track has more depth and I get the sense I could keep revisiting it and keep getting a little something new from it.

The final track on the EP – ‘Moonlight Road’ – is a nice bookend and represents all the best elements of his songwriting on this album. Lough has an interesting ability to take desperation and dress it up in a nice poetic turn of phrase. The other thing I really like about the EP in general is that all the songs are relatively short.

To say the least, I would definitely keep a lookout for anything else Old Town Crier may release in the future. Good shit.

-Drew Wardle

Trigger Cut’s ‘ROGO’

Trigger cut is a really good band that plays their professed genre of ‘noise rock’ really well. And I’m guessing they’re a lot of fun to see live. They’ve got their shit together, they know their base well, the guitar is aptly abrasive and catchy in all the right ways, and the rhythm section of Daniel W. And Matt Dumil is unstoppably professional. And god bless ’em for finding my stupid little blog in nowhere New York all the way from Stuttgart, Germany.

But they’ve got a fatal problem, which is that everything they’re doing has been done before. By many different people in many different bands for about 30 years now. Like I said they know their genre (which they proudly call ‘noise rock’ but could easily also be called post-hardcore, hard edged math, or some other variant), but they clearly know and worship it too well to put their own stamp on it.

Stuttgart, Germany’s noise rock enthusiasts Trigger Cut

That’s not to say they don’t have specific favorite bands they imitate. Specifically, they are undoubtedly huge Steve Albini acolytes. Vocalist and ‘treble guitarist’ ‘Ralph Ralph’ may not have a voice quite as deep and menacing as Albini, but at times it sounds as though he’s directly imitating every vocal idiosyncracy made famous by Albini (at times there’s also some David Yow). I’d say if they had more of an eclectic style that melded more noise rock groups as opposed to worshipping just a few they might stand out a little more from the pack than they do…

I couldn’t find a lyric sheet on the site, but all the words are in English (why do European bands always sing in English? Seriously?). And it certainly does sound like he’s spewing a lot of Albini-esque sarcastic criticism of everything (I think I can make out something about making fun of Munich hipsters which sounds cool). But the first song starts off with the words “you are so beautiful” and I wondered if this was gonna be a cover of Fugazi’s Margin Walker (which would be have been a really interesting take). But with titles like ‘Solid State’, ‘Transmitter’, and ‘Nutcracker’, I gotta wonder if they like Albini WAYYYYYY too much… He literally quotes lines, sometimes in the voice of the great Albini, like ‘in a minute’ in a Steve Albini voice on Oxcart, or repeating ‘Transmitter’ softly 3 times, than screaming it 3 times more. Wtf is a ‘coffin digger’ anyway? The words sound like they have a good command of English, but without actual lyrics I really can’t tell. It’s possible they cut and pasted a bunch of June of 44 and Shellac lyrics together without regard for meaning other than sounding like good typical noise rock one liners…

Ultra Hip back cover

Don’t get me wrong, this has nothing to do with the fact that they’re from Germany imitating what I’d say is a specifically midwestern American genre and I don’t understand what they’re saying. I’ve heard a number of groups that sound like this from England, from Japan, and now I’ve heard this band from Germany that flew all the way to Chicago to be recorded… and they could be the new say, Mcluskey, STTTNNNNGGG! (or however that’s spelled I can’t even find them on Google anymore), some other British band that sounded like Mcluskey I also can’t remember the name of (but enjoyed in a day so long ago that if I ever found it itd be on a ripped cdr from stolen soulseek files), or any other band that never found their own voice that won’t be remembered unless they somehow market themselves hard enough that people that’ve never heard Shellac or the Jesus Lizard hear them and think they’re brilliant and original.

But the truth is, for now anyway, they don’t bring anything new to the table. Especially to people like myself that have been listening to noise rock genre bands for thirty years now and have heard hundreds of bands like them from everywhere. Which is not to say there isn’t plenty of room for originality within the genre or that there aren’t innovative bands around the globe; Ottawa’s Metz is relentlessly driving and at times too abrasive to listen to but similar enough in song style that you get used to the abrasiveness. Atlanta Georgia’s Whores. (combining noise rock with a rich vein of sludge) is beyond intense and has endless rage for every minute they have to be awake. London’s Hey Colossus is incredibly diverse and unpredictable. There are plenty more examples of noise rock groups that are doing innovative new things with the genre. Trigger Cut really just needs to get in touch with what they can do with the by now well trodden 30 year old genre that no one else can, or they’re doomed to remain in the pack of good, hardworking, adherents of the genre that are such huge fans that they’re practically a cover band.

Thanks for the album guys. You’re a great band and I hope you find your voice someday, but on this album it sounds like you’re using someone else’s.

Jeff Brisbin’s ‘Blame it on Love’…

So I know we said we’d review all submissions, and we do mean it, and we don’t mean to be mean…

But Jeff Brisbin’s Blame it on Love is decidedly NOT our cup of tea. It is well produced (in our opinion over produced), fairly well written pop music for adult contemporary listeners. And so the advertisements on Brisbin’s website say ‘corporate’, ‘private events’, ‘weddings’, etc. None of our writers are into any of those things.

Comfortable with the labels ‘corporate adult contemporary’ — not our bag, baby

While we can certainly appreciate all the time and effort that went into this record, we just can’t enjoy cliched, commercially produced pop music. While there are tracks we liked more than others, like the minor key/relatively somber New Year’s Day or ‘For a Song’ (because of the excellent slide guitar work), most of the songs are just cliched soft Boomer love songs or folksy/blues rock that honestly is just boring to our ears. We Blame it on Love. We just love different things Jeff! Different, things…

Nothing inherently wrong with any of it, it’s just… too inoffensive to entertain us. All the songwriting, themes, and notes hit remind us of 70s and 80s soft rock that bugs you in restaurants when you’re trying to eat and, like chat pleasantly with your in-laws.

Recommended for people that like James Taylor, Tracy Chapman, Bruce Hornsby. That ain’t any of us.

Always happy to hear original music from the Capital District though. Thanks for your submission Jeff Brisbin and good luck to you!

Male Patterns spew authentic local hardcore punk on their latest split 7″ (with Executors)

I have this ongoing argument with a lot of my friends. Indie rockers, prog nerds, hipsters, contrarians, noise music enthusiasts… for some reason they don’t appreciate current hardcore punk. Sure, the early stuff like Black Flag and Minor Threat was groundbreaking and great they say, but now it’s just people doing the same thing over and over. As if there’s some kind of ‘progression’ in music that’s gonna bring it all to perfection some day. As if they wouldn’t flip their shit for a local band that sounds exactly like Can, or a shitty touring band just because it has some wanker thief of singer songwriter folk cliches like Will Oldham or Bill Callahan.

I get so angry at their hypocrisy and ignorance the only thing that calms me down is blasting music like the 7 inch I just got from Male Patterns loud as my stereo goes for days. Because regardless of whether my friends appreciate it, shit like this to me is some of the most truly honest and authentic music you’ll ever hear, local or otherwise.

Photo of Male Patterns by legendary local scenestress Sara Winner

That being said, much as I love local hardcore punk, I’m in no sense as versed in it as I should be. I can’t tell you which micro-genre Male Patterns may or may not belong to, whether they’re post crust, pre-grind, powerviolence, etc. I don’t know the difference between a break beat and a whatever else the terminology may be, and don’t give a shit (though as an unpaid but self styled critic perhaps I should).

The most obvious influence a poser like myself immediately hears is early eighties Black Flag (Damaged/Everything Went Black/My War period). Both the sludgey off the cuff riffs of Mike Moak and the angry, raspy vocals of Brendan Halayko unmistakeably invoke that classic period of American hardcore. It’s also clear that Male Patterns has taken cues from dozens (if not hundreds) of local hardcore punk bands both old and new like Police Line and Devoid of Faith. And of course there’s at least some influence from After the Fall, the renowned decades strong local band that guitarist Mike Moak is the frontman, vocalist and guitarist for. There are deep histories mixed in here that whole books could be written about but never will because just a few notes of this split ep convey all the beauty and brutality of an ever evolving yet always true to its roots hardcore punk aesthetic and immediacy.

Vocalist Brendan Halayko

The first track on side B of this 7 inch (or the first track in general for those of you on bandcamp) is proof positive of what I’m talking about. “Handcuffed to the grid and I’m about to crack, Our lives are micro chipped and there’s no going back… AUTOMATIC!” The world is fucked and so are we. There’s no way out all, you can do is scream into the void. And that’s exactly what they’re doing.

All tracks share a common aesthetic (a common theme with punk bands — songs sound the same and fuck you if you don’t like em); full on starts segueing into rhythmic build ups and take downs, chugging riffs and shouted single word or phrase choruses.

Vocalist Brendan Halayko (who I recognize from his days back with local punk legends the Neutron Rats that we were too drunk to remember seeing) has an idiosyncratic, full throated raspy half shout that conveys grit, anger, and despair in full measure. Regardless of whether or not he sets out to sound original or idiosyncratic, his voice has a rugged angry survivor quality that I haven’t heard the likes of anywhere else (but is clearly influenced by hardcore legends like Henry Rollins).

Self Abuse is lyrically quite similar to a Keith Morris Black Flag song. Straightforward, hopeless, depressing, and kranky as the sky is big.

Bassist KC Carvill

Fear Mongering is a screed against anyone and everyone that makes life into one paranoid fantasy about terrorism. Fact is danger is everywhere, terrorism’s just one more guise; “A thousand ways to the grave/we’ve evolved so quickly/but are so easily afraid”. It’s all too easy to play on people’s fears to get them to stay inside, live like mice and just consume. But if you fall prey to that, it’s like you’re already dead. Instead, Male Patterns tells us to “Live your life!”

When’s all said and done, to me the greatest thing about the kind of classic, ceaseless hardcore music that’s been going on since the late 70s is its self aware disposability and lack of (endless fight against) pretention. The ultimate nihilistic denial of any sort of progression in a musical form that stays true to its roots instead of trying to have individualized gimmicks that shows how special the group you’re listening to is, the ceaseless recycling and repetition that says ‘this is our music and we’re playing it cause we love it. We don’t want your money or your fame, we just want to express ourselves the same way our heroes have for years for ourselves and our friends who all feel similarly.’

And Male Patterns is yet another in this hardcore grind of American punk bands; they stand out from their peers in a way I really appreciate in their complete lack of trying to be ‘he-man’ music or show off how tough they are (a characteristic of more adolescent and foolish ambitious young punk bands), and what each of their individual talents brings to the band as veterans of dozens of other great punk rock groups that wanted nothing more than to write and play great music, and stop as soon as it stops feeling right and starts feeling like work. And in all likelihood, when this inevitably happens to yet another great punk band and sadly we have no more Male Pattern music to review, we’ll probably hear about Brendan, Mike, KC, and Dan’s new bands. And the vicious cycle continues. You either get it and you love it or you don’t and you never will.

-Scott Koenig

Asa Morris’ Loud and Sad

As the mail room attendant here at Times Boredom HQ I get an unusual behind the scenes peek of our operations. Still I was dumbfounded when last monday Scott Koenig, our editor in chief, pulled me aside and said “Gram old boy old pal, you seem to be caught up on your sorting for the day. Maybe you could help me out by doing one of these reviews I’ve got pilling up!”

Not to be one to miss a golden opportunity I started eyeing the folder labeled “Maggot Brain” as I’ve been excited to hear their new stuff. “Not so fast there Grammy boy” Scott knowingly interjected, “I have an album that’s perfect for you, I’ve got to see if your reviews are worth even committing to print before you waste time trying to review a great local metal band.” He handed me a folder labeled “Asa Morris” and I thought to myself, who the hell is that? Hopefully he riffs hard.

Here I am on the following Wednesday figuring that I should probably get this over with before the holiday. Opening the folder up I’m greeted by a fresh pressed CD-R with Loud & Sad scribbled on it in sharpie, an oddly formatted packet of lyrics, and a note from Scott telling me to check my email for the photos and cursing me out for not changing the toner in the color copier again. I pop the cd into my vintage Aiwa XR-X7 CX-LX7U.

The album starts off with an instrumental track named ‘Theme for a British Television Series’ which is a pretty apt name as it starts with a riff reminiscent of something Nick Drake would have come up with (if he hadn’t taken that forever nap after feasting on his happy pills). It drips of the same sort of melancholy but is simpler and as it repeats a full band arrangement joins in for a short jaunt before the track ends at about 41 seconds fading out one note for about 60 more seconds — at least I think. I don’t know for sure as I skipped to the next track.

While the next track, ‘Away We Go’, started playing I opened up my email and poured myself a pint of Rebel Yell bourbon. The tune can only really be described as lo-fi pop. I’m almost glad the lyrics were included in the folder as the vocals were buried in the busy and noisy mix. I say almost because the last thing this world needs right now is another song about driving across the country for a girl.

As the next track starts the cover image finishes loading (on my 56 kb/s internet connection). I think it’s a purple cat. It might not be a cat but it looks more like a cat with every sip of bourbon. Unlike the track I very much like cats. The track reminds me of my recurring nightmares of being forced to listen to shitty rock tunes on the school bus early in the morning. With its creepy toy piano/ palm muted guitar chord progression, the track repeats until a false climax around the one minute mark where Asa kicks on a distortion pedal and strums the same power chord 69 times (hehehe) before the piano loop begins again and the guitar goes back to being annoying. The whole thing loops around again this time with some extra strumming when the power chord gets loud again and the song ends with the chord progression with the distortion pedal left on.

The next track is another hissy instrumental with a name I like, Paper Bag on Fire, which makes me think that the paper bag is filled with what this album is made out of. At this point as I’m pouring another pint of critic juice the photo of Asa pops up right underneath my mouse cursor and it looks like there is a little hand on his nipple. I included a photo of the photo, look at it, it’s so funny.

Finally we have come to the end of the album, and to its title track ‘Loud & Sad’. I actually kinda like this song though it may be the booze talking or maybe i’m just used to hearing songs mixed like this or even quite possibly it’s the lyrics that make me think he didn’t get the girl after all. Who doesn’t like seeing the hero fall on his face? Either way Asa, whoever the fuck you are, if you do ever read this if you got the girl it’s not because of this record. It’s despite it ,and that’s real love. If you didn’t it would give you a chance to make a better album for the right woman. One with maybe a clearer mix that even the shittiest of speakers can reproduce clearly and less of that one pitch shifting delay used all over that makes this album sound like 2013 all over again. Remember next time you can’t polish a turd, it’s too soft, you have to shellac it. To most of the others who will read this it may sound a bit harsh but at least this chap has put out an album, his fourth this year. You most likely haven’t and that makes you a bigger turn than what you could fit in the bag.

-Gram Vossen

Maggot Brain’s Illumine

On their latest album Illumine, Maggot Brain has delivered their long awaited follow up to their phenomenal full length debut Stop and Breathe. This album clearly sees the band moving away from pure sludge metal and post-hardcore, experimenting with the stoner of Sleep, the prog of Isis, and the great early work of popular sludge band (now who knows what to call em) Mastodon. However, all the old fervor and brutality of their former albums and singles are still heavy in the mix. Maggot Brain is clearly growing and developing, experimenting with the dozens of metal genres that have evolved over its fifty year history (even NWOBHM believe it or not).

Layout and design by Alyssa Quinn & Ryan Slowey

One thing that hasn’t changed is the uncompromising vocals, especially of lead singer Mike Hait. Despite the increased use of melody, riffs, effects, and lulling passages from the rest of the band, all vocals from all contributing members are still painfully screamed without mercy, vanity, or anything approaching the more commercial side of sludge and stoner metal you might hear on the radio. This may be after all what sets Maggot Brain completely apart from their peers, the unyielding in your face post-hardcore throat straining vocals that remind one of Steve Von Till of Neurosis, but only when he fuckin screams. Also it probably should be mentioned these guys are clearly influenced by forty years of local hardcore and metal scenes, spanning hundreds of bands that most of us have never heard of (though we’d be happy to trade 7 inches of the ones we have). And as usual, the beautifully sorrowful doom/noise passages that show how little they care for ‘staying in their lanes’ and differentiate them from so many other metal bands that refuse to grow or change.

An old photo of the band (the only one we can get that’s not from another review site… we’re poor…)

This album was clearly layered by the band, moving from relatively laid back (though portentous of doom of course) to full driving madness and back again several times through the course of the record. As soon as you’re lifted up and driven on, they unexpectedly bring you back down to the ‘pit of despair’ in split seconds. And then back up just as quickly.

The record begins with a harsh though low noisey passage (somewhat similar to their previous album which began with a short buddhist throat chant), which segues into a wailing stoner riff with a beautiful echo delay that keeps the noise in the mix. Death metal/metalcore vocals, bass and drums join the mix for what’s clearly a far more laid back song then Maggot Brain’s produced before. Spiraling is a triumph of noise and stoner metal that could be a radio hit if not for all its spikey edges. It ends with a sludgey, almost grunge riff.

Sharp Teeth builds the momentum with drummer Jared Krak double kicking, Sean Fortune’s grinding bass lines and Ryan Slowey’s palm muted riffs; the typical fare I’ve come to expect from Maggot Brain. It builds to a galloping wail, all the while post-hardcore/grind vocals from both lead and backing vocals of Hait, Slowey and Fortune. Then ends on a doom note, shouting vocals fading out into noise. Lyrics are brutally unsentimental and, like much death metal, make frequent reference to body parts and the scar tissue that forms over emotional suffering.

As the Crow flies is straight sludge/post-grind at full driving clicks. Aptly so given the lyrical content references the envisioned Christian resurrection, rejecting any notions of heavenly fare offered, instead riding into the sun “to burn in the flames forever”. Halfway through the song slows to the progressive sludge and nihilistic sound of turn of the century Neurosis.

The Beast again gallops. The lyrics are the stereotypically ominous, almost prophesizing. Recognizable as being influenced by Neurosis, but also possibly Black Flag (Neurosis began after all as a fairly straight hardcore band). By now the tone and speeds of the record are clear. If you love it by now, you’re gonna love the rest. If you don’t, well fuck you then.

Illumine is the track that stands out on the record. Seguing noise/doom passages reminiscent of Isis lead up to proggy metal style jamming. The vocals join, way low in the mix. Lyrics are impenetrable and clearly very personal. This is clear doom to show the band’s not finished experimenting with any genre they like.

By Paradise Hill, the influence of both Neurosis and early Mastodon comes barreling in, rushing without mercy nor sentimentality. This song is almost catchy in its soaring chord progression, preceded and ante by the driving sludge Maggot Brain’s known for.

And then another left turn into The Sea which is practically Slayer/NWOBHM style hyper blues/metal, followed by those soaring noise metal passages I personally love.

The album ends with Eidolon, the track where Isis’ influence is most clearly heard. The whole song is like an ode to that sickly sweet prog/doom, battered of course by the vicious vocals.

Overall, this record is certainly not as stark or immediately ear catching as their 2012 effort. It’s a record that grows on you and digs its bloody claws into your mind slowly, churning with the ages of a thousand thousand metal and hardcore bands that add their influences into the mix. Maggot Brain is clearly transitioning and experimenting. I can’t wait to hear where they go next.

Lone Phone Booth’s RE/SOUND

The strongest influence I heard when I first listened to Lone Phone Booth was an unmistakable similarity to the vocals of Chan Marshall/Cat Power. However, since Grace Annunziato (the mastermind/main songwriter behind Lone Phone Booth) is at least 20 years younger than I am, it’s difficult to determine a concrete set of influences given my own time limited knowledge base. Even if the influences I hear and am familiar with are present, it’s possible that these have come to Annunziato removed through other, newer artists.

In any case the beautifully sorrow and highly expressive vocals are at least Marshallesque, though they also at times sound Van Ettenesque (Sharon), Timonate (Mary, of Helium fame), or Jane O’Neilly (TJO from so many great bands… I’ll stop now). Especially since the music, while poetically sorrowful and at times as hopeless as Cat Power, herald a wide range of influences and personal innovations. Especially on tracks like 222; a hi-fi version of a beautiful yet endlessly unhappy version of an early lo-fi Cat Power track yet replete with strings and all kinds of warm sounds from signature found sounds (which are almost always present on all the songs on the album) and noise collages.

Another influence I hear loud and distorted (which to be fair I hear everywhere in good independent rock like music that may well have come from their influence on grunge, Radiohead, and every other good thing that’s come out since them) is Sonic Youth. This record is rife with intentional delays, missteps, and a wall of noise at least made partially by naturally distorted guitars. But also, a striving for good yet unusual pop vocal and guitar line melodies to accompany the less traditional, more experimental (and thus to me at least far more interesting) music. A Month in Autumn, for example, could be a lost track from Sister. It even has a noise buildup and breakdown at the end. But I also hear echos of of Sonic Youth acolytes such as Polvo and Blonde Redhead. And who knows what the kids are actually listening to these days that sounds like the shit I know? Yeah, I’m old. So old I should stop rambling metastically about influences which I’m most likely getting all wrong already, right?…

Mysterious and dark, this Lone Phone Booth facebook photo possibly illustrates how intertwined art and machines have become by featuring recording equipment instead of members of the group

Yeah. So, not only is Lone Phone Booth impressive for a local group, but as I already knew from their debut album ‘Music For the Faint of Heart’, has the potential to be a national (albeit underground as all good music is in this century) phenomenon in the independent rock community. But this usually requires ceaseless touring, label support, and an enormous word of mouth, or better yet word of mass media like Pitchfork or Stereogum. For now Lone Phone Booth only has word of mouth. But the words are getting louder and more encouraging with every new piece of music released. Music for the Faint of Heart was one hell of a debut album, but alot of that greatness was in the potential that was clearly available to this undeniably talented and unique singer songwriter. RE/SOUND has completely, magnificently delivered on that potential promise.

Whereas the previous record relied on fairly typical ambient sounds like low pitched conversations for background noise and muttered singing that reminded me (probably not many others by this point given how OLD all my references are) of the second Velvet Underground record (valuing ambience above all else), this record uses far more unusual noises for its found sounds. And also like the self-titled ‘Velvet Underground’ RE/SOUND is full of wonderfully catchy and pretty pop melodies. The use of ambient sounds not usually found in typical music is on full display on “Greyhound”, made up in large part by old touch tone and early modem sounds. But, of course, these noises are blended in with synths and processed to give them a background fuzz that blends them seamlessly into the song in a way that probably makes every other songwriter ask themself; why don’t we do that?!

A rare shot of Annunziato (playing guitar) and accompanying trombonist

In terms of pop melodies, every other track that doesn’t include experimental noise passages or starts and stops delivers not only catchy tunes but well played guitar lines, such as Dimmer and Creation Myth. Iridescent similarly has beautifully worked out melodies alongside found sounds like clinking silverware(?) which reminds me of the tender sullenness of a Tara Jane O’Neill song. A mesmerizing passageway into a sombre picture of an everyday humdrum living space where “each floor board creaks and snores”. And when you try to influence or change things, big or small, “some plants die, and some plants grow. how much of it can u control?” Not a lot. But the way Grace describes it is highly controlled, and conveys exactly the message the lyrics paint with the unusual but highly skilled guitar playing and drop outs for unusual sound collages.

A professional logo we found among Lone Phone Booth’s personal effects…

There are also a couple of unexpected tracks that border on circus music, and when listening to the lyrics you see how well it fits. For example, Creation Myth (ostensibly based on a bizzarre Larry Bird obsessed Svalina poem) asks;

“when you sink to the bottom of the stew, who are you?
reality can be a downer too, one strange view.”

The even more evil carnival feel of the depressingly (ironically) peppy Hot Wax begins with a lyric that reminds me of the Bedhead song ‘Unfinished’, both of which start with dipping your fingers in hot wax. But it ends with the devastating realization that; “Even when you dissolve, you still have to work your job” — a cryptic statement like that somehow makes perfect sense, in this silly unplanned circus of a protestant work ethic society of ours where your life is defined by whether you work or not and the only thing you have to do to ostensibly prove your worth is going in to work every day. And Annunziato’s wise enough to know “there will be pain, it will go away…”, like it’s all just some stupid joke that still unreasonably guides our silly, pointless little lives and deaths.

Overall, this second (we think; if not, tell us where we can get the others!!!) record delivers on the promise of “Music for the Fain of Heart” to fulfillment and then some. Lone Phone Booth and its ‘lead visionary’ (we’re not actually sure how many of the instruments are played by Annunziato given the litany of at least a dozen other people that are ‘featured’) have here clearly taken their songs to the next level. Proving to be adept at both ambient noise, aptly scored backgrounds played by ‘classical’ instruments, AND innovative sounds from everyday objects that seamlessly careen into a sleepy, pensive, and sombre in the best way record.

Per our understanding, Annunziato and the other members of Lone Phone Booth recently attended the College of St Rose (which has a surprisingly excellent musical program and studio). It’s unclear if they will remain here in the Capital District or move on to greener or more urban pastures in the near and/or far future. Wherever they venture, we’ll certainly be following them. Though we hope upon hope that they’ll stay in the area and perform live for a long time to come. It adds so much beautiful noise that we here at Times Boredom and in the Capital District independent DIY scene can NEVER get enough of. Thanks so much for sharing your voice and your vision with us. It hasn’t and won’t go unnoticed, and we’ll sing its praises to anyone willing to listen.

Camera shy Grace Annunziato is the mastermind behind Lone Phone Booth

Do yourself a favor and give Lone Phone Booth’s new record a listen here, or on Spotify or other streaming services. We do however, highly recommend the Bandcamp link, where if you make a purchase all proceeds go to the presciently relevant and vitally important GWORLS rent and gender affirming surgery fund, which provides badly needed help and community services for transgender black people.

Sky Furrows gave me a free record and all I have to do is rant about how much I love it!

Let me start out by saying this is a record made by a band of scene veterans, that only old dogs like myself will truly appreciate and gush over but certainly can be appreciated by anyone that has a deep and abiding love for anti-corporate rock music.

Do you remember when J. Mascis would drive east from Amherst and put together a band with the cream of the capital district crop to back him up; Jason Martin, Troy Pohl, Suzanne Thorpe, Al Kash? Times Boredom remembers.

With Sky Furrows, famous journalist, music critic (intimidating to be criticizing a critic!), poet and performer (collaborating with superstars like Mike Watt, Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby) Karen Schoemer has done something similar in Saratoga. At first glance you could say she hired a pre-grouped band of performers based on their all being associated with Burnt Hills, but each of them has an independent voice and has worked on multiple projects throughout the years both during and prior to their involvement with seminal regional superstar collective (that dozens have played for or in one time or another) Burnt Hills. And with this group of talented noise scenesters that includes introverted solo recorders Parashi and Rambutan, members of Century Plants, etc. (the list goes on much longer but stops around there on the press release) unlike J., Sky Furrows has made something lasting, significant, and, if you don’t mind an old dog howling along… fantastic!

Unlike your and my new and old bands, none of the members of Sky Furrows are trying to be the new or the next anything. They’ve been there. They haven’t tried to merge sludge with level plane style screamo to be on Pitchfork’s list of the ’10 greatest new sludgo bands’. They’re a band playing music they love, have always loved, and will always love. Hipsters and societal trends in contemporary music be damned. The sound is clearly retro and eclectic, but the music is true to its independent, outsider cultural force that independent rock and punk decidedly was. And obviously in their case still is; this band is for those of us that comb through old independent record stores shelves and old label catalogues, still seeking that additional great one neither we nor any of our friends have somehow ever heard all these years that are say, the missing link between post-punk and lo-fi… Sky Furrows’ sound is both tied to a very particular point in time yet timeless. It runs the gamut from proto-punk straight through to post noise rock without any skips, jumps, or irregularities that wake you from this timeless indie-rock (what the term meant in the early 90s, not the aughts or later) classic.

And when you hear them you can tell right away they’re all well versed and rehearsed. Their influences voluminous. The experience contained within their roster intimidating. 30 or 40 years of experience from Brooklyn to Saratoga, from SST to SYR, from Mike Watts to Burnt Hills (or their similar comparative collective Sunburned Hand of the Man from the Massachusetts side)…

The music, when taken altogether on the surface oddly enough reminds me most of mid to late 90s Sonic Youth. Hardiman’s solid, interesting bass lines often decorated by easy slides up and down, in and out. Locked in by Donnelly’s skillfull busy drumming and seamless fills of tried and true indie rock rhythms (with plenty of jazz references intentionally willfully or not, often using a brush kit). Guitar chords, lines, rhythms and strum work from the outstanding undeniably well versed Mike Griffin. As for the vocals, I’m immediately reminded of the typical speak singing of famous poets ‘rapping’ over punk rock and no wave in the late seventies and eighties east village. And then, of course, the famous women that took it to the next level, specifically Patti Smith and Kim Gordon (although Lydia Lunch definitely deserves a place in there Karen just doesn’t evoke that kind of raw unsophisticated rage). Just like these NYC poetess legends, Schoemer exhibits both confidence and vulnerability, the knowledge that what she’s writing is important and at times even brilliant… But she always has enough humility to consistently break 4th walls whenever she finds herself getting too serious (a line she’s better at staying below than some of the decidedly pretentious rants Smith and Gordon have gotten into over the years — the trappings of too much fame and worship).

The band’s sound must be described as minimalist. A standard drum kit, bass lines that run the gamut from seventies punk to distorted 90s angst, and a mostly clean indie rock guitar laying down the rhythm and melodies beneath the poet frontwoman that sings neither verse or chorus, but speaks her lines in an unpretentious amelodic relatively unemotional though sometimes too quickly (trying to say scores of lines per song) sings peak. Yeah, it can get pretty beatpoet/beatnik (or hippie if you’re unfamiliar with the nice way to say it). But not in an annoying way, not to me. More like a measured, knowledgeable way that makes use of volumes of precedent, takes the good aspects and foregoes the shit everyone knows and makes fun of. Mostly. Other people will probably view the entire soundscape as pretentious east village shit. No one can help that. If you don’t like what they like, you sure as shit ain’t gonna like Sky Furrows (and I’m guessing they really don’t care. This is a mature group of people that knows exactly what they’re doing and who they appeal to).

While influences like Sonic Youth and the Minutemen are easy to hear and point out, the roots go so deep that some of what I hear is the similarity of lesser known but also great 80s and 90s indie bands like Seam and Pell Mell. And I’m sure every critic could find a dozen other bands they like that are either obvious influences when you think about it or buried deep within the beautiful mosaic..

The obvious standout track is the first one, and one those of us that have been watching them for awhile now are already familiar with, Alyosha. I’ve read through the lyrics many times now and am still trying to figure out whether the reference is to the famous Alyosha (Karamazov) or not. It seems to be about woman. A number of different women, each of who has their own stream of random thoughts which are all kind of tied together by the fact that being women influences how they think, how they may be excluded in music scenes, etc. No idea what it has to do with Alyosha.

The second track Ensenada is almost like a cover/renewal/sequel to the 3rd track on the first Stooges record ‘We will Fall’ (how’s that for a deep cut?). A rolling baseline rapped over by both a sing song vocalist, constantly changing drum/tom lines and fills and heavily effected guitar. I can practically hear the ‘ho gee ranjha’ or whatever the fuck the Ashetons are saying in the background. The only issue I have with this track (and the album in general) is its placement; I understand that they’re trying to let you know they’re an experimental band that jams and has far out guitar effects and experimental noises (sounds like a mix of reverb pedals, a glass slide, strumming and picking the strings right above the neck or below the bridge) sooner rather than later, but a track this long and low that just hangs for a long time shouldn’t be at this spot in the record… maybe at the end like Sister Ray so you can groove out or shut it off if you don’t feel like listening to all the wanking…

36 ways of looking at a memory has a sound so familiar and yet so hard to place; because it’s that song your band played 20 years ago that never quite came together because you knew it was so great it deserved more than your band could do for it; well Sky Furrows did it and finished it beautifully. There’s no chorus (like the other songs, not even a repeated phrase, just anti-commercial stream of conscious banter), and it’s made unnecessary by the recurring bridge full of affected guitars. Not to mention the guitar chords that define the verse and most of the track that are so despairing and angsty yet enduring you can’t help but picture yourself on a downtown stoop smoking a joint with your friends complaining about highways and trains and crummy diners trying to remember a bunch of references at once struggling against the short term memory affects of the weed…. well that’s how it affects me anyway. And the regional references to the Taconic, Kew Gardens, and Prospect Park only serve to make me think the song could very well be my own thoughts some night…

The Mind Runs a Race and Falls down is pure low key late Sonic Youth (in the beginning I hear Thurston’s ghostly voice about to say ‘these are the words but not the truth’…) / To me it’s about a complicated relationship that’s both great and entirely frustrating — great as long as you’re not asked to define it, but as always Karen feels she has to; “We’re not exactly lovers and not exactly sister and brother”.

By Foreign Cities the band’s in comfortable and by now familiar territory. Like the last few songs have been gaining momentum and this one revved it way up with immediacy and much stronger velvet underground tones, then went straight into triple overtime (which is the best and most unexpected part of any game) … this was the great song everyone would demand an early eighties borderline no wave band of regulars at cbgb’s play whenever they took the stage. A neurotic New York rant about someone longing to travel but getting caught up in a swarm of planning with old maps from a shit low wage jobs and ideas about old hollywood starlets and where did we begin (somewhere in a sontag novel that unconsciously segued into a Saul Bellow passage, a Suzanne Vega rant, something an angry twenty something keeps yelling drunkenly on the street)? ‘I wasn’t fired! I quit!’ Truly a lost classic that no one knew was out there. A perfect energetic closer that leaves you cheering for an encore.

Apology by way of footnotes; this review wasn’t written by a professional writer but rather a real fan. One that’s very grateful that the music they love and have always loved is still being made and innovated upon and somehow, despite all the difficulty involved and research they otherwise would have had to have done to have found this fantastic record in a dusty old record store about to be shutdown, it somehow fell in my lap. This one’s a keeper for sure.

— Ipolito Terentjia