Wednesday, December 26, 2007

CD Review: Jason Quicksall's "My Wiser Side"

by Dave Schaefer

Jason Quicksall’s newest release My Wiser Side captures you almost instantly in the first track and holds on to you throughout. Much of this is the quality of songwriting that he exhibits as well as the smooth instrumental arrangement. The CD could easily be a droll set of acoustic folkiness, but instead he lifts it to a very listenable, surprisingly honest set of songs.

It would be easy for Jason to fall into a melancholy muck and make it difficult for his listeners to escape from it without losing an emotional shoe or two. Instead, he uses just enough restraint to make songs like “Wiser Side” and “Unbreakable” intriguing in their balance of light and darkness, involving the listener and creating something that’s musically interesting and lyrically thoughtprovoking.

In light of this delicate balance that he seems to so effortlessly maintain, I asked Jason about his songwriting process.

“My songs usually start with one hook, be it lyrical, melodic or hopefully both. Just something that grabs me. From there I usually get a verse or maybe several ideas for verses and a chorus. I seldom finish a song in one sitting -- I have to let the song breathe and then revisit it over the next days, weeks, months, sometimes even years. I’ll play it live and see how it feels. The last thing to come together is usually the subject of the song. I don’t feel a need to spell everything out or tell a complete narrative, I like to write in snapshots and incomplete images all scattered about. Then I edit -- taking some parts away, repeating others, maybe add a bridge -- until it makes sense to me.”

Jason seldom sits down with the planned intention of writing a song. When he tries that, generally nothing comes. Says Jason: “I just have to let things come out and let the process unfold.”

And those that buy My Wiser Side are the benefactors of that unfolding process. “Take Me Down” skims auditory ingredients from a country recipe then builds a crafty, catchy song that’s wordsmithed to near perfection. “Better Habits” could be a 1940’s foot-tapper playing on a Victrola, with it’s soft percussion and playful guitar. “New Friends” has a bluesy touch.

And that’s one of the many appealing things about this CD -- although it has a general uniform sound, the style of songs vary widely, including the depth and insight of the lyrics. Even when you come across a song like “Enemy,” which is fairly bland musically, Jason puts words together in such a way that you can’t help but listen intently, drinking in the story he tells.

The Jack Johnson and Ryan Adams comparisons are inevitable from a musical standpoint, with maybe a touch of Ray Lamontagne from his Trouble days. The likeness is apt, but on the same token, Jason stands on his own -- these aren’t copycat songs by a person trying to be someone else.

For the first time ever for a CD I’ve reviewed, I’m giving My Wiser Side five buses. This is quality work and an incredible set of individual songs that also work beautifully together as a collection. You walk away from the CD truly believing you know a bit more about Jason Quicksall and, somehow, you’re a better person for it.

If you see Jason perform, you’re just as likely to catch him solo as you are to find him leading a five-piece, thanks to his relationship with such bands as the Floorwalkers and Nova Madrugada. He hosts a songwriters’ round called Cowtown Round with Jesse Henry (of Jesse Henry and the Royal Tycoons) at the Rumba Cafe on Mondays where they often get touring acts to take part. Jason also hosts an open mic at the Rumba on Tuesdays. His next band shows are on Jan. 19 and Feb. 2 at Andyman’s Treehouse.

My Wiser Side is available at Lost Weekend Records and on iTunes.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Locals in the CD101 Big Room During Andyman-a-thon

The Andyman-a-thon always features great local music in the CD101 Big Room and this year's no exception. Starting tonight and running through Sunday, Andyman's got some amazing Columbus bands helping him stay awake in order to raise money for children's charities. You can tune in online or turn your Columbus radio dial to 101.1fm. And don't forget to call in and donate!


Nuclear Children 8pm
Earwig 9pm
Blue Eyed Gunslingers 10:30pm
Stonebyrd Midnight

Dammits 11am
Delyn Christian 1:30pm
Willie Pheonix 4pm
The Razers 8pm
The Receiver 9:30pm
Rickie C. 11pm
Colin of Watershed Midnight

Glare Noon
Blasphemy Saints 1:30pm
Happy Chichester 3pm

Thursday, December 13, 2007

CD Review: Downplay's "A Day Without Gravity"

by Dave Schaefer

“We started to build a name for ourselves as the crazy party band that could put on shows as long as six straight hours,” says Downplay lead singer Dustin Bates of their early days at Ohio University where the band began with the current member line-up. “But we still weren't a full blown original band in my opinion.”

That happened when the band released their first full-length CD Saturday in 2005, a year that also marked their move from Athens to Columbus as their new home base.

“I think the local Columbus music scene is great,” says Dustin. “There’s a very strong indy and heavy metal/hardcore scene especially. Tons of really good bands, like Embassy, For The Drive, Sighlo, Lovesick Radio, Bullet Jones, and Philo. This is definitely not an all-encompassing list -- I can’t possibly list every band that I’ve seen and like. And I’m sure there are sweet ass bands I've never seen.”

Downplay’s second full-length, A Day Without Gravity, was released in November via True Anomaly Records -- a label started by Dustin and business partner Rich Vertanen in late 2006. The album has already gotten some East Coast exposure on Undiscovered Radio Network where Downplay was ranked in the top five “Bands You Need to Know.”

A Day Without Gravity benefits from Downplay’s four years together. The playing is tight, the songs lean, and the vocals are very nearly impeccable. The CD mixes alt rock, power pop, and a touch of metal into a combination that’s tough to nail down into a single easy-to-label sound. And that’s just fine with Dustin.

“Not that we are the best band of all time,” he says, “but the press tends to label us as pop rock in their listings. I don’t care if they call us the shittiest band of all time, as long as they don’t just throw us into some generic pop rock bin.”

I agree. Though the pop rock label may be somewhat understandable, given the general need of many to stuff bands into a neat and tidy little box, it shows a decidedly superficial examination of the album. The driving “15 Minutes,” the rock riffs of “The Stain,” and the metal-tainted “Down To Zero” are strewn amongst the more alternative sounds of “Edge of the Universe,” “Sleep,” and the infectious brilliance of “Average Unknown.” In the mix, too, are the straight-up rock of “Maybe” and the closer “Back For More.”

That being said, it might be expected that A Day Without Gravity would be a schizophrenic mess -- on the contrary, it’s a tight, well-balanced album with tracks that stick with you. Granted, not every song is a winner -- “Queen of New York City” provides little in the way of something different, sounding very much like, well, a B-side -- but by far the majority of the twelve tracks are quality work.

Lyrically, the songs are creative, insightful, and pieced together with incredible precision. Dustin paints a lyrical picture that manages to place the listener in the center, creating an added layer of depth. The musically lacking track “B-Side” is unabashedly rescued by its well-crafted, melancholic lyrics alone.

Bottom line: Downplay’s A Day Without Gravity is an exceptional CD of alt/rock/powerpop/etc. songs that are memorable and listenable. After spending a week with the disc, I definitely recommend it.

Here's the song-by-song rundown:

The Stain
Okay, I have to admit the intro grabbed me. Not everyone sings about Ohio, let alone be brave enough to include it in the opening words of the opening song of a CD. Though the verses of the song are an up-and-down vocal and lyrical simplicity that I found somewhat bland, the music to this song is good and the chorus is a catchy foot-tapper that makes you want to revisit the song. On a minor note, the bridge is really good -- flows perfectly out of the song, then back into it, without disrupting anything.

Edge of the Universe
Dustin’s voice is the highlight of this track, effortlessly sending the lyrics weaving through the arrangement of guitars, drums and bass. This is a standout song -- the lyrics are clever, memorable, and the music blends beautifully into them.

Like “The Stain,” the chorus stands out, while the verses take a an unfortunate backseat. But, again, it’s such a damn catchy refrain (and the clever lyrics -- “You’re the reason I gotta take pills to sleep” -- get easily trapped in your head), that it’s forgivable.

15 Minutes
A nice rocker that takes a bend or two that you don’t expect, this track can’t help but be a fan favorite at live shows. It’s danceable in a testosterone-filled, head-bobbing sort of way, while the ladies can jump around and wiggle to it. Again with the good lyrics.

Queen of New York City
My least favorite track and one I just wish wasn’t included. Not that it’s completely unlistenable, but it doesn’t come close to matching the quality of the rest of the tracks. This is one of the few songs where the lyrics don’t work for me. Though they do work well with the music -- for what it’s worth anyway -- but the wit and depth that are evident in other tracks are lacking in this one.

Average Unknown
Easily my favorite track. “We’ve been walking on egg shells just to please you...” are lyrics that grab you, even though the beat and music have already snatched your attention. The refrain is brilliant, danceable fun, without the wit of the lyrics letting up. This is a song that’s extremely well-built, with everything working well together, creating a clever, pop-rock track.

Filthy Voodoo
I really didn’t want to like this song. Like “Queen of New York City,” the lyrics on this one aren’t up to what Dustin shows he’s capable of writing and at first it was hard to get past the somewhat corny line “...the filthy voodoo you do.” But the music on this one is well done and pulls you back into it. You do have to be willing to overlook some of the lyrical content -- though there are the occasional bright spots (“...we’re all addicted to the glamorized, get on your knees and glorify...”) -- in order to enjoy this track.

Okay, this is an odd one. The music on this track is definitely a yawner, fairly standard stuff that really doesn’t offer anything new. But this is a song that’s rescued out of the pit of mediocrity by its brilliant lyrics. Not an easy thing to do. It’s so lyrically well-crafted you can’t simply dismiss it, even though you initially want to. Take the time to actually listen to this song and you may feel the same way.

Down to Zero
This is another guitar-driven rock track. Piecing together standard rock-song lyrics with some more witty, Downplay-like wordcraft makes for a radio-friendly, highly listenable song. I wish it had a bit more of a rock feel, though -- it teeters on the brink of being a cool, musically harsher track, but pulls back before actually reaching it, as though they were trying to make it heavy, but didn’t quite succeed.

Fade Away
The guitar opening to this track is intriguing and draws you in, then it bursts with a harder edge that features some creative drum work. Downplay chooses not to beat you over the head with the tune, but instead injects just enough musical subtlety to create some depth.

This is as close as Downplay comes to a ballad. It begins much like “Fade Away” with a pleasant, subdued sound, then belts out a chorus that’s infused with loud guitars and pounding drums. The sound is built very deliberately and the vocals match it very well. Once again, the lyrics work.

Back For More
A lot of really drawn out notes in this track, which I’m still undecided as to whether it works for it or against it. It’s a pleasant enough song, but lacks a bit of originality. I would have preferred a stronger close to the CD -- perhaps swapping the order of this track with “Maybe.”

You may or may not like the genre of alternative pop that Downplay’s A Day Without Gravity falls into, but I don’t believe this release deserves to be quickly labeled and neglectfully pushed aside. For the most part, the songs are well-built, creative, and stand out lyrically. And throughout all these tracks -- like them or not -- Dustin’s voice is spot-on.

Upcoming shows:
12/21 Timberlane's, Salem, OH
12/29 Flannagin's, Dublin, OH
1/11 Skully's, Columbus
1/19 Fat Jimmy's, Kent, OH
2/1 The Greenville, Chagrin Falls, OH

Sunday, December 9, 2007

CD Review: Philo's "Self Destruction In Dark"

by Dave Schaefer

Philo had what was essentially a debut performance on December 1 at their CD release event at a packed Skully’s. Rarely does a local band that has barely even graced a stage together garner such anticipation, but such is Philo.

Their performance was what was expected -- which, considering how high those expectations were, was fairly impressive. Apart from a technical glitch that caused them to lose power just as their intro was building, and Butch seemingly unhappy with the tuning of his bass, the show was nearly flawless. As much as Corbin doesn’t consider himself a singer, he’s damn good at it. Not only that, but it matches the tonal and lyrical content of the songs incredibly well -- caught in a space somewhere between screaming and crooning. It works.

I was able to pick up a copy of “Self Destructive In Dark (Part 1)” at the show and I found it to be highly listenable.

At first, I was struck by a few of the songs, dismissed others, and felt that overall, the disc was promising.

But then I hung out with it for a few days. And I began to be drawn into the milieu that Philo paints in sound and lyric. The collection of songs became a fascinating, multi-layered bit of storytelling that I couldn’t as quickly dismiss. This is not a pop album filled with danceable tracks, nor is it dark alt-rock -- it falls somewhere in between, but then unexpectedly jogs off to the side.

The production of the CD has to be noted. It has a well-built sound that has multiple depths but at the same time isn’t overdone. You get the feel that it’s more reproduced than produced -- there are no gimmicks and nothing about it seems pretentious. It leaves you with the unmistakable impression that this is Philo, not what some producer thinks Philo should sound like.

Here’s a song-by-song rundown of their 6-song CD, “Self Destructive In Dark (Part 1)”:

Aqua Morning
Mixing depth and danceability, this track works well as the intro to Philo. The transitions of simplicity into power intro into the emotional thrust of the vocal and lyrical content is a good audio picture of the band. The song is filled with great hooks that stick in your head. Although the old-school fade-out at the end isn’t very satisfying, it’s certainly forgivable.

Possibly the best song, the opening guitar riff instantly grabs you and hooks you back into the song whenever it graces the track. It’s emotional, with a darkness that doesn’t overpower the song. Although it continually threatens to sink into shoe-gazing, it never goes there, creating an exceptional track with the perfect balance of bright music, dark lyrics, and dim emotion.

Lipgloss With Strangers
Again the simple intro keys work, harking memories of Ah-a’s largely ignored (but now acclaimed) “Scoundrel Days.” The lyrics have a sense of mystery to them, leaving you piecing them together in an attempt to figure out what the song is about. Corbin as a lyricist is exceptional in this regard, not only on this track, but throughout the CD. Each song leaves you with your own interpretation which ultimately creates a much more personal musical experience. The build-up to the final repeat of the chorus is a great pay-off, trailing into a simple keyboard to reflect where the song began.

With “Sonnet,” you feel as though you’ve been jarringly tossed into a song that started a stanza or two before the track actually begins, which sets you back a bit while you mentally try to catch up. Once that happens, the song is actually quite good. The chorus is memorable and features yet another great build-up about three minutes into the song that could very well be an homage to Queen’s “Flash Gordon” title track. This is one where you definitely take notice of Corbin’s voice -- at once holding back a scream and then belting out a chorus with such clarity that you understand every word that’s sung.

The Haunting and Apathy’s Broken Record
Although I generally avoid using the term “emo,” these are the tracks that it most resembles. Each is a belting lament that again teeters on the brink of shoegazing, but pulls back just far enough to avoid cliche. This is what Philo seems to do to great success -- they wrap themselves in what so closely resembles cliche (or at least something you’ve heard before), then surprises the listener when the wrapping begins to fall away to reveal something far different than what might be expected.

This is a CD that’s definitely worth noting. It has some brilliantly written tracks that only get better with age. Philo is a force to be reckoned with that already has a fan base and the wherewithal to get this release in the hands of a label and ultimately get themselves signed. I have a feeling this disc will go well beyond Columbus.

Indie Art Capital of the World: City Council Resolution

On Monday December 10 at the 5PM city council meeting, Council member Maryellen O'Shaughnessy will introduce a resolution declaring Columbus the Independent Art Capital of the World.

If you'd like to support the effort and join in on what just might be an historic moment, come to the Council meeting in the City Council Chambers at City Hall, 90 W. Broad St., 2nd Floor.

Monday, December 3, 2007

• Philo's big debut & CD review
• Cincy's Junior Revolution CD review
• A new CD from Downplay
• The Receiver