by Dave Schaefer
If you believe that the Columbus local music scene lacks the kind of talent that’s good enough to hit it on the national level,The Iry will prove to you that you’re sadly misinformed.
The Iry creates piano-driven pop rock that is atypical enough to grab your attention and has a depth of lyrical content that’s intriguing and makes multiple listenings a must. This is music that’s alive, three-dimensional, and is bright even in its darkness.
The band is a four-piece consisting of Stefan Schwartz (lead vocals, keys), Stefan’s cousin Jordan Lothes (drums), along with Gregory Hewes (guitar) and Chris Williams (bass, backing vocals). All have known each other since they were kids -- back when Transformers were likely far more important than the potential for rock stardom.
Their sound has been compared to Coldplay and even the band’s own press release agrees, and adds Cold War Kids to the list as well. Though The Iry smacks a bit of these artists, the man that immediately came to my mind in hearing the CD for the first time was Ken Andrews. Andrews was the lead singer of Failure back in the nineties who, after the demise of the band, released a couple albums under the moniker On. He most recently formed Year of the Rabbit that released a self-titled CD in 2004. It’s the Year of the Rabbit album that reminds me that most of The Iry. The comparison to Andrews is far more apt than that of Coldplay -- and perhaps more complimentary.
The Iry’s CD Dinner For Two on the Moon is amongst the most even-sounding albums I’ve heard. Nowhere in it will you find a song that suddenly takes an odd turn nor does the band include a song that is out of place. Each track fits into the larger whole in such a way that you wonder if it would all fall apart if one were missing. Not that this is a concept album or some bizarre experimental CD, but rather each song leads you along so well that you hardly realize that 44 minutes and 11 tracks have passed between your ears as you experience the mix of storytelling and flowing tunes.
In the midst of writing this review, I had the opportunity to catch The Iry perform at Oldfield’s and experience their musicianship firsthand. I already knew from listening to their CD that their talent was formidable, but seeing them live revealed that they’re every bit of formidable with a hefty dose of entertaining. Whenever the front of a band is stuck behind a keyboard, there’s the risk of creating a rather undynamic situation where you’re hearing a rock band but seeing a lounge act. Not so with The Iry. Stefan keeps up a lively interaction and Chris follows suit, while Jordan keeps things moving behind the drums and Greg puts up with all the inside jokes directed his way. They have fun on stage, and whether the audience is there or not, you get the impression that that same fun would still be had. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see The Iry perform, take an evening and do it. You won’t be disappointed.
But getting back to Dinner For Two on the Moon, I have to talk about Stefan’s vocals. His voice is an interesting mix of ballady-smooth with a hint of raspy-rocker, which creates the perfect reflection of Greg’s guitar work and Stefan’s own piano playing. Chris’ backing vocals weld with Stefan’s, making an even stronger blend when put together.
The lyrical content is a mix of storytelling and poetry. Seldom do you scratch your head wondering the the hell they’re singing about. Though by no means simple, the lyrics are often straightforward and have an impressive depth. Even when the depth isn’t quite there, the musical content lifts it up and keeps it afloat.
Bottom line, Dinner For Two on the Moon is not only an impressive CD, The Iry have an impressive sound as well. With the right breaks -- and if they keep up with the quality of this release -- these guys will have a very successful future.
Here’s my take on five standout tracks of the 11 on the CD:
The Iry was smart to open with this song. With its rock tones and piano-driven underpinnings, it’s a prelude to what’s in store for the listener. “Blackout” is a strong offering, giving hints of the quality that’s being offered if the CD remains in your player.
I’ve Seen It All
Sounding like it should be coming from the UK rather than from Columbus, Ohio, this track is the one that I found replaying itself in my head when when I was away from my iPod. It’s blend of catchy lyrics and clever hooks are subtle, but infectious.
This song is my favorite on the CD. A seemingly simple ballad, it’s actually a beautifully layered track with lyrics that are both storytelling and emotional. A melancholy road trip woven into a comfortable blanket that’ll keep you warm in the backseat as you make your way down route 66.
The most different of anything on Dinner For Two on the Moon, “Six Stories” has a nice late-sixties sensibility that creates a musical flow that carries the lyrics beautifully. The blend of piano, a few moments of driving drums, and vocals makes this track a definite standout.
December (Part 2)
This track hits it strong from the outset with a Mika-esque blend of piano, guitar and drums. The last song on the CD, it’s a good track to end on, making you want to hit that play button to start it all over again.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
by Dave Schaefer
Posted by dave491 at 3:53 AM
Thursday, February 14, 2008
There's no one in this city -- and likely beyond it -- that plays Irish music better than The Drowsy Lads. Think you don't like that genre? Listening to these guys will change your perspective. See these guys live and you'll be dancing to a jig before you're able to even get down that first Guinness.
Their CD release show is tomorrow night, February 15 at the Shamrock Club, 60 W. Castle Rd. Admission is $2 for nonmembers. A fish fry, of all things, starts off the evening at 5:30pm - 8pm for a mere $8 for all you can eat.
The Drowsy Lads hit the stage at 8:30pm and, in their own words, "Do our thing until we're tired out."
Posted by dave491 at 6:27 PM
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Central City Recording announced today that former Workbook Studio co-owner and current Pretty Mighty Mighty band member Jon Chinn is joining the studio as producer and engineer. Andy Dodson, Central City president and co-owner, called it both a "merger" and "joining forces," implying that Jon would be more partner than employee.
From the press release:
While co-owner of Workbook Studio (2000-2007), Jon worked closely with hundreds of bands and songwriters to fulfill their individual goals and move to the next level of their careers. Jon's involvement in projects ranges from writing and co-writing, to multi-instrumentalist studio musician, to straight-up engineer. His personal work includes alternative and pop rock full-length records, soundtrack music for television and film, and writing and recording for commercial applications.
A few client list highlights include Top 40 darlings Saving Jane, McGraw-Hill, VHI, A&E, MTV, HGTV, hip-hop/indie-rock producer RJD2, Warner Brothers recording artists The Sun, and punk rock pioneers The New Bomb Turks. Jon has also worked with renowned producers such as Tony Berg (Peter Gabriel), J.Robbins (Jawbox, Clutch) and Ben Hillier (Depeche Mode, Blur).
His live sound experience includes mixing shows in every major city in North America, working venues of all sizes, ranging from coffee houses to baseball stadiums to internet, radio and television shows such as Regis & Kelly.
(The too-damn-cute photo blatantly stolen from Jon's MySpace page)
Posted by dave491 at 3:33 PM
Friday, February 8, 2008
by Dave Schaefer
With the name Black Spyral Dancer, images of a grim Cirque du Soleil rush into your mind, and though it’s not a good comparison, the analogy does imply a great show -- and BSD delivers with a healthy mix of metal, rock, poetry and performance.
The band formed in Athens, Ohio, from the ashes of Anything But Kind with drummer Justin Farcas and guitarist Majed Khurshid forming BSD with the addition of Alix Andrews on bass and lead vocals. After a few line-up changes, Matt “Hutch” Hutchinson -- also a former member of Anything But Kind -- joined Black Spyral Dancer about two years later to free Alix of his bass-playing and allow him to focus on the vocals, and the current line-up was formed.
“The band has had members come and go,” Maj says, “But I consider the band BSD once Hutch entered the group.”
Black Spyral Dancer’s sound is a concoction of metal, blues, and melody blended together with the dynamics of Alix’s vocals, which can belt out a scream one moment and a beautifully on-key note the next.
“We had heavy blues and metal influences from the start,” Justin says, “which are evident in our earlier tracks such as ‘Blues Delux.’ Since then, we’ve become more dynamic and purposeful in our writing, and as a result our style has become more progressive and poetic.”
Hutch agrees: “It’s become a more focused, whole entity. In the beginning, there was a lot going on simultaneously that was cool and interesting, but not necessarily cohesive. As a result of some pretty intense gigging and a couple of recording sessions, we’ve basically been forced to evolve into a single musical unit, versus four independent musicians competing for space.”
Once getting together, Maj, Justin, Alix and Hutch didn’t waste any time making a splash on the local scene. Not only did the band make the finals of the Columbus leg of the international battle-of-the-bands-style Emergenza in June of 2007 -- held at the now defunct Little Brothers -- but Maj was named Best Guitarist.
“The Emergenza thing was cool -- I wasn’t expecting to take the award,” says Maj. “It was a nice gesture considering how hard we worked. The other guitarists were deserving as well, but they lacked energy -- I want to see some anger, blood and passion on the face of a guitarist, not just precise notation. I think that was the difference.”
Winning awards is one thing, getting noticed in the often-saturated local scene in Columbus is quite another. I asked them what they think sets Black Spyral Dancer apart from other bands in the area.
“Presence,” Justin says. “I think what really sets us apart is our live show. When the four of us get on stage and interact with the crowd, we aren’t just playing music -- we’re entertainers. We have an infectious excitement to our sets, and it’s a real, tangible experience that keeps people engaged.”
Hutch takes takes his answer in a different direction. “We relate to the world through the music we create, not through the image we give off, like many bands unfortunately do. We just try to write and play what feels good to us.”
“We’re not faking,” Maj adds. “What we feel is what we play.”
But then Hutch has to agree with Justin. “ Come see us play live. That’s the way to truly appreciate BSD.”
I agree. I went to a show to see an entirely different band and stepped away with the feeling that Black Spyral Dancer may soon become a creative force in the Columbus scene. Their energy, and onstage camaraderie is evident, but so is their musical ability.
But having said that, going to their MySpace page and listening to their recorded tunes is a bit underwhelming. The live experience is vibrant, while the in-studio work is a bit flat. I asked Maj about the difference.
“That was done only two months into the band taking its final cast,” he told me. “I wish it did have the energy we have live, but that’s a tough thing to achieve. I want to do a full live recording, but until we drop a major amount of cash, I think we will always have that problem.”
And the recording was a very do-it-yourself process, according to Hutch. But that’s beginning to change.
“We just finished tracking a new single of “Blues Delux” at Pendlwood Studios here in Columbus,” he said. “It was a pretty interesting process -- our first time working with a producer. We had to cut out and edit parts of the song with him and it gave us some insight into a more commercial recording process as opposed to the DIY approach we’ve been used to.”
BSD splits their time between shows in Columbus and back in their home of Athens and they definitely see a difference in how the two audiences respond to their music.
Hutch: “Athens has a tendency to more quickly accept musical styles that break from the norm. Both towns have great music scenes, but I'd say that by and large, I’ve noticed that Columbus crowds tend to prefer our more straight-ahead rock songs, whereas the intricacies and variety of our music is more appreciated down south.”
“And Columbus is a bit more difficult to get into,” Maj adds, “And it’s more widespread. But both are very diverse and informed music scenes.”
All four of the members of Black Spyral Dancer aspire to doing this as their primary job, but the challenge looms even larger for Justin who’s also a full-time dad.
“It’s hands down the most difficult juggling act I have ever been asked to perform in my life,” he says. “The schedules are so diametrically opposed it’s just ridiculous. When I arrive home from a show, I’m at times greeted by a rising sun and a cranky baby -- on top of having no sleep and having played and driven for the past eight hours. It’s insane. And this is only the beginning.”
I have a feeling when that baby’s dad and the rest of Black Spyral Dancer look back, they’ll see success in their past and an inevitably bright future.
Black Spyral Dancer will be playing Skully’s on Wed. Feb. 13.
Posted by dave491 at 5:30 PM
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
by Dave Schaefer
Creativity is often the mother of reinvention. Bill Jordan, formerly of Black Cat Revival, proves the philosophy with his persona Banjo Drill.
Despite the name, this is an entirely solo effort. After the breakup of BCR in 2006, Jordan chose to focus on things other than joining another band.
“We were a psychotic, dysfunctional, happy family that experienced lots of crazy shit together. When it ended, I couldn't fathom jumping into another relationship like that with new people.” And his new mission was clear: “I started over from scratch and set out to find what it is that I really love about music and what messages I really want to convey.”
And for the most part he succeeds in Banjo Drill’s first effort Music For Humans. A somewhat Beck-like excursion, the CD moves in many directions, but never steers too far from the spacey, robot-love sound that backdrops nearly every track. The creative aspects of the whole are at a high -- something that has the potential of derailing an effort such as this, where art can get in the way of true creativity and end up just creating something odd. Fortunately, Banjo Drill avoids this precarious pitfall and gives us a collection of songs that are storytelling, fun, and often deeper than their surface may imply.
“With Music for Humans, I tried my best not to force anything,” Jordan says. “I knew I wanted to make an album that was fun and could be thrown on at a party. But I also wanted it to have some depth.”
Teetering on the songwriting edge between strange and significance is where Jordan often finds himself. “For me, songs are fleeting things that are constantly swooping around in my head, so I grab whatever I can hold on to. Sometimes it's a lyric, sometimes it's a melody or a bass line or a rhythm. When I'm lucky enough to find the right thing, it lives with me until I become obsessed with it and I can't focus on anything else until I find the other parts that go with it.
“It's kind of like working on a puzzle or molding with clay -- find the right pieces and then massage it until there's a living, breathing thing smiling back at you.”
And smile it does, especially with the opening track “Robot Boy,” which tells the story of an alien robot and his brief quest to save the world with the help of -- you guessed it -- Banjo Drill. Intermixed in the lighthearted lyrics is the deeper tale of a planet in peril and the implied solution of unity.
It’s a positive theme that’s evident throughout the CD, and intentionally so.
“The title, Music for Humans, comes from the idea that our culture seems to be focusing less and less on people as individuals with emotions, ideas, and unique perspectives and more and more on people as commodities, consumers, or political allies or enemies,” Jordan said.
He could’ve easily focused on the negatives with this type of creative endeavor, but chose not to. “I wanted to look at this idea and say, ‘Yeah, some shit sucks, but life's pretty freakin' cool too!’”`
One particular song that exhibits the positive depths that he mentions is “MotherSun.” An enigmatic excursion, the track has an underlying emotion that belies the poetic simplicity of it’s lyrics.
“I struggled with the lyrics for ‘MotherSun’ for a long time,” Jordan told me. “They're probably a little bit abstract to a listener, but for me they represent some deeply personal experiences. Writing it required me to open up more than I had before and remove a veil of protection.
“That's one of my favorite things about writing music,” he continued, “sometimes it requires you to take an honest look at yourself and accept your vulnerabilities. When you do that, you can experience life more openly. At least, that's how it is for me. Sometimes I make peace with myself in the process of making a song.”
This time around, that process included a beat up old acoustic guitar, a Beta 58 vocal mic, a midi controller, a handheld recorder, some shakers, pots and pans, and Garageband on his iMac. Everything but the drums were recorded by Jordan in his spare bedroom. For the beats, he sent MP3s of the songs to his friend, and Noctaluca drummer, Brandon Schlunt in Cincinnati. Using Fruity Loops and live drums recorded via Pro Tools, Schlunt created, in Jordan’s words, “the perfect, tasteful beats.”
An amateur-ish process with a surprisingly professional outcome -- Music For Humans sounds at the same time everything and nothing like the process he describes. It’s a rich recording that lends itself to additional discovery with each listen.
“I have lots of fun making music.” Jordan says. “Hopefully some people will dig it along the way.”
Some people, including myself, already do.
Here’s the song-by-song rundown:
With a healthy dose of funk rhythms, this track is infectious. I’d rate this song as the most Beck-like -- a clear influence of Banjo Drill -- but it’s too clever and well-written to dismiss it as such too quickly. All the elements work together to create a great opener to Music For Humans.
Back to the Shore
The CD’s best track, this song is a bluesy excursion that goes just where you want it to. I can’t help but picture a Southern, elderly trio, jamming the freeform blues from their rocking chairs and sipping fresh-squeezed lemonade in the hot Louisiana sun. Smooth, cool, refreshing, and digitized.
Waiting for the Aliens
What would happen if Beck collaborated on a song with Neil Diamond and it was produced by Ennio Morricone? “Waiting for the Aliens” would happen, that’s what. This is an intriguing song, part spaghetti western, part 60’s sci-fi and entirely enjoyable.
Pop the Bubble
On most of the tracks on this CD, the layering of sound -- both mechanical and natural -- is effective and appealing. Not so much on this song. The layers don’t quite work as well as the other tunes and instead of being a seamless mesh, it ends up being a distraction. Also, the percussion on this song is too tinny and gets in the way of the flow rather helping it along. However, I have to say that the clever refrain rescues “Pop the Bubble” and ultimately makes it listenable.
This is a well-written, though cryptic, melancholic ballad that captures your attention and keeps it, making you want to at once solve the mysteries of the words while at the same time placing your own meaning into them. This is easily the most organic of any of the tracks -- save for some distracting minor electronic sounds -- and it’s nice to have a bit of a reprieve from the mechanical and dip your toe in the more traditional in the midst of Music For Humans.
The opening seconds of this song initially turned me off as I quickly judged it as Banjo Drill’s artsy indulgence. However, as the song kicked in, I realized how wrong this judgement turned out to be. It’s actually a grungy, guitar-driven track that has some clever inner workings. Banjo Drill creates a great moody piece that flows effortlessly with the lyrics. But I still don’t like how it starts.
Rock the Radiation
Easily the most poppy of any of the tracks, this 70s-esque song hints at R&B and has some great, seemingly light-hearted lyrics. It’s a fun little number that definitely makes you wish there was a dancefloor nearby.
This is a mood-driven yawner. Though the arrangement is done well, there’s not enough interest musically to keep you listening to the phenomenal lyrical content. I wish the vocals -- which are exceptional -- were wrapped around a better overall song. This is close to being a good track, but just doesn’t quite hit the mark, even though I really want it to.
If Banjo Drill wrote and performed a Schoolhouse Rock song, it would sound something like this. Well, except for the lyrics, which aren’t very Saturday-morning. Though I would’ve preferred the stronger “Rock the Radiation” as the closer to the CD, “Battery City” is fitting. It reiterates Banjo Drill’s ability to tell a poetic story that allows the listener to fill in the enigmatic gaps and it shows Jordan’s ability to create music that fits it.
You can purchase Music For Humans at CD Baby: http://cdbaby.com/cd/banjodrill
Posted by dave491 at 4:38 PM
Saturday, February 2, 2008
by Dave Schaefer
The Damnits officially release their CD Songs For Sugarpants tonight at CBR’s. Rumor has it that lead singer/guitarist Bob jokingly introduced his then-band at a near-empty venue as Dick Darnit and the Damnits. The name stuck around and was shortened to just The Damnits. That was well over a decade-and-a-half ago and they’re still here and still putting out quality work.
Songs For Sugarpants captures The Damnits surprisingly well. From the opening track “Want Love” to the tongue-in-cheek “Biscuits and Bluegrass” to the entirely enjoyable cover of “Here Comes the Rain Again,” the CD delivers a solid alt-pop-rock sound with just enough garage to still give it that old-school feel.
At first listen, the overall CD, although exceedingly appealing, comes off as a simple matter. By no means will you drown in the depth of lyrics, but you certainly will want to wade in, if nothing else than for the cool feel of The Damnits sound. And you’ll undoubtedly find yourself discovering more and more in the songs that make you want to keep revisiting it.
Here’s the song-by-song rundown:
The Damnits do Bri-pop. And actually do it pretty darn well. This track works well as an opener -- strong and solid. The vocals sound excellent on this in-studio version. The live recording of this song lacked what this one captures, creating a song that sounds more live than, well, the live version.
This song is one that I felt was easily overlookable on first listen, but it’s now grown on me to a point where I feel the CD would be lacking without it. It’s an intentionally subdued rock anthem that succeeds in creating a moody, quietly powerful song.
My Best Friend
I really like this song. Simple and sappy, it’s just the right collection of notes and words put together in such a way that you can’t help but picture a crowd swaying back and forth in unison, lighters upraised. But don’t even think about raising an open cell phone. Not at a Damnits show.
Biscuits and Bluegrass
Gone is the rather anemic harmonica of the older recording of this track, which was my least favorite thing about this song previously. The vocals are now stronger and it also has a more solid finish. The words are a collection of crowd-pleasing cleverness and the guitar work is well-crafted. “Biscuits and Bluegrass” is just a damn fun song.
Although I like the lyrics of this track, the song overall is, well, incomplete. It seems to want to be something different, something better, but never quite achieves it. Instead it simply becomes that song between two others that’s over before you realized you were even listening to it. It has nice vocal notes, but it generally leaves you still tapping your foot to “Biscuits and Gravy” and anticipating “Here Comes the Rain Again.”
Here Comes the Rain Again
Local bands seem to always play covers at shows, but rarely do these songs actually make it out of the studio, let alone be included on an album. We get to benefit from The Damnits choice to go against the norm and include this Eurythmics cover on Songs For Sugarpants. Though I wish they would’ve lent a little more of themselves to the song, it’s still well-done, very Damnits, and a great inclusion.
Just As Well
Take the Columbus garage sound and give it a folksy-sounding verse and you’ve got “Just As Well.” I like this catchy song, but I can’t help but picture it on an episode of Gilmore Girls. I’m not exactly sure if that’s good or bad. I’m leaning towards bad. Fortunately, they include the word “fucking” in the lyrics -- perhaps to ward off any Gilmore potential.
In another attempt to shun any possibility of Hollywood-pop sensibilities, The Damnits close with this guitar-driven power track. The riffs are simple but completely addictive. The lyrics are likewise simple and punk-filled. Want to mosh? This is the song to do it to. Quite possibly my favorite song on this CD and one that makes you want to click the replay button and listen to Songs For Sugarpants all over again.
The Damnits CD Release Show
Tonight (Feb. 2) @ CBRs
w/ Stretch Lefty and Seen Tru
Posted by dave491 at 8:28 AM