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Monday, September 29, 2008

Royal Bangs Visits Raleigh

Royal Bangs is a Knoxville, Tennessee based band of excellent musicians coming to town this Sunday evening! I have been really getting into their album "We Breed Champions" lately. Featuring tight interwoven guitar with great use of effects and electro-noises, keys, and power! power! power! rhythms, this is another contender for my top 10 of 2008. My wife draws comparisons with the Rolling Stones, which I can especially hear on "Broke Calculator". Vocally, I'm also reminded of Modest Mouse.

The album is loaded with hit-worthy material, like the hookadelic "Cat Swallow", and a pair of tracks extolling the virtues of Japanese cars, one of which is titled "Hyundai From Korea". One point of confusion here: with that title, how come we have the lyrical theme "Japanese car keep me safe tonight?" Hmm? I guess we can allow for poetic license here. Read on for the answer to that mystery.

The band is kicking off a tour with The Black Keys, beginning October 3rd in Asheville at The Orange Peel, arriving in Raleigh (by way of Myrtle? go figure!) at Disco Rodeo in Raleigh on October 5th.

I was fortunate to catch up with RB vocalist Ryan for some answers to all my Royal questions!

D: On the song "Hyundai From Korea" why are the lyrics about Japanese cars? Me so confused!!!

R: We recorded the album in kind of a hurry (in like a week, I think) about two years ago before I moved to France for awhile; I wrote the song "Japanese Cars" and then right before we finished it, I recorded the second version of it that comes at the end of the album by myself, just messing around. We were leaving to go on tour a couple of days later, and when I did the artwork I just called it "Hyundai", thinking it was a Japanese car. Clearly, I should have done my research! So when we re-released it I called it "Hyundai From Korea" to clarify.

D: Is there much of an indie scene in Knoxville?

R: Yes! We have an awesome club called the Pilot Light that brings in all kinds of cool bands that other cities our size don't often get visits from, like the Liars, Damo Suzuki, Pere Ubu, Deerhoof, and tons of others. It is a non-profit, musician-run place that is one of a kind. It's my favorite place to play, ever. There are all kinds of great bands that live here, too--Tenderhooks, Diacon Panthers, The Cheat, Double Muslims, Three Man Band, and tons of others. It's a fun place to live.

D: How did you get the band together?

R: Chris and Sam and I went to high school together, fusing together to make one nerdy magnet that has since that time attracted and repelled various other nerds in and out of our band.

D: Paper or plastic?

R: Steel.

D: I always like to ask this question... How do you approach writing new material?

R: We usually work on a bunch of new songs at once--I'll write a little bit of a song, bring it to the other dudes, they will add value to the jam, then I will take that home and maybe add a little more value, and then bring it back to get that slick new jam sheen all over it. We usually have about ten of those going in parallel at any given time. Also, we draw a great deal of inspiration from Little Caesar's incredible $5 hot and ready deal, as well as their criminally under appreciated $1 crazy bread special.

Thanks for all that great info Ryan! I sure hope Little Caesar's gives you free pizza for life after that endorsement. For the record, I'm strictly an independent family-run pizza enthusiast, but that's a topping, er.. topic for another day.

If you are ready for some adventure, check out Royal Bangs' MySpace, and see them rock Raleigh this Sunday, October 5th at Disco Rodeo.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Hammer Again The Fingers

We made it out to Local 506 last night to catch The Broken West, an LA band on the Triangle's own Merge Records. TBW played a solid set, bass heavy, dual guitar, keys, drums--straight-up rock. Among their influences they list Tom Petty and Echo & the Bunnymen. I would go along with that, though their live set sounded a bit different to me than the selections on MySpace, denser, and the vocals were a bit too low in the mix to be heard over the full instrumentation.

What made the night for me was another strong performance by local heroes Hammer No More The Fingers. As I said to the band, it's all about the songwriting, and these guys just know how to scratch my indie rock itch. I have already reviewed their debut EP and interviewed lead man Duncan Webster, so I don't have much new to add here, except that you can't afford to miss these guys! Duncan admitted he was a bit nervous that people from Merge were in attendance, but he need not fear, because (watch this!) I will now employ the Jedi mind trick: MERGE RECORDS WANTS TO SIGN HAMMER. It's that easy.

This weekend, don't forget, is Carrboro Music Festival. CMF features musicians from all over the area, this year including 160 different performances at 22 venues. Huge! What is best about CMF is that you can wander around and sample so many different styles and artists that you would not normally get to hear live. Some are amateurs and others are seasoned professionals. See you there!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

School of Seven Bells Rocks Ethereal

This week we review the amazing new album "Alpinisms" from the Brooklyn band School of Seven Bells, named for "a mythical South American pickpocket academy that may or may not have existed in the 80's". Featuring the lush vocal harmonies of twins Claudia and Alejandra Deheza (also of On! Air! Library!) and the work of Benjamin Curtis (Secret Machines), this album is a heavily synth-backed, mix of danceable tracks with several in the more ambient vein that take me into the ether.

The beautiful, multi-layered vocal harmonies are front and center throughout album, with prominent synth lines in support, though bass, piano, and guitar also fill out the arrangements. The album includes a contribution from Blonde Redhead's Simone Pace, and the band is scheduled to play Charlotte's Tremont Music Hall November 12th, touring with M83.

Our friend Brooke at Big Hassle Media fills us in on the band:

Formed in NYC in 2007, SVIIB released a very select and highly-celebrated handful of 7"s and compilation tracks through various labels such as Sonic Cathedral (with a remix by Cocteau Twins' Robin Guthrie), Table of the Elements, and Suicide Squeeze. This caught the ears of Blonde Redhead and Prefuse 73, who then handpicked them to join their North American tours late last year. Mercurial French author Rene Daumal defined "alpinism" as "the art of climbing mountains." Art, of course, means many things: the perfection of craft, the transcendence of spirit, the physical world and the truth found beyond it. With Alpinisms, technology collides with cryptic religious imagery and good, old-fashioned rock music; knowledge begets action; and School of Seven Bells master an alien climate with effortless artistry.

Sometimes when I listen to albums I play the "sounds like..." game, and I'm pretty bad at it to be honest, but when I listen to this album, it takes me back to the old school synth sounds of my youth, from old Gary Numan--the song "Wired For Light" might be a nod to Numan's "I Dream of Wires", to Terry Riley's Curved Air, or even Kraftwerk. "White Elephant Coat" sounds like a cross between the dirge basslines of Joy Division with vocals from Happy Rhodes (bonus points if you have heard of Happy Rhodes). I'm sure I have missed some more recent and likely sound-alikes--feel free to add them in the comments!

School of Seven Bells is a great find, maybe another entry in my top 10 of 2008. Do yourself a favor and check out their MySpace or their artist page at their label, Ghostly International

(With contributions from Brooke Black.)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Hammer No More The Fingers Channels Steely Dan?

I have recently been enjoying the self-titled debut release from Chapel Hill/Durham power trio Hammer No More The Fingers. This is great indie rock that is sure to leave you wondering when you can get your hands on their first full-length album, which they recently completed recording.

Consisting of front-man bassist/vocalist, Duncan Webster, guitarist/vocalist, Joe Hall, and drummer/vocalist Jeff Stickley, this is a group of solid players who, mark my words, are going to be huge. The writing is strong, consistent, danceable, fun, and sometimes hilarious. As I listen to them, I can even hear the ghost of Steely Dan on songs like "Bossman" and "Vodka Grasshopper", though they are strongly in the indie groove, perhaps a pared down relative of Sorry About Dresden.

Lyrically, Webster and crew are the life of the party, with songs like "O.R.G.Y." (note to the guys--stay away from my daughter!), "Vodka Grasshopper", and "Mushrooms". That could get them banned from every library in Alaska if Governor Sarah Palin had her way. In case you missed it, Hammer played a benefit last week for Barack Obama along with 4 other bands, and despite the late hour, they predictably rocked Cat's Cradle.

The band seals the deal with solid musicianship, playing a tight, melody-driven set. One area for improvement, however, is vocal delivery. While they get the job done for sure, I look forward to hearing the band develop their collective voices.

Overall, Hammer No More The Fingers' debut EP is one of my favorite releases of the year.

HNMTF are playing a series of shows in the area--see their MySpace page for details.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Cab Caligari Returns to Chapel Hill

This just in from Cab Caligari's Steve Burnett:

This Thursday on September 11 Cab Caligari plays its first appearance at the Cave in Chapel Hill. Cab Caligari is an instrumental improvisation duo of acoustic cello from Randy Pelosi (Anubis Leisure Society Orchestra and many other projects) and electric upright arachnobass from Steve Burnett. Cab Caligari is playing the early show time at the Cave and plan to start at 7:30pm.

At 10pm, Romweberscole will be playing (Dexter Romweber (Flat Duo Jets, solo albums, the Kamikazes), Sara Romweber (Lets Active, Romweber Duo, Ed Stephenson and the Paco Band, the Kamikazes) and Stu Cole (Squirrel Nut Zippers, Chicken Wire Gang). Also check out the full band configuration of Dexter Romweber and the New Romans--here is their MySpace page.

In other local news, tickets for the upcoming reunion of Ben Folds Five went on sale today.. and promptly sold out in about 3 minutes. Sorry about that.

Raleigh's Annuals have released the single "Confessor" from their upcoming album release, "Such Fun". You can find it on the Annuals MySpace page.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Hank Hooper and BitWorks Music Release Real Rock For Kids

BitWorks Music and Hank Hooper have released a multimedia album download edition of "Playground Fortune Teller", the amazing collection of 17 songs, plus a narrated eBook by Hank. Hooper's music is perhaps best described as "real rock" for kids, a rich assortment of guitars, banjo, bass, vocals, and a heavy dose of fun. The eBook, also illustrated by Hank, features characters from his songs, asking fortune telling questions of "Hankspella" and learning the ways of playground patience and sharing.

Hooper performs and teaches kids to make their own music in the northern California area. Chapel Hill based BitWorks Music conceived and designed the multimedia album download edition and provides distribution at

You can find out more about the album, download the free single, "That's My Chicken", and visit "Hooperville" by clicking here!

"Playground Fortune Teller" could be the perfect remedy for a rainy day.

Hammer No More The Fingers To "Barack the Cradle"

Hammer No More The Fingers is a Chapel Hill - Durham band that has been appearing often in the Triangle recently, and they have been invited to headline a benefit for Barack Obama at Cat's Cradle this Saturday, September 6th. I spoke with HNMTF's Duncan Webster about the band.

DO: First let me say you have the best band name ever.

DW: Thank you. Sometimes I'd agree, and other times not really.

DO: Tell me some history of the band.

DW: We have all been playing together for a long time, went to middle school together. Joe Hall (guitar, vocals) and Jeff Stickley (drums) met in elementary
school. Joe and I started playing together, and then we went to college in different places. After moving back to Durham in late 2006, we decided to start the band and take it seriously. Our first show was January 1st, 2007. We're really good friends and come from similar musical backgrounds. Jeff plays bluegrass guitar as well.

DO: How did the Barack the Cradle show happen?

DW: We were asked by Shaw Hargett, and I was able to get some other friends on the bill--Tooth is from Durham, Caverns from DC, we are headlining.

DO: You have 1 CD out, right?

DW: We have a 7 song EP out and we finished recording our first full length album in Baltimore. We play in the DC area a whole lot, and a lot of bands we listened to growing up are from DC. We recorded with J. Robbins (Jaw Box) -- he's done a lot of albums recently.

DO: How do you write your music?

DW: All three of us are involved. I'll come up with a part or Joe will come up with a part and we'll take it to practice. All our songs have basically three parts to them, two parts me and one part Joe or vice versa, or all me and/or all Joe, I'll write a first part and Joe will write the chorus (not to give away our secret or anything). Some choruses or verses are parts we wrote in middle school and some the night before. Then we fit it together in practice. The sound I had in my head, Jeff might play something totally different. It's a fun process. All three of us are involved.

DO: You're playing a lot of gigs too. How's that going?

DW: It's going really well. We're trying to tour as much as we can. When wef first started we'd go to New York for three months in a row, and after the third time we realized it wasn't working. After that we decided to stay more regional. We had the illusion that if we got big in New York...

DO: You'd make it anywhere...

DW: Yeah, but it was not like that. We'd play for 5 people and lose a lot of money. Since then we've been playing all over North Carolina and in DC, Virginia, South Carolina, and Philly. We've been playing with Red Collar, a lot of touring with those guys, and have made a lot of friends with bands in DC, Charlotte, Wilmington, and so on. That's really helped us out.

DO: So crowds locally are getting bigger?

DW: Definitely. Once you catch a little buzz in the area stuff starts happening. You have to meet the right band to take you under their wing.

DO: Tell us about your label.

DW: We were on Power Team Records, and they did a really good job, but it's a husband and wife run label and they are focusing more attention on their day jobs now. I can't blame them at all. We're talking to people we would have never talked to before. We have gotten along better as a band since being on our own, have more artistic control. They did made us get our [act] together, like we had a CD release show a year ago and they really helped us promote the CD, got a puclicist, gave us a professional edge. We were lucky to have them.

DO: What are your influences?

DW: Personally, Pixies, They Might Be Giants, Weezer, Red Hot Chili Peppers, a lot of 90's alternative bands, Burning Airlines, Jaw Box (a big influence), NOFX, and others. That's pretty much the music we grew up with, alternative rock. I don't think our music sounds like that really, though some say we do. Everyone compares us to 90's rock, which would make sense.. that's what we grew up on. I think it sounds more modern.

DO: Tell us about the new album.

DW: We just finished recording the first full length CD. The working title: "Looking For Bruce", comes from a song we did called "Nitro", about Nitro from American Gladiator. Nitro wrote and starred in a movie called "Looking For Bruce" and we've been trying to find the movie. We were hoping to get Nitro to come to our CD release show and MC it, but that's pretty far out there..

DO: Have you met Nitro?

DW: Never have. It's an idea.

Thanks for the interview Duncan. Duncan Webster is the bassist/vocalist/songwriter for Hammer No More The Fingers, appearing this Saturday at the Cradle. Showtime starts at 9 PM, and I'm told it's an all ages show benefitting the Obama campaign. See you there!