Archive | October, 2012

Shamefaced Sparrows in the Surf

24 Oct

Who said surf rock was dead? Surf rock will never die. While the combination of spring reverb, rapid tremolo picking, and liberal use of the vibrato arm may not be a common technique mixture any longer, that doesn’t mean the skill has evaporated. The technique, which found its wings in the early 60s, has been up in the clouds waiting to gather enough strength to pour back down. The Shamefaced Sparrows are looking to trigger that cloud explosion.

Guitar-driven surf rock first became popular with Dick Dale and the Deltones. Dale was influenced by his Arabic musical roots, and he experimented with rapid picking and reverb. Soon, other artists caught on, and the style became a craze. Link Wray, Duane Eddy, The Ventures, The Tornadoes, and many other bands mastered the style and released a variety of songs based on the same formula. And just like its quick rise, it declined in popularity (like most musical fads), and was replaced by new styles of music.

Recently, though, surf music has seen a revival. Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 “Pulp Fiction” soundtrack helped. “Bustin’ Surfboards” by the Tornadoes was among several surf tracks featured. The rhythm guitarist of the British surf act the Tornadoes was George Bellamy. Recognize the last name. George is Matthew Bellamy’s father. Matthew, of course, is the lead vocalist and guitarist of Muse, and he paid tribute to the genre that his father helped develop with the 2006 song “Knights of Cydonia.”

Enough with the boring history. Let’s get to the good stuff. The Shamefaced Sparrows fell in love with surf music as schoolboys through their shared obsession with “Pulp Fiction”  and its soundtrack. A new wave film introduced them to “Jack The Ripper” by Link Wray, and while they were previously aware of Wray’s music, they were ignorant of that particular song. It sparked a more in-depth focus on Wray’s music. Surf rock was instilled in them since they were young. As musicians, it wasn’t tough to pick a type of music to play.

The first reverbed note echoes all the great surf songs of the past. It is refreshing to hear this music. I use refreshing because, like riding waves on a cozy summer day, the music splashes you with salty notes and smooth bass. The song title is fitting. The vocals add an intriguing quality to this piece. While the music almost calls to be instrumental, the effect-saturated vocal introduces a neo-psychedelic, Elephant 6 quality.

We pick up “The Madison” next, which begins with an immediate call back to one of the most famous surf rock tracks of all time, “Misirlou” by Dick Dale. Shredding before shredding was conceptualized. Pure awesomeness. This opening section combines additional riffs with some extraneous voices spliced into the tape (nice touch). When it seems like it is about to hit a climax point at around 40 seconds, the song changes into a light-hearted White Stripes/Black Keys-like riff and vocals. A tremendous transition. Just plain cool.

The Shamefaced Sparrows label their music as Death Pop. Might I suggest a change? To me, the music sounds more like “surfadelic” or “indiesurf.” The Shamefaced Sparrows have something here. Can the music use some refinement? Yes. But that will come with time. This is not just a throwback act. They are adding modern elements into an old fad. There is no shame in that.

Check out some more materia:


Pulling Out an Upset Victory

19 Oct

This is not a scene from an upcoming action flick starring Jason Statham. It does look like it could be, right? Although the picture may not depict the latest box office gem, it is an accurate symbolic depiction of the band that enters the New Band Palace today. Like the image of the band depicted above, The Upset Victory is a high-energy rock outfit that punches the listener with edgy vocals, speedy riffs, robust percussion, and stout guitars. The group has quickly sped out of the parking garage and onto radio stations throughout their home base of Cincinnati.

The Upset Victory was founded in 2006 by Stephen Campbell (guitar), Frank Hammonds (guitar/vocals), Eric Vice (bass), Jason Dill (vocals), and Aaron Roy (drums). They released a self-titled EP on Takeover Records. After a few more EP releases, The Upset Victory released their first full length, Before the World Ends, in May of this year.

So why should you spend your time reading about and listening to the Upset Victory (besides from the band photo above). There is a refreshing quality to their music. The tunes invoke memories of heavy punk/rock bands from the early 2000s, but, the band does not lose sight of melody and lyric, putting great care into impressive harmonies and a dual-guitar attack. The Upset Victory employs effects skillfully. Besides from the clear talent of the musicians, the music itself is tightly arranged and recorded. Every vocal shriek, mini-riff, and drum fill, is organized. The vocals are most impressive. They thrive in the music, taking on the guitar riffs like a prize-fighter.

“The Worst in Me,” track two of Before the World Ends (which you can buy here), initially gives off a Living Colour impression, but quickly separates itself from funk/metal and enters into straightforward, hard-hitting, toe-tapping rock. If you like the brand of rock that you can move to, this is the band for you. Listen to some more of their material at their Soundcloud page. Check out their website and Facebook.

Nearing 1000 Posts – The Future Direction of the Music Court

16 Oct

Hiatus may not be the correct word, but it is the closest “music-related” term I can use to describe my lack of activity over the past several weeks. This is no excuse, but I have been busy. Work, school, and travel have occupied my time, and this activity has taken my mind off of posting. When I started the Music Court more than three years ago, I wanted to be different from other music blogs in both content and care. My material was to be fresh, well-written, and different. Since this initial proclamation, I have grown as a writer and listener. I hope that the blog has consequently and consistently improved. I also agreed that I would never just throw a post up for the sake of content needs and, with some exceptions, I have not done this. I will not start now.

That being said, these last few months have certainly cut down on my available posting time. Plus, in my opinion, the blog has not had much coordination or constancy. I have not been able to focus on developing exciting new topics and engaging reads. Some posts have been effective. I have grown to love reviewing fledgling bands, and I hope this assists them in their musical endeavors. New bands, don’t fret, still send your material. I am looking at it, and plan to review it. I have a list created and will make my way down it soon. Sorry for any wait that may occur.

What am I trying to say? While I may not be posting much now, I envision some time on the horizon, and with this time I will focus on lifting this blog from the doldrums of inconsistent posting to a hybrid schedule again. There will be more of a focus of spreading content throughout social media. There will be more activity in general. Until then, I urge you, please hold on. The next few months may remain busy, but I will find time to continue to post. Soon, though, more posts will come!

Also, I will make my usual plea. Are you interested in writing for a music blog that emphasizes creativity, humor, and passion? Explore writing for the Music Court. E-mail me at if you are interested. Let’s get to talking!

The Dunwells are Doing Just Fine

3 Oct

The Dunwells

Every band goes through a point early in their career when they must make a decision on whether or not their music is worth being pursued. It’s a dreaded decision.

That point in the Dunwells’ young career came when the well ran dry and they were without consistent shows. A fortuitous UK tour, an invite to perform at the Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis (which they took advantage of and flew in across the pond for despite their lack of funds), and the subsequent winning of the ‘break-out band’ title at the conference, turned around the favor of the British folk band, and since then, dare I say, they are doing quite well.

The Dunwells are one of the more intriguing bands I have profiled in a while. They display an authentic brand of organic Americana (despite their Leeds roots) and their powerful harmonies trump folk contemporaries like Mumford and Sons. The band also demonstrates a keen interest in creating variety in their music. Acoustic ballads much akin to Justin Nozuka or even Eric Hutchinson are followed by toe-tapping, riff-smashing Tom Petty-like songs. If I have one criticism with several folk bands today, it is with their lack of variety. The Dunwells crush that convention and then let their skillful harmonies do the rest of the talking.

The band was formed by Joseph and David Dunwell, two brothers and former solo performers, in October of 2009. They recruited friends and local musicians to complete their band, eventually ending up with a lineup that consisted of them, Jonny Lamb (drums), David Hanson (lead guitar), and Jonny Lamb’s cousin Rob Clayton (bass). They released their debut single (“Elizabeth” – below) in 2010 and it achieved moderate chart success. Eventually, they were recognized for all the skills mentioned above. It just so happened it came by way of former Cutting Crew keyboardist Tony Moore, who spotted the band and invited them to the folk festival in the United States which then led to them being signed by Austin, Texas-based label, Traffic Records.

The Dunwells released their sweet debut Blind Sighted Faith on February 14, 2012. They are now making their rounds touring, and recently were showcased on the Jay Leno Show (their television debut) in August of this year.

This is a great sample of why I am so high on this band. This is one of those acoustic ballads I mentioned before. At first listen, I was blown away by the Backstreet Boys harmonies. Seriously, they are that smooth. But do you know what’s scary? There are no effects added to this piece. This is purely acoustic. They are naturally this talented. The song itself is soothing and constructed well. The vocal interplay later in the song is fresh and skillful. It is actually difficult to not like this song.

And then BOOM. You are hit square in the face by a song that you could swear is by another band (until you hear the harmonies). The blues-saturated, powerful folk/rock song features instrumental breakdowns, vocal repetition, and a damn effect-driven electric guitar solo. It is an example of a band that knows hard work, exasperation, and, well, good music. No, great music. The inter-connectedness and fortitude supporting the band is refreshing, and I am excited to hear more from them in the future. This is most certainly a band to watch.

Find out more about the band by following their Facebook or Twitter. You can also check out their website

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