Last time I saw Sego, I told you guys about it. I checked to see when they would be playing next, knowing I pretty much have my pick of east LA venues; they’re based here, so they play around the city a lot. I found their next show at the Echo, opening for Body Language. That sounded great, but for some reason I had relatively low expectations for the show; sure, I loved Sego, but I’ve seen them a couple times already, and how good could Body Language really be? Call me a pessimist. (Later I found out, Body Language is actually known for being an incredible live band. D’oh.) Turns out both bands more than exceeded my expectations, and this show has become one of my all-time favorites.
As much as I love looking for the newest, craziest fad in music, I have an appreciation for tradition. The tradition to which I am referring is Americana, as it was basically invented in the Appalachian Mountains. (I learned that from a Belgian movie, I’m a terrible American.) There is something irresistible in the familiar chords, rhythms, and above all, simplicity. Jay Brown is a self-proclaimed one man band, though he’s not a street performer; instead he belongs in coffeeshops and intimate theaters, creating his ageless folk melodies.
Jay Brown is a humble musician. His latest album, Beginner Mind, is a look into his personal life and beliefs. Clearly a family man, the first sound you hear upon putting the record on is a baby’s laugh, an ode to his new daughter no doubt. The song that follows, “New Lovin’ Mother,” is actually my favorite, with its Simon-and-Garfunkel-like feel to it, sung directly to his newborn. Brown’s single, “Get Your Fill of Feelin’ Hungry,” was written about his time as a youth living alone with his (singular) cup and bowl. Though this track is clearly retrospective, he is giving advice, to himself sure, but also to his daughter. Creating new life makes one reflect on his or her own experiences, and I’m sure we all can think of things we would have done differently. The thing is, I’m not sure Brown necessarily agrees; “Get Your Fill of Feelin’ Hungry” serves more as a note of carpe diem- take things as they come, live simply, and appreciate life.
Jay Brown plays in many other bands, but his self-duplication has its advantages. Many artists these days are adept at personally creating all the sounds that went into their record, like Beck did for his recent Grammy triumph, Morning Phase. This is essentially what Brown means when he says he is a one man band, but when he performs live he really does have a harmonica around his neck and a tambourine under his toes. Impressive sounds can come from the most unlikely setups.
If you dig folk or roots music, there is very little chance that you won’t enjoy Beginner Mind. Unless of course you’re a sensitive conservative. I appreciate songs that have hidden political digs, or in Jay Brown’s case, not hidden at all. (Thom Yorke simply dedicated “Atoms for Peace” to Sarah Palin, he didn’t name the song after her.) As you can probably tell from the title, “Fox News (Help Me Jesus),” does not sing praises of the infamous program, Fox and Friends. How serendipitous that I should find this track now, after the nonsense Fox spouted off about Muslims in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy. At least we can laugh along with this song.
Traditional folk music is a fundamental piece of America’s cultural tapestry. It has a history that is rich yet incomplete. Thanks to folks like Jay Brown, there is no danger of this genre ever disappearing. “I’m carrying on this ancient tradition of putting life into music and music into life,” Brown says. Unapologetically so.
Fans of Los Angeles-based quartet Smallpools could have told you two years ago – after the band’s debut self-titled EP – that its first album would immediately become an Indie Alt/Rock finalist for Album of the Year whenever it dropped. Smallpool’s effervescent electricity shoots through its songs like a electric charge to water, and the result is musical lightning buzzing through your veins with an ecstatic, toe-tapping vibe. Now, almost a month away from LOVETAP!, Smallpool’s debut release set to be dropped by RCA records on March 24, I cannot hold myself back any longer with the effusive praise.
Smallpools has East Coast roots; Mike Kamerman (NJ) and Sean Scanlon (NY) flew away from the cold weather to sunny L.A. to pursue music, and there they met Joe Intile and Beau Kuther, who together combined to form Smallpools. May of 2013 saw the release of the band’s first single – “Dreaming” – track 3 on the album – and “Dreaming” quickly reached #1 on the Hype Machine and #23 on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart. The band shot out an EP in July of that year and found even more success, having songs featured on FIFA and by Snapchat. The success found tours, and the band has supported Indie staples like San Cisco, WALK THE MOON, and Neon Trees. It’s about time that Smallpools is the main act.
So, what will you hear on the album. Check out this track (above) entitled “Karaoke.” This, the first single off the album (released in November of last year), is an ebullient track with stuttered synth, 80’s-like keys, and energized vocal harmonies. It is beyond just superficial pop; there is true quality to Smallpool’s melodies – there is a passionate strength to this tune, and that is consistent with all of its tracks. I’m drawn to when the track is stripped down to its bare elements – a moment of vulnerability that is refreshing.
“Over and Over” is my favorite track by Smallpools. It is a perfect pop song. A sub-3-minute power piece that meshes elegant synth, echoed vocals, creative percussion, and a tremendous hook. The song meshes Colony House, Grouplove, and even some Jukebox the Ghost into a killer track that is repeat-worthy.
Get ready to hear a lot more of Smallpools – I’m just fine with that!
I can’t say I’ve ever worshipped the highway, nor at one, but these are the types of hymns I can support. Introducing the Massachusetts-based garage rockers, New Highway Hymnal and their debut LP, The Reverb Room.
If the title of this album is a double entendre, I don’t know what the second meaning could be; the denotation, though, is vivid. The reverb feels turned up to the max on every instrument, including most notably the vocals. At some point, the album simply becomes a cacophony of sound, but it is organized chaos, creating many hues of harmonies and dissonance. This is unabashed and fearless garage rock, so if you’re into that, The Reverb Room deserves your attention.
Mermaid in China is four guys from Portland layering dreampop melodies with a diverse range of influences. Their self-titled debut demonstrates the breadth of their talent, from cheery pop ballads to melodramatic underwater sequences.
As a whole, the EP is extremely fun, but it does not exhaust. The opening track, the first song we hear from Mermaid in China, is “The Vast Divide,” catches you with that initial hook, and demands you dance for the following entrancing five minutes. The next song though is duller, in the sense that it is not bound by falsetto dance rhythms. Aptly, it’s titled “Gentle,” as it feels like a deep breath after having a sugar high. I cannot stress enough how catchy each song can be though; Mermaid in China can go from mellow indie rock to bubblegum pop. Then “The Average Man” once again resets any expectations you have been calculating in the back of your head. Lo-fi shoegaze electro wave… though so many words can describe this music, none do it justice. Give it a listen, form your own opinion, use your own words.