brad scott

Album review: The Sluts - The Sluts

(Photo by Todd Zimmer)
 
LFK darlings The Sluts’ self-titled second album is just what the doctor ordered. Assuming, of course, that you’re in need of a dose of brash, fuzzy, garage rock, most potent when chased with a shot of bourbon and some cheap yard beers. And let’s face it, you probably are.
 
The Sluts’ eleven tracks—four of which (“Let Me Go,” “Loser,” “Green,” and “Linger”) were previously released on last year’s The Loser EP (here’s our review of that)—are for the most part quite one-dimensional. This isn’t a bad thing. Ryan Wise (guitar and vocals) and Kristoffer Dover (drums) are not trying to overthink their craft, but instead are content to give listeners fun, mostly up-tempo ball-busters, lasting under three minutes.
 
The songs are a unique blend of early grunge and edgy punk. Think of Mudhoney joining forces with The Stooges. Wise’s slightly whiny, reverb-laced vocals are nearly as distorted as his chunky, drop-tuned guitar, and Dover’s relentless sonic booming is filled with crash cymbals. The result is a much larger sound than one might expect from just a two-piece band, although I would be interested to hear the added depth that a bass guitar might bring.
 
Three songs showcase Wise and Dover at their best. The crunchy “Green” is reminiscent of Alice in Chains, both vocally and musically. Dover’s tom rolls give it a defined groove, and set it apart from many other tunes on the album. “Be With You” is a fast, driving love song with interesting rhythm variations and guitar like a machine gun. The highlight of The Sluts is “Linger,” which begins with a catchy surf-like guitar hook, and becomes a thrashing, angst-ridden anthem. The use of fuller chords and incessant drumming allows it to have as much breadth as two instruments are capable of providing.
 
The album’s final track, “Simple Song,” is the only truly slow song of the bunch. At first it seems a bit out of place among the other ten turbulent tunes. However, there is a good reason for it to be included. It informs the listener that the thrill ride has come to an end, and that it’s okay to take a deep breath and relax. It’s like a much-needed lullaby being sung to a rambunctious, yet exhausted, child.
 
If you’re in need of some background music for resting, studying or a candle-lit dinner, you should probably avoid this album. If you are leaving work on a Friday, and are ready to roll down the windows and get mentally prepared for the weekend, by all means crank it up. The Sluts isn’t high art or even hi-fi. It’s rock & roll, baby.
 
Catch The Sluts tonight at a free in-store performance at Mills Record Company! Show starts at 7:00 pm.
 
--Brad Scott
Brad loves music, Boulevard beer, and his family. Not necessarily in that order.
 

 

   

Album review: The Grisly Hand - Flesh and Gold

Few Kansas City bands have been not only respected but embraced by critics, fans, and fellow musicians of many genres the way The Grisly Hand has over the past few years. Formed in 2009, the band released the album Safe House in 2010, Western Ave. EP in 2012, and then followed those with the stellar and regionally successful Country Singles in 2013. The latter cemented The Grisly Hand’s position as one of the best acts in Kansas City, and probably should have launched them onto a national stage.
 
There may be just one slight problem—they don’t exactly fit the mold of any one genre. Typically billed as Americana, the band’s first three releases were undeniably country music. Not the contemporary crap you avoid at all costs on your radio dial, but more traditional twang, with perfectly harmonized vocals, pedal steel guitar, mandolin, a potent walking bass, and shuffling beats. It’s not cry-in-your-beer country, but mainly up-tempo tunes that—like a lot of old-school southern music—contain elements of rock, soul, and pop. Music that, despite its wide local appeal, is not exactly sought after by major record labels.
 
The Grisly Hand’s latest offering, Flesh and Gold, is a different direction for the group. There is an obvious attempt to lessen the country feel by moving to a more straightforward rock ‘n roll sound than present on previous albums. There’s a bit less twanging and a little more banging, but the songs are still well-crafted. Lead vocalists Jimmy Fitzner and Lauren Krum (Ben Summers takes the mic on the third track, “Regina”) harmonize like two people who have spent their entire lives singing together. The musicianship of Fitzner and Summers (guitar and guitar/mandolin, respectively), along with Mike Stover (pedal steel/bass), Dan Loftus (bass/keys), and Matt Richey (drums) continues to be top-notch.
 
Flesh and Gold opens with the familiar, beautiful ring of Fitzner and Krum, singing in front of a lone electric guitar on “Get in Line, Stranger.” The rest of the band soon kicks in, and the song proceeds to become what the majority of the album is—a very solid collection of catchy, mid-tempo, alt-country tunes; some of which could be accused of leaning towards (gasp) pop rock.
 
Possibly the most enjoyable cut on the album is the no-nonsense, driving rock song, “Regina.” Summers’ vocals, though not quite as refined as Fitzner’s, are laced with passion as he sings about the insecurities and immaturity of youth. “You probably don’t want to follow me down, because I’m a fucked up kid without a plan / Shows me why you do the things you can.” The track is vibrant and pulsating—Krum’s backing vocals give Summers’ voice some added depth, and Stover’s killer steel guitar solo supplies just enough southern touch. This could be a very radio-friendly song.
 
Some risks are taken by tackling a couple of heavy topics. “Brand New Bruise,” a ballad turned barroom blues rocker, is about a woman with an abusive partner. I was prepared for a clichéd country triumph about a gritty woman teaching her old man a lesson. Instead, the song reveals a sad dose of reality; a worn woman who doesn’t know where to turn. “You can say you’re sorry again, you can bury me down in the ground / Just know whichever way you choose…either way I lose.” “Satan Ain’t Real” is perhaps a jab at Christianity and the guilt it causes, or maybe just a way of telling people not to be too hard on themselves or each other. “Satan ain’t real, it’s just what we blame when we can’t explain why fellow men hurt us like they do, without remorse / Just know it’s all in your head, and it ain’t ever too late for you to break away.” The song is also one of the more intriguing numbers musically. Somewhere between a Bossa nova and a Cajun ditty, the relaxing groove, filled with mandolin and steel guitar, implores the listener to set their troubles aside.
 
“Regrets on Parting,” the record’s final track, is by far the most surprising. It is a soul song at heart, and could be mistaken for something coming out of Memphis in the ‘60s. Fitzner and Krum’s harmonizing is at its best here. The real surprise is the addition of a horn section comprised of Nick Howell (trumpet), Mike Walker (trombone), and Rich Wheeler (saxophone). It’s a fantastic, if completely unexpected, song. Maybe it’s no accident that this is the last song, as it could be foreshadowing of things to come on future recordings. (Editor’s note: Flesh & Gold is the first part of a double album that is slated for release in early 2016)
 
Flesh and Gold is a very good standalone album. There isn’t a single song that isn’t thought out and dialed-in, as any fan would expect. Had I never heard any of the The Grisly Hand’s previous work, I would go as far as to call this output great. However, I know what the band is capable of, and couldn’t help longing for a few of the things that made Country Singles so special. For example: the dialogue between Fitzner and Krum on “(If You’re Leavin’) Take the Trash Out [When You Go],” the infectious energy of “If You Say So,” or the moving beauty of “Coup de Coeur.” Despite this, I understand the need for change, applaud the band for moving outside of their comfort zone, and feel extremely confident about the future of The Grisly Hand.
 
--Brad Scott
Brad loves music, Boulevard beer, and his family.
 
 
The Grisly Hand will be one of the bands playing a pre-game concert at Kauffman Stadium this week. They will be taking Ink’s Outfield Stage for Game 2 of the American League Division Series on Friday afternoon. They will also be playing the annual Brew at the Zoo and Wine Too! at the Kansas City Zoo on the evening of October 17.
 

 

   

Album review: Be/Non - "Moi Ou Toi" 7"

If you’ve been around the KC music scene for a while, there’s a good chance that, if you haven’t actually heard Be/Non, you’ve at least heard of them. The brainchild behind the band, Brodie Rush, created Be/Non over 20 years ago, and has remained the only constant member. Since then he has had many different supporting lineups, and has released several full-length albums, including A Mountain of Yeses, Esperanto at the Pantheon, Incognito, and RAN. These recordings are mostly artsy, progressive rock, with plenty of eccentric accents. While they may be interesting to certain ears, the majority of the songs are not going to appeal to the masses, which is probably just fine with Rush.
 
In 2011, Be/Non teamed up with now-defunct Earwaxx Records to record the 7” vinyl single, “Moi Ou Toi,” and the B-side, “Not Tonight.” Earwaxx folded soon after the record was pressed, and little became of the endeavor. Four years later, Haymaker Records decided to re-release the tunes on vinyl and digital formats, along with the bonus tracks “Che Che Coolie” and “Ice Fight.” I’m glad they did, as the songs deserve a second chance.
 
“Moi Ou Toi” (Me Or You), was originally featured on RAN in its demo form. It has transformed over the years to its current minimal version, consisting mainly of a drum machine from a keytar and a guitar played through a cheap Pignose amp. It’s lo-fi electro pop, yet is quite thought-provoking. The smooth, Leonard Cohen-esque vocals and driving rhythm are hypnotic. My first listen was spent nodding my head to the beat, while trying to comprehend the lyrics. “’Moi Ou Toi’ is a song about blame and liars,” Rush says. It’s erotic: “I am the piston in the shaft / I am the bullwhip smacking your ass.” It’s contradictory and almost eerie: “I am your alibi / I am the creep in the foyer.” The whispered chorus, “Moi ou toi,” adds to this. “Creeps tend to whisper,” Rush confirms. Few songs are intriguing, relaxing, and exciting at once. “Moi Ou Toi” somehow manages to be all three.
 
The flip side, “Not Tonight,” is a very different sound at first. Up-tempo acoustic guitars with an Indian influence play along to an intricate beat coming from what sounds like a cajon box drum. There is a noticeable influence from Led Zeppelin and The Beatles, both musically and through Rush’s vocal style. The lyrics, while sung in a flat, no-nonsense way, seem very melancholy under the surface. “Forgive me for taking the time to be real, but nothing can disturb you…alone, I am.” Towards the end of “Not Tonight,” an electronic beat takes over and the guitars fade away; perhaps indicating that the song’s protagonist is doing the same.
 
Rush admitted that both sides of the record are “a challenging listen.” I would agree that they will challenge the listener to think about what they are hearing, but would argue that they can be easy for fans of various genres to enjoy. Be/Non is a band that has few boundaries, and probably won’t be loved by everyone. Moi Ou Toi stays true to the band’s long history, but offers something for most.
 
 
Be/Non will be one of the featured artists at KC PsychFest and recordBar’s 10th anniversary party this weekend. They will be playing night 2 on Saturday at 9 p.m. Facebook event page.
 
--Brad Scott
 
Brad loves music, Boulevard beer, and his family. Not necessarily in that order.
 

 

   

Album review: New Baboons - New Baboons

With twangy guitars, plenty of organ, and vocals dripping with reverb, it's obvious that New Baboons are purposefully channeling the sounds of the ‘60s on their self-titled debut album. Influenced by The Beach Boys and Velvet Underground, their airy, melodic songs combine the California sound with catchy neo-psych, garage rock, and power pop, resulting in something not often heard in the local scene.
 
New Baboons consist of Elliott Seymour (guitar and vocals), Adam Scheffler (guitar and vocals), Tom Livesay (bass and vocals), Paige Newcomer (keyboards), and Josh Klipsch (drums). Seymour, Scheffler, and Livesay did the songwriting, and the album was recorded on an eight-track in Seymour’s basement. Despite the vintage tone and sound, it is far from one-dimensional.
 
Several of the 11 tunes unapologetically borrow from the past. “History Books,” “Dress,” “Man, They Just Don’t,” and “Velcro Underground” (a tip of the cap to Velvet Underground) all pass for songs that could have been drifting from the windows of a VW bus in 1968. This isn’t a bad thing, as they are solid tracks that will keep the listener tuned in.
 
“Oh God, You Phantom” and “The Victor” are darker and a bit strange, but remain very listenable, which may equal a more interesting musical experience. Two highlights are “Worm in the Apple,” a pulsating, bass-heavy song that is reminiscent of The Shins’ early work, and “If You Find Some,” a piano-driven, soulful gem with powerful vocals and an extended jam that could go on even longer.
 
Overall, New Baboons is a good, layered offering that should grow on listeners the more it is heard. Some may suggest that the sound is somewhat formulaic, but it is a formula that continues to work and is given a unique and refreshing spin by the band.
 
 
You can check out New Baboons a couple times in the coming weeks: they’ll be playing the dinner show at recordBar on Tuesday, September 15 (Facebook event page) and Harling’s Upstairs on Friday, September 25.
 
 
--Brad Scott
 

Brad loves music, Boulevard beer, and his family. Not necessarily in that order.