Saturday, December 26, 2015

2015 Not-Quite-The-Top-Albums: Still Good

I enjoyed these albums in 2015, as well.

And How-Stay Like This

The Gentle Storm-The Diary

David Gilmour-Rattle That Lock

Bill Mallonee-New York State of Mind, Where The Love Light Gleams, Blue Chip Blue

The Neal Morse Band-The Grand Experiment

Leigh Nash-The State I'm In

The Radiant Dregs-Tall Hamper With A Flip Lid

Terry Scott Taylor-The Music of Armikrog

They Might Be Giants-Glean

U2-Songs of Innocence

The Winery Dogs-Hot Streak

2015 Top Albums: The Obligatory List

Pardon my conformity, but I don't wanna not make a Top Albums of 2015 list, Y'know? No arbitrary number of entries or forced-order ranking here; these are just some thoughts on this year's albums that are still in my thoughts.

Lands & Peoples by Bill Mallonee
-Somehow, Bill has neither slowed nor faltered in his output over the last 25 years. Lands & Peoples is the strongest album he's made in his home studio in New Mexico, and perhaps also the most populist. Living up to its title, the album explores what might be called "The American Experience" without succumbing to the saccharine, the preachy, or the despairing. Bleak it may be, but also beautiful--the desert landscape shows up literally and metaphorically throughout this collection. Bill has really honed his arranging and producing skills, layering nuanced guitars throughout. 

Recommended Pairings: A fluffy dog, a picture-book of American History, and a fireside chat.

Alone In The Universe by Jeff Lynne's ELO
-In 2001, Jeff Lynne took back full ownership of the Electric Light Orchestra name, releasing one of the 21st Century's rock n roll masterpieces. Due to our collective failure to so much as take notice, it took the length of ELO's original run for us to get another full-length collection of new songs from Mr. Lynne. And he made sure to give us another masterpiece. Alone In The Universe most definitely is not Out of the Blue 2, but it is a stunning collection of concise pop gems, reminiscent of Lynne's best work from the mid-80's and largely in step with the "bonus track" material he's leaked out over the past decade. If I were to pick a #1 album for the year, this would be it.

Recommended Pairings: Stargazing, holding on tight to your dreams, and black-and-white footage of Roy Orbison.

Why? by They Might Be Giants
-TMBG have released an insane amount of new material this year, but the best start-to-finish experience comes to us on this children's album. Returning to the free-for-all format of No!, the Johns (and Dan, Danny, Marty, and Robin) do what they usually do: these songs are clever, fun, and informative. Why? treats its listeners as real, meaningful, complex, and goofy people, and I hold out great hope for the future if "the kids took over."

Recommended Pairings: Trips to the library, dance parties with your underwear on your head, building something with Legos.

Test Test Test by Dw Dunphy
-Originally trickled out track by track, Test Test Test comprises pop hooks, cinematic ambitions, and complex ambient pieces. Dunphy's production continually improves, allowing his trademark guitar and keyboard sounds to come through clearer than ever. No lyrics here, but Dw tells a number of stories, with both the soundscapes and the song titles plenty evocative. Progressive instrumental pop; good to the last drop.

Recommended Pairings: Obscure Godzilla movies on VHS, Words With Friends, and contemplation.

How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful by Florence + The Machine
-Previously, I was aggressively ambivalent concerning the music of Florence Welch. I loved the art-rock ambitions, but despised the lukewarm execution; the production, lyrics, vocals, and percussion all gave me cause for complaint, yet I wanted to like it. On this third LP, Florence has opted for full-on 70's pop-orchestra arrangements and rock n roll drums, and she's left out the vocal wish-wash I disliked. The result is lush. It's sophisticated. It's art-rock, it's indie, and it's Top of the Pops. My ambivalence has vanished.

Recommended Pairings: Shag carpeting, games of UNO, and Beachside Tourist Traps.

The Moment Before You Arrive by Mike Indest
-Dw Dunphy lends arrangements and production to Indest's vocals and ukulele. Lyrically earnest, melodically immediate; call it a low-concept song cycle, or a highly ambitious singer-songwriter EP. This is indie rock that says something without shouting or faux-whispering. The Moment Before You Arrive is accessible, challenging, and simultaneously genuine, which I find to be a rare combination these days.

Recommended Pairings: A cup of black coffee, recovering the lost art of letter writing, and lighting some unscented candles.

Endless Forms Most Beautiful by Nightwish
-Floor Jansen is a goddess, and she has blessed Nightwish with their finest album since they foolishly parted ways with Tarja. A progressive concept album, this nevertheless veers toward pop as often as it does toward metal and Prog; Endless Forms Most Beautiful combines pretension, aggression, and not a little condescension with melody, wonder, and gratitude. This one has stayed in my car probably longer than any other album of 2015.

Recommended Pairings: Walks in enchanted forests, calligraphy, and ignoring Richard Dawkins.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Links We Love: Prog Report's Top 20 Prog Songs of 2015

Prog Report have released their list of the Top 20 Prog Songs of 2015. This is a great little list with song videos included.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Radio Eclectic Interview With Bill Mallonee: Of LPs and Communities

Bill Mallonee seems to have two handfuls of projects to talk about at any given time. We've chosen two of the most recent projects--Lands & Peoples on vinyl, and the brand new Bandcamp Community--and asked Bill to give us the "full story."

Radio Eclectic: VOL came about during that time in the 90's when the Compact Disc had ascended to prominence, plus you've always been a prolific writer, so your albums have always run 60 minutes+ from the beginning. But that obviously wasn't going to work for the vinyl format when you released Lands & Peoples. What guided your process for deciding which 8 songs would make the vinyl LP, vs. the 12 tracks on the CD?

Bill Mallonee: Very good question. For me, Craig, the luxury of vinyl is that one has to flip it over to get "side two." What that means is that one can "see" each side as a mini-set. Usually about 17 minutes in duration. It's like short editorials as opposed to a long sermon...I personally think vinyl packs a bit more of a literary punch because you get two opening "statements" and two closing "statements." That's how I sort of thought through what Lands & Peoples needed to have on it. It was the coherency of the set, not which songs were "lesser" or expendable. In my perfect world it would have been a double record.

It's just too expensive to print that kind of media these days...

RE: You must have had some idea of the vinyl track listing *when* you sent off the masters for that and for the CD; so, why leave the title track off the LP?

Bill: Well, one thing to keep in mind: Those who received the vinyl ALSO received the digital set of all 12 songs. So I felt it wasn't as if the title song was "lost." It was a matter of what I thought made for a coherent listen...Believe me: I agonized a lot about who "made the cut.!"

RE: Intriguingly, the vinyl LP is not simply the running order of the CD minus a few songs; the actual track order has been switched around. The LP is like its own, separate album, and it seems to me that the choice to end with "Hope The Kids Make It Out" and "Sangre De Cristos" back-to-back gives the LP a somewhat more hopeful ending than "It All Turns To Dust" on the CD. Do you get that vibe at all?

Bill: You are quite correct and the first person to point that out, Craig. I did think the track listing for the CD meant for a "darker" ending. "It All Turns to Dust" (The CD closer) is the deeply disturbing outcome of a dust bowl farmer losing everything to the banks...and then losing his wife as well. The closing tracks on the vinyl LP leave the listener with a far more "brighter" statement. One ("Sangre de Cristos") centers around nature and regional heroism and its impact on the human spirit. The other ("Hope the Kids Make It Out") is almost a prayer and yearning. In the song, an older soul hopes that those younger kids than he will awaken to the dynamics that conspire to govern their lives of poverty and disenfranchisement. "Swing It, Joe" is one of my favs and it's also freighted towards the end of Lands & Peoples...again a very sad song about the rape by the fracking industry in Appalachia.

RE: I've always taken ending song sequences to be an important interpretive key for an album; is that a fair approach for your albums?

BillAbsolutely. I spend a lot of time listening to potential sequences. I typically record way more songs than I need to for an album. That's deliberate. I think given the limited attention span of most listeners (myself included) I prefer to have a record clock in at something like 45-55 minutes, shorter if possible. My rule on an album is to say what you need to say once and get out...

RE: I've never seen an LP label that reads "Face 1, Face 2," rather than "Side A" or "Side 2." Any significance to that choice for Lands and Peoples?

Bill: Nope, The term "faces" was the original old-school nomenclature on old record contracts...A "face was one side and was constituted by 17 minutes of music a side, or "face." I remember our old Capricorn records contracts, framed under Warner-Brothers law, were named that way...

RE: The new Bandcamp Community option is very exciting. You've tried some similar options in the past, such as Billtunes and a patronage option on the old, but this looks like it might combine the best elements of previous options.

One of the coolest parts of the Bandcamp Community option is the opportunity for "live" concerts from your studio. I know that touring was previously a huge part of your income, but has become increasingly difficult to coordinate over the past few years; is the live webstream option a solution to that? How many shows do you plan to do in the first year of the new program, and will these be streaming only, or downloadable?

Bill: We're thinking downloadable. We're very excited about the idea of taping shows in the studio. I may even "preview" an entire new album that way. But, to clear some things up: First, we're not abandoning the road. But, I needed a break. I never thought I would, but after the last downturn in the ecomony, it just became less feasible to tour, even as a duo. I lived on the road for almost 20 years, sometimes at nearly 180 shows a year. Our "style" of touring was "low-to-the-ground" touring with little or no co-ordinated superstructure behind us. We never had techs or a bus or any of that "rarified air" stuff. We went to school, so to speak, but never graduated. Such is the luck of the draw. All of my bandmates were heroic. (I'm thinking of folks like Kevin Heuer, Jake Bradley, Ken Hutson, Chris Bland, Tom Crea, Newt Carter, David LaBruyere, Travis McNabb). They gave all every night here and abroad. But, after some 15 albums and all the great "ink," we decided that whatever that something was that makes a band break big was never going to happen. You go through a grieving process. You try to avoid becoming bitter. You bury part of a dream. It's a deeply spiritual journey at that point. I never felt like I needed "success" the way hipster periodicals and the industry defined it, to be a good song-writer. So I "retreated." Built my own world.

I started making records at a fast rate b/c the songs were coming that fast...I mean we're talking like 50 songs and 4 albums a year sometimes...It's slowed a bit, but mostly because I have a home studio now and can delve deeper into making the songs better, whereas before I was dependent on support players and spending lots of coins on studio time. Those restrictions are gone now. Now it's just the high, rural deserts of northern New Mexico and lots of time. Truthfully, the output isn't much less. I still seem to be able to release 4 albums a year. To my ears, they're more fleshed out and mature, I think. 

But, back to the road. It's still a "hallowed place" for me, a "thin place." But, it will take it out of you. The deprivation makes for a lot of great songs. Almost all of Audible Sigh, Roof of the Sky and 'Cross the Big Pond are songs about the damage done and the revelations one gets while in that mode of day to day existence on the road. I think the hard touring was/is something of a baptism. I saw the country and experienced it in a different way. I heard and met the people of this great land, heard their stories, was made privy to their struggles and woes...Nothing else legitimizes an artist more than being on the road and playing in every situation imaginable. Sure, I miss the full band side of the equation. We were a big, noisy Americana band and gave 110% every night. I was so very fortunate to play with such stellar talented fellows. But given the economics, there was just no way to make that run much further.

The approach I've taken through-out most of the last 30 some records is a "less-is-more" dynamic, Craig. It centers more on the song, the story, and the delivery itself...I'm satisfied with that, but Muriah and I DO very much enjoy taking that approach "to the streets." In the mean time, we'll likely tape the shows in our studio (maybe have a couple of cameras rolling), edit, and then post the whole show to those who join up in the Community. Such performances will be archived and made available exclusively to those members. We're hoping to get some videographers on board, as well to make some videos for particular songs that we feel might be appropriate for a more expanded storyline...It's very early stages to be sure, but it could be very cool.

RE: Any chance that Community members could construct part of the setlists through polls or some such option?

Bill: Absolutely!

RE: The pitch for the Bandcamp Community mentions demos; do you have anything already in hand leftover from Lands & Peoples or from Slow Trauma? One of the best parts of Billtunes was the one-take, two-track demos of new songs; will we see anything as "raw" as that coming out of the new program?

Bill: Yes, I do have some things. I have all these digital chips around with so many song ideas on them. So, i need to harvest through those and see what was a more fully demo-ed song...I typically DON'T do demos as much as I tend to catalogue ideas and them jump right in and record them into a full song...

Well, I do hope folks will see this as a way to support a good artist who has been at it consistently for almost 25 years. I like to think the quality of my work on this journey has been as consistent, as well. I wouldn't do it at all, if I remotely thought the quality of music was "slipping." And the songs keep coming. Probably still something like 40-50 of them a year. I don't know what it is about being older.
Life is sorrow and grieving, to be sure...but it resounds with joy, as well. I think the internalizing of such truths give the work depth, power, and imbue it with a fragile beauty. That's what I hear anyway....Heck, maybe even something like "wisdom" is surfacing. lol! It's all I know, so this revival of the old notion of patronage is a reciprocal way of keeping the wheels rolling...I have plenty of new work and songs in process that only the Commuity folks will be privy to. 

It's gonna be fun...never lose the fun...

RE: You've shared a few long-form prose pieces on Facebook over the past year or so. Will we see some more prose pieces, or even book chapters (nudge, nudge) in the Community?

Bill: This is a good question. I rarely listen to anyone's else's Americana music but my own. I'm not interested in the next big thing anymore, either. (Muriah and I have a few Pandora channels we let play in the background while we talk or work...Everything from John Dowland lute pieces, to old school jazz [think Coltrane, Monk, Miles] to Sons of the Pioneers & Hank Willaims-type cowboy songs to sitar music from India)...Non-invasive sorta music.

Most of my inspiration comes from literature and history...The Southwest is a beautiful and elusive place topographically & spiritually, as well. Great "wells" to draw from...I tend to go with a mood and feel and then try and maximize that in a song. "Northern Lights & "Southern Cross" (from this year's Lands & Peoples) is a good example of how that works, when I'm "on."

There are plans for a book, yes. I'm talking with a writer in Nashville who expedites such processes...I could see something like an edited version of such a work for the Community, yes. But, See, if the book was going to go to publishers and such, it would have to be inclusive of all readers.
Writing for me started in the keeping of journals on the road during the Roof of the Sky/Audible Sigh tours over 3-4 years...I think books from authors as diverse as Frederick Buechner, Pablo Neruda, & Jack Kerouac all "have a say..." In my own poetry and prose, the extensive liner notes at the Bandcamp site and the 20 some pieces at Wordpress have been a great way to expand and clarify the music side of my art.

Anything else you want people to know about the new Bandcamp Community option?

The folks who make the commitment and "join up" will certainly not be disappointed. Sure, I'll keep releasing records "for one and all." That's what I do...BUT this "inner circle," the hardcore fans, who seem to to really "get what I do," those are the folks I'm reaching out to here...The songs keep coming and I've fine-honed my producer/engineer skills while making Dolorosa, Winnowing, Lands & Peoples, and the upcoming Slow Trauma.

1. So there will be, oh 2-3 lengthy EPs a year.

2. We'll add a few exclusive live shows that we'll tape and give to just the Community.

3. Plus there's the 15% off everything in the 65-plus album catalogue. You really can't lose. We're dreaming up stuff all the time that we think folks would enjoy.

4. Also, there's the added aspect of access to me as a songwriter. I plan on answering lots of questions from aspiring writers and those just interested in the creative process, or at least how it works for me...

5. And the Community really will become something of an online Community. They will have lines to each other, to share ideas, discuss, and percolate. It promises to very interesting.

In fact, I have a "secret" EP scheduled to drop by the end of the week, just for the Community folks....

RE: Thanks for taking the time, Bill. Best of Luck with the Bandcamp Community, Slow Trauma, and all the new projects.

Bill: You bet, Craig. Great questions and Thank You for allowing me to "hold forth" here!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"Does Not Contain Grapefruit"

Seminar Brewing in Florence, SC, have quickly established themselves as one of my favorite regional breweries. I was fortunate to hang out with those folks at their first bottle release this past Saturday, and there was no way I was leaving without some fresh Citrocity.

Citrocity is one of two flagship IPAs for Seminar. This one features some darker malts, bringing the colour to a medium copper and supplying a medium-low malty sweetness to balance the hops. Nonetheless, Citrocity is all about the hops. The bitterness is moderate and lingering, but the real focus here centers on the late-addition flavor and aroma contributions. As soon as the cap leaves the growler, I'm surrounded by the grapefruit-and-papaya bouquet. In the flavor these two fruits continue to assert themselves, accompanied by slightly-bitter melon rind. Every element is prominent yet balanced.

Citrocity has my vote for best IPA from SC. Though, it does face some stiff competition.

Jerry Chamberlain (Daniel Amos, etc.) Reveals Album Cover To Pledge For

Jerry Chamberlain is, like so many of the artists we love most here at Radio Eclectic, running a Kickstarter campaign to finance a new album. Critical Mass will arrive as Chamberlain's first solo album, but he's more than earned a reputation through his work with Daniel Amos, Boy-O-Boy, and as backing vocalist on half the Christian albums in your older brother's record collection.

A sample clip has been released; this sounds like lots of driving percussion and crunchy guitars, somewhat reminiscent of the garage-fest that is Daniel Amos' Bibleland. Chamberlain has also revealed the album's cover, and how could you not pledge after seeing this beauty?

If I were digging through crates and ran across this gem, I would buy the album on the spot, no further info needed. Huge kudos to Steve Broderson for his work here. Chamberlain and co. are running a great campaign, too, featuring plenty of cool and--in typical Spot fashion--somewhat silly reward tiers.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Choir Blaze A New Trail In Ongoing Circle Slide Vinyl Campaign

The Choir​ are moving forward in their campaign to issue Circle Slide on vinyl for the very first time. In addition to colour-swirled vinyl, the campaign rewards include copies of their Live and on the Wing DVD/CD combo, art prints, t-shirts, and the 25th Anniversary Circle Slide CD w/commentary, for those that missed the CD reissue.

The campaign stretch goal is now, in a departure from the usual Kickstarter fare, not a matter of money. Instead, The Choir are looking to get more people involved; the stretch goal is to enlist 450 Pledgers, regardless of individual pledge amounts. To entice the hesitant, the band is giving away an Associate Producer credit (along with accompanying rewards), and the guys will sign any pledge rewards from $40 and up.

Get thee to a Kickstarter.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

New/Old Vinyl from The Choir

The Choir are running a Kickstarter campaign to press their classic 1990 album, Circle Slide, to vinyl for the very for the very first time. They are, additionally, releasing their recent Live And On The Wing concert album in a CD/DVD combo.

You know what to do. C'mon, let's ride...

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Radio Eclectic Exclusive: New Song and Interview from Dw Dunphy

If you've read anything on this blog, probabilities are high that you've run across the name Dw Dunphy. Especially now, after that last sentence.

Anyway, he's been kind enough to grant an extended interview, plus an exclusive track. Here, for your ears only, is the Progressively-Poppy, Xylophonic-Wonder-Noted unveiling of "Erin."
Personally, I hope this someday makes it onto the B-side of the 7" of "That Never Works."

Radio Eclectic: First off, you've made two bold moves with Test Test Test (others might choose another word, but I'll go with "bold"). One, this is an instrumental album; two, you're releasing it song by song. Why release an instrumental album in this manner, now?

Dw Dunphy: Part one first: I enjoy instrumental music a lot. I had twin obsessions as a very young kid -- pop music (think Beatles, Beach Boys, ELO) and Star Wars. Every Star Wars fan knows John Williams' score inside and out. So the idea of conveying feeling through just music alone is really appealing to me. Also if you think about it, it wasn't until the late '80s when the instrumental pop track became a novelty and not "hit worthy". Until then, we welcomed instrumentals into the top 100 like any other pop song.

RE: Sure. A lot of surf music, early R&B, dance music, etc., might include one or two words at most.

Dw: Second part of it is more fractured. While I am still a huge supporter of the album as an art form -- I seldom buy singles -- I'm not in the majority. Most people aren't even buying singles now. They're streaming singles. The idea of building an album track by track, and just putting them out there, rather than storehousing until I have enough, just seems logical. And of course, I don't make a living off my music. Not even close. I mean not even within state boundaries. So my time is really stretched between a serious daily commute (2 hours in, two hours back) with work. There just isn't the same amount of time to lock in for a couple of weeks to just write and record. Wish I could! So releasing in the onesie-twosie style fits two needs: it keeps my output credible and allows me time to create and not have to wait to release.
RE: So, is there a guiding concept to Test Test Test, apart from the process? Do you have an idea of what "finished" looks like?
Dw: Test Test Test is vastly different from The Radial Night, which I spent a lot of time thinking through a logic and narrative with. That album liberally grabbed a line, a musical thread, or a theme from another song on the album and ran with it. Test Test Test may be a reaction to that. It is in every way a collection of songs linked in one way only, being no words. Test Test Test is also kind of a spiritual sequel to my first instrumental effort Gibberish. Just as Gibberish connotes nonsensical speech -- a weird title for an instrumental album -- Test Test Test would be what you say into a microphone to test for levels before you sing. Again, no singing here. I'm giving myself a conceptual wedgie, I guess.
RE: I had wondered about that. Some of your previous instrumental albums leaned fairly heavily into the cinematic approach that you mentioned (People Wearing Masks, for instance), but Test Test Test includes a liberal dose of both the John Williams influence and the pop hooks. Have you been intentional about including both influences on this particular project, or do you just naturally fall into doing both?
Dw: I drift between the two. Cohesion is usually where I'm really working hard at it, so with something like People Wearing Masks, where it is this consciously "soundtrack" kind of music, that is me buckling down with the goal and intention. On mostly everything I've put out, there will be an "orchestral" track for lack of a better description. That's probably from those days where I'm being a tad too melodramatic.
RE: As you wrassle with the conceptual wedgie (condolences, by the way; as a progressive artist, I'm sure that must come in atomic form), have you had to intentionally restrain yourself? I mean, judging from the promo video for "That Never Works," you’re clearly aware that you’re off the beaten path by releasing a hook-laden single with no lyrics. Not even a bunch of na-na-nas. Have you been tempted to release a version with lyrics, or are you committed to blocking off that option with this song?
Dw: It usually works in reverse. I'm comfortable with releasing a song without its lyrics, as an instrumental mix, but less inclined to add lyrics to a song that has gone out as instrumental. By that stage it feels like a tack-on. I don't think I could write lyrics from a standpoint of any authenticity once I've deemed the instrumental finished. The thing to remember about That Never Works is that it is kind of a structural palindrome. The opening musical phrase closes the track too, but is never referenced in the middle. The second & third repeats as fifth & sixth musical phrase and the middle bit isn't necessarily connected melodically to any of what came before. A lot of what holds it together, thankfully, is the will of the listener to see the unification of it all. Or it's because I'm not a tremendous guitarist and my lack of flash binds it together.

RE: Have you found yourself desiring a "flash" that you feel inadequate to? I'm wondering whether you ever write a song and think "I'd actually really like So-and-so to play on this or step in to produce"?
Dw: That's where it all gets gummed up. When I write, I write like me and sound like me. For example, a song like "The Icy Frozen Ocean" which is so blatantly a homage to Brian Wilson/Beach Boys still sounds like me. So in order to write these, I have to just jump in and go for it. I don't think I could structure a song and then have the objectivity to then say, you sir, go to town on this bridge. My fault is that I have adopted these musical heroes that not only blow me away, but have outdone many of their own peers. I will listen to players like Mark Knopfler, Michael Roe, David Gilmour with this mixture of fascination and envy...but most people who listen to them have those same mixed emotions.
RE: Sure.
Dw: I was listening to some Joe Jackson recently, and it is the same thing. I hear his piano-playing on a construction level and I hear what he's doing with it and it is bafflingly complex. When taken as a listening experience, devoid of my trying to reverse-engineer it, it can sound so simple and emotional. You THINK you could just get behind a keyboard and do that, but there's more happening than just a a string of triads.
RE: However you feel about letting go a little of your own work, you did step in earlier this year to produce for Mike Indest. How comfortable was that process for you? Do you recognize any change in how you produce your own work now?
Dw: Mike is an incredibly generous collaborator. He sent me his vocal and his ukelele part and I constructed everything around it. In the end, he indulged me far more than I indulged him. But I've stated on many occasions...none of these songs actually needed me. There is, somewhere, probably a "stripped-down" version of the EP in Mike's possession. Everything that is great about that recording is already there. It was a terrific experience working with him, but Mike is a perfectionist. He's very tough on himself. For me, he was happy with what I brought, but he had several occasions where he wanted to fix the vocal or rerecord it, or fix the ukelele. What I took away from that was just this incredible sense that he was trying to reach a certain level of perfection. Not that I'm not with my own, mind you. But I have, at the 30th take of a vocal when my voice has been blown out and I can't even hum along anymore, thrown up my hands and said if it's good enough for Tom Waits, it's good enough for me.
RE: I bet he's said the same thing, after the 2nd take.
Dw: Hard to say. I really expect that, among our core group of folks, any mistakes that come out on his recordings torment him especially.
RE: So, a couple of questions on how Test Test Test gets released as a physical piece. An 8-track release is in the works, yes? Do you have any history with the format, or is it the joy of seeing people’s faces when you tell them that your unfinished instrumental album is being released on 8-track?
Dw: The 8-track is happening. I sent the CD-R's off but have been warned that the company doing it is backlogged. A lot of folks are looking for that novelty effect. No audiophile is hankering to have their album on 8-track, especially...but it is fun. It's a curiosity. The CD will be, of course. That is through CD Baby so that I can also get songs onto the digital services. It's a strange disconnection, I know. While I rail against the digital formats, I also enable them and, at the same time, give Test Test Test away for free on Bandcamp. In my mind, it is about being heard more than about getting rich. My music will not get me rich, and I reconciled that a long, long time ago. But I get a thrill when I see 15 people listened to "Tsuburaya" all the way through one day. That makes me feel like what I'm doing really is a "music career" rather than a "geeky hobby." That feeling can come over the indie artist at a moment's notice. My desired format would be...If I had the committed buyers and a backer with the ability to do it, I'd like to see a couple of my albums on vinyl one day. That's probably my impossible dream at the moment.

RE: I've taken a look at the vinyl thing several times just to see what it takes to make a pressing happen. With some committed buyers, it's financially feasible, but in no way financially beneficial. Is the 8-track thing being partially funded by a label? Why 8-track rather than, say, a cassette, since lots of people still have cars or boomboxes that play cassettes?
Dw: I can do as few as ten 8-tracks, and I suspect that would be all I'd sell too. It works out. To get a record together, you have to commit to at least a run of 100. Ideally you'd presell it so the discs would already be paid for and you could break even at least. To not have buyers already in is a huge risk. If that risk is on a concept album like The Radial Night or an instrumental like Test Test Test, you've severely increased the "what the" factor that turns an audience off.
RE: Right.
Dw: So many of my decisions have to be pragmatic. I want to be that dude who builds it and they will come. But I can't and then stare at my ballfield, shouting, "Oh no, now where do I grow corn?!" So folks, go bug your favorite indie record label proprietor and tell them to license my records for LP. Thanks.
RE: Some artists are feeling around that limitation with crowd-funding campaigns. Have you thought about trying a Kickstarter campaign or a similar venture? Have there been any discussions in the Down The Line Zine Collective about pooling resources to do a release?
Dw: The folks in DTL are kind of in the same boat. We are, each of us, extremely grateful for the fans we have. They really keep us going, but we'd each need to have plenty more to make a Kickstarter work. And we'd need to have a wider reach too. It's not impossible. The 77s just did over $18,000 in a week, but they're The 77s with a small fanbase, yet considerably larger than ours. There will eventually be a Kickstarter-type platform more in line with an Etsy mindset...very small-run-oriented. Dare I say "artisanal" before I get nauseous for having said it. Something like that would be more amenable to our scale. For right now, Kickstarter's too big for our britches.
RE: Gotcha. Okay, one last, lazy question. What question do you wish you would get asked about your music, but it hasn't come up in an interview yet? I mean, you have to have expectations for something like this, right?
Dw: Hmm. I'm grateful for when people want to talk about my music, so I don't tend to take what we discuss for granted. I suppose if I have a question I'd like to hear it would be, "What do you want your music to do once it is out there?" For that, I'll answer with a couple of short anecdotes. One is in the garage of the house we lived in when I was a very small child. I had my dinky Fisher Price record player and I played the 45 of ELO's "Can't Get It Out Of My Head" over and over until the sun went down. The other time, it was a hot summer and we had a blue station wagon. Mom turned the air conditioning way up for obvious reasons. On the radio they were playing Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street." I can visualize every moment in both these scenes, and when I hear these songs all that data just flies back to me. I would be extremely gratified if someone said one of my songs did that to them. That above all else would justify the years I have put into doing this, because that would mean the music was accomplishing its intended purpose.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Prog Fan Theories: Neal Smitty

Hypothesis: In an alternate universe, Michael W. Smith went full-on prog, instead of merely hinting at it in his early work. That alternate timeline Michael W. Smith somehow made a jump to our timeline, where he took the name Neal Morse and has been releasing mind-blowing symphonic prog with a garnish of sap.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Test Test Test Gets Press

Dw. Dunphy's latest album, Test Test Test, is picking up steam. Several new songs have been posted to the artist's Bandcamp, there's an interview in the latest issue of Down The Line Magazine, and it's officially a new Prog release according to this handy blog.

The Radiant Dregs Can't Sleep, and Now Neither Can You

Tall Hamper With A Flip Lid, the latest release from The Radiant Dregs, is essentially a children's album--albeit, a children's album composed while hearing voices of indeterminate intention, hallucinations (or are they?) brought on by severe sleep deprivation. These could be the lullabies that dead people sing to the kid from The Sixth Sense, or even better, from Alice Cooper and his monster "friends" to little Steven.

The Dorfsmiths have been creating edgy (read: on the edge of sanity), DIY albums for over a decade, but their last few releases have progressed toward an effective brevity. Tall Hamper is their most focused expression yet; this is just over 20 minutes of insomniac musings, phased guitars, and the kind of creepy innuendos that only a happily married parental unit could rise to. Ultimately, the approach here is a folk one. This is an album by the people, for the people, and maybe especially for the littlest people, if you need some lines to mutter while rocking them back to sleep at 3am.

Available from The Radiant Dregs' Bandcamp, choose your own price.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Recommended Pairings for the Bill Mallonee "Selling the Decade" Deal

Bill Mallonee has recorded a ton of music, and it's all good. His output has only increased (in volume and quality) since he married, went solo (from former band Vigilantes of Love), and moved from Athens, GA.

To celebrate, Bill is hosting a "Selling the Decade" deal at his Bandcamp site. It's a BOGO deal on downloads; a chance to dive in or clean up when it comes to your Bill Mallonee album collection. Here are my recommendations for making the most of the sale.

Package #1: The Latest & Greatest

Bill's last two albums, both recorded in the high desert of New Mexico, have garnered some of the best reviews of his 25+ year career. The desert figures prominently as a character and as a backdrop. These are great folk albums, built on nuanced instrumentation and first-person, narrative lyrics.

Grab Lands & Peoples for $10.99, get Winnowing free.

Package #2: The "VOL" Reunion Albums

Shortly after moving to New Mexico, Bill & Muriah routed back east a bit to record in a studio in Indiana. Three albums total came out of these sessions. For the most part, these records provide the definitive versions of previously released WPA tracks. Oh, and they rock. The closest thing to an old VOL album since 2001, both The Power & The Glory and Amber Waves feature Kevin Heuer on drums, while the latter also benefits from the bass playing of Jake Bradley.

Download Amber Waves for $12, get The Power & The Glory free.

Or, if you want to grab something that never made it to hard copy, go with Beatitude for $8.99, get Hymns for the New Idolatry free.

Package #3: The Live Set

Bill's art has always thrived in the live setting. Concerts are getting scarcer these days, but some fine live documents have released over the last decade. The most recent, official entries highlight the strengths of Bill & Muriah as a duo, plus a few surprises. A few tracks overlap between the two albums, but that's just what a devoted bootlegger wants to hear--enjoy the differences a few years and a few thousand miles can make to a song's performance.

Purchase Town Hall for $7.99, get Songs of Heartland and Grieving free.

Package #4: The Best of the Works (in) Progress Adminstration

Shortly after the Billtunes subscription service ended, Bill started releasing EPs of demos. The early entries in the WPA series offered a glimpse into Bill's learning curve with home recording; from Cabin Songs on, the series was a way to get great, new material out to the public ASAP, sans a budget for the usual studio albums. The best of these EPs have been culled for full-length, fully-produced albums, but the EPs themselves hold up on their own merit.

Download Ghost Waltz for $7.99, get Hardscrabble Dreams free.

Alternatively: Get any and every studio album/EP/live album/collection you don't already have. Purchase early & often!

*The sale lasts from August 5 to August 8. Simply checkout with one of the albums from your desired pairing, and include a message to Bill with the name of the free album you'd like to pair. You'll receive a download code by email within 24hrs or so.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Now Your Favorite Root Beer

Jack of all trades, master of none.

You can say that about a lot of craft breweries, but you won't dare think it of Small Town Brewery--not with a glass of Not Your Father's Root Beer in hand. Apart from the required labeling, there's nothing to betray the fact that you're sipping a 5.9% abv ale. The alcohol is just a bonus here, really; Not Your Father's Root Beer is a great example of what a root beer can be. What could have been a novelty beer rises to the level of world-class beverage. Small Town Brewery has proven themselves master of root beers.

Not A Sky In The Cloud

And How is back with another record, the project's second full-length release so far in 2015. And for a follow-up to the career best The Twisted Trees--well, the new one is damn good to be the second damn good record And How has released this year.

Not A Sky In The Cloud sounds like a lost gem from the mid-90's alternative scene. You know, that oft-forgotten moment when we all pretended that Nirvana was just a state of being, and our record collections contained (records, for one thing!) plenty of Beatles, Crowded House, Mazzy Star, and Cheap Trick. The sound here is lo-fi but polished; the songs are straightforward but carefully crafted; and the price is exceedingly free. If you can carve out 3 minutes of your life for a good pop song, you'll be the better for it.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

(Dw. Dunphy and Ben Craven are) Loving the Album in a Digital Age

The album is dead.

No, that's not quite true. Sales of vinyl LPs are up, up, up; Taylor Swift (though hardly anyone else) managed to sell a million albums; and crowdfunding new albums has become an established, successful venture for many independent artists. 

So, the album's not dead. The album is...well, the album is something that a lot of us love. But like a lot of other things we love, we don't have quite the patience that the format demands of us. Oh, we have the patience to sit down with an album and invite it to speak to us (some of us, who are spinning a record on the turntable at this very moment, have the patience...). We do not, however, possess the required patience to wait on an album's release. We watch the vanguard single's lyric video on YouTube. We pledge for the Kickstarter campaign. We salivate over the Record Store Day announcements. But then, we have months full of other music to enjoy before the release date. Occasionally, something so big will be coming down the pipeline that we naturally stay in pins and needles mode for the entirety of the wait. But when it doesn't happen automatically--and why should it, when we can automatically find something else to enjoy right now?--the wait ceases to be a wait at all. It just becomes time that passes, while we listen to something else.

This experience is apparently not unique to the audience. Dw. Dunphy and Ben Craven love the album, too. Furthermore, they lack the patience to wait, even on themselves. Thus, they have decided to test the theory that, when musical creativity takes too long, marketing creativity can fill in the gap.

Dunphy's latest project incorporates this thesis into its very title. Test Test Test is an instrumental, progressive album featuring atmospheric keys, piercing guitar lines, and sophisticated pop sensibilities. At least, that's my impression so far. The album isn't actually finished, yet Dunphy has committed himself to releasing individual tracks on his Bandcamp page, as songs develop. Does he release them when they're finished? Does he release them when he simply can't wait anymore? I don't pretend to know his mind, but the tracking order has already changed once, and there's no guarantee that all the currently available tracks will make the final cut for the album. Maybe I'm listening to Side 1, or perhaps I'm only hearing the bonus tracks. I don't know. Maybe Dunphy himself doesn't know. Nevertheless, the album is live, and it's available now. Test Test Test. The mic is on, if we just can't wait to listen. 

Do great Progressive Indie Artists think alike? Ben Craven is at least midway through his ironically titled Last Chance to Hear. I say the title is ironic, because Craven has been releasing tracks through his own TuneLeak site, which of course means that we have the first chance to hear the album as it develops. While each new song is available to stream for free, every purchase counts toward the price of the completed album. It's the digital equivalent of "Buy every 7" single, get the 12" free." As far as I know (please, tell me I'm wrong!), that's not a thing, but TuneLeak is a definite, and definitely wonderful, thing. Last Chance to Hear continues Craven's previous work in the genre of "Cinematic, Progressive Rock," but now with 75% more instrumentals, and 100% more Rockabilly. While each track provides a satisfying experience on its own, several of the currently available tracks belong to multi-part suites. Thus, each TuneLeak serves both to calm and to provoke impatience for the finished album. I can't wait, but I am waiting--pins, needles, and all.

I'm intrigued by the music Dunphy and Craven are releasing, I'm also intrigued by their chosen methods of release, which hearken back to a format generations old, while arriving as something ahead of the curve(ball). Long ago, the album was just that--as the photo album consisted of individual photographs collected together, the musical album consisted of (usually) previously released 78rpm records collected together. Test Test Test and Last Chance to Hear go back, before the birth of the album as we've known it, to inspire the creation of the album as we will come to know it. Each song will arrive on its own, and thus will have to stand on its own (goodbye filler!), yet each individual release provides a glimpse of the greater whole, whose full cohesion remains to be experienced at the end of the process. And hopefully, that full cohesion will arrive in vinyl form. Regardless, it will arrive bit by bit, not all at once, just as we experience most things in life.

So, the album's not dead. It's actually more life-like than ever before. That's good news for those of us who love the album; good news for artist and audience alike.


Saturday, June 27, 2015


Old posts remain. New posts may come.