New Music: Friday Roll Out! With Half-Handed Cloud, Drug Couple, Sulu and Excelsior, Pure Bathing Culture, The History Of Gunpowder

As the days get closer to 2019’s end, I find myself much busier than I used to be or even want to be. So where does that leave me? In my car usually, in search of some quiet time driving to wherever I’m heading. It allows a moment for clarity when/where I can listen to something sitting in the passenger seat next to me, like the Portland, OR band Pure Bathing Culture. I think I was expecting some hard-hitting noisiness but it’s the opposite. The duo of Sarah Versprille and Daniel Hindman play with a joyous pop sound on Equinox EP (Infinite Companion) that just allows you to breathe in and take in everyday moments. It’s easy to fall in love with Pure Bathing Culture at first listen

I could just stop there but why when Half-Handed Cloud is sitting there as well? I was hesitant about listening to this for lack of time. The double LP compilation, Gathered Out Of Thin Air (Asthmatic Kitty) contains 60(!) tracks. Luckily though the songs are brief and punch through with the same pop sensibility John Ringhofer has always shared on previous albums. “Non-LP singles, EPs, and rarities” fill up space on this release and it’s easy to fall in love with these songs that were recorded in a variety of countries like  Berkeley, California; Brussels, Belgium; Pretoria, South Africa; and Helsinki, Finland. through 2010 – 2019. It doesn’t get any better than this with windows rolled down.

I think I’m ready for the weekend now…

This is Sulu And Excelsior’s second full-length release and I’m well versed in the ways of its captain and creative outbursts. For the sake of avoiding any confusion, Sulu and Excelsior is the creation of musician/filmmaker Steven Mallorca who first hit the streets of New York with the Hip Hop/Funk outfit P.I.C., made up of an array of horns, turntables, and much more. It was the jump-off point for what would become Mallorca’s genre-bending Sulu and Excelsior.

The new album, The AntiMatter Suite, takes off where the debut, the 2016 release of Eddie Romero, landed, nodding at influences that span from 40s and 50s crooning, 60s and 70s soul, and 80s and 80s Hip-Hop. This time around it sounds like Mallorca has added a few new tricks into his songwriting.

Similar to the debut, here he starts things with piano and keys along with that aged crooning before the band goes cataclysmic with its rhythm and vocals are changed up when Mallorca starts rapping on “My Own Volition.” The song itself is colorful, blending those keyboards and rhythm with horns and electronics. The band keeps the party going with “You don’t Mind Me Sayin’ That,” with a punchy bounce and stop-starts as Mallorca sing/speaks throughout the track. Again, you’ll find the keys and horns volleying off one another while background harmonies accentuate Mallorca’s vocals. The showman in him is ever-present.

Everything leads directly “AntiMatter,” or the title track as I’d like to call it; visceral in its delivery as the rhythm section never refrains cutting through with heavy-handed delivery. Here, Mallorca sings like a man possessed, rarely pausing for a breath. And of course, he raps as well. From this point on, one would assume this is the highlight of The AntiMatter Suite but there’s much more that follows. I’m not sure how it all comes together here but it simply does!

I’d like to say the infectious “Lady Libby” has Mallorca channeling the ghost of the Reverend Al Green…but the legend ain’t dead. This right here though does hold up well against the soul artist, and although Mallorca raps 2/3rds  of the way through, I just want to hear him sing! The keyboard/drums/bass combo here can repeat as long as it wants, and no one would care because it’s hypnotic. When the band bridges off, the harmonies leave me fascinated.  The one memorable thing about this release is its non-conformity and willingness to push boundaries, never really knowing what direction Sulu and Excelsior is heading. “Equilibrium” begins with an electronic beat before heading into what Go-Gos-esque direction, which does a complete 180 degree turn into something completely different, punctuating a bounce within it. All that while the jazz-infected “Silver Fox” takes a different approach, allowing the groove to find its own path.  

There’s so much more within the context of Sulu and Excelsior’s music that needs to be noted, from the somberness of “Myopic Living” to swinging Latin/Caribbean groove of “Gratitude,” The AntiMatter Suite is filled with a dexterous variety.  I can surely call myself a fan.

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I’m usually hesitant when it comes to EP releases, and even more so when it’s a debut release by any artist. I want to fully ingest, completely breath in what an artist is capable of with a full-length album if it’s something new and unfamiliar.

Enter: Drug Couple, the duo of Miles and Becca (only first names need apply.) They dropped the 6-song release that is the Little Hits EP (PaperCup Records), and while they may wear their influences on sleeves – or in print – it sounds like the band may be selling itself a bit short simply citing indie-rock innovators (Dinosaur Jr., Yo La Tengo, etc.) because it seems they may expand further and cite, um, more indie-rock innovators. That is if you can call them all that. Before I begin receiving hate (e)mail, I should confess my own love for some of the same artists, and Drug Couple combines all of those influences here.

They open with “U Made A Sound” drawing on fuzzy Mascis-like guitars but Miles’ vocal delivery is more akin to Malkmus, albeit clearer on melodic notes during Slanted & Enchanted sessions, if they were produced by Mascis himself because let’s be honest, Mascis is an unacknowledged genius. But back to the song, it’s good. Really good. It’s nostalgic and makes me yearn for the days when hooks and melodies meant something. It’s followed by the title track which isn’t as punchy where Becca takes the lead. Jangly guitars are soon engulfed by its own punchy rhythm, enveloped in a sole guitar interplay. There’s a slight shift in dynamics that keeps it interesting, but I make my way back to the opening track again and again. It’s not a bad song but its predecessor is much punchier. But it’s not all about indie rock though.

“Sorry Bout LA” has a Beatlesque quality to it which I can appreciate, while “Be In 2” has more of those loud distorted guitars accentuating the track at times but melodically, I think the Reid brothers would be proud. Me particularly, I enjoy those over-the-top six strings. I could listen to that all day.

While Little Hits may not change the world, Miles and Becca do touch on a few things I find interesting, but again, I would have liked to hear more from Drug Couple. Only time would tell.

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There are moments when I find I’m not certain what I’m getting myself into, heading into the unknown sometimes leaves me excited or frightened. Now here with The History Of Gunpowder, I’m not sure where I find myself. I was disappointed to find the band’s new release, The Epileptic Vol 1. is only 6 tracks, which I thought wouldn’t give me much to go on. That was until looking in deeper. Songs range in length, anywhere from 4 and half minutes to over 10. Ok, I’ll bite.

Well, again, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, avoiding anything included with the band’s press release but I wonder how I’ve gone so long without any knowledge of the group’s existence since at least 2012, the earliest recordings I’ve located. And then I see why; the band hails from Canada, where I’m only familiar with a handful of artists and I’m friends with even fewer. But I digress.

The History of Gunpowder is a 6-piece “freak out orchestra” that hails from Montreal but is now based in Vancouver, has a few albums that precede The Epileptic Vol 1. and is fronted by founder/leader Alex Morison. Now while the band may seem to have a shitstorm of influences, they lasso devastating hurricanes and break them to do their bidding. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself though.

While I can appreciate lengthy numbers, it’s difficult to peg Morison as a complete fucking madman or a crafty genius. One can understand why it took 2 years and 34 musicians to finish. For the most part, the album does shatter sound barriers with psycho freakouts, but Morison is at the helm controlling it all with concise precision. The band opens with “Buenos Aires,” an orchestrated number which is reminiscent at moments of early Firewater or if I want to dig in deeper, the more obscure Dave Ouimet’s Motherhead Bug. But the band’s obvious love for Tom Waits can’t be denied, although Morison holds up well stacked against Waits. He has something to prove here, and he lets loose like a demon-possessed. Strings and horns create beautiful melodies that are sometimes darkly hued and then make a 180-degree turn. The band juxtaposes its timbres well. The stadium-sized delivery here cannot be contained. Of course, the campiness of the band doesn’t escape me as I’m filled with images of old spaghetti westerns as “First Come For Peace” begins. Images of  Ennio Morricone as translated by Quentin Tarantino fill my head when those acoustic guitars begin sidewinding. The intense percussion that chimes in under Morison’s voice is accentuated by the gorgeous backing vocals. The song howls and slinks through dusty trails and there’s no doubt as to the showmanship the band surely provides live.

…Gunpowder delves into the Blues as well but it’s more with a rocking enthusiasm they share with other groups like England’s The Heavy. This is by no way or form a comparison, but the ability to move a crowd differently, with a blues base and rock’s heaviness for an unadulterated good time! And as good as those times can get, one can get lost in the drifting beauty of somberness. The band does that on  “So You Think You’re Alone” where Morison’s heart-wrenching vocals leave me shriveled up in a ball of loneliness as the band’s inevitable crescendo of percussion, strings, and horns help wash down the pills with a bottle of whiskey. Thanks. I think. There’s more of that on “Cold Dead Hands” where Morison sings like the Boss man himself, and this song could be one Springsteen probably wishes he wrote himself. I understand comparisons are cheap but allowing themselves to diversify its music, The History Of Gunpowder shows its versatility. Yes, I do love Springsteen. Yes, I do love this song.  

Now one thing the band is aware of is how hard-hitting the lengthy “Early Riser” is. The band obviously took its chance on this blues-based number, led by Morison’s rough/tough vocal display, and at times it may be repetitive, but it isn’t repetitious.  The horns permeate throughout it, and the guitars shouldn’t be ignored but with the 8-piece band here, Morison is at his best, as the band bludgeons their instruments to death here. At 10 minutes plus, you just don’t want it to end.

To say The History of Gunpowder is impressive would probably be an understatement. The power the band delivers is immense and as we head into 2020 I’m inclined to say The History of Gunpowder is derivative only unto itself.

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