New Music: Friday Roll Out! With The Other Guys, Mover Shaker, DieAlps!, Ben Lee, Monotrope

I attempt to refrain from putting my personal life out of anything I write here but speaking with someone this week made me realize that we all have issues and/or demons that we deal with on a regular basis. It could affect anyone at any time, sliding down a slippery slope, but for many, burying secrets deep down inside or just not addressing anything used to be the norm. Fortunately, mental health is something that’s been addressed within the last few years and many don’t have to quietly walk the line between silence and death. That’s where I’ve been, but I usually mask it well. Lucky for me I have things that can distract me from hiding that downward spiral.

I begin listening to things on the recommendation of others sometimes, but usually, I’ll just blow friends off because as I mentioned, life sometimes gets the better of me and I’m unable to juggle things around. I’m not a clown after all (well, maybe). But I’ve passed on the new release by Monotrope, which I shouldn’t have. Sometimes, things are up my alley. The band’s new album, Immutable Future (New Atlantis Records) might be a difficult listen for some as the instrumental act, made up of members across the country who’ve cut teeth in Hyrrokkin. Hurl, Unraze, and Bellini, make a racket of guitar-driven melodies that are repetitive, but far from repetitious. I’m digging deep in today, maybe you should too. Note: the disjointed dissonance of “Grand Systemist” is one of my favorites here.

Can I really say I’ve followed the career Ben Lee has paved out for himself? No. In my head, I think my first memory of the Noise Addict frontman is seeing him holding hands with Claire Danes. Sure, Noise Addict had a couple of enjoyable songs but I lost interest. He’s recorded about what, 16 or 17 solo albums now with the new Quarter Century Classix (New West) to close out 2019. It’s a covers album, which can be trickier than cross-pollinating genres.

Now I’m not one that’s really into “cover” albums so we all may want to take what I’m about to write with a grain of salt. Or maybe not. While there may be a few positive responses to a few songs here, for the most part, listeners will be left wanting…if they’ve already been conditioned with the original recordings. Lee opens Quarter Century Classix with “Web In Front.” If you’re gonna bring the ruckus, you better make sure you’re G’d up. It’s a lukewarm delivery of a song that’s majestic. He changes the melody slightly but unless you’re Eric Bachmann on an acoustic guitar, it’s not going to work. Fugazi’s “Blueprint” is obviously different as well where the disarray of the band’s song is cleaned up here but the perfection of the song is in the imperfection. Why the choice of recording a version of “Divine Hammer” was made leaves me scratching my head. It drives the punch The Breeders originally gave the song or the hypnotic vocal delivery.

I must stress that my intention here isn’t to bag on this release but the album seems to lack many if any, good qualities. I was hesitant to listen to his rendition of “Sugar Kane,” which has remained one of my favorite numbers since its inception but here, one can imagine what the Sonic Youth song would sound if it were being performed acoustically by Sonic Youth if MTV’s Unplugged wasn’t canceled. It’s not a knock on Lee but I only picture Renaldo and Moore performing it. There are other songs that leave me questioning my choices as a writer; a reworking of Pavement’s “In the Mouth A Desert” would have been better left untouched because this is just difficult to listen to. Guitars fail to capture any kind of distinctive qualities the original had. He also handles covers of Dinosaur Jr.’s “Get Me” off Where You Been, which anyone in their right mind should leave alone. Even changing the instrumentation here…no. J. Mascis’ voice and guitar are symbolic to the song and the band itself! “Goldheart Mountain Top Queen Directory” by GBV, “My Noise” by Superchunk, and Beat Happening’s “Godsend” are also covered but I won’t go into these for fear of boredom.

If there’s a bright light at the end of the tunnel, well, you won’t find it here but not all is lost on Classix. Ben Lee covers Daniel Johnston’s “Speeding Motorcycle,” and there isn’t any way one can fuck up a Johnston song. It’s simple and direct to the point. He does a decent job on “Car,” originally penned by Built To Spill, staying truer to the number than any of his other renditions here. And the one saving grace here? That would probably be “Brand New Love,” where Lee eschews Sebadoh’s guitars in lieu of piano. His tribute to the original is welcomed although his vocals should have stuck closer melodically to Barlow’s.

So does Quarter Century Classix deserve your attention? Are you really wondering if I asked that question? No, it was a good idea but the performance was lacking in song reorganization and delivery.

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For me, I’ve never looked at Florida as a hotbed for new music, just warm weather, and where my mother lives. But there have been some bands that have broken out of the sweltering heat to regional and even national success. Even if they haven’t received that, there’s still the critical praise shown.

After a couple of releases, DieAlps! has offered up its new album, More Important Things (New Granada Records) and this is the album that everyone will be hard-pressed to say anything remotely negative about. In fact, I don’t think DieAlps!’ indie-pop gumption can be matched this year by any of its contemporaries. DieAlps! opens with “It’s The End,” and the driving energy of the track can’t be denied from beginning to end. Guitars strum away with just the right amount of distortion, never unnecessarily hitting into overdrive, allowing the song’s melodic impact to find solace in its own beauty. Guitarist/vocalist Frank Calcaterra’s voice is soothing and strays from overworking his lyrics leaving at least this listener wanting more. It’s balanced out by the other principal songwriter, his wife Cornelia who handles lead vocal duties as well, and while that doesn’t mean the music is softened, she offers up a change here in musical structuring. Take “Common Denominator” for example, the song shifts in tempo, guitars are louder, offering up another side to the band’s sound/stylings.

The band keeps you guessing as to what direction they’re heading into, with “the Past Is All You’ve Seen” opening softly before shifting dynamics into a rollicking joint that’s addictive in the literal sense. Vocal and instrumental melodies mesh seamlessly and it makes one wonder why DieAlps! isn’t a household name! It’s safe to say they’re a guitar rock band but the melodicism throughout isn’t unlike a hearty meal that sticks to your ribs. Even when the band quiets it down a bit on the jangly “Satellites,” we’re left with the same heartiness. And it just continues throughout whether its cheerful movements of “Second Chance” or the expansiveness of “The Lesson Here” where it seems the wash of guitars take on a life of their own.

There’s just something about More Important Things that are intriguing and soothing. It may not be rare to find feminine/masculine leads shifting from song to song but what is difficult to enjoy is that shift through every song. DieAlps! has that and this album has the ability to shift moods. If you find yourself in a dark place, filled with rage, or just annoyed, More Important Things is the pharmaceutical that has the ability to change that.

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The Other Guys, made up of Isaiah and Mighty Joe, released the new Autumn In Analog, an instrumental EP with jazz leanings, a love for R&B standards, and just enthralling, hypnotic beats. This isn’t so much a review as it is praise for enveloping all these factors into just 9 tracks. As fast as one song begins, it ends just as quickly. One has to take note of the brevity of the tracks as most never pass the 2-minute mark.

What the duo lacks in length here, they make up in the beauty of the music. All that can be done is hit the replay button over and over. But calling this an instrumental release is a bit of a misnomer as it closes with “Love Me Right” featuring Jenna Camille. The beat is smooth, filled with a lone horn over a thick beat as Camille smooth vocal delivery encompasses the track like honey slowly dripping from its bottle tipped on the edge of a table.

D.C.’s The Other Guys have release after release of stormy beats that not many can match. Autumn In Analog brings that heat just in time for the winter.

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When it comes to Michigan, it’s like the state is a big box of chocolates because you never know what you’re going to get. It’s no different with Mover Shaker because the Detroit band is unlike anything we’ve probably ever come to know. The band hasn’t changed much since its 2016 debut Michigania and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The 4-piece outfit is a rock band first and foremost and its prog influence can’t be missed or even ignored. What the band does on its sophomore effort Another Truck Stop (Skeletal Lightning) is clean things up rather well, although there wasn’t much to clean up. The band meshes melodicism and pop hooks well with nimble progressions that could make King Crimson, Rush, or Tool blush. But it doesn’t seem Mover Shaker has time for posturing and lets the music it creates speak volumes.

On the opening “Latchkey,” there’s a bombardment of instruments leading in a direction to cause confusion, with a sonic death metal-ish approach before shifting with a heavy melodic thrust stopping on a dime when the need arrives. There’s no doubt in my mind, the powerful rhythm synchronicity shared by Colin and Ryan Shea has something to do with the space they shared for 9 months since conception. These twins obviously share something that surpasses musicality. Couple that with the skill vocalist/guitarists Gabriel Miller and Jack Parsons bring to the table, the musical insanity between band members, it simply takes the music they create…let’s just say, the band is literally on some next level shit. And that’s all just in the first song! “Service Provider” is the perfect rock song with loads of melody wrapped around instruments held by four guys who probably don’t even know how good they fucking are. This is stadium rock for the desert air, melody entwined with harmonies and a thunderous backbone.

Then when the band takes things down a notch on “Vilify,” they completely confound listeners with an unlimited supply of Queen-inspiration channeled through garage rock. But Mover Shaker doesn’t care what you think; I’m pretty sure they could give a rat’s ass about what I think. They shift things with keyboard/synth-driven “Put Me To Sleep” where they seem to follow 70s/80s prog-rock patterns layering harmonies all around their instruments.

With Another Truck Stop, Mover Shaker is all over the place but taking chances is what you’re supposed to do. If it doesn’t work, try again. But if it does…ooooh boy, get ready to fly. Mover Shaker is getting ready to do just that, and I want to be there when they do!

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