Reflecting back on the past is what many tend to do, allowing for easily figuring things out and giving descriptives by comparison. I count myself amongst the guilty, writing lazy comparatives in order to move forward. I’ve strayed from that overprocessed road but sometimes find myself inching back towards it.
There’s no confusion on 7-11 Jesus though, the band that got its start in the Bay Area before relocating east to Boston, MA where two of the members are originally from. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here. The band, August Darula (guitar/vocals), Emma Jacobson (bass), and Kieran Gill (drums), all met in college back in 2016 and began playing together in 2017. After releasing a couple of EPs in 2018 and 2019, it looked as if the band was ready to record a full-length album with studio time booked. Just like so many other plans people had, when the pandemic hit, the trio’s were briefly placed on hold. Necessity is the mother of invention right? The band decided to record it themselves and borrowed equipment and set it up in their garage. 7-11 Jesus recorded material over the span of a month and “hoped for the best.” The group enlisted Jack Shirley (Deafheaven, Jeff Rosenstock) for the final mix which would end up as the album, Tree Dream. Would it be everything they expected?
While the band’s own description of its music is referred to as “a noisy-wall-of-sound accented by subtle shoegaze,” it just might be a misnomer. 7-11 Jesus might find its sound time-warped somewhere within 1997 American counterculture, and that might not necessarily be a bad thing. While shoegaze lasted from the 80s through the late 90s, but still finds pockets of groups redefining the style even today, 7-11 Jesus mixes and mingles its sound with more of a refined, yet noisy, indie rock sound that would possibly be a bit more relatable. The band’s sound is remarkably influenced by southern California and pacific northwest indie rock but I’m left wondering if the band is even aware of that. The late 90s saw a plethora of innovation and throughout Tree Dream, there’s much of that as well. There are moments when the band ushers through mid-tempo and leveled tracks that subtly play with dynamics like on dirge-like “Two Hands.” The band never lets go of the melody as Darula’s voice stokes the burning embers of the rhythm, allowing the flame to burn brighter. Guitars circle around, engulfing all as the track makes its inevitable end. But the band doesn’t fool me just one bit. Under all that distortion and wall of guitar fuckery, there’s a pop band with lots of hidden jewels underneath. The opening “Tried So Hard” again plays with dynamics but holds on to infectious melodies and then “Kill Your Friends” doubles that with clear-cut pop antics. Distortion simply beautifies everything.
Make no mistake or get things confused, the music the trio is making here is more than delightful and catchy AF. The band doesn’t randomly place distortion and over-the-top drums all over; they’re selective. Although having it in most places the way it’s scattered is warranted. The moment the dramatic “Soft Brain” begins, you’re in. The band barely leaves any room to breath but that’s ok. Who needs oxygen? In just under 2 minutes, you’ll want to hear that track over and over again. As the album draws nearer to a close, the band takes the time to experiment a bit on the dreamy “Death Of A Son,” incorporating blips and electronics, with light percussive taps driving it along. But it’s the closing “Time To Die” where the band leaves everyone thinking they’ve been playing with our emotions all along, filling the song with bare guitars and piano. It’s obviously much different from the rest of the album but it works.
Barring any unforeseen additional pandemics, I wouldn’t mind seeing what 7-11 Jesus is capable of doing live. The self-produced, self-released Tree Dream is an amazing album that I think only hints at what the band is capable of. Yes, the band has put together a collection of songs that refreshingly captivating and damned good. I can count myself as a new fan and I’ll be smothered & covered in 7-11 Jesus gear when they perform live. Hell yes.
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It’s been a decade and a half since anyone has heard anything coming from the Deathray Davies camp, the band leaving us last with 2005’s The Kick And The Snare. With the newest effort Time Well Wasted (State Fair/We Know Better Records) the band pretty much picks up where it left off. Ok, not really but I’ll get to that. After a 15-year hiatus, we shouldn’t expect the same snarling delivery the band served up, which was loud and furious pop explosions. Instead, with the new release, it seems the band has found comfort in toning down the guitar levels – substantially – while still holding onto its penchant for clever pop songwriting. This time around it seems the band revolves most of the tracks around restrained guitars, piano, keyboards, and lilting deliveries.
By no means am I attempting to paint the band into a corner or even say it’s a shadow of its former self; not at all. This go around, the band’s much more laid back approach works to its benefit. Take “False Alarm” for instance, it opens subtly with a sole guitar and John Dufilho’s vocals. It begins sweetly and softly enough until that initial shift in the song with bass and drums changing the dynamics and keyboards eventually fitting in with a solo of sorts, embellishing the melody even further. It’s a tricky little number that makes listeners think the rhythm has shifted with stops and starts but it moves seamlessly along the same continuous pattern. No two songs sound alike though, they’re all very distinguishable and unique. “Tapping On The X-Ray” is filled with 60s-like background harmony coos, while guitars lead the way, shifting 3/4th of the way with dissonant notes played in the distance. The candy coat around it will leave listeners with a tooth ache.
The band strays even further on “I’m In Love With Alexa” with its own brand of chamber-pop, which includes strings surrounding piano notes & chords as harmonies abound throughout. It’s gorgeous. The piano-driven “Lucas, I’m In Room 39” is accentuated by keyboard or effects – I just can’t tell – to match Dufilho’s vocal melody at moments but it’s lightly drenched guitar distortion as to not overload the song. It has that wow factor even after multiple listens.
Through 13 tracks, Time Well Wasted is well, a misnomer. It’s actually time well spent. The Deathray Davies are back and in full-force with great song structures, catchy tunes and completely reinvigorated.
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Have you ever tried to wrap your head around something completely unexpected? You believe something is going to be one thing because that’s all you hear about it but it’s in fact something that you’re familiar with that you wouldn’t normally find appealing? Head is spinning.
The early press offerings have scribes tripping over themselves with shouts of amazing psychelelic offerings coming out of Texas would have one believing Roky Erickson has been resurrected and released new material. Instead it’s actually Butthole Surfers guitarist Paul Leary with his first solo album in 30 years, Born Stupid (Shimmy Disc/Joyful Noise Recordings) since ‘91s The History Of Dogs. In all honesty, a good amount of songs are country or western-tinged, smothered in psych-rock experimentation with a few numbers that show promise, while some other songs are adult-oriented elementary school numbers. But we’ll take these a few at a time.
The opening title track is a country jam trekking through space with Captain Kirk. It’s pretty standard, aside from the vocal effects and haunting backdrop. It leaves you wondering, “What the hell did I just get into?” But it’s “Do You Like To Eat A Cow” that confuses even more. Is it an elementary school sing-a-long about eating meat and drinking its secretions? It’s odd but then again so is “Sugar Is The Gateway Drug,” which tells me crack may be wack but kids need to stay away from sugar. All that coming from a faux ice cream truck that could be selling broccoli. That’s what I imagine anyway. I skim through “What Are You Gonna Do” a few times, Leary’s version of a South Park satanic theme song. Creepy AF! But there’s much more on Born Stupid that you may find just as disturbing. Or not.
Leary fills his song with a multitude of weirdness, smothering it in psychedelic elements. His “Mohawk Town” is a spaghetti western revolving around skin heads and a place called Mohawk Town, while “Throw Away Freely” is a grand free-for-all circus anthem that’s reminiscent of Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore.” With “Gary Floyd Revisited,” while I can get behind Leary’s acoustic guitar and clear vocals on this softer delivered track, part of its melody is reminiscent of Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” but I’m probably reaching. Or I’m not. Either way, the strings that are incorporated well worth the entrance price.
While I applaud Leary for his effort on Born Stupid, it’s scattershot and doesn’t follow a general path throughout. Maybe that’s what he was going for. Or not. While it’s not the worst thing to listen to, it’s not all that bad but I probably won’t find myself playing this very often.