matty day | six somewhat local albums | jan. 2016
With the blessing of my esteemed colleague Tom Smith, I'll also be reviewing some new music this month: the Raglanders, Harvey Brown, Council, Bad Wig, Jeff Hinndendael and George's Bush.
Troy Heinz, John Steuck, Andy Cismoski and Chris Schoenecker (congratulations to you and Tara!) have been making music forever, and the future's way bright for this Green Bay group. To compare them to their well-respected prior projects, the Raglanders are twangier than BonZai McPherson, hit heavier than Farm League, and are a little more song- than jam-oriented than the Bar Tab Band. They do, though, know when the time's right to stay comfortable and max out a tune, made possible by Steuck's Mick Taylor-esque guitar work.
Perhaps the difference is negligible, but the Raglanders come off more country-rock than Americana, both live and on this, their debut EP. â€œPembine" was recorded by Andy Thiele in a cabin in some mysterious Wisconsin municipality, quite possibly Pembine, but who knows. With Thiele's back-up vocals, Molly Robinson's fiddle, Chad Karnitz' pedal steel, Heinz' mandolin and Steuck's harmonica, the EP's sound is fully, richly embellished. At its core, though, are five well-written songs about restless loneliness, anchored by an ace rhythm section.
Previewing the project, I also got to hear a criminally excluded outtake called â€œCocaine Ways" that I sure hope sees release some day. Beg those Raglanders to play it on January 16th, when they release â€œPembine" at Frets & Friends with Fox Valley folk-rockers Christopher Gold & the New Old Things.
Every time I devote ink to these cats they give me cooler stuff to write about. This time, it's â€œNeedful Things" â€” their third album and, in my opinion, their best yet. I say that not to put down their prior efforts, but from sheer excitement. So much goes right on this disc!
Among the album's treats: easy grooves with tasteful bass work and hooks; dual-tracked vocals, often laced with effects yet still intelligible, flowing from tuneful to amelodic rap at will; and warm acoustic guitar throughout, always brightening the mix.
The production's credited to the entire band, and it bears the sound of a positive, checked-n'-balanced collaboration. Harvey works with space a lot on this album, and it's satisfying how they fill it. They show patience and restraint, especially on "Two Cents" and its bookends of sampled dialogue â€” another example of their well-executed experiments. I won't spoil any more surprises here, but it's impressive how they stretch their sound while producing focused, inspired results.
â€œNeedful Things" probably has both the quietest and loudest moments from HB's catalog. All members' musicianship is fully displayed on the album â€” rip-n'-grind rhythms, outrageous rock sensibilities, on-point lyrical instincts â€” but it's never excessive or tacky; they're comfortable with their talents here, doing what's best for the sound.
There's real shape to these songs, and to the album overall. Even though they get fairly far out on this one, I'd still highly recommend it as a starting point for this great Green Bay band. I've spun it three times and I'm still having fun trying to wrap my head around it. Pick up â€œNeedful Things" at Powers Comics, Rock N' Roll Land or Exclusive Company.
I've been privileged to get a preview of Appleton's Council, and I'm thrilled to report that Jon Wheelock and Sam Farrell have officially started something wild.
Wheelock's played bass for Cory Chisel & the Wandering Sons for two years, but with Council he's on the main mic, urged by those who know his vocal prowess, including Chisel. The project's extremely promising, with its soulful songwriting, arresting performances and expert production. The tracks are alternately playful and powerful, poppy and heavy, romantic and socially conscious. Wheelock's got a lot to say, but with his bass and Ryan Seefeldt's drums, the Council sound is always, always ruled by rhythm.
I can't help but want to hype this group, but any more details might deprive listeners the joy of personally discovering these tracks. While the album won't be released until well into 2016, stay tuned for singles in spring. With such variety from song to song, it'll be exciting to see which tracks they drop first.
Former members of Milwaukee's Midwestern Charm, including Green Bay native Connor LaMue, have rebooted as Bad Wig. While I was a fan of the Charm, I was positively floored by the new group's all-new set at Lyric Room in November. The songs all ruled, and the trio rocked with maximal commitment. One can hear awesome influences in the music, from Big Star and Cheap Trick, to classic Weezer, to Jawbreaker and Jawbox.
Ultimately, it's its own sound, and I really like it. Their self-titled, debut EP is only available on cassette, adding to the lo-fi, '90s indie aesthetic. It works, and I'm very excited to hear these songs live again.
Somehow I've known Jeff for nearly 15 years. Hi, Jeff! Remember how you played drums in our one-off ska band Phat Matt & the Pogo 6? Well, this isn't easy to admit, but the stuff you're doing now blows our old band away.
â€œLayla (The American Dream)" is Hinnendael's second solo album, and his work continues getting stronger, particularly his singing. Overall there's an indie-folk sound, with perfect vocal harmonies and fine acoustic guitar interplay. There's a Paul Simon vibe to it, but things get varied, with "Steel Horse" turning into a full-on Doors jam â€” all the more impressive since Hinnendael's the only musician on the record.
Then there's â€œI Hope My Guitar Doesn't See Me Like This," my favorite anthropomorphized instrument title since Tom Waits' â€œThe Piano Has Been Drinking." But I think my favorite song here is â€œMaria," with its harmonica and plaintive chorus: "Aw, man/I can't go to bed/'Cause I'm thinkin' 'bout Maria." Turns out that million-watt smile on the album's cover belongs to the Maria in question, with the shot snapped moments after Jeff proposed to her. She may or may not have said, â€œYES!"
The album's available online at HinnendaelStudios.com, and after Jeff spends January playing in Texas, he'll have the physical album for sale at shows February 5th at the Bottle Room in Suamico, and February 13th at La Vie Boheme in De Pere.
A late entry, but very glad they e-mailed me! I've never seen or met these guys; all I have to go on are these songs on GeorgesBush.Bandcamp.com. â€œSights and Sounds of the Midwest" is a slimy slab of lo-fi, disaffected punk rock, very well done. There's a brief reggae groove tacked onto the end of the EP which, ironic or not, wonderfully enhances the preceding intensity.
I do know there's a connection to Music U here, which is outstanding. I hope Green Bay continues to see good bands coming out of there. (Thanks, Dennis and Pat!)
Keep up the great work, Wisco!
Matty Day's written about local music since 2012. He currently performs in Muddy Udders, the Foamers?, the Gung Hoes and the Priggs. Twitter: @PollutedMindset / E-mail: Events@FranklyGreenBay.com.