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Album review: The Blackbird Revue - Glow (EP)

2013 is shaping up to be another very fine vintage for local music, with several quality releases already available and a slew of eagerly-anticipated albums coming soon to fine retailers and Bandcamp pages near you. Add to this list Glow, the third EP (and first since 2010) from The Blackbird Revue. Husband-and-wife team Jacob and Danielle Prestidge have established themselves as purveyors of an ear-pleasing sound that combines Americana, folk, country, and indie pop in various layers, and their vocal harmonies continue to astonish and devastate. Glow shows the twosome, with the help of several skilled musicians, bringing these skills to the listener in fine form.

The lead track, “When You Are Mine,” shows The Blackbird Revue at the height of its harmonic powers. Those of you who have taken singing lessons or been involved in choral music for any number of years will understand this: both Jacob and Danielle show great ability at singing over the notes. Coming at the music from above gives the vocals an airy, lilting quality during the softer moments at the beginning of this song (and throughout the EP), but the second half sees the tempo change from a gentle breeze to a howling gale, lifting the listener up and carrying said listener on a Thelma and Louise-esque ride straight over the cliff …
… where the title track awaits to catch you and cradle you in its gentle comfort. Glow paints a lyrical landscape with such verses as “fade / our sunsoaked yesterdays / to sepias and grays,” with the intertwined voices alternating in the roles of both palette and canvas. “Winter Rest” is the most pop-sensible track of the four, with undeniable hooks that make toe-tapping a near certainty. The EP concludes with “Lone Swan,” a winsome ballad that offers an encouraging word and a shoulder to lean on for someone whose burden has grown heavy (“this world is cruel this world is kind / and sometimes love is hard to find / so if you need to clear your mind / take the keys and take your time”).
When you listen to Glow, you hear music that pleases with its honesty and directness, but the notes that spring from your speakers don’t tell the entire story. Listening to Danielle and Jacob work together, harmonize together, and just be together, you realize that they have … something … indefinable, yet unmistakable. This isn’t just a musical duo, and this isn’t just a married couple. This is a union of two spirits and souls that complement each other perfectly as no other could. The underlying intensity and obvious passion shine brightly throughout this 14-minute love letter from the Blackbird Revue.
I hope someday we all get to experience that same glow.
The group’s next performance will be next Friday, March 8 at River’s Bend Restaurant and Bar in Parkville with Jason Craig and The Wingmen at 8:00 pm (Facebook event here). The Blackbird Revue will also be a part of the HomeGuard Festival VIP party on Saturday, March 16 at The Midwestern Musical Co. at 7:00 pm.
--Michael Byars

Michael Byars may or may not be pickling things at this moment. It’s possible that he’s already had four or five bottles of Mountain Dew by now. There’s a chance that he is at a hookah bar somewhere. You may say he’s a dreamer. But most of all, he spells pretty well and he works for free, so we let him write stuff for us sometimes. 

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Album review: The ACBs - Little Leaves

The ACBs return with a rapid and manic compilation of mentally unstable orchestrations masquerading as two-minute pop songs. Extremely compact arrangements treat fluff like a four-letter word as the Kansas City foursome cruises through thirteen tracks in roughly 30 minutes.Seriously, only two tracks on this album crest the three-minute mark. Often they halt suddenly without cause or warning, which actually works well within the scope of Little Leaves, as each song almost serves like a poetic prelude into the following one.

The music is mostly driven by the pretty-boy sounding guitars, all cleaned up and ready to be taken home to meet your mom. Occasionally, they are allowed to dance with the distortion pedal which provides just enough 5 o’clock shadow to thicken the sonic landscape. The rhythm section and additional instrumentation are solidly envisioned and executed, rarely providing more than just the perfect amount of foundation, dynamics, and drive. Lead vocalist Konnor Ervin vocalizes with an unsure innocence, often coming across like a preteen Ben Gibbard or Connor Oberst just on the verge of hitting puberty. At times it is hard to tell if he is unwilling to commit to the idiosyncrasies of his voice, but in the scope of the whole record, the vocal performance becomes a sporadic, almost neurotic force of dynamics and mystery.
Thematically, Little Leaves is deliciously sinister. Under the sheen of ‘60s go-go girl guitars and booty-shaking beats, there are real issues being thrown around here. While other smiley pop songs are out pining over girls and living up the good life, these tracks are popping Xanax and cutting themselves. They know exactly how many times they can hit their heads on the wall before they pass out. It is an extremely interesting and impressive contrast of style and substance. Not too many bands can be so musically joyful and thematically self destructive at the same time.
The album kicks off with “All Over,” a perfect candidate for the background music to that montage from your favorite romantic comedy where the guy and girl desperately scramble to try to get over each other (only to later realize at the height of some sort of arbitrary “emergency” that they are destined to be together). But just as you are preparing yourself for a quiet and reserved collection of introspective lullabies, the album rushes through a handful of more straightforward pocket-sized burners, most effective being “Oceans.” Almost channeling the more recent work of The Get Up Kids, this song features some of the best usage of additional instrumentation on the record, slowly slipping into just enough sonic cacophony to separate it from the rest of the bunch.
“Underweight,” with its fraught longing and simplicity, seems like a cathartic demo that didn’t quite make the final cut for consideration on Pinkerton. Just a super gorgeous slice of sorrow.
(lyrics transcribed the best these musician ears can understand)
When we go up state
I won’t search for you I promise
Up till now I’ve been honest
I’m probably gonna find you there
I don’t want to be trapped under my weight
I don’t want to be trapped underweight and hated
 “Xanies” is another stand-out effort. It is a terrific microcosm of the whole album: a funky and dancey track on the surface, yet under the veneer actually more morose than the one-eyed dog from the saddest late-night Sarah McLachlan soundtracked commercial you’ve ever seen.
The ACBs have taken great strides to keep their often bubble gum sound heavily saturated with bittersweet layers of modern living. Overall, these thirteen tracks brilliantly sucker punch the gut with a deep neurosis full of anti-depressants and coping mechanisms, yet remain pleasant and bouncy enough on the surface to engage the casual radio listener. We’ve been anxiously awaiting this sophomore effort for quite some time. Safe to say, this beautiful collection of reality-sodden pop gems exceeds all expectations.
Little Leaves will officially be released this Tuesday, but The ACBs will celebrate the release of the vinyl on Saturday, March 9, at Vinyl Renaissance on 39th St. This free, all-ages show will kick off at 1:00 pm with The People, She’s A Keeper at 1:45, and The ACBs at 2:30. The ACBs will also be performing at Ink’s Middle of the Map Fest from April 4-6. Specific set times and venues TBA.
--Zach Hodson

Zach Hodson is a monster. He once stole a grilled cheese sandwich from a 4-year-old girl at her birthday party. He will only juggle if you pay him. I hear he punched Slimer right in his fat, green face. He knows the secrets to free energy, but refuses to release them until "Saved by the Bell: Fortysomethings" begins production.

He is also in Dolls on Fire and Drew Black & Dirty Electric, as well as contributing to various other Kansas City-based music, comedy, and art projects.


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Album review: Man Bear - Infinity Cat (EP)

(Photo by Layne Haley)

Lo-fi: pretentious calculated choice or economic necessity? When someone says, “Because that’s how __________ did it,” you know you’re dealing with the former. When someone says, “I have no idea what I’m doing,” that’s a sign of honesty, simplicity, and little money.
Man Bear’s latest EP, Infinity Cat, is riddled with economic necessity, a condition that doesn’t bode well for fashion endorsements. In fact, listening to Man Bear, it’s obvious the band doesn’t bode well for fashion anything. But it all makes for great songwriting and a real, gritty-sounding recording.
Continuing to fly the tattered banner of Midwest punk rock, Kansas City’s Man Bear lets it rip with five solid tracks of shredded melodic anthems. Vocals are nearly lost in the mix, guitars are distorted within an inch of their lives, and someone might have bumped a keyboard, then let it play the same loop for the first three songs.  And through all the power and noise, a strand of pop sensibility threads the three-piece outfit together.
The favorable comparisons to The Replacements, Soul Asylum, Buffalo Tom, and Superchunk are inevitable, but in no way diminish the sermon Man Bear preaches. Paul Westerberg would be spinning in his grave, bright green with jealousy, if he didn’t have the bad sense to still be alive.
Don’t think because Infinity Cat chooses heart over production that Man Bear doesn’t try. They pack their short songs with tons of hooks and tight rhythms. The backward guitar solo in the tragi-ballad “A Girl I Once Knew” and the pulsing cowbell in “All Goes Down” are nice touches. Man Bear tries all right; they just don’t try to please everyone.
Infinity Cat probably won’t usher in a new-wave of mid-paced, rootsy punk rock. Too unfashionable, too risky, and too bad, because the near absence of any type of rock—punk or otherwise—has made albums like Infinity Cat more crucial than ever.
Man Bear will be performing at The Brick on Saturday, March 2. The band was recently featured on KC Live on KSHB-TV 41 (see below), and was also named the winner of The Deli’s open submission poll for Best Kansas City Emerging Artist of 2012.

--Steven M. Garcia

Steven is guitarist and lead vocalist for Kansas City power pop trio Deco Auto. He also makes a deliciously angry salsa.

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Album review: Bloodbirds - Psychic Surgery

Bloodbirds’ latest release, Psychic Surgery, takes no prisoners as it roars across a hyperdistorted punk psychedelic landscape. At times, the album oozes with a raw and spastic energy similar to that of Nirvana’s Bleach. Other times, it meanders down swirling passages of thickly affected instrumentation. Either way, it is truly impressive how much pleasantly overbearing noise is conjured up by this three-piece group, consisting of Mike and Brooke Tuley (of Ad Astra Arkestra fame) and Anna St. Louis.
Driven by what seems like more guitars than Billy Corgan could count on both hands and feet, this album is fuzzy, buzzy, yet well executed. Underneath the torrent of distortion, the solid beat and bass combination of Tuley and St. Louis keeps things grounded and moving along, while paying close attention to not clash with the siren of guitars wailing above them. And although the material does get a tad formulaic at times, it is a damn solid formula: chaos noise incarnate loosely trapped within the parameters of pop structure.
“Bad Animal” sticks out for me. The intro fools the listener a bit with 26 seconds of Bob Seger-esque guitar noodling before launching into an all-out sonic blitz. Reminiscent of early Queens of the Stone Age, it is a furious four minutes of song, almost too saturated at times with antagonistically distorted guitars, but nicely counterpointed by the stripped-down, daydream verses. Being one of the more straightforward and less meandering efforts on the album, it packs a blow worth noting.
“Patterned Sky” prominently features restful female vocals and flexes the psychedelic and dreamy muscles that Bloodbirds has to offer. The main guitar finds itself clean, verbed to almost surf rock in a way. This track gets in and out pretty quick and provides a nice breather to the otherwise resonant assault.
Perhaps some of the album’s most interesting guitar work is featured on its title track. All too often guitarists in this genre can get inane or annoying when trying to fill time with random effect noise. Tuley avoids that pitfall in “Psychic Surgery,” putting together a solid and dynamic performance. With what I assume is at least a handful of effects, he coaxes his guitar through a variety of emotions in a nice compact instrumental section. From wailing to pouting to singing to just random robotic musings, it is clear that Tuley is very aware, in control, and discreet with this performance.
The album ends with a bombardment of riffs called “Time Battle.” This song screams like someone beating the shit out of a banshee. It may just be the perfect summation of the rest of the record. There is just enough breath to the verses to make you think you might have some chance of keeping your eardrums intact, but all hope of avoiding the dreaded rrrriiiinnnggg in your ears while trying to fall asleep at night is lost once the vocals give way to the cavalcade of searing guitars. It is a fierce bitch slap to the face, the perfect way to finish off the sonically engorged LP.
All in all, Psychic Surgery will make your audiologist incredibly pissed at you. Bloodbirds do not hold anything back. There is no mute button left on any track in the final mix. If their live show is anything as powerful as this record is, I would suggest earplugs inside earmuffs inside an old deep sea diver’s helmet for protection. Or chance it. Bloodbirds would be a wonderful thing to go deaf to.

Bloodbirds was recently selected to play Ink’s Middle of the Map Fest, which is curated by The Record Machine and runs from Thursday, April 4 to Saturday, April 6. Details on schedules and venues will be forthcoming.

--Zach Hodson

Zach Hodson is a monster. He once stole a grilled cheese sandwich from a 4-year-old girl at her birthday party. He will only juggle if you pay him. I hear he punched Slimer right in his fat, green face. He knows the secrets to free energy, but refuses to release them until "Saved by the Bell: Fortysomethings" begins production.

He is also in Dolls on Fire and Drew Black & Dirty Electric, as well as contributing to various other Kansas City-based music, comedy, and art projects.

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Album review: The Great Vehicle - The People's Cathedral of Wavelengths (EP)

Described as “a guided tour of performance, technical, and philosophical minutiae,” The Great Vehicle’s The People’s Cathedral of Wavelengths journeys down an experimental and rock-infused path to deliver a fresh sound that help gives the “progressive” genre a good reputation.

The People’s Cathedral of Wavelengths opens abruptly with “Bald Chemist,” a track that sets the dynamic and progressive tone for the rest ofthe EP. A guitar solo about two-thirds of the way in provides a throwback feeling reminiscent of early/mid-’90s rock, but in the best way possible. “Touched in the Head,” a proclaimed “disparate mismatched junk glued together with industrial-strength adhesive—in the best way possible,” builds upon itself with ascending and descending scales and an introductory riff that supposedly has been in the works for years. “Swan Meat (Slight Reduction)” closes out the EP on a strong note. Though there is an overarching heavy guitar sound throughout all of The People’s Cathedral of Wavelengths, the song has a contagious tempo and beat that makes it the most catchy track of them all. Strong percussion coupled with some random hollering from “an unknown preacher from an unknown cable channel” that the band tossed into the mix make “Swan Meat” a favorite on the EP.
It can be a rare case to find progressive rock songs that are less than 10 minutes long and actually “progress” from start to finish. The Great Vehicle does a great job at keeping listeners’ attention in their tracks and giving them a beat to dance to.
The Great Vehicle is composed of Mason Fann, bass; Gregg Todt, drums; and Troy Van Horn, guitar. The People’s Cathedral of Wavelengths is the band’s first EP, released January 22 and recorded at Sandusky Sound Co by Erik Voeks. The six-track EP can be purchased and downloaded at Bandcamp. Also on this site, the band gives fan some added insight by sharing the backstories to all the songs. 
--Alex Peak
Alex Peak is a magazine designer by day and a music listener by night. To her, stumbling across great new music is even better than finding a $10 bill floating around in the laundry.  

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