Disc Reviews

by Max Ink Staff Writers


Rainer Maria - S/T

Rainer Maria - S/T

Rainer Maria

Album title: S/T
By John Noyd
Posted: Aug 2017
Label: Polyvinyl
(2048) Page Views

Older and bolder, Rainer Maria’s self-referencing album announces a reinvigorated version of a band true to its indie-emo roots. A mature reckoning of well-placed outrage, the trio’s first new music in eleven years vents invested aggressions with tumultuous impulses. Hypnotizing lines blasted in blazing persuasions and probing undertow, Rainer Maria’s brainier experiments unleash boundless power grounded in textured pressure, cobbling throbbing oppositions to kick-start whip-smart riffs and conjure exacting clashes stitched in rhythm-driven insistence. Half-collapsed in sticky bass snakes and twisted guitar manipulations, the fluid, brutal, casually agile tracks are practically tactile coupling prudent left-brain lyrics fueled by power-punched drums to viscous head-trips shifting elliptical dynamics of compressed intensity with suspenseful séance nuance.  The almighty Rainer Maria play Milwaukee’s Colectivo Coffee Back Room September 15th.

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Torn Between - Maintain Low Tones

Torn Between - Maintain Low Tones

Torn Between

Album title: Maintain Low Tones
By Tommy Rage
Posted: Aug 2017
Label: Mirage M'Hal Records
(1843) Page Views

Debut albums can be difficult.  Especially if you are just long-time friends, musicians and Janesville residents. However, a polished first release can also lead you to open for national recording artist Shaman’s Harvest in front of 600 at the Majestic Theater on August 20th (http://majesticmadison.com/event/shamansharvest/).
That polished sound, mixed with a noticeable effort to take the current rock movement one step further, has led me to ask the question: “What took you guys so long?”  Formed in 2015, and previously playing in local Janesville bands such as Rev-21 and Modifier, the band members have enjoyed some local success but decided to join together to put out a brilliant first release. “Honestly, it came down to us missing playing together. We wanted to be in a good rock band with our friends”, shares lead vocalist Roland Bell.
The 5 track EP Maintain Low Tones (via Spotify ) bridges the gap between rebel metal and 90’s rock. The first track “For Your Treason”, starts with a steady and familiar rock beat. Torn Between then takes rock where it’s headed next. With strong underlying guitar work by Mike LeBay and vocals by Roland Bell, they unleash their angst with a modern and bold driving force.  “Cut The Cord” pushes Brad Ploof (drums) and Andy Glass (bass) to the front, as they pave the way for what your teenage self would listen to if rebellion-rock was invented today.  “Time Cut Short” tells a tragic tale using a sweet blend of upscale production and genuine story telling. This tune combines the best from all four band members and begs for radio play. 
For years bands have been trying to assemble hardcore metal with an up-beat ‘fun’ rock tempo. Torn Between does exactly that, while still giving metal a very modern feel. This small-town group will definitely make an impact in southern Wisconsin and perhaps even further as they continue to push current rock forward.
Check out Torn Between when they open for Shaman’s Harvest at the Majestic Theater on August 20th, and check out their website for future up-coming shows.

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Kevin Morby - City Music

Kevin Morby - City Music

Kevin Morby

Album title: City Music
By John Noyd
Posted: Jul 2017
Label: Dead Oceans
(1562) Page Views

An immigrant’s parable dressed in home-grown poems depicting nocturnal journeys drizzled with hobo hindsight and punk busking, “City,” is one jumpin’ joint whose rootless characters are often running in place; rambling companions wrestling with loss, redemption, hope and reclamation. A lo-fi wayfarer, Morby’s heart-sleeve philosophy form folksy pearls perfectly suited for groovy soft-shoe troubadours and laconic road-house refugees. The casually savvy guitarist harvests beleaguered genius through world-weary lyrics detailing gentle half-dreamt memories dancing around stammering jams and bouncing counsel. Spotlit in after-hours solitude, the stories Morby tell are the calm eye in a dizzying storm, a temporary friendship and thankful anchor that nonetheless takes you on a ride you’ll treasure forever. A vibrant and intriguing performer, Kevin plays Spring Green’s The Shitty Barn August 31st.

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Greta Van Fleet - Greta Van Fleet’s  Black Smoke Rising

Greta Van Fleet - Greta Van Fleet’s Black Smoke Rising

Greta Van Fleet

Album title: Greta Van Fleet’s Black Smoke Rising
By Tommy Rage
Posted: Jun 2017
Label: Lava Music/Republic Records
(8024) Page Views

The Hammer Gods have parted the sky to reveal the second coming.  Dramatic? Perhaps. Yet, one listen to Greta Van Fleet will, in every way possible, remind you that classic rock is alive and well. The similarities to such bands as Led Zeppelin and Heart is undeniable.  The release of the first studio EP Black Smoke Rising and the single “Highway Tune” makes you check your iPod twice to make sure that you have, indeed, found a band from Frankenmuth, Michigan. 

“Safari Song” brings Josh Kiszka (vocals) to the front of the classic rock sound with Jake Kiszka (lead guitar) laying down a gritty riff.  “Flower Power” echoes this nostalgic rock sound with Sam Kiszka (bass) and Danny Wagner (drums) paving the way with a Moog synthesizer bed which will keep you entranced.  The four song EP, produced by Al Sutton (Kid Rock & Hank Williams Jr) never loses sight of who they are; and where their influences come from.  The young bothers: Josh, Sam and Jake Kiszka along with childhood friend Danny Wagner have only one release from Lava Music, available through iTunes & www.gretavanfleet.com, yet it’s safe to say that these young rockers were raised by parents who had record players stacked with British Invasion bands.  The title track “Black Smoke Rising”, and last song on the EP, infuses harmonies with blues and a psychedelic mix to showcase sample jams by each band member. This foursome is on their way to ensuring that classic rock blended with new rock will never die. I’m not cheating on you Robert and Jimmy, I’m just in love with a great new rock band.  Dramatic? Yes, but Greta Van Fleet are that good. 

Greta Van Fleet plays Shake The Lake Saturday June 24th at 5:45 on the Isthmus West Stage

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Rahul Mukerji - Ma De Re Sha

Rahul Mukerji - Ma De Re Sha

Rahul Mukerji

Album title: Ma De Re Sha
By Sal Serio
Posted: Jun 2017
Label: Rahul Mukerji
(2276) Page Views

Rahul Mukerji is an Indian-born guitarist, composer, and visual artist living in Maryland, and ‘Ma De Re Sha’ is his debut recording. Mukerji plays all guitars, synth guitar, E-bow, tabla, sampling, and drum programming. Bruce Ng provides additional drum and percussion sampling, and Ruben Rubio plays bass. This album is a collection of 12 instrumental songs, with a widely eclectic and multi-cultural musical approach. The title track “Ma De Re Sha” got it’s title from a word, or phrase, that a 2-year old daughter of one of Mukerji’s friends would robustly exclaim for a variety of occasions. The origin of this exclamation is unknown, but the spirit and conviction of it provided inspiration to the recording of the album.

Mukerji’s guitar style and various tones alone could make for a page-long exposé. The compositional themes jump from eastern rhythms to hard rock and jazzy progressive fusion-rock, with the guitar work front-and-center throughout. Sometimes clean and crystalline in it’s tone (especially on the acoustic tracks) but also tastefully processed electric sounds, which can inspire a dreamy ethereal introspective mood, as well as kick out a hard rock jam with the best of them.

The ‘Ma De Re Sha’ album was five years in the making, and created with the assistance of musicians and engineers from four different countries. The ultimate takeaway, for Mujerji, was (in his own words), “the importance of forging and nurturing bonds despite any geographic and cultural distances. We may not have always been able to completely break through the language barrier, yet in music we found our common language. It was unity from diversity”.

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Plasmatics - Live! Rod Swenson’s Lost Tapes 1978-81

Plasmatics - Live! Rod Swenson’s Lost Tapes 1978-81

Plasmatics

Album title: Live! Rod Swenson’s Lost Tapes 1978-81
By Sal Serio
Posted: Jun 2017
Label: MVD Entertainment Group
(1872) Page Views

What if you took the cartoonish rock spectacle of KISS, and mixed it with carnival sideshow freak show visuals, a juggernaut of pulsating barre chords, and the primal pornographic sex appeal of Marilyn Chambers? You’d have the Plasmatics, of course. Rod Swenson, singer Wendy O. Williams’ longtime domestic partner and manager, dug deep in to his archives to reveal about 64 minutes of rare, raw, and early Plasmatics concert footage (16 songs total).

The first video, “Want You Baby”, from July 26, 1978 at CBGB in New York City, erupts like a Ramones rapid-fire pogo-stick head banger, even though the visual physical manifestation of the band was still a work-in-progress. Thankfully, merely two songs in to this video compilation (“Tight Black Pants”, 1979, also from CBGB), lead guitarist Wes Beech already sports his infamous blue Mohawk and black satin French maid’s outfit.

The rest of this DVD is from the Plasmatics heyday of 1980-1981, when the stage antics were fully realized: Wendy, with breasts covered only by two small strips of electrical tape, inciting young male hysteria when she would lay down on the edge of the stage and reach in to the audience (“Sometimes I Feel It”), mock “Police” men chasing her about the stage, cutting a Les Paul guitar in half with a chainsaw, smashing television sets and a Cadillac with a sledgehammer, and other playful acts of destruction. On “Nothing” (Pasadena 1981) Williams runs straight in to the audience and directly confronts the fans, alá early 1970s Iggy Pop. By 1981 the automobile on the stage was being outright detonated into gigantic, belching, balls of flame.

A Plasmatics concert was not as chaotic as it may have initially appeared to concert goers, in fact it was very tightly choreographed. Ultimately, the fact that the Plasmatics were decades ahead of their time is glaringly, painfully obvious, like a sharp slap across the face. Their influence can be seen across a wide spectrum of musical acts, from the stripped-down Southern raunch of Nashville Pussy, to the sci-fi Neanderthal horror shock-rock of GWAR.

Generally speaking, the audio on this compilation is very good, even if video quality is occasionally a tad lacking. The band, and Wendy, give outstanding performances. The music is tighter and more diverse than one might think, and in the early days Wendy “sang” more than her later “shouty” metal style. Beech’s guitar playing in particular is extremely competent. The end result of this viewing is a renewed appreciation of a truly original American rock ‘n roll band, with a fearless and powerful front-woman, and provides a glimpse in to why the world should always remember and respect Wendy O. Williams and the Plasmatics.

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The Smells - Manure Spreader

The Smells - Manure Spreader

The Smells

Album title: Manure Spreader
By Sal Serio
Posted: Jun 2017
Label: Rare Plant
(1904) Page Views

The Smells are a new-ish four-piece band from Madison, and they call their music “grain belt rock n’ roll”. They have two singers who also play guitar. Their names are Leith and James. Leslie plays bass guitar and sings. Josh provides the drumbeats. The Smells released an 8-song cassette tape called ‘Manure Spreader’. This is what I have to say about that.

The opening song is titled “1965”, and it has a fuzzy guitar sound and a catchy chorus. I liked the year 1965, because that’s when some of my earliest memories come from, like sitting on my Dad’s lap and gumming the lip on his beer bottle. But if any of you readers ever try to gum my beer bottle, I may get upset with you.

“Vitamin World” is a little more frantic, and the words are harder to understand. But often it’s a good thing when listeners can’t decipher the words. For one, it prevents them from singing along in their car like a fool. This song is under 2:00 long, and that would make Pete Townshend proud.

Things get wooden on the alt-folky “Winter Song”, which does feature lyrics that can both be understood, and probably sung along to as well. Or hummed, at the very least. I imagined hearing Jay Farrar sing this one, except Jay Farrar always sounds like his big toe hurts. I don’t think The Smells have any toes that are giving them pain.

“Cherry Bomb” is the fourth song. It is not a cover by The Runaways.

Side B starts with the song “Another Hit (In A Car)”, which, as a title, also brought back memories of my youth. But I’d bet lots of teenagers from rural areas of Wisconsin have decadent car stories to tell.

Next up is “Blow-Up Baby”, and I suppose you think that title also brings back memories for me, but you’re wrong! Besides, I’m pretty sure the lyrics are talking about a flesh-and-blood lover. This song has a decidedly “Madison rock” feel to me, and I’m not 100% certain what gives it that quality, but I feel like I am in a dingy near-east-side Madison bar when I listen to it. “Barkeep! PBR, por favor.”

Track 7 is titled “Fish”. Thank goodness it is not titled “Phish”.

The last song is “GFG”, and at first I thought this was a term that I read about in Dan Savage’s newspaper column. Which of course, led to lots of speculation what the “F” substitution could be in the phrase “good, giving, and game”. I’ll let your imagination run wild with that one. And, no, I don’t actually think this has anything to do with the song at all, except that both the tune and my speculations were fun and enjoyable.

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Big Thief - Capacity

Big Thief - Capacity

Big Thief

Album title: Capacity
By John Noyd
Posted: May 2017
Label: Saddle Creek
(1851) Page Views

Big Thief steals your heart in small ways; tossing soft, modest waltzes in traveling vagabond ballads while defenseless confessions trickled with ticklish licks, windmill trills and ghostly solos smolder in glowing emotions. Penning beautiful second-thoughts and half-caught eavesdrops into bittersweet indie-rock subplots, song-writer Adrianne Lenker brings tender strength and subtle wonder to the band’s sophomore release deploying discerning ear-worms slipped in whispers uncoiling coy joys from stair-climbing rhymes. The charming, demure, “Capacity,” packages timid sympathies with earthy verses besides purring purges blessed in acceptance for driving folk woven from corrosive commotion and smooth blues tipsy with sing-song tonics rich in wise kindness. Returning to Madison for the first time as a headliner, Big Thief plays the High Noon Saloon July 3rd with Virginia folk-singer Twain.

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Franky And The Band - Austin, Texas - The Rock Opera

Franky And The Band - Austin, Texas - The Rock Opera

Franky And The Band

Album title: Austin, Texas - The Rock Opera
By Sal Serio
Posted: May 2017
Label: Round Rock Records
(1876) Page Views

Every once in a while, a package crosses my desk which catches me off guard with it’s unique and captivating presentation. And, let’s face it… in this modern age, to experience something artistic and musical that arrives from a road less traveled, is a rare and welcome event.

In this instance, the road leads to and from Austin, Texas, and the project is a concept album about Austin, paired with a companion novella based in Austin. The brainchild of this conceptual undertaking is guitarist, singer, songwriter, and arranger Fehmi Nuhoglu, known more commonly as “Franky”.

Franky composed 13 songs to describe his love for both the music of Austin, and the community itself. As diverse as Austin is, it is no wonder that these songs run through a variety of stylings, including (but not limited to) blues, Tex Mex, hard rock, country, ballads, and dance.

It’s evident that Franky sought to present the best possible performances for this project, even at the sacrifice of his own abilities. Musicians from across the USA lend their talents to these beautiful and inspirational compositions, with Franky himself only appearing on five tracks. Obviously ego was not a factor in the recording process!

The accompanying 116 page novella, “A Love Like Texas Weather”, is a fictional love story occurring in and around the city of Austin, and includes a plot line that subtlety but effectively ties in with the sequence of the concept album. If I owned a 10-gallon Stetson hat, I would tip it to Franky And The Band, and whoop and holler in appreciation… and hopefully get ‘em back for an encore.

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PHO - two

PHO - two

PHO

Album title: two
By Sal Serio
Posted: May 2017
Label: PHO
(1743) Page Views

Recently in Madison to open a show for TAUK, the 7 piece horn-driven instrumental powerhouse from Minneapolis called PHO got the evening off on the right foot… well, both feet actually, as they immediately won over the Madison music freaks and got everybody off their butts and on to the dance floor. As such, I did not hesitate when asked to review the group’s new CD, their sophomore effort, simply titled ‘two’.

There is a Prince vibe present here, which is not by accident. His Royal Purpleness had taken notice of PHO shortly before his passing in 2016, and actually invited them to open for Larry Graham at Paisley Park. Additionally, percussion on the ‘two’ CD is courtesy of Kirk Johnson from Prince’s New Power Generation.

So, regardless of all the accolades and awesome associations, how does this music stand up, purely of it’s own merit? Quite exquisitely, thank you very much! This musical collection is more than dance / funk / groove rock… these songs all breathe with their own lungs, and stimulate and invigorate a life all their own. Sometimes colored by a more avant garde electronic sound, and other times throwing down old school jazz rock like some 1970s attitude that could have been found on a Brecker Brothers or Crusaders album.

One thing is for certain, if you’ve got ants in your pants and you need to dance, then you got to get some mo’ PHO in your diet! This music is chock full of “Vitamin Whee-e-e-e-e-e” and is guaranteed to cure whatever might ail you! Just be sure to stretch first, ‘cause your muscles are going to get a hip shakin’ workout!

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Squarewave - A Tighter Knot

Squarewave - A Tighter Knot

Squarewave

Album title: A Tighter Knot
By John Noyd
Posted: Apr 2017
Label: Artisanal Records
(1675) Page Views

Bound by earnest concerns cresting in hypnotic topics and focused hopes bubbling with fearless endearments, “Tighter,” creeps half-asleep in deep-sea fatigue strung among tight-rope kaleidoscopes; a tense sensation somersaulting from beleaguered to exalted, smothered in displaced promises, uprooted in rooftop thoughts and lifted in shifting dreams. Paving dark, defiant highways where twisted detours pass wind-blown beachfronts smeared in silver-plated industrial-twang, Squarewave’s interstellar tremors race into an endless night hovering just past the hi-beams as love, freedom and release weave nomadic ballads between cataclysmic burn-outs dipped in dawn-breaking radiance and airless mechanics spinning molasses-wrapped melodies around storm-distorted chords. Shadow-soaked experiences made tangible in roaring prog-rock riffs. subversive psychedelic leads and driven New Wave rhythms; “Knot.” floats, emotes and coasts painting tasty hay-wired spirals amongst angular cliff-hangers.

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The Rolling Stones  - Rolling Stones From The Vault : L. A. Forum 1975

The Rolling Stones - Rolling Stones From The Vault : L. A. Forum 1975

The Rolling Stones

Album title: Rolling Stones From The Vault : L. A. Forum 1975
By Gregory Hartumian
Posted: Apr 2017
Label: Eagle Rock Entertainment
(2468) Page Views

With 55-plus years of history, the Rolling Stones continue “pushing the envelope,” as Keith Richards was quoted. With the new “Exhibitionism” installation and public exhibit at Chicago’s Navy Pier, running Apr. 15 thru July 30 (www.stonesexhibitionism.com), the project is more of a stroll through their cumbersome history. One visits a re-creation of their dingy 1961 apartment, memorabilia, what it’s like to be backstage, and performance clothes, not to mention loads of photos.

However, it’s best to remember the music they produced over that timespan which is oddly pushed to the periphery with the exhibit. Eagle Rock Entertainment has been working with the Stones management, and band members, over the past decade in releasing audio and visual items that are prized by collectors. There are roughly one dozen rare videos concerts that have been floating around for years in varying degrees of quality.

The difference with the Eagle Rock Entertainment versions is the stunning sound quality, and picture quality, from being able to restore these pieces from their original elements, be it VHS, film, or digital formats. Unreleased shows like the Marquee Club 1971 (meant as a farewell before the band went into tax exile in France), Live in Hyde Park 1969 (the Brian Jones eulogy and introduction of Mick Taylor to the band), and Live In Texas 1978 (an amazing performance in amazing quality backing the “Some Girls’ album.)

Packaging for each piece is as varied as the formats: Blu-Ray provides bonus features, some sets include audio CDs of the program, even limited edition vinyl LPs make an appearance. All are well worth the investment, but let’s look at two DVD programs: Live At Hampton Coliseum 1981, and Live At The L.A. Forum 1975.

1981 was the year of “Tattoo You” and the resulting “Still Life” tour, where this item originated. It was Richard’s birthday show, and also the first satellite broadcast on pay-per-view. The Blu-Ray has additional footage of the pre-show shenanigans in the dressing room, a jam with George Thorogood, the opening act. The DVD, however, is jaw-dropping in itself by presenting the full 2 ½-hour concert uncut. The visuals are afforded a bright, clear and beautifully clean transfer and remixed audio from the digital feed and the multi-track tapes.

The L.A. Forum show is the one piece of note, having been in circulation through numerous versions of bootlegs, both video and through the legendary Mike Millard audio recording “Tour of the Americas 1975” box set, from July 12. The late Millard would purchase handicapped tickets, arrive in a wheelchair and be placed close to the stage’s venue, giving a prominent position to record from the stereo microphones hidden in his safety flag poles on either side of the chair. Numerous Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Mc Cartney shows were captured in spectacular sound quality using this method.

The video first mad its appearance in the 1980s in a truncated form, titled “Hot N’ Nasty,” giving a glimpse into what must have been an insane program. Later, 90-minute versions, and finally the full-length concert began its circulation. Fans have tried to lend their own acumen on equipment to clean the muddy picture, and expand the tinny soundboard feed that was equally muddy. All the efforts brought checkered results.

“Hot N’ Nasty” kicked off with disclaimers that it was privately shot, and follows a Chinese lizard-dragon working its way across the stadium floor, as it was the Year of the Dragon.

The famous “lotus petal” stage began to unfold to the tune of Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” with Mick Jagger jumping up and down on one of the hydraulic petals to rev up the crowd. “Honky Tonk Women/ If You Can’t Rock Me/ Get Off My Cloud” played as a medley, was a good opening salvo.

The Stones had a lot to prove, as the tour served to introduce Ron Wood, from Faces, as the guitar played replacing Taylor. He was also Richard’s running buddy, at the time, having previously auditioned Jeff Beck, Harvey Mandel, and Wayne Perkins for the slot.

The setlist was stocked with their best known hits, and went heavy on the current album, “Black N’ Blue,” and the previous one, “Goat’s Head Soup.”

For geeks, here’s the bottom line: if you are mildly interested in the Stones, this is for you. Working with videotapes made more than 40 years ago, the visual restoration is very, very good. It’s still from videotape but the colors are now vibrant and time-corrected, the fuzziness is not present, and when compared to the most prestigious bootleg version with the same name, there is no comparison.

The audio is the revelation. Mixed from the original multi-track tapes, it is now “in your face.” Bill Wyman, the bass player, is the proxy archivist of the band. How they sit on these things, and keep it quiet is interesting. For a sample of the 1975 show, a clip of the song, “Star Star” is on You Tube.

This is really a beautiful time capsule and gives the flavor and feeling of being in the stadium, with about seven camera angles including backstage looking to the crowd. “Sympathy for The Devil” closes out the show, with drummers and dancers hopping to the tribal beats.

Check out the full stable of the Rolling Stones vault series at Eagle Rock Entertainment.

 

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