Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Molochs

(New York) First, let’s meet Moloch. You remember him, right? The ancient god, the child later, the demander of sacrifice, the villain in Ginsberg’s Howl(and also real life) and now the personal antagonist of singer and songwriter Lucas Fitzsimons, who named his band the Molochs because he knew he’d have to make sacrifices to get what he needed, and because he always wanted a reminder of the Ginsbergian monster he’d be fighting against. And so this is how you make a record right now: you fight for every piece, and when Moloch takes apart your relationships and career potential and leaves you sleeping on couches or living in terrifying apartments and just about depleted from awful people involving you in their awful decisions, you grab a bottle of wine (and laugh at the cliché) and put together another song. And once you do that eleven hard-won times in total, you get a record like America’s Velvet Glory: honest, urgent, desperate and fearless because of it.

Fitzsimons came to his calling in an appropriately mythic way, born in a historic city not far from Buenos Aires and raised in L.A.’s South Bay—just outside of Inglewood—where he was immersed in the hip-hop hits on the local radio. (Westside Connection!) The summer d before he started middle school, a close friend got an electric guitar, and Fitzsimons felt an irresistible inexplicable power: “I'd go back home and I’d look up guitar chords on the internet—even though I had no guitar—and just imagine how I WOULD play them. I was slowly getting obsessed.” When he was 12, his parents took him back to Argentina, and on the first night, he discovered a long-forgotten almost-broken classical guitar in the basement of his ancestral home: “It sounds made-up, but it’s true,” he says. “I didn't put the guitar down once that whole trip—took it with me everywhere and played and played. When I got back to L.A., I bought my first guitar practically as the plane was landing.”

This started a long line of bands and a long experience of learning to perform in public, as Fitzsimons honed intentions and ideas and tried to figure out why that guitar seemed so important. After a trip to India in 2012, he returned renewed and ready to start again, scraping his band to lead something new and uncompromising. This was the true start of the Molochs: “It didn't make any sense to not do everything exactly the way I wanted to do it,” he says. “I was so shy and introverted that singing publicly sounded like a nightmare come true. But I didn't have a choice—I heard something inside of me and I needed to be the one to express it.”

The first album Forgetter Blues was released with Fitzsimons’ guitarist/organist and longtime bandmate Ryan Foster in early 2013 on his own label—named after a slightly infamous intersection in their then-home of Long Beach—and was twelve songs of anxious garagey, proto-punk, folky rock, Modern Lovers demos and Velvet Underground arcana as fuel and foundation both. It deserved to go farther than it did, which sadly wasn’t very far. But it sharpened Fitzsimons and his songwriting, and after three pent-up years of creativity, he was ready to burst. So he decided to record a new album in the spirit of the first, and in the spirit of everything that the Molochs made so far: “I wanted to spend less time figuring out HOW we were gonna do something and just actually do it.”

The result is America’s Velvet Glory, recorded with engineer Jonny Bell at effortless (says Fitzsimons) sessions at Long Beach’s JazzCats studio. (Also incubator for Molochs’ new labelmates Wall of Death and Hanni El Khatib.) It starts with an anxious electric minor-key melody and ends on a last lonesome unresolved organ riff, and in between comes beauty, doubt, loss, hate and even a moments or two of peace. There are flashes of 60s garage rock—like the Sunset Strip ’66 stormer “No More Cryin’” or the “Little Black Egg”-style heartwarmer-slash-breaker “The One I Love”—but like one of Foster’s and Fitzsimons’ favorites the Jacobites, the Molochs are taking the past apart, not trying to recreate it.

You can hear where songs bend, where voices break, where guitars start to shiver and when strings are about to snap; on “You And Me,” you can almost hear Lou Reed’s ghost call for a solo, and on “I Don’t Love You,” you get that subway-sound guitar and find out what happens when Jonathan Richman’s G-I-R-L-F-R-E-N goes wrong. And of course there’s the charismatic chaos of bootleg basement-tape Dylan—always Dylan, says Fitzsimons—and the locked-room psychedelia of Syd Barrett, especially on “Charlie’s Lips,” Fitzsimons’ ode to—or antidote to—those times when he felt the bleakness completely: “Then a bird lands on a branch nearby, you hear leaves fluttering, you hear a child laughing … all of a sudden things don't seem so bad anymore.”

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(New York) For a band acutely aware of our own futile existence and gradual demise on this planet, Fujiya & Miyagi sure know how to take that desolation and dance to it. Their second EP, from a series of three, is littered with thematic ruminations on skepticism, privilege, repetition, getting older, human beings’ place and significance in the world, and even the works of JG Ballard. Despite a mild undercurrent of bleakness and higher questioning, this EP finds the group in a very live band mode and, as ever, traversing the lines between disco and rock over the course of four songs.

This EP is a break in the otherwise optimistic views of the trio of releases singer David Best says, “All the other songs on both of the EPs so far are generally based from a positive viewpoint. However, it's inevitable that some frustrations and resentment will seep out somewhere.”

“We are living in an era where the fragility of life is more apparent than ever,” says Best, in reference to the Magazine-like opening track ‘Outstripping (The Speed of Light)’.The tracks deal with advances in technology making people idle and undeserving, “We waste our time watching cookery programs on telly whilst stuffing our face with confectionary that our generation has convinced itself it deserves by doing the most simple of everyday tasks.  We increasingly behave more and more like a dog giving itself a biscuit for the simple art of shitting.”

The funk strut of ‘R.S.I’ uses the basis of day-to-day repetitions in life as a springboard for a song that whilst locked into a bouncy, disco groove, feels anything but stuck in a rut. Best says of it, “At its core, it is talking about the repetitive nature of existence and suggesting life might be more fruitful if we broke out of these self-imposed restrictions.”

‘Swoon’ is inspired by the short story collection Vermillion Sands by JG Ballard. “Vermilion Sands was a fictitious holiday resort involving, amongst other things, buildings that reflect the inhabitant's moods, singing sculptures, automated poetry machines, and light-sensitive paintings.” The track is a slow, bubbling groove that has an air of New Order floating around its sparse, echo-laden drums, chugging bassline and gently flickering electronics.

The EP’s final track ‘Extended Dance Mix’ is a track that revels in the sort of honesty that can only come with age, with a comfort in being oneself, something based seemingly in equal amounts of contentedness and insecurity. “Lyrically I have tried to say exactly how I feel as I see it with the minimum of camouflage.” Best says, adding, “The song describes acid indigestion, posh indie drivel, the trajectory of the F&M’s existence, weight gain, working from home, Columbo, potential arthritic pain in the lower body, the rise of social media, the deterioration of musical formats and a general contempt for the vacuity of modern life and its self-elected cultural commentators. “ It’s a spoken word narrative atop of a cosmic disco beat that floats into otherworldly sci-fi territory at times before returning to earth with a bang, hitting the dance floor at, full stride.These collected four songs leave the path to EP3 being one that is likely to be as vast as it is unpredictable.

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Sunday, October 9, 2016

Los Damn Ramblers

(Los Angeles) I cannot get enough of the Los Damn Ramblers’ just released album, Vámonos Vámonos, and  not only because I am a rock and roller of a certain age.  This music is in the blood of everyone who has ever dropped a needle, ripped a cut or streamed a song.  It is embedded in our musical neural pathways and Los Damn Ramblers found the nerve.

According to legend, the album was born one night when two Latin-American musician friends were hanging out at a local joint sharing beers and laughs, got up and played a couple of Elvis, Cash, and Beatles tunes and then decided to do it again… and again and again for a couple of years.  It didn’t hurt that the two guys were the double-Latin Grammy nominated singer-songwriter Elston Torres (aka Fulano de Tal) and Grammy Award-winning songwriter/ producer Carlos ‘El Loco’ Bedoya.

The two of them added some friends  to the rolling musical party and kept playing until they created the best laid-back, rootsy, unpretentious, totally fun rock and roll to come out of my headphones since Spotify started streaming Elvis.  

As Torres tells it, "Los Damn Ramblers" are neither a band nor a concept’s really just a group of music industry friends who get together to shake off all the negative stuff that the business throws at us on a daily basis and play songs that take us back to the original reason why we all got into music in the first place.”

And so they created Vámonos Vámonos, which reminds us why we started listening to rock and roll in the first place.  The seven songs on Vámonos Vámonos range from boogie-woogie to country rock to doo-wop driven dance music to gut-bust blues. And the Ramblers do them all with their own flair while staying true to each song’s heritage.

The album kicks off with the title song, Vámonos Vámonos –about meeting a girl in New Mexico.  But it is really just an excuse to get up and dance like the 50’s were back. If you close your eyes you almost see Check Berry duck-walking across the stage  and Jerry Lee Lewis pounding the piano keys while the Rambler’s guitar licks fill the house. The band then shifts gears to old-fashioned country western with a bit of a blues tilt in “I Love You Two” and then they shift again to the  bluesier “Come Out of the Cold” -- the single released prior to the album.  

Elston sings on- target 12-bar blues on “Out of the Cold”, but as with all the songs on the album, as familiar as the song feels, there are original touches like the guitar licks and the exaggerated rhythm guitar and  - listen for it – a faint ghostly female voice repeating the chorus in background.

“No me voy de aqui (“I am not leaving here”) continues the country theme, but in Spanish and, if you squint a bit and don’t look for an accordion, it feels like a ranchero barn dance with couples circling the floor at arm’s length. A perfect blend of Latin influence, country rock and a bit of silliness to make you smile even more.

But then the band swings styles again with “This is my heart” (not the Boyz11Men song) and the swirling couples come close together into an R&B slow dance reminiscent of Elvis and your grandparents’ high school gym dance floor.  “Heart” showcases Ramblers’ skill at capturing the fun and feel of the era while recreating it with instrumentation and vocal inflections that are familiar even to the youngest listener.  And getting you to dance together  - but then, that is what Latin music does.

The high point of the album for me – among many high points – is “Boogie Baby Boogie”, similar to, but not a cover of  the Fats Domino’s 1950 hit, “Boogie Woogie Baby”.  The Ramblers do it with a fast tempo, modern electric guitar licks and a contemporary layered arrangement that reaches out of the speakers and grabs you by the throat – as good boogie should.  Closing the album is “She Likes the Pretty Boys”, a guitar-heavy, solid piece of 4/4 mid-tempo joy that puts a perfect period on Vámonos Vámonos , one of the most fun albums I have heard all year.

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Carey Ott

(New York) Carey Ott has been wandering around the world of music ever since he first plunked his fingers down on his aunt’s upright piano when he was only six-years-old. He was already dreaming as he sat there at the piano. And from that moment on it was only a matter of time – 34 years to be exact – before the Ottawa, Illinois native found his way back to Ottawa, IL via Nocona, Texas.

Ott had co-written a song with Ryan Culwell, called Nocona, which took Ryan about 20 minutes to pen all the detailed verses. Ott and Culwell grew up in little towns no one’s ever heard of and they instantly bonded over that small town upbringing.

It wasn’t until two years after writing the song that Ott discovered Nocona (No-koh-nah) was a Comanche word meaning “The Wanderer.”  That’s when he began to make sense of it all. The lyrics – Nocona I’m done with you / oh hell, I was just passing through – and, perhaps, more importantly, a lifetime of playing music and writing songs had provided Ott with a nomadic outlet for his own wandering ways.

“A wanderer can be a lot of different things,” said Ott, who says wandering on a human level is everything from fighting to make your own situation better or trying to make a better life for your family. “It’s a noble thing to wander. To stay curious. Wandering can be hunting and gathering like our ancestors did a thousand years ago.” He added, “We’re supposed to wander around and check things out. Investigate. I think that’s what I’ve always been – deep down – and that’s what kind of record this is.” Ott found himself coming back home to his roots in Nocona, so to speak, but the album inspired by this sleepy North Texas town of barely 3,000 people is a collection of 10 songs – co-produced with Neilson Hubbard – that play like a roadmap through an amalgamation of emotions.

“I’ve never been to Nocona, but we’ve all been there, ya know? I had an interesting childhood and I have crazy stories. Stories that I can’t believe I survived. It’s good songwriting to let some of those wild stories bubble up. Some of them are terrifying. We can laugh about it now.”

Some of these songs – OK, most of them – will mean different things depending on where you are in your own journey. When it comes to wandering, Ott has worked hard at not letting himself get attached or hung up on details. Life is about exploring new things – for Ott that means no musical boundaries – and consciously making himself take chances and risks.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Matt Costa

(Los Angeles) Like certain other Southern California songwriters before him, Matt Costa has drifted through a strange and varied life in music, pushed toward pop music at a young age, selling hundreds of thousands of records and touring the world on the strong back of a simple, direct, and freewheeling debut. In the last few years, Costa took heavy stock in his work and made unexpected turns into more progressive and thoughtful territories. This new direction has found him wandering; an outlier between the worlds of his own development as an artist, modern Orange County, his former label Brushfire Records, and cutting through the center of a now hidden and older California mystique.

Prolific at every turn, Matt has taken on the aura of a classic California drifter, spinning records in the midnight hours of his local Laguna Beach radio station, writing by day cataclysmically varied music, from fingerpicked John Fahey-like numbers, to cut up poetry, to howlers harkening back to an other-worldly sound; complete with a range of writing invoking a Kinksian sensibility, early rock & roll- Eric Burdon and the Animals, Van Morrison’s Them, and the guitar playing and arrangements of Brian Jones.

The last years have been eventful ones. Born and raised in Laguna Beach, Costa met some filmmakers hard at work on a documentary entitled Orange Sunshine detailing the story of the Brotherhood of Eternal love; a coastal church centered on psychedelics who became the largest manufacturers and distributors of LSD in the United States. Matt composed the entire score, beginning to tap into the underlying myths and secrets of his hometown. The music stands on its own and this year sees the release of the film, to rave reviews at its premiere at SXSW, and showings at Festivals in Sedona, Maui, San Francisco, and in October, the illustrious British Film Institute in London, among others. The soundtrack LP of Matt’s original score will be released in companion later this fall.

Concurrently with the film, Matt Costa began to write so much music that it threw off-label schedules. Exhausted by talk of record and touring cycles, and the economics of the music industry, Matt quietly self-released a total of 5 EP's of music from 2015 into Spring of 2016. Leaving his label behind, he played some one-off shows before turning home and getting back to work on new music.

An enthusiastic fan of John Steinbeck, who once lived and wrote in a cottage near Costa’s home in Laguna Beach, the musician modeled his new music on Steinbeck’s early short story collection “The Pastures of Heaven,” written in Laguna and of which Costa owns a rare first edition. “All the stories in that book are very different, but they’re interrelated as they all come from one place,” he says. “This project was conceptually more on that level than a music level.”

Autumn 2016 will welcome the release of the Orange Sunshine Film Soundtrack, complete with a unique companion tour combining screenings of the film with a special performance by Matt Costa and his band. It is music that hints at a songwriter cutting through to something greater and stranger; an artist arriving at a new incarnation. “The end picture is yet to be discovered,” says Costa.

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Keeton Coffman

(New York) A seasoned performer, comfortable in his own skin and with the invisible scars of a blue collar songwriter, Coffman lives and breathes his music.  Songwriting is and has always been his outlet and it serves him well. “As a songwriter, the greatest blessing is that people find themselves in your songs.  That's what this record is about.  It's really for them, "says Coffman.

Keeton’s brand new full-length album, Killer Eyes will be released September 2nd after fan favorite, “The Mountain” single debuts on July 15th, supported by a series of stripped down acoustic videos.  A big supporter of DIY recording and production, Keeton has nonetheless upped his game with this professional studio production (recorded at Sound Arts / Golden Gnome Studios in Houston) hiring on longtime friend and former band mate, Ryan Cecil, to produce and mix the record. You hear at once Coffman’s lifelong influences, from Bruce Springsteen to The Wallflowers, but a closer listen reveals his love for Motown sonics and the Phil Spector Wall Of Sound.  Many will liken his music to more current personal favorites, Dwight Yoakum, Foy Vance, Ryan Adams and Texas native David Ramirez.  
Keeton Coffman’s career has not been typical.  Keeton made the painful decision to dissolve his band of 6 years, The 71’s, at the end of 2012 to explore songwriting on his terms.  The breakup of the band was hard on Coffman, professionally and personally.  The 71’s had just put out their most successful album to date (We Are The Seventy Ones) and the hard-won Houston crowd was taking notice.  “Breaking up the band was a divorce.  It was painful, messy and emotional.  It left many scars, but made some great songs”.  Coffman wrote over fifty songs in eighteen months and released several DIY EPs along the way.  (Stumble On Love, The Ghost, 4 Tracks, Cover The Cost).  Eleven of these songs have been tediously tweaked to perfection by Keeton and lead guitarist and producer, Ryan Cecil over the last eighteen months and designated for the full-length Killer Eyes record.  

Over the next year, Coffman will tour regionally to support the album and is looking forward to getting back on the road with his new band.  You’ll find him at house shows and concert halls across Texas, and every venue in between, guitar in hand and piano nearby.  

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Sunday, October 2, 2016


(Los Angeles) Fanatics have their dreams where they weave their own paradise, like a desert mirage that exists solely in your mind. ExSage sings of elusive truth and the tension it creates - love and hate, pain and ecstasy. The balance we walk that makes us divine or evil.

There’s nothing quite like being in the desert. It is an inimitable feeling when the heavy heat of day submits to the piercing cold of night. The setting sun bruises the sky as it strikes the horizon and sinks, stripping the gilding from the sand and exposing the cold faces of the stars. High noon and the witching hour are equally captivating; both are unnerving, both are electrifying. Night condenses and expands and hundreds of unblinking eyes emerge, gaping.

The desert demands transformation. What thrives there is thorned. What survives links between shadows. To exist there is to withstand its vastness—an act of defiance. For thousands of years, it has tested us, summoned us to solitude to confront ourselves. Both Tim Foley and Kate Clover heeded this call. Beneath a storm-stained sky thick with anticipation, the former flames found themselves reunited. As lighting scared the sand, they resolved to sonically sublimate its essence. ExSage emerged from the eye of this storm.

ExSage recorded their debut EP in Los Angeles with producer Alain Johannes (Mark Lanegan, Them Crooked Vultures, Brody Dalle, Queens of the Stone age), which will be released worldwide in October.

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