The TVD Storefront

Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2014’s New
Releases, Part Two

It bears repeating that this list is in no way based on a comprehensive assessment of the 2014’s deluge of new music, but rather personal highs in a year’s worth of listening. A whole lot of listening; all said it was a great 12 months, and after consideration these final five offered the most pleasure.

5. Mary Halverson, Michael Formanek, Tomas Fujiwara, Thumbscrew

Three improvisers in a leaderless trio (Thumbscrew effectively serves as the name of the group) with energies focused on composition; the result will certainly appeal to fans of all three players and those into adventurous jazz and rock in general (it’s fittingly released by the Cuneiform label of Silver Spring, MD).

Bluntly, these are heavyweight players. My first exposure to guitarist Halvorson came via Trevor Dunn’s Trio-Convulsant, and once I discovered she’d studied and performed with Anthony Braxton, I began seeking out the work of her trio; ‘08’s Dragon’s Head remains a favorite. Bassist Formanek has a bunch of impressive “inside” credits and a ton of avant-garde session work, and along with his own high-quality quintet he was in Tim Berne’s Bloodcount. Drummer Fujiwara has worked at length with Halvorson, in a duo with cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum and as leader of Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up.

Thumbscrew is not a guitar trio, though Halvorson does shred early and often. As said Thumbscrew is a unit of equality and their communicative sparks can be startling; Formanek and Fujiwara are constantly throwing ideas into the fray with nary a rhythm section trope in the duration. And a few of the track titles make me smile, particularly “Goddess Sparkle,” which could be about either Aurora of the dawn or drag shows, and “Still…Doesn’t Swing,” a nutshell encapsulation of the resistance creative musicians of this caliber routinely contend with, malarkey that doesn’t seem to be keeping them down.

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TVD Memphis

My Big Star Story
by John Fry

Word has made its way to our office today that legendary Ardent Studios founder and producer John Fry has passed away in Memphis. “The 69 year-old Fry died on Thursday afternoon at Methodist East hospital, where he was taken after suffering a cardiac arrest at his Germantown home,” the Commercial Appeal has reported.

Mr. Fry was an early and vigorous proponent of the website you’re reading at present and it’s with heavy hearts we remember him with his own recollections today, as published here on March 29, 2010.
—Ed.

One day in 1968, I walked into my office to find a young man still in his teens, seated in my chair, with his boots propped up on my desktop, smoking a cigarette. Once I relocated him, I learned that he was Chris Bell. I would soon meet Andy Hummel, as the two, along with Steve Rhea, were starting to join the after-hours recording crew at Ardent. I already knew Alex Chilton from his visits to Ardent for Box Tops overdub and mixing sessions. A bit later I would meet Jody Stephens as he joined Chris and Andy on drums when Steve left for college.

Of course, there would be no Big Star band until a few years later, but this day is as good as any to mark the start of a journey that Alex, Andy, Chris, Jody, and I would wind up taking together. That journey has been well described in several different formats. The life stories of the individuals involved would progress in ways that none of us could have envisioned.

For me, the experiences included getting to participate in the recording and release of music I loved then and still love now, the bitter feeling of total commercial failure in the Memphis ashes of 1975, an early morning phone call in 1978 with bad news, and the ultimate acceptance of the music by generations of fans and musicians, many unborn at the time it was recorded.

Recounting some recent events may express my feelings better than talking about the distant past. Fast forward to 2008. Jody Stephens shouts from his office across the hall from mine “Hey, we’ve got a show in London on August 28.” My response is, “I’m going.”

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TVD San Francisco

TVD Live Shots: Smashing Pumpkins at the Warfield, 12/11

Let’s stop with the silly comments such as, “It’s not really Smashing Pumpkins with only one original member.” Yes it is, because Billy Corgan IS Smashing Pumpkins. And while were on the subject—were his remarks regarding the Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam really off that much?

I mean I love the Foo Fighters, but Corgan’s right in the fact that they really haven’t “evolved” as a band. And that’s OK because they have perfected their formula for kick ass rock ‘n’ roll. As for Pearl Jam, again, I’m a fan, but can their new songs hold up to anything from their first three epic masterpieces? It’s certainly up for debate, and Mr. Corgan has made two very valid points that the media have spun out of control into an attack on his rock ‘n’ roll peers.

With that being said, this is a show review so let me get to it. I was able to score a last-minute ticket to see one of a series of intimate shows that have been taking place in London, New York, and Paris that all sold out instantly. The band is touring to promote their new album Monuments to an Elegy, which was released on December 9. When the band added San Francisco to the short tour, I was ecstatic.

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The TVD Storefront

The Joy Formidable’s
Ritzy Bryan, The Best of the 2014 TVD Interviews

One of the worst things you can do to a band on the rise is call them the “second coming” of anything, or to compare them to what’s come before. The offense is especially egregious when it’s an ambitious band that does everything in their power to exceed expectations—a band like The Joy Formidable

We have been big fans of TJF for a while now. One of the things we love best about the Welsh band is not their guitar-driven, genre-defying big pop sound, but their big hearts and their complete willingness to share in their success. It’s that sentiment is what makes the band’s latest singles project so compelling.

When I asked if there was anything else she would like to talk about, singer Ritzy Bryan immediately said, “It would be great if you could talk about the bands on our B-sides.” After countless months on the road, and prodigious songwriting for a brand new album, her primary concern was that we talk about the other great Welsh bands who took part in their new project, the Welsh Singles Club

The Welsh Singles Club features a new mash-up of The Joy Formidable’s grungy pop-rock sound with traditional instrumentations and all-Welsh lyrics on limited-edition 7″ vinyl. In the spirit of collaboration, these unique singles are split with a different Welsh band on the B-sides. The Singles Club kicked off in June with Aruthrol (which means “Formidable” in Welsh) backed with a B-side from psychedelic rockers Colorama. The series continues today with the release of Aruthrol B, featuring a hypnotic new TJF song, “Tynnu Sylw,” backed with B-side from drone-rockers, White Noise Sound.

The Welsh Singles Club is only the beginning of the end of the beginning for The Joy Formidable. Ritzy clued us in on a new album they’re finishing at their rural North Wales studio/retreat, the challenges of and passion for writing in her native tongue, and how The Joy Formidable is bringing it all back home in more ways than one. 

You’ve been described as having taken up the cause that Britpop and grunge abandoned over a decade ago. At the risk of over-simplifying for those who are just learning about you, do you feel like that’s true at all?

I don’t know. I always find it quite difficult when people feel that way about what we do. I think that there’s certainly the conviction of those sorts of eras running through the music…

But you don’t like being pigeon-holed, of course.

Well, yeah, we’re certainly unapologetic about being a guitar band. But in the same breath, I suppose we’re lots of things. We don’t like to feel the restrictions of being purely a guitar band, too. And definitely, I think there’s so much scope for guitar-driven music. There’s so much originality you can find in that genre. I think we still feel like we’re bringing something fresh. There’s a lot of “retrofication” these days, you know what I mean? [Laughs]

The one reason [guitar bands] have kind of been struggling has been is because of the sense of what people expect of us as a guitar band and what a guitar band can do. There’s obviously been so many great decades of great guitar music, and yeah we love those two genres you mentioned. But I think it’s really important that you push it to something new—something you find yourself—you make something original in your own voice as a band.

That’s why we dip in to lots of genres—lots of different sounds and inspirations. We like to push what it means to be in a guitar band, but keeping the aesthetic of that conviction and the unapologetic-ness of those eras as well.

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TVD New Orleans

TVD Recommends: BRASStravaganza at the Howlin’ Wolf, 12/20

Six of New Orleans’ best brass bands will share the stage at the Howlin’ Wolf at 10 PM in the Christmas edition of a music series dedicated to celebrating and promoting the brass band legacy of this great city.

The event brings together the divergent styles and songs of the Hot 8, Most Wanted, Da Truth, New Breed, Free Spirit, and the Young Pinstripe Brass Bands. One of the highlights of the Christmas edition of BRASStravaganza will be a powerhouse rendition of the song “This Christmas” by a fifty-piece brass band assembled from the night’s lineup.

BRASStravaganza is also back as a precursor to Brass Fest, which debuts in the spring as a new force in the festival culture of New Orleans, as well as a music series in its own right. Brass Fest will be an all-day event featuring an expanded lineup of the city’s incredible brass talent including Rebirth, Hot 8, The Stooges, and Most Wanted Brass Bands. Artists who have emerged from the brass band tradition, such as Shamarr Allen, are also on the roster.

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TVD San Francisco

Groovy Man of the
Thrill Kill Kult,
The TVD Interview

I have seen My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult more times in my life than any other band. The industrial dance, punk, rock, disco pioneers continually deliver a one of a kind spectacle that has often been imitated, but never actually replicated for close to 30 years now.

Their latest album Spooky Tricks is a fantastic return to form that finds TKK taking a cue from their early days while still pushing the genre forward. I was fortunate enough to chat with Thrill Kill Kult’s eclectic frontman and founder Groovy Man before their show earlier this year here in San Francisco.

So, it’s been 27 years now?

Yeah, about that.

Satanic disco, Industrial disco—what’s the best description of the band you’ve heard so far?

Oh God, that’s a hard one to pull. I don’t know, I have had so many different combinations I can’t think of a favorite. You know we change from album to album and, our sound is sort of our sound but I can’t really put it into words I guess. I would be something like Punk Rock Disco or Progressive Industrial Dance Funk Disco, there are just so many.

There are lots of reviews around the latest record saying that you have returned to the classic Thrill Kill Kult sound. Was that the goal?

It just happens you know. We don’t plan anything that we do. Not even records, we sort of map them out in the beginning and we say, “I will do this one really slow and weird and then by the time it’s done it’s completely the opposite of it.” It’s transitional as it’s being created and it sort of fluctuates in between all different kinds of things until it finally gels into say, the Thrill To Kill Kult sound you know, if that makes sense.

If you had to pick a favorite record of yours what would you choose?

I’m bad with choices. I don’t know, I think everything has its own identity, and I like them all pretty much the same when I listen to them which isn’t much.

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TVD UK

Shell Zenner Presents

Greater Manchester’s most in the know radio host Shell Zenner broadcasts the best new music every week on the UK’s Amazing Radio and Bolton FM. You can also catch Shell’s broadcast right here at TVD, each and every Thursday.

“For this week’s ROTW we head to the southern hemisphere for some funk soul grooves courtesy of Harts. He’s been compared to Prince for a very good reason! I’ll be spinning three tracks from his debut album Daydreamer!

This weeks #Shellshock is by TOTAL CONTROL. It’s called ‘Glass’ and it fills my ears with energy—let’s fill yours with it too!” —SZ

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The TVD Storefront

Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2014’s New Releases, Part One

Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the general quality of fortune cookies, specifically the fortune part of the package, has deteriorated considerably, shifting from the old-fashioned vague predictions to advice reeking of platitudes cribbed out of hackneyed self-help books. I mention this because while noshing out the other day I happened to crack open a wild one.

It read as follows: “Those who take year-end best lists too seriously are destined to die miserable and alone.” And hey, on each side of this portent was a smiley face. Yeah, I’ll admit it freaked me out a little.

10. Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Blue

Placing a record I’m not likely to play a dozen more times in my life in the No. 10 spot? Why yes indeed. Not a tribute to Joni Mitchell’s fourth album, nor is it to my knowledge related in any way to the final film of the late Derek Jarman (the cover might lead one to this conclusion), Blue is a “note-for-note copy” of Miles Davis’ ’59 masterpiece made by an interesting and divisive group (and with this release, increasingly so).

Quotations are used in the sentence above for a fairly obvious reason; a note-for-note reproduction of such a complex work is an absurdity if not an impossibility, though MOPDTK get so close (I mean at times they get REALLY close) that accusations of plagiarism have been lobbed against Blue. Those charges are off base; but then what exactly is on target?

It’s less an elaborate prank, but as the inclusion of the typically amazing Jorge Luis Borges story “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” makes clear (well, kind of), humor is part of the strategy; namely, satire concerning worship of the masters, but also a postmodern playfulness that’s proven to be like sandpaper rubbing on scores of folks’ nerves. They needn’t get so upset. Kind of Blue is indestructible and its essence will never be replaced or replicated; but of course, that’s not really the intention of the sticky can of worms that is Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s Blue.

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TVD Washington, DC

TVD Live: GWAR at Baltimore Soundstage, 12/13

PHOTOS: DAVE BARNHOUSER | Mae West was once quoted as saying, “All discarded lovers should be given a second chance, but with somebody else.” Nowhere is this more applicable than in the world of music. Some people move on, some grow apart, and others shed this mortal coil leaving a gap that can either be mended and healed or it becomes the death knell of a band. In the case of GWAR, the wound left by the passing of Dave Brockie, aka Oderus Urungus, has been cleaned, dressed, and is healing up quite nicely.

Saturday night at Baltimore Soundstage, GWAR made a triumphant return, closing out the first tour of this new era and ensuring the outlandish legacy of the Scumdogs continues to march forth.

After sitting in hellish traffic due to the annual Army-Navy football game, I arrived about halfway through American Sharks‘ set. I quickly determined that I was none too thrilled about this, because these guys absolutely rocked my pants off. Figuratively, of course. Soundstage was already a packed house, and the high voltage punk-tinged stoner rock from the stage was the perfect way to start the night. Thick, heavy riffs with a Detroit garage rock flair, their sound was very catchy without being cliché or boring.

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The TVD Storefront

David Gray,
The Best of the 2014
TVD Interviews

Nobody expected White Ladder to be as big as it was. Its most iconic track, “Babylon,” became bigger even than David Gray himself. Overcoming that kind of success is nearly impossible, but Gray hasn’t relented. It’s been four years since his last album, Foundling, and nearly fifteen years since White Ladder spent over two years on the UK charts (and a year on the US charts), sold over seven million copies, and took the English singer-songwriter from obscurity to staggering fame. His tenth studio album, Mutineers, looks to bridge the gap for Gray between his popular successes and that which compelled him to write songs in the first place.

Mutineers contains Gray’s strongest songwriting of recent years, taken to another level by producer Andy Barlow (most recently of indie group Lamb), who wrenched Gray out of his comfort zone. At Gray’s explicit direction, Barlow deconstructed his songs, dismantling anything that sounded overwrought, and condensed Gray’s thoughts into powerful, driving, and spacious tracks. The result is that Mutineers is fresh-sounding, fascinating in its scope, and big in its sound. If you’ve been pining for substance in popular music, Mutineers is exactly that.

We spoke with David on the eve of his North American tour, hours before he appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman debuting the aptly titled, “Back in the World.” He was candid and eloquent in our interview, talking about the process of making the new record and what it’s like to be an independent artist again. “I feel like I’m entering a rich period of making music,” he said, “as fresh as any I’ve ever made.”

The title track really leapt out at me. There’s something very powerful about your chorus, and it made me think of it as a sort of “grown-up” adventure song. What is the significance of the lyrics in “Mutineers?”

I have no idea if that’s what it means. [Laughs] It was born in a strange way. My producer tore up an existing song I had called “Sugar Rush.” What I was left with was a small chord sequence, which is what you hear now. He looped that—he said, “Stick with this, Dave,” and I was looking rather vexed. There was no verse, no chords no melody—all I was left with were these fucking lyrics and a small chord sequence. [Laughs] I thought, “there’s something good about it… let’s see what we can do.”

So, what I did is I found the chorus/melody first. [Sings] “Babe… sure feels good…” That bit. And once I realized that, I thought… this really works! I found the guitar part that goes with it—that really high guitar part; that brought that to life. And that’s a very heartfelt little bit of singing there.

But then, the verses are more ambiguous. It’s enigmatic; the meaning of the song is unclear. The tendency to explain there—there’s no narrative structure because it has an irresistible energy. It’s sort of mantric with its constant repetition. It has a sort of… inevitability and an unstoppable feeling. I love that track, and playing it live… it’s obviously infectious, because the whole band get really into it and the audience [does], too. I don’t know if I’d describe it as an “adventure” song, but I’m glad you found it to be an adventure. I do get what you’re saying, but I’m sorry I can’t explain the song on those terms. It’s a mystery to me. I respond to its energy and I respond to its imagery. As far as a definitive explanation of it… I’m so sorry I can’t help explain it better.

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