Monday, October 31, 2011

Wildside - Scott H. Biram

Scott H. Biram. The man Just. Doesn't. Give. A fuck. And it shows. The so-called "Dirty One-Man Band" has been playing scuzzy Americana and bluegrass with a punk fervor and ethos since the mid-nineties, but he won his fame as a solo act with an old-fashioned mic and a hollow-body Gibson. This is a guy who built his reputation by surviving a crash in his truck, then performing from his wheelchair, IV's and all. Most of his music is aggressive and angry and heavily steeped in a Depression-era (and earlier) folk and blues tradition that used music was cheap therapy for life's crushing problems. His albums are mostly filled with tales of loss, desperation, deprivation, in short, the darker side of life.

But sometimes even someone like Scott H. Biram discovers a riff so magical and melancholy that even he can't help but crank it out, pen some fitting lyrics and then get the hell out of the way. When done right, it's a beautiful thing (see, "The Passenger") reminding us that great music is often compelling due to its simplicity. "Wildside" is a perfect example of that, a great intro to Scott H. Biram, even though it sounds little like the rest of his songs. It appeared on his 2009 Bloodshot album, appropriately titled Something's Wrong / Lost Forever and it manages to meld that glass three-quarters empty outlook with a sliver of hope and an series of power chords that would make most ax-men salivate. It's a song of optimism that pessimists can get down to and vice-versa.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Artist Primer: The Oranges Band

Every music snob has at least one, if not a few, bands who never made it big that they'll never get over. It's the band that they keep telling you "should be huge" or is "just like (insert more popular/respected band here), only better." It's an inevitable part of being a devoted music fan, the need to feel that only you can recognize a unique genius that all others either gloss over or never encounter. For me, The Oranges Band fits that model to a "t".

The Oranges Band is primarily the project of lead singer/songwriter Roman Kuebler. It's a Baltimore-based band that draws a lot of water in their hometown but rarely gets out much anymore (as I discovered in college, booking them twice, only to have both tours fall apart). They've been together since 2000 and have seen multiple lineup changes and labels but have managed to put out an amazingly consistent string of albums and EPs in that time that all retain a core sound and sensibility.

The Oranges play a jangly, upbeat, only occasionally experimental brand of pop-punk/indie rock that dooms them to be forever compared with whomever the band du jour in that world is. The Smiths, Guided By Voices, Strokes, Shins and Spoon all pop up as reference points in various reviews and none of those are unfair, but they do the music an injustice. While the DNA of all those bands is in the blood of these songs, Kuebler incorporates elements of laid back 50's innocence and clean production that none of those artists touch on.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Wayback Machine: Bob Dylan - Self-Ttiled

"Folk songs are evasive - the truth about life, and life is more less a lie, but then again that's exactly the way we want it to be." - Bob Dylan
At this point it's almost impossible to know who or what Bob Dylan is or ever was. Mystic, poet, singer, sage, revolutionary, reactionary, wise man, fool, bomb-thrower, bible-thumper, washout and phoenix - all of these are hats that he's worn at one time or another. Often at the same time. Even the ones that contradict the other ones. As a public figure he's forever eluding your grasp, leaving behind brilliant music but no stable essence of who he is.

Standing here, on the far side of Dylan's massive career, knowing the seismic impact he would have on both popular music and American culture as a whole, it's almost impossible to put oneself into the mind of a listener first hearing his debut album in 1962 (not that there were many of them). Before he sang for Martin Luther King and dated Joan Baez, before he wrote anthems that defined a decade, before the drugs and the Beatles and the Pennebaker film, Bob Dylan, nee Robert Zimmerman was just a folk singer, a Minnesota boy with big ideas who played the New York clubs and managed to catch a break. He was signed to Columbia Records by John Hammond who saw his talent and told him "We're gonna bring you in and record you, we'll see what happens."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Six Song Six-Pack - Pictures From Life's Other Side

This week has finally seen the media start to recognize and give full weight to the protests of economic inequality which started on Wall Street but have spread throughout the nation. Any rational measure would show that most Americans have a lot to be angry about. Currently we enjoy the most unequal distribution of total wealth since 1929. Indeed, the top 23% of Americans control 80% of assets and the richest 400 people in our great land have as much wealth at the poorest 150 million.

What makes this especially galling is how separated the worlds of the haves and the have-nots have become. The current recession (which may have technically ended, but, let's face it, still grasps the throats of most Americans) has pushed tens of millions of families to or over the brink of ruin while leaving those in the upper echelons of society relatively untouched. These separate worlds can be seen in microcosm with trends such as shelters being flooded by abandoned pets while elsewhere organic foods and doggie beds sell like hotcakes.

It is with this in mind that On Warmer Music offers up a six-pack of songs looking at the difficulties of life faced by those on the bottom of the economic ladder. Since honestly, indie (or whatever you wanna call it) music is the realm of a mostly educated (not necessarily a precursor to wealth) and originally well-off (bingo!) audience, it's helpful to remind those who are doing well (or at least getting by) about the realities faced by those a lot, or a little farther down the economic ladder. These are songs that don't preach but merely offer a window into what people suffer through, the solutions are up to you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Concert Review + Pictures - Wild Flag at The Empty Bottle, October 9, 2011

You know a band is special when you just saw them three months ago and you're already geeked to do it again. This is especially true when they've only officially released ten songs. But it was precisely this feeling that gripped me as I walked up Western Avenue to see Wild Flag this past Sunday night. 

I had work the next morning and the doors weren't even until 9:30 pm, which meant that by all rights I should have been at least mildly annoyed. However, I kept thinking back to July when I'd seen this band slay a street festival of thousands. Tonight they were playing The Empty Bottle, an incredible venue with the shaggy ambiance and capacity of an overgrown basement show. The thought of squeezing all that energy into such a small space was giddying.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Album Review: Ratsliveonnoevilstar [EP] - Annie Clark

Last night I saw St. Vincent. It was, let me be clear, a great show. It reminded me of seeing the National play Metro in 2007 while touring off of Boxer, in that it was clear that this is a band bound for bigger things and larger venues. The light show alone was epic enough to say "yeah, I'm not gonna be playing small clubs forever, so enjoy it while you can."*

Although Annie Clark looked as good as ever, she was sporting a whole new backing band who put an entirely different spin on her live act than the last two times I saw her touring off Actor. Gone was the sax, in were dual keyboards for both bass and texture. She played mostly new songs, but her takes on older material, especially "Your Lips Are Red" showed just how important her bands are in shaping her sonic vision. All her music is sewn together with darkly erotic undertones, but the frame changes album to album, from the sixties pop-inspired Marry Me to the technicolor soundscapes of Actor and on to Strange Mercy's electronic menace.

Clark's musical shapeshifting isn't a recent trend, in fact it can be first observed in a 2003 EP she released as a music student at Berklee College. She chose the palindromic title Ratesliveonnoevilstar for this modest recording of three songs that feature her on a guitar along with a jazz bassist and drummer. The session offers insight into Clark's musical background with a looser, pop-jazz sound that continues to pop up in various songs throughout her work as St. Vincent. Not only that, but you can hear her development as a songwriter, with songs just as dark and quirky as her later work but with less polish and more suggestion.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Six Song Six-Pack - Sweet Pop, Hold The Saccharin

I went to another wedding this weekend. Besides (hopefully) good company, free food and free booze, dancing is always my favorite part of the wedding celebration. As a large, ill-coordinated white boy, I've come to accept that I am not anywhere close to a good dancer. But at weddings, with an alcoholically-lowered self-consciousness, I'm much more likely to not only dance but to dance uninhibitedly. Admittedly this mostly consists of me singing along and moving my body just enough to please my date, but it's a system that works.

This weekend was no exception, I started dancing to the initial crowd-pleasing oldies ("Shout", "The Twist", etc.) and thoroughly enjoyed embarrassing myself for about a half-hour before taking a break. I intended to keep going but upon my return I decided to wait for a song I didn't hate before jumping in (because, frankly, if I don't have a certain baseline enthusiasm for the song, my dancing quickly becomes a sad sight indeed). However, I was disheartened as the DJ started taking requests and the offerings went from Lynyrd Skynyrd bad (just once, I want to hear "Southrern Man" at a wedding!) to Black-Eyed Peas (and other shitty Top 40) worse. By the time "A Kiss With A Fist" came on, I had officially given up on the evening, save for a slow dance.