Winterpills – The Light Divides

winterpills2.jpgWinterpills’ sophomore release continues and improves upon the dour psychedelia and multilayered brilliance heard in their 2005 debut. With bits of beautiful sorrow glimpsed just below shimmering pop surfaces, it’s a hypnotic triumph that reveals more with each listen.

The record’s opener, “Lay Your Heartbreak,” is Mamas and the Papas meets Nirvana, with Philip Price and Flora Reed harmonizing like Buckingham/Nicks of the Zoloft set. The richly textured “Handkerchiefs” features Reed singing lead, guitarist Dennis Crommett channeling Revolver-era George Harrison, and gorgeous keyboard work from Price.

Philip Price’s songwriting betrays a greater love of language than poetry. He can be forgiven when his wordplay cloys. Couplets like “pilloried in crushed mint/killing with a push pin” (on “Shameful”) and “blue eyes, June eyes/June eyes fly fly home” (“June Eyes”) are utterly inscrutable, but they sound too lovely in the end to matter.

“Angels Falls” is more about cadences than anything meaningful, where Price’s lyrics are bits of shiny glass in a mosaic of sound and echo. “Broken Arm” is less oblique, an up-tempo number with an infectious chorus. It’s the most radio-ready song on “The Light Divides,” and a cleaned-up version is included as a hidden track.

The ethereal “Eclipse” best sums up the album’s pervasive mood: “how our dreams entrap us,” sing Price/Reed. “I Bear Witness,” the ostensible title cut (it contains the line “I bear witness to how the light I shed divides on you”) is a sweet and sinister slow dance, a landscape seen by a drowning man just before his eyes close.

“July,” a standout track with “Pet Sounds” studio gadgetry and an irresistible chorus, may be the most buoyant song ever written about a nervous breakdown. The still life “A Folded Cloth” gathers up and perfectly distills the elements of this painterly effort. “The Light Divides” is a Mona Lisa smile of a record, cunningly calling listeners back to look and listen again, struggling to find the true secret of its beauty.

Local Rhythms – More Reasons to Hate the Music Biz


pageopensnyse.jpgVail, Colorado – I know, that’s a strange dateline for a local music column. However, recent news from the Rocky Mountain State is hitting close to home.

In yet another example of a music business utterly bereft of new ideas, the members of Led Zeppelin and Van Halen are suing the owner of Vail’s 8150 nightclub for hiring bands that play cover versions of their material. They’re looking for more than $30,000 per song in damages.

Publishing organizations like ASCAP and BMI earn their money enforcing copyrights. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but this is ridiculous. Worse than that, it’s counterproductive – at least where the musicians are concerned.

There’s a story of Paul McCartney seeing Jimi Hendrix play a teeth-rattling version of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in a London club, two days after that album was released.

I doubt Sir Paul was thinking about a performance fee that night.

Yet here are Jimmy Page and Robert Plant doing just that. These are the same guys who tried to rip off Howlin’ Wolf on their second album, by renaming his “Killing Floor” as “The Lemon Song” and trying to pass it off as an original. They were sued, and lost.

Van Halen is just a bad Xerox of Led Zeppelin, a band who spent the years before their big break playing – you guessed it – cover songs in L.A. nightclubs. I’m sure they were diligent about paying Roy Orbison every time they played “Oh Pretty Woman.”

Can’t they make nice long enough to complete a cash-grabbing tour like the Police? It makes absolutely no sense to risk losing their biggest fans (you know, the ones so dedicated they learn all of your songs, note for note).

But the reasons for this are sadly obvious. Neither band has made an even semi-interesting piece of new music in over 25 years. Like everyone else in the industry, they’re reduced to repackaging old work to milk past glory. It’s no longer music; it’s an annuity plan.

They should follow Eric Clapton’s cue; grateful for the success that “Cocaine” and “After Midnight” brought him, he made a record with J.J. Cale last year – a class act.

[A follow-up AlgoRhythms post to the 8150 lawsuit]

Who’s making music this weekend?

Thursday: The Wailin’ Jennys, St. Anselm College – A more rustic Dixie Chicks, this band has won several awards in their native Canada. Sweet three-part harmonies lift their bright, natural sound, which begs a question. Why does so much great Americana music come from north of the border? The Lovell Sisters, winners of a recent “Prairie Home Companion” talent search, open the show.

Friday: Have Blues Will Travel, Salt Hill 2 – Last week I talked about plans for Irish music on St. Patrick’s Day eve. Now comes word of music every Friday and Saturday in Newport’s newest restaurant. Tonight, it’s a well-regarded duo playing traditional, harp-sweetened blues. Tomorrow brings R&B, with Mike Benoit and Jimmy Ruffing. In the coming weeks the Eagle Block eatery welcomes stripped down pop (Rich Thomas & Wally Wysk 3/10) , bluegrass (Spare Change 3/24) and, obviously, Irish sounds. Great news!

Saturday: Chris Whitley Memorial Celebration, Boccelli’s – The hard-living Whitley left us in 2005, but his music continues to inspire. Jeff Lang, who recorded with Chris on “Dislocation Blues,” due for release this month on Rounder, headlines the show. Dan Whitley played an incendiary set at last year’s Roots on the River festival; once again he’s back for this, the second annual tribute to his late brother. Josh Maiocco hosts, Melissa Sheehan also performs.

Sunday: Fogey Mountain Boys, Canoe Club – Authentic bluegrass from a group of locals who love to play it. Since we’re on the subject of royalty fees, I wonder if Woody Guthrie lurked around campfires waiting for someone to play “This Land Is Your Land”? It’s doubtful, and these days all his stuff’s in the public domain. Since it’s Sunday, the Boys play for 3 hours. Sit close if you want to really enjoy the music.

Monday: Gaelic Storm, Iron Horse – This wonderful Irish quintet starts March in style with a long run through the region. They were in New London Tuesday, and play the Capitol in Concord tonight and Randolph’s Chandler Music Hall tomorrow. They have a neo-traditional sound that fits everywhere from the Dublin (Ohio) Irish Festival to the House of Blues (where they recorded a recent live DVD).

Tuesday: Open Mike with Josh Maiocco, PK’s Public House – Josh took the reins from Ezra Veitch last year for this Bellows Falls tradition, and he’s holding things down nicely. Anyone who wants to play can step up to the microphone and join in, but you should be aware that your friends and neighbors may be listening at home on WOOL-FM, which broadcasts everything live.



Rocking the Moose

transcent2small.jpgYou didn’t have to love heavy metal to appreciate the floor-shaking sounds emanating from Claremont’s Moose Lodge last Sunday. The all-day, eight-band concert was impressive for reasons that had nothing to do with music.

The show drew over 200 customers despite losing its headliner earlier in the week. Show promoters (and local Claremont band) Hexerei quickly enlisted their friends Suicide City, a group they’d toured with last year. They agreed to come up from New Jersey to replace Bobaflex, who’d had to cancel due to a band emergency, and plans didn’t miss a step.

In the so-called hardcore music community (or post-core, or metal-core, or post-grunge; it’s inclusive, but with many names), such challenges are common. A DIY spirit, however, always pervades.

For all the pain, suffering and nihilism running through a lot of their songs – Suicide City’s “F**k Your Dreams” was one good example – this is a very optimistic crowd. It’s reminiscent of the old Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland “let’s put on a show” movies, only with more black eyeliner, metal studs and body piercing.

It’s also much, much louder.

These kids may feel shortchanged by their leaders and cheated out of the opportunities their parents had, but they believe in the power of music to transform their lives. They do so in spite of the fact that few will ever succeed enough to make a full-time job of it, and those that do will probably continue to struggle anyway. Adversity feeds their dream that music will prevail.

This attitude helps explain the almost visceral response that greeted Transcent’s performance Sunday. The Newport band made their first public appearance since losing bassist Justin “Buzzy” Brown to a heroin overdose last July. A huge crowd swarmed around them as they surged through a mix of originals and covers with precision and unrelenting speed, particularly on a version of White Zombie’s “Thunder Kiss ’65.”

Their emotional set hit a high point with “Truth Serum,” which lead singer Mike Boucher dedicated – “to Buzzy, he’s always with us.” The song exemplified the primary musical hurdle confronting those hoping to follow the path of hyperkinetic bands like Pantera, Slayer and Slipknot – the need for a good rhythm section.

Fortunately, drummer Brian Couitt played ferociously, and in time. The talented band followed him capably on a song with plenty of complex tempo and progression changes.

It was powerful moment, and an inspirational set.

Other bands didn’t fare as well, relying on speed and passion when a little control and rehearsal time would have helped more. Stare Fall played like the house band on a runaway train, with Sam Kinison on lead vocals. Of course, to many in Sunday’s audience, that’s a compliment. A City Divide performed solidly, but occasionally let the song run away from them.

The hip-hop duo LoKei was totally out of place, a situation exacerbated by a late arrival (they were supposed to open the show), which forced them to play while Transcent set up their equipment. Regardless, the notion of two lily-white Keene kids rapping about bling, bitches and mean streets is, to put it mildly, a bit dubious.

One of Hexerei’s biggest assets as a band is its discipline. To the untrained (non-fan) eye, what they do onstage may seem like unalloyed rage, fueled by guitar noise and two screaming singers. But the band rehearses several hours a week with militaristic regularity. Their show Sunday featured selections from a forthcoming album, and they also played a few older ones. “We’ll do ‘I’ because this guy asked for it,” said lead singer Travis Pfenning, pointing to a happy fan.

Suicide City followed Hexerei (no easy task) with a short but potent set, during which every band member stayed in constant motion. It was almost exhausting to watch. At one point lead singer Karl Bernholtz was literally bouncing off the walls of the stage, a turbo-charged cross between Marilyn Manson and the Tasmanian Devil.

Several times during the show, the center of the floor opened up for a version of dancing currently in fashion, an anarchistic crowd-shoving match that resembled a street fight without punches. It was mostly harmless, though one young man ran to the bathroom with a bloody nose during Hexerei’s set.

Many adults barely know this scene exists; its members may sleep in the houses and apartments of Newport, Claremont, Charlestown and Springfield, but they congregate in MySpace, communicate via text message and let loose in clubs like Chester’s Underground, Lebanon’s Electra and now at Claremont’s Moose Lodge.

They believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, in a world of their own creation, populated by bands and fans.

They have each other, and they have their music.

That’s all they need.