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Lake Isle Release “Wake Up” EP

October 25, 2010

This past weekend my band had the privilege of sharing the bill yet again with Greensboro-based alternative rock group Lake Isle at the Green Bean in GSO. Back in August, I mentioned that Lake Isle were prepping a new EP to be released later this year, and gave a link to “Steel Rails,” a song they were previewing at the time. Well, “Steel Rails” now has a home on the band’s new Wake Up EP, just released this month.

Recorded by Ashley Powell in Greensboro and mastered by the revered Kitchen Mastering studio in Chapel Hill, Wake Up EP is the well-done recording Lake Isle deserve (and need) to showcase the clarity and complexity with which they approach their delicately-crafted songs. With 5 songs coming in at just over 20 minutes, Wake Up is a satisfying EP that successfully establishes on record the same attributes that Lake Isle convey in the live setting; Lake Isle write pop songs shrouded in melancholy, outfitted by detailed textures and led by Mark Doughtery’s smooth, unforced vocal that all sum up to a pleasantly ethereal listening experience.

“Steel Rails” is the rightful opener for the EP and sets the tone for the rest of the record. The other songs serve to explore different facets of the same central idea, and the sonic and tonal cohesion of Wake Up is much appreciated– each track feels like it’s right where it belongs.

The second track, “Anodyne,” is a patient slow-burner that benefits from it’s arrangement. The last 1:40 of the song are completely instrumental, which actually acts in the song’s favor. It’s not going to blow listeners away, but the song’s outro is likely to sneakily lull some into a kind of half-lit dreamscape.

One of the band’s strongest suits is their obvious experience in songcrafting. Though I didn’t check up on this, I’d be willing to wager that most of the band members have been in a number (if not a lot) of bands before forming Lake Isle, and the veteran experience is apparent. Each piece fits into the puzzle so nicely. The thing about Lake Isle is that they may have songs that are based on only 3 or 4 chords, but by the time guitarist Shawn Smith and bassist Chris Micca are done adding their layers of shimmering soundscapes and pulsating “musical heartbeats,” those 3 or 4 chords sound more robust than you’d realize.

As a guitarist my ear is constantly drawn to Shawn Smith’s talent for constructing sounds. There are moments in the title-track “Wake Up” that sound like The Edge on Joshua Tree, and then there are moments of fuzzed-out dissonance that could be a trick out of Jonny Greenwood’s book. But don’t mistake Shawn for a simple lifter of other people’s sounds. While the use of effects is a crutch for some, Smith commands them as tools at his disposal to achieve an overarching ideal.

The first time I heard Lake Isle they reminded me of The National. Now admittedly, I was listening to High Violet pretty intensely at the time, but I think it’s a valid reference point, and I think a large portion of that can be accredited to the controlled dynamics and technical steadiness of the band’s rhythm section. Both in a live setting and on record, bassist Chris Micca and drummer Andy Foster are the definition of calculated restraint; it’s obvious that the two of them could break their self-imposed mold at any moment, but instead their choice to provide stability as the group’s backbone proves to be a discipline that grounds the band. That doesn’t mean that the rhythm section lacks soul, however. While Lake Isle may not be the project to showcase Micca and Foster’s technical prowess, the confidence and precision with which they fit their bass and drum parts together speaks volumes beyond the explicit notes they play.

On top of all of the nuanced complexity that’s to be found on the EP, it’s a relief that vocalist Mark Doughtery sounds so comfortable on these songs. Throughout the record he spends most of his lines in his lower register, and that’s okay, because this band isn’t about emotional firepower; I would say it’s more about emotional subtlety. Doughtery’s voice embodies the mood of their songs by remaining a calm presence through the ebb and flow of their songs’ dynamics. Lake Isle’s website references Morrissey as a vocal influence on Doughtery, and I don’t think the final result is too far off.

At the end of the day, Wake Up is a grower (as most of my favorite albums are). Not because of a lack of tangible hooks or interesting musical parts, but because it takes time to really get what the band are doing. Lake Isle choose to develop their songs on their on terms, and it’s a rewarding experience for those who give them the listens they deserve. Go see them live, and pick up a copy of Wake Up while you’re at it. It will only get better from there.

Upcoming Show: Night Worker with Israel Darling and White Rifles

October 22, 2010

If you’ve been missing out on the wealth of great live music that’s been happening the past few months, you can jump back on the bandwagon at Krankies on Friday night November 12. Winston-Salem music veteran Jacob Myrick will again return to the stage under the new name Night Worker, backed by drummer Chad Newsom (of the Bayonets) and several other TBA musicians. Jacob’s musical stylings have always been a privilege to take in, from his time in Terrance & The Talls Boys to his recent outings with a small backing band, so this show should be one to mark down on the calendar… take the time to do this now.

Night Worker will be joined by the Asheville/Greensboro-based indie pop group Israel Darling, which should make for a strong bill. On top of that, White Rifles, one of Winston’s newest groups, will be opening the show. Salivate over the flyer above, it was designed by Mr. Myrick himself.

You’ll be hearing more from Jacob Myrick soon; a song of his will be available on a fantastic local compilation to be released by Krankies next month. More on that to come…

Tools of the Trade: Kyle Caudle’s Bass Guitar

October 8, 2010

So without too much thought, I’m starting a new section for this blog. It’s called Tools of The Trade, and the idea is that I’ll be interviewing musicians, artists and other creative types about an instrument or tool of special value to them. Being human, we’re obsessed with sensory experiences and tactile objects… the way a paintbrush feels when touched against the canvas, or the way metal strings feel when pressed against the rosewood fretboard of a guitar. Objects become iconic in our minds and can define events and memories, and the same goes for music and art. One doesn’t have to search far for examples… every guitarist has a soft spot for their favorite guitarist’s axes (Jimi Hendrix’s Monterrey Strat? The Edge’s Explorer?).

So in this spirit, here’s my first post. I’ve interviewed my band mate and friend Kyle Caudle about his vintage Fender Bass guitar, one of the most beautiful basses I’ve ever seen or had the pleasure of playing. Here’s what Kyle had to say…

PP: Ok so, first of all where did you get your bass guitar?

KC: I bought my bass from a pawn shop in King?

PP: Did you buy it the day you saw it or…

KC: I think I did, I think I took it right down off the wall and I knew immediately that’s what I wanted, didn’t really know why I wanted it at the time.

PP: Were you a bass player at the time?

KC: Yes I was.

PP: And you played with it in Good For You, and then any other bands?

KC: The Lowlands with Caleb, and then the Bayonets for the past three years or so, but I purchased it probably in 2000 or 2001, so I’ve had it about ten years now.

PP: And do you know what year it is?

KC: It’s a ’75.

PP: So a Fender 1975 Precision Bass, and you said it’s Mocha Brown?

KC: Yeah.

PP: How worn was it when you got it?

KC: Almost no wear. It was missing what they call the ashtray over the bridge. It was missing that piece, everything else is original. I don’t think anything’s really been done to it, I’ve put some road wear on it and worn through some of the finish since I’ve gotten it and played it the past few years. It was probably played less before I had it.

PP: You bought that years ago and you haven’t bought another bass since, so you’re obviously happy with it, so what about that guitar is special to you?

KC: Well I like the simplicity of it. Before I had this one I had a Music Man Ernie Ball bass, which was fine. It was almost too bright and cut through almost too much, it had active pickups and everything and had more of a Jazz Bass-style neck. Before that I owned a Mexican Jazz, and then my first bass was a P-bass, so I was familiar with the P-bass, but it was a Squier P-bass. So I was familiar with it. I like the beefiness of the neck, I like how simple it is, all you got is volume and tone. And you can’t go wrong with a vintage Fender bass, it’s just got that nice vintage warm tone.

Decoration Ghost Release “The Haze of Wine and Age”

September 28, 2010

The first time I heard the band name “Decoration Ghost” was earlier this year at the WQFS station on the campus of Guilford College in Greensboro. Caleb and Kyle Caudle and I were there to play a couple Bayonets songs on “J’s Indie Rock Mayhem,” a regular radio show on 90.0FM hosted by Josh Neas, a DJ, regular contributor to Aquarium Drunkard and general lover of good music whose opinion I have come to value more and more. When during a break Caleb asked Josh what Greensboro bands we should be looking to play with, Josh immediately answered that Decoration Ghost (in a matter of words) is a killer Greensboro band with a fiery live show.

It would be hypocritical for me to talk about how awesome they are live, because I haven’t seen them. That said, having given their new album The Haze of Wine and Age its fair share of listens, it’s extremely easy to see why they would be a great live band. On the simplest level, Decoration Ghost are a pop band. Sometimes “pop” can be a dirty word, but I mean it as a compliment; in the same way The Replacements are a pop band. And as a pop band, Decoration Ghost understand the power of brevity. Their new LP is composed of 9 songs, coming in at just 28:15. But the shortness of the album means that Decoration Ghost don’t need to fight for your attention, and they take advantage of your attention span by outfitting their pop songs in punk rock clothing; it works well for them.

Decoration Ghost: Scott Hicks

Photo by Doug Klesch / dotmatrixproject

“Father’s Fists,” the first track of the album, is like a lot of good music. It’s the kind of song that would sound best performed on a big stage, over a big sound system, in a big room full of people. That’s due in large part to the the cymbal crashes that announce the song’s beginning and the overdriven guitars that soon follow. But it’s also due to the raw intensity that vocalist and guitarist Scott Hicks brings into the equation. I’m pretty sure I could count on one hand the number of times he ventures into his lower register on this album (and if that’s untrue, it still doesn’t seem so), and when you’re singing at the volume and pitch he does for most of the record, it’s pretty hard to ignore.

The pace of The Haze of Wine and Age matches its intensity. The second track, which shares the title of the record, keeps things steadily moving with what starts as a light-hearted guitar hook, but by the bridge turns into an anthemic battle cry; “2009, 127 / Tables turned, Bridges burned, Farewell / Nice to see you, We never met you!” summons the troops, and the track finishes off with big guitars and a defiant “The crowd it owns you / So go back, Go back, Go back now / It’ll probably finish you down / So go back, Go back, Go back now!”

Decoration Ghost: Devender Sellars

Photo by Doug Klesch / dotmatrixproject

The third track, “I Thought You Were Night Courting,” takes the record into darker territory with dissonant, delay-laden electric guitars from Scott and Devender Sellars, and a bass guitar tone that could be from an Echo & The Bunnymen record (in other words, it sounds really cool). The song resembles its title, the perfect soundtrack for a dreary and ominous night-time landscape.

I could continue doing a track-by-track analysis of the whole album, but I’ll show some restraint. I will say that my favorite track of the record comes on the back side with “Thick Tan Rope.” The band uses feedback to paint an atmospheric backdrop upon which the rest of the song is overlaid, and it breaks up the album nicely. Drummer Joe Garrigan’s versatility is evident throughout the record, but his ability to alter the type of beat he plays several times in any given song is a true compliment to the group, and that rings true in this sometimes dance-y yet still serious track.

Overall, The Haze of Wine and Age is an album by a band in tune with itself, cognizant of its own strengths, and rarely do they overplay or overstep their bounds. And as good as the album is, I’m looking forward to seeing them live even more. Their next show will be on October 23 at the Flatiron with Filthybird and Crystal Bright.

On another note, Decoration Ghost has received some press because their former bass player was forced to step down due to a disease known as ALS. You can watch a great video about it here.

Sun Lips Play Last Show, Bolmongani Releases “Tangier”

September 26, 2010

In some ways, last night could represent the end of an era and the continuation of some others. As my above photo poorly documents, Sun Lips played their presumably final show at the birthday gathering of Ryan Pritts last night, with half of the band set to move to NYC next week. It’s been fun watching Sun Lips grow and mature these past few months, going through several transitional stages in a relatively short amount of time and capping things off by playing an awesome show with The Love Language a couple weeks ago. Best of luck to Alex and Drew as they pursue new musical endeavors (Nightdogs?) in one of the world’s greatest cities.

The other half of Sun Lips will remain in Winston-Salem with plenty of opportunities on the horizon. While last night was Ryan Pritts’ birthday celebration, it also marked the official release of his new album Tangier under his one-man-band Bolmongani moniker. While you can get the album from Amazon and LimeWire, you’d be the coolest if you got a physical copy direct from Ryan.

Tangier‘s cover (shown above), was designed by Bitsy Draughon of Distrails. Having only heard the album twice, I’ll just say that it’s something you’ll have to hear for yourself. Ryan’s musical talents take him to a variety of different places on Tangier (often at the same time… I guess he’s musically omnipresent), and it’s an album that shows both his strength as a songwriter and his skills as a multi-instrumentalist. So get it.

It’ll also be cool to see what Ian Lockey ends up doing musically, I hear it has something to do with small North Africans or something. Regardless, we should probably hear something from him soon.

Daniel Seriff / Lean In Photos

September 23, 2010

As a musician and multi-tasker, Daniel Seriff is a force. I first met Daniel when serving him coffee on his break from teaching guitar lessons in his teaching studio downstairs in the Werehouse. Since then, I’ve heard nothing but overwhelming praise for Daniel’s seemingly effortless mastery of the guitar. This past weekend, one of the bands he lends his talents to, Lean In, played at Krankies along with Human Season. You can view more photos of the show here, and below. You can also watch a video of the performance here; the first section is Human Season, and the second part is Lean In.

Kat Lamp Designs Avett Brothers Poster

September 17, 2010

Some of you may remember Kat Lamp from she and Jeff Irving’s Things and Stuff art show at Krankies’ Electric Moustache Gallery back in July. I really enjoyed her pieces at that show, and as it turns out, she also designs some great show posters as well. Up until now, Kat had already done posters for some pretty stellar bands (Of Montreal, Deerhoof, Vetiver). Recently however, she did a poster (above) for NC’s own Avett Brothers to promote their show in Las Vegas earlier this month. Amazingly, there are (somehow) still a couple of these limited edition posters available for purchase online here. You can also view more of Kat’s show posters at her GigPosters page.