Thursday, April 23, 2009

The rich joyous song of Paean

Despite inclusion in the list of genre labels that seem contradictory or downright dumb (a list that starts with Afropunk and ends somewhere around Wizard Rock), Folk Rock really just might be the best label to stick to the sound of Paean.

To describe Paean (pronounced pee-en, named after the ancient Greek term used to describe a joyous song) in greater detail would be to remark on the rich orchestral flavoring of their sound and literary lyrics. Frontman Dave Maddocks (who, by the way, is just fine with a two-word description) has been playing music since his days at Fort Collins High School where he played straightforward Rock ᾿n Roll.

But it wasn’t long before he strayed from the track into Acoustic territory, writing and recording songs at his home recording studio, The Barn. Shortly thereafter, the project snowballed, bringing on instrumentalists Marty Albertz and Jonathan Alonzo, as well as Dave’s high school friend and bassist Andrew Hendrickson. Paean has also grown into something of a Maddocks’ family affair: Dave’s brother and sister, drummer Tim Maddocks and violinist Anna Maddocks, as well as his brother-in-law Adam Delorme on banjo.

Paean dropped its debut, a split with fellow FoCo act Sour Boy Bitter Girl, last summer to some acclaim (Scene critic Matthew Azrael Martin deemed it “the summer 2008 soundtrack.”) Next up is a full-length, due next month. This year’s Paean is much like last year’s Paean as far as musicality, but in terms of songwriting, the band has shifted into a democratic collective as opposed to Dave writing for each instrument as he did early on. “Even if I plan everything and try to write parts for everyone, I’m not good enough,” he says. “Everyone has strengths that I don’t.”

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Immortal Dominion Does the Evolution

Originally published in Colorado Music Buzz, April 2009
They look like they rose out of some subterranean sludge, but Immortal Dominion’s origin story actually begins in the house of God. It was at a youth-oriented ministry, complete with Rock music and laser lights, where drummer Ben Huntwork met guitarist/vocalist Brian Villers and vocalist/guitarist Ray Smith. The three’s membership in the church would be short-lived but the friendship stuck.

Fifteen years later, the Rock continues to Roll as the Death Metal quartet drops their new album, Primortal, this month. As a band, they’ve experienced the typical challenges and lineup changes including the addition of current bassist Ed Schmidt in June 2007, but no time before was comparable to the rollercoaster ride journey of the past four years.

The week following the release of their last full-length, Awakening: The Revelation, then-ex-bassist Stephen Sherwood shot and killed his wife – Villers’ sister-in-law – and himself. Two years later, fortunes were reversed when five songs off Awakening were added to the soundtrack of “Teeth,” a coming-of-age horror film centered on a shark-toothed vagina. Inclusion in the instant-cult flick brought the band considerable attention from the Metal press and a re-release of the album.

Eager to start work on the next album and press on to the next level of the industry, Villers scanned album jackets for producers who’d worked with his favorite artists, shooting out emails to gauge interest. Returning the call would be the name on the back of Hellyeah’s self-titled debut, Sterling Winfield. Winfield has produced for several celebrated Metal acts in his time, Pantera and King Diamond to name a few. Entering the studio with a group whose previous recordings were strung together with little professional guidance presented a “unique experience” for the Texan producer.

“They didn’t have a whole lot of studio experience, yet they wanted to make an album that sounded like they had a whole lot of studio experience,” he says. “I had my work cut out for me on this one.”

Winfield had the band reorganize its recording schedule and pushed the group to develop a keener musicianship. It was, at times, a butt-kicking; the kind of learning experience the four had hoped for.

“I think we get trapped in our bubble here in the local scene sometimes,” Villers says. “To get a more worldly perspective was really interesting.”

Early tracks indicate Primortal will be more accessible than previous works. The guitars are heavier and the instrumentation is more precisely packaged, and the frontman is mixing it up, too. “I do a different vocal styles now,” Smith says. “I can’t really do the high stuff anymore like I used to, it’s a lot of work if I try.”

If it sounds as though this is the making of an entirely different Dominion, don’t fret; Villers assures us that the Death Metal aesthetic has not been compromised. “We’ve always had a lot of these songs in us,” he says. “But when you’re standing up in front of 200 Death Metal kids, you don’t want to be playing a ballad.”

Saturday, April 4, 2009

what will be left when you really have 'seen it all'

Sioux City Pete and the Beggars were a group of long-haired mean-eyed Seattleites who had walked into Goodbye Blue Monday, one of Brooklyn’s many free cover music bars, intent on rocking the shit out of me.

It didn’t happen, but they were a fun band to watch. Scraggly scrawny frontman Pete and his buxom red-wigged bassist scowled at one another as they swayed inches apart in consistent sexual rhythm, his thrusting hip nearly impeding her single-chord strumming. The glitter vest drummer and dreadlocked lead guitarist played along, their overindulgent prog-metal melody really mere background music at this point. It was the kind of spectacle that would’ve caused Colorado Springs to implode.

Thirteen minutes later, when the song ended and all eleven patrons applauded, an unsmiling Pete nodded in appreciation. He then told us: “This next song is about having sex with children,” and the band immediately stormed into the next freak fit.

Surrounded by a circle of newfound New York University friends, I scoffed, rolled my eyes, all the necessary showings of disapproval. But truth be told, Pete’s inflammatory remark had filled me with glee (“Look at me, watching the present-day Sex Pistols, I’d never see this back in Colorado.”) The New York kids, meanwhile, watched on stone-faced, no reaction apparent. I was terrified that my attempts to fit in had exposed myself as the outsider I was. But no one seemed to notice.

But I had to wonder what was going on with them. Were they, dwellers of a city that is easily a full year ahead of the rest of the world in the culture curve, already desensitized to (hopefully) tongue-in-cheek references to pedophilia? If so, what does that mean for the rest of us? How long do we have before every shock and surprise has been used up?

In retrospect, this outsider probably shouldn’t have been shocked either. I do, after all, belong to the generation of 2 Girls, 1 Cup. The internet has given us an instant window to the vilest corners of existence and few of us have resisted the urge to keep from at least peeking. It’s been great fun seeing messy dismemberment and puppies thrown off cliffs and gaping buttholes, but it has taken our sense of surprise and compressed it into JPEG format.

Now, not every taboo in the book has been worn down. Human imagination will always expand on ideas. There’ll always be trends. But I don’t think it takes long for long-term NYC residents to stumble across everything there is to see in life within city limits. And if the aforementioned culture curve really does exist, then the morality’s rapid decay will be a global phenomenon by 2017 and nothing will be “shocking” ever again. Enjoy your filth while it’s fun.

It’s disappointing realizing this, but I’m content with the fact that I’m experiencing the last vestiges of inner city shock firsthand instead of on YouTube like all you Northern Colorado losers.

Last month, for example, I caught Les Savy Fav at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple. Frontman Tim Harrington does his darndest trying to be different from other indie rock acts and even if not being anything new, he is immensely entertaining. He would parade through the audience wearing his not-so-tighty-whities and confront individuals mid-song, shoving his microphone in their face even if they didn’t know the lyrics or tried to avoid him.

For the encore, he disappeared into his dressing room before sneaking back into the audience. In his raggedy overcoat and all-too-familiar hockey mask, the heavyset Harrington made for a pretty convincing Jason impression. He surfed the crowd to the stage to announce that “the makers of the Friday the 13th remake are sponsoring us tonight,” he joked, waving his rubber machete. “Go out and see it after the show.”

Corporate sponsors getting plugged on stage? Welcome to the last days of edgy.