From today’s edition of the Columbia Free Times, my review of local songwriter Todd Mathis’ new album:
I wrote some words about the new album from legendary SC rocker Ruba Say; He will be playing Art Bar in Columbia this Saturday night and also appearing live on air with The Columbia Beet show on WUSC-FM 90.5 this afternoon.
The yearly compilation of music from South Carolina bands from SceneSC has become an annual tradition, a barometer of sorts for local music. This year’s continues the trend of introducing new and unreleased tracks from many of the artists involved, some of which will be heard here first before inclusion on a full length album of their own later.
If there’s a complaint, it’s a minor caveat that SceneSC tends to the indie rock side of things, with nary a heavy act, country crooner, jazz artist, or hip-hop MC anywhere near this. That’s their right, of course, and SceneSC has never claimed to speak for the entire South Carolina music community….but given the bully pulpit the blog/site has established it’s a missed opportunity for major segments of the scene, especially since there really isn’t an equivalent blog or site doing anything remotely similar to fill in those gaps.
Our favorite tracks: Numbtongue’s gurgly, trance-like “MosesBones”, She Returns From War’s stately, resigned yet hopeful-sounding “Fruit of the Night”, the understated grandeur of Yosef’s “Elise”, and Dylan Dickerson’s raw strummer “Seasoned Veteran.”
Yours? listen at the link below:
Charlie Parr, Hollandale (Chaperone Records)
The guitar is one of those instrumental pieces of a musician’s arsenal that can sound like a thousand different things in a thousand different hands, from the fast flatpickers to the delicate classical guitarist, the punk thrasher to the jazz swinger. Minnesota guitarist Charlie Parr’s weapon of choice is the resonator guitar, mostly, and he makes it sing in mournful, wailing tones on this new instrumental album of extended pieces with electric guitarist and producer Allan Sparhawk.
From the earliest blues masters, the resonator has held a spooky, dark place in music—think Son House and “John the Revelator”. Parr knows this and uses the instrument’s naturally supernatural tones to create a sonic sculpture across two huge movements, “I Dreamed I Saw Paul Bunyan Last Night (Part 1) and (Part 2). The first half builds as it ebbs and flows, returning to a stinging slide theme again and again as the tension mounts like a Wagner march. Around the nine minute mark, spent and elegiac, the dense arrangement folds up its tent and walks off into a mercurial sunset of sorts, fading ever so gradually as the theme is repeated on a single string and a ghostly echo wails in the background.
The title track, inserted as it is between the main piece’s two parts, is drone-like but more intermission than bridge, a beautiful folk melody on its own but no match for its surroundings. Likewise the last two tracks suffer, if only in comparison. “Barn Swallows At Twilight” is minimalist and banjo-sounding, almost, as Parr evokes the flutter and flocking of the titular birds in the dusk of evening, painting the scene with his driving flurry of notes.
The dreamlike fugue returns for a second round with Part 2, and one wonders at the story entwined in the bagpipe-like monotony of the underlying low notes (provided in understated support via Sparhawk’s electric, apparently) and the stirring, equally repetitive crash of the resonator and slide above. Parr’s playing has a way of inducing visions and metaphors in the mind, so whether or not you or I dream about Paul Bunyan doesn’t matter, as long as we dream something out of these passages.
The initial blast of “To Die Awake”, leadoff track on the new The Witch EP from Columbia SC outfit By the Bull, will make anyone leaning over to fiddle with the volume knob jump hard enough to hit their head–ask me how I know, I’ll show you the dent in my dashboard. 90’s alt-metal is an obvious touchstone here, from At The Drive-In to Helmet, but things get weird in the time “Empires” takes to recover from a quick-hit riff to emerge on the prog-pop side of things like Faith No More in a fit of psychedelic frenzy.
Front man Nick Brewer‘s time in The Memorials will no doubt lead some to expect similar offerings from this group, but there are much more varied soundscapes present, evidenced by the inclusion of trumpet, trombone, tuba, and acoustic guitars in the mix alongside the usual guitars, bass, drums, and keyboard. This variety of approach shows most prominently on the atmospheric “Wake Up to Break Up” as well as the push-pull dynamics of “Three Dreams in the Belly of Anne.”
The promise of a riff-fest is most fulfilled on the intense, punk-like fury of “Sleep Paralysis Attack”, which should satisfy anyone looking for a heavier sound or style; Brewer and company aren’t afraid of it, certainly, but they prove here that they’re capable of much more interesting output.
The world has perhaps gotten used to the odd musical musings and random, scattershot offering from Columbia, SC’s lo-fi indie auteur Mathew Lee Cothran via his Coma Cinema and Elvis Depressedly outlets, but his latest release is a sentimental-sounding albeit brief set of songs that’s over almost before it begins, leaving an unsettled feeling in its wake.
Failure is the title of the new four-song digital EP on his bandcamp page, and the entire thing is shorter than many artists’ single songs– 6 minutes and change, if you’re keeping track. In those fleeting ‘songs’ Cothran packs emotional apathy with a wallop, from the title track’s examination of contacts with his parents to the gentle acoustic “I Don’t Know”, which at 1:40 is the longest thought here, expressing his frustration with life in general, perhaps. “Nothing to believe in, no reason to try.”
That lack of inspiration belies the fact that these half-formed song fragments have more impact than most full songs, leaving listeners either reaching for the ‘repeat’ button or just hanging in the interrupted aural space wanting more. Like the more experimental sounds from Bill Nelson in his prime, Cothran seems to feel no need to flesh things out any more than necessary, and perhaps these songs would lose their luster in longer versions.
Regardless of motive, or method, he has seemingly hit upon art for today’s ADD generation of internet dabblers–if you can’t spend six and a half minutes on his music, that’s your loss, not his.
Failure is up as a pay what you want download here:
The concept of a not-for-profit band isn’t necessarily a new one, as most bands fail to make any significant amount of money from their efforts, laudable or not. Former Columbia, SC resident Angelo Gianni, who has called Asheville, North Carolina home for many years now, has given this method a new internet-age twist, however, with his band Treadmill Trackstar and their newly released album Goodbye to Analog, the third to be issued via fan funding and sales that are plowed directly back into the next album with nobody from the band actually getting paid from the proceeds–the fourth is already underway, actually, even as this one comes out.
All that wouldn’t really matter much if the music wasn’t great, which it is. Gianni and company flirted with the mainstream back in the late 1990s (their 1997 album Only This came out on the Hootie & the Blowfish-curated label Breaking Records), but the last few sets of songs are stronger and more mature than even that commercial ‘high point’.
Eschewing the quieter acoustics of the previous album Leaving Ohio, Gianni brings back the snarling electrics again from the get-go, with “Life Is A Fatal Disease” blasting out of the speakers like a lost Smashing Pumpkins anthem. Its fatalistic lyrical outlook is typical of Gianni’s long-term worldview, which is resigned to everything sucking, pretty much. The difference as he has aged into things like marriage and parenthood is that there are silver linings and positives to be taken from even the everyday crap of life.
“Dying In Style” begins in fine despairing fashion, but the hope for satisfaction is palpable in lines such as, “you know dreams almost never pay, so you know I feast on the kids to live.” Maybe it’s a commentary on our youth-centric culture, or perhaps it’s acknowledgement that his children are giving him a reason to keep on keeping on.
The guitars abate occasionally for quieter numbers, such as “Rewrite Genesis,” which with its cello intro and gently loping drum machine beat sounds suspiciously like a Contemporary Christian tune except for the lyrics:
I don’t need God anymore, she gives me communion, gives me body and blood,
I don’t need God any more, we’ll make our own sun and moon and stars
I don’t need God any more I found something I can touch to believe in
I don’t need God at all, when I pray to her she hears me.
Gianni has never been violently anti-religion, but he’s clear on where he stands on spirituality, which he takes from his personal relationships. He’s still searching, however, something made plain on a song such as “Looking For Light,” which aches for some sense of home among the thorns of life:
“That town I left forever, this one is turning into the same, oh why do we try so hard to run past the length of the chain”
It’s a frustrated search, one that has kept Gianni’s creative muse at work for years with no real expectation of ‘success’ in worldly terms. His efforts with Treadmill Trackstar may not be for monetary profit, but one could argue that he’s more than getting his money’s worth for the therapeutic effect of releasing all this angst and agony in exquisite musical form.
Side note: longtime Treadmill fans will want to notice that cellist Katie Hamilton returns to the group for the first time since that 1997 album; Heidi Carey and drummer Tony Lee both sat out these sessions.
Check out the entire album on Bandcamp below, where it’s available as a Name Your Price download: