Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Kingsbury Manx - Bronze Age

If someone were to ask me if I liked high-gloss coating for record jackets, I immediately would say "No." But every time I hold one in my hands with that übershiny finish, like Papa M's "Live From A Shark Cage," I'm always in aw over how radiant they are. Odessa Records really delivers a spectacular packaging for The Kingsbury Manx's sixth full-length release, with the high-gloss and all (and there is a lot of 'all').

The imagery used for The Kingsbury Manx's album 'Bronze Age,' from the cover to the back to the inside liner notes, is paintings from M. Scott Myers (a former band member). Most of the paintings are of landscapes resembling the tundra, including some with bodies of neighboring waters. The piece on the back cover showcases the nautical theme, while there is one painting inside the gatefold that is quite opposite of its arctic counterparts. This odd print reminds me of walking through the backwoods of Florida, following a wandering man-made path elevated above the marsh, protecting its guests from the local reptiles below.

While I am utterly attracted to the artwork from Myers that The Kingsbury Manx selected for this record, I haven't been able to tie the album's title, 'Bronze Age,' to Myers' paintings or any other elements of the packaging; only a lyric in the song, "Glass Eye." None the less, Myers' work makes for stunning album artwork and lives quite nicely in this 12inch x 12inch format protected by the under utilized shellac-like coating.

I'm often intrigued when a record company choses to use a gatefold jacket when there is only one vinyl record inside. Gatefolds are mostly used for albums that contain two vinyl records, placing one on each side of the folded jacket. When a gatefold is employed to carry just one vinyl record, I can't help but feel its for the admiration of the artwork; basically declaring, "This artwork is so amazing, every piece must be displayed on the outer jacket!" Odessa Records could have used a printed inner sleeve, rather than a plain white paper sleeve, to protect the vinyl record itself. This would have given them an alternative place to put the text and paintings that are on the inside of the gatefold (I'd be curious to know what the cost difference of this would be). However, the gatefold is much more impressive and engages you (the listener) as the needle dances across the record and you unveil the centerfold and mystique of the album.

Another well noted feature of The Kingsbury Manx's packaging for 'Bronze Age' is the spine of the jacket; its 1/4" thick, and again, that's for only one vinyl record. I love when attention is given to the spine of a vinyl jacket; most artists don't. As much as I'm not a fan of The Magnetic Fields, as I sit here in our Danish lounge chair a mere twenty feet away from our own record collection, my wife's Magnetic Fields albums, in their standard (thin) jackets, take the cake with having well designed, noticeable spines that stand out from the crowd. I have yet to file this Kingsbury Manx record, but I am sure once I do, it is going to boast loud and proud due to the grand size alone.

Without a doubt, I was looking forward to taking in this album. Obviously, Odessa Records had me at the artwork and packing, but I had also heard quite a bit about The Kingsbury Manx over the past decade, and yet to acquire any of their recordings. This collection of songs provides a lil' something for all types of indie pop fanatics. 'Folk Pop' seems to be the preferred term used to describe The Kingsbury Manx overall. Personally, I would suggest that if Belle & Sebastian grew up exploring the Appalachian Trail, their sound would be The Kingsbury Manx. I could easily see these kids from North Carolina on a bill with The Ladybug Transistor, The American Analog Set, or even Bonnie Prince Billy.

Some of my favorite tracks from this album are "Future Hunter" (I'm a sucker for synths; bought my very first one on Raleigh NC back in 1996), "Handspring" (you can't go wrong with trumpets; such an enjoyable, tastefully added touch), and "Custer's Last" (again with the synths, but this time with a captivating beat that gets you out of your seat singing along to the gods above during for their epic Pink Floyd-esque finale). Multiple listens may be required to fully understand where The Kingsbury Manx are going, but they are okay with that, and besides... M. Scott Myers and Odessa Records provide some gorgeous artwork to study during the ride.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Schooner || Wesley Wolfe - Split 12inch

EP (extended play) releases are a great way for a band to really showcase the best of the best. Traditionally, EPs can vary from four to about seven songs; typically just shy of what would be considered an album / LP (long play). So when you get two bands that join together to create one EP release, it's almost guaranteed they are going to cut the crap and deliver nothing short of a solid record; at least that's the case with North Carolina's Schooner and Wesley Wolfe.

Let's get it on record now that North Carolina has been and always will be the home to the best American Indie Rock. From the days of Superchunk, Seam and Polvo, to Mercury Birds and The Raymond Brake, to today's Rosebuds and The Love Language; North Carolina continues to define Indie Rock, and Schooner and Wesley Wolfe are a shining example that others will only try to replicate.

Schooner opens the 12inch clear vinyl lathe with the haunting "oo's" of "Terrorized Mind." Reid Johnson's reflective vocal delivery and story-telling guitar rhythm pause life for a moment until his fuzzy lead takes over as the whiskey settles in. Maria Albani bears the voice for their second track, "Locked In," which is actually a Wesley Wolfe cover. Backed by a much more bouncy indie pop beat and a whammied-out guitar rift, Wesley has Maria wishing good things for an ex-lover as she locks away her (his) memories. There is an irresistible lo-fi nature to Schooner's recordings that's without purpose, yet produces their tracks to perfection.

As soon as the ambience settles, Wesley Wolfe comes busting through the door with his overdriven, piercing guitar and breathy, bass heavy beat for "Crying Laughing." This track made me a die hard Wolfe-Head within seconds and had me searching for my ol' Edsel and Polara 7inches to drop on the table after I've exhausted playing these four gems. Mr. Wolfe's cover of Schooner's "Indian Sunburn" is simply incredible. I could easily see indie-rockers taking a break from posting on Facebook via their iPhones about Wesley Wolfe 'killing it' at the club while he was playing this tune and actually dancing to the music for a rare moment in time.

Lathe cut records are different than pressed vinyl records; you can learn more about them directly from Tangible Formats. This particular record is noticeably extraordinary, not only because of the clear vinyl used, but the fact that Schooner and Wesley Wolfe employed Steve Oliva at Kitchen Island Show Print in Durham NC to print via silk screen in reverse the cover art image directly on side-b of the record so it shows through correctly when playing the four songs on side-a; a brilliant design feature that will have your mouth mocking a Venus flytrap.

Co-released by PotLuck Foundation and Tangible Formats, they show great respect for this lathe cut record by including a 'rice-paper' inner sleeve (my favorite) for housing. From what I can tell, this release has since sold out, but if you ever run across a copy at a garage sale or your local worm and bait shop, grab it. Otherwise, keep an eye out for other releases by Schooner and Wesley Wolfe, and remember... if iTunes gives a genre of "Indie Rock" to something that ain't from North Carolina, its probably post-Steve Jobs (RIP, sir).

Friday, March 8, 2013

Razor Blazers - I'm Sick 7inch

I gotta tell ya... I was into this record the minute I pulled it out of the yellow envelope it was delivered in. But then when I began reading the insert card, which led me to do a lil' www-research, I really got into to this record, and I hadn't even put the needle to the wax. Which by the way, when I went to do that, and I pulled the 7inch from the white inner sleeve, I grew to love this record even more as the Arizona sun came beaming through the crystal clear translucent blue vinyl; stunning (I'm a sucker for blue vinyl). Again, I had yet to hear a lick of music and I was already trying to find my ol' Friendster login so I can tell my peeps back home about this one.

Razor Blazers commissioned 50 different artists to make 10 unique covers each for this record; 50 x 10 = 500 individual jackets. Apparently, the cover I received was the 10th one that Rob Ziemanis created. There is a card inside the record that lists each of the 50 artists involved in this project, as well as informs you which cover you have in the series.

This project was completely funded by Kickstarter, and (if it wasn't cool enough already) all of the money raised from selling Razor Blazers' 7inch record goes to Kusi Kawsay, an elementary school in the Peruvian Andes which offers children from economically challenged backgrounds an affirming and holistic education. I know I haven't even begun to tell you how great the music is, and yet you want to go buy this record now, right? You can, right over here at their Bandcamp page.

For his 10th jacket, Rob Ziemanis chose to work with a natural brown cardboard record jacket. It appears that he drew a flower-like image with the use of a compass, and then hand painted the petals with different autumn inspired colors. For the typography, Ziemanis opted to stamp letters for the front, and use a stenciled font for the back. Often with hand created artwork, you don't get a barcode or record label information; everything is very simple and innocent (which is what had me in the beginning). I'm actually very happy this is the cover I received with my Razor Blazers 7inch; I hope everyone else likes theirs.

I was immediate attracted to the dissonant guitars on "I'm Sick," side-a. They are very New York City, and reminded me quite a bit of the guitar rift from Blonde Redhead's b-side delight, "Kasuality," from their 1997 "Symphony of Treble" single. The song starts with a familiar beat that takes you back to when you first understood what made indie rock rock. The singers voice itself has a round, shoegaze-like, deeper tone; always a favorite ingredient (for me) with female fronted bands.

The easy driving pace of "Linear Rerun" goes on like an instrumental track out of the 1990's, backing one of the many reality television shows featuring our youth finding themselves as they explore our world. Once again, the soothing vocals ease in as another instrument, finding their place comfortably between the guitars.

Below is a video featuring "Linear Rerun" and a photo slide show from Razor Blazers' record release party, where they displayed all 500 of the various record covers for their "I'm Sick" 7inch. Whether you are into the music or not, this release presents an awesome opportunity to show your support for a greater cause. And if charity is not your thing, perhaps for the artistic value alone, hopefully you find it worth it to order a copy of this record with it's one-of-a-kind cover art. Any which way you cut it, don't miss out on this very special release.