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Mr. T Experience – Yesterday Rules

The fact that Mr. T Experience made it to my car was no mistake. I put it in there because it is so much fun.

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I make the three hour trek from school in Los Angeles to home once a month on average, summer included. Before each trip I load the car and refill my CD player. I often find that I have trouble picking only 6 CDs to accompany me on my journey. Still, I manage by making sure I have a good variety of damn good music. On my most recent trip back from L.A., I had a rather entertaining combination of CDs holstered in the trunk. A little side note: I try to shove my CDs in the holders very fast so that I don’t remember which one is in which slot in order to aide in the suspense of what will be next and the thrill of being able to recall it.

The line up from my last trip (still in my car, a whole two weeks later) was (in order … it doesn’t take long to figure it out): Waking Ashland – I Am For You (not sure if that’s the title), Mr. T Experience – Yesterday Rules, The Long Winters – When I Pretend to Fall, The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow, Switchfoot – Beautiful Letdown, and Common Rider – This is Unity Music. Another side note: I can’t believe I forgot how incredible this album is (the Common Rider one). I remember thinking that the first album was awesome and the second one not so hot. I was quite mistaken.

The fact that Mr. T Experience made it to my car was no mistake. I put it in there because it is so much fun. Before I listened to this album I had only heard two songs by Mr. T Experience, “Leave the Thinking to the Smart People” and “Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend.” Given my limited experience with the band’s music I was very surprised by what I heard when I put the release in my player for the first time (at least a month before the trip … yes, this review is long overdue). The first song that spits out of my speakers (which is in, yes IN, the ceiling) was not like the songs I had heard. It wasn’t acoustic, it wasn’t soft, it wasn’t mellow and the lyrics were not blatantly amusing. The lyrics were interesting enough though. As one would expect, there are plenty of great quips and consistent bursts of wit. My favorite being, “smart things come in stupid packages.”

For those of you who are fans of the two songs I mentioned earlier, there are a few (which is more than two, that is a couple) which hold the same air and flow. There is a wonderful variety in this album not only with the instruments but also in the use of words and metaphors alike. It is rare that I am interested in the lyrics of many bands these days, aside from wanting to sing the correct words in my car. The script of this album is as exhilarating, interesting and thoughtful as the performance. With the mix of songs ranging from acoustic guitars to songs with fast electric guitars (don’t forget the great drumming, bass work and keyboarding) and songs with incredibly melodic singing, to the more ballad-like songs soaked in smart (and I mean smart) and pervasive words, this CD will most likely remain in my car for treks to come … given the vast amount of bonus features on the disc, I may remove it from the car only to give some joy to my computer.

(Lookout Records)

Reviews

Berwanger – Watching a Garden Die

Josh Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter

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At the height of Vagrant Records’ early success in the late 90s, the label was buoyed by the incredible draw of their two biggest names- The Get Up Kids and Saves the Day. And while those two bands took a chunk of the notoriety, there were plenty of great bands that called the label home. One of those bands was The Anniversary. The Lawrence, Kansas band shared musical similarities with both TGUK and Saves the Day, but were unafraid to branch off into slightly more synthesised terrain that gave their songs an added element. Coupled with their super easy to digest harmonies and fantastic male/female vocals, songs like “The D in Detroit” still has a place in countless “favorite playlists” all these years later.

Since their initial break-up, guitarist and vocalist Josh Berwanger has been busy writing and recording a bevy of music under the moniker Berwanger. His recent discography is a talented kaleidoscope of songs that traverse genres from folk and indie, to more rock and straight forward singer/songwriter fare. There was plenty to like on his 2016 album Exorcism Rock, an album that delved into a little bit of psychedelia and fuzzed out indie rock. His 2017 album And the Star Invaders saw a gradual move away from the more electrified to the imaginative kind of singer/songwriter we’ve seen from the likes of Devendra Banhart. True to form, Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter, and his latest, Watching A Garden Die, is the next chapter in his thriving songwriter cabinet.

The gloomily titled record is mostly upbeat and diverse. While he may have shown a kinship to indie/folk songwriting of the Banharts and Obersts of the world previously, Watching a Garden Die features the kind of seasoned and more classic toned work you’d find on a Crosby, Stills & Nash record, or even a Paul Simon record. Songs like the softly, almost whispered “Even the Darkness Doesn’t Know”, and quietly moody, introspective “Paper Blues” (until that electric guitar solo hits) harks back to a time long ago of unfettered hair and soulful folk music. The album’s best moment is probably a combination of the wistful, pedal-steel toned Americana of “When I Was Young” and the equally effective, spacey indie rock of “The Business of Living”. The latter giving Grandaddy a run for their money in that music department. These two songs in particular showcase an artist fully aware and capable of his abilities to craft music that’s personal but exhibits the kind of draw you want from a record this close to the heart.

The album doesn’t have the more ruckus moments Berwanger exhibited in his earlier work (outside of perhaps, the more upbeat power-pop, new wavy “Bad Vibrations”). At times the album takes just a few listens to grab you. But when you listen to songs like the spritely “Friday Night” and the somber reflection of the twangy “I Keep Telling Myself” a few times more, you find the depth of the record. There are elements that reveal themselves on the second, third, fourth listen, and that’s rewarding.

Berwanger’s songwriting ability was never in doubt, and his new material continues to expand his songwriting reach. Watching a Garden Die, while not a frantic effort, is quiet composure.

(Wiretap Records)

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Reviews

Fences – Failure Sculptures

Failure Sculptures is a steady outing

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Christopher Mansfield, under his alter-ego, Fences, has made himself well known through the collaborations with Macklemore and Tegan & Sara. It’s set him up with well-deserved excitement for his new album Failure Sculptures. The genre of pop scores a good reputation with artists like Fences. I wouldn’t necessarily categorize this album as pop, but Failure Sculptures has catchy songs that will appeal to a large scale, however it keeps the integrity of accomplished music. Each song provides a story that allows you to drift into your own thoughts. He also uses idioms like there is no tomorrow.

“A Mission” is a lower-toned song that launches the album with an echoing sound of voice and guitar, and it sets an example of the whimsical type of music that is shown throughout the album. Mansfield has a way with words and was definitely listening in English class. A+ for storytelling. OK, you twisted my arm, I’ll point out some idioms: “body sways like trees in a storm” sung in “Paper Route” and “lately I just pass by like a cloud” heard in “Brass Band”. It’s a great way to paint a picture in your listeners head.  

“Same Blues” exposes a folk side to Fences. It has a lovely addition of cello in the background. It is enchanting and flows so well, which makes a terrific inclusion to the album. The plucking and acoustic sound of “Wooden Dove” has a powerful effect, and suits the song well. It follows the theme of echoes and storytelling. Although “War Kid” is a song about divorce, it is a pleasant way to end the album, and it features more idioms; “tears falling like bombs“.

This type of music allows you to drift and flow in and out of your own thoughts. It’s a friendly haunting and emotionally driven set of songs (and don’t forget about the idioms), and while it is quite predictable in a pleasant way, Failure Sculptures is a steady outing.

(GRNDVW)

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