Neon Native is the album which will propel Brother O’ Brother into the national spotlight

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I’ve been singing the praises of Brother O’ Brother’s stripped-down raw sound since I first heard them dominate the Birdy’s Battle Royale in 2015. With Chris Banta at the helm on vocals and guitar, frantically dominating the stage at every show with the manic energy of a punk-rock evangelist, it is impossible to see a show of theirs and not come away converted.

I was reading thatan article from a couple months ago looked to predict which long-awaited albums from national acts was likely to propel them back into the mainstream spotlight. Heavily focused on the likes of the Jesus and Mary Chain, Spoon and Granddaddy, bands which have ridden the wave of 90s nostalgia to find new audiences in an age where the cyclical music trends are realigning with the music of two decades past, the article got me thinking. Which Indianapolis band’s new album seems most destined to propel them into the national spotlight?

bob neon nativeThe answer was easy: Brother O’ Brother’s Neon Native, which will be released this May, is already making national waves with a prime feature via the Huffington Post, and the band has been steadily working the touring circuit over the last two years, earning more than $20,000 on vinyl sales last year thanks to Banta and drummer Warner Swopes’ single-minded dedication to ensuring audiences connect with the music.

But there is something about Neon Native which goes above and beyond the expected. It is an assured follow-up to an album which already clearly defined their sound on wax. With Show Pony in the rearview, the band is capable now of expanding their sound while managing to come closer than ever to capturing the raw sound of one of their live shows on record. Three albums into their career, Brother O’ Brother is at that point where they can play a few local shows to a packed house, while spending 150+ days on the road nationally doing the same thing. And everywhere in their wake they leave an audience beaten raw by their furious sound, desperate to find a way to experience it again and again.

It is a visceral experience, and the fact that they’ve come closer than ever to capturing that effect on Neon Native leaves me feeling confident in my prediction that, by this time next year, Brother O’ Brother will be more than “a local Indianapolis band to watch.”

They’ll be pushing the envelope nationally, building buzz as a band willing to take risks and embrace challenges as they in turn drive their audiences to accept a more personal role in what it means to truly appreciate music.

*****

Stream the album preview from Huffington Post below and sound off in the comments. What band do you think is on the cusp of a national breakthrough in 2017?

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Hoosier country songwriter Clayton Anderson hits another one out of the park with Only to Borrow EP

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When I interviewed Clayton Anderson back in January for NUVO Newsweekly, he told me his main focus was on remaining patient as an artist. “We could be on a major label but then we’d risk getting lost in the shuffle,” he told me. “There’s no guarantee, so I’d rather work hard at building our fan base. It’s been too much time and sacrifice to just give that freedom up for nothing. Then you never would hear from me.”

Ten months later he’s out with Only to Borrow, a six-track EP that clocks in briskly, under twenty minutes, but chock full of hit material that should easily put him out there on the same breath as any contemporary country hitmaker this side of Nash Vegas. You can take the boy out of Bedford but you can’t take Bedford out of the boy, and Anderson is at his best on songs like “Hometown Heart” (“She grew up where the stars and the stoplight were the only thing up all night, where everybody knows every bend in the road lets you go and brings you back home.”)

He also never devolves into bro-country “beers and trucks” mentality either, which is refreshing. The closest he comes to potentially cloying is on “All Over The Map,” which winds up falling closer to Mellencamp good-natured in the end with its small-town callouts. “She’s Indiana small-town Miami freeway top town,” he sings, criss-crossing the country in metaphor before admitting “she’s all over the map and I love her like that.”

With any luck radio audiences will love him as much as his Lawrence County fans do, putting his music just as much on the map. A hard-working songwriter like Anderson deserves to have wider recognition, and this EP should finally bring it his way.

Clayton Anderson will be in Indianapolis on December 3rd for a free concert at the Pavillion at PanAm! For details, click here.

ALBUM REVIEW: Tracksuit Lyfestile – “E=MC Hammered”

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When I covered the finals of this year’s Battle Royale at Birdy’s, I was impressed to see that the much-vaunted Tracksuit Lyfestile lived up to all the musical hype. “An instrumental combo featuring trombone distorted through a varied set of live FX pedals, the band brought a hard rock edge to what is still a highly experimental sound,” I wrote at the time in NUVO. Combining tight metal guitar riffs with adventurous experiments in instrumental looping built upon, among other things, live trombone, makes a Tracksuit Lyfestile show something to behold.

The same holds true when listening to the band’s debut E=MC Hammered, though listeners should certainly knock their expectations up a notch as the level of musicianship is impeccable. Headphone listening at its best, Tracksuit Lyfestile encourages you to rock the fuck out at a live show, and then sit back and pick the music down to its bare elements at home, reveling in how they build these acid soundscapes.

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Tracksuit Lyfestile live at Birdy’s during the Battle Royale Finals (Credit: Jonathan Sanders)

 

From the opening build of “Hurricane” the music grabs your attention, and then the band holds it through the little things; the “Hey! Hey! Hey!” choruses of “90/10,” the thundering wall-of-sound that is “Lunar Lounge,” and the crowd-pleasing “Beat It” cover being stand-outs. By the time they place us back gently on the ground with the staccato crunch and intricately melodic “A Vigorous Joe Pesci,” a return visit is a foregone conclusion. Just as soon as one can get online to find the band’s ‘Band In Town’ page, that is, because once you’re hooked you’ll want to see them live just to know for sure it isn’t just a bunch of studio trickery.

I assure you, it isn’t. Tracksuit Lyfestile is the most original band I’ve heard come out of the Indianpolis scene since I’ve moved here — call them the Cake of Naptown; they’ll inspire many, but few will be able to outright copy them. And that’s a very good thing!

The band will release the brand new album E=MC Hammered at the Melody Inn on july 15th with support from Moxxie, Coup d’Etat and Midwest State of Mind! Not many better spots to catch a live band in any city …. and for only $5!

ALBUM REVIEW: R’lyeh – “Color out of Space”

R’LYEH INTERVIEWEDhttps://hearhearmusic.com/2014/12/13/interview-rlyeh/

Check out my review of R’lyeh in this week’s issue of NUVO Newsweekly. As you frequent readers of “Hear! Hear!” know, I am a big supporter of these local metal aficionados, who continue to push the envelope of what instrumental metal can accomplish. The album is even better than I’d expected upon first listen. From the review:

[Lead guitarist Anthony] Hampton describes R’lyeh’s music as echoing the rise and fall of mankind, building riff upon riff until everything collapses. That’s hard to miss in the pounding “Monolithic” as it leads into the more spare “November,” the album’s stunningly evocative closer. Often fans assume metal must mean domination through sonic overdrive, and R’lyeh proves the opposite; only through highs can you appreciate the lows. One moment a thunder of percussion and multiplied guitars echoes through our ears, only to be replaced by a repeating pattern of finger-picked notes, creating the ultimate monotonic riff of redemption. Played on repeat the album becomes an endless cycle: birth, death, rebirth, a closed circle.

To read the rest of the review, please support NUVO for helping give this local band a real push. Then check out their show Saturday night at the 5th Quarter Lounge, where they’ll officially debut the brand-new album along with their new three-member performance alignment! If they could do all this on the record with two members, imagine how much better Christopher Cunningham is going to make their live set!

ALBUM REVIEW: David Corley – “Available Light”

If you grab a copy of NUVO Newsweekly this week you’ll see my 900-word interview with David Corley, a Hoosier songwriter whose work has gestated through three decades of musical, cultural and personal exploration. Available Light is one of those rare albums which arrives fully formed, as though Corley has recorded dozens of albums we just haven’t had the opportunity to hear, this being the best of the bunch.

The truth, however, is much more interesting, as is every song on the album. “Pink clouds, the sun comes like a rocket up to the edge of the horizon,” he sings at the album’s start, echoing the arrival of this music itself, a raw, beautiful example of how influential music can be when given the time to open up and develop. Echoing Swordfishtrombone-era Tom Waits and more modern acoustic folk from the likes of Alexi Murdoch, Corley has crafted what he calls an EP, but which is truly much more — thirty years of a man’s life condensed into an hour of music you’ll relive for years to come.

From the NUVO interview:

“To me, music is very magical when I write it,” he explains. “When I listen to something, there’s a certain thread that runs through the song where you can just feel when an artist means it. I have two rules about writing a song: one is you better have something to say, and the other is you better have something to say. That’s all I have.”

That level of technicolor realism is what makes Available Light more than just an amazing album. Shooting his life with the available light of a wide range of experiences, Corley does the impossible, allowing us to fully see those experiences and then transpose them over our own lives like one of those projector-slides from high school. Layers upon layers, these songs certainly have more than enough to say to keep listeners coming back time and again. And if this is the only thing we ever hear from Corley, as disheartening as that might be, we’ll still have the ultimate debut album.

I don’t, however, think this will be the last we hear from David Corley. And neither should you.

ALBUM FEATURE: Triple X Smut – “The Art of Staying Awake”

Get ready for 13 minutes of hardcore punk enough to make your ears bleed and your body convulse in paroxysms of rock Godliness sufficient to give you a contracoup injury! Hailing from Champaign, Illinois, Triple X Smut brings furious rock to the table and demands you take note or fuck off. They too will be playing a set at PUNK FEST 2015 at the 5th Quarter Lounge in Indianapolis this coming March, so get ready!

Track Listing

1. Another fist, another face
2. Fuck The World
3. Grandma death
4. Let’s go do some CRIMES
5. Saturday night
6. Wana See This City Burn

ELROY WAS HERE: Cruise Elroy’s gauntlet-dropping EP pair leads the pack

For Chris Merritt, Cruise Elroy has been a labor of love years in the works, built on the solid foundation that was the song of the same title, a seven-four exercise in pop-jazz perfection. Daring continuously to push the envelope of what great pop music can and should be, he’s existed on the fringes of pop, building melodies of the Ben Folds ilk while taking his lyrics in the vein of a less snarky Jonathan Coulton. There’s always been more to Merritt’s music than easy comparisons may make clear, but it’s a good start. Now with the arrival of EP1 and EP2 from Cruise Elroy, the full spectrum of this sound is immediately evident.

While the first EP takes the opportunity to update early Merritt faves “Tarmac”, “Feminine Mind” and “Rain King” via a cleaner studio veneer, it also provides us with the songwriter’s strongest pop contribution yet. Via “The Fever,” which speaks to the search for truth between what we can see, smell or touch versus what we sense might be true on the fringes, Merritt hits us with his catchiest chorus while peppering the musical arrangement with his trademark odes to video-game music and off-kilter kitsch. Shorty” opens the EP with an extended 5/4 disco-funk breakdown, then segues into a surprisingly straightforward dose of keyboard-tinged nostalgia complete with the best fuzzed-out bass outside an early Ben Folds Five effort. And even the new studio recordings of Merritt classics shine as examples of remarkably astute songwriting, particularly “Feminine Mind” for it’s twist on Billy Joel’s “She’s Only A Woman To Me” — “She’s a killer but she’s always on time; she’s brutal but she’s never unkind,” Merritt sings without the dark edge of Joel’s misogyny tainting the proceeding. And “Rain King” softens the edges of the lo-fi gem via a pair of extended instrumental interludes at the song’s center and conclusion while heightening the contrast between the bare melody with the trio’s deftly layered vocal harmonies.


But if
EP1 introduces you to the sounds of Merritt and Cruise Elroy in a non-confrontational setting, EP2 becomes positively revolutionary, evident from the moment you crash ears-first into “Sisyphus.” Thirty seconds in and you’ve thrown out any comparisons to Ben Folds as the band embraces prog-rock leanings much more in tune with bands like Wax Fang. Quite unlike anything else I’ve heard on any pop album this year, “Sisyphus” takes everything that’s great about Merritt’s songwriting and encapsulates it within a melodic structure that demands a schizophrenic arrangement. All but demanding headphone listening, the song features layers upon layers which, peeled back, illustrate an artist coming fully into his own. And four minutes in, the Chris Martin-inspired harmonic breakdown seals it, making repeat listens compulsory.


And if you weren’t already sold, the EP’s closer, “Ghost,” which opens with the best rock intro not composed by Styx, will cement you as a lifelong fan. A freewheeling pop masterpiece, Ghost reminds one immediately of the more experimental side of Weezer (“The Greatest Man That Ever Lived”), a symphonic synthesized sensation which aptly showcases why I’ve argued for years that Merritt is the best pop songwriter you’re not yet listening to.


These two EPs make it tantalizingly clear that great pop music won’t be denied. With the tease of a full-length still on the horizon, take the opportunity to introduce yourself to the sonic world of Cruise Elroy. Nothing else this year comes even remotely close to this, and you ignore it at your own peril.


Elroy was here, and he’s thrown down the gauntlet.