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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“HEAR! HEAR!” EXCLUSIVE: Stereo RV – “Human”

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“In the video for “Human” we wanted to portray real people being honest about what makes them, them. We wanted to portray their triumphs; understand what influences them and how they identify their humanity.  The song is about all the traumas and victories that tie us together. The experiences that ultimately identify who we are or who we’re trying to be.”Myra, Stereo RV

Portland, Oregon’s Stereo RV is certain to gain wider exposure this year thanks to the potent earworm that is “Human.” Think Bea Miller’s “I Dare You” or Charlotte OC’s “Medicine Man,” if you’re a current listener to pop radio or major Spotify playlists — this is one of those uplifting, addictive pop songs that sticks in your head and demands to be repeated even if you never again hit the play button. Your brain will do the rest … it’s only human 😉

The duo’s five track EP “Human” officially drops this weekend along with the official video for the single. Listen for Myra Gleason’s memorable voice on these songs … if you’re a fan of soaring vocals and strong piano melodies, “The One” will scratch your itch particularly if you already enjoy Lady Gaga’s “Million Reasons” or Sia’s “Helium”. And “Who Am I” has another hook that doesn’t quit via sheer repetition — the Chainsmokers meet MØ for addictiveness.

NIGHTMARES FOR NAPTOWN: Bizarre Noir Album Release at 5th Quarter, Tonight!

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Tonight I finally get to see the Bizarre Noir traveling circus extravaganza up close and personal for the first time, and it’s been a long time coming. Long overdue, in fact, something I’m ashamed to say as a local writer who has long championed this adventurous band of sonic risk-takers.

As they set out to release their latest album Pop Songs For Ugly People, which is easily the most hotly anticipated album of the year thus far here in Indianapolis’ independent scene, I found myself today listening to their sophomore album, Bedtime Stories. This is an album with whiplash-inducing powers of genre-defying greatness, which makes it as difficult to describe to the uninitiated as it is necessary to.

I have not heard a stronger, more confident album from any band. And I don’t mean local.

From the moment they invade your ears on “Welcome,” with Chris Charles’ soothingly deceptive vocals (reminding me initially of Days of the New’s Travis Meeks) taunting us: “Welcome to ever-after, the rotting corpse, stiff cadavers line the halls to your tomb as all your sins cast a shadow!” you know these are going to be bedtime stories in the Grimm tradition.

Dark. Sinister. Bizarre Noir.

But sonically they keep us on our toes, as the music is definitely NOT always dark. To call Bizarre Noir merely genre-bending is to be almost insultingly daft. Numerous local critics have tried to describe their sound and fallen woefully short, so I won’t bother to coin my own, but I’ll quote Wayne Bertsch from this week’s edition of Barfly … he came closest, in this writer’s opinion:

Picture a metal band that owes more to Klaus Nomi or Captain Beefheart than Anthrax,” Bertsch writes. “Now have Andy Warhol manage them high on ‘schrooms. Voila! Bizarre Noir!”

However you choose to describe the music, Bedtime Stories never lets up. “Wicked Black” picks up in intensity in a personal favorite, one of the heavier songs on the album that still manages to pack a melodic punch through almost surf-oriented guitar lines as Charles sings of “staring at God though the cracks of creation.”

“Loki” features thundering percussion and a brilliant bass breakdown that I always have to hit repeat to enjoy again. And the epic “Rise” features the band really stretching to show what they can do with a long build, something that hints strongly of what fans can expect with the album being released tonight.

But what they are not is a traditional rock band. Or a metal band, as they so often get pigeonholed by fans in Best of Nuvo competitions they so easily win year after year.

They are Bizarre Noir, and the music is only an entry-point to the madness.

It is a very epic entry-point, but participating in the grand circus of a live performance, where the band’s performance-art can incorporate music into the freak-show aspect of their fan-centered experience, is where everything comes together to paint a full picture.

Bedtime Stories sets the stage.

Pop Songs For Ugly People will burn it down.

And somewhere in-between, if you’re at the 5th Quarter Lounge tonight for the CD Release, you’ll gain a full appreciation for what makes these crazy motherfuckers tick.

FEATURED SONG: Moxxie’s “Phantom” will haunt your soul

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Moxxie kicks 2016 to the curb with a deftly resonating new track that is nothing like anything you’ve heard on their debut. Like an echoing, layered ghostly take on Natalie Merchant channeling Prince in the afterworld, Jessie Phelps showcases that when it comes to leading the vanguard of vocalists in the region, she’s got absolutely nothing to prove.

This is a winning single that’s all hook, a repetitive mantra that demands replaying as you won’t soon sneak that ethereal tune out of your head. Rock on, Moxxie, rock on.

The band has an upcoming show at the recently remodeled Hi-Fi in Fountain Square on February 18th with the Stampede String Band and Tracksuit Lyfestile. I recommend you get a ticket! Because if you’ve seen them live before, you haven’t heard them live doing anything quite like this.

LIVE PHOTOS: Bryan McPherson (Melody Inn, 12/14/2016)

Seeing books of rhyme
Buried deep inside my mind
In all the mountains and the streams
And all the footsteps on these streets
And you know that everything is dead
And everything bleeds
And the whores dress in red
With the apostles on their knees
So miracle my nightmare
Drop heaven from the sky
Give me eternal lightening
Because God is you and I

– Bryan McPherson – “Song From The Moon”

Bryan McPherson’s music speaks for itself.

His performance at the Melody Inn this evening was among the top performances I’ve seen since moving to Indianapolis, and that really says something. It’s a real shame more people didn’t brave the cold weather to come check him out. You can view photos below from his performance, or check out “Song From The Moon,” off his brilliant album Wedgewood, in the video posted above.

Trust me … if you get a chance to see this man live, do it! And support his music by buying an album when you get a chance, through his Bandcamp or Amazon, etc.

(All photos credit: Jonathan Sanders)

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THE LIVE WIRE: Gay Black Republican (State Street Pub, 12/9/2016)

If you don’t already know I’m a huge fan of Indianapolis punk legends Gay Black Republican, then you just haven’t been paying attention. Or you never read NUVO, which featured my 4,000-word cover story documenting the band’s first 15 years in complete “oral history” detail.

Either way, last Friday’s set at State Street Pub gave the band the chance to play a bunch of tracks off an album they’re still finalizing — it should be recorded and released in 2017, and everything I’ve heard of it points to the band’s best work coming together to form an album you won’t want to sleep on. I know it’s tough to have a “hit” when it comes to being a local punk act in this musical age, but damn it, these are some catchy fucking songs that speak to the age we live in … and like “Ballet on Barbed Wire,” which took on a whole new meaning in the wake of the Iraq War, songs like “Political Fuckery” are certain to become mainstays of Indianapolis’ political punk lexicon.

Trust me on it, or go to the band’s website and buy all their albums for $5-apiece and learn for yourself how good they are. And watch the video below to see “For A Fucking 4,” a brand-new track released with the band’s permission, recorded at the show on the 9th! The video also includes their raw take on classic cut “Ballet on Barbed Wire,” which remains my personal GBR favorite. There are also plenty of great photos below, which you can click on to see higher resolution images. (All photos credit: Jonathan Sanders)

INTERVIEW: Bryan McPherson

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Singer Bryan McPherson has a tattoo of the unmistakable silhouette of the United States of America on his right arm – the contiguous 48 states, at least.  This may seem a strange idiosyncrasy for an artist who is largely considered a protest singer.  Truly, McPherson pulls no punches when pointing out the darker side of his homeland, and given the dynamic, folk-punk delivery of his songs about the labor movement, race relations, income inequality, women’s rights, gay rights and other causes of the oppressed and marginalized, it is nearly impossible to not be moved by his message.” — Joe Armstrong, Independent Day

Benny NoGood, of Indianapolis’ the Enders, told me I needed to listen to this songwriter coming through the Melody Inn on December 14th. “He’s up your alley,” he told me. “I promise, you’ll want to talk to him for your website.”

Benny’s never steered me wrong musically, and this time was no different.

The moment I started listening to Bryan McPherson’s brilliant 2015 album Wedgewood, I was hooked on his blend of politically-inspired folk songwriting and beautifully rendered portraits of working-class people living their lives in a world we all still struggle to comprehend. Much in the vein of Matthew Ryan, whose career-redefining album Boxers remains among my all-time faves, or Jason Isbell, who has for more than a decade cornered the market on that vein of intimate storytelling, McPherson is a songwriter you won’t want to sleep on.

And when he really gets amped up, talking to “Hear! Hear” about his “riding a wave of anger” as a s songwriter, his time as an Occupy protester, and Americans getting what we’ve deserved with Donald J. Trump, having stayed silent during our nation’s slow slide toward authoritarianism during the Obama administration, it’s impossible to drown out the man’s distinct passion.

For more about McPherson’s live appearance at the Mel, with support from NoGood and Caleb McCoach, visit this Facebook page. Doors open at 8:00, tickets are only $5!

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I’ve had a lot of time to listen to your latest album Wedgewood. And I really got hooked on “Dark Hearts,” especially after talking to Matthew Ryan. I’ve been playing that song a lot, and I’d love to hear the story behind that album because I’d been listening to a lot of your older, more politically overt songs and the newer songs sound more ‘subtle.’

Yeah. There’s a couple songs on there that are [still] kind of in your face, but the other ones … I can’t really, I’ll talk about that song and then I’ll talk about the album. That song is like a memory. Those are real people that I know, and knew, and that’s about a neighborhood in Boston where … I’m a sober human being now, but years ago I was pretty involved in drugs and alcohol and so were some of my friends back then. So it’s kind of about selling drugs and doing drugs and being in a dark lifestyle. For me it’s a song about addiction, or the darker side of being a human being. And the end of the song is about coming out of that: “And I don’t think I’ll ever get away / chasing hope in this basement parade / down there I speak from the heart / and I’m gonna leave it in the dark.” That’s what that song’s about for me, but granted, someone else might hear it and get something completely different.

So the rest of that album, that album came about I was given some money from somebody to make a record. It kind of fell out of the sky. And I ended up staying with some friends, they had a shack in the Sierra foothills of California. I stayed there and I worked on all the material I was playing around with, and basically that album starts off with a journey. The last song on American Boy / American Girl was called “Upon An Open Road” and that was sort of like ‘OK I’m going out onto the road so to speak,’ and “Born On A Highway” is the first song on Wedgewood. So it’s a continuation of the journey. And then the album as a whole for me, to think abstractly, is kind of like going into the fire and then getting out of the fire.

It’s personal for me, as I’ve ridden a wave of anger in my songwriting life for many years. And Wedgewood is the culmination of that, the breaking point. Obviously there are some angry songs on there, but the album is a smoldering sort of angry record. I definitely placed the songs in order, there’s a flow to it, a ‘Side A’ and a ‘Side B.’ The second side is more politically charged, you ease into it and then there’s “Here We Go” which is about protest, “Kelly Thomas” about a man who was murdered by the police in Orange County, and then “Wasted World” which is about the horrors of war. “Burn It Down,” another song about rage …

Yeah, I wrote that one down in my notes, “Burn It Down.” That song really stood out.

What that song makes me think of is when I was involved in protesting, so to speak, with like Occupy, the Occupy movement. It just seemed to me that things escalate and escalate and escalate to the point where it’s how wars break out, you know? Because people protest and then the State reacts and then people react to that, and react to that, and react to that until people are just so enraged that we have a revolution. So that song is tapping into that vibe. And then the last song, “Oh Darlin’” is just the end of all that shit, just ‘alright the war’s over,’ it’s something of a love song I guess.

But for me the album is a journey more than a collection of songs. Whereas my previous albums felt more, at least to me, like collections of songs. And I did try to put them in an order but this one feels more like a total package.

It’s been hard since the election for people to find a balance, especially in the Punk community between the anger over Trump’s victory and a balance within music. You almost want to burn everything to the ground, but yet then there becomes no room for anything but. Do you struggle to find that balance in your work between fighting everybody and staying in a frame of mind to actively create?

Yeah, it’s a very angry time. There’s something sinister in the air. I don’t even want to go on the Internet half the time because it’s just … and I don’t support Trump. I didn’t vote for him, I think what everyone else seems to think, he’s very frightening. But what pisses me off is nobody — everybody’s been asleep for a very long time! Everyone kind of took time off during the Obama administration and ignored [the fact that] all these songs I wrote, they came about the last eight years. These are not Trump songs!

America has been moving towards authoritarianism. The wars have never stopped, the PATRIOT Act is still alive, the National Defense Authorization Act which takes away people’s right to a lawyer, and these are things that have been happening over the years and everyone’s ignored. It’s much more frightening when you have someone who’s as explicitly hateful and possibly a tyrant as Trump now. I’m just like ‘it’s too little too late, guys!’ We should have been in the street when they stole the election from Bernie Sanders, you know?

Because I know people who are still working class people who sling a hammer who don’t care about racism, sexism, transphobia or any of that because it doesn’t affect them. It doesn’t mean they’re racist, homophobic or any of that. They just vote with their own interests. And they would have voted for Bernie Sanders because he was speaking to the same things to some of what Trump was speaking to, besides all the hate. And it makes me just throw up my hands and say we did it to ourselves. We got what we deserved, with corporate interests and putting another puppet war hack up there to … this is the best we’ve got! And guess what? This is what we got.

I’m interested in your songwriting process. Do you do a lot of writing while you’re on the road, or do you tend to sit down when you’re ready to work on an album?

Pretty much when I’m on tour I’m on tour. It’s all encompassing. You’re constantly driving, finding places to eat, sleep, all that. You’re always going. I don’t really have a process for writing songs, they just tend to come when they come. And I have very little to do with that. They usually show up at an inconvenient time, that’s all I can say about it. If I have to go somewhere and I have ten minutes suddenly I’ll be inspired and start writing a song. It’s a mysterious thing. Every song I’ve ever tried to write just ends up being a terrible song, and rarely ends up getting written. I just leave it to whatever forces out there that this stuff comes out of.

But dressing up a song, like ‘let’s put a trumpet here,’ that kind of stuff can happen anytime once the song’s been written. It’s kind of like giving birth to a child. You pop the kid out and then you can dress him up however you want. ‘Here, wear a hat today!’ That’s how I look at production and arranging songs. The essence of the song, that comes about in it’s own weird way.

Do you have songs of yours that you’ve written years ago that you’ve radically changed over the years to where it’s almost not even the same song?

Yeah, sometimes I screw around with songs. There’s a song I had called “O.F.D.” and it was on my first record. On the album it’s got a full band, electric guitar and all this and that. Lately it’s kind of turned, since I play all my shows mostly solo acoustically, into a quiet finger-picking sort of song. So it sounds a lot different than when I first recorded it. I also look at songs as being like a hand. When I record a song I’m taking a photograph of my hand and all my fingers are stretched out. But once that photograph is done I don’t have to keep my hand stretched out like that. I can make a fist or give a thumbs-up, move it in all these different directions. It’s still my hand but it has a different angle or shape to it.

I really latched on to “I Saw The Devil” when listening to that album earlier. It seemed really appropriate in this current climate.

Oh, right on! I do play that one from time to time. [Laughs.] Have you seen the cover of Time Magazine? They did that [the Hitler comparison] and they also gave him devil horns, the ‘M” makes devil horns! They totally did that intentionally. I thought that was a really nice touch.

Is there a song you admire that you wish you’d written first, and now perhaps you’ve added it into your live performances?

Sure! Lately, you should mention, I’ve been doing a version of “Fields of Athenry.” It’s an Irish folk song. It got in my head and I keep meaning to go find the guy or girl who wrote it [Editor’s Note: “Fields of Athenry was written by Pete St. John in the 1970s.] but I first heard it while playing with the Dropkick Murphys when I’d opened up a bunch of shows for them. And they do that song. They do a really good rendition of it, and I just love that song so much I went and learned it myself and picked it up pretty quick. It’s just a dynamite song. So that’s something I’m like ‘oh man! If I could have written a song this is one I wish I’d written!’