The morning noise.

A brief break from writing about 40-year-old records, then, to tell you what else is in my ears these days.

I do most of my music listening during the trip to and from work, and the music I play in my car plays an important role in my life. In the morning, it keeps me from fixating on all the stuff waiting undone at work. And in the afternoon it helps wash it all away, unless I am too frustrated or furious to find any escape.

Here’s what’s on my passenger seat right now …

The Sunday League: At my last newspaper job, I worked with a guy who covered Pennsylvania state government in Harrisburg. He was (and is) smart, canny, well-spoken, irreverent, a snappy dresser, an Anglophile, and not cowed by the poses and absurdities of the Keystone State’s elected representatives.

If that weren’t enough to have on his CV, he’s also a veteran power-pop musician who’s put out a couple of professional-quality releases. (He plays ska sometimes too; you knew there had to be a chink in his armor someplace.)

Anyway, on this EP, he enlists several like-minded central Pennsylvania musicians, cranks up his Rickenbacker and pours out the hooks, singing along in a distinctive McGuinnish/Pettyish voice.

I haven’t had this one long, but results from the early precincts say it’s a winner.

Moncton Isn’t So Bad: Jumping wildly from the shores of the Susquehanna River to the Canadian Maritimes, we come across this compilation of local New Brunswick musicians. The songs range wildly from minimalist acoustic to raging punk, and from bedroom lo-fi “productions” to thumping professional mixes.

Unfortunately, it really isn’t all that good. I really wish I could say I liked it, and that it was a jewel waiting to be discovered (like this Moncton band I stumbled across — and stumbled is the right word — a while ago). But, no.

Truth be told, I’ll probably chuck the home-burned CD after another spin or two. But who knows? Maybe some night, as I drive home from the nine-to-five, something here will reach out and speak to me.

The Jean Jackets, Jean Jacques; also, Bay Kee, The Man With Red Eyes, and Grey Visions, The Grey Tape: An old college buddy of mine plays in a band over in New Jersey. A while ago, I was reading about them on some Jersey indie-rock website when I read about the Jean Jackets, four youngsters from Old Tappan who play in a band when they’re not off at college.

I downloaded their first album, Jean Jacques, and for about two weeks I hated it.

The chiming indie-pop music didn’t grab me; I didn’t like their lyrics, those I could understand; and most of all, I hated their predilection for wordless scat-sung vocal hooks. (I think every song on this record has a la-la-la section in it somewhere, and some have more than one. It gets to feeling gimmicky.)

Slowly they grew on me. The songs of Christine Spilka, who shares singing and guitar duties with Jackson Phinney, won me over first. Then Spilka and Phinney’s otherworldly duet on the record’s one cover version, Elliot Smith’s “Angel In The Snow,” grabbed me. Then Phinney’s songs started seeming catchier, less obnoxious, more relatable.

And just last night, I had to drive 70 minutes to Wilkes-Barre and back again, and Jean Jacques was the only music I listened to, the entire time, through the whole record and back to the start again.

Goddamned if I know how, but they’ve won me over. So much so that I’ve gone and downloaded the first EP by Bay Kee (Spilka’s solo project) and an album of material by Grey Visions (Phinney’s nom de guerre.)

The Bay Kee record is enjoyable, stylistically in line with Spilka’s contributions to the full band. I’ve only just started The Grey Tape, but the first song holds together pretty solidly, given the downplayed description Phinney gives the material. (If I understand him right, he characterizes several of his Grey Visions releases as demos-and-experiments-that-are-just-finished-enough-to-share-with-other-people.)

Mint 400 Records Presents 1967: Remember my college buddy from a few grafs ago? His band is one of 11 artists appearing on this Jersey indie-rock compilation, featuring 14 covers of songs originally released in 1967 — everything from “I’ll Be Your Mirror” to “Let’s Spend The Night Together.”

I’m still getting to know this comp. Most of the covers I’ve heard don’t take me anywhere the originals didn’t … and a few covers don’t take me anywhere at all, which is worse. But I haven’t spun it enough times to really make up my mind, so there’s still potential here.

(The cuts all seem to be professionally recorded, which puts 1967 head and shoulders above Moncton Isn’t So Bad. I’m not against rank homemade amateurism — hell, I engage in it regularly — but when it rubs shoulders with studio mixes, everything suffers.)

The pick hit for me so far is a version of “To Love Somebody” by a band called Fairmont, which owes its success in part to its humid, compressed, crunchy vibe, and in part to the fact that it’s “To Love Somebody.”

And one more bonus from the time I spend on the computer nights:

Tom Moulton: The Sandpiper, Fire Island, New York, USA 1974Ostensibly this is a mix of dance tunes assembled by disco super-mixer Tom Moulton for a gay hangout on Fire Island way back when. If it isn’t, it should have been, because it has the Seventies pop-soul hooks-and-groove thang going on in spades.

This is not downloadable as far as I know, and Soundcloud stuff doesn’t hang around forever, so I’ll enjoy this until it disappears. If you appreciate the work of Moulton, Gamble and Huff, Barry White and other such luminaries, I suggest you do the same.

Now, if only I could play it in the car…

I don’t hear a single.

It looks like I’ve finally made my Satanic Majesties Request, or maybe my Self Portrait — the album that makes people shake their heads and say, “He’s lost the plot.”

My latest Bandcamp effort, The Midnight Loneliness of the Sunflower, has stalled out with fewer downloads — and, I think, fewer listens — than any of its three predecessors.

Apparently, fire sirens and machine-translated French lyrics just ain’t what the music-loving public wants in the year 2015.

(Give it time, I say. By the year — oh, let’s say 2037 — I will be regarded as a genius, ahead of my time in my ambitious fusion of otherwise unrelated elements.)

Bandcamp’s inscrutable popularity rankings currently list The Midnight Loneliness as the eighth-most-popular recording with the tag “Allentown.”

Which says little, really, except that the music-listening public doesn’t seem to like recordings tagged “Allentown” any more than it does fire sirens.


The Midnight Loneliness is also currently the 80th-most-popular Bandcamp recording with the tag “french.” I can only assume that sound I hear is Vercingetorix weeping from beyond the grave.

The good news? Well, you won’t get to listen ’til late in the year, but I’m already working on tracks for a second recording of atonal diddley-bow solos.

Yeah, next time around I’m gonna give the people what they want.

Top of the pops.

Another day has passed, and Hope’s Treat has further cemented its place in the hearts of the American people.

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on this subject:

– The experimental EP I cooked up by manipulating 70-year-old home recordings of my grandpa’s piano playing is currently the sixth-most-popular Bandcamp recording with the tag “Allentown.”


Hope’s Treat is presently the third-most-popular Bandcamp recording tagged “Stamford.”

Almost 30 years after he moved out of town, Bill Blumenau is an overnight sensation.


– And finally, Hope’s Treat leapt a rousing 200 spots, currently ranking No. 174 among the most popular recordings tagged “Connecticut.” Instead of page 10, it’s now on page 5.

(The folks in Walnut Shitstorm, for what it’s worth, are still mired on page 9.)


Now, lest this post be misconstrued, let me address some questions my Four Readers are probably asking:

– I’m not gonna keep posting these updates every day. I think they’re getting old too.

– I’m not really that interested in the “chart performance” of my noisy little EP as compared to everyone else’s noisy little EPs. These popularity rankings could be generated at random by goats, for all I know, and I don’t put as much stock in them as I’m probably making it sound.

(Even if I did clearly understand how the charts were generated, they’re still only measuring one tiny slice of one music site. Having the third-most-popular Bandcamp recording tagged Stamford is sort of akin to having the third-most sacrifice flies in Stamford Little League.)

Still, I have a bit of chart geek in me. And it’s kinda fun to play at the chart-geek thing when it’s your own name on the chart — no matter how obscure the ranking might be, or how small a pool you’re swimming in.

Plus, with the burst of initial interest in Hope’s Treat wearing off, today’s placements are probably about as high as the EP is going to get. I think those who are going to find it have found it.

So I’ll enjoy the high-water mark, however dubious and paltry it might be.

Once a week, and you know where all your favorite songs are.

I’m number 374! (In Connecticut, that is.)

I managed to convince one or two people to download Hope’s Treat, the experimental EP I wrote about yesterday.

The workings of Bandcamp’s most-popular ratings are unknown to me. A quick Google search suggests others don’t know exactly how they work either, except that they seem to be based on sales, not plays.

Still, I thought my brief burst of success might translate into an appearance on one of the most-popular pages.

And sure enough, Hope’s Treat currently ranks as the 374th-most-popular Bandcamp recording with the tag “Connecticut.”

(It’s tagged Connecticut because that’s where my grandpa made the 1940s-vintage piano recordings that I molested for the purposes of my experimental EP.)

How did I calculate the number? Did I rely on one of the fancy tube-glowin’ “computers” Casey Kasem’s team used to use to calculate 1970s American Top 40 countdowns?

Naw, it was simple. Each page displays 40 individual recordings (be they full-length albums, EPs, or whatever.)

Hope’s Treat, as of this moment, is on page 10 … so there are 360 recordings ahead of it. And it’s the 14th recording displayed on page 10. Hence, No. 374.

Sadly, I am a few places behind Walnut Shitstorm’s A 3D Map of Poland. I know now what it was like to be John Fogerty and have “Green River” stuck behind “In The Year 2525” for all those weeks.

Art is cruel.


Edit: But wait, it gets better! Hope’s Treat is currently the 13th-most-popular Bandcamp title with the tag “Allentown.” It’s on Page One of the listings and everything.

Dude! I’ve got a record in the Top 20.

Where’s the champagne?




Shameless self-promotion.

Dunno if the three people who read me here also read my other blog, so I’ll put in a quick plug for the exciting action goin’ on over there.

Today I posted the results of a project that I think is hot shit, even if no one else seems to agree:

Given a batch of 70-year-old home recordings of my grandfather playing piano, I digitally edited, treated and reassembled them into a series of nine short ambient/experimental/avant-garde song-things.

These have been posted to Bandcamp as a choose-your-own-price download called Hope’s Treat.

If you wanna read the long but reasonably entertaining story behind Hope’s Treat, click here.

If you’d like to skip the long story and give a cursory six-second listen to two or three of the songs, you can click here instead.

If you’d rather not be bothered, and would prefer to go out for fried chicken instead, that’s a third option.

Choose wisely.

(I suggest spicy fries on the side. You gotta sin to get saved.)

From the Valley: “The 4 Walls,” The 4 Walls.

Another in an occasional series of reviews of recent releases by Lehigh Valley performers.

I haven’t written many From the Valley posts lately. In part, that’s because I just haven’t crossed paths with much new music that floated my boat.

There’s loads of lo-fi punky folk, and grindcore and metalcore, and experimental noise. It’s not all bad, but I’ve been feeling lately like I’ve heard it before and didn’t have much new to say.

It took The 4 Walls to break me out of the four walls of writer’s block, with a swaggering five-song EP released online earlier this month.

The 4 Walls — they’re three guys from Bethlehem — play simple, chunky, rootsy punk with a bite.

Not punk as in hard, loud, fast blow-you-over stuff, but punk as in blues-tinged post-Stooges crunch that makes up in attitude what it lacks in speed.

Guitarist, pianist and vocalist John Sears has a voice that lands somewhere between Iggy Pop and Billy Idol, particularly on the low end. It’s pretty much the perfect instrument to deliver lyrics like, “Sex and drugs and rock and roll / I’ll be a dead man before it takes its toll.”

(I’m still trying to figure out if “Eat Me Alive”‘s lyrical couplet “If I had a dime for every time I ran out of gas / I’d have money for gas” is simple no-sweat tossed-off genius, or just stoopid. You could ask that question of a lot of great punk lyrics.)

The 4 Walls sing about the usual subjects — predatory women, paying dues, that kind of thing — over familiar grungy riffs. There’s also an instrumental, “Time Bomb,” that sounds like it’s still waiting for some words.

It appears that the band did the recording itself, and it sounds quite good for a self-production — nice and crisp.

I note that the band has shows in New York City and Philadelphia coming up, which suggests that it’s a little more serious than your average Lehigh Valley knockabouts.

And finally, I see that the band quotes Bon Scott on its Facebook page, which maybe also gives you some idea where its loyalties lie in terms of no-frills prowly rock n’ roll.

I could stand a little more variation in some of their songs, but by and large, The 4 Walls provide a nice rock n’ roll jolt. I suggest bolting down a couple cups of coffee (maybe a cigarette, too, if your tastes run that way) and checking them out. They make it just a little harder to go back to the basement folk-punk and grindcore.

The 4 Walls’ self-titled EP is available as a $5 download here.

From the Valley: Curtis Chris Roman, “Letter A-Frame.”

The return of an intermittent series of posts reviewing recent releases by Lehigh Valley musicians.

Used to be, if you liked a song and wanted to hear how it had progressed through the writing process, you had one of two choices:

1. Collect bootlegs of uncertain provenance and sound quality.

2. Wait 30 years and hope the artist puts his rough drafts out on some sort of career-spanning vault-tape collection.

The online music era makes life much easier in this regard. It’s easy (and, in my experience, fairly common) for a performer to toss out a couple different takes on a song that catches their fancy.

Letter A-Frame, a recent online release by Bethlehem-area singer-songwriter Curtis Chris Roman, finds Roman exploring three variants of a single song metaphorically dealing with storms, stress and security, huddling beneath a roof made of “grace and tar.” (An OK metaphor, that, for the combination of the divine and earthy that gets us through the days and nights.)

They’re not massively different. But they’re different enough to be worth hearing and considering. And, they’re a glimpse inside the creative process, which is interesting.

According to Roman’s bio, he recently resumed recording after a six- or seven-year musical layoff. His strengths are a gravel-edged voice, some quietly effective guitar chops, and the old folk/country way of turning a few basic chords into a working song.

Personally, I think the stuff that stays truest to its folk/country roots is the best stuff on Letter A-Frame.

“Over To You” — which began as country-folk, Roman says, and ended as some kind of rootsy electro — is kinda burdened by what sounds like a stiff machine-generated backbeat. A little more wind blowing through it would probably do it good.

While I like “First Comes/Catasauqua Girl,” I find the echoey voice in the background to be distracting; to my ears, it doesn’t fit in. Were it up to me (caveat: No one has ever asked me to produce their record), I might have mixed it out front with the lead vocal, for a sort of duet.

And while the Dinosaur Jr.-inspired instrumental and the ditty about Evil Santa have their place, I find the more traditional songwriting to be the material that stays with me the most.

On a certain level, this is nitpicking. Letter A-Frame is Roman’s first collection of songs, and it’s only natural that a first album try a couple of different approaches.

What really counts is that he’s got a guitar back in his hands; the creative juices are flowing again; and if both grace and tar hold out, we’ll hear more from him.

“Letter A-Frame” is currently available as a name-your-own price download here, though Roman indicates on his Facebook page it will only be free for a limited time.

From the Valley: Octopus Logic, “Live Demo.”

The latest in a series of posts reviewing online music releases by Lehigh Valley bands.

Some premonitory rumble, a few stick clicks, a countoff that sounds like “One-tay-ay-ay!” and … well, what exactly are we diving into?

It’s a two-song online release by Octopus Logic, a punk-alternative band from Easton, and it’s simply called “Live Demo.”

There’s a reason most demos get done in studios: They sound better.

And I’m afraid this live recording doesn’t do Octopus Logic all that much justice. There’s a fair amount of cymbal, guitar and miscellaneous room-rumble, and not that much bass or vocal.

Which is kinda too bad, because I wouldn’t mind hearing “Wode Things” and “Total Cave Darkness” in a setting that does more justice to all of their component parts.

For instance, what exactly is up with the shouted midsections of “Wode Things” (“I AM NOAH, AND I AM ALONE”)? It might register a little better with me if I could hear it. Same with the stop-start drumming and ringing guitar riffs featured in both songs.

This recording probably sounds exactly what it’s like to hear them in person in some small club. And if that’s what you’d like, you’ll want to download this.

As for me … well, I don’t want to belittle anybody’s efforts, and I know a two-song “live demo” by a local band shouldn’t be expected to be diamond-clear. Still, I’ll wait and hope that Octopus Logic gets its sound down a little better in some other setting.

Octopus Logic’s “Live Demo” is available for download here. They’ve also got a couple clips on YouTube, if you feel like watching the people behind the sound:


From the Valley: Kurt Blumenau, “In The City Of Churches And Cannons.”

Another in my intermittent series of posts about online releases by Lehigh Valley-based performers.

I am proud to announce the release of the finest avant-garde free-jazz experimental diddley-bow album of 2014.

At least so far.


Regular visitors to this blog have already learned to dread my periodic stabs at diddley-bow playing (and “stabs” indeed seems like le mot juste, doesn’t it?)

Up to now I’ve confined myself to covering the most treacly hits of the Seventies. But that wasn’t good enough. I decided I needed to go farther out.

So what we have on In The City Of Churches And Cannons are five distorted, raucous, wandering, whinnying, semi-sorta-tonal diddley bow solo performances.

It’s not quite the Metal Machine Music of diddley bows — though I might have that in me yet; don’t count me out.

But some of it reminds me distantly of someone like Albert Ayler, or of the noises Jerry Garcia used to wring out of his guitar when the Dead would go really, really out. So I labeled it “avant-garde” and “free jazz” and “experimental” on Bandcamp, and here as well. Each label sorta seemed to fit in its own way.

Most people will probably settle for labeling it “shit.” But, who knows? There might be a couple madmen out there who enjoy listening to these noises as much as I enjoyed making them.

For them, I am only too glad to perform a public service.

In The City Of Churches And Cannons is available as a name-your-price Bandcamp download here.

Turn it up. And enjoy.

From the Valley: Katahajime, “Fall Tour Tape ’13.”

Getting tired of “Wonderful Christmas Time” and “Have A Holly Jolly Christmas” and all those coy, equally loathsome versions of “Baby It’s Cold Outside”?

Allentown’s Katahajime (the name refers to a type of martial arts chokehold) will clear all the cheer from your ears before you can say “Yukon Cornelius.”

Consider a few lyrical samples from the crust-metal quartet’s Fall Tour Tape ’13, a three-song online EP posted last month:

Brighter and brighter as the end grows nigh
I’m living in this misery called life
I have nothing left as I self-destruct


Born into misery, suffering.
Eternally, internally. stranded
Cursed to serve time on this earth

This is all delivered in a tuneless torn-throated bellow-vocal, too, if you hadn’t already guessed that. (Actually, they have two guys in the band who sing like that, and sometimes they trade off, like Sam and Dave. OK, not like Sam and Dave, exactly.)

So, yeah, these guys won’t turn your frown upside down. But are they worth listening to anyway?

I think so. They have a solid command of essential metal moves, like the way two of the songs start with quiet, resonant passages before moving into the heavier stuff. That’s not hugely original, of course, but it is effective.

It works nicely when they do it in reverse, too — like at the end of “Whispers of a Fading Existence,” when the closing shouts of “Finally free!” give way to a quiet, resigned-sounding instrumental outro.

I particularly liked the third song — the wonderfully titled “A Bouquet of Rotting Flowers Lining the Mass Graves of Humanity” — which was recorded live on local radio station WXLV.

It begins with some vaguely Robert Fripp-ish guitar swells above a backing-tape atmosphere that sounds like 2 a.m. on a summer morning. The whole thing builds nicely into a clean-toned jam that could easily draw in listeners (like me) who wouldn’t ordinarily think something labeled “crust-metal” could be for them.

(Of course, they get to the crusty parts eventually. But I find the dark parts more effective when the band takes its sweet time getting there.)

So there you have it. Katahajime isn’t for everybody; but, more power to the sound of local crust. Give ’em a listen. You might find something you like —  or, if nothing else, you might find a momentary antidote to “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas.”

Katahajime’s “Fall Tour Tape ’13” is available as a name-your-price Bandcamp download here.