Category Archives: New Music

Melodic Rockers The Kickback Unleash New Breakup Album, Tour

Chicago melodic rock band The Kickback knows how to write a catchy pop song, even through the pain and heartbreak of divorce. Their sophomore album Weddings and Funerals just dropped Friday, and is almost entirely about the end of frontman Billy Yost’s marriage.

A universal, relatable breakup album for sure, but this is not sad bastard music like Elliott Smith or Bon Iver. If you don’t listen to the lyrics, the upbeat tone could seem almost the opposite. It starts off loud and fast and doesn’t let up for 32 minutes.

The Kickback Weddings and Funerals

In late 2009, Yost moved to Chicago from his home town of Beresford, South Dakota. He made the move for a girl, whom he ended up marrying. Fast-forward a few years and divorce was imminent.

They’d met at the University of South Dakota when he was a 19-year-old freshman and she was a junior. “We were together for about 10 years and married for the last three,” he recalls. “The band was just gone all the time and dictated our ability to really do much of anything. I don’t fault her for leaving. I was just so blindly in love while not being able to understand how hard it was for her to prop us both up for so long.”

This past December, The Kickback traveled to Los Angeles to record Weddings and Funerals with multi-Grammy-winning producer/songwriter Dennis Herring (Elvis Costello, Animal Collective, The Walkmen, Ben Folds) at DTLA Recording, an expansive open space in the historic Arts District that Yost believes used to be an illegal marijuana grow house. 

“It’s a very non-traditional studio,” says Yost. “It’s giant, it’s open-air. There are these big garage doors that are up most of the time unless you’re recording really loud stuff. The ceilings are probably 30-feet. It’s just this big room. Everybody’s just in the same room at all times. If you’re not the one recording stuff, you’re still in the middle of everything, which was a really cool way to make a record. You always knew what was going on.”

So the band arrived at the studio with a handful of partially written songs and got to work. “Our first record, we went in with every part completely written and ready to put on tape. But for this record, we showed up in LA with the verses and choruses and bridges but no idea of how everything was gonna come together,” he says. “That was scary, but it was also weirdly kind of freeing.”

Herring had a hand in helping the songs take shape. “It was good to work with someone who’s as bull-headed as we are,” says Yost. “We were hoping we could work with someone who would fight for songs, and Dennis was definitely that guy. He said, ‘When you’re recording, your feelings don’t really matter.’ He just wanted the songs to be good.”

“Dennis had a song-by-song approach, which I liked,” says Yost. “It takes longer, but Dennis works a little chaotically. At any given moment you weren’t sure if you were gonna spend the whole day reading a magazine, or if you needed to be ready to record drums on a song that had been reworked five times already and you weren’t really sure what the part was.”

“Especially for the other guys. I think it was 30 days of having to be on your toes at any possible moment, which I think was a little stressful for everybody, but it’s the way Dennis works.”

Despite his powerful singing voice and energetic promo videos, Yost is soft-spoken over the phone today. But he’s also super hilarious. Never once laughing at his own jokes, he delivers anecdotes and one-liners with a deadpan even tone.

“Dennis is kind of like that guy where they did that experiment where they would give a kid one donut now, or if they could wait, they’d give them two donuts an hour from now. That’s kind of how the workflow wound up working.”

The first track of the album, Will T, was also the first single they released. Will T starts off with a “La-ha-ha-ha” hook Yost describes as “the obnoxious one.” The track sounds like it just as well could have come from now-defunct Philly rock band Free Energy, if Free Energy had swapped the cowbell for sleigh bells and lasted long enough to suffer the demise of a wedded union.

“It’s the kind of hook where if you don’t like that song, you’re gonna fucking hate that song, and I get that,” he says. ”It’s one of those hooks that you wake up with in your head and wind up beating yourself over the head with a frying pan trying to get out.”

He started playing with the verses of Will T in college when he was 18, writing about “being scared of always eventually being disappointed in a relationship.” He put the song away for several years until it crept back in during his divorce. “We stuck that scary laughing chorus with it because the whole song just seemed like a joke. When I pulled it back out to look at it, the whole thing just seemed weirdly true, weirdly naive, or probably a little bit of both. So that laugh part just kind of made itself, and it’s really annoying. I think it just might be so jarring, it just forces you to listen to it whether you want to or not.”

The song False Jeopardy hits with a pretty big Pixies vibe, especially for the first half, but Yost says that wasn’t an intentional influence. “I think you spend a lot of your time ripping off bands you love, and hopefully you get to a point where they just become a little part of you. So I think I maybe years ago would have been actively trying to rip off the Pixies because I love them so much, but now I think it’s just a little part of our DNA.”

“(False Jeopardy) was the first or second song that got written for the record. That song’s kind of about blindly hoping everything’s gonna be okay and trying to talk somebody out of leaving. I think it’s a point a lot of people reach in their relationship where you spend most of the time trying to convince the other person they should stay, even though it’s probably not the right decision anymore.”

You can hear a demo of False Jeopardy during the fist two minutes of a movie starring Keanu Reeves called To the Bone, streaming on Netflix right now. “We didn’t even have the album version recorded yet,” says Yost. “But they liked the demo so much they wound up using it in the movie.”

Along with False Jeopardy, Rube was one of the first couple tunes written for the album. “I wasn’t sure how the record was gonna work yet. I started working on it right when I found out my marriage was ending, so I wasn’t sure whether I was gonna try and write about that yet, or just write about anything else but that,” says Yost. “So (Rube) wound up being a hybrid, sort of, about Lee Harvey Oswald, who I was reading about at the time, and this lady falling in love with him. But it still ended up being also about the end of my marriage. But people dancing to a song about Lee Harvey Oswald seemed like a funny proposition to me.”

Pale King  was one of the last songs written for the album. Yost wrote it after watching the four-hour documentary Tom Petty: Runnin’ Down a Dream. “As we were getting close to finishing vocals, Dennis kind of put on his California night scarf and was just like, ‘I want you to get the last two choruses done and we won’t do many vocals tomorrow because you shouldn’t be able to talk very well.’” The song title was borrowed from the unfinished David Foster Wallace novel, which he was writing when he committed suicide. “It’s mostly just about hating what you are,” admits Yost. “I think that’s probably what a lot of these are about.”

Yost says the track Reptile Fund is an example of Dennis Herring’s work method. “We were working really hard on something else one night. Dennis had been gone for a day or two, so we’d been left to our own devices. And Dennis rolled in about 7:00 one night, and we thought he was gonna just pop in and say hey. But he said, ‘let’s stop everything we’re doing and record this really ornate part.’ You can’t really hear it on the choruses of that song, but there’s this countermelody going on with a glockenspiel and a piano and a sped-up guitar line and like two other instruments. That’s just what he felt like doing at that moment. I love it. It’s one of my favorite parts of that song.”

So what was it like to write an entire album about the dissolution of your marriage? Turns out it’s not always the salve we’ve been led to believe.

“When I was writing the songs, I didn’t ever feel better,” admits Yost. “I felt like I just kept churning out all of this horror that seemed to just keep going on and on. I didn’t feel better. It wasn’t cathartic, just tiring. It wasn’t until the record was close to done that I just became grateful those feelings had somewhere else to go.”

The Kickback are currently on tour and possibly coming to your city soon. They’ve been on the road for much of the past few months and will continue for a several weeks more. They recently ended about seven weeks opening shows for ‘90s alt-rock heavyweights Bush (as in Glycerine, Machinehead, Everything Zen) and have recently begun their own tour of headlining dates. 

July
18 — Raleigh, NC — The Pour House Music Hall
19 — Charlotte, NC — The Evening Muse
20 — Charleston, SC — The Royal American
21 — Atlanta, GA — Vinyl (Center Stage – The Loft – Vinyl)
22 — New Orleans, LA — Gasa Gasa
23 — Houston, TX — Warehouse Live Greenroom
25 — Austin, TX — Stubb’s Austin
26 — Dallas, TX — Gas Monkey Dallas
28 — Kansas City, MO — recordBar
August
4 — Appleton, WI — Mile of Music Festival
5 — Appleton, WI — Mile of Music Festival
9 — Indianapolis, IN — HI-FI Indy
10 — Cleveland, OH — Grog Shop
11 — Columbus, OH — Rumba Cafe
12 — Chicago, IL — Thalia Hall “TKB Thalia Brawl”
16 — Horicon, WI — Horicon Phoenix Program Summer Concert Series
17 — Minneapolis, MN — 7th St. Entry (First Avenue & 7th St Entry)
18 — Sioux Falls, SD — White Wall Session
19 — Fargo, ND — The Aquarium
22 — Seattle, WA — High Dive
23 — Portland, OR — Doug Fir Lounge
24 — San Francisco, CA — Brick & Mortar Music Hall
26 — San Diego, CA — Soda Bar
29 — Los Angeles, CA — Resident
30 — Las Vegas, NV — Beauty Bar Las Vegas
31 — Salt Lake City, UT — Kilby Court
September
1 — Denver, CO — Lion’s Lair
2 — Sioux Falls, SD — Icon Event Hall + Lounge

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Dodgy Drops New Single: You Give Drugs A Bad Name

By the time I received my education in the ways of Dodgy — thanks to a like-minded (and incredibly handsome) graphic artist I created healthcare materials with in 2005 — the band had already called it quits. After being sufficiently chastised for never having heard of them, I  promptly was sent home with a copy of Ace A’s + Killer B’s.

Hooked from track one, I relished its pop goodness all the way home. That night I purchased 32 tracks of live BBC sessions from So Far On Three Wheels, including performances from Leeds, Glastonbury and more.

Every single track has lived on my iPod ever since, and whenever a song pops up on shuffle, it always makes my day.

So when Dodgy reunited a couple years ago, I was thrilled — anticipating how the new stuff would sound.

A rather boring Live album in 2013 left me wondering whether the band would be able to recapture my heart like they had done so easily before.

Then this morning I got a notification that Dodgy just dropped a new single: You Give Drugs A Bad Name. It’s track one from the What Are We Fighting For album due September 2. Nervously, I opened Spotify to give it a listen. What I heard has me very excited to hear the rest of the album.

If you’re a fan of ’90s Britpop, Dodgy or otherwise, and like a psychedelic edge or Wizard Of Oz-inspired lyrics, check it out here.

 

 

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Dark Rides and Grim Visions

I’m the worst person to be attempting a review for New Planet Trampoline’s new release Dark Rides and Grim Visions. 1) It’s taken me weeks to write this. Poor Mara at Blown Speakers has asked me for it at least half a dozen times. Each time I get ready to send it, I read what I wrote, and immediately start over. Now Blown Speakers won’t get the scoop on this album. Hell, even Scene beat us to it. 2) I’ve been drinking the kool-aid on these guys for a long time. My fandom began indirectly sometime in 2003 or 2004. Any preconceptions of impartiality should be immediately forgotten. I’m sure this review will eventually contain a few witty phrases and unique adjective combinations, but first it’s story time kids…

Cleveland’s music scene full on tongued my ears in my mid-20s. An old friend of mine started playing with a band called the Dreadful Yawns. I fell in love with them, to say the least. Booking tours and signing record contracts eventually led to playing and touring with them. All along the way New Planet was right there. 4 of the 5 members of New Planet were the original Yawns line up. My appreciation of the Yawns always came with the headaches of logistics, van breakdowns, and touring. NPT, however, was like a favorite nephew. I could enjoy spending time with them as much as I wanted, without having to fight about artwork or budgets.

New Planet Trampoline released The Curse of The New Planet Trampoline back in 2004. At the time, I couldn’t believe that anyone I knew could have written and recorded such an adventure by themselves in a moldy basement in Lakewood. It was an incredible blend of Farfisa, harmonies, searing guitars, and tripped out bass lines. Totally different than the quiet twinkle of Yawns. New Planet’s The Blimps and Aeroplanes EP came out a year later and I was so certain that these guys were about to graduate to cocaine, hookers, and A&R guys. I had grand visions of New Planet getting signed, getting a booking agent, and dragging the Yawns on the road with them. You know, tour the world. Seriously. Completely engrossing, vivid daydreams…

It wasn’t to be…

Shortly before NPT broke up, they played live on a radio show I hosted. For nearly a decade those would be the only recordings I had of the “new” material they were working on at the time. NPT came back from a short tour and announced they were playing their final show. I was devastated.  It seemed certain that recordings of songs like The Nearly Finished Face, Haunted as Fuck, Birds and others would only exist on a drug addled, half-assed produced, college radio show.

Thankfully, that wasn’t to be…

That’s why Grim Visions is such a mind fuck for me. Almost half of the album consists of these incredible songs from a band I thought was in their prime 10 years ago on a college radio show. The other half of the album proves that I was wrong. They are only starting to hit their prime. Matt Cassidy’s guitar is just as ear shatteringly loud on record as it is live. Ben Gmetro’s Farfisa is punchy, melodic, whimsical, and haunting. Charlie Druesedow’s drumming is so spot on I don’t even remember what drummer joke I was gonna make, and that is some divine shit. Dave Molnar’s bass playing is as good a reason as any to put down your bass and become an accountant, because you’ll never be able to write bass lines like that.

I hesitate to say that NPT picks up right where they left off. Sure, a lot of these tunes made up their live set when the called it quits, but they sound better after marinading for a decade. The songs sound more confident, the performances more otherworldly, every aspect is amplified. The album is haunting, creepy even, if not for the sudden bursts of pop goodness that makes it feel like classic psychedelia, without the Freedom Rock tropes. Dark Rides and Grim Visions is a psychedelic swirling wave of crafted pop, thick harmonies, killer bass lines, and floating Farfisa. It’s disorienting and reassuring. It’s 420, brah.

Simply put, the album is a gleeful ride on a carnival train. The only thing more mind blowing is how NPT pulls it off live. There are few bands better live than NPT… maybe, just maybe, Brian Jonestown Massacre circa 1996… regardless, it’s a very short list.

Check them out at the Happy Dog West on 3/12. They are playing with nice person/face melting super group Hiram-Maxim and Detroit’s Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapour.

It’s $5 at the door, but bring a few extra bucks. You’ll need it for NPT’s Dark Rides and Grim Visions.

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It’s Your Fault Everything’s Alright by Joshua Jesty

It’s hard to argue against the fact that Joshua Jesty has built a reputation as one of the best songwriters to grace the Cleveland music scene in the past decade. Between the proto-supergroup This Is Exploding, the snarky These Violet Young Lovers, and his extensive solo material, he’s a proven artist that produces songs faster than his trademark cartoon rabbits. It’s Your Fault Everything’s Alright is the fourth and final release in his Like Rabbits EP series and marks a defining resolution to his two-year long musical autobiography.

It's Your Fault Everything's Alright by Joshua Jesty

Collectively, this quadrilogy is Jesty’s strongest musical effort since his 2009 release Girl, with each album providing a snapshot into the twists and turns of Jesty’s progress in life and love. His pop song craftsmanship is graced with humor and wit, and allows him to create sentimental stories that can combine the tragedy and elation of everyday relationship moments into fantastic power-pop gems. His heartbroken lyrics swell with nice-guy frustration and can feel distraught at some points, but Jesty’s gentle style always seems to emphasize the underlying optimism of a true romantic. His combination of pop songcraft and incredible musical talent remind me of Matthew Sweet, especially since he played nearly every instrument on each song and recorded the entire effort from his personal studio.

The album’s introduction, I’m On High, captures the classic spirit of Joshua’s musical approach, with an anthemic gritty rhythm and soft vocal melody that hooks like it was from Guided By Voices’ Bee Thousand. The twangy off-note bends and driving guitars of Bad For Me keep the energy of the “first side” alive and provide a nice contrast to the touching delivery of one of album’s strongest songs, You’re The Worst. The last half of the album continues on a high note, from the upbeat modern sound of Time Gives Me The Screw to the quirky, new wave riffs (and awesome bass lines) of When It’s Gone. The acoustic guitar and delicate brass and string orchestration of Here closes the curtain with an emotional and impactful finale. Overall, It’s Your Fault Everything’s Alright is the perfect playlist fodder for both the secretly admired and the prospective breakup.

You can catch Joshua perform the entire album (and get a free copy at the door) on Friday June 26th at Mahall’s 20 Lanes, with Jason Patrick Meyers and The Quickening. The album is also available for purchase (along with the rest of the Like Rabbits series) on his Bandcamp page.

Photo by Marc Santos Photography.

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Slow Wave by It Hugs Back

When you love a band, you’re blissfully happy when every new album is as good if not better than the last. In that regard, Slow Wave by London quartet It Hugs Back signals a band that keeps getting better while holding onto what makes them great.

It Hugs Back
It Hugs Back

Slow Wave boasts alluring half-spoken baritone lead vocals and hypnotic guitars courtesy of songwriter Matthew Simms, also known for his work in Wire since 2010. Graceful keyboards and lush vocal harmonies, echos and responses are provided by Jack Theedom. Paul Michael delivers gentle basslines and drummer Will Blackaby rounds out the relaxed rhythm section. All combine to create layered, dreamy songs you can fall in love with. Or to.

It Hugs Back
It Hugs Back

It Hugs Back albums are recorded in Simms’ studio The Record Room, and sound just as good as any studio recording. In their early days, having formed in 2006, It Hugs Back was on Too Pure and 4AD record labels, but their last few albums have been released on their Safe & Sound imprint.

Slow Wave was first recorded live by the full band, then Matthew and Jack added 12-string guitars, mellotron strings, analog synthesizers and vocal overdubs. The songs were then sent through an old copi-cat tape delay.

It Hugs Back
It Hugs Back

Whereas past IHB albums like 2013’s Recommended Record featured up-tempo songs you can get a speeding ticket to — with plenty of noise-pop and psychedelic moments and heavy effects — Slow Wave is the prettiest release, more along the lines of Remember off their Inside Your Guitar release. It still sounds like the same band, just more hushed and halcyon.

Slow Wave comes out June 15. Pre-order today on iTunes and get an immediate download of Everything’s OK:

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