Posts Tagged ‘Boston’

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Surfer Rosa is one of those perfect debut albums, that lets you know what you’re in for right out of the gate. The blueprint for the album, and for so much of the guitar-based music that followed over the next decade or so, is set within the first minute of the lead track, “Bone Machine.” David Lovering’s spare yet ferocious drums, the sound of them so vast that you wonder if he’s actually playing an oil rig. Kim Deal’s muscular, melodic bassline, underpinning but never overstepping. Joey Santiago drawing blood out of a few crystal-sharp notes of guitar. Black Francis (aka Frank Black) yelping for sixteen bars of agitated verse over a relative lull of music before Santiago yanks the song back into a chorus of blistered lips and “uh-oh!”—the first instance of the loud/soft motif that the band further refine and recalibrate through another dozen frenetic and thrilling songs, most of which combust around the two-minute mark.

The Pixies made Surfer Rosa not long after their formation in Boston, Massachusetts, and just a few weeks after the release of their debut mini album, Come On Pilgrim. Both releases were themselves culled from a March ’87 demo, The Purple Tape, which included embryonic versions of several Surfer Rosa songs: “Break My Body,” “I’m Amazed” and the album’s most straightforwardly hardcore moment, “Broken Face.” At the urging of their British label, 4AD Records, Surfer Rosa saw the Pixies replace Purple Tape producer Gary Smith with a relatively unknown recording engineer, Steve Albini, who was best known at the time for his work with his own band, Big Black. After a get-to-know-you dinner at Lovering’s place, the band and Albini set to work on the record at the newly opened Q Division Studios in Somerville, a few miles north of Boston, which had ironically been recommended to them by the ousted Smith.

Famously opposed to both the title “producer” and the concept of receiving royalties on albums he worked on, Albini was paid a flat fee of $1,500 for his ten days of work on the album, out of a total recording budget of $10,000. He would be similarly forthright in his critiques of the band’s performances, alternately hailing them as “genius” or dismissing them entirely.

In press interviews at the time, the band would characterize Albini as a “brainiac” who loved lo-fi and instruction manuals but had little enthusiasm for “anything human-sounding”—the result of which meant that those ten days of recording were spent honing guitar and drum sounds, with vocal parts left until the very last evening. Special effects were eschewed in favor of an abrasive, unadorned—and soon to be much copied style that found its perfect foil in the Pixies’ deceptively delicate (and often delicately played) songs. Even overdubbing was generally avoided. “He hates overdubs,” Deal had told Melody Maker.

Though the two would later on form a deep friendship (as evidenced by their joint panel at this year’s SXSW festival), Deal was somewhat dismissive of Albini’s methodology in subsequent interviews. But Albini always had a fan in Black Francis. “I like him because he likes loud,” he exclaimed in the same interview. “All the needles were on red. He totally overloaded the tape.”

Assistant engineer John Lupner, meanwhile, was struck by the lengths Albini went to authentically capture the particular sound of Q Division Studios. Not everything was quite so meticulously planned, however. According to John Murphy—Deal’s husband at the time—the abrupt end to “Where Is My Mind?” came about by accident, as a result of the tape running out while the band was playing. “The tape started to go click click click,” he told Frank and Ganz, “and they went, ‘Well, we got most of it.

If there’s an overarching theme to Surfer Rosa, it’s a Lynchian scratching away at the underbelly of modern life to reveal tales of voyeurism, incest, and other deviant behavior. Francis put these preoccupations—that include a rather ahead-of-its-time portrayal, in “Bone Machine,” of a pedophile priest (or “preachy-preach” in Pixies vernacular)—down to his “real hardcore Pentecostal” upbringing. It’s not all about molestation, though. Two songs (“Broken Body” and “Tony’s Theme”) reference superheroes, while several others draw on a six-month period Francis spent as an exchange student in Puerto Rico the inspiration for both the Spanglish lyrics in “Vamos” and “Where Is My Mind?” with its dreamy evocation of snorkeling “in the Car-ibb-e-an.”

Though vocals were left until the final day of recording, they were by no means an afterthought. Indeed, the interplay between the band’s two vocalists, Francis and Deal, would become another Pixies trademark. In keeping with his vérité style, Albini abandoned studio trickery in favor of natural acoustics. Deal’s two most memorable vocal performances—her lead on the bouncing, pop-toned single, “Gigantic” and the oo-oohs that run throughout “Where Is My Mind?”—were recorded in the bathroom, its natural echo proving preferable, as far as Albini was concerned, to any available studio effect. The latter song’s false start jarring and seemingly throwaway on first listen is instructive as to the attention to detail from both band and engineer. Deal’s first ooh, which precedes Francis’s curt instruction to “Stop,” has a sharp rawness to it. When her voice returns in the song proper, it’s engulfed in an underwater haze much more befitting the lyrical reverie.

There are further spoken interjections elsewhere: some within the songs, such as the aforementioned opening to “Bone Machine” and Deal’s similar announcement that “Tony’s Theme” is about “a superhero named Tony,” and some in between. “I’m Amazed” begins with Deal mid-sentence, gossiping about a teacher who’s “into field-hockey players.” “Oh My Golly!” ends with Francis yelling “You fuckin’ die!” at her. He goes on to clarify that he’d done so in jest, in response to her warning that no one mess with her equipment.

Surfer Rosa was released in March 1988 in the UK and remained available only as an import in the United States until late summer, when 4AD signed a North American distribution deal with Rough Trade. Initial U.S. pressings paired the album with Come On Pilgrim. The two works were then reissued separately in 1992, after Elektra Records took on the 4AD catalogue.

Having received largely positive press notices, Surfer Rosa sold solidly in the interim, if unspectacularly—perhaps in part because, like so many landmark albums, it found itself a little far ahead of the curve. Winning the hearts and minds of college radio and Melody Maker (which named the album the best of 1988) would not yet yield widespread success. The album did not go gold in the U.S. until 2005, by which time the Pixies had disbanded, lain dormant for a decade, and then reunited for the first of several deservedly lucrative world tours.

By then, of course, Surfer Rosa had been well and truly canonized as one of the most influential albums of its time, with Nirvana and myriad others taking the Rosa model and running with it, many of them queuing up both to sing its praises and to summon Steve Albini to work his magic to record his own band’s album In Utero . Kurt Cobain listed it as his second favorite album of all time (after Iggy and the Stooges’ Raw Power)

Among the earliest advocates for the band, meanwhile, was one of rock’s greatest statesmen, David Bowie, who would later lament, “I thought it was a hell of a shame that America didn’t recognize its own with the Pixies.” His 2002 album Heathen includes a well-judged cover of Rosa’s “Cactus,” a short and sweet ballad about a prisoner so desperate for something—anything from his wife that he ends up begging her to smear her dress with blood and “send it to meeee.”

Another important step in the album’s elevation came a few years earlier, with David Fincher’s clever use of “Where Is My Mind?” in a pivotal scene toward the end of Fight Club. Since then, that song in particular has become so inescapable that you’ll even hear gentle piano renditions in HBO prestige dramas. Surfer Rosa regularly appears on all-time “best-of” lists online and in print.

  • Black Francis – vocals, rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar
  • Kim Deal – bass, backing vocals, vocals on “Gigantic” (credited as Mrs. John Murphy)
  • Joey Santiago – lead guitar
  • David Lovering – drums

The spontaneous regeneration of The Prefab Messiahs continues to be one of the best left field surprises of the past few years. For those in need of a history lesson, the group started their life back in the early 1980’s as a band of young, scrappy, left field, DIY, post-punk, garage-psych-pop provocateurs, and a part of the Wormtown (Worcester, MA) underground scene. It was there they spent time kicking around with private press legend Bobb Trimble, playing local gigs warming up for bands like Mission of Burma, and recording a ton of spiky, retro-delic rockers.

For those keeping score at home, only a few tracks of the band’s output managed to sneak out during their brief lifespan. Most of the stuff they recorded was eventually collected and finally released on their most excellent anthology, Devolver, which was released on Burger Records a few years back.

Flash forward to 2018 – Psychsploitation… Today! is the group’s first full-length album since returning from their Reagan-era status and is the follow up to 2015’s excellent maxi-EP, Keep Your Stupid Dreams Alive. Using the psychedelic sounds of the mid-to-late 60’s as their modus operandi, the Prefabs have put together a solid set of day-glo tunes with their latest long player.

Even though their sound most definitely hearkens back to that golden age of jangly Rickenbackers and Beatle boots, the group is not content to simply be a revival act regurgitating the sounds of yesteryear. There’s a punk energy and urgency to these proceedings.  Take for example the “The Man Who Killed Reality,” which if you squint your third eye just enough, you might think belongs on some alternate universes’ Yellow Submarine soundtrack. Despite the band’s best efforts to turn on, tune in, and drop out in “Having A Rave Up,” or jam on monster hooks in the appropriately titled “Monster Riff,” the darkness of our modern times just seems to keep creeping up on them; whether it’s a “Warm Sinking Feeling,” the universal concerns of getting older on “Gellow Mold,” or the apocalyptic album closer “Last Day On Earth.”


Perhaps it’s in troubled times like these we need bands like The Prefab Messiahs most. It almost goes without saying that it’s great to have them back.

The Boston-based band Fiddlehead have one release to their name so far — 2014’s Out Of The Bloom EP — but next month they’ll put out their debut album, Springtime And Blind, via Run For Cover Records. “Lay Low” is the first single from that album, and it’s a fiery burst of rage and confusion about growing older. The album was written as a way for frontman Patrick Flynn to process the death of his father, and “Lay Low” looks at how sometimes the immensity and brevity of life can often feel like the same thing, and how that’s absolutely overwhelming. “Watch your friends go, see your hair grow/ Black to grey in a day and see yourself old,” Flynn screams. “It’s too much for me/ I gotta lay low.” The rest of the band pummels away at breakneck speed and never lets up.

The accompanying video for the track intercuts performance footage with stop-motion animation that plays out some fleeting childhood memories, with step-stools and towering parental figures and grainy video footage designed to make you feel small. The band’s guitarist Alex Henery also directed the video, and he had this to say about it:

When you think back to your childhood you can often feel overwhelmed by memories, overwhelmed by the amount of time that has passed and how you and those around you have changed. I wanted the video to be reflection of that chaos. Using stop motion seemed to be the best medium to show the rapid pace of life. I really wanted the video to be a mixed media piece and I was heavily influenced by the Alien Workshop skate videos, Memory screen in particular. I drove to middle of nowhere in western Massachusetts to buy the handmade doll house and then spent hours with the rest of the band painstakingly moving the figures to capture the frames. I knew it was going to take a lot of time to get all the animations but definitely feel like it was worth it seeing the final video.


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Death and grief are universal, but on Boston band Vundabar’s Smell Smoke, these themes feel timelier than ever. In 2018, as each day in America offers a new and urgent political crisis, societal problems find ways to seep into our daily routines and private lives. For Brandon Hagen, the past few years have been impossibly difficult; while making music and touring with his busy and pretty successful rock band, Hagen found himself forced to care for a dying loved one. That unfortunately very real, and very relatable pain fueled Vundabar’s most recent release, a feverish collection of personal and political turmoil that highlights the many flaws of modern culture.

During their recent Paste studio session, Vundabar played three songs from the new album “Smell Smoke”, including deceptively jaunty album opener “Acetone.” In the track’s video, Hagen dances around a grave, but he’s the one eventually buried inside it. “Acetone,” about fake “bleached personas,” suggests the dark fate of someone who is detaching from reality. Other tracks like  “Big Funny” tackles the controversial topic of American healthcare. “Hospital receipts, they make a coffin seem so cheap,” Hagen sings. “It’s just wild,” Hagen said “When we go to other countries that have really solid government programs for healthcare and art and everything… how don’t we have this yet? I don’t know.”

Vundabar“Acetone” Recorded Live Version: 1/3/2018 – Paste Studios – New York, NY

Hope y’all are getting through what feels like the longest January ever. I along with House of Nod have made a new music video for “Carnations” that I’m really proud of and super happy to share with y’all. I’m usually really nervous/uncomfortable on camera but between House of Nod and the AMAZING dancers I was too busy having my mind blown to be nervous 🙂  I hope y’all like the video

Palehound is the lo-fi indie rock project of Boston-based singer/songwriter and guitarist Ellen Kempner. Kempner came to music early, writing her first songs at the age of ten. Citing influences like Elliott Smith, Angel Olsen, and Kim Deal, her songs are confessional and often caustic with a wry, offbeat edge. While studying music at New York’s Sarah Lawrence College, she released her debut EP, Bent Nail, on Exploding in Sound Records.

A quirky mix of grunge-folk and ’90s-influenced indie, the release garnered some buzz and Kempner eventually dropped out of school to focus her efforts on songwriting and recording Palehound’s first full-length. Working with producer Gabe Wax (Wye Oak, Speedy Ortiz) and a newly minted rhythm section of drummer Jesse Weiss and bassist Nick Koechel, Kempner recorded her first LP, Dry Food, which was released in the summer of 2015 by Heavenly Records. After switching over to Polyvinyl in early 2017, Palehound have followed up with A Place I’ll Always Go, a reflective album about love and loss.

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The death of a loved one is an inevitable aspect of life for everyone, but we’re never quite prepared for it. Whether it’s unforeseen or expected, it’s always a shock that can send us reeling when it happens. Ellen Kempner, the Boston-based songwriter and guitarist of Palehound, understands this firsthand. In relatively close succession last year, Kempner experienced the sudden death of one of her close friends and, later, the decline and passing of her grandmother. “I have been pretty lucky my whole life up until now to have not lost anybody significant to me,” Kempner tells NPR. “It’s always been one of my biggest fears: losing family or a friend … Honestly, the only way I could think to make sense of it was to write songs about them, for them, and about myself in the midst of it all.”

On A Place I’ll Always Go, the forthcoming follow-up album to Palehound’s superb 2015 debut, Dry Food, Kempner documents this tragic period of her life in revealing detail, channeling her grief into compassionate and relatable songs that mull over love, mortality and the lingering ache felt with their absence. She also grapples with the overwhelming, sometimes at-odds floods of emotions and guilt that arise when attempting to get back to everyday life — which can often feel insignificant in the aftermath of loss, but is crucial to healing.

The results can be heard on the new album’s galvanizing first single, “Flowing Over,” which both captures Palehound’s trademark sound — scrappy and buzzy guitar rock, bolstered by Kempner’s dexterous riffs — and, thanks to the band (which now features drummer Jesse Weiss and bassist Larz Brogan), also offers some darker, nuanced shades that evoke the album’s themes. On “Flowing Over,” Kempner is as direct and personal as ever. “And I know your words are sugar but now’s not the best time for me / I’ve got teeth with roots down to my feet,” she sings before careening into the cathartic chorus, “Flowing over ’til I’m empty!”

Kempner says she wrote “Flowing Over” as “kind of a callout to myself to get my act together. I have really bad chronic anxiety and always find myself doing things that perpetuate it, like listening to a sad song when I’m already super down. It’s a masochistic habit I have of psyching myself up so intensely that I explode and then spend the rest of the day feeling helplessly exhausted.” And while Kempner describes listening to sad songs in order to feel better, “Flowing Over” feels like the type of song people might turn to in their own tough moments.

When coupled with a fantastic music video, “Flowing Over” takes on a different meaning. Featuring the Boston League Of Women Wrestlers (or BLOWW), the video, directed by Jay Buim, depicts a group of women and non-binary wrestlers preparing for a match: They suit up into wild, colorful costumes and evocative makeup; assemble their DIY ring; and do some stretches. And then it all erupts into an all-out, action-packed melee — full of flips, chokeholds and pummeling faces into mats. While the ferocious, fun exuberance matches Palehound’s heavy power chords and gnarly hooks, the video also infuses the song with a message of inclusion and empowerment.

In a statement to NPR, Kempner reflects on the video’s origins:

The first time I saw BLOWW perform, their energy was so intoxicating that I couldn’t get them out of my mind for days. Watching other women/non-binary people exert so much of their time and energy into their passion, I immediately felt inspired to step up my game.

“Flowing Over” is taken from Palehound’s album, A Place I’ll Always Go, out June 16th, 2017.

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As part of Palehound, Jesse Weiss became in a key figure in Boston’s flourishing DIY scene, the band scooping the city’s coveted Boston Music Award back in 2015 following the release of their brilliant ‘Dry Food’ LP. Appearing here in something of a supergroup, alongside fellow Bostoners Jack and Alec Pombriant (We Can All Be Sorry) and Nicole Pompei (Bat House), Weiss adds another gem to his back-catalogue, the quartet delivering a brilliant eight-track collection under their chosen Be You Me guise , via the Super Wimpy Punch label.

Drifting between those little cluster of genre aesthetics that lend themselves so well to DIY records of this nature – from subtle guitar refrains, to noisier moments of scuzzy pop magic – the band’s self-titled effort makes for a fully endearing escape. Those aforementioned experimental moments lend the record a hard-cutting edge that’s perhaps not immediately apparent, digging themselves in over repeated listens, a vice-like grip that results in something of an unsteady listen, moments of sunniness immediately hidden behind a blanket of clouds, brightness suddenly plunged in to the dark.


Above all, however, Be You Me is a righteously enjoyable ride. The guitars gleam throughout, and the push-and-pull of the vocals, while somewhat heady and disorientating, attach themselves to you like a best friend you’ve never been abl to keep a hold on. A sumptuous, woozy record, that deserves to exist on its own two feet, regardless of the collective nature of those that came to make it, we suggest playing this one as often, and as loud, as your situation permits.

jack pombriant – vocals, guitar (2,3,5,6,7), bass (1,2,3,7), keyboards (5,7)
jesse weiss – drums, guitar (1,2,4,7,8), bass (4,6,8), keyboards (8)
alec pombriant – lead guitar (4)

Hey, just wanted to let y’all know that spook the herd has released some newish recordings that will end up being our last. even though these were recorded way back in 2015 and we haven’t really been a band for quite some time, figured it was best to just get these out there than let them sit forever. moving forward Abe Kimball is working on a solo album that is awesome and almost done. plus, Theo Hartlett, Morgan Luzzi, and i are working on a new project that we are going to record real soon. anyway, hopefully you enjoy these new/not that new songs


released December 16th, 2017

abe kimball – vocals, guitar solo (2), percussion
jesse weiss – drums, guitar, bass, percussion

Rachel Platten

Growing up in Boston, Rachel Platten recalls harmonizing with her family to finely crafted pop songs – from Sam Cooke to The Beatles – that dominated her parents’ vinyl collection. As a teenager, Rachel gravitated towards, and began to become affected by, hip-hop and female singer-songwriters. “My CD collection was Tori Amos and Patti Griffin but then A Tribe Called Quest and Nas.” The commonality between the two seemingly different genres: confessional and vulnerable songwriting. Singing in various bands in New York Rachel went solo and booked herself on a coffee shop tour before collating her demos into an album and releasing single “1000 Ships” on an indie label. Her first single through Columbia “Fight Song” followed in 2015 and Wildfire is available now.

There’s an unofficial debate between Pile fans about whether they’re better as a live band or a record band. The Boston rock act excel at each, hence why the question is fun to ponder, but A Hairshirt of Purpose felt like an unexpected response to that question. Instead of leaning into the misaligned duelling guitar riffs and inimitable drums of the band’s past catalog, Pile tried their hand at segue songs and lush viola parts, giving the album a sense of cohesion that doesn’t try to mimic their live ricocheting. It’s an intense, emotion-spanning listen of a record, all carried by frontman Rick Maguire’s cryptic lyrics that, once again, teeter near the edge of insanity — which means outbursts of mania, like those on “Fingers” and “Hairshirt”, come with an even bigger payoff.