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Album review: The Electric Lungs - Simplified and Civilized

Every person that picks up a guitar for the first time does it with at least some amount of notion that it will make them a rock star. After all, any musician who tells you that they never wanted to be Brian May circa 1976 is a goddamn liar. But there comes a time in almost every musician’s life where he or she realizes that dream is just not in the cards. Not for lack of trying or talent, but sometimes that lightning just doesn’t strike. So, what to do? Some go hang up the amplifiers, squirt out four kids, and buy a split level and a Kia. Some go the dreaded, dreaded, dreaded, dreaded cover band route. But the lucky ones are able to realize that there’s so much more to the making and celebration of original music than being uber popular for it. The Electric Lungs are in this wonderful place. They play THEIR music, THEIR expression, stripped of any notion of what it’s “supposed” to sound like. With Simplified and Civilized, they play the role of trendsetters, not trend followers.

The band provides us with ten tracks of energetic, punk-tinged, keyboard rock. Tripp Kirby fronts the bursting arrangements with the overzealous spasticity of a carnival barker. His voice is perfect for these songs, his moments of tenderness and sincerity in songs like “Every Ending” and “Eternal Smile” equally as effective as his red throated scream-singing in “Illium Works” and “(It’s not the) Bones That You Break.” The rhythm section of Marc Bollinger and Eric Jones does more than just lay the foundation. Together they shape and manipulate the dynamics of these songs, building and breaking them down to great effectiveness. The wildcard is the final gloss applied by Jason Ulanet’s keyboard work. Whether synth, horn, or a just simple piano, he further propels these songs into another category. In the end, you end up with something punky, something rockabilly, something proggy, sort of like Yes and Black Flag sharing a Bloody Mary at Brian Setzer’s wine mixer.
“Catching Up” is their take on the good old murder ballad. With equal parts psychopath and bubble gum, The Electric Lungs would like to remind us that under every serial killer there is a sweet little boy. Or something like that.
“Every Ending” is such a beautifully orchestrated song, cleverly organized and woven together perfectly. It is a funky little breath of fresh air in the middle of a wolf pack of punk songs.
“The Shit that I Eat” bursts at the seams, kind of like Sum-41 slave-driving an old-timey jazz band. The sullied horns and old-timey piano provide a wonderful counterpoint to the otherwise straight-forward and shit-kicking punk song beneath.
The album closes with one of the best efforts “Away to Stay (Hey)”. With all cylinders firing at the brink of explosion, this two-and-half-minute song is the perfect amount full of pounding drums, driving bass lines, fierce guitars, howling synths, and group-shouted “heys.”
This is a super strong record from the first strain to the last. The band has managed to take a group of very familiar rock music elements and spin them into something most decidedly new, something most decidedly themselves, something most decidedly The Electric Lungs.
The Electric Lungs will be playing tonight at Coda, after Dolls on Fire and The Hillary Watts Riot. Show starts at 9:30 p.m. All ages, $5. Facebook event page. If you can't make it tonight, they'll be at The Riot Room on Friday, June 7.
--Zach Hodson

Zach Hodson is a monster. He once stole a grilled cheese sandwich from a 4-year-old girl at her birthday party. He will only juggle if you pay him. I hear he punched Slimer right in his fat, green face. He knows the secrets to free energy, but refuses to release them until "Saved by the Bell: Fortysomethings" begins production.

He is also in Dolls on Fire and Drew Black & Dirty Electric, as well as contributing to various other Kansas City-based music, comedy, and art projects.

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Album review: Not A Planet - The Few, The Proud, The Strange

(Photo by Todd Zimmer)

To say that Not A Planet puts on a show is an understatement. Led by Nathan Corsi and his extremely detailed, story-driven lyrics and oh-so-sexy guitar presence, Not A Planet brings something most bands in this region are unable to do without overdoing it. Corsi, backed by the fast fingered “Wild” Bill Sturges on bass and the one and only (dare I say handsome) Liam Sumnicht on the drums (see our interview with Sumnicht), this trio brings one hundred and ten percent of their energy to every show they play. Extravagant and catchy in all the best ways, Not A Planet’s newly-released twelve-song LP The Few, The Proud, The Strange shouldn’t have a problem winning over fans of rock and roll in a heartbeat.

Opening track “Greatest Show On Earth” kicks the record off with a whimsical bang. Lyrical metaphors of a grandiose circus reflect in the dynamic music that carries Corsi's voice. The line, “Climbing in the cannon, a smile on his face, he waves at all the sadists in the crowd” might explain why the album cover has a stunt man helmet on the front. The track serves as a proclamation of what to expect throughout the rest of this record: elaborate tales and massive instrumentation.
“Girl Comes Down” is a beautiful singer/songwriter ballad that I imagine would warm the hearts of lovers around the world. With its simplistic nature (vocals and clean folk guitar) a love story unfolds that just makes you want to hold your loved one close. If Wesley from The Princess Bride played guitar, he would definitely learn this song and play it for Buttercup.
The next track, “Kingdom Come,” shows off a punchier side of Not A Planet. Sturges’ groovy bass lines really shine on this track. His ability to hold down the low end is impeccable and it becomes even more apparent throughout the rest of the record. Sumnicht keeps the song fast and fun. If you’re a fan of air drumming, this song will keep you extremely busy. The band recently filmed a music video for “Kingdom Come” at the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum (see below).
“Bang Goes The Gun” is one of my favorite songs to watch Not A Planet play live. Here, they do an excellent job recreating the explosiveness that makes this song great. The dainty rim shots, deep bass, and smooth vocals that start the song out are abruptly interrupted by a chorus hits harder than Floyd Mayweather. “Bang Goes The Gun” packs a punch that makes The Few, The Proud, The Strange a force to recon with.
Without skipping a beat, “Black Dress” follows, and would give The Black Keys a run for their money. Oozing with swankyness and bluesy riffage, “Black Dress” will make you move. No if, ands, or buts. Well…maybe butts.
“Invisible Man” is an eerie track that is filled with haunting, reverb-soaked vocals, interesting time signature changes, and soaring guitar solos. After giving it a few listens, there is no denying that Not A Planet can write a catchy chorus no matter what the vibe of the song is.
A little slower-paced than the previous two tracks, “Low” would make Stevie Ray Vaughn proud. After bashing himself for all of his faults, Corsi sings the lyrics, “You don’t know how low I would go.” With its waltz-like rhythm, it develops into an evil carnival of self-observation. Conflicted and full of turmoil, “Low” shows listeners that Not A Planet has a darker side.
“There’s No Coming Back” begins with massive bass and drums, and a very sweet reversed snare drum track that adds a cool texture to this soothing song. This track sounds like the band recorded ghostly sounds from the spirits that hang out in Black Lodge, where the album was recorded. This is a consistent, easy listening track.
With the ninth track, “My Train Is Coming,” the NAP boys bring it back to their roots: straightforward train car ROCK AND ROLL. This high-energy song is classic rock to the core and makes me wish I had a six-pack and a few friends to drink with right now.
The interestingly tenth track, “Free To Be Chained,” is a bouncy song with dance-worthy drums and dreamy harmonies provided by Sumnicht and Sturges. If anyone out there is working on a Phantom of the Rock opera, this track would fit in well. I’m a huge fan of creepy, grittily recorded voices in songs and though I can’t distinguish whose voice it is at the end of the song, it definitely adds some mystery (and evidence to my case that Not A Planet recorded ghosts talking).
Ironically titled “The End,” track number eleven isn’t the last song on The Few, The Proud, The Strange. Similar to track two with its simplistic instrumentation, it has a little more production behind it and it lyrically demands to be heard. The final line, “Because in the end, love is the only truth,” brings an uplifting vibe to tail end of this record.
The album’s final track “I’ve Got A Secret” seems more like a fun “We are so happy to have finished an awesome record” studio jam. With a groovin’ piano, elephant noises, chattering groups of people, and long fade out, this is a song die hard Not A Planet fans will get a kick out of.
The Few, The Proud, The Strange was released on May 10. Not A Planet’s next show is next Tuesday, May 21, at The Bottleneck. The trio also has several tour dates in June. Information available at the band’s website, www.notaplanet.com
--Eric Augustus Fain

Eric Fain plays bass and is the most hairy/handsome member of Clairaudients. In December of 2011, he filled in on bass for Not A Planet for five shows. His compensation: a pair of Liam's Vans (I can't find one of them...), $60 (I'd have done it for free!), and the memory of Nathan trying to throw up out of a moving van (he failed and threw up all over my face instead. True story, bro).

Lawrence Field Day Fest: An interview with founder Cameron Hawk

Lawrence Field Day Fest was born out of Cameron Hawk’s frustration with the attention that local and regional acts weren’t getting—to highlight their talents, to be different from other festivals that bring in national acts and sprinkle in local acts here and there.
“I honestly didn’t think people in Lawrence would care that much. It’s not like we were doing anything new.” Hawk told me. “I just wanted to show people the great talent we had in Lawrence. Plus, it was a way to fill a couple days in The Bottleneck’s calendar.” It went so well in its inaugural year that July 11, 12, and 13 this year will see the return of the fest. “I guess what people were waiting for was for someone to step up and just do it.”
Kansas City’s recent Middle of the Map Fest was incredible, with bands like Joy Formidable, Grizzly Bear and locals including Soft Reeds, Cowboy Indian Bear, Thee Water Moccasins, Hawk’s own band The Dead Girls, and others, but it just wasn’t the festival he had in mind.
“Middle of the Map, where they matched up local and regional acts was a cool idea, but I wanted to do something for the Lawrence bands and some area acts to make them feel special, to give them something that was just theirs for once,” said Hawk.
Were there ever moments of doubt? When did the calls of people wanting the fest made Hawk nervous? Did he doubt the creature he began constructing? “Oh yeah, man. I had never tried to do something like this so there were a lot of moments when I wondered if I could actually pull it off. It was kind of a Wayne’s World 2 scenario. Let’s do it. Oh shit, now we have to do it.”
Hawk, guitarist for The Dead Girls, Many Moods of Dad, and the punk thunderbolt that is Stiff Middle Fingers, and drummer for Hidden Pictures, says this year LFDF is completely local or regional acts. This is different from last year, where alt-country greats Drag the River and punk rock legend Stephen Egerton—guitarist for The Descendents—took the stage at the Jackpot.
“Having Drag the River and Stephen (Egerton) last year just kind of happened. It was awesome, but this year, I wanted to keep it to just the great bands of the area. People haven’t been going out as much, whether its money, kids, work, or just getting older. I want people to see what’s been going on, what they’re missing.” 
This year’s lineup will lean even heavier on the crop of local talent to build a roster that should pack The Bottleneck for three straight days. The ominous quake of Bloodbirds, Many Moods of Dad, Going To Hell in a Leather Jacket, the hardcore-influenced Black on Black, Radkey, Scruffy and the Janitors, sleaze warriors Pale Hearts, JOCKS, BaioWolf, Man Bear, Millions of Boys, and several others, will descend upon The Bottleneck, showing everyone that the Midwest is more than capable of cranking out great rock ‘n roll. 
“I hope people see the whole point of this,” Hawk said. “It’s not about bringing in national acts and getting the local acts to support them. This is about the local bands playing and showing support for each other. Let’s quit worrying so much about which bill will draw the best, having the same bands playing together all the time, all the competition. There are people that work really hard and never get thrown a bone for whatever reason; maybe it’s a situation where if more people saw them they’d get a better chance. That’s all I want to do with this. Let’s just play and have some balls.”
Lawrence Field Day Fest runs from Thursday, July 11 to Saturday, July 13 at The Bottleneck. A full lineup and ticket info will be available soon at The Bottleneck’s website. Facebook event page.
--Danny R. Phillips

Danny R. Phillips has been reporting on music of all types and covering the St. Joseph, MO music scene for well over a decade. He is a regular contributor to the national circulated BLURT Magazine and his work has appeared in The Pitch, The Omaha Reader, Missouri Life, The Regular Joe, Skyscraper Magazine, Popshifter, Hybrid Magazine, the websites Vocals on Top and Tuning Fork TV, Perfect Sound Forever, The Fader and many others. 

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Album review: Tiny Horse - Darkly Sparkly (EP)

(Photo by Todd Zimmer) 

One horse. Very small. Packs a wallop.
Chris Meck and Abigail Henderson have given way more than their lion’s share to the Kansas City music scene. Whether through past efforts like The Gaslights or Atlantic Fadeout or being some of the driving forces behind the Midwest Music Foundation, Apocalypse Meow, and MidCoast Takeover, they should receive the deep admiration of anyone that sets foot on a stage in this town. Their latest musical endeavor, Tiny Horse, is no exception. Darkly Sparkly is a gorgeous collection of songs.
In the simplest of descriptions, the duo plays dark Americana. Ticklers of atmospheric instrumentation, provided by Meck, gambol upon the background, occasionally throwing the ball over the fence to take the melody reins or mingle with Henderson’s haunting vocals, but are quick to slink back to further delighting the sonic landscape.
But as everyone’s mother will tell you, life is not simple. Tiny Horse is the unfortunate poster band for this sentiment. You probably know the back story, but in case not, here is a link to an article from late 2012 by Timothy Finn over at The Kansas City Star that paints the picture.
Especially in that light, there are next to no words I can come up with to adequately describe the impact provided by the vocal performance. Henderson is able to speak from a place that few of us have ever been and she seemingly welcomes the opportunity to embrace these experiences and provide the listener with a small bathroom window into what it all has come to mean for her. Her voice is so beautifully imperfect—an ideal combination of coying, sweet and sassy as worked upon by the old rusty wood rasp from your grandfather’s tool shed.
Her lyrics say it best:
(Reviewer’s note: these are the best transcriptions these old damaged musician ears can figure out)
From “Ride”:
“There’s no one left to ask, pictures of the past just sit in boxes underneath the bed
Money’s just a noose, the old excuse that fooled you into what you did instead.
Ride with me tonight. Let’s remember what it means to chase a little something.”
From “Ghost”:
“Why do you need me? Why do you want me? Cause I’m not done here. Leave me alone.
Take your old songs. Take your old singers. Leave me to write. The only world I’ve known.”
From “Nashville Parthenon”: (Editor's Note: "Nashville Parthenon" is a cover by Casiotone for the Painfully Alone)
“It’s been so dark since you left Nashville. I’ve read the same books again and again.
Makes me wish I wasn’t bashful when it comes to other men.
But if I could have my way, darling, you’d come home.”
“Softly We Fall” is a tender ballad reminiscent of the final song of a junior high school barn dance somewhere in dusty West Texas circa 1958. Meck doesn’t offer his voice up too often on these tracks, but they are used to great effectiveness here. His mimicking vocals follow along on the chorus, “Softly we fall into each other’s arms. It was your fault when we kissed,” further adding to the nostalgic remembrances of adolescent courting. His guitar work also particularly stands out on this track, beautifully crafted and culminating with a simple yet scathing solo to carry the song home.
All in all, the music presented by Tiny Horse is just simply triumphant, the work of carefully seasoned (and hardened) musicians, also including multi-instrumentalist Cody Wyoming, bassist Zach Phillips, and drummer Matt Richey. It is sorrow meant to be remembered, celebrated, and enjoyed. The EP’s title, Darkly Sparkly, seems most appropriate. The KC music scene would be a much darker and less sparkly place without the efforts of Meck and Henderson.
The next time you can catch Tiny Horse will be at The Brick on Wednesday, June 5. The group will be supporting out-of-towners Michael Dean Damron and Matt Woods.
--Zach Hodson

Zach Hodson is a monster. He once stole a grilled cheese sandwich from a 4-year-old girl at her birthday party. He will only juggle if you pay him. I hear he punched Slimer right in his fat, green face. He knows the secrets to free energy, but refuses to release them until "Saved by the Bell: Fortysomethings" begins production.

He is also in Dolls on Fire and Drew Black & Dirty Electric, as well as contributing to various other Kansas City-based music, comedy, and art projects.

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Album review: Drek - Drek Happens

If you haven’t yet had the chance to listen or watch Kansas City’s own Drek, its release of Drek Happens may be the perfect time. With in-your-face instrumentals and mean vocals, this is a band that not only makes your head bob while listening, but makes your whole body move when you see them live. Drek’s latest album dropped March 30and is heavy, dirty, and will make you rethink the whole rap-rock genre.
The first four tracks on the album showcase the band’s heavy side of as it delivers killer guitar riffs and hard-hitting bass. “Deep Breath” lets you more into the lyrical side of Drek and reminds of the power music has on influencing mood. Drek doesn’t allow you stay in the mellow mood too long, both live and recorded. From the ballad-y feel of the previous track, “So I’ve Been Told” moves to heavy drum and guitar sounds. This track sets the mood for the rest of the album, but when you finally hit “Yup, Yup, Yup Uh Huh,” you won’t be able to keep yourself from grooving. This track goes back to early 2000s rap-rock music with a real funk-based groove to it, which is probably why it was the album’s debut single.
“Dirtier” delivers more of a hard southern rock feel, with a “Yee Haw” included and a funky guitar part during the verses that will get you into it. Drek wraps up the album with “The Price,” a testament to all of those who threaten you but never to the face, and I think we’ve all had those. Drek offers a nice surprise for the fans by offering a bonus track. This cover of Cypress Hill’s “Hits from the Bong” is pretty legit and gives just enough balance to the original against Drek’s hard-hitting instrumentals. Overall, you can really feel the energy of the band coming through the speakers. If you get the chance to see it live, you will see just why Drek has one of the biggest and most loyal fan bases in Kansas City.

This Saturday, May 11, Drek will appear at The Roxy in Overland Park with Mad Libby, Unwritten Rulz and Cronus for a fundraiser for a girl named Izzy, who is battling leukemia. Facebook event page.

--Cassiopia "KC Cassi" DeMars 

KC Cassi believes that with true local music support, you can do great things. I grew up somewhere that way and have been in Kansas City since 2005. Music can change the world and support can help spread the jams.

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