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Album review: Carswell & Hope - A Hunger

(Photo by Taffyfoto)
OK. I've got to admit this up front. I'm not terribly fond of piano-dominated albums. Sure, I like Randy Newman, I like Jimmy Webb when he was recording for Reprise Records, yeah, I'm a sucker for Mose Allison, and I guiltily admit to loving Elton John's first five albums. But you have to understand; I'm a guitar guy. I cut my teeth and grew up with the sounds of electric guitars. I will say this: ever since Burt Bacharach left town, there haven't been many folks around here writing sophisticated pop songs like those he wrote with Hal David. The new Carswell & Hope album, A Hunger, is a lovely return to the sound and feel of those sort of compositions.
Impeccably produced and well played by Dan Hines on bass, Jason Sloat on drums, Nick Carswell on guitar and vocals, and Austin Quick on keyboards, this is not some wimpy piano/crooner stuff; the music here has muscle. The opening song, “Before,” sets the tone. It starts out sounding like a Swell Season outtake: voice and piano only, and then moves into different musical terrain as the song unwinds. No verse/chorus/verse thing here; the song moves spinning through moods, tempos, and lyrics in a way reminiscent of a pop overture.
What especially caught my ear as the album flows on is the care taken with each song to make the music just as interesting as the lyrics. Little touches like the understated solo piece three-fourths of the way through the jaunty “Drinking At Crossroads” where the music and mood go somewhere else, (much like The Beatles did with “Fool On The Hill,”) throw the listener a nice little curve. One would expect a long guitar solo at that spot, but the song begs to differ. In their bio the band doesn't cite Jimmy Webb as an influence, but I hear him in these cool little melodic inventions that are part of these songs.
Listen to how the album's centerpiece “The Owning” starts out hard and fast then just after the verses end with an “oh well oh well oh well, ” the band takes over and guitar and piano duel for several bars as Quick explodes piano notes around Carswell's guitar lines and the bass and drums lock in on a galloping groove. The song ends with an extended coda, once again changing the mood and tempo, with three stop-time parts and a vocal coda by Carswell to put the song to bed.
I'm a sucker for songs that flow organically and go places you don't expect. These songs are full of invention. The album was funded by a successful Indiegogo fundraiser campaign and released on the band's own label, Silly Goose Records. A Hunger is one of those albums you can listen to after a hard day's work, sitting out on the screened porch in the early evening with a libation of your choice chilling your hand as this music plays out. Carswell is a native of Ireland. I hope he sticks around these parts for awhile. This band needs to make more music. This is an audacious debut.

--Barry Lee

Barry is host of Signal To Noise, which airs on KKFI 90.1 FM every Sunday at 8 pm. He spends his weekdays being station manager of KKFI.

If you’re in Lawrence tonight, head out to Jackpot Music Hall to see Carswell & Hope. Vik G. Trio and Heidi Lynne Gluck will be opening. Gluck is featured on Carswell & Hope’s album, on additional vocals for “Hunger.” Facebook event page. 



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Album review: Westerners - Westerners (EP)

(Photo by Scott Stormann)

Westerners, a Lawrence-based indie-rock quartet, has been playing a seemingly overflowing swarm of shows in recent months. Having had the pleasure of catching a couple of those performances, I was pleased to stumble across their new EP on a recent Bandcamp stroll. With yet another strong production job from Joel Nanos at Element Recording, the band has managed to capture its raw live energy, tight arrangements, and dynamic range quite effectively in this four-song sampler.
The EP’s opener “Ugly Girls in Pretty Shoes” (which coincidentally is one of the best song titles I’ve seen in awhile) is a nice fiery shot out of the gate. This Nada Surf-meets-Me Like Bees slice of garage rock bounces from jazzy strains to feathers of prog rock, all brought home nicely by a strong and poppy singalong chorus.

“Tetris” sees the band move more in a psychedelic or jam direction. Easily comparable to a more meandering version of The ACBs or the older, less-dancey Soft Reeds material, this song features the best vocal work of the EP. The more tender moments are carried perfectly by Floyd-esque “ooooo”s that transform the listener to a serene place. Extra points for the tasteful and effective use of hand claps.
“Broken Bells” shows a bit of a Midwestern side of Westerners. The proggy, tight rhythm section featured previously is replaced by a content shuffle beat and walking bass lines. The chorus explodes a bit into a chuggling, folk-punk experience, proving even the “slow” songs can have some nuts.

My favorite song of the EP, “Dog Days,” closes things out with a powerful, body-moving Zeppelin-style groove. A little more riff-driven than the other tracks, the guitarist really shines here with a dynamic and careful use of effects. Typically I shy away from a band’s more jam-esque material, but this song seems to be the perfect harder rock culmination for this batch of songs.

I would imagine Westerners are coming to a bar or town near you. As stated previously, they keep a pretty busy schedule about the Midwest. Go over to their Bandcamp and throw them a few bucks for this EP (currently selling for $3 or more). Gas aint cheap and Westerners have some good sounds to spread about.



You can catch Westerners next at Art Closet Studios on Friday, April 11, with The Decatures, Hardi Har Har, Vela, and Monzie Leo and The Big Sky. This is an all-ages show, $4. Facebook event page.



--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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Artists on Trial: Middle Twin

We will be highlighting some of the artists playing The Deli KC’s showcase for Middle of the Map Fest next Thursday, April 3 on the Seen Merch Stage at The Riot Room patio. Today’s Artist on Trial is Lawrence’s own Middle Twin.
If you haven’t heard of Middle Twin yet, no doubt you will. The five-piece collective stemmed from the electronic DJ duo Brain Food, and is quickly gaining traction in the area with its dancey grooves and frontwoman Demi Renault’s striking vocals. We talked with keyboardist Joel Martin and guitarist Eric Davis to find out a little more about the group.
The Deli: Down and dirty: 1 sentence to describe your music. What is it?
Middle Twin: I think Ink called us “peculiar art rock.” We liked that. We have a lot of pop influence though, so we are peculiar art pop.
The Deli: Give us some background on the band.
Middle Twin: Joel started this project a couple years ago as a kind of a DJ-electronic thingy called Brain Food. Demi and Eric joined in November of 2012 and it became more of a band thingy. We then added Jonny [Fitzgerald] and Isaac [Flynn] and eventually decided to change our name to Middle Twin. We’ve been playing as Middle Twin for about 6 months now.
The Deli: What have been your biggest accomplishments as a band?
Middle Twin: Probably the time we drove all night from Austin to Lawrence and made it back in time to catch the India Palace lunch buffet.
The Deli: You are releasing your EP City of Gold this weekend. What can we expect?
Middle Twin: Seven unique, well-crafted songs with very high production quality. We had a lot of fun making it, so hopefully it’ll be a lot of fun to listen to.
The Deli: Who are you most looking forward to seeing at Middle of the Map this year?
Middle Twin: We’ll go with Gary Numan. I’ve heard his live show is crazy.
The Deli: What does supporting local music mean to you?
Middle Twin: Towns that have great local music scenes must first have great local bands. Bands need to prove themselves to get support, not the other way around. The best thing you can do is be aware of what’s happening in local music. If you think something’s good, for the love of God, tell people! High-quality local music is an amazing phenomenon. There are local bands making great music and they are doing it on practically no budget. Those musicians who achieve that deserve all the support possible.
The Deli: Who are your favorite local musicians right now?
Middle Twin: I’d like to give some love to two Lawrence bands that’ll be playing Middle of the Map and who a lot Kansas City folk might not know yet. Forrester and Psychic Heat are both incredible bands that put on amazing live shows and write really cool, interesting music.
The Deli: Who are your favorite not-so-local musicians right now?
Middle Twin: We’re all pretty into James Blake and Toro y Moi right now. A really sweet band from Montreal called TOPS came through Lawrence recently and we caught their show at Replay. We’ve been bumping their tracks for the past couple days.
The Deli: What is your ultimate fantasy concert bill to play on?
Middle Twin: Hmm… Let’s go with a bill with us, LCD Soundsystem, and Radiohead.
The Deli: A music-themed Mount Rushmore. What four faces are you putting up there and why? 
Middle Twin: Eric: Brian Wilson, George Martin, Thom Yorke, and Quincy Jones. I'm not sure if any musician can say they've never been heavily influenced (knowingly or unknowingly) by at least one of those men at some point in their lives.
Joel: James Blake, Damon Albarn, Steven Ellison, St. Vincent. For their beautiful music.
The Deli: Where can we find you on the web?
Twitter: @middle_twin
Instagram: middle_twin
The Deli: What other goals does Middle Twin have for 2014?
Middle Twin: I think our main goal is to keep improving as musicians and as artists. We’re constantly trying to improve our live show. I think the best thing we can do for 2014 is get back in the studio and get better and better at writing and recording music.
The Deli: Always go out on a high note. Any last words of wisdom for the Deli audience?
Middle Twin is:
Demi Renault - vocals
Eric Davis - guitar
Isaac Flynn - drums
Joel Martin - keys
Jon Fitzgerald - bass
Tonight, Middle Twin and Forrester will both be celebrating the release of their EPs at The Bottleneck, with a free show. The Phantastics, and Narkalark also play. Facebook event page.
If you want to catch them in KC, come by The Riot Room on Friday, where they will celebrate the KC release of the album with Antennas Up and Rev Gusto. Facebook event page.
Middle Twin will also be at The Deli KC’s showcase at Middle of the Map Fest next Thursday, April 3. They will take the Seen Merch stage on The Riot Room patio at 9:00 p.m.
Middle Twin recently released the video for “Savoir Faire,” from the City of Gold EP. It is directed by Weston Getto Allen (Getto Art). Watch it below.
--Michelle Bacon
Michelle Bacon is editor of The Deli KC and plays bass in The Philistines and Dolls on Fire, and drums in Drew Black & Dirty Electric.


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