Sunday, October 26, 2014

Concert Review: Carbon Leaf in Columbus, Ohio

It was almost two years previous to the day that Carbon Leaf took the stage at a Columbus venue. But last Wednesday, the band returned, this time taking the A&R Music Bar.

At about 8 p.m., the opener, Daniel Champagne, took the stage. The crowd, while polite, was not nearly silent enough to reflect his talent. Champagne came all the way from Australia, and started off by playing "The Nightingale," the first preview of his impressive guitar technique. Though Champagne took the stage alone, he created the auditory illusion of a full band with just himself and his guitar. His quick-moving hands played the guitar in the traditional sense, used it as percussion, and created a unique sound by tuning and untuning the guitar as he went.

He continued to play a total of six songs, showcasing his clear, crisp voice. "Same Enemy" featured very handy guitar work, sometimes strumming from the bridge, sometimes plucking with the fingering hand on the fretboard so that he could use the other hand on the body of the instrument as percussion again. Another song, "Fade to Black" was a cover of the blues-ey Dire Straits song that he performed with a great deal of energy.

His final piece was very impressive, with the rapid hand movements almost at their peak, and never a misstep. Unfortunately, customs had confiscated the copies of his CD or I probably would have purchased one.

Carbon Leaf took the stage around 9 p.m., after being introduced by an audio clip from The Muppet Show. They launched immediately into a piece from one of the two albums they released last year, Ghost Dragon Attacks Castle, "A Song For the Sea."

The tour was officially the "Indian Summer Revisited Tour," owing to the fact that it's the tenth anniversary of the album (they also rerecorded the entire album in order to reclaim it from their old record label). To celebrate the album's birthday, they played many songs from the great album, starting with "This is My Song!" and a version of "What About Everything?" much closer to the album version than the performance they gave last time I saw them.

Barry Privett.
The crowd involvement was quite impressive, with Barry Privett holding out his microphone to allow the audience to sing a section of "One Prairie Outpost."

They closed the selection of Indian Summer songs with "Life Less Ordinary," and launched into more tracks from Ghost Dragon Attacks Castle. They began with the instrumental "Februaery Detailles," featuring Privett on electronic bagpipes, and the audience participation piece, "She's Gone (...For Good This Time)."

"Bloody Good Bar Fight Song" was followed by its successor on the album, and a favorite track of mine, "The Donnybrook Affair." "The Donnybrook Affair" may have been the best performance of the evening, although it was followed by the almost equally terrific "American Tale" (from "Ether-Electrified Porch Music").

Carter Gravatt on violin during a song from Ghost Dragon Attacks Castle.

Carter Gravatt shined throughout the evening once again, notably on the extended guitar intro for (and throughout) "Grey Sky Eyes" and an extended break in "Raise the Roof."

Jon Markel
The band then moved into an amp-free semi-circle for "Comfort" and "Ragtime Carnival," both of which sound amazing as acoustic pieces. 

They closed the set with "The Dancing Song," "Desperation Song," and the fan favorite "The Boxer." The crowd remained entertained and engaged to the end. 

Carter Gravatt and Terry Clark reflected in the garage door windows of the A&R.
The band returned to the stage for an encore of "Let Your Troubles Roll By," and then moved into the center of the audience for another acoustic semi-circle of "Learn to Fly."

Carbon Leaf put on another great show. It wasn't free of mistakes, but it was a truly excellent show of skill and rapport with their audience. I eagerly await the next time they come around, and encourage anyone to check them out.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Album Review: Tyranny by Julian Casablancas + The Voids

Let me start off by saying that it's impossible for me to discuss this album without comparing it to The Strokes or the former solo work of Julian Casablancas. This isn't to say it's due to similarities, but rather vast differences.

So here's a quick run-down: The Strokes formed in 1998, and and kind of a gruff rock and roll sound (like a post grunge indie thing). They took a break a few years back, and frontman Casablancas released a stylized 80s-sounding solo album with lots of synths. The Strokes regrouped and made two decent but very synthy albums reminiscent of some stuff Casablancas did as a soloist, but still with touches of the old Strokes.

This album is not like any of that.

When "Take Me in Your Army" kicks off, you feel like you might have stepped into a real-life retro horror video game. The song doesn't stay that way for long, but it does go on to remind you of something you can't quite put your finger on. All parts of the song blend together perfectly, but with something deliberately just a little off, so it's unsettling. Is it the attacking beeping synths? Is it the way the title line "take me in your army" goes for both a word and a note that wasn't what we might have expected? Or is it the fact that the coming and going of the vocals altogether isn't something you can predict?

We have the perfect amount of time to ponder all this, but not come up with a solution, before the next track, "Crunch Punch" breaks in in a completely different manner. It's bookended with found audio samples from old radio programs. "M.utually A.ssured D.estruction" is one of the hardest pieces on the album, yet there are touches of Casablancas' signature vocal style peeking out from under all the sound. It's also the shortest track on the album, leaving you only time to ponder its purpose, and it never really "gets going." Of course, "M.utually A.ssured D.estruction" gives way to the longest track on the album, "Human Sadness."

"Human Sadness" is just over ten minutes, with rough sounds and synthesized strings living harmoniously together with cliche Strokes guitar and Casablancas rambling vocals. The change comes in at almost exactly halfway, and it's as though you're listening to a battle take place. The lighter sound seems to win out in the end, possibly indicating the end of human sadness. The track doesn't seem as long as it is, despite the lyrics being all but impossible to understand.

The lead single "Where No Eagles Fly" has the only truly killer hook on the album, and certainly functions as the most accessible song on the album. The only hook that comes close to "Where No Eagles Fly" is "Business Dog," which is still as odd a number as the album gets, including a self-censor in the first minute of the song.

"Nintendo Blood" almost sounds like it will be a reprise of "Take Me in Your Army," but comes into its own soon enough. The album closes with the dreary "Off to War..." which has less musicality than many of its' cohorts on the album, but is a quiet enough, it almost acts as a fade out for the album.

The way many of these tracks mesh together sounds like they weren't created as an album. So much so that I don't think it was an accident. I think each closing and intro is meant to be jarring, to let you know who's in control, to tell you the track has changed and there's nothing you can do about it. It's almost as though it's to wake you from the notion that you might have found some security even in the nonsense of the previous song.

Tyranny is gritty and unique in a way nothing Julian Casablancas has ventured into before has been. At just over an hour long, this has to be one of the longest albums I've listened to in years too. But it's worth the time.

Julian Casablancas + The Voids are a rock group side project of Julian Casablancas.

Tyranny can be purchased here for only $3.87!