Wednesday, August 31, 2016

YJY, The Same Noise, 2016

EP Review

Earlier this month, Hightstown's YJY released EP, The Same Noise. It's their second for label Sniffling Indie Kids and the follow-up to last year's superb Couch Surfin' USA. The four-song set contains three songs that have been part of the YJY live show for quite some time. They're all solid individual singles; but collected together, along with new song "Evergreens," they form a thematically cohesive package.

Opener "Summer Lifeguard" shimmers like heat waves off the sand as the narrator laments his invisibility to the lifeguard he's crushing on. The song's got a beachy, reverby vibe; but, instead of being a typical carefree summer track, it just wishes that it were.

"Past My Prime" and "Through Being Hip" both focus on people wrapped up in an image. "Past My Prime" takes the point of view of a former high school jock whose glory days ended at graduation. "Through Being Hip," rather than being run-of-the-mill hipster bashing, deals more with someone who loses their true self as they try on an identity. Both songs are infectious, singalong pop that feature jangly, Real Estate-esque guitar.

I first heard "Evergreens," I think, about a month and a half ago when YJY broke it out during their set for Asbury Park Live on the boardwalk. I remember thinking of it as "that Cure-ish song;" and, therefore, loving it. The song's about being reminded of happier times, and it's a stone masterpiece.

While, Couch Surfin' USA was like a sampler -- and a highly enjoyable one -- of all the directions that YJY could go, The Same Noise is an example of the band picking one and running with it. The irresistible guitar sounds and the themes of wishing for something more and discovering (or maybe just wondering) who you really are stitch four great, individual tracks together into an outstanding whole.

The Same Noise is out now on Sniffling Indie Kids.

YJY play live on September 3rd at Brooklyn's Gold Sounds with Paper Streets, Lady, and The Silver Tongues. On September 10th, they join 19 (!) other bands at the first-ever North Jersey Indie Rock Festival presented by Sniffling Indie Kids and Mint 400 Records at Jersey City's Cathedral Hall.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Lowlight, Where Do We Go from Here, 2016

Album Review

Pre-1986, pre-Lifes Rich Pageant, I spent a lot of time listening to "Album Oriented" rock and roll radio. It was the early 1980s, when the 1960s weren't such a distant memory, when the 1970s were still current. The Beatles, The Kinks, The Who, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Tom Waits, The Band, U2, Fleetwood Mac, and -- yes -- Bruce Springsteen. Just like any other time in pop music history, there was plenty of terrible music, too; but there are songs and sounds from that time that stay with me to this day. Something about listening to Lowlight's debut LP, Where Do We Go From Here, brings back lots of memories of the "good stuff" from that time in my listening life.

And Where Do We Go From Here is about as eclectic as a few hours spent listening to WNEW could be back in the day. From country twang to atmospheric synths, Lowlight play with many of the sounds that characterized my own listening during my early and mid teens.

The nighttime field recording and plaintive guitar of "Glitter and Dust Pt. 1" open the record and establish the sense of openness and space that runs through much of the album. That continues with "Why Wander," an appropriately rambling slice of Americana that will be recognizable to anyone who's been to a Lowlight live performance. Singer / guitarist / lyricist, Renee Maskin -- like Stevie Nicks or Tom Petty or Bob Dylan -- isn't a belter, but imbues this and all of the songs with a character that is uniquely hers. Themes of (involuntary) movement, both physical and psychological, pop up for the first of many times.

We change gears a bit for the title track, if not thematically then sonically. This time, the feeling of expansiveness comes from Dana Sellers's synths. The title question, "Where do we go from here?", combined with that sound, gives the sense of being trapped in place in a great, big world.

Harmonicas, banjo, and wailing guitars characterize the upbeat farewell of "Lines in the Road," while it's back to the hum of synthesizers for ups and downs of life chronicled in "Bones." In between, "Collisions in C" sounds like the wide-eyed arrival at some destination.

The rhythm section of Colin Ryan (drums) and Rey Rivera (bass) shines on "Motel Chronicles;" and, as it has throughout the record, Derril Sellers's guitar adds atmosphere and detail. "Glitter and Dust Pt. 2" is a bluesy guitar interlude that gives the sense of standing alone at a crossroads deciding which direction to take.

"Dirt" is the heaviest track on the album with explosive guitar and drum crashes revealing some of the prog rock influences of several of the members of Lowlight, especially on the outro. '50s-inflected "'86 Parisienne" -- as so many great rock songs do -- uses a car, an old Pontiac, as a metaphor for life. In this case, for being stuck or "stranded" without the keys. "Canal and Bourbon" closes the album, and it's a quiet, melancholy memory.

I've had the opportunity to watch Lowlight for a little more than a year; and what started as a project that I would have called outlaw country or something similar in the beginning has evolved into a synthesis of many of the sounds of classic (and not in the radio-format sense, but in the timeless sense) rock. Principal songwriter Renee Maskin is a restless spirit; and, on Where Do We Go From Here, she and Lowlight pull from a pool of influences -- from Dylan to Bowie -- to create the feeling that comes with the constant search for one's physical or spiritual place in the world. They're still searching by the end of the record, but the search is always the most interesting part anyway.

Where Do We Go From Here is out now on BNS Sessions.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Premiere: New Dentist Track! Mayfair House Sessions


A few months ago, I introduced you to "The Mayfair House Sessions" in which Asbury Park singer / songwriter, Dan Matlack, brings musicians into his home studio to write and record an original song. The series debuted with a duet between Matlack and Lowlight's Renee Maskin; and, since then, has featured collaborations with Sal Boyd, Tara Dente, Zach Westfall, and more.

The latest product to emerge from Mayfair House is a brand new single from Asbury Park's Dentist. The band worked with Matlack and Westfall to produce "Pullout." Somewhere between Pixies and the surfy garage rock of a band like (Dentist's beloved heroes) Mrs. Magician, the song features some hard-charging rhythm guitar paired with tension-building leads. Emily Bornemann's vocals are right up front and come down much more on the garage rock than the dream pop side of the spectrum.

"Pullout" is a bit of a departure for Dentist that still manages to remain true to the band's sound, showing that -- fresh off the release of a brand new record -- Dentist's creative juices are still flowing.

Listen to "Pullout" below, and check out the Mayfair House Sessions Soundcloud page to keep up with everything Dan Matlack and friends are doing over there.

Dentist's latest LP, Ceilings, is out now on Little Dickman Records. It's available from the Little Dickman store and from whichever is your favorite place to purchase downloadable music.

Recap: Asbury Park Surf Music Fest & The Asbury Park Promenade of Mermaids, 8/27/16

Ain’t No Party Like A Surf Rock Party

By Matt Chrystal (including all photos)

Picture it: New Jersey. August 2016. A beautiful and sunny summer’s day. It’s hot, but not too hot. It is, what some might call, the makings for a perfect day. Except for one thing… I’m at work… in North Jersey… oh, and another thing … I have a broken ankle.

But then it happens. I’m not sure whether it was out of the blue or if it was a preconceived notion that I tucked far away. It’s an idea, or maybe it’s a declaration, whatever it is, it hits me…
“Fuck this! I’m going to down the shore!”

I ditch work early (unless my boss is reading, then I labored diligently, promptly clocked out at the correct time and departed swiftly from the office).

I hit the Parkway. I brave Saturday shore traffic.

I coast down the exit ramp and in to Asbury Park as if pulled by a tractor beam.

There is no debate about any other choice of destination.

The Asbury Park Surf Music Festival is going down on the boardwalk And ain’t no party like a Surf Rock Party … cause a Surf Rock Party don’t stop!

What began Thursday night with the legendary Dick Dale playing the Wonder Bar, continued into the Aloha Friday Pool Party at the Berkeley Hotel is cresting into the main event festival at the Anchor’s Bend.

As luck would have it, I just happen to have a Hawaiian shirt and a pair shorts with me (ok so maybe the idea was more along the lines of a preconceived notion).

I eventually find parking on Bond Street and hobble unevenly, one foot in a boot-brace and the other in a low top Vans sneaker, for what seems like miles until I finally arrive at the mecca of beach party sights and sounds. It’s like something out of a classic surf film or travel guide to the Jersey Shore. I haven’t even arrived at APSMF yet and the beach party vibe is in full swing in the city by the sea.

The Asbury Park Promenade of Mermaids (a separate event from APSMF) is gathering on the boardwalk at the 2nd Avenue Pavilion. A large crowd has congregated around a group of belly dancers. There’s a variety of eclectic and eccentric characters in every direction. Mermaids and mermen, sailors, sirens and seamen, mythical deities, sea creatures, pirates and even a few zombies… for some reason, there are always zombies! Ladies clad in bikinis made of shells and some men clad in even less.

I arrive just in time to see friends and “local creative types,” Juicy Jenn Hampton of the Parlor Gallery and Timothy Lucas, aka Dr. Sketchy, scurry through the hordes of onlookers to secure the best viewing spot in order to judge which participants stand heads, and in this case, tails above the rest.

As I make my way further down the boardwalk toward Convention Hall, I am greeted by the twangs of the Televisionairies floating through the atmosphere. I make my way through the Bazaar of vendors which have been selected to be part of the APSMF, a collection of DIY artists and local merchants peddling their unique wares. I stop to chat with Groovy Graveyard, high-five my buds at Little Dickman Records; and I am introduced to some folks from the Asbury Park Moto Club.

I enter the Anchor’s Bend and am greeted with a big hug from festival co-organizer, Vincent Minervino. He looks as though he is mere moments away from unleashing a smile and breathing a sigh of relief as a year’s worth of planning and stress are giving way to the realization that the event is a raging good time.

The promenade is packed with partiers holding pineapple drinks and the beach is littered with bodies in pin-up style dresses and Polynesian shirts. Every other hand has a tiki cup or a drink with an umbrella in it.It’s only mid-afternoon and the good times and good vibes are rolling right along.

The Sharkskins take to the Beach Stage. Hula hoops begin spinning as the sun reflects off of the silver suits from which the band has taken their moniker. The 'Skins sound triumphant as they tear through a set that is just as lively and in-step as their attire. Towards the end of their performance, they pause from their reverb-soaked showcase to break from the instrumental assault of the day to introduce some vocals and harmonies. But they aren’t done yet, as no set would be complete without paying homage to Dick Dale, the godfather of surf rock. Horns come out. These guys are pros and the crowd is digging it.

Next up, the Taratinos from NYC start their set of spaghetti-western-infused surf jams. Their sound may be fit for a soundtrack but this is no background music. The crowd has filled in by the stage. There is nowhere to move on the promenade. The band is beaming and feeding off the energy. A woman in thigh-high boots and floral patterned dress twirls around in sync to the rhythm. A man is gyrating to the point where I am no longer sure if he is dancing or convulsing into a seizure. Good times!

(bonus Jeff Crespi)

I catch up with APSMF co-organizer, Magdalena O’Connell, who I believe is now in her third outfit change of the afternoon.  The changes are strategic it seems, not only keeping up with the event’s themes but also beating the heat of both the beach and the constant running around checking on each detail of the all-day festival’s happenings.

"We are really happy with the way this turned out," she says. "We will finally be able to relax after Vince plays though."

She then takes to the Beach Stage, thanks the crowd for coming and introduces her husband and event co-organizer who is now pulling double duty with his band, the Black Flamingos. Vince counts off and wails on the drum kit and the band takes off.  Vince and the boys fire through a smoking set and treat the crowd to some “Tequila-tinged” tunes.

The Black Flamingos play right up to the event’s scheduled intermission or “Dinner Break” as they call it. There was still plenty of surf rock goodness to be served up that evening including the Primitive Finks, area-favorite the Nebulas and Messer Chups making their debut from St. Petersburg, Russia.

Remember what I told ya… A Surf Rock Party Don’t Stop!

But also remember that I told you, that I had a broken ankle. So it was at this time I put down my pineapple and hobbled off into the sunset.

The event was a blast.

There really Ain’t No Party Like A Surf Rock Party… especially the Asbury Park Surf Musical Festival Party. Oh… and the party continued into Sunday night as the Black Flamingos, Primitive Finks and Messer Chups headed down to Philly.

See I told you… A Surf Rock Party Don’t Stop.

For even more on the APSMF, check out my full interview with Magdalena O’Connell for DIYNJ on