Everybody Hits is a small batting cage facility that also puts on
concerts. Nice staff, and a good turnout for such a small, out-of-the-way
place. There were four bands on the bill. R. Ring headlined. I hadn't seen them
for 2 1/2 years, so I was really looking forward to this.
Swanning, three women with a male drummer, were up first, playing
good, modern indie rock.
Joe Jack Talcum, from one of Philly’s best known punk bands, the
Dead Milkman, played a solo set of good, quirky folk/punk. If you ever wondered
what Jonathan Richman would sound like if he grew up, it’s Joe Jack.
The Chicago three-piece band Split Single was next, led by Jason
Narducy. I’d heard of him, as one of the bands he’s in is Bob Mould’s touring
band. I liked his music very much--rip roaring indie rock, very melodic. His CD
Metal Frames, is a great way to introduce yourself to his music.
R. Ring’s van had broken down, and it was a wonder they even got
to Philly. But they made it, a little after eleven, set up as quick as they
could, and played a wonderful set, featuring most of their upcoming album,
Ignite The Rest. The versions here were looser and sparer than on the album. R.
Ring, the duo of Kelley Deal and Mike Montgomery, play electric experimental
folk and stripped-down indie rock. Their drummer on this tour, Laura King from
Chapel Hill, is excellent. She played just a snare, not a full kit.
The crowd seemed into all the bands. For me, it was a very good
night out, and a show that was worth the wait. And if you like what you read
here, they’re doing some dates in Ohio, Kentucky, and live on the station WYSO on
It’s funny how things work out. I get to see two favorite bands
in one week. It will be my first time ever seeing The New Pornographers. R.Ring
is the other band I’m seeing, on Monday. TNP is that Thursday.
Since I already waxed thrilled on TNP in my review of their
album, I wanted to do the same for R.Ring, since their album is just as great,
in its own way. Two very different types of music, so there’s no comparison. To
do further justice, it’s track by track for R. Ring. Full disclosure: I own all
their singles, their Daytrotter session, and the Rise EP. Most of what’s on
this album is more or less untouched from the original versions, not that I
would’ve indulged in which is the better version. It’s all good.
Kelley Deal sings the songs, unless otherwise noted.
Cutter: It’s the single, and sounds like one, with extra guitars
from the original. First up like this, it's a good lead in, and I'm really
happy that it's getting some airplay.
Loud Underneath: When I first heard this in 2015, one thing I liked
about it was that it was slyfun
about finding a good guy to get loud underneath with. But the serious meaning
is the moment of truth--finding love, sex, or not--and here it’s a good one. I
also like the buzzsaw guitars.
Singing Tower: This is one of Mike Montgomery’s songs. It’s about
an uncle of his. Sad, quiet, understated and wonderful. Mike’s songs on this
album tend to be surreal and dreamy; Kelley’s are more straightforward.
$100 Heat: Kelley writes some very good songs about heartbreak
and loneliness, and this is one of them. I’d like to think the Bandit did go
away. Spare guitars for the right touch.
Unwinds: As angry as Cutter, and rougher. Thankfully the album
includes lyrics, as I never was able to make out many of the words. And I like
these words, and the booming drums.
Files: One of a few songs about darkness, losing everything, and
so on. One line says it all, well sung, too. "All
I set aside. All I lost. Files."
Salt: I like the grinding guitars, and that it’s not a sad
breakup song. She’s free, and it suits her.
Fallout And Fire: Three lines that say more about loneliness,
heartbreak, and wanting something, anything to happen, than some whole albums
I’ve heard. The music is bittersweet folk rock.
Elder Orphans In Heavy Chop (AKA Rumine from the Rise EP). Very
interesting lyrics, with echoing guitars. "I am cruel, I don't care. You
could be my harbor wife If I could cut your hair. "
This was always my fave song from the EP, retitled here.
You Will Be Buried Here: The most folklike of these songs, and a
good way to honor the dead.
Steam: Mike sings this one, sad and warm. Kelley’s backing
vocals, with echo, sound like a voice rising from steam. It’s cool. A friend
consoles a friend about his wife leaving him and going home to Germany. My
take, anyway. Kelley and Mike have some good podcasts out, where they explain
things, like this song.
SEE: The most surreal song on the album, and the closer. Mike
again, singing on a rave-up.
For me, an early contender for album of the year, just as much as
TNP. And I’d like to think that R.Ring could suddenly get as popular as TNP
did. So give this album a try. I think you'll love it.
Everything's different now. The Pornographers have their own
label, Collected Works, Dan Bejar is off doing his own thing, and their new
sound, starting with 2014’s Brill Bruisers and now going off in many other
directions, is unlike anything they’ve ever done. It’s also the best album
they’ve made yet, better even than Mass Romantic.
Carl Newman has been saying “Krautrock bubblegum” in interviews to
describe this new sound, and while I’ll take his word for it, I also hear the
best updating of the late Scott Miller ever, as all of these songs could have
come from Scott’s band Game Theory, especially 1984’s Real Nighttime. TNP had
already paid tribute to Scott with You Take Me Where on Brill Bruisers. Here
they double down on that.
The melodies are to die for. I love
the synths, aided and abetted by Todd Fancy’s understated guitar, and not as
understated new drummer Joe Seiders. Neko Case has never sounded
better. Ditto for Kathryn Calder, touring member Simi Sernaker, and Seiders.
Carl sounds great too. All join together for great harmonies, and check out
Neko’s and Carl’s duet on the shimmering We’ve been Here Before.
Carl’s lyrics are so open-ended that
beyond High Ticket Attractions being about Trump-induced panic, written before
the election, and the title song being about depression, they’re anything you
want them to be about. My take on them: music therapy for terrific and strange
situations, wild and wonderful relationships. Between the great lyrics,
fantastic new sound, and yes, maybe Dan will be back someday, as I say, this is
their best yet. May it continue.
As much as I love Cutter and $100 Heat, Steam is where Mike
Montgomery, the other half of R. Ring, shines. Between Lori Goldston’s understated, wonderful
cello playing and Kelley Deal’s background vocals, it’s sad, beautiful, hushed,
and great. In the April 4, 2017 interview for Glide magazine, Mike had this to
say about the song: “Steam is
one of the first songs Kelley and I started playing together. She used to
accompany my guitar and singing on keys. One night on a tour, her keyboard
broke as we went to start the song and she ended up just singing her melody
through some guitar pedals to get us through it. We’ve done it that way ever
since. With the addition of Lori Goldston’s cello on this album version it’s
really a nice setting for the narrative: subjects trapped in time ignoring the
looming futility of stubborn adherence to an ideal. Chris Glass’ captivating slow motion video
captures the mood perfectly.”
The song also could be about a friend consoling another friend
about his/her wife leaving and going home to Germany. The video captures the
loneliness of being in a crowd, at a very impersonal train station, and fits
the song perfectly. Watch it here:
The long awaited new album from The New Pornographers will be
released Friday, April 7, but if you haven’t heard the three singles that have
already been released, here’s my take on them. While the whole album sounds
like early Game Theory, the late Scott Miller’s band, these three songs also
sound like a souped up/synthed up take on TNP's first two albums, while
continuing the sound of their last album, Brill Brusiers. And they’re all
The first single, High Ticket Attractions, is the most rock. It's
fast, with more guitars, and a lyric about Trump, the unease before he got
elected. But it could also be about someone throwing you completely off balance
for a really long time, and falling into a relationship where you know there’s
always more to it than meets the eye, no matter how wonderful it is. Carl sings
Neko sings This Is The World Of The Theater, and shows again how
amazing her voice can be. The lyric could be a plea to someone not to go, or
about knowing, or not knowing, where you stand with someone. This is more of a
pop song, but the guitars at the start add a lot of grit.
Neko duets with Carl on the title track, Whiteout Conditions,
which is the most subdued and synthed up musically, with a lyric
straightforwardly about depression. The feel is somewhat dreamy.
Dan is not on the album, TNP’s first without him. While there are
songs of Dan’s I like, in the end, I always prefer Carl’s.
TNP is on their own label now, Collected Works, and it’s freed
them up to make some of their best music yet. I'll post the full album review
later in the month, after a fun time listening to it.(I don’t do well with streams, it’s the learning disability,
so that’s why I’m not reviewing the stream on NPR or the CBC.) http://www.thenewpornographers.com