Album Review: Great Thunder & Radiator Hospital Wedding Album

 

 

In March of 2014, I saw Radiator Hospital play for the first time. It was at a coffee shop in University City, and free donuts were given out for someone’s birthday. Try the Pie played one of her first shows, Crabapple played one of their last, and Sam Cook-Parrot’s band Radiator Hospital closed out the night. Stupid Bag Records honcho & RH drummer Jeff Bolt was selling tapes, so I picked up a copy of Great Thunder’s Strange Kicks EP, the only tape I ever bought.

I listened to Strange Kicks a lot after that. It even included a Mazzy Star cover. Great Thunder was Keith Spencer (of Swearin’) and Katie Crutchfield (of Waxahatchee), often noted as KS and KC. With Waxahatchee taking off and the years passing by, the lineup of Great Thunder has become a little less clear; one bio simply says “K and an ever changing line-up of incredibly talented people.”  Naturally, Great Thunder & Radiator Hospital have been tied ever since. Imagine my excitement when Stupid Bag, back in May of 2015, noted that a Great Thunder & Radiator Hospital split LP was on its way. I’d been waiting ever since, unsure of what to expect.

A few weeks ago, The Wedding Album finally arrived. There were some updated old songs, new songs, covers, and collaborations. Great Thunder’s side came first, and started off with a couple of originals. KS & KC were both singing – the GT I knew. “I Was Fine Before” originally appeared on Sounds of Great Thunder, but is revamped three times the length. “I Can’t See the Sun” is the catchiest song of the year, and in a surprising twist, the light-hearted RH song “Big Cloud” is covered with professional production. The next song eventually revealed itself as a dark, sludgy version of RH’s “Sleeping House”. The sounds of Great Thunder embody many different textures, after all.

Radiator Hospital kicks off Side B with “Parting Glances”, from his split with Fred Thomas. It has much more percussion than typical RH songs and the whole side has a softer touch to it. Cook-Parrot’s regular bandmates are absent from this recording, so the quick pace of Torch Song falls away as well. “Old Me” is a new song, with a vocal cameo by KS, followed by KC helping out on “Waiting for You to Come Around”, a Strange Kicks highlight. “Singer’s No Star” is one of GT’s best songs, and Crutchfield join’s Cook-Parrot in a beautiful rendition. The Wedding Album closes with the devastating “Absent Year”. Cook-Parrot reminds us that he writes the best ballads, and Crutchfield has a wonderful verse, before he tears the song back. “And I’ve been waiting for so long / Oh I don’t want you to be gone / If you wanted me to dance / Why didn’t you say so?”

The Great Thunder & Radiator Hospital Wedding Album is one of the best of 2016; a truly special collaboration between three of Philadelphia finest musicians.  Projects like this are often done for fun, but this is a fully realized piece of art. It was recorded in 2014, and while the wait was long, it was more than worth it. Listen to the album, and trace its roots for an even deeper experience.

The Black Experience on WKDU, Part 1: A Teaser from the Archives

 

A few months ago, I discovered a long-overlooked box of reel-to-reel tapes in the studio. After blowing my nose and clearing the dust, I grabbed a few and headed over to a friend’s place to hear them. Thank heavens for friends with reel-to-reel decks.

2015-12-14 14.34.07.jpg
low noise? yeah right…

Every other tape we tried had already completely disintegrated into a pile of dust and polymer goo. When tapes are old and dying and you play them, they squeal in pain. The dried out oxides that make up the tape scrape across all the parts of the tape machine, peeling and crumbling everywhere. It’s pretty much the worst thing ever.

But after wading through tape after tape of hiss and warble, I found some true gold. And it was in pretty nice shape, too.

2015-12-29 22.48.06.jpg
“Absolute Touchlessness to Be Observed”

This is a portion of a live tape recorded at the Kim Graves nightclub on December 29th, 1978. The Black Experience crew was there to record a band called The Production, a local group headed by Curt Campbell. The show was to be aired later on Kevin Rice’s show. They hit record when the house band was warming up….

It’s an amazing listen, with tight funk and hilarious crowd banter. The band finishes up with a cover of Expansions by Lonnie Liston Smith, which rules. WKDU alumnus Kevin Brown was present for the recording. Here’s what he has to say about it:

“This is a very interesting piece here because you have major stars in the Philadelphia music and sports scene in attendance. The host is Dr. Perri Johnson one of the top [personalities] on WDAS-FM  whose music sometimes overlapped with what we were playing on the Black Experience in Music. Also Kenny Gamble one of the founders of Philadelphia International Records. Darryl Dawkins [of the 76ers] was also one of the judges of the show. The hilarious comedian was “May West” a black male comedian in drag doing a spoof on the real Mae West.”

Now, the plot thickens: Since hearing this tape, I’ve determined that The Black Experience on WKDU was the catch-all name for a group of DJs that ruled the weekend airwaves from around 1972-1981. Jazz, funk, disco, and other smooth styles were the focus. Little information has survived from that era, but as I talked to alumni and others, it’s clear that there was a lot of cool stuff going on. Patience, college radio historians:  I promise there’ll be more on this in the near future.

Kevin Brown was nice enough to send me another reel full of station IDs, promos, and other cool stuff. Here’s a station ID that’ll flip your lid like it flipped mine:

 

 

 

 

 

INTERVIEW: Pell – Soulful Rapper Talks New Album

IMG957590
photo by Nolan Feldpausch

– Ryan Stone – Pell Interview 2/9/16

In the frigid hours before a flurry of snow would settle once again on the city, New Orleans rapper Pell stood in a small circle of his fellow tour folk in the dimly lit main area of The Barbary in Northern Liberties. The rapper would be on stage at 8 p.m. — later than expected due to delays at the venue. Nevertheless, Pell was cool, calm, and collected. After a brief introduction and my hints of praise (as I am a fan of the man’s work), we took a seat in the far corner of the venue by the merchandise table to discuss the rapper’s music. Specifically, I wanted to learn more about his new album, Limbo, which released in the fourth quarter of last year. Slightly pressed for time, I asked Pell some bigger questions to gain more knowledge about the man behind the music before he had to break before the show to eat and rest. Below is our conversation, and I encourage you to check out Pell’s music at pellyeah.com after reading. Pell is on tour until the end of March. Tour dates and locations can be found here. He will then hit the stage at both Hangout Music Fest and Firefly Music Festival. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Continue reading “INTERVIEW: Pell – Soulful Rapper Talks New Album”

Sitting Down with LVL UP

lvl up
Greg, Mike, Dave, and Nick of LVL UP

By Nick Manna

It’s a Tuesday afternoon in February, and Dave Benton is returning my call. “We were actually having a little heart-to-heart”, he tells me. They’re ready to talk now. It’s been about a year and a half since the release of LVL UP’s last LP, Hoodwink’d – among 2014’s best – and they’re preparing their next.  “We’re gonna start recording tomorrow, actually,” drummer Greg Rutkin explains. “We’ve been practicing [the songs]”

LVL UP’s previous efforts have been split evenly among their three songwriters, bassist Nick Corbo, and guitarists Mike Caridi and Dave Benton. “We’re recording like one extra song from Nick and one extra song from Mike,” Greg says regarding the forthcoming album. Each songwriter is unique, and despite the rotating lead vocalists, LVL UP’s releases are cohesive and complete. “We are still writing songs in the same way, in that the three of us are writing songs separately, and everyone’s style is changing a little bit,” Dave says. “We’ve got some droney, darker songs, and some poppy songs similar to what was on the last record. Not crazy different, but a little bit, I guess”.

Nearly two years between album releases can seem like a long time for an up-and-coming band, but the New York quartet has been keeping busy. They’ve been touring and also put out a 7”, simply titled “Three Songs”, last summer. The songs were surprisingly solid for an off-cycle release, but those tracks aren’t going away.  “I think Blur and Closing Door are gonna be on [the new record]. We revamped those a bit. We’re happier with the way they sound now, so we’re just redoing them,” Mike says. “Honestly, both were like demos that we got down while we writing them. Blur is just me and Nick – it wasn’t even fully developed, and now we feel like it is. Same with Closing Door.”

Dave and Mike run Double Double Whammy, a record label that has been and remains LVL UP’s home. They have also released the breakout records of bands like Mitski, Frankie Cosmos, and Eskimeaux. “We already have 2016 planned. Somewhere between 8-10 LPs we’re putting out. Some old stuff, a couple reissues, new stuff from artists we’ve put out in the past, a few new bands. Got some more punk-leaning bands, more electronic-leaning bands. Trying to expand while staying within our….” Mike trails off, looking for the right word. “General aesthetic,” Dave adds. “We’re still working with our friends and people we trust”.

They have some more planned for LVL UP this year as well – running a label has its benefits. “[We’re] gonna reissue Space Brothers with demos and B-sides on vinyl, so it’ll be like a 28-song LP or something like that. We’ll release it around the same time the new record comes out”, Mike continues. “Hoping for a fall release, but nothing is set. It depends how recording goes this month.”

LVL UP is headlining a 5-show East Coast tour at the end of the month. “We’re definitely playing some new songs, probably a bunch, because now we know how to play them. We’ve been playing 3 or 4. We’ll probably play 5 or 6 of them.” WKDU is set to present LVL UP at the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia on February 28th with a handpicked lineup of Free Cake for Every Creature, Marge, and The Guests. “We’re very excited about it. We love playing the Church,” Dave says. “Free Cake’s got a new record coming out on DDW, and we always love to play with them. The Guests are friends from college, and we just like Marge.”  Greg adds that his other band Cende just played with The Guests, “and they were f-cking amazing”. Tickets are on sale now.

Extras:

Dave and Mike lead their own excellent projects, Trace Mountains and The Glow, respectively.  Nick drums in Crying and Normal Person, while Greg plays in Cende, Slight, and Normal Person.

The favorite bands that LVL UP has toured with include Saintseneca, Ought, Big Ups, Ovlov, Upset, Disco Doom, and the Sidekicks.

Concert Preview: Animal Collective w/ RATKING @ Union Transfer 2/19

Animal-Collective

— by Ian Norris

Your favorite experimental Baltimoreans since Zappa are back in action with some unlikely guests. Excluding Deakin (Josh Dibb aka the Deakmeister), who has been busy polishing his Kickstarter-funded solo debut scheduled to come out later this year, Animal Collective’s Avey Tare (Daniel Portner), Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), and Geologist (Brian Weitz) have teamed up with Wiki, Hak, and producer Sporting Life of New York’s hip-hop outfit RATKING to embark on a world tour in support of their forthcoming album Painting With. Fortunately for us, Union Transfer is the first stop of the tour; unfortunately, the groups’ odd allegiance has generated much attention, causing most U.S. dates to sell out immediately, and with good reason.

AnCo has come a long way since its formative years in Baltimore County, honing its fusion of ambient, psychedelic, and folk, equally influenced by krautrock and horror movies. With all members of the collective having solidified their respective stylings of electronic, from Panda Bear’s critically-acclaimed Person Pitch and Avey Tare’s inventive Slasher Flicks, the good ol’ gang is back, in more ways than one. With its newest single “FloriDada,” Animal Collective has returned to its more organic, percussive, freak-folk roots that it nearly perfected in its albums Feels. Channeling the left-field pop of Merriweather Post Pavilion, vivid colors of Strawberry Jam, and the cacophonous textures of Sung Tongs, the neo-psychedelic outfit has hybridized its past influences into a newly improved brand of accessible, highly melodic, and quasi-danceable pop that we have grown to love. And it’s damn well better than Centipede Hz. Painting With will be released by Domino Records on the day of the show, February 19th.

RATKING isn’t as much of a wild card for the tour roster as some might think; in fact, it makes a good deal of sense with AnCo’s great influence of the hip-hop group’s atmospheric, wall-of sound sampling, and cerebral lyricism, as well as their collaboration with Avey Tare’s former noise project Black Dice. As grimy and abrasive as RATKING’s name suggests, referring to a cluster of diseased rats being tied together by the tails, their music weaves stories and images of the decrepit lows of passion. Making their XL label debut with 2014’s So It Goes, the trio has blown up among the underground rap community, including features with King Krule (Archy Marshall) and tour dates with Death Grips. Their live sets often include motion pictures of gory violence and social alienation, similar to that of Godspeed You! Black Emperor; although, Wiki “One Brow” will typically bludgeon himself in the head with his microphone simultaneously. To put these guys’ talent and ridiculousness into perspective, I have a friend driving up from Northwest Indiana to Philadelphia, an eleven-and-a-half hour drive, just to see RATKING with me. Don’t you dare miss it.

Some Really Good Tunes: The Mystery of the Missing Records

A couple Friday mornings back, I went to the station. When I got there, this was leaned up against the door….

20160116_171151.jpg
(re-enactment by author)

Inside were about 50 records. All were tagged WKDU circa 1971-1981. I can only speculate that maybe a former DJ, in an act of redemption, decided to give them back after “borrowing” them.

At KDU, there aren’t a lot of rules, but one stands out: NO STEALING. Says so on the door, probably written in DJ blood.

20160116_171220.jpg

It’s interesting that these records made it back, but even more interesting that they were left on the outside. It implies that whoever gave them back is far enough removed from the station that they couldn’t enter. Otherwise, they could’ve put the records back themselves, or hidden them somewhere within the station’s many nooks and crannies.  The plot thickens….

So I started looking through the records, because that’s what I do when a random bin of records appears on my doorstep. Here are some of my favorites from the stack. Oh, and in case you’re curious: Yes, I did put them back on the shelf, where they belong.

Continue reading “Some Really Good Tunes: The Mystery of the Missing Records”

Concert Preview: Ars Nova Workshop, January 2016

tomekanels

As WKDU’s resident jazz weirdo (at least until Marcel—er, the Night Fly, returns from his Southern Californian sabbatical), I feel some responsibility to keep the fine followers of WKDU abreast of Philadelphia’s jazz goings on. Fortunately, Ars Nova Workshop, longtime supporters of some of the best jazz and improvised music Philadelphia has to offer, recently announced a couple of killer shows for the month of January: the Tomeka Reid Quartet this Thursday, January 7 at the Art Alliance, and Nels Cline/Larry Ochs/Gerald Cleaver Trio at Boot & Saddle on January 15.

Continue reading “Concert Preview: Ars Nova Workshop, January 2016”