Instead of going to the Regatta today I decided get some things done around the house while sifting through a mixture of RPM 2013 albums that I haven’t gotten to yet. One great find has been the rap album Tronicles of Marnia by King Kong & Mega Tron, or simply just Tron as their Bandcamp page calls them. I know very little about Tron other than the fact that they are a local hip-hop outfit that digs deep into old school and underground influences to produce some extremely fresh beats and rhymes.
Today’s track “See It Through” is a bit of a feel-good motivator with some well-placed samples and some nice use of local diction with the familiar screech-in line “Long may your big jib draw”. Check out the rest of Tron’s RPM Challnege 2013 album Tronicles of Marnia below.
“Track 1” by Aaron Powell
This Wednesday (July 3rd) a very special show will be happening at Distortion featuring Adam Baxter’s triumphant return to his position as host of Epic Wednesday. Joining Adam will be awesome new local band The Lurks and the creators of two of my favorite RPM Challenge 2013 records, Nick Hopkins and Aaron Powell.
Hailing from parts unknown (Glovertown), Aaron recorded the moody FL using a Rock Band microphone and some well worn instruments. While the sound quality is lo-fi, the quality of the songs and overall feel of the record is nothing short of dazzling. Individual parts meld and bleed together in a muddy swell of melancholy with Aaron’s vocal weaving in and out like a beautiful, incomprehensible dream.
Come out and enjoy the sweet music of Aaron Powell live along with Adam Baxter, The Lurks and Nick Hopkins this Wednesday (July 3rd) at Distortion.
“The Birds” by Cara Lee Coleman
One of my favorite local musicians, the great Cara Lee Coleman, will be playing a rare live show this Saturday (June 29th) at Nautical Nellies. I first discovered Cara’s music when she was a member of local underground group The Origin of The Sound Band. Since then I’ve delved into her extensive solo discography, which includes real gems like Eight Weeks, It’s Funny When You Sing Bad and RPM Challenge masterpieces like Love Songs, Lullabies and Dance Hits (2010), The Warp (2012) and this year’s Motherloaded (2013) and its piano version companion The Motherloaded Piano.
For today’s track I dug into my goldmine of local CDs and unearthed one of my favorite songs by Cara, “The Birds” from It’s Funny When You Sing Bad. You can hear more of Cara’s music this Saturday (June 29th) at Nautical Nellies with Maggie Meyer. Show starts at 10pm, and there is no cover.
Imagine if The Meat Puppets, Captain Beefheart, Eels and a Mellow Gold era Beck got together one inebriated night and decided to make an album. The result might sound something like Sludge Bucket Jones’ 2013 RPM Challenge album The Lone Ranger. Sludge Bucket Jones is the musically deranged alter-ego of musician Jonah Emke, a member of several beloved local bands like East of Empire and The Lurks.
For an album that exhibits complete disregard for musical conventions—time signatures, melody and harmony, The Lone Ranger is a surprisingly entertaining listen from start to finish. Most of the songs consist of cool slacker vocals, scrappy acoustic chugging, a junkyard style rhythm section and some inventive, yet often dissonant guitar leads. I know this sounds far from a glowing review, but I honestly love this record. it’s definitely one of my favorites from 2013. I love weird, off-kilter music and The Lone Ranger by Sludge Bucket Jones fits the bill perfectly.
Sludge Bucket Jones will be performing tonight (Thursday, June 27th) at Fixed Coffee & Baking and as far as I know this is their first live show. Check it out along with their RPM album at link below.
Shona Stacey’s induction to the St. John’s music scene happened in 2011 when she, Andrea McGuire and Rebecca South recorded their stellar RPM debut Take an Apple and Go to the Mountain, a collection of stripped down folk songs adorned with ukuleles and lovely three part harmonies. After a short stint of well-attended live shows in town, The Drows went on to record a follow up RPM record in 2012 entitled Picking Flowers and then sadly, disappeared.
In 2013, each of the three members of The Drows re-emerged and took the RPM Challenge independently. Andrea released her second solo album, Turn to Pattern, Rebecca joined local folk super-group Caribou Horses and Shona produced her own project with a few of her friends under the moniker Harps & Hoods and recoreded Between The Folds, which expands on the stark, haunting folk arrangements of The Drows’ records while exploring different dynamics. Several of the songs such as bluesy opener “Mama”, “Create”, “Sweet Potato” and the ethereal “Dust” feature nothing but Shona’s rich, passionate acapella vocal. Elsewhere songs like “La Silence”, “Mongo”, “Gooseberry Jam” and “Crackerberry Jam” appear as instrumental interludes with friends Peter Smith (electric guitar, percussion), Wyatt Shibley (jaw harp, saw, accordion), Billy Nicoll (banjo, cello), fellow Drows band-mate Rebecca South (ukulele), Brendan Cunningham (cow bell) and Anna Callahan-St.John (shakers), but from which Shona’s singing is noticeably absent.
Today’s track “Priscilla Lake” is the only track on Harps & Hoods 2013 RPM album that combines vocals with musical accompaniment. Although such a thing is the norm in music these days, it’s an anomaly on Between The Folds. Check it out the rest of this great 2013 RPM standout at the link below.
The cover art for This Is Terrible’s third RPM album Songs From The Underside (2013) might lead you to believe it’s the type of album you’d buy from a guy sitting behind a table at Bidgood’s playing and singing along to a programmed drum track. You know, those homemade collections of good ol’ Newfoundland songs about yer mudder, drinking wit da by’s and da cod moratorium with a cover picture of buddy in his rubber boots playing accordion. Well, if you we’re to listen to Songs From The Underside under such preconceptions you’d be throwing it out the window five minutes after putting it into your car stereo.
With its hilarious trad-parody opener “The Plight of Lawrencetontown” being the closest thing to what you might expect based on the cover art, the album then launches into one of the most perplexing and entertaining listens you might ever experience. Juxtaposing death-metal (“Hockey Fight”, “Broken”), punk (“Coldshot Man”, “Virtual Strife Ruined My Life”), electronica (“BSTMDE”) and more faux-Newfie music (“Gravy Byz”), This Is Terrible are not for the faint of heart. “Trumping” is a 2 minute and 19 second episode of orally re-created flatulation which builds into a layered beat at the end of the track. “Zellers” is a surprisingly heart-felt ode to the loss of said chain department store. Then there’s “Die Lauernde Teufel” which is… well, I’m not really sure what it is.
It’s not going to win any Music NL awards but Songs From The Underside by This Is Terrible is a riveting listen from start to finish, at least in that ‘driving by a car accident’ kind of way. Check it out for yourself if you dare.
One of my favorite RPM albums of 2012 was Let’s Go Get Lost by Scrambled Meggz, also known as Meghan Harnum (The Mudflowers, Parks, Pap Pap!). Meggz returned to The RPM Challenge again this year with The People That We Used to Be, which has also become one of my favorites of 2013. Although Meghan has completed several RPM albums in the past, these last two have a well-defined sound that I can’t get enough of. While instrumentation is primarily limited to uke and a very retro-sounding keyboard, Meghan weaves rich, dreamy textures with a tastefully minimalist approach.
Opening track “The People We Used To Be (Part I)” sets a otherworldly tone for the album with the haunting, singing saw of Wyatt Shibley and a chorus of subdued trumpet provided by Knoah Bender. Today’s track, “Take Yr Time (But Don’t Take It For Granted)” calls to mind some I’m Your Man-era Leonard Cohen with its tinny electronic beat and quirky keyboarding. A little banjo and layered vocals change the colour palate on “On A Sidewalk In Vienna” while the breakdown in “Woodstove Heat” sounds ambiguously like the intro to The Doors “Light My Fire” — perhaps a clever tribute or parody?
Scrambled Meggz’s warm, atmospheric music has found a home in my heart once again with the RPM 2013 album The People That We Used to Be. Check it out along with Meghan’s other brilliant albums at the link below.
This past February Adrian House recorded and released his second solo RPM Challenge album Too Strong. The record is a collection of simple, heartfelt songs. Most of the tunes are acoustic-based, in contrast with his 2012 RPM Angel Eyes, which was more in the indie-rock vein of his band The Connexions.
The opening title track begins the album with gently rolling acoustic picking, some melancholy cello courtesy of Billy Nicoll (Run Too The Rocks, All The Wiles) and some lovely backing vocals by Katie Baggs (All The Wiles, Dead Language). As a balance to such weightier material Adrian throws in a healthy dose of lighthearted ditties like “Picnic”, “Ice Cream”, and the “multiple personality disorder blues” of “Crazy” with its closing line, “we’ll have ourselves a time in a lunatic asylum, together in our straight jacket built for two.”
“Foolish Pride” provides a little bit of scrappy, country twang which appears to borrow its chorus melody from Hank Williams’ “Wedding Bells”. Adrian hasn’t completely abandoned his rock roots, with “Shooting Star” bringing some gritty distortion, and “Hold of My Heart” sounding like an upbeat Velvet Underground song.
Today’s track “Letting Go” is a folksy romp about packing up and leaving home for the mainland. Featuring the flying fiddle of Alison Corbett (The Burning Hell, Pilot to Bombardier, Patrick Canning & The Suffering Mothers etc…), the tune has a distinctly “Newfoundland” sound while offering the cautionary message, “this island is a fortress that will shield and comfort you, but we’ve all got to be careful that it’s not a prison too.”
Check out Adrian House’s 2013 RPM album Too Strong at the link below.
I was listening to RPM Radio one evening this past March while slicing veggies for dinner and this awesome song came on. Instantly I recognized the vocals and thought to myself, “this is Pap Pap! I didn’t know they did an RPM this year!” To my surprise I looked at the computer screen only to see that it was actually a band called Parks. I went back to slicing my veggies and enjoying the tune. Later I discovered that Parks was indeed Jen King (vocals/guitar), Noah Bender (bass) and Meghan Harnum (drums), the three members of Pap Pap, only with a new name and bit of a new sound.
Parks’ RPM 2013 album Teenage Polar Bear was recorded to four track cassette by Jake Nicoll (The Burning Hell, Run to the Rocks) in two sessions this past February, which no doubt contributed to the spontaneous, off-the-floor feel that permeates the album. Stylistically it veers away from the raw garage rock of Pap Pap and into some cleaner, more melodic new wave territory. The opening title track showcases the new sound, trading in distorted guitars for clean tones, warm bass and a fast, dry drum sound. Mixing the vintage new wave of Young Marble Giants with Martha and The Muffins with modern counterparts like The Organ, and Interpol, Parks blends the past and present with a vulnerability and sweetness all their own.
Teenage Polar Bear by Parks is one of many stand-outs from this year’s RPM crop and definitely one of my favorites. Check it out for yourself at the link below.
The Last Gasp RPM Challenge Noise Jam has become a bit of a tradition here in St. John’s. Each year, people come together on the last day of the challenge to record 35 minutes of music, noise or whatever comes out of spontaneous, unrehearsed jamming. Last year the jam resulted in The Benevolent Void and this year it produced Noun/Bonehead by ________ Doublespeak.
This year RPMers from the west coast of the province also latched onto the idea of a last minute noise jam. Black Chair Section consists of musicians Ryan David Butt, Chantal Perry, Nicholas J Hamlyn, Mark Feener, Tom Cochrane, Rachael Joffred and Leslie Ball, all of whom are from the Corner Brook area. The group gathered at Gary Bennett Music during the last few hours of RPM 2013 and jammed out 35 minutes of sound which they burned to CD and dubbed “March”.
Although it was called a “noise jam”, the results are actually quite melodic and musical. Created using various percussion instruments, guitar and keyboard, “March” begins as a very upbeat, guitar driven pop song and then veers off into all kinds of different directions such as a Bo-Diddley-esque stomp and a very weird kind of tribal dance with spacey synth and guitar. Check it out.
Every February the RPM Challenge yields some very unique and impressive concept albums. One such work from this year’s crop is Jeff Foran’s bicycle-themed album Cycle.
“The idea for this album is to pay homage to my two favourite things: drumming and cycling,” says Jeff about the project. The record traces a fictitious bicycle journey from its start with a field recording of Jeff prepping his bike for the road on “Bike Setup” to its finish with the closing track “The Ride Home” — the musical equivalent to a victory lap, introduced by the sound of a bottle of champagne being opened. It’s poured until the fizz of bubbles gives way to triumphant organ, drums and hand claps.
Just like a real bike ride, there are many unexpected points of interest along the way. “A Tough Climb” serves up a grinding tempo of lumbering bass, ringing cymbal bells and spritely xylophone, and all together paints a sonic portrait of a long, hard ride uphill. Then there’s the reggae-infused, easy-riding feel of “Ride On” and the frantic cacophony of “Traffic Jam”. Although the album is primarily instrumental, today’s track “Mexico to Florida” is a jazzy number that features some lovely Andrew Bird-esque vocals and whistling. Check out the rest of Jeff Foran’s RPM 2013 album Cycle for yourself at the link below.
When learning a new instrument most people isolate themselves as a kindness to the ears of their friends and family until their skill level reaches “listenable”. That’s the way most do it, but if you are one of these gifted people that can play anything you put your hands on you might decide to learn how to play a new instrument and make a record with it. That’s exactly what Noah Bender did this past February, and it resulted in one of my favorite RPM albums of 2013, Knoah Learns The Trumpet.
Picking up where last year’s RPM disc Strange, Familiar, Home left off, Noah serves up ten solid tracks of clever indie pop. And, yep, many of which feature trumpet.
After a lush string intro, album-opener “Disaster” launches into a klezmer rock romp. The moody, atmospheric reverbs from Strange, Familiar, Home show up on “What I Wanted to Say” and “You and I”. Noah delves into reggae territory with his lament for our terribly gloomy St. John’s winters, “Never Going to See the Sun Again”, with the tongue-in-cheek lyrics “I miss the calm blue sea, I miss vitamin D… When there’s no sun for three weeks, things can get so very bleak.” Funny cuz it’s true.
There’s also a few touches of ska punk on “Skills” and “Same Thing Everyday”. Hints of grunge emerge on “History” a bit of a noise rocker a la Built to Spill-meets-Pavement, while lighter moments like “Wake Early” allow the beautifully rich timbre of Noah’s voice to shine.
You can hear Noah perform songs from this and last year’s RPM albums at The Fat Cat this Wednesday night (April 17th) where he will be helping kick off Lawnya Vawnya III’s opening festivities along with Thom Coombes and The Tomcats and The Long Distance Runners. Admission is on a “pay what you can” basis. Drop by for some good times and great music.
Two locations playing NL RPM tunes simultaneously!
THE SHIP – 19+ (265 Duckworth St.) 6pm to midnight
POST ESPRESSO – ALL AGES (168 Water St.) 6pm to 8:30pm
ALL TIMES ARE SHARP! We’ll play one track from each album. For some of the longer jams we’ll play a ~4 minute excerpt. Click the images below to view a printable PDF.
Click to view a printable PDF
Click to view a printable PDF
Newfoundland and Labrador, you are a wonderful, mysterious, musically-prolific place.
Every year The Scope challenges people of the province to record an album of original music in the month of February. There’s no prize. There’s no winner. There’s just that faint promise of coming out the other side with something you’re proud of, with something you made that didn’t exist before. It’s a powerful, contagious idea.
This year we have a crop of 145 albums from our area, and this Sunday evening we’re going to get together and listen to a cut from each one.
Here’s a Facebook page for the event.
Photo by Tyler John
RPM stalwarts Make Mean Everything will be showcasing songs from their 2013 RPM album tonight (April 11th) at The Levee. The group originated a couple years ago when singer-songwriter Jeff Cook recorded his first RPM Challenge album as pretty much a solo project. Soon Jeff decided it was time to put together a band to bring his songs to life live on stage, so he enlisted the help of Matthew Lanteigne, Braeden Pilgrim, Sarah Fox, Ryan Gordon and John Conway. Before long the group was playing venues of all kinds from bars to sporting events.
Today’s track, “Bronty”, is a full-band, live version of one of Jeff’s acoustic demos and just an example of the great tunes you can hear from Make Mean Everything tonight (April 11th) at The Levee along with Vegas Lounge Lizard, Psychobilly Cadillacs and Taylor Wall. Check out more music from Make Mean Everything at the links below.
The Dilettantes are a folk and bluegrass group that made their RPM debut last year with Topsham Cottage Diaries. The group consists of epo (aka Erin Power) who has completed RPM albums for several years in a row, but was joined last year by her friends Trixie, and L-Dubbz to form The Dilettantes. This year’s Otters & Elders retains the stripped down acoustics of their debut with a little more of a rustic, backwoods feel. Banjo fueled sing-a-longs like “Dive Song” and “Heartache” call to mind the work of Charlie Poole with their simple, repetitive choruses and irresistible catchiness. The way these voices blend and compliment each other on the three-part harmonies on the album also reminds me of acts like The Be Good Tanyas and Freakwater. But it’s not all hoe-downs and do-si-dos, “The Devil You Know” ventures into some bluesy, cabaret territory while “Gotta Go” brings some full speed ahead rockabilly. There’s also the hilarious closer, “Goats”, which features some guest vocals by Erin’s son Isaac who completed his own RPM album last year as Snapper Plant. Check out The Dilettantes Otters & Elders at the link below.